Palace plot of Renyin year
The Renyin Plot (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 renyin year of the sexagenary cycle, hence its name.
The Jiajing Emperor has been called the “Daoist emperor”, 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. Palace women ages 13–14 were kept for this purpose, and were fed only mulberry leaves and rainwater. Any girls who developed illnesses were thrown out and they could be beaten for the slightest offence. It has been suggested that this cruel treatment has led to the mutiny.
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. 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.
The role of each individual in the attempt on the emperor's life was judged and recorded as below:
- Imperial Concubine Ning (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. The bodies of the palace women, Imperial Concubine Ning, and Consort Duan were then displayed. 10 members of the women's families were also beheaded, while a further 20 were enslaved and gifted to ministers.
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, in 1547, when a fire destroyed parts of the palace, the emperor refused to have Empress Fang rescued and she burned to death.
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. 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.
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