Qianlong and his children on New Year's Eve

The Qianlong Emperor (ruled 1736–95) loved the arts and presided over a period when the arts flourished. He painted and did calligraphy, collected jades, porcelain and bronzes, played a zitherlike instrument called the qin and wrote 44,000 poems and thousands of essays. In between that he found time to make 150 lengthy public relations tours of China and sign off on every edict issued by his government.

The Qianlong Emperor collected 1,000 dramas and novels from around the country and sponsored projects to catalogue and copy all surviving Chinese writing, a task that took 300 scholars and 3,600 scribes 10 year to complete and contained 4.2 million pages. But at the same time he destroyed almost as many books as he saved by banning and ordering the burning of books deemed anti-imperialist or morally or politically unfit.

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Qianlong Emperor was a man of learning, a skilled poet and essayist with a deep and abiding interest in the arts. Driven by his unique artistic opinions and aesthetic taste, the Qianlong Emperor utilized his imperial status to direct and redefine the efforts of artists and artisans serving in the court. The products of this new direction, in their multifaceted diversity and unprecedented intricacy, bear the unmistakable mark of the Qianlong era. The Qianlong Emperor also showed an abiding interest in scholarly innovation, sponsoring the first ever translation of the Buddhist canon into Manchu and taking the unconventional step of commissioning the biographies of rebellious officials. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei ]

Zhao Xu wrote in the China Daily: "In line with Qianlong's taste for the grandiose, art under him tended towards the delicate and decorative, leaving behind a more elegant, simple style that characterized the reign of his father, Emperor Yongzheng. Yet Qianlong, not unlike his grandfather, the open-minded Emperor Kangxi, also drew on the services of foreign missionary artists who had adopted the three-point perspective in painting. "What Qianlong did was to let the foreign artist paint the face - as in one of his own portraitures - while allowing the Chinese painters to finish the rest of the work, including the folded clothing and the scenery beyond," Tian says. "Qianlong appreciated a pinch of realism, without letting it undermine that soothing, poetic mood of Chinese painting." [Source: Zhao Xu, China Daily, December 19, 2015]

Yang Danxia, a senior researcher of traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy at the Palace Museum in Beijing. attributes Qianlong's unique role in Chinese art history to several things. "He became emperor in 1736, exactly 100 years after the Qing Dynasty was founded. And it took all of a century for the chaos of the dynasty-changing wars to subside. Also, when the Ming Dynasty fell, all the precious art works of the royal collection were dispersed. For the next 100 years they kept changing hands, until they ended up with Emperor Qianlong."The emperor's abiding interest in art was aided by his age as well as his wealth, Wang said. "Ascending to the throne early in life may have stunted his artistic growth - after all, no one is going to dare criticize an emperor - yet it gave Qianlong an easy confidence that befitted his role as his empire's foremost art patron and collector."

Website on the Qing Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Qing Dynasty Explained ; Recording of Grandeur of Qing; Forbidden City: FORBIDDEN CITY; Wikipedia; UNESCO World Heritage Site Sites World Heritage Site ; Chinese History: Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization ; Chaos Group of University of Maryland ; WWW VL: History China ; 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,

Qianlong Emperor: the Artist

Zhao Xu wrote in China Daily: “For art lovers the story is familiar enough: Master painter is found dead, paintbrush in hand. After all, to work until one's last breath is a natural choice for someone who has given one's life in the service of his muse. “But the special thing about this artist, who painted on the first day of the Chinese lunar new year in 1799, two days before he died, is that he was an emperor, indeed the longest-reigning emperor in Chinese history. "In fact Hongli was continuing a tradition where an emperor would paint auspicious motifs to usher in the new year," saysYang Danxia, a senior researcher of traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy at the Palace Museum in Beijing. "This particular one painting had joined the more than 1,000 others to form his portfolio." [Source: Zhao Xu, China Daily, December 19, 2015]

“In addition to those, Yang says, are nearly 10,000 works of calligraphy, not to mention the emperors' countless epigraphic writings that adorned his surroundings. "In terms of quantity, he is peerless," says Yang, who attributes the wonder that was Hongli to an education that could only be called classic. "For nearly two decades before Hongli ascended the throne, when he was 25, he was under the tutelage of literary masters. Belonging to a millennium-old tradition that treats literary cultivation - and by extension calligraphy and painting - as one's major pursuits, these masters nurtured in the young man a passion that would endure for the rest of his life."

“However, behind everything that happened to the future emperor there lay a single purpose, the necessity to rule, says Wang Yimin, Yang's colleague at the Palace Museum, a specialist in ancient Chinese calligraphy. “So it was with gusto that the emperor, better known by his regnal title Qianlong, meaning enduring eminence, took up painting. Some of his works were given to his favorites at court, as a token of benevolence, and no doubt as a subtle hint of his artistic prowess. Yet Tian Yimin, another expert on ancient Chinese painting and calligraphy at the Palace Museum, believes that the emperor, despite his immense hubris, was well aware of his limitations, or, put more bluntly, he knew he was no genius. "His paintings are consistently of the second order," Tian says. "So, while doing his own art he turned to collecting so that his name would be more intimately linked with the country's lustrous artistic tradition."

Qianlong Emperor: the Collector

Qianlong viewing paintings

On the Qianlong Emperor’s collecting, Zhao Xu wrote in the China Daily: “There was nothing genteel or understated about the way in which he went about that task, and today many art purists shake their heads in dismay as they survey the results. "You'll find his stamps and inscriptions on many of the masterpieces that comprised his huge collection," Tian says. "There are so many of these things, done at various times, that in some cases they overshadow the artwork itself." [Source: Zhao Xu, China Daily, December 19, 2015]

“For Qianlong, these marks were regal seals that proclaimed him head curator of China's art; beyond that though they were messages on a more intimate and personal level. "Qianlong made it a practice to record his thoughts on the extended fringe of the paintings," Tian says. "You get the feeling that he was trying to communicate spiritually with those whose artistic genius he aspired to." “He spared no effort to bring the masterpieces within the confines of the Forbidden City, the royal abode for successive Qing emperors. It is now the Palace Museum, and it is there that Tian and her colleagues toil away year in and year out sorting through the vast royal collections. "To get all of these works, a huge amount of coaxing, if not coercion and outright confiscation, must have gone on," Tian says. "And the emperor would presumably have used middlemen whose activities would not have been mentioned in official records."

“The cream of the collection later formed his imperial painting catalogue Shiqu baoji.“For Qianlong, the custodianship of the world's most fabulous art collection carried a special responsibility: he was expected to be able to differentiate between the masterpieces in his possession and their numerous copies and fakes. To help in that task he had a coterie of art experts as advisers, but in these issues he was keen on having a say in the matter. These judgments, unlike those he made on court affairs, were not necessarily the final say on the matter, and sometimes he overruled his own decisions. "When it came to the authenticity and provenance of an ancient masterpiece, Qianlong was a tireless seeker of the truth," says Zhang Zhen, a researcher of Chinese painting and calligraphy at the Palace Museum. "There were cases where he deemed a much-treasured piece to be authentic, only to have it discredited some decades later, when a similar and better-painted one turned up. And if there was debate, the emperor would get hold of both versions, so that there would be no misgivings later."

Qianlong Emperor’s Seal on Chinese Art

According to a Book Review of “The Three Emperors” in China Heritage Quarterly: “The Qianlong Emperor concentrated on increasing the scale and ostentation of works, and connecting himself to his patrimony by marking, stamping and inscribing the works of art he inherited, as well as having them reproduced in other materials. Jessica Rawson in 'The Qianlong Emperor: Virtue and the possession of antiquity'.. notes that Qianlong's seals, inscriptions and other 'conspicuous visual interventions' that for some compromise the integrity of objects also allow us to detect how he saw himself in a long lineage of China's rulers. She draws attention to his passion for ancient bronzes and how he revived the practice of cataloguing collections of antiquities that had flourished in the Song dynasty but languished under the subsequent Yuan and Ming dynasties. The most enduring of his ventures to preserve and present the past was his enterprise to collect all the great texts of his empire in Siku quanshu (Collection of the Four Treasuries). He thus encouraged scholarship and publication, thereby playing a major role in the revival of classical studies that would continue on into the 19th century. This was, however, possibly ancillary to his own ambitions; 'the immense textual compilations were effective instruments to ensure that his contemporaries and future generations recognised the Qianlong Emperor as taking the pre-eminent role in preserving and transmitting the glories of China's classic heritage'. (p.275) [Source: China Heritage Quarterly, China Heritage Project, the Australian National University, March 2007;Book Review of “The Three Emperors, 1662-1795,” edited by Evelyn Rawski and Jessica Rawson, China: London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005, more than 500 coloured illustrations \=]

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The Qianlong Emperor's ambitions were all vast in scale. In addition to patronizing the arts, he also commissioned compendia of all the great literary works of the time, and the number of ancient Chinese paintings and artifacts collected during the Qianlong Emperor's reign was unprecedented. The collections of the national palace museums in both Beijing and Taipei were largely formed under the Qianlong Emperor and are the largest repositories of important Chinese artifacts that remain today. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Maxwell K. Hearn and Madeleine Zelin, Consultants,]

As Gerald Holzwarth describes in 'The Qianlong Emperor as art patron and the formation of the collections of the Palace Museum, Beijing' (pp.41-53), Qianlong played a valuable role in cataloguing the palace's collection of masterpieces of calligraphy and painting. Qianlong initiated the compilation of the catalogues that remain definitive reference works describing the imperial painting collection to the present day. In 1744-45, the catalogue included calligraphy and paintings with religious subject-matter in Bidian zhulin and secular works in Shiqu baoji. In 1793, a supplement (xubian) was produced for each part of this catalogue. Although the death of the Qianlong Emperor in 1799 coincided with the dramatic downturn in the prosperity of the Qing, his successor, the Jiaqing Emperor (r.1796-1820) oversaw the compilation, in 1815-1816, of a further supplement (sanbian) of the catalogue. \=\

Art Under Qianlong Emperor

jade bi with Qianlong poem

Art works produced for the Qianlong Emperor include works in jade, cloisonné, and ceramic; imperial dragon robes of silk; armor and weapons used by Qianlong; golden religious statuary; dragon robes of imperial yellow silk; the emperor’s seals, cast in solid gold and some of the most important and famous paintings produced during the Qing dynasty. [Source: Field Museum, Chicago, Exhibition, March 12—September 12, 2004]

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: While on the throne, the Qianlong Emperor, “personally examined various antiquities and invested considerable human and material resources in establishing the Qing court collection. Consequently, he has been viewed as the first "museum" director of the dynastic collection. In particular, many surviving works from his collection now in the National Palace Museum and Beijing Palace Museum along with those in the Mukden (Shenyang) and Rehe (Jehol) palace holdings as well as the Nanjing Museum can be traced via the personal marks left by the Qianlong Emperor's collecting efforts, clearly demonstrating how he collected and appreciated artwork. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The Qianlong Emperor was an avid collector and connoisseur of Chinese art, and the number of paintings and artifacts collected during his reign was unprecedented. Many palace halls were used specifically for the Emperor to admire and study works of art. The Qianlong Emperor had a tendency to admire the works he collected and commissioned by adding a great number of seals and inscriptions — usually in the form of poems — to the works. In so doing, the emperor not only endowed these works of art with the imperial imprimatur but also, by leaving his mark on some of the most important works of Chinese art, asserted his control over Chinese culture and his legitimacy as the ultimate connoisseur of Chinese art. Often he must have had ghost writers helping him inscribe these poems, but he did write many of them himself. In fact, the Qianlong Emperor is said to have composed some 40,000 poems, and many of them are inscribed on the enormous collection of paintings amassed during his reign. As a result, the Qianlong Emperor's inscriptions and seals appear on hundreds of the most important Chinese paintings that exist today.” [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Maxwell K. Hearn, Consultant,]

Qianlong Emperor Patronage of the Arts

Qianlong watching a wrestling match

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: ““The Qianlong lavished attention on literature, culture, and the arts. The vast scale of these efforts suggests that they were part of a deliberate attempt to sculpt the traditions of the Qing empire...During his sixty years on the throne, the Qianlong Emperor focused much of his attention on the ordering and propagation of China's classical tradition. By far the most impressive of these efforts was the vast and unprecedented compilation known as the Complete Collection of the Four Treasuries Initiated in 1773, the project set out to organize and collate, in a comprehensive and systematic fashion, three thousand years of classical textual tradition. The result of this Herculean effort was a catalogued, annotated, and indexed collection of over 36,000 volumes.. A devoted artist and connoisseur, Ch'ien-lung expended vast energies on the collection, classification, and study of ancient artifacts and works of art. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

The Qianlong Emperor ordered scholars to organize, collect and categorize paintings, calligraphy, and books. He commissioned porcelain vessels decorated with his poems surrounded by flowers. His art collection contained hundreds of thousands of paintings. sculptures and object of art, many of which have his commentary and poems scribbled on them. His tastes leaned towards the understated. He loathed ostentatious skill.

Maxwell K. Hearn of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Court patronage also reached a high point in both refinement and output during this period. The finest craftsmen were recruited to serve in the palace workshops, including a number of European Jesuit missionaries whose representational techniques were particularly admired by the Qing emperors, who found them useful in the documentation of their appearance and deeds. Chinese court painters soon mastered the rudiments of Western linear perspective and chiaroscuro modeling, creating a new, hybrid form of painting that combined Western-style realism with traditional brushwork. [Source: Maxwell K. Hearn, Department of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

Qianlong Emperor and Foreign Influences on the Arts

Qianlong's Tibetan handwriting

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Confronted by the growing power of Western civilization, the Qianlong Emperor sought to attract the attention and admiration of the world by emphasizing the magnificence and exoticism of the empire. Exchange with the nations of the West and the states of the Chinese periphery led to an influx of foreign elements, such as the Western landscapes and European figures seen in the Qianlong era enameled ceramics, the northern India Hindustan jade carvings favored by the emperor, and the fine jade curios painstakingly fashioned in the court ateliers. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Between the mid-sixteenth and late eighteenth centuries, a number of Catholic Jesuits came as missionaries to the Chinese court. Men of learning, the Jesuits were educated in astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and art. Some of the most famous Jesuit artists active in the court of the Qianlong Emperor included Giuseppe Castiglione, Ignatius Sichelbarth, and Louis de Poirot. These artists combined the traditional Chinese method of ink painting with Western illusionistic devices such as modeling and linear perspective, thereby inspiring a new aesthetic followed by both contemporary and subsequent generations of Chinese court artists. Ch'ien-lung, who perceived detailed, naturalistic painting as a means of propagating the magnificence of the Qing empire, was a particularly strong proponent of this mixing of Eastern and Western artistic styles. The many works by Jesuit painters that survive in the collection of the Museum include a series of copper plate engravings commemorating the Ch'ien-lung emperor's pacification of Xinjiang, and a number of exquisitely detailed renditions of hunting falcons, fine horses, and other valuable animals presented to the Qing court by foreign envoys. \=/

“The use of art to glorify the refined grandeur and magnificence of the Qianlong Emperor court is also apparent in the exotic character of the glass, jade, porcelain, enamel, lacquer, and other objects crafted in the imperial workshops. In blending the styles of Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Far East, they are a perfect embodiment of the multiculturalism that flourished under the reign of Ch'ien-lung. \=/

Maxwell K. Hearn of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “A key figure in establishing this new court aesthetic was the Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione (1688–1766), who lived in China from 1716 until his death in 1766 and who adopted the Chinese name Lang Shining. A master of vividly naturalistic draftsmanship and large-scale compositions, Castiglione worked with Chinese assistants to create a synthesis of European methods and traditional Chinese media and formats. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Maxwell K. Hearn and Madeleine Zelin, Consultants,]

Qianlong Emperor’s Taste in Art and His Favorite Artworks

Zhao Xu wrote in the China Daily: “Among all the Chinese painting and calligraphy masters, Dong Qichang (1555-1636) was the one the emperor valued above all, says Wang. "Dong championed and enunciated theories on literati painting, casting well-educated scholars - as opposed to professional painters - as the right heirs of China's centuries' old painting tradition. For Qianlong, a passionate poet and essayist who always sought to couple military might with literary achievement, this had a clear appeal. Most importantly, Dong died just before the fall of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the founding of Qing by the Manchus, so it could not be said of him that he had served an enemy regime." “So Dong was a figure who united rather than divided, and in the world of Qianlong, art was never far from politics. This politicization of art inevitably led to what Tian calls "an ossifying of the art evaluation system". [Source: Zhao Xu, China Daily, December 19, 2015]

“Yang says that one man Qianlong particularly admired and sought to emulate - with his collection, if not his own paintings - was Zhao Ji (1082-1135). Known as Emperor Huizong, Zhao reigned for 25 years during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). A master painter and calligrapher with unmistakable personal style, Huizong was canonized in Chinese art history. If Qianlong was no artistic genius, Huizong was an absolute dunce as a ruler. Having been captured by invaders from the north, he suffered humiliation for nearly 10 years and eventually died in enemy territory when he was 53. His captors were the Nvzhen People, a nomadic group remotely related to the Manchus. "Despite falling completely for Huizong as a born artist, Qianlong was ever mindful not to repeat his political disasters," Yang says. "Consequently, he made a deliberate effort to incorporate his artistic pursuits into his broader vision of governance."

“One example is the Painting of Five Bulls from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), arguably one of China's 10 best historic paintings. Having designated a special building in the Forbidden City to house it, Qianlong treated the work more as a piece of religious iconography than a mere art treasure, Zhang says. "He paid ritualistic visits to the painting every spring, when he conducted a farming ceremony to pray for a fertile new year. He did this without fail for 23 years."

Wang says, "Qianlong always craved for a long scroll titled A Trip Up the River at Qingming Festival," referring to the Song Dynasty painting depicting a bustling riverside scene during one of China's festivals. When it was put on view at the Shiqu baoji show this year, 170,000 people viewed the painting, some waiting in line for six hours for little more than a scant glimpse. "Throughout his life, Qianlong searched high and low for that legendary painting, but to no avail," Wang said. "Months after he died, his son and successor, Emperor Jiaqing, prosecuted a favorite official of his father held to be corrupt. His assets were confiscated, and there it was, the famous painting that was still at the top of Qianlong's wish list the day he died."

Qianlong Emperor's Taste in Ceramics

Qianlong with a calligraphy brush

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: The Qianlong Emperor's appreciation of ceramics was based on two different types of collecting that he standardized: 1) "Poetry as Record," with his engraved poetry; 2) "Taste Re-Presented," porcelains illustrated in the Qianlong Emperor's albums of ceramics.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“In "Poetry as Record," imperial poetry conveys the Qianlong Emperor's historical understanding and appreciation of particular ceramics, conveying his views and ideals of imperial rule. The external features he observed along with his understanding of kilns reveal his impressions of the various attributes of these ceramics. Based on modern studies in ceramics history, the porcelains engraved with imperial poetry appreciated by the Qianlong Emperor can be divided into products of the Ding, Ru, Guan, Ge, Jun kilns as well as official kilns of the Xuande era in the Ming dynasty. These are clearly indicated by the imperial poetry engraved on the porcelains, with Qianlong's choice from renowned kilns also being strongly influenced by late Ming dynasty tastes in ceramics. \=/

“In addition, most of Qianlong's poems are on Northern Song Ru wares and Southern Song Guan and related wares, their contents dealing with praise for Song court porcelains as well as the tragic events that befell the Northern Song court. Consequently, judging from Qianlong's poetry on these porcelains, ceramics also served as a warning to himself and as something to reflect upon. Time and again he stressed that his appreciation of ceramics was not a self-absorbing hobby that distracted him from ruling the country. As a result, the Qianlong Emperor's discussion of court porcelains not only treated Northern Song Ru wares as an ideal, he also took the opportunity to trace back to the story of the virtuous ancient emperor Shun making pottery on a riverbank. In doing so, Qianlong attempted to use the model of the riverbank story to link with the lofty ideal of ruling the land by virtue and example. Thus, the Qianlong Emepror expressed a far-reaching idea that appreciating ceramics could serve as a model for himself in pursuit of the ideals of ancient sages. \=/

“The second section focuses on the porcelains illustrated in paintings. The Qing court left illustrated albums of ceramics that the Qianlong Emperor had ordered to be painted, allowing them also to be used as a kind of mark for his appreciation. They testify to the fact that porcelains had been personally appreciated by the Qianlong Emperor and thus reflected his views. In conclusion, by tracing the various marks of appreciation left by the Qianlong Emperor, we can understand how he used ceramics as a medium for promoting his personal taste in art and his ideals of practice in ruling. The Qianlong Emperor's greatest purpose in leaving such marks, however, was probably to divert attention from his devotion to collecting while establishing a personal image of himself as a sage ruler. \=/

“Starting from 1755, the Qianlong Emperor ordered the painting of catalogues for porcelains and bronzes. Although the ceramics catalogues are now stored separately from the porcelains they illustrate, archival records along with the arrangement of curios and bronzes in the National Palace Museum collection nonetheless still indicate that these ceramics albums originally were placed together in the same wooden cases as the porcelains they illustrated. Furthermore, the wooden cases as a whole formed curio boxes of porcelains, the albums thus serving as catalogue records for these curio box sets. \=/

“Comparing display pieces here with two albums, "Precious Ceramics of Assembled Beauty" and "Refined Ceramics of Collected Antiquity," indicates that the paintings were probably done in the fifth decade of Qianlong's rule (ca. 1785-95). Each album features ten paintings of porcelains, and each leaf is mounted with an upper and lower part. The top includes the name and illustration of a particular porcelain, while the bottom records its dimensions, glaze, form, marking, and previous commentaries. The works in these paintings, judging from the original titles, were wares from the Ding, Guan, Ge, Jun, and Longquan kilns as well as official wares from the Xuande and Wanli reigns of the Ming dynasty, thereby conveying Qianlong's taste in art. In fact, like his choice in ordering porcelains to be engraved with poetry, Qianlong was strongly influenced by connoisseurship trends of the late Ming dynasty. Comparison between the actual porcelains and their illustrations in the albums expresses in concrete terms the Qianlong Emperor's taste in appreciating ceramics. \=/

Qianlong Emperor's Use of Poetry on Ceramics

Qianlong in study

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Qianlong Emperor, who can be considered the Chinese ruler most fond of composing poetry, left around 200 surviving poems that sing the praises of ceramics. Among them are many written specifically about official wares from ancient times. In the poetry he not only studied and identified the ware and date of particular pieces, he also expressed personal views on their glaze coloring, surface coating, and traces of firing. And since many poems address ceramics from the viewpoint of "official wares," Qianlong's imperial poetry allows us to understand his thoughts on the history and development of official wares. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“In particular, when the Qianlong Emperor ordered his poetry to be engraved, it was not done all at the same time. Rather, poems were sent in batches to the Ruyi Hall and Maoqin Palace specially entrusted by the Qing court for engraving, indirectly revealing Qianlong's purpose behind choosing imperial poetry to be carved. Among his choices, Qianlong's taste mostly tended towards Northern Song Ru wares and Southern Song Guan and related official wares. It shows that, in addition to late Ming dynasty trends in appreciation, Qianlong actually also sought to trace the history of Song official ceramics to form a paragon for his own wares to follow. Furthermore, porcelains engraved with imperial poetry are dated mostly after 1770, which make them capable of being correlated with records from the Imperial Workshops. This indicates that, in reality, the Qianlong Emperor's orders for porcelains to be engraved are also closely related to his active reconstruction of the Qing court collection. \=/

“In conclusion, using modern-day terminology, the Qianlong Emperor's connoisseurship views expressed in his poetry can be generally divided into the following key points: 1) quality ceramics symbolizing the virtue of the ruler, 2) different vessel shapes and glaze colors representing corresponding personality traits, and 3) the appreciation of ceramics certainly not reflecting a diversion from his more serious tasks as emperor. \=/

Qianlong Emperor’s Library

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “ In his spare time from handling the numerous affairs of state, the Qianlong Emperor still managed to organize and research the court collection of art and antiquities. The results of these efforts include such catalogues as the Pi-tien Chu-lin for religious painting and calligraphy, Shih-ch'ü Pao-chi for secular painting and calligraphy, and Hsi-Qing Ku-chien for ancient bronzes. The effort that best represents the collecting of rare books by the Qianlong court is the T'ien-lu Lin-lang Catalogue. Methods in editing this catalogue followed the example of connoisseurs for ancient painting and calligraphy. In addition to recording a book's author, number of chapters, an abstract of its contents, the time it was printed, and a history of its transmission, such additional information as the content, shape, and location of book collectors' seals was also mentioned. This established a new system for editing followed by subsequent compilers of book catalogues.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei,]

“After rare books had been gathered from around the country during the Kangxi, Yüng-cheng, and early Qianlong reigns in the Qing dynasty, the Qianlong Emperor in 1744 ordered the Hanlin Academy in the inner court to conduct an inventory of texts in the palaces and to select rare books from them to submit for imperial view. Gathered together and placed on shelves for display in the "Chao-jen Hall" east of the Ch'ien-Qing Palace, it henceforward became the imperial library of rare books, focusing on precious volumes from the Sung, Yüan, and Ming dynasties. Unfortunately, in 1797 the Chao-jen Hall caught fire, and Qianlong's T'ien-lu lin-lang collection perished in the flames. His successor, however, the Chia-Qing Emperor (r. 1796-1820), had the "T'ien-lu lin-lang" library rebuilt and gave special orders to court officials to make selections from the remaining rare books stored in other imperial garden and palace libraries. Rare books were also sought once more from various places around the country, and the imperial library in the inner court was again established under the name "T'ien-lu lin-lang." The rush to find these books, however, allowed a few imitations to find their way into the court holdings. The Chia-Qing Emperor, wishing to emulate his illustrious father, Qianlong, ordered the Grand Academician P'eng Yüan-jui and others to edit Continuation of the T'ien-lu Lin-lang Catalogue., Imperially Produced First Anthology of Poems, Edited by the Qianlong Emperor, Qing dynasty, Qianlong (1736-1795) inner court manuscript edition in red lined columns, Qing dynasty

“The Qianlong Emperor ordered learned scholars to marshal the “T’ien-lu lin-lang” library, such as Yü Min-chung (1714-1779), Wang Chi-hua (1717?-1776), etc. They classed with the Age of each edition, the four traditional divisions of classical Chinese text as order: classics (?ching), history (?shih), philosophy (?tzi) and literary works (?chi), total collected 429 books of editions and true-to-life copy ( yingchao) from dynasty of Sung, Yüan, Ming. If the book has many editions and every engraving is neat and fine, they collected them together as The Catalogue Sui-ch’u Hall; every book recorded amply included preface & postscript, name, collecting seal, such as combinative “Tie Wang Shan Hu” which is an important reference for appraisal and collection. It was an originality to collect the collecting seal and still be used on catalogue of book collections.

Qianlong in the Hall of Supreme Harmony

Books in the Qianlong Emperor’s Library

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: Rare books in the Qianlong Emperor’s "T'ien-lu lin-lang" imperial Qing library including “Arithmetical Classic of the Gnomon and Circular Paths”, Annotated by Chao Ying, Han dynasty, “Phonetics and explanations” by Li Chi, T'ang dynasty, “Handwritten copy of the Kangxi reign” (1662-1722), a 1213 recarving from the Chi-ku Pavilion Library of Mr. Mao from a Yüan-feng (1078-1085), Directorate imprint by Pao Huan-chih of T'ing-chou (one of seven imperially inscribed classics on mathematics), Qing dynasty. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei,]

“The Qianlong Emperor regards valuable rare book as same as connoisseurs for ancient painting and calligraphy. He often remarked on rare books which regarded as the best curiosity in T’ien-lu lin-lang Catalogue collected books. Arithmetical Classic of the Gnomon and Circular Paths is the first arithmetical book and also is a astronomical book. It also has the handwriting of Qianlong Emperor on front page.

“Commentaries on the Classic of the Spring and Autumn Annals of Mr. Tu Yü, Chin dynasty was combined Classic and Annals and The Commentary of Tso as a theme work to expound Spring and Autumn Annals. “Six Writings by Master K'ung,” written by K'ung Ch'uan, Song Dynasty, 1166 was finished at beginning when Royal house of Song Dynasty moved to southern, Shao-hsing, and stared to engrave in 1166 which is the first engraving of this book. Publishers combined both editions - Six Writings by Master Pai and Six Writings by Master K’ung during the last years of South Song Dynasty.

Image Sources: Qianlong Emperor, Columbia University; Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua;; 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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