Saturday, October 3, 2009

Monarch Profile: Emperor KangXi

With the recent news about China it will be theraputic to look back on a more glorious era in the history of the "Middle Kingdom" to the reign of Emperor KangXi, usually considered one of the top two or three greatest emperors of the Manchu dynasty. The longest reigning monarch in the history of imperial China he took the "Great Qing Empire" to its peak of size and power, eventually ruling over all of modern day China, Outer Mongolia, parts of what is now Russia and having Korea as a tributary protectorate. Being only eight years old when he became emperor he had a regency to rule on his behalf for the first six years but showed much early promise and took the reins of government at age 14. By the age of 18 he was already leading military expeditions to crush uprisings of Ming loyalists. To consolidate his rule he softened the Manchu treatment of the Han Chinese, lowered taxes and stopped land confiscation, encouraged agriculture and curtailed corruption by increasing salaries.

He also impressed the Chinese scholars by his sincere study of Chinese literature, even commissioning a history of the Ming dynasty. Something of a renaissance man he was interested in a variety of subjects and made extensive use of the talents of the Jesuit mission. He also loved to travel and increased his knowledge of the country as well as his popularity by going on numerous tours of the country to show himself to the people. He also stressed upright behavior and the Confucian moral code and made it mandatory that the "16 Moral Principles" of Confucius were read in all provinces twice a month. He strengthened Qing rule over Tibet and Central Asia and after his forces were defeated by the Mongols of Galdan Khan he led an expedition himself which subdued the Mongols and brought Outer Mongolia into the Qing Empire. He also fought two wars with Russia, winning the first and ending the second by negotiation.

Emperor KangXi had a great sense of duty and by all accounts was quite a humane man who rarely made use of the death penalty. He rose early, worked hard, was not over-indulgent and was quite a devout Buddhist. His few hours of relaxation were usually spent reading, painting or hunting before returning to his administrative work long into the night. He was less successful with his family life, most considering his son and heir spoiled and dissolute. KangXi was heartbroken by his behavior and finally demoted him and did not name his fourth son as his heir until he was on his death bed. He died on November 13, 1722 after reigning 61 years, 310 days.

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