Emperor Kang-hsi ruled China from 1661 to 1722 and his reign is captured by Jonathan D. Spences book Emperor of China. The different chapters of the book deal with certain aspects of the Emperors life. Aspects that the history books to normally deal with. The information in Spences book is based on Emperor Kang-hsis correspondence, his own writings.
This writing maybe biased towards himself, but no other piece of information could provide insight into his mind. The book is divided into six parts; In motion, Ruling, Thinking, Growing Old, Sons, Valedictory. The book follows Emperor Kang-hsis life as Emperor in chronological order. In the first part, In Motion,” the main emphasis was on Emperor Kang-hsi travels though his kingdom. He wrote a letter to Ku Wen-hsing stating that he had traveled 1000s of miles in each direction.
He had traveled to the provinces of Shansi and Shensi in the west, to the provinces of Manchuria and Ula in the east, north across the Gobi to the Kerulean River and south to the Yangtze River. On his travels, Emperor Kang-hsi, liked to collect and compare different plats, animals, birds that he came across. He loved to hunt with bows and guns during his travels. Emperor Kang-hsi hunting practices were not just meant for joy and exercise, it was also an exercise in military preparedness. He took thousands of his troops on many of his trips to train them in shooting, camp life, and formation riding. The second part of the book emphasis on the historiographically part of the emperors rule. The authors’ facts were based on the thousands of imperial documents that came from the emperor.
The author was able to piece together the kind to government that existed. The central bureaucracy of emperor Kang-hsis China was composed of a metropolitan division and a provincial division. The metropolitan division was supervised by four to six Grand Secretaries and were directed by the presidents and vice-presidents of the Six Boards. The provinces were divided into six province blocks, controlled by s governor-general. Each province was divided into prefectures and each prefecture was subdivided into counties controlled by a magistrate. Ruling to Emperor Kang-hsi meant he had compete control for his economical and educational structure. He also felt that he was responsible for the life and death of subjects. The third part of the book is Thinking, that deals with Emperor Kang-hsi perspective on his life and of his subjects.
Emperor Kang-hsi believed in Neo- Confucianism and often refereed to it as the Confucian Classic. In different parts of the Emperors life he was interested in geometry, astronomy, cartography, medicine, and math. He took advantage in the free time a ruler has to expand his mind. The section Growing Old showed that Emperor Kang-hsi recognized that the human body was fallible. He tried to prolong his life with an awareness into his diet, medicine and memory.
He tried to obtain public sympathy with his openness towards his health, thus gaining the there trust and support in hard times. Kang-hsi recognized that admission to his physical weakness was the ultimate honestly but preventing physical weakness was the ultimate common sense. Practicing medicine under Emperor Kang-hsi was a highly specialized practice. He had large groups of men for diagnosis and treatment. In the end, Kang-hsi knew that death was enviable, but he tried to live forever though his children.
Kang-hsi had fifty-six children in his life time, but only one was born to his first wife. This son was to be raised as the heir to the throne, he received the most care and love that the Emperor could give. From an early age, Kang-hsi eldest son knew he would inherit the throne. Many officials also knew that the son would inherit the throne and thus tried to gain favors with the son. Different officials also tried to jockey for position with the government. Emperor did not look kindly towards this.
This political theme is the basis for the chapter named Sons. Thirty years after Emperor Kang-hsi was helped into power by his uncle Songgotu, he had Sonnggotu executed. Shortly after Sonnggotu was killed, Emperor Kang-hsi had his sons killed also. In 1712 the garrison commander of Peking was put to death in fear of the commander gaining to much power. Emperor Kang-hsi was very protective of his sons.
When he suspected that his son Yin-jeng has indulging in homosexual activities, Kang-hsi had three cooks and the serving boys put to death. He suspected that the cooks and servers were engaging in homosexual activities with his son. In conclusion, the book achieves in its purpose, to give new insights into the Emperors life. Spences book goes into greater detail about Emperor Kang-hsi life then any history book could have. Spence is able to do this by emphasizing on Kang-hsis writings, and not on other sources.
The book was divided into six sections that described different aspects of the Kang-hsi life and times. The most interesting chapter in my option was the chapter Sons. In this chapter Spence describes the Emperors protective nature towards his sons. He went to great lengths to protect his sons and their heir to the kingdom. Spences summary of the data he collected was a little too short.
Spence did not go into great detail over many facts. In addition, Spence did not address issues outside China that effected it. By this time in history, China had foreign intervention and influence. Yet Spence did not address the issue of foreign policies that Kang-hsi made during his reign. In the end Spence did achieve his goal of gaining new insights into Emperor Kang-hsi and wrote a good history of the Emperors life.