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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 Wanli Emperor (approx. 1573–1620)
Bingzi Year (approx. 1576)
Wanli Reign, 4th Year
Collected Statutes of the Great Ming (Daming huidian) is revised, with Zhang Juzheng, Lü Tiaoyang, and Zhang Siwei as directors-general.
Wuyin Year (approx. 1578)
Wanli Reign, 6th Year
Lady Wang, the eldest daughter of Vice Commissioner-in-chief Wang Wei, is appointed as empress.
The imperial wedding ceremony is held on the nineteenth day.
Lady Liu is conferred the title Consort Zhao (Zhao fei, lit. “Bright Consort”). Lady Yang is named Consort Yi (Yi fei, lit. “Suitable Consort”). Minister of Rites Ma Ziqiang is appointed to serve concurrently as the grand secretary of the Hall of Literary Profundity (Wenyuan ge daxueshi). Shen Shixing, the left vice minister of the Ministry of Personnel, is appointed to be the grand secretary of the East Hall (Dongge daxueshi) while maintaining his original title. Both of them are recruited to the Grand Secretariat to aid in handling court affairs.
The empress of the late Longqing Emperor and the biological mother of the Wanli Emperor are conferred honorary titles.
Having ended his mourning period for his father in his hometown, Senior Grand Secretary Zhang Juzheng resumes work in the Grand Secretariat.
Xinsi Year (approx. 1581)
Wanli Reign, 9th Year
Beautiful young women are selected as candidates for nine concubine titles.
Renwu Year (approx. 1582)
Wanli Reign, 10th Year
The Nine Concubines (Jiu pin) are named.
Lady Wang, a palace attendant, is appointed as Consort Gong (Gong fei, lit. “Reverent Consort”).
Zhang Juzheng dies and is succeeded by Zhang Siwei who is appointed as the senior grand secretary.
The first son of the Wanli Emperor is born to Consort Gong (Gong fei, lit. “Reverent Consort”) and named Zhu Changluo.
The two empresses dowager receive honorary titles.
Guiwei Year (approx. 1583)
Wanli Reign, 11th Year
Three hundred young women under the age of fifteen (as reckoned in Chinese lunar birth years, or sui) are summoned.
Zhang Siwei withdraws from service upon the death of one of his parents. Shen Shixing replaces him as the senior grand sectary.
Jiashen Year (approx. 1584)
Wanli Reign, 12th Year
Shen Shixing is informed of the construction of the imperial tomb.
Bingxu Year (approx. 1586)
Wanli Reign, 14th year
Lady Zheng, the honored consort, is elevated as imperial honored consort. Shen Shixing appeals to the emperor to name the eldest son, Zhu Changluo, as the heir apparent, but is rejected, marking the beginning of conflicts between the emperor and his administration over the bestowal of heirship.
Jichou Year (approx. 1589)
Wanli Reign, 17th Year
The lunar New Year audience and celebration is canceled; this practice is followed henceforth.
Guisi Year (approx. 1593)
Wanli Reign, 21st Year
The emperor issues a proclamation, naming his eldest, third, and fifth sons as princes.
At age thirteen (in sui), the emperor’s eldest son Zhu Changluo begins his formal education.
Jiawu Year (approx. 1594)
Wanli Reign, 22nd Year
Lady Zhou is conferred the honorary title Consort Duan (Duan fei, lit. “Upright Consort”), and Lady Li is named Consort Jing (Jing fei, lit. “Respectful Consort).
Bingshen Year (approx. 1596)
Wanli Reign, 24th Year
The Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong) and the Palace of Earthly tranquility (Kunning gong) in the Forbidden City are plagued with fires.
Empress Dowager Rensheng, the honorary mother of the Wanli Emperor (i.e., the primary wife of his father, the Longqing Emperor), dies.
Dingyou Year (approx. 1597)
Wanli Reign, 25th Year
The three front halls of the Forbidden City—the Hall of Imperial Supremacy (Huangji dian, which is later called the Hall of Supreme Harmony), Hall of Central Supremacy (Zhongji dian, present-day Hall of Central Harmony), and the Hall of Establishing Supremacy (Jianji dian, later known as the Hall of Preserving Harmony)—as well as the nearby belvederes (Wenzhao ge and Wucheng ge, present-day Belvedere of Spreading Righteousness and Belvedere of Embodying Benevolence) are destroyed in fires.
Xinchou Year (approx. 1601)
Wanli Reign, 29th Year
Zhu Changluo is appointed as the heir apparent. On the same day, other imperial sons are appointed as princes.
Guimao Year (approx. 1603)
Wanli Reign, 31st Year
A pamphlet titled Continued Discussions on Distressing Calamity (Xu youwei hongyi) circulates in Beijing and arouses the attention of the court. It claims that the emperor’s favorite son Zhu Changxun will replace the heir apparent.
The Wanli Emperor summons the heir apparent Zhu Changluo and asks him to focus on his studies and not be disturbed or frightened by the malicious pamphlet.
Jiachen Year (approx. 1604)
Wanli Reign, 32nd Year
The case of the malicious pamphlet Continued Discussions on Distressing Calamity (Xu youwei hongyi) concludes.
Bingwu Year (approx. 1606)
Wanli Reign, 34th Year
The Wanli Emperor’s grandson is born. According to court rites, Empress Dowager Cisheng, the great grandmother of the imperial grandson, is conferred the additional honorary title Gongxi.
The biological mother of the heir apparent Zhu Changluo is promoted from Consort Gong (Gong fei, lit. “Reverent Consort”) to imperial honored consort (huang guifei). The biological mother of the newly born imperial grandson is designated Lady of Talents (cai ren).
Gengxu Year (approx. 1610)
Wanli Reign, 38th Year
Another imperial grandson Zhu Youjian, the future Chongzhen Emperor (r. 1628-1644), is born to the lower-ranking Chosen Attendant (xuan shi) Lady Liu.
Xinhai Year (approx. 1611)
Wanli Reign, 39th Year
The honored consort, biological mother of the heir apparent, dies.
Renzi Year (approx. 1612)
Wanli Reign, 40th Year
Since the emperor refuses to manage court affairs for an extended period of time, Ye Xianggao is solely responsible for duties in the Grand Secretariat. Zhao Huan solely administers the Six Ministries.
Guichou Year (approx. 1613)
Wanli Reign, 41st Year
Lady Guo, the principal consort of the heir apparent, dies.
Jiayin Year (approx. 1614)
Wanli Reign, 42nd Year
Empress Dowager Cisheng, the biological mother of the Wanli Emperor, dies.
Zhu Changxun, the Prince of Fu, is sent away to his designated fief, Luoyang (in present-day Henan Province), after years of improper living in the capital.
Bingchen Year (approx. 1616)
Wanli Reign, 44th Year
The heir apparent Zhu Changluo resumes the imperial practice of going forth from the palace to conduct lectures and recitation after twelve years. The practice is no longer continued henceforth.
Dingsi Year (approx. 1617)
Wanli Reign, 45th Year
The Prince of Fu's eldest son Zhu Yousong is named the Prince of Qingchang.
Jiwei Year (approx. 1619)
Wanli Reign, 47th Year
The Battle at Sarhū is fought between the Ming and the forces of the Jurchen’s Latter Jin government (1616-1636).
Gengshen Year (approx. 1620)
Wanli Reign, 48th Year
The Wanli Emperor’s primary wife, the empress, née Wang, dies.
The Wanli Emperor dies on the twenty-first day. Following the posthumous edict, the next day the heir apparent endows troops in the borderlands with millions of taels in public funds. He also discharges the 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 and adopts 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 court affairs. On the twelfth day, the newly enthroned emperor falls ill but continues to supervise imperial matters. 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 enthronement 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 Li Kezhuo, the chief minister of the Court of State Ceremonial (Honglu si), 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 Incident of Changing Palaces
On the sixth day, the eldest imperial son Zhu Youjiao succeeds the throne and adopts 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. Beginning the following lunar year, the reign name Tianqi is to be adopted. On the tenth day, the late Wanli Emperor, grandfather of the Tianqi Emperor, is bestowed posthumous and temple names. On the thirteenth day, the deceased Empresses Dowager Xiaoduan and Xiaojing are conferred honorary titles.
The Wanli Emperor (whose temple name is Shenzong, lit. “Divine Ancestor”) and Empress Xiaoduan are buried at the Ding Tomb.
Translated and edited by Li Yang, Zhuang Ying, Adam J. Ensign, et al.