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Qiánlóng ( Chinese 乾隆, IPA ( standard Chinese) [ʨʰjɛ̌nlʊ̌ŋ] , * September 25, 1711 in Beijing ; † February 7, 1799 , ibid., Forbidden City ) was the fourth Chinese emperor of the Qing Dynasty and officially ruled from October 18, 1735 to on February 9, 1796, unofficially until his death in 1799. His maiden name was Àixīnjuéluó Hónglì (愛新覺羅 弘曆), called "Prince Bǎo" (寶 親王); his temple name is Gāozōng (高宗, "High ancestor") and his honorary name Chúndì (純 帝, "Pure Emperor"). Qianlong was the son of the Yongzheng Emperor (雍正 帝) and the imperial wife Xiao Sheng Xian (孝 聖 憲).

Giuseppe Castiglione : Emperor Qianlong, 1736

The rule of the Qianlong emperor is considered to be the high point of the Qing dynasty and has been glorified in retrospect as one of the “golden ages” of Chinese civilization. The emperor showed himself to be an ambitious and conscientious statesman who extended the borders of China far into Central Asia and sustainably promoted his own culture. Qianlong worked himself as a poet, painter and master of calligraphy , and he also put together one of the largest known art collections in the world. The result of this passion for collecting was also the so-called Complete Library of the Four Treasure Chambers , the most extensive compilation in Chinese literary history. Qianlong's unusually long reign was largely shaped by political stability, economic prosperity and a general tendency towards splendor. At the end of his tenure, however, the first signs of the problems of the following century became apparent.


Emperors Yongzheng and Hongli

The future Qianlong Emperor was born in 1711, the fourth son of Prince Yinzhen and grandson of the Kangxi Emperor . He was given the name Hongli and in 1733 he was given the title of Prince Bao. At first he grew up in his father's residence , but when he was about ten years old, his grandfather ordered him to teach in the palace school, so his grandson lived with him at the imperial court and Kangxi could get to know Hongli better. The old emperor had over a hundred grandchildren at the time and hardly knew most of them at all. But Hongli already caught his attention during an imperial hunt when a bear attacked the young prince and Hongli did not back away from him, but shot an arrow at the animal. Kangxi quickly felt deep affection for his grandson and noticed his quick wit and sportiness. The old emperor ordered that the prince should be subjected to particularly extensive training and took care of him personally.

Hongli was barely eleven when his grandfather died in 1722 and his father ascended the throne as Emperor Yongzheng. The new emperor appreciated his fourth son as much and appointed him immediately after his accession to the throne in his will to the Crown Prince . None of the imperial princes knew who would succeed Yongzheng, which was to prevent cliques from forming. Prince Bao continued to be subjected to severe study. From six in the morning until five in the evening he had to attend the lessons of the scholars. His father himself instructed him in politics and closely monitored his education. The young Qianlong became one of the best trained emperors in Chinese history. His studies included humanistic education, poetry , calligraphy and painting , showing himself to be talented in all areas. Besides Chinese and Manchurian, he was also able to master Mongolian , Uighur and Tibetan . At the age of twenty-two he passed the imperial exam by doing a comprehensive analysis of the Confucian classics .

Accession to the throne

The young imperial couple in 1736

When Hongli's father died in 1735, his successor was no longer a surprise. The Yongzheng Emperor had already openly shown his sympathy for Prince Bao. The prince had often acted as regent in the absence of his father and was involved in political decisions by him. So the succession to the throne was least of all news to the new twenty-four-year-old emperor. As tradition required, Hongli gave up his maiden name forever and chose the era name qián lóng (pronunciation: tchiän'lung), which translates as Heavenly Abundance . Qiánlóng is not a proper name, but the government motto of his period of rule, which is why one should correctly speak of the Qiánlóng emperor (乾隆 帝).

As a first measure, the new emperor decided to dismiss all members of the imperial clan from important offices . Qianlong deeply mistrusted his extended relatives and feared factional battles within the court such as had occurred in his grandfather's final years in office. He did not even trust his brothers and cousins, who had been brought up with him at the palace school. The princes were consistently excluded from the government. This inevitably led to a distancing of the emperor from his relatives, which was definitely wanted by him. In his eyes, the emperor was an overriding power that had to be free to decide and not to be biased by personal ties.

Qianlong's daily life was regulated by tradition and he led a very disciplined life. His favorite occupations were poetry, collecting works of art and building gardens and palaces. As a ruler, Qianlong was extremely hardworking. He handled large amounts of paper every day and did not neglect any detail. He liked to make quick decisions and was always open to advice. In choosing his advisors, he showed a good hand for talent. It was not until he was over eighty years old that Qianlong's judgment and zeal for work would weaken, while his will to power remained strong until his death.

Domestic politics

Strengthening the local authorities

Court audience under Emperor Qianlong

In addition to the many small changes that Qianlong made in the institutions of the empire, the expansion of the so-called baojia system deserves special mention. It formed the lowest level in the social control mechanism and was used to enforce the laws in the local area and monitor their application. The name baojia stands for a system of local security and goes back to Wang Anshi's reforms during the Song Dynasty . When the Manchus captured Beijing and established their dynasty in 1644, they introduced baojia across China to strengthen the government's authority. The baojia police system was based on mutual responsibility for local laws and the maintenance of law and order by the residents themselves. It was based on groups of ten households, which in turn were monitored by local officials. The baojia was supplemented by the tax collection system called lijia , which was organized in a very similar way.

Both systems were only partially effective in terms of social control, taxes, and census. Emperor Qianlong sought to reform these systems and decided in 1740 to introduce a change. From now on, local officials should not only count the adult men who were obliged to perform labor service, but also link the work registration with the tax system and thus record all individuals in a household. Qianlong's advisors stated that the near-perfect census project with so many millions of people was impossible. The emperor disagreed and ordered the baojia to be changed according to his instructions. From then on, the head of a unit made up of ten households had to write down the name, gender and age of the members of a household on a sticker at the entrance. Once a year the changes were communicated to the responsible local officials. In this simple way it was now possible to get a fairly precise picture of the number of residents and their tax revenue , which could curb possible embezzlement . The local order was also strengthened, because the ten families within the baojia had to monitor each other and report violations of all kinds. This greatly expanded the control by the local authorities, and this system was to work very effectively for a long time.

Inspection trips

Qianlong during his first trip to the south in 1751

Like his grandfather Kangxi , Qianlong went on extensive inspection tours of the Middle Kingdom. These trips served the emperor to personally get an idea of ​​the most urgent problems in the country and the progress of individual projects. In addition, they were great events through which one could demonstrate the power and wealth of the emperor. The longest inspection trips lasted a few months and took Qianlong to the rich region of the Jangtsedeltas : 1751, 1757, 1762, 1765, 1780 and 1784. In addition, more than a hundred smaller tours took him to the north or other areas not far from Beijing. His advisers and a small number of grand secretaries and members of the Council of State accompanied him on his travels, so that he could devote himself to the government on trips. In addition, there are artists, bodyguards, palace eunuchs, officials, court ladies, servants, princes, cooks, servants and soldiers. On average, he took around 3,000 people with him during his inspections.

Such tours were complex and expensive. Organizing them was therefore a challenge. Qianlong had travel palaces built in order to have comfortable accommodation along the way. The southern tours led to the major centers of the region: Yangzhou , Nanjing , Suzhou and Hangzhou . The emperor spent most of his time surveying canals and levees or visiting other public buildings, speaking to officials and scholars, pardoning criminals, and inspecting troops. But it also often happened that celebrations were held in honor of the emperor, organized by wealthy provincial officials and merchants. Because the Yangtze region was the richest and most populous in the whole country, such events were possible in the first place. Private individuals, especially the traders who got rich from buying and selling salt through the state monopoly , could host imperial receptions. But it is said to have ruined some completely, because Qianlong did not appreciate a humble appearance.

There were different ways of traveling. You could ride across the country on horseback or take the whole route south across the Imperial Canal that ran from Beijing to Hangzhou. The waterway was more convenient and provided luxurious comfort, but Qianlong mostly preferred the horse. This enabled him to indulge in sports such as polo or archery much better. The Emperor's huge entourage made slow progress anyway.


In particular towards the end of Qianlong's reign, corruption increased in the administrative apparatus .


She said, for example, that local officials, using violence or threats, demanded more taxes from the farmers than they were entitled to, which fueled general dissatisfaction and, among other things, contributed to the White Lotus uprisings . Tax surpluses were sometimes not or only partially passed on by the magistrates to the finance commissioners of the provinces. State funds intended for certain projects such as road or dyke construction were embezzled and diverted into their own pockets. A circumstance to which China owes seven major floods of the Yellow River at the beginning of the 19th century and the disastrous flood disaster of 1855. Judicial employees let the delinquents pay for unauthorized "mitigation" through bribes. After all, even insurrections were often only fought half-heartedly by the officials responsible because of bribes paid by the rebels. The demarcation of corruption, exploitation and crime from legal official behavior was of course difficult at times due to a lack of legal certainty ; there was often a lack of legally binding regulations, and there was also a strong influence on customary law .


Qianlong's study in the Forbidden City

One reason for the conditions mentioned was certainly the sometimes precarious situation of the imperial officials . Furthermore, only a narrow elite succeeded in completing the lengthy and difficult imperial examination system and, on top of that, in winning one of the rare administrative posts against overwhelming competition. After establishing themselves in the civil service, civil servants were paid less and less, but on the other hand they were often completely overburdened, among other things because of the slow expansion of the administrative apparatus, which did not keep pace with the drastic population growth . Often they also had to pay off a relative loan that they had used to finance their training. It seems humanly understandable that under these circumstances many officials could not resist the temptation to supplement their salaries illegally.

The corruption was ultimately also favored by the dwindling control by the imperial court. Qianlong, for example, was far less concerned with administrative matters than his predecessors. In particular, he let the system of "palace memorials" or reports to the throne, which his father Yongzheng developed, increasingly degenerate into a formal routine. Often he skimmed the entries only cursory and brushed superficial remarks such as "noted", "read" or "forward to the responsible ministry" on the documents. Sometimes he also left central tasks incumbent on the emperor to the Council of State or subordinate authorities. Conversely, the provincial officials withheld important information from Qianlong and in particular concealed the true situation during campaigns or uprisings . Attempts by the Ministry of Finance to counteract the grievances through increased reporting obligations and approval reservations often turned out to be counterproductive, tightened bureaucratisation and thus brought even more burdens for the public officials.

Role of the minion Heshen

Heshen (1750-1799)

Qianlong's favorite Heshen played a special role in the spread of corruption towards the end of the century . He always held central functions in the imperial system of government. He was like that, among others. Finance Minister, Head of the Ministry of Officials, Imperial Grand Secretary and Overseer for transit duties. In 1781 he was even sent to Yunnan Province as a special representative to investigate the corruption allegations made there. In all of these offices he used his position as well as his intelligence to enrich himself and his clan. He assumed almost imperial powers, forced favors and had any service incumbent upon him paid for. Especially when fighting the White Lotus rebellion, he embezzled several million silver tael by forging invoices .

Riots and riots

Towards the end of Qianlong's reign there were rebellions in numerous parts of the country: In Taiwan , for example, the so-called " Heaven and Earth Society " ( Tiandi ), a pseudo-religiously inspired group that denied the Qing legitimacy, rose up in Taiwan in the 1980s conquered and even briefly established its own counter-dynasty, the "Shuntian". There were also several uprisings by Muslim minorities, among others. in Gansu Province and by Miao tribes in southwest China. These unrest could still be put down relatively easily by Qianlong's armies.

The Wang Lun uprising , which broke out in Shandong in 1774 and was named after its charismatic leader, weighed much more heavily, but was suppressed that same year. It was rooted in particular in the worsening general economic situation as a result of the population explosion and food shortages, the increasing tax burden on the population, the increasing concentration of land ownership in the hands of a few large landowners and the associated decline of free peasants to farm workers as well as the depreciation of copper money in proportion to silver. The corruption in the civil service, as described above, also caused particular depression for large sections of the population. Accordingly, the survey was mainly carried by population groups who were socially declassed due to the development mentioned, in particular farmers and agricultural workers, but also more urban groups such as carters , small traders, moneylenders, actors , towers or coolies .

Another uprising from 1796–1803 referred to the obscure tradition of the White Lotus sect, which had been active in China since the end of the Yuan Dynasty , and worshiped its deity of the Eternal Venerable Mother ; the desolate earthly situation was interpreted as a harbinger of a messianic time. Although the rebels of the White Lotus, supported by at times rather curious ideas, had no fixed political program and Qianlong proceeded against them with extreme military severity, he was never able to contain the movement for good. The reason for this is likely to have been the increasing corruption in the imperial administrative apparatus, which led to an often only half-hearted fight against the uprisings by bribed officials, but also to insufficient information from the imperial court about the actual situation. Sometimes dissatisfied imperial soldiers and officers even deserted to the insurgents.

Manchu-Chinese conflict

“General Ayusi persecutes the rebels” (1755), example of the artistic worship of Manchurian bravery

The young emperor admired his father Yongzheng, but also his grandfather Kangxi very much. His father tended to be suspicious and harsh of all his officials and ministers. But Qianlong's style of government was more like that of his grandfather, who always looked for compromises and displayed a more relaxed view of things. Qianlong gave his court officials a relatively large amount of freedom in making decisions, but carefully monitored them. On the other hand, he experienced no mercy in the case of anti-Manchurian tendencies or attacks on his dynasty or dignity as emperor. He was also adamant in combating factions at court that might have abused their official authority for their own personal gain. And yet at the beginning of his rule there was a conflict between Manchurian and Chinese officials at court. Qianlong was very proud of his Manchurian origins. Although he also had Han Chinese ancestors, he was particularly fond of emphasizing this aspect. As a result, he appointed more Manchu to the highest offices and used far fewer Chinese for them. Although the preponderance of the Chinese within the imperial administration was still very large, some circles of Chinese scholars were offended by this preference.

When he ascended the throne, Qianlong took over two very competent and powerful ministers from his father : Den Manschu Ertai (1680–1745), once Governor General of the Southwest Provinces, who made it up to Grand Secretary, Minister of War and member of the State Council, and the Chinese Zhang Tingyu ( 1672–1755), the most influential member of the State Council. The Manchu and Chinese factions began to rally around these two, which worried the emperor very much. He couldn't just drop them off out of respect for his father. So he distanced himself visibly from them and waited until they died soon afterwards, only to then let their followers fall out of favor. He then tried to achieve a relative balance within the highest state offices - which the Chinese officials also did not necessarily like - and to underline the so often proclaimed equality between Manchu and Chinese.

Qianlong sought to address another problem with his appointment to office, the continuing decline of Manchurian traditions and customs . In his day, hardly any Manchu spoke his mother tongue; they practically completely assimilated into Chinese culture and thereby gave up their own identity. Qianlong tried to take measures against this decline, but he quickly realized how pointless it was. So he hoped, if he could not stop this process, at least to give the Manchus a higher prestige and more power in society. He should be able to do that to a limited extent.


Artist and patron

Qianlong surrounded by works of art

Qianlong is particularly known as an artist and collector. The official collection of his own poetry contains more than 40,000 poems , but most of them are considered to be rather poor. No other poet in China's history has produced so many poems.

Qianlong's annual tea parties have also become famous . The invited artists and scholars had to write poems for the emperor, but as a thank you they were allowed to take home the precious tea set from which they had been drinking.

The emperor collected antiques with passion and great talent. His greed for art was notorious. Other art collectors feared that the emperor would ask for their finest pieces as gifts as soon as he got knowledge of them. Some collectors even had skilful copies of their treasures made in case Qianlong should demand them.

His flowing calligraphy , which the artists Wang Xizhi , Mi Fu and Dong Qichang took as models, is considered remarkable. Most of the leaves that are ascribed to him actually appear to be from his own hand. Art experts attest his calligraphic skills to be great talent, but he does not achieve the uniqueness of his counterpart Huizong . Qianlong has always been criticized for writing his poems with his own hand on the margins of the most important images in Chinese painting. Some even dubbed these “embellishments” as vandalism .

In addition, the emperor was also active as a painter: his scroll painting "Mountain House of Peaceful Living", created in 1745, which shows the imperial summer residence of Jehol from a bird's eye view, became famous. Qianlong also provided this work with calligraphic poems, in which he usually describes the impressions he gained on walks in the area. After adding a poem to each of his annual visits, the painting last featured 34 of them.

Overall, the imperial collection, which he put together with so much devotion throughout his life, is considered to be one of the most important art collections in the world, and its quality is still unsurpassed today. But the emperor also made a name for himself as a patron of the arts. Art flourished under his sponsorship, and the Qianlong style in china and other luxury goods is valued then as it is now. He employed countless artists in his palace workshops with the aim of increasing his reputation and, of course, adding to his own collection.


Buddha Scent Pagoda in the Summer Palace

Qianlong was one of the greatest builders in imperial history. Beijing was largely shaped by his hand. He restored, enlarged, beautified and built: palaces, ramparts, city gates, streets, waterways, parks and an endless number of temples. Although he did not change the axial alignment of Beijing and the inner imperial city, he found that the palaces of the Forbidden City were too listless and symmetrical in their planning. Therefore he had new gardens, bodies of water and flower terraces laid out. He demanded the best materials and the highest quality in the execution of the work and spared no expense in carrying out these enormous projects. Across the country, he directed his governors to restore city walls, canals and streets. All of China was gripped by his building addiction.

He placed particular emphasis on the construction of his summer palaces, the Yuanming Yuan and the Qingyi Yuan . It was the largest garden and palace composition in what was then East Asia, located in the northwest suburb of Beijing. Here he could easily follow his ideas and let his imagination run wild. Among other things, the Jesuits among the court artists built for him the Xiyang Lou , a white marble palace in the European Baroque style , located on a spacious terrace, with fountains and water features modeled on the Palace of Versailles . Of course, Qianlong also paid attention to the construction of his mausoleum called Yuling .

Very early on, the imperial censors began to reprimand the emperor for his building projects and brand them as useless waste. In return, Qianlong praised her Confucian sense of thrift and ignored her criticism. In 1780 he wrote a memorandum in which he defended himself. He stated that his treasuries were twice as full as on the day he acceded to the throne, that he paid his workers well above average and that he had been able to give work to so many people. All of this may be true, but its flamboyant and luxurious lifestyle fueled extravagance among the social elite .

"Four Treasure Chambers" project

Qianlong as a "scholar while studying"

The Qianlong Emperor felt at home in Chinese culture and believed he was the highest authority to turn to on matters of cultural life. The Qing Dynasty tried very hard to appear as Chinese rule and presented itself as the protector of Chinese values ​​and culture. The " Son of Heaven " was the guarantor of ethics and morals . Based on this consideration, it was argued that loyalty to the cultural values ​​and traditions of China was synonymous with devotion to the ruler and the Qing dynasty. Ultimately, Qianlong saw culture not only as a source of personal pleasure, but also as a political tool that had to be instrumentalized in his own interest and that of his dynasty.

In 1770, the emperor issued an edict, which let his court know that the time had come to sift through and compile the entire literary legacy of Chinese history. He ordered lists to be drawn up in which all works (classical, historical, philosophical and literary writings) should be recorded that had ever appeared. These lists should then be examined to determine which are the best works so that they can then be used by scholars. At first, this project was not well received. The State Council in particular pointed out that collecting texts was not the job of the government, that it would cost a lot of money and that you might get into a philosophical dispute about what should and should not be accepted. In short, the emperor's advisors drew attention to the many practical difficulties involved in implementing the project. Qianlong was not deterred and announced in March 1773 that the project had to be tackled. He officially named it The Complete Library of the Four Treasuries ( Siku quanshu四庫 全書) .

Rare books were brought to Beijing from all over the empire, private collectors were asked for copies, and new publications examined. Furthermore, parts of old lost texts were collected and attempts were made to restore them. All the books collected were taken to the Hanlin Academy within Beijing's Imperial City, where they were read, compared, and improved. About 360 scholars were entrusted with this very honorable task. Then 3,862 masters of calligraphy copied the scripts into a uniform format. It quickly became clear that the imperial academy had reached the limits of its possibilities and that additional offices had to be set up for processing.

A large library was built within the palace precinct to hold the final product. In the end, this contained 3,470 copied texts as well as a large directory of other works that were only included with their titles. The first manuscript was presented to the emperor in 1782. It comprises 79,932 chapters with more than 360 million words in 36,000 volumes. The massive work was far too large to be printed. Only seven editions were made, four were kept in the palaces of Beijing and the surrounding area, and three more were sent south to Yangzhou , Zhenjiang and Hangzhou , where they were accessible for study under the supervision of special officials. The collection of the four treasure chambers is not only one of the outstanding achievements of Qianlong, it also forms the cornerstone of Chinese literature to this day .

Qianlong's "Literary Inquisition"

Qianlong takes a horse as tribute

Nevertheless, the collection of texts had its downsides: When searching for fonts, equally unpleasant texts were found and rewritten or destroyed forever. Between 1773 and 1775, all of the books had arrived in Beijing and the works began to be reviewed. Not only did they look for quality, they also looked for suspicious tendencies in the scriptures. It was not just about texts from the end of the Ming period , when the battle between the Chinese and Manchu took place. Rather, books from all of Chinese history were searched. Content was sought that was directed against non-Han dynasties such as the Yuan , against the northern peoples or specifically against the Manchu. Qianlong suspected these books mainly because he feared that they could turn subjects against the authority of the Qing Dynasty. Were authors found that of writing seditious books had been found guilty, the punishment rigorously and consistently been: Their works were not only completely destroyed, but the author and his family were exiled and even in the worst case to death or enslavement are sentenced . There were five criteria according to which the topics were sorted out and the destruction arranged:

  • Pro-Ming Statements : The comparison between the Ming and Qing dynasties was dangerous. It was important to describe the Ming as degenerate and portray their demise as inevitable, even before the Manchu invaded central China. This was to emphasize that the " mandate from heaven " legitimately passed to the Qing.
  • Ming Restoration : Calls for the restoration of the Ming regime were extremely rare, as the population generally had no doubts about the legitimacy of the Qing emperors. Nevertheless, at the slightest sign of such tendencies, severe punishment was ordered.
  • Hostility to steppe peoples : The conflict between China and the people of the steppe had a long tradition, and the northern areas were stylized as "alien" or "barbaric" over time. These paraphrases by no means had a negative undertone when used in literature, but the potential for a hostile undertone was enough to set a censorship here .
  • Literature for lewd and vicious pleasures : The Qing had a somewhat puritanical view of society and thus explicitly opposed the customs of the late Ming period. This was condemned as morally corrupt, which is said to have been the main reason for its downfall from the Qing's point of view. During the Qing period, attempts were made to orientate oneself more towards the Confucian ideals again, and that meant more moral rigor, even if Chinese society under the Qing still remained relatively liberal. Qianlong in particular tried to comply with the standards of custom and morality and to avoid anything that was contrary to the traditions of the country. He took the role of the emperor as the father of the people and role model for society very seriously, which is why the erasure of writings that undermined the social order came in handy.
  • Military Works : The Manchu distrusted the Chinese when studying their own military literature. In order to enforce their military supremacy, the Manchu were largely dependent on Chinese troops. In doing so, they limited Chinese participation in the leadership of the armies, tactical drafting and military reconnaissance to Han Chinese of the banner system . Military science writings were particularly popular during the Ming period. For the Chinese, such books would only have served as sources of insurrectionary knowledge, which is why their widespread destruction was seen as a prevention against uprisings.

Despite these interventions on the part of the imperial court, the 18th century is not only considered an epoch of great novels such as the dream of the red chamber , but also a renaissance of neo-Confucianism and Chinese philosophy . Some of the most important scholars and authors were active under Qianlong's rule, probably not despite, but rather thanks to the incumbent emperor.


Actor in a Peking Opera

After Emperor Kangxi had the prayer music for the imperial sacrificial ceremonies revised and modernized, Qianlong initiated a kind of restoration and restored the traditional forms. He was particularly interested in the demarcation of religious ritual music from secular sounds. Regardless of its purely functional purpose, it is highly regarded in musicology.

Qianlong maintained a traditionally equipped palace orchestra of more than 200 musicians at the Imperial Court in Beijing. There was also a small group of eunuchs who, dressed in European robes and powder wigs , had to play baroque music on Western instruments . As castrati , they were also suitable for the emperor in the performance of the Italian operas brought by the Jesuits .

During Qianlong's tenure in office, the Manchurian chant experienced a particular heyday, the lyrics of which often go back to the homesick songs of the border guards. As an accompanying instrument, the emperor had the Bajiaogu (八角鼓), a kind of octagonal tambourine, developed on the basis of traditional military and ceremonial drums . It is traditionally covered with python skin and is full of political symbolism: the shape of the instrument should be reminiscent of the number of Manchurian banners; the three cymbals per corner stood for the three main nations Manchu, Han Chinese and Mongols ; the attached tassel promised prosperity and a rich harvest.

Above all, however, Qianlong is associated with the birth of the Peking Opera ( jingju京剧), the most authentic expression of Chinese musical culture from a Western perspective. During his inspection trips to the south, Qianlong had taken a liking to various regional operatic styles. On the occasion of his 80th birthday, he invited opera troupes from various parts of China, including the provinces of Jiangxi , Hubei , Sichuan and Shanxi , but above all from Anhui , to the imperial court. They stayed there even after the festivities ended and gradually developed something new from the four regional operatic styles huiban , kunqu , yiyang and luantan , the now famous Peking Opera.

Military companies

The ten victorious campaigns

Battle scene from the Taiwan campaign

The role of a victorious general was important in the self-portrayal of an emperor of China. Qianlong used many opportunities to expand the Qing Empire and to expand China's supremacy in Central Asia . He was supported by the traditionally Manchurian eight banners , but also the three times stronger Green Standard, consisting mainly of Han Chinese . A total of 260,000 soldiers were deployed during the campaigns of the Qianlong era. Qianlong never led one of his armies to war himself, but he did visit the troops in the steppe, greeted victorious generals returning home and personally accepted the submission of the defeated. In the capital he had the Hall of Military Valor built, a kind of military museum. Inside were the portraits of the successful commanders with their weapons. In order to present the battles themselves in the hall, court painters like Giuseppe Castiglione were commissioned to depict the greatest victories of the reign in drawings. These were then sent to France to be converted into engravings from 1768 to 1774 under the direction of Charles-Nicolas Cochin .

Safeguarding borders with armed force became a common policy under Qianlong and occupied a large part of his thinking. Towards the end of his life, in 1792, he wrote the record of the ten perfections , meaning ten wars, each of which ended with a victory for the Qing. The list does not include the crackdown on internal China rebellions , as these were the result of government mistakes. The emperor believed that one should think about mistakes instead of celebrating them.

The ten campaigns consisted of pacifying rebel tribes twice in western Sichuan , 1747–1749 and again 1771–1776; two wars against the Djungars in northwestern Xinjiang , 1755–1757; a victory over renegade Turkmen in southern Xinjiang, 1758–59; the suppression of a rebellion in Taiwan , 1787–88; a border war against Burma , 1766–1770; another against Annam , 1788–89; and the two campaigns against the Gurkha in Tibet and Nepal , 1790–92.

Battle scene from the Jinchuan campaign

An outstanding achievement was certainly the submission of the Djungars, which led to the incorporation of all of Xinjiang into the empire. The Chinese and Djungars have long competed with each other to control the Dalai Lama and Tibet and to secure sovereignty over Buddhism and Lamaism . The most costly and difficult was the suppression of the Jinchuan tribes in Sichuan. The first campaign from 1747 to 1749 was a fairly simple undertaking. With a minimal use of troops, tribal chiefs were forced to peace, but ethnic conflicts lasted for twenty years. This led to another uprising. A Manchus general had to be sent a second time, but this time with a massive deployment of troops that was more expensive than all other wars combined. Beijing-based cannon founders from Europe made special artillery to bomb the stone fortresses of the tribes. The generals showed no mercy and suppressed the uprisings. After that, the entire region was converted into a military prefecture and repopulated with more loyal residents.

Under Qianlong's rule, the territory of China doubled through the numerous battles to almost twelve million square kilometers, the largest expansion in its history. Emperor Kangxi had conquered Mongolia in 1697 , but only Qianlong successfully ended his grandfather's border security policy. In addition to the conquered areas, other countries were subordinate to the China of the Qing dynasty as tribute states: Korea , Annam ( Vietnam ) and, after the Gurkha campaign, also Nepal.

Vietnam campaign 1788-89

In 1788, the ruler of the Vietnamese Lê dynasty, overthrown by civil war generals, sought protection in Guangxi province and asked Qianlong for military help to pacify his country. The emperor sent three armies to pincer Vietnam from Yunnan, Guangxi and the sea. After just a few months, the Vietnamese troops were crushed; the Chinese conquered Hanoi and reinstated the Lê dynasty. After just one month, at the New Year celebrations in 1789, the rebellious warlords regained the upper hand, killing four thousand Chinese soldiers and forcing the Qing armies to retreat to Guangxi. They finally took control of Vietnam. As a result, the Chinese coastal provinces were exposed to attacks by Vietnamese pirates for decades . Qianlong finally recognized the rule of General Nguyễn Huệ over the southern vassal state, but saw his self-image as the hegemon of Asia lastingly offended. Nevertheless, even after a renewed change of power under Gia Long and the establishment of the Nguyễn dynasty , the country proved to be loyal to the Qing dynasty.

Gurkha campaign 1790–92

Map of the Qing Empire, under Qianlong China reached the greatest extent in its history (the map shows the provincial division in 1820)

Since the Kangxi era, the Qing have tried again and again to annex the Tibetan high plateau, but they did not succeed. After the defeat of the Djungars, China was finally able to establish itself in Tibet from 1750 . In 1751 the powers of the Ambane were extended, which could now intervene directly in Tibetan politics, because important personnel decisions only became effective with their consent. Qianlong managed to make himself the sole protector of the monks and monasteries in Tibet. In 1780 the Panchen Lama Lobsang Pälden Yeshe traveled to Beijing to pay his respects to the emperor on his birthday. The second most powerful man in Tibet was supposed to return home richly gifted, but suddenly died of smallpox in the capital .

In the 1760s, the political situation on the southern border of Tibet changed. Nepal was strengthened as a united country under the Gurkha and was pressured by the British to open up trade routes to Tibet for them. Provided with information by agents of the British East India Company , the Nepalese king decided in 1788 to invade Tibet. The Nepalese Gurkha troops quickly advanced and occupied Lhasa . The small Chinese garrison and the Tibetan soldiers were hopelessly inferior. The imperial amban and a minister of the 8th Dalai Lama came up with the idea of ​​persuading the Gurkha to withdraw by paying tribute and then reported to Beijing that he had defeated the Nepalese and that the Gurkha prince was ready to pay homage to the emperor. When the hoax came to light, Qianlong viewed the Gurkha attack as an imminent threat to China and ordered an army to be dispatched from Sichuan Province . He ignored the tribute contract of his commander.

The lack of tribute payments led Nepal to invade Tibet for the second time in 1791. The Gurkha conquered and plundered Xigazê and the Trashilhünpo monastery . Qianlong had the generals of the last fight punished and commissioned one of his closest confidants, General Fukang'an (1753–1796) to punish the Gurkha. Fukang'an marched into Tibet from the north in the middle of winter 1791–92, with just 10,000 men. The Gurkha army was completely surprised. In the summer of 1792 the Qing troops retook all of Tibet and pursued the invaders as far as Nepal. Fukang'an conquered the capital Kathmandu and forced the Gurkha into submission. Nepal had to submit to the emperor as a vassal state and send tribute to Beijing. The Gurkha were forbidden from contact with the East India Company and Tibet was closed to the British, and later also to the Russians . The rule of China over Tibet was thus restored.

China in the 18th century


China experienced a massive population decline in the middle of the 17th century, caused by social unrest, severe epidemics and natural disasters, the uprisings at the end of the Ming period and the conquest by the Manchu. The Chinese population sank to a level of 100 million people. Only the consolidation policy of Kangxi made a recovery of the population possible, so that at the end of his government the census again reached the high of the Wanli era (1572-1620) with around 150 million inhabitants.

Qianlong with his entourage on horseback

The rule of the Qing proved to be politically stable and due to the prosperous economy under Qianlong, the population continued to grow. The new conquests brought numerous new settlement programs into being. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese settlers moved to pristine but fertile areas to start new families. During Qianlong's long reign, China's population doubled:

  • 1722: 150,000,000
  • 1749: 177,495,000
  • 1767: 209,840,000
  • 1776: 268,238,000
  • 1790: 301,487,000
  • 1810: 340,000,000

European travelers to China in the late 18th century reported how orderly and content all the crowds were, that the vast majority of them appeared well fed and lived in good houses, that they all devoted an unusually large amount of time to their families and private interests. Indeed, the well-developed network of private and public institutions has been able to provide sufficient food, clothing and houses for such a large population. It was not until the early 19th century that the population explosion became a serious problem. With the collapsing economy, which was already in an incipient crisis before the First Opium War against Great Britain , serious social conflicts and mass unemployment should arise. These problems were then exacerbated by the internal uprisings and rebellions since 1820.


Qianlong porcelain

The population increase was caused by the steadily growing economy . The growing population, in turn, stimulated technological progress, especially in agriculture . Agricultural productivity increased by leaps and bounds due to the introduction of new cultivation methods and food. The Chinese agricultural sector was certainly one of the most developed in the world, exhausting all pre-industrial methods to the full. Fruits from the New World in particular were procured by Europeans, adopted quickly and achieved high harvest yields in China. The American sweet potato, for example, soon enjoyed great popularity among Chinese farmers and became the third most important staple food . The sweet potato was undemanding and could therefore be grown in large areas on previously unfavorable areas.

On the other hand, China expanded its export economy. Exports of food and manufactured products skyrocketed, which contributed to the formation of important industrial centers and raised peasant living standards . Cotton products became a major export, and tea sales to the British increased fifty-fold in eighty years. Tens of thousands of workers produced stone ware and porcelain art for export in the imperial porcelain factories of Jingdezhen , and silk was also in demand. Europeans bought furniture and lacquerware on a large scale. China became the main exporter of paper and books to the Far East and resumed its dominant role as the main economic power in East Asia. The trade was done in silver and China could look back on a considerable surplus. China had been one of the main profiteers of American silver mines through trade since the 16th century. But from 1760 to 1780 the Chinese silver income from trade with the American colonies rose from 3 million to 16 million silver tael per year (from 85,000 kg to 450,000 kg). So it is hardly surprising that the British Macartney mission had to fail, since China was interested in exporting and not importing goods. The China of the 18th century was thus a very prosperous country that was able to produce large surpluses for its growing population and presented itself as stable not only politically but also economically.

Qianlong and Europe

Qianlong's relationship to the European powers that had been present in China since the 16th century, particularly through merchants and missionaries, was ambivalent:

Western art and culture

Palace in the "European style", northern part of the old summer palace

On the one hand, like his predecessors, he valued the cultural and technical achievements of the Jesuits working at his court . He had them build the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan), which was destroyed in 1860, based on European models . He also knew how to make their geographical and astronomical knowledge fruitful and commissioned the Fathers to compile the Qianlong Atlas completed in 1769, a masterpiece of cartography that is certainly on par with comparable works in the West. The astronomy office and the imperial observatory were traditionally headed by Jesuits, for a long time by the Ingolstadt Fathers Ignaz Kögler and Anton Gogeisl . The French Jesuit Joseph-Marie Amiot served as astronomer and interpreter at the imperial court from 1750 until his death in 1793 . Pierre-Martial Cibot built clocks for Qianlong and laid out gardens in the French style. Count August von Hallerstein imparted the knowledge of western mathematics to the Qing elite. The Silesian Florian Bahr gave music lessons to members of the imperial court. Ignaz Sichelbarth , Jean-Denis Attiret , but above all Giuseppe Castiglione worked as painters for Qianlong. The latter in particular built a bridge between Chinese and Western cultures with his works; have become known i.a. his horse and battle pictures. In the course of this, a certain interest in European art developed in China, analogous to the " chinoiseries " widespread in Europe during the Rococo . For the first time, “Western” building forms and decorative pieces appeared in Chinese paintings, as well as stylistic elements such as the central perspective . In porcelain art there are sometimes somewhat bizarre figurines that are supposed to represent Portuguese or British merchants.

Christian mission

On the other hand, Qianlong - like his father Yongzheng - was critical of the work of the Christian missionaries . In 1742/44 the so-called ritual controversy, which had been smoldering between the Jesuit missionaries and the Vatican since the early Qing period, came to an end through the decree of the papal bulls " Ex quo singulari " and " Omnium solicitudinum ": Pope Benedict XIV finally forbade those of the Jesuits practiced so-called accommodation , i.e. the adaptation of the Catholic cult to Chinese social conditions, and insisted on the "unadulterated" transmission of the faith. As a result, Christianity in the Middle Kingdom came under increasing pressure; the dissemination of Christian doctrine and church activities were largely forbidden, and most of the missionaries were expelled or pushed underground. At the end of Qianlong's tenure, the Christian religion in China was as good as non-existent - a situation that only the Anglo-American Protestants of the 19th century were to change.

Trade policy

The European trading posts in Canton, 1805

The emperor also pushed back the influence of the western nations in the economic field: After the European-Chinese trade had always been subject to considerable restrictions, especially in terms of time and location, in 1754 Qianlong actually placed the Europeans under the supervision of the so-called Cohong guild , an association Chinese merchants. This had to guarantee the good behavior of the foreigners and in particular the punctual payment of the transit duties, but also used their position of power to harass their European “partners” through arbitrariness, corruption and extortion.

As a result, the British East India Company sent the linguistic merchant James Flint to the imperial court in 1759 to lodge a complaint against the aforementioned restrictions and grievances. At first, Qianlong half-heartedly promised to set up an investigative committee, but then changed his mind and had Flint arrested and sentenced to three years in prison. Since the emperor deeply mistrusted the European trading companies and feared a disruption of order as in the Indian Mughal empire , the trade restrictions were drastically tightened: Qianlong closed the ports of Zhoushan and Xiamen (Amoy) to western ships in particular . All trade with the Europeans was only allowed to take place via Canton , and even there it was only permitted in the winter months from October to March and only through the intermediary of the Cohong Guild.

European attempts to open up the Chinese markets after all have met with varying degrees of success. An example of clear failure is the Macartney Mission in 1793, headed by the British envoy Georges Macartney , during which the emperor let the envoys know that there was no interest in promoting the importation of British goods. The Titsingh Mission 1794-95 under the leadership of the Dutch businessman Isaac Titsingh , who followed the protocols of the Chinese court ceremonial (e.g. kowtowing ), was more successful the following winter .

Last years and "abdication"

The 85-year-old Qianlong emperor in ceremonial garb

At the end of the Qianlong era, the Qing state was confronted with a number of problems: the financial situation was tense due to the last wars, the administration was overwhelmed and partisan, in a time of abundance corruption was rampant, and population pressure caused discontent in some Provinces, which led to local uprisings, and favoritism flourished. The old age stubbornness became noticeable in the over eighty-year-old emperor and for many officials and princes he had ruled for far too long. In old age, Qianlong no longer had the will to reform of the earlier years and no longer tackled some course corrections. In 1795 he decided to abdicate in favor of his son Yongyan, who now ascended the throne as Emperor Jiaqing (1796-1820). However, Qianlong's motivation for this step resulted solely from the desire not to exceed the reign of his grandfather Kangxi ; he did indeed want to continue to exercise power in the empire. He therefore assumed the title of "Supreme Emperor" (太上皇 帝, tàishàng huángdì ) and retained full control over the government . His son, the reigning emperor, was kept away from official business and only took on ceremonial and representative tasks.

The abdicated emperor was supported by his favorite Heshen (see separate paragraph above). The guard officer had had an exemplary career since 1775. Qianlong appointed the intelligent and hard-working, but also selfish and corrupt young man as Minister of the Palace Directorate, Minister of Finance, Grand Secretary, even State Councilor and Commander-in-Chief of the Beijing troops. In 1790, Heshen himself established a family connection with the imperial family by marrying the emperor's favorite daughter with his son. After Qianlong's abdication , he assumed a key role: responsible for the most important offices within the government, he purposefully carried out the will of the "Supreme Emperor". Immediately after his father's death, Emperor Jiaqing, offended by the tutelage and corruption of the upstart , immediately sued Heshen and forced him to commit suicide.

Qianlong died in the Forbidden City in 1799 after a brief illness and was buried in the Yuling Mausoleum - an unusually imposing complex - with his beloved wives, who had already died, in the Eastern Qing Tombs . At the time of his death, China was a very rich and undoubtedly enormously influential country, which, however, had structural problems to overcome. Compared to the other empires of the time, however, it was still an exemplary country governed and administered. There was therefore no question of a social or even state crisis .


Qianlong with his family

Emperor Qianlong had a total of forty-one wives of varying ranks. Only the empresses and those concubines who bore children to the emperor are shown:

  • Empress Xiao Xian (孝贤, 1712–1748): 4 children
  • Empress Ulanara (繼 皇后, 1718–1766), fallen from grace: 3 children
  • Empress Xiao Yi Chun (孝 仪 纯, 1727–1775): 6 children, including Prince Yongyan (= Emperor Jiaqing )
  • Imperial wife Zhe Min (哲 悯,? –1735): 2 children
  • Imperial wife Shu Jia (淑 嘉,? –1755): 4 children
  • Imperial wife Chun Hui (纯 慧, 1713–1760): 3 children
  • Consort Xin (忻,? –1765): 2 children
  • Consort Yu (愉, 1714–1792): one child
  • Concubine Shu (舒, 1728–1777): a child
  • Concubine Dun (惇, 1745–1806): a child

Qianlong only had a particularly deep relationship with his first wife, Empress Xiao Xian. He had married her at the age of sixteen, but she died an unexpected death in 1748, which the emperor never overcame. Although he had forty other wives, he was never to enter into a similar bond again. Even so, his wives gave him 17 sons and 10 daughters, half of whom reached adulthood.

However, Qianlong felt the deepest affection for his birth mother, Xiao Sheng Xian (孝 聖 憲, 1693–1777), who was raised by him to the rank of dowager empress. He visited her regularly every three days, honored her on every holiday, showered her with gifts and took her with him even on the longest journeys. The empress mother remained very vital into old age; her son's admiration for her was extraordinary indeed. However, she was also excluded from government affairs and was strictly forbidden to interfere in political affairs.


History of china

  • Wolfram Eberhard , Alide Eberhard: History of China. From the beginning to the present (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 413). Kröner, Stuttgart 1971, DNB 456503854 .
  • Patricia Buckley Ebrey: China. An illustrated story. Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 1996, ISBN 3-593-35322-9 .
  • Jacques Gernet : The Chinese World. The history of China from the beginning to the present day (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch 1505). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1997, ISBN 3-518-38005-2 .
  • Gisela Gottschalk : China's great emperor. Their history - their culture - their achievements. The Chinese ruling dynasties in pictures, reports and documents. Pawlak, Herrsching 1985, ISBN 3-88199-229-4 .
  • Ann Paludan: Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors. The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial China. Thames & Hudson, London 1998, ISBN 0-500-05090-2 .
  • Jonathan D. Spence : China's way into the modern age (= dtv 30795). Updated and expanded edition. Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-423-30795-1 .

History of the Qing Dynasty

  • John K. Fairbank : Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911 (= The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 11). Part 2. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge et al. 1980, ISBN 0-521-22029-7 .
  • Frederick W. Mote: Imperial China. 900-1800. Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge MA et al. 2003, ISBN 0-674-44515-5 .
  • Willard J. Peterson (Ed.): The Ch'ing Empire to 1800 (= The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 9). Part 1. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge et al. 2002, ISBN 0-521-24334-3 .
  • Evelyn S. Rawski, Jessica Rawson (Eds.): China. The Three Emperors. 1662-1795. Royal Academy of Arts, London 2006, ISBN 1-903973-69-4 .

Emperor Qianlong

  • Mark C. Elliott: Emperor Qianlong. Son of Heaven, man of the world. Longman, New York NY et al. 2009, ISBN 978-0-321-08444-6 .
  • Martin Gimm : Emperor Qianlong (1711–1799) as a poet. Notes on his literary work (= Sinologica Coloniensia. Vol. 15). Steiner, Stuttgart 1993. ISBN 3-515-05881-8 .
  • Chiumei Ho: Splendors of China's Forbidden City. The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong. Merrell, London 2004, ISBN 1-85894-203-9 .
  • Zhang Hongxing: The Qianlong Emperor. Treasures from the forbidden city. London 2002. ISBN 1-901663-77-9 .
  • 周遠廉:乾隆 皇帝 大 傳. Henan Renmin Chubanshe, Zhengzhou 1990. ISBN 7-215-00624-7 .

Qianlong's art collection

(divided into the National Palace Museum Taipei and the Palace Museum Beijing ):

  • Marie-Claude Bianchini (Ed.): Trésors du Musée national du Palais, Taipei, Mémoire d'Empire. Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris 1998. ISBN 2-7118-3651-7 .
  • Lothar Ledderose (ed.): Beijing Palace Museum. Treasures from the Forbidden City. Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1985, ISBN 3-458-14266-5 .
  • Ursula Toyka-Fuong (Red.): Treasures of the Heavenly Sons: the Imperial Collection from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, The Great Collections. Hatje Cantz and others, Ostfildern and others 2003, ISBN 3-7757-1318-2 .

Beijing and courtyard under Qianlong

  • Che Bing Chiu: Yuanming Yuan. Le jardin de la Clarté parfaite. Les Éditions de l'Imprimeur, Besançon 2000, ISBN 2-910735-31-1 .
  • May Holdsworth, Caroline Courtauld: The Forbidden City. The Great Within. IB Tauris, London 1995, ISBN 1-86064-021-4 .
  • Susan Naquin: Beijing. Temples and City Life, 1400-1900. University of California Press, Berkeley CA, et al. 2000, ISBN 0-520-21991-0 .
  • Frances Wood : The Forbidden City. British Museum Press, London 2005, ISBN 0-7141-2789-2 .
  • Wan Yi: Life in the Forbidden City. The Qing Dynasty 1644–1911. The Commercial Press, Hong Kong 1989, ISBN 962-07-5075-6 .
  • Young-Tsu Wong: A Paradise Lost. the Imperial Garden Yuanming-Yuan. University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu 2001, ISBN 0-8248-2328-1

Web links

Commons : Qiánlóng  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Henri Cordier: Les Conquêtes de l'Empereur de la Chine . (PDF) In: Mémoires concernant l'Asie Orientale 1: 1913, 1–18. Michèle Pirazzoli-T'Serstevens: Gravures des conquêtes de l'empereur de chine K'ien-long au Musée Guimet . (PDF) Paris 1969. Paul Pelliot: Les "Conquêtes de l'Empereur de la Chine" . In: T'oung Pao 20: 1920/21 (3/4), pp. 183-274.
predecessor Office successor
Yongzheng Emperor of China
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on September 10, 2005 in this version .