Chien Lung — the Manchurian Emperor


Caroline Young, artwork and text

Source: The art of Caroline R. Young (2002)

Chinese legend holds that the dragon is ever chasing the pearl, (pictured in the ball of fire on the throne) which symbolizes the Universe. If he catches and swallows the pearl, he will become immortal.

The dragon, the symbol of the Emperor, is worn on his vest. The cloud design on his robes designate him as the Celestial Son of Heaven, the coin signifies the reign of the Emperor Chien Lung. A new coin was minted each time an Emperor ascended the throne.

The Qing Dynasty, founded by the Manchus, lasted from 1636 to 1912. The Manchurian Emperors were great patrons of the arts, and the greatest of all was Emperor Chien Lung.

During his long 62 year reign, he and his Empress commissioned and collected countless works of priceless art, painting, architecture, porcelain and thus the decorative arts flourished under his largely peaceful reign. To properly display their spectacular collection the Imperial Couple ordered the building of Yuan-zing-yuan, a magnificent Rococo-style palace, the finest example of Western architecture in Asia. Much of what exists today in the way of Chinese art was produced during the benevolent rule of Chien Lung and his beautiful Empress Pan Ping Chang.

Following the loss of many treasured paintings in a fire brought about during the war with Great Britain and France, the Empress resolved to replace the collection with even more brilliant masterpieces. She gathered artists from around the world, commissioning them to create their finest works for a new Summer Palace in Beijing.

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As an adopted child of Chinese-American expatriates, I have always been intrigued by how the Chinese culture explained the mysteries of the universe.