three pairs of lovers with space



The Kangxi Emperor’s reign from 1661 to 1722 was the longest in Chinese history, and is considered one of the most successful.  The second of the Manchu Qing dynasty, his outlook reflected an upbringing influenced more by his austere ancestors than the empire they had recently conquered. Here is presented what he had to say about pederasty, which emerges from his thoughts about his son and sometime heir Yinreng (1674-1725).

The Kangxi Emperor did not really write an autobiography, but an account of his life in his own words was carefully put together by the historian Jonathan Spence from various fragmentary documents and published as Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K’anghsi (New York, 1975).

Spence has here used the old Wade-Giles system for romanising Chinese names. Hence he writes the Pinyin “Yinreng” as “Yin-jen”.


The Kangxi Emperor. A painting on silk, 1699

But Yin-jen, Second Son, and my only son born to an empress, I named as Heir-Apparent at two, and raised myself in the Eastern Palace.  When he was four and survived the smallpox, I sacrificed to Heaven and rewarded his doctors; I, the Emperor, was his warm old nurse. I taught him to read myself and entrusted his education to Chang Ying and Hsiung Tz'u-li, and had the wisest Hanlin scholars instruct him in morality. He excelled in study and in mounted archery; he studied the Book of History with Weng Shu-yüan and watched Wang Yüan-ch'i paint landscapes. I instructed him in the principles of government, together we discussed all problems of internal rebellion, and when I was away campaigning against Galdan[1] I appointed Yin-jeng my regent.

But when the campaigns were over, and I was back in Peking, I learned that four persons had been engaging in illicit behavior within Yin-jeng’s palace: two of my palace cooks, a boy called Deju, and a man called Yato from the tea store. They had been so utterly perverse and unruly that I ordered that Deju, Yato, and one of the cooks be executed; the other cook I put under house arrest in his father's care. I had had troubles with some of my other sons: … Yet none of them showed the perversity and brutality of Yin-jeng and his followers, or made me so ashamed:

Further instances of Ying-jeng’s presumption, extravagance and misbehaviour given, leading his father to begin to fear for his own life.

Then, in 1705, I heard that numbers of children were being illegally purchased in the Soochow area. I made enquiries among my own family, and ordered Wang Hung-hsü to investigate the matter carefully and report back to me in secret. Wang’s investigation showed that there were, indeed, a large number of people being bought up in the South. Some were sold locally, to officials, merchants, or merchants’ associations; others were shipped to Peking and sold through various intermediaries. My guards officer Uge bought three from a Mrs. Fang, at prices ranging from 70 to 450 taels, and Mai-tzu and Deccenge bought several others.

Yinreng, Crown Prince of China 1675-1708 & 1709-12 (National Palace Museum, Taipei)

Many of these dealers were legitimate, but Fan P’u was different. For services rendered he had been granted an imperial arrow, and he used this arrow as a symbol of authority to bring all sorts of prostitutes to Peking and to make contacts there among the guards officers and in the princely households. He abused his authority further by forcing local officials to connive at his purchases of young boys. He made one of Chao Yang-yü’s servants sell his son for 500 taels, although this boy was not registered as an actor, and had the purchase warrant enforced by the Soochow assistant prefect. When the boy's mother went to the prefect to lodge a complaint, the prefect mistakenly though she was accusing a local official, and had her locked up. Her deposition was never taken. Fan P'u forcibly bought other boys and girls from the common people, claiming that he was acting as the Emperor's agent, though we couldn't find out what had happened to many of these children. On the purchase warrants the girls were referred to as “jade cocoons" and the boys as "little hands.”

After hearing of various further misbehaviour by Yin-jen, on 17 October 1708:

Having made up my mind, I had Yin-jen dismissed from his position as Heir-Apparent and ordered the six sons of Songgotu[2] executed. To the senior Manchu officials I gave as clear an explanation for my anger as I could write: “Over the years I have read the histories, and have always been very careful not to let women from outside wander in and out of the palace. Nor have I let pretty young boys wait upon me. I keep my body pure, and don't have any flaws. Guwamboo and Uši are here and have attended to my person since childhood; they know about every detail of my conduct. Now that the Heir-Apparent’s conduct has come to this, I cannot overcome my anger and sorrow." [pp. 124-9]


[1] In 1696 and 1697.

[2] A great-uncle of Yin-jen earlier executed for arrogant and threatening behaviour.