Kangxi Emperor

Kangxi emperor was the fourth Qing emperor, ruling China from February 5, 1661, to December 20, 1722. He was the second to reign over the entirety of the country as part of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty. With 61 years on the throne, he also had the longest rule in Chinese history. At the young age of 8, he rose to the throne and was guided by his grandmother Dowager Empress Xiao Zhuang and his four advisors. His period was marked by prosperity and development accomplished through territorial expansion and a Neo-Confucian bureaucratic system. Foreign trade also flourished. 

Early life

Xuanye was born to the Shunzhi emperor and empress Xiaokang on May 4, 1654. His maternal grandfather was Tulai, a well-known general of the noble Tong family. When Xuanye was just a child, Shunzhi died of smallpox on February 5, 1661. Despite being the third son of the emperor, his mother was Shunzhi’s most high-born wife, elevating Xuanye to the emperor. From then on, Xuanye was called Kangxi, which can be translated to “Peaceful Harmony.”

Four Regents

Due to Kangxi’s young age, four court advisers took on the role of regent, overseeing the government during his youth: Ebilun, Oboi, Suksaha, and Sonin. One of the earliest policies placed into effect was the establishment of the Office of Household. This institution replaced the Thirteen Offices, which was primarily composed of Chinese eunuchs, a tradition passed down from the Ming dynasty. This allowed eunuchs to interfere with imperial matters that had previously led to negative results across the country. Thus, the Office of the Household was composed of bondservants from the three upper banners of the administrative imperial function.  

One of Kangxi’s earliest notable achievements was the defeat of the powerful Zheng family led by Zheng Chenggong in Taiwan. This was under the emperor’s order of the “Great Clearance,” a move to crack down on Ming loyalists. Thus, Taiwan was integrated into the nearby province of Fujian and became a part of China around 1662. 

Once the Kangxi emperor was 13 years old in 1667, he was made to perform the duties of his role during formal events. Despite his outward appearance of being the emperor, his four regents were still the ones controlling his decisions. However, conflicts between the four led to Oboi’s rise as a dictator as he had Suksaha executed and Ebilun forced to follow him. Sonin passed away during this time. 

In 1669 Kangxi removed Oboi and Ebilun from their positions. It is speculated that his grandmother, the empress dowager Xiao Zhuang assisted him in his endeavor. Oboi was arrested in public, establishing Kangxi’s reign. 


Kangxi had to manage the flooding of the Yellow River (Huang He) and restore the Grand Canal. Lastly, he had to regain control over the entirety of southern China. 

The Yellow River had been abandoned after the 1642 flood of the Ming dynasty had caused massive destruction. Kangxi aimed to gain control over the body of water by assigning Jin Fu as the superintendent of riparian works. Jin Fu stabilized the river by building embankments and dredging. The river’s repairs were completed in 1683. 

Kangxi also had to restore the Grand Canal, which connected the Yellow River with the lower Yangtze River (Chang Jiang). Once the pathway was fixed, it made rice easier to transport from the north to the south. Kangxi used his journeys to check on the Grand Canal restoration project to form relationships with the influential members of the south from 1684 to 1707. He financed his trips and lived a generally simple lifestyle following the Confucian philosophy that the Qing had outwardly observed despite their Manchu roots in Tibetan Buddhism. 

At the beginning of his reign, Kangxi was known for being frugal with his expenses, holding only a small number of court members to attend to his needs. Not once were taxes increased, even when there was an ongoing war. There were also several times when taxes were decreased or exempted. Furthermore, the emperor declared in 1711 that there would be a fixed tax depending on the current number of taxpayers in that year. This meant that even if the population grew in the coming years, taxes would not be raised. 

Revolt of the Three Feudatories

After Kangxi’s freedom from his four courtiers, he did not have full control of China yet as there were still three vassal kings operating in the south, diminishing the emperor’s power. They were Shang Kexi of Guangdong, Qu Sangui of Yunnan, and Geng Jimao of Fujian. Geng Jimao would later be replaced by his son, Geng Jingzhong, after his death. They were Han Chinese defectors who helped Shunzhi and the Manchu army defeat the remaining Ming groups that roamed through the south of China. Thus, the three each received the title of king in their respective territories, which they ruled with their autonomous armies. This protection allowed them to continue to function outside of Kangxi’s jurisdiction. 

In 1673, Shang Kexi released his control over his army to return to where he was born, Manchuria. Kangxi readily affirmed his decision, compelling the two other warlords to follow Shang Kexi. Wu Sangui decided to attack the Manchus in the Revolt of the Three Feudatories. The imperial tribe until 1635, the Burni of the Chahar Mongols, also started a rebellion against the Qing. Wu gained control over most of the southern Chinese territories. However, Kangxi’s military prowess exceeded his competitors’ number. The Qing celebrated a decisive victory upon entering Kunming city in 1681.  

Personal Life

The Kangxi emperor was known to be an exemplar of Confucian ideals, observing Confucian traditions and teachings. He diligently pondered on all the memorandums and reports he received, which were rumored to be around 300 each day. Additionally, he executed all of his administrative duties even during wartime. 

Throughout his life, Kangxi retained a great interest in education, often reading until he was ill. He had a simple study area in the Forbidden City dedicated to his readings. He was especially interested in Zhu Xi’s writings on Confucian teachings and employed his knowledge of philosophy as his way of winning the favor of the masses. 

Kangxi also engaged in conversation with Western people to expand his knowledge further. He welcomed Jesuit missionaries to educate him on various topics such as geometry from the Flemish Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest. 

The emperor had three wives: the first two were daughters of his former regents, Sonin and Ebiuln, and the third belonged to his grandfather’s Tong clan. Kangxi had 35 sons, and his second son Yinreng named the crown prince in 1675. Yinreng was deposed twice before 1717 resulting in Kangxi and future emperors never attempting the proclamation of a crown prince again. 

Cultural Accomplishments

In 1678 Kangxi provided a new way for talented individuals to become Chinese officials without going through the civil service examination. He appointed 50 men, one of which was the popular scholar Zhu Yizun who wrote historical accounts of the Ming dynasty. 

Kangxi ordered the compilation of several writings that would become great marks of his prosperous reign during the second half of his rule. These were the Encyclopedia on Imperial Command (Yuanjian leihan) in 1710, the Rime Dictionary (Peiwen Yunfu), and the dictionary of Chinese characters called the Kangxi Dictionary. 

Verbiest was appointed as the Imperial Observatory director, creating the formal calendar used during the Qing dynasty. Jean-Baptiste Régis and Pierre Jartoux were employed to create an atlas for China. Huangyu quanlantu was completed in 1717. The achievements of the Jesuit missionaries prompted Kangxi to allow the Roman Catholics to operate in the area from 1692 onwards. The propagation of the religion would eventually lead to the Chinese Rites controversy, which was a debate between the Jesuits, who believed in the continuation of Chinese Confucian traditions as part of secular activities versus the Dominicans and Franciscans, who believed otherwise and informed Rome of this issue. Pope Clement XI banned the rights in 1704. 

Military Campaigns

Kangxi was an adept military genius with special competence in archery, commanding him respect among his soldiers. After gaining total control over China, he decided to target his foreign opponents from Russia. In the middle of the 1600s, the Russians had traversed from Siberia to the Amur River valley. They had recovered their fortresses in Nerchinsk and Albazin, previously controlled by the Chinese during past dynasties. 

The Qing took Albazin in only a few days, but once they left the secured fortress, the Russians returned to the area. Kangxi ordered the army to lay siege to the fortress for a long period. Tsar Peter I the Great of Russia went into negotiations with the emperor and signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689. The agreement placed the border between the two countries in the middle of the Gorbitsa, one of the tributaries of Amur, and the Range of Stanovoy. Consequently, Manchuria remained in Chinese territory, one of the important areas of dispute as the Qing dynasty originated from the location. 

After his successes against the Russians, the Kangxi emperor’s next objective was to conquer Outer Mongolia. The Khalkha tribes allied with Kangxi in 1691 due to attacks from the Dzungar Oyrats who wanted to invade their part of Outer Mongolia. The Khalka became subjects of Qing rule. Subsequently, Kangxi had a casus belli to attack the nomadic Dzungar Oyrats. He journeyed past the Gobi desert into battle with the Dzungars. His army was superior, and they were able to triumph over the Dzungars, prompting their leader, Dga’l-dan Boshogtu, to commit suicide. Kangxi was able to expand his control to Outer Mongolia. 

Around twenty years later, the Dzungars attacked Tibet and controlled Lhasa in 1717. The Qing were loyal to the Dalai Lama in Tibet and made efforts to remove the Dzungars from Lhasa, taking them as part of China. 


Kangxi favored his second son Yinreng as he was born of the first empress. Amidst the revolts in the South, Yinreng was proclaimed Crown Prince when he was two years old, following the practice of the Han Chinese to ensure stability during wartime. The emperor took meticulous care over Yinreng’s studies, employing the famous Wang Shan to tutor his designated successor. The proclamation of a crown prince broke the imperial palace into factions, with each side rooting for a different successor. Some preferred Yinreng; those who stood by Yinzhen, the 4th Imperial Prince; and those who chose Yinxiang, the 13th imperial prince. 

Despite his best efforts to educate Yinreng, he was accused of heinous acts such as incest, murder, and child trafficking, which made it difficult for Kagnxi to remain loyal to him.

Thus, the emperor deposed his son in 1707, removing his son from his position as Crown Prince. Discussions on who would replace Yinreng decreased the productivity in the palace for years, forcing Kangxi to announce Yinreng as the Crown Prince once again in 1709. This was after he had contemplated that other factors may have contributed to his son’s behavior. 

Yinreng’s supporters lusted for power and organized a way for Kangxi to abdicate the throne before his retirement. Kangxi stopped the coup d’etat and demoted his son a second time, holding him captive in his home. The emperor then wrote about his official successor in his Imperial Valedictory Will, which he placed in Qianqing Palace. It was only retrieved after his death. Because only Kangxi truly knew what he wrote in his will, much dispute whether his successor was truly the one he had chosen. 

Before Kangxi died, the seven Imperial Princes in the Forbidden city gathered at his bedside on December 20, 1722. Longkodo, an imperial official, proclaimed Yinzhen the new emperor of China. He was the 4th prince, an unexpected choice for the next emperor as Kangxi did not particularly favor him. The debate regarding this announcement was whether it was indeed the 4th prince who was named as the successor or if it was the 14th Prince, Yinti, who was given the role of Border Pacification General-in-chief during his Yinreng and his other brothers’ fight for the throne. Yinzhen eventually became Yongzheng emperor. His father was laid to rest in the Eastern Qing Tombs found in the county of Zunhua.