Emperor Kangxi Was a Wise Ruler and a Paragon of Benevolence (3 of 3)
3) Virtue and morality were of utmost importance, starting with self-discipline and the cultivation of oneself
Kangxi adhered to the principle "Honor Confucianism and value Daoism." When he assumed the administration of the government at the age of 14, he accepted the idea of the Han Chinese officials. Hundreds of officials participated in the grand ceremony at the imperial college to honor Confucius. When he first went south to inspect the area, he visited the Confucian temple in Qu Fu, Shandong Province, and paid honor to Confucius by "kneeling three times with the head touching the ground nine times." He personally wrote four Chinese characters "wan shi shi biao" (meaning "Confucius--a Paragon for All Generations") and hung it in the palace to show his determination to rule the nation by Confucian philosophy. Later he praised Zhu Xi, who promulgated the philosophies of Confucius and Mencius. Han scholars and Confucian scholars were deeply moved. They said, "Your majesty highly honors Confucius as his teacher. This indicates that your majesty is wise, extraordinary, and noble. You are like a Han Chinese Emperor, and are not from a foreign race from the north nor a head of a barbarian tribe. You are truly an Emperor mandated from heaven! We have been studying the books from the sages diligently. Now is the time for us to serve our country diligently."
Kangxi was very strict with himself. He began his studies at the age of five and studied day and night, winter and summer. He even forgot to eat and sleep. He loved calligraphy and wrote more than a thousand characters a day. He studied the Four Books: the Great Learning
, Doctrine of the Mean
, the Analects of Confucius
, and the Mencius
, was able to recite every single character and never cheated. During inspection tours, whether riding the boat late in the evening or living at a special designated place away from the palace, he was always reading, composing poems, or writing essays. Even at the age of 60, he read constantly. He was well versed in literature, history, geography, mathematics, medicine, and many other disciplines. Even the scholars admired him for his deep knowledge. Kangxi directed scholars to compile The History of Ming
, The Complete Book of Tang Poetry
, and the Kangxi Dictionary
. He left behind precious cultural treasures. From the day he took over the administration of the government until he died, he insisted on going to the imperial palace and listening to administrative reports from the ministers. He administered state affairs almost daily, except on days when he was ill, when the nation celebrated the three important holidays, or when there was an unexpected crisis.
Kangxi promoted frugality. He said about his attire, "Ever since I acceded to the throne, I have encouraged frugality. I wear ordinary clothing and shoes that are made of regular cloth." Joachim Bouvet, a Frenchman who visited China, wrote to the King of France, "Kangxi's indifference to worldly gain and his plain and simple lifestyle are unprecedented in history. He eats two meals a day, which are very simple. He wears the most ordinary clothing. On rainy days we sometimes see him wearing a felt jacket, which is considered plain and coarse clothing in China. During the summer, we see him wearing an ordinary linen short coat, which is also worn by ordinary people. Except during holidays and special ceremonies, the only luxurious item he wears is a large bead. The bead is what the Manchus wear on their hats during the summertime. He does not have any extravagant desires. His indifference to worldly gain is unimaginable, and it is reflected in the clothes he wears and in his lifestyle."
Kangxi followed the principle of filial piety. He was very respectful to his mother and grandmother. Not only did he visit Ci Ning Palace every day to pay his respects, but when Xiao Zhuang Grand Dowager Empress fell ill, he walked several times to the Altar of Heaven (in Beijing, where the emperors used to worship) to pray for her and made a wish that he would give up his life in order for his grandmother to live longer. After Xiao Zhuang Grand Dowager Empress died, Kangxi was extremely sad. He personally placed his grandmother's body in the coffin. He cut his hair and wore mourning clothes. He also stood outside of Ci Ning Palace during Chinese New Year's Eve. His ministers pleaded with him to return to his palace but he refused. Later, he continued to visit Ci Ning Palace every day where every item reminded him of his grandmother. He issued the famous "Sixteen Rules of the Imperial Edict," which provide guidelines for officials and civilians. And of the sixteen rules, filial piety was the most important.
Since ancient history, there was rarely anyone in power who did not declare his intent to govern the nation with benevolence and filial piety. But how many of them were truly "benevolent" and "filial?" Even if they constantly talked about the four cardinal virtues (propriety, justice, honesty, and sense of shame) they still behaved like scoundrels. We just need to remember Emperor Jie (Xia Dynasty) and Emperor Zhou (Shang Dynasty). During their reigns, "to govern a nation with virtue" was a complete lie.
Kangxi served the people well and practiced what he preached. From the way he governed the nation, the government officials, the military, the prison, and the river system, we can see nobility and true "virtue" in everything he did. He bequeathed his benevolent virtue and meritorious contribution in heaven and on earth. He left behind his goodwill for future generations and improved humanity for centuries! The proverb "The people will never forget a ruler who governs the nation with magnificent virtue and utmost benevolence" holds absolutely true.
: 一代明君 仁者风范