The Yongzheng Emperor
(r. 1723-1735)


The Way of Ritual & Humaneness

Yan Yuan asked about humaneness. The Master said, “To cultivate oneself by returning to ritual propriety is the way to become humane. If one could cultivate oneself by returning to ritual propriety for a single day, the whole world would return to [the practice of] humaneness. ... If it is contrary to ritual, do not look; if it is contrary to ritual, do not listen; if it is contrary to ritual, do not speak; if it is contrary to ritual, do not move. (Analects 12:1, translated by Brian Hoffert)

With regard to humaneness: if you wish to establish yourself, then you must help others to establish themselves; if you wish to develop yourself, then you must help others to develop themselves. The ability to take [the perspectives of others] as one’s own — this may be called the method of [cultivating] humaneness. (Analects 6:30, translated by Brian Hoffert)

The Yongzheng Emperor
Confucian Sage?

The Sixteen Maxims
The Sacred Edict of the Kangxi Emperor
The purpose of Kangxi’s sixteen hortatory maxims, each expressed in seven characters, was to articulate an ethical and moral framework for subjects of the Qing state. In 1724, the Yongzheng emperor issued an amplified version of his father’s maxims in literary Chinese. ... For the Confucian ruler, well-managed families and harmonious personal relations were the foundation of an orderly state, and both the Kangxi and Yongzheng versions of the Sacred Edict stressed this basic principle. (DC, 48)
Amplifications of Maxim 2
Strengthen Clan Relations to Illustrate Harmony
... The clan is like the water of a spring which branches into several streams and then dozens of streams as it emerges. But all of these branches originated from the same spring. ... The clan members are like the hands, feet, ears, eyes, mouth, nose, and other parts of the ancestors body; when you put them together they are one body. Just think, if there is a sore on my body or if I sprain my ankle or break my leg, doesn’t my whole body feel uncomfortable? If you try to entrap or harm a clan member or insult or cheat him and make him feel uncomfortable, can you imagine that you will feel happy? You should treat them as you would yourself. You should look at clan members as part of one body; if one place hurts then all other places will hurt. If one spot itches, all spots will itch. Only when the blood flows throughout the body will things be as they should be. Therefore, the ancients said: ‘To educate the people, filial piety, brotherly affection, harmony, love, willingness to endure for others, and charity are necessary.’ ... If someone doesn’t want harmony in his own clan he is unfilial and goes against brotherly affection. (DC, 49-50)

Reorganizing the Tax System
As the emperor began to realize the size of the tax deficits and the casualness with which the fiscal crisis had been treated in his father’s reign, he urged his officials to suggest means of reforming the financial structure, and established a small executive office of financial review to stand separate from and above the Ministry of Revenue. ... One might have thought it simple to increase income by raising the number of land-tax and head-tax units; but here the obligations of filiality to Emperor Kangxi were too strong, and Yongzheng did not attempt to change his father’s 1712 ruling [which froze the amount of tax that could be collected in a given area regardless of future population increases]. Moreover, the central premise of Chinese political theory, which the Manchus had also made their own, was that a low tax base was essential to the well-being of the country and the true proof of an emperor’s benevolence. ...

The current tax system was not only entrenched but full of abuses. Members of the upper class were often wealthy landowners, and, as in Kangxi’s reign, many of them concealed their tax responsibilities in a maze of false names, misregistrations, transferred holdings, mortgages, and so on, which made it almost impossible to trace their exact holdings. Furthermore, much of the economic power in the countryside was in the hands of small landholders who tyrannized local villagers. These landholders colluded with the clerks in the provincial magistrates’ offices in order to evade paying their own taxes and to force the poorer peasants to assume a disproportionate amount of the tax burden for the whole community. ... Between 1725 and 1729, Yongzheng reversed his father’s casual approach and made a concerted effort to reform the land tax and to break the power of the local intermediate groups. ... He began by slowly accumulating accurate information through palace memorials and by appointing new men — often Manchus or Chinese bannermen who would be less influenced by the local elites — to the key offices of provincial governor and financial commissioner. Yongzheng then moved to establish an official consensus that a fixed rate of surcharge should be levied on the basic land-tax (di) and head-tax (ding) quotas, that all of this surcharge should be passed on to the provincial financial commisioners’ offices, and that all other supplementary fees and gifts should be declared illegal. The tax money gathered by the financial commissioners’ offices would then be reallocated within the province on an equitable basis. Part would be used to give far higher salaries to the local officials than they had ever received before (this was called “money to nourish honesty”), and part would go into county funds for the support of irrigation works, road and school building, and other worthy or necessary local needs that did not come under the purview of the central Ministry of Revenue budget. (SMC, 79-81)

Contemporary Corruption?

The Way of Law & Punishment


Punishments should know no degree or grade, but from ministers of state and generals down to great officers and ordinary folk, whoever does not obey the king’s commands, violates the interdicts of the state, or rebels against the statutes fixed by the ruler should be guilty of death and should not be pardoned. Merit acquired in the past should not cause a decrease in the punishment for demerit later, nor should good behavior in the past cause any derogation of the law for wrong done later. If loyal ministers and filial sons do wrong, they should be judged according to the full measure of their guilt, and if among the officials who have to maintain the law and to uphold an office, there are those who do not carry out the king’s law, they are guilty of death and should not be pardoned, but their punishment should be extended to their family for three generations. Colleagues who, knowing their offense, inform their superiors will themselves escape punishment. In neither high nor low offices should there be automatic hereditary succession to the office, rank, lands, or emoluments of officials. Therefore I say that if there are severe penalties that extend to the whole family, people will not dare to try [how far they can go], and as they dare not try, no punishments will be necessary. (Sources of Chinese Tradition, 197)

The Yongzheng Emperor
Legalist Tyrant?
Amplifications of Maxim 8
Speak of Law to Give Warning to the Stupid and Stubborn
... Is it possible that the State could enjoy beating and decapitating people? It is only because the people do not learn to be good and do not obey instructions that there is no other alternative than to use the penal law to control them. Since in many cases, the people break the law because they do not know it, this book has been compiled to instruct them to be good people and not bad people. For those who do bad, punishment is proportional to the offense, but even should you merely curse someone or take a blade of grass or stick of wood you will not escape the law. ... Make it your constant practice, by means of the law of the land, to curb and control yourselves, and to admonish others. Those who fear the law, will, come what may, avoid breaking it. Those who dread punishments will surely work to not incur it. If depravity is eliminated, then wrangling will cease. The muddled will be enlightened and the stubbornly evil will be made good. The people will be happy in the fields and the soldiers will be happy in their ranks. If the penal law is not used for several hundred years, will not everyone enjoy peace together? (DC, 51-2)
“Random Notes from Prison”
Fang Bao
One of the most infamous “literary inquisitions” of the Kangxi era was the case of Dai Mingshi (1653-1713), who printed a set of nostalgic essays in 1701 entitled Nanshan ji (The southern hills collections). Ten years later, when Dai had become a compiler in the Hanlin Academy, he was arrested for having used southern-Ming reign titles in this work. In the roundups that followed, many of Dai’s relatives and friends were taken into custody. Dai himself was decapitated.
       One of the scholars touched by the circles of recrimination that radiated out of the Nanshan ji affair was Fang Bao. ... The document translated below is Fang Bao’s description of his experience in prison. Its stark portrayal of prison conditions illustrates the perils faced by those who ran afoul of the law in the early Qing era. Only an unceasing flow of silver proferred to the guards and wardens could save one from the worst abuses. (DC, 39)
In the prison there were four old cells. Each cell had five rooms. The jail guards lived in the center with a window in the front of their quarters for light. At the end of this room there was another opening for ventilation. There were no such windows for the other four rooms and yet more than two hundred prisoners were always confined there. Each day toward dusk, the cells were locked and the odor of the urine and excrement would mingle with that of the food and drink. Moreover, in the coldest months of the winter, the poor prisoners had to sleep on the ground and when the spring breezes came everyone got sick. The established rule in the prison was that the door would be unlocked only at dawn. During the night, the living and the dead slept side by side with no room to turn their bodies and this is why so many people became infected. ...

Among three of my cellmates who were beaten with clubs, one paid thirty taels [i.e. ounces of silver] and his bones were only slightly damaged and he was sick for two months; another paid double and his skin was hurt but he recovered in twenty days; the third paid five times more and was able to walk as usual that very night. Someone asked the beater, “Since some of the prisoners are rich and others poor but all give something, why draw a distinction in punishing them simply because of their payments?” The answer was, “If there was no difference, who would pay more?” (DC, 39-41)
Censorship & Violence
Past & Present
Your servant suggests that all books in the imperial archives, save the memoirs of Qin, be burned. All persons in the empire, except members of the Academy of Learned Scholars, in possession of the Classic of Odes, the Classic of Documents, and discourses of the hundred philosophers should take them to the local governors and have them indiscriminately burned. Those who dare to talk to each other about the Odes and Documents should be executed and their bodies exposed in the marketplace. Anyone referring to the past to criticize the present should, together with all members of his family, be put to death. Officials who fail to report cases that have come under their attention are equally guilty. After thirty days from the time of issuing the decree, those who have not destroyed their books are to be branded and sent to build the Great Wall. Books not to be destroyed will be those on medicine and pharmacy, divination by the turtle and milfoil, and agriculture and arboriculture. People wishing to pursue learning should take the officials as their teachers. (Sources of Chinese Tradition, 209-10)
[The First Emperor said:] “I confiscated all the books from the empire and got rid of all those that were of not use. ... I have also directed people to question the various scholars residing in Xianyang, and it appears that some are spreading dubious stories in order to mislead the black-headed people!” He then ordered the imperial secretary to subject all the scholars to investigation. The scholars reported on one another in an attempt to exonerate themselves. Over 460 persons were convicted of violating the prohibitions, and were executed [note: the word translated here as “executed” is frequently interpreted as “buried alive”] at Xianyang, word of it being publicized throughout the empire so as to act as a warning to later ages. (Records of the Grand Historian (Qin), 58)

Censorship & Violence in China & Taiwan?