Yongzheng Emperor

The Yongzheng Emperor (Chinese: 雍正帝; pinyin: yōngzhèngdì; Wade–Giles: Yung Cheng Ti, Manchu: ᡥᡡᠸᠠᠯᡳᠶᠠᠰᡠᠨ ᡨᠣᠪ, Hūwaliyasun Tob hūwangdi, Mongolian: Nairalt Töv Khaan; 13 December 1678 – 8 October 1735), born Yinzhen (Chinese: 胤禛; pinyin: yìnzhēn ; Manchu language: ᡳᠨ ᠵᡝᠨ ; Möllendorff transliteration: in jen), was the fifth emperor of the Manchu-led qing dynasty and the third Qing emperor from 1722 to 1735. A hard-working ruler, Yongzheng's main goal was to create an effective government at minimal expense. Like his father, the Kangxi Emperor, Yongzheng used military force to preserve the dynasty's position. Suspected by historians to have usurped the throne, his reign was known as despotic, efficient, and vigorous.

Although Yongzheng's reign was much shorter than the reigns of both his father (the Kangxi Emperor) and his son (the Qianlong Emperor), his sudden death was probably brought about by a heavy workload. Yongzheng continued an era of peace and prosperity; he cracked down on corruption and waste, and reformed the financial administration. During his reign the formulation of the Grand Council began, an institution which have an enormous impact on the future of imperial China.

Prince Yong

Yinzhen was the fourth son of Kangxi to survive into adulthood and the eldest son from Empress Xiaogongren, a lady of the Manchu Uya clan who was then known as De-fei. Kangxi knew it would be a mistake to raise his children inside the palace alone; therefore, exposed his sons (including Yinzhen) to the outside world and gave them a rigorous education. Yongzheng went with Kangxi on several inspection trips around the Beijing area, as well as one trip further south. He was honorary leader of the Plain Red Banner during Kangxi's second battle against the Mongol khan Gordhun. Yinzhen was made a beile (Chinese: 貝勒, "lord") in 1689 and rose to the position of second-class prince in 1698.

In 1704, the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers saw unprecedented flooding. The economy and livelihood of people around these areas were severely damaged. Yongzheng was sent out as an envoy of the emperor with the 13th Imperial Prince Yinxiang to deal with relief efforts in southern China. The imperial treasury, which had been drained due to unpaid loans by many officials and nobles, did not have sufficient funds to deal with the flooding; Yongzheng had the added responsibility of securing relief funds from the wealthy southern tycoons. These efforts ensured that funds were distributed properly and people would not starve. He was given the title of first-class prince, Prince Yong (Chinese: 雍親王), in 1709.

Disputed succession

In 1712, the Kangxi Emperor removed his second son, Yinreng, as successor to the throne and did not designate an heir in his place. This led to a competition amongst sons of the Emperor for the position of crown prince. The most promising candidates were Yinzhi, Yinzhen, Yinsi, and Yinti (the third, fourth, eighth and fourteenth Imperial Princes respectively). Of the princes, Yinsi had the most support from the mandarins, but was disfavoured by Kangxi himself. Yinzhen had supported Yinreng prior to the latter's demise, and did not build a large political base until the final years of Kangxi's reign. When the Emperor died in December 1722, the field of contenders was reduced to three princes after Yinsi pledged his support to the 14th prince, Yinti.

At the time of the Kangxi Emperor's death, Yinti, as border-pacification general-in-chief (Chinese: 撫遠大將軍), was at war in the northwest in what is present-day Xinjiang . Some historians believe that this implied Kangxi's favouring Yinti for succession, and was training the next emperor in military affairs; others maintain that Kangxi intended to keep Yinti a large distance away from the capital to ensure a peaceful succession for Yinzhen. It was Yinzhen who nominated Yinti for the post — not Yinsi, with whom Yinti was closely affiliated.

The official record, which may have been modified by Yongzheng for political purposes, states that on 20 December 1722 the ailing Kangxi Emperor called seven of his sons and the general commandant of the Peking gendarmerie, Longkodo, to his bedside; Longkodo read the will, and declared that Yinzhen succeed the emperor on the throne. Some evidence has suggested that Yinzhen contacted Longkodo months before the will was read in preparation for his succession by military means, although in their official capacities frequent encounters were expected. Legend has it that Yongzheng changed Kangxi's will by adding strokes and modifying characters. The best-known account says that Yongzheng changed "fourteen" (Chinese: 十四 → shísì) to "four" (Chinese: 于四 → yúsì); others say it was "fourteen" to "fourth" (Chinese: 第四 → dìsì). While widely accepted, there is little supporting evidence—especially considering that the character 于 was not widely used during the qing dynasty; on official documents, 於 (yú) is used. Secondly, Qing tradition insists that the will was done in both Manchu and Chinese; Manchu writing, however, is more intricate and (in this case) impossible to modify. Furthermore, princes in the qing dynasty are referred to as "the Emperor's son", in the order which they were born (for example, "the emperor's fourth son": Chinese: 皇四子). Therefore, there is doubt that Yinzhen changed the will to ascend to the throne.

Yinzhen chose an era name similar in sound to his given name; 1723 was to be the first year of the Yongzheng era. For his first official act as emperor Yongzheng released his long-time ally—the 13th prince Yinxiang, who had been imprisoned by the Kangxi Emperor at the same time as the crown prince. Some sources indicate that Yinxiang, the most militant of the princes, then assembled a group of special Peking soldiers from the Fengtai command to seize immediate control of the Forbidden City and surrounding areas to prevent usurpation by Yinsi's cronies. Yongzheng's personal account stated that he was emotionally unstable and deeply saddened over his father's death, and knew it would be a burden "much too heavy" for himself if he were to succeed the throne. In addition, after the will was read Yinzhen wrote that the officials (premier Zhang Tingyu, Longkedo and Yinzhi) and Prince Cheng led the other princes in the ceremonial Three-Kneels and Nine-Salutes to the emperor. The following day Yongzheng issued an edict summoning Yinti back from Qinghai , bestowing on their mother the title "Holy Mother Empress Dowager" the day Yinti arrived at the funeral.

In the first major comprehensive biography of the Yongzheng Emperor by Feng Erkang, the author puts the Yongzheng succession in perspective. Feng writes that there were some suspicious signs from the lost wills and the dates released, but the majority of evidence points to Yinzhen succeeding the throne legitimately (although with political and military maneuvering deemed necessary by the situation). The eighth prince (Yinsi) had been bribing officials for support throughout his life, and his influence penetrated the Fengtai command. Furthermore, Feng suggests that "although we are not yet altogether certain on what happened with the succession, and which side is correct, it is reasonable to think that Yongzheng's political enemies manipulated all suspicion behind the will in an attempt to put a dark image on Yongzheng; Imperial Chinese tradition had led certain schools of thought in believing that Yongzheng's whole reign can be discredited simply because his succession of the throne did not come as a will of his father, the emperor and ultimate decision maker in China." He further suggests that Kangxi made a grave mistake by allowing his sons to become major political players (especially since the position of crown prince was empty) and a bloody battle of succession (including a possible usurpation) was the inevitable result of imperial Chinese institutions. Therefore, it would be an even-bigger mistake to judge a ruler solely on the way he came to power. Certainly, the Yongzheng Emperor ensured his successor would have a smooth transition when his turn came.


After ascending to the throne in December 1722, Yinzhen took the era name "Harmonious Justice" (Chinese: 雍正 → yōngzhèng) in 1723 from his peerage title "harmonious" (Chinese: 雍 → yōng) and "just, correct, upright" (Chinese: 正 → zhèng). It has been suggested that the second character of his era name was an attempt to cover up his illegal claim to the throne by calling himself "justified". Immediately after succeeding to the throne, Yongzheng chose his new governing council. It consisted of the eighth prince Yinsi, the 13th prince Yinxiang, Zhang Tingyu, Ma Qi, and Longkodo. Yinsi was given the title of Prince Lian, and Yinxiang was given the title of Prince Yi; both held the highest positions in the land.

Battle with princes

The nature of his succession is deeply clouded, and Yongzheng saw challenges in all his surviving brothers. Yinzhi, the eldest, continued to live under house arrest; Yinreng, the former crown prince, died two years into his brother's reign (although they were both imprisoned not by Yongzheng, but by Kangxi). The biggest challenge was to separate Yinsi's party (consisting of Yinsi, the ninth and tenth princes and their minions), and isolate Yinti to reduce their power. Yinsi (who had nominally held the position of President of the Feudatory Affairs Office, the title "Prince Lian" and later the office of Prime Minister) was held under close watch by Yongzheng. Yintang was sent to Qinghai under the pretext of military service, but in reality fell within Yongzheng's trusted protégé Nian Gengyao's territory. Yin'e, the tenth prince, was stripped of all his titles in May 1724 and sent north to the Shunyi area. The 14th Prince Yinti (Yongzheng's full-brother) was placed under house arrest at the Imperial Tombs under the pretext of guarding their parents' tombs. The first few years of Yongzheng's reign saw an increase in partisan politics. Yinsi wanted to use his position to manipulate Yongzheng into errors, while appearing supportive. Yinsi and Yintang (both supporters of Yinti for the throne) were stripped of their titles, languished in prison and died in 1727.

Nian and Long

Nian Gengyao was a supporter of Yongzheng long before he succeeded to the throne. In 1722, when he was recalling his brother Yinti from the northwest, Yongzheng appointed Nian general. The situation in Xinjiang at the time was still precarious, and a strong general was needed in the area. After several military conquests, however, Nian Gengyao's lust for power grew; he reportedly wanted to be equal to Yongzheng. Seeing the situation unfold, Yongzheng issued an imperial edict demoting Nian to general of the Hangzhou Command. Continuing to be unrepentant, Nian was given an ultimatum and committed suicide by poison in 1726. Longkodo was commander of Peking's armies at the time of Yongzheng's succession. He fell in disgrace in 1728, and died under house arrest.

After becoming emperor, Yongzheng suppressed writings he deemed unfavorable to his regime, particularly those with an anti-Manchu bias. Foremost among these were those of Zeng Jing, an unsuccessful degree candidate heavily influenced by 17th-century scholar Lü Liuliang. Zeng had been so affected by what he read that he attempted to incite the governor-general of Shaanxi - Sichuan , Yue Zhongqi, to rebellion. The general promptly turned him in, and in 1730 the case reached Yongzheng Emperor. Highly concerned with the implications of the case, Yongzheng had Zeng Jing brought to Beijing for trial. The emperor's verdict seemed to demonstrate a Confucian sovereign's benevolence: He ascribed Zeng's actions to the gullibility and naïveté of a youth taken in by Lü's abusive and overdrawn rhetoric. In addition to this the emperor suggested that Lü's original attack on the Manchus was misplaced, since they had been transformed by their long-term exposure to the civilizing force of Confucianism.

Yongzheng is also known for establishing a strict autocracy rule during his reign. He detested corruption, and punished officials severely when they were found guilty of an offense. In 1729 he issued an edict prohibiting the smoking of madak, a blend of tobacco and opium. During Yongzheng's reign the qing dynasty became a great power in Asia as well as a peaceful land, and he enhanced the Kangqian Period of Harmony (Chinese: 康乾盛世). In response to his father's tragedy, Yongzheng created a sophisticated procedure for choosing a successor. He was known for his trust in Mandarin officials. Li Wei and Tian Wenjing governed China's southern areas, with the assistance of Ortai.

Expansion in the northwest

Like his father, Yongzheng used military force in order to preserve the dynasty's position in Outer Mongolia. When Tibet was torn by civil war in 1727–1728, he intervened militarily. After withdrawing, he left a Qing citizen (the amban) backed up with a military garrison to safeguard the dynasty's interests. For the Tibetan campaign Yongzheng sent an army of 230,000 (led by Nian Gengyao) against the Dzungars, who had an army of 80,000. Due to geography, the Qing army (although superior in numbers) was unable to engage the more-mobile enemy at first. Eventually, however, they engaged the Dzungars and defeated them. This campaign cost the treasury at least 8,000,000 taels of silver. Later in Yongzheng's reign, he would send a small army of 10,000 to fight the Dzungars. However, that army was annihilated and the Qing had faced the danger of losing control of Mongolia. Fortunately, a Khalkha ally of the qing dynasty would later defeat the Dzungars.

Following the reforms of 1729, the treasury increased from the 1721 total of 32,622,421 taels to about 60,000,000 taels in 1730, surpassing the record set during Yongzheng's father's (the Kangxi Emperor's) regime; however, the pacification of the Qinghai area and the defense on the border areas were heavy burdens. For safeguarding the borders alone, 100,000 taels were needed each year. The total military budget was up to 10,000,000 taels a year. By the end of 1735 military spending depleted half the treasury, which totaled 33,950,000 taels. It was because of this burden that the Yongzheng Emperor considered making peace with the Dzungars.


Yongzheng was firmly against Christian converts among his own Manchu people. He warned them that the Manchus must follow only the Manchu way of worshipping Heaven since different peoples worshipped Heaven differently. Yongzheng stated: "The Lord of Heaven is Heaven itself. . . . In the empire we have a temple for honoring Heaven and sacrificing to Him. We Manchus have Tiao Tchin. The first day of every year we burn incense and paper to honor Heaven. We Manchus have our own particular rites for honoring Heaven; the Mongols, Chinese, Russians, and Europeans also have their own particular rites for honoring Heaven. I have never said that he [Urcen, a son of Sun] could not honor heaven but that everyone has his way of doing it. As a Manchu, Urcen should do it like us.

Death and succession

he Yongzheng Emperor ruled the Qing Empire for thirteen years before dying suddenly in 1735 at age 56. Legend holds that he was assassinated by Lü Siniang, daughter of Lü Liuliang, whose family was (reportedly) executed for literary crimes against the Manchu Regime. Another possible reason was that he had been a lover of Lü Siniang; Lü was the real mother of Qianlong, but Yongzheng refused to allow Lü to be the queen. In reality, it is likely his death was the result of an overdose of the medication he was consuming which he believed would prolong his life. Yongzheng Emperor's family life seems to have tragic undertones. Of the 14 children born to him and his Empress and consorts, only five are known to have survived to adulthood. To prevent the succession tragedy which he had faced, he ordered his third son (Hongshi, an ally of Yinsi) to commit suicide. He also put in place a system to choose his successor in secret. Yongzheng wrote his chosen successor's name on two pieces of paper, placed one piece of paper in a box and had the box stored behind the stele in the Qianqing Palace. He then kept the other copy with him or hid it. With his passing, the ministers would compare the paper in the box and with the copy Yongzheng had.If they were deemed identical, the person whose name was on the paper would be the new emperor

His son Hongli, Prince Bao, then became the fifth emperor of the qing dynasty under the era name of Qianlong. The Yongzheng Emperor was interred in the western qing Tombs (Chinese: 清西陵), 120 kilometres (75 mi) southwest of Beijing , in the Tailing (Chinese: 泰陵) mausoleum complex (known in Manchu as the Elhe Munggan).

Personal information


Kangxi Emperor (of whom he was the fourth son)


Concubine from the Manchu Uya clan (1660–1723), who became known as Empress Dowager Renshou (仁壽皇太后) when her son became emperor. She is posthumously known as Empress Xiaogongren (孝恭仁皇后; Manchu: Hiyoošungga Gungnecuke Gosin Hūwanghu).


Empress Xiaojingxian (孝敬憲皇后; Manchu: Hiyoošungga Ginggun Temgetulehe Hūwanghu; 1681–1731) of the Ulanara clan.

Empress Xiaoshengxian (孝聖憲皇后; Manchu: Hiyoošungga Enduringge Temgetulehe Hūwanghu; 1693–1777) of the Niohuru clan, mother of Hongli (the Qianlong Emperor).

Imperial Noble Consort Dunsu (敦肅皇貴妃; d. 1725), sister of Nian Gengyao; bore three sons and a daughter, none of whom survived.

Imperial Noble Consort Chunque (純愨皇貴妃; 1689–1784) née Geng, mother of Hongzhou; daughter of Geng Degin (耿德金).

Consort Qi (齊妃; d. 1737) née Li.

Consort Qian (謙妃; 1714–1767) née Liu; bore Yongzheng's youngest son Hongzhan. Daughter of Liu Man (劉滿).

Consort Ning (寧妃; d. 1734), née Wu, was the daughter of Wu Zhuguo (武柱國). Posthumously granted the title of Consort Ning in 1734.

Imperial Concubine Mao (懋嬪; d. 1730), née Song, bore two daughters. Daughter of Jinzhu (金柱).

Noble Lady Guo (郭貴人; d. 1786)

Noble Lady Li (李貴人; d. 1760), née Li.

Noble Lady An (安貴人; d. 1750)

Noble Lady Hai (海貴人; d. 1761)

Noble Lady Zhang (張貴人; d. 1735)


Honghui (弘暉; 1697–1704), posthumously granted title of Prince Duan of the First Rank (端親王) by the Qianlong Emperor.

Hongpan (弘昐; 1697–1699)

Hongyun (弘昀; 1700–1710)

Hongshi (弘時; 1704–1726)

Hongli (弘曆; 1711–1799), the Qianlong Emperor.

Hongzhou (弘晝; 1712–1770), Prince Hegong of the First Rank (和恭親王).

Fuyi (福宜; 1720–1721)

Fuhui (福惠; 1721–1728), posthumously the title of Prince Huai of the First Rank (懷親王).

Fupei (福沛; 1723)

Hongzhan (弘瞻; 1733–1765): Prince Guogong of the Second Rank (果恭郡王).


Oldest daughter (1695)

Heshuo Princess Huaike (和碩懷恪公主; 1695–1717)

Third daughter (1706)

Fourth daughter (1715–1717)

Foster daughters:

Heshuo Princess Shushen (和碩淑慎公主; 1708–1784), sixth daughter of Yunreng.

Heshuo Princess Hehui (和碩和惠公主; 1714–1731), fourth daughter of Yunxiang.

Heshuo Princess Duanrou (和碩端柔公主; 1714–1754), eldest daughter of Yunlu (允祿).

Last update 31-05-2012

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