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.
Her existence was critical to Chinese history in that she was the one who pulled the fledgling Qing Empire from the brinks of disintegration 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 young children, and those times were steeped in social and political chaos and unending wars while the ruling Aisin Gioro clan was split by vehement discord and self-interested strife.
As fate would have it, Shunzhi lived a short life of 23 years, his time on the throne even shorter – only 18 years. During much of his reign, although his mother tried to steer him on the right track, he was coerced by self-seeking and corrupt ministers like Oboi and his venal clique. 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. Her greatest contribution was perhaps teaching Shunzhi and Kangxi to appreciate the importance of soft power 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 emanated from the Quan Tangshi (Complete Tang Poems), which compilation Kangxi had personally championed.