1506, Bingyin Year
Ming Dynasty: Zhengde Reign, 1st Year
Liu Jin, a eunuch of the Directorate of Palace Eunuchs, is put in charge of the Twelve Integrated Divisions, the capital’s military organization.
Lady Xia is named empress.
Lady Wang, empress of the late interim Jingtai Emperor, dies and is buried in the Western Hills near her late husband.
1507, Dingmao Year
Ming Dynasty: Zhengde Reign, 2nd Year
Having gained the favor of the young emperor, Liu Jin, the eunuch, gains control of the court. He forges imperial orders, prosecuting fifty-six leading officials as traitors, including grand secretaries Liu Jian and Xie Qian, and has their names shamefully posted in public. Those not charged are investigated by the Ministry of Personnel. Once crimes are determined, they will be forced to resign from their posts. Liu Jin also issues false orders giving all eunuchs serving as grand defenders on northern frontiers special privileges.
A separate residential palace called the Leopard Quarter (Bao fang) is built inside the Gate of Western Peace (Xi’an men), the west gate of the imperial city.
1508, Wuchen Year
Ming Dynasty: Zhengde Reign, 3rd Year
On the twenty-sixth day, as the imperial procession withdraws from the midday court audience, an anonymous memorandum of accusation detailing Liu Jin's crimes is found on the imperial causeway.
1510, Gengwu Year
Ming Dynasty: Zhengde Reign, 5th Year
The devout Buddhist emperor names himself the “Great Buddha of the Western Paradise of the Path of Enlightenment with Unrestrained Introspective Meditation and Wisdom” and orders the casting of a seal bearing this title.
Liu Jin’s treachery is exposed, and he is promptly executed.
1514, Jiaxu Year
Ming Dynasty: Zhengde Reign, 9th Year
An accident involving lanterns causes a fire in the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong).
1517, Dingchou Year
Ming Dynasty: Zhengde Reign, 12th Year
The emperor leaves the Forbidden City for a tour and stays in the temporary residence built in Xuanfu (present-day Xuanhua, Hebei Province) on the northern line of defense. His retinue includes leopards, curios, and beautiful women. On the nineteenth day the imperial procession stops at Yanghe (modern-day Yanggao in northeastern Shanxi Province), where the emperor grants himself the military title the “Great Valiant General” (Weiyong da jiangjun).
1518, Wuyin Year
Ming Dynasty: Zhengde Reign, 13th Year
The grand empress dowager dies on the tenth day.
The grand empress dowager is buried at the Maoling tomb (i.e., tomb of the Chenghua Emperor).
The emperor tours the northern frontier on the pretext of an alleged imminent crisis. He acts as the Great Valiant General Zhu Shou in leading the frontier inspection.
1519, Jimao Year
Ming Dynasty: Zhengde Reign, 14th Year
Zhu Chenhao, the Prince of Ning, leads a rebellion.
Acting as the Great Valiant General Zhu Shou, the emperor personally leads the border troops in a campaign to suppress Zhu Chenhao’s uprising.
Censor-in-chief Wang Shouren (1472-1529) escorts the rebellion's shackled leader, Zhu Chenhao, to Hangzhou.
1520, Gengchen Year
Ming Dynasty: Zhengde Reign, 15th Year
8th month (intercalary)
The emperor orders the Presentation of Captives (xianfu) ritual to celebrate his supposed single-handed arrest of of Zhu Chenhao.
On the fifth day the emperor forces Zhu Chenhao to commit suicide.
1521, Xinsi Year
Ming Dynasty: Zhengde Reign, 16th Year
On the thirteenth day, the emperor is critically ill. He dies on the following day in the Leopard Quarter. On the eighteenth day the empress dowager orders the arrest and imprisonment of the late emperor’s favorite military companion Jiang Bin and his accomplices.
The late Zhengde Emperor has no male heir. On the twenty-second day, it is decided that Zhu Houcong, the heir of the Prince of Xingxian, will come to the capital and succeed the throne. The following year is designated as the first year of the Jiajing reign.
On the eighth day, the late Zhengde Emperor is given his posthumous title.
The late Zhengde Emperor is buried in the Kangling tomb.
The Zhengde Emperor (r. 1506-1521)
The Zhengde Emperor, Zhu Houzhao (temple name Emperor Wuzong), was born in 1491 (the twenty-fourth day of the ninth lunar month in the fourth year of the Hongzhi reign). He was the eldest son of the Hongzhi Emperor (r. 1488-1505) with his chief consort née Zhang.
The Zhengde Emperor, who was naughty and willful, lived only thirty-one years. His short life was surrounded by three controversies. There were persistent rumors that he had been born not to the empress but to a palace woman who waited upon the empress; instead of enjoying the glory of being an emperor, he liked considering himself a military general; and, third, he indulged excessively in various forms of entertainment.
The emperor fell prey to the wiles of the eunuchs around him. He specially favored eight eunuchs (the so-called “Eight Tigers”) who had served him when he was still heir apparent. After his accession, he transferred the eight eunuchs to his personal staff and always pursued pleasure in their company. Court officials led by the Grand Academician Liu Jian were alarmed by the emperor’s distractions and submitted a petition requesting their execution. The Zhengde Emperor chose to side with his entourage, nominating Liu Jin (ca. 1452-1510) as Director of Ceremonials, also in charge of the imperial body guard agency called the Embroidered Uniform Guard (jinyi wei) and the surveillance agency Eastern Depot (Dongchang). Many of upright officials were purged and the court was haunted by terror. It soon became clear that the emperor did not want to deal with state affairs. Instead, he wanted to be a military general. He entrusted the government matters to those eunuchs he favored, while he and his new favorites such as Qian Ning (d. 1521) and a former cavalry officer named Jiang Bin left the Forbidden City for “inspection tours”. He fancied himself supreme commander of the military, Grand Preceptor (taishi), and Duke who Stabilizes the Realm (Zhenguo gong), and gave himself a new title: he insisted that all his orders and requisitions be issued in the name of the “Supreme Commander Zhu Shou”. All dissident voices in court were suppressed or crushed by the despotic eunuch director Liu Jin.
The emperor felt suffocated by the solemnity of the Forbidden City. Therefore, soon after his accession, he ordered a new palace to be built to the northwest of the Forbidden City, on the western bank of the Pool of Great Secretion (Taiye chi, today’s Beihai lake and Zhonghai lake) which the emperor referred to as the Leopard Quarter (Bao fang) or his “new residence”. In this two-hundred-room, complicatedly structured residence, the emperor summoned women for his harem, his favorite musicians, Tibetan Buddhist monks, Daoist clerics, sorcerers to entertain him. He routinely canceled official court audiences and sometimes stayed away from the Forbidden City for months. In 1521, he ordered the transferring of four battalions from northern garrisons (called “the exterior four troops”) to the capital for drilling on fields adjacent to the Leopard Quarter.
Emperor Wuzong was considered one of the most dissipated emperors of all Chinese imperial history. The emperor dedicated himself to carnal pleasures. While the court was dominated by treacherous eunuchs, upright courtiers were forced out of office. The profligate rule devoid of any principles encouraged waves of uprisings, among which the most famous were the rebellions of Prince of Anhua and Prince of Ning.
In 1520 (the fifteenth year of the Zhengde reign), Zhu Houzhao was seriously ill after falling into the water in a drunken boating accident during an inspection tour of the southern region. The following year he died from complications in the Leopard Quarter on the fourteenth day of the third lunar month. With the temple name Emperor Wuzong (literally “the martial ancestor”), he was buried in Indulgence Mausoleum (Kang ling) in Changping, on the northern outskirts of Beijing.
Lady Xia, Empress Xiaojing of the Zhengde Emperor (r. 1506-1521)
Introduction: Historians spilt little ink on Lady Xia, the primary consort of the Zhengde Emperor (r. 1506-1521). When she died in 1535, the reigning Jiajing Emperor refused to give her the standard posthumous title until one year later.
Lady Xia was a native of Nanjing in east China. In 1506, the first year of the Zhengde reign (1506-1521), she was promoted to supreme consort, the equivalent of empress. Her husband died in 1521, with no male heir to succeed to the throne. Therefore, the emperor’s half-brother Zhu Houcong ascended the throne as the Jiajing Emperor (r. 1522-1566). The next year, the widow was merely given the title of “Imperial Sister-in-law, Empress of Dignity and Solemnity”.
Lady Xia died in 1535. Her brother-in-law, the reigning Jiajing Emperor sought excuses to make her funeral inferior. Against officials’ disapproval, he only granted her a short posthumous title. It was not until 1536 that the Jiajing Emperor extended her posthumous title to twelve characters, which was standard for an empress.