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Manchu Emperors

Huang Taiji16261643
FulinShunzhiChuntcheShun Chih16501661
XuanyeKangxiKanghiKang Hsi 16611722
YinzhenYongzhengYung ChingYung Cheng 17221735
HongliQianlongKeen LungKien Lung 17351796
YongyanJiaqingKiakingKia King 17961820
MinningDaoguangTaoukwangTao Kwang 18201850
YizhuXianfengHieufungHien Feng 18501861
ZaichunTongzhiTungcheTung Chih 18611875
ZaitianGuangxuKwangsuKwang Hsu18751908
PuyiXuantongHsuantungHsuan tung 19081911

The original Manchu home seems to have been at the base of the Shan-a-lin, or Long White Mountains, north of Korea. From this locality they gradually spread through conquest, at first as independent tribes and later united under the command of one chieftain, Nurhachu (born 1559). This leader carried on an incessant warfare against China, and reduced almost all of Manchuria, removing his capital from Mukden to Liaoyang. At his death in 1626 his fourth son succeeded him, exacted tribute from Korea in 1627, and advanced into Liaosi and Mongolia. In 1644 the Manchus were invited to Peking by the Chinese general Wu San-Kwei to assist him in crushing a rebellion. They captured Peking and remained there, establishing upon the Chinese throne the Ta Ching or "Great Pure" dynasty, which reigned from 1644 to 1912. The grandson of Nurhachu became the first Manchu Emperor of China, and took the name of Shun-chih. From Shunchih to Hsilan-t'ung, who abdicated in 1912, there were 10 Manchu emperors of China.

The second Manchu Emperor, Kanghi (16611722), was one of the greatest and most successful rulers that ever exercised sway in China. But his grandson, the fourth Manchu Emperor, Keen-lung (1735-96), was even greater and even more successful still. Keen-lung was twenty-five years of age when he ascended the throne in 1735; thus when he abdicated in 1796 he was a patriarch of fourscore years and six. Yet even till that date he had retained the active habits which had characterised his youth.

The form of government of this vast empire was an absolute monarchy. The emperor regarded himself as the interpreter of the decrees of Heaven, and he was recognised by the people over whom he ruled as the connecting link between the gods and themselves. He was supposed to hold communion with the deities at his pleasure, and to obtain from them the blessings of which he, personally, or the nation may stand in need. The Emperor ruled by divine right, in the most literal sense. He was himself the Son of Heaven, and, when he died, he "mounts the Dragon chariot to be a guest on high." He was the Divus Augustus of his empire, reverenced by his subjects, in letter and in spirit, during his life and after his death. Apart from the result of military usurpation, he was selected by his predecessor, or by the Imperial family, acting under such inspiration as moves a Papal Conclave. He was usually a son of his predecessor, but was seldom the eldest, the Asiatic practice of selecting the fittest among certain qualified princes of the blood being followed. Of those who came as adults to the throne, Kiaking was the fifteenth, Taokwang the second, and Hienfeng the fourth son of his father and predecessor.

To his people the sovereign is Hwang-ti ("Emperor") "His Sacred Majesty," "Lord of Ten Thousand Years," T'ien-wang (heavenly prince), T'ien-tze ("The Son of Heaven"). Each emperor selected a "year indicator" or "reign title," by which to indicate the years of his reign, 1834 being the fourteenth year of the period Taokwang; and foreigners, from indolence, commonly used this reign title as if it were the personal name of the sovereign, speaking ordinarily of His Majesty Taokwang. On his death the Emperor is canonised, and receives a temple name, by which he is known in history. His personal name was never mentioned from the moment of his accession, and even its distinctive character must be avoided for ever thereafter, a synonym or a modified form being used.

The Emperor's writ ran throughout the extent of his dominions, and his edicts and rescripts were the law of the empire; this was true also of the writs and Orders in Council of the King of Great Britain and Ireland, and the restrictions on the acts of the two sovereigns differed only in degree and kind. The Emperor was bound, in the first place, by the unwritten constitution of the empire, the customs which have come down from time immemorial through generations of both rulers and ruled, and further by established precedent as defined in the edicts of his predecessors, even those of previous dynasties. Then he was bound by the opinions and decisions of his ministers, whose positions and weight differ from those of ministers of constitutional monarchies only in the mode of their selection and retention in office.

Finally, shut up within the walls of his palace, he was more sensible of the daily pressure brought to bear upon him by his personal entourage than his brother sovereigns in the west; but it must be said of the Manchu rulers that eunuchs had less influence at court than under previous dynasties. A strong emperor may assert his own will, and, given a suitable opportunity and a justifying emergency, may over-ride the constitution ; but, when an ordinary ruler tries it, the result was what happened in 1898, when the Emperor Kwangsii undertook to modify in a few months the development of many centuries, and impetuously instituted reforms for which the empire was not then ready. The Emperor is also the source of honours and of office, but this is no more literally true in China than in any other country where patronage is exercised from above.

The Dragon was the national emblem of China; it plays an important part in political, literary, and social life. The national ensign is the yellow flag with a blue Dragon; the scholar leaps the "Dragon Gate" when he passes a successful examination. The Dragon is seen in the earth and in the sky. In the earth he holds control of the lucky and unlucky influences. The dragon is the crest on Imperial monuments, the design on the Emperor's robes, and the throne of the empire is the dragon-throne. The phrase "to mount the dragon chariot" or " to mount the dragon" meant to die.

The people of China were taught to regard the emperor as the representative of heaven, and the empress as the representative of mother earth. In this position she is supposed to exert an influence over nature, and to possess a transforming power. One of her principal duties is to sse that, at stated seasons of the year, worship is duly and reverently paid to the tutelary deity of silkworms. It is also her duty carefully to examine the weaving of the silk stuffs which the ladies of the imperial harem weave and make into garments for certain state idols. The empress is supposed to be profoundly ignorant of all political matters. There are instances on record, however, of empresses of China having manifested the greatest knowledge of these subjects. But besides the empress, the emperor has other wives. These are eight in number, and have the rank and title of queens. These royal ladies are divided into two classes, the first of which consists of three, and the second of five queens. In addition. to the wives there are, of course, several concubines.

the empress is styled Hwang-heu or Chung-kung; where there are two empresses they are designated Tung-kung and Sikung (respectively eastern and western), according to the part of the palace they live in. The choice of an empress, and of queens, turned solely on the personal qualities or attractions of those selected, without any reference whatever to their connections or family reputation. They are selected in the following manner. The empress dowager with her ladies, or, in her absence, a royal lady who had been invested with authority for the purpose, held what may not inaptly be termed a "drawing-room," to attend which Tartar ladies and the daughters of bannermen were summoned from various parts of the empire. The lady pronounced to be the belle of the assembly was chosen to be in due time raised to the dignity of empress. Those who were placed next in personal attractions were selected for the rank of queens. The daughters of bannermen of the seventh, eighth, and ninth ranks, appear before the empress-dowager, in order that a certain number of them may be appointed to fill the respective offices of "ladies" and women of the bedchamber.

The Emperor claimed the deepest reverence. In virtue ot his position he was obliged personally to manage the government, and must himself be acquainted with and direct the legislative business of the Empire, although the Tribunals give their assistance. Notwithstanding this, there was little room for the exercise of his individual will; for the whole government was conducted on the basis of certain ancient maxims of the Empire, while his constant oversight was not the less necessary. The imperial princes were therefore educated on the strictest plan. Their physical frames were hardened by discipline, and the sciences are their occupation from their earliest years. Their education is conducted under the Emperor's superintendence, and they were early taught that the Emperor is the head of the State and therefore must appear as the first and best in everything.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:40:09 ZULU