Qian Feng (錢灃 1740-1795) was a minister of early Qing dynasty renowned for his integrity and his dedication to fighting corruption. Serving as Emperor Qian Lung’s (乾隆) special envoy of anti-corruption, he had unmasked and nailed numbers of high ranking officials for taking bribes.
In the television drama Qian Lung Dynasty produced in mainland China, there were several sensational scenes about the delicate interactions between Qian Feng and his master, Emperor Qian Lung. One of my favorites is how Qian Feng tries to dissuade Qian Lung from touring south. Qian Feng reasons that an imperial tour would cost great and encourages nothing but local officials exerting whatever they can to please the royal family. Qian Feng’s report puts Qian Lung in a dilemma. The emperor wants to exemplify his political credits through the inspection tour to the south, and he is so angry that he wants to kill Qian for discouraging him from doing it. However, never in the Qing dynasty has any imperial censors beheaded for blunt remonstration. Emperor Qian Lung, then the ruler of the largest empire on earth, certainly would not want to create such a precedent out of fear for historical judgment, and he after all has a good sense that he needs at least one minister among all his subordinates who is not afraid of putting himself in danger and is willing to tell him true words all the time. The emperor then decides to spare Qian’s life.
Later Qian Feng continues to submit relentless reports to stop the emperor from doing this and that. At last Qian Feng is put to jail for offending the emperor, but the emperor still won’t sign the death warrant. He Shen (和珅), another Qian Lung’s favorite minister, privately fathoming the emperor’s intent, sneaks poison wine into Qian Feng’s cell and persuades him to end his own life so that the sacred name of the emperor be preserved intact. Wanting nothing but serving his emperor with honesty, integrity and faithfulness. Qian drinks the wine.
That is how Qian Feng was presented in dramas. However, according to the authorized history, Qian Feng died naturally.