Chronologic Timeline of Ming Emperors 1368 AD - 1644 AD ; Descendancy of the Ming House explained.
Imperial Ming-styled Dragon Logo, symbolising the Emperor, his might, longevity of Reign and prosperity. During the early Ming Dynasty China was the most influential trade nation and most important military power in East and South-East Asia.
This page was last updated on: September 16, 2017
Find DrBen and ChinaReport on Facebook with the latest from www.drben.net.
As the Wuzong Emperor did not have any sons nor a brother, at the time of his untimely death there was no assigned successor at all. In order to maintain stability in the land and perpetuate the rule of the Ming, it was decided after his death that Zhu Houcong, the cousin, would succeed him to the Throne. Thus, Zhu Houcong was requested to the Capital from his family fiefdom in South China and ascended to the Throne in the year 1521 AD, becoming the Shizong Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. In the following year, 1522 AD, he named his reign period "Jiajing" and therefor Zhu Houcong is popularly best known as the Jiajing Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. This Jiajing reign period, although politically difficult, would last for a total of 45 years.
Achievements: It is said that upon ascending to the Throne in 1521 AD Zhu Houcong was of the best possible intentions to make the Empire flourish. As proof of this historians often mention the early change of various policies pursued under the previous Emperor Wuzong. Several corrupt officials and eunuchs were expelled from court and one of the foremost manipulators at court, Jiang Bin a favorite of the 1 year Emperor Wuzong was executed.
On the orders of the new Emperor, a new policy was tried in which grain taxes were lowered in area's stricken by natural disasters with harvests lost in the following period. In so doing it was hoped, the poor would have enough grain left after taxes to survive until the next harvest. As a result, destitute farmers would not leave their land and roam about, leading to banditry and often gradually to local insurrections.
In an unusual move during a later decade of his reign, the Shizong Emperor also reduced the number of his personal Concubines living at huge expense in his Imperial Palace - the Forbidden City, by decreeing that all young ladies sent to him as a personal gift should be freed and sent back home to their families.
All of that said, it must be noted that nevertheless, from the very beginning the incumbant Emperor faced a myriad of challenges. One of the challenges involved a renewed surge of Mongol Raids of the Mongol Lu People (Khalka's), who after having been met on the battle field and defeated by previous Emperors, had refound their strength. The continued unwillingness of the Chinese Court, who by Imperial Decree banned all cross border trade beyond the limit of the Great Wall of China, incurred a hostile response from the nomadic neighbors to the north.
Scale Model of the Xian Ling Tomb of the Shizong Emperor located at the Ming Tomb Valley outside Beijing.
Altogether, although the Emperor had several chances at improving the state of the Empire, his great interests in traditional beliefs and magical ideas led him astray, leaving the powers of the Throne up for grabs. As a result of the Emperors poor judgement, the Jiajing Reign of the Ming Dynasty became a disaster for the Nation. No real achievements can be mentioned.
Death & Succession :
Notably, in the year 1556, almost 11 years before the death of the Jiajing Emperor, the most deadly earthquake in world history struck (The Jiajing earthquake (Chinese: 嘉靖大地震; pinyin: Jiājìng Dàdìzhèn) also known as 1556 Shaanxi Earthquake) at the center of Chinese civilization, leaving an estimated 830 thousand to possibly one million people
As usual, after the Mongol Armies had retreated and the city of Beijing had heaved a huge sigh of relief, the ever-industrious Chinese immediatly fell back upon their most trusted strategy; the building of Walls.
To protect the exposed southern suburbs of the Capital, construction of the so-called Outer or Southern City Wall enclosing the current Chongwen- and Xuanwu Districts was started in the year 1553 AD. (This new Outer City wall, had five gates and was enclosed by a wide and navigable moat. The now famous Gates and city wall sections stood until the 1960s when they were pulled down to build the circular line of the Beijing Subway and make space for the 2nd Ring Road, opening the city up for industrial traffic. Today some sections, such as due south of Beijing Central Railway Station (Beijing Zhan) have been restored for tourism and esthethic purposes). Apart from the strenghtening of the City Walls of the City, the succesful Mongol Invasion also triggered substantial rebuilding and expansion of the defenses of the Great Wall of China. Significantly, after the disastrous 1550 raids, the entire length of the Great Wall of China was to be revised, and henceforth all sections and parts thereof would be constructed of brick and stone.
Another important historic affair that played itself out during the reign of the Shizong is the case of the official Hai Rui, a case which has become a well-known model for the proper behavior of Confucian scholars at court since.
Diring the reign of the Shizong Emperor Hai Rui, an offical known for his Honesty, was promoted to the important and much wanted position of Minister of Revenue. The position was ideal for committing large scale fraud and corruption thus Hai Rui soon ran into all kinds of troubles at court. When Hai Rui realized just how incompetent, twisted and vague headed the Emperor was, Hai Rui composed a petition to the Emperor, and knowing the high risk involved in such an action parted from his wife and ordered a coffin for himself. The Emperor (and his courtirers) were indeed outraged at his open petitioning of the wrong doings at court, however Hai Rui was not tortured and executed but merely thrown in jail for insubordination and the offense of affronting the Emperor, an infraction of the rule of Filial Piety which extended to the Emperor. After continuing insistence Hai Rui was exiled to a far away southern Province, but under the next Emperor he was to return. Exiled once more Hai Rui was sent to Hainan Island where he gained further Fame as a good confucian, both a scholar and a man of the people. In the end, Hai Rui was allowed to return to his ancestral home where he died in peace.
In case of the reign of the Shizong Emperor, the main abuser of powers became a man known as Yan Song, previously already the most ambitious of the corrupt court Ministers. Thus, through various manipulations Yan Song established himself as the main power behind the Throne staying in this position for a lengthy 17 years.
As Yan Song had been appointed in charge of all promotions at court, everyone who wished to amount to something had to go through him and his crony Son. The family was showered with "gifts" almost daily, with seemingly the whole Empire vying for the favors of the powerful but gluttonous Yan Song. As rumors and writings of the time reveal, people would line up at the Mansion every day, having to wait for a long time before they were allowed to come in and state their wishes and hand over their bribe gifts. It was a travesty of everything officialdom stood for, but nevertheless a very very common practice.
While Minister Yan Song was left to control court affairs and built his power-clique at Court, the Emperor engaged in many a strange affair and adventure. As with many of the Chinese Emperors, Shizong loved to play about with women.
Being obsessed by the quest for the potion or liquor of immortality, among things the Shizong Emperor had some 300 young girls under age 14 and 100 girls under age 10 rounded up and transported to the Forbidden City in Beijing so that he may carry out an experiment. The goal of the bringing together of so many young ladies was to try and extract the elixir of life from their first menstrual periods. Needless to say, the elixir was never created however, while the Emperor was awaiting the results, the Ministers could carry on their plundering's and cronyism. To add to the Emperor's distraction, it was suggested to him that he may bring an additional 1000 girls to court, just so that Shizong could have his way with them. The decree went out soon after.
A rather odd result of the Emperors eagerness in sleeping around as much as he could, the Empire received an additional blow. That is, it was the custom that whenever the Emperor had slept with one of the over 1000 ladies in the Forbidden City (refreshed frequently), the lady in case was to be given an official Title, which in turn greatly enhanced her families stature at home. These titles were eagerly sought after and soon, the Emperor had slept with so many women that he lost track of whomever had a title, or should still be given one. After a while, the giving of an official title was often neglected or forgotten as both the Emperor and the top minister were thoroughly disinterested. The proper rewarding of the "high ladies" who traded thier bodies for their families promotion may have seemed like a minor issue of court, however the ladies had been dispatched by influential families who had hoped to gain substantially in return. When payment turned out to be not forthcoming, the resentment and anger among these families was immense.
Eventually, in 1542 AD, the misgivings about forthcoming titles and honors at court grew so large that a group of concubine ladies attempted, unsuccessfully, to assassinate the Emperor in his bedroom.
With corruption at court spiraling out of control and new profiteers joining in almost daily, the political life and especially the Governance of the Empire suffered heavily. Regardless of the young Emperors initial ambitions, now seemingly forgotten, the Empire further declined during the rule of Emperor Shizong. With his mind seemingly absent and focussed on magical affairs, the courtiers emptied the state coffers and undermined the stature of the ruling Family and the reputation of the Ming Rule. The nation would never really recover and corrupt officialdom became a fact of every day life in the Ming Dynasty greatly arousing the latent emotions of the downtrodden peasant citizenry.
During the 17 year period in which Yan Song operated at court, peasant uprisings increased throughout the provinces. To add to the stresses working upon the Empire, in the south-east Japanese Pirates were taking advantage of the sea-faring ban enacted earlier in the Ming Dynasty by raiding coastal towns and cities with remarkable success. In addition, yet another invasion by Mongolian Tribes from the North, the Khalka's who had formed in 1483 AD during the chaotic rule of the Xianzong Emperor (Reign: 1465 AD - 1487 AD) called for a large and costly military response in the northern- and western borderlands. The taxes required to pay for such an operation would only further arouse the angers of the peasants leading to more social unrest and "disharmony".
Already in the next spring the Khalka's and allied Mongolian Tribes managed their breakthrough at the Badaling Pass of the Great Wall of China, taking the JuYonguan Fortress situated to the north-west of Beijing and leaving only the innermost layers around Beijing and its massive city walls to defend the city, the Emperor and the Throne. Mongolian cavalry raided surrounding villages and the suburbs, while the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) and other holy sites lay exposed to invasion and destruction.
As wikipedia.org states it; "In 1550, Altan Khan led a Khalkha Mongol raid on Beijing that pillaged the northern suburbs but did not attempt to take the city". Instead, having showed the Chinese his immense powers, the Mongolian Leader Altan Khan was satisfied with the booty taken and returned to his homeland with the mere promise of a deal for cross-border trade. It was an un-precedented concession, which the Chinese would otherwise not have given.
to it the so called circular mound altar. The latter altar was regarded especially important and was believed to provide a means to directly communicate with Heavenly Powers which governed the "Heavenly Mandate" as it was supposed to be bestowed upon the Emperor.
In addition to the creation of the new Heavenly Altars, the ritual function of which was directed towards a more general public, the Emperor was also responsible for the creation of the "Palace of Imperial Peace" a Daoist Shrine built within the walls of the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City). Constructed in the year 1535 AD on the in Daoism (and Feng Shui) all powerful central line of the Palace and accompanied by two pavilions (the Pavilion of Many Springs and the Pavilion of Many Autumns), the Palace of Imperial Peace was to serve as the main religious shrine of the Ming Imperial Family, comparable -among things- with the (Confucianist) Tai Miao Imperial Ancestral Shrine of the Manchu Qing Dynasty. Having a Daoist Family Shrine, clear for all to see within the confines of the highest court certainly underlined the political message that Confucianism was out and Daoism was in.
Altogether, during his twenty years of infatuation with the Daoist philosophies,magical practices and thought, the Emperor spent a fortune and a lot of his time on his pursuits, as it is often said leading to growing resentment among his following at court and in the
An artists rendition of the circular mound altar at the Temple of Heaven. The grandest and most crucial of the Daoist heavenly altars erected in the city of Beijing during the Jiajing Reign period the circular mound altar supposedly allowed for the most direct form of communications with the Heavenly Powers. As the prime altar for the continued empowerment of the Mandate of Heaven, the altar remained in function until the very end of the next Dynasty, the Manchu Qing Dynasty in 1911.
Secondly, one may observe that, given the recent history of the Nation its revival under a rather Han and ethnic Chinese surge of self-confidence, the Shizong Emperor could find few reasons to opt for Buddhism instead. That is, in the proudly Han Chinese Nationalist Ming realm, Buddhism, already regarded as Foreign or exotic religion to begin with was not a movement likely to be as popular as the native Confucianism, or the equally old idea's promoted by Daoism.
Although having flourished during the later centuries of the Tang Dynasty (618 AD - 907 AD) , by the time of the Jiajing Reign in the Ming Dynasty, the religion of Buddhism carried the added stigma of having very recently been the preferred religion of the by then thoroughly hated Mongolians, the foreign overlords of not yet forgotten Yuan Dynasty (1272 AD - 1368 AD).
In addition, attempts by the strong willed and unusual Yongle Emperor to use the religion of Buddhism to curry favor with the neighboring Mongolians and Tibetans had only delivered marginal success in the (re-)opening of any of the previous trade routes. Without the promise of any economic or political gains (in Central and South-East Asia) and with the court and the general populace opposing even such things as cross border trade with the hated nomadic neighbors, the Shizong Emperor would have found little reward or promise in the boosting of this religion specifically.
Hence, suddenly, the so judged unusual choice of the Emperor for support of the Daoist religion already becomes more easily understood.
STATE, RELIGION AND POLITICS:
Unlike various earlier predecessors during the Ming Dynasty among whom for instance the founding father Zhu Yuanzhang, the Shizong (Jiajing) Emperor was a Daoist, not a Buddhist.
As one may find, this significantly effected the lengthy Jiajing Reign period, and also left some interesting sites to visit and related histories to tell.
The greatest historical and architectural result of the unusual religious convictions and passions of the Shizong Emperor can be found expressed through the presence of various Daoist Temples and Prayers Altars erected in- and at the time- around the National Capital of Beijing.
Where the Yongle Emperor had already established the ritual Altar of Agriculture (XianNong Tan) and also founded the now world cultural heritage "Temple of Heaven" in Beijing, in the year 1530 AD, by Imperial Decree, the Shizong Emperor significantly altered the year around schedule for the performance of rites at the Altars to the Heavens (Heavenly Altars) and furthermore ordered the construction of various additional heavenly altars. These additional Heavenly Altars are the Temple of Sun (日壇) and the sun altar - today found as Ritan Park in the Chaoyang District, Temple of Earth (地壇 ; Ditan for short) and the according Altar of the Earth (Fangze Tan) and also the now lost Temple of Moon (月壇) found outside of the former Fuchengmen City Gate of Beijing.
Apart from adding these three altars, the Shizong Emperor also had changes made to the already existing "Temple of Heaven" constructed between the years 1406 and 1420 AD under the Yongle Emperor but known by a different name, adding
Provinces. Although in modern histories, especially Chinese written ones, the Shizong Emperor is usually made out to have been excessively superstitious strongly suggesting that he was also naive, it may be noted that some of the preference of the new Emperor for Daoism rather than the two other affirmed philosophies of Buddhism or (neo-)Confucianism likely had to with his predicaments at court.
Specifically, having faced what amounted to an insurrection of the Confucian Scholars who populated the Ming Administrations, a choice of the Emperor to reinforce Confucianism as a state philosophy turned religion would have amounted a ritual capitulation of the Emperor to his enemies, a sign of bowing down to their various wishes of his courtiers.
As one will learn from the complete history of the rule of the Shizong Emperor, the Emperor did not rule but instead made sure that but one point strongman stood below him, this man in day to day affairs almost becoming Emperor.
However, by emphasizing himself in his Imperial Function as highest priest of the State Church of Daoism, the Shizong Emperor devised a clever way to always stay close to- and hold claim to the ultimate powers bestowed upon the Emperor(s), these being the Heavenly Mandate received from the Heavenly Powers revered through the religion of Daoism.
By longstanding tradition dating back to the earliest of all known Chinese Dynasties the Shang, the Emperor was also the top man of the State theocracy which always had given any Emperor the benefit of being able to adopt the role of benevolent wise man, sage, teacher and spiritual father of the Nation.
Cleverly, through his actions in the year 1530 AD by which he took direct control of the rituals performed at the "Heavenly Altars" in the Capital Beijing, Shizong further solidified his position as the High Priest and through the use of the Altars for abundant ritual exclusively to be performed by himself, also his legitimacy as Emperor.
Although it seems as though the Shizong Emperor just left the stage simply for some top dog to emerge as the most corrupt and most powerful person at court, in fact his policies were at least in part very deliberate. That is, instead of having a secret war of intrigue break out among his courtiers by reinforcing the position of but one of them, the Emperor allowed himself a good deal of control.
Having only one strongman below him limited the risk to the throne while at the same time upkeeping a united and powerful front to withstand the Confucian block out to subdue the Emperor.
Finally, although the Emperor did see himself forced to delegate much of his powers, his clever control of his appointed strongman, ultimately resulted in his survival as Emperor and a more or less unquestioned rule as only real Emperor until his death in the year 1566 AD. Thus, although the Emperor could not defeat his court and impose his will he also was not deposed and cleverly ensured the continuation of the Dynasty.
Views of the Palace of Imperial Peace in the Palace Garden (Yuhuan Yuan) of the Palace Museum in 2013. Although it would be hard to tell from its exterior and no one is explained the details on site, the Palace of Imperial Peace was the location of the Daoist Family Shrine of the Ming during the unusual Jiajing Reign period.
The usually shuttered front of the Palace of Imperial Peace, the much visited yet more or less unknown building complex which has become the legacy of the Jiajing Reign period with the Forbidden City. As with various other Palaces within of a unique architectural design the enclosure and details of the Palace of Imperial Peace are certainly worth inspecting. The enclosure however is one of the most visited points in the Palace as it sits just south of the main exit and on the route of every tour group.
In short, being absent from the Throne allowed the Emperor to avoid having to do battle with the powerful Confucian block in the Nation, a battle which apparently he felt unable to win or only at great cost to the Nation. Since the Confucianists were clearly not going to cooperate with this Emperor and since thus the State Apparatus could not function in its normal and usual ways, the Emperor simply would have to find alternative means, which meant another group of loyalist to work with. With Confucianism the philsophy of his political enemies and Buddhism not useful for his purposes, the Emperor chose the Daoists as political allies and the Daoist Philosophy as his vehicle for perpetuating his powers.
As one may deduce from the empasis on Daoism and the building of fresh Imperial Heavenly Altars only during the Jiajing Reign period, by representing the Daoist Church the Emperor could make a show of reinforcing his communications with the Heavenly Powers, thus also reinforcing his legitimacy as the one true holder of the "Heavenly Mandate".
In addition, being of Daoist conviction, even in official protocol, the Emperor was free to ignore the Confucianist, who factually were his political opponents. Even more so, as Daoism had various aspects of reclusivity, the flight into Daoism allowed an excuse for physical escape from Government Duties and insessant and very disagreeable advisors.
In truth, as one should realize the political conflict with the Confucianist did not stem from such a simple thing as the lineage disccussions resulting from the crowning of the Shizong Emperor, but rather the whole affair of the "Struggle over the Great Rite" was a belated offensive and revenge strategy followed by the Confucianist, who had found themselves ignored and losing power as a result of the various ambitious and very controversial policies of the Yongle Emperor.
Afterall, not only had the Yongle Emperor completely uprooted the Confucian powerbase established in- and around the former Capital of Nanjing, in addition he had brought back the eunuchs who subsequently claimed a powerbase at court at the expensive of the Confucianists. If this had not been enough, being a man of action and powerful projections, the Yongle Emperor had launched unusually expensive missions and projects, along the way of his rule depleting the state coffers and ignoring almost all of the conservative Confucian advise. Needless to say, the Confucianists, if not their wives, families and concubines were all angry at the Emperor and not a bit jealous of the newcomers who had gained considerable status at Court. The Confucianists especially loathed the eunuchs, of who the founding father of the Ming Dynasty Zhu Yuanzhang (Hongwu) had decreed that they should never (ever) hold ANY powers of decision within the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City).
Although, when the Yongle Emperor died in 1424 AD, the Confucianists had managed to significantly coopt the successor of the Yongle Emperor into reverting the policies experienced as most damaging and affronting to the Confucian power-block, unfortunately for them the new Emperor (Zhengde) had ruled for only a year before dying unexpectedly, it is said of a heart attack. This brief period of year, minus the obligatory mourning period, had by far not been enough to revert the many fundamental changes introduced by the Yongle Emperor (Life: 1360 AD - 1424 AD). Thus, as one may understand, the impending arrival of the new young Emperor at court, not a man alike Yongle who had a powerbase for himself in the Capital but someone imported from the southern provinces, had been interpreted as an opportunity to seize the powers of the throne simply by overwhelming him and so hopefully forcing his hand and opinions their way. As described already above, this attempt by members of the Court to force the Emperor into favorable decisions backfired completely.
As mentioned, the Shizong Emperor is held to have been highly superstitious. What goes far less mentioned are the details of his specific pursuits. Among things the Shizong Emperor engaged in the search for immortality much alike China's first Emperor, Qin (Reign: 221 BC - 207 BC). It is said that his beliefs soon became so powerful that his quest for immortality became an obsession which once fired up would last for over 20 years.
Expanding his time in Daoist pursuits or dabbling with Ladies, increasingly the Emperor neglect most of his governing duties. In fact, Shizong was so extreme that he is recorded as the one and only Emperor to have refused to see his Ministers for a almost 25 years. Thus, no advice was given and no advise was received where previously, the audience with the Ministers had been a daily occurence, for diligence and discipline taken place before or at dawn.
Regrettably, in the virtual absence of the Emperor - or better observed with total political gridlock having taken hold of the court with the Emperor seemingly turning away from daily political affairs, courtiers could once more vie for the ultimate powers they craved so much. Corruption immediately followed its opportunities.
That is, instead of being strange the choice of the Emperor to instead uplift Daoism likely was part of very logical, smart and meticulously executed political plan on his part. Given the opposition met by the Emperor after his enthronement and the ensuing political deadlock at court enduring for years afterwards, the choice of the Emperor to turn away from his Ministers and Councilors may well be closely related to his so called "infatuation" with Daoism.
dead. Not a week later, an unknown celestial object was observed in the night sky, fast increasing its brightness. Over the subsequent more than two months the world watched in shivvered in awe as a blazing red fireball, one of the brightest comets ever recorded in human history, flared up and swung past the earth. Last sighted by telescope on April 22 (at a western observatory) the object today identified as Comet 1556 D1 then disappeared from the view of humanity never to be seen again. Especially the combination of a deadly earthquake and the appearance of the bright ominous red comet were taken in China as a threatening sign of impending doom; perhaps the death of the Emperor of the fall of the entire Dynasty and with it civilization. Likewise, upon his sighting of the great comet of 1556, the French Holy Emperor Charles V declared his strongest emotions and openly declared that this ominous sign made him consider retiring from his heavenly endorsed claim to his throne. At least, the French Emperor made clear he saw the appearance of the red comet as a direct sign from the Gods of the Heavens. No information is available as to the response and possible emotions of Zhu Houcong, the Daoist and supernaturalist Jiajing Emperor.
For interest it may be noted that the Jiajing Emperor died to the day exactly eleven years after the earthquake which is 23 January 1556 in Julian calendar (On the later introduced Gregorian Calendar (First introduced in October 1582) his date of death is February 2, 1556).
Regardless of his pursuit of the "Elixir of Immortality" the Emperor died at the fairly early age of 49 years, as historians agree today, likely as a result of taking too many toxic substances (such as lead, zink, mercury) in his magical potions. In the aftermath Crown Prince Zhu Zaihou, son of Zhu Houcong succeeded to the Ming Throne.
China Report - Map of the Great Wall during the Ming Dynasty
Satellite image of China and North-East Asia, with a super-imposed schematic Map of the location and Path of the Great Wall as constructed during the Reign of the Ming Dynasty. Included for reference are City names, geographical features of landscape, Names and locations of Passes on the Great Wall of China.
Amidst the rising pressure on the communities (garrison cities) along the Great Wall of China, a mutiny of the military in the crucial Great Wall City of Datong occurred in the year 1524 AD.
While the 1524 mutiny was dealt with in a fairly reasonable and lenient way, it did spark a lenghty discussion between Grand Secretary Zhang Fujing and the Emperor Jiang. Whereas Grand Secretary Zhang argued for a stern approach and hard repression of anyone army rebel, the Emperor Jiajing was more cautious and favored a far softer approach.
Although the Datong Rebel issue seemed to have been resolved, it came back to haunt the Emperor and Court when in 1528 a sizeable group of aggressive bandits apparently killed a number of important Government civilian and military officials, then rising in open rebellion in a lawless mountainous area known as Blue Sheep Mountain, in south-west Shanxi Province, which is geographiclly speaking but a stones throw from Beijing. Although indeed a full Ming Army was mobilized and sent in in order to violently deal with the suppression of the rebels, through the intricate workings of the court, an alternative strategy of dealing with the rebels at Blue Sheep Mountain was perceived of, and eventually endorsed by the Emperor. To the considerable outrage and shock of Chief Grand Secretary Zhang, once mobilized, the armies were held back while it was decided that attempts would be made to deal with the rebellion through negotiations.
In brief, the led to a giant rift among between those who supported Seceretary Zhang in his views that lenient dealings with bandits simply were not the "Imperial Way", as he argued - as had been proven already during similar situations arising in the Tang Dynasty Era, and on the other hand the Emperor and those who felt that a more flexible method of coercing rather than killing would work out well for the
Likewise, not long after the enthronement of the Shizong Emperor an issue arose over the traditional honorary name to be given posthumously to the past Emperor. Since, the new Emperor's father was not in fact an Emperor, the conservative factions at court including many of the top ministers and administrators had argued that, in order to keep in line with traditions, the deceased Wuzong Emperor should posthumously adopt the new Emperor.
As an illustration of his attempts to rule over his subjects instead of being ruled by them, the Emperor instead insisted on elevating his own father to the status of Emperor, albeit posthumously.
Thus, although the matter could have been decided easily, with an astute Emperor standing up to his court advisors and Ministers on a symbolical but crucial political issue, the discussions on the proper name to be rewarded became highly politicized and as a result created a deep rift within the ruling classes of the Ming.
The young Emperor had chosen the name title of "HuangKao" for his father which was a name given to a father an Emperor. However, many at court, including a wide range of court officials and ministers greatly disagreed, as according to their principles this name could only be given to the dead Xiaozong Emperor, the grandfather of Shizong.
Subsequently, a row ensued in which, the real issue was not so much the lineage and tradition as well the dominance of the Emperor over the court, or as many preferred it, vice versa. As the young Emperor would find, various factions at court deeply opposed the new Emperor, seeking in effect to water down what was to be his unique and supreme powers of decision.
Thus, deeply affronted but also forced to choose, the new Shizong Emperor apparently acted decisively. According to court histories and legends, the Emperor was so angered that he had several of the Ministers arrested, others demoted and some of them executed.
The Emperors supremacy at court had been decisively (re-)established, however the violent solutions chosen apparently had the unintended result that a wave of terror swept the court. In the aftermath of the whole affair, the Shizong Emperor had gained himself a reputation of cruelty.
Being disgusted with the situation and likely disappointed at not regaining their rightful position in court circles, various of the most pious and capable of the Confucian scholars left court never to return. The affair has become known in history as the "Struggle over the Great Rite" and in its aftermath the Shizong Emperor did not see his rule strengthened but rather weakened as the political conflicts remained unresolved and the vacated positions at court were filled with corrupt manipulators and friends of the ruling Elite rather than the pious and capable Confucian scholars sought after.
(It is a problem that last through to this very day. The corruption in the current Communist Party is a direct prolongation of this culture of friendship, wealth and the giving of gifts that amount to bribes)
Throne. Although this was also certainly not an open rebellion or even a secret plot against imperial authority, the markedly different views on the Blue Sheep Mountain problem erupted into an open debate, thereafter splitting the court.
Meanwhile, in the year 1530 AD, the Jiajing Emperor, maneuvering for authority against his considerable opposition, made himself the High Priest of the Heavenly Altars in Beijing, likely in order to reinforce his position as the ultimate authority, as distributed through the Mandate of Heaven.
- Mouse over Image -
A view along the famed Nine Dragon Screen (Jiu Long Bi) in the city of Datong, the oldest surviving example of such an Imperial Dragon Screen in all of China today. The Dragon Screen Wall and some others fragments left around it are today the only surviving remains of the Palace of the Ming Princes which served as the home of the hostages taken in the 1533 Datong crisis.
Interestingly, in case, the mutiny itself was a possibly justifiable crime, given the fact that the already weary soldiers of the garrison had been given the very heavy and ny impossible task of digging a 13 mile ditch to protect the city walls, and do it in a span of 3 days. In addition, not merely officials but high ranking members of the Ming Imperial Clan (who had lived in the Ming Palace there) where held hostage by the rebels.
As a result of the sensitive situation, again the Emperor preferred a lenient approach to the case.
Unfortunately, among things to the rift between Government officials favoring a harsh approach and those who did not, just when the crisis seemed to be resolved through negotiations, and the rebellious garrison at Datong was ready to surrender, things got out of hand again due to a grandiose mismanagement of the orders received from the Emperor. Scared off by harsh messages posted in Datong by officials previously advocating harsh punishment of all rebels, the Datong garrison did not open the city gates to the Ming army sent to disarm and discipline it. Faced with a closed gate, the arriving Ming army attacked a Datong City gate and then full scale battle over the city commenced.
While news of all this reached Beijing, only some 150 miles away, the malignant Grand Secretary Wang Fujing found it a good moment to return to the court limelight sending open messages to the Emperor reminding him (and everyone else) of his earlier predictions about a weak approach to rebellion. While the battle for the very well defended three walled city on the Great Wall of China raged, Grand Secretary Zhang then thought wise to directly criticize the decisions made by the Jiajing Emperor in order to resolve the issues.
As it would turn out, it was in fact, one step too far, en after five months of
crisis in Datong and debate at the Beijing Court, the affair came to its final head. As one may have assumed, it was the Grand Secretary Zhang and his lower subordinates who lost out, and after a miserable first ten years of power struggle and critique, the young Emperor turned the situation around into a new period in which he established a certain moral authority and reputation. Zhang's subordinates on the scene at Datong were dismissed and severely demoted, while Zhang himself was told off by the Emperor personally, not to rear himself in the foreseeable future. New negotiators were sent to see release of the hostages, who were saved as the city stood down and appropriate help was given to those who had been swept up in the siege but had not participated. The happy ending underlined the authority of the Jiajing Emperor.
Although one could well see the above passing's as evidence of room for healthy debate in the top levels of decision at Court, and officially, until his death in 1539, Grand Secretary Zhang remained on familial and friendly terms with the Emperor personally, the case is illustrative of difficulties facing the Emperor in the Governing of such a large Empire. If there was not a case of open rebellion against the Emperors authority, there certainly was sufficient opposition to certain court decisions, and as proven subordinates would be willing to disobey orders or manipulate local situations in order to create their own favored outcomes. The Emperor did need to guard himself against his political enemies.
Factually unrelated, but highly unfortunate for the Emperor, then, in the 6th month of the supposedly auspicious and festive 10th year of the Jiajing Reign (1531), a bright celestial object, the broom star today known as Halley's Comet appeared in the heavens. Already well acquainted with these (as we know today: Halley's Comet was first sighted and recorded in the year 239 B.C. also by Chinese Astronomers), Chinese court astronomers generally took the appearance of these as a heavenly message of impending bad luck or even doom. As was the case with the spectacular passing of the Comet. As a result more turmoil swept the court in Beijing.
Already a few months later in the year 1532, an apparently zealous administrator from the southern Provinces, a Nanjing Censor named Feng En, called for the Capital Punishment of two top court administrators in Beijing, apparently as a way to ward of the impending catastrophe foretold by the comet. Notably, the ones named to be beheaded were the already mentioned Grand Secretary Zhang Fujing and one Fang Xianfu, the latter being a Confucian Scholar and a follower of the conservative philosophies of contemporary court official Wang Yangming. Due to to the nature of the ongoing political discussions at court, and the targets of this political "request", the Emperor sensed that maybe there was snake in the grass
YouTube short video: Halley's Comet. A famous regularly returning comet.
somewhere. As was not uncommon practice, as it has been to this day, the whistle blower administrator was not admired and rewarded for his good intentions but instead swiftly and discretely arrested, and severely questioned about his motives for publicly reaching out to the Emperor and condeming certain parties at Court. While Feng En suffered several rounds of torture (which apparently he withstood with remarkable resilience), for the time being social stability was maintained. There was however abundant rumor and Feng En became a folk hero of sorts as information leaked of his gleaming performance under the expected pressure (i.e. torture). No one called for revolution, however the case illustrates the tense political situation in the Nation at that time. And as with the Comet, the case would have a rather long tail.
Interestingly, while in this case it was the Emperor who demanded a harsh punishment because he felt that Feng En's "request" in relation to the passing of a Comet was really a veiled attack at the Emperor himself, on the other side it was Grand Secretary Zhang Fujing who appealed to the Emperor for leniency. Likely, Zhang appealed in this way because he felt that his own class of Confucian Literati, especially those of his own political sect (the Wang Yangmin contemporary philosophy school) should be protected from harsh treatment, but due to all the political implications it made him suspect. However, as Wang pointed out to the Jiajing Emperor, how could be a traitor protecting traitors, if the original traitor asked for his death.
Allas, as Grand Secretary further pointed out, so far there had been no court executions over the greatest problems dividing them. If now Feng En were to be executed, it would likely have the effect of silencing those loyal to the crown for fear of landing themselves in deadly troubles. Naturally, in the suspicious and paranoid environment, this was an argument everyone could relate to. Thus, in the end Feng En got off with his life but not all limbs in tact. The political suspicions of the Jiajing Emperor, who ultimately suspected a play for an overthrow of the throne (by Zhang Yangling, brother to the previous Empress Zhang whos husband had succumbed after but 1 year on the Dragon Throne), were greatly aroused from that time forward.
When but a few short years later in 1533 a similar rebellion occurred in the strategically crucial garrison and block city of Datong, Grand Secretary Zhang had quite enough of leniency, and in heated arguments warned the Emperor for dire consequences if "violent men are encouraged in their ways by the result of leniency". As the entire nation would find out some years later on, the threat of the Khalka Mongols invading through the Great Wall at Datong and advancing on Beijing was indeed not to be underestimated.
Nevertheless, the court was essentially split on the issue once more. That being, several principals at court felt that the violence was more or less justified, and that the real culprits of the rebellion were those who had mismanaged the case and had put ludicrous demands on the military detail. In addition, it was revealed that there was only a small core of rioters at Datong, while the rest of the men had merely been swept up in the events..