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Selection: Introduction
Selection: The Life and Times of the Yongzheng Emperor
Selection: Yinzhen, the Person
Selection: Relations with His Father, the Emperor
Selection: Relations with His Son, Hongli
Selection: Relations with His Officials
Selection: Administering the Empire
Selection: Life at Court
Selection: Religious Beliefs
Selection: From the Throne to His Death
Selection: Art and Culture in the Yongzheng Era
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Title: Art and Culture in the Yongzheng Era
Yinzhen, the Person
The Yongzheng Emperor's personal name in Manchu was Aisin-Gioro In-Jen (Yinzhen in Chinese). Born in the early morning hours of December 13, 1678, he was the fourth son of the Kangxi Emperor. A Manchu of the Plain Yellow Banner, his mother went by the surname Uya. The character for "yin" in his personal name was based on the order of Kangxi's sons, while "zhen" was chosen for its meaning, "blessed with sincerity." Official records indicate that Yinzhen's conception and birth were accompanied by various auspicious omens, foreshadowing his ability to stand out amongst his brothers competing for the throne. Official histories also describe him as unusually handsome with a slender figure and such attractive features as a prominent nose, full earlobes, a resonant voice, and bright, spirited eyes. The portraits in this exhibit allow audiences to compare this written record with the visual one.
Portrait of the Yongzheng Emperor in Formal Court Attire(New window) Annals of the Great Qing Emperor Xian, Shizong (Yongzheng) (New window)

State Historiography Office, Qing dynasty

Yellow silk-bound Chinese edition

  Relations with His Father, the Emperor
After Yongzheng ascended the throne, he time and again reiterated how his father, the Kangxi Emperor, personally nurtured him since he was a youth. Yongzheng's language abilities in Manchu and Chinese as well as his cultivation in traditional classics and poetry all met with his father's approval, but it was his sincerity in performing filial piety that especially won Kangxi's praise. But Yongzheng was also repeatedly admonished by Kangxi for his rash nature and rapid mood swings. After becoming emperor, Yongzheng remembered his father's warning to ''Heed rashness and use perseverance", hanging a plaque in his room inscribed with characters for as a reminder to be vigilant. From the Chinese age of 9, Yongzheng accompanied his father on imperial inspection tours and by 21 was enfeoffed as Beile ("Lord"), becoming Prince Yong of the first rank at 32. He was therefore able to accumulate a wealth of experience that set the foundation for his selection as emperor. In Kangxi's late years, as competition for the throne among the princes heated up, Yongzheng kept to his motto of precaution and perseverance as he consciously practiced filial piety while showing little interest in the infighting, thereby bonding further with his father. Kangxi also became despondent at the maneuvering amongst his sons, so Yongzheng's attitude at this time may have been the key to his being chosen as emperor.
Record of Great Righteousness Resolving Confusion (New window) The Kangxi Emperor's Last Will and Testament (New window)
Record of Great Righteousness Resolving Confusion

Emperor Shizong (Yongzheng, 1678-1735), Qing dynasty

Imprint of 1730, Yongzheng reign, Imperial Printing Office

The Kangxi Emperor's Last Will and Testament

Emperor Shengzu (Kangxi, 1654-1722), Qing dynasty

Dated to 1722

Collection of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica

  Relations with His Son, Hongli
The Yongzheng Emperor had fourteen children, and it was his fourth son, Hongli, who turned out to be the brightest and most diligent, thereby winning his favor. Not only did Yongzheng engage the best teachers to teach his son, he also carefully selected a beautiful bride to be his principal wife. In the 61st and last year of the Kangxi Emperor's reign, his son Yinzhen (the future Yongzheng) invited him to tour the Yuanming Garden, allowing Hongli (then 12) to meet his grandfather-emperor. All three generations cherished this gathering. Kangxi, finding favor with his grandson's talent and demeanor, took Hongli back to the palace. In fact, it is rumored that Kangxi was so impressed with Hongli that it was one reason why he decided to pass the throne to Yinzhen. In other words, Kangxi knew Hongli would make a wise ruler, so he chose Yinzhen to put Hongli in line for the throne. After Yinzhen assumed the throne, however, he went through the bitterness of having to ruthlessly crush opposition from his brothers, making him determined to decide early on passing the throne to Hongli and prevent such problems in the future. To do so, Yongzheng created a method in which the future ruler's name was secretly written down, sealed in a case, and placed behind the high wall plaque "Fair and Impartial" at the Qianqing Palace. To be opened after the emperor's death and made public, this would establish a precedent for the smooth succession to the throne afterwards in the Qing dynasty.
Veritable Records of the Great Qing Emperor Xian, Shizong (Yongzheng) (New window)  
Veritable Records of the Great Qing Emperor Xian, Shizong (Yongzheng)

Small, red silk-bound Chinese edition

  Relations with His Officials
Though the Yongzheng Emperor avoided his brothers' struggles for the throne as much as possible, he could not avoid early challenges from both sides at court. One challenge continuing from the late Kangxi era was composed of imperial cliques surrounding his brothers, including the eighth prince Yunsi, the ninth prince Yuntang, and the fourteenth prince Yunti. The other challenge came from the illegal, arrogant quests for power among such high court officials as Longkodo and Nian Gengyao, who had gradually become influential imperial favorites due to their court service. A frontispiece seal carved in the first year of Yongzheng's reign with the characters for "Being Ruler is Difficult" reveals the harsh reality of having to deal ruthlessly with members of his own family. It is also a reflection of how the ruler understood, used, and trusted others to gain the trust and support of his officials. For the Yongzheng Emperor, any attempt to encroach upon or override imperial authority had to be met with force and eradicated. The vermilion-rescripted memorials chosen for this exhibit demonstrate his firm and ruthless attitude towards challengers of imperial authority. As for those unswervingly loyal to him, these true servants of the emperor working for the well-being of the country included the thirteenth prince Yi (Yunxiang) and the high officials Zhang Tingyu, Tian Wenjing, and Yang Zongren. Concerned about the dynasty in every way, Yongzheng was unsparing in his praise and rewarded them handsomely. Thus, the Yongzheng Emperor was fair in terms of reward and punishment, his harshness also revealing the feelings of straightforward ruler.
Palace memorial on greeting (New window) Palace memorial on the respectful return of previous vermilion rescripts (New window)
Palace memorial on greeting

Submitted by Yang Zongren (1661-1725), Governor-general of Hubei and Hunan

Dated to 1723, Yongzheng reign, Qing dynasty

Palace memorial on the respectful return of previous vermilion rescripts

Submitted by Ma Huibo (1671-?), Governor of Hubei

Dated to 1728, Yongzheng reign, Qing dynasty

  Administering the Empire

The Yongzheng Emperor once wrote a self-critique of his merits on the throne: "I as sovereign have looked deep into my heart. Though I dare not compare myself with the wisdom of sage-rulers from the Three Periods [of High Antiquity], I believe I deserve to rank among the rulers of the Han, Tang, Song, and Ming [dynasties]." Nowadays, historians also agree he was an enlightened ruler who inherited the foundations of his father Kangxi and set the stage for his son Qianlong, two of the longest-serving rulers in Chinese history who represented the peak of the Qing dynasty.

In his administration of the Qing empire, the most important reforms that the Yongzheng Emperor instituted were as follows:

Abolishing the Head Tax
Traditionally in China, separate taxes were levied on people and land. In the first year of Yongzheng's reign, however, the head tax was incorporated into the land tax, making land the single standard for taxation. Eliminating the head tax relieved the burden on farmers while increasing revenue for the government, making it a major success in the reform of taxes and finances in Qing history:
The Yongzheng Emperor Offering Sacrifice at the Xiannong Altar (New window)  
The Yongzheng Emperor Offering Sacrifice at the Xiannong Altar

Anonymous, Qing dynasty

Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing

Fighting Corruption
The tolerant and benevolent Kangxi Emperor allowed officials to become increasingly spoiled in his later years, leading to corruption and fraud. At the start of Yongzheng's rule, though, he quickly overturned the decadence of corrupt officials, judiciously using a carrot-and-stick approach to encourage honesty and stamp out corruption by subsidizing the salaries of officials and severely punishing those found guilty of corruption. The result was that officials did not need to be as greedy, nor did they dare to be so.
Compensating the Government
"Fire consumption" and "consumption taxes" were terms for a kind of surcharge in addition to regular taxes. Officials willingly made up the difference in the loss of silver during the process when it was smelted, changed, and separated. The regular tax would be one tael, with compensation for the lost amount usually being five or six cash. Yongzheng made this into a statutory tax with a fixed rate under a unified administration. Used not only for government expenses, it also became a form of subsidy for officials to maintain honesty. Thus, it lessened the burden by avaricious officials on common people by greatly increasing the formers' salaries.
Palace memorial relating the resolution of silver meltage matters (New window)  
Palace memorial relating the resolution of silver meltage matters

Submitted by Gao Chengling, Provincial Administration Commissioner of Shanxi

Dated to1724, Yongzheng reign, Qing dynasty

The Yongzheng Emperor valued the importance of agriculture and many times personally visited the Shennong Altar to pray for a bountiful harvest. Although not as determined to open up new lands as Kangxi or Qianlong, Yongzheng was still interested in keeping peace along the borders, making valuable contributions in holding together and consolidating Qing imperial rule.
  Life at Court
Born into the epitome of a life of luxury and destined to become the Son of Heaven, Yongzheng's life before becoming emperor (when he was known as Yinzhen) was rich and varied, filled with the most elegant of taste. Whether the paintings of Yongzheng's amusements depict actual scenes from his life or flights of fancy, they nonetheless reveal a yearning for great luxury and leisure. Before becoming emperor, he enjoyed reciting poetry by the moon, reading books while appreciating flowers, strumming the zither and sipping fine tea, and seeking the solitude of scenic areas. He also had a taste for great objects of the past and present while associating with Buddhists and Daoists. In fact, he claimed to have grown up in the company of cranes and pines (symbols of longevity), which is why he led an unhurried life with no bother for the commotions at court. But after assuming the throne, Yongzheng became immersed in the never-ending affairs of state, establishing the Grand Council, expanding the system of memorials, and instituting administrative reforms. His days were filled with official matters as he read and answered memorials through the night, making him one of the few truly diligent emperors in Chinese history (as testified by the enormous number of vermilion-rescripted memorials he left behind). In his few moments of leisure as ruler, he would appreciate refined objects produced by the Imperial Workshop, or allow officials talented in poetry, painting, and calligraphy to present their works, into which he would project himself and take his mind off business.
Collected Writings of the Great Qing Emperor Xian, Shizong (Yongzheng) (New window) Yinzhen's (Yongzheng's) Amusements :  ''Copying a Sutra in a Studio'' (New window)
Collected Writings of the Great Qing Emperor Xian, Shizong (Yongzheng)

Emperor Shizong (Yongzheng, 1678-1735), Qing dynasty

Imprint of 1738, Qianlong reign, Imperial Printing Office

Yinzhen's (Yongzheng's) Amusements: "Copying a Sutra in a Studio"

Anonymous, Qing dynasty

Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing

Yinzhen's (Yongzheng's) Amusements :  ''Reading by a Burner'' (New window) Beauties :  ''Appreciating Antiquities''(New window)
Yinzhen's (Yongzheng's) Amusements: "Reading by a Burner"

Anonymous, Qing dynasty

Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing

Beauties: "Appreciating Antiquities"

Anonymous, Qing dynasty

Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing

Beauties :  ''Looking in a Mirror'' (New window)  

Beauties: "Looking in a Mirror"

Anonymous, Qing dynasty

Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing

  Religious Beliefs
The Yongzheng Emperor emphasized a balanced combination of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism throughout his life. He felt Confucian thought, for example, was useful for administration, while Buddhism and Daoism were common beliefs among the people and could therefore not be overlooked. In fact, Yongzheng often enjoyed discussing Buddhism. Referring to himself as "Head of the Shakya" (the kingdom from which the Buddha came), he frequently associated with members of the Buddhist clergy and discussed Chan (Zen) studies, in which he became quite learned. He also adopted Buddhist names, such as "Layman of Aloofness from the Dusty World" and "Layman of Yuanming (Garden)." He held Buddhist ceremonies in the palace, bringing together high monks from throughout the country. He even gave talks on Buddhism and bestowed Buddhist names to his son Hongli ("Layman of Everlasting Spring") and to his officials Ertai ("Layman of Being Composed") and Zhang Tingyu ("Layman of a Clear Mind"). And among the paintings of his amusements is one of him wearing the Buddhist clothing of an esoteric high lama. The Yongzheng Emperor repeatedly issued instructions on Buddhism, had Buddhist scriptures printed, and personally transcribed, edited, wrote, and calligraphed prefaces for Buddhist texts. Later in life, especially after his trusted brother Yunxiang (Prince Yi) died in the eighth year of his rule (1730), the number of Buddhist vegetarian banquets in the palace rose dramatically. He furthermore became increasingly interested in Daoist matters related to the elixir of immortality, even leaving a reference in a memorial that he bestowed upon a high official the pill of longevity. But around midnight on October 8, 1735, Yongzheng passed away in his fifties, with some claiming it was actually the toxic materials in the elixir of immortality that ironically killed him.
The Yongzheng Emperor Dressed as a Daoist (New window) Palace memorial on the gracious return of previous rescripts (with enclosure)
The Yongzheng Emperor Dressed as a Daoist

Anonymous, Qing dynasty

Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing

Palace memorial on the gracious return of previous rescripts (with enclosure)

Submitted by Tian Wenjing (1662-1732), Governor-general of Hedong

Dated to 1730, Yongzheng reign, Qing dynasty

  From the Throne to His Death
The Yongzheng Emperor passed away in his Yuanming Garden on October 8, 1735, at the age of 58 by Chinese reckoning. The site chosen for his burial was the imperial funeral grounds at Mt. Taining in Yi County southwest of Beijing. As for the cause of his death, many opinions have come forth, but no definite answers. On the throne for thirteen years, Yongzheng had the habit of staying up late at night to work on the numerous affairs of state. He made many contributions to reforms that stabilized the political situation and helped fill the national coffers, setting a solid foundation for the finances his son Hongli (the Qianlong Emperor) accumulated. In Yongzheng's will, he explicitly passed the throne to his fourth son, Hongli, ordering Princes Li and Guo along with the officials Ertai and Zhang Tingyu to assist his administration. Hongli's smooth succession to the throne brought an end to the ruthless competition that had begun with the first ruler of the Manchu state, Emperor Taizu (Nurhaci), thus testifying to Yongzheng's wisdom and success in reform.
The controversy over Yongzheng's own ascension to the throne, surrounded by doubt, had been a matter that historians could not resolve. And the cause of Yongzheng's death only sparked new suspicions. Nonetheless, Yongzheng as a person along with the events and administration of his reign left an indelible mark on Chinese history and also a rich cultural legacy. Through the objects in this exhibition directly related to this pivotal ruler, audiences will hopefully come away with a more complete and accurate understanding of the Yongzheng Emperor.
Court Diary from the Yongzheng Reign(New window)  
Court Diary from the Yongzheng Reign

Yellow silk-bound edition