Shoufu, the only one who was publicly executed in the Ming Dynasty, died unjustly_ Why Xia Yan, the head of the cabinet, was executed_ The most miserable chief assistant of the cabinet in the Ming Dynasty: he was insulted before he died and slaughtered as a pig

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In the first month of the 27th year of Jiajing (1548), Xia Yan, the chief assistant of the cabinet, finally lost.

Emperor Jiajing, who was thinking of his old love, kept warm to Xia Yan at first. At the same time that Xia Yan was ordered to withdraw from the court, Jiajing gaen gave him the retirement treatment of the Minister of rites, so that he could go home to provide for the aged. Xia Yan quickly packed up his business and left the capital with his family.

He came from Jiangxi. When he came home from the capital, he had to take a boat and go south through the Beijing Hangzhou Grand Canal. Along the way, I was very tired, and with my age, I walked very slowly.

Just as he was returning home leisurely, the Imperial Hall in Beijing was full of ups and downs.

Before he was forced to retire, Xia Yan supported the governor of Shaanxi to recover Hetao area. The Ming government was somewhat out of reach for this land that strategists had to contend for. Due to the Japanese drama of fiscal deficit in the middle and late Ming Dynasty, Jiajing did not agree with Zeng Mi’s plan to initiate war and burn money. However, as a great scholar who served as the Prime Minister of the emperor, Xia Yan was always interested in this scheme. Therefore, under the instigation of some people with ulterior motives, such as the great scholar Yan Song, a petition was submitted to Jiajing to expose the former Prime Minister Xia Yan’s corruption and bribery, collusion with Bian Jiang, and resentment against the emperor before leaving office.

After reading the petition, Jiajing is furious and orders the royal guards to chase Xia Yan.

Xia Yan, who is on his way home, knows nothing about all these changes. Therefore, when the Imperial Guard Tiqi came to him to read the imperial edict, Xia Yan thought he still had a way to live. Using the escort back to Beijing, he sent two memorials to Beijing, claiming that he had been falsely accused and requesting the emperor to investigate thoroughly.

Unexpectedly, this move became his “talisman”.

Half a year after he was escorted to Beijing, Xia Yan, then 67, abandoned Xi’an and became the first and only cabinet leader to be publicly beheaded since the founding of the Ming Dynasty.



? portrait of Xia Yan. Source: Network


Xia Yan (1482-1548) came from a military family, which made him more eager to succeed in the imperial examination than the children of ordinary people.

Because, according to the regulations of the Ming Dynasty, the children of military families were subordinated to the army all their lives, serving as soldiers in wartime and farming in their spare time. In order to prevent the army from producing ruffians and bandits, the emperors set up various rules to restrict their freedom from the beginning of the Ming Dynasty. According to historical records, as early as the early Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang ordered that officers and soldiers should not engage in recreational activities in the capital. In case of any violation, the tongue will be cut off, and the hand will be cut off. In case of any violation, the leg will be removed and sent to the frontier.

Squeezed by the harsh system, most ordinary people are unwilling to marry their military children. If Xia Yan, who was born in the army, doesn’t try his best to leave the army, he may be worse than a beggar in the future.

Of course, legal principles are nothing more than human feelings. Under the status system of being restricted to death, there is still a possibility to get rid of the military status: that is to enter the official position through the imperial examination, achieve high power or win the favor of the emperor. Then, getting rid of the military status is just a matter for the emperor.

Before Xia Yan, Wan’an and lidongyang, who once served as the chief assistant of the cabinet, were among those who obtained special amnesty for military status in this way.

So, thinking about Xia Yan, who was proud of his family and ancestors, he forced himself to develop a habit of loving reading. After years of careful preparation and several unsuccessful scientific examinations, at the age of 36, Xia Yan finally became a scholar and became an official in the DPRK.



? in the 12th year of Zhengde, Xia Yan was a fellow scholar. Source: Network

In October of the 15th year of Zhengde (1520), Xia Yan returned to the capital after finishing his ordered investigation in Huguang and Yunnan Guizhou areas. He was appointed as the military section adviser of the ducha academy and was responsible for advising. At that time, the playful Emperor Wu Zong of the Ming Dynasty had just died of illness. It was the emperor Jiajing who had been inextricably linked with Xia Yan since then.

As a cousin of Wu Zong of Ming Dynasty, Jiajing lived in beianlu state (now Zhongxiang, Hubei Province), his father’s vassal lake, before he ascended the throne, and was a carefree King Xing. A decree left by Emperor Wu Zong of the Ming Dynasty before his death completely changed his fate, and indirectly promoted the national movement of the Ming Dynasty to develop in another direction.

After Jiajing went to Beijing, a multiple-choice question before him was who he respected as his father and Emperor. Because of this “small matter”, a debate called “big ceremony discussion” was raised in the court. Most central officials are more or less involved in it and express their opinions.

The imperial court was also divided into two factions because of this dispute: one faction, led by yangtinghe, the chief assistant of the cabinet in the period of emperor Wuzong of the Ming Dynasty, forced emperor Jiajing to honor his uncle zhuyouyi, Emperor Xiaozong of the Ming Dynasty, as his father and emperor, and to pay tribute to his son as well as the country; The other faction, led by Zhang Cong (later renamed zhangfujing for avoiding the emperor’s taboo), resolutely stood by the emperor Jiajing and demanded to preserve the father son relationship between the emperor and King Xingxian (Jiajing’s biological father).

In the protracted debate, numerous officials opposed to Emperor Jiajing’s reverence for his biological father had suffered the consequences of political struggle. Xia Yan, the only one who worked hard in the ducha hospital, was safe and sound.

In the face of the “big ceremony discussion” raised by the emperor, Xia Yan, who had just entered the officialdom, seemed quite restrained. Under the premise that the situation was not clear, he only knew “loyalty to the king”.

In his own post, Xia Yan once bluntly impeached Wang Qiong, the Minister of the Ministry of military, and Wang Xian, who had made friends with the internal servants. He impeached Zhang Yanling, the current national uncle, for bullying the people and embezzling land. He also gave the emperor a detailed statement, asking Jiajing to get rid of the corrupt policies of the Ming Wuzong era and create a new atmosphere in the new dynasty. During this period, Xia Yan, standing in favor of the development of the Ming Dynasty, cleared away the obstacles to Jiajing’s governance. From the emperor’s point of view, Xia Yan’s unknown contribution has become a “clean stream” outside the many party ministers.

When Xia Yan returned home to Dingyou because his mother died, Emperor Jiajing directly gave him a great gift – exemption from military status.


In the seventh year of Jiajing (1528), with the victory of Jiajing in the “grand ceremony”, Xia Yan, who had been away from the capital for several years, also returned to the court.

At this time, the Korean situation was very different from the sharp separation of the two factions. The young Jiajing, assisted by his supporting team, firmly controlled the supreme power of the Ming Empire.



? portrait of emperor Jiajing. Source: Network

Xia Yan, who returned to the court, did not attract Jiajing’s attention at first. As usual, he returned to his original post and did the admonition work.

After the “great ceremony discussion” incident, Jiajing, who was quite capable of coming to the palace, launched a large-scale campaign of asking questions and discussing Taoism in the palace, so that the court hall, which was finally quiet, surged again. This time, Xia Yan, who had been quietly paying for a long time in the central government, finally got the chance to turn over.

The emperor believed that there was no big problem. After all, many Ming emperors believed in “Immortality” in history. But Jiajing not only worshiped Taoism, but also had his own unique views on the sacrificial rites and laws in Taoism. He believed that the worship of the sun and the moon, which had long been advocated by the ancients, was contrary to Taoist Rites and laws. If we want to express our respect for heaven, we should build two altars of heaven and earth, and sacrifice heaven and earth separately.

Jiajing did not expect that his proposal would be opposed by zhangfujing, who had firmly supported him.

Zhangfujing believed that the law of the ancestors should not be violated. Since the Ming Dynasty started from the generation of Taizu, it was the rule that heaven, earth, sun and moon were sacrificed together, no matter how reasonable Jiajing said it, it would not work.

By virtue of his support in the “great ceremony discussion”, zhangfujing was now the first assistant to the cabinet and the first civil minister, and his power was at its zenith. His veto forced Jiajing to reconsider.

When Jiajing was depressed and thought that this matter was going to be ruined, Xia Yan, who had been diligent and silent, suddenly stood up and strongly supported the emperor’s decision.

Xia Yan pointed out that the division of heaven and earth in Jiajing did not completely violate the ancestral rites and laws. At the beginning of Zhu Yuanzhang’s accession to the throne, the state implemented the division of heaven and earth in the southern suburbs and the northern suburbs. Now, Jiajing has resumed this system. Strictly speaking, it is not inappropriate.

Xia Yan’s “outspoken and outspoken words” made Jiajing’s confidence doubled in an instant – with his willful action, the heaven and earth sacrifice began to affect the emperor sacrifice ceremony of later generations for hundreds of years.



? the Ditan in Beijing was built after this dispute. Figure source: the idea of the figure bug

As the greatest contributor to the implementation of this system, Xia Yan was also favored by Jiajing. After Zhang Fujing, Xia Yan’s promotion was like sitting on a rocket. In less than three years, he changed from a small gift to a formal and second-class book of rites, and won the ticket to join the cabinet and participate in politics.


Seeing that emperor Jiajing had attracted another favorite minister, zhangfujing, who had been in a high position for several years more than Xia Yan, immediately realized that his position might not be guaranteed.

Without Xia Yan’s reaction, zhangfujing organized his followers to maliciously attack Xia Yan.

Zhangfujing believed that with his position as the chief and auxiliary, as long as the emperor did not interfere, Xia Yan would be killed. However, zhangfujing is still a poor chess player.

Behind Xia Yan, Jiajing never relaxed his control over the chaotang. Because after the victory of the “great ceremony discussion”, Jiajing realized that he could not let the ministers form an alliance, otherwise, he would be a difficult emperor.

Therefore, under the arrangement of the emperor, Xia Yan and Zhang Fujing “went to war”.

At the instigation of zhangfujing, there was a wave of personal attacks against Xia Yan in the court. In the testimony of these people, Xia Yan was described as a useless minister. If anyone used him, it would harm the country and the people.

Jiajing, who was standing behind the scenes watching the play, must have had a bad feeling when she saw the ministers pointing fingers at the mulberry tree and scolding the locust tree in the court hall.

Xia Yan is not a soft persimmon. He can pinch it at will. In the face of provocation from political opponents, he showed his consistent ability of being good at writing, writing and writing, and completed the complaint against them in the form of memorials.

In order to increase his chances of winning, Xia Yan not only refuted the courtiers, but also devoted himself to Jiajing’s favor and wrote Qing CI for the emperor – this article provides Jiajing with a way of dialogue between heaven and man, which not only satisfies his desire for “divine power” but also virtually builds a direct route to heaven.

In the end, after Jiajing stepped in, the political struggle was awarded a 1-1 draw. In exchange, Zhang Fu told the old man to return home, and Xia Yan began to join the cabinet.


In 1536, the emperor’s second son zhuzaiyu was born. This is the first Prince welcomed by the royal family three years after the early death of the eldest son Zhu Zaiji.

After entering the cabinet, Xia Yan always insisted on writing Qing CI for the emperor. Therefore, Jiajing believed that Xia Yan should take the lead in the birth of the prince. Therefore, amid the festivities in the Imperial Palace, Jiajing did not forget Xia Yan, and asked him to officially serve as a bachelor and assist the cabinet in handling government affairs.

At that time, the head of the cabinet was Li Shi, a veteran of the three dynasties. However, Xia Yan, who had just joined the cabinet, quickly became a real speaker of the Ming cabinet.

Li Shi died of illness after two years of internship in the position of secondary assistant to the cabinet. According to Jiajing’s arrangement, Xia Yan successfully sat on the throne of the head of the cabinet.

However, since he was in charge of the cabinet, his ending was destined to be similar to that of zhangfujing.

The main work of the Ming Dynasty was not to write Qing CI. Xia Yan was overwhelmed by the daily complicated official duties of the cabinet. He also gradually lost his enthusiasm for writing Qing CI for the emperor to seek greater power. When Xia Yan gradually faded out of Jiajing’s sight, a group of Ministers who were good at writing Qing Ci, such as Yan Song and Yuan Wei, became the emperor’s new favorite.

At the same time, the promotion speed is too fast, which also makes Xia Yan floating.

With the help of his power, Xia Yan gradually degenerated and lost his private morality. According to historical records, Xia Yan’s house was renovated many times during his tenure as the chief assistant of the cabinet, and his daily meagre food was replaced by fine clothes and fine food. What is more serious is that some officials came to Xia Yan’s home for a banquet and found that Xia was enjoying imperial treatment at home, quite at ease.

Usurpation has always been taboo by emperors. Jiajing, who just took Xia Yan to the top, was a little suspicious.

This is not the end. Another direct impact of holding power on Xia Yan is that his arrogance has become heavier. He did not like those ministers who disagreed with him, nor did he like the pile of green words he had discussed with the emperor. What’s more, in his daily companion driving, he did not follow the emperor as before.

Xia Yan’s unconventional behavior deepened Jiajing’s suspicion. He even doubted whether he knew people wrong and found a “power greed” to divide his imperial power.

Out of the heart of punishing Bo Jie, Jiajing takes back all the belongings that Xia Yan received from his former grace to see if the favorite minister can realize his mistake.

Who knows, in Xia Yan’s plea for forgiveness, he attributed the reason for being punished by the emperor to “being single minded and isolated, which is taboo by the public”! It means that he himself is right. It is only because he stands out from the crowd that everyone is dissatisfied with him.

Everyone, including Jiajing himself? As soon as he read Xia Yan’s notes, Jiajing immediately realized that Xia Yan’s attitude of admitting mistakes was clearly to pick things up.

In the 18th year of Jiajing (1539), Jiajing dismissed Xia Yan from all his official posts and asked him to go home to provide for the aged. Soon after, Jiajing regretted it again and ordered Xia Yanguan to return to his original post. The reason is that although Xia Yan is proud, he is reluctant to part with him.


Xia Yan, who returned to the court, soon annoyed Jiajing again because of his arrogance.

Perhaps he felt that he had no hope of resuming the imperial court. After being dismissed for the second time, Xia Yan gave Jiajing a piece of “Fourteen strategies for defending the border”. It turns out that not all the chief ministers and deputies of the cabinet who are in the whirlpool of political struggle are dry eaters.

As an official of the Ming Dynasty who successfully broke away from the shackles of his military status, Xia Yan has made some contributions to the Ming Dynasty and the military families in the world. In the fourteen strategies for defending the border, he spoke frankly about the importance of the nine towns on the northern border to the Ming Dynasty, and asked Jiajing to “carefully select generals and ministers” when preparing the border to defend the enemy, and not to use old soldiers and young master soldiers. He also put forward a solution to the impoverishment of the people in the nine northern towns caused by the invasion of war and other factors: the imperial court must regularly and quantitatively prepare sufficient money and food for the border town officers and soldiers in Xuanfu, Datong and other places to maintain their combat effectiveness.

In addition, Xia Yan also made detailed suggestions in his memorials on the management of war horses in the Ming army and the punishment of those who falsely claimed food and salaries.

It can be seen that even though the political struggle is fierce, Xia Yan is most worried about the safety of Daming.

Perhaps, it is precisely because of this original intention that Xia Yan was dismissed for the second time. Soon after that, he ushered in a new recovery.

However, this time he came back, it was different from before: Jiajing arranged an old acquaintance with him, Yan Song.



? Yan Song. Figure source: screenshot of film and television drama

Xia Yan and Yan Song are both from Jiangxi. When Xia Yan was just in charge of the cabinet, he recommended Yan Song to Jiajing as the new minister of rites. It can be said that they have a lot of friendship.

As an “old fox” in officialdom with more than ten years’ seniority than Xia Yan, Yan Song knows how to be an official. As early as Xia Yan’s official fortune was prosperous, Yan Song regarded himself as a disciple and was very respectful to Xia Yan. Knowing that Xia Yan doesn’t like the flattery of his subordinates, Yan Song repeatedly condescends to show his sincerity in front of Xia Yan. Yan Song has done so much, but he just hopes Xia Yan can say something good for himself in front of the emperor, and he will be successful in the future.

However, when Xia Yan realized that Yan Song had this intention, he felt a little disdain in his heart. Instead of arranging Yan Song’s future, he deliberately taunts and manipulates Yan Song in front of outsiders.

For his future, Yan song always forbeared. Even though he had already sat down with Xia Yan, he always showed a willingness to be lower than Xia Yan in front of the public.

This made Xia Yan look away again.

Xia Yan thinks that Yan Song is the most important person in Jiajing’s heart because Yan Song pretends to be respectful.

As Xia Yan took charge of the cabinet again, a group of officials whom he had never seen before suffered. Among them are he Ao, a close confidant of Yan Song and then the right deputy governor. Although most of the officials impeached by Xia Yan were sycophants who were traitors to Yan Song’s friends, there were also some loyal and honest officials, such as Tang long, who were reprimanded for their political differences or poor political achievements.

Because Xia Yan was in charge of the cabinet for the third time, the “one size fits all” foreshadowed his future life.


In the 25th year of Jiajing (1546), Zeng MI, who was then the governor of the three sides of Shaanxi, submitted a copy of “please restore Hetao Shu” to the imperial court after defeating another invasion of the Mongolian Andahan.

According to Zeng Mian, the Mongols invaded Daming in the south. As long as they went out of Hetao area, they could directly attack Xuanfu, Datong and other important northern towns. If these passes are taken down, Daming may unfortunately repeat the “civil engineering change”. However, the Mongols are nomads, and their combat power is strongest when the weather is sunny in summer and autumn. In winter and spring, the prairie is “dry in deep water in winter, with no perennial grass for horses, cold and rainy in spring, and no dry soil for soil”. The tired Mongolian cavalry are not threatening at all. Therefore, if you want to cure a Mongolian cavalry, you must kill him while he is ill. The premise of all this is to seize the opportunity to recover the Hetao area.



? Hetao area in the Ming Dynasty. Source: Historical Atlas of China

The Hetao area mentioned by Zeng MI is roughly equivalent to the Ordos area in Inner Mongolia today, and then to the north is the Tatar base camp of Andahan. In order to resist the Mongols’ invasion to the south, the emperor Wuzong of the Ming Dynasty once marched here and fought a decisive battle with the little prince of Mongolia, the father of an Dahan.

Zeng Mian’s proposal coincides with Xia Yan’s previous defense ideas of strengthening Datong and Xuanfu.

For Xia Yan, Zeng Mian’s proposal came at a good time. If the Ming Dynasty can recover Hetao, it will not only make a new contribution to the country, but also refresh their impression on themselves in front of the ministers and even the emperor.

For Jiajing, Zeng Mian’s proposal is also quite good. In case he recaptured Hetao during his reign, later history books may rewrite him as a “Taoist” into a Ming emperor like Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty.

According to Zeng Mian’s plan, recovering Hetao not only costs a lot of money, but also takes three years to complete and ten years to perfect. For the state treasury of the Ming Dynasty at this time, it was a heavy burden that could kill camels. Since the 15th year of Jiajing, the Ming Dynasty has always maintained a fiscal deficit of about onemillion Liang per year. Fighting a war is like burning money, not to mention Zeng Mian’s detailed statement that the entire process of resetting will cost 22.4 million liang of silver. As soon as he saw this figure, Jiajing knew he didn’t have such a great skill.



? Great Wall. Source: Photographic network

But as an emperor, he was rich all over the world and could not directly say that he could not afford to play without money.

Therefore, he played a routine, claiming that he would not be known for his rash recovery of the Hetao area. Cabinet officials are so talented and learned. Why don’t you draw up a statement and see if there is room for discussion?

After receiving the hot potato, Xia Yan plans to stand up to Zeng milling anyway. But the chief assistant of the cabinet could not cover the sky. When Jiajing gave such an attitude, the wily Yan Song instantly understood that the emperor did not want to fight. As long as he listened to Jiajing’s words, it would be no problem to overthrow Xia Yan in this matter.

When Xia Yan publicly supported Zeng Mian, Yan Song began to tear off his hypocrisy and collect evidence everywhere to prepare for Xia Yan’s downfall.

At the beginning, Yan Song pointed the spearhead at Zeng Mian. At that time, a landslide broke out in Weinan, Shaanxi Province. Taking advantage of the emperor’s superstitious psychology, Yan Song said that this was a warning sent by heaven to Jiajing for provoking the scourge of war.

Then Yan Song arranged for Yan Guan to admonish the emperor and impeach Xia Yan for his dereliction of duty.

At the same time, taking advantage of the contradiction between Qiu Luan and Zeng Mian, Yan Song set off a political debate in the court accusing Zeng Mian of embezzlement, perverting the law and withholding military pay, and completely pulled him down.

With Zeng Mian’s fall, Xia Yan was suddenly pushed to the forefront by public opinion. The ministers accused him of being incompetent and demanded that Jiajing bring him to justice as soon as possible.

However, Yan Song was quite clear about the weight of Xia Yan in Jiajing’s heart. The impeachment of all officials is likely to only make Xia Yan quit the court for a short time. As long as he doesn’t die and is dismissed home, the next opportunity to recover is just around the corner.

Taking advantage of Xia Yan’s resignation, Yan Song united with Qiu Luan, who was still in prison, to fabricate a certificate for the emperor. It is said that Zeng Mian had secretly contacted Xia Yan’s relatives through his son and bribed them silver to recover Hetao.

In fact, for such accusations, Jiajing’s inner waves are not big. After all, Lu Bing, the commander of the royal guards who often occupies a high position around him, was also a corrupt and lawless person in the eyes of the courtiers. What really made Jiajing unacceptable was that in the evidence submitted by Yan Song, there was also a content about Xia Yan abusing the emperor after he was dismissed from office.



? Lu Bing. Figure source: screenshot of film and television drama

So, no matter how Xia Yan pleaded that he was wronged, for Jiajing, who once trusted him, it was just the last hop of a dying man.


On October 2, the 27th year of Jiajing (1548), Xia Yan, who had no hope of survival, was beheaded in Xishi.

He did not expect to die. He struggled for power all his life, but finally became the most pitiful “prime minister” of Daming. He died without a whole body.

Maybe it was karma. Less than four years after Xia Yan was killed, Qiu Luan, his former enemy, died violently because of a sore back. After he died, he was exposed to be guilty of conspiracy and killed. As the big winner of this political battle, Yan Song also failed to endure until Jiajing died. When Yan Shifan, his son, was accused of plotting to overthrow the Ming Dynasty, the old man in his 80s finally starved to death in his tomb.

Interestingly, Xu Jie, who helped Yan Song lose, was one of the few people who won Xia Yan’s favor in those years.



? Xu Jie, head of the Ming cabinet. Figure source: screenshot of film and television drama

But Xia Yan can’t see these.

What is even more ridiculous is that several years later, Xu Jie was also the first deputy to the cabinet. The “highest honor” he received before and after his retirement was that both the civil and military forces in the Manchu Dynasty called him a “power traitor”.

In the political arena where imperial power is supreme, Xia Yan, Yan Song and Xu Jie are just pawns.


[Ming Dynasty] shendefu: edited by Wanli yehuo, Zhonghua Book Company, 1989

[Qing Dynasty] zhangtingyu: history of the Ming Dynasty, Zhonghua Book Company, 1974

Ruan Mingdao: Investigation on Xia Yan’s political career and abandonment of the city, Journal of West China Normal University (PHILOSOPHY AND SOCIAL SCIENCES), 2006, issue 5

Zhouquanhua: Xia Yan died, Journal of Shangrao teachers’ College (PHILOSOPHY AND SOCIAL SCIENCES EDITION), 1987, issue 4

Weizuoguo: being loyal to the sun and the moon, enjoying a good reputation in the countryside — on Xia Yan, a politician in the Ming Dynasty, historical relics of Jiangxi, 1987, issue 1

Ning Xia: when did Yan Song go to school to oppose the repetition — a discussion with Mr. machujian, JOURNAL OF INNER MONGOLIA NORMAL UNIVERSITY (PHILOSOPHY AND SOCIAL SCIENCES EDITION), 2005, issue 4

Sunjingwei: Research on military scholars in Ming Dynasty, master’s thesis of Liaoning Normal University, 2011

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