Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

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The Jiaqing Emperor’s Magnificent Record of the Western Tour

JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5711, pp. 349-371.

© 2011 by Patricia Berger, IATS, and THL

[page 349]

Abstract: The Qing Jiaqing emperor’s Magnificent Record of the Western Tour (Xixun shengdian), published in 1812, is the last “magnificent record” of the Qing dynasty and the only one that focuses on the Buddhist sites of Wutai Shan. Jiaqing’s record reproduces imperial inscriptions and poetry on Wutai Shan, as well as maps, and pictures of the site based on the Qianlong-era Qingliang shan shengdian. The Magnficent Record falls squarely into a Chinese genre of official site-specific gazetteers, conveying little sense of the Tibetan and Mongolian presence at Wutai Shan in the early nineteenth century. The site with its temples and vision-inducing topographical features is presented as a Chinese mountain retreat befitting a scholarly gentleman rather than as a sacred site that attracted pilgrims from the entire northern Asian Buddhist world.


The Jiaqing emperor (r. 1795-1820), who made his first and only trip to Wutai Shan in 1811, left behind a substantial illustrated description of his visit, the Magnificent Record of the Western Tour (Xixun shengdian).1 Completed in 1812, the Magnificent Record of the Western Tour was the last magnificent record ever produced by the Qing court and its exalted title suggests a desire on the emperor’s part to have his tour of the holy mountains remembered as a mark of imperial favor, within the tradition of the many tours of the empire undertaken by his great-grandfather and father, the Kangxi and Qianlong emperors.2 The truth of the [page 350] matter was somewhat different, however, because Jiaqing traveled in an atmosphere of self-imposed economic austerity and under the cloud of escalating moral criticism, ironically built on Qianlong’s late remorse at what he saw as his own wastefully extravagant touring. Countering a raging debate about touring, the imperial preface to the Magnificent Record of the Western Tour rationalizes the trip as a way to bring blessings to the people via the benevolent actions of Wutai Shan’s resident bodhisattva Mañjuśrī and thus creatively picks up the triumphalist tone of earlier Qing imperial tours. It frames Jiaqing’s tour as a gracious act complete with temple renovations, awards to new examinees, substantial tax remissions, and serious military business, but it also presents the publication of his Magnificent Record as a filial gesture, rather than as an effort at self-promotion.

Jiaqing’s Magnificent Record also implicitly rejects the growing critique in Qing officialdom of touring as wasteful and frivolous by presenting the western tour as a sober journey strongly tied to his ritual obligations to the Manchu dynastic lineage. The tour’s main destination was Wutai Shan, but its first stop was Western Tumuli (Xiling), established as the site of the Yongzheng emperor’s tomb, eventually the site of Jiaqing’s own burial, and where his first empress was already interred. The itinerary of Jiaqing’s western tour thus opens several avenues for inquiry, among them why he undertook the trip, what it meant to him and his political ambitions, and why he chose to memorialize it in a “Magnificent Record.”

As the last grand imperial tour, with the longest duration of any, Jiaqing’s visit to Wutai Shan, which was years in the planning, should be seen as a valiant tour de force against the backdrop of the fragmenting empire he finally inherited after hovering on the sidelines while his father reigned on as super-emperor. But it must also be understood in much more conservative terms, specifically in the context of the inevitable unfolding of the imperial spectacle of reverence to the dynastic lineage that continued after Qianlong’s death on February 7, 1799 (just two days after the lunar New Year). It may well be significant that the western tour was scheduled to take place immediately after the completion of a twelve-year calendrical cycle following his father’s death. Immediately before the tour began, a series of sacrifices were carried out at all the imperial tombs, including at Qianlong’s Yuling, which was part of Eastern Tumuli (Dongling).3 Homage to Qianlong does not seem to have been emphasized in this round of sacrifices. However, Jiaqing’s departure for Wutai Shan was colored by another sad incident when, on April 4, his third daughter, Princess Zhuangjing Heshi, unexpectedly died. She was the daughter of the Concubine Heyu and the wife of the Mongol [page 351] Korchin prince, Suote Namu Duobuji. On April 6, amid last-minute preparations for the western tour, the emperor visited her new tomb in Beijing.4

Just four days later the tour set out, as the emperor headed southwest from the Yuanming Yuan to make an initial stop at Western Tumuli, a stage of the journey that was 221 li in length (about seventy-plus miles) and lasted four days. There, on April 14, Jiaqing visited Tailing, where Yongzheng was buried, and made a wine offering at Changling, where his first empress-consort, Xiaohe Rui, had been laid to rest five years after her untimely death in 1797. (Changling, which would be Jiaqing’s burial site, was begun in 1795 and completed in 1802.) Arriving at Wutai Shan on April 24, the emperor, who had made generous gestures to the people at every station along the way, issued an order remitting taxes across the whole of Shanxi, announced the names of a number of newly elevated men (juren), and, on May 2, called for the production of a Magnificent Record that would not only detail his own trip but would simultaneously memorialize the many tours of the west undertaken by his father, the Qianlong emperor, his great-grandfather, the Kangxi emperor, and his great great-grandfather, the Shunzhi emperor.

In recognition of Mañjuśrī’s blessings to the people and his importance to the Manchu dynastic lineage and its Inner Asian constituents, three earlier Qing emperors journeyed to Wutai Shan from the capital (Shunzhi twice, Kangxi three times, and Qianlong six times) but none of them produced a “Magnificent Record” of their western tours, nor, for that matter, of their eastern tours to the ancestral capital at Shengjing, or of the very regular northern tours Kangxi and Qianlong took to the summer retreat at Chengde. This is in sharp contrast to the sumptuous cataloging of Kangxi’s and Qianlong’s southern tours in Picture of the Southern Tour (Nanxun tu) and, in Qianlong’s case, in an exquisitely printed set of illustrated volumes, Magnificent Record of the Southern Tour (Nanxun shengdian, completed in 1771), which was the clear precedent for Jiaqing’s project.5 By his own words, Jiaqing’s Magnificent Record of the Western Tour was intended to fill a significant gap in the historical record by detailing every instance of Qing imperial generosity at Wutai Shan (a task already substantially accomplished in 1786 by Qianlong’s explicitly self-promoting Imperially Commissioned Gazetteer of the Clear and Cool Mountains [Qinding Qingliang shan zhi], a magnificent record [shengdian] in all but name), but, more pointedly, by republishing in text and image the traces of Qing imperial progress towards it and across it, all of which closely mimicked [page 352] his father’s and great-grandfather’s earlier tours.6 What the book depicts is a very particular aspect of a complex mountain site that was replete with famous monks, supernatural events, and extraordinary temples and images subsidized by eminent patrons. It embeds the place and its long history of marvels, devotional practice, scholarship, art, and architecture in a text that focuses on repeated signs of Qing presence, blending the forms and descriptive style of Qianlong’s Magnificent Record of the Southern Tour and Imperially Commissioned Gazetteer of the Clear and Cool Mountains. It also extends and redirects the concept of the celebratory record of imperial favor from the south, where Qianlong had bestowed it, to the west, where he had traveled as many times but where he had chosen instead to act out other, often specifically Buddhist, aspects of his multifaceted imperial persona. From the perspective of the history of art, what the Magnificent Record of the Western Tour tells us is that there was a set way to depict a place (established in Qianlong’s gazetteer), which intersected with a set way to depict a specific kind of event, in this case, an imperial tour (the single earlier relevant example of which was Qianlong’s Magnificent Record of the Southern Tour).

[1] I would like to extend thanks to the organizers and participants in the Wutai Shan Conference, held May 12-13, 2007, at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York, for their very helpful suggestions, as well as for their stimulating papers on the later history of Wutai Shan.
[2] Peng Ling, Dong Gao, et al., eds., Xixun shengdian [Magnificent Record of the Western Tour] (Beijing: Wuying Dian, 1812); reprint (Beijing: Guji chubanshe, 1996), 3 volumes. See Natalie Köhle, “Why Did the Kangxi Emperor Go to Wutai Shan? Patronage, Pilgrimage, and the Place of Tibetan Buddhism at the Early Qing Court,” Late Imperial China 29.1 (2008): 73-119, on the Kangxi emperor’s tours to Wutai Shan and the broad patronage he distributed while there.
[3] The period in question is covered in Jiaqing qiju zhu (Guilin: Guangxi Shifan Daxue chubanshe, 2006), v. 16, and Da Qing Renzong Rui (Jiaqing) huangdi shilu (Taiwan: Huawen shuju, 1968), vol. 6, 3546. I thank Susan Naquin, Princeton University, for drawing attention during the discussion at the Wutai Shan conference to the coincidence of Jiaqing’s timing of his tour and the twelfth anniversary of Qianlong’s death.
[4] Princess Zhuangjing Heshi’s burial and that of her half-sister, Princess Zhuangjing Gulun, who died just two months later, were located in 1965 in a walled garden enclave just off Chang’an Dajie in what is now downtown Beijing during excavations conducted by the Chinese Hydrology Research Institute. See Zhongguo Shui ke yuan [The Chinese Hydrology Research Institute], “Gong zhu fen an sang di shi na wei gong zhu?” [Which Princess is Buried in the Princess’ Grave?], http://dhr.iwhr.com/dhr/B20070105.htm.
[5] See Maxwell Hearn, “Document and Portrait: The Southern Tour Paintings of Kangxi and Qianlong,” Phoebus 6, no. 1 (1988): 90-131.
[6] This motive is repeated in several places, among them, in the preface to the Magnificent Record of the Western Tour; Jiaqing Di qiju zhu (Guilin: Guangxi Shifan University Press, 2006), vol. 16, 143; Wang Xianqian, ed., Shier chao donghua lu (Changsha: Wenhai chubanshe, 1963), vol. 13, 21-22.

Note Citation for Page

Patricia Berger, “The Jiaqing Emperor’s Magnificent Record of the Western Tour,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5711 (accessed ).

Note Citation for Whole Article

Patricia Berger, “The Jiaqing Emperor’s Magnificent Record of the Western Tour,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 349-371, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5711 (accessed ).

Bibliography Citation

Berger, Patricia. “The Jiaqing Emperor’s Magnificent Record of the Western Tour.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 349-371. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5711 (accessed ).