On this day (January 27) in 1688, a pivotal historical figure from the Qing Dynasty passed away. This person was a Mongolian princess named Borjigit Bumbutai, better known as Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang.
The life and deeds of this Mongolian princess were critical to Chinese history in that she was directly responsible for preventing disintegration of the fledgling Qing Empire in its early days. It can be said that without her sharp wit and charismatic leadership, Qing history, and for that matter Chinese history, would’ve been re-written. The reason is that at the time when her son Shunzhi and grandson Kangxi came to the throne in tandem, they were only small children, and those times were steeped in social and political chaos and unending wars while the ruling Manchu clan of Aisin Gioro was split by vehement discord and self-interested strife among its clansmen.
As fate would have it, Shunzhi lived a short life of 23 years, his time on the throne even shorter – only 18 years. During his reign, although his mother tried to steer him on the right track, he was nevertheless too coerced by self-seeking and corrupt ministers like Oboi to rule effectively. Before he could put things right for his afflicted subjects, he contracted small pox and passed away. The Empress Dowager wisely chose the brilliant Kangxi to succeed Shunzhi. When Kangxi was enthroned, he was only a seven-year old child, but he smartly looked to his self-taught grandmother for advice, guidance and support, which she graciously bestowed. With her dedicated help, he managed, at fifteen, to overpower the treacherous Oboi, and go on to make his mark in history. Her greatest contribution was perhaps teaching Shunzhi and Kangxi to appreciate the importance of soft power, respect for cultural diversity and humanity.
History would witness Kangxi eventually becoming the most culturally-minded, tolerant and benevolent of emperors. Under his auspices, the Kangxi Dictionary was compiled. Poetry lovers would no doubt know that the world-renowned Three Hundred Tang Poems were distilled from the Quan Tangshi (Complete Tang Poems), the compilation of which Kangxi had personally championed.