1620, Gengshen Year
Wanli Reign, Forty-eighth Year
Lady Wang, the Empress of the Wanli Emperor, dies.
The Wanli Emperor dies on the twenty-first day. Following the late emperor’s will, the next day the heir apparent endows troops on the frontier with millions in public funds and discharges eunuchs sent by the Wanli Emperor to collect and supervise mining and sale taxes across the country.
The heir apparent Zhu Changluo ascends the throne, adopting the reign name Taichang. On the fourth day, he appoints Shi Jixie (1560-1635) as the vice minister of personnel and Shen Que, the vice minister of rites in the southern capital as the minister of rites and grand secretary of the East Hall. They are to participate in the handling of state affairs. On the twelfth day, the newly enthroned emperor falls ill but continues to supervise matters of state. On the fourteenth day, he announces his eldest son Zhu Youjiao as the heir apparent and designates the ninth day of the following month for the crowning ceremony. On the twenty-first day, the emperor’s condition is very serious, and on the twenty-ninth day his condition worsens. He takes two red pills presented by the chief minister of the Court of State Ceremonial (Honglu si), Li Kezhuo, and becomes critically ill.
The Taichang Emperor dies on the first day of the month. Since his death is attributed to the red pills he took, this incident is called the "Case of the Red Pills". On the second day, court officials jointly appeal to Lady Li, the Chosen Attendant (xuanshi) and favorite concubine of the late Taichang emperor, to move out of the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong), since she is no longer entitled to occupy the chambers. This is called the “Change of Palace Incident”. On the sixth day, the eldest imperial son Zhu Youjiao succeeds the throne, adopting the reign name Tianqi. The months preceding the eighth lunar month of the year are considered to fall within the Wanli reign, while the remaining months fall under the Taichang reign. Starting the following lunar year, the reign name Tianqi is adopted. On the tenth day, the late Wanli Emperor, grandfather of the Tianqi Emperor, is bestowed with posthumous and temple names. On the thirteenth day, the deceased Empress Dowagers Xiaoduan and Xiaojing are conferred honorary titles.
The Taichang Emperor (r. 1620 - 1620)
The Taichang Emperor, Zhu Changluo (temple name Emperor Guangzong), was born in 1582 (on the eleventh day of the eighth lunar month in the tenth year of the Wanli reign [1573-1620]). He was the eldest son of the emperor and his Consort Gong née Wang. Consort Gong was originally a servant to Empress Dowager Cisheng, not from a privileged family. Therefore, Zhu Changluo grew up without any attention from his father. He was named heir apparent out of a reluctant concession by the emperor in 1601 (the twenty-ninth year of the Wanli reign), after a long and fierce dispute and confrontation between the Wanli Emperor and his ministers. In 1615 (the forty-third year of the Wanli reign), with a eunuch operating from within, a man broke into the residential palace of the heir apparent and injured several servants with a wooden stick. The plot behind the assassination attempt was never thoroughly investigated, turning it into one of the mysterious cases of the Ming imperial palace.
In 1620 (the forty-eighth year of the Wanli reign), Zhu Changluo was formally enthroned after the death of his father, the Wanli Emperor. He announced that the first day of the next lunar year (22 January 1621) would mark the start of his reign entitled Taichang. Confronted with the grim problems bequeathed by his father Zhu Yijun - a corrupt court, economic decline, unrelenting factionalism between court officials, a declining military force, all exacerbated by military situations in frontier regions - the feeble and uncommunicative new emperor lacked the inclination and capability to prevent the dynastic decline.
In the early seventeenth century, a group of scholars and officials emerged as a crusading party to combat the social and political phenomena that they believed to be result of the decline of Confucian education and values. They were know as the Donglin Party because of the establishment of the Donglin Academy in Wuxi of the Yangzi delta region for the purpose of lectures and philosophic discussions related to a Confucian moral revival. Joined by other court political activists, the Donglin movement gained substantial political momentum in the early 1620s. Two cases related to the movement featured the acrimonious partisan disputes and power contention of the Taichang reign. Shortly after his enthronement, the emperor fell seriously ill. Vice Minister of the Court of State Ceremonial (honglu si cheng) Li Kezhuo claimed that he possessed a drug with miraculous effects. Neglecting warnings from other officials and court physicians, the emperor took two doses of red pills brought in by the official and died about dawn the following morning. This case was soon known as the Red Pill Case (hongwan an) that caused fierce political debates for years thereafter.
Another case was called the Change of Palace Incident (yigong an). When the Taichang Emperor was ill, court officials (especially the newly promoted Donglin stalwarts) feared that the heir apparent Zhu Youjiao was under the influence of the emperor’s favorite consort née Li, who lived in the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong) with the emperor and the heir apparent. Consort Li was obviously politically ambitious in that she once interrupted a court audience and demanded to be made Chief Consort. On the morning of the emperor’s death, Supervising Secretary to the Ministry of War Yang Lian (1571-1625) and Censor Zuo Guangdou (1575-1625) led a group of court officials headed to the Palace of Heavenly Purity, requesting to see the heir apparent but were denied. They forced their way into the palace and escorted Zhu Youjiao to the Hall of Literary Brilliance (Wenhua dian), where they enthroned the boy as the new emperor. Consort Li, who refused to leave the Palace of Heavenly Purity on the grounds that the new emperor needed guidance on personal and state affairs, was soon forced out under the practical accusation of usurping the throne. The political confrontation was later known as the Change of Palace Case.
Approximately a month after his enthronement, the Taichang Emperor died at the age of thirty-nine sui (thus dubbed “Son of Heaven for One Month”). At this point, the Wanli Emperor was not yet buried. constructing another underground mausoleum for the newly deceased emperor. The Bright-Exhalation Mausoleum, originally constructed for the deposed Jingtai Emperor (r. 1450-1456), was restored for the Taichang Emperor. The restoration started in 1621 (the third lunar month in the first year of the Tianqi reign) and took roughly five months. With the temple name Emperor Guangzong, the Taichang Emperor was buried with his three chief consorts in the following month, and the mausoleum was named Auspice Mausoleum (Qing ling).
Lady Liu, Empress Dowager Xiaochun of the Taichang Emperor (r. 1620-1620)
Introduction: Giving birth to a son could not win the heart of the Taichang Emperor (r. 1620-1620). When her son ascended the throne, Lady Liu received uttermost posthumous respect.
When Lady Liu (?-1614) was selected into the Ming imperial palace, she was a low ranking concubine. Although she gave birth to a son for Zhu Changluo, the future Taichang Emperor (r.1620), she still could not win his heart. She died in misery and loneliness in 1614. Hearing the news of her death, Zhu Changluo regretted it deeply but, feeling insecure as an unpopular heir apparent, he secretly had her buried in the West Mountains to conceal this tragedy from his father, the Wanli Emperor.
In 1622, Zhu Youjian was granted the title of Prince of Xin. Lady Liu, as his mother, was given the posthumous title of Concubine Xian. Acutely missing her, Zhu Youjian often went to visit her tomb in the West Mountains. Years later, when Zhu Youjian succeeded to the throne as the Chongzhen Emperor (r. 1628-1644), he gave Lady Liu a full posthumous title and ordered her coffin transported to Qingling, the mausoleum of the Taichang Emperor.
When Lady Liu died, the Chongzhen Emperor was only five, which left him little impression of her look. Having no portrait of his mother, the grown-up emperor asked the painter to draw a portrait of her based on the description of an old palace lady who knew Lady Liu. After the portrait was done, the Chongzhen Emperor ordered a carriage drawn by six horses with imperial insignia to carry it from the southernmost gate of the imperial city into the Forbidden City. He himself knelt down at the south gate of the Forbidden City to await its arrival. As the old palace ladies discussed the verisimilitude of the portrait hung in the hall, the Chongzhen Emperor dissolved into tears, and all of the court ladies started to cry with him.