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Today in Chinese History (28 August 2014): Shakespeare and the Taichang Emperor

Taichang EmperorOn this day, August 28th, in 1582, a little boy named Zhu Changluo was born in the majestic halls of Beijing’s Forbidden City.

On the other side of the planet, European countries were about to turn the clock forward ten days for the adoption of the modern day Gregorian calendar, and an 18-year old William Shakespeare was soon to marry the older woman he just impregnated.

Time cut short and the absence of luck with older women were to be two characterizing factors in the unfortunate life of Zhu Changluo. His reign as the Taichang Emperor became the shortest of all Ming Emperors, lasting less than a month. His death was likely staged by his father’s favorite concubine, the wicked Lady Zheng.

Changluo grew up in a Ming Court that was plagued by intrigue. Scheming concubines, evil eunuchs, and backstabbing ministers were jockeying for power. As the oldest son of the Wanli Emperor and heir to the throne, little Changluo had enemies before he had teeth.


Suffering the Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

His most formidable enemy was Lady Zheng. Lady Zheng had given birth to another son of the Emperor and was determined to place him on the throne instead of Changluo. She managed to convince the Emperor to publicly advocate the replacement of Changluo with her son as his heir. The Emperor’s resistance against Changluo took on such proportions that the poor neglected prince did not even receive a proper education until he was 13.

Controversy surrounding the Emperor’s successor seemingly came to an end in 1601, when Changluo was finally officially declared heir apparent. However, all that glistered was not gold, and in 1615, a man armed with no more than a wooden staff broke into the Crown Prince’s living quarters, killing Changluo’s eunuch gate attendant. After getting caught, the man confessed his attack had been instigated by two of Lady Zheng’s eunuchs.

Even when Changluo officially ascended the throne in 1620, Lady Zheng persevered. As a coronation gift, Lady Zheng gave him eight of the most exquisitely beautiful girls. Soon thereafter, the new Emperor was taken ill, a consequence of excessive sexual indulgence. His condition, already serious enough by itself, was further compounded by a mysterious, severe diarrhea. Presented as a remedy, he was handed two red pills from a minor court official. The Emperor was found dead next morning.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

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