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 3 of 4 (pp. 356-358)

Remonstrance and Compromise

No earlier imperial tours of Wutai Shan resulted in the publication of a magnificent record, a hybrid sort of compilation that was staged as a record of a particular trip but that frames it in historical accounts and records of earlier excursions, events, and acts of commemoration, merging the form of a journal with that of a gazetteer. Jiaqing’s introduction to the Magnificent Record of the Western Tour moreover stresses an unusual rationale for its creation, which was to make up for the conspicuous lack of similar records of tours undertaken by his imperial ancestors. The Magnificent Record of the Western Tour established that the dynastic politics of touring were still efficacious and worthy of record. But the book was also an act of completion (or perhaps of continuation) of something left unfinished by Qianlong’s Imperially Commissioned Gazetteer of the Clear and Cool Mountains. Indeed, the publishing record of Jiaqing’s reign suggests that much of the production of the Wuying Dian was designed to supplement, continue, and update Qianlong’s ambitious projects. Among the supplements to earlier Qing works that Jiaqing ordered were the Shiqu baoji and Bidian zhulin sanbian (a third round of new material added to the first and second catalogs of Qianlong’s secular and religious painting and calligraphy collections), completed in 1816; the fourth edition of Da Qing huidian, commissioned in 1801 and completed in 1818; and Zhongxiu yi tongzhi, the third edition of Da Qing tongzhi, which was initiated by Jiaqing but was not finished until 1843. There were numbers of others, as well.

Dong Gao (1740-1818), a prominent official in Qianlong’s court who was untainted by the scandals surrounding the corrupt imperial favorite Heshen (1750-1799) and whom Jiaqing highly regarded, was one of several officials Jiaqing [page 357] called upon to oversee the compilation of the Magnificent Record of the Western Tour. The text went into production immediately following the court’s return to Beijing in 1811 and was completed in 1812. Dong Gao, the son of the court landscapist Dong Bangda (another of Qianlong’s great favorites), was himself a highly regarded painter and calligrapher; in fact, as Qianlong’s ability to wield the brush waned at the end of his life, Dong Gao regularly served as his amanuensis. He also had ample experience in the business of putting together huge catalogs. He worked on the giant Siku quanshu project and was part of the team that completed the second round of both Shiqu baoji and Bidian zhulin (later, during Jiaqing’s reign, he would head up the production of the third part, completed in 1816). The choice of Dong Gao was, therefore, not at all surprising, and neither was the configuration of the Magnificent Record he and his colleagues produced.

Dong Gao’s role in the Magnificent Record of the Western Tour may have been complicated by an earlier incident, however. As Michael G. Chang has noted, in 1805, when Jiaqing returned from an eastern tour to Shengjing, he found himself in the middle of a heated debate about the usefulness of imperial touring. Chang describes a meeting the emperor called, which included Dong Gao, as well as the administrator and governor-general of Guangdong, Wu Xiongguang (1750-1833) and Dai Quheng (1755-1811).11 All three of these officials were prominent in the last decades of Qianlong’s reign and both Dong and Wu had been strong opponents of Heshen. A biographical sketch of Wu Xiongguang, written by Liang Zhangju (1775-1849), describes part of the conversation at the meeting.12 Jiaqing apparently commented that while he had been told the road to Shengjing would be rough and the scenery bland, in fact, he had found quite the opposite: a smooth road through “excellent” scenery. Whose opinion could he trust, the emperor wondered. Wu Xiongguang responded sharply, “On this trip His Majesty wished to personally examine monuments to the hardships encountered by the imperial ancestors when they founded the dynasty and took this as a regulation for succeeding generations. Is it really appropriate to inquire about the route and scenery?” According to Liang’s account, Jiaqing responded by noting that he had accompanied his father on his southern tours and found the scenery in Suzhou (as it happened, Wu’s hometown) to be “unmatched.” Wu countered by pointing out the ephemerality of what the emperor saw on those occasions (suggesting perhaps that a great deal of staging had been done to mask and put the best face on the real Suzhou, which was, Wu said, actually crowded and foul). Jiaqing then wondered why his father had visited there six times, to which Wu replied that, in his later years, Qianlong’s single regret was that his six southern tours had been such a waste of valuable resources. “In the future,” Qianlong said, “if the emperor undertakes a southern tour and you do not put a halt to this, then you will have no means of facing Us.”

[page 358]

Liang Zhangju goes on to observe that Jiaqing tremendously admired Wu Xiongguang’s honesty, which “greatly moved” him: Wu was the very model of the remonstrating official, who needs fear no repercussions for his honest words. Nonetheless, while Wu’s well-reasoned critique may well have prevented Jiaqing from ever contemplating a southern tour of his own, Wu did not continue to work for the emperor much longer. In 1809, while serving as Governor-General of Guangdong, he was accused of having failed to stop British incursions into Chinese territory and was summarily sacked and sent into exile.13 He therefore had little to say about Jiaqing’s western tour, although his words must still have retained their potency in the emperor’s mind. In that same year, when preparations for the western tour were already well underway, Jiaqing sent down an order calling for the renovation of the traveling palaces, temples, and images, but forbidding the preparation of theatrical stages, “false mountains and pavilions,” and decorative flourishes of any kind.14 Jiaqing’s tour of Wutai Shan would not “exhaust the people,” rather the opposite – it would bring benefits to them and, more significantly, create no regrets. If he could not go south, he would go west.


[11] This incident is described in Chang, A Court on Horseback, 426-28. The account here follows his and all direct quotations are his translations. Dongxun jishi, a later record of Jiaqing’s first tour to Shengjing in 1805 was compiled by Yang Zhongxi and republished in Shen Yunlong, ed., Jindai Zhongguo shiliao congkan (Taipei: Wenhai chubanshe, 1966), 852-54. He traveled there again in 1818.
[12] Chang cites Liang Zhangju, Langji congtan (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1997).
[13] Arthur Hummel, Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1944), 684.
[14] Gugong bowuyuan, Wenxian bianhao, 404014440. I thank Wen-shing Chou for this reference.

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 ).