Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K’ang-His

As the fourth emperor of the Qing or rather the Manchu dynasty the K’ang Hsi laid a very significant historical foundation within the history of China’s Monarchs between the periods of 1950s and 1720s.this was greatly attributed to his unique character as he played roles as a statesman, commander of the military and also a scholar. K’ang Hsi took up his title at a mere age of seven and began to rule on his own at the age of sixteen (Spence 20). In this respect therefore as an emperor from such a minor age he managed to garner a number of qualities. This essay will consequently make an attempt to portray what personal qualities we can ascribe to the Emperor, K’ang Hsi according to Jonathan Spence’s compilation of K’ang Hsi’s Autobiography.

The first section of the compilation which Jonathan dubbed ”In Motion”, draws a conspicuous attempt to portray K’ang Hsi’s  life as a general, a warrior and not to forget, a hunter. One of the most apparent personal qualities deduced from the Emperor’s lifestyle is bravery. The K’ang Hsi describes his prowess as a hunter stating that most of the ordinary people did not kill in a lifetime what he had killed in a day of hunting (Spence 9). Such a statement clearly describes the pride and bravery the K’ang Hsi had as personal qualities. Moreover the statement also showed a high level of self-esteem as he knew he was incomparable to the ordinary individual in terms of his skills as a   hunter and a warrior.

The K’ang Hsi also displayed a certain level of intelligence. This is clearly seen on the way he carried out his rule over his subjects. For one, the emperor managed to open four ports as an encouragement to foreign trade (Spence 99). Furthermore he also allowed the introduction for western education within his empire. The K’ang Hsi also allowed the incorporation of the Jesuits for their technological and scientific skills other than their religious aspect.  In this respect therefore, his intelligence is seen in the sense that he was not afraid to embrace a foreign culture for the enrichment of the already existing one in his empire. He felt that an individual could not only learn on his own but with the help of others too.

Another personal quality that one could apparently ascribe to the emperor is his value for diligence in whatever he does. For instance he owes his skill for the use of the bow and arrow to the hard work of tutelage he received as a young individual. He noted that if his teacher had not been strict enough especially considering his status as an emperor, he would not have the talent he had then. Had the K’ang Hsi been satisfied with being just good enough, the skills he had cultivated would not be with him. This therefore set him apart from other rulers since his value for diligence would not let him settle for anything mediocre other than that of high standards.

The above points clearly depict K’ang Hsi’s personal qualities as an individual. In this respect therefore one can deduce that it is within these personal qualities and values that actively moulded the well-known Chinese emperor into the powerful ruler he was then. With that line of thought, the same personal qualities are the ones responsible for the respect and fear he received from his subjects not to mention his enemies.



Kangxi, ., & Spence, J. D. (1975). Emperor of China: Self portrait of Kʻang Hsi. New York: Vintage Books.