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Persons in Chinese History - Liu Jin 劉瑾

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Liu Jin 劉瑾 (1451-1510) was one of the mighty eunuchs of the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) whose power was only outmatched by Wei Zhongxian 魏忠賢 a century later. His original family name was Tan 談, and he hailed from Xingping 興平, Shaanxi. During the Jingtai reign 景泰 (1449-1457) he was emasculated (probably by his own family) in order to obtain the chance entering the imperial service. A chief eunuch (taijian 太監) with the family name Liu recommended him to the management system of the Imperial Household, so he adopted the name of his patron. Under the reign of Emperor Xiaozong 明孝宗 (r. 1487-1505) Liu Jin was chosen as attendant-in-service of the Heir Apparent (taizi 太子). When Emperor Wuzong 明武宗 (r. 1505-1521) acceded to the throne Liu’s career skyrocketed. He was appointed head of the Bells and Drums Office (zhonggusi 鐘鼓司), then of the firearms "Division of the Five Thousand" (wuqianying 五千營) and later the "integrated division” (tuanying 團營). Together with several other eunuchs in powerful positions, he was known as the "Eight Tigers" (ba hu 八虎). He disobeyed the imperial order to withdraw the court eunuchs of controlling the city gates, and instead allowed them extra donations.
In 1506 he participated in a slandering campaign against a faction of court officials under Liu Jian 劉健 and Xie Qian 謝遷, claiming that these conspired with the eunuch Wang Yue 王岳, Director of Ceremonials (sili taijian 司禮太監), to take control over the young sovereign. Emperor Wu thereupon ordered to execute Wang Yue and his supporters, and entrusted Liu Jin with the office of Director of Ceremonials. Two years later he was given the higher designation of Director of Ceremonials wielding the brush (sili bingbi taijian 司禮秉筆太監) which gave him the control over a vast range of administrative affairs at the court.
As a highly entrusted minion of the Emperor, Liu Jin did not only distract his sovereign from important political matters, but also did everything to wipe out any obstacles in his way to power. He accused fifty high officials, like the Grand Academicians (daxueshi 大學士) Liu Jian and Xie Qian, the minister Han Wen 韓文 and Li Mengyang 李夢陽, and Wang Shouren 王守仁 (Wang Yangming 王陽明) of forging a "conspiratory faction" (jiandang 奸黨). This was possible because he had allies among the higher court officials, like Jiao Fang 焦芳 and the Minister of Personnel (libu shangshu 吏部尚書), Zhang Cai 張綵, who both hailed from Shaanxi, Liu's home province. The members of this "eunuch faction" (yandang 閹黨) were allowed to influence the examination results of that province, in order to benefit their own clique. Liu furthermore created the Palast Depot (neihangchang 內行廠), an institution whose rights to control, spy out and even terrorize and punish court officials surpassed that of the Eastern Depot (dongchang 東廠) and the Western Depot (xichang 西廠, see changwei 廠衛). Liu is said to have invented the punishment of the "rice method" (mifa 米法), by which he had cruelly punished the minister Yong Tai 雍泰 and the supervising censors (jishizhong 給事中) Zhao Shixian 趙士賢 and Ren Liangbi 任良弼. Not only their families were disappropriated and extinguished, but the whole villages where they lived were annihilated. Liu's title of "wielding the brush" allowed him to personally handle and answer to memorials to the throne. He ordered that all such documents were first handed over to himself before being submitted in a regular way to the Office of Transmission (tongzhengsi 通政司). Contemporaries therefore called him "Emperor Liu" (Liu Huangdi 劉皇帝), the "standing emperor" (zhan huangdi 站皇帝, zhan as a homophone to 占 "to occupy"), and it was a fact that he "reigned over the empire" (quan shan tianxia 權擅天下). Officials had to kneel down in his presence and called him "your highness" (qiansui 千歲, lit. "[who may live] a thousand years"). Apart from demanding presents for each effort, he seized—often by enforced suicide—large tracts of imperial land (huangzhuang 皇莊, huangdian 皇店), and embezzled the funds of various state agencies, like the salt tax revenue.
Liu's unlimited power filled other eunuchs as well as the court officials with deep resentment. In 1510 Zhu Zhifan 朱寘鐇, the Prince of Anhua 安化, rose in rebellion under the pretext of eliminating the eunuch "regent". The Right Censor-in-chief (you duyushi 右都御史) Yang Yiqing 楊一清 and the chief eunuch Zhang Yong 張永 were sent out for a suppression campaign, and at the end of summer, when the rebel was defeated, Zhang Yong used this favourable situation and secretly memorialized to the emperor about Liu Jin's misdoings. Liu was arrested, and when his household was searched through in presence of the Emperor, the incredible amount of several million silver tael was made out, in addition to heaps of jewellery. Accused of high treason, he was sentenced and sliced to death.

Sources: Zheng Kesheng 鄭克晟, Liao Xinyi 廖心一 (1992), "Liu Jin 劉瑾", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, p. 607. ● Xue Hong 薛虹 et al. (ed. 1998), Zhongguo huangshi gongting cidian 中國皇室宮廷辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), p. 963.

December 10, 2015 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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