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Today, historians of Chinese history still debate over the truth of Emperor Yongzheng's claim to the imperial throne and whether he had actually committed patricide and altered the succession will. There is no empirical evidence to prove that he did commit those acts, and many believe these rumours were the work of his own brothers, spread across the empire to tarnish Yongzheng's reputation.

Yongzheng Dynasty is a television drama series which tries to shed light into Yongzheng's life as one of the sons of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty. The production of the series has an epic feel to it, and the actual use of the Forbidden City locations, and its many authentic costumes, weapons and props add much to the scale and feel of seventeenth-eighteenth century imperial China.

The series start around the last couple decades of Emperor Kangxi's reign. Kangxi was the second Manchu emperor who ascended the throne at aged 7 and ruled for 61 years - the longest of all Chinese emperors. Through the series we learn about the different factions at court, the feud between the princes, and we see how Kangxi was such an excellent ruler and diplomat. We are shown that Yinzhen (later Emperor Yongzheng), the fourth son of Kangxi, had only one close friend and ally; his thirteenth brother Yinchang, who would remain loyal to his brother until his death.

The eighth, ninth, tenth and fourteenth princes were a faction to themselves, while the first and third princes were solitary figures. None of them had any power while the second prince was still the heir apparent, but the result of plots and court intrigues, this scenario changed. When the heir was demoted, the rest of the princes fought against each other for the throne. Most notably, the candidates were the fourth, eighth and fourteenth princes but during Kangxi's last years, the favourite for the throne was fourteenth prince Yintai, who was Yinzhen's real younger brother (ie. they had the same mother).

The TV series led us to believe that while Kangxi lay in his deathbed, he summoned Yinzhen and made him the next emperor. Yinzhen acted swiftly to subdue his brothers by controlling the palace and city guards. With the imperial army in his hands, no one dared question his claim to the throne, since the succession will had his title on it.

Yinzhen became Emperor Yongzheng (the third of ten Qing emperors) and reigned for 13 years. During his reign, his long-running feud with his rivals, eight and fourteenth princes continued, but while the latter was later banished from court, the former still hounded the emperor until his death, even managing into manipulating Yongzheng's third son into trying to kill the fourth son, Wanli, the favourite to succeed Yongzheng. Wanli eventually became Emperor Qianlong - the dynasty's greatest emperor.

Although the Qing were seen as invaders of China, and anti-manchu feeling were rampant across the empire, Yongzheng and his father before him did much to ease the suffering of the people, and in many ways, Yongzheng had particularly worked hard to raise the living standards of his subjects. His policies were often criticised by his own courtiers and nobles, and he tried hard to quell the corruption within his government. Yongzheng was a strong and able ruler, but many did not see that at the time, and with only hindsight can we see the hard work he had put into his rule.

Yongzheng's own experience in the succession battle had shown him that to stop such a thing from happening in the later generations, he devised a sure-fire way to selecting the next emperor. A box containing the name of the successor was placed behind the large tablet that was above the dragon throne, and would only be opened when the current emperor had died. Another piece of paper with the same name was usually kept by the emperor himself, and if the two papers match, then the successor will be announced.

While most of the TV series focused on the struggles between Yongzheng and his brothers, his domestic policies, and how many of his own court officials were often against him, not much was mentioned of those infamous rumours. Did he or didn't he commit patricide? Was the succession will altered from fourteenth prince to fourth prince? Even if Yongzheng was quite a conscientious ruler, these questions will always cloud his reign. There were also rumours of Yongzheng's mysterious death. How exactly did he die? Many believe was the work of a female warrior called Lady Lui, who entered the palace and assassinated the emperor. Some believed that the medicine the emperor often took had a profound effect and he died of overdose. Nonetheless, Yongzheng remains the most mysterious of all the rulers of the Qing dynasty.

There were also rumours among the Han Chinese that Qianlong wasn't Yongzheng's actual son, but that of a court official named Chan. The story was that Yongzheng had no son of his own and needed one to consolidate his power. This rumour has no facts to support it, and since official records show that Yongzheng had sired ten sons is evidently enough to refute these rumours.

Overall, I thought the series was well made and excellently acted. It is pretty much a history lesson, but the tension and drama are in an abundance to make sure that none of it is boring. It certainly made essential viewing in Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong when it was aired on television, capitivating millions. If you have an interest in Chinese imperial history, then Yongzheng Dynasty certainly makes interesting viewing, but caution for all others. This is no simple stuff.


44 episodes on 22 DVDs
Cantonese dubbed and Mandarin sync-sound mono language
English, Traditional and Symplified Chinese, Japanese subtitles
31 hours and 43 mins approx (1903 minutes)
Full-screen only

Starring: Tong Kwok-keung as Emperor Yongzheng  

Origin: China

Rating: 9 / 10