Jiajing Emperor

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Jiajing Emperor
12th Emperor of the Ming dynasty
Reign 27 May 1521 – 23 January 1567
Coronation 27 May 1521
Predecessor Zhengde Emperor
Successor Longqing Emperor
Born (1507-09-16)16 September 1507
Died 23 January 1567(1567-01-23) (aged 59)
Burial Yongling, Ming Dynasty Tombs, Beijing
Full name
Family name: Zhu (朱; Chu in Wade-Giles spelling)
Given name: Houcong (厚熜; Hou-tsung in Wade-Giles spelling)
Era name and dates
Jiajing (Chia-ching; 嘉靖): 28 January 1522 – 8 February 1567
Posthumous name
Emperor Qintian Lüdao Yingyi Shengshen Xuanwen Guangwu Hongren Daxiao Su
Temple name
Ming Shizong
House Ming dynasty
Father Zhu Youyuan
Mother Empress Cixiaoxian

The Jiajing Emperor (Chinese: 嘉靖; pinyin: Jiājìng; Wade–Giles: Chia-ching; 16 September 1507 – 23 January 1567) was the 12th emperor of the Chinese Ming dynasty who ruled from 1521 to 1567. Born Zhu Houcong, he was the former Zhengde Emperor's cousin. His father, Zhu Youyuan (1476–1519), the Prince of Xing, was the fourth son of the Chenghua Emperor (r. 1465–1487) and the eldest son of three sons born to the emperor's concubine, Lady Shao. The Jiajing Emperor's regnal name, "Jiajing", means "admirable tranquility".

Early years

Born as heir apparent of a vassal prince, Zhu Houcong was not brought up to succeed to the throne. However, the throne became vacant in 1521 with the sudden death of the Hongzhi Emperor's son, the Zhengde Emperor, who did not leave an heir. Prior to Zhengde Emperor's death, the line of succession was as follows:


The 14-year-old Zhu Houcong, then heir presumptive, succeeded to the throne, and so relocated from his father's princedom (near present-day Zhongxiang, Hubei) to the capital, Beijing. As the Jiajing Emperor, Zhu Houcong had his parents posthumously elevated to an "honorary" imperial rank, and had an imperial-style Xianling Mausoleum built for them near Zhongxiang.[1]

Reign as emperor

Yellow glazed pot and cover with hidden streak designs from the official kiln. Jiajing era. Excavated from Dadao tomb, Huangzhou.

Custom dictated that an emperor who was not an immediate descendant of the previous one should be adopted by the previous one, to maintain an unbroken line. Such a posthumous adoption of Zhu Houcong by the Hongzhi Emperor was proposed, but he resisted, preferring instead to have his father declared emperor posthumously. This conflict is known as the "Great Rites Controversy." The Jiajing Emperor prevailed and hundreds of his opponents were banished, flogged in the imperial court (廷杖), or executed. Among the banished was the poet Yang Shen.[2]

The Jiajing Emperor was known to be intelligent and efficient; whilst later he went on strike, and choose not to attend any state meetings, he did not neglect the paperwork and other governmental matters. The Jiajing Emperor was also known to be a cruel and self-aggrandizing emperor and he also chose to reside outside of the Forbidden City in Beijing so he could live in isolation. Ignoring state affairs, the Jiajing Emperor relied on Zhang Cong and Yan Song to handle affairs of state. In time, Yan Song and his son Yan Shifan – who gained power only as a result of his father's political influence – came to dominate the whole government even being called the "First and Second Prime Minister". Ministers such as Hai Rui and Yang Jisheng challenged and even chastised Yan Song and his son but were thoroughly ignored by the emperor. Hai Rui and many ministers were eventually dismissed or executed. The Jiajing Emperor also abandoned the practice of seeing his ministers altogether from 1539 onwards, and for a period of almost 25 years refused to give official audiences, choosing instead to relay his wishes through eunuchs and officials. Only Yan Song, a few handful of eunuchs and Daoist priests ever saw the emperor. This eventually led to corruption at all levels of the Ming government. However, the Jiajing Emperor was intelligent and managed to control the court.[3]

The Ming dynasty had enjoyed a long period of peace, but in 1542 the Mongol leader Altan Khan began to harass China along the northern border. In 1550, he even reached the suburbs of Beijing. Eventually the Ming government appeased him by granting special trading rights. The Ming government also had to deal with wokou pirates attacking the southeastern coastline.[4] Starting in 1550, Beijing was enlarged by the addition of the outer city.[5]

The deadliest earthquake of all times, the Shaanxi earthquake of 1556 that killed over 800,000 people, occurred during the Jiajing Emperor's reign.

Plot of Renyin year

The Jiajing Emperor's ruthlessness and lecherous life also led to an internal plot by his concubines and palace maids to assassinate him in October, 1542 by strangling him while he slept. His pursuit of eternal life led him to believe that one of the elixirs of extending his life was to force virgin palace maids to collect menstrual blood for his consumption. These arduous tasks were performed non-stop even when the palace maids were taken ill and any unwilling participants were executed on the Emperor's whim. A group of palace maids who had had enough of the emperor's cruelty decided to band together to murder him in an event known as the Renyin Plot (壬寅宮變). The lead palace maid tried to strangle the emperor with ribbons from her hair while the others held down the emperor's arms and legs but made a fatal mistake by tying a knot around the emperor's neck which would not tighten. Meanwhile, some of the young palace maids involved began to panic and one (Zhang Jinlian) ran to the empress. The plot was exposed and on the orders of the empress and some officials, all of the palace maids involved, including the emperor's favourite concubine (Consort Duan) and another concubine (Consort Ning, née Wang), were ordered to be executed by slow slicing and their families were killed.[6][7][8] The Jiajing Emperor later determined that Consort Duan had been innocent,[9] and dictated that their daughter, Luzheng, be raised by Imperial Noble Consort Shen.[10]

The Jiajing Emperor on his state barge, from a scroll painted in 1538 by unknown court artists
A porcelain vase with glazed fish designs, from the Jiajing era.

Taoist pursuits

The Jiajing Emperor was a devoted follower of Taoism and attempted to suppress Buddhism. After the assassination attempt in 1542, the emperor moved out of the imperial palace, and lived with a 13-year-old teenage girl who was small and thin, and was able to satisfy his sexual appetite (Lady Shan). The Jiajing Emperor began to pay excessive attention to his Taoist pursuits while ignoring his imperial duties. He built the three Taoist temples Temple of Sun, Temple of Earth and Temple of Moon and extended the Temple of Heaven by adding the Earthly Mount. Over the years, the emperor's devotion to Taoism was to become a heavy financial burden for the Ming government and create dissent across the country.

Particularly during his later years, the Jiajing Emperor was known for spending a great deal of time on alchemy in hopes of finding medicines to prolong his life. He would forcibly recruit young girls in their early teens and engaged in sexual activities in hopes of empowering himself, along with the consumption of potent elixirs. He employed Taoist priests to collect rare minerals from all over the country to create elixirs, including elixirs containing mercury, which inevitably posed health problems at high doses.

Legacy and death

After 45 years on the throne (the second longest reign in the Ming dynasty), the Jiajing Emperor died in 1567 – possibly due to mercury overdose from Chinese alchemical elixir poisoning – and was succeeded by his son, the Longqing Emperor. Though his long rule gave the dynasty an era of stability, the Jiajing Emperor's neglect of his official duties resulted in the decline of the dynasty at the end of the 16th century. His style of governance, or the lack thereof, would be emulated by his grandson later in the century.

Portrayal in art

The Jiajing Emperor was portrayed in contemporary court portrait paintings, as well as in other works of art. For example, in this panoramic painting below, the Jiajing Emperor can be seen in the right half riding a black steed and wearing a plumed helmet. He is distinguished from his entourage of bodyguards as an abnormally tall figure.

Original – A panoramic painting showing the Jiajing Emperor traveling to the Ming Dynasty Tombs with a huge cavalry escort and an elephant-drawn carriage.



Consorts and their Respective Issue:

  1. Empress Xiaojie Su of the Chen clan (孝洁肃皇后 陈氏; 1508 – 1528)[11][12]
  2. Qijie, Empress of the Zhang clan (皇后 张七姐; d. 1537)[13][14]
  3. Empress Xiaolie of the Fang clan (孝烈皇后 方氏; 1516 – 1547)[15][16]
  4. Empress Xiaoke of the Du clan (孝恪皇后 杜氏; d. 1554)[17][18]
    1. 3rd son: Zhu Zaihou, Muzong (穆宗 载垕; 4 March 1537 – 5 July 1572)[19]
  5. Imperial Noble Consort Duanhe of the Wang clan (端和皇贵妃 王氏; d. 1553)[20]
    1. 2nd son: Zhu Zairui, Crown Prince Zhuangjing (庄敬太子 载壡; 1536 – 1549)[21]
  6. Imperial Noble Consort Zhuangshun of the Shen clan (庄顺皇贵妃 沈氏; d. 1581)[22]
    1. adopted: Princess of Ning'an
  7. Imperial Noble Consort Rong'an of the Yan clan (荣安皇贵妃 阎氏; d. 1541)[23][24]
    1. 1st son (died in infancy): Zhu Zaiji, Crown Prince Aichong (哀冲太子 载基; 1533)[25]
  8. Noble Consort Gongxi of the Wen clan (恭僖贵妃 文氏)[26][27]
  9. Noble Consort Rong'an of the Ma clan (荣安贵妃 马氏)
  10. Noble Consort of the Zhou clan (贵妃 周氏)
  11. Consort Daoyin Gong of the Wen clan (悼隐恭妃 文氏; d. 1532)[28][29]
  12. Consort Duan of the Cao clan (端妃 曹氏; d. 1542)[30][31]
    1. 1st daughter: Zhu Shouying, Princess of Chang'an (常安公主 寿媖; 1536 – 1549)
    2. 3rd daughter: Zhu Luzheng, Princess of Ning'an (宁安公主 禄媜; 1539 – 1607)[32]
  13. Consort An of the Shen clan (安妃 沈氏)[33]
  14. Consort Huairong Xian of the Zheng clan (怀荣贤妃 郑氏; d. 1536)[34]
  15. Consort Jing of the Lu clan (靖妃 卢氏; d. 1588)[35]
    1. 4th son: Zhu Zaizhen, Prince Gong of Jing (景恭王 载圳; 29 March 1537 – 9 February 1565)[36]
  16. Consort Su of the Jiang clan (肃妃 江氏)[37][38]
    1. 5th son (died in infancy): Zhu Zailu, Prince Shang of Ying (颍殇王 载𪉖; 8 September 1537 – 9 September 1537)[39]
  17. Consort Yi of the Zhao clan (懿妃 赵氏; d. 1569)[40]
    1. 6th son (died in infancy): Zhu Zai?, Prince Huai of Qi (戚怀王 载Zh 戛斗土.svg; 1 October 1537 – 5 August 1538)[41]
  18. Consort Yong of the Chen clan (雍妃 陈氏; d. 1586)[42]
    1. 7th son (died in infancy): Zhu Zaikui, Prince Ai of Ji (蓟哀王 载㙺; 29 January 1538 – 14 February 1538)[43]
    2. 4th daughter (died young): Zhu Ruirong, Princess of Guishan (归善公主 瑞嬫; 1541 – 1544)[44]
  19. Consort Hui of the Wang clan (徽妃 王氏)[45]
    1. 2nd daughter (died young): Zhu Fuyuan, Princess of Sirou (思柔公主 福媛; 1538 – 1549)
  20. Consort Rong of the Zhao clan (荣妃 赵氏)[46]
    1. 8th son (died in infancy): Zhu Zai?, Prince Si of Jun (均思王 载土夙缺字.svg; 23 August 1539 – 16 April 1540)[47]
  21. Consort Chen of the Wang clan (宸妃 王氏)[48]
  22. Consort Rongzhao De of the Zhang clan (荣昭德妃 张氏; d. 1574)[49]
    1. 5th daughter: Zhu Suzhen, Princess of Jiashan (嘉善公主 素嫃; 1541 – 1564)[50]
  23. Consort Rong'an Zhen of the Ma clan (荣安贞妃 马氏; d. 1564)[51]
  24. Consort Duanjing Shu of the Zhang clan (端静淑妃妃 张氏)
  25. Consort Jing of the Chen clan (静妃 陈氏; d. 1550)
  26. Consort Gongxi Li of the Wang clan (恭僖丽妃 王氏; d. 1553)[52]
  27. Consort Zhuang of the Wang clan (庄妃 王氏; d. 1553)
  28. Consort Zhuang of the Du clan (庄妃 杜氏; d. 1565)[53]
  29. Consort Shou of the Shang clan (寿妃 尚氏; 1549 – 1610)[54][55]
  30. Consort Gongshu Rong of the Yang clan (恭淑荣妃 杨氏; d. 1566)[56][57]
  31. Consort Yi of the Bao clan (宜妃 包氏)
  32. Consort Duanhui Yong of the Xu clan (端惠永妃 徐氏)
  33. Consort Jing of the Wang clan (靖妃 王氏)
  34. Consort Zhen of the Wang clan (贞妃 王氏)
  35. Consort Huai of the Wang clan (怀妃 王氏)
  36. Consort Mu of the He clan (睦妃 何氏)
  37. Consort He of the Gao clan (和妃 高氏)
  38. Consort Ping of the Geng clan (平妃 耿氏)
  39. Consort Ding of the Wu clan (定妃 吴氏)
  40. Consort Jing of the Chu clan (静妃 褚氏)
  41. Consort Shun of the Li clan (顺妃 李氏)
  42. Consort Yi of the Yu clan (宜妃 于氏)
  43. Consort An of the Zhang clan (安妃 张氏)
  44. Consort Yan of the Chu clan (晏妃 褚氏)
  45. Imperial Concubine Hui of the Wei clan (惠嫔 韦氏)[58][59]
  46. Imperial Concubine Jing of the Li clan (敬嫔 李氏)[60][61]
  47. Imperial Concubine Yu of the Wang clan (裕嫔 王氏; d. 1540)[62][63]
  48. Imperial Concubine Yi of the Wang clan (宜嫔 王氏)[64][65]
  49. Imperial Concubine Ning of the Wang clan (宁嫔 王氏; d. 1542)[66][67]
  50. Imperial Concubine Jing of the Lu clan (靖嫔 卢氏)
  51. Imperial Concubine Shun of the Ren clan (顺嫔 任氏)
  52. Imperial Concubine Zhuang of the Wang clan (庄嫔 王氏)
  53. Imperial Concubine Huai of the Wang clan (怀嫔 王氏; d. 1556)
  54. Imperial Concubine Wan of the Zhao clan (婉嫔 赵氏; d. 1557)
  55. Imperial Concubine Chang of the Ma clan (常嫔 马氏; d. 1557)
  56. Imperial Concubine Chang of the Yang clan (常嫔 杨氏; d. 1559)[68][69]
  57. Imperial Concubine Chang of the Fu clan (常嫔 傅氏; d. 1561)[70]
  58. Imperial Concubine Jing of the Tian clan (静嫔 田氏; d. 1564)
  59. Imperial Concubine Chang of the Wu clan (常嫔 武氏; d. 1563)[71]
  60. Imperial Concubine An of the Meng clan (安嫔 孟氏; d. 1565)[72]
  61. Imperial Concubine Li of the Song clan (丽嫔 宋氏; d. 1565)[73][74]
  62. Imperial Concubine Chang of the Gao clan (常嫔 高氏; d. 11 December 1566)[75]
  63. Imperial Concubine Chang of the Wang clan (常嫔 王氏; d. 29 December 1566)[76]
  64. Imperial Concubine Chang of the Liu clan (常嫔 刘氏)
  65. Imperial Concubine Rong of the Yu clan (荣嫔 王氏)
  66. Imperial Concubine Shu of the Liu clan (淑嫔 刘氏)
  67. Imperial Concubine He of the Ren clan (和嫔 任氏)
  68. Imperial Concubine Ning of the Guo clan (宁嫔 郭氏)
  69. Imperial Concubine Kang of the Liu clan (康嫔 刘氏)
  70. Imperial Concubine Zhao of the Zhang clan (昭嫔 张氏)
  71. Imperial Concubine Chang of the Zhang clan (常嫔 张氏)
  72. Imperial Concubine Chang of the Li clan (常嫔 李氏)
  73. Imperial Concubine Chang of the Chen clan (常嫔 陈氏)

See also


  • The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 7: The Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644, Part I, "The Prince of Ning Treason" by Frederick W. Mote and Denis Twitchett.
  1. ^ Eric N. Danielson, "The Ming Ancestor Tomb"
  2. ^ "Invasion of the Great Green Algae Monster Archived 2009-06-28 at the Wayback Machine.. Salon. 25 Jun 2007.
  3. ^ 一本书读懂大明史
  4. ^ "China > History > The Ming dynasty > Political history > The dynastic succession", Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 2007
  5. ^ "Beijing." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2007.
  6. ^ 端妃曹氏与嘉靖宫变
  7. ^ 明廷“壬寅宫变”之谜
  8. ^ 萬曆野獲編, vol.18
  9. ^ Zhang Tingyu, ed. (1739). "《明史》卷一百十四 列傳第二 后妃二" [History of Ming, Volume 114, Historical Biography 2, Empresses and Concubines 2]. Lishichunqiu Net (in Chinese). Lishi Chunqiu. Retrieved 27 June 2017. 
  10. ^ History Office, ed. (1620s). 明實錄:明世宗實錄 [Veritable Records of the Ming: Veritable Records of Shizong of Ming] (in Chinese). 406. Ctext. 
  11. ^ daughter of Chen Wanyan (万言)
  12. ^ Empress (1522), Empress Xiaojie (1536), Empress Xiaojie Su (1567)
  13. ^ daughter of Zhang Ji (楫) and Lady Xue (薛)
  14. ^ Consort Shun (顺; 1522), Empress (1529–1534)
  15. ^ daughter of Fang Tai (泰), Marquis
  16. ^ Imperial Concubine De (德; 1531), Empress (1534), Empress Xiaolie (1547)
  17. ^ daughter of Du Lin (林), Count of Qingdou (庆都) and Countess of Qingdou
  18. ^ Imperial Concubine Kang (康; 1531), Consort Kang (1536), Consort Rongshu Kang (荣淑; 1554), Empress Xiaoke (1567)
  19. ^ Prince of Yu (裕; 1539), Emperor (1567), Muzong (1572)
  20. ^ Imperial Concubine Zhuang (庄; 1531), Consort Zhao (昭; 1536), Imperial Noble Consort (1539), Imperial Noble Consort Duanhe (1553)
  21. ^ Crown Prince (1539), Crown Prince Zhuangjing (1549)
  22. ^ Imperial Concubine Xi (僖; 1531), Consort Chen (宸; 1534), Noble Consort (1536), Imperial Noble Consort (1540), Imperial Noble Consort Zhuangshun (1581)
  23. ^ daughter of Yan Ji (纪)
  24. ^ Imperial Concubine Li (丽; 1531), Consort Li (1534), Noble Consort (1536), Imperial Noble Consort Rong'an (1541)
  25. ^ Crown Prince Aichong (1533)
  26. ^ daughter of Wen Ming (明)
  27. ^ Consort Jing (敬; 1545), Noble Consort (1566)
  28. ^ daughter of Wen Rong (荣) and Lady Guo (郭)
  29. ^ Consort Gong (1522)
  30. ^ Imperial Concubine Duan (1535), Consort Duan (1536)
  31. ^ executed by Empress Xiaolie
  32. ^ m. 1555: Li He (李和), bore 1 son (Li Cheng'en (承恩))
  33. ^ Imperial Concubine An (1531), Consort An (1536)
  34. ^ Imperial Concubine Xian (1531), Consort Huairong Xian (1536)
  35. ^ Imperial Concubine He (和; 1531), Consort Jing (1537)
  36. ^ Prince of Jing (1539), Prince Gong of Jing (1565)
  37. ^ daughter of Jiang Yang (洋)
  38. ^ Imperial Concubine Gong (恭; 1536), Consort Su (1540)
  39. ^ Prince Shang of Ying (1537)
  40. ^ Consort Yi (1540)
  41. ^ Prince Huai of Qi (1538)
  42. ^ Imperial Concubine Yong (1537), Consort Yong (1540)
  43. ^ Prince Ai of Ji (1538)
  44. ^ Princess of Guishan (1544)
  45. ^ Imperial Concubine Hui (1536), Consort Hui (1540)
  46. ^ Consort Rong (1540)
  47. ^ Prince Si of Jun (1540
  48. ^ Consort Chen (1540)
  49. ^ Consort De (1541)
  50. ^ m. 1557: Xu Congcheng (许从诚)
  51. ^ Consort Zhen (1542)
  52. ^ daughter of Wang Ding (顶)
  53. ^ Imperial, Consort Zhuang (1565)
  54. ^ daughter of Shang Chen (尚臣)
  55. ^ Consort Shou (1566)
  56. ^ daughter of Yang Chaozong (朝宗)
  57. ^ Consort Gongshu Rong (1566)
  58. ^ daughter of Wei Ju (聚)
  59. ^ Imperial Concubine Hui (1531)
  60. ^ daughter of Li Gongchen (拱臣)
  61. ^ Imperial Concubine Jing (1535)
  62. ^ daughter of Wang Luan (栾)
  63. ^ Imperial Concubine Yu (1537)
  64. ^ daughter of Wang Jun (俊)
  65. ^ Imperial Concubine Yi (1537)
  66. ^ Imperial Concubine Ning (1540)
  67. ^ executed by Empress Xiaolie
  68. ^ daughter of Yang An (安)
  69. ^ Imperial, Imperial Concubine Chang (1559)
  70. ^ Imperial Concubine Chang (1561)
  71. ^ Imperial, Imperial Concubine Chang (1563)
  72. ^ Imperial, Imperial Concubine An (1565)
  73. ^ daughter of Song Pan (盘)
  74. ^ Imperial, Imperial Concubine Li (1565)
  75. ^ Imperial, Imperial Concubine Chang (1566)
  76. ^ Imperial, Imperial Concubine Chang (1566)
Jiajing Emperor
Born: 16 September 1507 Died: 23 January 1567
Regnal titles
Preceded by
The Zhengde Emperor
Emperor of China
Succeeded by
The Longqing Emperor
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