The Republic of China (Zhōnghuá Mínguó — 中華民國) comprises the islands of Taiwan (臺灣), Penghu (澎湖), Kinmen (金門), Matsu (馬祖), and other minor islands, which are located off the east coast of mainland China. Neighboring states include the People’s Republic of China to the west, Japan to the north-east, and the Philippines to the south. The island of Taiwan, formerly known as Formosa (福爾摩沙), is the largest island and the main component of the territories governed by the Republic of China. The capital is Taipei, an enclave of the special municipality of New Taipei City.
There are various names for the island of Taiwan in use today, derived from explorers or rulers by each particular period. The former name Formosa dates from 1542, when Portuguese sailors sighted the main island of Taiwan and named it Ilha Formosa, which means “beautiful island”. In the early 17th century, the Dutch East India Company established a commercial post at Fort Zeelandia (modern-day Anping, Tainan) on a coastal sandbar they called “Tayouan”. This name was also adopted into the Chinese vernacular as the name of the sandbar and nearby area (Tainan). The modern word “Taiwan” is derived from this usage. The area of modern-day Tainan was the first permanent settlement by Western colonists and Chinese immigrants, grew to be the most important trading center, and served as the capital of the island until 1887. Use of the current Chinese name was formalized as early as 1684 with the establishment of Taiwan Prefecture. Through its rapid development, the entire Formosan mainland eventually became known as “Taiwan”.
Taiwan was joined to the mainland in the Late Pleistocene, until sea levels rose about 10,000 years ago. Fragmentary human remains have been found on the island, dated 20,000 to 30,000 years ago, as well as later artifacts of a Paleolithic culture. More than 8,000 years ago, Austronesians first settled on Taiwan. The languages of their descendants, who are known as the Taiwanese aborigines nowadays, belong to the Austronesian language family, which also includes the Malayo-Polynesian languages spanning a huge area, including the entire Maritime Southeast Asia (i.e., Tagalog of the Philippines, Malay and Indonesian of Malaysia and Indonesia, or the Javanese of Java), the Pacific and Indian Ocean: westernmost to the Malagasies of Madagascar and easternmost to the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island. The aboriginal languages on Taiwan show much greater diversity than the rest of Austronesian put together, leading linguists to propose Taiwan as the Urheimat of the family, from which seafaring peoples dispersed across Southeast Asia and the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Han Chinese began settling in the Penghu islands in the thirteenth century, but Taiwan’s hostile tribes and its lack of trade resources valued in that era rendered it unattractive to all but “occasional adventurers or fishermen engaging in barter” until the sixteenth century.
The Dutch East India Company attempted to establish a trading outpost on the Penghu Islands (Pescadores) in 1622, but were militarily defeated and driven off by the Ming authorities. In 1624, the company established a stronghold called Fort Zeelandia on the coastal islet of Tayouan, which is now part of the main island at Anping, Tainan. David Wright, a Scottish agent of the company who lived on the island in the 1650’s, described the lowland areas of the island as being divided among eleven chiefdoms ranging in size from two settlements to 72. Some of these fell under Dutch control, while others remained independent. The Company began to import laborers from Fujian and Penghu (Pescadores), many of whom settled.
In 1626, the Spanish Empire landed on and occupied northern Taiwan, at the ports of Keelung and Tamsui, as a base to extend their trading. This colonial period lasted sixteen years until 1642, when the last Spanish fortress fell to Dutch forces.
Following the fall of the Ming dynasty, Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong), a self-styled Ming loyalist, arrived on the island and captured Fort Zeelandia in 1662, expelling the Dutch Empire and military from the island. Koxinga established the Kingdom of Tungning (1662–1683), with his capital at Tainan. He and his heirs, Zheng Jing, who ruled from 1662 to 1682, and Zheng Keshuang, who ruled less than a year, continued to launch raids on the southeast coast of mainland China well into the Qing dynasty era.
In 1683, following the defeat of Koxinga’s grandson by an armada led by Admiral Shi Lang of southern Fujian, the Qing dynasty formally annexed Taiwan, placing it under the jurisdiction of Fujian province. The Qing imperial government tried to reduce piracy and vagrancy in the area, issuing a series of edicts to manage immigration and respect aboriginal land rights. Immigrants mostly from southern Fujian continued to enter Taiwan. The border between taxpaying lands and “savage” lands shifted eastward, with some aborigines becoming sinicized while others retreated into the mountains. During this time, there were a number of conflicts between groups of Han Chinese from different regions of southern Fujian, particularly between those from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou, and between southern Fujian Chinese and aborigines.
Northern Taiwan and the Penghu Islands were the scene of subsidiary campaigns in the Sino-French War (August 1884 to April 1885). The French occupied Keelung on October 1, 1884, but were repulsed from Tamsui a few days later. The French won some tactical victories but were unable to exploit them, and the Keelung Campaign ended in stalemate. The Pescadores Campaign, beginning on March 31, 1885, was a French victory, but had no long-term consequences. The French evacuated both Keelung and the Penghu archipelago after the end of the war.
In 1886, Taiwan was upgraded from Taiwan Prefecture of Fujian to Fujian-Taiwan-Province (福建臺灣省), the twentieth in the empire, with its capital at Taipei.. A postal service was organized by the Governor, Liu Mingchuan, and postage stamps were issued in August of the same year. This was accompanied by a modernization drive that included building China’s first railroad.
As the Qing dynasty was defeated in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), Taiwan, along with Penghu and Liaodong Peninsula, were ceded in full sovereignty to the Empire of Japan by the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Inhabitants on Taiwan and Penghu wishing to remain Qing subjects were given a two-year grace period to sell their property and move to mainland China. Very few Taiwanese saw this as feasible. On May 25, 1895, a group of pro-Qing high officials proclaimed the Republic of Formosa to resist impending Japanese rule. The Republicans adopted a national flag with a yellow tiger on a blue background, ordered a large silver state seal to be made, and began to issue paper money and postage stamps in the name of the Republic. The foreign minister Ch’en Chi-t’ung, who had lived in France for many years, was responsible for crafting much of this republican symbolism. Japanese forces entered the capital at Tainan and quelled this resistance on October 21, 1895.
Guerrilla fighting continued periodically until about 1902 and ultimately took the lives of 14,000 Taiwanese, or 0.5% of the population. Several subsequent rebellions against the Japanese (the Beipu uprising of 1907, the Tapani incident of 1915, and the Musha incident of 1930) were all unsuccessful but demonstrated opposition to Japanese colonial rule.
Japanese colonial rule was instrumental in the industrialization of the island, extending the railroads and other transportation networks, building an extensive sanitation system, and establishing a formal education system. Japanese rule ended the practice of headhunting. During this period, the human and natural resources of Taiwan were used to aid the development of Japan and the production of cash crops such as rice and sugar greatly increased. By 1939, Taiwan was the seventh greatest sugar producer in the world. Still, the Taiwanese and aborigines were classified as second- and third-class citizens. After suppressing Chinese guerrillas in the first decade of their rule, Japanese authorities engaged in a series of bloody campaigns against the mountain aboriginals, culminating in the Musha Incident of 1930.
New definitive stamps in 1931 depicted Sun Yat-sen. These stamps, along with the Martyrs issue of 1932 honoring six martyrs of the Kuomintang, would see much overprinting in the next several years. The year of 1931 also saw the invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese and the formation of Manchukuo, which issued its own stamps. Communist authorities issued stamps in areas over which they had control from 1930 onwards. These were usually in more remote areas, often on the mountainous borders of two provinces — hence they are often referred to as ‘Border Areas’. For example, the earliest communist issues (the so-called ‘Red Posts’) were in mountainous areas of Jiangxi, the Hunan – Hubei border area and West Fujian, bordering Jiangxi.
Around 1935, the Japanese began an island-wide assimilation project to bind the island more firmly to the Japanese Empire and people were taught to see themselves as Japanese under the Kominka Movement, during which time Taiwanese culture and religion were outlawed and the citizens were encouraged to adopt Japanese surnames. During World War II, tens of thousands of Taiwanese served in the Japanese military. The Imperial Japanese Navy operated heavily out of Taiwanese ports. The “South Strike Group” was based at the Taihoku Imperial University in Taipei. Many of the Japanese forces participating in the Aerial Battle of Taiwan-Okinawa were based in Taiwan. Important Japanese military bases and industrial centers throughout Taiwan, like Kaohsiung, were targets of heavy American bombings. Also during this time, over 2,000 women were forced into sexual slavery for Imperial Japanese troops, now euphemistically called “comfort women.”
In 1938, there were 309,000 Japanese settlers in Taiwan. After World War II, most of the Japanese were expelled and sent to Japan.
Under Japanese rule, Taiwanese mail was handled as part of the Japanese postal system. After the surrender of Japan in August 1945, the postal system continued to operate locally, and on October 21, 1945, it issued 3 sen and 5 sen stamps, the design consisting of a large numeral and the imperial chrysanthemum.
On October 25, 1945, the U.S. Navy ferried Republic of China troops who were on behalf of the Allied Powers to Taiwan in order to accept the formal surrender of Japanese military forces in Taipei, as part of General Order No. 1 for temporary military occupation. General Rikichi Andō, governor-general of Taiwan and commander-in-chief of all Japanese forces on the island, signed the receipt and handed it over to General Chen Yi of the ROC military to complete the official turnover. Chen Yi proclaimed that day to be “Taiwan Retrocession Day”, but the Allies considered Taiwan and the Penghu Islands to be under military occupation and still under Japanese sovereignty until 1952, when the Treaty of San Francisco took effect.
Despite the official transfer of Taiwan to China on October 25, on the 31st a 10 sen stamp of the same design was issued. An additional five values were printed but never issued. The locally printed stamps, both issued and unissued, were immediately overprinted with “Chinese Republic” and “Province Taiwan” and went on sale on November 4. Two Japanese stamps, the 5 yen and 10 yen values of the 1937 pictorial series, were also overprinted, serving as the high values.
Throughout 1946, stocks of Chinese stamps were overprinted with new values in sen and “for use in Taiwan only”. This was followed by an issue in March 1947 marking Chang Kai-shek’s 60th birthday; four small characters in the background say “for Taiwan only”. Subsequent stamp issues followed the same pattern through 1948.
The ROC administration of Taiwan under Chen Yi was strained by increasing tensions between Taiwanese-born people and newly arrived mainlanders, which were compounded by economic woes, such as hyperinflation. Furthermore, cultural and linguistic conflicts between the two groups quickly led to the loss of popular support for the new government. The shooting of a civilian on February 28, 1947, triggered island-wide unrest, which was suppressed with military force in what is now called the February 28 Incident. Mainstream estimates of the number killed range from 18,000 to 30,000. Those killed were mainly members of the Taiwanese elite.
After the end of World War II, the Chinese Civil War resumed between the Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang), led by Chiang Kai-shek, and the Communist Party of China, led by Mao Zedong. Throughout the months of 1949, a series of Chinese Communist offensives led to the capture of its capital Nanjing on April 23 and the subsequent defeat of the Nationalist army on the mainland, and the Communists founded the People’s Republic of China on October, 1, 1949.
On December 7, 1949, after the loss of four capitals, Chiang evacuated his Nationalist government to Taiwan and made Taipei the temporary capital of the Republic of China (also called the “wartime capital” by Chiang Kai-shek). Some two million people, consisting mainly of soldiers, members of the ruling Kuomintang and intellectual and business elites, were evacuated from mainland China to Taiwan at that time, adding to the earlier population of approximately six million. In addition, the ROC government took to Taipei many national treasures and much of China’s gold reserves and foreign currency reserves.
After losing most of the mainland, the Kuomintang held remaining control of Tibet and Hainan Island until 1950 before the Communists subsequently captured both territories. From this point onwards, the Kuomintang’s territory was only reduced to Taiwan, Kinmen, Matsu Islands, and two major islands of Dongsha Islands and Nansha Islands. The Kuomintang continued to claim sovereignty over all “China”, which it defined to include mainland China, Taiwan, Outer Mongolia and other areas. On mainland China, the victorious Communists claimed they ruled the sole and only China (which they claimed included Taiwan) and that the Republic of China no longer existed.
Martial law, declared on Taiwan in May 1949, continued to be in effect after the central government relocated to Taiwan. It was not repealed until 1987, and was used as a way to suppress the political opposition in the intervening years. During the White Terror, as the period is known, 140,000 people were imprisoned or executed for being perceived as anti-KMT or pro-Communist. Many citizens were arrested, tortured, imprisoned and executed for their real or perceived link to the Communists. Since these people were mainly from the intellectual and social elite, an entire generation of political and social leaders was decimated. In 1998 law was passed to create the “Compensation Foundation for Improper Verdicts” which oversaw compensation to White Terror victims and families. President Ma Ying-jeou made an official apology in 2008, expressing hope that there will never be a tragedy similar to White Terror.
Initially, the United States abandoned the KMT and expected that Taiwan would fall to the Communists. However, in 1950 the conflict between North Korea and South Korea, which had been ongoing since the Japanese withdrawal in 1945, escalated into full-blown war, and in the context of the Cold War, U.S. President Harry S. Truman intervened again and dispatched the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet into the Taiwan Strait to prevent hostilities between Taiwan and mainland China.
In the Treaty of San Francisco and the Treaty of Taipei, which came into force respectively on April 28, 1952, and August 5 1952, Japan formally renounced all right, claim and title to Taiwan and Penghu, and renounced all treaties signed with China before 1942. Neither treaty specified to whom sovereignty over the islands should be transferred, because the United States and the United Kingdom disagreed on whether the ROC or the PRC was the legitimate government of China. Continuing conflict of the Chinese Civil War through the 1950’s, and intervention by the United States notably resulted in legislation such as the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty and the Formosa Resolution of 1955.
As the Chinese Civil War continued without truce, the government built up military fortifications throughout Taiwan. Within this effort, KMT veterans built the now famous Central Cross-Island Highway through the Taroko Gorge in the 1950’s. The two sides would continue to engage in sporadic military clashes with seldom publicized details well into the 1960’s on the China coastal islands with an unknown number of night raids. During the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis in September 1958, Taiwan’s landscape saw Nike-Hercules missile batteries added, with the formation of the 1st Missile Battalion Chinese Army that would not be deactivated until 1997. Newer generations of missile batteries have since replaced the Nike Hercules systems throughout the island.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the ROC maintained an authoritarian, single-party government while its economy became industrialized and technology oriented. This rapid economic growth, known as the Taiwan Miracle, was the result of a fiscal regime independent from mainland China and backed up, among others, by the support of US funds and demand for Taiwanese products. In the 1970’s, Taiwan was economically the second fastest growing state in Asia after Japan. Taiwan, along with Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore, became known as one of the Four Asian Tigers. Because of the Cold War, most Western nations and the United Nations regarded the ROC as the sole legitimate government of China until the 1970’s. Later, especially after the termination of the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty, most nations switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC.
Up until the 1970’s, the government was regarded by Western critics as undemocratic for upholding martial law, for severely repressing any political opposition and for controlling media. The KMT did not allow the creation of new parties and those that existed did not seriously compete with the KMT. Thus, competitive democratic elections did not exist. From the late 1970’s to the 1990’s, however, Taiwan went through reforms and social changes that transformed it from an authoritarian state to a democracy. In 1979, a pro-democracy protest known as the Kaohsiung Incident took place in Kaohsiung to celebrate Human Rights Day. Although the protest was rapidly crushed by the authorities, it is today considered as the main event that united Taiwan’s opposition.
Chiang Ching-kuo, Chiang Kai-shek’s son and successor as the president, began to liberalize the political system in the mid-1980’s. In 1984, the younger Chiang selected Lee Teng-hui, a Taiwanese-born, U.S.-educated technocrat, to be his vice president. In 1986, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed and inaugurated as the first opposition party in the ROC to counter the KMT. A year later, Chiang Ching-kuo lifted martial law on the main island of Taiwan (martial law was lifted on Penghu in 1979, Matsu island in 1992 and Kinmen island in 1993). With the advent of democratization, the issue of the political status of Taiwan gradually resurfaced as a controversial issue where, previously, the discussion of anything other than unification under the ROC was taboo.
After the death of Chiang Ching-kuo in January 1988, Lee Teng-hui succeeded him as president. Lee continued to democratize the government and decrease the concentration of government authority in the hands of mainland Chinese. Under Lee, Taiwan underwent a process of localization in which Taiwanese culture and history were promoted over a pan-China viewpoint in contrast to earlier KMT policies which had promoted a Chinese identity.
Lee’s reforms included printing banknotes from the Central Bank rather than the Provincial Bank of Taiwan, and streamlining the Taiwan Provincial Government with most of its functions transferred to the Executive Yuan. Under Lee, the original members of the Legislative Yuan and National Assembly, elected in 1947 to represent mainland Chinese constituencies and having held the seats without re-election for more than four decades, were forced to resign in 1991. The previously nominal representation in the Legislative Yuan was brought to an end, reflecting the reality that the ROC had no jurisdiction over mainland China, and vice versa. Restrictions on the use of Taiwanese Hokkien in the broadcast media and in schools were also lifted.
Democratic reforms continued in the 1990’s, with Lee Teng-hui re-elected in 1996, in the first direct presidential election in the history of the ROC. During the later years of Lee’s administration, he was involved in corruption controversies relating to government release of land and weapons purchase, although no legal proceedings commenced. In 2000, Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party was elected as the first non-Kuomintang (KMT) President and was re-elected to serve his second and last term since 2004. Polarized politics has emerged in Taiwan with the formation of the Pan-Blue Coalition of parties led by the KMT, favoring eventual Chinese reunification, and the Pan-Green Coalition of parties led by the DPP, favoring an eventual and official declaration of Taiwanese independence.
On September 30, 2007, the ruling DPP approved a resolution asserting a separate identity from China and called for the enactment of a new constitution for a “normal country”. It also called for general use of “Taiwan” as the country’s name, without abolishing its formal name, the Republic of China. The Chen administration also pushed for referendums on national defense and United Nations entry in the 2004 and 2008 elections, which failed due to voter turnout below the required legal threshold of 50% of all registered voters. The Chen administration was dogged by public concerns over reduced economic growth, legislative gridlock due to a pan-blue, opposition-controlled Legislative Yuan and corruption involving the First Family as well as government officials.
The KMT increased its majority in the Legislative Yuan in the January 2008 legislative elections, while its nominee Ma Ying-jeou went on to win the presidency in March of the same year, campaigning on a platform of increased economic growth and better ties with the PRC under a policy of “mutual nondenial”. Ma took office on May 20, 2008, the same day that President Chen Shui-bian stepped down and was notified by prosecutors of possible corruption charges. Part of the rationale for campaigning for closer economic ties with the PRC stems from the strong economic growth China attained since joining the World Trade Organization. However, some analysts say that despite the election of Ma Ying-jeou, the diplomatic and military tensions with the PRC have not been reduced.
The ROC continued to represent China at the United Nations until 1971, when the PRC assumed China’s seat via Resolution 2758, causing the ROC to lose its U.N. membership. International recognition of the ROC gradually eroded as most countries switched their “China” recognition to the PRC. Today twenty-one U.N. member states and the Holy See maintain official diplomatic relations with the ROC. However, numerous other states maintain unofficial ties through representative offices via institutions that function as de facto embassies and consulates. Diplomats around the world avoid mentioning the Republic of China’s official name and instead use various other designations such as Chinese Taipei, Taiwan, China or just Taiwan to refer to the ROC. The Republic of China participates in most international forums and organizations under the name “Chinese Taipei” due to diplomatic pressure from the People’s Republic of China.
Taiwan maintains a stable industrial economy as a result of rapid economic growth and industrialization, which has been dubbed the Taiwan Miracle. Taiwan is one of the Four Asian Tigers and a member of the World Trade Organization and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. The 21st-largest economy in the world, its high-tech industry plays a key role in the global economy. Taiwan is ranked highly in terms of freedom of the press, health care, public education, economic freedom, and human development.
The complications of Taiwan’s history since 1945 have created a number of practical issues for its people. Key among these are the exact nature of Taiwanese national identity, the ambiguous international political status of Taiwan, and the difficult Cross-Strait relations. In Taiwan, these issues generate debate among political parties and candidates. Though the ROC renounced in 1992 the conquest of PRC-controlled territories as a national goal, there is still dispute over whether the constitution still claims sovereignty over all of the ROC’s pre-1949 territories, including Outer Mongolia and the entirety of the present PRC.
In practical terms, settlement of questions such as whether the ROC identifies more as “Taiwan” or “China”, and what the exact nature of its identity is relative to the PRC (whether international or domestic), rests with the political coalition most recently elected. Meanwhile, the PRC continues to assert the One China policy, in which it is sole legal government of “China” and that Taiwan is a province of China. As a result, the ROC is not recognized as a sovereign state by most countries and has not been a member of the United Nations since 1971. The PRC has threatened the use of military force as a response to any formal declaration by Taiwan of national independence or to any decision by PRC leaders that peaceful Chinese unification is no longer possible.
Scott #1776e portrays a portion from one of the two most famous hand scrolls of the painting academy of the Ming dynasty (AD 1368-1644) which together are entitled “The Emperor’s Procession”. Formerly kept in the Ching Forbidden Palace, they are now in the collection of the National Palace Museum. Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China. The imperial procession pictured on the two hand scrolls is a presentation of a journey taken by the Ming Emperor Jiajing (or, Shih-tsung — 嘉靖) from his palace in Peking (now Beijing) to visit the imperial tombs at Cheng-tien in Hupeh province, and his return to Peking.
Born Zhu Houcong on September 16, 1507, the Jiajing Emperor was the eleventh emperor of the Chinese Ming dynasty who ruled from 1521 to 1567. His regnal name, “Jiajing”, means “admirable tranquility”. His father, Zhu Youyuan (1476–1519), the Prince of Xing, was the fourth son of the Chenghua Emperor (1465–1487) and the eldest son of three sons born to the emperor’s concubine, Lady Shao. As the nephew of the Hongzhi Emperor, Zhu Houcong was not brought up to succeed to the throne. However, the throne became vacant in 1521 with the sudden death of the Hongzhi Emperor’s son, the Zhengde Emperor, who did not leave an heir. The 14-year-old Zhu Houcong was chosen to become emperor, and so relocated from his father’s princedom (near present-day Zhongxiang, Hubei) to the capital, Beijing.
Custom dictated that an emperor who was not an immediate descendant of the previous one should be adopted by the previous one, to maintain an unbroken line. Such a posthumous adoption of Zhu Houcong by the Hongzhi Emperor was proposed, but he resisted, preferring instead to have his father declared emperor posthumously. This conflict is known as the “Great Rites Controversy.” The Jiajing Emperor prevailed and hundreds of his opponents were banished, flogged in the imperial court (廷杖), or executed. Among the banished was the poet Yang Shen.
The Jiajing emperor was known to be intelligent and efficient. However, while he later went on strike and choose not to attend any state meetings, he did not neglect the paperwork and other governmental matters. The Jiajing Emperor was also known to be a cruel and self-aggrandizing emperor and he also chose to reside outside of the Forbidden City in Beijing so he could live in isolation. Ignoring state affairs, the Jiajing Emperor relied on Zhang Cong and Yan Song to handle affairs of state. In time, Yan Song and his son Yan Shifan — who gained power only as a result of his father’s political influence — came to dominate the whole government even being called the “First and Second Prime Minister”.
Ministers such as Hai Rui and Yang Xusheng challenged and even chastised Yan Song and his son but were thoroughly ignored by the emperor. Hai Rui and many ministers were eventually dismissed or executed. The Jiajing Emperor also abandoned the practice of seeing his ministers altogether from 1539 onwards, and for a period of almost 25 years refused to give official audiences, choosing instead to relay his wishes through eunuchs and officials. Only Yan Song, a few handful of eunuchs and Daoist priests ever saw the emperor. This eventually led to corruption at all levels of the Ming government. However, the Jiajing Emperor was intelligent and managed to control the court.
The Jiajing Emperor’s ruthlessness also led to an internal plot by his concubines to assassinate him in October, 1542 by strangling him while he slept. A group of palace maids who had had enough of the emperor’s cruelty decided to band together to murder him. The lead palace maid tried to strangle the emperor with ribbons from her hair while the others held down the emperor’s arms and legs but made a fatal mistake by tying a knot around the emperor’s neck which would not tighten. Meanwhile, some of the young palace maids involved began to panic and one (Zhang Jinlian) ran to the empress. The plot was exposed and on the orders of the empress and some officials, all of the palace maids involved, including the emperor’s favorite concubine (Consort Duan, née Cao) and another concubine (Consort Ning, née Wang), were ordered to be executed by slow slicing and their families were killed.
The Jiajing Emperor was a devoted follower of Taoism and attempted to suppress Buddhism. After the assassination attempt in 1542, the emperor moved out of the imperial palace, and lived with a 13-year-old teenage girl who was small and thin, and was able to satisfy his sexual appetite (Lady Shan). The Jiajing Emperor began to pay excessive attention to his Taoist pursuits while ignoring his imperial duties. He built the three Taoist temples Temple of Sun, Temple of Earth and Temple of Moon and extended the Temple of Heaven by adding the Earthly Mount. Over the years, the emperor’s devotion to Taoism was to become a heavy financial burden for the Ming government and create dissent across the country.
The Ming dynasty had enjoyed a long period of peace, but in 1542 the Mongol leader Altan Khan began to harass China along the northern border. In 1550, he even reached the suburbs of Beijing. Eventually the Ming government appeased him by granting special trading rights. The Ming government also had to deal with wokou pirates attacking the southeastern coastline.
Starting in 1550, Beijing was enlarged by the addition of the outer city.
The deadliest earthquake of all times, the Shaanxi earthquake of 1556 that killed over 800,000 people, occurred during the Jiajing Emperor’s reign.
Particularly during his later years, the Jiajing Emperor was known for spending a great deal of time on alchemy in hopes of finding medicines to prolong his life. He would forcibly recruit young girls in their early teens and engaged in sexual activities in hopes of empowering himself, along with the consumption of potent elixirs. He employed Taoist priests to collect rare minerals from all over the country to create elixirs, including elixirs containing mercury, which inevitably posed health problems at high doses.
After 45 years on the throne (the second longest reign in the Ming dynasty), the Jiajing Emperor died on January 23, 1567 — possibly due to mercury overdose believing it to be the Elixir of Life — and was succeeded by his son, the Longqing Emperor. Though his long rule gave the dynasty an era of stability, the Jiajing Emperor’s neglect of his official duties resulted in the decline of the dynasty at the end of the sixteenth century. His style of governance, or the lack thereof, would be emulated by his grandson later in the century.
The hand scrolls depicting “The Emperor’s Procession” were portrayed on stamps issued in two installments — on June 14 and July 12, 1972 — each of which consists of a strip of five stamps picturing part of the overall procession and three close-up singles revealing some significant views (Scott #1776-1783). In the first of the two hand scrolls, called “Departure”, the procession departs from the palace for the imperial tombs by land route, men with a huge cavalry escort and an elephant-drawn carriage, moving from right to left. In the second, called “Return,” they return from the imperial tombs to the palace via waterway, moving from left to right. Watercolor and ink were used in the painting of these two silk hand scrolls. The height of both paintings is 92.1 centimeters.
Scott #1776e is the left-most stamp in the strip depicting “Departure” and is described by the Scott catalogue as “Emperor under two canopies”. He can be seen in the right half riding a black steed and wearing a plumed helmet. He is distinguished from his entourage of bodyguards as an abnormally tall figure. The stamps are numbered in Chinese from 1 to 5, reading right to left, thus Scott #1776e is number 5 although it is the left-most stamp while #1776a is number 1 and the right-most stamp in the strip. The original scrolls were photographed by Liu Pao-chin in preparation for this issue which was printed by the Printing Bureau of the Ministry of Finance in Japan using the photogravure process on unwatermarked paper. Having a dimension of 51x36mm, the stamp is perforated 13½.