Reign of Taichang Emperor: The 14th Emperor of the Ming Dynasty

The Taichang Emperor (Zh: 泰昌, Pinyin: Táichàng; 28 August 1582 – 26 September 1620) was the fourteenth Emperor of the Ming Dynasty.

He was born Zhu Changluo (Zh: 朱常洛), the eldest son of Emperor Wanli (Zh: 万历皇帝) and succeeded his father as Emperor in 1620. However his reign came to an abrupt end less than one month after his coronation when he was found dead one morning in the palace following a bout of diarrhea. He was succeeded by his son Zhu Youxiao (Zh: 朱由校). His era name means "Great goodness" or "Great prosperity".

Emperor Wanli died on 18 August 1620 and Zhu Chanluo officially ascended the throne on 28 August 1620 taking the era name Tai-Chang, meaning "Magnificent Prosperity". The first few days of his reign started promisingly enough as recorded in official Ming court history. Two million teals of silver was entailed as a gift to the troops guarding the border, important bureaucratic posts left vacant during Wanli’s long periods of administrative inactivity were finally starting to be filled, and many of the deeply unpopular extraordinary taxes and duties imposed by the late Emperor were also revoked at this time. However ten days after his coronation Emperor Taichang was taken ill. So grave was the new Emperor's physical condition his birthday celebration originally planned for the next day was cancelled.

According to some non-official primary sources, Taichang’s illness was brought about by excessive sexual indulgence after he was presented with eight beautiful serving girls by his nemesis Lady Zheng as a coronation gift. The Emperor's already serious condition was further compounded by severe diarrhea after taking a dose of laxative recommended by an attending eunuch Cui Wensheng (Zh: 崔文昇) on September 10. Finally on 25 September to counter the effects of the laxative, he asked for and took a red pill presented by a minor court official named Li Kezhuo (Zh: 李可灼) who dabbled in apothecary.

It was recorded in the official Ming court history that Emperor Taichang felt much better after taking the pill, regained his appetite and repeatedly praised Li Kezhou as a "Loyal subject" . That same afternoon the Emperor took a second pill and was found dead the next morning. The death of a second Emperor who was seemingly in good health within the span of a month sent shock waves through the empire and started rumours flying. The much talked about mystery surrounding the Emperor's death became known as the infamous "Case of the Red Pills" (Zh: 红丸案), one of three notorious 'mysteries' of Late Ming Dynasty. The fate of Li Kezhuo whose pills were at the center of this controversy became a hotly contested subject between competing power factions of officials and eunuchs vying for influence at the Ming Court. Opinions ranged from awarding him money for the Emperor's initial recovery to executing his entire family for murdering the Emperor. The question was finally settled in 1625 when Li Kezhuo was exiled to the border regions on the order of the powerful eunuch Wei Zhongxian (Zh: 魏忠賢) signaling the total dominance of eunuchs during the reign of Taichang’s son Emperor Tianqi.