Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Chu Ch'ang-lo

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CHU Ch'ang-lo 朱常洛, Aug. 28, 1582–1620, Sept. 26, Ming emperor, reigned in 1620 for only one month under the reign-title, T'ai-ch'ang 泰昌. He was the son of Emperor Shên-tsung (神宗, personal name, Chu I-chün 朱翊鈞, 1563–1620, reign title, Wan-li), and one of the ladies-in-waiting (née Wang 王, d. 1613) in the palace of the Empress (nêe Li 李, d. 1614). Although recognized by the Empress, he was reluctantly accepted by his father whose affections had in the meantime turned to a secondary consort of the clan-name Chêng 鄭 (d. 1630). In 1586 the latter bore a son, named Chu Ch'ang-hsün (see under Chu Yu-sung), who later became the Emperors choice as heir-apparent. For fifteen years there was a constant and bitter struggle between Emperor Shên-tsung and his ministers, the latter pressing for definite assurance regarding the succession, the former procrastinating in the hope of finding a way to appoint Chu Chang-hsün, the child of his favorite, as heir-apparent. Finally in 1601 Emperor Shên-tsung bestowed on the nineteen-year-old Chu Ch'ang-lo the title of crown prince, and accorded princely rank and domains to Chu Ch'ang-lo's four half-brothers—Chu Ch'ang-hsün, Chu Ch'ang-hao 朱常浩 (d. 1644), Chu Ch'ang-jun and Chu Ch'ang-ying 朱常潤, and Chu Ch'ang-ying (see under Chu Yu-lang). Uneasiness as to the succession continued, however, even finding expression in a book, entitled 續憂危竑議 Hsü yu-wei hung-i, printed anonymously in 1603, which declared that plans were complete for the appointment of a new heir. Court intrigue continued unabated, the emperors favorite, Chêng, being accused of working spells to harm the crown prince. In 1615 there occurred the first of the so-called "three cases" (三案 san an) which fed the flames of factional dispute for the next fifteen years. An unidentified man armed with a club invaded the palace of the heir-apparent from which the affair derived the name of the "club case" (梃擊案 t'ing-chi an, see under Wang Chih-ts'ai). Although the trial was obscured by political rivalry and the intruder was pronounced insane, it was generally believed that an attempt had been made on the life of the crown prince by supporters of the consort, Chêng. Upon the death of the Empress (née Wang 王) in 1619 the lady Chêng became the chief consort of Emperor Shên-tsung, and when he died on August 18, 1620, he left instructions that she should be raised to the rank of Empress Dowager. These orders, if carried out, would have given her a commanding position over the new emperor, but the move was frustrated by some of the ministers in power. Chu Ch'ang-lo ascended the throne on August 28, 1620, reorganized the government, and announced that the next year would be known as the first year of T'ai-ch'ang. Chief in his affections was a secondary consort, known as the "Western Li" 西李, who had been extending her influence over Chu Ch'ang-lo's two children, Chu Yu-chiao and Chu Yu-chien [qq. v.]. Their mothers—the one a secondary consort (nêe Wang 王, d. 1619), the other a palace lady (nêe Liu 劉, d. 1614)—had died.

On September 6, 1620, Chu Ch'ang-lo fell ill. His illness appeared to be aggravated by medicine given him a few days later by one of the eunuchs of the consort Chêng. The consort Li installed herself in the main palace on the plea of being near the sick emperor, while the chief minister, Fang Tsung-chê 方從哲 (T. 中涵, posthumous name 文靖, chin-shih of 1583, d. 1628), introduced an official of the Court of State Ceremonials, Li K'o-shao 李可灼, who claimed to have a wonder-working pill. The medicine he gave, however, seemed only to make the emperor worse, and he died on September 26, 1620. The giving of the medicine which probably caused the death of the emperor came to be known as the "red pill case" (紅丸案 hung-wan an, see under Sun Shên-hsing), the second of the san-an. After his death the ministers requested the consort, Li, to return to her own palace, but she was ejected only after bitter quarreling between officials, eunuchs, and opportunists who saw possibilities of new political alignments with her in control of the fifteen-year-old Emperor Hsi-tsung (see under Chu Yu-chiao). This episode, called the "removal case" (移宮案 i-kung an), furnished the third point of controversy over which the Tung-lin party and the eunuchs battled during the ruinous reign of Chu Ch'ang-lo's successor (see under Wei Chung-hsien and Yang Lien). Chu Ch'ang-lo was given the temple name Kuang-tsung 光宗 and the posthumous name Chên Huang-ti 貞皇帝 and was buried in a mausoleum called Ch'ing-ling 慶陵.


[M.1/21, 22, 114, 120; 明史紀事本末 Ming-shih chi-shih pên-mo, 67, 68; 酌中志 Cho-chung chih, passim; 明季北略 Ming-chi pei-lüeh, 1/6a; 三朝野紀 San-ch'ao yeh-chi, 1/1a; 先撥志始 Hsien-po chih shih, passim; 明光宗貞皇帝實錄 Ming Kuang-tsung Chên Huang-ti shih-lu; Ming-shih ch'ao-lüeh (see under Chuang T'ing-lung), vol. 2.]

George A. Kennedy