4. The Teenage Emperor Who Got the Ball Rolling on Ruining His Dynasty
Medieval China got a raw deal in 1505, when a teenaged monarch, The Zhengde Emperor (1491 – 1521), ascended the Chinese Ming Dynasty throne when he was just fourteen-years-old. His reign, which lasted until 1521, set the stage for many calamities that ended up afflicting China. Unsurprisingly, making a teenager emperor had some downsides. The Zhengde Emperor was uninterested in governing his empire, and disregarded state affairs. Instead, he did what most teenagers would if given absolute power and unlimited wealth.
He abandoned himself to an extravagant and profligate lifestyle, marked by lavish spending, bizarre behavior, and poor choices that set the stage for the Ming Dynasty’s downfall. As soon as he ascended the throne, the teen emperor entrusted the conduct of government to palace eunuchs and devoted himself to pleasure seeking. With governance left entirely in their hands, the imperial household’s became China’s most powerful class. Without checks or oversight, corruption became endemic and public offices were openly bought and sold. Simultaneously, taxation soared to pay for the emperor’s pleasures and to feather the nests of courtiers and officials.