(Clearwisdom.net) Aixin-Juelo Xuanye, whose title during his reign was Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722), acceded to the Qing Dynasty imperial throne at the age of eight and ruled for 61 years. The name "Kangxi" was derived from the proverb, "Civilians living a life that is healthy, peaceful, prosperous, and abundant." Emperor Kangxi was a noble, generous, and compassionate ruler. He was determined to build a great nation. During his reign, China became the world's largest and strongest nation, with the largest population, the richest economy, and the most glorious culture. Emperor Kangxi established the "Prosperous Era of Kangxi and Qianlong" and was a wise ruler, rarely seen in the history of China.

Photo: Portrait of Emperor Kangxi


With benevolence and tolerance, Emperor Kangxi united China

When Emperor Kangxi acceded to the throne, China was wrought with internal strife and suffered continued foreign invasions. People lived in misery and could not enjoy peace. At the time, China was not a unified country, and many railed against the imperial court. Grand Dowager Empress Xiao Zhuang asked Emperor Kangxi for his opinion on the nation's situation and he replied, "Those who are benevolent don't have enemies." He also said to his ministers, "The way to end a rebellion is to be forgiving, generous, and noble. We can win people's hearts through leniency. To rule a nation one needs to be tolerant." At the age of 16, Emperor Kangxi already possessed extraordinary wisdom and courage. Therefore, he was able to depose the despotic and authoritarian regent, Oboi. Then he ended the revolt of the three instigators, seized Taiwan, twice subdued the Dzungar Mongols, stopped the invasion of the Russians at the northern border, unified China, and founded the capital city of the nation.

When three liege subjects revolted, Kangxi told them firmly that the nation's territory was inviolate. He asked these lieges to keep the nation's interests in mind and end the revolt. In return, he would grant them clemency. After he successfully crushed the rebellion, he treated everyone involved in the revolt with leniency so as to keep the losses to a minimum.

During the height of the revolt, Wu Sangui, Lord of Pingxi, offered a bribe to Wang Fuchen, the commander-in-chief of Shanxi Province. He dispatched troops and plotted an uprising. This brought despair to the Sichuan and Shanxi Provinces. At the time, Wang Fuchen's son, Wang Jizhen and his relatives resided at the nation's capital. The nation's ministers suggested to Emperor Kangxi to immediately arrest them for plotting a rebellion. Although Kangxi was very concerned, he sent Wang Jizhen to tell his father that the imperial court realized that this rebellion was some kind of fluke and he hoped that everything could be resolved amiably. In return, the imperial court would grant clemency. Wang Fuchen was highly impressed. He and his troops then paid the highest respect in the empire--they kowtowed toward the north. However, because of fear, he did not surrender.

Emperor Kangxi appointed Tu Hai as military general. Tu Hai told his soldiers, "His majesty is benevolent and righteous. His majesty is merciful and of high virtue. We need to appease the enemy first and conquer them later. Our directive is that no one may kill mercilessly." Tu Hai's troops were invincible and Wang Fuchen realized that the only course of action was to surrender. Emperor Kangxi offered him the title of "Pacifying General" and directed him to help Tu Hai to guard and protect Central China. Wang Fuchen felt deep shame and regret for his actions. Many times, Kangxi asked Tu Hai to encourage him.

Kangxi adopted the policy of "encouraging people" in regard to governing Mongolia. One of the tribal leaders of Khalkha Mongol (Outer Mongolia), Tosheetu Khan, was responsible for internal strife, giving Galdan the opportunity to invade and occupy Khalkha's land and forcing him to move south. Emperor Kangxi traveled beyond The Great Wall to preside over the Mongolian league conference. During the conference, Kangxi reprimanded Tosheetu Khan for his aggression. He told others later, "I was supposed to punish Tosheetu Khan severely during the league conference, but I did not have the heart. Therefore, I granted him clemency and forgave his blunders in everyone's presence." Kangxi resolved strives amongst the Mongolian tribes through diplomacy, providing instruction and guidance and thus was successful in reunifying the Khalkha Mongols. Therefore, the Mongolian people surrendered voluntarily to Kangxi by "kneeling three times with the head touching the ground nine times" (an ancient ritual performed by the people showing utmost respect to the emperor). Emperor Kangxi officially accepted the Khalkha Mongols as subjects into his empire.

After Galdan was defeated, Kangxi said to his ministers, "To rule a nation, one should treat people with benevolence. One should not use coercion. Galdan is an oppressor and violent, but I treat him with tolerance and mercy. Galdan is cunning and sly, but I show him honesty and trust." The ministers and the officials pleaded with the Emperor to accept an honorific title, but Kangxi refused the mere thought of it and said, "People have experienced the wrath of war and have lived under distressing conditions. I have to attend to their needs and not accept impractical titles."

Emperor Kangxi appointed officials according to their virtues

People were Kangxi's first priority. He loved the people. He observed them and was mindful of their hardships. During his political career, he constantly developed principles and policies that benefited the people. Kangxi was intent on restoring and expanding productivity based on people's abilities, life cycles and reproduction cycles. He forbid the seizure and occupation of people's lands. He eliminated grain taxes 545 times at a cost of 1.5 billion yin liang (silver, the ancient Chinese monetary unit). Kangxi announced the policy of "no extra taxes on additional children," and froze the "population tax" to lessen the financial burden on farmers. He studied and investigated river management for more than ten years, and placed importance on managing and controlling the Yellow River. He was mindful of people's distress and so reduced damage and suffering brought by the flooding.

At one time, a part of the Great Wall in the area of Gubeikou collapsed. The ministry of public works discussed the reconstruction project. Kangxi told the senior engineers, "When an emperor rules a nation, he relies on internal sources and does not solely depend on barricades. The Great Wall was built during the Qin Dynasty and constantly repaired during the Han, Tang, and Song Dynasties. Yet, this did not prevent foreign invasions. At the end of the Ming Dynasty, my ancestor led his army through it, destroying any obstruction. No one could stop them! Therefore, to defend a nation is to cultivate one's virtue and treat the people respectfully. When people are happy, the nation is in harmony and the frontier is fortified. My thoughts concerning this are clearly represented by the proverb 'Unity of the people with the same purpose is a formidable force.'"

Kangxi, when inspecting an area north of the Great Wall, found a man lying on the road. He approached the man and found that his name was Wang Sihai and that he was a servant. On his way home, he became very hungry, lay down, and could not get up again. Kangxi immediately ordered his aids to feed him warm porridge. After Wang Sihai was well again, they took him with them to the place where the Emperor stayed while on this inspection tour. Then, they gave him travel expenses and send him with an escort back home.

Kangxi put in practice a "lenient punishment" policy. During 22 years of his reign, less than forty prisoners received the death penalty.

Emperor Kangxi was a benevolent emperor. He directed that all officials treat people the same as they wanted to be treated. When selecting people for government positions, he held to very strict and high selection criteria. He used the following principle when selecting an official, "When a nation chooses its official, a person's morality, fairness, and generosity of spirit come first, his talents and skills come last. It would be ideal if the person possessed virtue and talent. However, it is more important that he possesses virtue instead of talent. A person's talent must be based on his virtues. Therefore, when he possesses more virtue than talent, he is a true gentleman. If he possesses more talent than virtue, he is a spiteful man."

In order to reassure Han officials, Kangxi told them repeatedly, "The Manchus and the Hans are my ministers. The Manchus and the Hans are one body. All officials, regardless of position, are my trusted aids. Every official must be cautious, submit written reports, and must not avoid responsibilities." Therefore, many scholars who had lived in seclusion came to serve the government. The barrier between the Manchus, Hans, and other ethnic groups gradually disintegrated and they all lived in harmony.

To foster an honest and upright environment among government officials, Kangxi issued imperial orders soliciting advice from honest officials from throughout the government. He personally honored some of them. During his reign, there were many well-known, honest, and upright officials, such as Tang Bin, Li Guangdi, and Zhang Boxing. When they governed a county, its residents' lives improved, and when they governed a province, people's lives in the province improved.

For example, Yu Chenglong, the governor of Shanxi Province, was loyal, responsible, and an honest public servant. Although he was governor of a province, he did not seek personal gain. He had two meals a day, and they consisted of unpolished rice and vegetable dishes. His habit earned him the nickname of "Vegetable Yu." He set a personal example and prohibited officials from offering or accepting bribes. Thus, he won the support of the people. After he died, his subordinate generals and officials went to his house to offer their condolences. They saw that he only had one gown in his bamboo chest and several containers for salt and grain by the head of his bed. They were deeply touched by his honesty and virtue. People hung his portrait in their homes to commemorate him, and Kangxi praised him as "the number one honest official."

Kangxi paid particular attention to punishing corrupt officials. He said, "The crime of a corrupt official is unlike any other crimes, so I must not be lenient. Otherwise, it would not serve as a deterrent." One time he held a court hearing and selected and judged a handful of corrupt criminals. This was to serve as a warning to others. He was even stricter with provincial governors. For example, Mu Ersai, the governor of Shanxi Province, took bribes and was therefore executed. Kangxi explained that if severe punishment was not used when such crimes were committed, then how could officials be disciplined. Between 1681 and 1701, Kangxi punished twenty-six corrupt provincial viceroys and governors. Kangxi's severe treatment of corrupt officials established an effective deterrent.

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," the 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 gate of 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 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 wear 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, honest, 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.

July 29, 2007