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The Great Rites Controversy was a decade-long political dispute in the Ming dynasty sparked by a succession crisis following the Zhengde Emperor's death without an heir.[1] In truth, it was an operation led by the Eight Tigers, a group of Templar eunuchs who controlled the subsequent Jiajing Emperor's court; their aim was to eradicate all those who opposed the Tigers' rule, from court officials to Neo-Confucian philosophers. This included their longtime enemies, the Chinese Assassins, resulting in the near-eradication of the Chinese Brotherhood.


Failed Assassin attack[]

In 1521, the Zhengde Emperor died without an heir.[2] Seizing the opportunity, the powerful Templar eunuchs known as the Eight Tigers—who had remained discreet after their leader Liu Jin's execution by lingchi in 1510[3]—began plotting in order to use the situation to their advantage by placing a puppet on the throne and silencing any opposition. The Templars discovered that Wang Yangming, the governor of the Jiangxi province and leading figure of the Neo-Confucian current, was secretly a Master Assassin and began to spy on him, identifying many of his allies.[4]

The Tigers prepared a massive operation to purge the Assassins from Beijing during the confusion caused by the absence of a declared emperor, but the plot leaked to the imperial concubines, and one of them, Shao Jun, was able to warn Yangming in time.[4] In order to counter the Templars, Yangming called his best Assassins to the Forbidden City in an attempt to eliminate the Tigers before they could strike, but they were defeated.[5]

After this debacle, those captured were tortured and executed by the Templar Ma Yongcheng, one of the Eight Tigers, and all those suspected to have any ties or immediate relations to the Assassins were murdered. The man designated to investigate the palace attack, a Templar named Wei Bin, opportunely blamed officials who were innocent but were threats for the Templars' plans, accusing them as culprits and having them executed as well.[5]

Understanding that none of his allies would escape the Tigers' wrath, Wang Yangming ordered a full retreat of all the Assassins and their allies from the Forbidden City.[5] Having lost his influence in the palace, but still operating in Beijing, the Mentor hoped to find a weakness in the Tigers' organization and take them down before they could completely steal imperial power. He used his newest recruit, Shao Jun, to gather information critical to Assassins' operations.[6]

The Controversy[]

The Return China (3)

The Maijishan Grottoes burning during the Great Rites Controversy

The same year, the Zhengde Emperor's fourteen-year-old cousin Zhu Houcong was crowned as the Jiajing Emperor with the Tigers' support. However, the Tigers ruled in his stead, as the young emperor was not interested in court affairs. This allowed the Tiger Gu Dayong to enforce the slave trade, selling the Templars' opponents to the Portuguese Empire from his fortress in Macau and exiling their enemies out of China.[7] Another Tiger, Gao Feng, was appointed governor of the Gansu province and the warden of a secret Templar prison located in the Maijishan Grottoes, formerly an Assassin stronghold.[8]

In the following years, the Tigers' leader Zhang Yong set up the Great Rites Controversy in order to eradicate his rivals in court.[7] The Controversy was a dispute between the Jiajing Emperor, who did not wish to be posthumously adopted by the Zhengde Emperor according to the tradition when a new emperor was not the son of his predecessor, and traditional officials who protested that he had no right to posthumously elevate his own father Zhu Youyuan to the rank of emperor instead.[1]

Using the Controversy, Zhang Yong's subordinates Wei Bin and Qiu Ju murdered or exiled many of their political opponents while pursuing the remaining Assassins. This forced Wang Yangming, who was a famed and known opponent of the Tigers, to disappear. The Brotherhood chose Zhu Jiuyuan as their new Mentor, and under his supervision, a renewed secret war began in Beijing and across China between the Assassins and the Templars. Primarily using Shao Jun, who had become a fully-trained Assassin and a formidable warrior, the Assassins tracked the Templars' agents and attempted to stop their growing control over the nation.[9]

Unfortunately, the Brotherhood's actions were not decisive enough, and soon the Tigers effectively controlled China, retreating in luxurious palaces to enjoy their new power and placing puppets in court such as Yan Song, the administration's new public face. In the shadows, the Tigers completed their hunt for the Assassins, raiding most of the Brotherhood's safe houses, destroying their information network, and finally killing all but three of the Chinese Assassins: Wang Yangming, Zhu Jiuyuan, and Shao Jun. They also began to search for ancient Isu artifacts, as well as consolidate their grip and financial power through diverse operations throughout the country.[10]

Tracking the survivors[]

In 1524, with all their brothers dead and Yangming having gone into hiding, Shao Jun and Zhu Jiuyuan despaired and finally decided to leave China in order to seek the help of foreign Assassins. Jiuyan suggested meeting with the Italian Assassins' retired Mentor Ezio Auditore, whose reputation and fame had spread over Eurasia, and the pair traveled to Macau in order to board a ship bound for Europe.[11] Shao Jun and Zhu Jiuyuan eventually reached Venice and thought they were safe from the Tigers, but they were in fact followed by Templar agents. The elite soldiers, armed with muskets, ambushed the two Assassins,[12] and Zhu Jiuyuan sacrificed himself so that Shao Jun could escape and find Ezio.[13]

Now truly alone, Shao Jun managed to reach Ezio's villa in Tuscany and persuaded the grizzled and reluctant Mentor to share his wisdom and teach her how to rebuild her Order. The Templar soldiers had followed the Chinese Assassin to Florence and attacked Ezio's villa, but the Mentor and Shao Jun successfully killed them.[13] After some training with Ezio[8][14] and a parting gift in the form of a box he told her to open only if she lost her way, Shao Jun decided to return to China in order to rebuild the Chinese Brotherhood and exact revenge on the Templars, who were more powerful than ever.[13]

Behind the scenes[]

The Great Rites Controversy is a historical event first mentioned indirectly in the 2011 short film Assassin's Creed: Embers. Further details were provided in database entries in the 2015 video game Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China, but the event itself would not be depicted until a series of flashbacks in the 2019 manga Assassin's Creed: Blade of Shao Jun.

Historically, the Jiajing Emperor's main opponents during the Great Rites Controversy were Grand Secretary Yang Tinghe and various scholar-bureaucrats, who opposed his decision to posthumously elevate his father Zhu Youyuan to the rank of emperor. Over the following decade, most enemies and dissenters in the emperor's court faced heavy persecution, being beaten, imprisoned, or banished, which cemented the Jiajing Emperor's reputation as an authoritarian ruler.[1] Additionally, the Eight Tigers played little to no role in the Controversy, as most of them had already retired or passed away by the time of the Jiajing Emperor's ascension to the throne.[15]


Non-canonical appearances[]