The fourth son of Emperor Yongzheng (Yung-cheng; r. 172336), his name during his reign was Hongli (Hung-li); Qianlong, meaning "Heavenly Exalted," is his posthumous reign name. The early years of his reign were dominated by two officials who had also advised his father, Oertai (O-erh-t'ai), who died in 1745, and Zhang Tingyu (Chang T'ing-yu), who retired in 1749. From then on, Qianlong dominated the Qing government, following the example of his father and his grandfather, the great emperor Kangxi (K'ang-hsi; r. 16611722). He lived frugally, devoted many hours each day to administrative concerns, and was a painter, poet, calligrapher and patron of Chinese literature and scholarship. Qianlong was the first Manchu Qing emperor to be fully acquainted with Han Chinese culture. The middle years of Qianlong's reign were a high point for China, with the country enjoying its greatest prosperity, administrative stability and cultural activity. The imperial treasury was so full that Qianlong canceled tax payments four times during his reign. He ordered a collection to be made of all important works in every subject, whether printed, out-of-print or hand-copied. Scholars performed this immense task from 1773 to 1782, resulting in a collection of 3,457 entries in 93,556 fascicles titled The Complete Library of the Four Treasuries (Sikuchuanshu or Ssu-k'u ch'uan-shu). This compilation was even larger than the famous Yongle (Yung-lo) Encyclopedia commissioned by the Ming emperor Yongle (r. 140324). However, works even slightly critical of the Manchus were destroyed in the process. Seven handwritten copies of the Qianlong collection were made and housed in seven newly built libraries. Dai Zhen (Tai Chen; 172377), one of the greatest Confucian scholars of the Qing dynasty, lived during Qianlong's reign. Great literary works written during his reign include Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin (Ts'ao Hsueh-ch'in) and Six Chapters of a Floating Life by Shen Fu (fl. 1786).
The Qianlong emperor enlarged the Chinese Empire to its widest extent, covering an area of more than 4 million square miles. His armies defeated potential enemies along China's borders, including Mongols and Muslim tribes in Chinese Turkestan (modern Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region). His troops also put down uprisings by the Miao ethnic group in Guizhou in southern China. He brought Vietnam, Burma and Nepal into the tribute system as vassals of the Chinese empire. The Chinese population and the area of land being cultivated both increased dramatically, with the population of China Proper more than doubling between 1749 and 1793. During his reign, Qianlong made six inspection tours of his empire. Qing emperors had attempted to expand their influence in Tibet, today an autonomous region in western China, and had sent armies into Tibet to intervene in the civil wars there and to expel the Dzungars who had taken control of the country. In 1750 the Qing restored order in Tibet after several political leaders were murdered, and the Qianlong emperor decreed that the Dalai Lama would be Tibet's only ruler, advised by a newly created council of ministers. Qianlong stationed Qing troops and ministers in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, to maintain order and advise the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and temporal ruler. By these means, China kept Tibet as a protectorate throughout the rest of the Qing dynasty.
Roman Catholic Jesuit missionaries had been allowed into China, beginning with Matteo Ricci, who arrived in 1600. Many of them became imperial advisers. But disputes among members of different Catholic orders in China caused Emperor Qianlong to expel most missionaries from the country. The only ones permitted to stay were scientists, architects and artists, and they were forbidden to make Chinese converts to their religion. European Jesuits designed the Yuan Ming Yuan, Qianlong's Summer Palace. In 1773 the Roman Catholic Church dissolved the Society of Jesus, mainly because of the continuing Jesuit practice, which a papal legate to Beijing in 1705 had forbidden, of allowing Chinese converts to continue practicing ancestor and other traditional Chinese rituals. This is known as the Rites Controversy.
From 1792 to 1793, Lord Macartney led a mission to the Qing court as the first British ambassador to China and was given two audiences with Qianlong at Rehol (Jehol; also known as Chengde), the hunting preserve north of Beijing where Qing emperors spent the summer months. Qianlong received Macartney politely but refused to end government restrictions on international trade. In 1730, in order to regulate foreign trade, the Qing had restricted the transaction of all foreign trade to Guangzhou (Canton) in southern China through a number of licensed Chinese merchants, known as the Canton System. Macartney was unable to persuade the Qianlong emperor to establish diplomatic relations or to negotiate a trade treaty between China and Great Britain. The Chinese attitude toward the British culminated in the 19th-century Opium Wars in which Britain forced the Qing to open Chinese cities to foreign trade.
During the later years of Qianlong's reign, corruption and inefficiency in the Qing government caused a strong anti-Qing feeling among the Chinese people, which resulted in the rebellion led by the White Lotus Secret Society (17961805). Qianlong's favorite adviser, a Manchu named Heshen (Ho-shen; 175099), who served as grand chancellor for 20 years, had acquired an immense fortune through his corruption. Qianlong's military campaigns and six tours also had placed a burden on the treasury. By the time the White Lotus Rebellion began in 1796, Qianlong had abdicated his throne to Emperor Jiaqing (Chia-ch'ing; r. 17961820) but he and Heshen wielded the real power until Qianlong died three years later. Heshen was then arrested and ordered to commit suicide.
Text Citation (Chicago Manual of Style format):
Perkins, Dorothy. "Qianlong." Encyclopedia of China: The Essential Reference to China, Its History and Culture. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2000. Modern World History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE53&iPin=china01849&SingleRecord=True (accessed March 2, 2015).
Other Citation Formats:
Modern Language Association (MLA) Format
American Psychological Association (APA) Format
Additional Citation Information
Return to Top