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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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.


  • Parents:
    • Zhu Youwan (獻皇帝 朱佑杬; 1476 – 1519)
    • Empress dowager Jiang (慈孝獻皇后 蔣氏; d. 1538)
  • Consorts and Issue:
  1. Empress Chen (孝潔肅皇后 陳氏; 1508 – 1528)
  2. Empress Zhang (皇后 張七姐; d. 1537), personal name Qijie
  3. Empress Fang (孝烈皇后 方氏; 1516 – 1547)
  4. Posthumous empress Du (孝恪皇后 杜氏; d. 1554)
    1. Zhu Zaihou (穆宗 朱載垕; 1537 – 1572)
  5. Second rank consort Wang (端和皇貴妃 王氏; d. 1553)
    1. Zhu Zairui (莊敬皇太子 朱載壡; 1536 – 1549)
  6. Second rank consort Shen (莊順皇貴妃 沈氏; d. 1581)
  7. Second rank consort Yan (榮安皇貴妃 閻氏; d. 1541)
    1. Zhu Zaiji (哀衝皇太子 朱載基; 1533)
  8. Third rank consort Wen (恭僖貴妃 文氏)
  9. Third rank consort Ma (榮安貴妃 馬氏)
  10. Fourth rank consort Wen (悼隱恭妃 文氏; d. 1532)
  11. Fourth rank consort Cao (端妃 曹氏; d. 1542)
    1. Princess Chang'an (常安公主 朱壽媖; 1536 – 1549), personal name Shouying
    2. Princess Ning'an (寧安公主 朱祿媜; 1539 – 1607), personal name Luzheng
  12. Fourth rank consort Zheng (懷榮賢妃 鄭氏; d. 1536)
  13. Fourth rank consort Lu (靖妃 盧氏; d. 1588)
    1. Zhu Zaizhen (景恭王 朱載圳; 1537 – 1565)
  14. Fourth rank consort Jiang (肅妃 江氏)
    1. Zhu Zailu (潁殤王 朱載𪉖; 1537)
  15. Fourth rank consort Zhao (懿妃 趙氏; d. 1569)
    1. Zhu Zai? (戚懷王 朱載Zh 戛鬥土.svg; 1537 – 1538)
  16. Fourth rank consort Chen (雍妃 陳氏; d. 1586)
    1. Zhu Zaikui (薊哀王 朱載㙺; 1538 – 1538)
    2. Princess Guishan (歸善公主 朱瑞嬫; 1541 – 1544), personal name Ruirong
  17. Fourth rank consort Wang (徽妃 王氏)
    1. Princess Sirou (思柔公主 朱福媛; 1538 – 1549), personal name Fuyuan
  18. Fourth rank consort Zhao (榮妃 趙氏)
    1. Zhu Zai? (均思王 朱載土夙缺字.svg; 1539 – 1540)
  19. Fourth rank consort Zhang (榮昭德妃 張氏; d. 1574)
    1. Princess Jiashan (嘉善公主 朱素嫃; 1541 – 1564), personal name Suzhen
  20. Fourth rank consort Ma (榮安貞妃 馬氏; d. 1564)
  21. Fourth rank consort Zhang (端靜淑妃 張氏)
  22. Fourth rank consort Wang (恭僖麗妃 王氏; d. 1553)
  23. Fourth rank consort Yang (恭淑榮妃 楊氏; d. 1566)
  24. Fourth rank consort Xu (端惠永妃 徐氏)

See also[edit]


  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. 
  • 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.
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