Qianlong Emperor

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Qianlong Emperor
清 郎世宁绘《清高宗乾隆帝朝服像》.jpg
Flag of the Qing dynasty (1889-1912).svg 6th Qing Emperor of China
Reign 8 October 1735 – 9 February 1796
Predecessor Yongzheng Emperor
Successor Jiaqing Emperor
Time in Power 8 October 1735 – 7 February 1799
Empress Empress Xiaoxianchun
Ulanara, the Step Empress
Empress Xiaoyichun
Imperial Noble Consort Imperial Noble Consort Huixian
Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui
Imperial Noble Consort Qinggong
Imperial Noble Consort Jiwen
Imperial Noble Consort Shujia
among others...
Kurun Princess Hejing
Heshuo Princess Hejia
Kurun Princess Hejing
Heshuo Princess Heke
Kurun Princess Hexiao
Full name
Chinese: Aixin-Jueluo Hongli 愛新覺羅弘曆
Manchu: Aisin-Gioro hala i Hung Li
Posthumous name
Emperor Fatian Longyun Zhicheng Xianjue Tiyuan Liji Fuwen Fenwu Qinming Xiaoci Shensheng Chun
Temple name
Qing Gaozong
House House of Aisin-Gioro(爱新觉罗)
Father Yongzheng Emperor
Mother Empress Xiaoshengxian
Born (1711-09-25)25 September 1711
Died 7 February 1799(1799-02-07) (aged 87)
Burial Eastern Qing Tombs, Zunhua
Qianlong Emperor
Chinese name
Chinese 乾隆帝
Tibetan name
Tibetan ཆན་ལུང་
lha skyong rgyal po
Mongolian name
Mongolian Тэнгэрийг Тэтгэгч хаан
Tengeriig Tetgegch Khaan
Manchu name
Manchu script ᠠᠪᡴᠠᡳ ᠸᡝᡥᡳᠶᡝᡥᡝ
Romanization Abkai Wehiyehe Hūwangdi

The Qianlong Emperor (25 September 1711 – 7 February 1799), formerly romanized as the Chien-lung Emperor, was the sixth emperor of the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty, and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China proper. Born as Hongli (formerly Hung-li), the fourth son of the Yongzheng Emperor, he reigned officially from 11 October 1735 to 8 February 1796.1 On 8 February, he abdicated in favor of his son, the Jiaqing Emperor – a filial act in order not to reign longer than his grandfather, the illustrious Kangxi Emperor.[1] Despite his retirement, however, he retained ultimate power until his death in 1799. Although his early years saw the continuation of an era of prosperity in China, his final years saw troubles at home and abroad converge on the Qing Empire.

Early years[edit]

Hongli was adored both by his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor and his father, the Yongzheng Emperor. Some historians argue that the main reason why Kangxi Emperor appointed Yongzheng as his successor was because Qianlong was his favourite grandson. He felt that Hongli's mannerisms were very close to his own. As a teenager he was very capable in martial arts, and possessed a high literary ability.

After his father's succession in 1722, Hongli became the Prince Bao (宝亲王/寶親王). Like many of his uncles, Hongli entered into a battle of succession with his older half-brother Hongshi, who had the support of a large faction of court officials, as well as Yinsi, Prince Lian. For many years the Yongzheng Emperor did not appoint anyone to the position of Crown Prince, but many in court speculated his favoring of Hongli. Hongli went on inspection trips to the south, and was known to be an able negotiator and enforcer. He was also chosen as chief regent on occasions, when his father was away from the capital.

Accession to the throne[edit]

Even before Hongli's succession was read out to the assembled court, it was widely known who the new emperor would be. The young Hongli had been a favorite of his grandfather, Kangxi, and his father alike; Yongzheng had entrusted a number of important ritual tasks to him while Hongli was still a prince, and included him in important court discussions of military strategy. Hoping to avoid repetition of the succession crisis that had tainted his own accession to the throne, he had the name of his successor placed in a sealed box secured behind the tablet over the throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing Gong 乾清宮). The name in the box was to be revealed to other members of the imperial family in the presence of all senior ministers only upon the death of the Emperor. Yongzheng died suddenly in 1735, the will was taken out and read out before the entire Qing Court, and Hongli became the 6th Manchu Emperor of China. He took the era name of Qianlong (乾隆), 乾 means heaven, 隆 means eminence, which means "Lasting Eminence".

Frontier wars[edit]

Further information: Ten Great Campaigns
Military costume of Emperor Qianlong. Musée de l'Armée, Paris.
Chinese soldier of Emperor Qianlong, by William Alexander, 1793.
The Qianlong Emperor Viewing Paintings
Qianlong Emperor watching a wrestling match.
The emperor in old age
The Qianlong Emperor in Armor on Horseback, by Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione(Long shining)(1688–1766 AD).
Consorts of Emperor Qianlong
Consorts and children of Emperor Qianlong
Emperor Qianlong in his study, painting by Giuseppe Castiglione, 18th century

The Qianlong Emperor was a successful military leader. Immediately after ascending the throne, he sent armies to suppress the Miao rebellion. His later campaigns greatly expanded the territory controlled by the Qing dynasty. This was made possible not only by Qing strength, but also by the disunity and declining strength of the Inner Asian peoples. Under Qianlong, the Dzungar Khanate was incorporated into the Qing dynasty's rule and renamed Xinjiang, while to the West, Ili was conquered and garrisoned. The incorporation of Xinjiang into the Qing empire resulted from the final defeat and destruction of the Dzungars (or Zunghars), a coalition of Western Mongol tribes. The Qianlong Emperor then ordered the Zunghar Genocide. According to Qing scholar Wei Yuan, 40% of the 600,000 Zunghar people were killed by smallpox, 20% fled to Russia or Kazakh tribes, and 30% were killed by the army,[2][3] in what Clarke described as "the complete destruction of not only the Zunghar state but of the Zunghars as a people."[4] Historian Peter Perdue has argued that the decimation of the Dzungars was the result of an explicit policy of massacre launched by the Qianlong emperor[3] (See Zunghar Khanate#Fall).

Khalkha Mongol rebels under Prince Chingünjav had plotted with the Dzungar leader Amursana and led a rebellion against the Qing at the same time as the Dzungars. The Qing crushed the rebellion and executed Chingünjav and his entire family.

For the compilation of works on the Dzungar campaign like Strategy for the pacification of the Dzungars (Pingding Zhunge'er fanglue), the Qing hired Zhao Yi and Jiang Yongzhi at the Military Archives Office, in their capacity as members of the Hanlin.[5] Poems glorifying the Qing conquest and genocide of the Dzungar Mongols were written by Zhao.[6][7] Zhao Yi wrote the Yanpu zaji in "brush-notes" style, where military expenditures of the Qianlong Emperor's reign were recorded.[8]

The Qianlong Emperor was praised as being the source of "eighteenth-century peace and prosperity" by Zhao Yi.[9]

The Zunghar genocide has been compared to the Qing extermination of the Jinchuan Tibetan people in 1776, which also occurred under Qianlong's reign.[10] When victorious troops returned to Beijing, a celebratory hymn was sung in their honor. A Manchu version of the hymn was recorded by the Jesuit Amoit and sent to Paris.[11]

Throughout this period there were continued Mongol interventions in Tibet and a reciprocal spread of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia. After the Lhasa riot of 1750 he sent armies into Tibet and firmly established the Dalai Lama as ruler, with a Qing resident and garrison to preserve Qing presence.[12] Further afield, military campaigns against Nepalese, and Gurkhas forced these peoples to submit and send tribute.

The Qianlong Emperor sought to conquer Burma to the south, but the Sino–Burmese War ended in complete failure. He initially believed that it would be an easy victory against a barbarian tribe, and sent only the Green Standard Army based in Yunnan, which borders Burma. The Qing invasion came as the majority of Burmese forces were deployed in their latest invasion of Siam. Nonetheless, battle-hardened Burmese troops defeated the first two invasions of 1765–1766 and 1766–1767 at the border. The regional conflict now escalated to a major war that involved military maneuvers nationwide in both countries. The third invasion (1767–1768) led by the elite Manchu Bannermen nearly succeeded, penetrating deep into central Burma within a few days' march from the capital, Ava.[13] But the Bannermen of northern China could not cope with "unfamiliar tropical terrains and lethal endemic diseases", and were driven back with heavy losses. After the close-call, King Hsinbyushin redeployed his armies from Siam to the Chinese front. The fourth and largest invasion got bogged down at the frontier. With the Qing forces completely encircled, a truce was reached between the field commanders of the two sides in December 1769. The Qing kept a heavy military lineup in the border areas of Yunnan for about one decade in an attempt to wage another war while imposing a ban on inter-border trade for two decades. When Burma and China resumed a diplomatic relationship in 1790, the Qing unilaterally viewed the act as Burmese submission, and claimed victory.[14]

The circumstances in Vietnam were not successful either. In 1787 the last Le king Le Chieu Thong fled Vietnam and formally requested that he be restored to his throne in Thanglong (Hanoi today). The Qianlong Emperor agreed and sent a large army into Vietnam to remove the Tay Son (peasant rebels who had captured all of Vietnam). The capital, Thanglong, was conquered in 1788 but a few months later, the Chinese army was defeated and the invasion turned into a debacle due to the surprise attack during Tết by Nguyen Hue, the second and most capable of the three Tay Son brothers. The Chinese[who?] gave formal protection to the Le emperor and his family, and would not intervene in Vietnam for another 90 years.

Despite setbacks in the south, overall the Qianlong Emperor's military expansion nearly doubled the area of the already vast empire, and brought into the fold many non-Han-Chinese peoples—such as Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs, Evenks and Mongols—who were potentially hostile. It was also a very expensive enterprise; the funds in the Imperial Treasury were almost all put into military expeditions.[15] Though the wars were successful, they were not overwhelmingly so. The army declined noticeably and had a difficult time facing some enemies: the Jin Chuan area took 2–3 years to conquer—at first the Qing army were mauled, though Yue Zhongqi later took control of the situation. The battle with the Dzungars was closely fought, and caused heavy losses on both sides.

At the end of the frontier wars, the army had started to weaken significantly. In addition to a more lenient military system, warlords became satisfied with their lifestyles. Since most of the warring had taken place, warlords no longer saw any reason to train their armies, resulting in a rapid military decline by the end of Qianlong's reign. This is the main reason for the military's failure against the White Lotus Sect, at the very end of Qianlong's years.

Cultural achievements[edit]

Festive robe with dragons, clouds, waves and mountains

The Qianlong Emperor, like his predecessors, took his cultural role seriously. First of all, he worked to preserve the Manchu heritage, which he saw as the basis of the moral character of the Manchus and thus of the dynasty's power. He ordered the compilation of Manchu language genealogies, histories, and ritual handbooks and in 1747 secretly ordered the compilation of the Shamanic Code, published later in the Siku Quanshu. He further solidified the dynasty's cultural and religious claims in Central Asia by ordering a replica of The Potala Palace, the Tibetan temple, to be built on the grounds of the imperial summer palace in Chengde.[16] In order to present himself to Tibetans and Mongols in Buddhist rather than in Confucian terms, he commissioned a thangka, or sacred painting, depicting him as Manjusri, the Boddisatva of Wisdom.[17]

The Qianlong Emperor was a major patron and important "preserver and restorer" of Confucian culture. He had an insatiable appetite for collecting, and acquired much of China's "great private collections" by any means necessary, and "reintegrated their treasures into the imperial collection."[18] Qianlong, more than any other Manchu emperor, lavished the imperial collection with his attention and effort:

The imperial collection had its origins in the first century B.C., and had gone through many vicissitudes of fire, civil wars and foreign invasions in the centuries that followed. But it was Qianlong who lavished the greatest attention on it, certainly of any of the Manchu rulers.... One of the many roles played by Qianlong, with his customary diligence, was that of the emperor as collector and curator. ...how carefully Qianlong followed the art market in rare paintings and antiquities, using a team of cultural advisers, from elderly Chinese literati to newly fledged Manchu connoisseurs. These men would help the emperor spot which great private collections might be coming up for sale, either because the fortunes of some previously rich merchant family were unraveling or because the precious objects acquired by Manchu or Chinese grandees during the chaos of the conquest period were no longer valued by those families’ surviving heirs. Sometimes, too, Qianlong would pressure or even force wealthy courtiers into yielding up choice art objects: he did this by pointing out failings in their work, which might be excused if they made a certain “gift,” or, in a couple of celebrated cases, by persuading the current owners that only the secure walls of the forbidden City and its guardians could save some precious painting from theft or from fire.[19]

His massive art collection became an intimate part of his life; he took landscape paintings with him on his travels in order to compare them with the actual landscapes, or to hang them in special rooms in palaces where he lodged, to inscribe them on every visit there.[18] "He also regularly added poetic inscriptions to the paintings of the imperial collection, following the example of the emperors of the Song dynasty and the literati painters of the Ming. They were a mark of distinction for the work, and a visible sign of his rightful role as Emperor. Most particular to the Qianlong Emperor is another type of inscription, revealing a unique practice of dealing with works of art that he seems to have developed for himself. On certain fixed occasions over a long period he contemplated a number of paintings or works of calligraphy which possessed special meaning for him, inscribing each regularly with mostly private notes on the circumstances of enjoying them, using them almost as a diary."[18]

"Most of the several thousand jade items in the imperial collection date from his reign. The Emperor was also particularly interested in collecting ancient bronzes, bronze mirrors and seals,"[18] in addition to pottery, ceramics and applied arts such as enameling, metal work and lacquer work, which flourished during his reign; a substantial part of his collection is in the Percival David Foundation in London. The Victoria and Albert Museum and The British Museum also have good collections of Qianlong period Art.

"The Qianlong Emperor was a passionate poet and essayist. In his collected writings, which were published in a tenfold series between 1749 and 1800, over 40,000 poems and 1,300 prose texts are listed, making him one of the most prolific writers of all time. There is a long tradition of poems of this sort in praise of particular objects ('yongwu shi), and the Qianlong Emperor used it in order to link his name both physically and intellectually with ancient artistic tradition."[18]

One of Qianlong’s grandest projects was to "assemble a team of China’s finest scholars for the purpose of assembling, editing, and printing the largest collection ever made of Chinese philosophy, history, and literature."[19] Known as The Four Treasuries project, or Siku Quanshu (四庫全書) it was published in 36,000 volumes, containing about 3450 complete works and employing as many as 15,000 copyists. It preserved numerous books, but was also intended as a way to ferret out and suppress political opponents, requiring the "careful examination of private libraries to assemble a list of around eleven thousand works from the past, of which about a third were chosen for publication. The works not included were either summarized or—in a good many cases—scheduled for destruction."[19]

Burning of books and modification of texts[edit]

Some 2,300 works were listed for total suppression and another 350 for partial suppression. The aim was to destroy the writings that were anti-Qing or rebellious, that insulted previous "barbarian" dynasties, or that dealt with frontier or defense problems.[20] The full editing of Siku Quanshu was completed in about ten years; during these ten years, 3100 titles (or works), about 150,000 copies of books were either burnt or banned. Of those volumes that had been categorized into Siku Quanshu, many were subjected to deletion and modification. Books published during the Ming dynasty suffered the greatest damage.[21]

The authority would judge any single character or any single sentence's neutrality; if the authority had decided these words, or sentence were derogatory or cynical towards the rulers, then persecution would begin.[22] In Qianlong's time, there were 53 cases of literary inquisition, resulting in the victims being beheaded, or corpses being mutilated, or victims being slowly sliced into pieces until death (Lingchi).

Literary works[edit]

In 1743, after his first visit to his Manchu homeland, Qianlong used Chinese to write his "Ode to Mukden," (Shengjing fu/Mukden-i fujurun bithe), a fu in classical style, as a poem of praise to Mukden, at that point a general term for what was later called Manchuria, describing its beauties and historical values. He describes the mountains and wildlife, using them to justify his belief that the dynasty would endure A Manchu translation was then made. In 1748 he ordered a jubilee printing in both Chinese and Manchu, using some genuine pre-Qin forms, but Manchu styles which had to be invented and which could not be read. [23]


Qianlong claimed to be able to speak Manchu, Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan, Chagatai (Turki or Modern Uyghur) and Tangut. He commissioned projects such as new Manchu dictionaries, both monolingual and multilingual like the Pentaglot. Among his directives were to eliminate directly borrowed loanwords from Chinese and replace them with calque translations which were put into new Manchu dictionaries. This showed in the titles of Manchu translations of Chinese works during his reign which were direct translations contrasted with Manchu books translated during Kangxi's reign which were Manchu transliterations of the Chinese characters.[citation needed]

Qianlong commissioned the Yuding Xiyu Tongwen Zhi 欽定西域同文志 ("Imperial Western Regions Thesaurus") which was a thesaurus of geographic names in Xinjiang in Oirat Mongol, Manchu, Chinese, Tibetan, and Turki (Modern Uyghur).

Tibetan Buddhism[edit]

The Qianlong Emperor's faith in Tibetan Buddhism had been questioned in recent times because Qianlong indicated that he supported the Yellow Church (the Tibetan Buddhist Gelukpa sect) just to "maintain peace among the Mongols" since the Mongols were followers of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama of the Yellow Church, and Qianlong had this explanation placed in the Beijing Tibetan Buddhist Yonghe Gong temple on a stele entitled "Lama Shuo" (on Lamas) in 1792, and he also said it was "merely in pursuance of Our policy of extending Our affection to the weak." which led him to patronize the Yellow Church.[24]

This explanation of only supporting the "Yellow Hats" Tibetan Buddhists for practical reasons was used to deflect Han criticism of this policy by Qianlong, who had the "Lama Shuo" stele engraved in Tibetan, Mongol, Manchu and Chinese, which said: "By patronizing the Yellow Church we maintain peace among the Mongols. This being an important task we cannot but protect this (religion). (In doing so) we do not show any bias, nor do we wish to adulate the Tibetan priests as (was done during the) Yuan dynasty."[25][26]

Qianlong turned the Palace of Harmony (Yonghegong) into a Tibetan Buddhist temple for Mongols in 1744 and had an edict inscribed on a stele to commemorate it in Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese, and Manchu, with most likely Qianlong having first wrote the Chinese version before the Manchu.[27]

The Khalkha nobles' power was deliberately undermined by Qianlong when he appointed the Tibetan Ishi-damba-nima of the Lithang royal family of the eastern Tibetans as the 3rd reincarnated Jebtsundamba instead of the Khalkha Mongol which they wanted to be appointed.[28] The decision was first protested against by the Outer Mongol Khalkha nobles and then the Khalkhas sought to have him placed at a distance from them at Dolonnor, but Qianlong snubbed both of their requests, sending the message that he was putting an end to Outer Mongolian autonomy.[29]


Qianlong was an aggressive builder. In the hills northwest of Beijing, he expanded the villa known as the "Garden of Perfect Brightness" (Yuanmingyuan) that had been built by his father. He eventually added two new villas, the "Garden of Eternal Spring" and the "Elegant Spring Garden." In time, the Old Summer Palace would encompass 860 acres, five times larger than the Forbidden City. In honor of the sixtieth birthday of his mother, Empress Dowager Chongqing, Qianlong ordered a lake at the "Garden of Clear Ripples" dredged, named it Lake Kunming, and renovated a villa on the eastern shore of the lake.[30]

He also expanded the imperial palace at Rehe, beyond the Great Wall. Rehe eventually became effectively a third capital and it was at Rehe that Qianlong held court with various Mongol nobles. Qianlong also spent time at the Mulan hunting grounds north of Rehe, where he held the imperial hunt each year.

European styles[edit]

For the Old Summer Palace, Qianlong commissioned the Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione for the construction of the Xiyanglou (西洋樓), or the Western-style mansion, to satisfy his taste for exotic buildings and objects. He also commissioned the French Jesuit Michel Benoist, to design a series of timed waterworks and fountains complete with underground machinery and pipes, for the amusement of the Imperial family. The French Jesuit Jean Denis Attiret also became a painter of the Emperor.[31] Jean-Damascène Sallusti was also a court painter. He co-designed, with Castiglione and Ignatius Sichelbart, the Battle Copper Prints.[32][33]

Other architecture[edit]

During his reign the Emin Minaret was built in Turpan to commemorate Emin Khoja, a Uyghur leader from Turfan who submitted to the Qing as a vassal in order to obtain Qing help to fight the Zunghars.

Ming dynasty Imperial descendants[edit]

In 1725 the Yongzheng Emperor bestowed the hereditary title of Marquis on a descendant of the Ming dynasty Imperial family, Zhu Zhiliang, who received a salary from the Qing government and whose duty was to perform rituals at the Ming tombs, and was also inducted the Chinese Plain White Banner in the Eight Banners. Later the Qianlong Emperor bestowed the title Marquis of Extended Grace posthumously on Zhu Zhuliang in 1750, and the title passed on through twelve generations of Ming descendants until the end of the Qing dynasty.


Main article: Eight Banners

Qianlong instituted a policy of Manchufying the Eight Banner system, which was the basic military and social organization of the dynasty. In the early Qing, Nurhaci and Hong Taiji categorized Manchu and Han ethnic identity within the Eight Banners based on culture, lifestyle, and language, not ancestry or genealogy. Han Bannermen were an important part of the Banner System. Qianlong changed this definition to one of descent, and demobilized many Han Bannermen and urged Manchu Bannermen to protect their cultural heritage, language, and martial skills. Qianlong redefined the identity of Han Bannermen by saying that they were to be regarded as of having the same culture and being of the same ancestral extraction as Han civilians[34] Conversely, he emphasized the martial side of Manchu culture, and reinstituted the practice of the annual imperial hunt as begun by his grandfather, leading contingents from the Manchu and Mongol banners to the Mulan hunting grounds each autumn to test and improve their skills.[35]

Qianlong's view of the Han Bannermen also differed from that of his grandfather Kangxi in deciding that loyalty in itself was most important quality. Qianlong sponsored biographies which depicted Chinese Bannermen who defected from the Ming to the Qing as traitors and glorifing Ming loyalists.[36] Some of Qianlong's inclusions and omissions on the list of traitors were political in nature, such as including Li Yongfang out of his dislike for his descendant Li Shiyao and excluding Ma Mingpei out of concern for his son Ma Xiongzhen's image.[37]

The identification and interchangeability between "Manchu" and "Banner people" (Qiren) began in the 17th century. Banner people were differentiated from civilians (Chinese: minren, Manchu: irgen, or Chinese: Hanren, Manchu :Nikan) and the term Bannermen was becoming identical with "Manchu" in the general perception. Qianlong referred to all Bannermen as Manchu, and Qing laws did not say "Manchu" but "Bannermen".[38]

Chinese political identity and frontier policy[edit]

Qianlong and the Qing Emperors since Shunzhi had identified China and the Qing as the same, and in treaties and diplomatic papers the Qing called itself "China".[39] The Qianlong Emperor rejected earlier ideas that only Han could be subjects of China and only Han land could be considered as part of China, instead he redefined China as multiethnic, saying in 1755 that "There exists a view of China (zhongxia), according to which non-Han people cannot become China's subjects and their land cannot be integrated into the territory of China. This does not represent our dynasty's understanding of China, but is instead that of the earlier Han, Tang, Song, and Ming dynasties."[40]

The Manchu Qianlong Emperor rejected the views of Han officials who said Xinjiang was not part of China and that he should not conquer it, putting forth the view that China was multiethnic and did not just refer to Han.[41] Qianlong compared his achievements with that of the Han and Tang ventures into Central Asia.[42]

Han settlement[edit]

Han Chinese farmers were resettled from north China by the Qing to the area along the Liao River in order to restore the land to cultivation.[43] Wasteland was reclaimed by Han Chinese squatters in addition to other Han who rented land from Manchu landlords.[44] Despite officially prohibiting Han Chinese settlement on the Manchu and Mongol lands, by the 18th century the Qing decided to settle Han refugees from northern China who were suffering from famine, floods, and drought into Manchuria and Inner Mongolia so that Han Chinese farmed 500,000 hectares in Manchuria and tens of thousands of hectares in Inner Mongolia by the 1780s.[45] Qianlong allowed Han Chinese peasants suffering from drought to move into Manchuria despite him issuing edicts in favor of banning them from 1740-1776.[46] Chinese tenant farmers rented or even claimed title to land from the "imperial estates" and Manchu Bannerlands in the area.[47] Besides moving into the Liao area in southern Manchuria, the path linking Jinzhou, Fengtian, Tieling, Changchun, Hulun, and Ningguta was settled by Han Chinese during Qianlong Emperor's rule, and Han Chinese were the majority in urban areas of Manchuria by 1800.[48] To increase the Imperial Treasury's revenue, the Qing sold formerly Manchu only lands along the Sungari to Han Chinese at the beginning of the Daoguang Emperor's reign, and Han Chinese filled up most of Manchuria's towns by the 1840s according to Abbe Huc.[49]

Later years[edit]

In his later years, Qianlong was spoiled with power and glory, becoming disillusioned and complacent in his reign, placing his trust in corrupt officials like Yu Minzhong (于敏中), and later Heshen (和珅).

As Heshen was the highest ranked minister and most favoured by Qianlong at the time, the day-to-day governance of the country was left in his hands, while Qianlong himself indulged in the arts, luxuries and literature. When Heshen was executed it was found that his personal fortune exceeded that of the country's depleted treasury, amount to 900,000,000 taels of silver, the total of 12 years of Treasury surplus of Manchu Qing court.[50]

Qianlong began his reign with about 33,950,000 taels of silver in Treasury surplus.[citation needed] At the peak of Qianlong's reign, around 1775, even with further tax cuts, the treasury surplus still reached 73,900,000 taels, a record unmatched by his predecessors, Kangxi or Yongzheng both of whom had implemented remarkable tax cut policies.[citation needed]

However, due to numerous factors such as long term embezzlement and corruption by officials, frequent expeditions South, huge palace constructions, many war and rebellion campaigns as well as his own extravagant lifestyle, all of these cost the treasury a total of 150,200,000 silver taels.[citation needed] This, coupled with his senior age and the lack of political reforms, ushered the beginning of the gradual decline and eventual demise of the Qing dynasty and empire, casting a shadow over his glorious and brilliant political life.[51]

Macartney Embassy[edit]

Main article: Macartney Embassy
Lord Macartney's embassy, 1793.
The French Jesuit Joseph-Marie Amiot (1718–1793) was the official translator of Western languages for Emperor Qianlong.
Illustration depicting the last European delegation to be received at the Qianlong Court in 1795 – Isaac Titsingh (seated European with hat, far left) and A.E. van Braam Houckgeest (seated European without hat).

During the mid-eighteenth century, Qianlong began to face pressures from the West to increase foreign trade. The proposed cultural exchange between the British Empire at the time and the Qing Empire collapsed due to many factors. Firstly, there was a lack of any precedent interaction with overseas foreign kingdoms apart from neighbouring tributory states to guide Qianlong towards a more informed response. Furthermore, competing world-views that were incompatible between China and Britain, the former holding entrenched beliefs that China was the "central kingdom", and the latter's push for rapid liberalization of trade relations, worsened ties.

George Macartney was sent by King George III as ambassador extraordinary to firstly congratulate the Emperor on reaching his 80th year and more importantly seek a range of trade concessions. He was granted an audience with the Qianlong Emperor on two separate days, the second of which coincided with the Emperor's 82nd birthday. There is continued discussion about the nature of the audience, and what level of ceremonials were performed. Demands from the Qing Court that the British Trade ambassadors kneel and perform the kowtow were strongly resisted by Macartney, and debate continues as to what exactly occurred, differing opinions recorded by Qing courtiers and British delegates.[52]

A description of the Emperor is provided in the account of one of the visiting Englishmen, Aeneas Anderson:

The Emperor is about five feet ten inches in height, and of a slender but elegant form; his complexion is comparatively fair, though his eyes are dark; his nose is rather aquiline, and the whole of his countenance presents a perfect regularity of feature, which, by no means, announce the great age he is said to have attained; his person is attracting, and his deportment accompanies by an affability, which, without lessening the dignity of the prince, evinces the amiable character of the man. His dress consisted of a loose robe of yellow silk, a cap of black velvet with a red ball on the top, and adorned with a peacock's feather, which is the peculiar distinction of mandarins of the first class. He wore silk boots embroidered with gold, and a sash of blue girded his waist.[53]

It is uncertain whether Anderson actually saw the Emperor, or repeated another's sighting, as he was not involved in the ceremonies.

Macartney expressed conclusions in his memoirs which were widely disseminated:

The Empire of China is an old, crazy, first-rate Man of War, which a fortunate succession of able and vigilant officers have contrived to keep afloat for these hundred and fifty years past, and to overawe their neighbours merely by her bulk and appearance. But whenever an insufficient man happens to have the command on deck, adieu to the discipline and safety of the ship. She may, perhaps, not sink outright; she may drift some time as a wreck, and will then be dashed to pieces on the shore; but she can never be rebuilt on the old bottom.[54]

Titsingh Embassy[edit]

A Dutch embassy arrived to the Qianlong court in 1795, and would turn out to be the last occasion in which any European appeared before the Chinese Court within the context of traditional Chinese imperial foreign relations.[55]

Representing Dutch and Dutch East India Company interests, Isaac Titsingh traveled to Beijing in 1794–95 for celebrations of the sixtieth anniversary of the Qianlong Emperor's reign.[56] The Titsingh delegation also included the Dutch-American Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest,[57] whose detailed description of this embassy to the Chinese court was soon after published in the U.S. and Europe. Titsingh's French translator, Chrétien-Louis-Joseph de Guignes published his own account of the Titsingh mission in 1808. Voyage a Pékin, Manille et l'Ile de France provided an alternate perspective and a useful counterpoint to other reports which were then circulating. Titsingh himself died before he could publish his version of events.

In contrast to Macartney, Isaac Titsingh, the Dutch and VOC emissary in 1795 did not refuse to kowtow. In the year following Mccartney's rebuff, Titsingh and his colleagues were much feted by the Chinese because of what was construed as seemly compliance with conventional court etiquette.[58]


In October 1795, Qianlong officially announced that in the spring of the following year he would voluntarily abdicate his throne and pass the crown to his son. It was said that Qianlong had made a promise during the year of his ascension not to rule longer than his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor, who had reigned for 61 years.

Qianlong anticipated moving out of the Hall of Mental Cultivation in the Forbidden City. The Hall had been conventionally dedicated for the exclusive use of the reigning sovereign, and in 1771 the emperor ordered the beginning of construction on what was ostensibly intended as his retirement residence in another part of the Forbidden City: a lavish, two-acre walled retreat called the Ningshou gong,[19] or "Palace of Tranquil Longevity", today more commonly known as the Qianlong Garden.[59] The complex, completed in 1776, is currently undergoing a ten-year restoration led by the Palace Museum in Beijing and the World Monuments Fund (WMF). The first of the restored apartments, Qianlong's Juanqinzhai, or "Studio of Exhaustion From Diligent Service," began an exhibition tour of the United States in 2010.[59]

Qianlong resigned the throne at the age of 85, in the 60th year of his reign, to his son, the Jiaqing emperor in 1795. For the next four years, he held the title "Retired Emperor (太上皇)," though he continued to hold on to power and the Jiaqing Emperor ruled only in name. He never moved into his retirement suites in the Qianlong Garden.[1] He died in 1799.[51][60]


A legend, popularized in fiction, is that Qianlong was the son of Chen Yuanlong of Haining. In his choice of heir to the throne, the Kangxi Emperor required not only that the heir be able to govern the Empire well but that the heir's son be of no less calibre, thus ensuring the Manchu's everlasting reign over the country. The Yongzheng Emperor's own son was a weakling and he surreptitiously arranged for his daughter to be swapped for Chen Yuanlong's son, who became the apple of Kangxi's eye. Thus, Yongzheng got to succeed the throne, and his "son", Hongli, subsequently became the Qianlong Emperor. Later, Qianlong went to the southern part of the country four times, he stayed in Chen's house in Haining, leaving behind his calligraphy and also frequently issued imperial decrees making and maintaining Haining as a tax-free state.

However there are major problems with this story. First, Yongzheng's eldest surviving son Hongshi was only 7 when Hongli was born, far too young to make the drastic choice of replacing a child of royal birth with an outsider (and risking disgrace if not death). Second, Yongzheng had three other princes who survived to adulthood and had the potential to ascend the throne. Indeed, since Hongshi was the son forced to commit suicide, it would have been far more logical for him to be the adopted son, if any of them were.

Stories about Qianlong's six visits to the Jiangnan area disguised as a commoner have been a popular topic for many generations. In total, he has visited Jiangnan eight times, as opposed to the Kangxi Emperor's six inspections.



  • Imperial Concubines:
    • Imperial Concubine Yi (儀嬪), from the Huang (黃) clan.
    • Imperial Concubine Xun (恂嬪), from the Huoshuote (霍碩特) clan.
    • Imperial Concubine Gong (恭嬪), from the Lin (林) clan.
    • Imperial Concubine Yi (怡嬪), from the Bo (柏) clan.
    • Imperial Concubine Shen (慎嬪), from the Bai'ergesi (拜爾噶斯) clan.
    • Imperial Concubine Cheng (誠嬪), from the Niuhuru clan.
  • Noble Ladies:
    • Noble Lady Shun
    • Lady Silin-Gioro (西林覺羅氏)
    • Lady Bo (柏氏)
    • Noble Lady Rui (瑞貴人), from the Suochuoluo (索綽絡) clan.
    • Noble Lady Duo (多貴人), from the Borjigit clan.
    • Noble Lady Wu (武貴人)
    • Noble Lady Jin (金貴人)
    • Noble Lady Xin (新貴人)
    • Noble Lady Fu (福貴人)
  • First Class Female Attendants:
    • First Class Female Attendant Bai (白常在)
    • First Class Female Attendant Kui (揆常在)
    • First Class Female Attendant Ning (寧常在)
    • First Class Female Attendant Ping (平常在)
    • First Class Female Attendant Na (那常在)



# Name Mother Birth date Death date Title
1 Yonghuang (永璜) Imperial Noble Consort Zhemin 5 July 1728 21 April 1750 Prince Ding'an of the First Rank (定安親王)
2 Yonglian (永璉) Empress Xiaoxianchun 9 August 1730 23 November 1738 Crown Prince Duanhui (端慧太子)
3 Yongzhang (永璋) Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui 15 July 1735 26 August 1760 Prince Xun of the Second Rank (循郡王)
4 Yongcheng (永珹) Imperial Noble Consort Shujia 21 February 1739 5 April 1777 Prince Lüduan of the First Rank (履端親王)
5 Yongqi (永琪) Noble Consort Yu 23 March 1741 16 April 1766 Prince Rongchun of the First Rank (榮純親王)
6 Yongrong (永瑢) Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui 28 January 1744 13 June 1790 Prince Zhizhuang of the First Rank (質庄親王)
7 Yongcong (永琮) Empress Xiaoxianchun 27 May 1746 29 January 1748 Prince Zhe of the First Rank (哲親王)
8 Yongxuan (永璇) Imperial Noble Consort Shujia 31 August 1746 1 September 1832 Prince Yishen of the First Rank (儀慎親王)
9 (Unnamed) Imperial Noble Consort Shujia 2 August 1748 11 June 1749
10 (Unnamed) Consort Shu 12 June 1751 7 July 1753
11 Yongxing (永瑆) Imperial Noble Consort Shujia 22 March 1752 10 May 1823 Prince Chengzhe of the First Rank (成哲親王)
12 Yongji (永璂) Empress Ulanara 7 June 1752 17 March 1776 Beile (貝勒)
13 Yongjing (永璟) Empress Ulanara 2 January 1756 7 September 1757
14 Yonglu (永璐) Empress Xiaoyichun 31 August 1757 3 May 1760
15 Yongyan (永琰) Empress Xiaoyichun 13 November 1760 2 September 1820 Jiaqing Emperor
16 (Unnamed) Empress Xiaoyichun 13 January 1763 6 May 1765
17 Yonglin (永璘) Empress Xiaoyichun 17 June 1766 25 April 1820 Prince Qingxi of the First Rank (慶僖親王)


The personal names of the Qianlong Emperor's daughters are not known.

The Qianlong Emperor adopted a niece, Heshuo Princess Hewan (和碩和婉公主; 24 July 1734 – 2 May 1760). She was the daughter of the Qianlong Emperor's younger half-brother Hongzhou and Hongzhou's primary spouse Lady Ujaku (烏札庫氏).

# Title Mother Birth date Death date Spouse
1 (Unnamed) Empress Xiaoxianchun 1728 1729
2 (Unnamed) Imperial Noble Consort Zhemin 1731 1731
3 Kurun Princess Hejing (固倫和敬公主) Empress Xiaoxianchun 28 June 1731 15 August 1792 Sebutengbalezhu'er (色布騰巴勒珠爾) of the Borjigit clan
4 Heshuo Princess Hejia (和碩和嘉公主) Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui 24 December 1745 29 October 1767 Fulungga (福隆安) of the Fuca (富察) clan
5 (Unnamed) Empress Ulanara 1753 1755
6 (Unnamed) Noble Consort Xin 24 August 1755 27 September 1758
7 Kurun Princess Hejing (固倫和靜公主) Empress Xiaoyichun 10 August 1756 9 February 1775 Lawangduo'erji (拉旺多爾濟) of the Borjigit clan
8 (Unnamed) Noble Consort Xin 1758 1767
9 Heshuo Princess Hege (和碩和恪公主) Empress Xiaoyichun 17 August 1758 14 April 1780 Jalantai (札蘭泰) of the Uya (烏雅) clan.
10 Kurun Princess Hexiao (固倫和孝公主) Consort Dun 2 February 1775 13 October 1823 Fengšen Yendehe (豐紳殷德) of the Niuhuru clan


See also[edit]


^1 The Qianlong era name, however, started only on 12 February 1736, the first day of that lunar year. 8 February 1796 was the last day of the lunar year known in Chinese as the 60th year of Qianlong.


  1. ^ a b Jacobs, Andrew. "Dusting Off a Serene Jewel Box," New York Times. 31 December 2008.
  2. ^ Wei Yuan, 聖武記 Military history of the Qing Dynasty, vol.4. “計數十萬戶中,先痘死者十之四,繼竄入俄羅斯哈薩克者十之二,卒殲於大兵者十之三。”
  3. ^ a b Perdue 2005, p. 287.
  4. ^ Clarke 2004, p. 37.
  5. ^ Man-Cheong, Iona (2004). Class of 1761. Stanford University Press. p. 180. ISBN 0804767130. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  6. ^ Schmidt, J. D. (2013). Harmony Garden: The Life, Literary Criticism, and Poetry of Yuan Mei (1716-1798). Routledge. p. 444. ISBN 1136862250. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  7. ^ Schmidt, Jerry D. (2013). The Poet Zheng Zhen (1806-1864) and the Rise of Chinese Modernity. BRILL. p. 394. ISBN 9004252290. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  8. ^ Theobald, Ulrich (2013). War Finance and Logistics in Late Imperial China: A Study of the Second Jinchuan Campaign (1771–1776). BRILL. p. 32. ISBN 9004255672. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  9. ^ Chang, Michael G. (2007). A Court on Horseback: Imperial Touring & the Construction of Qing Rule, 1680-1785. Volume 287 of Harvard East Asian monographs (illustrated ed.). Harvard University Asia Center. p. 435. ISBN 0674024540. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  10. ^ Theobald, Ulrich (2013). War Finance and Logistics in Late Imperial China: A Study of the Second Jinchuan Campaign (1771–1776). BRILL. p. 21. ISBN 9004255672. Retrieved 22 April 2014. 
  11. ^ "Manchu hymn chanted at the occasion of the victory over the Jinchuan Rebels". Manchu Studies Group. 2012-12-18. Retrieved 2013-02-19. 
  12. ^ Dabringhaus, Sabine (2011). "Staatsmann, Feldherr und Dichter". Damals (in German) 43 (1): 16–24. 
  13. ^ Hall, pp. 27–29
  14. ^ Dai, p.145
  15. ^ Schirokauer, Conrad & Clark, Donald N. Modern East Asia: A Brief History, 2nd ed. pp. 35. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston & New York. 2008 ISBN 978-0-618-92070-9.
  16. ^ Jonathan D. Spence. The Search for Modern China. (New York: Norton, 3rd, 2013 ISBN 9780393934519), p. 98.
  17. ^ Freer Sackler
  18. ^ a b c d e Holzworth, Gerald (12 November 2005). "China: the Three Emperors 1662–1795". The Royal Academy of Arts. 
  19. ^ a b c d Spence, Jonathan (Winter 2003–2004). "Portrait of an Emperor, Qianlong: Ruler, Connoisseur, Scholar". ICON Magazine / WMF (World Monuments Fund). pp. 24–30. Retrieved 12 July 2011 
  20. ^ Alexander Woodside, "The Ch’ien-Lung Reign," in Peterson, Willard J. (December 2002). The Cambridge History of China. Cambridge University Press. p. 290. ISBN 978-0-521-24334-6. 
  21. ^ Guy (1987), p. 167.
  22. ^ Guy (1987), p. 166.
  23. ^ Elliott (2000), p. 615-617.
  24. ^ Dunnell & Elliott & Foret & Millward 2004, pp. 123-4.
  25. ^ Lopez 1999, p. 20.
  26. ^ Berger 2003, p. 35.
  27. ^ Berger 2003, p. 34.
  28. ^ Berger 2003, p. 26.
  29. ^ Berger 2003, p. 17.
  30. ^ Rawski, Evelyn The Last Emperors: A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions (University of California Press, 1998) pgs. 23 & 24
  31. ^ 藏品/绘画/王致诚乾隆射箭图屏
  32. ^ Le Bas, Jacques-Philippe (1770). "A Victory Banquet Given by the Emperor for the Distinguished Officers and Soldiers". World Digital Library (in French). Xinjiang, China. Retrieved 28 May 2013. 
  33. ^ Jacques Gernet (31 May 1996). A History of Chinese Civilization. Cambridge University Press. p. 522. ISBN 978-0-521-49781-7. Retrieved 28 May 2013. 
  34. ^ Crossley 1999, pp. 55-56.
  35. ^ Elliott 2001, pp. 184-186.
  36. ^ Crossley 1999, pp. 291-292.
  37. ^ Crossley 1999, p. 293.
  38. ^ Elliott 2001, p. 133.
  39. ^ Zhao 2006, p. 7.
  40. ^ Zhao 2006, p. 4.
  41. ^ Zhao 2006, pp. 11-12.
  42. ^ Millward 1998, p. 25.
  43. ^ Reardon-Anderson 2000, p. 504.
  44. ^ Reardon-Anderson 2000, p. 505.
  45. ^ Reardon-Anderson 2000, p. 506.
  46. ^ Scharping 1998, p. 18.
  47. ^ Reardon-Anderson 2000, p. 507.
  48. ^ Reardon-Anderson 2000, p. 508.
  49. ^ Reardon-Anderson 2000, p. 509.
  50. ^ "Qianlong(in Chinese text)". hudong.com. Retrieved 24 October 2008. 
  51. ^ a b Palace Museum: Qianlong Emperor (乾隆皇帝)
  52. ^ For a conventional account of the audience question, see Alain Peyrefitte, The Immobile Empire, translated by Jon Rotschild (New York: Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1992.)
    For a critique of the above narrative, see James L. Hevia, Cherishing Men from Afar: Qing Guest Ritual and the Macartney Embassy of 1793.(Durham: Duke University Press, 1995).
    For a discussion on Hevia's book, see exchange between Hevia and Joseph W. Esherick in Modern China 24, no. 2 (1998).
  53. ^ Æneas Anderson, A Narrative of the British Embassy to China, in the Years 1792, 1793, and 1794; Containing the Various Circumstances of the Embassy, with Accounts of Customs and Manners of the Chinese (London: J. Debrett, 1795) p. 176.
  54. ^ Robbins, Helen H. (1908). "Our First Ambassador to China: An Account of the Life of George, Earl of Macartney, with Extracts from His Letters, and the Narrative of His Experiences in China, as Told by Himself, 1737-1806". London: John Murray. p. 386. Retrieved 25 October 2008. 
  55. ^ O'Neil, Patricia O. (1995). Missed Opportunities: Late 18th century Chinese Relations with England and the Netherlands. [PhD dissertation, University of Washington]
  56. ^ Duyvendak, J.J.L. (1937). 'The Last Dutch Embassy to the Chinese Court (1794–1795).' T'oung Pao 33:1–137.
  57. ^ van Braam Houckgeest, Andreas Everardus. (1797). Voyage de l'ambassade de la Compagnie des Indes Orientales hollandaises vers l'empereur de la Chine, dans les années 1794 et 1795; see also 1798 English translation: An authentic account of the embassy of the Dutch East-India company, to the court of the emperor of China, in the years 1974 and 1795, Vol. I.
  58. ^ van Braam, An authentic account..., Vol. I (1798 English edition) pp. 283–288.
  59. ^ a b World Monuments Fund. "Juanqizhai in the Qianlong Garden". World Monuments Fund. Retrieved 16 July 2011. 
  60. ^ Palace Museum: Jiaqing Emperor (嘉庆皇帝)
  61. ^ Draft history of the Qing dynasty, Consort files. 《清史稿》卷二百十四.列傳一.后妃傳.


Further reading[edit]

  • Chang, Michael (2007). A court on horseback: imperial touring & the construction of Qing rule, 1680–1785. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center.
  • Elliott, Mark C. Emperor Qianlong: Son of Heaven, Man of the World. (New York: Pearson Longman, The Library of World Biography, 2009). ISBN 9780321084446.
  • Ho Chuimei, Bennet Bronson. Splendors of China's Forbidden City: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong. (London: Merrell, in association with The Field Museum, Chicago, 2004). ISBN 1858942039.
  • Kahn, Harold L. Monarchy in the Emperor's Eyes: Image and Reality in the Ch'ien-Lung Reign. (Cambridge, Mass.,: Harvard University Press, Harvard East Asian Series, 59, 1971). ISBN 0674582306.
  • Kuhn, Philip A. Soulstealers: The Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990). ISBN 0674821513 (alk. paper).
  • James A. Millward, Ruth W. Dunnell, Mark C. Elliot and Philippe Foret. ed., New Qing Imperial History: The Making of Inner Asian Empire at Qing Chengde. (London; New York: Routledge, 2004). ISBN 0415320062.
  • Nancy Berliner, "The Emperor's Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City" (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2010) ISBN 978-0-87577-221-8.

Works by the Qianlong Emperor[edit]

Qianlong Emperor
Born: 25 September 1711 Died: 7 February 1799
Regnal titles
Preceded by
The Yongzheng Emperor
Emperor of China
Succeeded by
The Jiaqing Emperor