Lot 3301
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QIAN WEICHENG (1720-1772) | Ten Auspicious Landscapes of Taishan

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  • Qian Weicheng (1720-1772)
  • Ten Auspicious Landscapes of Taishan
  • Ink and colour on paper, handscroll
  • 33.7 by 458 cm; 13 1/4  by 180 in.
signed Qian Weicheng and with two seals of the artist.with ten poems by the Qianlong Emperor, dated jiawu, corresponding to 1774, and each with one to two seals of hiswith nine additional seals of the Qianlong Emperor including Shiqu baoji ('The Precious Collection of the Stone Canal Pavilion') and two seals of the Xuantong Emperor.


Qing Imperial Court Collection.
Collection of Henry Puyi (1906-1967), last emperor of China.
Private European collection, acquired by the grandfather of
the present owner and thence by family descent.


1) Shiqu baoji xubian (‘Sequel to The Precious Collection of the Stone Canal Pavilion’), Stored in Ningshou Gong (Palace of Tranquil Longevity), no. 17.
2) Yuzhishi siji (‘Imperial Poems, vol. 4’), juan 18, pp.20-22.
3) Shang Pu Jie shuhua mu (‘Treasures Bestowed to Pu Jie’), p.9.
4) Chen Rentao, et al., Gugong yi shi shuhua mu jiaozhu (‘Notes on Paintings and Calligraphy Lost from the Forbidden City’), Hong Kong, 1956, p. 32.
5) Yang Renkai, Guobao chenfu lu : Gugong sanyi shuhua jianwen kaolue (‘Record of the Vicissitudes of National Treasures: Investigation of the Dispersed and Lost Calligraphies and Paintings from the Former Palace that I have seen and Heard about’), Shanghai, 2007, p. 408.

Catalogue Note

Literature 1) Shiqu baoji xubian (‘Sequel to The Precious Collection of the Stone Canal Pavilion’), Stored in Ningshou Gong (Palace of Tranquil Longevity), no. 17.
2) Yuzhishi siji (‘Imperial Poems, vol. 4’), juan 18, pp.20-22. 
3) Shang Pu Jie shuhua mu (‘Treasures Bestowed to Pu Jie’), p.9.
4) Chen Rentao, et al., Gugong yi shi shuhua mu jiaozhu (‘Notes on Paintings and Calligraphy Lost from the Forbidden City’), Hong Kong, 1956, p. 32.
5) Yang Renkai, Guobao chenfu lu : Gugong sanyi shuhua jianwen kaolue (‘Record of the Vicissitudes of National Treasures: Investigation of the Dispersed and Lost Calligraphies and Paintings from the Former Palace that I have seen and Heard about’), Shanghai, 2007, p. 408.


Qing Imperial Court Collection.
Collection of Henry Puyi (1906-1967), last emperor of China.
Private European collection, acquired by the grandfather of
the present owner and thence by family descent.

Yang Danxia

Inheriting the artistic legacy of his forefathers and driven by his own passion, Emperor Qianlong devoted himself to connoisseurship and artistic creation especially in the genres of painting and calligraphy besides amassing an imperial collection that was unprecedented in scale. His reign has thus come to be regarded as the golden era for Qing court art. At the time, officials recruited through civil examinations were effectively men of letters. Whether acting under imperial order or hoping to curry imperial favour when not attending to official business, those who were accomplished in painting and calligraphy became the mainstays of court artists and often attended imperial viewings on invitation. Among them, Qian Weicheng was particularly noteworthy.

Also known by his various courtesy and literary names, Qian Weicheng (1720-1772) came from a literary family that was well established in the south of the city Wujin (present-day Changzhou, Jiangsu) in the Jiangnan area. His literary training started when he was small and he had the chance of meeting preeminent litterateurs from all corners of the empire on account of his grandfather and granduncles. Intelligent and diligent, he was able to compose regular poetry at the age of 10 and fu-poetry at the age of 12, not to mention well-written prose in ancient style. A verse line of his that celebrates the azure sky composed during a visit with his father to the capital city made the then 17 year-old quite a sensation.

When he was no more than 26, the young Weicheng came first in the palace examination held in the 10th year of the Qianlong reign (1745) and was made a senior compiler. Upon release from study three years later, he took up the post of Right Companion for the Heir Apparent. This was followed a year later by his appointment to the Southern Library as a literary attendant and then to the Hanlin Academy as Academician Expositor-in-waiting concurrently serving as Imperial Diary Officer. He became concurrently Academician of the Grand Secretariat and Vice Minister of Rites in the 16th year of the Qianlong reign (1751) before serving as Vice Minister of Works in the 22nd year of the Qianlong reign (1757), Vice Minister of Justice in the 26th year of the Qianlong reign (1761), and Education Commissioner of Zhejiang in the 27th year of the Qianlong reign (1762). In the 34th year of the Qianlong reign (1769), he was assigned to co-preside over a case involving embezzlement by a subprefectural magistrate in Guizhou and another involving irregular practices for personal gains by a provincial governor and a surveillance commissioner. After that, he played a part in pacifying an insurrection of the Miao tribe.

Learned and talented, Qian did not have to wait long to achieve recognition. Instead of being complacent, he was meticulous and conscientious when discharging his duties. When he was Education Commissioner of Zhejiang, an area in no want of scholars but where presentation took precedence over substance, he corrected the anomaly by condemning flamboyance and emphasizing morality and thorough understanding of the classics. When working in the Ministry of Justice, his legal conversance and shrewdness enabled him to discerningly identify inconsistencies, however complex, and to propose proper rectification of the relevant laws. These proposals of his were sanctioned by the emperor without exception, putting many of his senior colleagues to shame. Take for example the embezzlement case in Guizhou, which eventually gave rise to as many as six cases, implicating hundreds of people and involving over 290,000 taels. Justly and impartially, Qian took great care in cross-examining the offenders to establish the truth with hard evidences and was commended by Emperor Qianlong when the cases were settled beyond disputes.

Because of innate frailty and frequent dislocation owing to postings, Qian suffered from diabetes in his middle age, rendering him skinny and haggard. In the spring of the 37th year of the Qianlong reign (1772), after traversing great distances to return home to mourn his father, he succumbed to grief and a bad cold and died towards the end of the year. Immensely sorrowful, Emperor Qianlong posthumously bestowed on him the title of minister and canonized him as Wenmin.1

Unfairly overshadowed by his fame in painting, lamented his contemporaries, the prose and poetry collected in his personal anthology Collected Works of Qian Weicheng (Chashan Shiwen Ji) are found to be highly readable and original. A follower of Li Bai, Du Fu and Su Shi, he wrote with a freshness that was unlike any other. As aptly observed by Qian Chenqun, the chief examiner to whom Weicheng owed his honours, his unique poetry benefited tremendously from his travels.2 Zhao Yi, a contemporary poet, further compared his unrestrained poetry with the Song poet Su Shi while his carefree personality with the Eastern Jin people.3 Known together with his younger brother Weiqiao as the Two Qians of Changzhou, Weicheng was masterly in composing in various styles that befit the occasion whether they were travel poems, social responses, responses to imperial orders or inscriptional verses.

Despite his accomplishment in calligraphy, which he modelled on Zhong You, Wang Xizhi and Ouyang Xun for his elegant regular script and on Su Shi for his liberal running script, Qian has left behind relatively few works. Out of the 160 pieces or sets of paintings and calligraphies attributed to him and exclusive of a handful of collaborations entered into the various series of Collected Treasures of the Stone Moat (Shiqu Baoji), calligraphic works account for as few as six. These are either copies of ancient masters or of the emperor’s literary compositions by imperial order, such as a copy of Su Shi’s Diamond Sutra catalogued in Pearl Forest in the Secret Hall: Series Two (Midian Zhulin: Xubian) and a copy of the emperor’s inscriptions on his own painting catalogued in Collected Treasures of the Stone Moat: Series Three (Shiqu Baoji Sanbian).

Art was very much a way of life for the Qian family. Weicheng and his brother Weiqiao were both adept at landscapes and flowers. Their mother Wu Gen was also a painter and was bestowed with a ruyi-sceptre and a mink for an ink painting of Guanyin that she presented to the empress dowager on her 70th birthday. It was she rather than Chen Shu, who was Qian Chenqun’s mother possibly mistaken to be Qian Weicheng’s in some art history texts, who taught the brothers expressive fruits and flowers since childhood. As for his landscapes, Weicheng built on his early familiarity with ancient masters through copying with advice and instructions given by Dong Bangda, a fellow Academician of the Grand Secretariat, and Zhang Zongcang, an elderly court painter, after he had joined the civil service. Being followers of the Loudong School of landscape painting, Dong and Zhang modelled on the early Qing master Wang Yuanqi and traced the painting tradition back to the Song and Yuan periods with special reference to Huang Gongwang and Ni Zan among the Four Masters of the Yuan. While revering the ancient tradition, they emphasized proper composition and vigorous brush and ink. On top of this, the vast and rich imperial collection further provided Qian with inspiring specimens for emulation. The importance of ancient masters, great or otherwise, in the imperial collection is readily acknowledged by Qian in an inscription in verse form, which also explicitly stresses the indispensability of calligraphic brushwork.4 Considering that Qian was often present at the emperor’s frequent painting and calligraphic viewings, there is no doubt that he benefited immensely from such access and established for himself a distinctive personality marked by the elegance and crispness of his flowers and the serenity and profundity of his landscapes.

In terms of purpose, Qian’s paintings and calligraphies can be broadly divided into two categories. The first is intended as gifts for presentation to friends and relatives, such as a handscroll of a study and another painted for presentation to Shushen. The other category comprises responses to imperial orders and presentations to the emperor. Qian was a favourite painter of Emperor Qianlong and many of his paintings were made in response to imperial orders whether as wallpaper for palaces such as A Stream within Earshot or as visual records like The Mountain Resort in Snow, Mount Qixia (Fig.1) and Quelling of the Dzungars. According to the author’s incomplete count, there are more than 200 poems inscribed by Emperor Qianlong on Qian’s paintings, the earliest dated the 15th year of his reign (1750) and the latest 10 years after the painter’s death. The last of these inscriptions is imbued with sadness and fully demonstrates how much the talented artist who died in his prime was missed.5

Owing to Qian’s early departure, the great majority of his works has remained in the collection of the imperial court. A survey conducted by the author has found that there are 161 pieces or sets of paintings and calligraphies including 82 fans in the Palace Museum collection. This contrasts with only 43 pieces or sets in the collection of various institutions elsewhere in Mainland China, according to Illustrated Catalogue of Selected Works of Ancient Chinese Painting and Calligraphy (Zhongguo Gudai Shuhua Tumu). Works by Qian that came up in auctions in the past two decades or so had actually been smuggled out of the Qing court by the last emperor Puyi and his brother. These include Yizhou Pavilion in Memory of Su Shi, Flowers of the Four Seasons and Mount Yandang, all of which are included in Collected Treasures of the Stone Moat: Series Two (Shiqu Baoji Xubian), as is the painting under discussion here.

According to documentation by the experts Chen Rentao and Yang Renkai, the painting Ten Auspicious Landscapes of Taishan was placed in the safekeeping of the predecessor of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage in 1949. The head at the time was Zheng Zhenduo, who enlisted the assistance of the renowned connoisseurs Zhang Heng and Xu Bangda to authenticate paintings, calligraphies and other art objects to be acquired from art dealers as well as donations and properties confiscated from Jin Bosheng, Yue Bin and others in an office specially set up in the Round City in Beihai Park. Formally joining the Palace Museum in 1953, Xu helped authenticate 3,217 pieces or sets of paintings and calligraphies from various sources for subsequent acquisition. The most famous of them all are Wang Ximeng’s One Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains, Huang Gongwang’s Peaks in Clearing Snow and Wang Hui’s Emperor Kangxi’s Inspection Tour to the South (No. 12). Masterpieces by Qian Weicheng also came up such as Fruits from the Hui Tribe and A Special Rock, both of which are catalogued in Collected Treasures of the Stone Moat. The paintings Ten Auspicious Landscapes of Taishan and Flowers of the Four Seasons, the latter of which was auctioned a few years ago, were once in the inventory of the predecessor of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and should have been viewed and documented by Yang Renkai and others pending authentication by the Round City experts. It is possible that the paintings were neither donations nor confiscated properties but rather items for sale from art dealers. Since joint state-private ownership was not in force then, the art dealers were free to back off if they found the offer unattractive. For reasons unknown, the paintings failed to enter the museum collection and were subsequently sold and resold.

Ten Auspicious Landscapes of Taishan is a handscroll in colour on paper, measuring 33.7 cm long and 458 cm wide. Each portraying one of the ten spectacular views of Mount Tiantai, the sectional paintings are similar in dimensions, ranging from 44.5 cm to 46.5 cm wide and are separated by a narrow colophon strip lightly washed in indigo or juice green to accommodate a short account of the view in small regular script. At the very end of the scroll is the artist’s signature, reading “Painted and inscribed by your humble servant Qian Weicheng”, with two artist seals. In addition to collector seals of Emperor Qianlong, there are two more of Emperor Xuantong. Each of the sectional paintings is inscribed with a poem and impressed with varying numbers of artist seals by Emperor Qianlong, whose signature at the very end reads “Inscribed by the Emperor late in the third lunar month of the jiawu year (1774)”.

The various views described in the sectional paintings are as follows in corresponding order:

1. River Qingxi in Mists. With the city wall on one side, the wild geese in flight, the punting fishermen and the spanning bridges combine to make up a refreshing and unobstructed view of waters converging at the foot of Mount Zhining to the west of the county capital city of Tiantai.

2. Mount Chicheng in Red. As a main peak of Mount Tiantai, Chicheng dwarfs the others in the area and stands out for its red colour. The natural Danxia landform has produced a handful of caves where Buddhist masters took up residence for cultivation and meditation. Down in the valley, sparse trees can be seen half-hidden in mists.

3. Quoqing Temple amidst Pines. Ranking among the Ten Temples of Jiangnan as early as the Southern Song dynasty, the temple was where Master Zhizhe (538-597) founded the Tiantai Sect, the first ever Buddhist denomination. Sheltered by the lofty Jindi Peak, the deserted ancient temple is accessible by a piney trail. The tranquility is emphasized by a stone bridge over a murmuring brook.

4. Cliff Folong for Sermons. Two streams tumble below the precipices of Peak Jindi. While a monk engages in meditation in a cave, two people sit quietly outside Temple Gaoming. The composition is rich but by no means cluttered, making good use of the irregular mountain forms to suggest and augment depth and height. The pattra-leaf scriptures mentioned in the painter’s inscription is now in the collection of the Guoqing Temple. 

5. Peak Huading above Clouds. This is a view of the summit Huading from Peak Yindi, which rises high above other peaks around it. The mountain is streaked by winding trails and dotted with towers and pavilions. With the peak in plain sight, an ancient pagoda can be seen standing just below the top. Instead of the crowds-drawing spectacle of homing clouds, the painter has preferred this cloudless scene for portraying the magnificent mountain complete with all its historic sites.

6. Waterfall at Shiliang. Celebrated as a major attraction of Mount Tiantai, this natural granite bridge is about seven metres long and less than a foot wide. It spans two precipices like an arched dragon with a fall plummeting right below it from a height of 40 metres in a thunderous splash. Although it was once gingerly crossed by the Ming traveller Xu Xiake, the bridge is now closed to the public.

7. Qiongtai Terrace for a Healing Sip. Nestling in the mountains and with a sweet spring close by, the terrace juts out from a steep cliff face to overlook a deep pond. On the terrace sits a recluse gently caressed by the piney breeze.

8. Taoyuan Col in Springtime. The col, the Jinqiao Pool and their environs are depicted in a picturesque setting of lush mountains and blazing peach groves.

9. Two Caves and a Buddhist House. The Hanyan Cave, Mingyan Cave, Hezhang Cave and their environs strike with the staggered peaks shrouded in mists. A rock chamber is faintly visible through the leafy trees.

10. Wannian Temple and Blissful Water. The tranquility of the Tang temple located at the foot of Mount Bafeng is amplified by the towering pines and cedars, the tumbling stream and the forgotten valley.

Judging from the brushwork, ink and calligraphy, instead of intermittently, the scroll should have been painted within a short period of time, if not at a single sitting. Except for those of River Qingxi and Mount Chicheng, all the sectional paintings have adopted the deep-distance composition that allows the painting surface to be filled with peaks, valleys, streams, waterfalls, woods and historic sites all at the same time in order to capture in full the characteristic views of Mount Tiantai. The focus is often placed on the centre, which connects with the rest of the painting with not only sophistication but also ingenuity. As far as execution is concerned, the light ink is effected with a relatively dry brush whereas the centre tip is used for crisp yet delicate delineation as promoted by the late Ming painter Dong Qichang. By comparison, texture strokes prevail over dotting to achieve depth and volume. These texture strokes in light ink tones are in turn washed in primarily light crimson, light indigo and juice green, contributing to tonal variations with the tasteful palette. Stylistically, the painting as a whole is akin to Wang Yuanqi. Although somewhat less vigorous than the early Qing painter, it more than makes it up with refinement and spontaneity. In short, this is a masterpiece from Qian’s best years and rivals those produced by his friend and mentor Dong Bangda.

The painting is undated and the date inscribed by Emperor Qianlong was already two years after the painter’s death. A search through an anthology of the emperor’s poems yields a short note that is omitted in the painting inscription. It reads, “Qian Weicheng visited Mount Tiantai when he was inspecting education in Zhejiang and painted this for presentation. Now that he has been gone for two years, all that is left is this scroll.”6 It can therefore be assumed that the painting was made during or shortly after Qian’s tenure as Education Commissioner of Zhejiang between 1763 and 1765.

Like Emperor Qianlong, viewers of this painting would intuitively presume that the painting was produced after a physical visit to Mount Tiantai. The author begs to differ, however. The reason is Qian had never set foot on the mountain all his life and had even documented the same in writing. In 1762 after his first visit to Mount Yandang, he was invited by Zhang Lunxuan from the Ministry of War to go onto Mount Tiantai together with him. Unfortunately, the plan was thwarted by a winter rain but the guest thanked the host all the same with a poem. And, because of this change of plans, a welcome stay with Zhang was made possible.7 The failure to visit Mount Tiantai is further referred to in another poem.8 A second attempt made in 1764 following a second visit to Mount Yandang was again unsuccessful as mentioned in yet another poem.9 Weather not permitting on both occasions, Qian never had the chance to visit the area again. Unlike paintings from life, this particular painting was in fact based on ancient accounts and the painter’s personal impressions of the mountain when he admired it from a distance on Mount Yandang on his two visits there. In other words, it is more a marriage of the painter’s imagination and his profound understanding of and skill in landscape painting. The expression hinges on not only technical virtuosity but also yearnings for the past as well as literary sensitivity, testifying to the fascinating realm of literati painting where literariness reigns side by side with aesthetics and prompting the viewer to pursue the spirit in preference to the form and to seek enlightenment with a serene mind.

1 See the section “Qing Gaozong: The 16th & 17th day of the 12th months of the 37th year of the Qianlong reign,” in Qing Lichao Qijuzhu.

2 Qian Chenqun, “Jiajiaxuan Shaosekou Shiji Xu,” in Xianshuzhai Shiwenji (Qing Qianlong carved version), juan 87.

3 Zhao Yi, Oubei Ji (1812 Zhanyitang carved version), juan 53.

4 Qian Weicheng, “Lu Lianlu yi Huace Suoti, Zoubi Zengzi,” see Chashan Shichao, juan 9, in Qian Wenmingong Quanji (1776 Meishoutang carved version).

5 “Ti Qian Weicheng Shanshui Xiaoce,” in Qing Gaozong Yuzhi Shiwen Quanji (Zhongguo Renming Daxue Chubanshe, August, 1993).

6 See the 10th poem of “Inscriptions on Qian Weicheng’s Ten Views of the Tiantai Mountains,” in Gaozong Yuzhi Shiwenji, vol. 4, juan 112.

7 Both in Chashan Shichao, juan 6.

8 “Tianlao Shan,” in Chashan Shichao, juan 7.

9 “Fa Taizhou Kouzhan,” in Cha Shichao, juan 9.


- The Xuantong Emperor, From Emperor to Citizen: The Autobiography of Aisin-Gioro Puyi

In the early 1920s, the deposed, last emperor of China, Puyi, and his younger brother Pujie, devised a plan to migrate inventoried imperial works of art outside of the Forbidden City through the act of bestowing Pujie these treasures. The plan was executed to extract more than 200 books from the Song (960-1279), Yuan (1279–1368), and Ming (1368–1644) periods, together with over 1,000 paintings and works of calligraphy from the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing periods from the Palace. Among these is the present scroll painting, Ten Auspicious Landscapes of Taishan , by Qian Weicheng (1720-1772).

In 1919, at thirteen years of age, Puyi was introduced to Reginald F. Johnston, his to-be English tutor. The experienced British diplomat lived within the Forbidden City and soon formed a close relationship with his new pupil. After familiarizing himself with the indulgent operations of the imperial court, seemingly often to best serve interests of members of the Household Department as opposed to those of the young emperor, Johnston brought to Puyi’s attention the losses of imperial treasures through theft or pawning, sometimes in order to make up for the Household Department’s monetary deficits.

Soon after, Puyi ordered habitual inspections of antiquities, and called for a full inventory to be logged. This act quickly brought to light the fact that many works were indeed missing, and in June, 1923, Puyi instructed a personal inspection of the Palace of Eternal Happiness (Qian Fugong), where Emperor Qianlong’s beloved treasures were stored. A fire broke out at this particular part of the palace before the inspection could take place, and less than 380 items of over 6,600 inventoried items were retrieved.

About this period, the migration of the Palace’s treasures began: whilst Pujie lived outside of the Forbidden City, he was a fellow pupil of Johnston’s and commuted daily into and out of the Palace. The brothers understood the inventory procedures for the works of art, and that pieces were marked in accordance to their merit.   The Forbidden City’s rare books collection, of similar dimensions to the brothers’ English textbooks and which fitted inconspicuously within the embroidered yellow cloth brocades used by Pujie on his way to and from the Palace, became the first of the brother’s targets. In a similar manner, with priority given to those objects identified as those of superior merit, Pujie continued to transport increasing numbers of treasured articles outside of the Forbidden City.

The extracted works were temporarily stored at Puyi’s father’s home in Beijing, upon which Pujie ordered them packed into somewhere between seventy to eighty large wooden boxes. A pass permit exempting the goods from examination and taxes was successfully obtained by Pujie through family connections, and he armed himself with this document as he personally escorted the goods to Tianjin.  Eventually, the cases were stored at a property belonging to Puyi on the boundaries of the Tianjin British Concession, purchased for him by a Manchu prince who supported the brothers’ escape plan.

Two years later, in 1925, after Puyi was himself ordered out of the Forbidden Palace, the "Qing Dynasty Aftermath Committee" was taking stock at the Yang Xin Dian (Hall of Cultivation of Character) when, to their excitement, the lists of objects that Puyi had bestowed on Pujie and which had been so discreetly removed from the Forbidden City were uncovered. The lists (fig.2), which include the present scroll painting, show the work to be bestowed on Pujie on the 6th day of the 11th lunar month, in the 14th year of Xuantong reign (1922). Had it not been for the occurrence of this troubled series of events, Ten Auspicious Landscapes of Taishan by Qian Weicheng may not have survived to be presented before us today.


- The Qianlong Emperor, Nanxun Shengdian (‘The Grand Record of The Southern Inspection Tours’)

The Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799, r. 1736-1795), the fourth Manchu emperor of the Qing dynasty, is the longest-reigning and longest-living ruler in the history of China. Over the course of thirty-three years, between the 16th and 49th years of his reign (1751-1784), Qianlong, known to show great respect and reverence to his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor (1654-1722, r. 1661- 1722), followed the example set by Kangxi to complete a series of six well-documented Southern Inspection Tours. Though the emperors preceding Kangxi and Qianlong would, on occasion, set out on one-off inspection tours of the empire, or make single pilgrimages to Mount Tai; the multiple journeys made by emperors Kangxi and Qianlong were unique occurrences of pronounced historical and cultural meaning.

The route of the Southern Tours covered thousands of miles from Beijing to reach the Chinese empire’s most prosperous regions of the Lower Yangtze delta (Jiangnan), overlapping the boundary of two key provinces; Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Both provinces were, at this time, critical to the Qing Empire. Firstly, the two provinces generated the main portion of the empire’s commercial and agricultural wealth, providing surplus grains used as tributes and a bulk share of tax revenues. Luxury goods and staples such as porcelain, salt and silk were also abundant. Secondly, the majority of lower ranking officials in the civil administration were Han Chinese literati from Jiangsu and Zhejiang, rendering the Southern Inspection politically significant. Finally, not only was Jiangnan widely-recognised as the center of Han scholarship and cultural refinement, it was also a stronghold for supporters of the former Ming dynasty and home to certain anti-Manchu sentiment.

The Chinese empire inherited by Kangxi was immense yet politically and ethnically fractured. The purpose of Kangxi’s Southern Inspection Tours was strongly focused on strengthening Manchu power and endorsing national unity. Kangxi’s tours allowed for the emperor to survey his land and to be among his people, providing his subjects a glimpse of their ruler among imperial splendor and pageantry. Kangxi met with officials and scholars, and inspected the Grand Canal and important waterways which were essential to the empire’s economic and political stability. It was ordered by Kangxi to have the tours recorded for posterity in a commemorative series of twelve handscrolls, and the act was emulated by his grandson Qianlong, who likewise commissioned twelve scrolls for his first Southern Inspection Tour.

When Qianlong came to power in 1736, he inherited a prosperous empire with a thriving and strong economy. There was, therefore, arguably less political incentive to Qianlong’s tours, hence in addition to customary waterworks inspections, the tours also included shows of horsemanship and hunting, and displays of marksmanship by the emperor’s bannermen. In comparison, the manner of preparations for Kangxi’s tours were much hastier than those of his grandson’s journeys, who allowed plentiful time to prepare for his visits to carefully-selected areas of historical and cultural significance and those celebrated for its natural beauty. Each of Qianlong’s lavishly outfitted tours spanned the spring and summer seasons and were extensive affairs lasting between three to five months.

Just as Qianlong ruled from Yuanming Yuan and the imperial summer resorts, the Southern Tours were themselves highly transportable court palaces comprising a few thousand personnel to symbolise martial prowess, frontier-style movement and flexibility. Strict controls were in place wherever the tours led: and as a result, civilians were required to make way for the emperor and his entourage, whom, on land, travelled on horseback in their thousands, and at sea, sailed upon hundreds of vessels large and small, creating spectacles like no other.

While Qianlong took pride in the victories of his hard-fought military battles, the Southern Inspection Tours were later cited by Qianlong as one of his most prominent achievements. Today, the scrolls from the Southern Tours serve as a testament to the Qing emperors’ political ambitions to reign over a prosperous and unified empire. Following the example set by Kangxi, Qianlong’s handscrolls commemorating the Southern Tours were kept in a palace storeroom containing important imperial maps and portraits, as they anticipated judgement of history. Qianlong was profoundly conscious of the fact that art was able to serve as official and personal propaganda. The works commissioned by Qianlong regularly depicted the emperor as a successful warrior, Confucian scholar, Daoist priest and family man, arguably to serve as a form of publicity or self-aggrandisement in historical records for posterity.


Inscriptions by Qian Weicheng:

(1) River Qingxi in Mists. River Qingxi is located five li-miles west of Gate Tongyue, or the west gate of the Tiantai county. It originates from a waterfall that plunges down from Peak Dongtian in Mount Zhining to the north of the county and is reinforced by other falls and streams that include Baizhang, Longqiu, Tongxi and Taoyuan. Measuring hundreds of Chinese feet long and with handrails added later to make crossing easier, the bridge Hexian was built during the Song reign of Qingyuan. To the north is the hillock Zouma. The river is mentioned in a poem by the Eastern Jin poet Xie Lingyun and another by the Tang emperor Yuanzong for bestowal on Sima Chengzhen, a Daoist patriarch.

(2) Mount Chicheng in Red. Of all the mountains, Chicheng, literally “red city”, is the nearest from the county. Although not at all lofty, it is gorgeous and as forbidding as the perimeter wall of any impregnable city.  Its rocks are free from mosses and scarlet in colour, lending a hallmark to the mountain as observed by the Eastern Jin poet Sun Chuo in his fu-rhapsody on Mount Tiantai. Halfway up the mountain is a terrace resembling a huge chopping block where a Buddhist temple stands. Here, the trickling spring is refreshing enough to banish any sweltering heat. A zigzag flight of more than a thousand steps leads upwards to yet another temple. The small cave inscribed with the characters “yu jing” there is held by Daoists to be associated with Mao Ying, the founder of the Maoshan Sect, and the sixth Grotto-Heaven.

(3) Quoqing Temple amidst Pines. Each issuing from Mount Folong, the two brooks flanking the Guoqing Temple converge right in front of it. The water then flows southwards and empties into the river Daxi on reaching the Shenji Rock. The temple was first built by the Buddhist monk Zhizhe in the 18th year of the Sui reign of Kaihuang (598). Legend has it that, on his first visit to Tiantai, the monk had a visitation from Buddha in a dream that peace would return to the country on completion of a temple there. Accordingly, he gave the temple the denotative name of “Guoqing”.  During the Tang reign of Zhenyuan, the poet-monks Hanshan and Shide were staying at the temple. On learning this from Monk Fenggan, the prefect Lüqiu Yin went over to pay a visit. He arrived to find the pair chatting heartily away by a burning stove. As soon as the caller came up to them to bow in obeisance, they fled. All that has survived in relation to the story are the very stove used by the two monks and the Fenggan Bridge. Next to the bridge is the trail Wansong, or “myriad pines”, which leads uphill to Peak Jindi.

(4) Cliff Folong for Sermons. On the other side of Peak Jindi, literally “golden ground” with the connotation of “bodhisattvas’ abode”, is a valley of dense trees and bamboo groves through which two streams thread. One of them is called Luo, literally “shellfish” whose lives Monk Zhizhe is said to have spared at this very spot. The other is called You, which ends up here with the Luo despite their different sources. Overlooking them are the Lingxiang Rock and the Yuantong Cave. Further to the west is the Gaoming Temple. Behind the temple is an immense cliff, or the left extension of Mount Dalei. To the west is Peak Yindi, literally “silver ground” and again connoting “bodhisattvas’ abode”, which bears a cliff inscription in two big characters reading “fo long”, or “Buddhist temple” to refer to the Daci Temple. While he was staying at the temple, Monk Zhizhe went up one day to Folong to give a sermon. His scripture was blown away and the pursuit led him to a stream. The monk was so enthralled by the tranquillity there that he made it the site of the Gaoming Temple. Housed in the temple are the Tinghai Bowl and pattra-leaf scriptures dating from the Sui dynasty.

(5) Peak Huading above Clouds. Higher than anywhere else in Tiantai, Peak Huading rises above the clouds and presents itself as a vantage point for admiring sunrises and sunsets even on gloomy days. Extending more than ten li-miles, a trail leads uphill from Peak Yindi to the tower Hanfeng, where the wind is so strong that passers-by can easily be lifted up to the sky. To the north is Peak Cha, where the Han recluse Gao Cha used to live in seclusion. Towards the very top are Wang Xizhi’s Inkwell, Li Bai’s Study and the Longzhao Pool. The spring here spurts out so powerfully that it is quite a sight. Further up is the Wanghai Point with the Fumo Stupa and the Lijing Terrace which are said to be associated with Monk Zhizhe.

(6) Waterfall at Shiliang. In Shiliang, two confronting mountaintops are straddled by a beam-like rock called “Blue Bridge”, which is no more than a few Chinese inches wide. Just before reaching the rock, waters from higher up converge and plunge down from a height into a deep pool. Through the treetops, the overflowing water can be faintly seen cascading down in a zigzag manner. This is the most breathtaking view in all of Tiantai. To its right is the Gaizhu Cave, which ranks among the Thirty-six Grotto-Heavens in the Daoist faith. According to the Buddhists, this is instead the site where fifty arhats, or luohans, vanished into the rocks. Even today, woodcutters and herders say sounds of bells and chimes can sometimes be heard coming from the cave.

(7) Qiongtai Terrace for a Healing Sip. Qiongtai is a terrace cropping out at the centre of a ravine. Isolated by precipices both above and below, it is accessible only by stone steps girdling the mountain. Lush peaks shelter it on three sides like the walls of a fortified city while a deep pond marks its border on the south. Across is the mountain Shuangque, where the Daoist temple Tongbai Palace nestle in the peaks. Mentioned in the same breath with the holy mountain Gouqu in the Wu area in Declarations of the Perfected (Zhengao), this temple in the Yue area ranks among the Seventy-two Blissful Lands in the Daoist faith and was built by Sima Chengzhen during the Jingyun reign of the Tang dynasty. Overlooked by the temple is a sweet healing spring. On the right is the Qingfeng Shrine that honours the morally impeccable brothers Boyi and Shuqi with stone statues.

(8) Taoyuan Col in Springtime. The passage between the Huguo Temple and the Taoyuan Col is lined with mottled cliff faces flanking the stream Mingyu. In one of the stream bands stands the nunnery Taohua, literally “peach blossoms”. Turning to the northeast from here, the stream disappears into the mountains in an apparent dead end. A climb up the steps and one is astounded by the wondrous sight of a stream splashing down to form a waterfall that plunges down into Jinqiao, an enormous pool. Hundreds of paces up the pool hover two cliffs while under the ground extends an unfathomable cavern. At the entrance to the cavern, a small chamber called Lixian has been carved out from the rocks right next to a long stretch of peach trees that explode in colour in springtime. This was the spot where the Tan natives Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao encountered fairy maidens during the Yongping reign of the Han dynasty, as celebrated by the Tang poets Yuan Zhen and Cao Tang.    

(9) Two Caves and a Buddhist HouseShrine. The caves Hanyan and Mingyan lie back to back in the same mountain. To the east past the peaks Menghu and Sanmao is the Hanyan Cave fronted by the Shoutai Hill, a variegated rock measuring hundreds of Chinese feet high. The flat square rock is said to be where Monk Hanshan used to meditate. Above is a rock chamber inscribed by the Song calligrapher Mi Fu as the “Qianzhen Cave”. Inside the cave is a flat space large enough to accommodate a thousand people, making it a naturally formed Buddhist house. On the southwest is a deep ravine spanned at the top by a stone beam. The footing is so treacherous that the beam has been given the name of “Sky Bridge”. Three to four li-miles to the east is the Mingyan Cave. Hemmed in by steep rocks, the passageway is too narrow for even carriages. A few hundred paces to the north are two towering rocks leaning onto each other to form the Hezhang Cave.

(10) Wannian Temple and Blissful Water. Built during the Taihe reign of the Tang dynasty, the Wannian Temple is located in Mount Bafeng to the northwest of the county. Ten li-miles to its southeast is the Luohan Peak overlooking the Tiechuan Lake, or literally “lake of the iron boat”, after the legend of a luohan passing through here in an iron boat. Off the front gate of the temple is a confluence of two streams meandering westwards. The streams are lined with gigantic cedars that provide shade even in high summer. On the side is a small hill called Liao, with its valley strewn with grotesque rocks resembling dangling gibbons, stretching birds or any imaginable shapes. This indisputably blissful land is where the Jin monk Tanyou rested to take in the view. Painted and inscribed by your humble servant Qian Weicheng.

Inscriptions by the Qianlong Emperor

The river is joined by many others,
Burbling from its source in Dongtian.
How the distant past fills one’s mind
When one crosses the ancient Hexian.
Over the reeds the wild geese head
For Mount Yandang in fine formation. 

To rocks that are red
Chicheng owes its name.
They mark the mountain apart,
Proposed Sun Chuo appositely.
So do the towering peaks
Described in Du Shenyan’s poetry. 

The gossipy Fenggan was to blame
For Lüqiu’s call on the two monks,
Who wasted no time to flee,
Allowing but a glimpse to capture.
The temple got its name from a dream
Rather than any Buddhist scripture. 

The allusive names for the peaks
Need not to be deciphered
Since the Pure Land of ultimate bliss
Is paved with gold and silver.
Committed now to painting,
Their locations are plain for ever. 

This is the summit of Tiantai,
Piercing right through the clouds.
Here, the sun can be admired
Be it fine or even overcast.
Here, Monk Zhizhe is remembered
Through objects from the past. 

Myriad streams in the clouds
Tumble down as one off a beam,
A beam that makes a bridge
In this worthy rival of Mount Lu.
As I compose these rhythmic lines,
I think of Shaolian the recluse.  

Seemingly floating in mid-air,
Qiongtai is famed for Tongbai,
A temple Daoist from the Tang.
Down below gurgles sacred waters
To offer the sipper immortality,
With the Blue Bridge for stopping over. 

Mottled peaks and a motley stream,
Not to mention the glowing crimson.
If even peach trees flourish as much,
What miraculous herbs this land will bring?
The romances of Liu and Ruan
Enchant no less than The Peach Blossom Spring

The caves Hanyan and Mingyan
Are interconnected, or maybe not?
They mirror one another and afford
A place for pious congregations
To be taught the Lotus Sutra
In the Buddhist Tiantai tradition.

Blessed with verdure and blissful with water,
Wannian is for cultivation and purification.
Like the rocky lake that never runs dry
To keep alive the iron boat story,
The painter and inscriber of this all
Will be remembered till eternity.
Inscribed by the Emperor late in the third lunar month of the jiawu year (1774).