Skip to content

See Plan your visit for important safety information including mandatory check in using the Check In CBR app.

Visiting curator Yan Zheng, 29 March 2019

SARAH OZOLINS: Okay, welcome to the National Museum of Australia on what is a rainy autumn Friday. Thank you all for coming out. We thank those that are here today from near and from far. My name is Sarah Ozolins, and I'm head of International and Domestic Engagements here at the National Museum of Australia. As is custom in Australia, I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal, Ngunawal and the Ngambri people, who are the traditional custodians on the land on which we are meeting today. And I pay respect to their elders past and present and extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in attendance today.

It is our pleasure to have a longstanding successful partnership with the National Museum of China. I'm pleased to see many of our colleagues from Beijing here today and indeed Mr. Yang and members of the team from the Chinese embassy, so thank you for your support and being here today. Today, we have visiting curator Dr Yang Jiang and she shares valuable insights into Emperor Qianlong's Southern Inspection Tour scroll. This prominent work from the exhibition, The Historical Expression of Chinese Art: Calligraphy and Painting from the National Museum of China, reveals much about life in Qing Dynasty, China. The lecture will be conducted in Chinese and translated by our live interpreter.

Dr Zheng is the associate research fellow in the exhibition planning and artwork department at the National Museum of China. She holds a PhD in fine arts from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. And in her academic research, she participated in the study of ancient Chinese paintings in the national museum. Her research interests include court paintings in the Qing Dynasty, women's paintings and museum exhibition planning. Please welcome Dr Zheng to the stage.

INTERPRETER FOR DR ZHENG: Thank you so much everyone. Today, I'm going to talk about observing history from the paintings, Emperor Qianlong's Southern Inspection Tour scroll, and the tradition of Chinese documentary art. So Emperor Qianlong's Southern Inspection Tour scroll is a Chinese traditional scroll painting painted in the middle of 18th century. Just like its name, it’s about Emperor Qianlong pays his inspection to the different provinces in Southern China. In ancient China, doing inspection tour is considered as the symbol of the Emperor’s identity as the ‘god’s son’, and also showing the sympathy and care from the emperor to the common people.

For the Australian audience who are not familiar with Chinese history or Chinese art, the scroll of this inspection tour could be entirely unfamiliar art subject and art form. Therefore, today I hope through to this lecture, everyone can have a better understanding and interest to this work as well as Chinese traditional scroll painting. Right now on the slide is the first panel of Emperor Qianlong’s Southern Inspection. The name is ‘Embarking on a Journey from the Capital City’. It’s one of the 12 panels. It’s about the fellowship of the emperor starting the journey from Zheng Yang Gate in Peking (Beijing) and to Liang Xiang. The length of the whole scroll is 68.6 centimetres, and long, about 20 metres, almost 20 metres.

Now I’m going to explain to you how to appreciate Chinese scroll painting. What you will do is you will use both hands to appreciate the painting, so you will turn the page from right to the left and then in that way you can have a whole look of the painting. On the right corner of this painting, you can see several really famous seals collected by Emperor Qianlong after he became the father of the emperor. And Doctor [Zheng] has provided some English explanations of what each seals means in the painting.

These three seals stamped on the right corner of the painting was actually stamped on after Emperor Qianlong became the father of the next emperor, and he still really loved this work and still appreciated this work after stop being the emperor. And besides the stamps you can see calligraphy work, just next to the stamps. It’s actually a poem written by Emperor Qianlong during his Southern Inspection tour. It was written on the scroll by one of his ministry called Liang Guo Zhi. This picture is just Zheng Yang Gate where the emperor embarked his journey to southern inspection.

The Zheng Yang Gate is still preserved til today, but because of the construction of the highway, so it’s actually being cut into half. The half in the back of the picture is actually the ancient Zheng Yang Gate preserved until today. We follow the fellowship led by the Emperor Qianlong. We can see a big thing carried by 16 people. In that is 16 concubines of Emperor Qianlong and one very important person sitting there is actually his mother who is called Empress Dowager. One of the most important reasons to have the Southern Inspection Tour is because they want to celebrate the Empress Dowager’s 60th birthday.

And also besides his mother he also brings his principal wife, his empress and other concubines. And also along two sides of the street you can see a very splendours street sign during the Qing Dynasty. And we keep moving, and you can realise there are more people on this painting. There are actually the soldiers working to protect the emperor, working for the Forbidden City. The last slide is about Guang Ning Gate in Qing dynasty, and on this painting emperor finally made his own appearance. Outside of Guang Ning Gate you can find emperor here.

You may see in those paintings, those fellowship are kind of aligned in certain forms or certain patterns. And you may also see elephant and other fancy covers of big fans in the paintings. They actually all have different names, because all of them are part of the ceremony, performing the ceremony function. In ancient China during Qing Dynasty we have different patterns for carrying out different ceremony functions, four categories: Da Jia, Fa Jia, Luan Jia and Qi Jia [卤簿:大驾、法驾、銮驾、骑驾)]. For this one, like when people sending off the emperor to do the southern inspection, they are using Luan Jia ceremony pattern. You can see the team alignment, the thing they are using are all different with different names. And for the most important patterns in those four categories, the Da Jia pattern of sometimes the items and the ceremony things used in this pattern can be more than 800. And now they are following the fellowship, they are in Lu Gou Bridge Beijing City. Lu Gou Bridge is actually a very famous scenery in China, and we have eight sceneries, and one of them is the moon during the dusk over the Lu Gou Bridge, it’s very famous. This is the end of the first panel.

And in the end we can find the signature from the painter Xu Yang. It’s at this corner. After appreciating the scroll we can see that the traditional scroll has a natural advantage to describe a wild and special scene. That’s to actually remind you of some familiar art form from my own very limited and not academic perspective. I suppose audience with the background of western art appreciation when they say this long scroll is 20 metres combining the past, the stories told by the picture. They may think of movie films, because movie films and traditional scrolls they share some similarities.

And as we all know, the movie was invented in the end of 19th century. However, it’s much later than the traditional scroll which was invented in China about 10th century. And it’s already in a very mature form during 10th century. The event or the form of the movie films is inspired by Chinese traditional scroll, or should we say human beings they actually share the same desire to tell story in a big space or they share the same internal logic to demonstrate those stories.

Therefore, I encourage Australian audience who may not have a background in a Chinese traditional painting appreciation, everyone sitting here may take opportunity to imagine this painting as a Chinese ancient royal life documentary with 12 episodes, and was made in 18th century. This documentary was shot in a relatively single approach using four lens shoot the whole way. I encourage you to do that.

Painting in a horizontal space to tell the story is not the exclusive creation by Chinese people. Actually 3000 years ago in ancient Egypt, when you see those mirror paintings in room chambers, they also take the polish of a horizontal painting. And the same, 2,000 years ago during Han Dynasty in China, those paintings on the stone or on the bricks also are using a horizontal painting. Actually the documentary function of the painting is generated before its aesthetic function. If you appreciate the painting horizontally it’s more like watching a movie, shoot in four lens shot, in that perspective.

When picture shot in this perspective it’s fixed using Chinese painting brush and Chinese silk, Chinese paper. In that way, that art form we call it scroll. Actually, in China about 10th century scroll has already developed into a very mature art form. Now, on the screen it’s a very, very famous painting painted by Zhang Ze-duan in North Song Dynasty. The name is Riverside Seeing at Qingming Festival. It is a classic work on Chinese painting history. It’s about Chinese capital city named Kai Feng at the time. Its splendours, this scenery.

The scroll painting is very different from mirror painting, because the observing perspective of the audience can jump anywhere on the painting. When appreciating the scroll the painter has made it very clear of directing the audience where to look at. The audience usually should put work on the table, use both hands to hold the work. From right to left slowly open the painting. Every time open it about arm distance. After appreciating that segment still use both hands, right hand to your left, roll up the scroll, you are already finished appreciating. And the left hand continue to the left, open the rest of the painting.

Appreciating in this way the perspective of the audience is just jumping, following the direction of the painting. When painter was actually creating the work they also have to move their perspective. That is what we called cavalier perspective. In that way you can have the same effect, like using the four lens shot in a movie.

VIDEO: If I can move the edges, both edges, then they can go where I want. I can go backwards and forwards. The top represents the sky, maybe the bottom represents me. And it means you control the edges, and this makes it quite a different picture from that one, or this one right here.

INTERPRETER FOR DR ZHENG: On the slide we can see an American artist called David Hockney, so that video is shot in 1988. In the video, he demonstrated how to correctly appreciate a traditional scroll. The one he was appreciating, the work is actually the panel four of the Emperor Kang Xi Southern Inspection Tour. Emperor Kang Xi is a grandfather of Emperor Qianlong. That work is now collected by Metropolitan Museum of Art in America. In that video he also talked about the focus perspective in western painting.

The focus perspective in western painting focus the perspective in one point. And that’s, so the cavalier is different from that. The cavalier actually imagines the scroll as a documentary instead of photography, that kind of because photography is using approach of focus perspective. When appreciating the painting there is a lack of mobility or liquidity. When you appreciate Chinese traditional painting scroll it’s like watching a really sophisticated made documentary. The audience are travelling in the painting, following the painter’s perspective.

The style of using full-length shot to paint a genre painting was actually created in the 10th century, but it received its renaissance in 16th century. One of the representatives is a painter called Qiu Ying from Suzhou. He’s really good at painting natural sceneries and poetry painting. Therefore, he’s also very good at painting those kind of genre painting, describing a big occasion. Not only, had he assimilated the Riverside Seeing During Qingming Festival from Bei Song (Northern Song dynasty) to pay his tribute to the classics.

He as well created a really famous painting called Spring Down in the Han Dynasty. In those two paintings the same, he was using the cavalier perspective to paint the traditional scroll from right to left using full-length shot to tell the story. Qiu Ying’s work has become a symbol or reference for his, the same generation or later on during 17th century or 18th century, those painters to create those genre paintings or paintings describing a big occasion.

As well, in 18th century the royal painting school in Forbidden City, for the emperor, so they also requires royal painters to duplicate Riverside Seeing during Qingming Festival in a large amount. And after Emperor Kang Xi required his royal painters to create Emperor Kang XiKang Xi Southern Inspection Tour scroll, and the Wan Shou Grand Ceremony painting. And those royal painters also took the approach of traditional scroll, because they believe only this art form can fully demonstrate those so called royal phenomena or peaceful glorious times.

And those two works, the major purpose to create them is to document. The other tours to record the history by painting. Therefore, they can be the ancient documentaries. And we know even documentaries featuring documentary and a subjective characteristics, there are directors and the photographers, and based on their subjective mind or mindset there are other editing, choosing, and meeting something. This painting is actually the panel six in Emperor Kang Xi’s Southern Inspection Tour scroll. And from the name we can infer that it definitely has some relationship to do with Emperor Qianlong Southern Inspection.

Actually they are painting the same subject. And based on the history they share a close link between each other. This is actually a zooming of the Emperor Kang Xi Southern Inspection Tour. And I think he is actually the director as well as the protagonist in this painting. Kang Xi is actually Qianlong’s grandfather as a very active emperor who had ruled for 61 years. He had 35 sons and 97 grandsons. If you want to stand out in such a big family with a strict hierarchy you have to be really outstanding. And Emperor Qianlong actually when he was young he outsmarted most of his peers.

At the age of 12 he was welcomed into the Forbidden City by his grandfather to raise him up. Therefore, between Qianlong and his grandfather Kang Xi there was unusual relationship. That is one of the very important reasons why Emperor Qianlong passed his emperor position to Kang Xi’s father, Yong Zheng. After Qianlong became the emperor he started a motto of respecting God and abiding to ancients as his governing motto. One of the important reason to do southern inspection is because celebrate his mother’s birthday. Another important reason is to abiding to his grandfather Emperor Kang Xi’s governing way.

The first inspection tour done by Qianlong was in 1751. 13 years later, in 1764, April 12 in the lunar year he went to the Huang Shou Palace to pay his respect to his ancestors. And the Huang Shou is actually the same place to reserve the painting of Emperor Kang Xi’s Southern Inspection Tour scroll. Through this, after that Emperor Qianlong decided to ask the royal painter Xu Yang start to create the painting of Emperor Qianlong Southern Inspection tour. Therefore, there is no doubt that Emperor Qianlong Southern Inspection is actually inspired by Emperor Kang Xi’s inspection; of the same art form, which is the traditional scroll and the same 12 panels in the scroll.

The first panel is about embarking a journey from the capital city. And the panel 12 is about returning to the Forbidden City. In that way, the overall 12 panels is demonstrating a complete circuit. However, different from Emperor Kang Xi’s Southern Inspection, Emperor Qianlong is not satisfied from just being the director and a protagonist in this grand work. He also wants to be the script writer. If we can say Emperor Kang Xi’s Southern Inspection is a royal documentary. Emperor Qianlong’s Southern Inspection is more like a combination between documentary and movie.

Therefore the 12 panels in the scroll was actually based on 12 points written by Emperor Qianlong during the southern inspection. Which means the priority of the painters, the things painters based on is based on the Emperor Qianlong points first, and then you can combine the history fact of the southern inspection. Therefore, Emperor Qianlong’s Southern Inspection is actually written … is a script written by Emperor Qianlong. And then the painter can have his own understanding or imagination based on the meaning of his points.

Therefore it has a more complicated narrative structure. It has three dimensions; southern inspection history, southern inspection in poem, and southern inspection in image. And this painting actually has two versions with different materials, but they all contain 12 panels. The first one was actually painted on the silk in 1764. It took six years to complete the whole painting. And in the year of 1771, the painter Xu Yang received this task again, spent five years to complete the Emperor Qianlong’s Southern Inspection scroll on the paper also containing 12 panels.

Those 12 panels, the lens from 9.15 metres to 21.72 metres demonstrating the whole 12 important things during Qianlong’s first southern inspection tour. Qianlong, this name was actually the reign title as an emperor for him. His real name is Aisin Gioro Hongli. China under his governance was the biggest and strongest country in the world at the time. At the meantime he is actually the emperor who governs China for the longest time, 60 years as the emperor and 4 years as the emperor’s father.

The reason why he give away his reign to become the emperor’s father is because his grandfather Emperor Kang Xi governs China for about 61 years, so to show as I mentioned before, so to show his respect to the ancestors his time of being emperor cannot be longer than his grandfather. Manchu is actually originated from northern east China. It is a nomad, the descendants of Jurchen ethnic minority. This nomad is really good at riding horses and archery as well as the emperor himself. When Emperor Qianlong being emperor he was always showing his Ten-War-Achievements to participate in the wars everywhere.

At the same time he’s also an emperor who is really familiar with Han, which is the ethnic majority group in China with Han culture. He is the person who left the most poems in China’s history. The number is about 40,000 poems. Although some researchers pointed out that maybe some of his ministries or some scholars work for him has helped him to write these poems for him. Only the first Southern Inspection Tour during those 112 days, Emperor Qianlong created more than 219 poems, so on average two poems a day.

At the same time he is also good at narratives and really has a passion for collection. During Qianlong time the royal collection has reached the peak of all the dynasties. Only calligraphies and paintings alone are more than 15,000 items, because basically Qianlong’s reign time is the peak time of Qing Dynasty. And his governance actually is lasting from the whole 18th century. Of no doubt he is the greatest emperor in the 18th century in China. But at the same time he’s also a very talented and lovely scholar, so therefore using the terms we are using now. He’s an emperor who likes to show off, who really liked to do PDAs.

Those paintings are actually describing the personal life of Emperor Qianlong in Qing Dynasty, paintings describing emperor’s personal life, we call them Xing Le Tu travelling and amusing kind of painting. The left one is called Cai Zhi painting and the right one is actually Qianlong and his father, Yongzheng. In Yongzheng’s hand you can see he is holding up a plum blossom. The plum blossom actually represents he’s going to give the emperor this position to his son.

This is a painting describing Qianlong with writing. And in this painting you can say the emperor actually just up as a scholar. This painting is Emperor Qianlong appreciating a painting. This painting is actually quite interesting, because the emperor is wearing a hat called Dong Po hat. ‘Dong Po’ is from ‘Su Dong Po’, Su Dong Po is a very famous scholar, great scholar in Song Dynasty. The emperor is wearing a scholar’s hat, and as well he is appreciating his collections, those ancient paintings he collected before.

This painting is called the travelling and entertaining during Lantern Festival, so the same with all the paintings we appreciated before. Emperor Qianlong again dressed up like a scholar. And we can see his two sons actually in this painting standing beside him. This painting is called ‘My two selves’. In this painting there are two Emperor Qianlongs. This painting is actually inspired from this painting, from another ancient painters about 10th century. Emperor Qianlong really loves this painting and got inspired from this painting from teenager years to until he’s getting very old.

Because he believed he got some philosophical inspirations from paintings ‘two selves’ in the same painting. This painting was called Emperor Qianlong appreciating the moonlight, this actually inspired from this painting. This painting was painted by another royal painter called Leng Mei at that time, and Qianlong really loved this painted and liked the whole composition. He required that replace the original face with his own face in this new painting. Actually from that we can actually see travelling and amusing paintings are not documenting the real royal life. It’s more like the imagination life of the emperor, what I imagine, I believe like this.

From Emperor’s Qianlong teenager years, young man, so he has this imagination imagining himself to be scholar or to be some master or maybe some, from a monk, believes in Buddhism. That all kind of inspired from the old art subjects as well. Using trendy words we can say Emperor Qianlong is really into changing faces or travelling across the time. We can say Emperor Qianlong is actually a very interesting with a certain amount of complicity. Because of that, he is always be the centre of modern Chinese TV dramas to do all kinds of parodies. If you are interested in this emperor and his personal life, I have two recommendations of China’s TV shows for you.

Royal TV shows: one is called Story of Yanxi Palace (Yanxi Gonglue). Another is called Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace (Ru Yi Zhuan). Although those two TV dramas is suspicious of over consuming this historical figure, but from watching the shows you can experience, enjoy a more lively character instead of really in a high position, not really far away emperor. Emperor Qianlong’s Southern Inspection Tour scroll picked 12 poems from the overall 219 poems he wrote during the tour as the art subject for the creation. In that way we can call them the paintings based on the poem meanings.

I have listed the whole 12 scrolls of the whole painting. The one entry Zhe Jiang visiting the Pavilion of Mist and Rain (Tower), that’s the returning point of the emperor. And there is one inspection or trips at Jiang Ning, which is Nanjing now in China, it had a different name. We can say this inspection order basically follows the design of the real inspection tour. The major transportation will be using the water way and assist it by the overland route. And on this map I’ve marked up the 12 different panels where they really happened in the real map.

Subjectively, this Southern Inspection Tour is actually a very luxurious travel. Only the salt merchants in Yang Xo area, their donation has been more than a million liang [an old unit of measurement] silver. A million liang silver is like 50,000 kilograms of real silver at that time. A year and a half ahead the emperor sent his ministries to southern China to do the inspection, design the stopping point, and design the whole itinerary. The whole trip has used about 6690 horses. The whole duration of time was four months, 112 days. Ministers and concubines, all the people in the fellowship has to be more than 2500 people.

From those, the paperwork from the emperor before the trip or the poems he actually wrote during the trip, we can find those reasons why he was doing this inspection. The first one will be celebrate the Empress Dowager’s 60-year-old birthday. Second one will be pay the respect to Emperor Kang Xi. Third one will be ask the demand from the common people in southern China to visit them. And fourth one will be inspect the common people’s life, show his concerns. We can say he actually finds lots of fancy reason for his junket tour, and avoid this individual luxurious splurging and to emphasising on the royal luxury, royal favelas.

We can say the real reason for emperor to do this southern inspection is because he’s really into those [inaudible], and fruit for life in southern China, because at the time it has better economic development. But of course, that reason cannot be recorded in the official documents of the reason why he is doing that, because he wants to establish himself as a giant figure in history, in culture and be a really good emperor with strong governance skills.

Therefore, the Southern Inspection Tour must be symbolised with being kind and being obedient. It can’t be just emperors besides personal desire to splurge. It must be something to show that he is a good emperor, to show his concern and care for his common people. All the efforts made by the emperor is to prevent the common people to establish any links between his extravagant life and his southern inspection tour. Qianlong became emperor in 25, and he did his first inspection tour at the age of 40. If he has had this longing for southern China for such a long time why did he wait that long to do this inspection?

Emperor Yongzheng before he passed his emperor position to Kang Xi, he also assigned the other two old ministries to assist young emperor to govern the country. One is called Ortai, another minister is called Zhang Tingyu. Ortai he passed away in 1749. And at the same year, another minister Zhang Tingyu also announced his retirement from assisting the emperor. At the same year, emperor decided that ‘I can make my own decision, and then this year I’m going to do a southern inspection tour’.

This inspection tour is not only a simple, the emperor is doing inspection of his common people, it’s actually a ceremony. It announces the real time, the Qianlong era really arrives based on this tour. The painter Xu Yang himself is actually a painter from Suzhou. He was discovered by the emperor during the emperor’s first south inspection tour, and his painting was really liked by the emperor, and the emperor decided to recruit him into the royal painting school to paint this inspection tour scroll.

Compared with other painters, Xu Yang is more like a scholar. He has a better base in trans-literature. And so on each panel we can see Xu Yang’s seal and stamp on the painting. And in the very end of the painting he actually had a calligraphy work describing how Emperor Qianlong is such a good emperor and he is honoured to receive this task. Before painting this assignment from the emperor, painter Xu Yang actually has two other paintings; one is called ‘Jiang Nan Wang Xin Tu’, and another is called ‘Shengshi Zisheng Tu’ painting.

It’s all describe the grand occasion, or the grand scenery is a peaceful glorious time. That two work build Xu Yang up for receiving this task from the emperor and become a really important factor of why emperor choosing Xu Yangto paint the inspection scroll. The emperor during Qing dynasty, the Manchu emperors, they have this attitude of doing everything by myself. That kind of set a standard for how to paint those royal paintings from the subject to the whole creation concept, to the composition of the painting, even to the calligraphy scrip, it has to be really sophisticatedly considered and designed in details.

The silk version of the inspection tour actually took six years. The whole process can be described as below; first the emperor is giving request on how many panels I’m going to have in the whole painting. And the painter Xu Yang will start to prepare the draft for the painting, and then the emperor will do a careful review of the draft. And then after the review passed or got approved by the emperor, Xu Yang can officially start to paint the scroll.

From this process, from the draft revising to the official work we can clearly see the aesthetic value of the emperor, and we can also have a feeling of what kind of personal image he is expecting himself to demonstrate in the official work. From this painting we can see the efforts from the painter, we can see the interaction between the painter and the emperor himself, and we can also see the anticipation from the emperor. We can see what personal comments he will give himself in this paintings, and what kind of image as emperor he wants to tell his common people.

And this image as emperor can be true, or it can be imaginary or fake. Actually we can’t just for sure, like the emperor’s demonstrating a real self, but from the painting we can also say what the city or the suburb looks like in 18th century, and that is more reliable, providing a more reliable documentary information. Because during Qing Dynasty people really have a preference to paint those documentary style paintings. Especially for the painter himself, Xu Yang, he is actually from a family painting maps as a living. And when he was young he used to participate in painting the maps of Suzhou City.

And also after being recruited into the Qing Dynasty royal painting school he learnt how to do focus perspective from the western missionary painters working in a royal painting school at the time, and so overall he came from a quite subjective or documentary way of painting his painting. And by watching his painting, the audience may also have other two questions. The first question is, if one of the reason is to celebrate the Empress Dowager’s birthday, so where is the Empress Dowager? Say, like appreciating the whole 12 panels of his painting, the Empress Dowager herself is not really real and visible.

Although one of the reasons is to be obedient to his mother and make her happy, but actually the script writer, Emperor Qianlong didn’t arrange any obvious ascending thoughts based on his mother, Empress Dowager. From other details, we can see the existence of this actually invisible Empress Dowager, so from the big transport they are using carried by 16 people, and from those big boat and also in one of the painting, some servants actually carrying the birthday pitch. Birthday pitch is actually a symbol of celebrating birthday. Actually the biological model of Emperor Qianlong, the name is Niohuru. It’s not the principal wife of his father, so based on the royal standards or antiques, when Qianlong was young or when he was a teenager he can’t spent time with his biological mother together.

Until Qianlong became the emperor he gave the title to his biological mother as the formal empress of his father Yongzheng. And also gave the title of the Empress Dowager of Xiaosheng, or another will be Empress Dowager of Chongqing. Because they didn’t spend time together when he was young, so this being filial and being obedient to his mother, this kind of emotion is not a natural emotional demonstration. It’s more under the influence of the Confucius education.

As a person who loves writing poems that much, in his early work there is not a single one poem written to his biological mother. Maybe because his mother, the status is not very high in a royal palace, or maybe because there’s no emotion base, like spending time together. After Qianlong became the emperor there is sharp turn of the situation. The Empress Dowager Xiaoshenghas become a real … has played a very important role in documenting the royal life during Qianlong’s reign.

The priority of the emperor every day, the daily routine is to pay respect to his mom, to say, or send someone to say hello to his mum. So recalls on the Empress Dowager, there is a lot, but they are all journals of how the emperor is being obedient to his mom in Confucius manners. However, there is a lack of recording the real emotional interaction between the mother and the son. The biological mother of the emperor basically becomes a tour figure to help Emperor Qianlong establish himself as obedient son in Confucius culture, instead a mom who is truly and sincerely beloved by his son.

The second question from the audience on the painting probably is why there are so many paintings about water. It is true that during the first inspection tour the transportation, the major way is taking the waterway. However, besides that there are also a lot of paintings about water projects. The river project in the ancient time basically refers to building dams or opening waterways. And at most occasions it refers to building dams around the Yellow River. In the 12 panels of this painting, there are four panels relevant to the water project namely the panel 2: crossing the old waterway of Yellow River.

Panel 3: cross the Yellow River. Panel 4: give instructions to the dam builders. And panel 11: journals written by the side of Qing Kou Shui. The panel 9 is about visiting Da Yu Temple. Although this one doesn’t directly tell the story about water project or water project workers, but it indirectly demonstrate the empress passion and emphasis put on water subjects. Because Da Yu is the first emperor recorded in Chinese history. He is also famous for regulating the water projects at his time. Take Da Yu as his own example, Emperor Qianlong naturally has to show his emphasis on water project. Therefore, that he can establish a link between him and the ancient great emperors, so help him to demonstrate great emperor’s image.

But actually during the first southern inspection tour, Qianlong didn’t consider inspecting the water project as the major reason. The whole duration of the travel is 112 days. He only stopped at the water project for less than 10 days. And among all the 219 poems written about southern inspection, about water projects there were only 17 poems about that. At first the visiting water project is like a bonus package involved in this whole extravagant inspection tour. But with time passing by, and with his reign as emperor get mature he realised that water project is actually very crucial to the whole country’s life.

And he start to put emphasis on the water project. Thirteen years later when he started to prepare this documentary, reflecting the history effect of his Southern Inspection Tour there is something changing in his mind, so surpassing the original intention to celebrate the birthday, he set the water project inspection as the major purpose of doing this inspection. He was talking about using the ancestor’s way to show care for the people, or you inspect the common people and you do self-reflections of your own governing approach. Those things are set as the priorities to be shown in this painting.

We can see he actually reconstruct the whole inspection tour, and establish himself as a great emperor emphasising on the importance of the water project instead of indulged emperor who just wants to travelling around the good water, good mountains to enjoy the fun of travelling. I just showed you the zooming perspective describe the emperor himself in those paintings. We can say when he embarked this journey from the capital city it is January 13 in the lunar year. It is early spring, it’s still quite cold and he is wearing those fur hat to keep his head warm.

And in the last three panels he is actually wearing the hat made from bamboos and other fabrics. We can say the whole time duration he has been travelling from the early spring to the midsummer. Nowadays the exhibiting conditions in modern museum has changed the way how we appreciate those traditional scroll paintings. The audience can flexibly choose any part they are interested in to read in depth. From appreciating the scroll one of Emperor Qianlong’s South Inspection Tour scroll, the audience from Australia can have a closer look to the reach and the splendid scenery in the 18th century in China.

And as I mentioned before, this painting has provided us with more than one dimensions to rate this part of history. Besides, southern inspection in history, southern inspection in words, there is also a southern inspection documentary directed and acted by Emperor Qianlong himself in 12 episodes. Although we can never touch the so called real history, we can have a glimpse of the written history and to a large degree we would like to accept the fact that it is very close to the real history. The documentary style painting like Qianlong inspection tour, the claims that it’s subjectively describe history or image history. I’m really interested in discussing the subtle relationship among real history, written history and the image history. And I also hope that my speech can really inspire you when you appreciate those artwork, or comprehend those image histories. Thank you.

SARAH OZOLINS: Thank you so much. Thank you all for coming to the event today. Of course next week, The Historical Expression of Chinese Art: Calligraphy and Painting from the National Museum of China, this exhibition will open on 5 April and run through until 23 July, so we encourage you all to come and enjoy the exhibition, to view the scroll and an exciting animation of the scroll in the exhibition as well, so thank you all very much.

Disclaimer and Copyright notice
This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.
© National Museum of Australia 2007–21. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.

Date published: 28 October 2019

Return to Top