Taichang Emperor

Taichang Emperor
14th Emperor of the Ming dynasty
Reign 28 August 1620 – 26 September 1620
Predecessor Wanli Emperor
Successor Tianqi Emperor
Born (1582-08-28)28 August 1582
Died 26 September 1620(1620-09-26) (aged 38)
Burial Qingling, Ming Dynasty Tombs, Beijing
Spouse Empress Xiaoyuan Zhen (d.1614)
Empress Dowager Xiaohe (d.1619)
Empress Dowager Xiaochun (d.1615)
Issue 7 sons and 4 daughters
Full name
Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Changluo (常洛)
Era name and dates
Taichang (泰昌): 28 August 1620[1] – 21 January 1621
Posthumous name
Emperor Chongtian Qidao Yingrui Gongchun Xianwen Jingwu Yuanren Yixiao Zhen
Temple name
Ming Guangzong
Father Wanli Emperor
Mother Empress Dowager Xiaojing

The Taichang Emperor[2] (Chinese: 泰昌; pinyin: Tàichāng; 28 August 1582 – 26 September 1620), personal name Zhu Changluo (Chinese: 朱常洛), was the fourteenth 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 Li. After it was discovered that Lady Wang was pregnant, the Wanli Emperor awarded her the title "Consort Gong of the Second Grade" (恭妃).[3] 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.[4]

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 Lady 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 instate 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,[5]

In 1615, the Ming imperial court was hit by a scandal. A man called Zhang Chai, armed with only a wooden staff, managed to drive away the eunuchs guarding the palace gates and break into Ciqing Palace and then the crown prince's living quarters. Zhang Chai was eventually subdued and thrown in prison. Initial investigation found him to be a lunatic, but upon further investigation by a magistrate named Wang Zhicai, Zhang Chai confessed to being party to a plot instigated by two eunuchs[6] working under Lady Zheng. According to Zhang Chai's confession, the two eunuchs had promised him rewards for assaulting the crown prince, thus implicating Lady Zheng in an assassination plot. Presented with the 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 the full blame on the two implicated eunuchs, who were executed along with Zhang Chai. Although the case was quickly hushed up, it did not squelch public discussion and eventually became known as the "Case of the Palace Assault" (梃击案), one of three notorious mysteries[7] of the late Ming dynasty.

Short reign and death

The Wanli Emperor died on 18 August 1620 and was succeeded by Zhu Changluo on 28 August 1620. 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 his birthday celebrations were cancelled.

According to non-official primary sources,[8] the Taichang Emperor's illness was brought about by excessive sexual indulgence after he was presented with eight maidens by Lady Zheng.[9] 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[10] presented by a minor court official named Li Kezhuo, who dabbled in apothecary.

It was recorded in official Ming histories[11] 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. Crown Princess, née Guo (皇太子妃,郭氏); Posthumously named Empress Xiaoyuanzhen (孝元贞皇后) by Tianqi; Full posthumous title in Chinese: 孝元昭懿哲惠莊仁合天弼圣贞皇后.
  2. Consort Fifth Grade, née Wang (才人, 王氏); Posthumously named Empress Dowager Xiaohe (孝和太后) by Tianqi; Full posthumous title in Chinese: 孝和恭献温穆徽慈谐天鞠圣皇太后.
  3. Consort Seventh Grade, née Liu (淑女, 刘氏); Posthumously named Empress Dowager Xiaochun (孝纯太后) by the Chongzhen Emperor; Full posthumous title in Chinese: 孝纯恭懿淑穆莊静毘天毓圣皇太后.
  4. Consort Kang of Second Grade, née Li (康妃李氏), commonly called "Lady Li of the West" (西李选侍)
  5. Consort Zhuang of Second Grade, née Li (莊妃李氏), commonly called "Lady Li of the East" (东李选侍)
  6. Consort Sixth Grade, née Xiao (选侍赵氏)
  7. Consort Sixth Grade, née Wang (选侍王氏)
  8. Consort Sixth Grade, née Li (选侍李氏)
  9. Consort Dingyi of Second Grade (定懿妃)
  10. Consort Jing of Second Grade (敬妃)


  1. Zhu Youxiao (朱由校), later the Tianqi Emperor. Born to Empress Dowager Xiaohe.
  2. Zhu Youxue, Prince Jianhuai (简怀王, 朱由学), born to Empress Dowager Xiaohe. Died at age four.
  3. Zhu Youji, Prince Qisi (齐思王, 朱由楫), born to Consort Sixth Grade, Lady Wang. Died at age eight.
  4. Zhu Youmo, prince Huaihui (怀惠王, 朱由模), born to Consort Sixth Grade, Lady Li. Died at age five.
  5. Zhu Youjian (朱由檢), later the Chongzhen Emperor. Born to Empress Dowager Xiaochun.
  6. Zhu Youyi, Prince Xianghuai (湘怀王, 朱由栩), born to Consort Dingyi of Second Grade, stillborn.
  7. Zhu Youshan, Prince Huizhao (惠昭王, 朱由橏), born to Consort Jing of Second Grade, stillborn.


Number Title Name Born Death Married Spouse Mother Notes
1 Princess Huaishu
Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Huijuan (徽娟)
1604 1610 none none Crown Princess, née Guo
2 Princess Daoshu
Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Huihuan (徽姮)
1606 1607 none none
3 Princess Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Huixuan (徽嫙)
1606 1607 none none
4 Princess Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Huiying (徽㜲)
1608 1609 none none
5 Princess Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Huiwan (徽婉)
1608 none none Died unmarried
6 Princess Ningde
Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Huiyan (徽妍)
1609 Liu Youfu
Consort Yi, née Fu Died during Kangxi era, the Dynasty of Qing
7 Princess Suiping
Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Huijing (徽婧)
1610 1632 Qi Zanyuan
Consort Yi, née Fu
8 Princess Le'an
Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Huijing (徽媞)
1611 1644 Gong Yonggu
Consort Kang, née Li Died of illness right before the Fall of the Ming Dynasty. Gong Yonggu tied four of their children together with her coffin and then committed self-immolation on 25 April 1644
9 Princess Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Huizhao (徽妱)
1615 1615 none none
10 Princess Daowen
Family name: Zhu (朱)
Given name: Huizheng (徽姃)
1621 1621 none none Consort Shen, née Shao

See also


  1. The Taichang era should have started on 22 January 1621; however, the emperor died before the start of his era. His era name means "Great goodness" or "Great prosperity". He was succeeded by his son the Tianqi Emperor, and according to the law the Tianqi era was now scheduled to start on 22 January 1621, so that the Taichang era would never exist in practice. In order to honor his father, the new emperor decided that the Wanli era would be considered ended since 27 August 1620, the last day of the 7th month in the Chinese calendar. The period from 28 August 1620 (1st day of the 8th month, which was the day on which Taichang had ascended the throne) until 21 January 1621 would become the Taichang era, enabling this era to be applied for a few months. Thus, quite an extraordinary situation resulted from this choice: the 7th month of the 48th year of the Wanli era was followed by the 8th month of the 1st year of the Taichang era (the 1st year of the Taichang era, in fact the only year of the Taichang era, lacks its first seven months), then the 12th month of the 1st year of the Taichang era was to be followed by the 1st month of the 1st year of the Tianqi era.
  2. Chinese emperors are commonly known by their era name, such as Taichang in this instance. This stemmed from the Chinese practice (up to the Republican era) of referring to the calendar year after the emperor's reign. However, because the Taichang Emperor's reign was so short, the Taichang era became lost between "48th year of the Wanli era" (1620) and "1st year of the Taichang era" (1621). Secondly, the reigning emperor's era name was usually inscribed on newly minted copper currency and as no coinage with Taichang era name was minted while the Taichang Emperor was alive. All Ming dynasty coins bearing the marking "Taichang" were minted during the reign of the Taichang Emperor's son, the Tianqi Emperor. Thus "Taichang" is also known as the "emperor without an era name", and commonly referred to by his temple name "Ming Guangzong" (明光宗).
  3. Apart from the empress, there were seven grades of consorts in the Ming palace system. These in their order of seniority were Huang Guifei (皇贵妃), Guifei (贵妃), Bin (嫔), Guiren (贵人), Cairen (才人), Xuanshi (选侍), and Shunü (淑女), beneath which were palace attendants. "Lady Gong", in this case, was a palace attendant elevated to the rank of a consort of the second (most senior) grade.
  4. The Ming dynasty followed a strict patrilineal line of succession. Among the emperor's sons, those born to the empress were called dizi (嫡子) while those born to the emperor's other consorts were called shuzi (庶子). Dizis took precedence over shuzis in the line of succession; seniority according to age was considered only after the dizi-shuzi distinction was made. Although the Wanli Emperor's empress never bore a son, Zhu Changluo's position as the eldest among the emperor's sons and claim to the position of crown prince could be superseded if the empress gave birth to a son or if the emperor made Lady Zheng his empress.
  5. "Ming Official Court History – The Chronicles of Taichang" (明史·光宗本纪), documented two separate instances in the years 1603 and 1613, when pamphlets of unknown origins accusing Lady Zheng of plotting to remove the crown prince received widespread public circulation. Although several suspects were eventually apprehended, official investigations ordered by the Wanli Emperor never satisfactorily establish the culprits behind the pamphlets.
  6. The two eunuchs were named Pang Bao, and Liu Cheng.
  7. The 'Three Mysteries of Late Ming' (明宫三案) referred to the Case of the Palace Assault (梃击案), the Case of the Red Pills (红丸案), and the Case of Palace Removal (移宫案).
  8. "National Discussions" (国榷) completed in the 1650s, & "Book of Ming" (明書; also known as 罪惟錄) a seventeenth-century privately written record of Ming history.
  9. Official Ming histories (明史 & 明史紀事本末) stated that the number of women presented by Lady Zheng as four. Lady Zheng's motive for the gift was never explained. It could either be an effort to get into the emperor's good books or the latest in the long series of attempts to kill him.
  10. The "Red Pills" (紅丸; or 红铅金丹) were a Chinese apothecary concoction popular during the mid Ming dynasty. It contained among its many ingredients "red lead" (dried powdered female menstrual blood), "autumn stone" (crystallized urinal salts) baked into the form of a pill that claims to be an "energy" booster and an aphrodisiac. The formula is collected in a volume titled "Wondrous Methods for Life Extension" (摄生众妙方) edited by a Ming scholar Zhang Shiqie.
  11. Ming Court History, "Biography of HanGuang "(明史·韩爌传)
Taichang Emperor
Born: 28 August 1582 Died: 26 September 1620
Regnal titles
Preceded by
The Wanli Emperor
Emperor of China
Succeeded by
The Tianqi Emperor
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