Emperor Kangxi’s Methods of Education
Emperor Kangxi (1654 – 1722 AD) of the Qing Dynasty had a very special method of educating his descendants, even among emperors. He had a very large family including 35 sons, 20 daughters, and 97 grandchildren.
So how did Kangxi educate his descendants? He used various methods to teach his children and grandchildren. One method was by example. He took his heirs on hunting expeditions, rounds of inspections, and even to battle. It is through these kinds of hands-on experiences that he raised and trained his children and grandchildren. One important method was that he also used the classroom to teach his children and grandchildren.
The "Study Room" was where the Emperor's family was schooled. During the Kangxi era, the Study Room was located in the "Wu Yi Zhai" (Room of No Leisure) in Chang Chun Garden. Placing the children there prevented them from indulging in play, leisure, comfort, or becoming idle. Details of the Emperor's heirs attending school are described in the book, "Record of Kangxi’s Daily Activities" (unofficial translation) and several other records.
Let us take a look at a typical day to find out how the Emperor's children learned their lessons.
On this particular day, from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m., the princes reviewed the lessons and homework from the previous day. The crown prince was 13 at the time, and he had to get up even earlier to get ready for school. From 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., the teachers arrived at the study room. The Manchurian teacher, Dahata, and the Mandarin teacher, Tang Bindeng, first bowed to the princes as common etiquette, then both checked the children’s’ homework. Meanwhile, the children memorized books, recited books aloud, and were careful to make no mistakes. Then the Mandarin teacher assigned another paragraph for the children to memorize.
After having studied four hours already, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., Emperor Kangxi left the imperial court daily briefing and went to the study room. When the children saw Kangxi, they received him outside at the stairs to the study room. After Kangxi is seated, he wanted the children to recite books. Kangxi randomly selected a paragraph from the book for recital. They had to recite perfectly, with no mistakes. Kangxi said, "When I was young I would read a paragraph aloud 120 times, and recite it 120 times afterwards. It was not until I memorized each paragraph that I moved on to the next paragraph. I learned the lesson paragraph by paragraph." An official commented, "Isn't it enough to recite 100 times?" Kangxi replied that it had to be 120 times. Then, he asked the teachers how the children were doing. Some teachers said that the crown prince was very intelligent and was able to recite the lessons well. Kangxi commented, "You should not praise them and should criticize them more. This is to prevent them from becoming arrogant." After the inspection, the emperor left to tend to the affairs of the state.
Since it was summer, the weather was quite hot. The children were not allowed to carry fans or to fan themselves, and they had to sit up straight. From 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., they practiced calligraphy, and were required to write each character 100 times. Lunch period was from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The servants brought the food and the princes asked the teachers to eat.
After lunch, they continued with their studies without a break. From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., they went outside to a courtyard with bows, arrows and targets. They could either take a rest or engage in physical activities to practice skills such as horseback riding, archery or martial arts.
From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Emperor Kangxi went to the study room again to check the children's work. He also listened to them recite their lessons. The princes formed a line and took turns reciting for the Emperor. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., everyone went outside to practice archery. The children went first, and one by one, they shot arrows at the target. Then it was the teachers' turn. Finally, Kangxi himself shot at the target. According to historical records, time after time, Kangxi’s arrows hit the bull's eye. Practicing archery was the last lesson of the day. Every day, this was the schedule, from 3 a.m. to 7 p.m. and without a break, throughout the summer and winter.
We can see that Kangxi educated his children using very strict discipline. Under his tutelage, Kangxi's heirs developed various types of talents. The first talent was politics. Emperor Kangxi's son, Yongzheng, became the next emperor. His grandson, Qianlong, also became an emperor. Both Yongzheng and Qianlong were outstanding emperors in the history of China. Thus, one can conclude that Kangxi's method of teaching was very successful.
The second talent was scholarship. Kangxi's third son, Yinzhi, was a distinguished scientist. He was one of the contributors to the Imperial Encyclopedia
, which consisted of 10,000 volumes.
The third talent was the development of artistic skills. Some of the princes excelled in calligraphy and painting.
The fourth talent was "life skills." Some of the princes' mothers did not have high status amongst the Emperor's concubines. Thus, those princes could not compete for the emperor's position. However, these princes led peaceful and productive lives.
Because of the success of Emperor Kangxi's method of education, none of his heirs became a wastrel, playboy, or criminal.