Taichang Emperor

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Taichang Emperor
15th Emperor of the Ming dynasty
Reign28 August 1620 – 26 September 1620
Coronation28 August 1620
PredecessorWanli Emperor
SuccessorTianqi Emperor
Born(1582-08-28)28 August 1582[1]
Died26 September 1620(1620-09-26) (aged 38)
Qingling, Ming tombs, Beijing
(m. 1601; died 1613)

Empress Dowager Xiaohe
(died 1619)

(died 1614)
IssueTianqi Emperor
Chongzhen Emperor
Princess Daoyi
Zhu Huiheng
Princess Ningde
Princess Suiping
Princess Le'an
Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Changluo (常洛)
Era name and dates
Taichang (泰昌): 28 August 1620[2] – 21 January 1621
Posthumous name
Emperor Chongtian Qidao Yingrui Gongchun Xianwen Jingwu Yuanren Yixiao Zhen
Temple name
Ming Guangzong
HouseHouse of Zhu
FatherWanli Emperor
MotherEmpress Dowager Xiaojing

The Taichang Emperor[3] (Chinese: 泰昌; pinyin: Tàichāng; 28 August 1582 – 26 September 1620), personal name Zhu Changluo (Chinese: 朱常洛), was the 15th Emperor of the Ming dynasty. He was the eldest son of the Wanli Emperor and succeeded his father as emperor in 1620. However, his reign came to an abrupt end less than one month after his coronation when he was found dead one morning in the palace following a bout of diarrhea. He was succeeded by his son, Zhu Youjiao, who was enthroned as the Tianqi Emperor. His era name, Taichang, means "grand prosperity." His reign was the shortest in Ming history.

Early life[edit]

Zhu Changluo was born in 1582, the 10th year of the Wanli era, to the Wanli Emperor and a palace attendant, Lady Wang, who served under the Emperor's mother, Empress Dowager Xiaoding. After it was discovered that Lady Wang was pregnant, the Emperor was persuaded by his mother to make her a concubine and awarded her the title "Consort Gong of the Second Grade" (恭妃).[4] However she was never one of the Wanli Emperor's favourite consorts. After his birth, Zhu Changluo was largely ignored by his father even though he, as the firstborn son of the emperor, was by default the heir apparent (crown prince) according to the Ming dynasty's traditional rules of succession.[5] He was born shortly after his elder sister, the Princess Rongchang; the Wanli Emperor's eldest child and only child with his primary wife Empress Xiaoduanxian.[6]

Zhu Changluo spent most of his life as a hapless pawn in a power struggle for the title of crown prince. The Wanli Emperor openly preferred naming Zhu Changxun, his younger son born to his favourite consort Noble Consort Zheng as crown prince over the seniority of Zhu Changluo, but his intention was met with vehement opposition by most of his Confucian-educated ministers who insisted that the Emperor adhered to dynastic traditions. Frustrated by the multiple petitions to install Zhu Changluo as crown prince, the Wanli Emperor decided to stonewall the issue and left the question of his designated heir in suspense. Some historians have suggested that the impasse on the selection of crown prince was part of the cause of the Wanli Emperor's withdrawal from daily government administration.

Caught in this political limbo, Zhu Changluo was deliberately not assigned a regular tutor or given any systematic Confucian education even after he started school at the age of 13, an unusually late age for Ming princes to begin their education. In 1601, the Wanli Emperor gave in to pressure from his ministers and more importantly from the empress dowager and a 19-year-old Zhu Changluo was formally instated as crown prince and heir apparent. However this formal recognition did not signal the end of court intrigues. Rumours of the Wanli Emperor's intention to replace Zhu Changluo with Zhu Changxun continued to surface through the years,[7]

Palace Assault[edit]

In 1615, the Ming imperial court was hit by a mysterious scandal. A man called Zhang Chai, armed only with a wooden staff, managed to drive away the eunuchs guarding the palace gates and break into Ciqing Palace—then the crown prince's living quarters. Zhang Chai was eventually subdued and thrown in prison. Although initial investigations found him to be a lunatic, upon further investigations by a magistrate named Wang Zhicai, Zhang Chai confessed to being party to a plot instigated by two eunuchs[8] working under Noble Consort Zheng. According to Zhang Chai's confession, the two eunuchs had promised him rewards for assaulting the crown prince, thus indirectly implicating Lady Zheng in an assassination plot. Presented with incriminating evidence and the gravity of the accusations, the Wanli Emperor, in an attempt to spare Lady Zheng, personally presided over the case and laid full blame on the two eunuchs, who were executed along with Zhang Chai. Although the case was quickly hushed up, it did not squelch public discussions and eventually became known as the "Case of the Palace Assault" (梃击案), one of three notorious mysteries[9] of the late Ming dynasty.

In 1615, the crown prince became infuriated with his concubine, Lady Liu, who was the mother of the future Chongzhen Emperor. He ordered her punished, during which ordeal Lady Liu died.[10] It is debated whether the crown prince ordered her to be killed or if her death was an accident.[11] Fearing that this incident would further turn his father against him and towards Zhu Changxun, the crown prince had Lady Liu secretly buried in the Western Hills near Beijing and forbade palace staff from mentioning the affair.[10] On his ascension to the throne, the Chongzhen Emperor had Lady Liu reburied in the Ming tombs next to her husband.[10]


The Wanli Emperor died on 18 August 1620 and was succeeded by Zhu Changluo on 28 August 1620, the latter’s 38th birthday by Western calculation. Upon his coronation, Zhu Changluo adopted the era name "Taichang" (literally "grand prosperity") for his reign, hence he is known as the Taichang Emperor.

The first few days of his reign started promisingly enough as recorded in the Ming histories. Two million taels of silver was entailed as a gift to the troops guarding the border, important bureaucratic posts left vacant during the Wanli Emperor's long periods of administrative inactivity were finally starting to be filled, and many of the deeply unpopular extraordinary taxes and duties imposed by the Wanli Emperor were also revoked at this time. However, ten days after his coronation, the Taichang Emperor became so ill that celebrations for his birthday (by Chinese calculation) were cancelled.[12]

The Red Pills[edit]

According to non-official primary sources,[13] the Taichang Emperor's illness was brought about by excessive sexual indulgence after he was presented with eight maidens by Lady Zheng.[14] The emperor's already serious condition was further compounded by severe diarrhoea after taking a dose of laxative, recommended by an attending eunuch Cui Wensheng on 10 September. Finally on 25 September, to counter the effects of the laxative, he asked for and took a red pill[15] presented by a minor court official named Li Kezhuo, who dabbled in apothecary.


It was recorded in official Ming histories[16] that the Taichang Emperor felt much better after taking the red pill, regained his appetite and repeatedly praised Li Kezhuo as a "loyal subject". That same afternoon, the emperor took a second pill and was found dead the next morning on September 26, 1620.[12][17]

The death of an emperor who was seemingly in good health within the span of a month sent shock waves through the Ming Empire and rumours started spreading. The much talked about mystery surrounding the Taichang Emperor's death became known as the infamous "Case of the Red Pills" (红丸案), one of three notorious 'mysteries' of the late Ming dynasty. Consort Kang of the Li Clan was also involved in this matter. The fate of Li Kezhuo, whose pills were at the center of this controversy, became a hotly contested subject between competing power factions of officials and eunuchs vying for influence at the Ming imperial court. Opinions ranged from awarding him money for the emperor's initial recovery to executing his entire family for murdering the emperor. The question was finally settled in 1625 when Li Kezhuo was exiled to the border regions on the order of the powerful eunuch Wei Zhongxian, signalling the total dominance of eunuchs during the reign of the Taichang Emperor's son, the Tianqi Emperor.


The Taichang Emperor's unexpected death threw the Ming imperial court into some logistical disarray. Firstly, the court was still officially in mourning over the death of the Wanli Emperor, whose corpse at this point was still lying in state waiting for an auspicious date to be interred. Secondly, all imperial tombs were custom made by the reigning emperor and there was no proper place to bury the Taichang Emperor, who had only just ascended the throne. A tomb was hastily commissioned over the foundation of the demolished tomb of the Jingtai Emperor. The construction was finally completed on the eighth month of 1621 and consecrated Qingling (庆陵). Finally, on the question of naming the emperor's reign, although the emperor had taken the formal era name of "Taichang", it was sandwiched between the 48th year of the Wanli era (1620) and the first year of the Tianqi era (1621). After much discussion, the Ming imperial court accepted Zuo Guangdou's suggestion to designate the Wanli era as having ended in the seventh lunar month of 1620, while the Taichang era spanned from the 8th to 12th months in the same year. The Tianqi era officially started from the first lunar month of 1621.

From a historical perspective, the Taichang Emperor's reign by nature of its short time span amounts to nothing more than a footnote in Ming history. It exposed the constitutional weakness of the Ming dynasty's autocratic system when headed by a weak emperor as typified by the Taichang Emperor and his successor, the Tianqi Emperor. From the limited information gleaned from official Ming histories on the life of the emperor, he came across as an introverted half-literate alcoholic satirical weakling. Given this dismal track record there is no evidence that had the Taichang Emperor's reign lasted any longer than it did, he could have turned around the fortunes of the beleaguered Ming dynasty after the long steady decline of the later years of the Wanli Emperor's reign.


Consorts and Issue:

  • Empress Xiaoyuanzhen, of the Guo clan (孝元貞皇后 郭氏; 1580–1613)
    • Princess Huaishu Daoyi (懷淑悼懿公主; 1604–1610), personal name Huijuan (徽娟), second daughter
  • Empress Dowager Xiaohe, of the Wang clan (孝和皇太后 王氏; 1582–1619)
    • Zhu Youjiao, the Tianqi Emperor (熹宗 朱由校; 23 December 1605 – 30 September 1627), first son
    • Zhu Youxue, Prince Jianhuai (簡懷王 朱由㰒; 1607–1610), second son
  • Empress Dowager Xiaochun, of the Liu clan (孝純皇太后 劉氏; 1588–1615)
    • Zhu Youjian, the Chongzhen Emperor (思宗 朱由檢; 6 February 1611 – 25 April 1644), fifth son
  • Consort Gongyizhuang, of the Li clan (恭懿莊妃 李氏; 5 December 1588 – 6 December 1624)
  • Consort Yi, of the Fu clan (懿妃 傅氏; 1588–1644)
    • Princess Ningde (寧德公主), personal name Huiyan (徽妍), sixth daughter
      • Married Liu Youfu (劉有福) in 1626
    • Princess Suiping (遂平公主; 1611 – 8 February 1633), personal name Huijing (徽婧), seventh daughter
      • Married Qi Zanyuan (齊贊元) in 1627, and had issue (four daughters)
  • Consort Kang, of the Li clan (康妃 李氏; 1584–1674)
    • Zhu Youmo, Prince Huaihui (懷惠王 朱由模; 30 November 1610 – 1615), fourth son
    • Princess Le'an (樂安公主; 1611–1643), personal name Huiti (徽媞), eighth daughter
      • Married Gong Yonggu (鞏永固; d. 1644), and had issue (three sons, two daughters)
    • Princess (公主; 1616–1617), personal name Huizhao (徽妱), tenth daughter
  • Consort Yi, of the Ding clan (懿妃 定氏)
    • Zhu Youxu, Prince Xianghuai (湘懷王 朱由栩), sixth son
  • Consort Jing, of the Feng clan (敬妃 馮氏)
    • Zhu Youjian, Prince Huizhao (慧昭王 朱由橏; b. 1620), seventh son
  • Concubine Shen, of the Shao clan (慎嬪 邵氏)
    • Princess Daowen (悼溫公主; 1621), personal name Huizheng (徽姃), 11th daughter
  • Xuanshi, of the Wang clan (選侍 王氏)
    • Zhu Youji, Prince Qisi (齊思王 朱由楫; 14 August 1609 – 1616), third son
  • Unknown
    • Princess Daoyi (悼懿公主), first daughter
    • Third daughter (d. 1623), personal name Huiheng (徽姮)
    • Princess Daoshun (悼順公主; 1606–1607), personal name Huixuan (徽嫙), fourth daughter
    • Princess (公主; 1608–1609), personal name Huiweng (徽㜲), fifth daughter
    • Eighth daughter (b. 1611), personal name Huiwan (徽婉)


Zhu Youyuan (1476–1519)
Jiajing Emperor (1507–1567)
Empress Cixiaoxian (d. 1538)
Longqing Emperor (1537–1572)
Du Lin
Empress Xiaoke (d. 1554)
Wanli Emperor (1563–1620)
Li Yu
Li Wei (1527–1583)
Empress Dowager Xiaoding (1546–1614)
Lady Wang
Taichang Emperor (1582–1620)
Wang Chaocai
Empress Dowager Xiaojing (1565–1611)
Lady Ge

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dates before October 1582 are given in the Julian calendar,
    not in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. Dates after October 1582
    are given in the Gregorian calendar, not in the Julian calendar
    that remained in use in England until 1752.
  2. ^ The Taichang era should have started on 22 January 1621; however, the emperor died before the start of his era. His era name means "Great goodness" or "Great prosperity". He was succeeded by his son the Tianqi Emperor, and according to the law the Tianqi era was now scheduled to start on 22 January 1621, so that the Taichang era would never exist in practice. In order to honor his father, the new emperor decided that the Wanli era would be considered ended since 27 August 1620, the last day of the 7th month in the Chinese calendar. The period from 28 August 1620 (1st day of the 8th month, which was the day on which Taichang had ascended the throne) until 21 January 1621 would become the Taichang era, enabling this era to be applied for a few months. Thus, quite an extraordinary situation resulted from this choice: the 7th month of the 48th year of the Wanli era was followed by the 8th month of the 1st year of the Taichang era (the 1st year of the Taichang era, in fact the only year of the Taichang era, lacks its first seven months), then the 12th month of the 1st year of the Taichang era was to be followed by the 1st month of the 1st year of the Tianqi era.
  3. ^ Chinese emperors are commonly known by their era name, such as Taichang in this instance. This stemmed from the Chinese practice (up to the Republic of China) of referring to the calendar year after the emperor's reign. However, because the Taichang Emperor's reign was so short, the Taichang era became lost between "48th year of the Wanli era" (1620) and "1st year of the Taichang era" (1621). Secondly, the reigning emperor's era name was usually inscribed on newly minted copper currency and as no coinage with Taichang era name was minted while the Taichang Emperor was alive. All Ming dynasty coins bearing the marking "Taichang" were minted during the reign of the Taichang Emperor's son, the Tianqi Emperor. Thus "Taichang" is also known as the "emperor without an era name", and commonly referred to by his temple name "Ming Guangzong" (明光宗).
  4. ^ Apart from the empress, there were seven grades of consorts in the Ming palace system. These in their order of seniority were Huang Guifei (皇贵妃), Guifei (贵妃), Bin (嫔), Guiren (贵人), Cairen (才人), Xuanshi (选侍), and Shunü (淑女), beneath which were palace attendants. "Lady Gong", in this case, was a palace attendant elevated to the rank of a consort of the second (most senior) grade.
  5. ^ The Ming dynasty followed a strict patrilineal line of succession. Among the emperor's sons, those born to the empress were called dizi (嫡子) while those born to the emperor's other consorts were called shuzi (庶子). Dizis took precedence over shuzis in the line of succession; seniority according to age was considered only after the dizi-shuzi distinction was made. Although the Wanli Emperor's empress never bore a son, Zhu Changluo's position as the eldest among the emperor's sons and claim to the position of crown prince would be superseded if the empress gave birth to a son or if the emperor made his favourite Lady Zheng empress.
  6. ^ History Office, ed. (1620s). 明實錄:列传第九 [Veritable Records of the Ming: Ninth Biographies] (in Chinese). Ctext.
  7. ^ "Ming Official Court History – The Chronicles of Taichang" (明史·光宗本纪), documented two separate instances in the years 1603 and 1613, when pamphlets of unknown origins accusing Lady Zheng of plotting to remove the crown prince received widespread public circulation. Although several suspects were eventually apprehended, official investigations ordered by the Wanli Emperor never satisfactorily establish the culprits behind the pamphlets.
  8. ^ The two eunuchs were named Pang Bao, and Liu Cheng.
  9. ^ The 'Three Mysteries of Late Ming' (明宫三案) referred to the Case of the Palace Assault (梃击案), the Case of the Red Pills (红丸案), and the Case of Palace Removal (移宫案).
  10. ^ a b c Zhang Tingyu, ed. (1739). "《明史》卷一百十四 列传第二" [History of Ming, Volume 114, Historical Biographies 2]. Lishichunqiu Net (in Chinese). Lishi Chunqiu. Retrieved 22 June 2017.
  11. ^ zhouchen, ed. (18 October 2016). "孝纯皇后简介 揭秘孝纯皇后是怎么死的?" [Biography of Empress Xiaochun: How did Empress Xiaochun die?]. Qulishi.net (in Chinese). Retrieved 22 June 2017.
  12. ^ a b Twitchett 1998, p. 593.
  13. ^ "National Discussions" (国榷) completed in the 1650s, & "Book of Ming" (明書; also known as 罪惟錄) a seventeenth-century privately written record of Ming history.
  14. ^ Official Ming histories (明史 & 明史紀事本末) stated that the number of women presented by Lady Zheng as four. Lady Zheng's motive for the gift was never explained. It could either be an effort to get into the emperor's good books or the latest in the long series of attempts to kill him.
  15. ^ The "Red Pills" (紅丸; or 红铅金丹) were a Chinese apothecary concoction popular during the mid Ming dynasty. It contained among its many ingredients "red lead" (dried powdered female menstrual blood), "autumn stone" (crystallized urinal salts) baked into the form of a pill that claims to be an "energy" booster and an aphrodisiac. The formula is collected in a volume titled "Wondrous Methods for Life Extension" (摄生众妙方) edited by a Ming scholar Zhang Shiqie.
  16. ^ Ming Court History, "Biography of HanGuang "(明史·韩爌传)
  17. ^ 《明史·本紀第二十一》:四十八年七月,神宗崩。丁酉,太子遵遗诏发帑金百万犒边。尽罢天下矿税,起建言得罪诸臣。己亥,再发帑金百万充边赏。八月丙午朔,即皇帝位。大赦天下,以明年为泰昌元年。蠲直省被灾租赋。己酉,吏部侍郎史继偕、南京礼部侍郎沈飗为礼部尚书兼东阁大学士,预机务。辽东大旱。庚申,兰州黄河清,凡三日。甲子,礼部侍郎何宗彦、刘一燝、韩爌为礼部尚书兼东阁大学士,预机务。乙丑,南京礼部尚书朱国祚为礼部尚书兼东阁大学士,预机务。召叶向高。遣使恤刑。丙寅,帝不豫。戊辰,召对英国公张惟贤、大学士方从哲等十有三人于乾清宫,命皇长子出见。甲戌,大渐,复召从哲等受顾命。是日,鸿胪寺官李可灼进红丸。九月乙亥朔,崩于乾清宫,在位一月,年三十有九。熹宗即位,从廷臣议,改万历四十八年八月后为泰昌元年。冬十月,上尊谥,庙号光宗,葬庆陵。 赞曰:……光宗潜德久彰,海内属望,而嗣服一月,天不假年,措施未展,三案构争,党祸益炽,可哀也夫!
Taichang Emperor
Born: 28 August 1582 Died: 26 September 1620
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Wanli Emperor
Emperor of the Ming dynasty
Emperor of China

Succeeded by
Tianqi Emperor