Forbidden City Fountain Pen
Emperor Qianlong ruled China for sixty years, from 1735 to 1795. He ascended the throne at the age of 25 and had the longest tenure of any Chinese emperor. His Qing Dynasty reign is widely viewed by historians as a successful one. China was at peace and prospered under his enlightened rule. Architecture and the arts were of great interest to him and rose to unprecedented heights under his guidance. He personally developed a series of beautiful European-style summer palaces and retreats and was also an accomplished calligrapher. By the time of his abdication in 1795, Qianlong was the absolute ruler of 300 million people. Up to that point in recorded history, no king or emperor in the world ruled more people, and to this day, nobody has ruled that many subjects with the absolute power accorded to Qianlong.
Qianlong’s great gift was a genius for organization and administration, and while he retained much of the government structure established by his Ming Dynastypredecessors, he made two fundamental changes that would become one of his great legacies. One was to shift central power away from the Imperial Chancery to a group of personal assistants, effectively establishing a cabinet for the emperor. The second was to wrest control of government finances from an insular group of palace eunuchs and establish something called the Imperial House Department, which was under his control. This ensured that the emperor made all strategic decisions.
Qianlong enjoyed hunting as a respite from the rigors of government and politics. He spent one month every summer at his Chengde retreat and while there would visit the Mulan hunting preserve often. He would organize large hunts for bears and tigers with thousands of men to develop soldiering skills, as well as to show off his considerable martial skills. These hunts would often have upwards of 30,000 people in attendance. His family, royal courtiers and elite soldiers would accompany him in what was a continuation of a Manchu tradition of living in forests. The entourage would hunt game during the day, cook over campfires for dinner and then sleep in tents. These hunting trips were well documented by artists of the imperial court, who would capture the emperor in brave encounters with bears and tigers.
When Qianlong assumed power he understood well the symbolic power of the Forbidden City, which had served as the seat of Chinese government since 1420. The basic structure of the Forbidden City remained intact until the end of Qianlong’s rule, as did the functions of each building. It was a massive complex that covered almost eight million square feet and had over 9000 residents, many of whom spent their entire lives within its secretive walls. While he acknowledged the symbolic power of the Forbidden City, Qianlong did not like its cramped, dark spaces and spent the majority of his time at a series of beautiful retreats and European-style palaces built by the Qing Dynasty.