Zhang Juzheng -- A Great Reformer and Politician, A Complicated but Insightful Minister in the History of China

Zhang Juzheng (1525 -- 1582), from an ordinary born boy to the most powerful regent of his empire, he used only his talent.


As one of the most influential prime ministers and reformers in the history of China, he was considered strong, powerful, brilliant, extreme, and controversial.


This flamboyant person had been in a romantic relationship with the empress dowager, and had prolonged and flourished the Ming Dynasty through his reforms; his ending, however, was quite pathetic. 


A Wunderkind and His Difficult Transformation 

Zhang Juzheng was born into an ordinary family with a good reputation.


He won first place in the Imperial Examination of his province when he was only 11 years old and was highly appreciated by the current governor.


Unfortunately, he kind of lost himself because he was able to get everything so easily.


Soon, however, his beloved grandfather was framed up and murdered, only because a prince was jealous of Zhang’s talent. This was the first time that he witnessed what power could do.


From that moment on, Zhang Juzheng realized that he needed to work hard and obtain real power.


Then, he got a political occupation after he achieved a very good score on the National Imperial Examination. 


But Zhang Juzheng was suppressed for a long time by a horrible but powerful minister, because of his straightforwardness.


Zhang felt unfair and angry, so he resigned and started to travel around the whole nation, where he has seen the best quality of a privileged life and also the worst living standards of poor people. 


Zhang Juzheng didn't tell anyone what exactly had happened during his trips, but he did change a lot.


After he finished his trip, he came back to the government and participated in politics again.


This time, Zhang Juzheng changed from a brave, passionate, cynical young man to a mature and sly politician.  

Remarkable Reform and Overdue Vengeance


After some years of complicated and intense political conflict, Zhang Juzheng finally won, and became the most powerful prime minister of the Ming Empire, with huge support from his teacher Xu Jie. 


Then Zhang Juzheng implemented one of the most important reforms in the history of China. His reform included the management and assessment of political officers, a much simplified and lowered tax system, and so on.


This reform achieved remarkable accomplishments, which brought the Ming Empire peace, prosperity, and affluence again.


However, Zhang Juzheng was sometimes criticized for being tricky and corrupt. 


An important reason was that many noble and rich families disagreed with his reform since some policies seriously jeopardized their benefits.


Therefore, the politician Zhang Juzheng did almost everything he could to make sure his reforms could be implemented well.


He received and offered bribes, flattered useful but horrible people, and defeated his political enemies with no mercy.

After Zhang Juzheng gained enough power, he framed up and executed the prince who had murdered his beloved grandfather when he was a teenager.


Officers who tried to intercede for that prince were also banished by Zhang, who finally finished his vengeance after decades of difficult tolerances.  


Marvelous Regent and His Romantic Gossip

When Zhang Juzheng became the powerful prime minister, his emperor Zhu Yijun was a 9-year-old boy who just ascended to the throne. So this young emperor’s mother, the empress dowager, trusted Zhang a lot. 


There were many gossips about her and Zhang having a romantic relationship since Zhang was very handsome, talented, and powerful.


The empress dowager trusted and nominated Zhang Juzheng as the most powerful regent; she let him teach, sometimes even parent the young emperor.


From that time on, Zhang Juzheng was technically the actual monarch and the most powerful person of the Ming Empire; he helped his young emperor built a prosperous and wealthy kingdom until he passed away old and sick. 

Cruel Vengeance toward Zhang Juzheng and His Clan

Only half a year after Zhang Juzheng’s death, many people who hated him started to criticize and condemn him and promoted many accusations.

The emperor, who was now more mature and already took complete power back, believed those accusations and became angry, he then imprisoned Zhang's entire clan and had them investigated.

Many people from Zhang Juzheng’s family starved to death, his first son was grieved and committed suicide, while his other sons got banished to remote places far away. 


Zhang Juzheng’s name was cleared decades later, by the next emperor. 


Great Reformer, Complicated Politician Zhang Juzheng


Zhang Juzheng was super brilliant, who impressed his governor as an 11-year-old boy and achieved an excellent score in the Imperial Examination.


As the most glorious politician in the Ming Dynasty, he was decisive and fearless. He implemented one of the most important and influential reforms in the history of China, made great contributions to his country, and won many intense and cruel political conflicts. 


Zhang Juzheng was not a saint and was sometimes quite cruel and sly. However, started from a nobody of an ordinary family, to the most powerful and extraordinary prime minister of the Ming Empire, Zhang achieved everything on his own.


Moreover, after having obtained power and a great deal of money, he had never forgotten civilians’ well being; as the most powerful member of the ruling class, he put the commoners’ interest before everything.


Zhang Juzheng was a complicated genius who realized his remarkable political ideas, a sly politician who brought civilians with wealthy lives, and an imperfect prime minister with a conscience. 

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