Qianlong Emperor 乾隆大帝

The Qianlong Emperor (25 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. As a capable and cultured ruler who inherited a thriving empire, during his long reign the Qing Empire reached the zenith of power and prosperity, boasting a large multi-ethnic population and a vibrant economy.

As a military leader, he vigorously led several military campaigns expanding the dynastic territory to the largest extent by conquering and sometimes destroying Central Asian kingdoms. However his ascension to power turned around in his late years, with enduring power came the corruption that was so detrimental to the Chinese dynasties: the Qing empire began to decline with unrestricted corruption in his later days and the Qing began to stagnate following his death.

Detail of 18th century portrait of young Qianlong Emperor. 

Sensual, witty, and confident, the young Qianlong Emperor had the reputation as a smart aleck and also a gifted student. Hongli- the future Qianlong Emperor was adored both by his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor and his father, the Yongzheng Emperor. As a teenager, Hongli was capable in martial arts and possessed literary ability. After Hongli ascended the throne he adopted the era name "Qianlong", which means "Lasting Eminence". 

Qianlong Emperor in advanced age

A British valet who accompanied his diplomat master to the Qing court in 1793 described the emperor: "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 accompanied 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.

The extremely detailed promo pictures from above are from the recent harem costume drama: "Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace" 如懿传. I have only followed the story in broad strokes mainly because of its pacing issues but I do love the commitment the series had for good costumes. I have small nitpicks here and there of course but overall I am rather impressed that a production of this caliber could be seen in this decade. 

Also on a related note, for those who are interested in browsing through a gallery of Qianlong Emperor's armor, please check it out here

Equestrian portrait of Qianlong Emperor by the imperial court painter/ Jesuit missionary Giuseppe Castiglione. The Qing Emperors especially prized the painting abilities of the western missionaries and relied on them to develop a new style that incorporated both traditional Chinese styles as well as the more opaque western styles. Because having shadows on the face usually symbolized villainy or forebode of bad luck, Qianlong generally instructed Castiglione to draw his face with a neutral flat lighting that left no shadows. 

Qianlong Emperor's brigandine armor, or dingjia (Chinese: 釘甲; Pinyin: Dīng jiǎ). It consisted of rectangular plates of metal, riveted between the fabric layers with the securing rivet heads visible on the outside. The outer layer consisted of comfortable silk and cotton paddings and elaborate thread work. Dinjia were frequently favoured by officers for its rich, expensive look and comfortable protection. However by the 19th century such armors had became obsolete. Officials such as military governors and magistrates still wore them for show but they often took out the iron plates within and merely used it as a military uniform.


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The Qianlong Emperor as Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. The emperor has had himself portrayed in the center of a thangka, a traditional Tibetan-style religious painting, but he called upon the Italian artist Giuseppe Castiglione, who was a Jesuit missionary serving at the Chinese court, to paint his face and the lotus that surrounded him. 

By having himself depicted as the enlightened being Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, the Qianlong emperor positioned himself squarely in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy. The landscape surrounding him is filled with auspicious clouds and a representation of the five-peaked, Wutaishan sacred mountain in China. The inscription on the painting proclaims Manjusri to be the ruler of the Buddhist faith. 


萧炎 said…
Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace(如懿传), have you seen all this TV series?
萧炎 said…
Lol,I have a classmate who looks very much like Emperor Qianlong.
Der said…
I guess I'm biased, but I prefer the Han Chinese styles.
Dmitry said…
Whatever the Qing army was before Qianlong, under him it became what the west and Japan knew it as for the entire 19th century.....Probably the worst army in the world!

Honestly African tribes did usually put up a better fight then the Qing army did in the first Opium war, when it managed to kill a mere 46 British troopers (I think even fewer since some of these 46 were killed by angry peasants who did show far greater courage then the Qing banners). The British campaign in Burma about 10 years earlier did cost the brits about 15 000 dead (many from illness, but the Burmese did score a few victories and even in defeat did manage to kill far more brits then the army of a superpower of 450 million people).

The white lotus rebellion was an uprising of untrained and terribly armed peasants, against which over a million militia and the entire military might of the Qing was unleashed. It was here that it became clear that the Qing army could not fight and was a paper tiger. The suppression of a mere peasant rebellion (not even very numerous) did cost the Qing 20% of the sum, the British spent on the entirety of the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, which raged for 25 years! In these wars the British crushed the French, Spanish and Dutch colonial empires and navies, conquered most of India and financed Austria, Prussia and Russia as well as Spanish resistance to defeat a continental superpower, which mobilized several millions of well trained regulars. Qianlong spent 20% of this money to suppress a bunch of starved peasants armed with primitive weaponry.

Despite the fact, that the total incompetence of the Qing army became apparent by late Qianlong, no one of the later emperors did anything to correct this. It is this that mystifies me the most. Didn't they see that their empire was utterly helpless and defenseless? That any organized and trained force, of even 10 000 could easily march to Beijing and take it with ease? Even peasant uprisings were not an existential threat. And yet no one did anything till the Taiping. The Taiping would have won btw. had the infighting in the Taiping not paralyzed them, the Qing would have fallen.

It is a mystery to me why the Qing army became so terribly bad. Algerian corsairs, African tribesmen, Afghan clansmen and Indian Maharajas did perform better than it did. What surprises me even more is why Qianlong and his successors, as well as the Chinese mandarin elite, which was far from stupid, did do nothing to fix this.
Der said…

Indeed, it is perplexing why the Qing deteriorated so much. But this was in the latter century of the dynasty, and most Chinese dynasties don't last more than 250 years, it's almost like a human body, eventually everyone decays. Ottoman Turkey was the 'Sick Man of Europe' and Qing China was the 'Sick Man of Asia'. The Ottoman Turks were once the terror of Europe in the 16th and 17th century, but eventually succumbed despite a great beginning. The same with Imperial Spain, Portugal, etc. All powers rise and fall it would seem, nothing is forever.

For the Qing, I think they had the same problem as the Bourbons of France and the Romanovs of Russia, and the Braganza of Portugal ... they lost the loyalty of the people, if you don't rule right, people start defecting. At least the Qing didn't share the fate of the Bourbons and Romanovs, their dynasty just faded away.
Dragon's Armory said…
I'd diagnose it as 2 Things,

1, Over-consolidation by the central power and the 2, the decay of the leadership of said central power.

In regards to the 1st point: Like many cultures of the Sinosphere they mostly saw threats from within than from the outside, historically the Chinese polities mostly only had to fear from internal rebellions and traitorous generals. Yes, they did faced threat from the steppes, but for the most part these were not existential threats. The cycle for dynasties usually goes- after the vigorous early expansion of the founders of the dynasty- and asserting its territories along the steppe frontiers, most of the dynasties would then slowly diminish in the oncoming centuries.

In this regard I think the Qing fell into this trap even harder. Because unlike the Yuan, for most of its lifespan they don't really have a lot of threats on its boarders that were relative to them in terms of military capability and size (during the formation of the Yuan they had to contend with many other Khaganates of the Mongol royal family) But the Qing had smashed most of their early rivals- be they the Ming or the Dzungars. Instead, by the time of Qianlong, the Qing was mostly unrivalled in eastern Asia, Kangxi had knocked the teeth out of the Dzungars and nearly stomped out of all of the foes that were a threat to the Manchu hegemony from Xinjian to Taiwan. By the time of Qianlong even those powers that managed to somehow repel its armies (Burma, Tay Son Vietnamese) still in the end have to acknowledge its superior status.

I think this laxing attitude in regards toward external threats, -combined with the endemic Manchu paranoia about a Han uprisings greatly de-fanged the Chinese society as a whole (not to mention the nearly a century of prosperity brought forward by the Kangxi- Yongzhen- Qianlong Emperors.) I mean who are you going to fight in a century of internal peace with those stashes of weapons- or those war-hungry soldiers? It's the same dilemma Tokugawa faced when he reunited Japan.

By the time of the Qianlong Emperor he tried to further stabilize society by both confiscating guns from many locals in the empire and also forcing the frontier people to only use bows rather than have firearms. This stabilized the country and made them rely on the central government, but severely reduced their capabilities to defend themselves. -in short: Stability over local ardor.

Militarily he also tried to de-fang it by reducing the importance of Han bannerman and consolidating it under Manchu leadership. His ancestors Nurhaci and Huangtaiji used much of Han in the Eight Banners and Han Bannermen were an important part of the Banner System as gunners and infantry. But Qianlong made it so its's based on one of descent (to be largely Manchu), and demobilised many Han Bannermen. In time it rotted the leadership capabilities- having generals essentially born as idle aristocrats living on the fume of ancestor's glories. It did cause problems down the line in the 19th century, I will freely admit to that, but I will also say~ that. Having achieved supremacy in Asia? what's the point for him to have a huge battle hungry army in peace time? Especially when you have no interest to expand further? From Qianlong's perspective he had no way of foreseeing the coming of the European empires- or even regarded them as true threats. Again, -Stability over local ardor.

However in time this created a terrible combination: of a central power that is disconnected with local interests and also- when the time comes, proven to be utterly incapable standing their ground because of rotten leadership. It's little wonder that in the aftermath of the Taiping Rebellion and many other rebellions in the decades that followed the Qing basically told the local governors to arm themselves to deal with local problems.
Dragon's Armory said…
2. The decay of the leadership of the central power.

A system of competent local military governors could work- at least in the short term in addressing specific conflicts.

But the essential component to make sure that it works is that these local governors totally stay obedient to a higher power. That no matter how talented those military- governors are, if they ever step out of line that there are enough of a set of laws, enough royal power, enough to strip them of their power. If there is no way for the royal power to police these local governors, then- over time these local governors will simply balloon themselves in strength and look to their own local affairs rather than securing the interest of the realm.

But by the time of the 2 Opium Wars and Cixi's rule, the central authority has neither the vision nor the willingness to modernize in order to keep up with the powers that were able to repeatedly destroy it on the battlefield. And it's a little wonder that as soon as Cixi died (and after she poisoned the Guangxu Emperor) that the state was gone. For some 30 years it was the fear of Cixi that kept the old illusion in line, but with a baby sitting on the throne? It was easy for anyone to call the bluff of the throne. In the end the Qing went the way of the Han and Tang, and it's little wonder that right after the dynasty died under the rule of a child Emperor that the realm became a patchwork of military- governors turned warlords.
Han_Xidai said…
@Dragon's Armory

I find it pretty ironic that the most efficient and effective armies in the 19th century in China were the Taiping army, and then the armies organised by the Han local officials such as Zeng Guofan. Both of these modelled their armies on the Ming methods of recruitment in the late 16th century, such as the tactics of Qi jiguang, with these Han led armies effectively dealing with the Taiping, and also the reconquest of Xinjiang in 1876, by Zuo Zongtang and his Xian army. These new armies would also prove relatively successful in dealing with the European incursions, with them having some victories against the French in the 1880's.
Dragon's Armory said…
Honestly in domestic matters the Qing did better than they have done so against the foreign empires. A lot of the revolts and rebellions were decisively crushed in the end. The fact that the Qing had so much rebellions and were able to put them down one by one showed that they were still able to set their house in order. Oh yeah, thanks for mentioning Zuo Zongtang, I find him an interesting character. I think some day I will do an article on the governors that greatly benefited from Qing's decade of rebellions.
天日昭昭 said…
Manchu isn't china

i think they are aggressor,like japan army done during the WWII

but different is

Manchu win,and japan lose。

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