Emperor Kangxi, ruler in the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912 AD), was born in the Forbidden Palace on lunar calendar March 18 of the 11th year of the Shunzhi Era (May 4, 1654). His birth name was Aisin-Jueluo Xuanye, and he was the son of Lady Dong. He died at age 69 on November 13 in the 61st year of the Kangxi Era (December 20, 1722) at Clear Creek Library of Chang Chuen Garden (Garden of Everlasting Spring). His 61 years of rule made him the emperor with the longest reign in Chinese history.
Administrating State Affairs with Diligence and Caution
Kangxi embodied three different races in his bloodline, three cultures, and three types of characteristics. His father was Manchurian, his grandmother Mongolian, and his mother Han. He grew up under the influences of the three cultures. His Manchurian master taught him the Manchu language as well as riding and shooting. His Han master taught him the Four Books (Da Xue
, Zhong Yong
, Lun Yu
, and Meng Zi
) and the Five Classics (Shi
, and Chun Qiu
), which instilled Confucianism in him. Kangxi emphasized diligence and caution when administrating state affairs. At age 14, he assumed power and started to participate in state affairs. The emperor personally held meetings with his top officials at the Palace of Heavenly Purity and discussed and made decisions on affairs of national defense and administration. Among the participating officials were nine ministers: one minister each from the Ministry of Rites, the Board of Civil Service, the Ministry of Revenue, the Ministry of War, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Works; the head of the Ministry of Supervision; the head of the Supreme Court; and the Prime Minister. There were also officials to record the emperor's daily activities.
Rain or shine, Kangxi held court every day at 7:00 a.m. with his ministers to discuss national affairs and the reports received by the imperial court. This tradition was carried on in the Qing Dynasty from Emperor Kangxi to Emperor Guangxu. When administrating state affairs, Kangxi used extra caution. In his early days, he wrote three major national topics on the columns of the imperial court: the revolt of the three feudatories in Yunnan, Guangdong and Fujian; River Work; and Water Transportation. He sent his imperial guards on a round trip of 10,000 kilometers to the source of the Yellow River in order to create the first Yellow River Map in Chinese history. He then appointed capable official Jinfu to be the River Governor to stay on top of the River Work. Jinfu submitted eight memoranda daily to communicate his ideas about administrating the rivers.
Compilation of Books and Garden Construction
Kangxi focused on culture and education. Under him, learning from the Hans of the south, the South Study System was established. He personally went to Qufu to pay formal visits to the Temple of Confucius. Emperor Kangxi participated in organizing, compiling, and publishing approximately 60 books, calendars, and maps, including such works as The Kangxi Dictionary
, The Imperial Encyclopedia
, Understanding Astronomy
, Abstruse and Profound Mathematical Content
, Peiwen Yunfu
(Chinese Dictionary of Rhymes
), Manchu Polyglot Dictionary
, Kangxi Yongnian Ephemeris
, Emperor Kangxi and All Maps
. More than twenty thousand volumes of these books, calenders, and maps have become important treasures of Chinese civilization.
It was also under Kangxi that Chang Chuen Garden, Chengde Summer Resort, and Rehe Mulan Paddock were constructed. His grandson, Emperor Qianlong, continued with the effort to build "Three Mountains and Five Gardens." (The Three Mountains included Longevity Hill, Fragrant Hill, and Jade Spring Hill; the Five Gardens included the Garden of Everlasting Spring, the Old Summer Palace, the Garden of Tranquility and Brightness, the Garden of Tranquility and Pleasure, and the Summer Palace.) These efforts pushed Chinese classical garden art to its apex and form a treasured heritage for Chinese civilization. Chengde Summer Resort, an imperial garden that was twice as big as the Summer Palace, was by no means an ordinary resting place for the emperor and his guests. Influenced by Mongolian and Tibetan architecture, these resorts and gardens intended to create a homecoming feeling for the royal families and nobility.
Making a Good Relationship with the Mongolians, Emphasizing Agriculture, and Taming Rivers
Mongolia used to be divided into three parts: Southern Mongolia, Western Mongolia, and Northern Mongolia. Through the efforts of Kangxi’s great-grand father, Nurhachi, and grandfather, Hong Taiji, Southern Mongolia (also known as Inner Mongolia) was completely conquered. However, the Western Mongolia, or Junggar Mongolia, was under the control of Galdan Khan. He and his army posed a threat to the Qing Dynasty and attacked at different times. Kangxi decided to fight Galdan, leading the Qing troops personally, and defeated him. In addition, through a series of measures, Kangxi also solved issues with Khalkha in Northern Mongolia or Outer Mongolia. As Kangxi said, "In the past, the Qin Dynasty built the Great Wall. My dynasty bestows mercy on Khalkha, directing it to guard against the North, thus forming a stronger defense than the Great Wall." The Mongolia problem that existed for over two thousand years, from the Qin/Han Dynasties up to the Ming Dynasty, was thus solved by Emperor Kangxi. This is an important contribution to Chinese history.
Due to long periods of war from the late Ming to early Qing Dynasties, agricultural production was severely hampered. Kangxi led a series of measures to restore and develop agricultural production. He ended the practice of Manchu nobles plundering farmland. He personally went to the Jiangnan area (south of the Yangzi River) six times to inspect water resources. He repaired the Yellow River, Huai River, and Yongding River. Kangxi emphasized agricultural production, taming rivers, and conserving water. These were great accomplishments.
Emperor Kangxi was a master of both the pen and the sword. He was well versed in traditional culture but also studied Western science. He was a master of both shooting and riding, he had the capability to repulse Galdan through military campaigns, and to stabilize and manage the nation. He was able to develop strategies to ensure victory from thousands of miles away. His victories in the campaigns against the "Three Rebellions," Russia and the recovery of Taiwan were all achieved while commanding from Beijing, thousands of miles away from the battlefield. These demonstrated his remarkable military talent. In addition, Kangxi had extraordinary political vision and insight. He chose to create the "Duolun Alliance" to ally with Mongolian tribes instead of constant war, and used treaties to ensure that the territory of Heilongjiang was not violated. Kangxi also emphasized education, which laid the foundation for the century-long, peak ruling period of the Qing Dynasty, which is often called the "Kangxi and Qianlong Prosperous Era."