Dispute over the foundation of the state
Dispute over the foundation of the state (Chinese in Czech transcription kuo-pen ch'-cheng, in Pinyin Guóběn zhīzhēng, simplified characters 国本之争, traditional 國本之爭; or in Chinese in Czech transcription cheng kuo-pen, in Pinyin zhēng guóběn, characters simplified 争国本, traditional 爭國本) in 1586–1614 was a dispute between Wan-li, Emperor of the Chinese Ming Empire, and a significant part of Ming officials over the appointment of the crown prince. Officials defended the legal principle of primogeniture and demanded the appointment of the emperor's eldest son Chu Changluo as crown prince, the emperor apparently wanted Chu Changsun, the son of his favorite concubine Mrs. Cheng, as his successor. The emperor did not openly favor Chu Changsun, but he resisted pressure from officials and postponed a decision from 1586 until 1601, when he finally named Chu Changluo as successor and Chu Changsun as prince. Chu Changsun was supposed to be sent to his regional seat after turning eighteen in 1604, but the emperor kept him in Beijing until 1614, fueling suspicions about his intentions and leading to further protests from opposition officials.
Disputes about the successor flared up again in 1615 in connection with the so-called "Case of the Man with the Stick", perhaps an attempt to assassinate Chu Changluo.
In the political terminology of the time, the heir to the throne was referred to as the "foundation of the state" (Chinese in Czech transcription kuo-pen, pinyin guóběn, simplified characters 国本, traditional 國本).
Progress of the dispute
In 1586, the question of succession arose when the emperor promoted his favorite concubine, Lady Cheng, after she bore him a son, to the rank of "imperial noble lady" (huang-kuei-fei), placing her only one step below Empress Wang and above any another of his concubines, including Lady Wang, mother of the emperor's eldest son Zhu Changluo (1582–1620). This made it clear to those around him that he would prefer the son of Mrs. Cheng Chu Chang-sun (1586–1641) – his third (the second son died in infancy) – rather than Chu Chang-luo as his successor. The bureaucracy then split; part of the officials began to defend the rights of the first son with reference to legal primogeniture, but part linked their fate with the promotion of Mrs. Cheng's son. The emperor, although he ruled autocratically, had no legislative power and had only limited ability to issue independent decisions. He therefore had no power to change the rules of succession. He responded to widespread support for the rights of the eldest son among the officials by postponing the decision: he did not appoint either the first-born or the younger son as successor. In 1589, the emperor agreed to appoint the eldest son as successor, but Mrs. Cheng opposed it, which provoked a wave of mutual accusations and two years later, an arrest. when a pamphlet was circulated in Peking accusing her of conspiring with some high officials against the emperor's eldest son. The emperor, on the other hand, tried to portray Mrs. Cheng in a favorable light in the eyes of the public, his efforts reached their peak in 1594, when he supported her aid to the victims of the famine in Henan by ordering all Peking officials of the fifth rank and above to contribute to her from their incomes. The emperor justified the postponement of the appointment of a successor by waiting for a son from the empress. However, the failure to name a successor provoked waves of protest from senior dignitaries, including the grand secretaries Shen Shi-sing (in office 1578–91) and Wang Si-ťue (in office 1584–91 and 1593–94). Wanli's mother, Empress Dowager Li, also supported Chu Changluo's succession. When the monarch objected that his eldest son was the son of a mere palace servant, she replied that he, Wan-li, was also the son of a mere servant. According to critics, the succession case showed Wan-li's inability to fulfill