Image : Harmony and Integrity : The Yongzheng Emperor and His Times 國立故宮博物院 National Palace Museum (New window)
Selection: Introduction
Selection: The Life and Times of the Yongzheng Emperor
Selection: Art and Culture in the Yongzheng Era
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Title: Introduction

The Qing dynasty emperor Shizong (better known by his reign name, Yongzheng) was the third ruler after the Manchu overthrew the Ming dynasty. Born on December 13, 1678, his clan name in Manchu was Aisin Gioro and his personal name In Jen (Yinzhen in Chinese). Passing away on October 8, 1735, he was the fourth prince in a succession of 35 sons born to his father, the Kangxi Emperor. At the (Chinese) age of 21, he received the title Beile, or "Lord," and was enfeoffed as Prince Yong of the first rank at 32. He succeeded to the throne at the age of 45 and ruled for 13 years. Receiving the posthumous title of Emperor Xian and the temple name Shizong after his death, he is commonly referred to as the Yongzheng Emperor. The title of this exhibition, "Harmony and Integrity," is a literal translation of Yongzheng.

Numerous rumors circulated about Yongzheng from his ascension to the throne up to his death, leaving behind stories that fascinate people even today. Historians, moreover, have been unable to come to a consensus about the Yongzheng Emperor, making him a truly complex historical figure. On the one hand, Yongzheng was a staunch supporter of imperial authority who ruthlessly struck down opponents, even those in his family. Extremely cruel at times, he indeed left behind a name cursed by many. On the other hand, he was firm and resolute as ruler of the Qing empire, exhibiting courage in initiating reforms and being diligent in administration and determined to stamp out corruption. Setting up a clean administration, as ruler he eradicated decadent customs, stabilized the political situation, helped fill the imperial coffers, and also lessened the burden on the people. Inheriting from the long and glorious rule of the Kangxi Emperor while setting the stage for another lengthy and magnificent era under the Qianlong Emperor, Yongzheng stands out as the pivotal figure between them. As for various cultural ventures, he was meticulous when it came to continuity in tradition. For example, Yongzheng supervised the completion of Completed Collection of Graphs and Writings of Ancient and Modern Times, the greatest surviving collectanea in terms of content. In his pursuit of orthodoxy, he also saw that the history of the previous dynasty was finished. With regards to arts and crafts, he sought a refined classicism and courtly manner, often ordering craftsmen in the Imperial Workshop to strive for grace and elegance, to make objects delicately thin, and to be refined in all manners of production. Combined with his interest in elements of Eastern and Western culture, he oversaw a rich output of imperial objects that differed from those of the Kangxi or Qianlong eras. The Yongzheng Emperor himself was also a talented calligrapher and writer. The effort of many court painters and artistically talented officials under Yongzheng left behind numerous works of refined painting and calligraphy.

"Harmony and Integrity: The Yongzheng Emperor and His Times" features mostly works from the rich collection of the National Palace Museum along with 37 fine objects loaned from the Palace Museum in Beijing and others. Taken together, this display portrays the life and times of the Yongzheng Emperor along with the achievements in art and culture in his reign. This exhibit also includes a multimedia display on the origins of some stories about Yongzheng still widely circulating, providing an opportunity to clarify misunderstandings of the general public. The exhibit is divided into two sections, "The Life and Times of the Yongzheng Emperor" and "Art and Culture in the Yongzheng Era," featuring a rich variety of cultural objects from the Qing court in eleven categories that fully explain the person behind them--the Yongzheng Emperor.

Many official imprints, histories, biographies, novels, historical romances, and screen productions have recorded or interpreted the life of the Yongzheng Emperor, but this special exhibition on the Yongzheng reign is the first to use actual objects as first-hand sources to document this ruler and to demonstrate his refined and lofty taste in art. The 246 sets of objects in the exhibit include archives, historical books, maps, portraits, paintings, calligraphy, inkstones, porcelains, lacquerware, agate carvings, and enamelware. Participating institutions loaning works for display include the Palace Museum in Beijing, the Shanghai Museum, the Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica, and a private company.