Life 23 December, 1605 - September 30, 1627 AD
Reign 1621 - 1627 AD , Reign Period TianQi (天啓) - "Heavenly Opening"
Zhu (朱) Youqiao (or Youxiao)(由校) , Name as Emperor XiZong (熹宗)
In the aftermath of the political clashes that created and ended the short lived previous Taichang Reign of the Guangzong Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, the Confucian class once more lost out to the opposing and nearly united faction of the eunuchs. As a result, the next succession to the Throne was largely a scam which aimed to continue and sustain the free reign that the eunuchs had previously enjoyed in the highest strata of the Imperial administration. According to the ancestral rule insisted upon by the Confucian Scholar gentry during the Wanli Reign of the Shenzong Emperor (1621 AD - 1627 AD), the oldest living Son was the first in line for the succession to the Throne. Thus, much to the delight of the eunuch class at court, Zhu Youxiao, a retarded or otherwise mentally handicapped man who was also the eldest Son of Zhu Changluo the incompetent previous Emperor Guangzong, ascended to the Throne after the death of his father in the year 1620 AD becoming Emperor Xizong. In the following year, according to procedure, he named his reign period Tianqi (天啓) meaning "Heavenly Opening". Thereafter, officially the Emperor reigned for only a short 7 years until his death in 1627 AD. Behind the Throne however, for the length of the entire reign period the court eunuchs led by Wei Zhongxian - who is considered the most powerful and notorious eunuch in Chinese History - were in virtual control of State Affairs.
Zhu Youxiao's first wife and Empress was Xiao Ai Zhe.
In 1621 AD upon the death of his Father Zhu Youxiao ascended to the throne at the young age of 15, when still susceptible to manipulation. Furthermore, what can be surely said is that this Emperor was not the brightest person. From the very beginning Zhu Youxiao seems to have been disinterested in his duties as Emperor and troubles started right away as the young Emperor was accused of failing in his filial duties to his dead father by not continuing his father's wishes. This severe infraction against Confucian doctrine would normally have severely upset the court, however it must have been clear to the courtiers that they were dealing with a mentally handicapped Man. Today it is held quite possible that Zhu Youxiao suffered from a learning disability or something more. He was illiterate and showed no interest in his studies.
As might be expected in such a situation, once more an Emperor Fell under influence of court eunuchs who carefully weaved their web of intrigues around him. In the case of the young Emperor Xizong, it was one of the court Ladies, a former maid servant known as "West Li" (also known as Wang Ke (客氏)) who had been the wet-nurse of the little Emperor as a baby and child, who cooperated with the eunuch Li Jinzong (later also known as : Wei Zhongxian) in hatching a plot against the Throne.
As history has it, Lady West Li was promiscuous of her very nature. After her husband died, Lady "West Li" accepted a place to live in the luxurious home of a court eunuch named Wei Chao. Rising in social stature, but apparently still not satisfied, later she exchanged Wei Chao for the wealthier and more influential eunuch Li Jinzong (Wei Zhongxian). Subsequently, both cooperated in manipulating the mentally challenged Emperor, who, as legend has it was seduced by the much older Lady Wang. Flattering, kneeding and manipulating Zhu Youqiao, both managed to gain in influence and the favor of the Emperor.
Giving expression to his position as favorite, the Emperor granted Li Jinzong the position of leading Eunuch changing his name into Wei Zhongxian.
Once in the most powerful of all positions at Court, Wei went to war with his enemies among whom many of the (Neo-)Confucian Scholar gentry. For years on end Wei had anyone who opposed his decisions persecuted, resulting in the death and imprisonment of many officials. Having thus eliminated many of his enemies and gaining an almost free reign behind the Throne of the retard Emperor, later he even become so self confident as to later proclaimed himself to be Nine-Thousand Years (九千歲) which clearly intended to convey the message that he was symbolically the second most important person in the country, not very much behind or below the Emperor himself, the Lord of Ten-Thousand Years (萬歲). Wei also created a personality cult around himself, building many shrines (生祠) and erecting god-like statues of himself in them.
Eventually however, fate and his many enemies would catch up with Li Jinzong (Wei Zhongxian). In 1627 AD, with the death of the Tianqi Emperor his power and influence ended. The successor to the Throne, a clear headed Man and the brother of Zhu Youqiao wasted no time at all and promptly eliminated him. He was forced to commit suicide (some sources say executed by strangulation) and his corpse was disemboweled as an additional punishment.
In an interesting turn of events, the relationship between Lady "West Li" and Li Jinzong seems to have evolved into- or sprouted from a sort of romantic relationship, with the now aging court Lady even going as far as to live together with the eunuch inside the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qian Qing Gong), The Emperors Quarters or "House" in the Forbidden City. This was absolutely unheard of and incredibly dangerous. It was also a clear sign of how low the Emperors' stature at his own court had become. Things were a shambles, and the corrupt and overly powerful eunuchs made a mockery of the authorities of the Throne and its Ministers. No entirely without opposition though. Some leading Confucian scholars, the clique always opposing the influence of the eunuchs at Court, did make attempts to save what was left of the Nation and its dignity.
Although they did not expose the relationship in full, the Lady was later forced to move to another residence within the Palace on orders of the Ministers Yang Lian and Zuo Guangduo.
During the reign of the Tianqi Emperor, opposition of Neo-Confucian Scholars united in the Donglin Movement against the corruption and mis-administration practiced by the leading court eunuch Wei Zhongxian resulted in the closure of the Neo-Confucian Donglin Academy in Wuxi in Jiangsu Province in the year 1622 AD (which had re-opened in 1605 AD). Two years later in 1624 AD, the suppression of the movement lead to the execution and torture of its leading scholar and head of the Institute, Yang Lian, Yang Lian was tortured and executed along with five other members of the Donglin Movement dealing it a major but not deadly blow. The movement would continue to be active throughout the provinces and Capital even winning members after the brutal executions. With the accession of the Chongzhen Emperor to the Throne in 1627 AD the fortunes of the Donglin faction were restored, however it would turn out to be too late to save the Dynasty.
(Later during Chongzhen's reign, Donglin partisans found themselves opposed to the Grand Secretary Wen Tiren, eventually arranging his dismissal in 1637 AD).
Achievements: A lover of Carpentry and furniture making, the young Emperor rather neglected state affairs, instead spending his time planing planks and sawing away in his workshop. It is said that the Emperor became such a skilled carpenter that at one time he even constructed a wooden miniature, a model of his beloved Palace of Heavenly Purity in the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Apart from having been rather obsessed with his carpentry and handicrafts skills, the Emperor also had romantic and rather exotic flairs. It is said that the Xizong Emperor loved the stage arts, especially the more dramatic performances. One story of the Xizong Emperor tells how he would like to dress up, at times in summer dressing up as if it were winter time, and he was inspecting a frozen Palace on a snowy wintry night. At other times the Emperor is known to have ascended to the stage himself giving various ravishing performances.
It was all jolly good fun. However, with yet another Emperor engrossing himself in everything but State Affairs, ample opportunity was given to those eager to gain power and possession and seeking to defraud the Emperor and the Empire to further their plot. As had been the case during the reign periods of several preceding Emperors, the leading group of court eunuchs and other plotting officials seized their chance. As described below, with the Emperor distracted by his hobbies, two leading Eunuchs by the name of Ke and Wei Zhongxian (Previously: Wei Si (魏四, literally, Wei Fourth; Name as Eunuch: Li Jinzhong (李進忠 ; Life: 1568 AD -1627 AD) saw their opportunities.
The Tianqi Reign of the Ming Dynasty was by and a large an unprecedented travesty. Except for perhaps in carpentry, no lasting achievements were made by or under the Xizong Emperor.
Due to his lack of mental abilities the Emperor, illiterate, was unable to read any of the Court Documents. Instead of handling State Affairs his subordinates parked the Emperor in his atelier where he was usually engrossed in what can be best be called his hobbies, while the leading Eunuchs enriched themselves, mocked the Emperor and the Throne and eventually even went as far as take over some of the most important privileges reserved for the Emperor. The corruption and debauchery at court, combined with the overtaxing and gross mismanagement of public resulted in large scale peasant uprisings which occurred throughout the Empire, a sure sign of the decline and coming end of the Dynasty.