In the first episode, In Motion, Spence tells the audience about K’ang-hsi’s travels and how much of an avid hunter he is. In a letter to Ku Wen-hsing, K’ang-hsi wrote, “he had traveled over 2,000 li… in each of the four cardinal directions” and later states, “River, lakes, mountains, deserts- I’ve been through them all. ” K’ang-hsi travelled the countryside to hunt and to win over the Chinese citizens. He hunted for pleasure stating, “Hunting’s basically for exercise,” and to train his military in shooting, camp life, and formation riding.
The second episode, Ruling, goes more into detail on how the government was set up. K’ang-hsi had is set up so he had complete control over the economical and educational structure but did not have to deal with the small tidies problems of every county. Emperor K’ang-hsi thought a lot about his purpose in life. He goes into more detail in his third episode Thinking. The Emperor was a Neo-Confucianism but refereed to it mostly as Confucian Classic. He claims he wanted to find things out for himself and not pretend to have the knowledge.
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He would ask his elders questions and ask about their experiences so he would learn from their mistakes and gain from their accomplishments. Realizing in the fourth episode he was growing old and was going to die. He was very adamant about not wanting to die but he knew it was inevitable. He did try to prolong his life as much as possible with his awareness for his diet and medicine. K’ang-hsi tried to stay open with the public about his health, explaining that this is the “ultimate form of honesty. ”
Emperor K’ang-hsi tried to live forever through his children. He had 56 children all together but only one with his first wife, who later took over the thrown. The Emperor was very protective of his sons and made sure they got everything they wanted. He would often kill someone that threatened the chance of a power overthrow. He once killed three cooks and several servant boys for suspicion of homosexual activity with his son Yin-jeng. At the end of K’ang-hsi’s life, he became very senile and distant from reality and the Chinese people.
Even though Spence goes into great detail about Emperor K’ang-hsi’s life than any history book could have. He does this by emphasizing his writings and not other sources. The downfall to this is he does not go into great detail about many of the facts or important historical events. By this time China had foreign intervention and influence; Spence did not address any of the foreign policies K’ang-hsi made during his reign. Spence only wrote one paragraph about the confrontations with Russia, but the real even actually lasted over several decades.
And the only thing that was mentioned was how nice the Emperor was to the Russian prisoners. Emperor of China; Self Portrait of K’ang-hsi should not be read as a textbook or as a completely true historical resource. This is because it is told by one person and by his point of view with no one else able to tell the other side of the story. Granted this is what Spence wanted to do with his book but for the point most of his sources were of K’ang-hsi’s writings; we cannot believe everything that is written.
If someone would read this book they would think K’ang-hsi was the greatest leader/person in the world. We do not get the dirty side of his life, the side that describes all the thousands of people that he killed for no reason. When they were addressed in the book K’ang-hsi put a positive twist on it so it would be justified in his mind. Every storyteller is going to tell their version of the story so it sounds better than it really was. On the other hand Spence takes us into K’ang-hsi’s head and we realize what K’ang-hsi was thinking behind some of his actions.
For example, his easoning for restructuring the tax system in 1711 because the population was increasing but the farm land was not increasing so his thought was every “census year the tax quotas should be redivided among the entire surviving population, so that all would pay the same, and each year the tax burden could get lighter. ” But he went with another plan we know what he was thinking and what his other options were. Knowing what is going on in someone’s mind is what everyone wants to know and especially for someone as important as the Emperor of China. Through K’ang-hsi’s writings you can feel the whole heartedness from him.
He was a good person and Spence really expressed that while writing this book. Most emperors would not help out war criminals let alone treat them with medicine. Also he helped out average citizens of China that were in need of help. An example of this is when a citizen became very sick and was not able to bow in front of K’ang-hsi so he let him “incline the body forward instead of performing the full prostration,” and that same citizen was not able to sit down so K’ang-hsi offered him to sit on “a couch of cushions. ” At that time most heads of government would behead that citizen because he was physically handicapped.
K’ang-hsi knew he could not help his condition, he was born with a handicap so if did not want to discriminate against him for something he could not prevent. Spence did a very good job at writing a book from K’ang-hsi’s perspective and was able to log his thoughts fairly well. In the six episodes of the book he was able to go through K’ang-hsi’s young life, when he ruled over China, he thoughts and beliefs and what he thought about his sons. We could really feel how he felt about certain issues and who is loved and cared for, it was like we were seeing certain scenes through he eyes rather than a third party.
The only thing that would have made it better is if Spence went in more detail about political affairs and foreign policies. Though if he had gone in depth over everything the book would have been 2000 pages or more. So as a reader you have to start this book with some background information; it is only from K’ang-hsi’s perspective, Spence leaves some important governmental issues out, and finally you do not want to read a boring book describing every little detail about someone’s life that lived three hundred years ago that is why Spence left those issues out.
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