Birthday: September 25, 1711
Emperors & Kings
Died At Age: 87
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Aisin Gioro Hongli
Born Country: China
Born in: Lama Temple, Beijing, China
Famous as: Emperor of China
Height: 1.78 m
Spouse/Ex-: Consort Dun, Consort Shu, Dowager Noble Consort Wan, Empress Xi, Empress Xiaoxianchun, Hoifa-Nara, Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui, Imperial Noble Consort Qinggong, Noble Consort Xin, Noble Consort Xun, Noble Consort Ying, Noble Lady Shun, the Step Empress
father: Yongzheng Emperor
mother: Empress Xiaoshengxian
children: Gurun Princess Hexiao, Heshuo Princess Hege, Heshuo Princess Hejia, Jiaqing Emperor, Kurun Princess Hejing, Prince Chengzhe of the First Rank, Prince Ding'an of the First Rank, Prince Lüduan of the First Rank, Prince Yishen of the First Rank, Prince Zhe of the First Rank, Yongjing, Yonglian, Yonglin, Yonglu, Yongqi, Yongqi;Prince Rong, Yongrong, Yongzhang
Died on: February 7, 1799
City: Beijing, China
The Qianlong Emperor was the fourth Qing emperor to have ruled China and the sixth emperor of the Qing Dynasty. He was born in September 1711, in Beijing, China, to the Yongzheng Emperor and Empress Xiaoshengxian. He was one of the 14 children of his parents and was the favorite of both his father and his grandfather, Kangxi. As a teenager, Qianlong trained in military tactics, martial arts, and academics. He attained finesse in every aspect that is expected of a prince. He was made a first rank prince in 1733, when his father took to the throne. Qianlong became the emperor following his father’s death in 1735. He was an able military commander and embarked on many missions to crush rebellions soon after he took to the throne. Under his reign, China became a strong and prosperous country with increased military strength, a booming population, and a fast-growing economy. He was also known as a cultural emperor and was himself a poet and a writer. The artistic and cultural landscape of China thrived under his rule. However, the later years of his rule were marred with corruption. This led to his decline. He handed over the throne to his successor in 1796 but ruled for 3 more years as a “de facto” ruler, until his death in 1799.
Childhood & Early Life
The Qianlong Emperor was born Hongli, in Beijing, China, to the Yongzheng Emperor and Empress Xiaoshengxian, on September 25, 1711. He was of Manchu descent. However, many legends and myths claim that he belonged to the Han Dynasty, or was had a mix of both Han and Manchu origins.
Hongli was one of the 14 children born to the Yongzheng Emperor, who was the son of Kangxi, the second emperor of the Qing Dynasty. Hongli was the fourth son and the brightest and most well-mannered of all. Historians claim that Yongzheng was made the emperor by Kangxi because he wanted to see Hongli become an emperor someday. He was his favorite grandson, as he saw his own traits in Hongli.
Yongzheg knew that Hongli needed nurturing. Thus, the best teachers from all over China were employed for his education. Hongli also trained in martial arts and attained military skills.
When Yongzheng ascended to the throne in 1722, he faced a severe backlash and a strong opposition from his brothers, who claimed the throne for themselves. Yongzheng had to crush the rebellion by extremely intense and cruel means, something which he himself despised.
He formed a method according to which the current ruler could write the name of his successor and hide it behind the high wall plaque in the palace. The name of the successor was to be revealed only after the emperor’s death. When the entire court agreed to it, it meant there was an extremely low chance of bloodshed for the throne.
Hongli was made a Qinwang following his father’s ascension to the throne and was named the “Prince Bao of the First Rank.” While Yongzheng favored Hongli the most, he faced discontentment among his brothers. However, he was the one who eventually became the successor to his father.
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According to his father’s new method of naming the successor, the piece of paper on which the emperor had written his successor’s name was brought into the court. It had Hongli’s name. Thus, he became the new emperor following his father’s sudden demise in October 1735 and was renamed the “Qianlong Emperor.”
One of the many well-known skills of the new emperor was his military prowess. The Qing Dynasty controlled a massive part of Asia, and many rebellions were already underway when Qianlong took to the throne.
Chinese Turkestan was made part of China under his reign and was named Xinjiang. He also embarked on military operations to conquer Ili, the western part of the dynasty.
He also defeated the Western Mongols and conquered Outer Mongolia. Around that time, Tibet was facing constant attacks by the Mongols. He sent his armies to Tibet and established the Dalai Lama as the ruler of Tibet. Nepal, Burma, and the Gurkhas forced people to submit to the wrath of the Emperor.
The last king of the Le Dynasty fled from Vietnam after an intense rebellion and asked Qianlong for help. The Chinese army entered Vietnam and removed the rebels who had occupied the entire land of Vietnam. However, Nguyen Hue, one of the rebellion leaders, defeated the Chinese army in a harsh battle. Following this, China pulled away from further interfering in Vietnam.
The expensive military expeditions that the Qianlong Emperor had embarked on had benefited China greatly in terms of land. The Mongols, the Kazakhs, the Evenks, and the Kirghiz had all bowed down to the Emperor. However, they were still potentially hostile. Thus, a fortune was spent to keep everything under control. As a result, the ‘Imperial Treasury’ took a massive blow.
Similarly, not all military operations were always a success. Although the Chinese population grew exponentially, the causalities suffered by the imperial army after years of warfare was a troubling matter. Most popularly, the Emperor failed to conquer the Jin Chuan Dynasty in a war that lasted 3 years. The military conflict with the Dzungars also turned out to be a miscalculated operation and cost them a fortune.
Qianlong had an artistic inclination. He ordered the preservation of ancient Chinese texts to preserve their culture. However, like almost every other ruler, he destroyed many books and texts that were rebellious or critical of the Qing Dynasty.
During his rule, the art of ceramics prospered in China. He himself was well-versed in the art form and also wrote many poems and essays. Historians believe that he had written more than 44,000 poems during his lifetime. He came to be known as a great patron of art in China.
He was also an innovator when it came to scientific research. He encouraged many scientific innovations during his lifetime.
However, during the last few years of his reign, vanity took over him and he became severely disillusioned by his power. He relied on his favorite minister, Heshen. Heshen took care of the nation while Qianlong indulged in hunting and other worldly pleasures and luxuries.
Historians claim that Heshen was the man who could be held responsible for the downfall of the Quing Dynasty in the later years. He was a heavily corrupt man, and it is said that before he died, he had amassed more fortune than the country’s treasury. The country’s financial numbers had fallen to an all-time low.
Qianlong also had the opportunity to start a trade exchange with the West, particularly the British Empire. British officials were called to the court but were sent back immediately after they were told that China was in no need of establishing relations with foreigners. Heshen had tricked Qianlong into believing that China was the center of the world. This was one of the many instances when Heshen succeeded in slowly destroying the financial strength of the country.
Personal Life & Death
Qianlong had married many women throughout his reign. However, he had three principal wives, namely, Empress Xiaoxianchun, Empress Nara, and Empress Xiaoyichun. He fathered more than a dozen children from many of his consorts. Jiaqing, his son, succeeded him to the throne, after his death.
He had ruled for 61 years, a tenure as long as his grandfather’s reign. Following this, he retired on February 9, 1796. However, he retained the power of an emperor until his death.
He died on February 7, 1799, at the age of 87. He was one of the longest-reigning “de facto” rulers in the history of the world.