In history, Kangxi is viewed as the greatest consolidator of the Qing dynasty. The dynasty is seen as resultant from the fall of the Ming dynasty facilitated by the fall of the latter’s central capital, Beijing. Consequently, in 1644, five year old Shunzi Emperor was installed into power. Though the invading Manchus captured Beijing and adopted Chinese ways such as the Confucian ideology, it is Kangxi who can be credited with the completion of the conquest and the installation of a powerful central government. This was highly modified to end all dissent especially towards the former Ming dynasty.
There were a series of events that signify the theme of Ming dissent. First, in 1644 Beijing experienced an attack from a coalition of rebel forces led by Li Zicheng, a former minor Ming official who had turned into the leader of the peasant revolt. “By the late 1660s, however, as the Kangxi emperor was gaining his full power…he in righteous anger had sought the military assistance to drive Li Zicheng from the empire”(Mote, pp.846) Secondly, after the fall of the Ming dynasty, continued battles by former generals continued which posed a challenge to the Manchu rule. Under continous attacks especially on Beijing, the last of the Ming Emperor Chongzhen committed suicide after the city was conquered, marking the official end of the Ming dynasty. Finally, the last of Ming dissent was expressed in the short-lived Shun Dynasty.
It is therefore imperative to look at how Kangxi managed to end all dissent and conquer all challenges posed by the former Ming Dynasty. First, the Manchus resolved this by allying with former Ming dynasty generals such as Wu Sangui to seize all rebel and dissenting factions. Secondly, so as to establish a successful government and therefore tackle all challenges experienced by the late Ming, he worked for long hours in consultation with his councilors as to vital issues in the empire and read memorials so as to motivate the citizens and the soldiers during wartime so as to encourage loyalty such as in the Dzungar conflict. To combat and avoid any of his powers being usurped by the notorious scholar-bureaucrats, he devised an entire secret system of communication, the Place Memorial System. He transferred secret messages to key officials in the empire through locked boxes that only he and his trusted officials had access as on how to them. Hence, Kangxi’s genius on political matters was evident which surpasses the argument put forward by critics on the lack thereof. The emperor also formed a Grand Council that dealt with any outstanding, sudden militant occurrences. This vital Security Council was chaired by him and compiled of the most trusted Hans Chinese staff, who were bound to him, and excluded all mandarin civil servants remnant of the Ming dynasty who could have resulted in any leakage in top-secret affairs especially to the Ming Dynasty proponents. Kangxi was also a cunning leader. He managed to convince the Confucian intelligentsia into co-operating with his government. It is vital to note that the scholars had a deep reservation against Manchu rule. Therefore, he saw am avenue to combat this by encouraging them to sit for traditional civil service examinations so as to become mandarins who composed major lavish literary works such as the Kangxi Dictionary. The fact that Kangxi managed to stamp out all Ming dissent and went a step further to solve multiple challenges against his government can also be attributed to the fact that he was an effective military commander. A man steeped into Confucian learning, his reflections and memorials written and read at the war front such as the war against Dzungar Mongols, were essential in justifying this stand. Consequently, all hostilities ceased after the Manchu Conquest of the Ming Dynasty resulting in rapid population increase and increase government tax collection due to increased land cultivation. Finally, the government was able to make tax remissions and in 1712, freeze land tax and corvee completely which further led to citizen loyalty towards Kangxi.
Kangxi foreign policy and relationship with the neighbors forms a crucial theme. In his government’s relationship with Vietnam, in 1673, he helped to mediate in a ceasefire in the Trịnh–Nguyễn War. This had started in 1627 and had been ongoing for 45 years. The two [arties signed a peace treaty that lasted for 101 years till 1774. Secondly, in the 1650s, the Qing Empire under Kangxi engaged the Russian Empire along the length of the River Amur in a string of border conflicts. This was resolved when the Manchu won the war. Further invasions by the Russians occurred in the 1680’s in the Nothern frontier of the Qing Dynasty. After a number of battles, the two warring factions settled for the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689 resulting in the gain of the territory in the Amur region and a restoration of peace in the dynasty. Finally, the dynasty’s relationship with the Mongols was a volatile one. Chahar Mongols, led by Burni in 1675 started a revolt against the Qing Empire. This was successfully crushed within two months and the Chahars integrated as soldiers into the Manchu eight Banners.
There are several significant outcomes as to the wars fought by the emperor against and in support of her neighbors. Kangxi conquered various zones such as Outer Mongolia from the Dzungars. It is important to note that during the Kangxi Emperor rule, areas to the north of River Amur and parts of Outer Mongolia were added to the expanding empire. Further control was exerted on Tibet. The Kangxi emperor was concerned over the rising power of the Europeans in the southern states of Qing. In the Ming dynasty, these states had been crucial in geopolitics and economics especially trade. Therefore, so as to recover this, he ordered the close monitoring of the activities carried out by Catholic missionaries and foreign merchants and any possible threats to the empire.
The issue of Kangxi's will and succession has been an issue of debate among historians and is classified as one of the four "Four Greatest Mysteries of the Qing Dynasty".
“Among the early Manchu rulers, uncertainty about the succession and factional struggles over power sharing over power sharing continued for thirty years, until the Kangxi emperor came into his majority in the 1670’s.”
It is largely viewed that he chose Yinzhen who was the fourth prince and later went on to become the Yongzheng Emperor but there is also strong counter- arguments that this was forged in disfavor of Yinti, the 14th prince. Empress Heseri, Kangxi's first wife, gave birth to Yingreng who was crowned prince at the age of two according to the Han Chinese custom. This was a political strategy vital in ensuring stability, especially in the chaotic south. Kanqxi personally oversaw the education and upbringing of Yingreng and modeled him into a perfect heir. However, Yingreng never proved worthy of the crown despite Kangxi’s extension of favoritism towards him. Numerous allegations were leveled against him such as sexual occurrences with his father’s concubines and the beating up of his subordinates to death. He also satisfied his pedophiliac pleasures by buying young children from Jiangsu. Further, he established a Crown Prince Party that ganged up to get power as soon as possible even through possible unlawful means. These capital offences led to disfavor in his father’s eyes. In 1707, Yinshi, his oldest son, was put in charge of his brothers’ house arrest after dethronement. Yinshi however sabotaged his brother and requested for his titles. With the in-house problems escalating, Kangxi requested his subjects to quit debating on the highly charged issue of succession. This was since this rumors on who the next crown prince would be greatly hindered the Imperial Court’s running. Further, Yinshi’s insubordination led Kangxi into the belief that Yingreng had been framed and hence his restoration as the crown’s prince in 1709. However, in 1712, Kangxi went on an inspection tour to the south. He left Yingreng in power only for him to vie for power among his father’s supporters. Kangxi learnt of this imminent coup d’état and deposed Yingreng from the Crown. He was placed under house arrest for the second time. This led Kangxi to announce that he would not appoint any of his sons into the crown prince position in his reign. This, he would do by placing his Imperial Valedictory Will in the Palace of Heavenly Purity o be opened after his death.
Kangxi had the longest reign as Chinese Emperor and consequently contributed a lot to the empire.
‘The Sixty-one year reign of the Kangxi Emperor is heralded as one of the glorious times in China…as led by the courageous, intelligent Kangxi emperor.” (Mote, pp.856)
Most importantly, his reign is celebrated as the onset of Kang-Qian Golden Age era under which the Qing Dynasty experienced the zenith of its economic, social and military power. At his deathbed, Emperor Shunzhi appointed four senior cabinet ministers who were not related to the throne so as to avoid monopolization of imperial powers as the case was in The Dorgan era. These four ministers would not only serve the crown for a long time till Kangxi was of age but they would also counteract each other’s influences. These ministers, due to their distant relationship to the crown, lay no claim. However, over time, Oboi, the youngest of the ministers attained political dominance to such an extent as to become a threat to the throne. Although Oboi was perfectly loyal to the throne, his arrogance and political conservatism approaches often pitted him against the young Kangxi. This resulted in one of the most outstanding achievements by fifteen year old Kangxi who managed to trick, disarm and imprison him. This was in no way an insignificant achievement based on the fact that Oboi was a seasoned military commander and a wily politician.
Secondly, Kangxi was able to gain total control of the Southern regions in the Revolt of the Three Feudatories. The Manchu had found controlling the vast empire a nightmare. There were only enough soldiers to garrison key cities forming the stamina of a protection network that relied profoundly on surrendered Ming soldiers. Three surrendered Ming generals; Wu Sangui, Shang Kexi and Geng Jingzhoung were singled out for their vast contributions in the founding of the Qing dynasty. They were consequently ennobled as feudal princes and allocated vast southern territories as governorship. Over time, these regions became extremely autonomous the climax which Shang Kexi petitioned Kangxi Emperor with a wish to retire to Liaodong province and grant govern ship to the fiefdom to his son. However, the young Kangxi granted his retirement but denied heredity.
“ The Kangxi emperor’s advisors warned of an explosion, clearly understanding that Wu Sangui was not truly willing to abandon his power base.”( Mote, pp.846)
In reaction, the other two generals decidedly petitioned for their retirement thinking that Kangxi would not risk denying them and lose their support. Kangxi however granted retirement to them too while declining to their requests on inheritance of their positions by their sons. He ordered that the three fiefdoms revert to the crown. This resulted in an eight year war in which at its height, the rebel forces managed to extend their empire as far north as the Yangtze River. Ultimately though, the Qing dynasty conquered all resistance and gained total control over all southern cities and the entire region.
The Kangxi emperor also fought hard to consolidate the dynasty. He led a series of attacks against Dzungars and in later day, Russia. He mitigated conflicts such as the Galdan conflict by marrying off his daughter to the Mongol Khan thereby ending the Galdan military campaign to eradicate the entire Qing dynasty. Further, during his reign as emperor, Outer Mongolia and Tibet were attacked by the Dzungars, who asked for help from Kangxi. He successfully expelled all influence on the states, hence successfully incorporating them to his dynasty.
“The importance of Manchu competition with various Mongol Khans for influence in Tibet and control over the Daklai Lamas can scarcely be overstated…The account of the Kangxi emperor’s involvement with the Khalkhas and the Dzungars in these years abounds with references to actions taken by Tibetan lamas.” (Mote, pp.1056)
Kangxi also conquered Taiwan in 1683 from Zheng Keshuang, who was a grandson of Koxinga who had used it as a launching pad of an offensive against the Qing Dynasty. By the end of the 17th Century, Kangxi was able to drive China to the height of its power since the Ming Dynasty. Finally, it is vital to note that Kangxi handled many Jesuit missionaries who came over to the dynasty such as Tomas Pereira, Martino Martini and Antoine Tomas. This also served as mathematicians and astronomers to the empire in addition to their role as advisors.
In conclusion, the main challenge that faced the onset of Kangxi’s rule, such as the Ming Dissent, volatile boundaries and hostile neighbors were resolved, though not totally, by the end of his rule. He was able to attain relative peace and stability even under internal threats such as the several coupes instigated by his own sons. Therefore, Kangxi is seen as history not as a failure but as a ruler who achieved magnanimously in driving China towards its present day civilization
Mote, Frederick W. Imperial China 900-1800. London: Harvard University Press, 1999.