Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Chu Yu-chiao

3636430Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, Volume 1 — Chu Yu-chiaoGeorge A. Kennedy

CHU Yu-chiao 朱由校, Dec. 23, 1605–1627, Sept. 30, Ming emperor who ruled under the reign-title T'ien-ch'i 天啟, was the eldest son of Chu Ch'ang-lo [q. v.]. He was born in the midst of a depraved court life which, unchecked by his grandfather, Emperor Shên-tsung, was rapidly leading China into ruin. Of his fifteen brothers and sisters, one brother became the last of the Ming emperors (see under Chu Yu-chien), and three sisters reached maturity and married. The remaining eleven died before reaching the age of eight, seven of them before they were a year old. Chu Yu-chiao's five children died in infancy, and all that is known about him confirms the belief that the vitality of the imperial line was diminishing. He was not inclined to study, and according to one account, "did not have sufficient leisure to learn to write." He had a passion for carpentry, and after becoming emperor at a youthful age spent most of his time working with carpenter's tools. According to some sources he produced beautiful pieces of furniture which he lacquered himself. He is said to have built a miniature palace in his garden, perfect in every detail, with small glazed tiles baked especially for it in the imperial kilns. But whatever his native ability, he was prevented by circumstances from taking an active share in government.

During the reign of his grandfather the power and influence of eunuchs assumed such proportions that all avenues of communication between the emperor and the outside world were controlled by them. The eunuchs collected taxes to maintain the court in luxury and even organized a eunuch army to uphold their position in the palace. During his childhood Chu Yu-chiao was much under the influence of Wei Chung-hsien [q. v.], an ambitious eunuch who held the position of butler in his mother's apartments and who was a close friend of his nurse, K'o 客. Wei Chung-hsien won the boy's friendship by playing with him and catering to his whims, thus laying the foundation for his rise to supreme power during the young emperor's reign. At the same time the concubine known as the "Western Li" 西李, favorite of Chu Yu-chiao's father, made efforts to extend her influence over the boy, and after the death of his own mother (née Wang 王) in 1619 assumed a position of authority over him. In the following year Emperor Shên-tsung died and Chu Yu-chiao's father, Chu ch'ang-lo, ascended the throne. When, after a month's illness, he also died, Chu Yu-chiao, then less than fifteen years of age, became emperor (1620). The concubine Li took charge of him and, with the aid of eunuchs, attempted to prevent ministers of state from entering the palace for an audience. Led by a spirited censor, Yang Lien [q. v.], the ministers succeeded in gaining admittance, while a eunuch favorable to them stole Chu Yu-chiao away from the concubine Li and carried him to the throne-room where the ministers proclaimed him emperor.

One of the first decrees which supposedly emanated from Chu Yu-chiao conferred high rank on the eunuch Wei Chung-hsien and on the latter's mistress, the nurse K'o. Turning the reins of government over to the former, Emperor Hsi-tsung retired to his workbench where he is said to have "forgotten cold or heat, hunger or thirst," in his pursuit of carpentry. His reign of seven years was filled with disasters occasioned both from without and from within. In 1621 the Manchus captured Shên-yang and Liao-yang, and before the end of his reign they occupied all the territory east of the Liao river. Wei Chung-hsien's policy of self-aggrandizement drove most of the capable men from the government. Natural catastrophes as well as political mismanagement goaded the people into open rebellion, and discontented elements under the leadership of bandits like Li Tzŭ-ch'êng [q. v.] brought about the collapse of China long before the Manchu invasion. Chu Yu-chiao, who died before reaching the age of twenty-two, cannot well be blamed for this condition. The vicious elements that his grandfather, Emperor Shên-tsung, had allowed to creep into the government during his long reign had become too strong and were pushing the country irretrievably into ruin. Chu Yu-chiao was given the posthumous name, Chê Huang-ti 悊皇帝, and the temple name, Hsi-tsung 熹宗. His mausoleum, the twelfth in the imperial cemetery of the Ming emperors north of Peking, was designated as Tê-ling 德陵.

[M.1/22; 明史紀事本末 Ming-shih chi-shih pên-mo, chüan 68 and 71; 酌中志 Cho-chung chih, chüan 3, 8 and 14; 中國藝術家徵略 Chung-kuo i-shu-chia chêng-lüeh, 3/19a.]

George A. Kennedy