Jiajing Emperor

Jiajing Emperor
Jiajing Emperor
Emperor of China
Reign 27 May 1521 – 23 January 1567 (&1000000000000004500000045 years, &10000000000000241000000241 days)
Predecessor Zhengde Emperor
Successor Longqing Emperor
Spouse Empress Xiao Jie Su 孝潔肅皇后
Empress Zhang 張皇后
Empress Xiao Lie 孝烈皇后
Empress Xiao Ke 孝恪皇后
8 sons and 5 daughters
Full name
Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Houcong (厚熜)
Era name and dates
Jiajing (嘉靖): 28 January 1522 – 8 February 1567 (&1000000000000004500000045 years, &1000000000000001100000011 days)
Posthumous name
Emperor Qintian Lüdao Yingyi Shengshen Xuanwen Guangwu Hongren Daxiao Su
Temple name
Ming Shizong
House Ming Dynasty
Father Zhu Youyuan 朱祐杬
Mother Empress Ci Xiao Xian 慈孝獻皇后
Born 16 September 1507(1507-09-16)
Died 23 January 1567(1567-01-23) (aged 59)
Burial Yongling, Ming Dynasty Tombs, Beijing

The Jiajing (or Chia-ching) Emperor (嘉靖 IPA: [tɕjɑ́tɕîŋ]; 16 September 1507–23 January 1567) was the 11th Ming Dynasty Emperor of China 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 Cheng-hua emperor (1465–1487) and the eldest son of three sons born to the emperor's concubine, Lady Shao.

His era name means "Admirable tranquility".


Early years

As the nephew of the Hongzhi Emperor, 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, Emperor Zhengde, who did not leave an heir. The 14 year old Zhu Houcong was chosen to become emperor, and so relocated from his father's fief (near today's Zhongxiang, in Hubei Province) to 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

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 Emperor Zhengde 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, physically beaten in the court (廷杖) or executed.[2] Among the banished was the great Ming poet Yang Shen.

The Jiajing Emperor was 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, Jiajing employed incapable individuals such as Zhang Cong and Yan Song, on whom he thoroughly relied 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". Loyal individuals such as Hai Rui and Yang Xusheng challenged and even chastised Yan Song and his son but were thoroughly ignored by the emperor. Hai Rui and many loyal ministers were eventually dismissed or executed. Jiajing 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 Jiajing. This eventually led to corruption at all levels of the Ming government.

Jiajing's ruthlessness also led to an internal plot by his concubines to assassinate him in October, 1542 by strangling him while he slept. He is said to have used young girl's menstrual blood as an elixir he hoped would give him immortality. A group of palace girls who had had enough of Jiajing's cruelty decided to band together to murder the emperor. The lead palace girl 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 girls involved began to panic and one (Zhang Jinlian) ran to the empress. The plot was exposed and on the orders of the empress, all of the girls involved, including the emperor's favourite concubine (Consort Duan, née Cao) and another concubine (Consort Ning, née Wang), underwent execution by the slow slicing method and their families were killed.[3][4]

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 empire appeased him by granting special trading rights. The empire also had to deal with pirates attacking the southeastern coastline;[5] general Qi Jiguang was instrumental in defeating these pirates.

Jiajing on his state barge, from a scroll painted in 1538 by unknown court artists
A porcelain vase with glazed fish designs, from the Jiajing reign period.

Starting in 1550, Beijing was enlarged by adding the "Outer" or "Chinese City".[6]

The deadliest earthquake of all times, the Shaanxi earthquake of 1556 that killed over 800,000 people, occurred during the Jiajing Emperor's reign.

Mongols Raid

In June 1548 Mongols attacked Xuan Fu and defeated the imperial army. In October they invaded again and reached Hualai, which lay only a days ride from Beijing. Yen Sung blamed this on the aggressive policies of his adversary Xia Yen, but he himself offered no strategy to counter the invasion. Then Xia Yen was executed. The Mongol army succeded in penetrating the inner line of Beijing defense, and approached the Imperial tombs.

In March 1549, Mongols attacked Xuan Fu again, Altan routed the imperial army but Ming force managed to block his retreat and won several encounters. During this raid, several Ming commanders were warned that if trade was not allowed, Beijing would be attacked in the fall. Upon hearing this, Jiajing Emperor ordered that measures be taken to thwart the plan.

By March 1550, no rain or snow had fallen for over 150 days. Spies reported that the hordes were assembling for a major attack. In July, after several skirmishes near Datong the Mongols rode east, having been bribed by the commandant of the region to go elsewhere. On 26 September the entire raiding party breached the defenses of Gubei Pass, just 40 miles northeast of Beijing and went south of Tongzhou, where a camp was established. On 30 September an advance party reached the gates of Beijing and the city was besieged, and the suburbs were looted.

In 1550 military registered for capital garrisons carried about 140,000 names, but only fifty or sixty thousands were assigned to military duties, the rest worked on constructions projects. The soldiers refused to go outside of the city to fight, in other hand, reinforcement army arriving to defend the city but have no provisions. The army was starving, unfit to fight and committed looting. Ministry of war was in stress over this situation, and on Yen Sung's advice, he ordered the various regional commanders not to pursue, so the raiding parties were able to retreat several days later.

On 6 October 1550, the minister of war was executed by Jiajing Emperor with the reasons that he was unable to defend Beijing. After that, general Qiu Luan was trusted by Jiajing for military affairs, he was the commander who previously bribed the Mongols to pass by Datong. Qiu’s forces engaged the Mongols on 6 October, but thousands of men were lost. Qiu barely escaped with his life, but he reported a victory to the Emperor. Qiu Luan was rewarded as commander of all garrisons army and training camps around Beijing.

In 1551, the Mongols begin to raid again until 1552. In April of the same year, Qiu Luan forces were ambushed by Mongols and badly defeated on the steppe north of Datong. Again, he reported victories to Jiajing, but the Emperor was suspicious of the report. When the raid continued to the frontier, Qiu was executed on August 31 for fooling the Emperor. Later Qiu was accused of treason, on 13 September his corpse was exhumed and cut into pieces.

The Mongol raids continued until 1566. The main reason was that they were starving and Ming refused to trade with them. During this, all the Ming generals failed to repel the raids.

Taoist pursuits

He was a devoted follower of Taoism and attempted to suppress Buddhism. After the assassination attempt in 1542, Jiajing 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, Jiajing's devotion to Taoism was to become a heavy financial burden for the empire and create dissent across the country.

Particularly during his later years, Jiajing 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

After 45 years on the throne (the second longest reign in the Ming dynasty), Emperor Jiajing died in 1567 – possibly due to mercury overdose believing to be the Elixir of Life – and was succeeded by his son, the Longqing Emperor. Though his long rule gave the dynasty an era of stability, Jiajing's neglect of his official duties resulted in the decline of the dynasty at the end of the 16th century. His style of governing or for that matter the lack thereof would be emulated by his grandson later in the century.



Number Title Name Born Death Married Spouse Mother Notes
1 Crown Prince Aichong
Zhu Zaiji
1533 1533 none none Imperial Consort Yan
2 Crown Prince Zhuangjin
Zhu Zairui
1536 1552 none none Imperial Consort Wang
3 Emperor Muzong Zhuang
Zhu Zaihou 1537 1572 - Empress Xiaoyizhuang Empress Xiaoke
4 Prince Gong of Jin
Zhu Zaixun
1537 1565 - - Consort Lu


Number Title Name Born Death Married Spouse Mother Notes
1 Princess Chang'an
Zhu Shouying
1536 1549 none none Consort Duan, née Cao
2 Princess Si'rou
Zhu Fuyuan
1538 1549 none none Consort Hui, née Wang
3 Princess Ning'an
Zhu Luzhen
1539 1607 - Li He
Consort Duan, née Cao Raised by Noble Consort,née Shen, after Consort Duan was slowly sliced to death in 1542
4 Princess Guishan
Zhu Luirong
1541 1544 none none Consort Yong, née Chen
5 Princess Jiashan
Zhu Suzhen
1541 1564 - Xu Congcheng
Consort De, née Zhang


  • 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.
  1. ^ Eric N. Danielson, "The Ming Ancestor Tomb"
  2. ^ Invasion of the great green algae monster, Salon.com, 25 June 2007
  3. ^ 端妃曹氏与嘉靖宫变
  4. ^ 明廷“壬寅宫变”之谜
  5. ^ "China > History > The Ming dynasty > Political history > The dynastic succession", Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 2007
  6. ^ "Beijing." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2007.
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

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