Learning from the Qianlong Emperor at the Met

I’ve written of the Qianlong Emperor before. He was one of China’s greatest rulers. During the 18th century, this devout Buddhist was a contemporary of France’s Louis XV, Catherine the Great of Russia and George Washington in America. At the time, he ruled the most powerful, wealthiest country on earth.

In the Qianlong Emperor and Google, I wrote if Google had read what the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1796) wrote in his famous letter to King George the III in 1793 — when China was strong enough to resist external influence — it might understand why China reacted the way it did when Google refused to censor its search engine.

In fact, the Chinese make decisions based on a cultural foundation that many in the West do not understand.

However, we may learn much of China if we pay attention to its history. Although China has changed a lot as it modernizes, the Confucian, Buddhist, Taoist foundation that makes the Chinese unique still exists.

In The Economist’s February 5 issue, Paradise on earth, we learn more of the Chinese and how they honor their ancestors.

The Economist says, “Unwilling to challenge the record of the longest-serving Chinese monarch (his beloved grandfather, the Kangxi emperor) who ruled for 61 years, Qianlong vowed to remain no more than six decades on the throne.”  The Qianlong Emperor kept his word and retired several years before his death.

The Economist’s piece was about The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City, which is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York until May 1.  It said, “This exhibition may be the only chance to have a good look at its treasures.”

The Met Museum of Art curator Mike Hearn (in the embedded YouTube video) says, “This exhibition’s real purpose is to teach us more about what is great about China and what we can understand about China. We will then be able to use (this knowledge) in our lives…politically as well as culturally…to recognize both China’s greatness and its potential as a partner.”

Discover China’s Greatest Emperors


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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