1621, Xinyou Year
Ming Dynasty: Tianqi Reign, 1st Year
Nurhaci, the leader of the Jurchens, leads his army and besieges the Liaoshen region.
The late Taichang Emperor is buried at the Qingling tomb.
Ye Xianggao is appointed as the senior grand secretary.
1622, Renxu Year
Ming Dynasty: Tianqi Reign, 2nd Year
The emperor’s younger brother Zhu Youjian is designated as the Prince of Xin.
1623, Guihai Year
Tianqi Reign, 3rd Year
The eunuch Wei Zhongxian is promoted as the director of the Eastern Depot.
1624, Jiazi Year
Ming Dynasty: Tianqi Reign, 4th Year
Right Vice Censor-in-chief Yang Lian impeaches Wei Zhongxian. Several officials also submit memorials in an attempt to convince the emperor to condemn Wei, but their attempts are unsuccessful.
Vice Censor-in-chief Yang Lian and Assistant Censor-in-chief Zuo Guangdou are relieved of their posts.
1625, Yichou Year
Ming Dynasty: Tianqi Reign, 5th Year
Wei Zhongxian has a dozen high ranking officials imprisoned.
The emperor calls for the destruction of the Donglin Academy.
Wei Zhongxian is given a seal with the inscription "Guming yuanchen" (lit. "regent minister").
1626, Bingyin Year
Ming Dynasty: Tianqi Reign, 6th Year
The battle between Ming and Jin forces is waged at Ningyuan.
Nurhaci decrees a land distribution policy based on the number of household members.
The Hall of Imperial Supremacy (Huangji dian, later renamed the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Taihe dian) is reconstructed.
1627, Dingmao Year
Ming Dynasty: Tianqi Reign, 7th Year
The Latter Jin sends troops to Korea.
Hong Taiji, the eighth son of Nurhaci, begins long distance strikes against the Ming dynasty.
The emperor is critically ill.
On the twenty-second day, the emperor dies in the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing Gong). He passes the throne to his fifth younger brother Zhu Youjian, the Prince of Xin. On the twenty-fourth day, Zhu Youjian ascends to the throne with the reign name Chongzhen. He designates the following year as the first year of the Chongzhen reign.
Lady Liu, the Worthy Consort and biological mother of the emperor, is posthumously honored as Empress Dowager Xiaochun. On the twenty-seventh day, Lady Zhou is crowned as empress. Lady Li, the Chosen Attendant of Zhu Changluo, is conferred the title "Sedate Consort" (ZhuangFei).
The late Tianqi Emperor is given his posthumous title.
The eunuch Wei Zhongxian and the late Tianqi Emperor’s wet nurse Lady Ke are deposed. Wei Zhongxian commits suicide. Lady Ke is flogged to death at the Palace Laundry Service. The eunuchs in the Army-inspecting Censor are abrogated. Eunuchs are forbidden to leave the capital without authorization or become involved in state affairs.
The Tianqi Emperor (r. 1621-1627)
The Tianqi Emperor Zhu Youjiao (temple name Emperor Xizong) was born in 1605 (on the fourteenth day of the eleventh month in the thirty-third year of the Wanli reign). He was the eldest son of the Taichang Emperor (r. 1620) and his consort née Wang.
Shortly after his enthronement, the Tianqi Emperor lost interest in state affairs and retreated deeply into the inner palaces in pursuit of personal pleasures. Decisions concerning important matters of state were gradually left to the discretion of two of the emperor’s confidants and constant companions - notorious eunuch Wei Zhongxian (1568-1627) and Lady Ke (d. 1627). As Director of Ceremonial, Wei conducted a reign of terror in the mid-1620s. When directly accused by officials with Donglin connections, the eunuch carried out a full-scale political persecution against the political group which strived for the revival of Confucian morality and values in order to reverse the dynasty’s decline.
In a time when the northern frontiers were repeatedly plagued by the rising Later Jin (1616-1626) forces, the Tianqi Emperor deposed the distinguished military strategist Xiong Tingbi (1569-1625), Military Commissioner (jinglüe) of the Ming armies in Liaodong due to some factional slanders. The Ming army led by Xiong’s successor Yuan Yingtai (ca. 1595-1621) slumped to consecutive defeats against the Manchu forces. The enemy soon took the strategic city of Shenyang, Ming army’s regional headquarters at Liaoyang, and therefore controlled all the territory east of the Liao River. In order to restore the troops’ shaken morale, Xiong Tingbi was reinstalled as Liaodong’s Military Commissioner in the third lunar month of the first year of the Tianqi reign (1621). An ad hoc delegate from the central government, Xiong became embroiled with Wang Huazhen (d. 1632), Grand Coordinator (xunfu) of Liaodong in terms of defense strategy. Xiong insisted a cautious, defensive strategy while Wang preferred more offensive approach towards the Manchu troops. Desperate for any military success, the court backed Wang’s decisions of making continuous sorties across the Liao
River. Several months later, Wang’s fiasco at Guangning forced Xiong Tingbi to retreat into the Shanhai Pass. At the insistence of officials connected to Wei Zhongxian, Xiong Tingbi was executed for “military failures” and a few other loyal and talented military commanders such as Sun Chengzong (1563-1638) and Yuan Chonghuan (1584-1630) were also stripped of official titles. The Ming forces sank deeper into the Liaodong military quagmire.
A feckless and dissolute ruler, the Tianqi Emperor overindulged himself in alcohol, hunting, and stage performances. He was especially fond of puppet plays (kuilei xi) and created a special kind of performance named “water puppet plays”. The emperor was said to excel at carpentry. He dedicated himself to making fine furniture and delicate palace architecture. Since the spring of 1622, in spite of repeated warning and protestations from court officials, the emperor selected around 3,000 eunuchs and conducted military trainings inside the Forbidden City. During his reign, the eunuch Director of Ceremonial Wei Zhongxian dominated the court and carried out a reign of terror, dismissing any outspoken opponents. In 1627 (the fifth lunar month of the seventh year of the Tianqi reign), the emperor was nearly drowned in a boating accident. Though he survived the incident, he never fully recovered. Plagued by general malaise and depression, he took certain miracle drug that he believed to be life-prolonging elixir and soon died of general edema at the age of twenty-three sui, in the seventh year of his reign.
With the temple name Emperor Xizong, he was buried in the Virtue Mausoleum (De ling) in Changping, on the northern outskirts of Beijing.
Lady Zhang, Empress Yi’an of the Tianqi Emperor (r. 1621-1627)
Introduction: Lady Zhang, primary consort of the Tianqi Emperor (r. 1621-1627), was upright and vigilant. She urged the emperor to distance himself from eunuchs Wei and wet nurse Ke, who had taken advantage of the emperor’s undue trust to commit all kinds of outrageous behavior at court. Under her proposal, Zhu Youjian succeeded her husband to the throne as the Chongzhen Emperor (r. 1628-1644).
Lady Zhang (?-1644) was given the title of Empress in 1621, the first year of the Tianqi reign (1621-1627). Upright and vigilant, repeatedly she went before the emperor to accuse the chief eunuch Wei Zhongxian and the emperor’s wet nurse Ke of malfeasance. Once she summoned Ke to her palace, trying to prosecute and punished her according to court regulations. Intensely loathing the empress, Wei and Ke schemed to frame Lady Zhang. They defamed her by saying she was not the daughter of her father, which raised skepticism about her origin. When Lady Zhang got pregnant in 1623, the servants sent by Wei and Ke to attend her managed to hurt the fetus, leading Zhang’s pregnancy to end in a miscarriage.
Once Lady Zhang was reading in her palace when the emperor came in.
“What are you reading?” the emperor asked.
“I am reading the Biography of Zhao Gao”, she responded. Zhao Gao was a notorious powerful eunuch in the Qin dynasty (221- 207BCE), who gained undue trust from the emperor at the time. Hearing the sarcastic reply, the Tianqi Emperor did not utter a word.
An anonymous letter appeared at the court which listed all manner of malfeasance by Wei Zhongxian. Suspecting that it was done by the empress’s father and officials who had been shouldered out by him, Wei Zhongxian vowed to take revenge to eliminate his detractors. But his plot was foiled.
At the time when the Tianqi Emperor was critically ill, Lady Zhang took the leading role in persuading him to appoint Zhu Youjian, his younger half brother, to be the successor. After Zhu Youjian’s ascension as the Chongzhen emperor (r. 1628-1644), Lady Zhang received an honorary title from him. In 1644, when rebelling peasant troops seized Beijing, Lady Zhang hanged herself. She was buried with the Tianqi emperor in Deling, one of the Ming tombs.