Chu Chien-shen, posthumously known as the emperor Hsien-tsung, was born on 9 December 1447 and came to the throne on the death of his father, the restored emperor Ying-tsung, on 23 February 1464; he proclaimed the reign title Ch'eng-hua to begin on the next New Year, almost a full year later. He died on 9 September 1487, three months before his fortieth birthday, having reigned for twenty-three years. His eldest surviving son, Chu Yu-t'ang, then came to the throne at the age of seventeen, having been born 30 July 1470, and under the reign title Hung-chih reigned for eighteen years, dying just a month short of his thirty-fifth birthday, in June 1505. He is known to history by his posthumous temple name of Hsiao-tsung.
Of the sixteen Ming emperors who reigned between 1368 and 1644, only five passed their fortieth birthdays, and none of those occupied the throne in the century from 1425 to 1521. Yet those short-lived rulers did not die in battle or from accidental causes – unless we accept the quite plausible speculation that several Ming emperors accidentally shortened their lives by taking longevity drugs containing such toxic elements as mercury compounds. Whether that can ever be fully proved, an unhealthy atmosphere enveloped the Ming imperial institution through much of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Throughout the middle years of the dynasty China was ruled by feckless young men whose brief lives tended to be dominated by their consorts, their mothers and grandmothers, and their eunuch servants.
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