Set Views and Visual Precedents
If Jiaqing’s Magnificent Record of the Western Tour stays close to earlier precedents by capturing Wutai Shan in a series of maps and prints of set views of famous sites, a significant portion of which repeat the images that appear – and were thus already established as authoritative – in Qianlong’s Imperially Commissioned Gazetteer of the Clear and Cool Mountains, it does so using the basic, legitimizing strategy of replication that was not markedly different from some of the other records of Wutai Shan Qianlong himself left behind in other mediums. This is not unexpected, since by Jiaqing’s own command the Magnificent Record of the Western Tour was intended to be a record not just of Jiaqing’s tour, but of all previous Qing imperial tours as well. We can discern a similar approach in Qianlong’s most copious memorials to the holy mountains, the two hundred and seventy poems he wrote during his six visits, many set to rhyme patterns used by his grandfather, the Kangxi emperor, and others, particularly among his later works, that return to topics he himself had treated before.15 The recursive nature of [page 359] Qianlong’s and Jiaqing’s responses to the site suggests a shared desire to see it as it had been seen and present it as it had been presented, even while subtly adjusting the place and its history to serve Manchu dynastic ends. Part of the interest of Qianlong’s seemingly casual poetry on Wutai Shan is the way it pretends to capture his first view of its sights in the moment of apprehension, all the while fitting each experience into a historically valid mode of expression. In essence, his verse functioned as the written equivalent of the visual ‘set view.’
Qianlong’s poems on Wutai Shan raise questions about how he created what he considered to be an appropriate, archived response to such a sacred and politically significant place, a response that was reverential, reflexive, and yet crafted at a certain historicized, aesthetic distance. He composed dozens of poems and comments during his Western Tour of 1750.16 Quite a few of these have to do directly with the temples and famous sites of revelation at Wutai Shan and with the court’s activities as they moved from monastery to monastery. There are poems on Longquan Guan, Tailu Monastery, Baiyun Monastery, Shuxiang Monastery, Pusa Ding, Qingliang Monastery, Zhenhai Monastery, Rahu Monastery, Tayuan Monastery, Xiangtong Monastery, as well as a poem on military exercises, like those that occupied Jiaqing in 1811 (all of these sites, and the military exercises, were later depicted in Jiaqing’s Magnificent Record of the Western Tour – could Qianlong’s poetic topics have directed Dong Gao’s choice of images?)
In particular, an unusual snowfall the tour encountered as it made its way to Zhenhai Monastery, which was the Changja Rölpé DorjéLcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje’s (1717-1786) residence while at Wutai Shan, caused Qianlong to reminisce about his first trip there in fall 1746, when it also unexpectedly snowed. At that time, the emperor immediately commanded Zhang Ruo’ai, who was a court official and well-known painter of landscapes, to record the event. The result was a painting that depicts the temple both convincingly and in conformity with the very orthodox landscape conventions of the [page 360] eighteenth-century court (figure 11).17 The monastery’s buildings are tucked into a grove of wildly out-of-scale pines, which twist and bow to mark the way to the gate. There are no human figures – the only sign of occupancy is the glow that welcomes visitors from the windows of a temple hidden within a grove of trees, effectively communicating the sense of sanctuary and refuge its appearance must have presented on that day.
Figure 12. Zhang Ruocheng, Zhenhai Monastery in Snow, 1759 (left); and Zhang Ruo’ai, Zhenhai Monastery in Snow, 1746 (right). National Palace Museum, Taiwan (after Gugong shuhua tulu, vol. 11, 377-8; vol. 12, 233-4).
Qianlong’s inscription, at the top of the painting, describes the circumstances of the painting – the unexpected snow and his order to record it. But, when in 1750 the imperial entourage met the same weather, Qianlong recalled this earlier trip, remembering how Zhang Ruo’ai took sick and died in 1746, soon after finishing the painting of the Zhenhai Monastery in snow. Now Qianlong’s turned to Ruo’ai’s younger brother, Ruocheng, and ordered a second picture, which depicts Zhenhai Monastery seen from a distant vantage point, as Qianlong repeats twice in his inscription, perhaps from the traveling palace nearby (figure 12).18 What is remarkable here, given the political and religious significance of Wutai Shan to the Manchus, is the way in which Qianlong focuses on a personal moment, both in his commissions and in his poetic response, and not on the status of Zhenhai Monastery as his own guru’s establishment. Wutai Shan is cast here as a place of personal retreat, equivalent to the mountain hermitages so admired by Chinese scholars since ancient times. It is worth noting that these paintings are also remarkably similar, not just to one another, but also to another well-known painting Qianlong himself painted in 1745 of his beloved mountain retreat at Pan Shan, northeast of Beijing, which he reinscribed thirty-four times between its completion and 1793 (figure 13).19 All three paintings present their main objects of interest – the imperial Pan Shan retreat and the temple retreat of the Changja Rölpé DorjéLcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje – according to identical conventions of long standing in Chinese landscape painting, designed to illustrate not simply a topography, whether real or ideal, but also the interior mental landscape of a cultivated man (the artist or the recipient). [page 361] In the paintings by Zhang Ruo’ai and Ruocheng, Zhenhai Monastery appears as the mountain hermitage of Rölpé DorjéRol pa’i rdo rje, whose cultural attachments are both enhanced and blurred: he is at once a prelate of the Tibetan-style Buddhist establishment supported by the Qing and a cultured gentleman in the Chinese mode.20
Figure 13. The Qianlong emperor, Panshan, 1745. Palace Museum, Beijing. After Jessica Rawson (ed.), Three Emperors: 1662-1795 (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005), no. 191.
From Qianlong’s perspective, the 1750 tour, which was overtly staged to bring benefits and blessings to the people through imperial, even military, display, also produced opportunities to explore the aesthetic aspects of the site and to demonstrate his own command of the techniques of a particularly Chinese kind of civility. At the same time, the tour also caused him to wonder about the meaning and effect of images, particularly in two poems he wrote about the Shuxiang Monastery, with its miraculous, self-revealed image of Mañjuśrī on a lion, the story of whose fabrication was reported by the Japanese monk Ennin in the ninth century.21 This image was renewed or replaced in the Ming dynasty and, when Qianlong saw it in 1750 (not for the first time), he reported in his poem Nearing the Shuxiang Monastery Again (Shuxiang si zai yi) that, as he “looked up at the Mañjuśrī-image with reverence,” he noticed it was “newly brilliant” from the regilding that was done in 1746 (zai zhi chan Shu xiang, wei xin huan). In a second poem immediately following (“Again Writing on the Shuxiang Monastery,” Zai ti shuxiang si), he describes the bodhisattva’s form as “indeterminable” (wu ding xiang) and just as incredible as numbers of monks reported it was. After a brief flurry of exalted language, he ends [page 362] his tribute by writing, “It is not necessary to hasten the poem clumsily. After a short rest, I shall think about it again and file it away” (bu xu juo su cui cheng ju, shao qi wu jiang yi yu cun).22
He did file it away and, when he returned to Wutai Shan in 1761 with his mother and Rölpé DorjéRol pa’i rdo rje, the empress dowager was so taken with the famed Mañjuśrī image that she asked her son to establish a monastery to house a copy of it near Beijing. So, as a special present for her seventieth birthday (which was celebrated in its own painted Magnificent Record), Qianlong built the Precious Form Monastery (Baoxiang si) in Xiang Shan to the west of Beijing. The new monastery stood just to the side of the all-Manchu Baodi Monastery, established in 1751 as a copy of the Pusa Ding at Wutai Shan.23 Qianlong dedicated the new Baoxiang Monastery to Mañjuśrī, staffed it with more Manchu monks, and provided a statue that copied the Shuxiang Monastery image. Qianlong tried to capture its uncanny presence in a number of poems, writing, among other things, that, “It is an image and then again it is not” (shi xiang ji fei xiang), attributing its uniqueness to its special setting at Wutai Shan.24 But in 1762, in the dedicatory stele he wrote for [page 363] Precious Form Monastery, the emperor observed that, despite the great distance between Wutai Shan and Xiang Shan, Mañjuśrī “is one and he is two – in Mañjuśrī we really cannot see any distinctions arising. So if Qingliang (Wutai Shan) is his field of activity, then we do not know that Xiang Shan is not also” (shi yi shi er, zai Wenshu ben bu sheng fen bie jian, tang bi shi Qing liang wei dao chang, er bu shi Xiang Shan yi bu wei dao chang).25 And, when Qianlong established yet another monastery at Chengde in 1774, modeled on the Shuxiang Monastery and even with the same name, he again staffed it with Manchu monks and in his comments also wondered again if Chengde might not also be another of Mañjuśrī’s fields of enlightened activity.26
The statue that Qianlong installed in the Precious Form Monastery does not survive, nor do we know the precise date it was finished. But we can imagine what it looked like because in 1761 the court painter, Ding Guanpeng, painted two large, nearly identical, hanging scrolls of the Shuxiang Monastery’s Mañjuśrī on lion-back (figure 14).27 Ding’s long inscription records the imperial visit to Wutai Shan, the visual qualities of the image and his commission to copy it in painting. The intangibility of Mañjuśrī and his many transformations from vision to two-dimensional realization occupy Ding’s reminiscence and suggest he was part of the emperor’s entourage during this important pilgrimage, an eyewitness to the original visionary sculpture’s remarkable powers. He writes that the Mañjuśrī was “fully bright with secret knowledge, like the moon’s seal on a river” (yuan guang mo shi, ru yue yin chuan). His two final products are similar in conception and huge in scale and both offer the bodhisattva turned to face the viewer, while mounted sideways in posture of royal ease, with one leg drawn up (lalitasana). Both are painted in the style Ding [page 364] perfected while at court, many of its tricks borrowed from his Western Jesuit colleagues.
Jiaqing did not share his father’s propensity for such grand, theatrical gestures. However, given the theoretical underpinnings of traditional Chinese historiography, which understands the passage of time and the unfolding of events as bound to cycles that repeatedly return and force remembrance of the ‘last time around,’ Jiaqing’s reliance in his Magnificent Record of the Western Tour on earlier experiences and established models comes as no surprise. What may be more surprising is the degree to which Wutai Shan’s striking Tibetan and Mongolian elements are so smoothly integrated into a body of text and images that depend entirely on Chinese conventions of image-making and poetics. The Magnificent Record of the Western Tour presents Wutai Shan not as a cultural nexus, nor as a hybrid place where Tibetan, Mongols, Manchus, and Chinese came together, but as if it were in the Jiangnan region, worthy of exactly the same kind of attention that Qianlong paid to the south in his Magnificent Record of the Southern Tour. The Magnificent Record of the Western Tour was a conservative production, but, in the context of the changed world the Jiaqing emperor inherited from his extravagantly imaginative father, it can also be argued that it was an attempt to stem the tide of unrest and reiterate Manchu dynastic claims by acting as if nothing had changed.
“Zai ti shuxiang si” [再題殊像寺, Again Writing on the Shuxiang Monastery]:
是一是二, 在文殊本不生分別見, 倘必執清凉為道場, 而不知香山亦不為道場
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 ).
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 ).
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