This essay will examine the empires who reigned China between 1661 and 1799 (Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong) based on military, finance and politics. Besides, the evaluation of Yongzheng would be the most important part in this essay, Kangxi and Qianlong are the next two. In the end, this essay will have a short conclusion of the achievements and weaknesses to the three empire and compare the view of Spence and what author learnt before.
Went into throne at 8 years old, died at 69 years old, Emperor Kangxi had reigned China for almost 61 years from 1661 to 1722. His posthumous was regarded as “qingshengzu”. “qing” means Qing dynasty. “sheng” means fantastic, excellence out of normal, maybe “sent” has similar meaning to it. “zu” is meaningful, generally speaking, if and only if the man who set up a dynasty can be called “zu” in Chinese history, however Kangxi is the forth emperor in Qing dynasty. How could he gain the title in history? These situation will happen only if the whole bureaucracy and his successor are all think that his achievement is approaching or above set up a dynasty. In other words, Kangxi had highly achievement.
His achievement includes arresting Oboi in 1669, suppressing “The Three Feudatories” in 1673-1681, recapturing Taiwan in 1683, defining the border of northeast China in 1689, defeating Galdan in 1696 and 1697 and so on. The most of his achievement are in politics and military, especially in military. The winning in “The Three Feudatories” stabilize Manchu’s reign, and the victory in Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet expanding territory from east to west. It’s undoubted that Kangxi defined the area of modern China (the territory in Kangxi’s time includes the whole area in modern China).
In my mind, he was a lucky guy in “The Three Feudatories” and “The Zunghar Campaigns” no matter how great he was in Chinese historians’ view. “Wu Sangui’s indecisiveness in not driving across the Hunan border and up to the north when he first held in initiative in 1674” (Spence, 2013). If Wu chose to cross Yangzi river straight to the Peking capital at the beginning of his rebellion. What would the youth Kangxi do? Could his banner armies prevent the attack of a sophisticated troop led by an experienced general? What would happen in other provinces, especially in Jiangsu and Zhejiang? The result is unknown, but I think Wu Sangui chose to stay in Hunan and set up a Zhou dynasty is a considerable strategic mistake leading the rebellion to failure in total. And in the war with Zunghar in 1696—1697 has the similar process, the leader of Zunghar, Galdan, does not catch the winning opportunity and die soon causing the war ends up soon. For the reasons above, the achievements of Kangxi in military would have some discounts.
Apart from Kangxi’s achievement, there are some weakness exist in Kangxi’s ruling time, especially in his late year (after some victories in military and politics). The biggest problem is in finance. “As the emperor began to realize the size of the tax deficits and the casualness with which the fiscal crisis had been treated in his father’s reign” (Spence, 2013), it is the situation when Kangxi’s son Yongzheng came into throne. From 1684 to 1707, Kangxi had traveled to Jiangnan six times in 23 years, accumulating 520 days, approximate 20,000 people with him every time (阎, 2009). Although “his purposes are to research irrigation works, deal with corruption in local, hear voice from lower level and so on” (赵, 1998) , in another view, the traveling made a big pressure fiscal situation. Furthermore, Kangxi’s traveling aggravated corruption and other illegal affairs happen. In local, upper officials should send expensive gifts (like famous paintings and calligraphies) to emperor or officials from Peking legally or illegally, that upper official will order businessmen and magistrates for “help”, and magistrates will impose it in local. As a result, local people meets high and endless surcharges, which will destroy their living especially for the poor. Besides, Kangxi’s grandson, Qianlong imitated his grandfather’s behavior—he also traveled to Jiangnan for six times and more extravagant. Now, you can see, people in Jiangnan suffered a lot for the empire’s own pleasure.
Apart from Kangxi’s personal traveling, the failure in reforming taxation system also weakened financial situation and caused economic depression. “members of the upper class were often wealthy landowners, and, as in Kangxi’s reign, many of them concealed their tax responsibilities in a maze of false names, misregistrations, transferred holdings, mortgages, and so on” (Spence, 2013) , rich and powerful people always evade tax. But for normal agricultural people, the situation is total different, “corrupt junior staff from the magistrates’ offices could bully farming families into paying a variety of taxes for which receipts never issued” (Spence, 2013). The drawbacks in taxation shows that in the apparent prosperity of Kangxi’s reign, the economy is depressing, the fiscal is deficit, the quality of people’s life is decreasing, the gap of wealth is widening and so on.
Linking with Yongzheng in the next part, comparing Yongzheng tries his best to remedy the loopholes in Kangxi’s time and stables financial situation of Qing Empire with Kangxi is poor in reformation. Maybe Kangxi is overestimated and Yongzheng is neglected.
Yongzheng is a controversial emperor in Chinese history, people would add “great” to Kangxi and Qianlong, but to Yongzheng, he is always neglected by people, or he is reminded only if people talk about “jiuziduodi”(nine of Kangxi’s sons are fighting with each other for the throne). There are few people remember his contribution to the Qing dynasty.
Yongzheng is a 45 years old man when he came into the throne, differ from his father (8 years old) and his son (25 years old), Yongzheng is experienced in politics.
The biggest advantage of Yongzheng is hard-working, “He had a passion for detail and a willingness to spend long hours every day at work, usually reading history texts from 4:00 A.M. until 7:00 A.M., when he breakfasted, meeting with his advisers into the early afternoon, then reading documents and commenting on them, often until midnight” (Spence, 2013) . The hard work of Yongzheng could be one of the main reasons that bureaucracy had high efficiency and reformed in some areas in 1720’s.
Yongzheng concerned on and dealt with structure of Chinese bureaucracy and finance in the countryside during his reign. At the early of Yongzheng’s reign, he met is—“35 million taels in central budget, 6 million from commercial taxes, 29 million from ‘land and head tax’, 15%-30% of 29 million is retained in province for ‘local use’, the rest was sent to Peking, less than one-sixth of the total available to local officials for projects in their own areas” (Spence, 2013). Which means in that condition, at most 5% of total tax could be used in local, and leading to low salary of officials, that causing corruption and abusing.
To solve the problems, a fantastic measure was taken out—dividing land-tax and head-tax. These taxes should be gained by financial commission and allocated between provinces so that the financial situation of local was improved a lot that officials can get a higher salary. In addition, all other supplementary fees and gifts were declared illegal. By these measures, corruption and abusing are released, people’s pressure from tax also lax in some ways. “Offices were now better-run, business was conducted faster, and there was real local autonomy initiative for dealing with specific projects” (Spence, 2013), which shows the positive effect of the reformation. And the contribution from Yongzheng cannot be neglected.
In military, Yongzheng is unlike his father who takes too many campaigns, he mainly takes a campaign in Xinjiang and a campaign in Southwest China to stable his ruling. The results of two campaigns are good, and cost is as little as possible which is hard in Kangxi’s reign. Comparing with his father, Kangxi, may be Yongzheng has not shown his talent in military, but he is a genius in cost control, financial management and bureaucracy reformation. If we regard Kangxi as an entrepreneur who do well in merger but lack of cost control, that Yongzheng must be a good CEO who is familiar with asset restruction..
A good CEO also has his own limitation, Yongzheng is the same. He doesn’t finish tax and bureaucracy reformation in the whole country or say, the reformation in different area gained different results. In some areas, especially in the central Yangzi provinces, the reformation meets big trouble. Countless retired but still powerful formal officials are living here, there family are living here. They protect their own profits so that the reformation cannot carry out totally. Yongzheng has no way to do with it because his closed subordinates and about half of officials in bureaucracy are from this area. The situation it is hardly ever to deal even in modern society.
Furthermore, because of crucial scramble for the throne, Yongzheng is suspicious, hard to trust people. I think, the drawback in his character influences him to be a stability-focusing man in politics and prevents him to be a merciful emperor. In the scramble for the throne, he arrested and executed some of his brothers and even one of his sons, just because his son thought his behavior is too crucial, and he proved his crucial behavior. In 1723, hundreds of his relatives are executed to suppress the doubts of Yongzheng. Only one of his brothers, Yinxiang, are trusted and treated well by Yongzheng. These things show some parts of Yongzheng’s personality—he prefers stability and cares more about himself, therefore, he pays more attention to authority control. For example, in 1723 and 1729, more than 8,000 calenderers rose in protest in Suzhou. The first thing Yongzheng considered is not how to appease the protest, rather than whether it’s a rebellion or not. What’s worse, he praised the governor who arrested and interrogated 22 of the workers (Spence, 2013). Maybe in some ways, the coercion of Yongzheng should be responsible for continuous rebellions in 18th century.
Qianlong, Yongzheng’s forth son, who reigns China for almost 64 years, the longest reigning in Chinese history. He gained some achievements in his early year, but his extravagant life in the late years and his arrogant personality make him far from his father and his grandfather.
His achievements in military include conquering total Xinjiang, fixing a western border with Russia firmly and dealing with Tibet issues. A series of achievements in military make Qianlong self-expanding. He begins to conceive himself not merely as the emperor of China, but as the ruler of multicultural Asian empire (Spence, 2013). Qianlong just talks in lips or canonizes some rulers from Southeast Asia. He did not take it into action, like conquering India or campaigning Japan. No! He just imagined enjoying the honor of reigning the whole Asia and sent gifts to foreigners, like a dreamer.
In culture area, the biggest contribution of Kangxi is managing the edit of “Four Treasuries” because of his own interest. But the result is great, the editing work rediscovered countless academic heritages of China, which is an amazing protection for Chinese culture.
Beyond these things, Qianlong has little achievement. Conversely, his behavior damages the base of Qing Empire. Traveling to Jiangnan six times just for fun and his own interests, building a copy of southern streets in the northern palace for his mother, overindulging Heshen whatever Heshen does and how much Heshen corrupted, holding his power even if he is 80 years old and keeping his heir away from exercises and so on.
The series of Qianlong’s behavior cause a huge deficit in finance, more and more rebellions in the late of 18th century and violent corruptions. If his father, Yongzheng, had not accumulated a lot of capital and reformed the system a lot, with the squandering of Qianlong, maybe the Qing Empire would end up in the late of 18th or in the early of 19th century.
Same weaknesses of the three emperors
In Spence’s view, the unfriendly attitude to Catholic in Qing Empire prevented it to attach western world, I basically agree with it. From Kangxi’s reign, they all have a bad relationship with Catholic, maybe Qianlong has little good relationship with them, but just on Astrology and Painting. Which prevents the spreading of science and technologies from western world to China, if not, it is highly that the ruler of China won’t think China is the central of world and refuse to accept any changes complacently. Frankly speaking, they have shadow eyes to the world, or say, they are selfish who just pay attention to the stability of their empire and their own interests. The locked situation of China is changed until 1840. But they should not be blamed too much. Because they are Manchu people, which has less civilized than Han, further, seclusion is the most efficient policy at that time to stabilize their reign, if not, southeast coast area would be invaded and harassed aggressively by pirates and buccaneers. And Japan, took the same measures at the same time.
The issues of banner system. The three didn’t deal with banner system well. Banners are banned doing commercial activities and being employed, some of them can go into bureaucracy, but most of them are poor because they are lack of income source despite of government funding. Especially in the late of Qianlong’s reign, many of banners were too poor to leave banner system in order to find some jobs to feed themselves and their family. Besides, banner system became a burden for Qing Empire both in finance and military gradually. In the late of Qianlong’s reign, government paid 2 million tael every year to assist banner system, which is a big cost for finance, however, banners’ soldiers are out of discipline and lack of experience because of long peaceful time and corruption. Furthermore, the decline of banner system should be one of the main reasons Qing dynasty failed in Opium Wars again and again.
The view of Spence and the view of mine to the three emperors are basically same, but I think Yongzheng is more important than the two for Qing’s continuity. Maybe Yongzheng has too many drawbacks, but they don’t affect Yongzheng to be one of the greatest emperors in my mind. Because he is a responsible and experienced CEO for Qing Empire. To go on a dynasty, in most of time, talented emperor is useless, the emperor who can deal with bureaucracy well is needed. Only if emperor does official things effectively and efficiently and manages his subordinated well, the bureaucracy system can perform well, then the people can benefit from it. Fortunately, Yongzheng performed greatly in the part, excessing his father and his son totally, that accumulating a lot for the country in every areas.
I don’t know why Spence talked little of “the literary inquisition”, is it boring or is it unimportant? I don’t have answer. In my opinion, the literary inquisition damaged or even destroyed the freely speaking in Chinese cultural. Until nowadays, the speaking is controlled by government, it’s hard for normal people to log in facebook, twitter and so on. But in Ming dynasty, everyone could talk about politics freely, even some upper officials would swear emperor in court. And, to Qing dynasty, everything of these disappeared, scholars should care for their speaking and writing because of the literary inquisition. Which leads to lifeless in scholars. Ironically, Qianlong regards himself as a poet and a scholar, however, he is the emperor who favor making the literary inquisition to scare even execute the scholars. To be concluded, I think the literary inquisition is one of the most significant parts in Qing dynasty, and hoping Spence could have further analyses of the literary inquisition.
Besides, there is a blind in Spence’s research, lack of countryside, especially lack of people’s life in countryside. There is also a blind in most of Chinese historians’ research. The whole book talks about politics, military, culture and religion, but what about countryside? China was the biggest agricultural country in Qing dynasty, over 75% of people were living in countryside. Why not research and talk about this? The part is indispensable, however, both Spence and Chinese historians study few of it. In my mind, countryside cannot be ignored, just like the contribution of Yongzheng cannot be ignored.
Jonathan D. Spence <> third edition, 2013，NORTON.
（Yan Chongnian, <>, 17.5.2009, Yangzhou daily press）
（Zhao Erxun,<>, 01.7.1998, Chinses Classics Publishing House>>）