Tianqi Emperor

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The Tianqi Emperor was the sixteenth (and penultimate) emperor of the Ming Dynasty. He is said to have spent most of his leisure time building and lacquering furniture, and to have never taken the time to learn to write.

He took the throne less than a year after the death of the Wanli Emperor, with Wanli's successor, the Taichang Emperor, lasting only a matter of months on the throne.

His reign saw the continued rise of factionalism at court, continuing from the time of the Wanli Emperor, as well as the rise of the power of the palace eunuchs. Much of the factionalism that characterized the last years, or decades, of the Wanli reign exploded following Wanli's death, as suspicions about a myriad actions and decisions, suppressed out of respect during Wanli's lifetime, were now open to be questioned and discussed. Had the Grand Secretary made certain compromises or agreements behind the backs of the other officials? Had Wanli's lover, Lady Zheng, schemed to assassinate Wanli's first son so that her son, Prince Fu, could become heir? Meanwhile, a small contingent of officials known as the Donglin Academy set out to attempt to reform government according to a superior understanding of Neo-Confucianist ideals and texts; though their intentions were virtuous, they attracted much opposition, and factional disputes raged stronger than ever.

Wei Zhongxian (1568-1627), perhaps the most (in)famous of influential palace eunuchs, seized power at this time, controlling court politics, and engineering the deaths of many of his political opponents, including many scholars of the Donglin Academy.

Preceded by
Taichang Emperor
Emperor of Ming
Succeeded by
Chongzhen Emperor


  • Conrad Schirokauer, et al, A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations, Fourth Edition, Cengage Learning (2012), 265.