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Taichang Emperor

Taichang Emperor

emperor of the Ming Dynasty
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro emperor of the Ming Dynasty
Countries Ming dynasty
Occupations Ruler
A.K.A. Taichang, Guang Zong, Zhu Changluo, Chongtianqidaoyingruigongchunxianwenjingwuyuanrenyixiaozhenhuangdi, Zhen Di
Gender male
Birth August 28, 1582 (Beijing)
Death September 26, 1620 (Beijing)
Mother: Empress Dowager Xiaojing
Father: Wanli Emperor
Siblings: Princess RongchangPrincess ShouningZhu Changxun Princess TaishunPrincess YunhePrincess XianjuPrincess JinglePrincess LingqiuPrincess XiangshanPrincess TiantaiPrincess YunmengZhu ChangxuZhu ChangzhiZhu ChanghaoZhu ChangrunZhu ChangyingZhu Changpu
Spouse: Queen Hyo Motosada Empress Dowager XiaoheEmpress Dowager Xiaochun
Children: Chongzhen EmperorTianqi Emperorfranzingxxx klindixfranzingxxx klindixfranzingxxx klindixfranzingxxx klindixfranzingxxx klindixfranzingxxx klindixfranzingxxx klindixfranzingxxx klindixfranzingxxx klindixfranzingxxx klindixfranzingxxx klindixfranzingxxx klindix Zhu YouxuPrincess SuipingZhu YoujianPrincess Daowen
The details

The Taichang Emperor (Chinese: 泰昌; pinyin: Tàichāng; 28 August 1582 – 26 September 1620), personal name Zhu Changluo (Chinese: 朱常洛), was the 15th emperor of the Ming dynasty of China. He was the eldest son of the Wanli Emperor and succeeded his father as emperor in 1620. However, his reign came to an abrupt end less than one month after his coronation when he was found dead one morning in the palace following a bout of diarrhea. He was succeeded by his son, Zhu Youjiao, who was enthroned as the Tianqi Emperor. His era name, Taichang, means "grand prosperity".

Early life

Zhu Changluo was born in 1582, the 10th year of the Wanli era, to the Wanli Emperor and a palace attendant, Lady Wang, who served the Wanli Emperor's mother, Empress Dowager Xiaoding. After it was discovered that Lady Wang was pregnant, the Wanli Emperor was persuaded by his mother to make her a concubine and awarded her the title "Consort Gong of the Second Grade" (恭妃). She was not one of the Wanli Emperor's favourite consorts. After his birth, Zhu Changluo was largely ignored by his father even though he, as the firstborn son of the emperor, was entitled to be the heir apparent (crown prince) according to the Ming dynasty's law of succession. He was born shortly after his elder sister, the Princess Rongchang; the Wanli Emperor's eldest child and only child with his primary wife Empress Xiaoduanxian.

Zhu Changluo spent most of his life as a hapless pawn in a power struggle for the title of crown prince. The Wanli Emperor openly preferred naming Zhu Changxun, his younger son born to his favourite consort Noble Consort Zheng as crown prince over the seniority of Zhu Changluo, but his intention was met with vehement opposition by most of his Confucian-educated ministers. Frustrated by the multiple petitions to install Zhu Changluo as crown prince, the Wanli Emperor decided to stonewall the entire issue. Some historians have suggested that the impasse on the selection of crown prince was part of the cause of the Wanli Emperor's withdrawal from daily government administration.

Caught in this political limbo, Zhu Changluo was deliberately not assigned a regular tutor or given any systematic Confucian education even after he started school at the age of 13, an unusually late age for Ming princes to begin their education. In 1601, the Wanli Emperor gave in to pressure from his ministers and more importantly from the empress dowager and a 19-year-old Zhu Changluo was formally instated as crown prince and heir apparent. However this formal recognition did not signal the end of court intrigues. Rumours of the Wanli Emperor's intention to replace Zhu Changluo with Zhu Changxun continued to surface through the years,

In 1615, the Ming imperial court was hit by a mysterious scandal. A man called Zhang Chai, armed only with a wooden staff, managed to drive away the eunuchs guarding the palace gates and break into Ciqing Palace -- then the crown prince's living quarters. Zhang Chai was eventually subdued and thrown in prison. Although initial investigations found him to be a lunatic, upon further investigations by a magistrate named Wang Zhicai, Zhang Chai confessed to being party to a plot instigated by two eunuchs working under Noble Consort Zheng. According to Zhang Chai's confession, the two eunuchs had promised him rewards for assaulting the crown prince, thus indirectly implicating Lady Zheng in an assassination plot. Presented with incriminating evidence and the gravity of the accusations, the Wanli Emperor, in an attempt to spare Lady Zheng, personally presided over the case and laid full blame on the two eunuchs, who were executed along with Zhang Chai. Although the case was quickly hushed up, it did not squelch public discussions and eventually became known as the "Case of the Palace Assault" (梃击案), one of three notorious mysteries of the late Ming dynasty.

In 1615, the crown prince became infuriated with his concubine, Lady Liu, who was the mother of his eldest son. He ordered her punished, during which ordeal Lady Liu died. It is debated whether the crown prince ordered her to be killed or if her death was an accident. Fearing that this incident would further turn his father against him and towards Zhu Changxun, the crown prince had Lady Liu secretly buried in the Western Hills near Beijing and forbade palace staff from mentioning the affair. On his ascension to the throne, the Chongzhen Emperor had Lady Liu reburied in the Ming tombs next to her husband.

Short reign and death

The Wanli Emperor died on 18 August 1620 and was succeeded by Zhu Changluo on 28 August 1620, the latter’s 38th birthday by Western calculation. Upon his coronation, Zhu Changluo adopted the era name "Taichang" (literally "grand prosperity") for his reign, hence he is known as the Taichang Emperor. The first few days of his reign started promisingly enough as recorded in the Ming histories. Two million taels of silver was entailed as a gift to the troops guarding the border, important bureaucratic posts left vacant during the Wanli Emperor's long periods of administrative inactivity were finally starting to be filled, and many of the deeply unpopular extraordinary taxes and duties imposed by the Wanli Emperor were also revoked at this time. However, ten days after his coronation, the Taichang Emperor became so ill that celebrations for his birthday (by Chinese calculation) were cancelled.

According to non-official primary sources, the Taichang Emperor's illness was brought about by excessive sexual indulgence after he was presented with eight maidens by Lady Zheng. The emperor's already serious condition was further compounded by severe diarrhoea after taking a dose of laxative, recommended by an attending eunuch Cui Wensheng on 10 September. Finally on 25 September, to counter the effects of the laxative, he asked for and took a red pill presented by a minor court official named Li Kezhuo, who dabbled in apothecary.

It was recorded in official Ming histories that the Taichang Emperor felt much better after taking the red pill, regained his appetite and repeatedly praised Li Kezhuo as a "loyal subject". That same afternoon, the emperor took a second pill and was found dead the next morning. The death of an emperor who was seemingly in good health within the span of a month sent shock waves through the Ming Empire and rumours started spreading. The much talked about mystery surrounding the Taichang Emperor's death became known as the infamous "Case of the Red Pills" (红丸案), one of three notorious 'mysteries' of the late Ming dynasty. The fate of Li Kezhuo, whose pills were at the center of this controversy, became a hotly contested subject between competing power factions of officials and eunuchs vying for influence at the Ming imperial court. Opinions ranged from awarding him money for the emperor's initial recovery to executing his entire family for murdering the emperor. The question was finally settled in 1625 when Li Kezhuo was exiled to the border regions on the order of the powerful eunuch Wei Zhongxian, signalling the total dominance of eunuchs during the reign of the Taichang Emperor's son, the Tianqi Emperor.


The Taichang Emperor's untimely death threw the Ming imperial court into some logistical disarray. Firstly, the court was still officially in mourning over the death of the Wanli Emperor, whose corpse at this point was still lying in state waiting for an auspicious date to be interred. Secondly, all imperial tombs were custom made by the reigning emperor and there was no proper place to bury the Taichang Emperor, who had only just ascended the throne. A tomb was hastily commissioned over the foundation of the demolished tomb of the Jingtai Emperor. The construction was finally completed on the eighth month of 1621 and consecrated Qingling (庆陵). Finally, on the question of naming the emperor's reign, although the emperor had taken the formal era name of "Taichang", it was sandwiched between the 48th year of the Wanli era (1620) and the first year of the Tianqi era (1621). After much discussion, the Ming imperial court accepted Zuo Guangdou's suggestion to designate the Wanli era as having ended in the seventh lunar month of 1620, while the Taichang era spanned from the 8th to 12th months in the same year. The Tianqi era officially started from the first lunar month of 1621.

From a historical perspective, the Taichang Emperor's reign by nature of its short time span amounts to nothing more than a footnote in Ming history. It exposed the constitutional weakness of the Ming dynasty's autocratic system when headed by a weak emperor as typified by the Taichang Emperor and his successor, the Tianqi Emperor. From the limited information gleaned from official Ming histories on the life of the emperor, he came across as an introverted half-literate alcoholic satirical weakling. Given this dismal track record there is no evidence that had the Taichang Emperor's reign lasted any longer than it did, he could have turned around the fortunes of the beleaguered Ming dynasty after the long steady decline of the later years of the Wanli Emperor's reign.


  1. Empress Xiaoyuanzhen, of the Guo clan (孝元貞皇后 郭氏; 1580 – 1613)
    1. Princess Huaishu Daoyi (懷淑悼懿公主; 1604 – 1610), personal name Huijuan (徽娟)
  2. Empress Dowager Xiaohe, of the Wang clan (孝和皇太后 王氏; 1582 – April/May 1619)
    1. Zhu Youjiao, Xizong (熹宗 朱由校; 23 December 1605 – 30 September 1627)
    2. Zhu Youxue, Prince Jianhuai (簡懷王 朱由㰒; 1607 – 1610)
  3. Empress Dowager Xiaochun, of the Liu clan (孝純皇太后 劉氏; 9 October 1593 – 28 August 1614)
    1. Zhu Youjian, Sizong (思宗 朱由檢; 6 February 1611 – 25 April 1644)
  4. Consort Gongyizhuang, of the Li clan (恭懿莊妃 李氏; 1588 – 1624)
  5. Consort Yi, of the Fu clan (懿妃 傅氏; 1588 – 1644)
    1. Princess Ningde (寧德公主), personal name Huiyan (徽妍)
    2. Princess Suiping (遂平公主; 1611 – 1633), personal name Huijing (徽婧)
  6. Consort Kang, of the Li clan (康妃 李氏; 1584 – 1674)
    1. Zhu Youmo, Prince Huaihui (懷惠王 朱由模; 1610 – 1615)
    2. Princess Le'an (樂安公主; 1611 – 1643), personal name Huiti (徽媞)
    3. Princess (公主; 1616 – 1617), personal name Huizhao (徽妱)
  7. Consort Yi, of the Ding clan (懿妃 定氏)
    1. Zhu Youxu, Prince Xianghuai (湘懷王 朱由栩)
  8. Consort Jing, of the Feng clan (敬妃 馮氏)
    1. Zhu Youjian, Prince Huizhao (慧昭王 朱由橏; b. 1620)
  9. Concubine Shen, of the Shao clan (慎嬪 邵氏)
    1. Princess Daowen (悼溫公主; 1621), personal name Huizheng (徽姃)
  10. Lady, of the Wang clan (選侍 王氏)
    1. Zhu Youji, Prince Qisi (齊思王 朱由楫; 1609 – 1616)
  11. Unknown
    1. Princess Daoyi (悼懿公主)
    2. Lady Zhu (d. 1623), personal name Huiheng (徽姮)
    3. Princess Daoshun (悼順公主; 1606 – 1607), personal name Huixuan (徽嫙)
    4. Princess (公主; 1608 – 1609), personal name Huiweng (徽㜲)
    5. Lady Zhu (b. 1611), personal name Huiwan (徽婉)
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