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Jiajing Emperor Zhu Houcong -- A Deviant and Professional Taoist Monarch of the Ming Dynasty

Zhu Houcong (1507 -- 1567), also respected as Jiajing Emperor or Ming Shi Zong, was another very deviant and controversial emperor in the history of China.

 

He ascended to the throne at a young age and worn the crown for 45 years. 

 

Within his nearly half a century’s dominance, the Ming Dynasty was developed well, though he showed up much less after he became a professional Taoist. 

 

Prince Zhu Houcong's Perfect and Lovely Childhood 

As his parents’ only son and an honorable royal prince, Zhu Houcong was well educated. His family had lived in their vassal state happily and affluently, where he spent his perfect childhood.

 

Zhu Houcong inherited the king's title when he was 12, after his beloved father departed.

 

Two years later, his cousin, Zhengde Emperor Zhu Houzhao, passed away and left to the empire no sons.

 

As the closest cousin to the late emperor, Zhu Houcong was welcomed to the capital city and ascended to the throne, under the support of the current empress dowager and some powerful ministers. 

 

Big Argumentation Initiated by the Teenager Jiajing Emperor

To everyone’s surprise, this 14 year old boy, now the Jiajing Emperor, though with few political resources, immediately initiated a big argumentation in regard to etiquette with many officials, which had lasted for three years.

 

Though he inherited the throne from his cousin, Zhu Houcong wanted to honor his own parents as overlord and empress dowager, which was completely against the etiquette of the Ming Empire. 

 

According to the rules, he should now respect his cousin's father, the Emperor Zhu Youcheng, as his father, or at least the more honorable overlord.

After knowing that he couldn’t resign as the emperor, Jiajing Emperor Zhu Houcong debated with those intelligent ministers, who were carefully selected through the Imperial Exam, frequently and intensely, and this teenage boy still didn’t lose.

 

Gradually, Zhu Houcong found more allies who supported him, though some of them were just sycophant opportunists.

 

Many ministers who were against the emperor's ideas were demoted and expelled out of the central government.

 

Jiajing Emperor finally won this long term, large scale discussion, three years later. 

 

He then achieved actual control over the government, and became an excellent politician in the history of China. 

Excellent Monarch and Eunuch Oppressor

Then Jiajing Emperor refined the Cabinet System and reformed etiquette ceremonies. 

 

Like other good monarchs in the history of China, he lowered taxes, encouraged agriculture and business and made sure his kingdom kept progressing.

 

In the first twenty years of his rule, he was undoubtedly an intelligent and diligent emperor who brought his people better lives. 

 

Jiajing Emperor was very unsatisfied with some of his playful cousin emperor’s behaviors, especially his closeness to eunuchs.

 

So, after he got the throne, he executed Zhengde Emperor’s closest eunuchs, and removed others from politics. 

 

Under Zhu Houcong's ruling period, those former powerful and influential eunuch groups, now, only could do cleaning works and behave as inferior servants. 

 

A Passionate Believer of Taoism Religion

The first ten years after Jiajing Emperor got married, he had no babies at all. 

 

Then a Taoist cured him and soon he had many kids since after, which made him more passionate in practicing alchemy.

 

Afterwards, Jiajing Emperor gradually became a professional practicing Taoism.

 

He made friends with Taoists, diligently learnt Taoism philosophy and did alchemy in his own palace every day, and even recommended all his ministers to believe in Taoism. 

 

Nearly Assassinated by Royal Maids

Jiajing was also the first emperor in the history of China who was almost murdered by his maids.

 

Some gossips said he asked many maids to collect dew very early in the morning for his alchemy practice, which was very annoying and exhausted.

 

The real reason for this assassination, however, was still unknown.

 

Anyway, some maids came into Jiajing Emperor’s bedroom and almost strangled him; but they were too nervous and scared, and were captured soon.

 

Many people, including some imperial concubines, were executed afterwards, though the actual commander and the reason behind this murder was buried deep. 

Taoist Jiajing Emperor and His Commands Hide in Puzzles

After that, Jiajing Emperor stopped showing up in government meetings, but he still got everything under control.

 

In the next twenty years of his reign, he practiced Taoism at daytime and read government reports at night. 

 

The way Jiajing Emperor sent his guidance in regard to governance was special and interesting.

 

Instead of direct instructions, he always wrote down his commands on letters using word puzzles, and then sent them to his important officials; only very smart people could solve his orders and gain his trust and got promoted.

 

Under his ruling, some intelligent civil ministers managed the kingdom well, and other exceptional generals successfully eliminated invaders from the north and southeast borders. 

Making Decisions by Consulting Supernatural Beings

However, Jiajing Emperor also wrongly trusted a treacherous minister named Yan, who was an expert in flattery and conspiracy; this person set up or murdered many loyal officers and collected a large amount of money using his abused power.

 

Yan was highly appreciated by the emperor because of his excellent flattery skills and outstanding writing in regard to Taoism articles.

 

While another person Houcong trusted more was a taoist who helped him to communicate with the celestial. 

Jiajing Emperor liked consulting celestial being questions.

 

Usually, he would write his question down, seal it, and hand the envelop to his trusted Taoist, then the Taoist would send the question to immortals by burning it; soon, the immortals would come and guide two people to write the answer in a special sand table.

 

Jiajing Emperor had been doing this for decades, and he truly believed what celestials suggested.

 

One day, immortal told the Jiajing Emperor that his realm was declining because he trusted the treacherous minister Yan, and didn’t nominate the talented minister named Xu Jie. 

 

Many people believed that the Emperor's trusted taoist manipulated this important answer, which made him soon was tortured to death by Yan.

 

But soon, Jiajing Emperor expelled Yan and promoted Xu Jie as the most powerful prime minister in his government, just as what the celestial had suggested him.

 

A Full Time Taoist and A Controversial Monarch

Since then, Jiajing Emperor spent more time practicing Taoism, because prime minister Xu Jie was very loyal and capable, and always refused his unreasonable requirements.

 

For instance, Jiajing Emperor wanted to build more palaces or spend more money on his alchemy career, which were all vetoed by his officials.

 

Also, Xu Jie asked many imperial censors to point out and criticize the emperor’s inappropriate behaviors, frequently, while Jiajing Emperor had to listen.

 

Afterwards, he trusted Xu Jie with daily administrations, while he kept practicing Taoism and pursuing immortal, until he passed away in his 60s. 

 

Zhu Houcong, the Jiajing Emperor, was another controversial and deviant emperor in the history of China.

 

Many people criticized him for his extreme passionate on practicing Taoism and alchemy, while he barely worked diligently on governance.

 

Others believed that even though he seldomly showed up in government, he always had everything under control and had never lost power to anyone. 

 

Additionally, under his reign, there were many excellent officials and generals with remarkable achievements and the kingdom ran well.

 

Besides his parents, Zhu Houcong was not close to anyone; he even had barely met his own kids.

 

As a monarch or a person, he was very special and eccentric; however, he was indeed a wonderful Machiavellian and an excellent politician.