Soul of China

Not allowing the emperor to pass

Sometime in August 1517, Ming Emperor Wu Zong (武宗) wanted to go out of Ju Yong Guan (居庸關), a strategic pass of the Great Wall, to inspect Xuan Fu (宣府).
Upon learning of this, Zhang Qin (張欽), the minister in charge of the gates of the passes, wrote the emperor a letter to plead with him not to proceed. But Wu Zong would not listen to him and to all court officials and insisted on proceeding with his tour.
So, Zhang Qin again wrote the emperor, giving three reasons the tour was inappropriate.
He then appealed, “As an officer tasked with inspecting the passes, I should go all out to serve Your Majesty, ready to lay down my life and not to let you down.”
Yet, the emperor did not listen.
In September, Wu Zong decided to go to Xuan Fu to indulge in sensual pleasures without inviting the attention of others. He changed into civilian clothes, slipped out of the imperial court and arrived at Chang Ping (昌平). He immediately ordered his passage through Ju Yong Guan.
Zhang Qin, however, resolutely refused to comply with the emperor’s order and instead ordered Commander Sun Xi (孫壐) to close the gate and hide the key.
The eunuch Liu Song (劉嵩), who was staying with Zhang Qin at Ju Yong Guan, thought of going to Chang Ping to call on Wu Zong, but Zhang Qin did not allow it.
Zhang Qin said: “This is a life-and-death situation for both of us. For closing the gate, not allowing the emperor’s convoy to exit, and disobeying the emperor’s order, we will die. But if the gate were opened to let the convoy pass, who knows what would happen to the emperor? If he were to be captured at Tu Mu (土木) like Emperor Ying Zong (英宗, the previous Ming emperor), both of us would also die. We’d rather not open the gate for this kind of death is for the interest of our country and people, it would be immoral.”
Before long, Wu Zong summoned Commander Sun Xi. But Sun Xi said, “With Minister Zhang here, I dare not leave this pass on my own.”
Then the emperor summoned Liu Song. Liu Song told Zhang Qin: “I am the servant of the emperor, I dare not defy his order.”
To stop Liu Song from leaving, Zhang Qin brought out the sword bearing the emperor’s seal. He sat behind the gate of the pass and announced, “Whoever dare open this gate would be executed!”
That night, Zhang Qin drafted a memorial to the emperor which says: “I learned that whenever an emperor personally leads an expedition, he must convene his ministers to discuss and consult. When an emperor travels, he has six armies guarding in front, is accompanied by hundreds of officials, and is followed by banners and streamers waving along the way – grand and powerful. However, it was too silent without any noise today. So when it was claimed that ‘the convoy will pass this gate today,’ I presumed it must be traitors who used Your Majesty’s name to go to the boundary to connive with the enemy. I request that you issue an order to arrest and execute them. And if it was really Your Majesty who wants to pass this gate, there must be two palace seals shown, so that I dare open the gate, or else, I will not follow the order to open the gate even if I have to die a thousand times.”
While Zhang Qin’s memorial was on en route to Chang Ping, the emperor again sent someone to Ju Yong Guan.
With sword in hand, Zhang Zin reprimanded the man angrily: “It certainly is a ploy of the traitor.”
The man returned to Chang Ping in anxiety and reported to the emperor that “I was almost killed by Minister Zhang.”
Wu Zong was so mad that he ordered the people beside him to arrest and execute Zhang Qin. Fortunately, some ministers of the court rushed to the palace and arrived in time to convince the emperor to return to the capital. At the time, Zhang Qin’s memorial also arrived.
A disgruntled Wu Zong finally made his way back to the imperial court. And the story of Zhang Qin, the minister who closed the gate on the emperor, would be much-told in the capital.