Yongzheng Emperor Yin Zhen — Founder of the Most Autocratic Agency in History of China
Yin Zhen (1678 — 1735), respected as Yongzheng Emperor or Emperor Shizong of Qing, was the most creative sovereign of the Qing Dynasty.
He was a remarkable monarch who brought his people wealthy and stable lives, a real fighter who bravely battled with the ruling class, a sovereign with many discredits and a controversial ending, and a playful person who liked to cosplay.
Meanwhile, as the founder of the most autocratic agency, the Grand Council of State, he probably was the most powerful emperor in the history of China.
Portrait of Yongzheng Emperor, By Court Artist of the Qing Dynasty — Palace Museum
An Alienated and Well Experienced Prince
Yin Zhen was the fourth son of the Kangxi Emperor, but he didn’t get much attention from his father, who spent more time parenting the current crown prince.
Yin Zhen’s mother was not noble enough to take care of him (in Qing’s royal palace, only honorable queens or imperial concubines with high status had the right to take care of their sons on their own), so he was raised by another superior consort.
However, when Yin Zhen was ten, his mother gave birth to his younger brother and gained the right to raise this baby boy on her own, which made her always favor his little brother.
Like other princes, Yin Zhen went to school early and started participating in politics as a teenager.
He traveled to many places in China and obtained first-hand information about the civilians’ daily lives, and he has respected Taoism and Buddhism since then.
Cyan Glaze Flask Produced Under Yongzheng Emperor's Reign — Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Perfect Disguise and Scheme in Contention Over the Throne
After the first time that his father abrogated the crown prince, Yin Zhen and many of his other adult brothers started their intense competition over the throne.
Yin Zhen seemed not very aggressive or outstanding among his brothers. Still, he was an intelligent double dealer who made his father and other brothers believe that he was only a loyal and capable prince that never had wishful thinking about the throne.
He also secretly achieved support from two important officials, one was in charge of the security of the royal palace, and the other was an excellent general who could protect the kingdom.
Weapons of the Qing Dynasty Decorated With Gems and Copper — Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Yin Zhen finally won the throne when he was 44, though many rumors said he was not the one his father assigned.
After Yin Zhen became the Yongzheng Emperor, he demoted or imprisoned all his brothers that had competed for the throne with him, including his little brother, who had the same mother as him.
Moreover, Yongzheng Emperor’s birth mother never felt happy about his success. Instead, she was very upset about him having expelled his little brother, who had been a strong competitor.
So, she refused the title of empress dowager and passed away a few months after Yongzheng ascended to the throne.
Afterward, Yongzheng Emperor spent around three years perishing all of his competitors’ political groups. His two important supporters were also demoted and imprisoned until death for controversial reasons.
Yongzheng Emperor's Comments (Red Characters) on Officials' Reports — Palace Museum
Yongzheng Emperor as the Most Powerful Monarch in History
When Yongzheng Emperor ascended to the throne, he took over from his father a government full of partial conflicts and corrupted officials, and a relatively empty exchequer, because of some long-term wars.
Consequently, the Yongzheng Emperor became a diligent monarch who cared about his people and was a brave and real fighter.
Besides his tough and complete defeat of those political parties, Yongzheng Emperor sternly and equally punished and executed those corrupted officials, no matter how noble these people were.
He then established an administrative office (the Grand Council of State) that only reported to himself, which strongly enhanced his centralized power and made him the most powerful emperor in the history of China.
Yongzheng Emperor's Seal, Carved with "Diligent and Affectionate" (Qin Zheng Qin Xian) — Palace Museum
Epic Fighting Against the Entire Ruling Class
At the beginning of the Yongzhen Emperor's reign, he implemented innovative reforms that jeopardized almost the entire ruling class's benefit while benefiting those poor and humble civilians.
Since then, Yongzheng Emperor led a few of his loyal officials to fight against the entire ruling class.
One of his most influential policies required everyone to pay the tax.
Before, the noble class, political officials, and knowledgeable people who achieved scores in the Imperial Examination didn't need to pay for tax when knowledge was an influential privilege in ancient Chinese culture.
After Yongzheng Emperor's new policy, everyone except for royals and a few extremely noble Manchu families needed to pay the tax.
This displeased almost the entire ruling class, though it increased national income.
Part of Painting "Yongzheng Ji Xian Nong Tan Tu", About Yongzheng Emperor Worshiping the Deities of Agriculture in the Temple of Agriculture (Xian Nong Tan) of Beijing to Pray for Harvest — Palace Museum
Therefore, literate people frequently discredited him throughout history; his son Qianlong Emperor abolished this policy right after Yongzheng passed away.
As for civilians, his new tax system, in which people pay tax based on the number of lands they own instead of the number of people in the family, efficiently eased the civilian’s financial pressure and encouraged agriculture.
Conversely, those wealthy landowners needed to pay much more money.
Hence, besides those unhappy powerful people from the ruling class, the Yongzheng Emperor also displeased those rich people.
Part of Painting "Yongzheng Shier Yue Xing Le Tu", About Yongzheng Emperor and His Family's Daily Lives in the Old Summer Palace, By Artist Giuseppe Castiglione — Palace Museum
The Invention of New Inherit System and Fan of Cosplay
Yongzheng Emperor highly respected Confucianism; additionally, many of his powerful and trusted officials were Han people, which made him the only monarch in the Qing Dynasty who realized race equality in his government.
However, he also implemented the Literary Inquisition and suppressed the business trades, as his father did.
Moreover, to avoid intense and cruel competition over the throne, as he and his brothers had done before, Yongzheng Emperor wrote down the name of his chosen heir in two sealed envelopes and hid them in two different places.
After he passed away, people would open those envelopes together and welcome the new emperor.
This then became the inheritance system of the Qing Dynasty for a long time.
Golden Box of the Qing Dynasty Decorated with Gems — Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
To many people’s surprise, Yongzhen Emperor was a big cosplay fan. He left many pictures of him wearing different clothes and doing various things.
As an extremely busy and diligent emperor, it’s unlikely that Yongzhen had worn, posed, and done those things.
Maybe this was a means for him to experience things he wanted to do; perhaps he was just a cosplay fan.
Those paintings are well preserved in the Forbidden City, also named the Palace Museum, to show the world the fun side of the Yongzhen Emperor.
Some Yongzheng Emperor's Different Cosplay Figures in "Yongzheng Xing Le Tu", By Court Artists of the Qing Dynasty — Palace Museum
Controversial Death of Yongzheng Emperor
Yongzheng Emperor's death was sudden, and the official document was simple. Hence, there were many gossip versions about his departure, including assassination, stroke, poison, etc.
His frequent travels when he was young and intense fights against the entire ruling class after becoming the emperor brought him many possible assassins and reasons. Till today, his death is still an unknown mystery.
During the 13 years of the Yongzheng Emperor's reign, his kingdom improved significantly.
He was famous for his diligent and efficient work and severe means of fighting against corruption.
Yongzheng Emperor was a rare monarch that implemented policies that robbed the ruling class and the rich to feed the poor.
As a brave fighter for civilians and a big "traitor" to the ruling class, he was, like his comment, just a fearless and straightforward man.
After Yongzheng Emperor left the world, he passed to his son a stable kingdom with a very rich exchequer, little corruption, and no partially conflicting or powerful clans that could manipulate politics.
Kiln Transformed Glaze Wine Container (Zun) Produced Under Yongzheng Emperor's Reign — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)
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