PROPERTY FROM AN OLD JAPANESE COLLECTION
This silver edict can read:
On this date, third year of the Tongzhi Era, jiazi in the calendar year cycle, sixth month, a new moon and gengwu in the month cycle, arriving at the sixth day in the first decade, yihai in the day cycle (1864), by imperial command, officials are hereby dispatched to deliver this letter of patent with all reverence: His August and Eminent Majesty, the Filial and Refined Ancestor (the Xianfeng Emperor), on this, the first day of the New Year, the tenth in the Xianfeng era (1860), bestows the first rank of Prince of the Blood on Commandery Prince Dun (Sincere).
The edict states: With the shining glory of Our Imperial Decree, let it be known to all everywhere that We take this occasion to confer the blessings inherent in these silver tablets to raise rank, thus extending Our benevolence and, with all affection and sincerity, express Our high regard with this promotion. In issuing these congratulations, We hereby exalt Our relative, who so enjoys Our confidence, and with this auspicious certificate thus enfeoff Wuli-Ordos Commandery Prince Dun, Yicong, Our younger brother, thereby allowing him to succeed to the rank and title of Our uncle, Prince of the Blood Dunke (‘Sincere and Respectful’, Miankai, 1779-1838m a younger brother of the Jiaqing Emperor). His character is most deferential and cautious and his life a model of warmth and reverence. Bestowed his own palatial residence and enjoying an illustrious inheritance, he was given his first appointment at court, entering the ranks close to Our radiant light and enjoyed Our favour, abundant as the dew, for he delighted Us with the excellent way he has filled Manchu Banner commands and how he shouldered his responsibilities with elegance, neglecting them not in the least. He conscientiously attended Us at the expounding of classics, which encouraged him to fulfil his ambitions with all diligence. Now in compliance with the season, We cease planning affairs of state and, upon this auspicious holiday, turn Our attention to an assembly to welcome the blessings of the New Year. Therefore, in extending Our benevolence We come first to this closest of relatives, on this the first day of the New Year, and bestow congratulations on him the very first one of all. He who shares Our same breath is herewith conferred the rank and title of Prince of the Blood of the First Rank Dun (‘Sincere’) and given this precious booklet, which he may enjoy as an ink screen. That he may safeguard his achievements resulting from the heavy responsibilities pertaining to his estate and service, let him tremble with utmost fear. And let him cultivate the virtue necessary for one so attired in court ceremonial dress. May he now enjoy congratulations from the Princes assembled here. Let this be obeyed!
Yicong (1831-1889), Prince Dun of the Aisin Gioro imperial clan, was the fifth son of the Daoguang Emperor. His mother was Nuohulu (1808-1861), who was promoted with the title Xiangfei (Auspicious Imperial Concubine) in 1824. In 1846 Yicong was made heir of his uncle Miankai (1795-1838), the third son of the Jiaqing Emperor, who had no sons of his own to succeed him. As such, Yicong inherited Miankai’s rank and title of Prince of the blood, and was titled Prince of the second degree, duoluo junwang (commandery prince). He was reduced a rank to beile (prince of the third degree) in 1855 as punishment for allegedly behaving with lack of decorum. However, he was reinstated as a junwang in 1856 and appointed Plain Red Banner Commander-in-chief of Mongol Forces, an office he held until in 1858 during which he served successively as Bordered Yellow Banner Commander-in-chief of Mongol Forces and Bordered White Banner Commander-in-chief of Manchu Forces, his position through 1860 when he was promoted to first degree Prince of the Blood, though the investiture ceremony did not take place until 1864 as stated in the edict.
During 1861 he served as Grand Minister to Evaluate Troops, a year of particular historical significance for imperial rule. Earlier when the Daoguang Emperor died in 1850, Yicong’s fourth brother Yizhu succeeded to the throne as the Xianfeng Emperor (1850–1861). Just before the Xianfeng Emperor died in August 1861, he appointed a regency council to govern in the name of his five-year-old infant son Zaichun, who as the Tongzhi Emperor nominally reigned from 1861 to 1875, though it was only in 1873 that he himself took power. However, Yicong supported his younger brother Prince Gong, Yixin (1833-1898), the sixth son of the Daoguang emperor, in the Xinyou Coup of 1861, instigated by Prince Gong and the Empress Dowagers Cixi (1835-1908), Zaichun’s mother, and Cian (1837-1881), which seized control from the regents. Power thereafter was largely shared by Cixi, Prince Gong and his younger brother Prince Chun, Yixuan (1840-1891), the seventh son of the Daoguang emperor. By1865 court politics had stabilized, and Yicong was appointed Director of the Imperial Clan Court, which was responsible for all matters concerned with the imperial family and had jurisdiction also over all members of the Eight Manchu Banners into which all Manchus were organized. He is known to have held this position until 1869. The next few years are unclear, but beginning in 1876 Yicong became Imperial Clan Court Treasurer, an office he held at least until 1881. During this same time, he also served as Bordered Yellow Banner Grand Minister of the Imperial Household and concurrent Commander of the Imperial Guardsmen. Thereafter until 1887, he held similar commands and ministerial positions in various Banner units. When he died in 1889 he was conferred the posthumous title Qin (Diligent).
Yicong had five sons who survived into adulthood: Zailian (1854-1917), an acting commandery prince, Zaiyi (1856-1922, Prince Duan of the Second Rank), Zailan (1856-1916), Zaiying, and Zaijin (dates unknown). The first three, Zailian, Zaiyi, and Zailan are of particular interest, for all three were leaders of the Boxer uprising. Zaiyi actually made the family estate his headquarters, the Qinghua yuan, which later became the campus of Qinghua (Tsinghua) University. All three were cashiered in 1901 and reduced to commoner status after the uprising was put down and the court compelled to capitulate to the Allied forces. The three were made major scapegoats, and, though Zailian was allowed to live a secluded life of a commoner in Beijing, Zaiyi and Zailian along with their families were banished to Central Asia. It was probably when the court expelled Zaiyi’s family from the Qinghua Yuan in 1901 and let the place go to ruin, that Zaiyi’s possessions were confiscated -or possibly sold by the family for their subsistence-, including the four panels of the Yicong silver investiture album.
The album was then acquired and taken back to Japan by the Japanese Nanga (Chinese-style literati painting) painter Egami Keizan (1862-1924), while on a visit to China on or before 1910 as dated by his inscription on the Japanese wood box which reads:
Front: Silver Panel Prince of the Blood Investiture Album Text
Back: Inscribed by Egami Keizan, Second Month of Spring, in the Year Cycle kōjutsu (gengxu) of the Meiji Era (corresponds to 1910, fig. 1).
Egami died in 1924, and the edict disappeared for a mere fifty years to reappear in 1962, for it is recorded by Shigashi Takashi (1885-after 1966) in an illustrated essay ‘Shi chotei to ginsatsu [The Qing court and the silver album]’, included in the 1963 volume of his Daibonsō yawa [Evening talks at the Villa of Mundanity], that a certain friend, Yasutake Takeshichi, brought him the silver album in May 1962 (fig. 2).
A gold edict album promoting Prince Zhi, the future Daoguang Emperor, to the rank of First Order Prince of the Blood in 1814, “Conferred by His Majesty on First Order Prince of the Blood Zhi (‘Wise’), His Gold Investiture Album, dated the 16th day in the 9th month of the 18th year of the Jiaqing Period (9th October 1814)”, is preserved in the Nanjing Museum. Compare also two gilt-silver albums dated to the 21st year of the Guangxu reign (1895) preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing, conferring titles to the Consort Zhen and Xun, published in Classics of the Forbidden City: Imperial Seals of the Ming & Qing Dynasties, Beijing, 2008, cat. nos 284 and 286. Recording an important event in Prince Dun's career, a key figure of the late Qing dynasty, the present album offers us a fascinating window into this later period of the Chinese imperial history.
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