Qing dynasty 1644–1912
The Ming dynasty was weakened by factional infighting, rebellion,
and natural disaster in the early seventeenth century. When rebel forces
overran Beijing in 1644, the Manchu armies followed, sweeping into China
on the pretense of defending the Ming imperial house. The Manchus, a
confederation of peoples based in the area of present-day Heilongjiang
and Jilin provinces, were ruled by Nurhachi (1559–1626), who
founded the Later Jin. His son Abahai (1592–1643) renamed the dynasty Qing. After the conquest, the Manchus adopted Beijing as their new
capital, although Ming resistance persisted in the south until the
1680s. Over the years, repair and rebuilding have replaced most of the
former Ming palace halls, and what remains today in the Forbidden City
was mostly built in the Qing. Besides Beijing, the Manchus also
continued to maintain their ancestral palaces at Shenyang, Liaoning province.
With the establishment of the Qing dynasty in 1644, the Manchu rulers
needed to find ways to occupy, order, and govern the many peoples in the
far reaches of their realm. The Qing emperors took on the trappings of
Chinese culture, becoming patrons and practitioners of the arts, sponsoring
scholarly projects, and adopting the Chinese bureaucratic system and ritual
symbols of dynastic legitimacy. At the same time the Manchus strove to
maintain their ethnic identity by organizing martial exercises for the
military "banner" units; living most of the year in newly
developed "imperial garden-palaces," such as the Yuanming Yuan
outside Beijing and Imperial Summer Villa at Jehol, away from the urban
confines of the Forbidden City. In their palaces the Manchu rulers built
secret ritual precincts, and they forced the Chinese male populace to adopt the Manchu custom of shaving
their heads and wearing queues.
The reigns of the Kangxi (r. 1662–1722), Yongzheng (r. 1722–1736), and
Qianlong (r. 1736–95) emperors brought peace and prosperity to China. The
Kangxi emperor pacified the Ming loyalists in the South, and began the
process of attracting Chinese scholars into government service. The
empire was consolidated under the rule of the Yongzheng emperor, and the
long reign of the Qianlong emperor is seen as one of China's golden
periods. During the Qianlong reign, the empire was extended from
Manchuria and Korea in the northeast to the establishment of a
protectorate in Tibet and conquest of the Ili and Turkestan in the
west. In addition, Burma became a tributary nation and military
expeditions were sent to Vietnam and Nepal. Contacts also increased
with the West through Christian missionaries and later with traders
and the European colonial powers. Controls on trade with the West
were instituted in the mid-eighteenth century, and in 1793 the
British ambassador, Lord Macartney, was granted an audience with
the Qianlong emperor at the Jehol Imperial Summer Villa, the location
where the Manchus received tribute from their so-called barbarian
neighbors and allies.
Overseas commerce brought large sums of silver into China, allowing
a switch to a silver-based economy, which eventually led to
increasing inflation and usury. The consequences were
manifold and had a major impact on the way craftsmen and artisans
were employed, and how they were organized as a profession. The prosperity
of the Qianlong reign ended with corruption and inefficiency after the
emperor had entrusted great responsibility in the running of the
government to the powerful eunuch Heshen (1750–1799). The White
Lotus Rebellion (1796–1805), one of many later secret society uprisings
organized by desperate peasants, did much to reverse the stability of
Qing finances. The following nineteenth century has generally been
perceived as a period of decline, when Western trading interests came
into sharp conflict with China's internal policies and struggles.
As Spanish and Portuguese galleys continued to bring silver from
Europe and the Americas, opium was introduced into China to create
a "dependent" market and reverse the trade imbalance. After attempts
by the Qing government in Canton to suppress the trade of opium by
the British, the First Opium War (1839–42) resulted in Chinese indecision
and humiliation. The terms of the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing forced China to
pay huge indemnities, open new trading ports, and to cede Hong Kong to
Britain until 1997. Later, as more trading and diplomatic rights were demanded,
resistance by the Qing government led to the Anglo-French War of 1856–1860. This
war is sometimes known as the Second Opium War, or Arrow War, and culminated in 1860
when the Qing emperor was forced to flee the capital to take refuge at Jehol. Occupying
Beijing, the British and French commanders ordered the burning of the
summer palaces. The main target of looting and destruction was the
nearby Yuanming Yuan imperial garden-palace. While the Qing struggled against
European forces, several rebellions erupted in the mid-nineteenth century
causing famine and devastation that resulted in a population drop of over
sixty million people. In particular the Taiping Rebellion (1851–64) posed
a serious challenge to the Manchu rulers. Hong Xiuquan (1813–1864) was
the rebel leader who organized a religious-military organization based
on a mix of Christian teachings and personal visions in which he was
sent by God to slay demons and eradicate demon worship. He deemed the
Manchus as propagators of demon worship who needed to be overthrown to
usher in an era of "Great Peace" (Taiping). The Taiping forces occupied
Nanjing as their capital, and attracted followers with their anti-Manchu
sentiment and notions about social and economic reforms. The rebellion,
however, failed to consolidate its territories, was not able to establish
an effective administrative structure, and was not even able to keep the
focus of its leader.
In the late nineteenth century, territorial losses continued as China ceded
Taiwan to Japan, Korea became fully independent, Britain annexed Burma, the French
occupied Vietnam, and further concessions had to be made with the European nations.
Growing anti-foreigner sentiments led to the Boxer uprising in 1900, which was
suppressed by international troops. Recognizing China's weakness, efforts
were made at reform but proved ineffective. Advised by the reform advocate
Kang Youwei (1858–1927), in 1898 the Guangxu emperor (r. 1875–1908) instituted
a series of edicts aimed at modernization that has come to be known as
the "Hundred Days of Reform." Included were proposals to form a
constitutional state, reform the education system to include Western
studies, as well as ideas to promote commerce and industry, and strengthen
the military. These proposals met with strong opposition, and after only
three months, a coup d'etat returned authority to the Empress Dowager, Cixi
(1835–1908). Just before her own death, she had the emperor executed and
installed on the throne the Last Emperor, Henry Puyi (r. 1909–1912), then
only two years of age.
Early Qing literati painting was influenced by the theories of the late
Ming artist and collector Dong Qichang (1555–1636). A new orthodox lineage
of painting that sought to create artistic style through the study of past
models coalesced around Dong's disciple, Wang Shimin (1592–1680). Later
known as the Orthodox School, this group of painters included the Four
Wangs—Wang Shimin, Wang Jian (1598–1677), Wang Hui (1632–1717), and Wang
Yuanqi (1642–1715)—along with Wu Li (1632–1718) and Yun Shouping (1633–1690).
As Chinese scholars were lured into government service in increasing
numbers, this literati painting style was eventually appropriated by
the imperial court. While some literati refused to submit to foreign
rule or shunned bureaucratic servitude, others including, Wang Hui and
Wang Yuanqi, accepted imperial commissions and patronage.
Individualist painters in the early Qing are often associated with
developing deeply personal styles that sometimes concealed strong
messages of political protest against the Manchu rulers or expressing
loyalty to the fallen Ming dynasty. Born to the Ming imperial
family, the dynasty's fall in 1644 prompted Zhu Da (1626–1705)
to retreat into the mountains where he become a Buddhist monk.
After more than thirty years of self-imposed exile, he returned
to secular life as a poet and painter in 1680. Often feigning
madness in his dealings with others, in painting he developed
an eccentric style that relied heavily on calligraphic
brushwork. Frequently animated with plants, flowers, birds,
fowl, insects, shrimp, crabs, fish and other delicate creatures,
his paintings has often been read as deeply personal statements
concerning the fragility of life under the Manchu conquerors.
One of the true geniuses in the history of Chinese painting,
Shitao (1642–1707) was born a prince in the Ming imperial family.
In the turmoil following the Qing conquest, he became an itinerant
monk. His exposure to Chan Buddhist teachings may have led him
to explore the self-expressive potential of calligraphy in
painting. Shitao's paintings are characterized by fluid
brushwork and moist graded ink-tones. Experimenting with novel
brush manners, he claimed "no method" as his method, and shunned
the imitation of past styles. Late in life, Shitao settled as a
professional painter in the city of Yangzhou, Jiangsu province,
where his innovative spirit was to influence a later group of painters
commonly known as the Yangzhou Eccentrics.
In the Qing period, many regional styles of painting and groups of
painters developed in such places as Yangzhou, Nanjing, and Anhui province. Painting
styles ranged from the technical mastery of the professional court
painters to idiosyncratic and personal styles. Innovation was prompted
by new avenues for artistic transmission and instruction afforded by
growing numbers of printed illustrations and painting manuals such as
the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (1679, 1701). In addition,
elements of chiaroscuro and perspective drawing introduced by European
artists—including the Jesuits Giuseppe Castiglione (1688–1766) and Jean
Denis Attiret (1702–1768)—were also incorporated by some Chinese artists.
At Yangzhou a group of innovative painters became known as the
Yangzhou Eccentrics. Among the individualist painters working in this
commercial center who are represented in the collection of the Princeton University Art Museum
are Hua Yan (1682–ca. 1756), Gao Fenghan (1683–1748/49), Li Shan
(1686–ca. 1756), Jin Nong (1687–1764), and Luo Ping (1733–1799).
The Kangxi emperor (r. 1662–1722) was an expert calligrapher who
greatly admired the calligraphy of the Ming artist and critic Dong
Qichang (1555–1636), which became a style used for government documents.
Kangxi’s grandson, the Qianlong emperor (r. 1736–95), was also an avid
practitioner and student of calligraphy, and he amassed the single
largest collection of this art in China. Among his treasures was
Wang Xizhi's (303–361) Ritual to Pray for Good Harvest (Princeton
University Art Museum). In addition to his many seals, traces of the
emperor’s ownership appear in the form of colophons through which Qianlong
asserted his own position at the end of a distinguished lineage of
calligraphers going back to Wang Xizhi himself. Through the culture
of calligraphy, the Qianlong emperor, both as a practitioner and
collector, symbolically asserted his legitimacy to rule China.
To document the choicest works from his collection, in 1747
Qianlong commissioned an anthology of rubbings known as
Model Calligraphies from the Hall of the Three Rarities (Sanxitang fatie).
Like earlier imperial anthologies, the rubbings published under
Qianlong’s aegis functioned as a state-sanctioned overview of the
history of calligraphy. In spite of Qianlong’s efforts, many Qing
calligraphers rejected the canonical authority of these types of anthologies,
arguing that these compilations, often based on works of dubious
authenticity, distorted the history of calligraphy. Seeking
inspiration in earlier models, calligraphers turned to ancient
stone and bronze inscriptions. The calligrapher-officials Liu
Yong (1720–1802) and Yi Bingshou (1754–1815) based their styles on
ancient metal and stone inscriptions and were exemplars of an
artistic and scholarly movement known as the Stele School (Bei xue).
Benefiting from technological improvements and artistic innovation, porcelains produced under the reigns of the Kangxi,
Yongzheng, and Qianlong emperors represent the pinnacle of Qing ceramics in terms of quality and diversity.
Considering imperial wares alone, vessels ranged from the most simple in form and monochrome decor to the most
extravagant in decoration, and some were modeled after ancient vessels.
At the end of the Ming, financial difficulties at court caused a cessation in the
production of ceramics at the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen. After the Manchu conquest,
efforts were made to re-establish the imperial kilns. But it was not until after the pacification
of the South and the completion of a new complex of kilns in 1683 at Jingdezhen that
Qing imperial production attained a consistently high level in quality. Imperial
ateliers for porcelain were also established by the Manchu rulers in the Beijing
palaces. Plain white porcelains were sent from Jingdezhen to the capital, where they
were decorated in the imperial workshops. Some of the finest overglaze painted enamel
porcelains were made in this manner during the Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns.
Improvements were made in the body material and glazes used for Qing porcelains. In the eighteenth
century the clay composition was refined to be fired at higher temperatures, resulting in a whiter,
smoother, and more transparent appearance. A new opaque white glaze was developed for use with overglaze enamels.
Underglaze blue and underglaze red techniques were successfully revived,
but now sometimes used together or with other glazes and relief
decoration. In the Kangxi reign, underglaze blue was combined with
overglaze enamels in a variation of the "five-colors" (wucai) palette—usually
red, green, yellow, and brownish-black—that displayed the use of a new pale
green enamel. This variant developed into a style of overglaze decoration
known as famille verte.
New blue, gold, and fine black enamels were also developed, as well
as a rose-pink enamel that became the distinguishing trait of famille
rose decoration. The pink enamel was invented near the end of the
Kangxi reign but the full famille rose palette was not brought together
until the Yongzheng reign. The original impetus for this palette came
at the wishes of the Kangxi emperor to imitate the decoration found on
Western enamels on metal. This may be the reason why the
term "foreign colors" (yangcai) generally is used today to refer
to famille rose decorated wares.
In 1934 the Princeton University Art Museum received the bequest
of about five hundred Chinese snuff bottles from Colonel James A.
Blair, Class of 1903. Ingeniously decorated using techniques that
run the gamut of Chinese artistic production, snuff bottles are said to
embody the Chinese art world in miniature. Ironically, the practice of
taking snuff in China derived from the import of tobacco and nasal etiquette
from the West. By the late sixteenth century, after its discovery in the
New World, the American sotweed, tobacco, was introduced to China. Traded
or given as gifts by Western merchants and clerics, tobacco became
known in China as "smoke-weed" (yancao). By the seventeenth century,
tobacco smoking had become widespread. In its levigated, or finely
powdered, form, it was administered for its supposed medicinal
properties and usually stored in medicine bottles (yaoping). In
general, the European habit of taking snuff did not win greater acceptance
until the Qing dynasty, during the reign of Qianlong. Because the emperor himself
imbibed, the fashion of taking snuff grew at the Manchu court and
gradually spread to the rest of the country by the middle of the
The production of snuff accoutrements—bottles, funnels, dishes—also
developed with this new, imported habit. According to reports, exquisitely
wrought European snuffboxes had already been presented as official gifts to
the Chinese court in the late Ming dynasty. Such containers, however,
proved unsuited to China's humid climate. Elaborating on earlier
medicine bottles, miniature stoppered bottles with tiny spoons were soon
invented. Crafted from a variety of materials, including jade, metal,
wood, ivory, horn, lacquer, coral, glass, stone, and ceramics, the bottles
protected their contents from moisture and could be carried on the person.
Decorated with traditional Chinese artistic techniques, including
painting, calligraphy, carving, enamel, cloisonné, and ceramics,
the bottles also show Western-influenced decorative methods and
styles. The Blair collection contains inside-painted glass and
quartz bottles that combine Chinese-style painting with a
back-painting technique (i.e., églomisé) brought to China in
the mid-eighteenth century by the Jesuit missionary Giuseppe
Castiglione. Some of the finest snuff bottles in the Blair
bequest are copper vials with Western figures painted in famille
rose enamels. Many such foreign-style bottles, though produced for
export, were cherished in China as a form of "Occidental"
[Modified from Cary Y. Liu, "Asian Art Collection: From Exotica to
Art and History," Record of the Princeton University Art
Museum 55, nos. 1–2 (1996), pp. 126–28.]
Qianshen Bai, Fu Shan’s World: The Transformation of Chinese Calligraphy in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2003).
Ju-hsi Chou and Claudia Brown, The Elegant Brush: Chinese Painting under the Qianlong Emperor, 1735–1795 (Phoenix: Phoenix Art Museum, 1985).
Ju-hsi Chou and Claudia Brown, Transcending Turmoil: Painting at the Close of China’s Empire, 1796–1911 (Phoenix: Phoenix Art Museum, 1992).
Chuimei Ho and Bennet Bronson, Splendors of China's Forbidden City: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong (New York: Merrell; Chicago: Field Museum, 2004).
Michael C. Hughes, The Blair Bequest: Chinese Snuff Bottles from the Princeton University Art Museum (Baltimore: International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, 2002).
Rosemary E. Scott, For The Imperial Court: Qing Porcelain from the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art (New York: The American Federation of the Arts; Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, 1997).
Wang Fangyu and Richard M. Barnhart, Master of the Lotus Garden: The Life and Art of Bada Shanren, 1626–1705 (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1990).
Wang Gai, The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, translated by Mai-mai Sze (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956).