The Magnificent Imperial Seals of China

Emperor Qianlong lived from 1711 to 1799 AD. He was the fourth emperor following in the noteworthy Qing dynasty (1644-1911). This dynasty located the capital of China in the city which is today known as “Beijing.” He is famous throughout the history of the world as an accomplished emperor with great ambition. Qianlong helped to create a prosperous period during his reign of more than sixty years. His reign has often been referred to as “unparalleled.” He was the longest reigning emperor in China’s history. In all he spent sixty years as emperor and then three years as “Emperor Emeritus.” However, Postager he was also the emperor who lived the longest and died at the age of eighty nine. It is a fact that the Qianlong emperor was a zealous artist and a committed collector. He gave much time and personal energy into artistic creation as well as collecting. This emperor’s direct participation created an undisputed influence on court art during this era. To understand and correctly interpret court art of this particular time, TheRussia one must look more intently into the unique thoughts and experiences of this very famous emperor of China. The famed “imperial seal” provides a small window into the mind of this man.

Following the reign of Kangxi (1662-1722) and Yongzheng (1723-1735), social, economic, and cultural developments climaxed at an unprecedented level during the Qianlong period (1736-1795). Along with all this prosperity, Theunroll artistic craftsmanship rose to a greater height than ever before. This may have also been a reflection of the time of peace and stability. Imperial seals that were constructed during this time took on several interesting characteristics. These characteristics differed from the ones produced in prior years. The first distinct characteristic of Qianlong seals is that they were made in large quantities using a number of different materials. The Qianlong emperor commissioned more than 1,800 seals during his lifetime. This was such a large amount that it had never been done before! This incredible number of imperial seals leaves one in awe at the great scale of production during this time. Qianlong imperial seals were constructed of different types of materials. These substances would include jade, bronze, crystal, stone, agate, Thecorrectly ivory, bamboo, amber, and clay. Stone and jade seals make up the majority of the production. It should be noted that the increased production of jade seals informs modern archeologists that the court had close control over the sources of these materials. In the second half of Qianlong’s reign, the military controlled the northwestern frontier with no disturbances from invaders. It was during this same period that a large supply of fine jade flooded the court. The steady jade supply encouraged rapid technological improvements in this kind of craftsmanship. A result of this was that the quality of imperial seal production increased. A total of 600 imperial seals commissioned by Qianlong were made from jade. The variety of types included “biyu” (spinach-green jdade), “qinbai” (greenish off-white jade), “baiyu” (white jade), “qinyu” (pale-green jade), “moyu” (black jade), and “hanyu” (Han jade) as well as others.

A second distinct characteristic is that carved inscriptions were taken from different literary sources. As Manchu people, all the Qing emperors wore the mantle of “foreigner” during their reign over the Han. Therefore, in order to create permanent stability, it was necessary for these emperors to retain a great knowledge of Chinese culture. They diligently studied the writings of Confucius and even exercised traditional Confucian rites. By the Qianlong period, Han culture had spread to every part of Manchurian rule. Conversely, Nationlogy the Manchu people had totally assimilated with the Chinese. The Manchus were so well assimilated that the emperor had to issue an edict to “encourage speaking Manchu and practicing horseback riding and hunting.” The Qianlong emperor himself was a fervent admirer of Han culture. He demonstrated his thorough knowledge of Chinese thought and literature through inscriptions located on his imperial seals. In fact, many of the inscriptions on these seals come from literature containing the wisdom of Confucius.

Qianlong’s sources for his inscriptions not only demonstrate his informed understanding of Confucius, but they also show the magnitude of his knowledge of Chinese literature. Qianlong often composed original inscriptions himself! These inscriptions are selections from his personal collection of poetry. They tend to be very well composed, extremely poetic in nature, and relay philosophical meaning to the reader. It is possible that the emperor chose these inscriptions as a way to proclaim his own “self” to the world. The obvious conclusion to be taken from the imperial seals of Qianlong is that this emperor was refined, Thegreatly cultured, and intentional in his selection of court art. His reign was unprecedented in its importance to all these issues. The Qianlong emperor’s work is still extremely relevant to the present as one carefully considered the subject of Chinese art and culture.


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