Qianlong Emperor and the Confucian "Temple of Culture"
Joseph A. Adler
Written for the NEH Summer
James A Millward, Ruth W. Dunnell, Mark C. Elliott, and Philippe Forêt,
The temple and the school--the first government-sponsored school in the area--were two functions of the same institution, the purpose of which was to extend the "civilizing" (wenhua) benefits of learning to this former frontier area.(4)The Wen miao was, to be sure, overshadowed both in grandeur and in strategic significance by the Waiba miao (Eight Outer Temples) arrayed to the north and east of the imperial complex (see Chayet, above). These Tibetan Buddhist temples were intended to persuade the emperor's Mongol and Tibetan subjects that the Great Qing was truly a universal empire, and thus was truly theirs.
But the Wen miao also played a symbolic role in the politico-cultural landscape of Chengde. It symbolized the continuity of the empire and this secondary capital with the Han Chinese cultural heritage. It thus represented the Han face of what was later called the empire of "Five Peoples" (Han Chinese, Muslim Uyghurs, Tibetans, Mongols, and Manchus)--a multi-ethnic construction of which the Chengde cultural and geographic landscape was a carefully designed microcosm.(5)While the primary audience for this extraordinarily expensive enterprise at Chengde was composed of Tibetans and Mongols and their Buddhist clerical establishments, the Han symbolism of wen (writing, culture) was absolutely critical to the Manchus' efforts to legitimize their conquest and continued rule of China articularly in the eyes of the Han literati and officials, whose support was crucial to the regime.
This essay will synopsize and analyze Qianlong's involvement with the Chengde Wen miao from 1779 to 1782, based primarily on the Veritable Records (Shilu) of the Qianlong reign. It will include translations of some of the documents, in whole and in part, written by Qianlong regarding the temple. We shall focus on two topics that emerge clearly from Qianlong's writings on the Wen miao: wen (writing, culture) and sheng (the sage), both in connection with Qianlong's understanding of rulership and his efforts to reinforce the legitimacy of Qing rule in the eyes of Han Chinese literati and officials. We shall begin with a brief chronology of Qianlong's involvement with the Chengde Wen miao.
Beginning in 1782, there is no mention in the Veritable Records of Qianlong stopping at the Wen miao upon arrival at Chengde.(14)
Wen has been a central concept in Confucian thought throughout its long history in China. The character wen originally denoted the marks of writing on bamboo or other surfaces, a meaning that it continues to carry today--e.g. denoting a piece of writing (wenlun, an essay or thesis) or literature in general. But already before Confucius' time, it had also come to mean culture or civilization in general--particularly literate culture. Thus the modern word for culture is wenhua, literally "writing-transformation," i.e. the transformations wrought by literacy. In this sense it was complemented by the term wu, or military--as for example in the names of the first two kings of the Zhou dynasty (11th-3rd centuries B.C.E.), Wu wang (the Military or Martial King) and his son, Wen wang (the Civil King).
Confucius used wen mainly in this broader sense, and the role it played in his thought was central. Living in a period during which the Zhou dynasty was fragmenting, he saw his historical role as that of a reviver of the moral excellence of the great founders of the dynasty. Only by reviving the cultural and political forms and values of these glorious sage-kings could the Zhou kingdom be re-unified, for unity depended on the moral power (de) of the king (wang), to which able and virtuous ministers and common people would be attracted of their own accord. The king's chief role was to act as the moral exemplar to the people, following the will or command of heaven (tianming).
Confucius believed that the way (dao) of the former kings was preserved in the cultural tradition, particularly in the classics, which recorded various aspects of this way. The several books of ritual (li), for example, purported to record, in great detail, not only the court and private ceremonies but also the manners, styles of clothing, daily routines, and sumptuary customs of the former sage-kings. Confucius believed that by re-instituting these forms of both ritual and ordinary practice (actually subsuming them under a broadened concept of li as "ritual propriety"), a truly virtuous king would emerge to fulfill his heaven-ordained role as the "pole star" around which a unified kingdom would revolve.
According to Confucius, then, the cultural tradition--both in its broadest sense, including various arts and music, and in its literary expression, especially the classics--was the embodiment of the way and the basis or source of political stability. It was for this reason that Qianlong found it politically useful to control and (within limits) to support the Confucian cultural-religious tradition.
The stele inscription offered by Qianlong on July 7, 1779 reveals his view of the cultural function of the school and temple. It also suggests that Qianlong understood wen to be crucial to his claim to be legitimate heir to the classical mandate of heaven (tianming). The complete text of the inscription is as follows:
Qianlong's conception of wen in this inscription is based on the theory of Su Shi, whom he quotes, and in one respect is contrary to the Cheng/Zhu orthodoxy that dominated the bureaucracy and the imperial Hanlin academy during the Qing. To understand what Qianlong is doing here, some background is therefore necessary.
Su Shi was one of the most prominent literati of the Song dynasty (960-1279). Famous to this day for his literary output, especially his poetry, Su was an active player in the controversies and political struggles of the Northern Song (960-1127), and was highly influential on contemporary and later literati. Yet he was excluded from the "orthodox" Confucian lineage, the daotong (succession of the way), by the formulator of that tradition, Zhu Xi (1130-1200).
One of the reasons for Zhu Xi's disapproval of Su Shi was Su's view that the way was brought into being through the creativity of literary and artistic expression (wen).(22) For Zhu Xi, the way was immanent and self-existent. But because of the ordinary human being's physical endowment (qizhi zhi xing), which obstructed one's ability to perceive the way, or the natural/moral order (tianli/daoli) inherent in one's own moral mind (daoxin), the way could only be realized through arduous moral cultivation and study of the words and deeds of sages (sheng). The sage is the extremely rare individual, born with a clear endowment of qi (psycho-physical substance), who can perceive the way directly in nature and in his or her own mind. The sage embodies the way in his or her behavior, thereby exerting a transforming influence on others (as well as, in most cases, by teaching).(23)
Zhu Xi had said that sages are few and far between. In fact there had been no true sages, in his view, between Mencius (Mengzi, 4th c. BCE) and Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073), a contemporary of Su Shi. One sage per generation was about the best one could reasonably expect even in times when the way is being taught. The lineage of sages that Zhu Xi constructed continued from Zhou Dunyi to Cheng Yi (1033-1107) and his brother Cheng Hao (1032-1085), then through three generations of students to himself (although he never explicitly claimed to be a sage). The school or "fellowship" that adopted this lineage called itself daoxue , or "learning of the way," although a more objective term for it is the Cheng/Zhu school (indicating Zhu's role in codifying the teachings associated with the Cheng brothers, especially Cheng Yi).(24) This school came to define the "orthodox" version of the Confucian tradition when Zhu Xi's interpretations of the classics were made the basis of the civil service examinations during the Mongol Yuan dynasty.
During the Qing dynasty, the Kangxi emperor (r. 1662-1722), Qianlong's grandfather, was quite enamored of the Cheng/Zhu school, and some of his favorite Han officials--e.g. Li Guangdi (1642-1718) and Zhang Boxing(1652-1725)--were ardent and committed followers of daoxue.(25)Under Qianlong, though, the school occupied a more ambiguous position: it remained the required reading for the civil service examinations and the orthodoxy of the imperial Hanlin academy, but the emperor only paid lip-service to it, using it to maintain control of the literati and the bureaucracy.
Returning to the stele inscription, we have noted above that for Su Shi, wen (culture) embodied the way. But under the Qing, and especially during the Qianlong reign, the emperor controlled wen. By controlling the civil service examination system, by sponsoring the publication of acceptable works (and editing them to make them acceptable when necessary),(26) by censoring works that he perceived as threats to his political agendas, and by establishing schools such as the one in Chengde, Qianlong was implicitly assuming the role of the ultimate Confucian teacher, or sage. This gave him warrant to support the views of a scholar (Su Shi) who had been excluded from the Cheng/Zhu orthodoxy, without having to defend himself in Cheng/Zhu terms.
Qianlong had been thoroughly and rigorously trained in the Confucian classics and the learning of the Cheng/Zhu school. According to Harold Kahn, this continued "throughout his princedom and into the early years of his reign," when he reinstituted the "Lectures from the Classics Mat," or personal lectures to the emperor by Hanlin academicians. "His training in the classical canon did not make him a philosopher but it did make him an ideologue perfectly capable of drawing on the philosophers for the sanctions he needed to operate effectively as a king."(27) His essays on Confucian topics (e.g. commentaries on passages from the classics) written after his succession to the throne, differ markedly from those written before it, when he was more under the influence of his court teachers.(28) Not surprisingly, the earlier essays are very much in line with the interpretations of the Cheng/Zhu school, while the later ones usually take a critical stance in regard to all previous commentators, including Zhu Xi.(29)
Nevertheless, according to R. Kent Guy, Qianlong was convinced of "the importance of Confucian doctrine and the unity of zheng (governing) and jiao (teaching) in ruling China."
While Zhu Xi would never have claimed an emperor to be the sole sage of a generation (much less a sixty-year reign period), Qianlong probably saw himself in precisely those terms, and precisely in terms of Zhu Xi's arguments about the precariousness of goodness in human nature, the extreme difficulty of realizing it, and the consequent rarity of sages.(30) Again in Guy's words, "the association of wisdom, kingship and the articulation of cultural identity was a fundamental element of legitimacy in traditional China. Emperors of China were not only political leaders, they were sages and stewards of the classical canon."(31)
As non-Han (or non-"Chinese") rulers of a huge empire centered on traditionally Han territory, the Qing emperors' control of the classical canon, and of wen in general, was a major source of their legitimacy in the Han worldview. To win the loyalty of the Han population--especially the Han officials and literati--the Qing emperors drew on the Confucian ideology of rule by virtue or moral power (de). Since virtue was theoretically independent of ethnicity, they could stress their own moral qualifications in Confucian terms.(32)
Qianlong's understanding of sagehood and rulership is expressed in one of the essays he wrote between the years 1763 and 1785,(33) based on a line from the Yijing (Book of Changes), "The sage nourishes the worthy in order to reach the common people":(34)
Heaven and earth nourish the myriad things. Human beings are one of the myriad things. Yet among human beings there are sages and there are the common [lit. myriad] people. Sages are not born regularly; people rarely achieve that status. But when one does achieve it, he has the responsibility of nourishing the people. How can he excuse himself from being a sage, from embodying the reason why heaven and earth gave him life? . . .
Through the extent of the four seas and the multitude of common people, a single person's mind cannot have the power to reach everywhere. Therefore it is said that he "nourishes the worthy in order to reach the common people." But then there is the one with the responsibility to reach the people. How can he excuse himself from being a worthy, from embodying the reason why heaven and earth gave him life? . . . [And so on for the common people, whose responsibility it is to nourish the myriad things.](35)
"Sages" (sheng), "worthies" (xian), and "common people" (min, or here wanmin, "myriad people") are standard categories in Confucian discourse. Sagehood is the ultimate goal in this system of thought and practice. For Confucius, the sages were semi-divine figures, such as the mythic kings Yao, Shun, and Yu, who were too distant to serve as practical goals of self-cultivation--even for the educated junzi, or superior men, who constituted Confucius' primary audience. For Confucius, the goal towards which a junzi should strive was to be a man of ren (humanity): a humane person.
For Mencius, on the other hand, sagehood was a practical goal. He stressed that the sages were just like ordinary human beings, except that they had fully realized the potential for goodness that is innate in human nature. Furthermore, in Mencius' thought there is a clearer distinction between the model of the sage and that of the ruler. While most of Confucius' sages had been rulers, it is clear that, for Mencius, a sage is not necessarily a ruler and a ruler is not necessarily a sage. Although the ideal ruler would be a sage, Mencius, in his recorded dialogues with rulers of the various warring states, is not reluctant to treat them as imperfect human beings.(36)
The "Neo-Confucians" of the Song dynasty followed Mencius both in maintaining a clear distinction between the models of the sage and the ruler, and in claiming sagehood to be a practical goal. Zhu Xi, however, emphasized the extreme difficulty of achieving sagehood. This was the reason for his concentration on methods of self-cultivation, including his intense interest in providing access for followers of the way to the words of the true sages enshrined in the classical texts. Since ordinary people were obstructed from seeing the "order of the way" (daoli) in nature and in themselves, they needed the help of sages in their efforts to "perceive the way" and to perfect themselves. As mentioned earlier, sages were few and far between--sometimes even non-existent for many years. Hence the importance of texts, commentaries, and teachers in the Cheng/Zhu system.
In classical Confucian thought, the ruler's most important job is the selection of able ministers, who will make the government run smoothly and in accordance with the humane character and vision of the ruler. This is clearly the sage/worthy relationship described by Qianlong in the essay above. Thus Qianlong assimilates the sage/worthy model with that of the ruler/minister, reaching back to the earliest model of the sage, that of the mythic sage-king--a model that had not really been current in Confucian discourse since the time of Mencius. A further implication of this identification of ruler and sage is that one of the functions of the ruler is to be a kind of universal teacher. This is one way in which Qianlong justified his tight control over literature and scholarship during the Qing.
Qianlong's view of himself as a sage in the ancient, superhuman sense should be seen alongside the other models of sacred rulership on which he drew: the Mongol / Manchu khan, the Buddhist chakravartin / dharmaraja, and the Tibetan Buddhist bodhisattva incarnation.(37) In adopting these multiple identities, it is clear that Qianlong did not see any contradictions among them. First of all, he was different things to different audiences. To the Mongols he presented himself as khan, or the universal "king of kings;" to Tibetans and Tibetan Buddhist Mongols he was a chakravartin, dharmaraja, or bodhisattva, and patron of the Gelukpa; to the Han Chinese he was a sage-emperor who performed the crucial sacrifices; to Manchus he was an avatar of a lineage linking the Qing to the Jin dynasty, and promoter of Manchu shamanic traditions. So occasions for potential contradiction did not often arise. Secondly, these multiple identities and practices may have been mutually reinforcing. For example, the compassion of the bodhisattva was certainly compatible with the benevolence or humanity (ren) of the Confucian sage. And in all cases, Inner Asian as well as Chinese, the notion that he enjoyed heavenly favor or mandate was equally salient.
Furthermore, to posit political reasons for these religious expressions is not incompatible with the observation that Qianlong seems to have been quite sincere in his Buddhist practice. His lifelong friend and teacher, Jang gya khutukhtu Rolpai Dorje (1717-1786), gave Qianlong several tantric initiations that required a considerable commitment of time, study, and practice (although we can probably never know whether Qianlong actually carried through on these commitments). Both Tibetan and Chinese sources suggest that Qianlong frequently went beyond what would have been necessary to show respect to Buddhism and to Tibetan lamas (see Bernard, and Ragnubs, below).
There is less evidence, however, that Qianlong took Confucian teachings seriously in the same way as many of the Confucian scholars of the Song and Ming dynasties. For the latter, Confucianism was a comprehensive and religious worldview and way of life for literati, as well as a social-political philosophy. For many of them (e.g. Zhu Xi and his school), being a Confucian was incompatible with being a Buddhist or a Daoist.(38) This alone suggests that the same kinds of needs were met by Confucianism as by the other two religious traditions.(39) Qianlong, though--despite (or because of?) having been rigorously schooled in the Confucian classics and the Cheng/Zhu commentaries--seems to have used Confucianism mainly as a way of controlling and legitimating Qing rule to the Han literati and bureaucratic establishments. On this point he differed from his revered grandfather, the Kangxi emperor, who seems to have been more seriously disposed towards the Cheng/Zhu school. As R. Kent Guy has put it,
Whether he was cruising down the Grand Canal to show the imperial flag in the southeast, reminiscing boastfully of ten great campaigns on the boundaries of his enormous empire, or presiding over a regime which produced voluminous descriptions of its goals, methods and philosophical foundations, the Ch'ien-lung [Qianlong] emperor seems to have been a man concerned almost exclusively with the image and style of the monarchy.(40)
Immediately following the June 29, 1780 entry in the Veritable Records is an extended discussion by Qianlong on a passage from the Analects of Confucius. In it Qianlong makes rather creative use of the passage to argue that the Qing were not greedy in their conquest of China, Tibet, and Inner Asia. The placement of such a discussion at this point in the Veritable Records, where it is clearly associated with the Wen miao, supports the notion that the meaning and purpose of the temple were connected to Qianlong's efforts to legitimate Qing and his own rule. The passage being discussed is Analects 16:7:
Qianlong begins by quoting Zhu Xi's commentary on the passage and his grandfather Kangxi's statement on guarding against greed.(42) He then adds:
It is surely no coincidence that this disquisition was recorded about seven weeks before Qianlong received the Panchen Lama at the imperial summer residence in Chengde, on the occasion of the emperor's seventieth birthday.(44) Despite the fact that he had been assiduously studying Tibetan Buddhism with his friend and teacher, Jang gya khutukhtu, and had been learning to read and speak Tibetan for over a year so that he could communicate directly with the Panchen Lama, he apparently still felt it necessary to neutralize in advance any potential diplomatic friction that might arise during the visit. For the purposes of this essay, it is sufficient to note here how Qianlong makes use of the Confucian tradition (classics and commentaries) for his political and diplomatic purposes.
The cultural and geographic landscape of Chengde was a carefully constructed microcosm of the Qing empire. As such it was an idealized statement--or text, if you will-- conveying certain messages about how the Qing emperors (especially Kangxi and Qianlong) conceived of their empire, its relations with its constituent cultures, and its neighbors. Situated as it was in the Manchu homeland, and established after the Qing had expanded its boundaries, the statements made by Chengde were especially focused on the cultural identity of the Manchus vis-à-vis their neighbors (and subjects), the Han, Mongols, Tibetans and Uyghurs--and of these, especially the Buddhist Mongols and Tibetans.
But from the Han perspective, Chengde was far from homeland; it was more periphery than center. Qianlong fully adopts this perspective in his Temple of Culture inscription (translated above). In this text (in the literal sense) he shows his command of the Han scholarly tradition by making well-educated use of the symbolic grammar of wen. According to this set of conventions, culture (Han culture, that is) spreads progressively from the center into the wilderness, making the world a human world--that is, a "civilized" world "transformed by culture" (wenhua). This same statement is made in the symbolic "text" of Chengde itself by the construction and maintenance of the Temple of Culture, its school and its library. The temple honors Confucius, the patron deity or "first teacher" of this cultural tradition; the school initiates and trains new members of its civil society; and the library houses the written record of the sages and worthies who have mastered and furthered the tradition.
The political implication of this statement to the Han civil bureaucracy and the literati class is, in effect, that the Manchu emperors have not usurped the role of Son of Heaven; they have, instead, succeeded legitimately to that role, as shown by their successes in spreading the very culture that gives it meaning. As a legitimizing tactic this statement may not be especially remarkable. After all, political legitimization by the manipulation of religious symbols is at least as old as the Epic of Gilgamesh, and as contemporary as a US presidential State of the Union Address. Still, one cannot help admire, however grudgingly, Qianlong's chutzpah.
1. Qijuzhu (Diaries of Activity and Repose), QL45.5.27.
2. QLSL, 37:16244, 1107:11a.
3. For the edict, which mainly restates what he wrote on the stele, see QLSL, 37:15967-68, 1083:14b-15a.
4. See Stephen Feuchtwang, "School Temple and City God."
5. See Philippe Forêt, "Mapping Chengde."
6. For the 1776 edict ordering the construction of the school, see QLSL, 36, reprinted in Sekino Tadashi, and Takeshima Takuichi, Nekka: Supplement, 103.
7. QLSL, 37:15961, 1083:2a.
8. QLSL, 36:15962, 1083:3b.
9. QLSL, 37:15966, 1083:12b. July 7 was the first day of xiaoshu (small heat), one of the twenty-four fifteen-day periods into which the year was divided. See Juliet Bredon, and Igor Mitrophanow, Moon Year, 21. This would have been an auspicious day on which to initiate something, which probably accounts for the timing of the ritual. In Taiwan today, offerings of food, incense, and spirit-money are made by many people outside their homes and businesses on the first day of each of these periods, i.e. every fifteen days.
10. QLSL, 37:16244, 1107:11b.
11. QLSL, 37:16295, 1112:1a-b.
12. QLSL, 38:16561, 1132:21b.
13. QLSL, 37:16567, 1133:5a-b.
14. QLSL, 37:16948, 1157:3b.
15. QLSL, 37:15966-97, 1083:12b-14b. See also Qing Gaozong yuzhih wen erji, vol. 1, 30.3; and Sekino and Takeshima, Nekka: Supplement, 104-105. For a photographic reproduction of the manuscript once preserved in the Cunjing ge (Honoring the Classics Pavilion) library at the Chengde Wen miao, see Sekino and Takeshima, Nekka, vol. 2, pl. 29-33.
16. See Zhongguo renming dacidian, 987. For further references see Qingdai zhuanji congkan suoyin (Index of Qing biographical records), 3:1683.
17. See Sekino and Takeshima, Nekka: Supplement, Fig. 9.
18. This poem has not been traced.
19. The point here is that knowledge of the way requires actively putting it into effect in one's behavior. The "substance" (ti) is useless without "function" (yong).
20. Alluding to Analects 3.24, "Heaven is about to use the master as a wooden bell clapper," i.e. the master's purpose is to spread the way through education.
21. The subscription is found in the manuscript preserved in the Cunjing ge library at the Chengde Wen miao (Sekino and Takeshima, Nekka, vol. 2, pl. 33). It is included in Sekino and Takeshima's transcription of the stele (Nekka: Supplement, 105), but not in the other printed versions of the text.
22. See Peter K. Bol, "This Culture of Ours."
23. The use of gender-inclusive pronouns is not as anachronistic as it might seem, given the traditional Confucian support of patriarchy. Women could be sages too, but only as exemplary wives and mothers; the way of the woman was different from that of the man.
24. See Hoyt Tillman, Confucian Discourse and Chu Hsi's Ascendancy, especially ch. 1 for the concept of "fellowship."
25. See Wing-tsit Chan, "The Hsing-li ching-i and the Ch'eng-Chu School of the Seventeenth Century."
26. See Kent R. Guy, The Emperor's Four Treasuries
27. Harold Kahn, Monarchy in the Emperor's Eyes, 115.
28. The most influential of his teachers were Cai Shiyuan (1682-1734), Zhu Shih (1665-1736), and Fu-min (1673-1756) (Kahn, Monarchy, ch. 8).
29. See Qing Gaozong yuzhih shiwen chuanji, vol. 1; the pre-succession essays are collected in the Luoshan tang chuanji (ch. 1-30).
30. Guy, Emperor's Four Treasures, 25-26.
31. Guy, Emperor's Four Treasures, 10.
32. Guy, Emperor's Four Treasures, 16. The theoretical independence of ethnicity and virtue (based on the thought of Confucius and Mencius) did not prevent later scholars--among them Zhu Xi--from asserting the impossibility or inappropriateness of a non-Han Son of Heaven. Zhu Xi, it should be recalled, lived his entire life during the Southern Song, when the northern half of China was ruled by the Jurchen (whom the Qing claimed as their ancestors).
33. The first collection of his prose writings as emperor was compiled in 1763; the second in 1785. See ECCP, 370. This is from the second collection.
34. Yijing, Tuan commentary on hexagram 27, Yi (Nourish), which contains the lines, "Heaven and earth nourish the myriad things. The sage nourishes the worthy in order to reach the myriad people."
35. Qing Gaozong yuzhih wen erji, 1:9a-b.
36. See especially his discussions with King Hui of Liang, which have their amusing moments (Mencius, D. C. Lau, trans.).
37. It is unclear whether Qianlong considered himself or was considered technically a chakravartin or a dharmaraja. The former is the more spiritual category, referring to a "king who turns the wheel of the law," i.e. one who is responsible for the propagation of Buddhism in a particular age or region. A dharmaraja is simply a secular king who sponsors Buddhism, such as Asoka in third-century B.C.E. India. But the two categories are often not clearly differentiated. It is clear that Qianlong was often referred to as an incarnation of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. See Benard, and Ragnubs, below, as well as David Farquhar, "Emperor as Bodhisattva."
38. This did not prevent them from "borrowing" ideas and practices from Buddhism, such as enlightenment and meditation.
39. This is by no means the only justification for understanding Confucianism as a religious tradition, but that topic is beyond the scope of this essay. Cf. Rodney Taylor, Religious Dimensions of Confucianism.
40. Guy, Emperor's Four Treasuries, 4.
41. Lunyu (Analects), 16:7.
42. Zhu Xi's commentary on the passage, partially quoted by Qianlong:
Qianlong's quotation of Kangxi's comment:
43. QLSL, 37:16244-16245, 1107:11b-13b.
44. On August 20, 1780, according to QLSL, 37:16282, 1111:4a.