Marvel­lous His­tory of Shengjing

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Li Shasha, Sun Hong­shan Edited by Justin Davis Pho­tos by Liu Yu

An ex­hi­bi­tion is cur­rently be­ing held at Bei­jing’s Cap­i­tal Mu­seum show­cas­ing items from a for­mer im­pe­rial palace in North­east China. Vis­i­tors can view these or­nate works and learn about the com­pelling his­tory of China’s last dy­nas­ties.

Awell-pre­served, an­cient, im­pe­rial palace com­plex lies in the heart of the old city from the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dy­nas­ties in present-day Shenyang, Liaon­ing Prov­ince. It was once the im­pe­rial palace in Shengjing, which was the cap­i­tal of the Qing Dy­nasty from 1625–1644. It is now known as the Shenyang Palace Mu­seum. The mu­seum fea­tures a grand, solemn, an­tique ap­pear­ance. Its red walls pro­tect it from the bustling world out­side.

The birth­place of the Qing Dy­nasty, this im­pe­rial palace was first con­structed in 1625 and ex­panded dur­ing the Nurhachi (reign: 1616– 1626) and Aba­hai (reign: 1627–1643) pe­ri­ods. It was also an im­por­tant stopover area for Qing em­per­ors in­clud­ing Kangxi (reign: 1662–1722), Qian­long (reign: 1736–1795), Ji­aqing (reign: 1796–1820) and Daoguang (reign: 1821–1850). They would col­lect trea­sures and stay there when they con­ducted in­spec­tion tours of the east af­ter pass­ing through the Shan­hai Pass. The fa­cil­ity now ex­ists as a well­known mu­seum of an­cient palace art. The trea­sures that are stored there help ex­plain the his­tory of the royal fam­ily and their time at the palace to later gen­er­a­tions.

The From Shengjing: House­hold Items of the Qing Royal Court Ex­hi­bi­tion be­gan at Bei­jing's Cap­i­tal Mu­seum on Septem­ber 28 and will con­tinue un­til De­cem­ber 2. Over 130 pieces or sets of im­pe­rial Qing house­hold items on loan from the Shenyang Palace Mu­seum are on dis­play. Cat­e­gories such as cloth­ing, ac­ces­sories, ta­ble uten­sils, cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ings, and palace fur­nish­ings are rep­re­sented. The ex­quis­ite royal trea­sures are both prac­ti­cal and artis­tic, re­veal­ing the bril­liant wis­dom and crafts­man­ship that was achieved in the mid­dle of the Qing Dy­nasty.

Birth­place of the Qing Dy­nasty

The Shenyang Im­pe­rial Palace was the res­i­dence of Aba­hai and Em­peror Shun­zhi (reign: 1644–1661) be­fore Qing troops passed over the Shan­hai Pass. It also served as an im­por­tant tem­po­rary palace for em­per­ors when mak­ing east­ern tours to wor­ship an­ces­tors af­ter the Qing Dy­nasty moved the cap­i­tal to Bei­jing and united the Cen­tral Plains area.

From 1671, when Em­peror Kangxi em­barked on an east­ern tour, to 1829, when Em­peror Daoguang made his last east­ern tour, Qing em­per­ors (Kangxi, Qian­long, Ji­aqing and Daoguang) came to Shengjing ten times to make for­mal vis­its to an­ces­tral mau­soleums and hold cer­e­mo­nial ac­tiv­i­ties like ban­quets and sac­ri­fices.

Sev­eral por­trait scrolls of Qing em­per­ors are ex­hib­ited at the ex­hi­bi­tion,

in­clud­ing a full-length por­trait of a sit­ting Aba­hai, a full-length por­trait of a sit­ting Em­peror Shun­zhi, a half-length por­trait of Em­peror Kangxi, a half-length por­trait of Em­peror Qian­long rid­ing a horse, a full-length por­trait of a sit­ting Em­peror Ji­aqing and a full-length por­trait of Em­peror Daoguang rid­ing a horse. The clear ren­der­ing of these fig­ures vividly con­jures the past.

Aba­hai ac­ceded to the throne at the Shengjing Im­pe­rial Palace's Chongzheng Hall in 1636, changed the na­tional name from “Jin” to “Qing” and his ti­tle to “Chongde,” de­not­ing the start of a new dy­nasty.

Fulin suc­ceeded to the throne at the Shengjing Im­pe­rial Palace's Dazheng Hall when he was six years old in 1643 and changed his ti­tle to “Shun­zhi.” The Qing Dy­nasty again made great strides af­ter get­ting through a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis. In 1671, Em­peror Kangxi headed for Shengjing to of­fer sac­ri­fices to the mau­soleums of Em­peror Taizu (Nurhachi) and Em­peror Taizong (Aba­hai) in the name of “Ter­ri­to­rial Unificatio­n and Suc­cess.”

Em­peror Qian­long toured Shengjing four times to wor­ship the an­ces­tral tombs. He or­dered that the im­pe­rial palace un­dergo a large-scale ren­o­va­tion af­ter his first east­ern tour and housed a large num­ber of cul­tural trea­sures, books, clas­sics, ar­chives and other im­pe­rial col­lec­tions there.

Em­peror Ji­aqing or­dered the con­struc­tion of a the­atre stage so that tra­di­tional op­eras could be en­joyed while hold­ing ban­quets. He ad­mired the Si Ku Quan Shu, known as the Com­plete Li­brary of the Four Branches of Lit­er­a­ture in English, and rit­ual ac­tiv­i­ties that were es­tab­lished by his fa­ther.

In 1829, Em­peror Daoguang paid homage to an­ces­tral tombs un­der the or­der of Em­press Dowa­ger. Although the usual rit­ual ac­tiv­i­ties were con­ducted, he only stayed in Shengjing for seven days and then left, which was a much smaller pe­riod than nor­mal. This was a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the de­cline that the Qing Dy­nasty was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing at the time.

Nev­er­the­less, this sec­ondary cap­i­tal im­proved its his­tor­i­cal sta­tus in var­i­ous as­pects, such as po­lit­i­cal sta­tus, cul­tural achieve­ments and scale of its build­ings.

Im­pe­rial Garb

The Shenyang Palace Mu­seum in­cludes a fine col­lec­tion of im­pe­rial garb.

The gar­ments fea­ture fine ma­te­ri­als, con­sum­mate crafts­man­ship and elab­o­rate de­signs. They were made by the Im­pe­rial House­hold De­part­ment and the three Jiang­nan tex­tile mills dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911). The clothes pre­served some of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of Manchu eth­nic group cloth­ing and dis­play a sense of the or­nate beauty of the Qing Dy­nasty im­pe­rial fam­ily.

Manchu style was preva­lent as a re­sult of a de­cree is­sued by Em­peror Taizong (Aisin-gioro Huang Taiji) dur­ing the Chongde pe­riod (1636–1643). The Manchu peo­ple hunted while rid­ing horses. It was de­clared that that style of dress should not be al­tered. Em­peror Qian­long (reign: 1736–1795) also re­garded “seiz­ing the coun­try on horse­back” as a pos­i­tive, and the use of tra­di­tional dress was part of this idea. Tribal dress was main­tained for a while, but the de­vel­op­ment of the econ­omy and the con­tin­u­ous fu­sion of eth­nic cul­ture re­sulted in some el­e­ments of tra­di­tional Han cul­ture in­evitably be­ing added to im­pe­rial gar­ments. Tech­niques for mak­ing Qing cos­tumes were also im­proved. The cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories that em­per­ors and im­pe­rial con­cu­bines wore be­came in­creas­ingly ex­quis­ite. Qing court at­tire ul­ti­mately united as­pects of Manchu and Han cloth­ing.

The lav­ish cos­tumes worn by em­per­ors and their con­sorts were the em­bod­i­ment of im­pe­rial au­thor­ity, their high-rank­ing po­si­tions and hi­er­ar­chy.

Qing im­pe­rial cloth­ing in­volved cer­e­mo­nial gar­ments, fes­tive gar­ments, a reg­u­lar robe, cloth­ing used for travel and cloth­ing for in­clement weather. Var­i­ous types of gar­ments ex­isted within each cat­e­gory. A jacket with dec­o­ra­tive pearls on its col­lar would usu­ally go with a robe. The ex­hi­bi­tion pro­vides a good show­case of the im­pe­rial cloth­ing sys­tem.

Court robes were made from thread, cloth and dou­ble-lay­ered cloth made from fur, cot­ton, wool and other fi­bres. They could be thick or thin for dif­fer­ent times of year. They fea­tured four colours that had to be used ac­cord­ing to an eti­quette sys­tem, re­gard­less of what an in­di­vid­ual wearer may pre­fer. Bright yel­low ranked high­est and was suitable for New Year's Day, Win­ter Sol­stice and sac­ri­fi­cial rites at the Im­pe­rial An­ces­tral Tem­ple dur­ing the Wan­shou Fes­ti­val (em­peror's birth­day). Blue cor­re­lated with of­fer­ing sac­ri­fices to heaven, red to the sun and white to the moon.

An em­peror's court robe was a one-piece gar­ment made from yel­low thread and fea­tured colour­ful pat­terns. They fea­tured round col­lars, two horse­hoof-shaped cuffs and an at­tached cape. Pat­terns that were em­broi­dered on the cape and main robe in­cluded dragons fly­ing in clouds, coiled dragons, stylised waves and moun­tain peaks, and the shierzhang wen­shi (twelve or­na­ments or im­ages).

Em­peror Ji­aqing's (reign: 1795– 1821) bright yel­low satin robe was em­broi­dered with nine golden dragons, colour­ful clouds, bats, rounded Chi­nese char­ac­ters for hap­pi­ness and four other im­ages. Four static dragons are lo­cated on the chest, back and each shoul­der. Four fly­ing dragons are lo­cated on the forepart and the back of the robe. A fi­nal fly­ing dragon is lo­cated on the front. When viewed from the front or back, only five dragons can be seen, indi­cat­ing a “Nine-five” pat­tern. This was said to be the most su­pe­rior of all num­bers and sym­bol­ised the po­si­tion of the em­peror. The robe also fea­tures stylised waves and moun­tain peaks, as well as rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Eight Trea­sures and twilled waves on the lower sec­tion. The gar­ment looks like a com­plete paint­ing.

Var­i­ous neck­laces cor­re­lated with cor­re­spond­ing neck­laces also. East­ern pearl court neck­laces were worn dur­ing im­por­tant cer­e­monies. Lapis lazuli court neck­laces were worn dur­ing sac­ri­fices to heaven. Beeswax or am­ber court neck­laces cor­re­sponded with sac­ri­fices to earth. Coral court neck­laces were worn when mak­ing sac­ri­fices to the sun. Turquoise court neck­laces wear worn for sac­ri­fices to the moon.

East­ern pearl court neck­laces were the most im­por­tant. One of these

neck­laces is fea­tured at the ex­hi­bi­tion. It is com­posed of 108 pearls and four lapis lazuli beads and was made ac­cord­ing to the spec­i­fi­ca­tions of the Qing Dy­nasty. A dan­gler hangs un­der one of the beads with an opal beiyun (a piece of jade) and a large ruby pedant be­low it. Both sides fea­ture “jinian,” which are three short strings of small coral pearls. The jinian dan­gle in front of the chest and in­clude a small ruby pen­dant.

Din­ing Uten­sils

The ex­quis­ite and aus­pi­cious uten­sils that were used at the im­pe­rial palace made del­i­ca­cies feel more ap­petis­ing. They also played an im­por­tant role in dis­tin­guish­ing sta­tuses, tight­en­ing eti­quette reg­u­la­tions and en­hanc­ing im­pe­rial grandeur, es­pe­cially on spe­cial oc­ca­sions such as Spring Fes­ti­val, state ban­quets and sac­ri­fi­cial ri­tu­als.

Roughly speak­ing, there were two main kinds of palace food. These were food used for ban­quets and food that was eaten by the em­peror and his con­sorts on a more reg­u­lar ba­sis. The Qing Dy­nasty in­her­ited the ex­cel­lent culi­nary cul­ture of for­mer dy­nas­ties as well as some from mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups, form­ing a unique, im­pe­rial food cul­ture and cre­at­ing su­perb palace cui­sine.

In North China, an­cients held their dishes with huowan (fire bowls), which were also used to heat food. The sil­ver huowan at the ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures many golden “” (longevity) pat­terns on its body and lid. It also in­cludes a bot­tom frame and a heater. The top of the lid is dec­o­rated with a rare, golden pearl. There is a three-legged frame un­der the bowl. A tray for al­co­hol is lo­cated at the cen­tre of the frame. The frame can be lit to warm the food. The huowan fea­tures del­i­cate work­man­ship, indi­cat­ing an aus­pi­cious omen. It was a stan­dard im­pe­rial bowl at the time and may have been made ex­clu­sively for palace ban­quets.

The Manchu and Mon­go­lian no­madic tribes of­ten used a knife known as a jieshi knife in their daily life to cut the meat of the an­i­mals they hunted. The knife ap­peared among the palace din­ing uten­sils, dis­play­ing the in­flu­ence of no­madic life­styles on the im­pe­rial fam­ily of the Qing Dy­nasty. A pale green jieshi knife is on dis­play at the ex­hi­bi­tion. The knife is made from iron, bone, shark skin, wood and cop­per. The over­all set con­sists of a knife, two chop­sticks, a chip and a shark skin sheath. An­other in­ge­nious­ly­de­signed, jade-han­dled jieshi knife with a golden sheath is also on dis­play along with its sup­port­ing items. These are a broad sil­ver spoon with a gold-plated wood han­dle, a sil­ver spoon with a seal indi­cat­ing aus­pi­cious­ness and a gilt sil­ver fork with a golden scep­tre-head. They are so ex­quis­ite that the sense of sharp­ness of the knife is re­duced.

A sil­ver pot with dragon-headed pat­terns is also on dis­play. Dif­fer­ent from those used by the Han peo­ple, the pot man­i­fests the dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics of mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups. It was used for brew­ing but­ter tea at palace ban­quets and fea­tures a round stom­ach, a dragon-shaped han­dle, a beast-shaped spout, and a lid with a knob dec­o­rated with pat­terns of lo­tus flow­ers and mis­cel­la­neous ob­jects. A sil­ver-stemmed cup en­graved with pat­terns of dragons and a gilt sil­ver tray with six legs go with it and are won­der­fully ex­quis­ite.

The im­pe­rial din­ing uten­sils housed at the Shenyang Palace Mu­seum are from the Qing Dy­nasty im­pe­rial palace. They were made by the Qing Im­pe­rial House­hold De­part­ment from gold, sil­ver, jade, porce­lain, ivory, lac­quer, bam­boo and wood. Most of the porce­lain was fired in of­fi­cial kilns at Jingdezhen, Jiangxi, ac­cord­ing to var­i­ous spec­i­fi­ca­tions as re­quired.

Cal­lig­ra­phy and Sta­tionery

Writ­ings on el­e­gant sta­tionery and trea­sured cal­lig­ra­phy scrolls by em­per­ors con­sti­tute a small part of the ex­hi­bi­tion. A scroll-shaped writ­ing case is also on dis­play. It is one of the four writ­ing cases shaped like a zither, chess­board, book and scroll paint­ing housed at the Shenyang Palace Mu­seum. The scroll­shaped writ­ing case is made of rose­wood and fea­tures carved pat­terns of three hand scrolls piled on top of each other. One can store sta­tionery in­side. When it is closed, it is or­na­men­tal. Its sur­face is em­bossed with bro­cade-like pat­terns and flow­ers of wa­ter cal­trop. The ends of each scroll are em­bel­lished with white jade, im­i­tat­ing the style of hand scrolls.

A pen­holder with cloi­sonné enamel over a cop­per body is also on dis­play at the ex­hi­bi­tion. It is a piece of sta­tionery that was made dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Qian­long. It in­cludes a Qian­long seal and is dec­o­rated with a

pat­tern of two dragons. The pen­holder is shaped like five steep hills. The ar­eas that cor­re­spond with val­leys can hold brushes. The hills fea­ture grad­ual changes in colour. Dark blue, light blue, dark green and light green are used as the height changes. A golden pat­tern of two dragons is lo­cated un­der the hills with a golden “” de­sign sand­wiched be­tween the dragon heads. Green sea wa­ter is de­picted be­low the dragons. The lower part of the pen­holder con­sists of a round, gold-plated base em­bossed with a ring of pearls, un­der which are de­signs of twisted grass. The low­est part of the base is dec­o­rated with pat­terns of cloud scrolls. A de­pic­tion of a seal read­ing “Made in the Qian­long Pe­riod” is lo­cated at the cen­tre of the base, en­graved in reg­u­lar script.

A black-lac­quered, drum-like brush with golden pat­terns of the “” char­ac­ter on the shaft was in­vented in the mid­dle of the Qing Dy­nasty. It was made of bam­boo, lac­quer and goat hair. The end of its shaft is dec­o­rated with golden fret­work and flower pat­terns. A gilded metal band dis­play­ing ex­quis­ite crafts­man­ship links the shaft and the goat hair. The brush is a par­tic­u­larly nice im­ple­ment out of those used at the im­pe­rial palace dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty.

The Old Palace in Muk­den (to­day's Shenyang) pre­serves some cal­li­graphic works by Qing em­per­ors.

The ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes “The Scroll of Em­peror Qian­long Writ­ing Char­ac­ters.” Em­peror Qian­long was a monarch who wit­nessed the pros­per­ity of the Qing Dy­nasty, stud­ied Han cul­ture ex­ten­sively in his spare and was ac­tively en­gaged in lit­er­ary writ­ing. Tablet in­scrip­tions that he made are scat­tered widely in China. Few for­mer em­per­ors match him in quan­tity. His cal­li­graphic works were done in var­i­ous style, demon­strat­ing his abil­ity.

Im­pe­rial Or­na­ments

The im­pe­rial palace was a sa­cred place for em­per­ors to ex­er­cise their au­thor­ity and rule the coun­try. It was also a par­adise for his con­sorts. They could en­joy a rich and com­fort­able life­style there. All of the build­ings and or­na­ments fit into a rigid hi­er­ar­chy. They were awe-in­spir­ing and ex­u­ber­ant in beauty and aus­pi­cious­ness.

The col­lected ar­ti­cles and or­na­ments from the Qing palace that are part of the ex­hi­bi­tion were mostly made by the im­pe­rial work­shop and also some work­shops in Suzhou and Nan­jing. Some items were trib­utes paid by of­fi­cials, gen­try or mis­sion­ar­ies. They are typ­i­cal items from their time and place.

An or­na­men­tal scep­tre known as a Ruyi-scep­tre is on dis­play. It fea­tures a rose­wood han­dle and three white­jade dragon in­lays. The white-jade in­lays fea­ture re­lief carv­ings. The head­piece fea­tures a dragon de­sign, the mid­dle part a chi (horn­less dragon) and the end-piece a phoenix. All of the fig­ures ap­pear to be fly­ing through in­ter­twin­ing branches. The three jade or­na­ments are in­cred­i­bly ex­quis­ite and re­garded as part of typ­i­cal ruyi style in the Qing palace.

A square case on dis­play fea­tures a re­lief carved out of white jade. The lid is em­bossed with de­signs of a land­scape and Chi­nese char­ac­ters. It is in­flu­enced by tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ings. Rolling hills and a broad river are de­picted in the back­ground. A bab­bling brook is fea­tured in the fore­ground. Un­der a tree, there is a carv­ing of a man sit­ting cross-legged and a qin (seven-stringed, plucked mu­si­cal in­stru­ment) be­ing car­ried by a boy. Boats travel down the river. A man can be seen row­ing, and an­other man sits erect. The de­signs make sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tions to the el­e­gance of the case.

As a stopover lo­ca­tion for em­per­ors on in­spec­tion tours to the east and their en­tourages, the Muk­den im­pe­rial palace per­formed the func­tion of an im­pe­rial palace in the cap­i­tal and was splen­didly em­bel­lished. A three-legged cloi­sonné enamel char­coal bra­zier fea­tur­ing a phoenix-shaped pat­tern, a cloi­sonné enamel hang­ing panel de­pict­ing flow­ers and its rose­wood frame that fea­tures pat­terns shaped like the “” char­ac­ter on its gold-plated edge, a jadeite comb, a pink dou­ble-eared glass pow­der box dec­o­rated with grape flower pat­terns, a rose­wood cos­metic box dec­o­rated with stained ivory flower pat­terns, a round fan with a black-lac­quered han­dle and a colour­ful but­ter­fly pat­tern over a white back­ground, a nee­dle case carved out of bam­boo fea­tur­ing a pat­tern de­pict­ing hunt­ing, a cloi­sonné enamel hand warmer with pat­terns of bats and lo­tuses… These ob­jects re­lated to im­pe­rial life em­body im­pe­rial au­thor­ity, faith and well-be­ing.

A sil­ver pot with a dragon mo­tif

A huowan (fire bowl) con­sist­ing of a lid, bowl, frame and heater.

An ele­phant-shaped cloi­sonné-enamel bot­tle

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