The Qing & I

The Qing & I

May 11th 2020

The Qing dynasty, officially known as the Great Qing was the last imperial dynasty of China. It was established in 1636 but did not take full reign over China proper until 1644 in which 9 Emperors established rule through to 1912. Preceded by the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and succeeded by the Republic of China (1912-1949) the Qing period was a pivotal time for the western world and for the building of China today.

The Qing period is widely known for its diverse selection of ceramics in which each emperor aimed to succeed the previous not only in war, politics and ambition but also a legacy of historic artefacts. For oriental works there are a huge amount of wears from this time period which differ tremendously. Many are vastly sought after due to the varying styles in which modern day ceramics are largely influenced. With each different emperor a new style or manufacturing process can be seen along with their own seal mark. Finally add length of reign into the mix and you have a somewhat unstoppable force that is the abundent Chinese antique market of today. Unfortunately this has been somewhat flooded by modern and reproductive wears which make this market very difficult to identify the original wears.

Below is an insight to each emperor, their reign and marks. During the Qing period the most commonly seen marks tend to be underglaze blue, written in a vertical style, read from left to right and outlined by a double circle. Below the left mark is written in Kaishu (normal script) while the right hand mark is written in archaic seal script, both types can be seen on various wares. Occasionally the marks can be written in slight variations from below which may include more (or less) characters. Examples are the 6 character zhuanshu script (seal-form imperial reign marks desired during the Yongzheng period onwards), or the 4 character mark which removes the first two characters.

There was a brief time during the Kangxi period in 1667 when the emperor forbade the use of his reign mark on porcelain. This resulted in many porcelain pieces showing underglaze blue double circles, or the use of symbols in underglaze blue such as an Artemesia leaf, a Lingzhi mushroom or the head of a Ruyi sceptre. 

Shunzhi Emperor (1638-1661)

Fulin was born in 1638 and the first emperor to rule China proper at only the age of 5. Fulin was chosen as successor to his father Hong Taiji but sadly passed away from a combination of smallpox and a highly contagious disease at the young age of 22. The Shunzhi period is one of the less known periods during the Qing period due to it being the earliest and one of the shortest reigns. Little is known about the existence of wears from this period however buy with caution as the marks can be found on reproduction pieces.

Shunzhi Period 1644-1661

Kangxi Emperor (1654-1722)

Xuanye began his reign after the reasonably short reign of his predecessor and father Fulin. Xuanye ruled China proper for 61 years making him the longest reigning emperor in Chinese history and one of the longest reining rulers in the world. He ascended to the throne at the young age of 7 only 12 days after his father’s death. The Kangxi emperor died at the age of 68 after a full life of long-term stability and eventual wealth after years of war and chaos.

Kangxi Period 1662-1722

Yongzheng Emperor 1678-1735

Yinzhen the 3rd Qing emperor and son of Xuanye strived to create an effective government at minimal expense. Brought to reign at the age of 44 a much older emperor than both his dad and grandfather, reigned for a much shorter period of 13 years dying two months before his 58th birthday.

Yongzheng Period 1723-1735

Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799)

Hongli fourth son of Yinzhen and one of the longest de facto rulers in the history of the world dying at the age of 87 he also become one of the longest living. Hongli inherited a largely thriving empire which began to decline towards the end of his reign due to military campaigns in which many central Asian kingdoms were destroyed. Hongli abdicated his throne in favour of his son the Jiaqing emperor to ensure his rule did not overtake the illustrious rule of his grandfather, the Kangxi emperor.

Qianlong Period 1736-1795

 Jaiqing Emperor (1760-1820)

Yongyan was the 15th son of Hongli the Qianlong emperor. During his reign he controversially executed his Fathers favourite child Heshen for corruption. Throughout his reign he attempted to restore order within the Qing empire and sought to curb the smuggling of opium into China. He passed at the age of 59 after his rule of 24 years.

Jaiqing Period 1796-1820

Daoguang Emperor (1782-1850)

Miannng (later Minning) was born in the Forbidden City and his reign was marked by external disaster and internal rebellion. He was in reign during the first opium war and the beginning of the Taiping Rebellion. Quoted as a “well-meaning but ineffective man”. Second son of Yongyan died at the age of 68 and was the last Qing emperor to pass away at the Old Summer Palace before it was burnt down by Anglo-French troops during the second opium war.

Daoguang Period 1821-1850

Xianfeng Emperor (1831-1861)

Yizhu the 7th Qing emperor to rule over China proper, experience mass disruption during his reign after his father and predecessor left war looming from internal and external affairs. During his reign he fought to repel several wars and rebellions from Taiping Rebellion, Nian Rebellion and the second opium war also known as the arrow war. He reigned for a short 11 years before dying at the age of 30.

Xianfeng Period 1851-1861

Tongzhi Emperor (1856-1875)

Zaichun of the Aisin Gioro clan was the 8th Qing emperor to rule over China proper. He became emperor at the young age of 5 after being the only surviving son of his father Yizhu. His short reign was overshadowed by his mother Empress Dowage Cixi who ruled his period in practice. Zaichun had little influence over state affairs and the events of his reign became known as the “Tongzhi Restoration” an unsuccessful attempt to stabilise and modernise China. He died at the age of 19 without a son.

Tongzhi Period 1861-1875

Guangxu Emperor (1871-1908)

Zaitian was born in Prince Chun’s mansion and was the first Emperor to reign from outside the direct bloodline breaking imperial convention. Zaitian ruled under the practice of Dowager Cixi, Zaichun’s Mother until 1889 in which he retained full reign up until 1898. In this time he initiated the hundred days reform but was abruptly stopped when the empress dowager launched a coup in 1898. Zaitian was put under house arrest until his death on the 14th November 1908 at the age of 37, subsequently the day before Cixi’s death.

Guangxu Period 1875-1908

Xuantong Emperor (1906-1967)

Pu Yi was the 12th and last Emperor of China. As a child he reigned as Xuantong Emperor until he was forced to abdicate his throne on the 12th of February 1912 after the Xinhai revolution. Pu Yi had a further two sessions upon the throne, a brief 12 days in July 1917 and a further 11 years as Emperor of Manchukuo (Kangde Emperor). After the people’s Republic of China was established in 1949 Puyi was imprisoned as a war criminal for 10 years. Pu Yi was given a formal pardon on December 4th 1959.

Xuantong Period 1909-1912