The Shunzhi Emperor, 1651–1661

  • Harry Miller


Grieving officials lined the road by which Dorgon’s body was returned to Beijing on January 8, 1651. The Shunzhi emperor was not yet 13 years old, but there would be no second regency. As early as January 17, the young monarch ordered that “all the business of the country’s governance be referred via memorial to Us,” and some weeks later, on March 12, he undercut the whole notion of princely rule by anathematizing Dorgon posthumously and indicting a few other Manchu aristocrats for, among other things, hijacking imperial communications and ruling in the shadow of the throne. The pendulum of political fortune, swinging violently since the late Ming, thus continued to operate in the early Qing. Yet this 1651 oscillation, which seemed to be in intra-Manchu politics a shift toward direct imperial control, would prove in the Chinese context to be a confused lurch in the other direction, toward some form of gentlemanly rule. The sword of power that Shunzhi grasped so impatiently turned out to be double edged, and neither he nor the gentry-officials who also aspired to it were ever fully able to wield it effectively. Shunzhi’s reign would end in considerable disappointment and frustration.1


Ming Dynasty Corrupt Official Early Qing Dynasty Civil Service Examination County Magistrate 
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© Harry Miller 2013

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