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Shunzhi Emperor

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  • Born: 1638
  • Died: 1661
  • Reign: 1643-1661
  • Other Names: 始祖 (Shǐzǔ), 福臨 (Fúlín)
  • Chinese: 順治帝 (Shùnzhì dì)

The Shunzhi Emperor was the third emperor of the Qing Dynasty, and the first to rule from Beijing, with all of China under his dominion.

A son of the previous khan, Hong Taiji, he was chosen at age five to succeed his father, who died in 1643. His uncle Dorgon would serve as regent. Under Dorgon's leadership, the Manchus took Beijing and then the rest of China, eliminating Li Zicheng and other rebels as well as Ming pretenders who sought to restore the Ming Dynasty. Dorgon also put into place many of the structures and institutions of Qing government.

At the time of Dorgon's death in 1650, Shunzhi was thirteen. Despite discussions among his relatives and other top-level Manchu elites about the succession, Shunzhi managed to keep a hold of his throne, keeping at a distance the officials who sought to continue to dominate the governance of the empire, and began ruling in his own name. He saw through the completion of the conquest of mainland China, and instituted a number of new policies, including restoring some degree of power to the palace eunuchs, likely as a means of counter-balancing the power of these Manchu officials.

Shunzhi studied Chinese language and a variety of other classical subjects of a Chinese education under a group of Buddhist monks he had at court; he is said to have taken a liking to Chinese novels and plays, and during his reign the official History of the Ming (Ming shi) was begun, and the Six Courses in Morals reissued. Shunzhi also befriended the Jesuit Johann Adam Schall von Bell, who he called "grandfather," and who Dorgon had appointed head of the Imperial Bureau of Astronomy.

Some time after 1647, he received two envoys from the Kingdom of Ryûkyû, who returned to him the royal seal and imperial rescript given their kingdom by the Ming Dynasty, in return for which Shunzhi provided them with a new Qing seal and imperial rescript, establishing formal investiture/tributary relations between the Qing and Ryûkyû. An attempt to send a mission to formally invest the next king of Ryûkyû in 1654 was blocked by Ming loyalists based on Taiwan, however.

Beginning around 1660, the emperor fell in love with one of his junior consorts, and neglected the empress, his first wife.

Shunzhi died in 1661, possibly from smallpox, and was succeeded by his son, who took the throne as the Kangxi Emperor. Following his death, his son's regents immediately took to sullying Shunzhi's reputation, circulating a document they claimed was by the late emperor himself, blaming himself for the wrongness of many of his policies. The regents then worked to reverse many of these policies, strengthening the power of Manchus at court, and weakening Chinese officials and eunuchs.


Preceded by
Hong Taiji
Emperor of Qing
1643-1661
Succeeded by
Kangxi Emperor

References

  • Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China, Second Edition, W.W. Norton & Co. (1999), 32-43.
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