documents in this section can be anything from imperial decrees
to honors bestowed on officials and individuals, edicts issued
to other states, or dealings with major military or state
affairs. These were popularly known as "sacred edicts"
but also had many official names, depending on their function
or agency of issue, such as imperial mandates, decrees, imperial
orders, imperial edicts, lists of successful candidates, volumes,
documents, tallies, and summons. The edicts and decrees chosen
for this part of the exhibit are all important proclamations
of the emperor.
Every major event or ceremony that took
place within the realm of the Ch'ing empire required an imperial
decree to inform officials and the general public alike. Such
events included ascension to the throne, an important imperial
marriage, appointment of imperial regent, death in the imperial
family, political reform, amendment to the law, or major disaster.
All of these had to be "proclaimed to all under the Heavens".
Decrees were written in a certain
way and followed a set format. The text would start with the
phrase, "The Emperor, who governs with the Mandate of
Heaven, declares that..." and would end with one meaning,
"Proclaimed to all under the Heavens, let it be known"
or "Proclaimed to all the states, let it be known"
(depending on the intended audience). The actual content of
the decree would come in between these opening and closing
phrases (figs. 1,
Imperial Decree Proclaiming
the Removal of Prince Regent Dorgon and his Mother
from the Imperial Shrine
22nd day of the 2nd month of the 8th year of the
Shun-chih reign (1651), Ch'ing Dynasty
78.2 x 185 cm (H x W)
Imperial Mandate of
the Hsien-feng Emperor
17th day of the 7th month of the 11th year of the
Hsien-feng reign (1861), Ch'ing Dynasty
85.5 x 278 cm (H x W)
Edict Bearing the
"Yü-shang" and "T'ung-tao T'ang"
13th day of the 11th month of the 11th year of the
Hsien-feng reign (1861), Ch'ing Dynasty
22.3 x 20 cm (H x W)
Patents of Nobility
A "patent" was a means of making
something known in writing. During the Ch'ing dynasty, "imperial
patents of nobility" were issued by the emperor to all
officials above the fifth rank as well as those in the family
line who could inherit title. The patent would describe the
recipients' achievements, the reason they were being given
the title, and also the what the title entails. During the
Ch'ing, these patents would be written on silk of either three
or five colors, with text in both Manchurian and Chinese written
variously with black, vermilion, or green ink, depending on
the color of the background. The patents would often be in
the handscroll format using beautifully paired writing, the
beginning of which would state, "The Emperor, who rules
with the Mandate of Heaven, proclaims that..." .
During the Ch'ing dynasty, the most common
type of patent was for recipients of inheritable titles. These
patents tended to be especially long in order to leave room
for the names of heirs to the title to be added later (figs.
Imperial Patent Bestowing
Posthumous Title on Shen To
Dated from the 19th year of the Ch'ien-lung reign
to the 14th year of the Kuang-hsü reign (1754-1888),
39.8 x 568 cm (H x W)
"Piao", "Chien", and Credentials
Throughout their rule, the Ch'ing
emperors believed theirs was a "heavenly dynasty in a
superior country", which is why in the early Ch'ing one
finds no Chinese diplomatic documents with wording to suggest
that other states were considered as equal to China. Some
documents are "ch'ih-yü" edicts speaking in a condescending
manner, while others are "piao" (figs.
5 and 6) and "chien"
(fig. 7) that speak from a lower
status. "Piao" and "chien" originally
were documents for officials to convey birthday wishes and
congratulatory remarks to the emperor and empress. "Piao"
were offered to the emperor and his mother, the empress dowager,
while "chien" were offered to the empress. The contents
often dealt with congratulatory text extolling the merits
and virtues of the recipient. "Piao" and "chien"
were also presented to the Ch'ing emperor by neighboring or
vassal states. After the joint attack by Anglo-French forces
in the 19th century, the Ch'ing court was forced to establish
offices for foreign affairs, from which time credentials treating
other nations as equals gradually appeared (figs.
8 and 9).
Gold Foil "Piao"
from the Kingdom of Siam
Ch'ien-lung reign (1736-1795), Ch'ing Dynasty
Dragon-decorated seal and pouch woven in gold silk
Piao: 16.3 x 28.5 cm (H x W)
Tribute List from
Taksin the Great of the Kingdom of Siam
26th day of the 5th month of the 46th year of the
Ch'ien-lung reign (1781), Ch'ing Dynasty
24.5 x 100cm (H x W, ten bundles)
from the Kingdom of Annam Mourning the Death of
the Ch'ien-lung Emperor
10th day of the 5th day of the 4th year of the Chia-ch'ing
reign (1799), Ch'ing Dynasty
Book: 25 x 14.5 cm (H x W, 9 pages)
Cover: 27.5 x 16.5 cm (H x W)
from the Ch'ing Court to Great Britain
31st year of the Kuang-hsü reign (1905), Ch'ing
Credentials: 34.3 x 269.5 cm (H x W)
Cover: 23 x 2.5 x34.5x 2.5 cm (H x W x D)
Credentials from Korea
to the Ch'ing Court
8th year of the Gwangmu reign (30th year of the
Kuang-hsü in China, 1904, Ch'ing Dynasty)
Credentials: 41.4 x 53.3 cm (H x W)
Pouch: 22 x 16 cm (H x W)