August 28, 1582 - September 26, 1620: Age 38
In the late 16th century the heir presumptive of the reigning Emperor Wanli was Zhu Chanluo, the eldest son of an unimportant serving girl. Unfortunately for little Chanluo, his father greatly favoured his younger brother, Zhu Changxun, the son of the wily Imperial Consort Lady Zheng. Changxun was named Crown Prince while Chanluo was ignored; they didn't even bother starting to educate him until he was 13.
Nevertheless the Imperial ministers, devout Confucians, were distressed by the promotion of the younger son, which they regarded as upsetting the proper balance of things as mandated by Heaven. In Ming law at the time, the eldest son should succeed, regardless of the personal wishes of the Emperor. After many years of maneuvering the Emperor gave in and named Chanluo Crown Prince.
In 1615 a man armed with nothing but a wooden staff managed to fight his way into the Palace, right into the Prince's living quarters with the intent to kill him. He did not succeed — interesting, though, to note that those dramatic Chinese historical epics really do hold a grain of truth (think: barely-armed kung fu masters fighting through hundreds of guards). Although the affair was hushed up it was well known that the assassin had been hired by Lady Zheng.
The old Emperor died in August 1620 and Chanluo, now a middle-aged man, ascended the throne as Emperor Tai-Chang. His reign lasted little more than a month. He fell ill after a night of carousing with eight young ladies sent to him as a peace offering by Lady Zheng. An attending eunuch prescribed a laxative, which gave the new Emperor terrible diarrhea. Finally a minor court official named Li Kezhuo, an amateur pharmacist, offered him a red pill. It seemed to make him better, and Li Kezhuo was praised and exalted by the recovering monarch, who asked for, and received, a second dose. The next morning Emperor Tai-Chang was found dead in his bed. Although the general opinion was that the Emperor had died of too much sex, poor Li Kezhuo, whose future had seemed so bright the day before, was exiled, and the Emperor's son ascended the throne.