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Some Mid-Ch'ing Views of the Monarchy

  • Harold L. Kahn


Chinese history is bedevilled by a false image of the throne. With few exceptions the emperor remains in the thrall of his ideologists—a tired, familiar, synthetic figure whose range of attributes is limited to Good and Bad and whose portrait ignores the face for the robes. This is not a credible image, but it is a durable one. Only recently has its authenticity been challenged and its flatness rejected. Analysis has finally moved from acceptance of the one-dimensional, simple cliché to the two-dimensional, complex stereotype. The typological components of the “good first” and “bad last” emperor have been identified and isolated; the administrative components of the “organizing,” “normalcy,” “reforming,” and “ineffectual” emperor-types have been articulated. It remains to add a third dimension where we discern not a unified figure (however complex its components) but a composite figure made up of several images from quite disparate sources.



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1 See respectively Wright, Arthur F., “Sui Yang-ti: Personality and Stereotype,” The Confucian Persuasion, ed. Wright, Arthur F. (1960), pp. 4776, and Liu, James T. C., “An Administrative Cycle in Chinese History, The Case of Northern Sung Emperors,” JAS, xxi.2 (Feb., 1962), pp. 137–52.

2 The treatment in Wright, “Sui Yang-ti,” is relevant here.

3 See Nivison, David S., “Ho-shen and His Accusers,” Confucianism in Action, ed. Nivison, David S. and Wright, Arthur F. (1959), pp. 219, 223.

4 LSTCC, original preface (1730), pp. 1b–2.

5 LSTCC, 5:15b.

6 LSTCC, 5:1b.

7 LSTCC, 5:1b.

8 LSTCC, 4:2–2b.

9 LSTCC, 5:2.

10 LSTCC, 4:1–1b.

11 The ill-fated prince was Yin-jeng, second son of Kʻang-hsi and the last publicly designated heir apparent in the Chʻing. For the deleterious effects of his education at court, see Miyazaki Ichisada, Yō-seitei, Chūgoku no dokusai kunshu (1950), pp. 4–5. For his tutors, see Hummel, Arthur W., ed., Eminent Chinese of the Chʻing Period, 1644–1912, 2 vols. (1943, 1944), II, 924, and Chung-han, Wang, Chʻing shih tsa-kʻao (1957), pp. 165–66, note 8.

12 See John K. Fairbank, Chʻing Documents, An Introductory Syllabus, 2 vols. (1959), I, 76–78, 88. Only five of the forty categories listed for the Tao-kuang reign differ substantially from the forty for the Chʻien-lung reign. For these latter, see KTSH 1: table of contents, 1–26. Those for the Chia-chʻing reign are virtually the same. See the Jen-tsung sheng hsün, 1: table of contents, 1–6 (of die photo-reduced ed.).

13 See Hachirō, Nakayama, “Shinchō kōteiken ni tsuite—Ken-ryū, Ka-kei, Dō-kō chō,” Rekishi kyōiku, 8.12 (1960), p. 11.

14 See Fairbank, John K., “Proleptical Prolegomena on the Emperor of China, Etc.” (unpublished, 1959), pp. 67.

15 KTSH, 1: Preface, 3. On the Sheng-hsün's inconvenience as a historical document, see Knight Biggerstaff, “Some Notes on the Tung-hua lu and the Shih-lu, HJAS, 4.2 (July, 1939), p. 110, note 31.

16 Sugimura Yūzō, Ken-ryü kōtei (1961), pp. 29–30, Hummel, I, 370–71, and Hsiao I-shan, Ch'ing tai t'ung-shih, 2 vols. (1927, 1928), II, 21. The complete personal writings total 590 chüan. In comparison, those of Chia-ch'ing total 250 chüan.

17 Hsiao, Ch'ing-tai t'ung-shih, II, 31, Hummel, I, 371, Twitchett, Denis, “Traditional China,” The Listener, lxix (4 April, 1963), p. 591. A more lenient view is Torajirō, Naitō, Shinchōshi tsūron (2nd printing, 1953), pp. 26, 28–29, Less critical and more ecstatic is Sugimura, Ken-ryū kōtei, pp. 24–25, 30.

18 For the ideological, linguistic, and functional restrictions on the official historiographer, see Balazs, E., “L'histoire comme Guide de la Pratique bureaucratique (Les Monographies, Les Encyclopédies, Les Recueils de Statuts),” Historians of China and Japan, ed. Beasley, W. G. and Pulleyblank, E. G. (1961), pp. 7882. For a discussion of politically motivated revisions of the record, see Lien-sheng Yang, “The Organization of Chinese Official Historiography: Principles and Methods of the Standard Histories from the T'ang through the Ming Dynasty,” in Beasley and Pulleyblank, Historians, p. 46, and Wolfgang Franke, “The Veritable Records of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644),” in Beasley and Pulleyblank, Historians, pp. 68–73.

19 Yang, “Organization,” p. 53.

20 Yang, “Organization,” p. 53 and note 21 below.

21 Liu Ch'eng-kan, comp., Ming-shih li-an, 9 chiian (1915), 1: 6. See also Wright, “Sui Yang-ti,” pp. 61–65, 76.

22 For Wang's biography, see Hummel, II, 826, and Ch'ing-shih lieh-chuan 80 chüan (1928), 10:13–18.

23 An important study of this question in light of contemporary Ming historiography is Wang Ch'ung-wu, Feng-t'ien ching-nan-chi chu (1948). See also Meng Sen, Ming-tai shih (1957), pp. 83–105.

24 See E. Backhouse and J. O. P. Bland, Annals & Memoirs of the Court of Peking (1914), pp. 245–268, Hummel, II, 663–66, 924–27, and Miyazaki, Yō-sei-tei, pp. 3–9.

25 See Naitō Torajirō, Shina shigaku shi (2nd printing, 1953), pp. 375–80, Chu Hsi-tsu, Ming-chi thih-liao t'i-pa (1961), pp. 73–74. and Hsiao-t'ing hsü-lu, 3 chüan, by Chao-lien (appended to Hsiao-t'ing tsa-lu, 10 chüan, Shanghai, 1880 ed.), 3:16b–17.

26 The clearest directive was issued 14 March, 1692, the latest 22 December, 1704. See Liu, Ming-shih li-an, l:3–3b, 7–8b. Ten years later, in 1714, Wang presented his first efforts toward a draft history of the Ming, his Ming-shih lieh-chuan kao (Draft biographies for the Ming History) in 208 chüan. This work still contained most of the “offensive” references. They were only deleted in the Ming-shih kao (Draft History of the Ming), 300 chüan, presented to the throne in 1723. Sec Chu, Ming-chi shih-liao, p. 73.

27 Chao-lien (1780–1833) and Wei Yüan (1794–1856) were the critics. See Hsiao-t'ing hsü-lu, 3:16b, Naitō, Shina shigaku shi, p. 379, and Chu, Ming-chi shih-liao, p. 73.

28 See Ming-shih (Kaiming ed.), pp. 7103, col. 4—7105, col. 2, 7430, col. 3. For the Ming-shih editors' oown methods of concealment, see Yang, “Organization,” p. 52.

29 Yū-p'i li-tai t'ung-chien chi-lan, 120 chüan (1869 ed.), 101:21b. Ch'ien-lung admits to having written, on the basis of his own reading of history, only about 30 per cent of the annotations in this work. The rest were composed by his court scholars, though he claims to have emended most of them. In any case, all appear in his name and most be taken to represent his views on history. See Ibid., emperor's preface (dated 1767), p. 2.

30 Cf. Franke, Herbert, “Some Aspects of Chinese Private Historiography in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries,” in Beasley and Pulleyblank, Historians, pp. 115–25.

31 WKCS, preface, p. 1.

32 SWC, preface, p. 1.

33 WKCS, preface, pp. 1–2.

34 WKCS, preface, p. 2. The allusion is to Han Yu's “Ch'ao-chou tz'u-shih hsieh-shang piao” (Expression of thanks upon assuming the post of prefect of Ch'ao-chou). See Han Ch'ang-li chi, 8 ts'e in 1 vol. (1933), ts'e 7, p. 38.

35 SWC, preface, pp. 1–2.

36 Ch'ing Kao-tsung [Ch'ien-lung], “Shih-ch'üan chi,” Yü-chih shih-wen shih-ch'süan chi, 54 chüan (1794)” 53:1–6. See also Hsiao, Ch'ing-tai t'ung-shih, II, 129–30.

37 WKCS, preface, p. 1b, SWC, 9:1b.

38 SWC, 9:1b. The fang-lüeh referred to is the Chiao-p'ing san-sheng hsich-fei fang liieh or the Official account of the suppression and pacification of the religious rebels in three provinces, printed in 1810 in 410 chüan.

39 This is Rhulman's paraphrase of a Chinese description of popular fiction, ch'i-shih san-hsü d or “70 per cent truth and 30 per cent falsehood.” Robert Rhulman, “Traditional Heroes in Chinese Popular Fiction,” in Wright, The Confucian Persuasion, p. 147.

40 Rhulman, “Traditional Heroes,” p. 141, and Wright, “Sui Yang-ti,” pp. 47–49.

41 Rhulman, “Traditional Heroes,” p. 155. On the historicity of this type of fiction, see Ibid., pp. 147–53.

42 Ch'ing-ch'ao yeh-shih ta-kuan, 5 pts. (Taipei, 1959 ed.), Pt. I, p. 141. I am indebted to D. T. Roy for this reference.

43 Literally, Office of Respectful Service. This was the headquarters of eunuch service in the palace, designated at the outset of the K'ang-hsi era to replace the Thirteen Yamen or offices to which the eunuchs were previously attached. It was placed strictly under the jurisdiction of the Imperial Household. See Shinkoku gyōseihō, 6 kan in 7 satsu + 1 vol. index, comp. Rinji Taiwan Kyūkan Chōsakai (1910–14), 1: pt. 1, p. 138. It was located in the Ching-jen kung, one of the six palaces paired on a north-south axis east of the Chao-jen tien, the eastern wing of the throne hall or Ch'ien-ch'ing kung.g See Ch'ing-pai lei-ch'ao, 48 vols. (1917), II, kung-yüan lei (palaces), p. 3.

44 Ch'ing-ch'ao t'ung-tien, 100 chūan (Commercial Press ed., 1936), 29:2191, col. 3.

45 Wu Hsiang-hsiang, Tzu-chin-ch'eng mi-t'an (1953), pp. 112–13.

46 Wu, Tzu-chin-ch'eng mi-t'an, pp. 84, 89–91, 113. The emperor cited here is Ch'ien-lung.

47 Ch'ing-kung li-shih yen-i, 14 chüan, comp., Hsū Mu-hsi (1924), 9:7–7b and Man-Ch'ing shih-sanch'ao kung-wei mi-shih, comp. Yen-pei lao-jen (Taipei, 1956 ed.), P. 5.

48 Intercourse with a father's concubine constituted incest, and in the Ch'ing, as in the T'ang, Sung, and Ming, was punishable by death. See Ch'ü T'ung-tsu, Law and Society in Traditional China (1961), p. 66.

49 See Nivison, “Ho-shen,” p. 210.

50 Ch'ing-kung li-shih yen-i, 9:6b, 7b.

51 As an example of the latter, see Ch'ien-lung yu Chiang-nan, 2 vols., (Hong Kong, n.d.), where Ch'ien-lung is portrayed as an itinerant hero, travelling in disguise throughout the realm righting the wrongs of his own officials.

52 Two important private sources of the imperial image not discussed in this article deserve mention here-the occasional or miscellaneous note (pi-chi or sui-pi), and the vernacular novel, such as the Hung-loa meng. For the former see, for example, Hsiao-t'ing tsa-lu, one of the most important collections of miscellany for the study of the mid-Ch'ing period; for the latter see, for example, Ts'ai Yüan-p'ei's treatment of the Hung-lou meng as an allegory of the Ch'ien-lung reign, Shih-t'ou chi so-yin (1935), Wu Shih-ch'ang, On the Red Chamber Dream (1961), pp. 1–11, and Chia Lien's important speech on imperial compassion and filiality in chapter 16 of the novel itself, Hung-lou meng, 2 vols., (Hong Kong, Kwong Chi Book Co. ed.), I, 224.

53 Unless otherwise noted, the following information on T'ang is drawn from Wang Wen-yuan, “Hsi-Shu T'ang P'u-t'ing hsien-sheng hsing-lüeh” in T'ang Chen, Ch'ien-shu (Peking, 1955 ed.), pp. 207–10 and Li Chih-ch'in, “T'ang Chen shih-chi ts'ung-k'ao” in T'ang Chen, Ch'ien-shu fu shih-wen lu (1963), pp. 252–92.

54 T'ang, Ch'ien-shu, publisher's forward, p. 2.

55 See Ssu-k'u ch'üan-shu tsung-mu t'i-yao, 4 vols. (Commercial Press ed., 1933), III, 2636, 2640.

56 T'ang, Ch'ien-shu, p. 196.

57 See Hou Wai-lu, Chung-kuo ssu-hsiang t'ung-shih, vol. 5, Chung-kuo tsao-ch'i ch'i-meng ssu-hsiang shih (3rd printing, 1963), p. 301.

58 T'ang, Ch'ien-shu, p. 197.

59 See for example Nivison, “Ho-shen,” and Luther Carrington Goodrich, The Literary Inquisition of Ch'ien-lung (1935).

60 See for instance the cases of Ch'ien Feng (1740–1795) and Hung Liang-chi (1746–1809) as discussed in Nivison, “Ho-shen,” pp. 233–34, 238–39, 241–42. See also the more scholastic, and hence politically unobtrusive, argument against the indiscriminate exercise of authority by the then little appreciated philosopher Tai Chen (1724–1777), noted in Hummel, II, 699, Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy, 2 vols., tr. Derk Bodde (1952), II, 651 ff., and Ch'i-ch'ao, Liang, Intellectual Trends in the Ch'ing Period, tr. Hsü, Immanuel C. Y. (1959), p. 62.

61 See Wu, Nelson, “The Toleration of Eccentrics,” Art News, 56 (May, 1957), pp. 2629, 52–54.

62 Nivison, David S., “The Problem of ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Action’ in Chinese Thought since Wang Yangming,” Studies in Chinese Thought, ed. Wright, Arthur F. (1953), p. 133.

63 P. Demieville, “Chang Hsüeh-ch'eng and his Historiography” in Beasley and Pulleyblank, Historians, p. 185.

64 Wittfogel, Karl A., Oriental Despotism, A Comparative Study of Total Power (1957), pp. 133–34.

65 Two recent examples are Hou, Chung-kuo ssu-hsiang t'ung-shih, vol. 5, and Chung-kuo che-hsüch-shih tzu-liao hsüan-chi—Ch'ing-tai chih pu, ed. by the History of Chinese philosophy section of the Institute of Philosophical Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences (1962). For a description of T'ang Chen as an early Ch'ing progressive and man of the people, for example, see the latter, pp. 239–40.

66 See. De Bary, W. T., “Chinese Despotism and the Confucian Ideal: A Seventeenth Century View,” Chinese Thought and Institutions, ed. Fairbank, John K. (1957), pp. 163–64.

Some Mid-Ch'ing Views of the Monarchy

  • Harold L. Kahn


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