Palace plot of Renyin year

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Palace plot of Renyin year
DateNovember 1542
TargetJiajing Emperor
Attack type
  • Political assassination
  • hanging

The Palace plot of Renyin year (Chinese: 壬寅宫變), also known as the Palace Women's Uprising (Chinese: 宮女起義), was a Ming dynasty plot against the Jiajing Emperor, where 16 palace women attempted to murder the emperor. It occurred in 1542, the 21st year of the reign of the Jiajing Emperor and the renyin year of the sexagenary cycle, hence its name.[1]


The Jiajing Emperor has been called the “Daoist emperor”,[2] due to his adherence to Daoist belief, particularly that of divination and alchemy. One of the alchemical concoctions he took to prolong his life was red lead (Chinese: 红铅), a substance made from the menstrual blood of female virgins.[3] Palace women ages 13–14 were kept for this purpose, and were fed only mulberry leaves and rainwater.[3] Any girls who developed illnesses were thrown out and they could be beaten for the slightest offence.[4] It has been suggested that this cruel treatment led to the uprising.[3]

Another version of the story is that the Jiajing Emperor's garden had many banana trees, and the morning dew collected from the leaves tasted sweet and refreshing. The Jiajing Emperor thus drank the water, believing it would promote longevity. Young girls in the palace were made to collect the dew every morning, and many of them fell ill due to the cold.[5]

Sometimes older women were sent to collect the dew as a form of punishment. One time, the emperor was given a 'longevity turtle' dyed in 5 different colours, and he ordered his lower-ranking concubines to care for the animal. However, the turtle died, and the furious Emperor ordered the concubines to collect the morning dew. Around the same time, Imperial Concubine Wang Ning was spreading rumours that the emperor had lost the favour of Heaven because he had been enchanted by his favourite concubine, Consort Duan. The rumour alleged that Consort Duan was actually a fox spirit and her smell on the emperor offended Heaven. When the emperor found out, he ordered Imperial Concubine Wang Ning to collect the dew as punishment. When in the garden, the Imperial Concubine met other concubines who had been similarly punished, and they hatched a plan. If the emperor were found dead in Consort Duan's quarters, the incident of the dead turtle would be forgotten, and the Imperial Concubine would be vindicated for saying that the emperor had lost Heaven's favour due to Consort Duan.[1]


In 1542, the emperor was staying in Consort Duan's quarters. A group of palace women pretended to wait on him, tied a rope around his neck and attempted to strangle him.[6] They failed to do so and, in the meantime, one of them got cold feet and went to alert Empress Fang. The empress hurried over, and the palace eunuchs revived the emperor. The palace women were all arrested.[6]


The role of each individual in the attempt on the emperor's life was judged and recorded as below:

  • Concubine Ning, of the Wang clan (宁嫔王氏), head of the plot
  • Consort Duan, the assault happened in her quarters
  • Chen Juhua (陈菊花), personally involved in strangling the emperor
  • Deng Jinxiang (邓金香), conspired to murder the emperor
  • Guan Meixiu (关梅秀), personally involved in strangling the emperor
  • Huang Yulian (黄玉莲), conspired to murder the emperor
  • Liu Miaolian (刘妙莲), personally involved in strangling the emperor
  • Su Zhouyao (苏川药), personally involved in strangling the emperor
  • Wang Xiulan (王秀兰), personally involved in strangling the emperor
  • Xing Cuilian (邢翠莲), personally involved in strangling the emperor
  • Xu Qiuhua (徐秋花), conspired to murder the emperor
  • Yang Cuiying (杨翠英), personally involved in strangling the emperor
  • Yang Jinying (杨金英), personally involved in strangling the emperor
  • Yang Yuxiang (杨玉香), personally involved in strangling the emperor
  • Yao Shucui (姚淑翠), personally involved in strangling the emperor
  • Zhang Chunjing (张春景), conspired to murder the emperor
  • Zhang Jinlian (张金莲), reported the murder attempt to Empress Fang


After the attack, the Jiajing Emperor was unconscious for several days, so Empress Fang set the punishment for the palace women. She ordered all of them, including Zhang Jinlian, who had informed her of the attack, to death by slow slicing. Although Consort Duan had not been present, the empress decided that she had been involved with the plot and sentenced her to death too.[6] The bodies of the palace women, Imperial Concubine Ning, and Consort Duan were then displayed.[7] 10 members of the women's families were also beheaded, while a further 20 were enslaved and gifted to ministers.[7]


Although the Jiajing Emperor had been incapacitated at the time, he resented Empress Fang for having killed his favourite concubine, Consort Duan. He later determined Consort Duan had been innocent and suspected the Empress of using the situation to rid herself of a hated rival.[1] In 1547, when a fire destroyed parts of the palace, the emperor refused to have Empress Fang rescued, and she burned to death.[8] The emperor claimed that this was the will of heaven.[1]

After the uprising, the Jiajing Emperor did not stop creating red lead. Instead, he ordered restrictions on girls entering the palace to be tightened. In 1547, 300 girls between the ages of 11 and 14 were selected as new palace women. In 1552, a further 200 girls were selected to serve in the palace, but the lower age limit was reduced to eight years old.[3] Three years later, in 1555, 150 girls below the age of eight were taken into the palace to be used for making the emperor’s medicine.[3]



  1. ^ a b c d Lecture Room— Jiajing Palace Change 20160707 | CCTV, retrieved 2019-08-23
  2. ^ Huang (2011), p. 7.
  3. ^ a b c d e Huang (2011), p. 8.
  4. ^ Zhang (2007), p. 37.
  5. ^ Huang 2011, p. 10.
  6. ^ a b c Zhang (1739)
  7. ^ a b History Office (1620s), volume 267
  8. ^ Keith McMahon: Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing

Works cited[edit]

  • 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). Ctext.
  • Huang 黄, Weibo 伟波 (2011). "壬寅宫变与嘉靖皇帝之崇奉方术" [The palace rebellion of ‘’renyin’’ and the Jiajing Emperor’s belief in alchemy]. Xiang Chao (in Chinese) (10).
  • 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.
  • Zhang 张, Yongchang 永昌 (2007). "壬寅宫变 宫女献身" [The ‘’renyin’’ palace rebellion: palace women sacrifice themselves]. Quanzhou Wenxue (in Chinese) (1).