The Qianlong Emperor (25 September 1711 – 7 February 1799) was the fifth Emperor of the Qing dynasty and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China proper, reigning from 1735 to 1796. Born Hongli, the fourth son of the Yongzheng Emperor, he reigned officially from 11 October 1735 to 8 February 1796.[a] In 1796, he abdicated in favour of his son, the Jiaqing Emperor—a filial act in order not to reign longer than his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor, who ruled for 61 years. Despite his retirement, however, he retained ultimate power as the Retired Emperor until his death in 1799, making him one of the longest-reigning monarchs in history, and, dying at the age of 87, one of the longest-lived.
As a capable and cultured ruler inheriting a thriving empire, during his long reign, the Qing Empire reached its most splendid and prosperous era, boasting a large population and economy. As a military leader, he led military campaigns expanding the dynastic territory to the largest extent by conquering and sometimes destroying Central Asian kingdoms. This turned around in his late years: the Qing empire began to decline with corruption and wastefulness in his court and a stagnating civil society.A valet who accompanied a British diplomatic mission to the Qing court in 1793 described the emperor:
The Emperor is about five feet ten inches in height, and of a slender but elegant form; his complexion is comparatively fair, though his eyes are dark; his nose is rather aquiline, and the whole of his countenance presents a perfect regularity of feature, which, by no means, announce the great age he is said to have attained; his person is attracting, and his deportment accompanied by an affability, which, without lessening the dignity of the prince, evinces the amiable character of the man.
For many, the Qianlong period is seen as the height of porcelain production. This is due to the unmatched quality and technique of the potters that worked in his imperial kilns at Jingdezhen. Here we can see a continuation of the revival of archaic and classical forms as favoured by his predecessor the Yongzheng emperor, as well as the combination and perfection of enamelling and moulding techniques.
Qianlong emperor had a taste for the extravagant, so with the exception of monochrome (single colour) pieces, porcelain particularly from the latter part of his reign was often highly and densely decorated. At times, the decoration borders on excessive; especially compared to the relative simplicity and elegance of the works from the preceding Yongzheng period.
Qianlong porcelain can be broadly divided into three categories:
–minyao (porcelain for the people)
Guanyao and minyao porcelain share many of the same glazes, shapes, and designs. This category encompasses pieces such as monochromes (pieces glazed with a single colour which are appreciated for their elegance of form and richness of glaze) and the aforementioned ‘imitation’ pieces.