China & Inner Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer: Régine Thiriez, Sorbonne, Paris
Chair and Discussant: Susan Naquin, Princeton University
The summer residence of the Qing emperors near Beijing has long been a powerful symbol. Its eighteenth century European-style buildings have been read as an indication of Chinas superficial dabbling in Western culture, while its destruction by Western forces in 1860 has embodied for many the wanton destructiveness of imperialism. Although the Yuanming Yuan is now "restored" for tourists, recovering the meaning and actuality of the original garden-architectural group is a challenge for historians. This interdisciplinary panel will explore the way unconventional sourcesarchitectural documents, paintings, and photographscan help us understand this vanished building complex and the complicated blend of Chinese and European influences that shaped it.
Finlay, an art historian, examines the paintings of the Garden produced in 1744, as sources that can show us what the site may have looked like, as well as what was the Qianlong emperors own vision of his Garden. Liu brings the expertise of the architectural historian to bear on the little-scrutinized records of the construction of the garden, revealing in the process the designers vision of it. Thiriez uses her close analysis of the record of the European garden by Western photographers after 1860, not only to examine how it was constructed, but to reveal the vision of the Yuanming Yuan the photographs contributed to propagate in the West.
John R. Finlay, Brooklyn Museum of Art
The double album of Forty Views of the Yuanming Yuan shows carefully selected and defined areas, either within the garden-palace that the Qianlong Emperor inherited from his father, the Yongzhen Emperor, or in the sizable extensions the latter added to the Yuanming Yuan early in his own reign. The images were created by the Imperial Household Agency official and painter, Tangdai, and the Academy artist Shen Yuan, and the album was completed in 1744. Each painting faced a page of Qianlongs poetry, copied in standard script by the then-Minister of the Board of Works, Wang Youdun.
Qianlong sought to portray his garden-palace as the site of profound, specifically Chinese cultural significance and mode of life, later developed in the extensive commentary to his poems found in the printed editions of the Forty Views. In addition, beyond the ostensibly Chinese style of the paintings, can be felt the influence of European painting techniques and perspective, which Shen Yuan had learned directly from the foremost Jesuit missionary painter active in the Qing court, Giuseppe Castiglione. A study of the Forty Views and of other paintings of the Yuanming Yuan produced for Qianlong, thus provides the opportunity to examine the new, central role played by this type of depictions in embodying and propagating the official image of the emperor as a scholarly, enlightened Chinese ruler.
Cary Y. Liu, Princeton University
The emergence in China of the "architect" as holistic designer, planner, and builder coincides with the construction of the Qing dynasty Yuanming Yuan imperial garden. In the Qing imperial bureaucracy, ad hoc building agencies were established on a project by project basis under the supervision of the Ministry of Works, Imperial Household Agency, or combination of both. This developed from the earlier bureaucratic structure of the Yuan and Ming dynasty that involved imperial planners, ministerial supervisors, and skilled craftsmen. In this tripartite system the master craftsman determined building form and construction within supervised ritual and financial parameters, as construction was basically determined by workshop practice.
In the Qing period, a Design Office (yangfang) and a Management Office (suanfang) mediated between the supervisory and craftsmen level. Using new design and planning methods that involved a systematic use of cut-away models and several stages of construction drawings, these two Offices came to function as "architects." Implications of this change in the building process can be examined from numerous surviving models and drawings for the Yuanming Yuan produced by the Lei family Design Office. The Lei family worked as imperial designers for seven generations starting in the Kangxi period, and were involved in much of the planning for both the Chinese- and Western-style buildings in the Yuanming Yuan. The bureaucratic institution and operations of the Design Office were fully entrenched by the time Western-style structures were erected during the Qianlong period. A closer inspection may reveal what role the Design Office played in these Western edifices.
Régine Thiriez, Sorbonne, Paris
The fire which devastated the Yuanming Yuan in October 1860 left impressive ruins still standing at the north-east end of the garden, the only area for which there are valuable photographic records.
The ruins were those of the European Palaces (Xiyanglou), built in the middle of the previous century by Jesuit missionaries. An extreme example of Western influence on the Court of China, this architecture displayed an amazing blend of Western and Chinese styles. The four major palaces and a number of minor buildings were recorded by various Western photographers between 1873 and 1925, before they finally succumbed to decay and pilfering. A valuable archive in their own right, the photographs are also an essential source for the imaginative construction techniques used throughout the site, the landscaping, the materials employed, etc. Since the buildings were allowed to crumble over decades without any repair work, a wealth of information can be culled from the images that have been collected, attributed and dated by the panelist over the last ten years.
Some of the images are well known. Beginning around 1885, photographs of the palaces were used in successive publications. They contributed strongly to the creation of a vision which, with time, has tended to identify the European Palaces with the whole Yuanming Yuan.