Fit for the Emperor: Discussion

Summary

The Kangxi Emperor (1662–1722), one of the first emperors of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) delivered an edict based on Confucian principles. Looking closely at these principles can help students understand Confucianism as well as Chinese society.

Objectives

Students will:

  • deepen their understanding of Confucian principles;
  • broaden knowledge of a key time in Chinese history, the beginning of the Qing dynasty, the last of China’s imperial lines;
  • use Chinese ceramics as primary resources as a way of understanding China’s history and culture;
  • gain insight into their own values and world views.

Time Requirements

1 class session

Discussion Questions

The Kangxi emperor was known as one of China’s most powerful and yet benevolent emperors. As part of his efforts to return order to a society torn apart by rebellion and greed during the latter part of the Ming Dynasty, the emperor handed down rules to the people of China based on Confucianism.

Developed in the sixth and fifth centuries BC, Confucianism is a way of life as much as it is a religion or philosophy. It has provided values, ethics, and a world view for Chinese and other East Asian principles for more than two millennia. Confucius emphasized family relationships, tradition, loyalty, and respect, including some ideas very familiar to most of us: “Do not do to others what you would not want others to do to you,” for example. The family provided a model of how rulers should behave: an emperor should be wise and good like a father, and the people would be inspired to be wise and good. [view Online and Print Resources for links to more information on Confucianism]

The Kangxi Emperor’s Sacred Edicts

  • Esteem love of your parents and brotherly submission most highly.
  • Behave with generosity toward your relatives to promote harmony and goodness.
  • Cultivate peace in your neighborhood to prevent quarrels and legal actions.
  • Recognize the importance of husbandry and the culture of the mulberry tree to ensure enough clothing and food.
  • Show that you prize moderation and economy to prevent the lavish waste of your means.
  • Value education.
  • Do not follow foreign principles.
  • Lecture on the laws so that the ignorant and obstinate will understand them.
  • Practice courteous behavior.
  • Work hard at the vocation in which you were born or trained.
  • Instruct sons and younger brothers so that they will not do what is wrong.
  • Put a stop to false accusations, in order to preserve the honest and good.
  • Warn against sheltering deserters from the military, in order to avoid being involved in their punishment.
  • Pay your taxes in full, in order to avoid being pressed for payment.
  • Give alms to the poor to put an end to thefts and robbery.
  • Remove enmity and anger, in order to show the importance due to the person and life.

Ask your class to discuss the following:

  • Point out principles that describe family behavior, social behavior, food, clothing, political activity, military issues.
  • Based on these principles, what do you think life was like in seventeenth-century China?
  • Do these principles have any connection with the making of ceramics for the imperial court? with the making of luxury items? with creating items for import and sale to other countries?
  • What do you think about the Kangxi emperor’s edict as a set of principles to live by? Are there any you do not agree with? Are there some that are not mentioned that you would add?

Activity

Based on your class discussion of the Kangxi emperor’s edict, ask students to write an essay or a work of fiction about this society. They can look at life during this era, backing speculations with evidence from the edicts and the Fit for the Emperor narrative, and compare it to values in their own world.

Ask students to discuss or write about their own society: this could be the larger society—the nation, the state, the community—or their own circle of friends. What rules govern this group? Are they formal (written down) or informal, perhaps understood but not spoken? How are the rules enforced? Ask them to imagine that they have been asked to write a set of edicts for the group they chose. Lists of rules should include principles governing:

  • family behavior
  • behavior amongst friends
  • behavior between people of different ages and sexes
  • what clothes should be worn when and where (and why)
  • what food is eaten when
  • what rules govern work and study
  • what rules govern recreational activities
  • how do or should people behave toward strangers? toward people in need?

What other kinds of behavior do they think should be governed? Is the list of actual rules the same as the rules they think the group ought to live by? Students might want to write their edicts in their best calligraphic handwriting and post them in the classroom.

List of Objects for Section 3

Charger (large platter) with dragon
Qing dynasty (AD 1644–1911)
Kangxi period (1662–1722)
Porcelain, enamel, glaze
4 in. high x 14.25 in. diameter
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Roy Bayly
1971.91.1

Cup with dragon
(detail)
Qing dynasty (1662–1911)
Porcelain, glaze
1.8 in. high x 2.25 in. diameter
Estate of Mr. and Mrs. Wilmont Gordon
1990.14.19

Censer (incense burner)
Song dynasty (AD 960–1279)
Stoneware, glaze (celadon)
2.75 in. high x 3.5 in. diameter
Museum purchase
(formerly in the collection of Ambassador Alexander Otto)
1994.46.5

Incense burner (Longquan ware)
Yuan/Ming dynasty
(Yuan dynasty, AD 1279–1368; Ming Dynasty, AD 1368–1644)
Stoneware, glaze (celadon)
11.5 in. high x 12 in. diameter
Estate of Ruth Prime
1991.30.16A-D

Charger (large platter) with phoenix
Ming dynasty (AD 1368–1644)
Porcelain, glaze (blue and white)
3.5 in. high x 17 in. diameter
Museum purchase
(formerly in the collection of Ambassador Alexander Otto)
1994.46.10

Jar with phoenix
(detail)
Ming dynasty (AD 1368–1644)
Jiajing period (1522–1566)
Porcelain, glaze (blue and white)
14.75 in. high x 13 in. diameter
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Snukal
2000.34.9

Brush pot
Qing dynasty (AD 1644–1911)
18th century
Porcelain, glaze (celadon)
4.25 in. high
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Snukal
1996.44.42

Rabbit water dropper
Qing dynasty (1644-1912)
Porcelain, sancai (multicolor) glaze
2.5 in high x 3.75 in. long
Estate of Mr. and Mrs. Wilmont Gordon
1990.14.41

Roof tile (lion dog)
Ming dynasty (AD 1368–1644)
Terra cotta, glaze
16 in. high x 4.5 in. wide x 21 in. deep
Gift of Ms. Jane Hood
1984.29.2