Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
The Jiaqing Emperor’s Magnificent Record
Patricia Berger, University of California, Berkeley
JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5711, pp. 349-371
Section 2 of 4 (pp. 352-356)

The Magnificent Record of the Western Tour – Form and Content

Figure 1. Xixun shengdian: The route to Station 1 at Huangjiazhuang.
Figure 2. Xixun shengdian: The Traveling Palace at Huangjiazhuang.

The Magnificent Record of the Western Tour is a long work in twenty-four fascicles, printed with movable copper type and illustrated with woodblock prints at the Wuying Dian in the Forbidden City. The text breaks down into discrete sections. Following an imperial preface in the emperor’s own calligraphy, a number of fascicles describe the circumstances behind the compilation of the Magnificent Record, provide a group of imperial poems and essays, as well as “Gracious Words from the Throne,” and a section on the order of sacrifices. Fascicles five through six are illustrated with stiff diagrams of the military exercises that accompanied the tour (which, as Michael G. Chang has pointed out, was in no small part intended [page 353] to be a boastful celebration of recent victories over the White Lotus rebels7), followed by invocations, paeans, and appreciations submitted by various petitioners to the throne. The journey to, around, and from Wutai Shan is the subject of the next four fascicles (thirteen through sixteen). They begin with bird’s-eye view maps charting the emperor’s route from the Yuanming Yuan to Wutai Shan (fascicle thirteen, figure 1), together with depictions of the traveling palaces in which he stayed on his way there (figure 2). The journey takes the reader by stages to Wutai Shan itself, culminating in a two-page overview map of the five peaks (figure 3), and sixteen more detailed images of specific temples and noteworthy sites (fascicles fourteen through fifteen, figure 4). Finally, in fascicle sixteen, the record reverses course, winding back along a different route and through another series of maps to the Yuanming Yuan. The last chapters, fully a third of the text, are filled with songs and poems in praise of the sacred peaks.

Figure 3. Xixun shengdian: Complete Map of Wutai Shan (Wutai shan quantu).
Figure 4. Xixun shengdian: Shuxiang Monastery.
Figure 5. Qinding Qingliang shan zhi: Mañjuśrī on Wutai Shan.
Figure 6. Qinding Qingliang shan zhi: Complete Map of Wutai Shan (wutai shan quantu).

[page 354]

Figure 7. Qinding Qingliang shan zhi (top) and Xixun shengdian (bottom): The Central Peak.

The core woodblock-printed images in the Magnificent Record of the Western Tour, which map out Wutai Shan as a whole and in its five parts, replicate seven of the ten illustrations created for Qianlong’s Imperially Commissioned Gazetteer of the Clear and Cool Mountains: the opening image of the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī as a simple monk seated on a mountain mesa (figure 5), the comprehensive map of all five peaks (figure 6), separate views of each of them (for example, figure 7), and three traveling palaces (at Tailu Monastery, Pusa Ding; and Baiyun Monastery, figure 8). Curiously, the Magnificent Record of the Western Tour eliminates the opening image of Mañjuśrī, whose blessings were among the primary aims of the trip. It changes the order of presentation of the five peaks and some minor details in the way they are depicted, such as the conventions used for rocky slopes and foliage. It also augments the original set of images with fifteen new illustrations of other traveling palaces and of famous monasteries, all of which had received [page 355] Qing imperial patronage in the past (for example, figure 9). The work thus follows, with certain creative departures (among them illustrations of the military exercises), both the precedent for magnificent records that was set with the 1771 completion in the Wuying Dian of Qianlong’s record of his southern tour, Magnificent Record of the Southern Tour, and the model established in 1786 by Qianlong’s Imperially Commissioned Gazetteer of the Clear and Cool Mountains.

Figure 8. Qinding Qingliang shan zhi (top) and Xixun shengdian (bottom): Baiyun Monastery traveling palace.
Figure 9. Xixun shengdian: Zhenhai Monastery.

Like both of Qianlong’s productions, Jiaqing’s Magnificent Record of the Western Tour presents the landscape in the blandest possible visual terms. The itinerary to and from Wutai Shan is mapped out with conventionalized renderings of mountain ranges, rivers, bridges, walled towns, temples, and circular yurt camps, all of which are carefully labeled. The progress of the imperial entourage appears as a simple dotted line running across a landscape that is miniaturized, diagrammatic, and utterly unpopulated. Other interspersed images of traveling palaces, depicted according to the conventions of the “set view,” a mode of presentation originally developed in the Jiangnan region that guides the audience into a historically-informed appreciation of a scene, are laid bare to the eye via a raking, elevated perspective.8 These scenes, again following the precedent of Qianlong’s Magnificent Record of the Southern Tour, are also empty of signs of human life.

Figure 10. Baxun wanshou shengdian (Magnificent Record of the Eightieth Birthday of the Qianlong Emperor).

Neither Jiaqing’s nor Qianlong’s woodblock-printed Magnificent Records, nor, for that matter, Qianlong’s Imperially Commissioned Gazetteer of the Clear and Cool Mountains include any of the celebration of events that makes the painted hand scroll versions of Kangxi’s and Qianlong’s southern tours so vivid. The illustrations of all three of these books also lack the theatricality that characterizes the boisterous printed Magnificent Records of the imperial birthdays of both Kangxi and Qianlong (where the streets from the Forbidden City to the Yuanming Yuan [page 356] abound with actors, dancers, and gawking officials and are lined with stages, painting corridors, displays of ancient bronze vessels, and exotic animals, and blocked off from the common view with painted flats, the tacky backs of which are conspicuously revealed, see, for example, figure 10).9 There is no sense of festivity, clever contrivance, or over-the-top spectacle in the printed Magnificent Records of the Southern and Western Tours but the withdrawal of human presence in both serves to place the trips that took Qianlong to the south and his son to the west, as well as the sites they encountered, outside of time, enhancing the recursive, ritual nature of the tours as singular, but repeated (and repeatable), events. This recursiveness played out in other ways as well.10


[7] Michael G. Chang, A Court on Horseback: Imperial Touring & the Construction of Qing Rule, 1680-1785 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2007), 431.
[8] One of the earliest examples of the ‘set view’ approach to landscape painting is the Xiao xiang bajing, which were already formulated as a series of poetic titles in the Song dynasty. Others rapidly followed, including a series of poetic titles describing the Jin capital at Yanjing (eventually transformed into the Eight Views of Beijing in the early Ming), and the multiple versions of views of Suzhou that were given as retirement presents and were avidly collected by visitors to the city.
[9] On these two birthday records, Kangxi’s Wanshou shengdian (1716) and Qianlong’s Baxun wanshou shengdian (1782), see Helen Uitzinger, “For the Man Who Has Everything: Western Style Exotica in Birthday Celebration at the Court of Ch’ien-lung,” in Leonard Blussé and Harriet T. Zurndorfer, ed., Conflict and Accommodation in Early Modern East Asia: Essays in Honor of Erik Zürcher (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1993), 216-39.
[10] On recursiveness in the Qing construction of history, see Mark Elliott, “Whose Empire Shall It Be? Manchu Figurations of Historical Process in the Early Seventeenth Century,” in Time, Temporality, and Imperial Transition ed. Lynn Struve (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005); and Patricia Berger, Empire of Emptiness: Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing China (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003).

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 ).