The Emperor of China – A Book Review

‘Emperor of China’ is a detailed look into the life of the great Emperor K’ang-hsi. The Emperor himself acts as the book’s narrator; thus, it is interesting to see K’ang-hsi’s point of view on many of the historical events that occurred during his reign. Since K’ang-hsi is the speaker, it is easy to get a closer look at what he considers good moral values and true virtue. He does not emphasize certain aspects of tradition-such as superstition-as many Chinese and Manchu officials would; rather, he focuses on virtues and morals that should instinctively be ingrained in all men. This does not mean he does not cherish tradition-as he once said, “I told them not to lose their Manchu traditions even in such things as dress, food, [and] utensils…” (pg 124)-but K’ang-hsi emphasizes that it is not intelligent to rely upon superstitious traditions. “I…warned the Bureau not to guess or exaggerate in interpreting the omens that they observed, but simply state their findings. Things may seem determined in our lives, but there are these and other ways in which man’s power can develop Heaven’s work. We must urge Heaven in it’s work, not just rely upon it.” (pg 58)

By looking at a few examples, one can easily see that these virtues, though Confucian in nature, are strikingly similar across the globe-east and west. Moreover, they resemble many of the beliefs in churches around the world. As said by K’ang-hsi, “If the fortune-teller says you will be successful, can you then say, ‘I’m bound to do well and needn’t study properly’? If he says you’ll be rich, can you sit still and let the wealth come?” (pg 59) Respectively, if one were to look in the Bible, James 2:17, it reads, “…faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” This is one of countless examples that can be found in this narrative of Emperor K’ang-hsi.

K’ang-hsi holds strict to many of the cultural traditions that safeguard China’s identity, but gives more weight to the moral traditions that have a greater bearing on the universal ethics and virtues of the people.


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