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Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K'ang-Hsi
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Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K'ang-Hsi

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  198 ratings  ·  19 reviews
A remarkable re-creation of the life of K'ang-hsi, emperor of the Manchu dynasty from 1661-1772, assembled from documents that survived his reign. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 22nd 1988 by Vintage (first published 1974)
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This is something original and wholly fascinating, somewhere between historical fiction, memoir, and biography. Jonathan Spence has assembled the life of the Kangxi Emperor in his own words. The words are rearranged and given context, but this is a cross between a biography and a work of fiction such as the Memoirs of Hadrian.

The book is grouped into five sections. The Emperor is a diligent and hard-working man, who refuses to accept mediocrity and flattery. He prides himself on hunting not only
An fascinating window on Imperial Qing China in the words of Emperor K'ang-Hsi (reigned 1661-1722). I've never read anything like it. To think that author Spence created this "memoir" by assembling disparate fragments. The result is a dazzling continuous whole. Outstanding and highly recommended.
Asma Fedosia
The Chinese Emperor K'ang-hsi (1654-1722) reigned from eight years old for sixty-one years. This biography about him is pieced together from his fragmented writings and is illustrated from his own authentic brush-and-ink ideographs and from the marginal drawings with which he would have been familiar. Its fragmentary origin is hard to detect because the book reads like a good story, or even like a letter. K'ang-hsi tells about his actions, his worries, his practice of governing, his country, and ...more
Kaitlin Weiler
A very interesting read for historians. Spence gives readers amazing insight into the life and mind of Kangxi, one of the Qing dynasty's longest reigning emperors. I had to read this for a history class and write a position paper on what made Kangxi's role as emperor so "heavy". My professor couldn't have picked a better book; Spence's text is very rich and engrossing.
This book, a memoir constructed and arranged by primary sources, but by Jonathan Spence 360 years or so after his subject’s death, is a piece of highly original and interesting scholarship. Spence’s books are wonderfully written pieces of Chinese scholarship, none more than this. Kang-hsi was the Manchu dynasty Emperor from 1661 to 1722.

The organization of the writings is interesting, and I was absolutely surprised by the frankness and wisdom of this absolute ruler. He was condescending toward
What a HUGE disappointment! I was SO excited to learn there was a book about the K'ang-Hsi emperor, so I could learn more about the man who was at the center of the Chinese soap opera program I've been watching. I was also interested to learn more about his various sons. Several years ago, I read "The Search for Modern China," which was also by Jonathan Spence. That book gave a very detailed, yet interesting account of the history of China from around the middle of the 16th century until around ...more
Durell Smith
Very interesting to get into the mind of a man who lived centuries ago, yet held many of the same concerns and skepticisms of the world that we do today. I related heavily his skepticism and empirical view of the world from a man regarded as a living god at the time, yet has such disregard for mysticism and pseudoscience. I'm going to stop there because I don't want to give away any spoilers. :P
Jonathan Spence's account of Emperor Kang- Hsi comes from the unrelated documents written by the emperor himself. Spence puts these isolated parts together and creates an intriguing cohesive report. The topics span from Kang-Hsi's relationship with his sons, his hunting expeditions, to a farewell speech. My favorite chapter is about the emperor's contemplation on aging. "Growing Old," as the chapter on aging is called, reveals the importance of exploiting opportunities at the right time and havi ...more
May 04, 2008 Thomas rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs, china lovers, experimental readers
Shelves: china, history
In this book, Jonathan Spence takes his personal style to an extreme. Even those who love his in-depth textual analysis may find this book hard to stomach. Why? Spence abandons any in-body commentary and simply translates excerpts from K'ang-Hsi's letters. The result is a book that is neither your professor's academic reference nor your mother's detective novel.

I found this book an innovative work to marvel at and a satisfying read. I recognize that not all readers will share my high rating, bu
I think a lot of people read/teach this book as history when, in fact, it is fiction (although, yes, I have placed on my fiction and history bookshelves). It's just historical fiction written by an historian.

If it had been written by Kangxi it would be amazing, but alas. On the otherhand, I don't think I can blame Spence for trying to bring a voice to this iconic emperor, but just keep in mind that what you're reading came out of an academic at Yale and not Kangxi himself.

《康熙字典》總共有 4萬7035 隻字,分成 12 集,用 214 個部首分類,有反切注音、出處、參考等等。另外仲附有《字母切韻要法》同《等韻切音指南》。


This book is not for anyone who doesn't like history and especially Chinese history. It took me a year or so to get through it, so its not really a thrilling read, but it is all in the emperor's own words. It's fantastic to read something like that from someone who lived in the 1600's. It was amazing historical work to put the thing together and have it make sense.
Ethan Fulwood
This is a really unique book of history. Jonathan Spence writes Kangxi an autobiography by collating various of his writings and organizing them around the topics the Emperor addressed in his unusually frank valedictory edict. Kangxi's active mind and powerful personality are able to shine through.
Great book. I would have liked to learn more about the time he was alive and what he did. But, I think the book gave a good idea of what he was like, as a man.

Best quote: "Don't have too much sex when you are young...For example, I only have 300 women in my palace."
Parts of this book were hard to read (boring). But overall, I learned a lot from this book. I came away wanting to be a better person. I underlined many things that I wanted to be able to look back and remember.
Oct 17, 2008 Nate rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: china
Very good use of source materials and very educational but I found it slightly less than I had hoped for.
Not a bad book, but, man, was K'ang-Hsi in love with himself.
Jul 23, 2011 David added it
i assign this book in my world 2 class
Chris Bitzios
One of my favorites!
Susan Chan
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“If you want to really know something you have to observe or experience it in person; if you claim to know something on the basis of hearsay, or on happening to see it in a book, you'll be a laughingstock to those who really know.” 9 likes
“The written word has its limits and its challenges, for the primal sound in the whole world is that made by the human voice, and the likeness of this human voice must be rendered in dots and strokes...Yet I never forget that the voice, too, is important...Don't mumble or hesitate. a loud voice, clearly, and without fear.” 5 likes
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