Emperor Yongzheng used a once dedicated Ming-loyalist and Chinese citizen, Zeng Jing, as a tool of propaganda to prove the greatness of the new emperor’s rule over China during the years 1728-1735.[1]Emperor Yongzheng became heavily involved with his image as a noble ruler.[2] He invested a lot of time and resources into a single man that he let greatly influence his image as Emperor of China.[3]


The succession of Emperor Yongzheng was the result of a military coup.[4] The previous emperor, Emperor Kangxi, had fifty-six children.[5] Emperor Kangxi did name a successor to the throne; however, he then deemed the original heir apparent brutal, debauched, and unfit to rule.[6] Prior to the death of Kangxi during 1722, several of his sons divided into various factions and conspired against each other for the succession to the throne.[7] The fourth son, who became Emperor Yongzheng, seized the throne in a military coup.[8]There was doubt whether Emperor Yongzheng was the rightful heir to the throne.[9] Once he became emperor, he censored the record of his succession and silenced other writings that he deemed harmful to his regime or to the plight of the Manchus.[10] Emperor Yongzheng made it a part of his mission to squelch negative rumors about his succession, and he continued to look for examples to prove his heavenly mandate to rule.[11]

During October 1728, a Ming loyalist, Zeng Jing, conspired and had a treasonous message delivered to Emperor Yongzheng.[12] The letter detailed the reasons why a barbaric Manchu should not rule over the people of China.[13] Zeng believed Manchus were foreign barbarians and it was scholars, such as himself, “who best know how to be emperor.”[14]

Once the letter reached Emperor Yongzheng, the emperor made a decision to use the dedicated Ming loyalist, Zeng Jing, as a tool to show the government officials and the people of China that the Manchu emperor was the chosen ruler for the country.[15] Instead of killing Zeng Jing for his treasonous acts, like the law indicated and like several Chinese officials believed was necessary, Emperor Yongzheng decided to spare Zeng Jing, and, instead, show the public how a man who once launched “crazy charges” at the emperor can turn around and see the reasoning behind his emperor’s decisions regarding his rule over the country.[16] Yongzheng did not want the people of China to think his character was anything like how Zeng Jing described in his treasonous letter; if they did, then the emperor feared they would rebel.[17]

Emperor Yongzheng wanted to publicly display the erroneous ways of Zeng Jing; and he printed the treasonous letter for the people of China to read.[18] Emperor Yongzheng then printed his personal response to Zeng Jing and to the accusations launched against his rule.[19] The details of the treason case were distributed on a massive level; created using carved blocks inked dipped on to paper.[20] The emperor wanted his words, “distributed so as to reach the fullest number of people possible, down to the poorest villages and meanest homes.”[21]

Emperor Yongzheng wanted Zeng Jing to refute himself, which Zeng eventual did when he wrote Awakening from Delusion.[22] The emperor believed he used education instead of punishment to open the eyes of Zeng Jing; to prove he was not an avaricious emperor.[23] Emperor Yongzheng wanted to turn Zeng Jing from an uncommon criminal to the mouthpiece of the throne.[24] The emperor did not want the people of China to develop a desire to rebel like Zeng indicated he wanted to do in his treasonous letter.[25] Emperor Yongzheng was sure his distribution of Zeng’s confutation in Awakening from Delusion would prove his superiority and his ability to rule as the emperor of China.[26]

By 1729, Emperor Yongzheng had invested a lot of time into the case of Zeng Jing.[27] The emperor wanted the people of China to see the moral transformation of Zeng.[28] The emperor wanted the people to see that any person, no matter how evil, can change and understand virtue.[29] Awakening from Delusion was created with hope of disproving the invidious distinction between the Han Chinese and the “alleged” barbarian Manchus.[30]

Emperor Yongzheng relied on various edicts from the Zeng Jing case; as well as excerpts from written correspondence held over the year with Zeng, to include as part of the written work showcased in Awakening from Delusion.[31] All of the emperor’s chosen documents filled 509 pages; the manuscript was divided into four parts which were then separated into two paper-bound volumes.[32]Yongzheng hoped the people of China would see his viewpoints and realize his ideas prevailed over those of Zeng Jing.[33]

Most of Awakening from Delusion dealt with the ramifications and viewpoints that surrounded Zeng’s treasonous letter; however, part of Awakening also included Zeng’s carefully worded 27-page contrition letter titled, Return to the Good.[34] In his letter, Zeng, professed he now understood the emperor’s love and affection.[35] Zeng continued to write, “People all rejoice, persuaded by the emperor’s love and protection. Everywhere people will hold fast to their proper roles as filial sons and obedient subjects.”[36] Zeng writes such a compelling plea for emperor loyalty; however, it is obvious Zeng was trying to win the approval of the emperor to justify his clemency for treason.[37]

On April 4, 1730, plans were underway for the massive distribution of Awakening from Delusion.[38] The first five hundred copies of Awakening went to the senior officials in the capital bureaucracy and their staff.[39] Additional copies were made for senior provincial officers; and second copies were provided to provincial printing offices for further replication of the document.[40] This was the beginning of the countrywide distribution of Awakening.[41] The new written work was distributed to schools, market towns, and villages.[42] The locally printed copies were distributed in accordance to be discussed at the bimonthly meetings where it was mandatory to recite and discuss the emperor’s sixteen moral maxims.[43] Emperor Yongzheng wanted every school to have a copy for the students to read.[44] If every school did not have a copy of Awakening, then the emperor threatened to bring the full weight of punishment down on the educational commissioners and the provinces concerned.[45]

By the time mass production of Awakening from Delusion had begun, Zeng Jing had already left for Yongxing County to mourn the death of his mother.[46] During the fall of 1730, Emperor Yongzheng afforded Zeng one thousand taels of silver; enough money to afford a proper burial for his mother, as well as money left-over to acquire property.[47] On August 22, 1731, the emperor also granted Zeng one year’s leave of absence to attend to his personal affairs.[48] When Zeng ran out of money during his leave of absence, he was afforded additional cash approved by the emperor.[49]

Despite his emperor’s good graces and despite his plea to his countrymen for their love of Emperor Yongzheng, Zeng Jing was perceived as a traitor by many of his fellow citizens and by many government officials inside the Chinese bureaucracy.[50] The punishment for committing an act of treason was not applied to Zeng Jing; he was permitted to live his life while Emperor Yongzheng was in power.[51] Zeng provided an opportunity for the emperor to showcase his heavenly judgment upon a common criminal turned Manchu loyalist.[52] Emperor Yongzheng used his forgiveness of one man as a tool to win the confidence of the Chinese people, and to show the people their emperor was virtuous and “able to rule all under Heaven.”[53]











[1] Spence, Jonathan D., Treason by the Book, (Penguin Books, New York, 2001.), pgs. X, 162-168, 173-175, 191-194, 238-240.

[2] Ibid pgs. 38-41, 168

[3] Ibid pgs. 97-98, 143-145, 244

[4] Schirokauer, C., Brown, M., A Brief History of Chinese Civilization, (Fourth Edition. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, Boston, MA., 2003, 2006, 2013), p.231

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid. pgs. 230-231

[8] Ibid.., pg. 231

[9] Spence, Jonathan D., pgs. 94-95

[10] Schirokauer, C., Brown, M., pg. 231

[11] Spence, Jonathan D., pgs. 81, 91-92, 95, 98

[12] Ibid pgs. 5-6, 18

[13] Ibid pgs. 7, 89, 95

[14] Ibid pg. 89

[15] Ibid pgs. 119-120, 125-126

[16] Ibid pgs. 100, 116, 119, 131-132, 138

[17] Ibid pg. 80

[18] Ibid pgs. 41, 98-99

[19] Ibid pgs. 41, 80, 97-100

[20] Ibid pg. 99

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid pgs. 116, 158

[23] Ibid pgs. 38-41,116

[24] Ibid pg. 116

[25] Ibid pg. 80

[26] Ibid pg. 158

[27] Ibid. pg. 97

[28] Ibid, pg. 162

[29] Ibid

[30] Ibid, pg. 160

[31] Ibid pg. 159

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid pg. 158

[34] Ibid pgs. 160, 162

[35] Ibid. pgs. 162

[36] Ibid

[37] Ibid

[38] Ibid. pg. 173

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid. pg. 173-174

[43] Ibid. pg. 174

[44] Ibid. pgs. 174-175

[45] Ibid. pg. 175

[46] Ibid pg. 160

[47] Ibid. pg. 224

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid pg. 232

[50] Ibid pgs. 116, 131-132, 162, 240.

[51] Ibid. pgs. 134, 240

[52] Ibid. pgs. 131, 161-162, 240

[53] Ibid pgs. 128, 158