Every country in the world has undergone a gradual metamorphosis to arrive at their current status. China is not an exception. In the past millenniums, several dynasties ruled China and introduced distinct social-political changes, which had interesting succession dramas. These social and political struggles had two main competing interests; the quest for absolute power by the rulers and the people’s quest for affluence and equality. The Kangxi’s valedictory edict of 1717 provides a glimpse of this struggle. He lists some of his accomplishments in public service including sound financial policies that he initiated. Kangxi ruled as the emperor of China from 1654 to 1722. He was one of the longest serving emperors having been in power for 68 years. He thought it fit to write his own valedictory edict rather than leave this task to scholarly officials when he becomes old and unable to think clearly. Kangxi wrote his own valedictory edict because he saw it as a chance to let people know his accomplishments, fears and wishes. Interestingly, the emperor wanted there to be peace after his demise despite the fact that he had ruled with an iron fist by quashing any opposition or any voice of dissent.
Kangxi begins by starting the he had a healthy childhood and that he never contracted any serious diseases during his lifetime. This was no longer the case in his old age. He explains that his mode of governance ensured integrity, accountability, equity, non-discrimination and sustainable development among others. Indeed his reign as emperor witnesses a prolong period of peace that ensured the growth of the economy, technological developments in agriculture and the implement a prudent fiscal policy. However, the political independence of his subjects was curtailed. He argues that there should be a balance between leniency and strictness, but he seemed to favor the later more than the former.
Kangxi thoughtful mind and inquiry interrogates the ideal mode of governance. He canvases how previous dynasties ruled the people. He provides a detailed background of how his dynasty came to power. He posits that every emperor has been subject to the mandate to rule from heaven. He argues that fate must have a reason to let him reign the longest out of 300 rulers. He regards himself as a righteous and virtuous man. Thus, the heavens have rewarded him with posterity and a long life. In writing about his death, Kangxi embraces what had been for a long time a taboo. In his mind, it is critical that the people of China understand his sorrow, fears and perspective. This shows a wise emperor. He wanted his sincerest feelings to be noted down in advance. This is historic because previous emperors did not do such a thing. The historic significance of this phenomenon is that it has made Kangxi standout among the numerous emperors that ruled over China. It draws a picture of a very strategic man. Just like he planned his budgets and policies for future implementation, he decided to plan for his death. Therefore, the edict was written this way in order to ensure the people knew exactly what their departed thought. He says that if any edict has to be read then it must contain only his words and no more. It shows a man who has embraced immortality. A man who wants his voice heard and wishes respected even after his death. That is why he calls himself different. He lists the five joys of life and how past rulers are judged harshly by history. He attempts to defend them. This is because he was aware of the challenges and heavy responsibilities that emperors and rulers face. The challenges of running a government smoothly can be overwhelming. Furthermore, nowadays there are numerous agencies and ministries which carry out functions that were executed by the emperor at that time. This demonstrates the spirit of Kangxi to serve his subjects. In fact, he disagrees with ancient emperors’ approach to governance that the rulers should only be concerned with general principles. He displays a hands-on approach that is extremely desirable in public office. In modern democratic governments, elected officials are required to exercise a hands-on approach in almost all policies and projects. It is undesirable to leave such matters to technocrats who have no mandate from the electorate. His desire for efficiency is commendable. It is also vital that public officials avoid lethargy and perform their functions and duties within time. The emperor argues that his nature involves not neglecting anything, a trait that characterized his leadership.
His views about how to reduce government expenditure and waste illustrate a leader who is accountable. He knows that public funds should be used to improve the livelihoods of the people because it is the “people’s wealth”. This is a commendable government policy considering that it was during the 16th century. He defends his attacks and military intervention. He posits that he never killed a single soul recklessly. Indeed life is sacred, and no person should take another’s without a lawful cause.
It is hard to ascertain the veracity and believability of Kangxi’s assertions. However, from the available literature, it is vital to note that he was not only among the longest-serving emperors, but also the most successful in uniting China, maintaining peace and growing the economy. The edict demonstrates that Qing China government had clear working institutions. It also shows the challenges that emperors had in choosing their successors. Kangxi calls it a burden and wants the people to know that it was not an easy task. That’s why he chose to keep his successor secret to avoid infighting. The document, therefore, provides a true reflection of Kangxi feelings and how China was governed. In the short term the document served to ensure a smooth transition while in the long term it made Kangxi a legendary emperor who was able to manipulate the system to ensure a smooth transition.
Kangxi’s valedictory edict can be used as a primary source for the production of a documentary film depicting the life and times of Emperor Kangxi. The document provides a lot of significant information about the mode of governance before the reign of Kangxi. Moreover, it not only gives us a glimpse into the early life of Kangxi, but also his health status. The documentary film will depict an emperor who was hard working and never left the office before that day’s assignments were completed. In the end, the film will paint a picture of an elderly statesman who had risen to become the master of a powerful and unified China. However, while using the document as the primary source, it is impossible to verify the amount of wealth the emperor had and whether the people maintained peace because they loved or feared him. The document is written form a ruler’s perspective. It mainly talks about the success and sacrifices of the emperor without acknowledging the struggles of the people. This is typical of government reports. Furthermore, it is not possible to ascertain how many children he had given than he chose his fourteenth child as the heir to the throne. Whether all these children were born by the same mother or not, cannot be ascertained given the fact that he says he loathed sex and drink. Personally, the document is a political masterpiece. It is well written and filled with political rhetoric which appeals to the people. Kangxi presents an arguable case defending his reign and the reasons he did so which appeal to the reader. The document is influence because it was written by the emperor himself when he was strong and healthy. Therefore, I would use other forms of literature recorded during and after his reign as emperor in order to arrive at a more objective presentation.
Paludan, Ann . Chinese Emperors: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial China. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2009.
Spence, Jonathan D. Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K'ang-Hsi. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2012.