1567, Dingmao Year
Ming Dynasty: Longqing Reign, 1st Year
Lady Chen is appointed as empress.
The Mongolian Altan Khan launches raids into Shanxi Province. The capital imposes martial law as a defensive measure.
1568, Wuchen Year
Ming Dynasty: Longqing Reign, 2nd Year
The emperor’s son Zhu Yijun is named as the heir apparent.
1572, Renshen Year
Ming Dynasty: Longqing Reign, 6th Year
The Longqing Emperor is critically ill. He summons Grand Secretaries Gao Gong (1513-1578), Zhang Juzheng (1525-1582), and Gao Yi (1517-1572) to his deathbed for posthumous instructions. On the twenty-sixth day, the Longqiong Emperor dies at the age of thirty-six in the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing Gong). His named successor is Zhu Yijun. Zhang Juzheng begins reforms.
The heir apparent Zhu Yijun ascends to the throne with the reign name Wanli. The following year is the first year of the Wanli reign.
The late Longqing Emperor receives his posthumous and temple names.
The Longqing Emperor is buried at the Zhaoling Tomb.
The Longqing Emperor (r. 1567-1572)
The Longqing Emperor Zhu Zaihou (temple name Emperor Muzong) was born in 1537 (on the twenty-third day of the first lunar month in the sixteenth year of the Jiajing reign). He was the third son of the Jiajing Emperor (r. 1522-1566) and his consort née Du. Because of the early death of his two elder half brothers, he ascended the throne in 1566 (the forty-fifth year of the Jiajing reign) when the emperor died. The subsequent year was declared the first year of the Longqing reign.
Because he was not the eldest son and because his mother was not among the emperor’s favorite consorts, Zhu Zaihou grew up with little or almost no contact with his father. In the thirty-second year of the Jiajing reign (1553), when Zhu Zaihou was merely sixteen sui (by traditional account), he left the palace to live alone in the residence for the Prince of Yu. Over thirteen years out of the Forbidden City exposed him to various aspects of social reality and acquainted him with potential conflicts and crises of the dynasty. He witnessed Yan Song’s dominance at court, the widespread corruption among officials, the frontier confrontations with the Mongols and the damage to overseas trade by piracy. Understanding how people’s lives were devastated by these internal and external troubles had substantial influence on his future approaches toward matters of state.
After his accession, the Longqing Emperor approved a series of reforms with the assistance of capable court officials such as Gao Gong, Chen Yiqin, and Zhang Juzheng (1525-1582). These measures aimed to “eradicate abuses” and “implement the new”. In order to “eradicate abuses”, immediately after the death of the Jiajing Emperor, the Senior Grand Secretary Xu Jie (1503-1583) submitted the deceased sovereign’s “last will and testament” to the heir apparent for approval. Following the testament, “officials banished between the sixteenth year of the Zhengde reign (1521) and the twelfth lunar month of the forty-fifth year of the Jiajing reign (1566) for their remonstrations” were reappointed if they were still alive. For those deceased, families would receive compensation. The crusading censor Hai Rui, who submitted a memorial impeaching the Jiajing Emperor himself in 1565 and thus was sentenced to death in 1566, was released and reinstated. In the meantime, the Daoist adepts were sent away from court and all the lavish support for religious activities, such as the intercessory prayer ceremonies and the procurement of construction materials, were immediate terminated. The tablets of Daoist temples and altars such as the Temple of Immense Heavens (Dagaoxuan dian) in the western palace were removed.
As for “implementing the new”, officials were subjected to performance reviews and ratings. Under the previous reign, officials assigned to administer the princely establishment were not required to go through such reviews. In the Longqing reign, these officials were also subject to rigorous examinations. Honest and capable officials were rewarded and incompetent or corrupted officials were impeached and punished. Special tax remissions were announced to relieve the people suffering from natural disasters. Measures were also taken to curb improper land seizures and return imperially seized properties to the tax registers.
The throne also took a relatively liberal approach towards overseas commerce. Although the emperor’s predecessors had repeatedly banned Chinese participation in maritime trade, influenced by Zhang Juzheng, the Longqing emperor lifted the ban thus dramatically altering the overseas trade policies of the dynasty. Measures were also taken to reinforce the frontier garrisons and, at the same time, to establish a new détente with the resurgent Mongols. He implemented the open trading policies to return stability to the frontier population. In comparison with previous reigns, these were innovative policies.
In 1572 (on the twenty-sixth day of the fifth month in the sixth year of the Longqing reign), the emperor died in the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong) at the age of thirty-six sui. His reign lasted less than six years. With the temple name Emperor Muzong, he was buried in Manifest Mausoleum (Zhao ling) in Changping, on the northern outskirt of Beijing.
Lady Li, Empress Dowager Xiaoding of the Longqing Emperor (r. 1567-1572)
Introduction: The Wanli Emperor ascended the throne at an early age. As his biological mother, Lady Li strictly encouraged his education. In return, the emperor was filial to her, conferring her many honorary titles.
Lady Li (?-1614) was given the title of the Honored Consort of the Longqing Emperor (r. 1567-1572) in 1567. In 1572 the emperor died and her son Zhu Yijun, a ten-year-old boy, succeeded to the throne as the Wanli Emperor (r. 1573-1620). As his biological mother, Lady Li was venerated as Empress Dowager，the same status as the chief consort of the deceased emperor.
Lady Li was a strict mother. She oversaw the emperor’s studies since his childhood. She punished him for his absent-mindedness during reading, making him kneel for a long time. On the day of morning court, she would go to the emperor’s residence before sunrise to wake him, washing his face and helping him to the carriage. Once when the emperor was watching an opera, he noticed that a eunuch could not sing a new number. He teased him by cutting his hair off with a sword. Angry at the emperor’s improper behavior, Lady Li ordered him to write a self-criticism, and punished him by making him kneel for a long time until he wept bitter tears of remorse. In 1578 when the Wanli Emperor got married, Lady Li retired from her assistance to the emperor. But still she entrusted Zhang Juzheng, the primary assistant of the cabinet, to guide the emperor.
Lady Li’s instruction had won respect from the Wanli Emperor, who conferred quite a few special titles on her. Lady Li died in 1614 and was buried together with the Longqing Emperor in Zhaoling tomb north of Beijing.