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Yongzheng Emperor

The Yongzheng Emperor (雍正帝 → yōngzhèngdì) (born Yinzhen (胤禛 → yìnzhēn) December 13, 1678 - October 8, 1735) was the fourth emperor of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, and the third Qing emperor to rule over China, from 1722 to 1735. A hard-working ruler, Yongzheng's main goal was to create an effective government at minimum expense. Like his father, the Kangxi Emperor, Yongzheng used military force in order to preserve the dynasty's position. Suspected by historians to have usurped the throne, his reign was often called despotic, efficient, and vigorous. Although Yongzheng's reign was much shorter than the reigns of both his father, the Kangxi Emperor, and his son, the Qianlong Emperor, his sudden death was probably brought about by his workload. Yongzheng continued an era of continued peace and prosperity as he cracked down on corruption and waste, and reformed the financial administration.

The Prince Yong

Yinzhen was the fourth son of Kangxi to survive into adulthood, and the eldest son by Empress Xiaogong (孝恭 → xiàogōng), a lady of the Manchu Uya clan who was then known as "De-fei". Kangxi knew it would be a mistake to raise his children inside the deep palaces alone, and therefore exposed his sons, including Yinzhen, to the outside world, and gave a strict system of education for them. Yongzheng went with Kangxi on several inspection trips around the Beijing area, as well as one trip further south. He was the honorary leader of the Plain Red Banner during Kangxi's second battle against Mongol Khan Gordhun. Yinzhen was made a beile (貝勒, "lord") in 1689 and then successively raised to the position of second-class prince in 1698. In 1704, the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers saw an unprecedented rush of flooding. The economy and livelihood of people around these areas were severely harmed. Yongzheng was sent out as an envoy of the Emperor with the 13th Imperial Prince Yinxiang to deal with relief efforts in southern China. The Imperial Treasury, having been drained by unpaid loans by many officials and nobles, did not have sufficient funds to deal with the flooding; Yongzheng had the added responsibility of securing relief funds from the wealthy southern tycoons. These efforts ensured that funds were distributed properly and people would not starve. He was given the peerage title of a first-class Prince, the Prince Yong (雍親王) in 1709.

Disputed Succession to the throne

Please refer to the article on the Kangxi Emperor for background details.

In 1712 the Kangxi Emperor removed his second son, Yinreng, as successor to the throne and did not designate another one. This led to further division in Court, which was long split among supporters of Yinzhi, Yinzhen, Yinsi, and Yinti, the 3rd, 4th, 8th and 14th Imperial Princes, respectively. Of the princes, Yinsi had the most support from the mandarins, though often for unaltruistic reasons. Prior to this, Yinzhen was a supporter of the Crown prince. By the time of the old Emperor's death in December 1722, the field of contenders had been reduced down to three Princes after Yinsi pledged his support to the 14th prince Yinti (Yinzhen's brother by the same mother).

At the time of the Kangxi Emperor's death, Yinti, as Border Pacification General-in-chief (撫遠大將軍), was away on the warfront in the northwest. Some historians say this was to train the next Emperor in military affairs; others maintain that it was to ensure a peaceful succession for Yinzhen. It was Yongzheng who had nominated Yinti for the post, and not Yinsi, whom Yinti was closely affiliated with. This post was seen as an indication of Kangxi's choice of successor, as the position of Crown Prince had been vacant for 7 years.

The official record, which could have been modified by Yongzheng himself for political purposes, states that on December 20 1722, the ailing Kangxi Emperor called to his bedside seven of his sons and the General Commandant of the Peking Gendarmerie, Longkodo, who read out the will and declared that Yinzhen succeed him on the imperial throne. Some evidence have suggested that Yinzhen had made contact with Longkodo months before the will was read in preparation for succession by military means, though in their official capacities, frequent encounters were only to be expected. Folklore has it that Yongzheng changed Kangxi's will by adding strokes and modifying characters. The most famous one said Yongzheng changed fourteen (十四 → shísì) to "to four" (于四 → yúsì), others say it was fourteen to fourth (第四 → dìsì). Whilst this folklore had been widely circulated, there was little evidence to support the view, especially considering that the character "于" wasn't widely used during the Qing Dynasty, i.e. on official documents, "於" () is used. Secondly, Qing tradition insists that the will be done in both Manchu and Chinese, and Manchu writing is much harder, and in this case impossible to modify. Furthermore, princes in the Qing Dynasty are referred to as the Emperor's son, in the order which they were born. (Ex.: "The Emperor's Fourth Son" Chinese:皇四子) Therefore, there are much doubt to the theory of Yinzhen changing the will to ascend to the throne.

Yinzhen chose an era name that was similar in sound to his given name, and 1723 was to be the first year of the Yongzheng era. As the first official act as Emperor, Yongzheng released his long-time ally, the 13th prince Yinxiang, who had been imprisoned by the Kangxi Emperor at the same time as the Crown Prince. Some sources indicate that Yinxiang, the most military of the princes, then assembled a group of special task Beijing soldiers from the Fengtai command to seize immediate control of the Forbidden City and surrounding areas, to prevent any usurpation by Yinsi's cronies. Yongzheng's personal account stated that he was emotionally unstable and deeply saddened over his father's death, and knew it would be a burden "much too heavy" for himself if he were to succeed the throne. In addition, after the will was read, Yinzhen wrote that the officials (premier Zhang Tingyu, Longkedo and Yinzhi) and the Prince Cheng led the other Princes in the ceremonial Three-kneels and Nine-Salutes to the Emperor. On the next day, Yongzheng gave out an edict summoning Yinti back from Qinghai, bestowing upon their mother the title of Holy Mother Empress Dowager the day Yinti arrived at the funeral.

In the first major comprehensive biography of the Yongzheng Emperor by Feng Erkang, the author put the Yongzheng succession in perspective. Feng wrote that there were some suspicious signs from the lost wills and the dates released, but the majority of evidence points to Yinzhen succeeding the throne legitimately, albeit with some political and military manoeuvering deemed necessary by the situation. The 8th prince Yinsi had throughout his life been amassing support of the officials by bribery, and his influence had penetrated the Fengtai command. Furthermore, Feng suggested "although we are not yet altogether certain on what happened with the succession, and which side is correct, it is reasonable to think that Yongzheng's political enemies manipulated all suspicion behind the will in an attempt to put a dark image on Yongzheng; Imperial Chinese tradition had led certain schools of thought in believing that Yongzheng's whole reign can be discredited simply because his succession of the throne did not come as a will of his father, the Emperor and ultimate decision maker in China." He further suggested that Kangxi had made a grave mistake by letting his sons become major players in politics, especially under the condition that the position of Crown Prince was empty, and that a bloody battle of succession, including a possible usurpation, is the inevitable result of the Imperial Chinese institution and history. Therefore it would be an even bigger mistake to judge a ruler solely on the way he came to power. Certainly, the Yongzheng emperor made sure that his successor would have a smooth succession when his turn came.

Reign Over China

In December 1722, after succeeding to the throne, Yinzhen took the era name of "Harmonious Justice" (雍正 → yōngzhèng), effective 1723, from his peerage title "harmonious" (雍 → yōng) and "just, correct, upright" (正 → zhèng). It has been suggested that the second character of his era name was an attempt to cover up his illegal claim to the throne, calling himself "justified". Immediately after succeeding the throne, Yongzheng chose his new governing council. It consisted of the 8th prince Yinsi, the 13th prince Yinxiang, Zhang Tingyu, Ma Qi, and Longkodo. Yinsi was given the title of Prince Lian, and Yinxiang was given the title of Prince Yi, both holding the highest positions in the land.

Continued battle against Princes

As the nature of his succession is deeply clouded, Yongzheng saw a challenge in all his surviving brothers. Yinzhi, the eldest, continued in house arrest. Yinreng, the former Crown Prince, died two years into his reign - though they were imprisoned not by Yongzheng, but by Kangxi himself. The biggest challenge was to separate Yinsi's party (consisting of Yinsi and the 9th and 10th princes, and their minions), and isolate Yinti to cut their dominance. Yinsi, who had nominally held the position of President of the Feudatory Affairs Office, the title Prince Lian, and later the office of Prime Minister, was held under close watch by Yongzheng. Yintang was sent to Qinghai under the pretext of military requirement, but in reality fell within Yongzheng's trusted protégé Nian Gengyao's territory. Yin'e, the 10th Prince, was rid of all his titles in May 1724, and sent north to the Shunyi area. The 14th Prince Yinti, his brother born to the same mother, was placed under house arrest at the Imperial Tombs, under the pretext of watching over their parents' tombs.

The first few years of Yongzheng's reign saw an increase in partisan politics. Yinsi had wanted to use his position to manipulate Yongzheng into making wrong decisions, while appearing supportive. Yinsi and Yintang, both supporters of Yinti for the throne, had all of their titles rid, languished in prison and died in 1727.

The case of Nian and Long

Nian Gengyao was a supporter of Yongzheng long before he succeeded the throne. In 1722, when he was summoning back his brother Yinti from the northeast, he appointed Nian to fill in the position. The situation in Xinjiang at the time was still very much precarious, and a strong general was needed in the area. After several military conquests, however, Nian Gengyao's greed for power grew. Nian reputedly wanted to be level to Yongzheng himself. Seeing the situation unfold, Yongzheng issued an Imperial Edict demoting Nian to the general of the Hangzhou Commandery. Continuing to be unrelenting of his outlook, Nian was given an ultimatum, after which he committed suicide by poison in 1726. Longkodo was commander of Beijing's armies at the time of Yongzheng's succession. He fell to disgrace in 1728 and died while under house arrest.

After he became Emperor, Yongzheng suppressed writings that he deemed unfavorable to his regime, particularly those with an anti-Manchu bias. Foremost among these was the case of Zeng Jing, a failed degree candidate heavily influenced by the seventeenth-century scholar Lü Liuliang. In October 1728, he attempted to incite Yue Zhongqi, Governor-general of Shaanxi-Sichuan, to rebellion. He gave a long list of accusations against Yongzheng, including the murder of the Kangxi Emperor and the killing of his brothers. Highly concerned with the implications of the case, Yongzheng had Zeng Jing brought to Beijing for trial.

Yongzheng is also known for establishing strict autocratic rule in the time period. He disliked corruption and punished officials severely when they were found guilty of the offence. In 1729, he gave an edict prohibiting the smoking of madak, a blend of tobacco and opium. During Yongzheng's reign, the Manchu Empire became a great power and a peaceful country, and he furthered strengthened the Kangqian Period of Harmony (康乾盛世). He created a sophisticated procedure for selecting successor in response to his father's tragedy.

Yongzheng was known for his trust in Mandarin Chinese officials. Li Wei and Tian Wenjing were both used to govern China's southern areas. Ertai also served Yongzheng's in governing the southern areas.

He was also known for removing the power of the princes over the other five banners and uniting the eight banners under a central authority - himself, through the "Act of the Union of the Eight Princes" or "八王依正".

Military expansion in the northwest

Like his father, Yongzheng used military force in order to preserve the dynasty's position in Outer Mongolia. When Tibet was torn by civil war during 1727-28, he intervened militarily. Upon intervention, he left behind a Qing resident backed up by a military garrison to pursue the dynasty's interests. For the Tibetan campaign, Yongzheng sent an army of 230,000 led by Nian Gengyiao against the Dzugars who had an army of 80,000. Due to the geographic reasons, the Qing army though were vastly superior, couldn't engage the mobile enemy. Eventually, the Qing engaged the enemy and defeated it. This campaign cost the treasury at least 8,000,000 taels of silver. Later in Yongzheng's reign, he would send another small army of 10,000 to fight the Dzungars. However, the whole army was completely annihalited, the Qing Dynasty nearly lost control of the Mongolian area. Luckily, a Qing ally, the Khalkha tribe would defeat the Dzungars.

Overall, after the reforms of 1729, the treasury increased from 1721 of 32,622,421 taels to about 60,000,000 taels in 1730, surpassing record set during Yongzheng's father, Kangxi emperor's regime; however, the pacification of the Qinghai area and the defense on the borders area was a heavy burden. Just for the borders, 100,000 taels was needed each year. The total military cost added up to 10,000,000 taels a year. By the end of 1735, military spending have used up half of the treasury and the treasury rested at 33,950,000 taels. It is because of this heavy burden that Yongzheng emperor considered making peace with the Dzungars.

His private life was a sad one. He had fourteen children, of whom 5 survived into adulthood.

The Yongzheng Emperor ruled the Qing Empire for thirteen years. He died suddenly at the age of 58 in 1735. Legends hold that he was actually assassinated by Lu Siniang, daughter of Lü Liuliang whose entire family was believed to have been executed for literary crimes against the Manchu Regime. More realistically, he might have died due to an overdose of medication he was consuming at the time due to his ardent belief that it would prolong his life. To prevent the succession tragedy faced by himself thirteen years ago, he ordered his third son, Hongshi, who had been an ally of Yinsi, to commit suicide. He was succeeded by his son, Hongli, the Prince Bao, who became the fifth emperor of the Qing dynasty under the era name of Qianlong.

He was interred in the Western Qing Tombs (清西陵), 120 kilometers/75 miles southwest of Beijing, in the Tailing (泰陵) mausoleum complex (known in Manchu as the Elhe Munggan).

Family

Consorts

  1. Empress Xiao Jing Xian (? -1731) of the Ula Nara Clan (Chinese: 孝敬憲皇后; Manchu: Hiyoošungga Ginggun Temgetulehe Hūwanghu)
  2. Empress Xiao Sheng Xian (1692 - 1777) of the Niohuru Clan (Chinese: 孝聖憲皇后; Manchu: Hiyoošungga Enduringge Temgetulehe Hūwanghu), mother of Hongli (Emperor Qianlong)
  3. Imperial Noble Consort Dun Shu (年贵妃), sister of Nian Gengyao, bore three sons and a daughter, none of which survived.
  4. Imperial Noble Consort Chun Yi (懿贵妃) of Geng, mother of Hongzhou
  5. Consort Ji (齐妃) of Li, mother of Hongshi
  6. Consort Qian (谦妃) of the Liu clan, bore Yongzheng's youngest son
  7. Imperial Concubine Mau of the Song clan, bore two daughters
  8. Worthy Lady Wu

Sons

  1. Honghui (弘暉),端親王
  2. Hongyun (弘昀), died young
  3. Hongshi(弘時)
  4. Hongli(弘曆) (Qianlong Emperor)
  5. Hongzhou(弘晝), Prince He和恭親王
  6. Hongpan
  7. Fuhe (福宜), died young
  8. Fuhui (福惠),懷親王
  9. Fupei (福沛), died young
  10. Hongzhan (弘瞻),果恭郡王
  11. (弘昐), died young

Daughters

  • 4 daughters (1 survived)

Legacy of the Era

Although his name is seldom included in reference, Yongzheng was an inseparable part of the era known as the Kangqian Period of Harmony, where China saw continued development. China's CCTV-1 broadcasted one of the best-rated TV Series in Chinese history on Yongzheng in 1997, focusing on his positive image, and his tough stance on corruption, a contemporary issue.

Notes

References

  • Feng, Erkang. "Yongzheng Biography" (《雍正传》), China Publishing Group, People's Publishing House. Beijing: 2004. ISBN 7-01-004192-X
  • Schirokauer, Conrad; Miranda Brown (2006). A Brief History of Chinese Civilization. Belmont, California: Thomson Higher Education.

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