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Qianlong Emperor

(Redirected from Qianlong Emperor of China)
Qianlong Emperor
Clan name: Aixin-Juelo (愛新覺羅)
Given name: Hongli (弘曆)
(Manchu name to be added)
Dates of reign: Oct. 18, 1735–Feb. 8, 1796¹
Era name: Qianlong (乾隆)
Abkai Wehiyehe
Era dates: Feb. 12, 1736–Feb. 8, 1796
Temple name: Gaozong (高宗)
(Manchu name to be added)
Posthumous name:
Emperor Chun (純皇帝)
(Manchu name to be added)
Posthumous name:
Emperor Fatian Longyun Zhicheng Xianjue Tiyuan Liji Fuwen Fenwu Qinming Xiaoci Shensheng Chun
General note: Names given in Chinese, then in Manchu (full posthumous name in Chinese only).

General note: Dates given here are in the Gregorian calendar.

1. Officially abdicated (taking effect from February 9, 1796) and received the title Taishang Huang (太上皇). In practice, however, ruled in the stead of his son Jiaqing until his death.

The Qianlong Emperor (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 Qian Long was actually a Han and not of Manchu descent, whilst there were some that say Qian Long is only half Manchu and half Han Chinese descent. Nevertheless, looking at historical records, Qian Long was adored both by his grandfather (KangXi Emperor) and his father (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 Qian Long's mannerism and ways to be very close to his own.

Accession to the throne

The Qianlong emperor acceded to the dragon throne at the age of 24, when his father, the Yongzheng Emperor, died under mysterious circumstances. The Yongzheng Emperor, hoping to avoid repetition of the succession crisis that had tainted his own accession to the throne, had the name of his successor placed in a sealed box secured behind the tablet over the throne in Qianqing Hall. The name in the box was to be revealed to other members of the royal family in the presence of all senior ministers only upon the death of the emperor. In 1735, when Yongzheng died, the will was taken out and read out before the entire Qing Court and Qianlong became the 4th Manchu emperor to rule China.


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.

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

In his later years, Qian Long was rather disillusioned and sedated with power and glory. With He Sheng 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 Sheng whilst Qian Long himself indulged on everyday luxuries and his favourite past - time of hunting. It is widely said that He Sheng 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, when the proposed cultural exchange between the British Empire at the time and the Qing Empire collapsed when He Sheng 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 Qian Long Emperor only to find just an Imperial Edict placed on the Dragon Throne and announced to him that the Qing Empire has no need for any goods and services that the British can provide but the British should recognize the fact that the Qing Empire was a far greater empire than the British. Not to mention the insistent demands from He Sheng and the Qing Court that the British Trade ambassadors should kneel and kowtow to the empty dragon throne, the British of course rejected these demands and insisted they will kneel only on one foot and bow to the Dragon throne as they do for their monarch which 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 has no particular interest in doing trade with them and gave strict orders to all local governors not to allow the British to carry out any trade or businesses 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
Qing Dynasty Succeeded by:
Jiaqing Emperor

Last updated: 11-11-2004 00:04:01