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Cultural Consolidation Of The Manchu Rule History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Wen and Wu: was Kangxis cultural consolidation of the Manchu Rule in the Qing Dynasty from 1661-1772 in winning over the Han as successful as his military conquests?

The Qing Dynasty was China’s last imperial dynasty ruling from 1644 to 1912. The maintenance of power spanning over two hundred years is remarkable when taking into account the various domestic and foreign threats facing China from its birth, and even more so when considering that power in the Qing lay vested in the hands of a 2% minority: the Manchus.

The Manchus composed of a small, multi-ethnic tribe living in Northern China. It was under clansman Nurhaci in 1616 in which a formal Chin state was established under a military, banner-system rule. Through his successors, son and grandson Huang Taiji and Dorgon further developed his legacy, establishing a civil administration for the Manchus and joining with the Ming forces in 1644 to defeat rebel Li Zhicheng. On October 30, 1644 Li was overthrown and the Dorgon successfully attained the Mandate of Heaven. However, it was only later in the second emperor of Qing, Kangxi’s rule from 1662 to 1722, in which the regime was consolidated.

This essay will thus narrow its focus into the period of Kangxi’s consolidation in the 200-year Qing dynasty by examining his successes in consolidating the regime both militarily and culturally. From a historiographical point of the view, Kangxi’s consolidation has been viewed heavily in light of his military success against the Three Feudatories, Ming loyalists and foreign threats of Russia and the Zhunger Mongols in bringing more territories into the Qing Empire and thus establishing Manchu control. Through this essay, I aim to further extend this into examination of how Kangxi not only conquered opponents and foreigners, but also how he sought to win over the minds of the Han in “China Proper” through building up of civil administration and works, and intellectual and cultural development, and will ultimately aim to answer my research question: “Were Kangxi’s attempts to consolidate the Manchu rule internally in China proper through winning the minds of the Han as successful as his military conquests against opponents of the Qing from 1662 to 1722?” The overarching thesis of this essay will be that Kangxi’s cultural consolidation was as successful as, and equally important as his military conquests.

Insight into Kangxi’s feat of consolidating the Manchu rule in terms of both foreign conquest and winning over the support of the Han Chinese would be pertinent to the contemporary world, as China’s economic growth is paralleled by its rising international political clout. Thus, China’s ascent into a world superpower makes study of its history essential to understanding how the world will be shaped in the future. Furthermore, China’s booming economic growth brings along the lesser desirable increasing social tensions, as can be seen by the growing number of strikes, random knife attacks in schools, and protests among ethnic minorities in modern society. The combination between being vital to the international economic effort and facing rising social and internal strife brings dangerous potential consequences to the framework of the international structure, in which knowledge into how one man representing a 2% [1] minority of society brought an exceptionally large area of territory -even larger than China is today- into his control would be of great significance.

To answer the guiding research question, this essay will be split into three sections. In order to make a judgment on the success of Kangxi’s internal consolidation, it is imperative to analyze the situation in which he inherited from his predecessor, Shun Zhi. Thus, the first section of this essay will focus on the actions of Shun Zhi during his rule, analyzing his response to the Ming loyalist uprising, territorial expansion, political development and cultural institutions and changes in order to ultimately come to a conclusion regarding the legacy that Kangxi inherited when he ascended the throne as a six-year-old in 1662.

Next, I will analyze Kangxi’s military consolidation of the Manchu rule, hence gaining an appropriate benchmark in which to compare the success of his internal consolidation in winning over the Han. This will be done by examination on his collective successes against the Three Feudatories, the Taiwanese Ming loyalists and the Russian and Zhunger threats during his rule, and hence forming a conclusion regarding the extent of Kangxi’s success in consolidating the regime in terms of territory and quelling opposition.

Most importantly, I will then focus in detail on the Kangxi’s developments in China proper in terms of civil administration and policies implemented particularly in agricultural areas, followed by examination in the cultural developments and intellectual life under Kangxi’s regime. Analysis into these areas will then provide for making a judgment on the Han attitude towards the Manchu rule during the time of Kangxi, hence allowing for a conclusion into the guiding question of this essay, whether Kangxi’s internal consolidation of winning the minds of the Han people was as successful as his military consolidation.

Kangxi’s inherited legacy

To analyze the advances and accomplishments made by Kangxi during his Qing rule, it is important to thus understand the nature of the legacy he inherited from his predecessor Shunzhi, who ruled from 1644 to 1662, and then of the work of the four regents from 1662 to 1669. This particular time frame has been chosen as although Kangxi had already assumed the throne by 1662, his first seven-year time in power as largely an apprenticeship, with major decisions made by the four regents, and with this period ending in 1669 by Oboi’s arrest and the subsequent purge.

It will be argued in this section that Shunzhi’s rule was marked by several attempts to stay in power, but was not successful in its entire consolidation, as further problems that were not solved or created by Shunzhi and his four regents were then left to Kangxi as issues that had to be solved in his time.

Shunzhi’s rule politically was marked by a continuation of Ming political institutions, such as the Grand Secretariat [2] . Continuing the trend as set by Huang Taiji, the ruling institutions were controlled by a Manchu-Han synarchy, with members of both ethnicities having roles in government institutions: for example, of the four grand secretaries of the Grand Secretariat, two were Manchu and the others, Han. [3] 

However, Qing rule spurred a number of cultural changes in Han society, such as the much detested “Queue rule” adopted by Dorgon. Other cultural changes included forced Han conformity of Manchu clothing, and laws preventing inter-racial marriage. The examination system, however, was still kept intact in order to bring talented scholars into the government.

Yet, the Shunzhi regime is most noted for its attempts at suppressing Ming loyalists who opposed the foreign Manchu rule. Historians have argued that the loyalist movement was heavily influenced by traditional Chinese Confucian teachings, which emphasized exclusive fidelity to one dynasty. [4] As argued by historians, Ming opposition to the Manchus can be split into two factions: first, the open rebellion and warfare by military men and the support from the peasants, and second, the detached cynicism of the Ming intellectuals. Opposition of the former nature was most evident throughout Shunzhi’s regime, as can by seen by the 1940s uprisings of leftover Ming royalty, Prince Fu, Prince Lu, Prince Tang and Prince Guei that were ultimately foiled by the end of the decade.

More serious threats were posed by Koxinga, a notable military leader, and the three feudatories in southern China. Koxinga made a number of military successes along the eastern borders of China in 1950s, aided by the support of thousands of local Han Chinese, but was defeated at Nanjing in 1959. However, he was able to defect to Taiwan were he built a base for Ming loyalists, and his work carried on through his sons.

The Three Feudatories were composed of three defected Ming generals given land in southern China to govern over as reward. Yet, this situation posed as a problem to the consolidation of Qing rule as their ruling prevented complete Manchu control over China proper, and also was a large drain on the Qing imperial court’s funds.

Therefore, military consolidation was not accomplished under Shunzhi as his legacy still left gaping holes in the issues regarding Koxinga and Taiwan, and the Three Feudatories in the south. In terms of the historiographical debate, opposition to the Manchu rule via open rebellion had not yet been put to rest.

The second stated issue, the problem with the distant intellectuals who sought self-imposed exile in indirect opposition towards the regime was more inefficiently dealt with in Shunzhi’s reign, as the emperor was preoccupied with quelling the more pressing matters of open rebellion. Instead of adopting a conciliatory approach towards the intellectuals, Shunzhi sought to ban literary societies, which were often frequented by the Han scholarly elite.

Further problems in cultural consolidation were created following the death of Shunzhi and the assumption of the four regents to real power. The late emperor, in the later years of his rule, had adopted more Han-friendly policies such as embracing Buddhism and returning several eunuch privileges. The four regents denounced these policies after Shunzhi’s death, and set on a government that took a much more Manchu-friendly course. Led by the most dominant of the four, a celebrated military officer Oboi, the four regents worked to reverse Shunzhi’s policies, abolishing eunuch political offices, overseeing the execution of wealthy Han Chinese and forcing relocation of Han along the east coast in order to stave off supplies to Taiwan. Therefore, cultural consolidation in winning over the support of the Han majority was not achieved in Shunzhi’s reign, as the Four Regents had set the new government on a thoroughly pro-Manchu course.

The sudden shift in direction of Qing rule by the Four Regents left Kangxi a legacy of a struggle between what historians have deemed wen and wu: of finding a balance between the intellectual and cultural interaction with the Han and the military might of the Manchus. Military consolidation was not at all complete under Shunzhi, with the leftover problems of Koxinga and the Three Feudatories, while attempts at winning over the Han intellectuals who viewed the Manchus with “detached cynicism” were hardly made at all. It would take until the at least the 1700s in which the process of fusing together wen and wu, of achieving both cultural and military consolidation, would be complete.

Kangxi’s Military Might

Kangxi’s consolidation emperor is regarded by historians to be attributed to his numerous military successes: Joanna Waley-Cohen argues in The Culture of War in China that the militarization of culture under the Qing was a crucial component in the consolidation of power. This argument is further supported by Kangxi’s own attitudes towards military affairs:

“Since ancient times, the way of governing the country has been to manage civil affairs while simultaneously exerting oneself in military affairs. Indeed, soldiers may not be mobilized for one hundred years, but they may not be left unprepared for one day. Although the state has been at peace for a long time, military preparedness should remain a top priority”. [5] 

The first of Kangxi’s military success can be seen in his battle against the Three Feudatories, who prevented complete Manchu control over China proper and were becoming a financial drain out of the imperial court. Inspired by the one feudatory Shang Kexi’s resignation in 1973, Kangxi attempted to have the other two, Wu Sangui and Geng Zhongming voluntarily relinquishing their power by encouraging them to follow suit. However, this decision provoked Wu Sangui to declare an outward rebellion by December in 1673, who was joined by Geng and Shang two and four years later respectively. Their rebellion was openly supported by thousands of Han in Southern China, allowing Wu to have control over six provinces within six months and set up his own government, which he called the Zhou court in 1678. However, the Qing successful counter-attack, especially in the execution of Wu’s son, resulted in the defeat of both Geng and Shang in 1977. Wu’s death in 1978 left his work to his grandson Wu Shifan, yet the Manchu military success resulted in his suicide in 1681 and the resulting collapse of the Zhou. By 1681, Kangxi had won the war against the Three Feudatories and completed his task by executing Ming loyalists involved in the movement and integrating southern China into the Qing rule by way of provincial-level administration.

With one of the gaping holes left by Shunzhi’s rule resolved, Kangxi turned to the other: the legacy of Ming loyalist Koxinga in Taiwan. Previous action was limited to the Four Regents’ forced relocation of Han Chinese along China’s eastern frontier to cut off supplies to the island in the 1660s; the Manchus did not have a strong naval army. Yet as 1683 approached, Kangxi sensed an opportunity to take action when Koxinga’s grandsons had a power struggle. Kangxi enlisted decorated naval commander Shi Lang to plan an attack on Taiwan in the summer of 1683. With the government and command of Taiwan split and factioned by the family feud, the Qings quickly gained success and Taiwan officially surrendered within a few months.

Therefore, Kangxi’s military success can be seen by how he had successfully solved the two major military issues left by Shunzhi’s legacy less than halfway through his reign. Yet, his military success in tactics is perhaps best illustrated by the handling of the Mongol Russian threat in the 1680s.

The Qing dynasty in 1680 was threatened by two potential enemies: the Russians who were aiming for expansion into the South, and the Zhunger Mongols led by Galdan who wanted to carve out a new empire. Kangxi’s greatest fear was for the two to form an alliance against the Qings: handling one of these threats may be possible, but two would be much more difficult. Thus, he orchestrated attacks in the southern-most region of Russia in Albazin in both 1685 and 1686. With the Russians severely weakened, the Qing would be in a higher position to engage in diplomacy, resulting in the 1689 Treaty of Nerchinsk that heavily favoured the Qing position by granting the Manchus more land to the north of China. Assured of Russian non-intervention in the battle against the Mongols, Kangxi organized attacks against Galdan who was defeated at Jao Mondo in 1690. Thus, as argued by Immanuel Hsu and Jonathan Spence, Kangxi emerged victorious from this issue, having settled both border threats, gained more territory and a new foreign ally.

Thus, as seen by the success of these three major military events, Kangxi was largely successful in consolidating the Qing regime militarily. He was swiftly able to deal with problems left from Shunzhi’s legacy, and also skillfully handled new threats that emerged. Kangxi’s military success remains practically uncontested in historiography: as stated by Jonathan Spence, Kangxi “had reached a depth and extent of power matched by only a few rulers in times of China’s earlier greatness” [6] .

Kangxi’s Cultural Consolidation

Having established the level of success Kangxi experienced in his military consolidation of the regime, a benchmark has been given to compare the level of success he gained in his cultural consolidation, defined as his success in winning over the minds of the Han Chinese. Termed by historians as wen, Kangxi’s success in accommodating and integrating the Han Chinese into the Manchu Qing government will be analyzed in three major sections: first, political changes made to accommodate the Han, second, agricultural reforms in southern China, and third, bringing over the Ming intellectuals.

As argued earlier, the death of Shunzhi brought the Four Regents into power and started a pro-Manchu, anti-Han direction of government. In bringing himself into full power after the overthrow of Oboi in 1669, Kangxi actively worked to overthrow these policies (some examples here). Lawrence Kessler argues in K’ang-hsi and the Consolidatoin of Ch’ing Rule that it was Kangxi’s reversal of Oboi’s policies that marked the turning point in Qing cultural consolidation. (I have not finished reading this book, I will add more later)

However pro-Han Kangxi’s policies may have seemed, he was not at the same time anti-Manchu. As argued by Pamela Crossley, “There was no point at which Xuanye [7] wished to change the Qing polity from Manchu into Chinese; on the contrary, he worked assiduously to keep the Qing emperorship from becoming captive to Chinese interests.” [8] This can be seen in (find an example; she does not provide one). Thus, while Kangxi actively worked to develop a new line of political government that embraced Han culture, he did not lose sight of also sustaining the support of the Manchus: in essence, he found a balance between wen and wu.

Winning over the minds of the Han peasants in China proper was also vital to stable cultural consolidation, with farm workers totaling to around 80% of China’s population [9] . In Shunzhi’s and even in the early years of Kangxi’s reign, peasant support for the Manchus was rare, as can be seen by the mass support for the pro-Ming rebellions of Koxinga and the Three Feudatories in Southern China [10] . Frederick Mote argues that the southern Han opposition to the Qing regime was influenced by Ming loyalist fighting in the 1940’s that left the agricultural areas devastated and arid [11] . Furthermore, heightened peasant tax in form of the heavy taxation implemented during the anti-Han reign of the four regents served as another burden in sustaining agricultural life for the peasants, and also increased negative sentiment towards the dynasty.

Thus, Kangxi appealed to the peasants by introducing policies that improved their way of life by solving the two key issues of tax reform and environmental improvement. Kangxi reduced taxes burdened on the peasants: land and grain taxes dropped by 90 million tael [12] from 1662 to 1705 [13] . In environment issues, the emperor allocated government money to constructing irrigation systems by the Yellow and Huai rivers, and organized several visits to examine the work of these systems in person.

Lastly, Kangxi was left with the task of bringing over the Ming intellectuals, who had remained distant throughout Shunzhi’s regime. These intellectuals, termed “hermits” by historians, were primarily influenced by the Confucian principles urging that a man must stay loyal to one, and only one, dynasty. The emperor finally brought over the elites by a combination of soft methods and more explicable, strong ones.

In a sharp turn away from the anti-Han spirit pervading throughout the rule of the Four Regents, Kangxi instead actively embraced Han Chinese culture: he studied the language and culture and made use of both Han and Manchu tutors. Thus, Kangxi’s new knowledge equipped him with the ability to fight Confucius values with Confucius values: Jonathan Spence writes in The Search for Modern China, the intellectuals’ “refusal to serve was rationalized on grounds of Confucian principles, and it was on these grounds that Kangxi chose to meet the opposition” [14] . This approach can seen the Sacred Edicts in 1670, a set of maxims that were heavily influenced by Confucian teachings [15] . In embracing their culture, Kangxi soon became more personable towards the Han elite, who in turn, were more inclined to participate in the many cultural events sponsored by the emperor. Kangxi directly precipitated the flourishing cultural development in his reign, with new institutions such as the Imperial Study, a group of literary scholars and artists, restoration of books damaged by the upheaval during the collapse of the Ming, and his ultimate compilation of the Kangxi dictionary in 1710 that would be customary Chinese dictionary for two centuries.

Yet, these “soft” methods of subtly embracing Han culture and promoting cultural development were not enough to fully bring out the most loyal of Ming hermits, such as prominent Ming intellectuals Gu Yanwu and Huang Zongxi, who continued to live in self-imposed exile. Thus, Kangxi then employed a more tangible, and extreme method by creating a new prestigious examination in 1679 that summoned 188 Ming loyalists to the Qing court to take the exam: those who qualified would then be given the opportunity to work on the compilation of Ming history on behalf of the Qing government. This new examination showed Kangxi’s shrewdness in bringing over the intellectuals: he would provide the Ming intellectuals with an opportunity to work with the Qing government while remaining loyal to their Ming roots.

The initial Ming loyalist response was slow: 36 of the original 188 were reluctantly excused by the Qing court on the basis of sickness or other conditions, whereas others were reportedly tied and dragged forcibly to the Qing court to take the examination [16] , indicating Kangxi’s lack of success in completely bringing over the Ming loyalists. However, Kangxi’s method still managed to lure several Ming loyalist, notably many from the south, right into the Qing court and a Ming history collection was finally published in 1739.

So far the focus has mainly been on Kangxi’s personal tactics in consolidating the Manchu regime culturally through changing the political Qing court, agricultural and peasant reform, and bringing over the intellectuals. Yet, his solid success in this area can only be gathered from the reaction of the general Han public. Unfortunately, it is this very quality that is difficult to gauge due to the vacillating, intangible nature of the public opinion: Kangxi’s popularity can neither be measured against a scale, nor be evidenced by an eventual triumph in battle as is possible in analyzing his military conquests.

However, it still remains clear that politically, Kangxi’s new direction of government set the Qing regime on a new course that was much more Han-friendly, yet at the same time did not lose sight of its Manchu roots. This argument is supported especially by Lawrence Kessler, who argues that it was Kangxi’s change in political direction of government that was the main cause of his consolidation of the Qing regime. Furthermore, the lack of southern Ming rebellions in his time and lengthy over 100-year-rule of the Qing dynasty shows the how anti-Qing sentiment in southern China, if it had existed, was not strong enough to spark a major uprising. Lastly, the flourishing cultural developments of Kangxi’s time as seen by the creation of an Imperial Study and the Kangxi dictionary, and furthermore the continued gentry taking of examinations hint that as argued by Jonathan Spence, the Ming intellectuals were slowly becoming a part of the Qing dynasty.

Conclusion

In this essay there has been an underlying assumption that Kangxi’s regime was decorated with success. To be clear, the emperor’s reign was, although exceptional in its accomplishments, also marred by several issues. The principal problem marked in his reign is the questionable legacy left by Kangxi’s adoption and embrace of Han culture: while, as argued in this essay, it was well-suited for the conditions in his time, it left a pervading sense of identity crisis between Manchus in the Imperial Court. It is argued by many historians today that it was the Manchu’s tight embrace of Han culture, and aversion to adopting other cultures, that played a principal role in Imperial China’s downfall when faced with the West in the 1800s. Furthermore, Jonathan Spence argues in The Search for Modern China, Kangxi left a “mixed legacy” in issues with heir inheritance and a failure to completely enact agricultural reform.

Yet, Kangxi’s successes, as covered in this essay, have far eclipsed his failures. Militarily, he successfully solved the problems left by Shunzhi regarding the Three Feudatories and Taiwan, while gaining a foreign ally and crushing outside intimidation in the Russo-Mongol threat, hence solidly consolidating China through military conquest. At the same time, he had achieved cultural consolidation through political, agricultural and intellectual reform. Evidence of success in both these areas of wen and wu: in the case of military, the victories in battle; and culturally, the flourishing cultural life and lack of open rebellion, show and support the thesis that both military and cultural consolidations in Kangxi’s reign were equally successful in their purpose of stabilizing the Qing rule.


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