Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Last Great Manchu Emperor

Emperor Qianlong
China, the 17th to the 18th century - under the Manchu or Qing Dynasty, the Empire saw new fats of prosperity. Culture flourished under several emperors. Expansion of territory or influence continued. The Chinese economy was the envy of the world as many countries sought to trade with the Empire. During the 1700's one emperor became the focus of such heights. A cultured man, he was Emperor Qianlong.

In 1711, a prince was given another son. During the last years of the great Kangxi Emperor, Prince Yinzhen was given a fourth son by his consort, Xiaoshengxian. The boys name was Hongli. Hongli grew to the atmosphere of learning. His father and grandfather wanted to learn more of the Han Chinese culture. as a foreign dynasty, the Manchus wanted to learn and assimilate to the cultures, traditions, and beliefs of their majority Han Chinese subjects. This thirst for learning was passed on to Prince Hongli. As the Prince grew, he turned out to be an intellect and a cultured man. He showed his talent in poetry and calligraphy, as well as love for literature and art works. All of which he would show his passion later in his life.

A decade through his life, in 1722, the great Emperor Kangxi died. The Dragon throne fell to Prince Yinzhen. Yinzhen then took a reign name. He had chosen the Yongzheng. Under his rule, the Qing continued to expand its territory and saw the continuation of the golden age of the dynasty. His reign would last for a more than a decade. 

In 1736, Yongzheng Emperor's reign ended. After more than a decade, he died. The man who would succeed him was his fourth son, Hongli. Hongli then ascended to the throne as Emperor Qianlong, which means lasting greatness. Emperor Qianlong would preside over the last part of the flowering age of the Qing Dynasty.

During the first part of his reign, Emperor Qianlong was supported by prominent figures in the courts. For example. The great administrator and adviser of his father, Ortai continued to served him until his death in 1745. Another, Zhang Tingyu was another great official and also editor and writer of various works. He served the government up until his retirement in 1749.

Under his rule, China continued to be great. Agriculture continued to bring bountiful harvest. Most of which were credited to the Emperor's patronage of irrigation and canal projects. Farmers prospered as tax breaks were made four times during his reign because of too much tax being collected. Because of bountiful harvest, the population became double, reaching 300 million, just from 1749 to 1793, making China the most populous place in the world that time.

Emperor Qianlong also made military conquests. Down the south, in the early years of his reign, he ordered the quelling of the Miao Rebellion. Later, China made Tibet its protectorate. He began the tradition of making the Dalai Lama the head of Tibet. In the 1750's, he made progress by conquering the Ili region of Central Asia and area known as Turkestan in the far western regions of China. Furthermore, he made the Gurkhas in Nepal and the Burmese in Southeast Asia to pay tribute to the Emperor.

The most glistening chapter of Qianlong's reign was cultural developments. He continued to show his intellectual and cultural side during his reign. Over his life, he composed about 40,000 poems. He also collected numerous artworks of jade, bamboo, and other types of carving. He also collect beautiful lacquer wares, enamels, and porcelains. Great works were also made during his reign. Under his orders, the Siku Chuanshu or The complete Library of the Four Treasures was published. It contained 3,957 entries pertaining to China's history. Seven copies were made and kept in 7 libraries built by the Emperor. During his reign, the famous and classical Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin was written. Emperor Qianlong also expanded the old summer palace, the Yuan Ming Yuan or the Garden of Perfect Brightness. He employed the services of Jesuit priest in order to design the expansion of the palace. The Italian Giuseppe Castiglione designed the structures of the Palace, employing Italian rococo to the buildings. While the French Michel Benoit designed the fountains in the Palace that would emulate that of the Palace of Versailles. It made the Palace a mixture of west and the east. Sadly, it was destroyed after French and British troops looted and destroyed it in 1860.

In the last years of his reign, Emperor Qianlong engaged in talks with the British concerning trade. From 1792 to 1793, a British mission led by Lord George Macartney stayed in China to discuss trade between the west and China. He had two audiences with the emperor. The aims of Macartney's mission was to end the limited trade between west and China in the southern port of Canton. They also wanted to end the Kohongs or the middle men who facilitated the trade. The mission eventually became a failure. Qianlong did not back off and the Canton and Kohongs continued.

In the period of the final years of Qianlong, corruption rattled in the Empire. The old emperor began to mismanaged the Empire.He began to trust officials. The most scandalous of all, was the official Heshen. Heshen stole a gargantuan wealth, amounting equal to several years of government budget by the time he was caught. Abuses and mismanagement of his officials also led to rebellions the biggest being the White Lotus Rebellion. The inefficiency would later lead to the weakening of the Empire.

In 1795, the Qianlong Emperor decided to abdicate from the throne. It was due to filial piety. He did not want to overshadow his grandfather, Kangxi, from being the longest ruler of the Dynasty. All in all, Qianlong reign for 60 long years. But even in retirement from being an emperor, he remained a very influential figure during the reign of his successor, Jiaqing Emperor. He continued to influenced decision up until his end in 1799.

His long reign saw the continuity and final chapter of the golden age of the Manchu Qing Dynasty. Most of his reign saw economic prosperity, cultural progress, and military expansion. But with old age, inefficiency, corruption, and abuse rose significantly and began to plagued China. This end continued to grow being widely apparent when China was shamelessly humiliated by the west after the opium war.

Ebrey, P. & A. Walthall. East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History From 1600. Massachusetts: Wadsworth, 2014. 

Perkins, D. Encyclopedia of China: The Essential Reference to China , Its History and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2013. 

Sullivan, M. The Arts of China. Califorinia: University of California Press, 1999. 

"Emperor Qianlong." Cultural China. Accessed May 21, 2014.

"Emperor Qianlong." The British Museum. Accessed May 21, 2014.

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