Kangxi Emperor — The Longest Reigning Monarch in the History of China
Kangxi Emperor (1654 — 1722), personal name Xuanye, respected as Emperor Shengzu of Qing, was a remarkable monarch of the Qing Dynasty and the longest (61 years) reigning sovereign throughout the ancient history of China.
Under his ruling period, the nation was unified, and civilians lived stable lives when the economy and agriculture were increasing steadily.
Portrait of Kangxi Emperor, By Court Artist of the Qing Dynasty — Palace Museum
Teenager Kangxi Emperor and His Aggressive Regent
Xuanye and his mother were not quite appreciated by his father, the Shunzhi Emperor (1638 — 1661).
When his father, Shunzhi, paid most of his attention to his favorite concubine Dong and their beloved son, Xuanye studied diligently.
After Shunzhi Emperor died, Xuanye ascended to the throne as Kangxi Emperor when he was only seven years old. Two years later, his birth mother passed away because of sickness.
This was a big pity for Kangxi, who had barely spent happy family times with his parents.
Luckily, his grandmother Empress Xiaozhuangwen (1613 — 1688), a remarkable female politician, loved and supported him since he was born.
Portrait of Empress Xiaozhuangwen, By Court Artist of the Qing Dynasty — Palace Museum
Besides his grandmother, the child emperor was assisted by four other regents to reign the empire.
One of them was Oboi (or Ao Bai), a contributed, brave, but arrogant official who obtained paramount power and had done many illegal activities.
Besides, when Kangxi turned 14 and started taking over authorities, Oboi refused to return any power while challenging the young emperor.
One year later, Kangxi commanded his guards to ambush and capture Oboi during a meeting. Then, with the assistance of Empress Xiaozhuangwen, he brought Oboi to justice and perished his entire party.
Afterward, the 15 years old emperor obtained all the centralized power.
Chair Decorated Using the Antlers that Were Hunted by Kangxi Emperor Himself — Palace Museum
Unifying the Nation
Four years later, despite strong opponents from his officials, Kangxi insisted on abolishing three kings by commanding them to hand over all authorities of their independent fiefs, reorganizing their private elite troops, and migrating to remote places.
This caused the Three Feudatories' Revolt (San Fan Zhi Luan).
Led by excellent general Wu Sangui, they occupied half of China and kept expanding.
Kangxi offered the amnesty policy to other forces and only attacked Wu Sangui firmly.
The differentiation policy worked well, after which some forces surrendered to the emperor.
This war lasted eight years until Wu Sangui died, and his grandson committed suicide.
Part of the "Dong Weiguo Ji Gong Tu" that Described Qing's General Dong Defeating Wu Sangui's Rebellion, Painted by Artist Huang Bi in 1677 — National Museum of China
After this success, large numbers of cities in southern China were included in the Qing Empire’s absolute control.
At the same time, the king of Taiwan, who dedicated his entire life to recovering the Ming Dynasty, passed away, and his weak son inherited the title.
Kangxi Emperor sent his army to attack them; two years later, Taiwan was officially under the Qing Empire’s reign.
Until then, the last powerful force still loyal to the former Ming Dynasty complied with Qing.
Afterward, Kangxi spent the following decades further extending territory in the northwest and northeast of China; he even led the Qing army and participated in some battles to ensure the final success.
Under his reign, the whole nation was finally unified.
Calligraphy of Kangxi "Liu Tiao Bian Wang Yue" — Palace Museum
Beginning of Autocracy
Kangxi was sometimes criticized for banning maritime trade and implementing Literary Inquisitions.
Also, the system that imperial censors could freely criticize everything without being killed, which had been widely popularized in former dynasties like Song (960 — 1279) and Ming (1368 — 1644), was completely abrogated in the Qing Dynasty.
No one could criticize the powerful ruling class; writing or reading some “rebel books” (mainly regarding good memories of the former Ming Dynasty) would be punished, even sentenced to death.
These strict policies set a foundation for the autarchy of the Qing Dynasty.
Despite these, Kangxi was still an excellent monarch that nominated many talented officials, = abolished the Enclosure Movement again, and lowered many types of taxes.
Many public projects were completed during his reign, including constructing flood control systems, improving the water transportation system, repairing Grand Canal, etc.
He respected Confucianism as the official ideology and commanded scholars to edit and publish calendars, maps, and a series of classics, such as the Kangxi Dictionary.
As a big fan of western science, Kangxi had learned a lot from western Jesuit missionaries.
He had visited many places in China, trying to get first-hand information on people’s living conditions and to show civilians his determination to bring them wealthy lives.
Part of "Kangxi's Southern Inspection Tour" (Kangxi Nan Xun Tu) that Describes His Visit in Jiangsu Province, Painted by Wang Hui and Yang Jin in 1691 to 1693 — Palace Museum
Contention Over the Throne Among Princes
Maybe because he felt sorry for rarely spending family time with his parents, Kangxi Emperor tried his best to love and care for his kids.
His first queen, also the love of his life, passed away after giving birth to their first baby boy. He then nominated this boy as the crown prince and carefully educated him.
Kangxi also gave his sons many opportunities to get involved in politics.
He intended to raise his boys as strong, brilliant politicians that would contribute to the flourishing of their empire.
Portrait of Empress Xiaochengren (1654 — 1674), the First Queen of Kangxi Emperor, by A Court Artist of the Qing Dynasty.
However, with them obtaining more power, their desires also kept growing.
When many qualified princes were equally ambitious and resourceful, intense competition over the throne would arise.
Years later, he abolished his beloved crown prince, re-titled, abrogated, and imprisoned him until death.
In the end, the irresolution in choosing his heir and the permission of all of his sons to participate in politics gave most adult princes big hope to compete for the throne.
Consequently, nine of his adult sons and a large number of officials got entangled in the intense contention over the throne, which caused the empire some backslides in Kangxi's late years.
After Kangxi passed away in his palace, his fourth son Yin Zhen immediately took control of everything and ascended to the throne.
The new emperor demoted or imprisoned those princes involved in the intense contention.
Despite the chaos and partial conflict in his late years, Kangxi has been widely respected as an excellent and decisive emperor of China with remarkable achievements.
Jadeite Censer of the Qing Dynasty — The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)
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