Reign of Longqing

Although lasting only five and one-half years, the short reign of the Longqing emperor (Muzong) produced landmark domestic and foreign policy changes that resulted in governmental reforms, an economic boom, and peace with the Mongols.

Summary of Event

In 1537, Zhu Zaihou. who would become the Longqing emperor, was born to the Jiajing emperor (Shizong) and the concubine Kang, later Empress Du. Although Zhu Zaihou was the third son to be born, he became the eldest living son when both the first and second sons died in childhood. However, his father had favored his first two sons and despised and neglected Zhu Zaihou. There was little contact between them, and Zhu Zaihou never expected to become emperor. Jiajing preferred a fourth son, born one month after Zhu Zaihou, for his successor. Nevertheless, after Jiajing died from poisoning in 1567, his posthumous edict (equivalent to his will) confirmed Zhu Zaihou’s succession. Inexperienced in state affairs, Zhu Zaihou ascended the throne as the Longqing emperor, with the temple name Muzong, or “Reverent Ancestor.” Longqing
Zhang Juzheng
Qi Jiguang
Tan Lun
Zhang Juzheng
Tan Lun
Qi Jiguang

In his accession edict, Longqing promised significant, radical changes from the policies and style of government under his father. To implement these new domestic policies and reforms and to help him govern, Longqing would depend on the extraordinary Zhang Juzheng, his former tutor and now a grand secretary of the cabinet.

First, they expelled the corrupt Daoist authorities from the court and discontinued his father’s extravagant support of Daoist temples and activities. Then they set about to eradicate government corruption by requiring performance evaluations and ratings at all levels, from the grand secretaries down to the provincial magistrates. Many of Jiajing’s opponents were released from jail or given special amnesties. “Imperial estates” or lands seized by imperial relatives and friends were returned to the original owners. General tax remission provided relief, especially for the farmers, who had been especially burdened by Jiajing’s stifling taxes. Taxation;China

Jiajing had also ignored the needs of the military, who did not receive adequate compensation and rations. Both the frontier military colonies and interior regiments had dwindled seriously from deaths and desertions. In the autumn of 1569, Zhang Juzheng organized an imperial review of the troops, an extravagant spectacle that had occurred only once before in Ming rule. The parade of trained soldiers in new uniforms delighted the cheering crowds and improved military morale.

In the area of commerce and foreign trade, the Longqing reign changed long-standing Ming practices. The Ming had banned individuals from participating in maritime trade. In reaction to this restriction, Chinese merchants had often organized armed rebellions and encouraged Japanese piracy in China’s coastal areas. In the first year of his reign, 1567, Longqing lifted the ban against individuals carrying on foreign trade, permitted private business in Japan and Southeast Asian countries, and eased restrictions on domestic commerce. This was a significant change of policy that curtailed coastal piracy and led to economic growth and prosperity. Trade;Ming Dynasty

During Longqing’s reign there were also momentous developments in dealing with the insurgent Mongols. During his father’s reign, there were mounting threats from the north. Altan, a seventeenth-generation descendant of Genghis Khan and the chieftain of the Tumed tribe, had united the Mongols Mongol Empire in the northeast and was invading China at will. In one month in 1542, the Mongol troops burned dwellings, killed livestock, and massacred approximately 200,000 people. In 1550, Altan’s troops broke through a vulnerable, poorly built part of the Great Wall, assaulted the town of Gubeikou, near Beijing proper, and forced the Ming army to surrender. The invaders then advanced to the gates of the capital. They looted and burned several towns in the suburbs of Beijing Beijing, Mongol raids on for three days before withdrawing via Gubeikou.

Recognizing the need to tighten frontier defenses against the resurgent Mongols, Longqing’s senior grand secretary, Zhang Juzheng, initiated a major renovation of the Great Wall Great Wall (China) , especially in the four areas crucial to the defense of Beijing: Jizhou, Baoding, Liaodong, and Changping. Tan Lun and Qi Jiguang, two generals famous for defeating Japanese pirates pillaging China’s coastal areas, were appointed to plan and direct the large-scale reconstruction.

Tan Lun had been the prefecture magistrate of Taizhou, Zhejiang Province, and later governor of Fujiang. When he became emperor, Longqing appointed Tan Lun to be minister of defense. A national hero, Qi Jiguang was also an outstanding military strategist, civil engineer, and author of books on warfare, including a work in which he describes much of the reconstruction of the Great Wall, especially the new idea of watchtowers, to be implemented by him and Tan Lun. Qi Jiguang observed that despite earlier Ming improvements, the old Great Wall was built too low and thin, with no connected terraces, no shelter for soldiers, and no storage facilities for supplies and arms. Their plan was to widen and reinforce the walls and build and strategically place about three thousand watchtowers that would resemble high fences. Each tower would have three stories or levels, with apertures on all four sides, and would hide thirty to fifty men, as well as arms and supplies. Cannons could be fired from the lower level. The reconstruction work began in the 1568 and continued after Longqing’s reign.

In the meantime, the Ming and Mongol leaders had made peace. In 1571, Longqing and Altan concluded a peace treaty that recognized Mongolian control of Turkestan and Tibet. Placing himself under Ming rule, Altan was granted the official Ming title of shunyiwang, or prince of obedience and righteousness.

Unfortunately, although he was a sincere ruler and reformer, Longqing’s relentless pursuit of pleasure in the inner quarters of his palaces eventually led to total mental and physical exhaustion. After several months of illness, Longqing died in July, 1572. He was buried in the Zhaoling mausoleum of the Ming tombs, about 31 miles (50 kilometers) from Beijing. His young son Zhu Yijun (Chu I-chün, temple name Shenzong or Shen-tsung; 1563-1620) succeeded him as the emperor Wanli, who would rule from 1572 to 1620.


When he ascended the throne, Longqing had no preparation or training to be emperor. To his credit, he supported and trusted his remarkable administrators and cabinet to help govern. Also, Longqing was an earnest leader intent on reform: eliminating political corruption on all levels of government, providing tax relief, removing restrictions on trade and commerce, reviving the military, and improving frontier defenses.

The large-scale renovation of the Great Wall continued into the Wanli reign and resulted in a superior defense structure. The best-preserved and strongest parts of the Great Wall at Beijing are the areas developed by Longqing’s generals, Tan Lun and Qi Jiguang.

Longqing’s peace treaty with Altan in 1571 ended several centuries of war between China and the Mongols. At peace with the Ming, Altan then directed military efforts against Tibet. Ironically, he eventually converted to a reformed sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

After Longqing’s death, Zhang Juzheng became the chief grand secretary under Wanli and was able to continue his constructive fiscal programs for a decade, with an armed peace on the borders.

Further Reading

  • Elverskog, Johan. The Jewel Translucent Sutra: Altan Khan and the Mongols in the Sixteenth Century. Boston: Brill, 2003. Critical history of Altan’s reign, including the 1550 siege of Beijing and the 1571 peace treaty with Longqing. Includes illustrations, a bibliography, and an index.
  • Mote, Fredrick W. Imperial China, 900-1800. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999. This comprehensive work includes an informative section, “The Brief Reign of Emperor Longqing, 1567-1572.” Detailed notes, appendix, and bibliography.
  • Paludan, Ann. Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial China. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998. Accounts of the Chinese emperors, including Longqing’s reign. Includes 368 illustrations and a bibliography.
  • Qiao, Yun. Defense Structures: Ancient Chinese Architecture. New York: Springer, 2001. A complete study of the history, design, and construction techniques of the Great Wall, including extensive information, maps, and sketches of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall.
  • Waldron, Arthur. The Great Wall of China: From History to Myth. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003. The chapter “The Heyday of Wall-Building” describes the important fortification work and details of construction during Longqing’s reign. Extensive bibliography.

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