1522, Renwu Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 1st Year
The emperor recognizes his uncle, the late Hongzhi Emperor (Zhu Youtang), as Deceased Imperial Father, and honors his aunt, Empress Dowager Cishou (lit. benevolent longevity), as “divine mother” (shengmu). His biological parents, the late Prince Xian of Xing and his consort, are honored as Emperor Xian of Xing and Empress of Xing.
Lady Chen is named as empress.
1523, Guiwei Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 2nd Year
The status of the biological parents of the Jiajing Emperor is elevated. His father, the late Prince Xian of Xing, is honored as the "Deceased Biological Imperial Father”, while his living mother is named “Empress Dowager Zhangsheng, the Biological Divine Mother”.
1528, Wuzi Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 7th Year
Empress Chen dies.
Complaisant Consort Zhang is appointed as empress.
1530, Gengyin Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 9th Year
It is stipulated that the offerings to heaven and earth are to be separately conducted at the southern and northern border altars, respectively. Two other sacrificial altars, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon, are built outside the capital city near the eastern and western borders, respectively.
Imperial orders are issued to arrange consort and concubine selections.
Nine ladies are appointed as concubines (pin, palace women ranking below the principal wife and consorts).
1531, Xinmao Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 10th Year
The ritual of praying for male heirs is held at the Hall of Imperial Peace (Qin’an dian), a Taoist temple in the imperial palace.
1533, Guisi Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 12th Year
The Classics Colloquium lectures commence.
Zhang Heling - the Duke of the State of Chang - and his younger brother Zhang Yanling - both younger brothers of the Empress Dowager Cishou - are arrested and put into prison.
Zhang Yanling is sentenced to death, while Zhang Heling is stripped of his noble title.
1534, Jiawu Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 13th Year
Empress Zhang is dethroned, while Lady Fang, the Virtuous Consort, is named empress.
1535, Yiwei Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 14th Year
Imperial orders are issued for additional consorts and concubines to be selected for the emperor.
1536, Bingshen Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 15th Year
The late biological father of the Jiajing Emperor who was posthumously named Emperor Xian is included in the imperial lineage.
The dethroned Empress Zhang dies.
1536, Dingyou Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 16th Year
Zhu Zaihou, the third imperial son, is born.
1538, Wuxu Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 17th Year
In order to legitimize the imperial position of the emperor’s biological father - the late Emperor Xian of Xing - into the imperial lineage, the temple name of the late Yongle Emperor (Zhu Di, r. 1403-1424) is changed from Taizong (lit. the Grand Ancestor) to Chengzu (lit. the Accomplished Progenitor), while the late Xian Emperor receives Ruizong (lit. Insightful Ancestor) as his temple name.
1539, Yihai Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 18th Year
The imperial son Zhu Zaihe is installed as the heir apparent. His brothers Zhu Zaihou and Zhu Zaizhen are named as Prince of Yu and Prince of Jing.
1540, Gengzi Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 19th Year
Approximately a hundred women are chosen for the palace.
1541, Xinchou Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 20th Year
Empress Dowager Cishou dies.
1542, Renyin Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 21st Year
The construction of the Temple of Immense Heavens (Dagao xuandian), for the worship of Taoist deities, is completed in the northwest corner outside the imperial palace.
Upset by the tortuous treatment from their zealous Taoist ruler, about a dozen young maids try to strangle the emperor in his sleep but fail. All of them suffer horrific executions. The emperor thus permanently moves to live in the Palace of Myriad Longevity (Wanshou gong) in the West Gardens far from the imperial palace. This event is later known as the Renyin Year Palace Incident (Renyin gongbian).
1544, Jiachen Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 23rd Year
Mongols, under Altan Khan's dominion, harass the country’s northern border. In defensive posture, the capital establishes martial law.
1547, Dingwei Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 26th Year
Three hundred women are selected to serve in the imperial palace.
Empress Fang dies. She is posthumously named Xiaolie (lit. Filial and Exemplary)
1548, Wushen Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 27th Year
Senior Grand Secretary Yan Song (1480-1567) begins to amass power.
The emperor’s imperial tomb is named Yongling tomb and is chosen for Empress Xiaolie's burial.
1549, Jiyou Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 28th Year
The capping ceremony (guanli) is held for the heir apparent. He dies but two days after the ritual.
1550, Gengxu Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 29th Year
A group of Mongolian troops led by Altan Khan breaches the northern defense line and invades the capital region. Surrounding the capital for several days, they demand to be granted rights to submit tribute and exchange Chinese products (e.g., iron, grain, and textiles), threatening to attack the city if their conditions are refused. The Mongolian forces withdraw north of the Great Wall after the empire relents.
1554, Jiayin Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 33rd Year
Composed Consort Lady Du (the biological mother of the future Longqing Emperor) dies.
1555, Yimao Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 34th Year
One hundred and sixty young women are selected to serve in the imperial palace.
1557, Dingsi Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 36th Year
The Hall of Venerating Heaven (Fengtian dian), Hall of Splendid Canopy (Huagai dian), and Hall of Scrupulous Behavior (Jinshen dian) - the three main halls in the outer court of the imperial city - are destroyed by fire.
1561, Xinyou Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 40th Year
The Hall of Myriad Longevity (Wanshou gong) in the West Gardens where the emperor resides is destroyed by fire. He moves to the Palace of Jade Luster (Yuxi gong). The military general Qi Jiguang (1528-1588) successfully quells the increasingly frequent raids of Japanese pirates in the eastern coastal region.
1562, Renxu Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 41st Year
The reconstruction of the Hall of Myriad Longevity (Wanshou gong) is completed.
The emperor moves back to the newly built Hall of Myriad Longevity.
1563, Guihai Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 42nd Year
The third son of the Prince of Yu is born and named Zhu Yijun.
Harassed and raided by the Altan Khan, the capital again establishes military rule as a defensive measure.
1564, Jiazi Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 43rd Year
Three hundred women are selected to serve in the imperial palace.
1565, Yichou Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 44th Year
Former Senior Grand Secretary Yan Song is dismissed, and his property is confiscated. His son Yan Shifan (1513-1565) is executed on the charge of treason.
The integrated and honest official Hai Rui bitterly criticizes the emperor in his memorial and is consequently imprisoned.
1566, Bingyin Year
Ming Dynasty: Jiajing Reign, 45th Year
The emperor is seriously ill.
On the fourteenth day, the emperor returns from the West Gardens to the Hall of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong) in the imperial palace and dies at the age of sixty. According to his final orders, the Prince of Yu is eligible for succession, in spite of the fact that the prince has not been designated as the heir apparent. On the twenty-sixth day, Zhu Zaihou, the Prince of Yu, succeeds the throne, designating the following year as the first year of the Longqing reign.
The Jiajing Emperor (r. 1522-1566)
The Jiajing Emperor Zhu Houcong (temple name Emperor Shizong) was born in 1507 (on the tenth day of the eighth lunar month in the second year of the Zhengde reign) on his father Prince Xian of Xing’s fief in Anlu (today’s Zhongxiang county in Hubei province). His father Zhu Youyuan was the fourth son of the Chenghua Emperor (r. 1465-1487). His mother, née Jiang, was the daughter of an officer in the capital garrison. Since he died without heir, the Zhengde Emperor (r. 1506-1521), on his death bed, told the eunuchs to report to Empress Dowager Zhang that she and Chief Grand Secretary Yang Tinghe should arrange the matter of succession. Based on a provision in the ancestral injunctions stating that “when the elder brother dies, the younger brother should succeed him”, the Empress Dowager and the Grand Secretary issued an edict to summon Zhu Houcong, the late emperor’s cousin, as the new emperor. In 1521 (on the twenty-second day of the fourth month), Zhu Houcong was enthroned at the age of fifteen sui. The new emperor promulgated his own calendar and declared the following year the first year of the Jiajing reign (1522).
Zhu Houcong was the only son of the Prince Xian of Xing. In his boyhood, the child was considered remarkably smart. His father tutored him personally, teaching him Confucian classics and all the customary court rituals and ceremonials. He proved to be a diligent student who knew his own mind. Before his accession, Zhu Houcong and his mother had had a series of disputes with officials from the Ministry of Rites over his position in the imperial line. After his succession, court discussions began between the emperor and officials concerning the terminology and rites appropriate in honoring his natural parents (could they be called “emperor” and “empress” even though they had not reigned?). At stake was the legitimate succession of the dynastic line. The Great Rites Controversy, as it was called, dominated court politics for two years. In the end the emperor had his way; by imperial fiat he overrode the officials. This incident gives a glimpse into the obstinate and imperious personality of the adolescent Jiajing Emperor.
In the first year of his rule, the Jiajing Emperor made impressive accomplishments in terms of state affairs. Aside from the protocol policies routinely adopted by new emperors such as granting amnesty, tax exemption, tribute reduction, and disaster relief, he succeeded in curbing the influence and power of the eunuchs who had controlled many aspects of the court administration. He also made an attempt to return to the tax registers those properties seized as imperial estates during the previous reigns. However, the honeymoon period did not last long. One year later, he was shaken to the core by a palace incident in which a group of palace women conspired to strangle him while he was asleep. Then he chose to hide in a palace west to the Forbidden City and focused on Daoist rituals and practices. A Daoist adept introduced him to the so-called “elixir of immortality”. Under the advice of some Daoist sorcerers, he secluded himself for more than twenty years without once returning to the Forbidden City, and on many occasions relied on divinations to decide matters of state. The resourceful and astute Minister of Rites Yan Song played on the emperor’s preoccupation with Daoist rituals and elixirs and gained control of the court. Subsequently, after a series of power struggles and political purges, Yan dominated the court for twenty years. Many dissenting officials were forced out of office or killed, and recurring Mongol invasions were never properly rebuffed or tackled. Further, the emperor ordered the construction of many palaces, temples and monasteries outside the Forbidden City, which further burdened the people and precipitated a severe fiscal crisis.
In 1566 (on the fourteenth day of the twelfth month in the forty-fifth year of the Jiajing reign), the emperor died in the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong) at the age of about sixty. With the temple name Emperor Shizong, he was buried in Ever-lasting Mausoleum (Yong ling) in Changping, on the northern outskirts of Beijing.