Treason by the Book

by Jonathan D. Spence

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Zeng Jing is an early eighteenth-century Chinese rebel propagandist who was caught spreading seditious writings intended to delegitimize the Emperor, incite a rebellion, and install a new government. He was eventually identified by the government administration's intelligence network as the seditious propagandist and brought to trial in Beijing.

The YongZheng Emperor is faced with a dilemma. He can either have the propagandist of the rebellion executed for treason or rebut the accusations in an official propaganda campaign. The Emperor chooses the latter course and engages with the rebel Zeng Jing in a lengthy written exchange to explain his side of the events in question. Zeng Jing confesses the error of his ways and is pardoned. The Emperor then publishes an official version of the exchange to educate the people.

Lü Liuliang was the seventeenth-century Chinese writer whose views were most influential in the thinking of the rebel Zeng Jing. On the accession of the Qianlong Emperor, he is disinterred and his corpse is mangled.

The Qianlong Emperor was the son of the YongZheng Emperor. When his father dies suddenly in 1735, he reverses his father's policy by having his father's explanatory publication recalled and destroyed and by having the pardoned rebel Zeng Jing executed.

Yue Zhongqi was the Governor-general of the Shaanxi-Sichuan province whom Zeng Jing was trying to incite to rebellion against the YongZheng Emperor for the Emperor's earlier execution of several dynastic rivals.

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