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About Emperor Qianlong

The Qianlong Emperor (born Hongli, September 25, 1711 – February 7, 1799) was the fifth emperor of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China. The fourth son of the Yongzheng Emperor, he reigned officially from October 18, 1735 to February 9, 1796, at which point 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.

Early years

There are myths and legends that say Hongli was actually a Han and not of Manchu descent, whilst there were some that say Hongli is only half Manchu and half Han Chinese descent. Nevertheless, looking at historical records, 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 to the throne was because of Qianlong as he was his favourite grandson and felt that Hongli's mannerism and ways to be very close to his own. As a teenager he was very able in martial arts, and possessed very great literary ability.

After his father's succession to the throne in 1722, Hongli became the Prince Bao  . Like many of his uncles, Hongli entered in 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, the Prince Lian. For many years the Yongzheng Emperor did not allow the position of Crown Prince, but many speculated he favoured Hongli. Hongli went on inspection trips to the south, and was known to be an able negotiator and enforcer. Hongli was also chosen as chief regent on occasions, when his father was away from the capital.

Ascension to the throne

Even before Hongli 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). 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 4th Manchu Emperor of China. He took the Reign title of Qianlong (), meaning strong/heavens (qian); prosperous (long), or put together, the Era of Strong Prosperity.

Frontier Wars

The Qianlong Emperor was a successful military leader, presiding over a huge consolidation in the territory controlled by the Qing dynasty. This was made possible not only by Chinese strength but also by the disunity and declining strength of the Inner Asian peoples. Under Qianlong, Chinese Turkestan was incorporated into the Qing dynasty's rule and renamed Xinjiang, while to the West, Ili was conquered and garrisoned. The Qing also dominated Outer Mongolia after inflicting a final defeat on the Western Mongols. Throughout this period there were continued Mongol interventions in Tibet and a reciprocal spread of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia.

Further information: Ten Great Campaigns

Qianlong again sent armies into Tibet and firmly established the Dalai Lama as ruler, with a Qing resident and garrison to preserve Chinese suzerainty. Further afield, military campaigns against the Burmese, Nepalese, and Gurkhas forced these peoples to submit and send tribute.

In Vietnam, things did not work out so well. In 1787 the last Le king fled Vietnam and formally requested aid to restore him 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 in a surprise attack during Tet by Nguyen Hue, the second and most capable of the three Tay Son brothers. The Chinese government gave formal protection to the Le emperor and his family but did not intervene in Vietnam for another 90 years.

Overall the Qianlong Emperor's military expansion captured millions of square miles and brought into the empire non-Han-Chinese peoples - such as Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kirghiz, Evenks and Mongols - who were at least potentially hostile. It was also a very expensive enterprise. In fact, the funds in the Imperial Treasury were almost used up due to the military expeditions. This may have been the cause of the later decline of the dynasty when the army was unable to develop and upgrade their weapons when faced with a Western threat.

Though the wars were overall successful, the wars weren't overwhelming. The army has noticeably declined and had trouble with several enemies. The Jin Chuan area took 2-3 years to handle. At first, the Qing army were mauled. In the end, Yue Zhongqi would handle the situation. The Dzungars was a battle that had heavy losses on both sides and was a close war.

Artistic achievements

The Qianlong Emperor was also a major patron of the arts. The most significant of his commissions was a catalogue of all important works on Chinese culture, the Siku quanshu  Produced in 36,000 volumes, containing about 3450 complete works and employing as many as 15,000 copyists, the entire work took some twenty years. It preserved many books, but it was also intended as a means of ferreting out and suppressing those deemed offensive to the ruling manchurians. 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.

Qianlong was a prolific poet and a collector of ceramics, an art which flourished in his reign; a substantial part of his collection is in the Percival David Foundation in London.

Architecturally, Qianlong took personal interest in the expansion of the Old Summer Palace and supervised the construction of the Xiyanglou or the western mansion. In the 1750's Qianlong commissioned Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione to design a series of timed waterworks and fountains complete with underground machinery and pipes for the amusement of the Imperial family.

Later years

In his later years, Qianlong was rather disillusioned and sated with power and glory. With Heshen as the highest ranked minister and most favoured by Qianlong at the time, the day to day governance of the country was left in the hands of Heshen whilst Qianlong himself indulged on everyday luxuries and his favourite pastime of hunting. It is widely said that Heshen laid the foundation for further collapse and corruption of the Qing government and eventually came to a point where it was impossible to reverse the negative impact already done to all levels of Qing Government at the time. When Heshen was killed, it was found that he was even richer than the country's depleted treasury. Qianlong started out his reign with about 30,000,000 taels from Yongzheng's period. Around 1775, Qianlong reached the peak of the Qing's prosperity with about 73,900,000 taels in the treasury, which is a record unmatched by Kangxi or Yongzheng's period; however, the mass corruption on all levels along with the heavy expenses of over 150,200,000 taels on the expeditions, the building of more palaces, the personal 6 trips to Jiangnan, the money on the White Lotus Rebellion, the slow increase in opium and the luxiourous spending nearly depleted the once prospering and overwhelming treasury. By the end of Qianlong's reign in 1796, almost all of the country's treasury was used up. Along with the decline in the 8 Banner Army, this would leave a huge problem for the successor-Jiaqing to handle.

The Macartney Embassy

During the mid-eighteenth century, Qianlong began to face severe pressures from the West to increase foreign trade. Lacking a Ministry of Foreign Affairs further upheld the belief that China was the "central kingdom". Worse still, the proposed cultural exchange between the British Empire at the time and the Qing Empire collapsed when Heshen encouraged Qianlong to maintain the belief that the Qing Empire was the centre of the world and need not pay much attention to the British proposal for trade and cultural exchange. The British trade ambassador at the time, George Macartney, was humiliated when granted an audience with the Qianlong Emperor only to find just an Imperial Edict placed on the Dragon Throne. This announced to him that the Qing Empire had no need for any goods and services that the British could provide and that the British should recognize that the Qing Empire was far greater.In Qianlong's Edict on Trade with Great Britain, the frustrated Emperor cites the term "barbarians" to refer to Macartney's crew, displaying the vital idea in China at the time: that all countries are "peripheral" in comparison to China.

Insistent demands from Heshen and the Qing Court that the British Trade ambassadors should kneel and kowtow to the empty dragon throne worsened matters. The British of course rejected these demands and insisted they would kneel only on one knee and bow to the Dragon throne as they did for their own monarch. This caused uproar in the Qing Empire at that time. The Trade ambassadors were dismissed and told to leave China immediately. They were further told that the Qing Empire had no particular interest in trading with them, with strict orders given to all local governors not to allow the British to carry out any trade or business in China.

In contrast, 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.

In anticipation of his abdication, Qianlong decided to move out of the Hall of Mental Cultivation in the Forbidden City, the residence dedicated only for the reigning sovereign, and ordered the construction of his residence in another part of the Forbidden City; however, Qianlong never moved out the Hall of Mental Cultivation.

Just as Qianlong was not willing to part with his residence, he was also not willing to part with the power that he had exercised for the past 60 years. The elderly Qianlong kept a tight grip on affairs of state and continued to rule, while his son, the Jiaqing Emperor, was kept out of the limelight.


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



  • Father: The Yong Zheng Emperor (of whom he was the 4th son)
  • Mother: Empress Xiao Sheng Xian (1692-1777) of the Niuhuru Clan (Chinese: ; Manchu: Hiyoošungga Enduringge Temgetulehe Hūwanghu)


  • Empress Xiao Xian Chun
  • Demoted Empress Ulanara, the Step Empress of no title
  • Empress Xiao Yi Chun
  • Imperial Noble Consort Hui Xian
  • Imperial Noble Consort Chun Hui
  • Imperial Noble Consort Shu Jia
  • Imperial Noble Consort Qing Gong
  • Imperial Noble Consort Zhe Min
  • Noble Consort Ying
  • Noble Consort Wan
  • Noble Consort Xun
  • Noble Consort Xin
  • Noble Consort Yu
  • Consort Dun
  • Consort Shu
  • Consort Rong
  • Worthy Lady Shun



  • Eldest son: Prince Yong Huang (1728 - 1750), son of Imperial Noble Consort Che Min
  • 2nd: Prince Yong Lian , (1730 - 1738), 1st Crown Prince, son of Empress Xiao Xian Chun
  • 5th: Prince Yong Qi , (1741-1766), bore the title Prince Rong of the blood ,
  • 7th: Prince Yong Zhong , (1746 - 1748), 2nd Crown Prince, son of Empress Xiao Xian Chun
  • 8th: Prince Yong Xuan ,son of the Imperial Noble Consort Shu Jia
  • 11th: Prince Yong Xin ,son of the Imperial Noble Consort Shu Jia
  • 12th: Prince Yong Ji, son of the Demoted Empress Ulanara, the Step Empress of no title
  • 15th: Prince Yong Yan , the (Jia Qing Emperor), son of Empress Xiao Yi Chun. In 1789 he was made Prince Jia of the 1st rank 
  • 17th: Prince Yong Lin ,given the title as the 1st Prince Qing Yong Lin. His grandson is Prince Yi Kuang, bore the title Prince Qing (February 1836 - January 1918).
  • 18th: Prince 


  • 1st: Princess ? (1728 - 1729), daughter of Empress Xiao Xian Chun
  • 3rd: Princess He Jing (1731 - 1792), daughter of Empress Xiao Xian Chun
  • 4th: Princess He Jia  (1745 - 1767), daughter of the Imperial Noble Consort Chun Hui
  • 5th: Princess ?, daughter of the Demoted Empress Ulanara, the Step Empress of no title
  • 7th: Princess He Jing (1756 - 1775), daughter of Empress Xiao Yi Chun
  • 10th: Princess He Xiao (daughter-in-law of He Shen) was spared execution when the Jia Qing Emperor prosecuted Heshen in 1799. She was given some of He Shen's estate.