Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Qian Long Emperor Hong Li -- The Luckiest Monarch in the History of China and Saboteur of Historical Relics ​

Too much water drowned the miller; when the extreme centralized power met some short sighted monarchs, an empire would embark on the road of declination easily. 


When the Industrial Revolution was progressing in the western world, the Qing Empire, however, stayed more and more ossification and still put nomadic aristocrats’ interest before everything.

Qian Long Emperor and His Perfect Life

As the most longevous emperor in the history China, Qian Long Emperor Hong Li (1711 -- 1799) inherited a powerful and rich kingdom from his excellent father Emperor Ying Zhen.


Hong Li had a happy childhood and was well educated by the most talented officials.


His birth mother was a caring and longevous woman who always accompanied him, and he also married to the love of his life when he was young. 


Hong Li, also honored as Qian Long Emperor or Qing Gao Zong, ascended to the throne smoothly, without any competition. He became the monarch when he was 24 years old, a mature age to run the kingdom himself and didn’t need any manipulative regents nor powerful clans.


Moreover, he inherited his father’s absolute centralized power directly, as well as a super efficient government with very little corruption. 


His life was nearly perfect and flawless, since he got everything easily. 

Change of Policy and Recovery of Ruling Classes' Privilege


But Hong Li, now the Qian Long Emperor, considered some of his father’s policies being too strict; so he released many officers that his father imprisoned before, and recovered ruling class’ privileges by abrogating his father’s “everyone pays taxes” policy.


Then, he burnt some of his father’s articles that includes “too radical” ideas, and adjusted some other policies, in order to make sure that the ruling class was united and satisfied.


In Addition, Qian Long Emperor was much more tolerant, than his father, to corrupted officers, though he did punish some corrupted ones.


His changing on systems, however, made the government became corrupted more and more. 


During the first few years of his reign, Qian Long Emperor was a qualified and diligent monarch, who encouraged agriculture and dealt with conflicting on borders quite well. 


The current territory of China was mostly settled, agriculture and population was steadily increased, and the exchequer was always filled with large numbers of gold.


Later, he was quite satisfied with his empire’s prosperity, and believed himself as a perfect monarch, even one of the best in the history of China. 

Large Scale Cultural Havoc Implemented by Qian Long

During the period of Qian Long Emperor's ruling, England had finished The First Industrial Revolution, American announced independence, and France erupted The French Revolution.


The western world was marching forward with a high speed, while Hong Li, however, had led his empire heading to a different direction. 


Qian Long Emperor commanded to compile the Complete Book Collection in Four Sections, which includes approximately 800 million Chinese characters.

However, this turned out to be a cultural havoc, under the name of compiling.


The means of organizing and compiling of ancient books were intriguing and advanced, however, the destruction was huge and irreversible.


Qian Long Emperor’s government collected as many books as they could, and then destroyed those were disliked by the Qing Empire’s ruling class. 


The banned and destroyed books were nearly as many as they compiled in this huge collection; a great deal of historical documents of the Ming Dynasty were systematically perished or "decorated" as well.


Among those destroyed books, the advanced technical encyclopedia Tian Gong Kai Wu was included, which was destroyed only because the writer Song Yingxing was loyal to the Ming Dynasty; if it hadn't been spread to and preserved in Japan, this remarkable masterpiece and the great scientist would never be known by the world.


Tens of thousands of other books and their writers were not that lucky; large numbers of great books were burnt down and buried in the dark forever.


This was a huge disaster for Chinese culture.  


Moreover, for many books that were not too “reactionary”, they falsified and deleted lots of contents, and then compiled into their collections. 

Unparalleled Literary Inquisition with Substantial Massacres

Qian Long Emperor also initiated the largest numbers of Literary Inquisitions in the history of China.


During his ruling period, there were over 130 Literary Inquisitions had been criminated; each case took away tens of thousands of lives.


In Ming and other former Chinese dynasties, people wouldn’t be executed because of words; they even were praised when they criticized the emperor properly in face, when they directly said the current emperor was ridiculous, unqualified, or incapable.


In the Qing Dynasty, especially in Qian Long Emperor’s reign, however, large numbers of people were sentenced to death only because they or their relatives missed or grieved over the former Ming Dynasty, or even just kept some “reactionary” books. 


Wrecking of Valuable, Historical Relics

Qian Long Emperor himself also harmed many valuable cultural relics.


He had over 1000 fancy seals, and he always stamped his seals or just wrote comments directly on many exceptional paintings and calligraphy works.


Unlike other decent collectors, Hong Li stamped and wrote in the middle and all the blank area of those masterpieces, which severely ruined many great works.


For instance, on a great calligrapher’s masterpiece with less than 30 Chinese characters, Hong Li wrote his comment with over 60 characters and stamped using more than 80 of his personal seals, most of which were stamped among the great calligrapher’s written characters.


As for jade and china vessels, Qian Long Emperor also carved many of his comments on these extraordinary treasures. 

Seals and Comments of Qian Long Emperor on Great Masterpieces 

Cutting Off From the Outside World 

At the same time, Qian Long Emperor further and completely banned international trade, and cut off communications with other countries on the civilian’s level. 


An important reason of the banning was to avoid national rebel forces to get connected with foreign power, most of which were still loyal to the Ming Dynasty and might threaten Qing’s ruling.


Under these policies, along with encouragement of agriculture, and suppression of handicraft and commerce industry, China gradually lagged behind the western world.

How Luxurious Qian Long Emperor Emptied the Exchequer

Then, Qian Long Emperor started his luxury imperial tours in the southern China, for six times, under the name of investigating southern cities and assessing officers and irrigation projects.


Unlike his father who visited other cities with much less money and actually wanted to inspect civilians’ lives to make relevant good policies, let alone some emperors in the Ming Dynasty who were forbidden or strongly criticized for planning or had secretly visited other cities, Qian Long Emperor, on the contrary, was quite luxurious and welcomed, without any critics. 


Every time, he took with most of his concubines, his favorite officials, and large numbers of servants and guards. Cities along his journey needed to provide him and his huge team with high quality food, exquisite daily necessities, countless treasures and valuable specialties.


Millions of civilians were summoned to do labors to serve him.


Because of his corrupted system and greedy officials, plus Qian Long Emperor’s huge expenses himself, those large-scale imperial tours cost large numbers of money.


Additionally, because of the construction of many fancy palaces and some uprising forces in his late years, Qian Long Emperor had spent out most of the money in the national treasury. 


When his son ascended to the throne, Qing Empire’s exchequer had been almost empty. 


Qian Long Emperor's Abdication and Legacy 

Qian Long was also a very productive poet who had written more than 40,000 poems, but none of them was circulated or popular.


He abdicated the throne to his son when he was 85 years old, because he didn’t want to be the emperor longer than his grandfather. But he still obtained absolute power, until he passed away three years later.


He left to his son Yong Yan a lagged behind and relatively poverty empire, with large numbers of corrupted officials and many uprising armies nationwide. 


Qian Long Emperor was a smart person and a very lucky monarch in the history of China. He gained everything smoothly, the throne, a rich empire and a long and healthy life.


Maybe it was not fair for him to take too much responsibility for China’s lagging behind from the western world at that time; but in an empire which the emperor had absolute centralized power, the vision and action of the monarch were of great importance.


At least, he was not the “All Mighty and Perfect Emperor" as he himself claimed.