Emperor Kangxi of China, also known as K’ang-hsi, May 4, 1654 – December 20, 1722) was the fourth Emperor of China of the Manchu Qing Dynasty (also known as the Ching), and the second Qing emperor to rule over all of China, from 1661 to 1722. He is known as one of the greatest Chinese emperors in history. His reign of 61 years makes him the longest-reigning Emperor of China in history, though it should be noted that having ascended the throne aged eight, he did not exercise much, if any, control over the empire until later, that role being fulfilled by his four guardians and his grandmother the Dowager Empress Xiao Zhuang. The Qing emperors set themselves the same task that all Emperors of China do, that is, to unify the nation and to win the hearts of the Chinese people. Although non-ethnic Chinese, they quickly adopted the habits and customs of China’s imperial tradition. Open to Western technology, Emperor Kangxi, (or Kʻang-hsi) discoursed with Jesuit missionaries and he also learned to play the piano from them. However, when the Roman Catholic Pope Clement XI refused the Jesuit attempt to Christianize Chinese cultural practice, Kangxi banned Catholic missionary activity in China in what became known as the Chinese Rites Controversy.
The Beginning of the Reign
Technically, the Kangxi Emperor inherited his father Shunzhi‘s throne at the age of eight. His father died in his early 20s, and as Kangxi was not able to rule in his minority, the Shunzhi Emperor appointed Sonin, Suksaha, Ebilun, and Oboi as the Four Regents. Sonin died soon after his granddaughter was made the Empress, 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. For a while Kangxi and the Court accepted this arrangement. In 1669, the Emperor arrested Oboi with help from the Xiao Zhuang Grand Dowager Empress and began to take control of the country himself.
In the spring of 1662, Kangxi ordered the Great Clearance in southern China, in order to fight the anti-Qing movement, begun by Ming Dynasty loyalists under the leadership of Zheng Chenggong (also known as Koxinga), to regain Beijing. This involved moving the entire population of the coastal regions of southern China inland.
He listed three major issues of concern, being the flood control of the Yellow River, the repairing of the Grand Canal and the Revolt of the Three Feudatories in South China. The Revolt of the Three Feudatories broke out in 1673 and Burni of the Chakhar Mongols also started a rebellion in 1675.
The Revolt of the Three Feudatories presented a major challenge. Wu Sangui‘s forces had overrun most of southern China and he tried to ally himself with local generals. A prominent general of this kind was Wang Fuchen. Kangxi, however, united his court in support of the war effort and employed capable generals such as Zhou Pei Gong and Tu Hai to crush the rebellion. He also extended commendable clemency to the common people who had been caught up in the fighting. Though Kangxi himself personally wanted to lead the battles against the three Feudatories, but he was advised not to by his advisers. Kangxi would later lead the battle against the Mongol Dzungars.
Kangxi crushed the rebellious Mongols within two months and incorporated the Chakhar into the Eight Banners. After the surrender of the Zheng family, the Qing Dynasty annexed Taiwan in 1684. Soon afterwards, the coastal regions were ordered to be repopulated, and to encourage settlers, the Qing government gave a pecuniary incentive to each settling family.
In a diplomatic success, the Kangxi government helped mediate a truce in the long-running Trinh-Nguyen War in the year 1673. The war in Vietnam between these two powerful clans had been going on for 45 years with nothing to show for it. The peace treaty that was signed lasted for 101 years (SarDesai, 1988, 38).
Russia and the Mongols
At the same time, the Emperor was faced with the Russian advance from the north. The Qing Dynasty and the Russian Empire fought along the Sahaliyan ula (Amur, or Heilongjiang) Valley region in 1650s, which ended with a Qing victory. The Russians invaded the northern frontier again in 1680s. After series of battles and negotiations, the two empires signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689 giving China the Amur valley and fixing a border.
At this time the Khalkha Mongols preserved their independence and only paid tribute to the Manchu Empire. A conflict between the Houses of Jasaghtu Khan and Tösheetü Khan led another dispute between the Khalkha and the Dzungar Mongols over influence over Tibetan Buddhism. In 1688 Galdan, the Dzungar chief, invaded and occupied the Khalkha homeland. The Khalkha royal families and the first Jebtsundamba Khutughtu crossed the Gobi Desert, sought help from the Qing Dynasty and, as a result, submitted to the Qing. In 1690, the Zungar and the Manchu Empire clashed at the battle of Ulaan Butun in Inner Mongolia, during which the Qing army was severely mauled by Galdan. In 1696, the Kangxi Emperor himself as commander in chief led 3 armies with a total of 80,000 in the campaign against the Dzungars. The notable second in command general behind Kangxi was Fei Yang Gu who was personally recommended by Zhou Pei Gong. The Western section of the Qing army crushed Galdan’s army at the Battle of Dsuunmod and Galdan died in the next year. The Dzungars continued to threaten China and invaded Tibet in 1717. They took Lhasa with an army 6,000 strong in response to the deposition of the Dalai Lama and his replacement with Lha-bzan Khan in 1706. They removed Lha-bzan from power and held the city for two years, destroying a Chinese army in 1718. Lhasa was not retaken until 1720. Overall speaking, the 8 Banner Army was already in decline. The 8 Banner Army was at this time was inferior to the Qing army at its peak during Huang Taji and early Shunzhi’s reign; however, it was still superior to the later Yongzheng period and even more so than the Qianlong period. In addition, the Green Standard Army was still powerful. Notable generals are Tu Hai, Fei Yang Gu, Zhang Yong, Zhou Pei Gong, Shi Lang, Mu Zhan, Shun Shi Ke, Wang Jing Bao. These generals were noticeably stronger than the Qianlong period’s generals.
All these campaigns would take a great toll on the treasury. At Kangxi’s peak, in the 1680s-1700s, the country had somewhat over 50,000,000 taels. By the end of Kangxi’s reign in 1722, the treasury had only 8,000,000 taels left. Reasons for this great decline:
1. The wars has been taking great amounts of money from the treasury.
2. The borders defense against the Dzungars plus the later civil war in particular in Tibet increased toll a lot on the treasury-driving it to less than 10 million taels.
3. Due to Kangxi’s old age and torn body, Kangxi had no more energy left to handle the corrupt officials directly like he was able to when he was younger. Though Kangxi tried to use kindness to cure the corrupt officials, the corrupt officials were quite noticeable in Kangxi’s final years. Due to the corruptness, the treasury again took a loss. To try and cure this treasury problem, Kangxi advised Yong Prince (the future Yongzheng emperor) some plans and tactics to use make the economy more efficient; however, Kangxi in his life time would not have enough energy or time to make the reforms himself; therefore, leaving job to Yongzheng. The other problem that worried Kangxi when he died was the civil war in Tibet; however, that problem life like the treasury problem would be solved during Yongzheng’s reign.
The Kangxi Emperor ordered the compiling of the most complete dictionary of Chinese characters ever put together, The Kangxi Dictionary. He also invented a very useful and effective Chinese calendar.
Kangxi also was fond of western technology and tried to bring Western technology to China. This was helped through Jesuitmissionaries whom he summoned almost everyday to the Forbidden City. From 1711 to 1723 the Jesuit Matteo Ripa, from the kingdom of Naples, worked as a painter and copper-engraver at the Manchu court. In 1732 Matteo Ripa returned to Naples from China with four young Chinese Christians, all teachers of their native language and formed the “Chinese Institute,” sanctioned by Pope Clement XII to teach Chinese to missionaries and thus advance the propagation of Christianity in China. The “Chinese Institute” turns out to be the first Sinology School of the European Continent and the first nucleus of what would become today’s “Università degli studi di Napoli L’Orientale” (Naples Eastern University).
Kangxi was also the first Chinese Emperor to have played a western instrument, the piano. In many ways this was an attempt to win over the Chinese gentry. Many scholars still refused to serve a foreign conquestion dynasty and remained loyal to the Ming Dynasty. Kangxi persuaded many scholars to work on the dictionary without asking them to formally serve the Qing. In effect they found themselves gradually taking on more and more responsibilities until they were normal officials.
Twice Removing the Crown Prince
One of the greatest mysteries of the Qing Dynasty was the event of Kangxi’s will, which along with three other events, are known as the “Four greatest mysteries of the Qing Dynasty.” To this day, whom Kangxi chose as his successor is still a topic of debate amongst historians, even though, supposedly, he chose Yongzheng, the 4th Prince. Many claimed that Yongzheng faked the will, and some suggest the will had chosen Yinti, the 14th Prince, who was apparently the favorite, as successor.
Kangxi’s first Empress gave birth to his second surviving son Yinreng, who was at age two named Crown Prince of the Great Qing Empire, which at the time, being a Han Chinese custom, ensured stability during a time of chaos in the south. Although Kangxi let several of his sons to be educated by others, he personally brought up Yinreng, intending to make him the perfect heir. Yinreng was tutored by the esteemed mandarin Wang Shan, who was deeply devoted to the prince, and who was to spend the latter years of his life trying to revive Yinreng’s position at court. Through the long years of Kangxi’s reign, however, factions and rivalries formed. Those who favored Yinreng, the 4th Imperial Prince Yinzhen, and the 13th Imperial Prince Yinxiang had managed to keep them in contention for the throne. Even though Kangxi favoured Yinreng and had always wanted the best out of him, Yinreng did not prove co-operative. He was said to have very cruel habits, beaten and killed his subordinates, alleged to have had sexual relations with one of Kangxi’s concubines, which was defined as incest and a capital offense, and purchased young children from the Jiangsu region for his pleasure. Furthermore, Yinreng’s supporters, led by Songgotu, had gradually developed a “Crown Prince Party.” The faction, among other objectives, wished to elevate Yinreng to the Throne as soon as possible, even if it meant using unlawful methods.
Over the years the aging Emperor had kept constant watch over Yinreng, and he was made aware of many of his flaws. The relationship between father and son gradually worsened. Many thought that Yinreng would permanently damage the Qing Empire if he were to succeed the throne. But Kangxi himself also knew that a huge battle at court would ensue if he was to abolish the Crown Prince position entirely. Forty-six years into Kangxi’s reign (1707), Kangxi decided that “after twenty years, he could take no more of Yinreng’s actions, which he partly described in the Imperial Edict as “too embarrassing to be spoken of,” and decided to demote Yinreng from his position as Crown Prince.
With Yinreng rid of and the position empty, discussion began regarding the choice of a new Crown Prince. Yinzhi, Kangxi’s eldest surviving son, the Da-a-go, was placed to watch Yinreng in his newly found house arrest, and assumed that because his father placed this trust in himself, he would soon be made heir. The 1st Prince had at many times attempted to sabotage Yinreng, even employing witchcraft. He went as far as asking Kangxi for permission to execute Yinreng, thus enraging Kangxi, which effectively erased all his chances in succession, as well as his current titles. In Court, the Eighth Imperial Prince, Yinsi, seemed to have the most support among officials, as well as the Imperial Family.
In diplomatic language, Kangxi advised that the officials and nobles at court to stop the debates regarding the position of Crown Prince. But despite these attempts to quiet rumours and speculation as to who the new Crown Prince might be, the court’s daily businesses were strongly disrupted. Furthermore, the 1st Prince’s actions led Kangxi to think that it may have been external forces that caused Yinreng’s disgrace. In the Third Month of the forty-eighth Year of Kangxi’s reign (1709), with the support of the 4th and 13th Imperial Princes, Kangxi re-established Yinreng as Crown Prince to avoid further debate, rumours and disruption at the imperial court. Kangxi had explained Yinreng’s former wrongs as a result of mental illness, and he had had the time to recover, and think reasonably again.
In 1712, during Kangxi’s last visit south to the Yangtze region, Yinreng and his faction yet again vied for supreme power. Yinreng ruled as regent during daily court business in Beijing. He had decided, with bad influence from many of his supporters, to allow an attempt at forcing Kangxi to abdicate when the Emperor returned to Beijing. Through several credible sources, Kangxi had received the news, and with power in hand, using strategic military maneuvering, he saved the Empire from a coup d’etat. When Kangxi returned to Beijing in December 1712, he was enraged, and removed the Crown Prince once more. Yinreng was sent to court to be tried and placed under house arrest.
Kangxi had made it clear that he would not grant the position of Crown Prince to any of his sons for the remainder of his reign, and that he would place his Imperial Valedictory Will inside a box inside Qianqing Palace, only to be opened after his death, and thus no one knew Kangxi’s real intentions. What was on his will is subject to intense historical debate.
Following the abolition, Kangxi made several sweeping changes in the political landscape. The 13th Imperial Prince, Yinxiang, was placed under house arrest for “cooperating” with the former Crown Prince. Yinsi, too, was stripped of all imperial titles, only to have them restored years later. The 14th Imperial Prince Yinti, whom many considered to have the best chance in succession, was named “Border Pacification General-in-chief” quelling rebels and was away from Beijing when the political debates raged on. Yinsi, along with the 9th and 10th Princes, had all pledged their support for Yinti. Yinzhen was not widely believed to be a formidable competitor.
Official documents recorded that during the evening hours of December 20, 1722, Kangxi assembled seven of the non-disgraced Imperial Princes in Beijing at the time, being the 3rd, 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 16th, 17th Princes to his bedside. After his death, Longkodo announced Kangxi’s will of passing the throne to the 4th Prince Yinzhen. Yinti happened to be in Xinjiang fighting a war, and was summoned to Beijing. He did not arrive until days after Kangxi’s death. In the meantime Yinzhen had declared that Kangxi had named him as heir. The dispute over his succession revolves around whether or not Kangxi intended his 4th or 14th son to accede to the throne. (See: Yongzheng) He was entombed at the Eastern Tombs in Zunhua County, Hebei.
- Father: Shunzhi Emperor of China (3rd son)
- Mother: Concubine from the Tongiya clan (1640–1663). Her family was of Jurchen origin but lived among Chinese for generations. It had Chinese family name Tong (佟) but switched to the Manchu clan name Tongiya. She was made the Ci He Dowager Empress (慈和皇太后) in 1661 when Kangxi became emperor. She is known posthumously as Empress Xiao Kang Zhang (Chinese: 孝康章皇后; Manchu: Hiyoošungga Nesuken Eldembuhe Hūwanghu).
- Empress Xiao Cheng Ren (died 1674) from the Heseri clan—married in 1665
- Empress Xiao Zhao Ren (Manchu: Hiyoošungga Genggiyen Gosin Hūwanghu)
- Empress Xiao Yi Ren (Manchu: Hiyoošungga Fujurangga Gosin Hūwanghu)
- Empress Xiao Gong Ren; Manchu: Hiyoošungga Gungnecuke Gosin Hūwanghu) from the Uya clan
- Imperial Noble Consort Jing Min (?–1699) from the Zhanggiya clan.
- Imperial Noble Consort Yi Hui (1668–1743) from the Tunggiya clan.
- Imperial Noble Consort Dun Chi (1683–1768) from the Guargiya clan.
- Noble Consort Wen Xi (?–1695) from the Niuhuru clan.
- Consort Rong (?–1727) from the Magiya clan.
- Consort I (?–1733) from the Gobulo clan.
- Consort Hui (?–1732) from the Nala clan.
- Consort Shun Yi Mi (1668–1744) from the Wang clan was Han chinese from origin.
- Consort Chun Yu Qin (?–1754) from the Chen clan.
- Consort Liang (?–1711) from the Wei clan.
- Children: Many of his children died in infancy. Among those who survived are:
- Yinreng 1674–1725), second son. Initially Heir Apparent and later degraded. Only surviving son of Empress Xiao Cheng
- Yinzhi, third son. Son of consort Rong.
- Yinzhen, later Yongzheng Emperor (1678–1735), fourth son. Son of Empress Xiaogong Ren
- Yinzhuo 1680–1685). Son of Empress Xiaogong Ren
- Yinsi, the Prince Lian (1681, eighth son. Son of concubine Liang Fei of the Wei family
- A son of consort I of the Gobulo clan.
- Son of consort I of the Gobulo clan.
- a son of consort Ting.
- Yinxiang , Prince Yi (1686–1730), son of Min-Fei
- Yinti Prince Xun (1688–1767), son of Empress Xiaogong Ren