Emperor Kangxi

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The Chinese government during the Qing was an integrated bureaucracy — that is, political power flowed from the top to the bottom through a series of hierarchically ordered positions that extended down to the county level, where a local magistrate headed a county office, called the yamen. This hierarchically integrated bureaucracy was remarkable because the people who had positions as officials within the bureaucracy were not there because they were members of a hereditary aristocracy. Rather, they had acquired their positions according to a system of merit. This system of meritocracy — perhaps the first of its kind in the world — was established on the basis of government examinations. <[Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Madeleine Zelin, Consultant learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu]

“The Chinese system of rule relied on a strong central government headed by an emperor, who, with his many relatives, constituted a ruling family and lineage. But the emperor did not necessarily have the absolute power that is often associated with traditional monarchy. The Chinese never had an understanding of the power of the king in terms that were used in Europe. That is, the Chinese never believed in the "divine right of kings." Rather, they believed that an emperor had to be an exceptional being — a sage king — who could mediate the cosmic forces. The emperor was also not invulnerable. His actions had to be tempered by basic political expectations, and he had to do the things that an emperor should do. If he did not do these things, he could be overthrown, and this would be considered legitimate. If such a thing occurred, the emperor would be understood to have lost the "Mandate of Heaven." When a new dynasty was established, it was believed that the Mandate of Heaven had passed to the ruling house. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Madeleine Zelin, Consultant learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu]

“The Qing court was quite diverse in its significance. Not only was it the nucleus for making government decisions and formulating policies, it also served as the center for the preservation and circulation of various important books and information at the time. As such, it was the place where the central and local government interacted as well as domestic and foreign relations were maintained. The Museum collection includes books and documents of national treasure status, their role in time and space performed on the stage of the Qing court and utilized by the imperial family and elite scholars.

On the foreign relations front, diplomatic documents testifying to the interaction between China and other nations abound, such as the "Miandianguo Yinbiao (Burmese tributary document on silver leaf)"; the "Xianluoguo Jingye Biaowen (Siamese tributary document on gold leaf)"; and the Palace memorial reporting on the victory in the pacification of Muslim Dzungars and the celebration in Jiangning, presented by Cao Yin, Director of the Jiangning Imperial Silk Factory, in the 35th year of the Kangxi reign (1696).

Also see Sections on China in the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries

Website on the Qing Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Qing Dynasty Explained drben.net/ChinaReport ; Recording of Grandeur of Qing learn.columbia.edu Ming and Qing Tombs UNESCO World Heritage Site: UNESCO World Heritage Site Map ; Forbidden City: FORBIDDEN CITY factsanddetails.com/china; Wikipedia; UNESCO World Heritage Site Sites World Heritage Site ; Temple of Heaven: Wikipedia Wikipedia UNESCO World Heritage Site UNESCO World Heritage Site ; Empress Dowager Cixi: Court Life During the Time of Empress Dowager Cixi etext.virginia.edu; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Books on Cixi royalty.nu; The Last Emperor Puyi Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; His Widow's Account hartford-hwp.com/archives; Puyi Biography royalty.nu/Asia Chinese History: Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu ; Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia ; Books: "Cambridge History of China" multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press); "Chronicle of the Chinese Emperor" by Ann Paludan, "The Last Emperors: A Social History of the Qing Imperial Institutions" by Evelyn S. Rawski (University of California Press, 1999). "Forbidden City" by Frances Wood, a British Sinologist,

Examination System for Entry to Government Service

Madeleine Zelin wrote: “Those who had the ambition to become government officials were schooled from an early age in the canonical literature and the philosophical works of China's great Confucian tradition. It was through this learning that would-be officials would not only be able to formulate a personal, moral and ethical structure for themselves, their family, and their local community, but also develop an understanding of how one should appropriately act as a member of the group of people that rules the state. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Madeleine Zelin, Consultant learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu]

“Examinations were given at the county level, and successful candidates progressed to higher levels, all the way to the highest-level examinations, which were given at the imperial capital. If one could pass the examinations at this level, then chances were very great that one would certainly become a member of the small coterie of elite bureaucrats that ruled China. Of course, the ability of someone to get the education needed to sit for these examinations relied to a certain extent on wealth, although families often coordinated their wealth so that the brightest and most promising of their children would be able to rise through this system.

Influence of Qing Government on the West

Imperial exam

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The Qing state inherited a long tradition of Chinese bureaucratic rule and a political system that was of great interest to many European thinkers, such as Voltaire (1694-1778), Francis Quesnay (1694-1774), and Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), in the late 1600s and early 1700s, when Europeans were beginning to consider changes to their own political systems. The Chinese system of bureaucratic rule was unprecedented in human history, and it contributed greatly to the ability of the Qing dynasty to rule over a vast territory and to do so in a way that was fair and that also brought the benefits of imperial rule to a large number of people. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Madeleine Zelin, Consultant learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu]

“Ralph Waldo Emerson (1830-82), an American writer and philosopher who lived during the time of Qing rule in China, espoused in his writings the Confucian notion of the moral cultivation of each person as the foundation for social responsibility and good government. In France, Voltaire (1694-1778) championed the idea of the civil service examinations, while in England, writers and diplomats, such as British diplomat Thomas Taylor Meadows (1815-1868), called for "the institution of Public Service Competitive Examinations for all British subjects with a view to the Improvement of the British Executive and the Union of the British Empire." Meadows, in particular, maintained that "the long duration of the Chinese empire is solely and altogether owing to the good government which consists in the advancement of men of talent and merit only.".

“In the 18th century, a group of French political economists, called the "Physiocrats," used the Chinese imperial system as a basis for their calls for "enlightened despotism" in France. Headed by Francis Quesnay (1694-1774), a doctor in the French royal court, the Physiocrats saw much to admire in the Chinese notion of imperial rule. Quesnay, whose life spanned the rule of both the Kangxi and Qianlong emperors in China, argued for "enlightened despotism" on the part of the ruler and laid out a set of economic and social laws that formed a "Natural Order" that should guide the ruler.

Professor Derk Bodde wrote: European interest in China “left behind it one very important practical heritage. This is the modern civil service system now prevailing in many Western countries...Nothing like such a system seems to have been known among the other great civilizations of antiquity. In the universities of Europe, written examinations seem to have been unheard of before 1702. As for government-administered civil service examinations, these were of considerably later date. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Chinese examinations were described repeatedly in Western literature on China of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and aroused intense admiration among such men as Voltaire and Quesnay. [Source: Derk Bodde, Assistant Professor of Chinese, University of Pennsylvania, Asia for Educators, Columbia University, July 1948 afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

“In France the earliest civil service system seems to have been established in 1791 shortly after the outbreak of the Revolution. After ten years, however, it was allowed to lapse, but was re-established in the 1840's. Though little attention seems to have been given to its early history, several writers on French history maintain that it owes its origin to the Chinese example. Today the principle of the civil service system has been accepted in virtually all democratic countries. More and more, persons are entering government service because of personal merit rather than political favoritism. As a result, much of the political corruption that was so common a century ago has disappeared. The civil service system is undoubtedly one of China's most precious intellectual gifts to the West.”

Emperor Kangxi Scroll Reinforces the Mandate of Heaven


According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: ““It is interesting to note that when the Manchus overthrew the reigning Ming dynasty and established the Qing dynasty, they announced that the Ming had lost the Mandate of Heaven. And yet, in fulfilling their ceremonial responsibilities as the new holders of the Mandate, the Qing emperors continued to venerate the Ming emperors. The ritual veneration of emperors from the fallen dynasty was important because the Ming had legitimately held the Mandate of Heaven at one time. By ceremonially honoring the Ming as past holders of the Mandate and their legitimate predecessors, the Qing were actually justifying their own claim to the Mandate of Heaven, by asserting their own position as the Ming's legitimate successors. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Madeleine Zelin, Consultant learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu ]

“Preface to The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll Seven: Wuxi to Suzhou” shows among other things that Emperor Kangxi possesses the love of the masses and thus deserved to rule according to the Mandate of Heaven. "The Seventh Scroll respectfully depicts his majesty's travels from Wuxi through Hushuguan to the Chang Gate of Suzhou where, seeing the throngs of people crowding the streets and narrow waterways, he specially reduced the size of the honor guard [accompanying him] into the city. Officials, gentry, and commoners, even white-haired old men and small children, all were moved by the emperor's great favor; happily beating drums, burning incense, and hanging up bunting they prostrated themselves on both sides of the street to welcome him.

“The emperor's stopover gave them a chance to behold [the personification of] a flourishing age; the sincerity of their love for him was clearly visible. Again and again, the people detained the emperor, offering him wine and fruit and singing hymns of praise. In painting this picture it has been difficult to convey all of these details. This is because our emperor has compassion for the people of Wu, remitting taxes, canceling rents, and so much more, thereby creating boundless goodwill in people's hearts. As for the fact that on a small prominence on Tiger Hill, the people erected a pavilion to commemorate his largess and wish him longevity, it was also recorded [in this painting] with brush and silk."”

Qing Meritocracy and Government of "Elite Commoners"

statue of mid-level bureaucrat

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “An important consequence of this system of meritocracy that peopled the Chinese bureaucracy with the best and the brightest of the literati was that the state was not ruled by aristocrats that had inherited their positions. Rather, it was a state ruled by those who were of the "common people," although often they were the elite among the common. Nevertheless, they had ties to families, relatives, and others who were engaged in non-government occupations (such as merchants, farmers, and landowners). [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Madeleine Zelin, Consultant learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu]

“The Chinese understanding of political legitimacy is linked to the imperial system of rule, based on the notion that the state is responsible for the welfare of the people and for the peace of the people with their neighbors. The biggest responsibilities of the state are to make sure that the people are able to live, have enough food, work comfortably in their professions, and raise their children. Because of this, the Chinese imperial state is often described as a "paternalistic state.".

“Foremost among the expectations that the Chinese citizenry have of their state, even today, is that the state will always put the welfare of the people first. The other major expectations of the populace are that the state will keep peace and keep China safe from foreign threats. But there are tensions within the reform process that make it very difficult for the state to guarantee, particularly internally, that the welfare of all will be adequately secured. This may explain why in recent years the Chinese government has been so focused on its ability to keep the Chinese territorial state intact and safe from foreign threats, as well as, of course, enhancing the prestige of China within the international community.”

Qing-Era Bureaucrats: Conflict of Local and Imperial Interests

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The particular organization of the Chinese bureaucracy meant that officials continued to move between the local communities out of which they came, on the one hand, and the more centrally oriented community of bureaucrats, on the other. So an official would have two senses of identity: one local and the other oriented toward the state and the emperor, for whom he was expected to demonstrate absolute loyalty. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Madeleine Zelin, Consultant learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu]

Qing prince

“During Qing times the Chinese state system, though it was a monarchy, was not a monolith. The bureaucracy always had to worry about and accommodate local circumstances. On the one hand, the state wanted to implement policies that were fair and uniform throughout the empire, but this was not always possible because China was incredibly diverse, as it remains today. There were coastal provinces and inland provinces, provinces where many people engaged in non-agricultural activities, and provinces where people did nothing but practice agriculture. Thus, it was very difficult — even impossible — to apply a policy uniformly throughout the empire. This tension between state and local interests was often reflected upon by officials in their "memorials" or communications to the emperor, (see Secret Palace Memorial System, below). These officials felt that while they served as officials, they were serving the state, but that when they went home (to their home provinces), they found themselves more concerned about the local community and wanting to make sure that there would be state policies favoring the interests of their own local community.

“Recognizing that officials existed in these two "skins" — one of official identity and one of local identity — the bureaucratic system was organized to prevent, whenever possible, people from acting in their official capacity in such a way that it would unfairly benefit their home province. This was done through the "rule of avoidance," which stated that an official could not serve in his home province or even in a province adjacent to his own province. Officials also served in each position for a relatively short period of time (usually three years) before rotating to a new position. One might argue that when people are rotated out of their positions too soon they are unable to really understand what is going on in the area in which they are serving, but the benefit is that they never become too attached to one place or too supportive of interests that applied only to that place and not to the empire as a whole.

“Though the notion of "nation" as now defined and understood in the West was not part of the political lexicon under the Qing dynasty, there was nonetheless in the policies implemented by the official bureaucracy a sense of loyalty to one imperial, "national" entity, and a sense that policies should be applied equally throughout the empire. The resulting tension between local and empire-wide "national" interests played itself out in the daily activities of officials.”

Qing Dynasty Tax Policy

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Tax Policy at the Local Level: The Qing rulers implemented many innovations in the ways in which government was run, one of which relates to the difficult task of providing necessary services efficiently to a large and diverse population. The Yongzheng emperor, who ruled for just 13 years (after his father, the Kangxi Emperor, and before his son, the Qianlong Emperor), undertook a monumental reform of the state tax system, transforming Qing taxation policy to provide a reliable revenue stream at the local and national levels. The taxation system that the Qing inherited from the Ming was one that was focused entirely on providing sufficient revenues for the central state and left the management of local government expenses up to local officials to meet as they could. This older system left enormous openings for corruption. The Yongzheng emperor transformed this system into one which provided for a revenue stream specifically for local government. This was a remarkable reformation, for it allowed local officials for the first time to have a sense of how much money they were going to have available to them, so that they did not have to rely completely on what has been called "squeeze" in order to fund the projects that they needed to fund, such as road repair, wall building, and granary construction. It also meant that there would be fairly clear demarcations between what was the fiscal base of local governments and the fiscal base of the central state. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Madeleine Zelin, Consultant learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu]

“Taxes Levied on Agriculture but not on the Commercial Sector: The Qing government maintained a monopoly on the sale of salt, an everyday commodity, but did not otherwise burden the commercial sector with heavy taxes...In Qing dynasty times no one ever thought to institute a personal income tax. Indeed, such a tax would have been virtually impossible to implement. Rather, China based its tax revenues almost entirely on land; that is to say, the government taxed farmers. To a lesser degree, government revenues also came from certain government monopolies — most importantly the monopoly on the sale of salt, which was an everyday commodity that everyone needed. What the Qing state did not do, on the other hand, is tax the commercial sector in any significant way. This may come as a surprise to those who think of China as a state that has tightly controlled the economy throughout the years.

“The impact of this non-commercial tax policy was that as China’s population continued to grow under the Qing, even the great tax reforms of the early 18th century became insufficient to meet the needs of the growing state system. This is one of the reasons that China looks so dysfunctional in the late 19th century — quite the opposite of the situation in the 18th century. But in fact, China has had problems related to finances throughout its long history. Many of the fiscal problems that the Qing emperors encountered are similar to problems that can be seen in China today.”

Qianlong in the Hall of Supreme Harmony

Grand Council of the Qing Government

According to Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Grand Council of the Qing Dynasty was established in the seventh year of Emperor Yung-cheng's reign (1729), a time when the Qing government was engaged in military skirmishes in the northwest of China. Previously, the central office that administered the nation's military and governmental affairs had been the Grand Secretariat, located outside of the T'ai-ho Gate. The Secretariat was a bureaucratic institution with a large staff from where information leaks easily occurred. In an effort to cope with the problem, an Office of Military Affairs was established in the inner court, located inside the Lung-chung Gate, where it was in a much better position to consolidate its power and to tighten its control of military operations. In the third month of the tenth year of Emperor Yung-cheng's reign (1732), a silver official seal acknowledging the office was cast with the title "Administration of Military Affairs". [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The office was known as the Office of the Administration of Military Affairs shortened to Grand Council. The Emperor elected trusted followers, including princes, scholars and ministers, and appointed them councilors. Usually about half a dozen in number, the councilors met at least once a day with the Emperor to discuss all aspects of imperial administration. Apart from overseeing military and national affairs, the Council assumed overall authority on military strategies, domestic policies, foreign affairs and financial matters, gradually replacing the Grand Secretariat as the central advisory body of the Qing court, hence the name the Grand Council. While the Council was maintained by succeeding emperors Ch'ien-lung, Chia-ch'ing, Tao-kuang, Hsien-feng, Tung-chih, Kuang-hsu, and Hsuan-t'ung, it was eventually dissolved in the fourth month of the third year of Emperor Hsuan-t'ung's reign (1911) when China's first cabinet was established as a measure of political reform. \=/

“The Grand Council's domination of Qing court politics stretched over a period of more than 180 years and naturally its archives comprise of a rich collection of documents. The National Palace Museum is home to over 400,000 Qing documents, half of which are from the Grand Council archives. These documents may be broadly categorized into two groups: Monthly Memorial Dossiers and Palace Memorials” \=/

Grand Council Duties and Documents

According to Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Grand Council was charged with one important task, providing consultation. When the Emperor deliberated on matters reported in palace memorials (tsou-che) he would meet with Grand Councilors in order to garner their opinions and recommendations. These memorials (statements in the form of a report to the Emperor) that the Councilors read and handled were copied for reference and preservation, hence the collection of "the Grand Council copies of the palace memorials." The term primarily refers to the monthly compilation packets, known as the Monthly Memorial Dossiers. In addition to the copied memorials, the Dossiers also include the original appendices to the memorials. These appendices cover a wide spectrum of topics from rainfall tabulations, commodity price lists, local harvest lists, river repair engineering plans, local topography plans, supply lists, official petitions, forwarded documents, policy goals to private correspondence, announcements, notes and other types of official documents. The Museum's collection of Monthly Memorial Dossiers comprises of approximately 190,000 documents. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

Qing documents

“All matters administered by the Grand Council were recorded into volumes for the purpose of preservation. The result is these volumes serve as a rich source of historical records. For example, important palace memorials in the Monthly Memorial Dossiers were edited into "the monthly memorials file" and "the palace memorials file". Court orders issued by way of the Grand Council were edited into "the imperial decrees file" and "the file of imperial decrees dispatched as letters." Other documents were compiled into subject-specific files such as "court edicts concerning riots", "decrees concerning river engineering", "records of homages to imperial graves", etc. In order to facilitate retrieval, access tools such as "daily memorials extracts", "documents issued by the Grand Council", "instructions to the Grand Secretariat from the Grand Council" and "important extracts from documents written capital officials" were normally organized into volumes of archival catalogues. Documents relating to specific matters had been collected into particular archives, such as "Sino-Burmese relations", "suppressions in Chin-ch'uan", "Sino-Vietnam relations" and "military operations against the Gurkhas (Nepalese)". The Museum's collection includes about 10,000 of these volumes, divided into over 30 categories. \=/

“In recent years, curiosity about the Qing emperors and the operation of the government has made the history of the Qing Dynasty a popular theme for Chinese movies and television dramas. In response to this public interest and in recognition of the historical value of the Grand Council Archives, we at the Museum feel that it is important to exhibit this portion of the collection. One recent exhibition, titled "Under the Brush of the Emperor: Palace Memorials from the Qing Court", displayed official petitions and original palace memorials. For the present exhibition we have once again selected a broad representation of various documents from the Grand Council's Archives which should help visitors better understand the central administration of the Qing Dynasty.” \=/

Secret Palace Memorial System

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Another important innovation that took place during the Qing period was to improve the communication system that existed between government officials and the state in earlier periods of Chinese history — the system of "memorials" or communications on policy written by local officials and sent to the central government. Building on this existing system, the Qing introduced the "Secret Palace Memorial System," which was an opportunity for the emperor to communicate directly with officials. These Secret Palace Memorials went directly from local officials — largely provincial governors and those working under them — to the emperor himself, with no mediation by the court or transmission officials in the palace. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Madeleine Zelin, Consultant learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu]

In fact, these "memorials" were transported under lock and key, with locks that came from Europe. During the period referred to as the "High Qing" (when the Kangxi and the Qianlong emperors ruled), this Secret Palace Memorial system operated very well. The High Qing saw very energetic emperors who, for the most part, read these memorials themselves, or had small committees of people reading the memorials and functioning like an imperial cabinet. In this way the Qing emperors were able to get more accurate reports of how policies were functioning within the local context than had emperors of dynasties past. This supported the ability of the Qing state to adjust its local policies accordingly to ensure the popular welfare, and also enhanced the ability of the state in the 18th century, particularly under the Qianlong emperor, to expand its reach into newly subdued territories.

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “After the establishment of the Grand Council, it kept copies of the memorials that it processed — hence the title "Grand Council Copies of Palace Memorials." In the Qing dynasty, memorials were returned to the officials who had sent them after review by the emperor. However, if the memorial had an attachment, it was kept by the Grand Council along with a copy of the original in the monthly memorial dossiers there. Consequently, the monthly memorial dossiers include a large number of original attachments to memorials. Among them, the lists of rainfall and commodity prices are particularly noteworthy because they provide a rare glimpse into local conditions at the time. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The collection of monthly memorial dossiers in the Grand Council includes a large number of original attachments, and one such type of attachment is known as an "illustration with explanatory labels." With text in yellow labels for the important parts, it was used to help officials understand the memorial through visual means. These include: 1) piece drawn in 1833 that shows the location of the Pa-p'ai, a branch of the Yao minority ethnic group in the mountainous region along the border of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces; 2) drawings of battleships; 3) diagrams of irrigation canals for creating farmland in Xinjiang, New Territories; and "illustrations with explanatory labels" of architectural, river engineering, and irrigation projects.” \=/

Qing Dynasty "Sacred Edict"

Qianlong Emperor memorial

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The “Sacred Edict” was a set of moral and governmental instructions promulgated by imperial authority for use in local rituals conducted throughout the Qing empire. The Edict was promulgated by the Kangxi emperor (r. 1662-1722) and revised to its current form of Sixteen Maxims by his son, the Yongzheng emperor (r. 1723-1735). The Edict would be recited regularly at village lectures, which were a form of moral instruction initiated by the Ming emperor Hongwu but more systematically carried out by the Qing than by the Ming imperial government. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

The Qing Dynasty “Sacred Edict” read: 1) Esteem most highly filial piety and brotherly submission, in order to give due importance to human moral relations. 2) Behave with generosity toward your kindred, in order to illustrate harmony and benignity. 3) Cultivate peace and concord in your neighborhoods, in order to prevent quarrels and litigations. 4) Give importance to agriculture and sericulture, in order to ensure a sufficiency of clothing and food. 5) Show that you prize moderation and economy, in order to prevent the lavish waste of your means. 6) Foster colleges and schools, in order to give the training of scholars a proper start. 7) Do away with errant teachings, in order to exalt the correct doctrine. [Source: The Qing Dynasty "Sacred Edict", Reign of Qing emperors Kangxi (r. 1662-1722) and Yongzheng (r. 1723-1735) from “Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 71-72, Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

“8) Expound on the laws, in order to warn the ignorant and obstinate. 9) Explain ritual decorum and deference, in order to enrich manners and customs. 10) Attend to proper callings, in order to stabilize the people’s sense of dedication [to their work]. 11) Instruct sons and younger brothers, in order to prevent them from doing what is wrong. 12) Put a stop to false accusations, in order to protect the honest and good. 13) Warn against sheltering deserters, in order to avoid being involved in their punishment. 14) Promptly remit your taxes, in order to avoid being pressed for payment. 15) Combine in collective security groups (baojia), in order to put an end to theft and robbery. 16) Eschew enmity and anger, in order to show respect for the person and life.”

Sacred Edict Lecture on the Behavior of Local People

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “During the Qing dynasty the Kangxi emperor (r.1662-1722) issued a “Sacred Edict” with moral exhortations for his subjects, the Chinese population. Local officials in every county were instructed to stage public lectures two times every month to reinforce the message of the Sacred Edict. Below is the transcript of one such public lecture given by Wang Youpu (1681-1760), a local salt commissioner. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

Open air preaching

In his Sacred Edict Lecture: “Exhortations on Ceremony and Deference” “Wang Youpu said: His Majesty’s meaning is as follows: In the empire there are what are called popular customs (fengsu). What are feng and su? A Han dynasty scholar said that the hearts of all the common people in the world contain feelings of benevolence, justice, propriety, wisdom, and sincerity. But people in the North are generally hardy, those in the South generally delicate. Where people’s temperaments are fastpaced business is executed promptly; where they are slow, work is performed more leisurely. “People of one place do not understand the dialect of those in the other. All this proceeds from the fact that the climate (fengqi) is different in every place and men feel a certain influence from it. This is the reason for the word feng. Further, what people here like, people there hate. On occasions when one is active the other is at rest. There is no fixed mode; everybody acts according to the common practices (su) of his locality. This is the reason for the word su. [Source: Wang Youpu's Sacred Edict Lecture: "Exhortations on Ceremony and Deference"; from “”Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook””, edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 298.300; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

“Farmers are also in the habit of quarreling about their fields. I say that you have encroached on the dike a little; you say that I have ploughed a furrow too many. Perhaps some animal, an ox or a sheep, has trodden down the grain, and this gives rise to a quarrel. Or perhaps one person dams up the water till it overflows his own fields, not letting it pass by and irrigate those of his neighbor, and this leads to a struggle. Craftsmen are also quick to get into violent quarrels. You want to keep me down and I want to keep you down; I try to turn your employer against you and you try to turn mine away from me. We each care for our own prosperity only, with no regard to whether the other lives or dies.

“Merchants and shop owners are even worse. When you see me earning money, you become jealous; when I see you making a profit, my eyes turn red with envy. When a particular kind of trade is profitable, you want to engage in it, and so do I. When trading conditions are good in a certain place, you will conceal it from everyone else and secretly hurry there yourself.

“Knowing that a certain kind of goods is losing value, a merchant will trick people into taking them off his hands and afterwards go and insist on getting the payment. There are others who beginning trade with empty hands, borrow money at high rates but are a long time in repayin their bills. This is what is called “You seek high [interest] while I seek delay [in repayment].” Others get into disputes about the scales used or the quality of coins. There are so many sources of disputes that is would be an endless task to mention all of them. To sum it up, people will not yield to each other on anything; if only they would yield, they would all become honest and generous men.

“As to you soldiers living in camp, you can’t avoid having rough and crude personalities. At work and at rest you use your swords and staffs and engage in combat. Everybody says that soldiers, because of their very nature, do not understand ceremony. Therefore, from now on you must try to understand the principle of yielding and ceremony. In your village try your best to show deference to others and to temper the roughness of your personalities.

Sacred Edict Lecture on the Importance of Ceremonial Deference

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: ““Let all of you — scholars, farmers, artisans, merchants, and soldiers — take care in practicing ceremonial deference. If one place becomes good, then many places will become so and finally the entire realm will be in excellent harmony. Won’t we then have a world in perfect concord? In an ancient book it says, “The humble gain; the self-satisfied lose.” These two phrases are exceptionally apt. How do the humble gain? Humility consists of modesty and mildness. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

“Men of the present day can’t perceive their own faults at all. Therefore they perpetually quarrel not realizing that strife is the road to the destruction of their families and their personal ruin. In every affair, great or small retreat a step and you will certainly gain the advantage. For example suppose a man curses me, and I let pass a couple of phrases. If he is a good man he will naturally feel sorry. If he is a bad man, on seeing that his curses have no effect, he will give up.

Qinglong paring respects at the tomb of his ancestors

“Wouldn’t this prevent a lot of trouble? Do you think that by his cursing me he will rise to greater glory, or that I by bearing with him will fall into disgrace? If I defer to him in this way people will just praise how good I am and will all want to join me, perhaps confiding to me the secrets of their hearts or entrusting to me their money. If he is so overbearing, people will all hate and avoid him. If he runs into trouble, who will pay attention to him? Haven’t I then gained the advantage? Among the ancients there was a man named Lou Shide. He once asked his brother “Suppose that someone spit in your face. How would you react to him?” When his brother said he would just wipe it off, Lou Shide said, “If you wipe it off, the man will hold you in even greater contempt. Just accept it with a smile and wait until it dries of its own accord.” Just think meek Lou Shide afterwards rose to become prime minister. Isn’t this evidence that “the humble gain”? How do the self-satisfied lose? self-satisfaction occurs when a person is impressed with his own importance. It does not refer only to property owners and officials who rely on their money and influence to deceive and humiliate others and thus invite disaster. It also refers to young men who call their elders “old fogies” and even if they are poor or feeble do not address them in a respectful manner; it also refers to young men who tell local officials and gentry, “We will not cringe before you,” and arrogantly try to gain the upper hand. This emotion of self satisfaction will inevitably lead a man to exceed what is appropriate to his station. He will undertake daring acts, bringing on calamity. This shows how “the self-satisfied lose.” The principles taught by these two sentences may be compared to an earthen vessel.

“When the vessel is empty (= modest) it can still gain. If it is full (= self-satisfied), you cannot put more things into it, and if you force them you may overturn the vessel or break it into pieces. From this can be seen how the humble gain and the self-satisfied lose. These principles may also be compared to a man who has some chronic disorders. Knowing that his body is weak, he will be careful in all matters, not daring to eat much food or indulge in wine or women.

“Consequently he may enjoy a long life. The man who doesn’t have the slightest health problem by contrast, will depend on his strength and vigor. He will eat and then go right to sleep, take off his clothes in drafty places, and show not even the least moderation in regard to wine and women. Then one day he gets an incurable illness. Aren’t these accurate examples of how the humble (= cautious) gain and the self-satisfied lose? Formerly there was a Mr. Wang Yanfang who was exceptionally ready to defer to others. Once a cattle thief, when captured, said, “I will willingly receive my punishment, but please don’t inform Wang Yanfang.” When Wang heard of this, he sent someone to give the thief a piece of cloth and persuade him to become good. From this incident the thief became so reformed that when he saw someone drop his sword in the road he stood guarding it till the owner came back to get it. In antiquity there also was a Mr. Guan Youan who was equally deferential. When an ox belonging to another family came and ate the young shoots of his field he was not at all angry, but took the ox, tied him to a tree, and brought him grass to eat. Because he was so accommodating and humble, all the people of his village reformed. In a time of rebellion, the bandits didn’t bother him, and those who had fled from danger came to him for protection. Just think of it: when one man knows how to yield, a whole district can be reformed and even bandits can be influenced. Aren’t ceremonial behavior and deference then real treasures? Furthermore, if you compete over things, you don’t get any more for it; if you yield neither do you have any less. The ancients said it very well: “A person who always makes way for others on the road won’t waste one hundred steps in his whole life. He who always gives in on questions of boundaries won’t lose even a single section over the course of his life.” Hence it can be seen that yielding and ceremony bring gain and never humiliation. Then why not yield? Emperor Shizong hopes that you all will listen to the instructions of the former Emperor Shengzu and examine yourselves by them.

“If you are able to get along with others, those who are rude will imitate you and learn to get along. If you are able to manage business fairly, those who are dishonest will learn to be fair by following you. When one person takes the lead, all the rest will follow. When one family follows, then the whole village will do the same. From near to far, everywhere people will be good. At first it will take effort, but constant practice will make it easy. Men will become honest and popular customs pure and considerate. Only this would constitute full adoption of the meaning of Emperor Shizong’s repeated instructions to you.

Sacred Edict Lecture on Ceremonies

Yongzheng Emperor offering a sacrifice at the Altar of the God of Agriculture

In his Sacred Edict Lecture: “Exhortations on Ceremony and Deference”, Wang Youpu said: “Popular customs vary greatly: in some places people are kindly, in others, reserved; in some places they are extravagant and pompous, in others frugal and simple. Because the customs of every place differed, the ancient sages created ceremonial practices in order to standardize conduct. The sage [Confucius] said that to secure the ease of superiors and bring order to the people, nothing is better than ceremony (li). This sentence teaches us that ceremony is extremely important. Were Heaven and earth to depart from the forms of ceremony, they would no longer be Heaven and earth. Were the myriad creatures to depart from ceremonial forms, they would no longer exist. The forms of ceremony are vast and its uses are manifold. [Source:Wang Youpu's Sacred Edict Lecture: "Exhortations on Ceremony and Deference"; from “”Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook””, edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 298.300; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

“Were reason and virtue, benevolence and justice to depart from ceremony, they could no longer be true reason and virtue, benevolence and justice. Were the honorable and the mean, the noble and base, to depart from ceremony, one could no longer distinguish between them. Were the rituals for manhood, marriage, mourning, and ancestor worship to depart from ceremony, one could not conduct those rituals. In fact, if Emperor Shizong, in offering sacrifices to Heaven or to the temple of his ancestors, or in giving private feasts, were to depart from ceremony, those things could not be performed. In a word, ceremony is the root of all customs.

“But when you practice ceremonial behavior, there should be no awkward stiffness; all should be natural and easy. The essence of ceremony is contained in the word “deference.” The sage said that as long as ceremony and deference were used, there would be no difficulty in ruling the empire. If these two words, ceremony and deference, are sufficient to regulate the vast concerns of an empire, shouldn’t it be even easier to regulate an individual or a family through them? The sage also said a ruler who wants the common people not to fight must first set an example for them of ceremonial behavior and deference. Thus it may be seen that this word, deference, is also the root of the practice of ceremony.

“Were I now to speak of the details of rituals and ceremonies, you soldiers and common people probably would have difficulty learning them because they are so numerous. But you all possess the basic elements of ceremonial behavior. For example, you know that there should be filial piety towards parents, honor and respect for superiors, harmony between husband and wife, affection among brothers, honesty among friends, and mutual responsibility among those of the same lineage. This proves that internally you already possess the basic elements of ceremony and deference. Why then make a fuss about the externals? If you could really, in dealing with others, be extremely cooperative, in conducting yourselves be extremely obliging in the family express the affection appropriate between parents and children, elder and younger brothers, in your villages maintain accord between the old and the young, the great and the small, then those habits of struggling over minor differences and getting into noisy disputes would be reformed and the tendency toward indulgent and degenerate conduct would be restrained.

“If I had no desire which might induce you to compete or me to steal; if I never allowed momentary anger to get me into a fight; if I never held you in contempt because you are poor and I am rich; if you didn’t try to hurt me because you are strong and I am weak; if everybody became kind, without any sign of pettiness; then this would be true ceremony and deference and in the fullest sense there would be honor and justice.

“Though everyone knows how to talk of ceremony and deference, they do not all practice it. Why don’t they practice it? Because at present they only know how to use the rules of ceremony to reprove others, not how to use them to correct themselves. For example, if we are quarreling, you’ll say I’m impolite and I’ll say you are. One will say, “Why don’t you yield to me?” And the other will reply, “You haven’t yet yielded to me. Why should I yield to you?” At length the animosities become so complex that they cannot be disentangled. What gain is there in that? You should think a little and say, “Although he is without proper manners, where are my manners? Although he hasn’t yielded to me, in the beginning why didn’t I yield to him?” If both parties would admit part of the blame, wouldn’t numerous disputes be avoided? It is just that people love to quarrel and will not give in to others. For instance, a scholar who has a rough idea of how to compose a few verses of various kinds of poetry regards himself as the literary prodigy of the day and disdains to cast an eye on others. But if he realized that the subjects of study are inexhaustible and that the empire possesses an abundance of learned men, he would say, “The books I have read are only a fraction of what men have written and my compositions don’t amount to even a spot of brightness among the whole lot.” Automatically he would be modest and defer to others. He who really acts with modesty and deference is a virtuous and worthy scholar.

Qing Government Officials and What Is Expected of Them

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The Qing government employed officials at the imperial, provincial, and county levels to carry out the responsibilities of government. Those qualified for appointments as officials had passed a highly competitive series of examinations based largely on the Confucian classics. Qing officials were responsible for a wide range of duties — in addition, they were expected to be morally upright gentlemen. (Needless to say, they were not always so in practice.) In their intellectual lives, the scholars from whose ranks Qing officials were appointed were concerned with the study of the large corpus of classical texts — philosophical, historical, and literary — which were their inheritance from the past. Chen Hongmou (1696-1771) had a long career as a provincial governor, serving in that post in a number of provinces. The following are excerpts from some of his letters and other writings in which he discusses the duties of an official. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

In “On the Duties of an Official,” Chen Hongmou wrote: “We in official service ought to look at all matters from the point of view of what is best for the people’s livelihood. We must plan for the long term, rather than for the moment. We should concentrate on the substantial and practical, rather than disguising our inaction with empty words. To do otherwise would violate the court’s basic principle that officials exist for the good of the people. [Source: “On the Duties of an Official” by Chen Hongmou, 1696-1771, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 162.167. © 2000 Columbia University Press. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]


“The Way of shepherding the people involves no more than educating and nurturing them. By “nurturing” I mean construction and maintenance of irrigation works, encouragement of land reclamation, and patronage of community granaries. These are all matters of great urgency. If the people can be made to produce a surplus, store it, and allow it to accumulate over the years, their well-being will be ensured. By “education” I mean promoting civilized behavior, diligently managing public schools, and widely distributing classical texts. Schools are the fountainheads of popular customs. If educational practice is correct, popular customs will be virtuous.

“As our dynasty has ever longer exercised benevolent rule, the population has continually grown. All available natural resources have been turned into productive assets. I fear, however, that our limited supply of land cannot adequately support our growing population. Under these conditions, officials cannot sit idly by and watch as potentially useful land remains undeveloped, on the excuse that the effort involved would be too great or that their initiative would not yield immediate results. Now, feeding the people directly by the government is not as good as developing the means whereby the people can feed themselves. This always takes time, however, and results cannot be seen overnight [i.e., during an official’s own tenure in a post]. Indeed, results that appear overnight almost never prove to be enduring. Therefore officials must look to the long term, not the present, and in so doing put the interests of the people ahead of their own [career] concerns.

“In governing, good intentions and good policies alone are insufficient. There are those policies that sound admirable but that prove impossible to implement in practice. … If the local official truly approaches each matter from the standpoint of the people’s livelihood, in carrying out any new policy he will first thoroughly canvas local public opinion on the matter. He will then consider every aspect of its implementation, noting in which aspects it is advantageous to the people and in which aspects it will cause them hardship. If the advantages outweigh the hardships, implement it. One ideally seeks a situation of absolute advantage and zero hardship but this is seldom possible, and the possibility of hardships should not cause one to abandon a policy that will prove on balance advantageous. If the policy is a sound one, such hardships as do accrue may be redressed subsequently, so as fully to maximize the advantages.

“The court appoints officials for the benefit of the people. Officials must cherish the people and exercise their authority to the fullest in their behalf. It is no accident that the formal title of a district magistrate is “one who knows the district,” nor that he is referred to as the “local official”... there should be no matter within their locality about which he does not know. The common people refer to the magistrate as their “father and mother official” and call themselves his “children.” This implies that there is no suffering or pleasure on the part of the people that the magistrate does not personally share. Their relationship is exactly like that of a family.”

Duties of Officials in Qing-Era China

In “On the Duties of an Official,” Chen Hongmou wrote: “I have drawn up the following list of items a local official should keep in mind in determining how to conduct himself. Superiors are also directed to keep these points in mind when evaluating their subordinates: 1) Maintain genuine commitment. This is the basis of everything else. With genuine commitment your energies will never flag; without it, whatever ability you possess will be wasted. Do not leave things to others, but remain personally aware of all that goes on in your district. Officials without genuine commitment give prime consideration to how a policy will appear in their reports to superiors, rather than the impact it will have on the people. If local officials are truly committed to the people, all things will fall into place. [Source: “On the Duties of an Official” by Chen Hongmou, 1696-1771, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 162.167. © 2000 Columbia University Press. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

official giving rice to prisoners

“2) Be incorrupt. An official must act unselfishly and maintain the highest standards of personal integrity. Ill.gotten gains will be discovered in the end, because they will become the subject of popular gossip or because one’s corruption will weigh upon one’s conscience and be revealed in one’s speech and demeanor. One will therefore tend to shrink from the public gaze. It may sometimes be possible to fool your superiors, but you can never fool the “ignorant populace.”

3) Provide exemplars of civilized behavior. Because counties are large and populous, people do not routinely see their magistrate. But magistrates should make regular tours of the countryside to investigate local customs, good and bad, and to meet with local community leaders to clarify for their benefit what is considered legal and proper. On these tours, officials should make detailed observations of conditions in villages along the way and make follow.up visits to determine if conditions have improved or deteriorated. Reward or punish community leaders accordingly. Local persons who have been models of filiality or chastity, public service or philanthropy, should be rewarded with votive tablets, public rituals of praise, gifts of silver or rice, or tax exemptions. 4) Endure toil and tribulations. Within my jurisdiction, what affairs do not depend on me? Among daily affairs, those that do not concern popular material well-being inevitably concern local customs and popular morale. There are so many affairs to manage that one is always plagued with anxieties that one has neglected something or that there is not enough time to do it all.

“How can one in such a post be the sort to shun hard work? 5) Scrutinize subordinate officials carefully. 6) Keep a tight rein on your clerks. Failure to control their predations will inevitably generate popular resentment. 7) Avoid perfunctory performance. Human beings have their own natural disposition, and events have their own natural logic. When the time is ripe for something, it cannot be avoided; discussions after the fact are fruitless. How can one suppose that the course of one’s official career is due to anything other than public knowledge of one’s performance? A bad habit among today’s officials is to give little heed to real needs and conditions, but rather, out of selfish careerist motives, simply to imitate in a perfunctory fashion what other officials are doing. Then, when someone is promoted ahead of them, they attribute it to something having unfairly invited their superiors’ enmity or someone having spread false rumors about them.

“Can it really be that higher.level officials do not have the public interest at heart and are led only by their partisan likes and dislikes? 8) Prevent harassment of the people. For an official to impose harassments on the people himself would be the height of stupidity. But, jurisdictions being very broad, evil government functionaries and local tyrants will inevitably come up with ways to harass the people.

“Consequently, no matter how hardworking the magistrate, and how well intentioned the laws such harassments can be prevented only through constant and diligent scrutiny. 9) Do not cover up your mistakes. Many local officials today are unwilling to admit their mistakes in judging legal cases. Instead, they arrogantly presume that their own superior ability will allow them to get by, and [they] figure that the people are so stupid that they will not recognize an unjust decision when they see one. Such cover-ups do terrible injury to the official’s own character, as well as to the locality. 10) Avoid losing your temper. Officials must remain composed. The way to control anger is to overcome oneself.Self-regulation is prerequisite to the regulation of others.

Qing-era punishments

“Popular attitudes and customary practices vary from locality to locality. It is the duty of the official to promote those that are advantageous and eliminate those that are disadvantageous. Magistrates are therefore directed to compile and submit to me a casebook, describing in detail the situation in their counties with regard to each of the following items: 1. Tax and surtax assessments and collections; 2) Grain tribute assessments and collections; 3) Government granaries ; 4) Community granaries; 5) Varieties of crops grown; 6) Potentially reclaimable land; 7) Water conservancy and irrigation works; 8) Local customs regarding marriage and funerary rites and popular religious practices; 9) Community libation rituals; 10) Exemplary cases of filiality or virtuous widowhood; 11) Official temples and sacrifices; 12) Scholarly trends and fashions; 13) Academies and public schools; 14) Incidence of feuds and capital crimes; 15) Incidence of theft; 16( Incidence of banditry; 17) Incidence of cattle theft and illegal slaughter; 18) Tax arrears; 19) Incidence of gambling and smuggling; 20) Counterfeiting or melting down of government coins; 21) Backlog of civil litigation; 22) Maintenance and security of cemeteries; 23) Refugees and vagrants; 24) Poorhouses and orphanages; 25) Dikes and flood.prevention measures; 26) Market towns and overland or water commercial routes; 27) Postal depots; 28) Historical relics; 29) Pettifoggers; 30) Leading lineages; 31) Sales of government salt; 32) Sub.officials assigned to the district.

Magistrates in Qing-Era China

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the county magistrate was the lowest level of government official and the only government official with whom the common person might have any contact whatsoever (and even that was rare). [Source:Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

“County magistrates were generally middle.aged men who had passed a series of rigorous state examinations in order to qualify for appointment to office. In an effort to prevent corruption, magistrates were not appointed to counties in their home provinces. In the early eighteenth century, China had 1,528 county.level administrative units, and the average population of a county was 150,000. By the late eighteenth century, there were 1,502 county.level administrative units, with an average population of 200,000.

“The county magistrate was the single government official in charge of a county. He lived and did his business in a walled office.residence compound called a yamen, in the county seat. He was assisted by a small staff of clerks and runners on the regular payroll — a larger number of clerks and runners whose income needed to be generated by informal fees, gifts, and bribes — and by private secretaries paid for from his own purse.

“The magistrate was in effect a surrogate emperor: He was responsible for everything from tax collection to roads, bridges, and public buildings, from improving the moral tenor of the people and mediating disputes to investigating crimes, capturing offenders, trying the guilty, and either administering low.level punishments or sending the case on to the provincial level, with a complete report and recommendation for punishment.

Qing-Era Magistrate on Dealing with “Depraved Religious Sects Deceive People”

prison guard with prisoners, the wooden collars weigh 16 kilograms

“The following passages on “Depraved Religious Sects Deceive People” are excerpts from the casebook of a Qing dynasty county magistrate, Lan Dingyuan (1680-1733). Lan was a scholar who served as county magistrate in two counties in Guangdong Province: “The origin of the Latter Heaven sect is unknown. Zhan Yucan and Zhou Awu first preached it in our area, claiming to have received the teaching from a white-bearded Immortal. Zhan Yucan’s wife, Lin, was thought to be the “Miraculous Divine Lady.” She claimed to have the ability to summon wind and rain and to give orders to gods and spirits. She was the leader of the Latter Heaven sect and was assisted by her paramour, Hu Aqiu, who called himself the “Ben Peak Divine Gentleman.” These two cast spells and used magic charms and waters to cure illness and to help pray for heirs. They even claimed to be able to help widows to meet their deceased husbands at night. [Source: Lan Dingyuan, 1680-1733 Excerpts from The Casebook of the County Magistrate Lan Dingyuan: “Depraved Religious Sects Deceive People, from “”Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook””, edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 295.296; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

“I dispatched runners to apprehend the sect leaders, but the runners were afraid to offend the gods lest the soldiers of hell punish them. I, therefore, went to the place myself, pushed my way into the front room, and arrested the Divine Lady. In fact, these charlatans had no special powers whatsoever but used incense and costumes to bewilder people. The foolish people were impressed when they saw that the Divine Lady had no fear of gods and goddesses. Hu Aqiu, who accompanied her, wore rouge female clothing, and a wig. People believed Hu was the genuine Empress Lady of the Moon and never suspected he was a man. I had Lin, the “Divine Lady” and Hu Aqiu beaten and put in the collar1, placing them outside the court so that people could scorn them, beat them, and finally kill them. As to Zhan Yucan, the man who had allowed his wife to commit such a crime, and his accomplices they were all beaten and put in the collar as punishment.”

“1) The “collar” here refers to a cangue. Père du Halde, writing in 1680, described the cangue as follows: “Another punishment, less painful, but more infamous, is the wooden collar which the Portuguese have called cangue. This cangue is composed of two pieces of wood, hollowed in the middle to place the neck of the criminal in. When he has been condemned by the mandarin, they take these two pieces of wood lay them on his shoulders, and join them together in such a manner that there is room only for the neck. By this means, the person can neither see his feet nor put his hand to his mouth, but is obliged to be fed by some other person. He carries night and day this disagreeable load, which is heavier or lighter according to the nature of the fault. Some cangues weigh two hundred pounds, and are so troublesome to criminals that out of shame, confusion, pain, want of nourishment and sleep, they die under them. Some are three feet square and five or six inches thick; the common sort weigh fifty or sixty pounds.” [Source: “The World’s Story: A History of the World in Story, Song, and Art, Volume I: China, Japan, and the Islands of the Pacific,” edited by Eva March Tappan (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914) 181-186, as reproduced online by the Internet Modern History Sourcebook: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1680halde3.html)

“Substantive Learning” for Qing-Era Officials

Qing-era students

In “On Substantive Learning” Chen Hongmou wrote: “The noble words and essential ideas of the sages are scattered throughout the classical canon. Only by studying these works closely can one begin to extract from them their meaning and put their ideas into practice. If one takes scholarship to be merely poetry and belles lettresthen though the craftsmanship be jewel-likeit will have no relevance to one’s moral nature and may indeed serve to mislead one in one’s personal conduct. One will invariably end up with empty verbiage and groundless speculationobstructing the grasp of true principle. This is of no use in personal cultivationand still less in serving the needs of the people. Books then remain merely booksand quite separate from real life. It is because of this that so many people today dismiss book learning as no more than the repetition of conventional platitudes and scholarship as simply a way to pass the examinations. [Source: “On Substantive Learning” by Chen Hongmou, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 157-160. Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

“The examination system promotes scholars on the basis of their literary achievement. But scholarly practices tend to decline over the course of time, to become less concerned with fundamentals and more with style, to substitute what simply sounds good for what one has made a genuine effort to understand. Scholars merely unthinkingly copy over the words of the past, and their vacuous phrasings have absolutely no connection to real.life affairs. Few, indeed can even adequately explain the basic meaning of the sages’ words. They simply repeat empty conventions and the world rewards them with success in the examinations. The glibness of contemporary letters, and the slovenliness of today’s education, are primarily due to this.

“The state selects and promotes scholars above all out of the hope that they will prove useful officials in the future. In sitting for the examinations, scholars should reveal the learning they have patiently accumulated over the course of time. The examinations test first the candidate’s knowledge of basic principles revealed in the classical texts, and then move on to legal and policy questions. Imperial edicts have repeatedly ordered that, in provincial-level examinations, equal weight be given to this second part, in order to scrutinize the candidates’ understanding of political economy and prevent undue emphasis being accorded to facility with current literary fashions.

“But students in fact do not diligently prepare for these practical policy questions on a day-to-day basis; instead they quickly cram for them as the examination approaches, by memorizing standardized crib book answers. Since examining officials obviously do not take seriously this second half of the examination, these bad practices have become so institutionalized that even genuinely serious students no longer see this part as requiring more than last.minute cramming. Thus the study of political economy is neglected, and the court’s purpose in using the examinations to select officials is defeated.

“Now, the Yunnan Provincial Academy has recently become quite successful in producing scholars. The only problem is that the academy’s monthly tests do not include questions relevant to the second part of the examinations. Cramming at the last minute is by no means as good as studying on a protracted, regular basis. I therefore propose that, beginning with the next school term, in addition to the usual lectures on classical philosophy, a portion of each class be devoted to assignment of a passage from the Four Books, upon which the students must compose an answer in the manner of the policy questions on the exams. They should also be assigned a question in which they decide a sample legal case. The policy question should be concerned with a contemporary issue in either national or local affairs. The phrasing of this question must be clear and specific, so as to preclude giving a standard crib book response. In this way, we can counter the ingrained dysfunctions of contemporary education and more fully put into practice our Sagely Dynasty’s appropriate emphasis on substantive learning.

“Substantive learning necessarily involves painstaking immersion in texts on a routine basis. It seems that today there are two major harmful trends. The first is acquisition of literary polish without penetrating the text’s essential meaning. To save time, teachers lecture their students on the generalities of a passage, without making sure that they understand the precise meaning of each word and phrase. If one’s reading level does not allow one to grasp the Way, one cannot employ it effectively to put the world in order. The second harmful trend is studying the classics only out of antiquarianism, without looking for applications in the world in which we live. Scholars like this may have highly refined philological skills and great bibliographic command, but by remaining mired in the past they do violence to the present. One reason why so many people today dismiss professional literati as useless is because the latter do not assiduously read the Beijing Gazette.1 In my opinion, all educational officials in local cities and villages ought to make the Gazette required reading for their students. If the students are not capable of reading it on their own, all students of the locality should be formed into study groups to read it collectively. This would be highly beneficial, yet cost very little.

“In my view, the duties of the literati are to study when dwelling at home and to serve when called to public office. By “studying,” I mean to study proper moral conduct, which is the prerequisite to being of service. By “serving,” I mean governing the affairs of the people, which is how the superior man puts into practice that which he has studied. Practical affairs and basic principles are essentially interdependent; eternal truths and functional utility are but two aspects of the same thing. Contemporary scholars treat the two as distinct, but for the ancients themselves their profound words were inseparable from positive action. There are some today who discuss classical texts but see no need to apply them to the contemporary world, or even argue that they cannot be applied to the contemporary world.

“This is not only a perversion of the Way but also a trivialization of the role of scholarship. Of course, just as scholarship may be correct or misdirected, substantive or vacuous, so too will those in public service inevitably include the careless and negligent as well as the judicious and skilled. There are those who acquire a reputation for scholarship and appear solid and upright who, once selected for an official post, immediately forget all that they have previously studied.

“There are even those who treat their official service as a shortcut to a lavish lifestyle and an easy paycheck, behaving precisely contrary to everything they have learned in the past. It is as if the man prior to official selection and the man after selection were two different people! Official service and scholarship are mutually complementary and must be fully integrated in one’s mental attitude.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated October 2021

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