Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Mien-k'ai

MIEN-k'ai 綿愷, Aug. 6, 1795–1839, Jan. 18, the first Prince Tun E, was the third son of Emperor Jên-tsung. His mother, Empress Hsiao-ho (see under Yung-yen), gave birth to two sons, the other being Mien-hsin (see under I-chih). In 1813, when revolutionists invaded the Imperial Palace in Peking (see under Min-ning), Mien-k'ai and his elder half-brother, Min-ning, helped to defend the area, and their courage was commended by the Emperor. In 1819 Mien-k'ai was made a prince of the second degree with the designation, Tun (惇郡王). A year later, when Min-ning ascended the throne, he was raised to a prince of the first degree.

In 1823 Mien-k'ai's wife made the mistake of entering the rear gate of the Palace through the central, instead of the lateral, doorways. When the matter was investigated Mien-k'ai, instead of requesting leniency, attempted to deny and evade the charge. He was reprimanded for insolence, and several of his posts, among them the superintendency of the Bureau of Music, were taken from him. Three years later, however, he was appointed a presiding controller of the Imperial Clan Court. Meanwhile he was concurrently in charge of the Imperial Printing Press and of the Summer Palace, Ch'ang-ch'un Yüan (see under Hsüan-yeh). But in 1827 he was charged with hiding a eunuch wanted by the Imperial Household as a fugitive, and for this his offices were taken from him. It seems that Mien-k'ai was interested in the theater and in music and was very familiar with this particular eunuch who served in the Court Theatrical Bureau. On this matter the Emperor issued an edict in which he charged that Mien-k'ai never took an interest in study or in archery but that he loved to associate with inferior persons; and despite the Emperor's efforts to reform him, by special instruction and by entrusting him with important posts, he kept up his relations with eunuchs. Mien-k'ai was then punished by being degraded to a Chün-wang 郡王, or a prince of the second degree. However, a year later he was re-instated as a prince of the first degree and in 1836 was again made a presiding controller of the Imperial Clan Court.

In the meantime Mien-k'ai continued to keep actors in his home and to abuse his power as a prince by placing in confinement those servants and eunuchs who offended him. In 1832 his mother, the then Empress Dowager, ordered him to release the imprisoned men and to have two young actors sent away. For a while he complied, but later smuggled the actors back to his home. In 1838 the wife of one of his prisoners exposed his illegal conduct to the Censorate. An immediate search of his premises by imperial order disclosed the presence of more than ninety prisoners in his establishment. As a result of this investigation many of the prisoners were released, and the two actors, natives of Soochow, were returned to that city. Some of Mien-k'ai's attendants were punished, but he himself was only degraded to a prince of the second degree and was deprived of certain privileges. Though obviously the black sheep of the family, Mien-k'ai invariably escaped severe punishment, owing perhaps to the intervention of his mother. He died in 1839, a year after his final disgrace, and was posthumously restored to a prince of the first degree. He was canonized as K'o 恪. His two sons died before him. In 1846 a nephew, I-tsung [q. v.], who was the fifth son of Emperor Hsüan-tsung, was designated as heir to Mien-k'ai. I-tsung was the father of several notorious princes who sponsored the Boxer Uprising (see under I-tsung).

[1/171/19b; 1/227/6b; Tung-hua lu, Tao-kuang 7: 10; ibid. 18: 5; Shih-liao hsün-k'an (see under Lin Tsê-hsü) no. 32.]

Fang Chao-ying