The elevation of Verbiest was a dramatic break from the Chinese custom. The intellectual curiosity of Kangxi allowed a point of outside light into the Forbidden City and the emperor was an ardent pupil.
One evening, the emperor made me sit down by him and he had me name all the constellations that had appeared. (He) himself had fast named all those he knew already, delighting to show the skill he had in this science.
Astronomy was science but it was also self-protection. A new calendar was unveiled every fall at the Meridian Gate(午门). For years, the court astronomers had made bad miscalculations. Their inaccuracies led to famine because seed across China had been planted too early or harvested too late. Kangxi's prestige and authority were based on scientific method.
Kangxi's calendars were reliable. They strengthened his dynasty. But help from the West would always have its contradictions in the Forbidden City.
Perhaps the emperor had elevated outsiders like the Jesuit priest Verbiest because he was an outsider himself, a Manchu. In 1644, his family had come at the head of a marauding army from beyond the Great Wall of China. In a matter of days, the ancient and enfeebled Ming Dynasty had fallen to the men from the North. The Manchus were skilled horsemen. They were good with arrows, but they were not intellectuals.
"Fools," said one Han Chinese official," without grace or character." Kangxi, the Manchu emperor of the new Qing Dynasty wanted to change all that. He immersed himself in ancient Chinese history. He developed the mind of a scholar, not a soldier. Not that he could afford to do without soldiers. There were many Chinese who would never accept their new masters and rebellion was a constant threat in the early years of Kangxi's reign. It took 19 years before the Forbidden City had been properly secured for the Manchu, and then the new order took root.