Yongzheng - Emperor of China

Yongzheng - Emperor of China
Yongzheng - Emperor of China

Yongzheng (r. 1723–35) was born as Yinchen (Yinchen), the fourth son of the emperor Kangxi (K’anghsi) and not his father’s original heir. After removing his original choice for gross misconduct, Kangxi did not name a new heir, and no one knew that Yinchen would succeed Kangxi until his will was read aloud on his deathbed. Yongzheng was stern, hardworking, and extremely capable. He consolidated imperial power and made many reforms.

Yongzheng began his reign by eliminating possible challengers. He removed princes from military commands and took personal control of all eight Manchu banner army units (whereas his father had only commanded three). He was indefatigable, personally reading and responding to reports and memorials sent by officials.

Assisted by spies, he checked on the performance of officials, punishing those who were corrupt and derelict and rewarding upright ones. To ensure that officials were not tempted by graft, he granted them additional stipends to their salaries from an anticorruption fund.” He also rationalized and simplified the taxation system.

In a humane move, he abolished hereditary servitude and the designation of persons of certain professions such as beggars as “mean people.” He promoted learning and supervised education by issuing textbooks that promoted orthodoxy and correct historical interpretations as he saw them.

Despite Kangxi’s efforts, problems persisted with Russia because of an undefined border area that allowed the Olod Mongols to raid Chinese lands and then take refuge in Russia. Thus Yongzheng sent a diplomatic mission to St. Petersburg to seek Russian neutrality in his quest to deal with the Olod and to fix the Mongolian-Siberian border between the two empires. Extended negotiations between them produced the Treaty of Kaikhta in 1737.

Besides delineating the border the treaty opened a new trading station at Kaikhta and defined the terms of trade, provided for the extradition of deserters and criminals, and allowed Russia to maintain an Orthodox church and religious mission in Beijing (Peking). The treaty with Russia allowed Yongzheng to continue prosecuting the war with the Olod, but they were not finally defeated until the reign of his son Qianlong (Ch’ien-lung).

Yongzheng made two institutional changes in government. Because the Manchu rulers did not practice primogeniture in the selecting of a successor (as had the Ming), and rivalry between brothers could be destabilizing, he ordered that the name of the heir be deposited at several designated secure locations to be opened on the death of the reigning sovereign.

He created the Grand Council of five or six top officials; some were always in attendance wherever the emperor was to help him make important policy decisions. Yongzheng was stern, efficient, and autocratic, but he was also conscientious and diligent. In a short reign, he was able to tame the ambitions of the Manchu imperial clan and nobility.

He also strengthened the bureaucracy and molded it to work in the interest of the state. As a result, its members enjoyed high morale, were not troubled by factionalism, and served with efficiency and accountability so that imperial authority reached every corner of the empire. He consolidated Qing (Ch’ing) power and governed as an effective and paternalistic despot.