The Grandeur of the Qing | Asia for Educators

III. Classroom Materials



The Qing emperors occupied two major palace locations: the official “Forbidden City” in Beijing, which they inherited from the Ming emperors, and the “Yuanmingyuan,” or Old Summer Palace, on the outskirts of Beijing, begun by the Kangxi Emperor that was in fact their primary residence. [This is similar to the practice of the British Monarchs for whom Buckingham Palace is the official site of the monarchy in London and Windsor Castle outside of London a primary residence.]

The Imperial Palace/ “Forbidden City” in Beijing

The Yuanmingyuan (Old Summer Palace)

  • The Garden of Perfect Brightness – Yuanmingyuan (MIT Visualizing Cultures)
    Known as the “Summer Palace” of the Qing emperors, the Yuanmingyuan, or Garden of Perfect Brightness, was where the Qing emperors spent much of their time, using the Imperial City in the center of Beijing for official functions.
    “In order to create a private retreat near the Forbidden City but away from its formality, the Kangxi emperor created a villa with gardens to the northwest of Beijing… The emperor had taken frequent excursions to this area at the foot of the Western Hills, which had abundant streams and lakes and enjoyed cool breezes. Members of the royal family often joined him and official business was sometimes conducted.” Subsequent emperors built additional villas and gardens, extending the area, which became known as the Yuanmingyuan or “Garden of Perfect Brightness.” (It is also known as the “Old Summer Palace.") European visitors marveled at the palaces and gardens.
    The Yuanmingyuan was a paradise on earth for the Qing emperors: beautiful, extravagant, utterly private, and totally their creation – not an inheritance from previous dynasties. First constructed in 1700, it was completely destroyed and plundered by Anglo-French forces in 1860, following the second Opium War with China.
    Sections of this marvelous visual unit include:
    1. The Yuanmingyuan as Imperial Paradise, 1700-1860
      *MAP of the Yuanmingyuan with images of the palaces therein
    2. The European Palaces and Pavilions of the Yuanmingyuan
      In 1747 the Qianlong emperor began an addition to the Eternal Spring Garden in the form of European-style buildings and gardens. He commissioned engravings in 1783, “20 Views,” the only visual record we have now of “this ornate experiment in Western perspective. The European section of the imperial retreat is at the nexus of myth and reality between Orientalism and Occientalism” – China and Europe in the eyes of each other.
    3. The Destruction, Looting, and Memory, 1860-Present
      In 1860, the Second Opium War came to a violent end when British and French forces sacked and destroyed the Yuanmingyuan. The wooden buildings were burned. The stone and marble European-style palaces lay in ruins. Many valuable objects of art made their way into the great "Oriental” collections of the West –the issue of looted Chinese art and artifacts continuing to make news today. The Yuanmingyuan remains a symbol of modern China’s humiliation at the hands of the rapacious foreigners in the 19th century.
      Note: Today, the Old Summer Palace remains “…one of China’s most iconic monuments and tourist destinations. Its importance, more to Chinese than to foreign visitors, lies in the fact that it was an imperial palace and garden that was almost completely pillaged and destroyed by British and French troops in 1860. As such it has become a symbol of China’s subjugation at the hands of foreign powers in the 19th century, and hence a focal point of modern Chinese nationalism. Ironically its very power as a symbol rests in its physical invisibility—there is almost nothing to see except the ruins of European palaces that formed one part of the entire garden. Although there is “no there there,” the Yuanmingyuan is everywhere in the Chinese national consciousness.”
      (Tourists today often visit the “New Summer Palace” that was built later in the century, by the Empress Dowager Cixi as a new imperial garden named the Yiheyuan (Cheerful Harmony Garden 頤和園) in a nearby location. Today this is maintained as a major tourist site generally called the New Summer Palace, to distinguish it from the Yuanmingyuan, or “Old Summer Palace.”)
  • The European Palaces of the Qianlong Emperor, Beijing (Smarthistory)
    In 2009, two eighteenth-century Chinese bronze sculptures — one representing a rat’s head and the other a rabbit’s — sold at a Christie’s auction in Paris for $40.4 million. Soon afterwards, the art world watched, stunned, as the winning bidder, Cai Mingchao, announced at a press conference in Beijing that he had no intention of actually paying for the sculptures. Cai, a consultant for a group that seeks the return of Chinese artifacts, had intentionally sabotaged the auction as an act of patriotic protest. His bids on these bronze sculptures were intended to prevent the international sale of works of art that Cai and many Chinese citizens consider important artifacts of their cultural heritage…The rat and rabbit heads were originally created for the Garden of Eternal Spring, an enormous Qing Dynasty (1636-1912) garden northwest of the Forbidden City in Beijing, commissioned in the mid-eighteenth century by the Qianlong emperor
  • The Late Qing Empire in Global History [PDF] (Education About Asia, Association for Asian Studies)
    The role of the Chinese empires in global history at the height of their economic power (roughly 1400–1800) has been well described in powerful books by Andre Gunder Frank, Kenneth Pomeranz, and Bin Wong. In that period, China’s advanced technology and commercial economy, as well as access to their markets over sea and land, created a market that drove technological development, efficiency in industrial organization, and an increasing volume of long-distance trade. The effects were felt first in East Asia and Southeast Asia, but eventually powered the development of travel, trade, and finance throughout the Indian Ocean, and finally drew Europeans, eager to connect with the center of wealth, out of their continent and into the oceans. After roughly 1800, however, various factors caused China to lose its global economic leadership as it experienced social turmoil, economic fracturing, and the imposition of European imperialism. Global historians sometimes lose sight of the China thread between this threshold of 1800 and the appearance of modern China as an ascendant power in the late twentieth century, but there are many reasons why we should continue to see important trends and their effects reflected in the modern Chinese experience.

IV. Books

Qing Dynasty Overview

Paludan, Ann. Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors. London and New York: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1998 and 2001. With maps and 368 illustrations, many in color, this book is an excellent reference for students of all ages.

Rowe, William T. China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing (History of Imperial China). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Smith, Richard J. The Qing Dynasty and Traditional Chinese Culture, Lanham and London: Roman and Littlefield Publishers, 2015.

Smith, Richard J. China's Cultural Heritage: The Qing Dynasty, 1644-1912. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1994.

Literature and Art

Barnhart, Richard M., Wen C. Fong, and Maxwell K. Hearn. Mandate of Heaven, Emperors and Artists in China: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Zürich: Museum Reitberg, 1996.

Chou, Ju-hsi and Claudia Brown. The Elegant Brush: Chinese Painting Under the Qianlong Emperor, 1735-1795. Phoenix: The Phoenix Art Museum, 1985.

A Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China, or Surface is Illusion but so is Depth. Produced and directed by Philip Haas; written and presented by David Hockney. Program for Art on Film, J. Paul Getty Trust and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988.

Hearn, Maxwell K., ed., with Wen C. Fong, Chin-Sung Chang, and Maxwell K. Hearn (2008) Landscapes Clear and Radiant: The Art of Wang Hui (1632-1771). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008.

Hearn, Maxwell K. How to Read Chinese Paintings. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008.

Hearn, Maxwell K. "Document and Portrait: The Southern Inspection Tour Paintings of Kangxi and Qianlong." in Chinese Painting under the Qianlong Emperor: The Symposium Papers in Two Volumes, ed. Ju-hsi Chou and Claudia Brown. Phoebus 6, Number 1 (1988), Arizona State University. pp. 91-189.

Hightower, James R. The Poetry of T'ao Ch'ien. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970.

Mote, Frederick W. "A Millennium of Chinese Urban History: Form, Time, and Space Concepts in Soochow." in Four Views of China, ed. Robert A. Kapp, Rice University Studies 59, no. 4, Fall 1973. For a discussion of how the literary associations of a site outlive its physical remains.

Murck, Alfreda, and Wen C. Fong, eds., Words and Images: Chinese Poetry, Calligraphy, and Painting. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991.

Wang, Yao-t'ing. Looking at Chinese Painting: A Comprehensive Guide to the Philosophy, Technique and History of Chinese Painting. Translated by the Stone Studio. Tokyo: Nigensha, 1996.

Yang Xin, Richard M. Barnhart, Nie Chongzheng, James Cahill, Lang Shaojun, and Wu Hung. Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting. New Haven and Beijing: Yale University Press and Foreign Languages Press, 1997.

State and Economy

Clark, Champ. Flood (Planet Earth Series). Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1982. For a full discussion and illustrations of dike construction techniques in Qing dynasty China.

Elliott, Mark C. The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China. Stanford: Standford University Press, 2001.

Spence, Jonathan D. Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K'ang-hsi. New York: Knopf, 1974.

Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China. W. W. Norton & Company, 2001 (reprint). See section on Kangxi's Valedictory Edict of 1717.

Spence, Jonathan D. Ts'ao Yin and the K'ang-hsi Emperor, Bondservant and Master. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1966.

Zelin, Madeleine: The Merchants of Zigong: Industrial Entrepreneurship in Early Modern China (Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University), New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Related Exhibits

These two exhibits have closed, but the catalogues published in conjunction with each exhibit remain available...offering full color reproductions of objects and essays on related topics.

Splendors of China's Forbidden City: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong
The Field Museum, Chicago | The companion website of the 2004 exhibit, Splendors of China's Forbidden City: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong, which brought nearly 400 artifacts from the Palace Museum in Beijing to the United States to tell the story of the remarkable Qianlong emperor.

China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795
Royal Academy of Art, London | This companion website to the 2005-06 exhibit at the Royal Academy on the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong emperors features extensive background text on the legacy of the three emperors and China during Qing times, specifically on the following topics: the Qing court; ritual and religion; the literati; conquest and empire; Christianity and the Jesuits; the auspicious universe, and more.