An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Ming Shizong 明世宗, the Jiajing Emperor 嘉靖

Jan 17, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald

Emperor Shizong 明世宗 (1507-1566, r. 1521-1566), known as the Jiajing Emperor 嘉靖, personal name Zhu Houcong 朱厚熜, was a ruler of the mid-Ming period 明 (1368-1644). He was the fourth son of Zhu Youhang 朱祐杭, Prince Xingxian 興獻王 (posthumously elevated to Emperor Gongmuxian 恭穆獻皇帝), a son of Emperor Xianzong 明憲宗 (the Chenghua Emperor 成化, r. 1464-1487). In 1539 Zhou Houcong was given the title of Prince of Yu 裕王, and in 1521 succeeded Emperor Wuzong 明武宗 (the Zhengde Emperor 正德, r. 1505-1521) to the throne, because the latter had no surviving heir. The decision to enthrone Zhou Houcong was made by the Empress Dowager and Yang Tinghe 楊廷和, Counsellor-in-chief. The new emperor chose the reign motto Jiajing 嘉靖 "Excellent Peace".
Immediately after his accession Emperor Shizong had executed the minions of his predecessor, mainly Qian Ning 錢寧 and Jiang Bin 江彬, punished others like Gu Dayong 谷大用, Qiu Ju 邱聚 and Zhang Yong 張永, and returned a large amount of land to the people that had been seized by corrupt officials. He also set free more than 100,000 workers that had been forced to serve the army. He furthermore ordered the court officials to discuss ritual matters about the posthumous ennoblement of his own parents that had only had the status of princes, and not of emperor and empress. In the course of this discussion he totally lost the grip on the government apparatus that was now taken over by Shizong's own favourites. They managed to dismiss a lot of high officials and even had them suffered corporal punishment. A large number of honourable ministers like Yang Tinghe, the Counsellor-in-chief, were purged, and some of them even thrown into jail. This period is called the daliyi 大禮儀 "Great Ritual" Controverse. Chamberlain for the Imperial Stud (taipuqing 太僕卿) Yang Zuili 楊最力, who remonstranted against the circumstance that the Crown Prince acted as prince regent (jianguo 監國), was flogged to death.
An incident in 1542 nearly cost the life of the emperor when he dwelled in the Mansion of Consort Cao 曹妃宮. 宮女楊金英以組縊帝項,未絕,皇后馳救,得蘇。 XXX
Emperor Shizong was very fond of Daoist priests and magicians and built expensive temples and shrines for Daoist liturgies and sacrifices. When the Mongols attacked the capital Beijing the army withdrew, and the Emperor resorted to magic. The Daoist master Tao Zhongwen 陶仲文 was granted the honorific title of Junior Preceptor (shaoshi 少師). It was said that he totally ceased to care for political matters and for more than twenty years did not convoke court audiences. In 1566 therefore, the head of the Ministry of Revenue (hubu zhushi 戶部主事) Hai Rui 海瑞 submitted a memorial to the throne in which he reprimanded the emperor because of his neglicence. Hai Rui was thrown into jail, but nothing changed.
The troops of the Ming empire ceased to train and exercise, and the monetary reserves of the state shrank. Under such conditions, the Eastern Sea was infested with pirates, and in the north, the Mongol Khan Altan 俺答 and his troops raided the border regions. In many provinces of the empire hungry people rose in rebellion. The rebel leader Wang Zhi 王直 assumed the title of King of Jinghai 凈海王 (or King of Hui 徽王); Chen Yiming 陳以明 called himself "hegemonial king" of Chengtian 承天霸王, and Zhang Lian 張璉 even proclaimed himself emperor in Guangdong and chose the reign motto Zaoli 造曆 "Creation of a Calendar (i.e. an independent reign)". Historians say conditions were worse than during the Zhengde reign 正德 of Emperor Wuzong 明武宗 (r. 1505-1521).
During all these turbulent times Emperor Shizong had at least revised the administrative canon Da-Ming huidian 大明會典 and the encyclopaedia Yongle dadian 永樂大典.
It is said that Emperor Shizong died when he consumed a longevity pill given to him by a magician called Wang Jin 王金. He was buried in the tomb hill Yongling 明永陵. His posthumous honorific title is Emperor Xiaosu 孝肅皇帝, his temple name Shizong 世宗. Emperor Shizong was succeeded by his son, Emperor Muzong 明穆宗 (the Longqing Emperor 隆慶, r. 1566-1572).

Chen Quanli 陳全力, Hou Xinyi 侯欣一, eds. (1988). Diwang cidian 帝王辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin jiaoyu chubanshe), 205.
Xiong Tieji 熊鐵基, Yang Youli 楊有禮, eds. (1994). Zhongguo diwang zaixiang cidian 中國帝王宰相辭典 (Wuhan: Hubei jiaoyu chubanshe), 342.