History of China

Emperor of China, is an incredible biography of the second emperor, K’ang-hsi (1661 – 1722), and his life as part of the last Chinese imperialistic dynasty, the Qing. Based on the writings of the emperor, court records and later secondary sources, the book follows the emperor through his struggles with opposition, Manchurian and Han nobility, his troubled relationships with his numerous sons, his old age, and his legacy. By reading K’ang-Hsi’s own words as he writes of such topics as hunting, invention, the Jesuits, government, and the introduction of Western science, we learn about different aspects of his life including the different values, beliefs, and roles. One value that is consistently evident throughout the book, and is a large part of who he is and what the emperor stands for, is his desire to be compassionate, or as defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary, sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. This compassion is especially found in the second part of the book, entitled “Ruling,” which explores the Emperor’s world of action and common sense. The emperor’s strong sense of compassion and ren, or humaneness, comes from his studies of Confucianism. An example of this mercy and compassion especially, in his dealings with crime and the death penalty, is exemplified through this quote: “ I have been merciful where possible. For the ruler must always check carefully before executions, and leave room for the hope that men will get better if they are given the time.”

During imperial China, the supreme ruler, or “Son of Heaven”, as he was known, played an integral part as the ruler of all the people in his kingdom, through the divine authority that he was thought to have, marking an incredible relationship between the ruler and Heaven, giving him incredible power and prestige. The emperor also acted as the priest of humanity, performing sacrifices to Heaven and Earth that would hopefully bring good luck to the Empire. In addition, the emperor’s word was law, and he often exercised the power of life and death over his subjects, with K’ang-hsi being one of the more compassionate of emperors, because of his strong association with Confucianism.

K’ang-hsi strong feelings of compassion are most evident in his decisions regarding criminal cases. He is aware of his powers of being able to kill people, but is always aware of the situation and strongly reviews the cases because “a criminal who has been executed cannot be brought back to life any more than a chopped string can be joined together again.” His belief in regards to punishing is that “the ruler needs both clarity and care in punishing; his intent must be to punish in order to avoid the need for further punishing.” There are many times when there is something he finds inexcusable, such as gross corruption, and he wants to set an example of someone. This, although punishment can be the death penalty, is again compassionate in a way because of his desire to not want to do it ever again. The emperor is just trying to make an example of someone, so that others can learn from the mistake.

There is strong evidence to suggest that not only did K’ang-hsi try to show compassion through his own actions, and hoped other people would follow, but at certain times, he would send edicts that would order people to be more compassionate. This is the case during the “San-Fan War”, where there were numerous reports of criminals beheaded after a single engagement. Instead of punishment by execution, the emperor was in strong favor of saving the people, and hopefully having them reform. K’ang-hsi was in strong favor of looking at the individual and not at the group, when dealing with punishments.

One of K’ang-hsis’ main principles was to look for the good in the person and to ignore the bad. He did not believe in being suspicious with people, because then they would look at you in a similar way. This is exemplified in the emperors’ dealing with Dantsila, an enemy, who he had a meal with, sitting a few feet away from someone with a knife. Furthermore, he later gave him the prince’s title. This compassion 1and trust that the emperor showed paid off, as Dantsila became a close ally, and served the Emperor faithfully. The emperor later remarks on another enemy, Miao, that had been fought and defeated in battle, but were not punished when it was all over, instead they were just sent home. The emperor remarked, “thus even Miao can be controlled through compassion,” because of the Miao’s refusal to fight against the emperor in a later battle.

In addition, this strong sense of compassion and forgiveness that the emperor displayed is not only found in criminal cases or in cases dealing with enemies, but also in the emperors’ dealings with the common people. The emperor would occasionally go out on tours and meet with common people, and learn about their grievances. Sometimes the emperor would accept their petitions after listening to their stories. On one particular case, the emperor was approached by someone who had been robbed on his way to town of 200 taels of someone else’s money that he had promised to invest. K’ang-hsi felt particularly bad for this person, and gave him 40 taels as partial compensation, showing a tremendous amount of compassion not only listening to the common people’s problems but also trying to do something about them.

K’ang-hsi, emperor during the Qing dynasty, held values and beliefs very dearly to him. One of the most important values that he exemplified was his strong compassion, which he showed primarily in dealing with the legal system and court punishments. Furthermore, this strong compassion and forgiveness was also identified in his dealings with the common people, and his desire to look at the good in people and try to forgive and ignore the bad.

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