The Great Rites Controversy was a decade-long operation led by the Eight Tigers, a group of Templar eunuchs controlling the court of the Jiajing Emperor of China. It was their aim to eradicate their hereditary enemies and all those who opposed their rule, from court officials to Neo-Confucian philosophers; this included the Chinese Assassins, resulting in the near-eradication of the Chinese Brotherhood.
In 1521, when the Zhengde Emperor died heirless, the powerful Templar eunuchs known as the Eight Tigers – who had remained discrete and silent after the execution of their leader Liu Jin in 1510 – began to plot again in order to use the situation to their advantage, through placing a puppet on the throne and silencing any opposition. The Templars discovered that Wang Yangming, the governor of Jiangxi province and leading figure of the Neo-Confucian current, was also the leader of the Assassins and began to spy on him, identifying many of his allies.
The Tigers prepared a massive operation to purge the Assassins from Beijing during the confusion caused by the absence of a declared Emperor, but luckily the plot leaked to the Imperial Concubines, and one of them, Shao Jun, was able to warn Yangming in time. In order to counter the Templars, Wang Yangming called his best Assassins to the Forbidden City in an attempt to kill the Tigers before they could strike, but they were defeated.
After this debacle, those captured were tortured and executed by Ma Yongcheng, the Tiger known as "the Butcher", and all those suspected to have ties to the Assassins and those related to them were murdered. The man designated to investigate the attack in the palace, a Templar named Wei Bin, opportunely blamed officials who were innocent, but were threats for the Templars' plans, designating them as culprits and having them executed.
Understanding that none of his allies would escape the Tigers' wrath, the Mentor ordered a full retreat of all the Assassins and their allies from the Forbidden City. Having lost his influence in the palace, but still in Beijing, Wang Yangming hoped to find a weakness in the Tigers' organization and take them down before they could completely steal imperial power. Yangming used his new recruit, Shao Jun, to gather information critical to Assassins' operations.
The Great Rites Controversy
The same year, Zhu Houcong, the fourteen year old cousin of the Zhengde Emperor, was coronated as the Jiajing Emperor with the support of the Tigers; however, the Tigers ruled in his stead as the young but cruel boy was not interested in Imperial affairs. This allowed the Tiger Yu Dayong to enforce the slave trade, selling the Templars' opponents to the Portuguese and exiling the enemies of the Templars out of China, while also making himself huge profits. Another Tiger, Gao Feng, was given command of the Templar secret prison in the former Assassin headquarter of the Maijishan Grottoes, with Ma Yongcheng torturing the prisoners.
In the following years, Zhang Yong, the leader of the Tigers, set-up the Great Rites Controversy in order to eradicate his rivals in court. The Controversy was a dispute between Jiajing, 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 the former Emperor, and traditionalist officials who estimated that he had no right to posthumously elevate his own father to the rank of Emperor instead.
Using the Controversy, Zhang's minions, Wei Bin and Qiu Ju, murdered or exiled many of their political opponents, while chasing the remaining Assassins. This forced Wang Yangming, who was a famous and known opponent of the Tigers, to disappear. A new Mentor, Zhu Jiuyuan, was chosen by the Brotherhood and under his supervision, a renewed secret war began in Beijing and all over 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 agents of the Templars and attempted to stop their growing control over the Empire.
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 new public face of the administration. In the shadows, the Tigers completed their hunt for the Assassins, raiding most of the Brotherhood's safe houses, destroying its 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 Precursor artifacts, as well as consolidating their grip and financial power through diverse operations throughout the country.
Tracking the Mentor
In 1524, with all their brothers dead and Yangming gone, Shao Jun and Zhu Jiuyuan despaired and finally decided to leave China in order to seek the help of foreign Assassins. Zhu suggested meeting with the retired Italian Mentor Ezio Auditore da Firenze, whose reputation and fame had spread over the world, to which the pair traveled to Macau in order to take a ship for Europe. Shao Jun and Zhu Jiuyuan eventually reached Venice and thought they were safe from the Tigers, but were in fact followed by Templar agents. Sent to kill the Mentor, the elite soldiers, armed with muskets, ambushed the two Assassins, with Zhu Jiuyuan sacrificing himself so that Shao Jun could escape alive and find Ezio.
Now truly alone, Jun managed to reach Ezio Auditore's villa in Tuscany, and persuaded the grizzled and retired Mentor to share his wisdom and teach her how to rebuild her Order. However, the Templar soldiers had followed the Chinese Assassin to Florence and attacked Ezio's villa, but Ezio and Jun successfully killed them. After some training with Ezio and a parting gift, Jun decided to return to China in order to rebuild the Chinese Brotherhood and to exact her revenge on the Templars, who were more powerful than ever, muzzling all opposition to their rule.