Qianlong Emperor

The Qianlong Emperor, born Hongli Chinese: 弘曆(Manchu language: ᡥᡠᠩ ᠯᡳ ;Möllendorff transliteration: hung li), 25 September 1711 – 7 February 1799) was the sixth emperor of the Manchu-led qing dynasty, and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China proper. The fourth son of the Yongzheng Emperor, he reigned officially from 11 October 1735 to 8 February 1796.1 On 8 February, he abdicated in favor of his son, the Jiaqing Emperor – a filial act in order not to reign longer than his grandfather, the illustrious Kangxi Emperor. Despite his retirement, however, he retained ultimate power until his death in 1799. Although his early years saw the continuation of an era of prosperity in China, his final years saw troubles at home and abroad converge on the Qing Empire.

Early years

Hongli was adored both by his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor and his father, the Yongzheng Emperor. Some historians argue that the main reason why Kangxi Emperor appointed Yongzheng as his successor was because Qianlong was his favourite grandson. He felt that Hongli's mannerisms were very close to his own. As a teenager he was very capable in martial arts, and possessed a high literary ability.

After his father's succession in 1722, Hongli became the Prince Bao (宝亲王/寶親王). Like many of his uncles, Hongli entered into a battle of succession with his older half-brother Hongshi, who had the support of a large faction of court officials, as well as Yinsi, Prince Lian. For many years the Yongzheng Emperor did not appoint anyone to the position of Crown Prince, but many in court speculated his favoring of Hongli. Hongli went on inspection trips to the south, and was known to be an able negotiator and enforcer. He was also chosen as chief regent on occasions, when his father was away from the capital.

Ascension to the throne

Even before Hongli's succession was read out to the assembled court, it was widely known who the new emperor would be. The young Hongli had been a favorite of his grandfather, Kangxi, and his father alike; Yongzheng had entrusted a number of important ritual tasks to him while Hongli was still a prince, and included him in important court discussions of military strategy. Hoping to avoid repetition of the succession crisis that had tainted his own accession to the throne, he had the name of his successor placed in a sealed box secured behind the tablet over the throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing Gong 乾清宫). The name in the box was to be revealed to other members of the imperial family in the presence of all senior ministers only upon the death of the Emperor. Yongzheng died suddenly in 1735, the will was taken out and read out before the entire Qing Court, and Hongli became the 6th Manchu Emperor of China. He took the era name of Qianlong (乾隆), 乾 means heaven, 隆 means eminence, which means "Lasting Eminence".

Frontier wars

The Qianlong Emperor was a successful military leader. Immediately after ascending the throne, he sent armies to suppress the Miao rebellion. His later campaigns greatly expanded the territory controlled by the qing dynasty. This was made possible not only by Qing strength, but also by the disunity and declining strength of the Inner Asian peoples. Under Qianlong, Dzungar Khanate was incorporated into the qing dynasty's rule and renamed Xinjiang , while to the West, Ili was conquered and garrisoned. The incorporation of Xinjiang into the Qing empire resulted from the final defeat and destruction of the Dzungars (or Zunghars), a coalition of Western Mongol tribes. According to Qing scholar Wei Yuan, 40% of the 600,000 Zunghar people were killed by smallpox, 20% fled to Russia or Kazakh tribes, and 30% were killed by the army, in what Clarke described as "the complete destruction of not only the Zunghar state but of the Zunghars as a people." Historian Peter Perdue has argued that the decimation of the Dzungars was the result of an explicit policy of massacre launched by the Qianlong emperor

Throughout this period there were continued Mongol interventions in Tibet and a reciprocal spread of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia. After the Lhasa riot of 1750 he sent armies into Tibet and firmly established the Dalai Lama as ruler, with a Qing resident and garrison to preserve Chinese sovereignty. Further afield, military campaigns against Nepalese, and Gurkhas forced these peoples to submit and send tribute.

The Qianlong Emperor sought to conquer Burma to the south, but the Sino–Burmese War ended in complete failure. He initially believed that it would be an easy victory against a barbarian tribe, and sent only the Green Standard Army based in Yunnan , which borders Burma. The Qing invasion came as the majority of Burmese forces were deployed in their latest invasion of Siam. Nonetheless, battle-hardened Burmese troops defeated the first two invasions of 1765–1766 and 1766–1767 at the border. The regional conflict now escalated to a major war that involved military maneuvers nationwide in both countries. The third invasion (1767–1768) led by the elite Manchu Bannermen nearly succeeded, penetrating deep into central Burma within a few days' march from the capital, Ava. But the Bannermen of northern China could not cope with unfamiliar tropical terrains and lethal endemic diseases, and were driven back with heavy losses. After the close-call, King Hsinbyushin redeployed his armies from Siam to the Chinese front. The fourth and largest invasion got bogged down at the frontier. With the Qing forces completely encircled, a truce was reached between the field commanders of the two sides in December 1769. The Qing kept a heavy military lineup in the border areas of Yunnan for about one decade in an attempt to wage another war while imposing a ban on inter-border trade for two decades. When Burma and China resumed a diplomatic relationship in 1790, the Qing unilaterally viewed the act as Burmese submission, and claimed victory

The circumstances in Vietnam were not successful either. In 1787 the last Le king Le Chieu Thong fled Vietnam and formally requested that he be restored to his throne in Thanglong (Hanoi today). The Qianlong Emperor agreed and sent a large army into Vietnam to remove the Tay Son (peasant rebels who had captured all of Vietnam). The capital, Thanglong, was conquered in 1788 but a few months later, the Chinese army was defeated and the invasion turned into a debacle due to the surprise attack during Tết by Nguyen Hue, the second and most capable of the three Tay Son brothers. The Chinese gave formal protection to the Le emperor and his family, and would not intervene in Vietnam for another 90 years.

Despite setbacks in the south, overall the Qianlong Emperor's military expansion nearly doubled the area of the already vast empire, and brought into the fold many non-Han-Chinese peoples—such as Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs, Evenks and Mongols—who were potentially hostile. It was also a very expensive enterprise; the funds in the Imperial Treasury were almost all put into military expeditions. Though the wars were successful, they were not overwhelmingly so. The army declined noticeably and had a difficult time facing some enemies: the Jin Chuan area took 2–3 years to conquer—at first the Qing army were mauled, though Yue Zhongqi later took control of the situation. The battle with the Dzungars was closely fought, and caused heavy losses on both sides.

At the end of the frontier wars, the army had started to weaken significantly. In addition to a more lenient military system, warlords became satisfied with their lifestyles. Since most of the warring had taken place, warlords no longer saw any reason to train their armies, resulting in a rapid military decline by the end of Qianlong's reign. This is the main reason for the military's failure against the White Lotus Sect, at the very end of Qianlong's years.

Cultural achievements

The Qianlong Emperor was a major patron of the arts, seeing himself as an important "preserver and restorer" of Chinese culture. He had an insatiable appetite for collecting, and acquired much of China's "great private collections" by any means necessary, and "reintegrated their treasures into the imperial collection." Qianlong, more than any other Manchu emperor, lavished the imperial collection with his attention and effort:

The imperial collection had its origins in the first century B.C., and had gone through many vicissitudes of fire, civil wars and foreign invasions in the centuries that followed. But it was Qianlong who lavished the greatest attention on it, certainly of any of the Manchu rulers.... One of the many roles played by Qianlong, with his customary diligence, was that of the emperor as collector and curator. ...how carefully Qianlong followed the art market in rare paintings and antiquities, using a team of cultural advisers, from elderly Chinese literati to newly fledged Manchu connoisseurs. These men would help the emperor spot which great private collections might be coming up for sale, either because the fortunes of some previously rich merchant family were unraveling or because the precious objects acquired by Manchu or Chinese grandees during the chaos of the conquest period were no longer valued by those families' surviving heirs. Sometimes, too, Qianlong would pressure or even force wealthy courtiers into yielding up choice art objects: he did this by pointing out failings in their work, which might be excused if they made a certain "gift," or, in a couple of celebrated cases, by persuading the current owners that only the secure walls of the forbidden City and its guardians could save some precious painting from theft or from fire

His massive art collection became an intimate part of his life; he took landscape paintings with him on his travels in order to compare them with the actual landscapes, or to hang them in special rooms in palaces where he lodged, to inscribe them on every visit there. "He also regularly added poetic inscriptions to the paintings of the imperial collection, following the example of the emperors of the song dynasty and the literati painters of the Ming. They were a mark of distinction for the work, and a visible sign of his rightful role as Emperor. Most particular to the Qianlong Emperor is another type of inscription, revealing a unique practice of dealing with works of art that he seems to have developed for himself. On certain fixed occasions over a long period he contemplated a number of paintings or works of calligraphy which possessed special meaning for him, inscribing each regularly with mostly private notes on the circumstances of enjoying them, using them almost as a diary."

"Most of the several thousand jade items in the imperial collection date from his reign. The Emperor was also particularly interested in collecting ancient bronzes, bronze mirrors and seals," in addition to pottery, ceramics and applied arts such as enameling, metal work and lacquer work, which flourished during his reign; a substantial part of his collection is in the Percival David Foundation in London. The Victoria and Albert Museum and The British Museum also have good collections of Qianlong period Art.

"The Qianlong Emperor was a passionate poet and essayist. In his collected writings, which were published in a tenfold series between 1749 and 1800, over 40,000 poems and 1,300 prose texts are listed, making him one of the most prolific writers of all time. There is a long tradition of poems of this sort in praise of particular objects ('yongwu shi), and the Qianlong Emperor used it in order to link his name both physically and intellectually with ancient artistic tradition."

One of Qianlong's grandest projects was to "assemble a team of China's finest scholars for the purpose of assembling, editing, and printing the largest collection ever made of Chinese philosophy, history, and literature." Known as The Four Treasuries project, or Siku Quanshu (四庫全書) it was published in 36,000 volumes, containing about 3450 complete works and employing as many as 15,000 copyists. It preserved numerous books, but was also intended as a way to ferret out and suppress political opponents, requiring the "careful examination of private libraries to assemble a list of around eleven thousand works from the past, of which about a third were chosen for publication. The works not included were either summarized or—in a good many cases—scheduled for destruction."

Burning of books and modification of texts

Some 2,300 works were listed for total suppression and another 350 for partial suppression. The aim was to destroy the writings that were anti-Qing or rebellious, that insulted previous "barbarian" dynasties, or that dealt with frontier or defense problems.

The full editing of Siku Quanshu was completed in about ten years; during these ten years, 3100 titles (or works), about 150,000 copies of books were either burnt or banned. Of those volumes that had been categorized into Siku Quanshu, many were subjected to deletion and modification. Books published during the ming dynasty suffered the greatest damage.

The authority would judge any single character or any single sentence's neutrality; if the authority had decided these words, or sentence were derogatory or cynical towards the rulers, then persecution would begin. In Qianlong's time, there were 53 cases of literary inquisition, resulting in the victims being beheaded, or corpses being mutilated, or victims being slowly sliced into pieces until death (Lingchi).

European styles

Architecturally, Qianlong took personal interest in the expansion of the Old Summer Palace and commissioned the Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione for the construction of the Xiyanglou (西洋楼), or the Western-style mansion, to satisfy his taste for exotic buildings and objects. He also commissioned the French Jesuit Michel Benoist, to design a series of timed waterworks and fountains complete with underground machinery and pipes, for the amusement of the Imperial family. The French Jesuit Jean Denis Attiret also became "Painter to the Emperor" Qianlong.

During his reign the Emin Minaret was built in Turpan to commemorate his father.

Later years

In his later years, Qianlong was spoiled with power and glory, becoming disillusioned and complacent in his reign, placing his trust in corrupt officials like Yu Minzhong (于敏中), and later Heshen (和珅).

As Heshen was the highest ranked minister and most favoured by Qianlong at the time, the day-to-day governance of the country was left in his hands, while Qianlong himself indulged in the arts, luxuries and literature. When Heshen was executed it was found that his personal fortune exceeded that of the country's depleted treasury, amount to 900,000,000 taels of silver, the total of 12 years of Treasury surplus of Manchu Qing court.

Qianlong began his reign with about 33,950,000 taels of silver in Treasury surplus. At the peak of Qianlong's reign, around 1775, even with further tax cuts, the treasury surplus still reached 73,900,000 taels, a record unmatched by his predecessors, Kangxi or Yongzheng both of whom had implemented remarkable tax cut policies.

However, due to numerous factors such as long term embezzlement and corruption by officials, frequent expeditions South, huge palace constructions, many war and rebellion campaigns as well as his own extravagant lifestyle, all of these cost the treasury a total of 150,200,000 silver taels. This, coupled with his senior age and the lack of political reforms, ushered the beginning of the gradual decline and eventual demise of the qing dynasty and empire, casting a shadow over his glorious and brilliant political life.

Macartney Embassy

During the mid-eighteenth century, Qianlong began to face pressures from the West to increase foreign trade. The proposed cultural exchange between the British Empire at the time and the Qing Empire collapsed due to many factors. Firstly, there was a lack of any precedent interaction with overseas foreign kingdoms apart from neighbouring tributory states to guide Qianlong towards a more informed response. Furthermore, competing worldviews that were incompatible between China and Britain, the former holding entrenched beliefs that China was the "central kingdom", and the latter's push for rapid liberalization of trade relations, worsened ties.

George Macartney, was sent by King George III as ambassador extraordinary to seek a range of trade concessions. He was granted an audience with the Qianlong Emperor, and attended the Emperor's 80th birthday. There is continued discussion about the nature of the audience, and what level of ceremonials were performed. Demands from the Qing Court that the British Trade ambassadors kneel and perform the kowtow were strongly resisted by Macartney, and debate continues as to what exactly occurred, differing opinions recorded by Qing courtiers and British delegates.

A description of the Emperor is provided in the account of one of the visiting Englishmen, Aeneas Anderson:

The Emperor is about five feet ten inches in height, and of a slender but elegant form; his complexion is comparatively fair, though his eyes are dark; his nose is rather aquiline, and the whole of his countenance presents a perfect regularity of feature, which, by no means, announce the great age he is said to have attained; his person is attracting, and his deportment accompanies by an affability, which, without lessening the dignity of the prince, evinces the amiable character of the man. His dress consisted of a loose robe of yellow silk, a cap of black velvet with a red ball on the top, and adorned with a peacock's feather, which is the peculiar distinction of mandarins of the first class. He wore silk boots embroidered with gold, and a sash of blue girded his waist.

It is uncertain whether Anderson actually saw the Emperor, or repeated another's sighting, as he was not involved in the ceremonies.

George Macartney's Manchu Qing observations

In George Macartney's memoirs, there were many passages describing what was, in his opinion, an overall poor quality of life for the Chinese under Qing rule. Macartney expressed opinions which were widely disseminated:

The Empire of China is an old, crazy, first-rate Man of War, which a fortunate succession of and vigilant officers have contrived to keep afloat for these hundred and fifty years past, and to overawe their neighbours merely by her bulk and appearance. But whenever an insufficient man happens to have the command on deck, adieu to the discipline and safety of the ship. She may, perhaps, not sink outright; she may drift some time as a wreck, and will then be dashed to pieces on the shore; but she can never be rebuilt on the old bottom.

Titsingh Embassy

A Dutch embassy arrived to the Qianlong court in 1795, and would turn out to be the last occasion in which any European appeared before the Chinese Court within the context of traditional Chinese imperial foreign relations.

Representing Dutch and Dutch East India Company interests, Isaac Titsingh traveled to Pekin in 1794–95 for celebrations of the sixtieth anniversary of the Qianlong Emperor's reign. The Titsingh delegation also included the Dutch-American Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest, whose detailed description of this embassy to the Chinese court was soon after published in the U.S. and Europe. Titsingh's French translator, Chrétien-Louis-Joseph de Guignes published his own account of the Titsingh mission in 1808. Voyage a Pékin, Manille et l'Ile de France provided an alternate perspective and a useful counterpoint to other reports which were then circulating. Titsingh himself died before he could publish his version of events.

In contrast to Macartney, Isaac Titsingh, the Dutch and VOC emissary in 1795 did not refuse to kowtow. In the year following Mccartney's rebuff, Titsingh and his colleagues were much feted by the Chinese because of what was construed as seemly compliance with conventional court etiquette.


In October 1795, Qianlong officially announced that in the spring of the following year he would voluntarily abdicate his throne and pass the crown to his son. It was said that Qianlong had made a promise during the year of his ascension not to rule longer than his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor, who had reigned for 61 years.

Qianlong anticipated moving out of the Hall of Mental Cultivation in the Forbidden City. The Hall had been conventionally dedicated for the exclusive use of the reigning sovereign, and in 1771 the emperor ordered the beginning of construction on what was ostensibly intended as his retirement residence in another part of the Forbidden City: a lavish, two-acre walled retreat called the Ningshou gong, or "Palace of Tranquil Longevity", today more commonly known as the Qianlong Garden. The complex, completed in 1776, is currently undergoing a ten-year restoration led by the Palace Museum in Beijing and the World Monuments Fund (WMF). The first of the restored apartments, Qianlong's Juanqinzhai, or "Studio of Exhaustion From Diligent Service," began an exhibition tour of the United States in 2010.

Qianlong resigned the throne at the age of 85, in the 60th year of his reign, to his son, the Jiaqing emperor in 1795. For the next four years, he held the title "Retired Emperor (太上皇)," though he continued to hold on to power and the Jiaqing Emperor ruled only in name. He never moved into his retirement suites in the Qianlong Garden. He died in 1799.


There is a legend, popularized in fiction, that Qianlong was the son of Chen Yuanlong of Haining. Emperor Kangxi chose the heir to his throne based not just on his son's capability to govern the Empire, but also whether his grandson was of no lesser calibre, to ensure the Manchus' everlasting reign over the country. Yongzheng's own son was a weakling and he surreptitiously arranged for his daughter to be swapped for Chen Yuanlong's son, who became the apple of Kangxi's eye. Thus, Yongzheng got to succeed the throne, and his "son", Hongli, subsequently became Emperor Qianlong. Later, Qianlong went to the southern part of the country four times, he stayed in Chen's house in Haining, leaving behind his calligraphy and also frequently issued imperial decrees making and maintaining Haining as a tax-free state.

However there are major problems with this story being: 1) His eldest surviving son Hongshi was only 7 when Hongli was born far too early to make the drastic choice of replacing a child of royal birth with an outsider (and risking disgrace if not death) 2) Yongzheng had three other princes that survived to adulthood who had the potential of ascending the throne. Indeed given the fact that Hongshi was forced to commit suicide, the story would have been far more logical if he was the adopted child of Yongzheng.

Stories about Qianlong's 6 visits to the Jiangnan area disguised as a commoner have been a popular topic for many generations. In total, he has visited Jiang Nan eight times, as opposed to the Kangxi emperor's 6 inspections.

Personal information


Yongzheng Emperor


Empress Xiaoshengxian



Empress Xiaoxianchun

Ulanara, the Step Empress

Empress Xiaoyichun

Imperial Noble Consorts:

Imperial Noble Consort Huixian

Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui

Imperial Noble Consort Qinggong

Imperial Noble Consort Zhemin (哲憫皇貴妃), from the Fuca (富察) clan.

Imperial Noble Consort Shujia (淑嘉皇貴妃), from the Jingiya (金佳) clan.

Noble Consorts:

Noble Consort Wan

Noble Consort Ying

Noble Consort Xin

Noble Consort Yu (愉貴妃), from the Keliyete (珂里葉特) clan.

Noble Consort Xun


Consort Jin (晉妃), from the Fuca (富察) clan.

Consort Rong

Consort Shu

Consort Dun

Imperial Concubines:

Imperial Concubine Yi (儀嬪), from the Huang (黃) clan.

Imperial Concubine Xun (恂嬪), from the Huoshuote (霍碩特) clan.

Imperial Concubine Gong (恭嬪), from the Lin (林) clan.

Imperial Concubine Yi (怡嬪), from the Bo (柏) clan.

Imperial Concubine Shen (慎嬪), from the Bai'ergesi (拜爾噶斯) clan.

Imperial Concubine Cheng (誠嬪), from the Niuhuru clan.

Noble Ladies:

Noble Lady Shun

Lady Silin-Gioro (西林覺羅氏)

Lady Bo (柏氏)

Noble Lady Rui (瑞貴人), from the Suochuoluo (索綽絡) clan.

Noble Lady Duo (多貴人), from the Borjigit clan.

Noble Lady Wu (武貴人)

Noble Lady Jin (金貴人)

Noble Lady Xin (新貴人)

Noble Lady Fu (福貴人)

First Class Female Attendants:

First Class Female Attendant Bai (白常在)

First Class Female Attendant Kui (揆常在)

First Class Female Attendant Ning (寧常在)

First Class Female Attendant Ping (平常在)

First Class Female Attendant Na (那常在)

17 Sons



Birth date

Death date




Imperial Noble Consort Zhemin

5 Jul 1728

21 Apr 1750

Prince Ding'an of the First Rank




Empress Xiaoxianchun

9 Aug 1730

23 Nov 1738

Crown Prince Duanhui




Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui

15 Jul 1735

26 Aug 1760

Prince Xun of the Second Rank




Imperial Noble Consort Shujia

21 Feb 1739

5 Apr 1777

Prince Lüduan of the First Rank




Noble Consort Yu

23 Mar 1741

16 Apr 1766

Prince Rongchun of the First Rank




Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui

28 Jan 1744

13 Jun 1790

Prince Zhizhuang of the First Rank




Empress Xiaoxianchun

27 May 1746

29 Jan 1748

Prince Zhe of the First Rank




Imperial Noble Consort Shujia

31 Aug 1746

1 Sep 1832

Prince Yishen of the First Rank



Imperial Noble Consort Shujia

2 Aug 1748

11 Jun 1749



Consort Shu

12 Jun 1751

7 Jul 1753




Imperial Noble Consort Shujia

22 Mar 1752

10 May 1823

Prince Chengzhe of the First Rank




Empress Ulanara

7 Jun 1752

17 Mar 1776

Beile (貝勒)



Empress Ulanara

2 Jan 1756

7 Sep 1757




Empress Xiaoyichun

31 Aug 1757

3 May 1760




Empress Xiaoyichun

13 Nov 1760

2 Sep 1820

Jiaqing Emperor


Empress Xiaoyichun

13 Jan 1763

6 May 1765




Empress Xiaoyichun

17 Jun 1766

25 Apr 1820

Prince Qingxi of the First Rank


10 Daughters

The personal names of the Qianlong Emperor's daughters are not known.

The Qianlong Emperor adopted a niece, Heshuo Princess Hewan (和碩和婉公主; 24 July 1734 – 2 May 1760). She was the daughter of the Qianlong Emperor's younger half-brother Hongzhou and Hongzhou's primary spouse Lady Ujaku (烏札庫氏).



Birth date

Death date



Empress Xiaoxianchun





Imperial Noble Consort Zhemin




Kurun Princess Hejing


Empress Xiaoxianchun

28 Jun 1731

15 Aug 1792


(色布騰巴勒珠爾) of the Borjigit clan

Heshuo Princess Hejia (和碩和嘉公主)

Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui

24 Dec 1745

29 Oct 1767

Fulong'an (福隆安)

of the Fuca (富察) clan


Empress Ulanara





Noble Consort Xin

24 Aug 1755

27 Sep 1758


Kurun Princess Hejing


Empress Xiaoyichun

10 Aug 1756

9 Feb 1775

Lawangduo'erji (拉旺多爾濟)

of the Borjigit clan


Noble Consort Xin




Heshuo Princess Hege


Empress Xiaoyichun

17 Aug 1758

14 Apr 1780

Zhalantai (札蘭泰) of the Uya (烏雅) clan.

Kurun Princess Hexiao


Consort Dun

2 Feb 1775

13 Oct 1823

Fengshen Yinde (豐紳殷德)

of the Niuhuru clan

Last update 02-06-2012

Site Search


Random Articals

Join Our Newsletter




Send This Page to Friend

To Email this page to a friend

1. Use Your Default Email Client
2. Use Our Recommend Page

Online Contact





If you like this article please feel free to share it to your favorite site listed below:

Choose A Style:

Font Family

Font Colors
black Blue Green Purple Red Default
Font Size

Site Options Help

control panel