Kangxi and Yongzheng
The emperor Kangxi is well known as one of the most admired rulers in China’s history. He reigned China for the longest time period. “In the final years of the emperor’s life, Kangxi was the master of a powerful and unified state” (Cheng and Lestz, 58). From the Kangxi’s Valedictory Edict in 1717, I see a man who had brilliant talent, thought, and eloquence. Reading between the lines, I feel that Kangxi regarded himself as a strong Mandate of Heaven that he was naturally picked by the heaven to be the ruler of China.
As a follower of Confucius’s ideas and theories, Kangxi definitely showed the utmost respect for the complex and diverse legacy. During his era, Confucian materials such as Four Books and Five Classics were still prevalent and became doctrines that were the basis for the state examinations leading scholars to government services. Education and examinations had become big and important things under Kangxi’s control, which, I think, is an aspect representing Kangxi’s ideas as a Confucian ruler. He also mentioned that a great ruler should be sincere in reverence for Heaven and ancestors. As he stated in his valedictory, “Be kind to men from afar and keep the able ones near, nourish the people, think of the profit of all as being the real profit and the mind of the whole country as being the real mind, be considerate to officials and act as a father to the people, protect the state before danger comes and govern well before there is any disturbance, be always diligent and always careful, and maintain the balance between leniency and strictness, between principle and expediency, so that long-range plans can be made for the country” (Kangxi, 58).
The excerpt above is a well representation of Kangxi’s fundamental ways to run the state while also cooperating the essential ideas of Confucian culture and ethics. From this aspect, I agree that Kangxi did a good job showing his Confucian legitimacy since he embedded the kindness and excellence of Confucian ideas both into his own behaviors as well as his methods of ruling and into the influence to his branches of families. His successor, Yongzheng, had similar approaches and applications of
Confucianism, to some extent. He made a public show of his filial piety through his issue, in 1724, for an amplified version of his father’s maxims (the Shengyu guangxun) and, soon thereafter, an expanded third version was written, too. As Cheng and Lestz summarize, “For the Confucian ruler, well-ordered families and clans were the paradigms of an orderly state and both the Kangxi and Yongzheng versions of the Edict stress this basic principle of Chinese statecraft” (Cheng and Lestz, 68). Thus, I can tell from those maxims that Emperor Yongzheng also had lots of concerns for moral and cultural values besides administration. He showed not only filial piety, but also what more important is that, at one level, he played the role of Confucian monarch, who still maintained some personalities of a Manchu leader.
Kangxi states in his valedictory that, “I exhaust my mind for the country’s sake, and fragment my spirits for the world” (“Kangxi’s Valedictory Edict, 1717”, 62). He also mentions that there is barely much time left for an emperor himself due to the “hard-work” as a qualification of being a good emperor. From where I stand, I consider that there were definitely some uncertainties during Kangxi’s reign. Thus, he spent such amount of time to deal with all the problems, or say uncertainties, and trying to figure out what a real unified China was. Despite Kangxi’s dramatic successes in political unification and border consolidation, the protracted resistance of the Ming claimants during early Kangxi era, the support given to Koxinga and his descendants, the swift spread of the Three Feudatories: all these showed a lack of real support and agreement for the Qing among the ethnic Chinese. Thus, it is one of the “uncertainties” that Kangxi had to try to find a balance between Manchus and Chinese in order to have a more unified China. Moreover, another important uncertainty is that even though Kangxi owed much of his fame to the firmness with which he pursued national unity and to the vigor of his foreign policy or treaties, the more crucial thing among the many problems facing the ruler was that of unifying China under Manchu control. However, as an admiring and talented emperor, Kangxi was indeed a confident emperor in most time when he made good decisions to rule the state. Therefore, although many so-called uncertainties existed, he certainly maintained a more certain and clear mind than an anxious one.
As Kangxi’s valedictory mentions, appointing an appropriate heir is another great matter, which I count it as the other uncertainty. Kangxi used many examples from passed dynasties to induce the matter. “The throne of this country is one of the utmost importance” (“Kangxi’s Valedictory Edict, 1717”, 63). Fortunately, Emperor Yongzheng as a successor of Kangxi played a far-reaching role as a successful emperor, to some extent. Yongzheng basically concentrated on a number of central problems in Chinese government. I would like to conclude him as a prosperous “revolutionary emperor”. During the 13 years of his reign, he was like a reformer who greatly renovated and improved some policies that either made them into more righteous and complete ones or expanded those old policies. He developed his father’s maxim about how law should be listed and learned to reduce the stupid and stubborn in order to regulate both the government and people’s behaviors. “The law contains a profound meaning and was originally drawn up in accordance with human natures … Those who fear the law, will, come what may, avoid breaking it. Those who dread punishment will surely work to not incur it. If depravity is eliminated then wrangling will cease. The muddled will be enlightened and the stubbornly evil will be make good” (“Speak of Law to Give Warning to The Stupid and Stubborn”, 69). I found that Yongzheng’s insights about the law were quite constructive and influential, although those laws may not be complete or fully right at that time. However, not only did they conveyed the Confucianism that people should all be well-behaved and act properly, but also, when it was approaching later years in Yongzheng’s reign, they brought about a relatively radical change in some bad ethos and atmospheres of Kangxi’s dynasty, which tuned the history of Qing dynasty into a more sustainable and more uplifting orientation.
Yongzheng carried forward those strong measures and suggestions from his father, Kangxi, whereas he also corrected some impropriate edicts and doings during Kangxi’s era. I think that it was Yongzheng’s biggest challenge or, in another word, uncertainty that he had to dig out and absorb the essence from his father and also discard the dross. Yongzheng developed his father’s idea that it would be a better China, if heterodoxies were ruled out.
“Besides Confucian scholars there are Buddhist monks and Taoist priests. These latter sects are heretical” (“Extirpate Heresy To Exalt Orthodoxy”, 67). In such way, Yongzheng wanted to build a unique status for Confucianism, indirectly conveying his Confucian legitimacy. Furthermore, as he expanded in the amplification of Kangxi’s maxim two, “…The ancients said: ‘To educate the people, filial piety, brotherly affection, harmony, love, willingness to endure for others, and charity are necessary.’ When it says filial piety, next it says brotherly affection and then it says harmony and that’s because clan members are descended from the same ancestor” (“Strengthen Clan Relations to Illustrate Harmony”, 67), I feel that his original intention as being a great emperor was largely influenced by his father’s doctrines as well as the Confucian ethics, which asked he to look at, treat, and love the people as part of his body, in which the society would then progress towards harmony.
Admittedly, both Kangxi and Yongzheng was great ruler since they brought about different levels of prosperities and better lives for people. I admire both that Kangxi had plentiful achievement while Yongzheng also did a great job as a connecting link between the previous and the following empire. Workcited.
Kangxi, “Kangxi’s Valedictory Edict, 1717” Found in The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. Cheng and Lestz with Jonathan D. Spence. W.W.Norton;Company, Inc. 1999. Print. “Wang Yupu and Yongzheng’s Amplification of Kangxi’s Sacred Edict, 1724” Found in The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. Cheng and Lestz with Jonathan D. Spence. W.W.Norton;Company, Inc. 1999. Print.