Geremie Barmé, Founding Director of the Australian Centre on China in the World, ANU, and Professor of Chinese History, provides an introduction to the Qing dynasty.
Geremie Barmé is an historian, cultural critic, filmmaker, translator and web-journal editor who works on Chinese cultural and intellectual history from the early modern period (1600s) to the present. He is a research professor and Australian Research Council Federation Fellow in the College of Asia & the Pacific at the Australian National University, where he also edits the online e-journal China Heritage Quarterly.
Supported by the ANU Australian Centre on China in the World.
Transcript of China’s last Celestial Dynasty
Speakers: Nathan Woolley (N), Geremie Barmé (G)
Location: National Library of Australia
M: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the National Library of Australia. My name is Nathan Woolley. I’m the curator of the exhibition Celestial Empire: Life in China 1644 to 1911. As we begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land. I thank their elders, past and present, for caring for this land which we are now privileged to call home. Tonight is the first in a series of guest lectures we are presenting in partnership with the Australian National University’s Australian Centre on China in the World. This is part of a public programming for the exhibition Celestial Empire. Now, Celestial Empire and its public programs would not be possible without the support of a tremendous group of partners. It has been an extraordinary collaboration between government, commercial partners and individual donors.
First and foremost, I would like to thank the National Library of China for sharing its extraordinary collection with us and with all of you. I hope you will take the opportunity to visit the exhibition this evening. I would also like to thank our partners for their generosity. They include Shell in Australia, the Seven Network, Wanda One, Optus Singtel, Huawei, Cathay Pacific, TFE Hotels. And our event partners include Asia Society Australia and the ANU’s Australian Centre on China in the World. I also would like to thank our government partners who have helped us through the National Collecting Institution’s Touring Outreach Program and the Australia–China Council of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and also the ACT Government through Visit Canberra.
And I would like to thank all of you for coming along this evening to hear Professor Geremie Barmé introduce China’s Qing Dynasty. Professor Barmé, formerly of the Australian National University, is a sinologist of world renown. He is a historian, cultural critic, filmmaker, translator and web journal editor. Within the broad range of his talents his works has focused on Chinese cultural and intellectual history from the seventeenth century to the present. Among his more recent achievements, he established the Australian Centre on China and the World at the ANU, and was director of that centre for five years. He is also the founder and editor of The China Heritage Quarterly, which is a remarkable online repository of information and critique of Chinese history and culture, which is openly available at www.chinaheritagequarterly.org.
Professor Barmé’s most recent publications include the China Story Yearbook 2014: Shared Destiny, also openly available online, and the book Beijing: Contemporary and Imperial, a work produced with his long term collaborator, the New York based photographer Lois Conner. And on a brief personal note I would just like to add that my own understanding of China, as developed over the past two decades, has been profoundly influenced by Geremie’s work. So much so that I like to think that there are little pieces of Geremie scattered throughout the exhibition. So I’m very happy indeed to have the opportunity to introduce him this evening. Now Professor Barmé has kindly agreed to answer some questions, so have … if you have any queries I would ask that you hold them until the end of the talk. But please join me now in welcoming Professor Geremie Barmé.
G: Nathan, thank you so much. To think there are shards of me in the exhibition is a little bit daunting. I knew things had fallen off but I didn’t know where they’d ended up. Sorry. Let me just see where I am. So I’ll start with, as one should, with the upcoming Year of the Monkey and you’ll see why it’s relevant. As you know the exhibition takes as one of its theme images Sun Wukong, the great sage monkey who features and is the great hero of China’s most extraordinary … well, one of its most extraordinary novels, Journey to the West, Xiyou ji. And Nathan has I should say I think brilliantly chosen this image and the other works that are in the catalogue and I’d encourage you all to get the catalogue of the exhibition. I think it’s a very fine work indeed. And the exhibition itself is a delight with many rare and of course unique documents and materials that one will just never see again. So it’s been a great pleasure to see the exhibition and also a great honour to be invited to speak today.
I mention the monkey to start, of course it’s the unfolding Year of the Monkey and you see at the entrance of the National Library an unfolding monkey, sort of a bit tattered at the moment, but I’m sure it will be put together over the following days despite the wind. It’s relevant because this year is an extraordinary year in Chinese history. 2016 is a year of many commemorations. I won’t bore you with them and list them. Next week the China Story journal, thechinastory.org, will publish an essay about all the commemorations that would be marked … well they’ll all probably not be marked in China, but we will internationally be thinking of them as the year evolves.
One of the most important of those commemorations relates to this gentleman, Mao Zedong. And I mention him in the context of the Year of the Monkey, many of you might not know that he said famously 50 years ago, nearly … not quite to the day, May 1966, that he said in me there is a spirit of the tiger, I want to get things done and achieve. But there’s also something of a … I have hou qi, I have a monkey spirit as well. And that means I want to destroy, overturn, unsettle. I suppose we’d call it disruptive innovation today, wouldn’t we? But anyway, he spoke in these terms just before he launched the Cultural Revolution. And this is him at the first grand reception of the Red Guards in Beijing in August 1966, which we will be marking this year as part of the remembrance of the Cultural Revolution, that devastating period in Chinese history.
A cultural revolution that very much in its origins and its history relates to the topic of today, which is Daicing Gurun. Daicing Gurun I chose specifically, the real name of the Qing Dynasty. This is what the Qing rulers knew their country as. Not as the great Qing empire. Not as China. Not as the centre of the world. It was called Daicing Gurun. Da Qing, the Great Qing Gurun. And gurun means land, nature, and it’s very much … very similar to certain concepts of land and space in Australian traditional cultures. Daicing Gurun. And this was the Qing dynasty, which I’ll try and say a few words about today, about what it … where it comes from, how it relates to the people who ruled it and what impact it had.
For the Chinese of the twentieth century, the Da Qing, the Great Qing Dynasty, was an issue at the centre of national identity and debate throughout the hundred years. Mao was obsessed. The first cultural purges of 1950, ’49–’50, ’51 and '53 and ’-4 all had to do with the Qing Dynasty. Again we don’t have time to go into it but the Qing obsessed the revolutionaries and it obsessed also those who created the revolution itself. Those of you familiar with Beijing today, the Chinese Communist Party still has as its headquarters one of the great Qing garden palaces in the centre of the city. We’ll be looking at other pictures of the palace area but this is what’s called Zhongnanhai, the central, that’s the central, and that’s the southern lakes or seas of Beijing. And this is the seat of the Communist Party and of the Chinese government.
Chairman Mao’s own main residence—he had many—but his main residence was just here. He had another one near the swimming pool up the back there, but this was where he … when he met people he mostly met them there. It’s built on the old garden of the Kangxi Emperor, the first great … truly great emperor of the Qing Dynasty. Anyway we won’t spend too much time with Chairman Mao but we’ll stay with the monkey for a moment. And this was Chairman Mao’s most famous monkey poem. It was written in 1961. I just want to show you his calligraphy which was very particular and spi … a bit monkey like and spidery. This is what the poem says and it reads … I won’t read it in Chinese for you but you can … those of you who read Chinese, or you should know it, it’s a very, very famous poem and I’ll say why in a moment. In English, and this is the official translation, it says, ‘A thunderstorm’ … it’s about 1961 when China is breaking off with the Soviet Union, rebelling to become its own independent, anti-revisionist centre of world socialist culture, a move that leads eventually to the Cultural Revolution and to all that has happened since.
And Mao wrote this poem in response to a poem that he was given by a colleague, Guo Moruo, a famous literary figure, after having seen a stage production of a drama featuring the monkey king from Journey to the West. And he wrote this poem on a photograph made by a woman called Li Jin, better known to you all as Jiang Qing, his wife, who was also quite a bit of an amateur photographer. And he wrote this poem on the back of that photograph originally. ‘A thunderstorm burst over the earth, so a devil rose from a heap of white bones.’ That’s the Soviet Union. ‘The deluded monk,’ who’s part of this Soviet, Khrushchev, ‘was not beyond the light. But the malignant demon must wreak havoc. The Golden Monkey,’ the jinhou … this year is called the Golden Monkey Year … ‘The Golden Monkey wrathfully swings his massive cudgel and the jade-like heavens,’ or firmament, ‘are cleared of dust. But today’ … 1961/62 … ‘a miasmal mist is once more rising. We hail Sun Wukong, the wonder-worker.’
Why is that even relevant to what we’re saying today? It’s because a whole pile of young people, partly inspired by that poem and by Chairman Mao, in May 1966 gathered at this place, which is a ruin of a garden palace we’ll discuss a bit further on, famous in the Qing Dynasty, the main seat of government for much of the Qing Dynasty. And this is a part of that palace, known as the Yuanyingguan, the View of Distant Oceans. A remnant of a Jesuit-built marble palace. And these young people in 1966, May 31, gathered there from a nearby high school called the Tsinghua Attached High School. Twelve of them gathered and they wrote a proclamation in support of Chairman Mao, in support of the anti-revisionist, anti‑Soviet stance of China, the anti-imperialist, anti-Western stance of China.
And they wrote a proclamation and they declared that they would fall a group … form a group of young people who would rebel against the status quo under the Communist Party that Chairman Mao himself was grating against. They would rebel and support Chairman Mao’s radical ideas. And they were to be Chairman Mao’s Red Guards. Twelve people call themselves hong weibing, the Red Guards. And this is where they gathered to write that proclamation. And they gathered there because this place, Garden of Perfect Brightness … and this is an image from the exhibition … this place had been destroyed in 1860 during the decline of the Qing Dynasty.
And this is a picture, which is a wonderful picture I’d never seen before. I’d seen copies of it, I hadn’t seen a proper coloured illustration. This is made by an artist who travelled with the Anglo-British force that invaded China. Well they travelled to China after failed peace negotiations in late 1860 to enforce a peace treaty following the Second Opium War. And this is the British troops under Earl Elgin, known as Lord Elgin, the son of the famous Elgin Marbles Elgin, marching in on Beijing after the emperor had fled the city and before they carried out a massive act of vandalism, destroying the largest garden palace China had ever seen.
And that garden palace is now the site of this remnant, and this is known as China’s National Ruin. It’s known as the ultimate Chinese symbol of national humiliation, marked from the Opium War period and one of the most significant moments is the destruction of this Qing Dynasty palace. When you see the Chinese talking about regaining territory, defending their territory in Tibet, or Xinjiang, or arguing their role in the East China Sea, the South China Sea or expressing their outrage at western incursions, it relates directly to this long history of what’s known as the Century of Humiliation, from the 1840s onwards.
So this is very relevant to our understanding of China today, it’s relevant to our understanding of Qing history and relevant to this year which was the year that … where we commemorate a disaster known as the Cultural Revolution. The Red Guards declare themselves and they write three documents, three proclamations. They call these proclamations ‘Long Live the Spirit of Rebellion’ 1, 2 and 3. At the end of the first document their author, who I interviewed for … well my friend Carma Hinton and I interviewed for a film we made on the Cultural Revolution, a man called Luo Xiaohai. He’s now an IT specialist and computer engineer in La Jolla in California. In our film he appears in shadows because he doesn’t want to be known by his golfing partners as being the founder of the Red Guard Movement, who wrote the proclamation that helped lead to this mass rebellion.
But the end of their first proclamation, written not long after, about three weeks after they founded the Red Guard Movement, they end their proclamation with the following words. ‘Revolutionaries like us are monkey kings.’ They refer to this, it’s a film from the early 60s, they’re referring to this movie. ‘The monkey kind rebels … causes uproar in heaven, in the heavenly palace.’ Da nao tiangong. ‘We are like monkey kings and the revolutionaries use their golden rods,’ their jinbang, or their jingubang, ‘which are powerful, and they use their supernatural powers which are far-reaching and their magic omnipotence for they possess the great and ultimate thing, Mao Zedong’s invincible thought.’
‘We all of us, we revolutionaries, wield thy golden rods. We show off and display our supernatural powers and use our magic to turn the old world upside down, to smash it to pieces, to pulverise it. We will create chaos, the more chaos the better, the more disaster, the better. The bigger mess, the better. This is our aim.’ And this is the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. And this is something to remember in the Year of the Monkey as we talk about the delightful aspects of Sun Wukong, and his rebelliousness, it’s worth remembering there’s a whole history of rebellion, Chairman Mao’s monkey spirit and this long engagement with the monkey in Chinese history. We’ll come back to the monkey in a moment when we talk about Qing Gardens and also at the end of this talk. But I thought we should start off at least with a little bit of the monkey spirit ourselves.
But today we’re talking about the end of this, the Ming Dynasty, the rise of the Qing Dynasty. A dynasty. Dynasties are … as China has supposedly some twenty-odd dynasties that rise and fall. Dynasties were developed as both a political concept and a practice, really from the second, third century BC. It was believed that a dynasty was founded by a person, a man inevitably, with very much the types of attributes that we find among other great dynastic leaders, such as over on the other side of the world, Augustus. Augustus spoke of himself having both the supernatural energy and power to lead the Roman Empire, which he … well he created the Roman Empire after Julius Caesar’s fall. And he also believed that he was … had the [unclear], the virtue, the virtue to be a ruler who through his moral power and ethical strength, and wisdom would guide the Roman Republic.
In China the same types of ideas were unfolding from the fourth, fifth … third, fourth, fifth century BC. And one particular ruler, through guile, through warfare and through political genius, established himself as China’s first emperor. Qin Shi Huang he’s called. Qin, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty. And he establishes the first, not kingdom, but real dynasty. It only lasts for one more generation, another twenty years and it collapses. But that … his creation of that dynasty with a small territory, the Qin territories, I won’t bore you with maps and so on and so forth.
But this small area inspires others to establish dynasties, combining political, moral and brute force with ideas generated by philosophers and thinkers, the most famous being a man called Confucius and his follower Mencius, who came up with ideas about how virtue and how politics was to be enacted in practical terms. And how this form of politics would find expression in the ideal human being issue, a man who could lead his people to prosperity and to greatness. ‘Cause man was regarded as being the essential … one of the three great forces in the world. Heaven, earth and man. Man was that force that could combine the movements of heaven with the requirements of earth, to create a harmonious environment and the possibility for social stability, harmony and prosperity. And it is this unique man with political strength and martial talent who could establish the type of rightful rulership that was thought to be the basis for real good governance.
This, combined of course with avaricious politics, backstabbing and plotting, led to the establishment of the next many dynasties in China. Each dynasty is established by one family, usually by one leader, who rebels or carries the message of change. Might be of very humble origin. Many of the founding emperors of dynasties were of humble origin, but they believe that they had through their martial valour, their virtue and their cunning, the ability to rule and the moral right to rule. In the west we see the rise of the concept of the Holy Roman Empire and elsewhere with the right to rule, a God given right to rule. In China it was believed that the movement of heaven would determine through politics and warfare who would be the real man and the right family to rule an empire.
The Ming Dynasty was led by one particular family who … it actually was founded … not the family was founded, but the family was led by a man who originally starts out as a monk. He leads a rebellion in the 1360s … in 1340s actually … and he establishes the Ming Dynasty. His whole family, the Zhu family, rules for the next number of centuries until the 1640s. And it is replaced by people who rise up in this part of China. It’s now known as Manchuria. It’s not known at that time as Manchuria. Just a loose coalition of tribes, all grating under the influence of the Ming. They regard these tribes … which have links back to many centuries to other groups … they regard the Ming as being by the 1620s and ’30s as decadent, inefficient and corrupt. And they have constant border clashes. They believe that some of their key leaders and chieftains are murdered by the Ming because the Ming wants to keep control of its borderlands. And this group of people gradually coalesce into a strong fighting force. They organise themselves under eight groups, eight banners, each with a different coloured banner.
And they create also for themselves a history and a lineage of what they are. They speak … generally speak a language that is related to Mongolian, but not entirely. Related slightly to Japanese. It’s a Tungusic language. It’s known as … they call it … by the … really the 1580s and 1590s, they invent a name for the language, and they call it manju, manju gisun, the language of the Manchus, the Manju. Manju is a word nobody knows the real origin of. It’s a word that denotes this loose coalition of peoples who call themselves … we know them as the Manchus. And they develop under a number of strong leaders over a thirty–forty year period, grating against the Ming, which is constantly trying to keep them under control.
And these northerners think that they have a moral right, they are superior, they’re not run by eunuchs and corrupt emperors like the Ming Dynasty. They have the moral right to rule. And they gradually begin to incur on the Ming Dynasty itself, pushing up against the Great Wall and it’s this period in the … from the 16 … the 1580s through to the 1640s that the Great Wall of China, which is now much celebrated, gains its modern form. Billions … the equivalent of billions of dollars are spent to rebuild the Wall and face it in brick. Bricks are made using … by cutting down virtually all of the forests of north‑east and northern China to make bricks for the Wall. It helps impoverish the Ming Dynasty but the Wall is built and extended through this period. And the Wall you go to in Beijing today is built at this time, mostly to keep out the Manchus.
The same time, another rebellion occurs in China. This rebellion leads to an invasion of Beijing. And while that invasion is going on the local generals guarding the Great Wall of this area … around here … there’s a … many passes in the Great Wall to lead into the … into Beijing … into China proper. The general … one of the generals guarding the Great Wall negotiates with the Manchu troops and one of the draft letters of a negotiation between the Manchu troops who say we can come and help you and fight those horrible rebels and re-establish your dynasty if you only let us in through the Great Wall. And then the Chinese who negotiate with them, a draft letter of that exchange of opinions is up in the exhibition if you want to see it. It’s a very precious and wonderful document. And so this … one particular general by the name of Wu Sangui, appalled by the invasion of Beijing by local peasant rebels, opens up the gates of the Great Wall. So the Great Wall there for nearly 2,000 years, rebuilt during the Ming Dynasty at unbelievable and disastrous and perilous cost, is opened and the Manchus come in to help restore order in Beijing, and they decide to stay.
They remove their capital, and we’ll see where their capital is in a moment. They move their capital down from the north to Beijing and establish a new dynasty there which they call the Daicing, the Great Qing Dynasty. They are however a constantly … and this is what they eventually … sorry, getting confused … this is eventually what they do there. Their homeland is up here, but eventually they take over Beijing. They then expand and occupy all of China proper and over the next years, and you can see all the dates, they through diplomacy, marriage and warfare, they extend the territory of the Ming Dynasty to create China’s largest imperial era or dynastic era, and occupy the most land and have the most number of tributary states paying homage to the imperial centre.
And the Manchus are a war-like people, but also over these … and this is a typical Manchu warrior, a very famous image of a Manchu warrior … war-like. They acquire many of the elements of Chinese culture. They learn and you see up in the exhibition, you see books that they translated from the 1620s and 30s onwards. A huge translation project is taken on by the Manchus. Some of them know some Chinese and they exchange, they deal with the Chinese. But they regard the Chinese as … they call them nikan, the vulgar, vile Chinese who are decadent, corrupt, pestilential and inferior. They regard the Chinese as being a backward race. Oddly enough, the Chinese regard them as being a pack of beasts and barbarians. The Manchus expand throughout the former Ming territory as I said and they create … in every major city and provincial city and township they build garrisons. And for the next 200 years or so they occupy the whole of China like a colonial power.
Now this is one of the great points of contention in contemporary Chinese history because Chinese … mainland Chinese scholars claim that the Manchus are completely signified: they turn into Chinese and become exactly like the Chinese. Other scholars argue that the Manchus invade and act like an inner-Asian empire, like a Turkish empire, or like one of these other nomadic empires, or a Mongolian empire and they’re not entirely signified; they create something quite unique in Chinese history. And they do occupy China and change China from being what it was under the Ming to becoming a multi-ethnic and complex, semi-modern nation. So there’s much debate in China today. In fact, last year there was a huge explosion of debate about this very issue with the much–made denunciations of American scholars and others over these very matters. We can discuss that in question time if you’re at all interested. But these issues to do with who the Manchus were, what they occupied, how Chinese they were or not, are not issues of the dead and dusty past. They’re still very vital and part of contemporary Chinese debates and discussions of nationhood.
So the Manchus occupied the whole nation. And they also occupied Beijing and very quickly begin converting it. This is the main … one of the main entry gates to Beijing and this is the Great Qing Gate, Daqingmen it’s called in Chinese. In Manchu … the Manchu is read from left to right, not right to left like Chinese … it just reads Daicing duka. So all of the gates, all of the main buildings in Beijing are either renamed or the old names are kept and Manchu is put up as part of the process of turning the city into a Manchu Inner-Asian empire. We know this gate … still the gate has lasted beautifully for many, many centuries. This period, this is when the Republic of China was founded in 1912, nearly … over a hundred years ago. They turned this … they took this sign down, they find on the back of it Damingmen, they found the words Damingmen, the Great Ming Gate. So the Manchus had just come in and turned the sign around and put their name up.
They then replaced it with this. It just says Zhonghuamen, China Gate. And this was the main passageway, entrance to Beijing with Tiananmen Gate in the front with this … what would become a square behind it. Today … again we go back to our monkeys I’m afraid … today he occupies this spot. They tore down the gate and they built a tomb for Chairman Mao in 1977 and they invited a man who’d been much punished and penalised, a man, an old friend of mine called Huang Yongyu and again we’ll see him later in this talk. He did … one of the reasons he got into trouble in the Cultural Revolution was he wrote a series of comic animal tales known as little bestiaries or can of worms, animal crackers they’re called. And I chose his monkey, he did dozens of these little pictures. He always got himself into trouble by making fun of politics by using little animals and little aphorisms about contemporary politics.
After the end of the Cultural Revolution to make it up to him, ‘cause he was a very famous artist and he educated some of China’s leaders’ children, when Mao died and they built this Lincolnesque statue in Chairman Mao’s mausoleum, they invited Huang Yongyu to design the mural that is now behind Chairman Mao, based on a line from one of Mao’s most famous poems: ‘Jiang shan ru ci duo jiao’ from the poem Snow. And that mural in the background is made by the monkey man, Huang Yongyu. We’ll come back to him because Huang Yongyu has designed two monkey stamps in his life and … sorry, cause it’s the Year of the Monkey I thought I just had to throw this in. It does tangentially lead back to our Daqingmen. This stamp was the first Chinese zodiac stamp ever designed in 1980. It was designed by Huang Yongyu, who is a very … also well-known woodblock carver … woodblock artist and carver. And this is his little rather surprised looking monkey. This year, 36 years later, 2016, Yongyu who is now in his late 90s, he designed this year’s Year of the Monkey stamp as well and that’s … we’ll see that later in this talk.
But the Manchus occupied Beijing and the rest of the country as I said and within a few years in the 1650s the emperor issued an order, what’s really the apartheid order of China. He issued an order for that city and all other cities to block out Chinese from the central part of the city. So this is Beijing, traditional Beijing. We have in the exhibition this rather beautiful map of the Imperial Palace of Beijing in the Daoguang era. But this is simple northern city and southern city. The northern city used to be known as the Tartar city, ie the Manchu city. The southern city was the Chinese city. And that was because in the 1650s the emperor ordered … issued what’s called an yi cheng ling, an order for moving the city, forcing all Chinese occupants of old Beijing out of the city to live in the south city. And the Chinese were not allowed to live in Beijing, nor were they allowed to stay there after five o’clock at night, and they could return in the morning to trade.
But for the next … until really the 1840s and 50s, for 200 years, Chinese were forbidden from what they call zaju to live among the Manchus. ‘Cause the Manchus regarded the Chinese as corrupting, decadent and would … and too much engagement with them would lead to miscegenation, mixing of the races. The Manchus were very concerned about their racial purity. They mostly … the emperors of the Manchu Dynasty mostly married Mongols and Koreans and avoided Chinese. Even though they took on Chinese lovers, the men … but nonetheless it was a big taboo for many, many decades.
And this is, as I said, from the Daoguang period, a map that’s in the exhibition. The Manchus occupied this city and they rule with their family in charge. And they call their family the Aisin Gioro family. The Golden Gioro Clan. Aisin just means gold in Manchu. In the 1910s and ‘20s when the Manchus fell from power, they all took on modern Chinese names and you can come across many former Manchus with names such as Jin. People who are called Mister Jin are often Manchu people. Jin is the Chinese word for aisin or gold. Koreans of course use Jin very commonly. And many other names … there’s a very Australian … famous Australian Chinese artist by the name of Guan Wei. And Guan is one of the surnames that Manchus took on. His original clan name was Guwalgiya or Guerjia in Chinese. And his family renamed themselves as Guan in the 1910s. Though all the Qing former nobles took on these different names as they were forced to become part of the modern world.
So this is a picture … again like a previous image … this is a picture of the Imperial Palace in the … and the centre of imperial power that the Qing occupied. This is the Zhongnanhai that I mentioned earlier. This was in the Qianlong period of the 1750s, 60s before they built this bridge over … there’s a bridge here. Now there’s a gate here. There’s a huge Chang’an Avenue here and Tiananmen Square occupies this area. But during the Qing period this was all part of the pleasure garden and this is now the headquarters of the Communist Party of China, while this is the Imperial Palace.
We’ll be talking about … showing you in a minute an image … many of the works in this wonderful exhibition were produced or printed here in this little building that’s called the … I’ll just show it to you first here. It’s called the Hall of Martial Valour, Wuyingdian. Martial Heroism or something like that. Wuyingdian. It’s this little palace here, or palace building here. And this is a picture of it today. That’s what it looks like, Wuyingdian. And this is in fact the Imperial Printery. When the Qing first moved into Beijing, as I said there’d been a peasant rebellion and warfare. There were … most of the Imperial Palace had been burnt down and for the first few decades the imperial rulers held court in this building. Only later did it turn into a printery and it became the main printery for the Imperial Palace. And this is what the whole Imperial City, this whole area, which is now just a normal part of Beijing, the Imperial City is in the centre, but this whole area was in fact during the Qing Dynasty sequestered even from the Manchus. The whole city, this section was occupied by only the nobility.
The whole city also apart from them forcing out the Chinese to the south, the city itself was divided into eight zones with the eight banners that I mentioned earlier, each occupied a zone. And in each zone opposite banner headquarters were organised so that one zone would have the yellow banner troops and families living in it, but the people who … the main princely palace or major supervisor of the area would be from the green banner. And so on and so forth. So that the banners were constantly overlooking and overseeing each other and providing surveillance. The government, the authorities never trusted anybody just as they don’t do today and at that time, however, it’s far more organised. And the city was far more sequestered. And this is just a picture of the Imperial Palace that I thought was very pretty.
We all know the Imperial Palace as being the centre of power during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The Chinese will … authorities in the People’s Republic, the People’s … the Imperial Palace Museum in Beijing will tell you that this was the seat of government, this is where the rulers lived and worked. In fact it’s not the case. In the Qing Dynasty many people think that this was the place where the emperors held court and would officiate over court ritual and daily … the daily court meetings and audiences. In fact with the … this room is a very famous room containing the official seals that were affixed to all the official documents and memorials sent out from the throne with famous lines from the Daodejing, The Way and Its Power by Laozi. It just says the best way to rule is through inaction, wu wei. And this is in the hand of the second great Qing emperor of Beijing, the Kangxi Emperor, who we’ll meet in a moment. In reality the rulers of the Qing Dynasty mostly worked here and they were … otherwise they worked in garden palaces, and I’ll show you those garden palaces in a moment.
They’re featured in the exhibition. I just mentioned the destruction of the greatest one, the Garden of Perfect Brightness or Yuanmingyuan. This is a place called the Yangxindian, the Hall of the Cultivated Mind. I’ll show you where it is on our … see if I can see it on this map. It’s a small … so this is the main entrance, Tiananmen Gate, the gate of rectitude, the meridian gate, the formal entrance where they would have major proclamations and when there were wars there’d be major parades here and showing of booty and heads of conquered people. Or the ears of conquered people. There’s a special word in Chinese for the ears cut off soldiers, called guo, when you cut off an ear of an enemy and just bring a string of ears. The Romans did the same thing, they’d present the strings of ears to the emperor, or otherwise heads in caskets were presented. And then you’d enter the palace and this is the first main gate into the palace, the Wuyingdian Printery was here. This is the main throne room for official occasions, ror New Year’s celebrations and major banquets. Behind it was the place where the emperor and his new empress would have their connubial relations for the first time. And behind that would be the place where the seals … or state seals were kept.
In the Ming Dynasty the emperors lived in this hall here. The Daqinggong, the Qianqinggong. But in the Qing Dynasty, the emperors actually moved over … where exactly is it … to this little area here, the Yangxindian, which had in front of it a series of buildings that contained the secret military council that advised the emperor on military operations and state surveillance. And behind it … sorry, it’s going to take a … was this building. And this is the entranceway. And why I show this picture, this particular image rather than a nice, clean, pretty one is because in the Qing Dynasty the palace was full of potted plants, flowers and trees, and lots of decoration. In the exhibition we see this wonderful image, there’s a few images like this that … of decorative pavilions that were put up for particular occasions such as birthdays or the New Year, or Buddhist rituals or whatever. The palace was full of these temporary buildings and festive buttresses and festive facades that were … often lined streets or were put up through the palace.
So the palace is not that empty, dull, rather dreary looking building with the massive tiled palaces that you see today. It was rather a place full of colour, decoration, flowers and arrangements and endless numbers of people, thousands of people there on their duties all the time. But what we’d see today is a far more austere environment. So Yangxindian is where the emperors actually ruled and this was the main throne room from which in Beijing the emperor, during the dynasties, from the 1650s or ‘60s really up until the … right up until the 1910s, this was the place where the emperors most often were active in the Imperial Palace.
If one looks at the records though in reality during the reign periods from the 1560s right up until the 1860s, that’s … oh, the 1660s to 1860s, that’s 200 years, the rulers of that period, Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong, three great emperors of the Qing Dynasty, they spent roughly only a quarter to at most a third of their time living here. The rest of the time was spent travelling around the country on tours of inspection or temple tours or living out at one of the garden palaces outside Beijing or at a hunting park far beyond the Great Wall. So, as I said, two-thirds of the time of the emperors was spent outside Beijing itself. In fact one of the famous emperors of the latter part of the dynasty, the Tongzhi emperor said he hated the Imperial Palace so much ‘cause it was like a place with vermillion walls and green roofs and it was like a dank, dark ditch; heidi gou he called it. He despised it. And he started rebuilding one of the garden palaces but ran out of money, so sadly couldn’t proceed.
And this is the actual living quarters of most of the emperors. It’s kept fairly much in the state that it was when it reached its apogee in the 1760s and 1770s. This is the period of what’s called the prosperous age of the Qing Dynasty, its height of commercial wealth, military power, expansion … we saw that huge map, expanded map which is basically the map of China today. The period when the West approached China to engage in trade and the Chinese authorities regarded them, so they were already engaged in enough trade with the West and not needing to proceed any further.
And that is the period of the Sheng. In the title I produced for this talk, I called it Da Qing Shengshuai, sheng being the prosperous age, the height of achievement. And we’ll come back to that topic in a moment because today in China they use the same concept of the prosperous age or the shengshi, its rare moment, these rare moments in Chinese history of social stability, military strength and trading powers as being the moments of the greatest achievement in Chinese time. And the Chinese authorities today under Xi Jinping celebrate exactly the same type of concept.
Throughout this period though … again in the exhibition we have a number of Manchu books, books that are written in the original language of the rulers. As I said there was a massive translation project from the 1600s, 1610s, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s in … during which all the major Chinese classics and major works were translated into Manchu, because the Manchu nobility and the emperors didn’t really read or speak Chinese. And to acquire both the knowledge and the statecraft to rule the new empire they felt that they had to understand the Chinese better. This is an incredibly important element of our own understanding of China because the first major translations of Chinese works into first Latin and then French, later Italian, Spanish, English, German and Russian, were done both from Chinese but also using these Manchu translations done in the 1610s, 20s, 30s and 40s as a crib to better understand the Chinese.
And I say that because … and this is a bit of Manchu and I’ll just explain that in a moment … because the Manchu language is very syntactically similar to Japanese. It’s a Tungusic language that has regular verb changes and tense, has a fixed syntactical order, word order, in which nouns, verbs, adjectives and particles are quite clear. Chinese doesn’t work like that at all. So when the Manchus had these massive … this massive body of work, all the Confucian classics, the major works of poetry and philosophical thought translated into Manchu, Qing Dynasty scholars, the leading minds of the time, had to help the translators determine what the Chinese classics actually meant. So it was the first time in Chinese history that these texts were translated at length into another language. And where Chinese scholars, leading scholars had to actually say, instead of fudging it and saying oh well, this actually means … we think it means this and it’s sort of close enough because this is the language we speak and therefore we don’t really need to explain it, they had to explain in grammatically precise terms exactly what they thought the classics, books of poetry, the Book of Poetry, the Books of Songs, the Confucian Analects, what they actually meant.
It was these translated works that helped the first translators into Latin and other European languages, the Jesuits, to understand what the Chinese classics meant. So until really the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Manchu for scholars of my type of background, sinologists, Manchu was still a relatively required subject. Most people still learnt Manchu because to study Qing history a basic knowledge of Manchu was regarded as imperative. I was a very late comer to this field and I didn’t learn any Manchu until five or six years ago and I was lucky enough to study under Mark Elliott, one of the great New Qing historians at Harvard University. And it is a very, very different language. We just see it throughout the Imperial Palace. I mentioned the Great Qing Gate here in the Imperial Palaces. This is a … the retirement palace of one of the emperors, the Qianlong emperor. This is the last studio palace at the very north of the Imperial Palace on the north-east side and it just says in Chinese the Juanqinzhai, the Studio for Exhausted Work. Diligence. I’m so tired so this is where I relax. It has an incredibly beautiful theatre, has a wonderful place for eating and for various other entertainments and for calligraphy writing and painting, and it’s called the Studio for Exhausted Diligence.
The Manchu terms are sometimes just a transliteration of the Chinese, sometimes they’re a translation into Manchu. In this case the Manchu, which is on the right hand side just reads Juanqinzhai. It’s exactly the same as the Chinese. However often … this is one of the great … this is a hall … the Hall of Political Diligence, this is where I really work. This is how it translated into Manchu itself, and it reads dasan i kicebe diyan. Dasan is political work, to engage in political work. Kicebe, which is the second word, means diligent or hard working. And the last word is a transliteration of the Chinese, diyan, which is dian, means palace or place.
So throughout Beijing you go to the Yonghegong, the old Yonghe Buddhist Temple or the Confucian Temple and each of these places has different types of Manchu along with the Chinese. Sometimes in the case of the Yonghegong it has Manchu, Mongolian, Tibetan and Chinese, the four major languages of the Qing Dynasty. Plus in fact also Uyghur. There were five official languages in the Qing Dynasty and Manchu is the main language, it is called the National Language. And only after the Qing Dynasty collapsed in the 1910s, 1912 in fact, did the National Language become Chinese standard … what we now call standard Chinese.
As I said the emperors moved in, they forced all the Chinese out. They established their dynasty with their family in charge and the eight collateral clans of the eight banners who had helped them create a powerful military machine that conquered China and created this colonised Manchu and eventual Manchu-Chinese-Tibetan- Mongolian-Uyghur hybrid nation, but it was ruled by leaders like … this was a young Kangxi emperor. The Kangxi emperor ruled for 60 years from the 1660s, right … 40s, 50s, and established and codified the new Qing rule and also stabilised the regime, and was regarded as one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history. He was open to foreign influence. He had Jesuits at court who he studied from and learnt from.
He established experimental agricultural lands. In fact I showed you Chairman Mao’s residence, it’s built on one of Kangxi’s rice … experimental rice paddies and so on and so forth. He thought he was such a great ruler and the Qing Dynasty was so unique in Chinese history, but when he went to see the tomb in Nanking, outside Nanking, of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty who I mentioned earlier, that monk who’d led that rebellion hundreds of years earlier, Zhu Yuanzhang, the Hongwu emperor of the Ming Dynasty. He went to the tomb and he set up in front of the tomb a stele, a carved … this carved block on top of an auspicious animal, auspicious sort of turtle-looking animal, a bixi. And it just says ‘Zhi long Tang Song’. It means literally, ‘Rule superior to the Tang and the Song,’ meaning my dynasty, I have outclassed the Tang and the Song. The Ming Dynasty doesn’t even require, deserve mention and this is sitting right in front of the tomb of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty. Quite an affront. Anyway, nice calligraphy though.
He learned very painstakingly. In fact one of his palaces, Bishu shanzhuang, his famous summer palace, has a miswritten character and throughout the rest of the dynasty the character had to be miswritten in copying, because people had to copy his calligraphy. This is what he looked like in his older years. This is the typical Qing Dynasty official portrait. In this exhibition we don’t see any portraits of emperors. In fact what’s so delightful about this exhibition, though I am obsessed with the Qing and talking about the ruling classes, is the exhibition shows you the other side of life, the side of life of imperial examinations and local handicrafts and literature, and culture. And the landmasses of China. Religion philosophy in thought. It shows the underside of a society that’s actually the living side of the society. This is the ruling part of China that still obsesses people. And is incredibly important because it enables so much else that went on in the society.
As I said these emperors ruled in Beijing and we see here … see this little map. But they never sat still. They didn’t like being in the Imperial Palace. They were originally from nomadic or travelling stock. They believed in the virtues of martial arts and warfare and the hunt, and they constantly moved around. Up in the right hand corner we see that spot called Chengde. This is where that mis … the miswritten name of the summer imperial hunting lodge was. The emperors, every summer, Qianlong in particular, the Kangxi and Qianlong emperors, who reigned altogether for 120 years, they would spend three to four months a year in this area and even further north on the hunt. The hunt was used to bring the nobles together, just as hunting in England was used, or in Germany, to bring nobles together, to invite other tribes from Mongolia and elsewhere to work with the Manchus, also to develop martial skills because the Manchus were constantly fighting.
They fought on the northern borders. They fought and expanded their territory into Xinjiang. Xinjiang after all, the restive part of north-west China, just means the new territories, the conquered territories. There were constant wars right throughout the dynasty. I know that Xi Jinping, the Party-state Chairman of everything of China today says that the Chinese are unique in the world in that they have a heping jiyin, a so-called peaceful gene. It’s not evident in the Qing Dynasty. There is constant … not only constant warfare, but constant celebration of warfare. In fact … I mean it’s always worth looking back … I was trained in Roman and Greek history at high school, just like Malcolm, who’s—Malcolm Turnbull—who is always using the Peloponnesian War to talk about international relations. We all read the same high school textbooks but it is … a grounding in Roman or Greek history does prepare one very well for understanding the type of constant warfare in the Qing period in particular.
So we have Chengde, the hunting ground up here in the north to continue to escape the heat of the south, but also to revive and keep going the martial traditions of the original part of Manchuria, which is right up there. Panshan is a beautiful scenic spot that the Qianlong Emperor discovered very late in life. He … they all travelled far to the south to look at other parts of China, but Qianlong … the Qianlong Emperor who reigned from the 1730s to the 1790s, he famously said if I’d only known about Panshan as a young man I’d have never travelled south, it’s so beautiful. Then there’s the Garden of Perfect Brightness that we’ll show images of in a moment, and these other gardens in this area. Once a very beautiful part of outside Beijing, to the north-west of Beijing, with plentiful water sources and extraordinary lakes and gardens. Now much of the water has dried up. The gardens still remain but they’re far drier than they once were.
And there were numerous other imperial residences and palaces in that area. All of the nobles, all the children of nobles all had residences, houses and palaces in this whole area. And now the only people who really live here in a palatial environment is the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, because there’s one of the gardens that’s out here … it’s a number of five famous gardens, one of them called Yuquanshan, the Garden of the Jade Spring, is still a secret resort for the Communist Party leaders, and has been used now for the last 70 years as their particular little hideaway in Beijing. They have other hideaways dug into the mountains now but they’re not quite as scenic naturally because they’re like bunkers. I believe that’s where Xi Jinping spends much of his time, hiding from the various assassins who are trying to get at him.
Beijing itself, the garden palaces, and then these two lots of tombs. The emperors, as they die, and they all die sooner or later, what in Chinese is called ‘after 10,000 years’, wannian zhi hou, after 10,000 years ie when you die … in China today when an elderly party leader dies they say it’s bai nian zhi hou, you only get a hundred years. After a hundred years means when you’re dead. Back in these days it was said after 10,000 years the emperors would be buried in one or other of the tombs. You’ll see a map of the tomb, an outline of one of the tombs ‘cause there is one in the exhibition. They were places where the emperors travelled frequently ‘cause of the ancestral cult, paying respect to one’s progenitors, to one’s clan from which all one’s imperial power came, was an essential element of dynastic ritual.
On the first and 15th month … 15th day of each month the emperor would send delegates, usually princes or princes of the blood, to pay … to perform sacrifices at both of these tombs. So the imperial family is not only itself moving around to the various garden palaces or out to the … out to Chengde or down to the south, but they’re sending delegates to these tombs constantly. And there’s therefore a constant movement of imperial power and representatives to temples and to the ancestral shrines at the tombs.
As I said, this is where they lived for real though and I’m showing it again because I think I have a much better picture. This is where the Yangxindian, the Hall of Cultivated … the Cultivated Mind, where the emperor actually lived and ruled. And here is the Military Commission through which the emperor got all of his reports. Down in the south all … some memorials come to the throne, they’re all copied, sent up here for review and then sent in here for the emperor to peruse. Occasionally the emperor would go to court and meet officials here or sometimes in here, but mostly audiences were held here. Imperial concubines all had their own … empress … the empresses either lived here or here, and the concubine … leading concubines all had their own courtyards in this part of the building. And usually the princes of the blood all had their residences here and they went to school here or here. And when they reached a certain age they would be given a title and allowed to live outside the palace in one of the princely palaces of the city. And we’ll be talking about princely palaces towards the end of the talk.
This is Qianlong’s … this is the Kangxi Emperor’s son. I put it in there ‘cause he’s got a monkey and because it’s sort of cute. This is the man who becomes the Yongzheng Emperor. The man who in his youth … the Kangxi Emperor … as I said the Kangxi Emperor, like Qianlong and Yongzheng and all the other emperors, they all have garden residences outside Beijing. Next to Peking University there’s a place called the Changchunyuan, the Garden of Eternal Spring. That’s where the Kangxi Emperor spent most of his time. He gave this son … one of his favourite sons … he was the 14th son, who managed to kill most of his brothers in his gradual move towards taking power. He gave this son, called Yinzhen … he was known as Prince Yong, and if you go to the Yonghegong the Buddhist … the big Buddha temple in Beijing, that was his city residence. In the countryside his father gave him a residence just north of his own one, and he called it the Garden of Perfect Brightness.
And this is … in the exhibition there’s this map of the … it’s called the Five Gardens and the Three Mountains, three mountains in the background. There’s five … much debate about what the five gardens are. But there’s the Kangxi Garden, there’s the three gardens of the Garden of Perfect Brightness. This is a map of what the Garden of Perfect Brightness looks like. So the Kangxi Emperor had his garden down here, next to … Peking University’s here. The Tsinghua High School was here. Red Guard Movement was established here. This is the terrace that the Kangxi Emperor gave his son, Yongzheng, when he was quite young, said this is a pretty place, you can have a residence here. And gradually Yongzheng … when he became emperor in 1712, he gradually began to build more and more buildings around here. He particularly loved this. This is when he was still quite young. He built a swastika shaped building where he studied and read and wrote and it’s still … you can see the foundations of it still.
As I said this was all destroyed by the British and French in the 1860s. And Yongzheng over time, and his son, the Qianlong Emperor, from the 1712s and then the Jiaqing Emperor, over three generations, up until 1860, they built and added to these gardens. I could bore you to tears with the details of these gardens, but what they did was at first began building a virtual representation of all of China. This is … there are nine islands here and they represent the nine islands, or nine districts of traditional China. And gradually throughout the garden the emperors built … first Yongzheng and then his son Qianlong … they built little palaces and vignettes and scenes inspired by Chinese history and poetry and philosophy. And there’s hundreds of scenes and hundreds of places that were built in this garden palace that became … it was like the Chinese Versailles, except more imaginative and more dainty in many ways.
And over the years it expanded and the original garden, Garden of Perfect Brightness, was added to by … up in the north, the north-east, this Garden of Extended Spring and the Garden of Refined Spring. This is where those western palaces are with the Red Guards established their movement. They had their high school just here. And this is all added on in the 1820s, 30s, 40s and 50s. As I said most of it was … much of it was laid waste during the invasion of the 1860s. That’s the swastika pavilion, just for your amusement. And this is a picture of the Yongzheng Emperor in formal regalia. And you’ll notice the emperors usually actually, though they had these expansive spaces and travelled all over the place, when they actually were in their studies, and if you’ve been to imperial studies and rooms in the Imperial Palace or in other, what they call detached palaces around China, they always end up in these little boxes where they just sat with no views, nothing. Just sitting reading or reading manuscripts, or waking up at three in the morning and dealing with court documents. They worked extremely hard and although they travelled around a great deal and had a bit of a nice time, nonetheless it was a very hard life.
And … because they had to show off that they were also … had acquired Chinese culture and were superior masters of it. All of the emperors wrote a lot of poetry, wrote a lot of calligraphy and studied the classics and replicated much of the traditional thought to show off to their Chinese subjects that they were fit to rule. The Qianlong Emperor, the son of this man who we’ll see in a moment, I’ll just … let’s see where … I’ll talk about him in a moment … he wrote some 40,000 poems. I’ve only read about 50 of them and I must say they’re pretty terrible, but he wrote a lot all the time. So every day he’d be dashing off a few verses, again not unlike European rulers, but nonetheless a lot of production.
This is the last bridge I think exists in the … only real extant bridge in the Garden of Perfect Brightness. And I’ll just show this little scene here for fun really. It’s up in Chengde in that summer hunting park. It’s a pavilion called the Pavilion of Loving Lotuses. I mention it because of this. When he was about 12 years old, the young … this young lad, the Yongzheng Emperor’s son, one of his sons, young smart man, called Hongli, it was his personal name. Hongli. And you’ll see him always mentioned … the Communists always call emperors by their personal name, they have no respect whatsoever. The young Hongli was called over by his father, Yongzheng, when Kangxi was here on a summer hunt … called over …this is full sun, this is Lois Conner’s work, my colleague’s work. In the middle of the winter as you can see all the lotuses are dead. There’s a big lotus pond. And the Yongzheng Emperor, the Yongzheng … at that time … Prince Yong called over his young son, Hongli, to say hello to his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor.
And the Kangxi Emperor said oh, you’re such a smart lad, he’d already favoured this young man. And said surely you know Zhou Dunyi’s famous Song Dynasty essay ‘On loving lotuses.’ It’s a very famous essay, most Chinese people study it in high school. And the Hongli recited it off by heart on the spot. It speaks of the lotus grows out of mud but is ever pure. It represents this, that and the other. It’s a very nice little essay. And the Kangxi Emperor was much impressed and later said to Yongzheng, or Prince Yong, this boy should be … you should consider him to be your chosen successor. And eventually he did become the successor. And this is one of the most famous paintings of this Qing period, the only painting in which two emperors appear together. This is the Yongzheng Emperor on the left hand side, and the young Qianlong Emperor, or future Qianlong Emperor, Hongli, when he was just in his teens.
And it says … the lines say, ‘This picture’, xiezhen Japanese word shashin, the Japanese word for photograph, but in Chinese it means a representation of reality. ‘This picture of us’, drawn by the Italian Jesuit missionary … I’ve added all those words … ‘Lang Shining’, which is Castiglione. ‘This picture by Castiglione shows me’ wo shao nian shi … ‘shows me in my youth,’ ru shi, ‘just when I came of age’, just when I entered the room, came of age. ‘And now,’ it says po ran zhe bu zhi ci shi shei, Po ran zhe, means, ‘this old white-haired thing can barely recognise who that is.’ Meaning now, looking back at that, just when I was in my youth, how can I even recognise myself. A very famous little moment. I threw it in ‘cause it’s … I like it a lot. And I like the word po ran since I feel I’m a rather doddery, white-haired old thing myself. Although without imperial pretension I should say.
So this is the young Qianlong Emperor, again in imperial regalia, with his young empress. And he like all of the other emperors … I’m just sort of giving you some idea of what these characters are like … he also had to perform as a competent hunter. His various guises. Here he is having … they all loved having portraits of themselves made. As a literary figure, twirling his beard, doing some calligraphy. A very ardent and powerful calligrapher. I can’t stand his handwriting, it’s everywhere in China. His father Yongzheng had a far more delicate hand, but he was regarded as being a rather evil emperor, so people don’t like it. But nonetheless he had a very … spies, nasty emperors and despots often had very good calligraphy in Chinese history. It just happens to be the way it is. Chairman Mao’s favourite spy, Kang Sheng, has the best calligraphy of any of the Communists. And a guy called Qian Shi who died last year, the head of the Secret State … State Secret Service in the 1980s and 90s, he also had the best hand of any of his contemporaries. Xi Jinping cannot write for … anyway, terrible. And here’s the Qianlong Emperor with his family in the sort of pose of loving father.
And I think this is … and this is the Qianlong Emperor as … the Qianlong … from Kangxi onwards, the Qing emperors, much influenced by Mongolian, their Mongolian predecessors in those days being inter-marrying with. They were all converts to Gelugpa, the Yellow Hat School of Tibetan Buddhism, and were very faithful Tibetan Buddhists. They used Buddhism of course as a political technique and as a way of engaging with the Tibetan world, but they were also believers in non‑Confucian values. They were not only people who combined these five different state languages, had different racial connections with Mongolians and others, very different from the Han peoples in the past. But they also had heterodox religious beliefs. They had their own shamanism, which we see a lot of evidence of in the exhibition. And they also believed in Buddhism.
And the exhibition shows … I think I’ve managed to lose this image … oh, no, it’s there. And the exhibition shows this very beautiful picture of the Wutai Mountain which is out south-west of Beijing. South … north-west of Beijing. Which is one of the most famous centres of Tibetan Buddhism in China proper. And the Qianlong Emperor famously went there and paid obeisance to that place. He also copied elements of Tibetan architecture and religious buildings and temples in Chengde at that summer hunting lodge, and this is a representation … pictorial representation, and this is what it actually looks like. It’s a … it’s known as the mini Potala, copy of the Potala that we see in Tibet itself.
As I said … I’ll just rush through some of these slides. The emperors travelled endlessly. This is a classic picture of the emperors … Emperor Kangxi travelling to the south. Each … both Qianlong and before him the Kangxi Emperor went on six major tours of the southern provinces to inspect and in China today they still use the same word, nanxun, southern tour, to inspect the south. To show off their power. To demonstrate their strength. And also to make connections with the wealthy families and the worthies of the south. And to better know what the situation in the south was so they could more effectively tax those leading families in the south. So it’s a very complex and there’s a wonderful literature on the complex commercial and political relationship between the emperors and their travels.
During the south … in the exhibition we have a wonderful picture, a very large image of the imperial-era West Lake in Hangzhou, one of the great cities of the south, which is a place that the emperors particularly enjoyed going to. Kangxi and Qianlong went there six times. Chairman Mao spent most of his life there. The Cultural Revolution was actually run from Hangzhou, from West Lake. Not from this spot, this is called Gushan, Solitary Island. On that island is the remains of an imperial residence and this is a photograph of … by Lois Conner. It doesn’t look anything like an imperial residence, but I think it’s a very beautiful image. So I just put it in there ‘cause I like it a lot. Looking out towards West Lake. It later became a residence for Sun Yat-sen when he visited Hangzhou. Chairman Mao lived in two different villas up to the … one was up to the right and the other up to the left. Wangzhuang and Liuzhuang. And he spent up to six months a year from the late 1950s until his death living in Hangzhou. How very pleasant for the great chairman.
The empire became … under the Qing rulers, became a centre of tribute … what’s it called … tribute nations came to the empire to pay tribute to the court and also to receive presents and develop filial or relationships of fealty between the imperial centre and the various countries or areas around China, what we call now Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Nepal, the Ryukyu Islands, what’s known as Okinawa, and Japan. All … and Korea, all had trading relations and also tribute relations with China. The Chinese today are trying to argue that they have a unique way of dealing with their regional partners that is based on this long tradition of tributary states. I don’t think it’s really the case, but nonetheless they like to hark back to this period of the Qing Dynasty of exchange with other parts of the neighbourhood, the so-called … the Peripheral Nations they call them. If you look at our yearbook Shared Destiny, we go into quite a bit of detail about how the Chinese today are dealing with these areas. They would also … so there’s people from all over the place providing tribute.
Also the emperors in response would provide for those tributary nations … they would provide entertainment. They’d have wrestling matches, archery matches and provide banquets for people, usually in the large grounds outside the Yuanmingyuan, or over in that summer palace in Chengde. So often the tributes who came in from Mongolia or Korea or wherever, and they’d be invited to travel to the palace … the country palaces and then be wined and dined and be put up for a few months while they partook of imperial largesse. And this is a typical wrestling match, allowing the foreigners … to entertain the foreigners. Today you have various other types of entertainments like Chinese circuses and so on and so forth. When the emperors travel, I’ll just show you a few quick pictures of their … this is a typical … a Qianlong-period travelling pen case. This is all these bits and pieces, there’s a few votary books and ink stones and things like that that he used.
And this is a typical travelling banquet scene. The emperor would always be presented with many dishes, mostly of the emperor’s … we know from all the records that they only ever ate two or three dishes, but they were always provided with 10, 20, 30, 40, auspicious … no, not 40 … auspicious number of dishes which after they ate would then be divided up and presented to members of the Imperial Clan as a favour for them.
The Qianlong Emperor, who was the most powerful of all the late rulers, and also in his later doddering years, one of the most corrupt. In his retirement he created in the Imperial Palace … and if you go to the palace this is where the Wuyingdian, the printery is. This is just a sketch of the palace itself. This is the main halls. This is where the emperor actually lived and ruled. And there’s all these other major edifices. In his later years he had a whole palace … this whole area here is known as the Retirement Palace of the Qianlong Emperor. He had a copy of the whole palace made here and he moved over here and gave up the imperial throne because he didn’t want to outrule his grand ancestor, the Kangxi Emperor, who’d ruled for 60 years. And therefore Qianlong retired in his 59th year and gave the throne over to his son. This is him as what is called … Emperor Emeritus, I suppose you’d call him, Taishang Huang. And this is a picture of himself and just literally it says Taishang Huang, Taishang Huangdi, the Emeritus Emperor. Like a former Pope. And this is him in his old age.
He did nonetheless continue to really interfere in politics and I mentioned this and this decline because it’s in this period that the Chinese economy goes into decline. Trade with other countries is blocked. And also one of Qianlong’s favourites … this is Qianlong, sorry, his votary throne with his name on it. But his favourite man by the name of Heshen is the most corrupt of all the officials of that … in that era. And I mention him because Heshen’s fate is very sad. The Qianlong Emperor dies and he’s … Heshen is immediately accused of 19 great crimes and presented what they say was … presented with a silk … that is been given a length of silk cord with which to hang himself. His personal fortune is confiscated, it’s some ten times greater than all the money in the Imperial Treasury and he’s hidden it away.
It’s relevant because … so I’ll just pass over these guys, because this man … and I’ll say why he’s important just to end this talk … this man known as Prince Gong, he is the man who ends up living in Heshen’s house. This is … this house is now known as Prince Gong’s Mansion. So when Heshen was in power from the 1770s until his death just after the Qianlong Emperor, he lived in this house in the centre of Beijing, and it’s here that they dug up this fortune in money. And later Prince Gong was given this palace to live in. Prince Gong is relevant because in our exhibition we have this wonderful diagram … it looks rather … weird, but it’s a diagram of an Imperial Tomb.
It’s the Imperial Tomb of the emperor who oversees the disastrous Second Opium War. He’s called the Xianfeng Emperor. He is the great-grandson of Qianlong and he is the one who has to oversee the decline, the rapid decline of China. He dies in shame, having fled Beijing when the western troops enter the city. The place which is an issue that is … an incident that’s marked as I said by the Red Guard declaration of their support for Chairman Mao and eternal revolution. And the Xianfeng Emperor is buried out in the eastern tombs with eventually his two main wives, one of whom we’ll mention in a moment. And it’s just wonderful to have a look at this wonderful image, ‘cause it shows all the ritual pathways and the symbolism of the tomb itself. And this is actually where the imperial tomb is and though no-one would ever be allowed in this particular area, this is where final obeisance and sacrifices would be made in front of the imperial tomb. And all this is protected. Again these tombs were the site of constant movement and propitiation.
I mention him because Xianfeng Emperor’s brother is this guy, Prince Gong. Yixin. Yixin is the man who has to clean up after his brother dies, and he has to clean up the mess. He cleans up the mess … it’s got slightly out of order … with the emperor’s wife. The emperor’s second wife, a woman who becomes known as the Cixi Empress. She and Prince Gong carry out a coup and take over power in 1861 and to try and rebuild China after the disastrous Second Opium War and the invasion of Beijing. And Prince Gong does it, one, living in his mansion in Beijing and attending court every day with the Empress Dowager, and secondly in his imperial palace residence out in the suburbs, which used to be Heshen’s palace residence next to the Garden of Perfect Brightness. It’s now known as Peking University.
And that’s where Prince Gong spent most of his time when not in Beijing itself. His own house has long gone, but has been rebuilt as the Beijing Economics Research Centre in Peking University, called Langrunyuan. And that’s where he spent most of his time plotting with the Empress Dowager to rule China. Prince Gong was the man who established, even in the decline of the Qing Dynasty, he established the first Chinese Foreign Ministry. He established the first translation schools in China. He was in charge of what’s called the Self-Strengthening Movement, the attempt for China to reform and modernise its economy and its industry.
Today in China we speak of the Reform Period that began in 1978 under Deng Xiaoping. The real reform period of China began in 1861 under Prince Gong who was the real progenitor of modern China in so many ways. A Manchu prince, a prince of the blood, who is an extraordinary figure. Sadly … we’ve mentioned the Garden of Perfect Brightness throughout this talk … sadly as I said the garden had been destroyed in 1860. The Empress Dowager now in power with great influence and basically a fairly ignorant person from Suzhou by background, she misses the garden that she used to live in most of the time and so she organises her bureaucrats and with the support of her young son emperor, the Tongzhi emperor, she organises petitions for the throne to rebuild the palace. And so she begins to have … behind the scenes she manipulates the court to rebuild the Yuanmingyuan at the cost of 10 … what would be now billions of dollars.
Prince Gong organises ministers and bureaucrats throughout the country to petition the throne to oppose the rebuilding of the palace. And this leads to him eventually been thrown out of power by the emperor with the … at the insistence of the Empress Dowager. It’s a sad development because his plans for the development and modernisation of China are thwarted as a result … though things continue … they’re thwarted as a result. It’s only when China goes into rapid decline in the 1890s that the Empress Dowager tries to bring him back to court when China enters into official conflict, or real conflict, with Japan, and she begs him to come back to power. He does so but dies within a year and she famously goes to this palace and this is where his body is laid out in state, and she supposedly kneels in front of his catafalque and expresses her regret at having waited so long to bring him back into power. But this is … his death and the decline of his rule and his influence on the court is what leads directly to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty. I mean it contributes massively to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty.
I just throw up here three last images, one of the Qianlong Emperor at his height of power. Another image which is produced by the Economist a couple of years ago, when people said that Xi Jinping was the Qianlong of the modern era, and it produced him with champagne and little party paraphernalia, as well as … as you can see on his robe are a whole pile of other types of insignia. And that’s where we say farewell to that China. We deal with the China today that has been enjoying a prosperous age. In the past one has always noted that prosperous ages are best to be announced after the age has ended, rather than at the height of the age. The Chinese have a very unfortunate habit in the Qing Dynasty and onwards to announce prosperous ages in the middle of the age, usually just at the time as they’re going into decline. So I’m not entirely impressed by the fact that the Xi Jinping era is known as the latest and greatest prosperous age in Chinese history.
Nonetheless and we shall finish with this latest Huang Yongyu representation of a little monkey, far happier looking than that rather troubled monkey we saw earlier. He’s holding a pantao, supposedly a pantao. It doesn’t look like a pantao. One of those flat peaches, it’s actually a large peach. The Monkey King is supposed to have stolen peaches from the imperial banquet of the Mother of the West. These peaches of longevity, so he’s always associated with these peaches. And he’s looking very pleased with himself. Yongyu at least has survived the Cultural Revolution and Reform and continues to prosper and so I hope you all do the same during the Year of the Monkey.
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