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Timeline of the Ming & Qing Palace Events

Introductory Matters
In this imperial chronology, each year is listed according to the Chinese lunar calendar with traditional notations for each year (e.g., jiashen) followed by the internationally recognized Gregorian calendar year (e.g., 1644) that approximately corresponds to the given lunar year. Information on the imperial reign is listed with each calendar year. Specific events are listed after a title denoting the lunar month (e.g., 1st Month) in which they occurred.

Ages of historical figures are given as traditionally calculated by the Chinese lunar calendar. This traditional way of counting a person's age uses the word sui (year of age). The word conveys how many lunar years—even if only for a few days or months—an individual has experienced in life.

Chinese names are shown in the conventional Chinese order with the surname (family name) followed by the given name. When possible, Manchu names are rendered according to the Möllendorff system of transliteration (Romanization). If the original Manchu name is unknown, the name is shown with a hyphenated version of the transliterated Chinese name. Some Jurchen and Manchu figures are more commonly known by their Chinese names; in those cases, the Chinese name is used. Official titles and imperial institutions are rendered according to Charles O. Hucker's A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China (Stanford, 1985) when possible.

The Reign of the Jiajing Emperor (approx. 1522–1566)

Renwu Year (approx. 1522)
Jiajing Reign, 1st Year 
 

1st Month:
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.
 
9th Month:
Lady Chen is appointed as empress. 
 
Guiwei Year (approx. 1523)
Jiajing Reign, 2nd Year

 
4th Month:
The status of the biological parents of the Jiajing Emperor is elevated. His father, the late Prince Xian of Xing, is honored as the Late Biological Imperial Father, while his living mother is named Empress Dowager Zhangsheng, the Divine Biological Mother.

Wuzi Year (approx. 1528)
Jiajing Reign, 7th Year

10th Month:
The empress, née Chen, dies.
 
11th Month:
Consort Shun (Shun fei, lit. “Complaisant Consort”), née Zhang, is appointed as empress. 
 
Gengyin Year (approx. 1530)
Jiajing Reign, 9th Year

1st Month:
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.
 
10th Month:
Imperial orders are issued to arrange consort and concubine selections.
 
12th Month:
Nine ladies are appointed as concubines (pin, palace women ranking below the principal wife and consorts).
 
Xinmao Year (approx. 1531)
Jiajing Reign, 10th Year

11th Month:
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. 
 
Guisi Year (approx. 1533)
Jiajing Reign, 12th Year

3rd Month:
The Classics Colloquium lectures commence. 
 
5th Month:
Zhang Heling—the Duke of the State of Chang—and his younger brother Zhang Yanling, both younger brothers of Empress Dowager Cishou, are arrested and imprisoned.

10th Month:
Zhang Yanling is sentenced to death, and Zhang Heling is stripped of his noble title. 

Jiawu Year (approx. 1534)
Jiajing Reign, 13th Year

 
1st Month:
The empress, née Zhang, is deposed. Lady Fang, also known as Consort De (De fei, lit. “Virtuous Consort”), is named empress.

Yiwei Year (approx. 1535)
Jiajing Reign, 14th Year

 
10th Month:
Imperial orders are issued for additional consorts and concubines to be selected for the emperor. 
 
Bingshen Year (approx. 1536)
Jiajing Reign, 15th Year

 
10th Month:

The late biological father of the Jiajing Emperor who was posthumously named Emperor Xian is included in the imperial lineage.
 
12th Month:
The deposed empress, née Zhang, dies. 
 
Dingyou Year (approx. 1536)
Jiajing Reign, 16th Year

 
1st year
Zhu Zaihou, the third imperial son, is born. 
 
Wuxu Year (approx. 1538)
Jiajing Reign, 17th Year

 
9th Month:
In order to legitimize the imperial position of the emperor’s biological father (the late Emperor Xian of Xing) into imperial lineage, the temple name of the late Yongle Emperor (Zhu Di, r. 1403-1424) is changed from Taizong (lit. “Grand Ancestor”) to Chengzu (lit. “Accomplished Progenitor”), while the late Emperor Xian receives Ruizong (lit. “Insightful Ancestor”) as his temple name.

Yihai Year (approx. 1539)
Jiajing Reign, 18th Year

 
2nd Month:
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. 
 
Gengzi Year (approx. 1540)
Jiajing Reign, 19th Year

 
5th Month:
Approximately a hundred women are selected for roles in the palace.

Xinchou Year (approx. 1541)
Jiajing Reign, 20th Year

 
8th Month:

Empress Dowager Cishou dies. 
 
Renyin Year (approx. 1542)
Jiajing Reign, 21st Year

 
4th Month:
The construction of the Hall of High Heaven (Dagao xuandian), for the worship of Taoist deities, is completed outside the northwest corner of the imperial palace. 
 
10th Month:
Upset by the tortuous treatment from their zealous Taoist ruler, about a dozen young maidens try to strangle the emperor in his sleep but fail. All of them suffer horrific executions. Due to this incident, the emperor 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).

Jiachen Year (approx. 1544)
Jiajing Reign, 23rd Year
 

10th Month:
Mongols, under Altan Khan's dominion, harass the Ming in the empire’s northern territory. Assuming a defensive posture, the capital establishes martial law.  
 
Dingwei Year (approx. 1547)
Jiajing Reign, 26th Year

 
1st Month:
Three hundred women are selected to serve in the imperial palace. 
 
11th Month:

The empress, née Fang, dies. She is posthumously named Xiaolie (lit. “Filial and Exemplary”).

Wushen Year (approx. 1548)
Jiajing Reign, 27th Year

 
1st Month: 
Senior Grand Secretary Yan Song (1480-1567) begins to amass power. 
 
4th Month:
The emperor’s imperial tomb is named the Yong Tomb and is chosen for Empress Xiaolie's burial. 
 
Jiyou Year (approx. 1549)
Jiajing Reign, 28th Year

 
3rd Month:
The capping ceremony (guanli) is held for the heir apparent. He dies a mere two days after the ritual. 
 
Gengxu Year (approx. 1550)
Jiajing Reign, 29th Year

 
6th Month:
Mongolian troops led by Altan Khan breach the northern defense line and invade the region around the capital. Surrounding the capital, they demand rights to submit tribute in exchange of Chinese products (e.g., iron, grain, and textiles) and threaten to attack the city. The Mongolian forces eventually withdraw to north, and the imperial court is overwhelmed with scandal due to the mishandling of the siege. (This series of events is known as the Incident of the Gengxu Year.)

Jiayin Year (approx. 1554)
Jiajing Reign, 33rd Year

 
1st Month:

Consort Kang (Kang fei, lit. “Composed Consort”), née Du, the biological mother of the future Longqing Emperor, dies.

Yimao Year (approx. 1555)
Jiajing Reign, 34th Year

 
9th Month:
One hundred and sixty young women are selected to serve in the imperial palace. 
 
Dingsi Year (approx. 1557)
Jiajing Reign, 36th Year

 
4th Month:

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. 
 
Xinyou Year (approx. 1561)
Jiajing Reign, 40th Year

 
11th Month:
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 successfully quells the increasingly frequent raids of Japanese pirates along the coast.

Renxu Year (approx. 1562)
Jiajing Reign, 41st Year

 
1st Month:
The reconstruction of the Hall of Myriad Longevity (Wanshou gong) is completed. 
 
4th Month:
The emperor begins to reside in the newly built Hall of Myriad Longevity. 
 
Guihai Year (approx. 1563)
Jiajing Reign, 42nd Year

 
8th Month:
The third son of the Prince of Yu is born and named Zhu Yijun. 
 
10th Month:

Harassed and raided by the Altan Khan, the capital again establishes military rule as a defensive measure.   
 
Jiazi Year (approx. 1564)
Jiajing Reign, 43rd Year

 
1st Month:
Three hundred women are selected to serve in the imperial palace.
 
Yichou Year (approx. 1565)
Jiajing Reign, 44th Year

 
3rd Month:

The former Senior Grand Secretary Yan Song is deposed, and his property is confiscated. His son Yan Shifan (1513-1565) is executed on the charge of treason. 

10th Month:
The official Hai Rui bitterly criticizes the emperor in his memorial and is consequently imprisoned. 
 
Bingyin Year (approx. 1566)
Jiajing Reign, 45th Year

 
10th Month:
The emperor is seriously ill. 
 
12th Month:
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 (in sui). According to his final orders, the Prince of Yu is eligible for succession, in spite of the fact that the prince has not been appointed as the heir apparent. On the twenty-sixth day, Zhu Zaihou, the Prince of Yu, succeeds the throne, and the following year is designated as the first year of the Longqing reign.  

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Translated and edited by Li Yang, Zhuang Ying, Adam J. Ensign, et al.

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.  
Lady Fang, Empress Xiaolie of the Jiajing Emperor (r. 1522-1566)
 
Introduction: Lady Fang saved the Jiajing Emperor’s life during an attempted assassination. After her death, the emperor insisted on putting her spirit tablet in the imperial ancestral shrine against court regulations.  
 
Lady Fang (? - 1547), a native of Nanjing in east China, was the third primary consort of the Jiajing Emperor (r. 1522-1566).
  In 1531, the tenth year of the Jiajing reign, the emperor still did not have a son to succeed him to the throne. Some officials advised the emperor to select more young women across the country in order to increase the birth rate of the imperial family. In the same year, the emperor conferred the title of concubine on nine new palace ladies, including Lady Fang. In 1534, the emperor using the excuse of “the crime of disrespect” demoted the empress Zhang and gave Lady Fang the title of empress.
  In 1542, the emperor was sleeping with concubine Duan. Ladies-in-waiting, unable to bear the cruel emperor, tried to assassinate him by strangling him with a rope in his sleep, but they were caught in the act. As soon as Lady Fang was informed by a servant, she rushed to the emperor and loosened the rope that was tied around his neck, saving his life.
  Lady Fang died in 1547 in a conflagration in the Forbidden City. Three years after her death, the Jiajing emperor insisted on putting her spirit tablet in the imperial ancestral shrine despite officials’ disapproval. She was interred with the Jiajing Emperor in the Yongling tomb north of Beijing. 
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