2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 250

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Art and Agency of the Qianlong Court

Organizer: Wen-shing Chou, City University of New York, Hunter College, USA

Chair: William Ma, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Court art from the Qing Dynasty has long been considered synonymous with decay and decadence within the traditional Chinese art historical canon. But along with recent waves of studies on New Qing history, art produced in the Qing court have also begun to be reassessed. The central character in many of these reevaluations is the Qianlong emperor, the second longest (officially) reigning ruler of the Qing. During his reign, he amassed and created a magnificent collection of art in many types of media; the papers in this panel will focus on several: painting, calligraphy, print, and architecture. A demanding patron, his presence is palpable from the design and projection of the art object to its final placement. All four papers will investigate how and why Qianlong played such an active role in the making of court art. What was the larger imperial program embedded in his artistic vision? By what means did the works achieve their intended function? What can we learn about Qianlong's rulership by looking at the courtly artistic output? The panel aims to examine these issues related to the Qianlong court from the viewpoints of his Tibetan Buddhist advisor, court artists, officials, European artists, and those of his own. While some papers will look broadly at his remapping of history through the re-presentation of important political or religious cosmography, other will examine closely Qianlong's various acts of direct intervention: the inscription of a finished work or the deliberate placement of the work within a symbolically significant space.

Reimagining New Territory: the Making of Qing Imperial Authority on Qianlong's French-made Battle Pictures
William Ma, University of California, Berkeley, USA

On December 13, 1759, the Qianlong emperor proclaimed the completion of the campaigns in Zungharia and Eastern Turkestan in present-day Xinjiang. To commemorate these victories, he ordered his court artists, Chinese and European missionary, to depict significant events and battles from the campaigns on sixteen large tieluo paintings, to be displayed later in the newly renovated military temple-museum Hall of Purple Radiance (Ziguang ge). The paintings were then reduced to drawings and sent to France to be made into copper-engraved prints by some of the finest artists in Paris. The completed copperplates and prints were returned to Beijing by 1775. In this paper, I will explore how Qianlong used these battle images, especially the French-made copper-engraved prints, as a politically expedient instrument for his unique version of the Qing imperial enterprise. I argue that through the re-presentation of the newly conquered territory and its inhabitants in the battle images, Qianlong has achieved the goal of transmitting the "correct" political ideology simultaneously to multiple audiences - the Manchu, the Han, as well as overseas European colonial empires. Three types of symbolic act by the emperor will be considered: the placement and arrangement of the paintings within the Hall of Purple Radiance, the inscriptions found on both the paintings and the prints, and finally the dissemination of the prints to every corner of the empire.

Praying for Ten-thousand Goodness: On Ding Guanpeng’s The Buddha Preaching and Its Context in the Qing Court
Ching-Ling Wang, Max Planck Institute, Germany

The painting The Buddha Preaching in the collection of the Ethnological Museum, Berlin, is by far the largest painting produced by any of the Qing court artists. It measures 525 cm x 950 cm and depicts a scene of the Buddha preaching the dharma while surrounded by various Bodhisattvas, Arhats, Vajradharas, and other deities. It was painted in 1770 by Ding Guanpeng (1770), one of the most important court painters of the eighteenth century. However, other than a few short introductions, this painting has neither been studied in detail nor brought up often in discussions of Ding’s work. This paper aims to reveal the artistic value of this much-overlooked painting, contextualize its function and meaning by considering its original location and reconstruct the impact of its institutional and religious contexts in the Qing court. Firstly, I will analyse the work from its iconographical perspective. Secondly, I will analyse the style of Ding Guanpeng’s Buddha’s Preaching to pinpoint its position and importance in Ding Guanpeng’s career. Lastly, I will use the imperial archive to locate the site where Ding Guanpeng’s Buddha’s Preaching was originally hung, in order to put this painting in its correct historical context, also to identify how, and under what kind of patronage, this painting was made. I will use Buddha’s Preaching as an example to reconstruct its institutional context and to shed light on the imperial art agency in the painting academy of the Qing court.

East of India and West of Beijing: Qianlong’s Replicas of Wutai Shan and the Creation of Manchu Buddhism
Wen-shing Chou, City University of New York, Hunter College, USA

From 1746 and 1792, the Qianlong emperor (1711-1799) visited the sacred Buddhist mountain range of Wutai Shan six times, as many times as he conducted his southern inspection tours to Tai Shan and Jiangnan. However, contrary to extensive visual documentations that accompanied records of his southern tours, Qianlong commissioned virtually no paintings of his visits to Wutai Shan. Instead, Qianlong became singularly preoccupied with recreating selected monasteries of Wutai Shan closer to the capital and establishing them as Manchu Buddhist monastic centers. This paper considers the semantic, artistic, institutional, and cosmographical strategies of replicating a Buddhist sacred mountain range by examining the building of Baodi si, Baoxiang si, and Shuxiang si in Xiangshan and Chengde. As the paper will show, these multi-media and mutli-dimensional endeavors aim to transport and transplant Wutai Shan’s spiritual efficacy to the Manchu courts in Beijing and Chengde. This process of replication reveals the creation of a Manchu Buddhist identity centered on the cult of Manjusri that combined Tibetan, Chinese, and Mongolian Buddhist cultures at Wutai Shan. It clarifies the central place of Wutai Shan in the formation of Qing rulership.