Yung Ching died so suddenly that he had not nominated his heir. He left three sons, and, after brief consideration, the eldest of these - to whom was given the name of Keen Lung - was placed upon the throne. The choice was justified by the result, although the chroniclers declare that it came as a surprise to the recipient of the honor, as he had passed his life in the pursuit of literary studies rather than in practical administrative work. His skill and proficiency in the field of letters had already been proved before his father's death; but of public affairs and the government of a vast empire he knew little or nothing. He was a student of books rather than of men, and he had to undergo a preliminary course of training in the art of government before he felt himself capable of assuming the reigns of power. Moreover, Keen Lung, although the eldest son, was not the offspring of the empress, and the custom of succession in the imperial family was too uncertain to allow any one in his position to feel absolute confidence as to his claims securing the recognition they might seem to warrant. His admission of his being unequal to the duties of his lofty position, notwithstanding that he was twenty-five years of age, was thoroughly characteristic of the man, and augured well for the future of his reign. He appointed four regents, whose special task was to show him how to rule; but in the edict delegating his authority to them he expressly limited its application to the period of mourning, covering a space of four years; and as a measure of precaution against any undue ambition he made the office terminable at his discretion.

Keen Lung began his reign with acts of clemency, which seldom fail to add a special luster to a sovereign's assumption of power. His father had punished with rigor some of the first princes of the court simply because they were his relations, and there is some ground for thinking that he had put forward antipathy to the foreign heresy of the Christians as a cloak to conceal his private animosities and personal apprehensions. Keen Lung at once resolved to reverse the acts of his predecessor, and to offer such reparation as he could to those who had suffered for no sufficient offense. The sons of Kanghi and their children who had fallen under the suspicion of Yung Ching were released from their confinement, and restored to their rank and privileges. They showed their gratitude to their benefactor by sustained loyalty and practical service that contributed to the splendor of his long reign. The impression thus produced on the public mind was also most favorable, and already the people were beginning to declare that they had found a worthy successor to the great Kanghi.

There is nothing surprising to learn that in consequence of the pardon and restitution of the men who had nominally suffered for their Christian proclivities the foreign missionaries began to hope and to agitate for an improvement in their lot and condition. They somewhat hastily assumed that the evil days of persecution wore over, and that Keen Lung would accord them the same honorable positions as they had enjoyed under his grandfather, Kanghi. These expectations were destined to a rude disappointment, as the party hostile to the Christians remained as strong as ever at court, and the regents were not less prejudiced against them than the ministers of Yung Ching had been. The emperor's own opinion does not appear to have been very strong one way or the other, but it seems probable that he was slightly prejudiced against the foreigners. He certainly assented to an order prohibiting the practice of Christianity by any of his subjects, and ordaining the punishment of those who should obstinately adhere to it. At the same time the foreign missionaries were ordered to confine their labors to the secular functions in which they were useful, and to give up all attempts to propagate their creed. Still some slight abatement in practice was procured of these rigid measures through the mediation of the painter Castiglione, who, while taking a portrait of the emperor, pleaded, and not ineffectually, the cause of his countrymen. There was one distinct persecution on a large scale in the province of Fuhkien, where several Spanish missionaries were tortured, their chief native supporters strangled, and Keen Lung himself sent the order to execute the missionaries in retaliation for the massacre of Chinese subjects by the Spaniards in the Philippines. After he had been on the throne fifteen years, Keen Lung began to unbend toward the foreigners, and to avail himself of their services in the same manner as his grandfather had done. The artists Castiglione and Attiret were constantly employed in the palace, painting his portrait and other pictures. Keen Lung is said to have been so pleased with that drawn by Attiret that he wished to make him a mandarin. The French in particular strove to amuse the great monarch, and to enable him to wile away his leisure with ingeniously constructed automatons worked by clockwork machinery. He also learned from them much about the politics and material condition of Europe, and it is not surprising that he became imbued with the idea that France was the greatest and most powerful state in that continent. Almost insensibly Keen Lung entertained a more favorable opinion of the foreigners, and extended to them his protection with other privileges that had long been withheld. But this policy was attributable to practical considerations and not to religious belief.