Nine Sons Competing for the Throne

It’s been months since I last posted, because I’ve devoted most of my time and energy to writing Love and the Forbidden City. Half of my time was spent on researching for historical facts, which was both rewarding and frustrating.  It was rewarding because I learned so much about Qing dynasty history, frustrating because it was still difficult to find the information I wanted, despite the plethora of information available online. While learning those valuable facts, I got the idea of sharing them with my readers. Now with my book in the hands of my editor for a second pass, I finally have the time for the task. I’ll begin with the historical event most important to my book, namely, the competition for the throne among Kangxi’s sons.

Emperor Kangxi was the fourth Manchu emperor in the Qing dynasty. He is regarded as the greatest emperor by historians today. He was also one of the most prolific father among all emperors in Chinese history. He had a total of thirty five sons and twenty daughters, out of which twenty four sons and eight daughters survived to adulthood. Kangxi inherited the Dragon Throne when he was only eight years old, when his father Emperor Shunzhi died, and he fathered his first son at age thirteen. Unfortunately Kangxi’s first four sons, which were born before the young emperor’s eighteenth birthday, all passed away during infancy.  When Kangxi turned twenty, Empress Ren Xiao (or Xiaochengren) gave birth to Yinreng, the emperor’s seventh son, and she died from the childbirth. Ren Xiao was Kangxi’s first wife, and he had loved her dearly. Driven by grief of losing his first love, Kangxi designated Yinreng Crown Prince the day he was born.

Although Kangxi’s decision of naming the Crown Prince seemed impulsive, some historians conjecture that it was actually the prescient emperor’s strategic move.  Naming a successor early on could prevent conflict and divide among his sons and spare the emperor headaches. Indeed, for many years there was peace and harmony among the princes. But unfortunately the plan wasn’t perfect, since the Crown Prince himself was vulnerable to being used by politically ambitious court officials, and he was impatient to succeeding the throne. His many blunders and callous behavior caused his father to remove his Crown Prince title.

The removal of the Crown Prince sparked ambitions among the princes, who started to form factions in response to the opportunity. Out of the twenty four princes, nine of them were directly involved in the fight for the succession of the throne. Nine Sons Competing for the Throne (九子夺嫡) is a well-known idiom that refers to this particular historical episode, which has been the base for many TV dramas and fictions in recent years. The nine sons were the first four, the eighth, ninth, tenth, the thirteenth and the fourteenth princes. These princes formed mainly three factions, supporting the annulled Crown Prince, the Fourth Prince, and the Eighth Prince.

The most enthusiastic among the nine sons was the First Prince Yunzhi. He was the fifth son of Kangxi, born two years before the Crown Prince. Yunzhi had been so jealous of his brother that he couldn’t wait to completely destroy Yinreng. He urged his father to execute Yinreng, thus displeased the emperor, who disliked dissention among his sons. Yunzhi was soon found to have employed witchcraft to overthrow the Crown Prince, and the fact infuriated Kangxi, who stripped Yunzhi of his princely title, and placed him under house arrest.

The Eighth Prince Yinsi was a key figure in the contest of the throne. Yinsi was popular among many court officials, and loved by many of his brothers, including the ninth, the tenth, and the fourteenth princes. He was also favored by his father since an early age, despite his mother’s low status. Yinsi received his Beile title at seventeen, the youngest among his brothers. His popularity made him the most promising successor but it also led to his downfall. Kangxi, like many other emperors, felt threatened by Yinsi’s growth of power. He was furious at the rumor spread by the First Prince, saying that a fortuneteller had predicted Yinsi to be the next emperor. He was going to execute Yinsi, when the ninth prince and the fourteenth prince (Injeng) pleaded for him in court. Injeng almost lost his own head during the effort to persuade his still incensed father. At the end, Yinsi kept his life, but lost his Beile title and his father’s trust forever.

The Fourth Prince, the later Emperor Yongzheng, had skillfully hidden his ambition in front of his father until the moment of Kangxi’s death. Prince Yong did not lack supporters, the most loyal one being the thirteenth prince Yinxiang, who had lost Kangxi’s favor in an early age. But the strongest supporters were court officials, namely Longkodo, and Niangengyao. Longkodo was the younger brother of Kangxi’s third empress, thus the uncle of the princes. He was the commander of the capital military and police force, and Kangxi’s most trusted court official in his later years. Niangengyao was a military general who supported the military campaign in securing the western borders, alongside with the fourteenth prince Injeng.

Kangxi became ill in December 1721, after a deer hunting expedition. He spent his last days in Changchunyuan, the Garden of Joyful Spring. He refused to allow any visitors, but he kept Longkodo on his side. Because of Yongzheng’s relationship with Longkodo, he got the chance to stay close to his dying father, and observe his last moves. Because of Longkodo’s exclusive presence at Kangxi’s deathbed, and his access to the will, he was believed to have helped the fourth prince to seize the throne. The most popular theory is that he has added a stroke to the emperor’s last testament, thus changing the phrase “pass the throne to the fourteenth prince” into “pass the throne to the fourth prince.” It is perhaps just a rumor, but it certainly provides fodder for the imagination of fiction writers like myself.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading!

p.s., I found the following video posted by Ms. Tina Huang on Prezi succinct and yet informative. Please check it out:



“Emperor Kangxi – The Emperor Who Reigned for the Longest Period in Chinese History”. Cultural China.

Lan, Wenli. 雍正繼統之謎 [The mystery surrounding Yongzhen’s succession of the throne]. Academia Sinica.

Xia, Xin (12 October 2012). “揭秘康熙所有兒子們的下場 (Revealing The Ending Of All Of Kangxi’s Sons)”

Wang, Jia (9 February 2011). “歷史上真實的胤禩 (The True Yinsi In History)”. (in Chinese). Retrieved 28 July 2014.

Copyright ©2018 by Bijou Li

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