The John Adams Institute hosted an evening with Yale professor Jonathan Spence, who visited on account of his book Treason by the Book.
Treason by the Book is a historical account of the Zeng Jing (曾靜) case which took place during the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor of China around 1730. Zeng Jing, a failed degree candidate heavily influenced by the seventeenth-century scholar Lü Liuliang, attempted to incite the descendant of Yue Fei, Yue Zhongqi (岳仲琪), Governor-general of Shaanxi-Sichuan, to rebellion in October 1728. He gave a long list of accusations against Yongzheng, including the murder of the Kangxi Emperor and the killing of his brothers. This triggered a series of investigations which captured the attention of Yongzheng, who was eager to make his ascent to the throne seem legitimate. Highly concerned with the implications of the case, Yongzheng had Zeng Jing brought to Beijing for trial. But instead of imposing an immediate death sentence, the emperor began an intensive, written conversation with Zeng Jing. Zeng Jing eventually wrote a confession of error and received pardon for his crimes. The emperor then decided to circulate the relevant documents, including the original note, nationwide as a civics lesson for his subjects.
Jonathan Spence was Sterling Professor of History at Yale University from 1993 until he retired in 2008. He specializes in Chinese history, and has written many books on the subject. He currently lives in West Haven.