Qianlong Emperor

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The Qianlong Emperor (born Hongli, September 25, 1711February 7, 1799) was the fifth emperor of the Manchu Qing dynasty, and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China. The fourth son of the Yongzheng Emperor, he reigned officially from October 18, 1735 to February 9, 1796, at which point he retired 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.


Early years

There are many myths and legends that says Hongli was actually a Han and not of Manchu descent, whilst there were some that say Hongli is only half Manchu and half Han Chinese descent. Nevertheless, looking at historical records, 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 to the throne was because of Qian Long as he was his favourite grandson and felt that Hongli's mannerism and ways to be very close to his own. As a child he was very able in martial arts, and possessed very great literary ability.

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

Accession to the throne

Even before Hongli 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 Qianqing Hall. 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 4th Manchu Emperor of China. He took the Reign title of Qianlong (乾隆), meaning strong/heavens (qian); prosperous (long), or put together, the Era of Strong Prosperity.


Territorial expansion

The Qianlong emperor was a successful military leader, presiding over a huge expansion in the territory controlled by the Qing dynasty. This was made possible not only by Chinese strength but also by the disunity and declining strength of the Inner Asian peoples. Under Qianlong, Chinese Turkestan was incorporated into the Qing dynasty's rule and renamed Xinjiang, while to the West, Ili was conquered and garrisoned. The Qing also dominated Outer Mongolia after inflicting a final defeat on the Western Mongols. Throughout this period there were continued Mongol interventions in Tibet and a reciprocal spread of Tibetan Buddhism in Monglia. Qianlong again sent armies into Tibet and firmly established the Dalai Lama as ruler, with a Qing resident and garrison to preserve Chinese suzerainty. Other than that, no attempt was made to integrate Tibet into the empire after the manner of Xinjiang. Further afield, military campaigns against the Vietnamese (Annamese), Burmese, Nepalese, and Gurkhas forced these peoples to submit and send tribute. (For details of military campaigns under Qianlong, see Ten Great Campaigns)

This expansion involved millions of square miles and brought into the empire non-Chinese peoples (such as Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kirghiz, and Mongols) who were at least potentially hostile. It was also a very expensive enterprise. In fact, the funds in the Imperial Treasury were almost used up due to the military expeditions. This may have been the cause of the later decline of the dynasty when the army was unable to develop and upgrade their weapons when faced with a Western threat.

Intellectual developments


The Qianlong emperor was also a major patron of the arts. The most significant of his commissions was a catalogue of all important works on Chinese culture, the Siku quanshu (四庫全書). Produced in 36,000 volumes, containing about 3450 complete works and employing as many as 15,000 copyists, the entire work took some twenty years. It preserved many books, but it was also intended as a means of ferreting out and suppressing those deemed offensive. Some 2300 works were listed for total suppression and another 350 for partial suppresion. 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.

Qianlong was a prolific poet and a collector of ceramics, an art which flourished in his reign; a substantial part of his collection is in the Percival David Foundation in London.

Later years

Missing image
Dragon Throne, charcoal brazier and Iuduan incense burners. Picture taken at Field Museum of Natural History. These items are part of a travelling exhibit on loan from Beijing

In his later years, Qian Long was rather disillusioned and sedated with power and glory. With He Shen as the highest ranked minister and most favoured by Qian Long at the time, the day to day governance of the country was left in the hands of He Shen whilst Qian Long himself indulged on everyday luxuries and his favourite pastime of hunting. It is widely said that He Shen laid the foundation for further collapse and corruption of the Qing government and eventually came to a point where it was impossible to reverse the negative impact already done to all levels of Qing Government at the time.

Worse still, the proposed cultural exchange between the British Empire at the time and the Qing Empire collapsed when He Shen further encouraged Qian Long to maintain the belief that the Qing Empire was the centre of the world and need not pay much attention to the British proposal for trade and cultural exchange. The British trade ambassador at the time was humiliated when granted an audience with the Qian Long Emperor only to find just an Imperial Edict placed on the Dragon Throne. This announced to him that the Qing Empire had no need for any goods and services that the British could provide and that the British should recognize that the Qing Empire was far greater. <p> Insistent demands from He Shen and the Qing Court that the British Trade ambassadors should kneel and kowtow to the empty dragon throne worsened matters. The British of course rejected these demands and insisted they would kneel only on one knee and bow to the Dragon throne as they did for their own monarch. This caused an uproar in the Qing empire at the time. The Trade ambassadors were dismissed and told to leave China immediately. They were further told that the Qing Empire had no particular interest in doing trade with them, with strict orders given to all local governors not to allow the British to carry out any trade or business in China.


Stories about Qianlong visiting the Jiang Nan area disguised as a commoner had been a popular topic for many generations.



Preceded by:
Yongzheng Emperor
Emperor of China
(Qing Dynasty)
Succeeded by:
Jiaqing Emperor

Template:End boxde:Qian Long fr:Qianlong nl:Qianlong ja:乾隆帝 zh:乾隆帝

he:צ'יאן לונג


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