An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Ming Xizong 明熹宗, the Tianqi Emperor 天啓

Jan 17, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald

Emperor Xizong 明熹宗 (1605-1627, r. 1620-1627), the Tianqi Emperor 天啓, personal name Zhu Youjiao 朱由校, was the second-last emperor of the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644). Born in 1610 as the oldest son of Emperor Guangzong 明光宗 (the Taichang Emperor 泰昌, r. 1620), he was made emperor after the sudden death of his father. From the beginning the young man stood under the influence of the powerful chief eunuch (taijian 太監) and Chosen Attendant Li 李選侍 Wei Zhongxian 魏忠賢. Because of the latter's intimate relationship with the emperor's nurse Ms Ke 客氏 he was appointed Director of Ceremonials Wielding the brush (silijian bingbi taijian 司禮監秉筆太監), a position in which he controlled the emperor's whole pensum of activities, and so became an intimate friend of the ruler. Wei Zhongxian was allowed to take over control of the Eastern Depots (dongchang 東廠). He allied with the eunuchs Wang Tiqian 王體乾 and Li Chengzhen 李承貞 and Grand Academician (daxueshi 大學士) Quan Shen {榷-木+水}沈, three persons that supported him and his ever-growing influence in inner-court fights against the so-called Donglin Faction (Donglin dang 東林黨) of court officials. With void accusation Wei Zhongxian eliminated all his opponents and was soon the factual regent of the empire. In 1624 Yang Lian 楊漣, 左副都御史, published a public charge against Wei Zhongxian with 24 capital crimes, and Cai Yizhong 蔡毅中, head of the Directorate of Education (guozi jijiu 國子祭酒) assembled more than 1,000 persons supporting the petition against the "dictatorial" eunuch. All of them were punished and found either death of dismission. Wei Zhongxian on his side was presented a seal with the inscription Guming yuanchen 顧命元臣. Sycophants like Pan Ruzhen 潘汝楨, grand coordinator (xunfu 巡撫) of Zhejiang, suggested erecting a "living" shrine (shengci 生祠, normally only inaugurated for deceased persons) for Wei Zhongxian. In 1626 Wei ordered Gu Bingqian 顧秉謙, Huang Liji 黃立極 and Feng Quan 馮銓 to compile the judicial collection Sanchao yaodian 三朝要典.
The exploitation of the peasantry by the local gentry, high taxation, and a series of natural disasters were the reason for several peasant uprisings during the Tianqi reign, like that led by Xu Hongru 徐鴻儒 in Shandong and another movement of Wang Erji 王二繼 in Shanxi.
In the northeast, the federation of the Jurchens under Nurhaci (Emperor Qing Taizu 清太祖, r. 1616-1626) became stronger and stronger and threatened border cities like Liaoyang 遼陽. They proved to the the most challenging outer threat for the Ming empire.
The posthumous honorific title of the Tianqi Emperor is Emperor Zhuangqinzhe 莊勤悊皇帝, his temple name was Emperor Xizong 明熹宗. He was buried in the tomb hill Deling 明德陵 and was succeeded by his younger brother Zhu Youjian 朱由檢, Emperor Sizong 明思宗 (the Chongzhen Emperor 崇禎, r. 1627-1644).

Chen Quanli 陳全力, Hou Xinyi 侯欣一, eds. (1988). Diwang cidian 帝王辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin jiaoyu chubanshe), 207.
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), 343.