Kangxi Emperor

The Kangxi Emperor was the third emperor of the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty and the second Qing emperor to rule over China proper, from 1661 to 1722. His reign of 61 years makes him the longest-reigning Chinese emperor in history (although his grandson Qianlong had the longest period of de facto power) and one of the longest-reigning rulers in the world. However, having ascended the throne aged seven, he was not the effective ruler until later, that role being fulfilled by his four guardians and his grandmother, the Grand Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang.

The Kangxi Emperor is considered one of China’s greatest emperors. He defeated the revolt of the Three Feudatories, forced the Zheng Jing government in Taiwan to submit to Qing rule, blocked Tzarist Russia on the Amur River and expanded the empire in the northwest. He also accomplished such literary feats as the compilation of the Kangxi Dictionary.

Kangxi’s reign brought about long-term stability and relative wealth after years of war and chaos. He initiated the period known as the “Prosperous Era of Kangxi and Qianlong” which lasted for generations after his own lifetime. By the end of his reign, the Qing empire controlled all of China proper, Manchuria (including Outer Manchuria), part of the Russian Far East, both Inner and Outer Mongolia, and Korea as a protectorate.

Early reign

Born on 4 May 1654 to Shunzhi Emperor and Empress Xiao Kang, a Han Chinese, Kangxi was originally given the personal name Xuanye. He succeeded the imperial throne at the age of seven, on 7 February 1661, twelve days after his father’s death, although the Kangxi reign formally began on 18 February 1662, the first day of the following lunar year.

According to some accounts, his father, Emperor Shunzi, gave up the throne to Kangxi and became a monk. Several alternative explanations are given for this: one is that it was due to the death of his favourite consort; another is that he was under the influence of a Buddhist monk. The story goes that the empress dowager ordered a cover-up in which the fact of Shunzi becoming a monk was deleted from the official history and replaced with the claim that he died from smallpox, and indeed this is what many historians still believe. Certainly the court archive has been discovered to show that during the reign of Shunzi, smallpox was the biggest killer in China.

Kangxi was not able to rule in his minority; the Shunzhi Emperor had appointed Sonin, Suksaha, Ebilun, and Oboi as the regents. Sonin died soon after his granddaughter became Empress Heseri, leaving Suksaha at odds with Oboi politically. In a fierce power struggle, Oboi had Suksaha put to death and seized absolute power as sole regent. Kangxi and the court acquiesced in this arrangement.

In 1669 the emperor arrested Oboi with the help of Grand Dowager Empress Xiaozhuang and began to take control of the country himself. He listed three issues of concern: flood control of the Yellow River, repairing the Grand Canal and the Revolt of the Three Feudatories in South China.

Personality and achievements

Kangxi was the great consolidator of the Qing dynasty. The transition from the Ming dynasty to the Qing was a cataclysm whose central event was the capture of the capital Beijing by the invading Manchus in 1644, and the installation of their five-year-old ruler as the Shunzhi Emperor. By 1661, when Shunzhi died and was succeeded by Kangxi, the Manchu conquest was almost complete and the leading Manchus were already adopting Chinese ways including Confucian ideology. Kangxi completed the conquest, suppressed all significant military threats and revived the ancient central government system with important modifications.

He was an inveterate workaholic, rising early and retiring late, reading and responding to numerous memorials every day, conferring with his councillors and giving audiences – and this was in normal times; in wartime, he might be reading memorials from the war-front until after midnight or even, as with the Dzungar conflict, away on campaign in person.

He devised a system of communication that circumvented the mandarinate, who had always had a tendency to usurp the power of the emperor, called the Palace Memorial System, involving secret dispatches to and from trusted officials in the provinces, in locked boxes for which only he and the sender had keys. This started as a system for receiving uncensored extreme-weather reports, which the emperor regarded as divine comments on his rule. But it soon evolved into a general-purpose secret ‘news channel’. Out of this emerged a committee to deal with out-of-the-ordinary, especially military, events called (in English) the Grand Council, or in Chinese chün-chi chu which was chaired by the emperor and manned by his more elevated pao-i Han-Chinese household staff. From this council, the mandarin civil servants were excluded – they were left only with routine administration.

He managed to seduce the Confucian intelligentsia into co-operating with the Qing government, despite their deep reservations about Manchu rule, by encouraging them to sit the traditional civil service examinations, become mandarins and subsequently to compose lavishly-conceived works of literature such as a history of the Ming dynasty, a dictionary, a phrase-dictionary, a vast encyclopedia and an even vaster compilation of Chinese literature. He was himself a cultivated man, steeped in Confucian learning.

In the one military campaign in which he actively participated, that against the Dzungar Mongols, Kangxi showed himself an effective commander. According to Finer, Kangxi’s own written reflections allow one to experience “how intimate and caring was his communion with the rank-and-file, how discriminating and yet masterful his relationship with his generals”.

As a result of the scaling down of hostilities as peace returned to China after the Manchu conquest, and also as a result of the ensuing rapid increase of population, land cultivation and therefore tax revenues based on agriculture, the Kangxi Emperor was able first to make tax remissions, then (in 1712) to freeze the land tax and corvée altogether, without embarrassing the state treasury.

Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangxi_Emperor


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12 Responses to “Kangxi Emperor”
  1. tk says:

    It is well known that Kangxi was one of the ealier incarnations of Dorje Shugden (Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen).

  2. Chu says:

    This reading is very appropriate here as Kangxi spread Buddhism in China greatly during his 60 year reign of China. He was one of the great incarnations of Dorje Shugden.

  3. Sarah says:

    There is no mention of the religious practices of Emperor Kangxi. It would be interesting to know how Tibetan Buddhism was introduced to China and what role the Manchu emperors played in the spread of Buddhism in China.

  4. beggar says:

    From what I have heard, many of the emperors, particularly during the Qing dynasty, if I’m not mistaken, invited many Lamas from Tibet to teach them. From there, translators also started translating key texts like the Lamrim into Chinese.

    Tibetan Buddhism became the main religion of China because the Emperors made it such, bringing in many lamas, building many temples (such as in Beijing – Yong He Gung – and throughout the Wu Tai Shan area) and supporting study and translation.

  5. arisa says:

    Like what TK has said Emperor Xangxi is well known for being the reincarnation of Dorje Shugden (Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen). It may be true. Emperor Xangxi was the Enperor of Manchuria and succeeded his father’s Shunzhi throne when his father died when he was 7 years old. He is the longest ruling emperor with 61 years of rule. He has shown his power during his rule by bringing peace and not hostility being hostile to his people. But by a different method when he brought down hostility back to China. He has brought education methods to China like composing Mandarin dictionary, encyclopedias etc to China.

  6. DSFriend says:

    Kangzi’s father, Emperor Shunzi is quite an extraordinary being…how many beings do we know who have given up their royal throne to be a monk!

    Chinese culture is so rich and its history goes way back. I appreciate this article very much as it gives an overview of the time of Emperor Kangzi.

    Military force were used,.obviously… which resulted in much manipulations, politics, and killings. How would these actions fair in the scheme of karma. There are repercussions, to any type of killing, even Buddha in one of his previous lives as a Bodhisattva was subjected to it when he killed to save many!

    The result at the end of the day during the reign of Kangxi was peace to the nation and Buddhism was brought in for the people. Was Kangxi a highly attained being? Looking at the results,…Kangxi was an extraordinary being, a Bodhisattva.

  7. Rinchen says:

    I believe that Emperor Kangxi is one of the incarnations of Dorje Shugden. He is an extraordinary being that allowed China to grow in such a good way. As well as to have brought Buddhism into the China at that time is really unbelievable.

    Mentioning that, I believe it is also because of the merits that Emporer Shunzi have accumulated to allow the incarnation of Dorje Shugden to be born in the royal family, benefiting many of the Chinese during times like that. I would also like to say that I think that Emperor Shunzi might not be an ordinary being, This is because he was willing to give up what he had and lived a ordinary and very simple life of a monk.

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