Monday, June 9, 2014

The Golden Age of Manchu Dynasty - Emperor Kangxi

Emperor Kangxi
There only few foreign dynasty that led China, one of the most longest and most well-known was the last dynasty of Empire – the Manchu led Qing Dynasty. In the 16th century, the Manchus were still consolidating their hold of the Chinese Empire. The Manchu Emperors were wise enough to know that to control China, they must not just rule it militarily but also culturally. He Manchus must show and make themselves Chinese. One of the most famous Manchu Emperors that would consolidate China militarily and launch a new golden age of Chinese culture was Emperor Kangxi.

Kangxi was born as Prince Xuanyue. He was the third son of Emperor Shunzhi from Empress Xiao Kang. At a very young age, at 8, his father, the Emperor died. Prince Xuanyue was then chosen to succeed his late father. He chose the reign name of Kangxi or lasting peace. Because of his age, Kangxi early reign was dominated by four regents. Sonin, Suksaha, Ebilun, and Oboi would managed the daily state affairs until the Emperor reach his majority. The four, however, competed for power. Sonin luckily died in 1667 before he was caught up in the power struggle. Suksaha was more unfortunate. He was arrested and later executed for alleged crimes accused by Oboi. Ebilun was much more pacifist. He chose to resign instead of fighting for power.

With three regents gone, Oboi was the sole power behind the throne. However, it won’t last long. In 1669, Kangxi had enough of his regent. With the help of his grandmother, the Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang, Oboi was toppled down from his post. Kangxi then immediately took the reins of power.

As Kangxi took personally the state affairs, he faced immediate and serious problems. In 1673, three generals in the Guangdong, Yunnan, and Fujian provinces rebelled. The Three Feudatories Rebellion began. General Shang Zhixin, Wu Sangui, and Geng Jingzhong rose to rebellion and wanted to become independent from the Manchu hegemony. Wu Sangui proclaimed the establishment of a new dynasty, the Zhou. The Emperor acted immediately to quell the rebellion. However, it was difficult to quell. It lasted for several years before it began to disintegrate. In 1676, Geng Jingzhong surrendered to Manchu forces in 1676, followed by Shang Zhixin in 1677. Wu Sangui remained stubborn. He continued his rebellion up to his death in 1678. But his death did not mark the end of the rebellion. Wu’s son, Wu Shifan continued the rebellion and headed the renegade Zhou Dynasty. Later on, with the help from new cannon’s made by Jesuit priests, Kangxi’s forces marched triumphantly to the center of the rebellion, Yunnan. Wu Shifan committed suicide. As Yunnan fell to Kangxi, the ring leaders who earlier surrendered were put to death.

While the Three Feudatories, Kangxi simultaneously handled the crushing anti-Manchu pro Ming controlled island of Formosa (modern day Taiwan). The Zheng family established the small Kingdom of Tungning in Formosa. Zheng Chenggong, otherwise known as Koxinga, was the founder and leader of the kingdom from 1660’s up to his death in 1681. The Manchus feared the small Kingdom as it would later might bring destabilization to the Manchu rule. And so in 1681, when Zheng died, the Kangxi saw it as a chance to invade the island and destroy the last vestige of Ming loyalist. Thus, Admiral Shi Lang was placed in command of a fleet of over 600 ships to annex Formosa. In 1683, Admiral Shi scored a decisive victory against the Tungning Kingdom in the Battle of Penghu. After the battle, the Kingdom fell and was completely integrated by the Manchus to their Empire. It was placed under the jurisdiction of the Fujian Province.

As the flames of resistance in the south ended, troubles loomed in the western corners of the Empire. Dzungar marauders wreak havoc in the western part of China, in modern day Xinjiang Province precisely. Galdan Khan led the Dzungars in war against the Chinese. Galdan even attacked the Buddhist country of Tibet. Emperor Kangxi then moved quickly to retaliate against the Dzungar barbarians. Several times, he would care to go and lead the troops personally in the front. The war dragged on up to the 1690’s.  In 1696, Galdan Khan died which brought end to the war. He was then succeeded by Arabtan Khan who was more sympathetic to the Qing. As the war against the Dzungar ended, China had access up to the provinces of Khokand and Badakshan.

Meanwhile, in the north, China also faced another trouble. During the last half of the 1600’s, China and Russia had border tension. Some even became aggressive and led o conflict. The center of the conflict was the Russian settlement of Albazin near the Amur River. Russian tried to protect its interests. Eventually, in 1689, China and Russia signed a treaty in Nerchinsk that would. The treaty eased tensions between the two Empires. China was able to secure the Amur River and it also received back Albazin. It also managed to take a hold of Outer Mongolia.

The reign of Emperor Kangxi experienced a period of economic prosperity. Trade continued to flourish as the same way during the previous Ming Dynasty. The East India Company set up a trade house in Amoy. In agriculture, China had bountiful harvests. The farmers experienced the benefits of their great harvests because of a new tax system imposed Emperor Kangxi and his ministers.

Prosperous in general, but farming in the south faced a serious threat. A threat made by nature. In Central China, the Yellow River, known as the River of Sorrow, caused huge floods during the rainy season. Floods brought by the Yellow River caused damaged to properties, to farms, and to the economy. Throughout the reign of Kangxi, he would make six inspection tours to the south. He used the Grand Canal hat connected the Yellow River and the Yangtze. Through his six tours he remained concern of the devastating floods. In each of his visit he would hear and try to implement solutions that would solve the problem. In 1687, he approved a plan that involved hydraulics and dykes in order to divert the flow of the river. This solution was able to lighten the problem.

Another problem that caused great concern to Emperor Kangxi was the calendar used by the Manchus. The calendar was old and outdated. It was considered to be similar to a Ptolemaic Calendar. Kangxi was not just a war leader, he was also an intellectual. He was a cultured and a learned man. He personally was impressed by the knowledge and teaching skills of the Jesuit priest. He then used the Jesuits to transfer knowledge to the Chinese. He appointed Jesuits to the Imperial Board of Astronomy. One of its key figure was Fr. Ferdinand Verbiest. He helped to improved and modernized the Manchu calendars.

His relation with the Jesuit was more beyond than science. It also involved religion. As colonialism spread across Asia in the 16th century, more and more missionaries arrived in Asia to spread the word of God. China was not immune. Many missionaries from various Catholic orders landed to evangelist the Chinese. Emperor Kangxi was tolerant to them, especially to the Jesuits, when he announced it in 1692. By the time of Kangxi rule, Chinese converts were in tens of thousands.

During the reign Kangxi, however, Christianity faced a serious controversy. In 1705, Pope Clement XI sent a message that asked to ban the traditional ancestral worship rituals of the Chinese. The Catholic Church saw the practice as a type of idolatry. To the Chinese, ancestral worship dated back from time immemorial. They saw as part of their Confucian tradition and Kangxi knew its value. He saw ancestral worship not in contrast of Christianity. And in 1716, he issued an edict that would expel all of Christian missionaries who pushed for the abolishing of the ancestral worship. Because of this edict, most missionaries left in China were Jesuits who shared the view of Emperor Kangxi.

Besides religion and science, Emperor Kangxi was a patron of arts and letters.  As a Manchu emperor he wanted to learn about his mostly Han Chinese subjects. He studied the Confucian Classics, Chinese literature. He also collected various poetries. He even had a collection of Tang Dynasty poetries. To show further his love for Chinese culture, during his six southern inspection tours he paid homage to important locations to the Chinese culture. In 1684, he visited the tomb of Confucius. He also climbed up to the Mt. Tai which was a sacred mountain for Emperor to climb and pay respects to the spirits.  He also made many contributions to the Chinese culture. In 1700, he ordered the creation of an encyclopedia about China which was titles A Collection of Books and Illustrations of Ancient and Modern Times. In 1710, he ordered the creation of a dictionary of the Chinese language, containing more than two thousand characters. In addition, in 1716, a study of geography of China titled The Complete Atlas of the Empire was finished.

For the whole part of Kangxi’s reign, China prospered, but the last part of his reign, faced serious challenged. As the aging Emperor became frail, family intrigue and completion intensified. Fight for succession was becoming a hot topic. Emperor Kangxi mishandled this. Thus when he died in 1722, princes fought for the throne. After serious power struggle within the imperial family, Prince Yinzhen rose to the dragon throne and ruled as Emperor Yongzheng.

Even though his death saw political struggle, his long sixty year reign, the longest in Chinese recorded history, saw the golden age of the Manchu Dynasty. Under his guidance, the dynasty finally saw political consolidation and stability. Chinese culture flourished and developed under his reign. His enlightened and his strong leadership made him one of the most respected Emperor in Chinese history.
Giles, H. China and Manchus. 1999. Li, Xiaobing (ed.). China at War: An Encyclopedia. California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2012.

Perkins, D. Encyclopedia of China: An Essential Reference to China, Its History and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2013. 

“Emperor Kangxi – The Emperor Who Reigned for the Longest Period in Chinese History. Accessed June 5, 2014.

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