“China: The Three Emperors 1662-1795” ed. Evelyn S. Rawski & Jessica Rawson (Part 4)

These three sections are the final quarter of the catalogue for the Royal Academy’s exhibition about the art of the early Qing Dynasty era. The first essay is the last of a set of three about the various emperors – in this case the Qianlong Emperor. The next is about the painting & calligraphy of the Chinese elite, which was often subversive in nature. And finally the meaning behind the floral & natural themes of the art of this period.

“The Qianlong Emperor: Virtue and the Possession of Antiquity” Jessica Rawson

Collection and appreciation of art and artefacts from China’s past were an essential part of the legitimacy of a ruler. As the Qing Dynasty were Manchu and not Chinese this was even more important for them than their Chinese predecessors. The Qianlong Emperor had a personal interest in art as well, but this was much less important than its role in symbolising the virtuous & righteous nature of his rule. He didn’t just collect art, he also annotated it – often directly on the object itself. Despite modern complaints about this as spoiling the works of art it was another way in which the Qianlong Emperor demonstrated his place in the long line of Chinese rulers. The bronzes of the Shang & Zhou Dynasties (c.1500BC to 221BC, post) were often inscribed with descriptions of the events that caused the bronze to be made, or something else intended to extol the virtues of the owner. The Qianlong Emperor saw his own inscriptions as being a part of this long tradition. As well as collecting ancient artefacts the Qianlong Emperor commissioned catalogues of those that he & his predecessors had collected. Again this has a long heritage, in this case dating back at least to the Song Dynasty (960AD to 1279AD, post). And finally he practiced the appropriate arts for an Emperor – he was a calligrapher (and published collections of his calligraphy so that people would know this).

The items in this section include ancient bronzes, and Qianlong period items inspired by them (I was particularly struck by an enamelled flask made to look like a Warring States period bronze flask). There were also paintings of the Qianlong Emperor, and some by him too. As well as some of his seals as used on paintings from his collection.

“Silent Satisfactions: Painting and Calligraphy of the Chinese Elite” Alfreda Murck

This section was about the paintings and calligraphy that was made & displayed outside the official court. Some was made by people who also participated in court art, some was entirely separate. In general the painting style is different to that of court paintings, it is more like calligraphy and was regarded by the elite as a natural extension of writing poetry (and like poetry if you were a part of the intellectual elite then this was part of your skillset). Because of the shared culture and education of the people who would see these artworks it was possible for the scholars to use them to criticise the regime in a subtle & subversive fashion. One of the examples Murck gives is the painter Gong Xian who painted landscapes focused on mountains & rivers that pointedly omitted the sky – i.e. no heaven, no symbol of imperial authority. Other people chose their calligraphy styles to reflect a political opinion, for instance picking the style of a Tang Dynasty loyalist & martyr to emphasise loyalty to the Ming Dynasty.

This section of the catalogue was, obviously, the paintings and calligraphy of these elite scholars. It was organised in chronological order to show the connections between the people, in effect the conversations they were having via their art. Unfortunately lacking the necessary in depth knowledge of the art of the period or of the previous art and symbolism they were referring to meant that I could just look at them as pieces of art rather than messages. I was particularly taken with Luo Ping’s Insects, Birds and Beasts – a set of 10 album leaves with pictures & poems.

“The Auspicious Universe” Jessica Rawson

This essay was about the symbolism behind the natural motifs used to decorate the palaces of the three Emperors. Rawson says this forms a pair with her earlier essay about the Qianlong Emperor – the two themes used to decorate the palaces were antiquity (discussed earlier) and auspiciousness (discussed here). The flowers, fruits, animals & birds found in paintings and other artworks are generally part of a complex scheme of allegorical symbolism. It grew out of poems starting from c.600BC, and gradually transferred to painting and other visual arts. Some symbolism depended on what things looked like, some on homophones. For instance the word for bat (fu) is a homophone for the word for happiness & good fortune (also fu, but a different Chinese character) – so an object decorated with bats is a wish for good fortune & happiness. All of the natural motifs of the art of this period could be read as auspicious messages.

The objects in this section are paintings, sculptures & ceramics decorated with natural motifs. I particularly liked a painting by Shen Quan called “Pine, Plum and Cranes”. There were also several ruyi sceptres which had belonged to the Qianlong Emperor – they are talismans of good fortune and were presented to him by courtiers on his birthday.

So that’s the end of the book. Well, there’s also a section of notes about each object in the catalogue, but I’m not going to try & summarise that. Anyway I’ve only looked up the ones I was particularly interested in. A good book 🙂 Some of the essays were better than others, but all of them were interesting. I should add symbolism in Chinese art to the list of things I’d like to know more about.

Next non-fiction book will be a change of scene, it’s about the Plantagent rulers of England. I might write up some more general thoughts about what I’ve learnt from these last two books before I get to it though.

“China: The Three Emperors 1662-1795” ed. Evelyn S. Rawski & Jessica Rawson (Part 3)

These are the next four sections of the catalogue – the first two cover international relations (with those they conquered and those they didn’t). If I had planned it out a little better I would’ve split this up differently because the next three essays are about each Emperor in turn – and better planning would’ve kept them together in a post, however I didn’t think of that till too late! 🙂

“Territories of The Qing” Evelyn S. Rawski

This essay covers the other places the Qing conquered as well as China and some of the politics that drove their conquest. First they unified the northeast Asian tribes under Manchu rule (this is in the 1620s & 1630s) and their first conquest was China. Rawski says that this started as a campaign to “defend the Ming” when a rebellion had captured Beijing & the Emperor had committed suicide but soon turned into outright conquest (as detailed in the first essay in this book (post)). After this was successfully completed the Ming moved to consolidate their northern borders, with Inner Asia and with Mongolia. Some of this involved some sabre-rattling with Russia resulting in a fixed border being negotiated (in 1689 & 1727).

The incorporation of Mongolia & Tibet into the Qing Empire involved taking advantage of the internal politics of those regions. In Mongolia they took advantage of a war between two different Mongol tribes – the one that was losing submitted to the Qing so that they’d come to their aid. The Qing interventions in Tibet also started with that conflict. The relationship between political leaders of the northern Asian tribes and Tibetan Buddhism goes back to the Mongol Yuan dynasty (about 300 years earlier, post) who established the lama-patron relationship. So the Qing backed other lamas than the Zunghar Mongols did. They also took advantage of a succession dispute over who was the true sixth Dalai Lama to not only get their prefered lama in charge, but also to reorganise the political leadership of Tibet as the first step towards true conquest.

The objects in this section of the exhibition catalogue are to do with war and conquest. They include ceremonial armour, weapons and paintings of the Emperor as a warrior. There are also paintings of processions and banquets, presumably to do with the conquest of various regions.

“Diplomats, Jesuits and Foreign Curiosities” Joanna Waley-Cohen

One reason the Qing Emperors collected foreign curiosities was as a means of legitimising their rule and proving themselves civilised. They had to know everything and possess everything for they were the universal rulers. This interacted poorly with the European colonial efforts which were reaching China at this time. The Qing Emperors tried to fit the European diplomats into the sort of tributary relationships they had with nearby non-Chinese states, such as Japan, Vietnam etc. They were also cautious in their dealings with Europeans because they could see evidence of what happened when you weren’t – they were aware of other colonial European adventures such as the British in India or the Spanish in Manila.

Missionaries were treated differently – the Qing apparently didn’t think they were connected to international politics. This strikes me as odd, because the Qing were busy using Buddhism as a means of taking over Tibet at the time. But perhaps that’s down to the Jesuits strategy of integrating themselves into the existing court structure and providing secular knowledge & gifts to the Emperors – including becoming court painters, like Giuseppe Castaglione who worked for all three of these Emperors. Christianity was tolerated to some degree, so long as Christians still acknowledged the Emperor as their pre-eminent ruler but emphasis on the Pope as supreme leader of the Catholic Church caused friction & a loss of tolerance.

Waley-Cohen also points out that the fashion for “western” curiosities & objects mirrors the European chinoiserie fashions of the time – both in the fascination with the exotic and in the way it’s not really authentic. The objects in this section of the exhibition include several paintings by Castiglione and other European court painters, as well as paintings of the court receiving foreign dignitaries & scientific instruments. There was also three pages of beautifully decorated snuff bottles – snuff was imported from Europe during this period.

“The Kangxi Emperor: Horseman, Man of Letters, Man of Science” Regina Krahl

Krahl’s thesis is that the Kangxi Emperor deliberately set out to make himself the quintessential Chinese Emperor, better than all that had gone before. As only the second Emperor of a conquest he didn’t have an obvious role model (his father, the Shunzhi Emperor was neither the conqueror of China (being a child at the time) nor an effective independent ruler, so doesn’t quite count), he also had non-Chinese ancestry which was important and needed acknowledged. The Kangxi Emperor took the throne at the age of 7 and took control at the age of 15, he reigned for 60 years in total. He honoured his Manchu heritage by participating in the various practical skills that were valued by Manchu cultures – archery, horseback riding etc. He was open to new ideas, and interested in the Western science (and art techniques such as perspective) that the Jesuits taught him.

As the Emperor of China with a Mandate from Heaven he had expectations to fulfil & a role to fill. Krahl argues that he set out to become educated in all aspects of this role – he learnt from leading scholars about Confucian philosophy, and about precedents in Chinese history for the imperial decisions he would be making. He learnt calligraphy, and became familiar with Chinese literature in order to phrase and write his decisions properly. He also demonstrated his learning to document his legitimacy as a true Chinese Emperor by publishing many writings on a wide variety of appropriate subjects including morals, agriculture, poetry. He also commissioned collections of writing by others – for instance an anthology of 50,000 Tang dynasty poems.

As well as this he patronised the arts, like a Chinese Emperor should. In fact he moved the various artists & craftsmen further into the Forbidden City than before and so they were in closer contact with the Emperor than before. Thus the material produced during his reign & his immediate successors reflected the personal tastes of the Emperor in question.

This section has a lot of examples of calligraphy done by the Kangxi Emperor, and beautifully decorated writing instruments and accessories. There are also many objets d’art that he had made for him during his life time – I was particularly struck by the peach-bloom porcelain, which is simple & elegant porcelain vases etc with a particular copper-red glaze.

“The Yongzheng Emperor: Art Collector and Patron” Regina Krahl

The Yongzheng Emperor gets overshadowed by his father and his son – he ruled for a much shorter time (13 years instead of 60 years) and Krahl says there is little positive proganda available from his reign. There were questions about the legitimacy of his inheritance of the throne and he had to take measures to prevent instability such as eliminating his enemies. His official persona was secretive, distant and ruthless – which did lead him to make the government more efficient and China was prosperous under his rule.

Less official sources indicate he was more interesting than that sounds – he had a sense of humour & whimsy, and apparently sometimes expressed himself in “colloquialisms that he must have learned […] from soldiers”. Informal portraits of him in Manchu dress show him ill at ease, but portraits in Chinese dress show him looking at ease. He didn’t go hunting or travel as much as either his father or son, another indication that he was more a product of his Chinese role than his Manchu heritage. Unlike his father his art collection was down to interest rather than because that was what an Emperor did. He commissioned many stands and display boxes for pieces of art from his collections, and inspected his collection frequently. During his reign he also commissioned many new works of art, and encouraged his artisans to rediscover & further develop old techniques. Krahl ends by discussing how the Qianlong Emperor gets credit for some of the Yongzheng Emperor’s works of art – because he was better at cultivating his image than his father and because he stamped them with his seals etc. Also styles that first show up in the Yongzheng period are often known from more examples in the Qianlong period and so again the son’s reign gets credit for the art.

This section of the catalogue contains paintings of the Yongzheng Emperor in a variety of costumes, and many beautiful objets d’art (including some porcelain vases with bluey-purpley glazes that I particularly liked). It also has a couple of sections from a scroll called “Pictures of Ancient Playthings” – which is paintings of his favourite antiques.

“China: The Three Emperors 1662-1795” ed. Evelyn S. Rawski & Jessica Rawson (Part 2)

I’m now into the “pretty pictures” section of this book – the photographs of the items that were in the exhibition. Obviously I can’t put those in a blog post, but each section is introduced with a short essay and I discuss the first four of those below.

“Images of Imperial Grandeur” Jan Stuart

This short essay introduces the pictures of the official imperial portraits and court clothes of the type worn in the images. The formal portraits are all of a type: the subject is sitting on a throne facing forwards, dressed in elaborate yellow & blue court clothes with a red hat, there are no background objects. The faces are painted realistically but the expression is always serene. I think they look more like icons of monarchy rather than pictures of people, if that makes sense.

Stuart explains that these formal portraits were not for public viewing, they were only seen by the elite and were an important part of rituals both while the subject was alive and afterwards as part of ancestor worship. Apparently until the 20th Century it was actually a crime for a commoner to own an image of a former or current ruler. I’m not sure from the essay if that was just these formal portraits or if it was all images.

The history of these types of portraits goes back as far as the Han Dynasty (post), but the Song Dynasty (post) is when the style and ritual usage was fully developed. There are aesthetic differences thereafter but they’re relatively minor. At first portraits were only used in Buddhist & Daoist rituals but gradually during the Song Dynasty they came to be used in Confucian rituals as well. The initial reluctance for using them was down to a fear that inevitable imperfections in the portrait might redirect the ritual to the wrong person.

“Qing Dynasty Court Painting” Nie Chongzheng

This essay talks about the formal court paintings which recorded events and decorated the palaces & temples that the emperors used. It’s a little confused in that first it says that there wasn’t much difference in subject matter between the Qing & the Ming Dynasty paintings of this type, and then goes on to explain how it was different in the Qing Dynasty. Presumably what Chongzheng meant is that the details are different but the broad categories are the same? It doesn’t read like that though. The major difference in subject matter is that the Qing paintings have fewer historical themes and more emphasis on current events. Chongzheng suggests this is due to the conquering origins of the dynasty – the historical figures & events are not Qing history, so they preferred to emphasise stuff that was them.

There were changes in the status of court painters during the Qianlong Emperor’s reign – they gained titles that reflected a higher position in the court. The style of the paintings also changed, and incorporated European stylistic elements. As well as Chinese court painters there were several European court painters (mostly Jesuits). This brought vanishing point perspective to landscapes and more realism to portraits. Oil painting techniques were also brought to China by these Europeans, although not many oil paintings have survived from this era of the Chinese court. Another innovation in this era was informal portraits of the Emperors & their families, as well as the formal portraits discussed in the previous essay.

One problem with seeing these paintings in a book rather than in the flesh is that they are reproduced in quite a small size. So you get a sense of the whole scene but the details are lost. But they do reproduce some bits in a larger size, so you get a little bit of a feel for it. Some of these paintings are enormous and must’ve taken a lot of time to produce. Picking one at random to give the dimensions – “The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll Eleven: Nanjing to Jinshan” is a silk handscroll that is 67.8cm tall and 2612cm long. It tells a story, you see the fleet sailing along the coast, then a procession on horseback going to a palace in the mountains. From the detail section they show in the book you can see each boat has a complement of courtiers & sailors and the decoration on the boats is all shown, from the long-ish section that’s reproduced in a small size (about half the scroll I think) you can see there are tens of boats, with hundreds of tiny figures on the boats & on land. The landscape & sea are also painted in (not quite realistic) detail.

“Ritual” Patricia Berger and Yuan Hongqi

The Qing Dynasty continued the state rituals of the Chinese state as a legitimisation of their rule. This essay divides the rituals into two sorts. The first of these is the sacrifices to Heaven, agriculture & silk. There was a calendar of such events through the year, and these rituals had to be carried out precisely, using ritual equipment of the right form and all the proper obeisances. These were pretty strenuous – apparently towards the end of his reign the Qianlong Emperor delegated his ritual responsibilities to his sons because he was no longer sure he was physically capable of getting the ritual right.

The second sort of ritual was the sacrifices to the ancestors of the Qing Emperors. These followed the tradition established by the Zhou Dynasty (post), and came in three sorts – shi xiang (seasonal offerings), gao ji (declaration offerings) & jian xin (offerings of fresh seasonal produce). They all involved ritual offerings of food and drink in ceremonial vessels whose shapes were based on bronzes from the Shang Dynasty era even if now they were more often made in porcelain or lacquer.

This section of the book has pictures of several of the ritual vessels. There are also ritual clothes, bells and a court painting showing a ritual taking place.

“Religion” Patricia Berger

The previous essay was about the Confucian rituals, which aren’t really religious per se tho given it includes a belief in Heaven that strikes me as a very technical distinction. But this essay is about religions that regard themselves as religions.

Berger starts off by discussing the Manchu shamanistic faith, which was in some senses invented during the period of the three Emperors covered in this book. Prior to the 1630s the Manchus were not a united people, and in the early years of the Qing origin myths and a Manchu cultural identity was developed, of which shamanism was a part. The shamanistic rituals developed formed part of the ritual calendar from 1644 onwards, and were eventually codified by the Qianlong Emperor.

The Qing Emperors also amalgamated other religion’s rituals into their observances. Berger says that this was seen as a means of controlling their newly conquered territories via their own cultural practices. (Although she doesn’t state it, this must surely be why they embraced the Chinese Confucian rituals as well.) So as well as Confucian rituals of the state, Manchu shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism, the Qing Emperors also promoted other religions including Daoism, Islam & Christianity.

Tibetan Buddhism had particular support. Berger sets out the political path towards this status, including the Great Fifth Dalai Lama recognising the Qing Emperors as boddhisvattas destined to rule over a unified China, Tibet & Mongolian empire (you can see why this would appeal …). But she also notes that the Kangxi Emperor & the Qianlong Emperor seem to’ve been personally inclined towards Buddhism.

Most of the art in this section of the book is Buddhist, and interestingly it doesn’t look “chinese” to my (uneducated) eyes. It looks more Indian, which would make a certain amount of sense.

“China: The Three Emperors 1662-1795” ed. Evelyn S. Rawski & Jessica Rawson (Part 1)

This is the catalogue for an exhibition of the same name that ran at the Royal Academy of Arts in London from November 2005 to April 2006. I didn’t go to see it myself, but I’ve borrowed the book from my Dad who did. A lot of the book (as befits an exhibition catalogue) is full of pictures of the objects that were displayed. It starts with three general essays, then each section of objects has some introductory text. It also has a map of China, and of the Forbidden Palace. And a chronology which covers both the major events in China of this period and puts them in context with the rest of the world. So far I’ve read the general essays, so that’s what this post is about. The first essay is about the history of the period & is the one I was most interested in. The second is about the imperial art collection, and the third (and least interesting to me) is about the architecture of the palaces of these Emperors.

The Three Emperors of the title of the book are the Kangxi Emperor, the Yongzheng Emperor and the Qianlong Emperor who were the 2nd to 4th Emperors of the Manchu Qing Dynasty. This was the last Dynasty to rule Imperial China, and they held power from 1644 through to 1911. These three Emperors are the high point of Qing China. Previous post about this era of Chinese history: 7th part of “China: The World’s Oldest Civilisation Revealed”.

Orientation Dates:

  • 1649: Charles I beheaded.
  • 1688: Glorious Revolution (i.e. William & Mary take the throne of Britain).
  • 1714: George I took the throne of Britain.
  • 1720: South Sea Bubble (post).
  • c. 1760: Industrial Revolution begins in Britain.
  • 1776: US independence declared.

“The ‘Prosperous Age’: China in the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Reigns” Evelyn S. Rawski

This essay covers the history of the period, and also looks at the way it has been discussed and summarised by historians both inside and outside modern China. Rawski starts by reminding the reader that the Qing dynasty were outsiders who conquered China, and that they regarded themselves as different from their Han Chinese subjects in China Proper (which is the name used for the area that the Ming Dynasty ruled over). They created a writing system for their Manchu language, and this was an official state language alongside Chinese. They regarded their subjects as divided into Han Chinese civilians and Bannermen (and citizens of the non-China Proper regions), and there were different political institutions involved in ruling over the two sorts of people. The people of China Proper were still ruled via the Ming bureaucracy, but the inner councils of the Emperors were derived from the Bannermen and the conquest elite. Intermarriage between the two groups of citizens was forbidden.

The Kangxi Emperor was the second Qing Emperor – he took the throne at 7 years old in 1662 after the death of his father the Shunzhi Emperor. Even though the Qing had been ruling China since 1644 the conquest wasn’t finished, so Rawski says that the main thrust of the Kangxi Emperor’s long reign was finishing the conquest and consolidating Qing power. Consolidation was required because a lot of Ming commanders & officials surrendered once the Ming dynasty was toppled, and so the Qing actually gained territory rather faster than they could assimilate it. The last of the Ming claimants to the throne was executed in 1662, the same year as Kangxi took the throne, but a loyalist rebellion lead by the Zheng family persisted until 1683. The Zheng family were maritime traders who had built a vast trading empire. Although nominally on the side of the Ming they were pretty much acting in their own interests, rather than under the control of a Ming claimant. Luckily for the Zheng, the Qing initially lacked a navy and anyway were more interested in land conquests. Also during this period there was a rebellion by three Han Chinese generals, who had been given control over parts of south & southwest China after joining the Manchu side early in the conquest. Attempts by the Kangxi Emperor to take back control of these regions sparked the rebellion which was eventually put down in 1681.

As well as finishing the conquest and putting down rebellions the Kangxi Emperor used political means to consolidate his power over both his Han Chinese subjects and his Bannermen subjects. For the first the Kangxi Emperor acted as a proper Confucian Emperor should. He kept the bureaucratic structure that the Ming Dynasty had used (including the examinations), and he participated in the Confucian rituals of the court. He was fluent in Chinese (unlike his father) which I thought it was interesting. After the Norman Conquest, for instance, French was the language of the English court for a couple of hundred years and there’s no sign that the monarchs learnt English. But the second generation of the Qing Dynasty have made a point of learning the language of their new country and demonstrating their fluency with it. Maybe it’s got something to do with the relative prestige of the conquered country? I mean the Qing probably conquered China because they wanted to be specifically Emperors of China rather than it being just somewhere conveniently nearby. Or maybe it was the easiest way to consolidate his rule over China Proper – by being just as “Chinese” as the last Dynasty? Relevant to this exhibition in particular is that part of being a “proper” Chinese Emperor was patronage of the arts.

For the second half of his consolidation the Kangxi Emperor strengthened his control over the banner lords. Previously the leaders of each banner were pretty close to autonomous and were also involved in deliberating state decisions. Helped by some dismal performances during the putting down of rebellions in the early part of the Kangxi Emperor’s reign he took control of who the commanders of the troops were. And the administration of the banners was gradually bureaucratised and taken away from the traditional leaders – who were still princes, just with less actual influence.

One thing the Kangxi Emperor didn’t do well was organising the succession. The Ming had a rule that the eldest son of the Empress was the heir, but the Qing didn’t have this tradition. Their ancestors had permitted brothers to inherit as well as sons, but by the time of the conquest of China it was always a son that inherited. However they still had a tradition that it was the most worthy son that would inherit. The Kangxi Emperor first decided to follow the Ming custom, but then disinherited his eldest son, then re-inherited him, then dis-inherited him again and refused to name an heir until on his deathbed. At that point he is said to have named his fourth son, but there were rumours that this was fabricated. As a result the Yongzheng Emperor (this fourth son) instituted the (slightly odd to my eyes) practice of secretly designating an heir in a sealed casket which was hidden until after his death. This both made sure that the wishes of the deceased Emperor were known (and known to be true, due to the sealing) but no-one knew while he was alive so there would be less court intrigue.

The Yongzheng Emperor ruled for 12 years, and there’s only about 2/3 of a page of this 18 page essay devoted to him. The theme of his reign was reforming the fiscal administration of the state and finishing off the subjugation of the banner lords to the throne.

The Yongzheng Emperor was succeeded by the Qianlong Emperor in 1736, and he ruled for the next 60 years. Apparently traditional Chinese historians divide his reign into to three – roughly categorisable as good, OK, bad. And then after that it’s downhill all the way to the inevitable end of Imperial China. The Qianlong Emperor would see it differently – he was proud of his Ten Great Victories and that the territory he ruled stretched further than that of the Ming Dynasty (and further than the People’s Republic of China). He saw himself as ruling over 5 distinct peoples (Manchus, Mongols, Tibetans, Uighurs and Chinese), only linked because he ruled them. His government had systems in place to balance the powers of the bureaucracy & the powers of the bannermen. China during this time was part of a lucrative intra-Asian trade network, and exports to Europe tilted the net balance of that trade in China’s favour.

Chinese society during the period was influenced by outside cultures as well as traditional Chinese ways. There were many Jesuits at court, and they were involved in introducing European science to the Qing and in negotiating treaties on behalf of the Qing with Russia. Russians too lived in Beijing, providing another avenue for cultural & commercial exchange. There was also increased social mobility, and apparently the literati worried about the rise of the nouveaux-riches. Contracts became the general way to organise your affairs (as opposed to institutions like hereditary slavery), and consumption of material culture including books increased. In the bits of the Qing Empire that weren’t China proper the Qianlong Emperor & his predecessors tried to promote their separate cultural traditions, but that doesn’t seem to’ve had particular success. Rawski discusses how the Manchu language influenced Chinese, and vice versa.

Traditional Chinese histories point to the last few decades of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign as the beginning of “dynastic decline” and cast the rebellions that were put down around this time in that light. But Rawski thinks that this is misplaced – instead of a rotten centre all the rebellions and unrest occurs at the edges of the Empire. So it’s the bits where the authority of the state is starting to run thin due to distance, not a breakdown of the state itself. And it was also a reaction to the attempts to extend state authority over those areas.

More recent Chinese histories of the era see it as the high point of China’s Imperial history, but also judge it ultimately as a failure. They compare it to the Industrial Revolution that kicks off in Europe around this time and see that as a missed opportunity that China should’ve seized. But outside China historians see the period differently. Rawski discusses the analysis of André Gunder Frank (a historian I assume …) who sees China as having been part of a global economy since the 1500s. And a core part of this economy until 1800 – metal flowed into China and goods flowed out. I got a little lost towards the end of this section, but I think the take home message was that Britain industrialising whilst China (and other countries) did not was not because of some difference in their history but was dependent on some specific circumstance in Britain at that time. Because of the global economy of the time China and other parts of Asia were as highly developed as Britain.

“The Qianlong Emperor as Art Patron and the Formation of the Collections of the Palace Museum, Beijing” Gerald Holzwarth

What was once the Forbidden City is now the Palace Museum, and it houses over a million items 80% of which were previous held by the Qing court. Holzwarth divides these into four groups according to their original function. The first group is things that were collected as works of art both ancient and newly created at the time. These were catalogued and kept boxed up – only taken out to be looked at or shown off, they weren’t exhibited as a matter of course. These include paintings, calligraphy, bronzes, jades etc. The second group is propaganda and was displayed on the palace walls – these were also works of art by our modern standards but the purpose at the time was the political message. The third group is the ritual and religious objects, for the Confucian state rituals as well as Buddhist & Daoist objects. And the fourth group consists of the clothing & accessories of the court, including things like the Emperor’s writing instruments & other everyday objects.

Holzwarth then discusses the first group, and the Qing Dynasty & the Qianlong Emperor’s role in developing the collection. The basis of the collection was the Ming Dynasty collection, and that was part of a continuous tradition of collecting going back 1600 years. The forerunners of this collection go back as far as the Shang Dynasty (post) c. 1500BC.

The Kangxi Emperor’s main legacy was to set up imperial workshops to create more art works for the collection. He was also a keen calligrapher, and wrote poetic inscriptions on pictures from the Imperial Collection. I’m the sort of person who hates the thought of writing in books, so this tradition of writing inscriptions on paintings fills me with horror. The Kangxi Emperor wasn’t much of an art historian, and relied on an expert who was a collector himself … and so the expert kept the best for his own collection and gave the Emperor the cheap ones or the fakes. His collection did later get amalgamated into the Imperial Collection by the Qianlong Emperor.

The Yongzheng Emperor gets about a paragraph in this essay – he was the best calligrapher of the three.

And then we move on to the Qianlong Emperor, whose influence on the collection is the subject of the bulk of the essay. Holzwarth calls him the last of the great imperial art collectors, and unlike his grandfather he was an expert in his own right. He inspected the new works of art while they were still being drafted, and he inspected the ancient ones and gave them his seal of approval. Literally – he had various collection seals, and marking a collected painting (or other artwork) with one’s seal was a traditional thing for collectors to do. This tradition actually grew out of authenticating written documents by putting imperial seals over the seams where pieces of writing were pasted together to form a hand scroll. He also wrote inscriptions on paintings, not just poems but also on some paintings he wrote notes on the experience of enjoying them. And he also wrote art-historical essays on some paintings, discussing who had painted them and correcting any misattributions. He did take care to consider the aesthetics of the painting when adding his inscriptions, but it still feels so alien to my attitude towards art.

As well as general collecting the Qianlong Emperor was consciously trying to create a canon of approved art. And as part of this aim he instituted cataloguing projects. Eventually these catalogues stretched to about 22,500 pages and covered over 5000 paintings and several thousand works of calligraphy. The best quality ones had highly detailed entries – including a list of all inscriptions and seals on the work. Other artifacts were also catalogued, with explanatory notes where appropriate.

The end of this essay harks back to the end of the first essay. Holzwarth notes that while the Kangxi Emperor was interested in European sciences, the Qianlong Emperor concentrated on renewing classical Chinese cultural heritage. So at a point where science & industrialisation was taking off in Europe, in China the man who set the cultural fashions was interested in the preservation & the equalling of the arts of the past.

“Imperial Architecture of the Qing: Palaces and Retreats” Frances Wood

The bulk of this essay describes the layout and building materials of the Forbidden City. The Qing inherited this from the Ming. Although there was some (unknown amount of) destruction during the events at the end of the Ming Dynasty, it was clearly still intact enough for the Shunzhi Emperor, his regents and government to move in immediately in 1644. They didn’t really alter the plan of the various buildings, even tho they did alter the use of some of them and tastes in interior decoration changed. Because it was mostly constructed of timber there were frequent serious fires, the essay describes how the library buildings were protected to some extent by pools of water in front of them & ornamental rockerys both of which acted as fire breaks.

Although the Forbidden City was the official main residence and the ceremonial seat of government the three Emperors spent several months of each year either on the move or in their summer palaces. These were generally north of Beijing closer to or in the ancestral Manchu territory, with countryside around them where the Emperors & their court could hunt and hold archery & horse-riding contests.