Stories of Emperor Kangxi’s Wisdom and Courage

A portrait of Emperor Kangxi in court dress. (Image:  wikimedia /  CC0 1.0)
A portrait of Emperor Kangxi in court dress. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Kangxi was one of China’s greatest emperors. He ascended the throne at the age of eight. During his reign, he suppressed the Revolt of the Three Feudatories, forced the Kingdom of Tungning in Taiwan to submit to Qing rule, and blocked Tsarist Russian aggression. Kangxi compiled the Integration of Ancient and Modern Books as well as the Kangxi Dictionary. He was diligent in the administration of the country, loved his subjects, and ruled with wisdom. During his time, the economy reached a new peak, and this period was known as the “Prosperous Era of Kangxi and Qianlong.”

Kangxi left a legacy of stories for later generations to learn from. From this, we can see that he was sympathetic toward the suffering of his people, wise and compassionate, broad-minded, courageous, strategic, and far-sighted. Here are a few such stories.

The crystal smoking pipe

Kangxi did not drink alcohol or smoke, and he did not like it when other people smoked. For example, Shi Wenjing of Liyang and Chenn Wenjian of Haining were both addicted to Tampa tobacco, which is a type of tobacco produced on Luzon Island. When Kangxi visited the south, he heard about these two officials and their addiction. He presented each of them a crystal smoking pipe. The pipe was transparent, so when they smoked, they could see inside as if the fire was burning through their lips, and it was frightening. From then on, they dared not smoke again. When this was brought to Kangxi’s ears, he laughed and even issued an edict to ban smoking in the country.

The Emperor mounted on his horse and guarded by his bodyguards. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The Emperor Kangxi mounted on his horse with his bodyguards. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Three types of pitiful people

Kangxi once sent out a message to his people saying: “The people under my rule are all my loyal subjects, and the three types of pitiful people that I love are scholars who came from a low and poor family, those who have not enough to eat and wear, and those who break the law out of ignorance.”

Kangxi’s reflections on love and work

Kangxi hung a couplet in his study room. Written down on one side was the phrase “Love someone as much as loving oneself”, on the other side was the phrase “Use the same heart to blame others and blame oneself”, and horizontally across the top of the couplet was the phrase “Respect heaven.” Kangxi wrote these phrases himself.

At the beginning of Kangxi’s administration, the Yellow River and Cao Canal projects were regarded as the major projects in the country. Kangxi personally pursued these projects day and night and paid great attention to their progress. He even wrote about them on the palace pillars to remind himself.

The Kangxi Emperor: The longest reigning emperor in China. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Emperor Kangxi was the longest reigning emperor in China. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Tsarist Russians in Beijing

Kangxi ordered a group of strong men to attend court to receive his orders regarding Tsarist Russians who were in Beijing. He told them that regardless of whether the Russians were envoys or their attendees, the men were to follow them in the streets. If the Russians were caught disturbing civilians, they would be kicked and told to move along. The Russians were big and tall, but wore tight riding pants that made it inconvenient for them to fight back. When they were kicked, they often fell and could not get up easily. Emperor Kangxi warned the Russians to abide by the laws of the Qing Dynasty and used the “kicking tactic” on those Russians caught bullying any citizen of Beijing.

Translated by Chua BC and edited by Derek Padula

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