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Qianlong Emperor
The Qianlong Emperor on his throne.
The Qianlong Emperor on his throne.
Some attributes
First Name: Qianlong Emperor
Second Position: Emperor of China
Third Nationality: Manchu
Other attributes
Fourth Allegiance: Qing Dynasty
Fifth Born: 25 September 1711
Sixth Died: 7 February 1799 (aged 87)

The Qianlong Emperor (Chien-lung Emperor; born Hongli (Hung-li; Chinese: 弘曆; Möllendorff transliteration hung li); 17 September 1711 – 7 February 1799) was the sixth emperor of the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty, and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China proper. 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. 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[]

Consorts of Emperor Qianlong.

Hongli as born in 25 September 1711, in Beijing. 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 favorite 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.

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".

Miao Rebellion[]

The Qianlong Emperor was a successful military leader. Immediately after ascending the throne, he appointed general Zhang Guangsi, experienced Ortai's officer, to quell the Miao rebellion (1735–36).

Since the Ming dynasty southwestern China (Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi) were within the Chinese empire, but the state control of these territories was weak. Yongzheng emperor decided to strengthen it, replacing local, semi-independent chieftains, called tusi, with regular Chinese administration. To achieve this goal, Manchu prince Ortai led several war campaigns into the area, pacifying them between 1726-32. However, military control did not stop the official abuse and extortion, suppressing only the reaction against them.

By 1735 misrule and extortion proved too much and the local people rose to fight. Some of them were desperate enough as to kill their wives and children before joining the rebellion, this way burning all the bridges behind them. The uprising started in Taigong, then covering the area of Liping and Duyun.

The uprising was bloodily suppressed by Zhang Guangsi, the last rebels doggedly fighting at Niupidajing. Altogether Chinese armies destroyed ca. 1200 Miao's forts and killed over 18,000 warriors. The campaign lasted from February till November 1736. Zhang, meanwhile appointed general governor of Guizhou, started to build roads, strengthening the garrisons and opening the mines, to enhance both the imperial control and the economics of the region.

Ten Great Campaigns[]

The Ten Great Campaigns (Chinese: 十全武功; pinyin: shí quán wǔ gōng) were a series of wars fought during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, much celebrated in the official Qing dynasty annals. They included three to enlarge the area of Qing control in Central Asia: two against the Zunghars (1755–1757) and the pacification of Xinjiang (1758–1759). The other seven campaigns were more in the nature of police actions on frontiers already established – two wars to suppress the Jinchuan rebels in Sichuan, another to suppress rebels in Taiwan (1787–1788), and four expeditions abroad against the Burmese (1765–1769), the Vietnamese (1788–1789), and the warlike Gurkhas in Nepal on the border between Tibet and India (1790–1792), the last counting as two.

The Dzungars and pacification of Xinjiang (1755–1759)[]

The 1755 Pacification of Dzungaria (zh) and the later suppression of the Revolt of the Altishahr Khojas (zh) secured the northern and western boundaries of Xinjiang, eliminated rivalry for control over the Dalai Lama in Tibet, and thereby eliminated any rival influence in Mongolia. It also led to the pacification of the Islamicised, Turkic-speaking southern half of Xinjiang immediately thereafter.

In 1752, Dawachi and the Khoit-Oirat prince Amursana competed for the title of Khan of the Dzungars. Dawachi defeated Amursana various times and gave him no chance to recover. Amursana was thus forced to flee with his small army to the Qing court. Qianlong pledged to support Amursana since Amursana accepted Qing authority; among those who supported Amursana and the Chinese were the Uyghur brothers Burhān al-Dīn (波羅尼都) and Khwāja-i Jahān (霍集占). In 1755, Qianlong sent Zhao Hui aided by Amursana, Burhān al-Dīn and Khwāja-i Jahān. After several skirmishes and small scale battles along the Ili River Zhao Hui was able to approach Ili (Gulja) and Dawachi surrendered. Qianlong made Amursana Khan of Khoit as one of four equal khans to the displeasure of Amursana, who wanted to be Khan of the Zunghars.

In the summer of 1756 Amursana started a Dzungar revolt against the Chinese with the help of Chingünjav. The Qing dynasty reacted at the start of 1757 and sent Zhao Hui with support from Burhān al-Dīn and Khwāja-i Jahān. Among several battles, the most important ones were illustrated in the paintings of Qianlong. Zunghar leader Ayushi defected to the Chinese side and attacked the Zunghar camp at Gadan-Ola (Battle of Gadan-Ola). The great general Zhao Hui defeated the Dzungars in two battles: the Battle of Oroi-Jalatu (1758) and the Battle of Khurungui (1758). In the former battle Zhao Hui attacked Amursana's camp at night; Amursana was able to fight on until Zhao Hui received enough reinforcements to drive off Amursana. Between the time of Oroi-Jalatu and Khurungui, the Chinese under Prince Cabdan-jab defeated Amursana at the Battle of Khorgos (known in the Qianlong engravings as "The Victory of Khorgos"). At Mount Khurungui Zhao Hui defeated Amursana in a night attack on his camp after crossing a river and drove off Amursana. To commemorate the two victories of Zhao Hui, Qianlong had the Puning Temple of Chengde constructed, home to the world's tallest wooden sculpture of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara and hence its alternate name, the 'Big Buddha Temple'. Afterwards Huo Jisi of Turfan submitted to the Qing dynasty. After all of these battles, Amursana fled to Russia (where he died) and Chingünjav fled north to Darkhad but was captured at Wang Tolgoi and executed in Beijing.

After the second campaign against the Dzungars in 1758, two Altishahr nobles the Khoja brothers Burhān al-Dīn (Buranidun (zh)) and Khwāja-i Jahān ((Hojijan (zh)) began a revolt against the Qing dynasty. Aside from the remaining Dzunghars they were also joined by the Kyrgyz peoples and the Oases Turkic peoples (Uyghur) in Altishahr (Tarim Basin). After capturing several towns in Altishahr there were still two rebel fortresses at Yarkand and Kashgar at the end of 1758. Uyghur Muslims from Turfan and Hami including Emin Khoja and Khoja Si Bek stayed loyal to the Qing and helped the regime fight the Altishahri Uyghurs under Burhān al-Dīn and Khwāja-i Jahān. Zhao Hui unsuccessfully besieged Yarkand and fought an indecisive battle outside the city, this engagement is known as the Battle of Tonguzluq. He instead took other towns east of Yarkand but was forced to retreat, the Zunghar and Uyghur rebels laid siege to him at the Siege of Black River Fort (Kara Usu). In 1759, Zhao Hui sent for relief troops, 600 troops showed up and were under the overall command of generals Fu De and Machang with the 200 cavalry led by Namjil; other high-ranking officers included Arigun, Dou Bin, Duan Ji Bu, Fulu, Yan Xiangshi, Janggimboo, Yisamu, Agui and Shuhede. On February 3, 1759, over 5,000 enemy cavalry led by Burhān al-Dīn ambushed the 600 relief troops at the Battle of Qurman. The Uyghur and Zunghar cavalry were stopped by the Qing zamburak artillery camels, musketry and archers; Namjil and Machang led a cavalry charge on one of the flanks. It seems that Namjil was killed and Machang was unhorsed and fought well on foot with his bow. After a hard fought battle the Qing were victorious and attacked the Zunghar camp, causing the enemies besieging Black River to withdraw. After the victory at Qurman, the Qing overran the remaining rebel towns and Ming Rui led a detachment of cavalry and defeated Zunghar cavalry at the Battle of Qos-Qulaq. The Uyghurs retreated from Qos-Qulaq but were defeated by Zhao Hui and Fu De at the Battle of Arcul (Altishahr) on September 1, 1759, the rebels were again defeated at the Battle of Yesil Kol Nor. After these defeats Burhān al-Dīn and Khwāja-i Jahān fled with their small army of supporters to Badakshan. Sultan Shah promised to protect them but he contacted the Qing dynasty and promised to turn them over. The fleeing rebels came to Sultan Shah's capital and after some time he attacked them and after a quick battle captured them. When the Chinese came to Sultan Shah's capital he handed over the rebels that had fled from them and Sultan Shah submitted to Chinese authority.

Dzungar genocide[]

The Qianlong Emperor issued his commanders with direct orders to "massacre" the Zunghars and "show no mercy". Rewards were given to those who carried out the extermination and orders were given for young men to be slaughtered while women were taken as the spoils of war. The Qing extirpated Zunghar identity from the remaining enslaved Zunghar women and children. Orders were given to "completely exterminate the Zunghar tribes, and this successful genocide by the Qing left Zungharia mostly unpopulated and vacant.

Qianlong ordered his men to- "Show no mercy at all to these rebels. Only the old and weak should be saved. Our previous campaigns were too lenient.". The Qianlong Emperor did not see any conflict between performing genocide on the Zunghars while upholding the peaceful principles of Confucianism, supporting his position by portraying the Zunghars as barbarian and subhuman. Qianlong proclaimed that "To sweep away barbarians is the way to bring stability to the interior.", that the Zunghars "turned their back on civilization.", and that "Heaven supported the emperor." in the destruction of the Zunghars.

In an account of the war, Qing scholar Wei Yuan, wrote that about 40% of the Zunghar households were killed by smallpox, 20% fled to Russia or the Kazakh Khanate, and 30% were killed by the army, leaving no yurts in an area of several thousands of li except those of the surrendered. Clarke wrote 80%, or between 480,000 and 600,000 people, were killed between 1755 and 1758 in what "amounted to the complete destruction of not only the Zunghar state but of the Zunghars as a people."

Historian Peter Perdue has shown that the decimation of the Zunghars was the result of an explicit policy of extermination launched by Qianlong. Perdue attributed the decimation of the Zunghars to a "deliberate use of massacre" and has described it as an "ethnic genocide".

According to the Encyclopedia of genocide and crimes against humanity, Volume 3, under Article II of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Qianlong's actions against the Zunghars constitute genocide, as he massacred the vast majority of the Zunghar population and enslaved or banished the remainder, and had "Zunghar culture" extirpated and destroyed. Qianlong's campaign constituted the "eighteenth-century genocide par excellence."

The Qing "final solution" of genocide to solve the problem of the Zunghars, made the Qing sponsored settlement of millions of Han Chinese, Hui, Turkestani Oasis people (Uyghurs) and Manchu Bannermen in Zungharia possible, since the land was now devoid of Zunghars. Professor Stanley W. Toops noted that today's demographic situation is similar to that of the early Qing period in Xinjiang. In northern Xinjiang, the Qing brought in Han, Hui, Uyghur, Xibe, and Kazakh colonists after they exterminated the Zunghar Oirat Mongols in the region, with one third of Xinjiang's total population consisting of Hui and Han in the northern are, while around two thirds were Uyghurs in southern Xinjiang's Tarim Basin. In Dzungaria, the Qing established new cities like Ürümqi and Yining.

Suppression of the Jinchuan hill peoples (1747–1749, 1771–1776)[]

The suppression of the Jinchuan hill people was the costliest and most difficult, and also the most destructive campaign of Qianlong. The Jinchuan (literally "Golden Stream") was northwest of Chengdu in western Sichuan. The tribal peoples there were related to the Tibetans of the Amdo. The first campaign in 1747–1749 was a simple affair; with little use of force the Manchu general induced the native chieftains to accept a peace plan, and departed.

Interethnic conflict brought the Manchus back after twenty years. The result was the Qing expeditionary force being forced to fight a protracted war of attrition costing the Qing treasury several times the amounts expended on the earlier conquests of the Zunghars and Xinjiang. The resisting tribes retreated to their stone towers and forts in steep mountains and could only be dislodged by cannon. The Manchu generals were ruthless in annihilating the rebellious tribes, then reorganised the region in a military prefecture and repopulated it with more cooperative inhabitants. 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.

Southern Campaigns (1765–1769, 1788–1789)[]

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. 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.

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 gave formal protection to the Le emperor and his family, and would not intervene in Vietnam for another 90 years.

The Pacification of Taiwan (1786-1788)[]

n 1786, Taiwan's Minister discovered and suppressed the Heaven and Earth Society, the members of Heaven and Earth Society had gathered Ming loyalist comrades, and their leader Lin Shuang-wen proclaimed himself king. Many important people took part in this revolt and the insurgents quickly rose to 50,000 people. In, less than a year the rebels occupied almost the entire part of southern Taiwan. Hearing that the rebels had occupied most of Taiwan, Qing troops were sent to suppress them in a hurry. The east insurgents defeated the poorly organized troops and they had to resist falling to the enemy. Finally, the Qing court sent General Fuk'anggan while Hai Lan, Counselor of the Police, deployed nearly 3,000 people to fight the insurgents. These new troops were well equipped, disciplined and had combat experience which proved enough to route the insurgents. The Ming loyalists had lost the war and their leaders and remaining rebels hid among the locals. Lin Shuang-wen and Zhuang Datian Tiandihui and other leaders had started a rebellion which at first was successful, and as many as 300,000 took part in the rebellion. The Qing general Fu Kang'an was sent to quell the rebellion with a force of 20,000 soldiers, which he accomplished. The campaign was relatively expensive for the Qing government, although leaders Lin Shuang-wen and Zhuang Datian were both captured. After the revolt ended, Qianlong was forced to rethink the method of government for Taiwan.

The Gurkha Campaigns (1788–1793)[]

The Gurkha wars display the Qing court's continuing sensitivity to conditions in Tibet. The late 1760s saw the creation of a strong state in Nepal and the involvement in the region of a new foreign power, Britain, through their British East India Company. The rash Gurkha rulers of Nepal decided to invade southern Tibet in 1788. The two Manchu resident agents in Lhasa (Ambans) made no attempt at defense or resistance. Instead they took the child Panchen Lama to safety when the Nepalese troops came through and plundered the rich monastery at Shigatse on their way to Lhasa. Upon hearing of the first Nepalese incursions, the Qianlong Emperor commanded troops from Sichuan to proceed to Lhasa and restore order. By the time they reached southern Tibet, the Gurkhas had already withdrawn. This counted as the first of two wars with the Gurkhas.

In 1791 the Gurkhas returned in force. Qianlong urgently dispatched an army of 10,000 men. It was made up of around 6,000 Manchu and Mongol forces supplemented by tribal soldiers under the able general Fuk'anggan, with Hailancha as his deputy. They entered Tibet from Xining (Qinghai) in the north, shortening the march but making it in the dead of winter 1791–1792, crossing high mountain passes in deep snow and cold. They reached central Tibet in the summer of 1792 and within two or three months could report that they had won a decisive series of encounters that pushed the Gurkha armies across the crest of the Himalaya and back into the valley of Kathmandu. Fuk'anggan fought on into 1793, when he forced the battered Gurkhas to sign a treaty on Manchu terms which forced Gurkhas to pay tax every five years.

The Campaigns in Perspective[]

In his later years, Qianlong referred to himself with the grandiose style name of "Old Man of the Ten Completed [Great Campaigns]" (十全老人). He also wrote an essay enumerating the victories in 1792 entitled "Record of Ten Completions" (十全记).

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. 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.

Chinese political identity and frontier policy[]

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.". 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. Han migration to Xinjiang was permitted by the Manchu Qianlong Emperor, who also gave Chinese names to cities to replace their Mongol names, instituting civil service exams in the area, and implementing the county and prefecture Chinese style administrative system, and promoting Han migration to Xinjiang to solidify Qing control was supported by numerous Manchu officials under Qianlong. A proposal was written in The Imperial Gazetteer of the Western Regions (Xiyu tuzhi) to use state-funded schools to promote Confucianism among Muslims in Xinjiang by Fuheng and his team of Manchu officials and the Qianlong Emperor. Confucian names were given to towns and cities in Xinjiang by the Qianlong Emperor, like "Dihua" for Urumqi in 1760 and Changji, Fengqing, Fukang, Huifu, and Suilai for other cities in Xinjiang, Qianlong also implemented Chinese style prefectures, departments, and counties in a portion of the region.

The Qing Qianlong Emperor compared his achievements with that of the Han and Tang ventures into Central Asia. Qianlong's conquest of Xinjiang was driven by his mindfulness of the examples set by the Han and Tang. Qing scholars who wrote the official Imperial Qing gazetteer for Xinjiang made frequent references to the Han and Tang era names of the region. The Qing conqueror of Xinjiang, Zhao Hui, is ranked for his achivements with the Tang dynasty General Gao Xianzhi and the Han dynasty Generals Ban Chao and Li Guangli. Both aspects pf the Han and Tang models for ruling Xinjiang were adopted by the Qing and the Qing system also superficially resembled that of nomadic powers like the Qara Khitay, but in reality the Qing system was different from that of the nomads, both in terms of territory conquered geographically and their centralized administrative system, resembling a western stye (European and Russian) system of rule. The Qing portrayed their conquest of Xinjiang in officials works as a continuation and restoration of the Han and Tang accomplishments in the region, mentioning the previous achievements of those dynasties. The Qing justified their conquest by claiming that the Han and Tang era borders were being restored, and identifying the Han and Tang's grandeur and authority with the Qing. Many Manchu and Mongol Qing writers who wrote about Xinjiang did so in the Chinese language, from a culturally Chinese point of view. Han and Tang era stories about Xinjiang were recounted and ancient Chinese places names were reused and circulated. Han and Tang era records and accounts of Xinjiang were the only writings on the region availible to Qing era Chinese in the 18th century and needed to be replaced with updated accounts by the literati.

Cultural achievements[]

The Qianlong Emperor in Armor on Horseback, by Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione(Long shining)(1688–1766 AD).

The Qianlong Emperor Viewing Paintings.

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. 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.

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." 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. 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.

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. "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."

"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," 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."

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." 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."

Burning of books and modification of texts[]

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. 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.

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. 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).


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.

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.

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. Jean-Damascène Sallusti was also a court painter. He co-designed, with Castiglione and Ignatius Sichelbart, the Battle Copper Prints. During his reign the Emin Minaret was built in Turpan to commemorate his father.


In the early Qing, ethnic identity within the Eight Banners was not based on ancestry or geneaology, but culture, lifestyle, and language. This was how Nurhaci and Hong Taiji categorized Manchu and Han. People were put into Manchu Banners or Han Banners based on those factors, and in the early Qing Han Bannermen were an important part of the Banner System. Qianlong changed this definition to one of descent, and demobilized a large amount of Han Bannermen in provincial garrisons from the Banner system during his reign. He followed a policy of Manchufying the Eight Banner system and urging the Bannermen to protect their cultural heritage, language, and martial skills.

Han Chinese defectors who fled from the Ming joined the Jurchens in Nurgan before 1618 were eventually placed into Manchu Banners and regarded as Jurchen and later Manchu, but the Ming residents of Liaodong who were incorporated into the Eight Banners after the conquest of Liaodong from the Ming from 1618-1643 were treated as Nikan (Han Chinese) and eventually placed into the separate Chinese Banners (Chinese:Hanjun, Manchu: Nikan cooha or Ujen cooha), and many of these Chinese Bannermen (Hanjun, or Han Bannermen) from Liaodong had Jurchen ancestry and were not classified as Manchu by the Qing. Geography, culture, language, occupation and lifestyle were the factors used by Nurhaci's Jianzhou Jurchen Khanate to classify people as Jurchen or Nikan, those who were considered Jurchen lived in a Jurchen lifestyle, used the Jurchen language and inhabited the eastern part were considered Jurchen, while those who were considered by Nurhaci as Nikan (Han Chinese) even though some of these Nikan were of Korean or Jurchen ancestry, were the ones who used Chinese language, and inhabited villages and towns on the west.

People from both sides often moved over the cultural and territorial division between the Ming Liaodong and Jurchen Nurgan, Han Chinese soldiers and peasants would moved into Nurgan while Jurchen mercenaries and merchants would moved to Liaodong, with some lineages ended up being dispersed on both sides, and the Jurchen viewed people as Nikan depending on whether they acted like Han Chinese.

Nurhaci and Hongtaiji both viewed ethnic identity as determined by culture, language, and attitude, not by ancestry (genealogy), and these identities could be changed and people transferred from different ethnic banners to another. Mongols were associated with the Mongolian language, nomadism and horse related activities, Manchus were associated with Manchu language and foremost being part of the Banners, and Han Chinese were associated with inhabiting Liaodong, the Chinese language, agriculture, commerce. Biological determinants and ancestry were disregarded in determing Manchu and Han identities, culture was the primary factor in differentiating between Manchu and Han, and occasionally identities were blurred and could be altered. The Qing creation of the separate Manchu, Mongol, and Han Banners was not rooted in distinguishable classifications of people, but of fluxing categories defined by the Qing, their membership in the different banners primarily depending on whether they spoke the Manchu, Mongolian, or the Chinese language. It has been suggested that the Chinese Bannermen (Hanjun, or Han Bannermen) themselves were not very familiar with the exact meaning of "Hanjun", as the Qing changed the definition of what it meant to be a Manchu or a Han Bannerman. The Manchu word for Han, "Nikan" was used to describe people who lived like Han Chinese and not their actual ethnic origin.

The mistaken views applied to Chinese Bannermen (Hanjun, or Han Bannermen) about race and ethnicity missed the fact that they were actually a "cultural group" since a person could be a Chinese Bannermen (Hanjun, or Han Bannermen) without having to be an actual Han Chinese. It was Qianlong who 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, this replaced the earlier opposing ideology and stance used by Nurhaci and Hong Taiji who classified identity according to culture and politics only and not ancestry, but it was Qianlong's view on Chinese Bannermen (Hanjun, or Han Bannermen) identity which influenced the later historians and expunged the earlier Qing stance.

Qianlong also promulgated an entirely new view of the Han Bannermen different from his grandfather Kangxi, coming up with the abstract theory that loyalty in itself was what was regarded as the most important, so Qianlong viewed those Han Bannermen who had defected from the Ming to the Qing as traitors and compiled an unfavorable biography of the prominent Chinese Bannermen (Hanjun, or Han Bannermen) who had defected to the Qing, while at the same time Qianlong had compiled a biography to glorify Ming loyalists who were martyred in battle against the Qing called "Record of Those Martyred for Their Dynasty and Sacrificed for Purity". Some of Qianlong's inclusions and omissions on the list were political in nature, like including Li Yongfang out of Qianlong's dislike for his descendant Li Shiyao and excluding Ma Mingpei out of concern for his son Ma Xiongzhen's image.

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

From 1618-1629, the Han Chinese from eastern Liaodong who joined the Eight Banners were known as "tai nikan", the Han who defected to the Qing at Fushun were known as Fushan Nikan and were considered part of the tai nikan. The Tai Nikan were distinguished from the later Han Chinese who joined the banners between 1629-1643 and originated from western Liaodong, Shanxi, Shandong, and Zhili, and were known as "fu xi baitangga". Both groups were part of the Chinese Banners before the Qing crossed over Shanhai pass in 1644, and as such were both distinguished from Han who were incorporated into the Chinese Banners after 1644 when the Qing ruled China. The pre-1644 Chinese Bannermen were known as "old men" 旧人. A mass transfer into the Manchu banners of every single Fushun Nikan, and specifically chosen tai nikan, Koreans, and Mongols was enacted by the Qianlong Emperor in 1740.

Later years[]

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.

Qianlong began his reign with about 33,950,000 taels of silver in Treasury surplus. 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.

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. 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.

Macartney Embassy[]

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 worldviews 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.

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.

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.

Titsingh Embassy[]

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.

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. The Titsingh delegation also included the Dutch-American Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest, 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.


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, or "Palace of Tranquil Longevity", today more commonly known as the Qianlong Garden. 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.

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. He died in 1799.


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.