YONGZHENG EMPEROR (ruled 1722-1735)

YONGZHENG EMPEROR


Yongzheng

The Yongzheng Emperor (1678-1735) was the third ruler Manchu ruler. He as born on December 13, 1678 and died on October 8, 1735. His clan name in Manchu was Aisin Gioro and his personal name was In Jen (Yinzhen in Chinese). He was the fourth prince in a succession of 35 sons born to his father, the Kangxi Emperor. At the (Chinese) age of 21, he received the title Beile, or "Lord," and was enfeoffed as Prince Yong of the first rank at 32. He succeeded to the throne at the age of 45 and ruled for 13 years. Receiving the posthumous title of Emperor Xian and the temple name Shizong after his death, he is commonly referred to as the Yongzheng Emperor. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

The Yongzheng Emperor was known for his cruelty. A typical a Yongzheng punishment, one Ming-era scholar wrote, was a "lingering execution by slicing for the traitor himself, with summary execution by beheading or strangulation for all his close male relatives aged sixteen or over, and exile or enslavement for all the women and minor males in the criminal's family."

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Numerous rumors circulated about Yongzheng from his ascension to the throne up to his death, leaving behind stories that fascinate people even today. Historians, moreover, have been unable to come to a consensus about the Yongzheng Emperor, making him a truly complex historical figure. On the one hand, Yongzheng was a staunch supporter of imperial authority who ruthlessly struck down opponents, even those in his family. Extremely cruel at times, he indeed left behind a name cursed by many. On the other hand, he was firm and resolute as ruler of the Qing empire, exhibiting courage in initiating reforms and being diligent in administration and determined to stamp out corruption. Setting up a clean administration, as ruler he eradicated decadent customs, stabilized the political situation, helped fill the imperial coffers, and also lessened the burden on the people. Inheriting from the long and glorious rule of the Kangxi Emperor while setting the stage for another lengthy and magnificent era under the Qianlong Emperor, Yongzheng stands out as the pivotal figure between them.” \=/

“Anecdotal histories among the people and official historical archives are also polarized in their opinion about him, forming diametrically opposed views. The Yongzheng Emperor in popular stories, for example, is portrayed as a paranoid ruler ruthless in his methods, harsh and uncaring, given to drink and women, crafty in his political maneuvering, extremely temperamental, and sinister and scheming. Emperor Shizong of the official histories, however, is praised as a brilliant monarch who was firm and resolute as a person, diligent in administration, courageous in instituting reforms, fair in deciding rewards and punishment, particular in terms of reality, lofty in taste, and faithful in inheriting from the past and laying a solid foundation for the future.” \=/

Also see Sections on China in the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries

Website on the Qing Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Qing Dynasty Explained drben.net/ChinaReport ; Recording of Grandeur of Qing learn.columbia.edu Ming and Qing Tombs UNESCO World Heritage Site: UNESCO World Heritage Site Map ; Forbidden City: FORBIDDEN CITY factsanddetails.com/china; Wikipedia; UNESCO World Heritage Site Sites World Heritage Site ; Temple of Heaven: Wikipedia Wikipedia UNESCO World Heritage Site UNESCO World Heritage Site ; Empress Dowager Cixi: Court Life During the Time of Empress Dowager Cixi etext.virginia.edu; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Books on Cixi royalty.nu; The Last Emperor Puyi Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; His Widow's Account hartford-hwp.com/archives; Puyi Biography royalty.nu/Asia Chinese History: Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu ; Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia ; Books: "Cambridge History of China" multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press); "Chronicle of the Chinese Emperor" by Ann Paludan, "The Last Emperors: A Social History of the Qing Imperial Institutions" by Evelyn S. Rawski (University of California Press, 1999). "Forbidden City" by Frances Wood, a British Sinologist,

Yongzheng’s Life


Yongzheng's porcelain mark

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Yongzheng Emperor's personal name in Manchu was Aisin-Gioro In-Jen (Yinzhen in Chinese). Born in the early morning hours of December 13, 1678, he was the fourth son of the Kangxi Emperor. A Manchu of the Plain Yellow Banner, his mother went by the surname Uya. The character for "yin" in his personal name was based on the order of Kangxi's sons, while "zhen" was chosen for its meaning, "blessed with sincerity." Official records indicate that Yinzhen's conception and birth were accompanied by various auspicious omens, foreshadowing his ability to stand out amongst his brothers competing for the throne. Official histories also describe him as unusually handsome with a slender figure and such attractive features as a prominent nose, full earlobes, a resonant voice, and bright, spirited eyes. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“He also had a taste for great objects of the past and present while associating with Buddhists and Daoists. In fact, he claimed to have grown up in the company of cranes and pines (symbols of longevity), which is why he led an unhurried life with no bother for the commotions at court. But after assuming the throne, Yongzheng became immersed in the never-ending affairs of state, establishing the Grand Council, expanding the system of memorials, and instituting administrative reforms. \=/

“His days were filled with official matters as he read and answered memorials through the night, making him one of the few truly diligent emperors in Chinese history (as testified by the enormous number of vermilion-rescripted memorials he left behind). In his few moments of leisure as ruler, he would appreciate refined objects produced by the Imperial Workshop, or allow officials talented in poetry, painting, and calligraphy to present their works, into which he would project himself and take his mind off business.” \=/

Yongzheng’s Relationship with his Father (Kangxi) and Children


Yongzheng with his son Qianlong

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “After Yongzheng ascended the throne, he time and again reiterated how his father, the Kangxi Emperor, personally nurtured him since he was a youth. Yongzheng's language abilities in Manchu and Chinese as well as his cultivation in traditional classics and poetry all met with his father's approval, but it was his sincerity in performing filial piety that especially won Kangxi's praise. But Yongzheng was also repeatedly admonished by Kangxi for his rash nature and rapid mood swings.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“After becoming emperor, Yongzheng remembered his father's warning to ''Heed rashness and use perseverance", hanging a plaque in his room inscribed with characters for as a reminder to be vigilant. From the Chinese age of 9, Yongzheng accompanied his father on imperial inspection tours and by 21 was enfeoffed as Beile ("Lord"), becoming Prince Yong of the first rank at 32. He was therefore able to accumulate a wealth of experience that set the foundation for his selection as emperor. In Kangxi's late years, as competition for the throne among the princes heated up, Yongzheng kept to his motto of precaution and perseverance as he consciously practiced filial piety while showing little interest in the infighting, thereby bonding further with his father. Kangxi also became despondent at the maneuvering amongst his sons, so Yongzheng's attitude at this time may have been the key to his being chosen as emperor. \=/

“The Yongzheng Emperor had fourteen children, and it was his fourth son, Hongli, who turned out to be the brightest and most diligent, thereby winning his favor. Not only did Yongzheng engage the best teachers to teach his son, he also carefully selected a beautiful bride to be his principal wife. In the 61st and last year of the Kangxi Emperor's reign, his son Yinzhen (the future Yongzheng) invited him to tour the Yuanming Garden, allowing Hongli (then 12) to meet his grandfather-emperor. All three generations cherished this gathering. Kangxi, finding favor with his grandson's talent and demeanor, took Hongli back to the palace. In fact, it is rumored that Kangxi was so impressed with Hongli that it was one reason why he decided to pass the throne to Yinzhen. In other words, Kangxi knew Hongli would make a wise ruler, so he chose Yinzhen to put Hongli in line for the throne. After Yinzhen assumed the throne, however, he went through the bitterness of having to ruthlessly crush opposition from his brothers, making him determined to decide early on passing the throne to Hongli and prevent such problems in the future. To do so, Yongzheng created a method in which the future ruler's name was secretly written down, sealed in a case, and placed behind the high wall plaque "Fair and Impartial" at the Qianqing Palace. To be opened after the emperor's death and made public, this would establish a precedent for the smooth succession to the throne afterwards in the Qing dynasty.” \=/

Yongzheng as a Ruler


Yongzheng in armor

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Though the Yongzheng Emperor avoided his brothers' struggles for the throne as much as possible, he could not avoid early challenges from both sides at court. One challenge continuing from the late Kangxi era was composed of imperial cliques surrounding his brothers, including the eighth prince Yunsi, the ninth prince Yuntang, and the fourteenth prince Yunti. The other challenge came from the illegal, arrogant quests for power among such high court officials as Longkodo and Nian Gengyao, who had gradually become influential imperial favorites due to their court service. A frontispiece seal carved in the first year of Yongzheng's reign with the characters for "Being Ruler is Difficult" reveals the harsh reality of having to deal ruthlessly with members of his own family. It is also a reflection of how the ruler understood, used, and trusted others to gain the trust and support of his officials. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“For the Yongzheng Emperor, any attempt to encroach upon or override imperial authority had to be met with force and eradicated. The vermilion-rescripted memorials chosen for this exhibit demonstrate his firm and ruthless attitude towards challengers of imperial authority. As for those unswervingly loyal to him, these true servants of the emperor working for the well-being of the country included the thirteenth prince Yi (Yunxiang) and the high officials Zhang Tingyu, Tian Wenjing, and Yang Zongren. Concerned about the dynasty in every way, Yongzheng was unsparing in his praise and rewarded them handsomely. Thus, the Yongzheng Emperor was fair in terms of reward and punishment, his harshness also revealing the feelings of straightforward ruler. \=/

“The Yongzheng Emperor valued the importance of agriculture and many times personally visited the Shennong Altar to pray for a bountiful harvest. Although not as determined to open up new lands as Kangxi or Qianlong, Yongzheng was still interested in keeping peace along the borders, making valuable contributions in holding together and consolidating Qing imperial rule. \=/

The Yongzheng Emperor once wrote a self-critique of his merits on the throne: "I as sovereign have looked deep into my heart. Though I dare not compare myself with the wisdom of sage-rulers from the Three Periods [of High Antiquity], I believe I deserve to rank among the rulers of the Han, Tang, Song, and Ming [dynasties]." Nowadays, historians also agree he was an enlightened ruler who inherited the foundations of his father Kangxi and set the stage for his son Qianlong, two of the longest-serving rulers in Chinese history who represented the peak of the Qing dynasty. \=/

Yongzheng Reforms


Yongzheng partying in the 8th lunar month

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “In his administration of the Qing empire, the most important reforms that the Yongzheng Emperor instituted were as follows: 1) “Abolishing the Head Tax: Traditionally in China, separate taxes were levied on people and land. In the first year of Yongzheng's reign, however, the head tax was incorporated into the land tax, making land the single standard for taxation. Eliminating the head tax relieved the burden on farmers while increasing revenue for the government, making it a major success in the reform of taxes and finances in Qing history. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

2) Fighting Corruption: The tolerant and benevolent Kangxi Emperor allowed officials to become increasingly spoiled in his later years, leading to corruption and fraud. At the start of Yongzheng's rule, though, he quickly overturned the decadence of corrupt officials, judiciously using a carrot-and-stick approach to encourage honesty and stamp out corruption by subsidizing the salaries of officials and severely punishing those found guilty of corruption. The result was that officials did not need to be as greedy, nor did they dare to be so.

3) Compensating the Government” "Fire consumption" and "consumption taxes" were terms for a kind of surcharge in addition to regular taxes. Officials willingly made up the difference in the loss of silver during the process when it was smelted, changed, and separated. The regular tax would be one tael, with compensation for the lost amount usually being five or six cash. Yongzheng made this into a statutory tax with a fixed rate under a unified administration. Used not only for government expenses, it also became a form of subsidy for officials to maintain honesty. Thus, it lessened the burden by avaricious officials on common people by greatly increasing the formers' salaries. \=/

Yongzheng’s Interests, Death and Religion

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Born into the epitome of a life of luxury and destined to become the Son of Heaven, Yongzheng's life before becoming emperor (when he was known as Yinzhen) was rich and varied, filled with the most elegant of taste. Whether the paintings of Yongzheng's amusements depict actual scenes from his life or flights of fancy, they nonetheless reveal a yearning for great luxury and leisure. Before becoming emperor, he enjoyed reciting poetry by the moon, reading books while appreciating flowers, strumming the zither and sipping fine tea, and seeking the solitude of scenic areas. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]


Yongsheng offering sacrifice at the Altar of the God of Agriculture

“The Yongzheng Emperor emphasized a balanced combination of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism throughout his life. He felt Confucian thought, for example, was useful for administration, while Buddhism and Daoism were common beliefs among the people and could therefore not be overlooked. In fact, Yongzheng often enjoyed discussing Buddhism. Referring to himself as "Head of the Shakya" (the kingdom from which the Buddha came), he frequently associated with members of the Buddhist clergy and discussed Chan (Zen) studies, in which he became quite learned. He also adopted Buddhist names, such as "Layman of Aloofness from the Dusty World" and "Layman of Yuanming (Garden)." He held Buddhist ceremonies in the palace, bringing together high monks from throughout the country. He even gave talks on Buddhism and bestowed Buddhist names to his son Hongli ("Layman of Everlasting Spring") and to his officials Ertai ("Layman of Being Composed") and Zhang Tingyu ("Layman of a Clear Mind"). And among the paintings of his amusements is one of him wearing the Buddhist clothing of an esoteric high lama. The Yongzheng Emperor repeatedly issued instructions on Buddhism, had Buddhist scriptures printed, and personally transcribed, edited, wrote, and calligraphed prefaces for Buddhist texts. Later in life, especially after his trusted brother Yunxiang (Prince Yi) died in the eighth year of his rule (1730), the number of Buddhist vegetarian banquets in the palace rose dramatically. He furthermore became increasingly interested in Daoist matters related to the elixir of immortality, even leaving a reference in a memorial that he bestowed upon a high official the pill of longevity. But around midnight on October 8, 1735, Yongzheng passed away in his fifties, with some claiming it was actually the toxic materials in the elixir of immortality that ironically killed him. \=/

“The Yongzheng Emperor passed away in his Yuanming Garden on October 8, 1735, at the age of 58 by Chinese reckoning. The site chosen for his burial was the imperial funeral grounds at Mt. Taining in Yi County southwest of Beijing. As for the cause of his death, many opinions have come forth, but no definite answers. On the throne for thirteen years, Yongzheng had the habit of staying up late at night to work on the numerous affairs of state. He made many contributions to reforms that stabilized the political situation and helped fill the national coffers, setting a solid foundation for the finances his son Hongli (the Qianlong Emperor) accumulated. In Yongzheng's will, he explicitly passed the throne to his fourth son, Hongli, ordering Princes Li and Guo along with the officials Ertai and Zhang Tingyu to assist his administration. Hongli's smooth succession to the throne brought an end to the ruthless competition that had begun with the first ruler of the Manchu state, Emperor Taizu (Nurhaci), thus testifying to Yongzheng's wisdom and success in reform. \=/

“The controversy over Yongzheng's own ascension to the throne, surrounded by doubt, had been a matter that historians could not resolve. And the cause of Yongzheng's death only sparked new suspicions. Nonetheless, Yongzheng as a person along with the events and administration of his reign left an indelible mark on Chinese history and also a rich cultural legacy. Through the objects in this exhibition directly related to this pivotal ruler, audiences will hopefully come away with a more complete and accurate understanding of the Yongzheng Emperor. \=/

Yongzheng’s Passion for the Arts

The Yongzheng Emperor is described by Regina Krahl in her essay 'The Yongzheng Emperor: Art collector and patron' as 'the first true art-lover among the Manchu rulers. “Unlike the more practically minded Kangxi Emperor, who believed himself duty-bound to look after items inherited from the past and to uphold standards of craftsmanship, the Yongzheng Emperor passionately cared for and lived with works of art.” [Source: “The Three Emperors, 1662-1795,” edited by Evelyn Rawski and Jessica Rawson, China: London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005, more than 500 coloured illustrations, p.244 \=]

According to a Book Review of “The Three Emperors” in China Heritage Quarterly: Krahl describes how the Yongzheng Emperor brought pieces inherited from the Ming palace collections out of storage for display and inspection, and would commission paintings that faithfully reproduced the porcelain and other objects that he loved. The paintings of antiques that he commissioned reflected 'an art collector's approach rather than that of a guardian of historically significant relics'. From the beginning of his reign he had the artisans of the Palace Workshops craft pieces that exemplified his artistic taste, unlike his predecessor, Kangxi, who had been interested in the mastery of technical challenges. Yongzheng developed close working relationships with the artists and craftsmen from these palace studios; from his reign period we know the names of more than a hundred artisans who prior to then had been anonymous. \=\


Yongzheng in commoner's dress

“Yongzheng sought to revitalize the declining art of porcelain and was instrumental in appointing the artist Tang Ying (1682-1756) to direct the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen. Shapes of the Tang, glazes of the Song and patterns of the Ming were rediscovered by the potters working under Tang Ying's magisterial direction for the emperor. Krahl makes the point that Yongzheng's fascination with antiquity, his collecting of antiques and his resulting passion for archaism, combined with his personal taste, demand for quality and engagement of contemporary craftsmen, gave Qing art its identity and shaped our idea of Chinese art in general. She writes that his legacy left little for his successors to develop.” \=\

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: Yongzheng “left behind a prodigious number of vermilion rescripts numbering in the tens of thousands of characters. This unprecedented imperial enterprise has earned him the reputation as one of the most diligent emperors in Chinese history. Yet some of the works he inspired, such as "Yongzheng's Amusements, " are still perplexing, leading to speculation about his notions of reality and fantasy. In terms of court art, Yongzheng personally supervised the production of objects with his reign mark, both fascinating for their quality and variety while revealing his lofty taste. Thus, as more materials have come to light, the Yongzheng Emperor's reputation has slowly risen to the point where his mark on history is so indelible that even today people continue to talk about him. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei ]

Yongzheng’s Patronage and Organization of the Arts

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: In cultural ventures, Yongzheng “was meticulous when it came to continuity in tradition. For example, Yongzheng supervised the completion of Completed Collection of Graphs and Writings of Ancient and Modern Times, the greatest surviving collectanea in terms of content. In his pursuit of orthodoxy, he also saw that the history of the previous dynasty was finished. With regards to arts and crafts, he sought a refined classicism and courtly manner, often ordering craftsmen in the Imperial Workshop to strive for grace and elegance, to make objects delicately thin, and to be refined in all manners of production. Combined with his interest in elements of Eastern and Western culture, he oversaw a rich output of imperial objects that differed from those of the Kangxi or Qianlong eras. The Yongzheng Emperor himself was also a talented calligrapher and writer. The effort of many court painters and artistically talented officials under Yongzheng left behind numerous works of refined painting and calligraphy.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]


Yongzheng and concubines

“As with politics and economics during the Yongzheng Emperor's rule, art and culture in his reign also featured the characteristics and function of inheriting from the past and setting the stage for the future. The second part of this exhibition on Yongzheng art and culture is divided into three sections devoted to imperial imprints, imperial objects, and court painting and calligraphy. Though a Manchu, the Yongzheng Emperor was also a strong proponent of traditional Confucian thinking in Han Chinese culture, promoting its qualities of edification and promulgation while seeking to achieve cultural continuity, both of which are reflected in his publication enterprises. To preserve books and records from the ages while passing down culture, Yongzheng saw to the completion of “Completed Collection of Graphs and Writings of Ancient and Modern Times.” And to demonstrate the orthodoxy of Qing rule, he continued the project of compiling a history of the previous Ming dynasty begun under his grandfather's rule, witnessing its printing late in his reign. \=/

“In terms of artistic production, the Yongzheng Emperor pursued cultured refinement, exhibiting a unique and lofty taste reflected in the numerous objects and works of painting and calligraphy produced at and for his court. The objects made for the imperial family in the Yongzheng reign include refined porcelains, enamelware, agate carvings, lacquerware, and Songhua inkstones, all of which followed the models and standards established by the court. Therefore, whether it is decoration, form, or technique, they clearly manifest the imperial taste and artistic style of the Yongzheng Emperor. Closer examination of these imperial objects from the Yongzheng era shows they can be divided according to the following features : imperial authority, auspiciousness, refinement, archaism and innovation, and novel elements of East and West.

“Court painting and calligraphy of the Yongzheng era includes works produced by the emperor himself and those presented by members of his family gifted in art, high officials, artistically talented officials, and artists serving the court. Whether it is calligraphy that continues the tradition of Tang and Song modelbook studies, landscape painting following the orthodox style of the Four Wangs of the early Qing, bird-and-flower painting influenced by the style of Yun Shouping, paintings with buildings or figures featuring Western perspective and shading, or works by Western missionary-painters who fused Western and Chinese styles, all reflect the pluralism of painting and calligraphy in the Yongzheng reign. \=/

Imperial objects of the Yongzheng reign, whether they imitate the forms of ancient objects, combine aspects of innovation and archaism for the glaze and decoration, or use new materials and new techniques to reinterpret the images of old, all directly reflect the trend of innovation within tradition that took place at this time. Since antiquity, objects for imperial use have served as symbols of inheriting the orthodox and expressing royal rule. As for the Yongzheng Emperor, plagued by controversy over the legitimacy of his succession to the throne, objects for the court that symbolized imperial authority became an even more important goal, with those bearing dragon motifs being the most representative of such. \=/

Yongzheng: the Calligrapher, Writer and Art Connoisseur


Yongzheng reading

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “From the time he was prince, the Yongzheng Emperor was already gifted at calligraphy, copying extensively from modelbooks over the ages and being greatly admired by his father, the Kangxi Emperor. Later, under the Qianlong Emperor, Yongzheng's calligraphy was printed in "Modelbooks of the Siyi Hall" and "Modelbooks of the Langyin Pavilion" to serve as models for emulation. Whether it is Yongzheng's vermilion rescripts or works of calligraphy, both reveal how he followed the Kangxi Emperor's style, his characters being slender and compact while featuring fluid yet strong brushwork. Yongzheng also personally edited “Established Statutes In Effect” and “Vermilion-Rescript Edicts,” wrote “Discourse on Cliques,” and compiled “General Comments on the Sacred Edicts (of Kangxi)” with the purpose of promoting imperial relations and social order while edifying his subjects. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Even when he was still prince, the Yongzheng Emperor had become fully cultivated in literati taste. After assuming the throne, he wanted to prevent popular images of auspiciousness from becoming vulgar, so he gradually added motifs appreciated by the refined literati (such as the pine, bamboo, and plum blossom) to the decoration and forms of court objects. With this momentum of the court, elements of popular and refined taste were combined together. Songhua inkstone shaped like a segment of bamboo (with box) Songhua inkstone shaped like a segment of bamboo (with box)\=/

“According to "Archives of the Qing Palace Workshops" in the Imperial Household Department at the Qing court, the Imperial Workshop was established by the Kangxi Emperor and had come into regular operation by Yongzheng's reign. The Imperial Workshop was responsible for the production of objects and utensils used by the imperial family, and plans for each object had to be submitted for official approval. Even so, when the decoration or shape did not meet imperial expectations, the object had to be sent back for modification, adjustment, or complete overhaul. For this reason, imperial objects made under the auspices of the Imperial Workshop fully reflect the emperor's artistic taste. In the eyes of the Yongzheng Emperor, products from the Imperial Workshop had to feature a "court style" differed from the objects made for public consumption. A large number of cultural objects in the collections of the Palace Museums in Taipei and Beijing bear Yongzheng reign marks. For this exhibition, a select group of masterpieces has been chosen, including porcelains, enamelware, agate carvings, lacquerware, glassware, and Songhua inkstones. Divided into the five categories of "Symbols of Imperial Authority," "Messages of Auspiciousness," "Refined Taste of the Literati," Archaism and Innovation," and "Novel Tastes for East and West," they sum up the features of imperial objects from the Yongzheng era.”\=/

Court Painting and Calligraphy Under Yongzheng


One of Yongzheng's twelve beauties

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “During the thirteen years that the Yongzheng Emperor was on the throne, members of the imperial family, high officials, and talented officials gifted at painting and calligraphy often received imperial orders to produce works to which they signed their name with the character for "Your Servant." Better known examples of such figures include Prince Yunxi, Zhang Tingyu, Zhang Zhao, Wang Shu, Jiang Tingxi, Gao Qipei, Tang Dai, Zou Yigui, and Dai Lin. The calligraphy of this era followed the tradition of modelbook studies from the Tang and Song dynasties, landscape painting continued in the orthodox style of the "Four Wangs" in the early Qing, and bird-and-flower painting came under the influence of Yun Shouping's style. Often during important annual events, or for such major occasions as the birthday of the emperor or empress, instructions from the court would come for their illustration using the finest of materials.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“The style of these artworks would also often be refined and detailed, fully expressing the taste for "classical elegance and refinement" in the Yongzheng reign. According to "Archives of the Palace Workshops" in the Imperial Household Department at the Qing court, the Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione (Lang Shining), in the prime of his career serving the Qing court, frequently received orders from the emperor for paintings starting in the first year of Yongzheng's reign. Castiglione left behind many works demonstrating his court style, including such renowned ones as "One Hundred Steeds" and "Pine, Hawk, and Spirit Fungus." In the seventh year of Yongzheng's reign (1729), Castiglione worked with the official Nian Xiyao in translating into Chinese Study of Visual Aspects, which illustrated one-point perspective. Having a significant impact on court painting, this technique is reflected in the buildings depicted by such court artists as Jiao Bingzhen and Jin Jie. Finally, the Yongzheng Emperor rarely inscribed poems of praise or impressed his seals on painting and calligraphy, making him markedly different from his prolific successor, the Qianlong Emperor. \=/

“Early Qing calligraphers continued in the modelbook tradition influenced by Dong Qichang as they pursued ancient methods of the Jin and Tang dynasties to express a form of elegant strength and beauty. The calligraphy of Zhang Tingyu, Zhang Zhao, and Wang Shu serves as representatives of scholar-official calligraphy at the Yongzheng court. \=/

“The landscape painting by members of the imperial clan and talented officials at court mainly followed the landscape compositions and brushwork emphasized in orthodox landscape traditions influenced by such early Qing artists as Wang Yuanqi and Wang Hui. As for flower paintings, the style of court-officials tended to follow that of Yun Shouping for a sense of pure and elegant beauty.In addition to officials who could paint, professional artists of the painting academy at court led their disciples (Manchu: "baitangga") in filling the needs for illustrating various events and for decorating buildings at court. Their works are often highly refined and precise beauty, following in the tradition of the Southern Song painting academy and the school of Ming master Qiu Ying.”\=/

Books and Documents Under Yongzheng


Another one of the Twelve Beauties

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The most famous among the enterprises of imperial publishing from the Yongzheng reign is Completed Collection of Graphs and Writings of Ancient and Modern Times. Its entire set of books is composed of 10,000 fascicles (chapters), with the table of contents alone taking up forty. Containing about 170 million characters, this collectanea is divided into six collections loosely defined as astronomy, geography, people, things, philosophy, and economics. Each features a certain number of books and is accompanied by diagrammatic explanation, preserving vast amounts of knowledge amassed in many books and records in China over the ages, which is why it may be called the greatest encyclopedic collection of its day. And to demonstrate the orthodox status of Manchu authority to rule China, and to establish the Qing dynasty as the legitimate successor of Chinese culture, the draft version of History of the Ming, which had been compiled and edited since the Shunzhi and Kangxi eras, was finally completed in the last years of Yongzheng's reign. The most voluminous and complete of the official histories in China, it is also the one which took the longest amount of time to finish. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Furthermore, to reinforce imperial authority as well as edify and promulgate, the Yongzheng Emperor personally edited commentaries on the virtues and merits of rulers in Chinese history, memorials to the throne by renowned officials, words of the ancient sages, and his own vermilion-rescript edicts. His Established Statutes In Effect and Vermilion-Rescript Edicts serve as models for how a ruler administers the country. Yongzheng's distribution of Discourse on Cliques narrates how officials should follow the principles of loyalty and righteousness in relation to a benevolent ruler. General Comments on the Sacred Edicts (of Kangxi) was also intended to instill others with the Confucian values of the "three guidances" (ruler, father, husband) and "five virtues" (benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, faithfulness) to bring peace and stability to society. By thus maintaining social order, the country and its government would theoretically remain stable. \=/

“The Yongzheng era saw the completion of the editing and printing of Completed Collection of Graphs and Writings of Ancient and Modern Times as well as the official history of the previous Ming dynasty, revealing its epochal significance in the fulfillment of projects started in the past while creating a model for the future. The former project preserves many texts from the ages, thereby passing on Chinese learning, culture, and thought to future generations. The latter serves as a model for the production of an official history and also proclaims the orthodoxy of Manchu rule in China. \=/

“The Yongzheng Emperor used many imperial imprints to vigorously promote the legitimacy of his own rule and the sagaciousness of imperial authority. Many of these publications also promulgate the principles of traditional Confucian relations, which Yongzheng employed to reinforce his rule while establishing his own lofty image as a sagacious ruler and edifying his officials and the people. \=/

"The Heyday of Peace and Prosperity" and "Noble as the Mountains and Far-reaching as Rivers" are expressions in Chinese symbolizing a hope for the strength and longevity of the dynasty, while "Fortune, Longevity, Health, and Peace" and "Sons and Grandsons for Ten-thousand Generations" are meant as blessings for the joys that most people seek life. Under the direction of the Yongzheng Emperor, these messages of auspiciousness became popular as motifs and decoration on imperial objects. Bowl decorated with blue painted enamel landscape Bowl decorated with blue painted enamel landscape\=/

Western Influences in Yongzheng-Era Art

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Aspects of Western culture from Europe and Eastern taste from Japan brought new stimulus to court productions during the Yongzheng reign. The exchange of new ideas, techniques, and forms of decoration from the East and West brought further innovation and richness to the pluralism of the objects appearing and produced at the Qing court. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“There was also a group of Western missionary-painters at the Qing court, and the most influential of them all was none other than Giuseppe Castilgione (also known by his Chinese name Lang Shining). He used the principles of Western perspective and the techniques and medium of Chinese painting to render a variety of subjects with great beauty and precision, especially animals and flowers. Such missionary-painters had an important impact on Qing court painting, particularly in terms of the expression of space and volume.” \=/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated August 2021


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