Emperor Tongzhi and Empress Dowager Cixi (1862 – 1874)

The only surviving son of Emperor Xianfeng and Empress Dowager Cixi, Tongzhi was only 6 years old when he was appointed as the heir to the throne. Since he was too young to take reign of the Empire, his mother Empress Cixi became the unofficial ruler of the court. In fact, the Empress was the one to make all the important decisions and even attempted to restore the Dynasty’s former glory, throughout Tongzhi’s short 12 year reign. Tongzhi died in 1874 at the age of 18, with no heirs to his name. The official reason for his death was claimed to be smallpox but it was widely rumoured that he actually died of syphilis due to his alleged affairs with prostitutes outside the court.

Tongzhi had little influence on political or official affairs of the court, Cixi was the one who orchestrated the “Tongzhi Restoration” which was the name of the plans to reform and modernize the ailing nation. The disastrous events of the preceding Xianfeng Empire was the wake up call needed to rethink the foreign relations with the West, as well as the quelling any domestic disputes and rebellions. She managed to consolidate divided members of the Imperial court through shrewd strategy, bribery and brutal execution of the main opposing members, securing herself as one of the prime rulers “behind the curtain” since women were not allowed to officially rule the Manchu Qing Empire. Her hard line approach to any opposition also meant that she managed to quell the Taiping Rebellions though military intervention, using her rich and powerful connections to finance the army force to do so.

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Emperor Xianfeng (1850 – 1861)

Xianfeng was born in 1831 under the name “Yizhu”. He was the fourth son of Emperor Daoguang and the Imperial Consort Quan. Yizhu’s talent in literature and administration far surpassed his brothers and impressed his father, Daoguang who later decided to make him his successor. In 1850, Yizhu took the throne and his reign title became Xianfeng.

Xianfeng inherited his father’s troubled political situation, with a series of large scale rebellions breaking out in various parts of China. Apart from civil skirmishes, a minor incident on the coast of Taijin between the Qing government and the Anglo-French forces triggered the Second Opium War in 1856. After several devastating clashes which ended in victory for the western forces, the Emperor and his entourage fled the Imperial court to their northern palace in Jehol. The defeat had a negative impact on Xianfeng’s health and ability to govern, which in turn lead to division and doubt within the court itself. The Emperor eventually succumbed to his ill health and on August 22, 1861 he died at the Jehol palace to be succeeded by his only son, Zaichun who was 6 years old.

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Emperor Daoguang (1821 – 1850)

Daoguang was Emperor Jiaqing’s eldest son and became the eighth emperor of the Manchurian Qing Dynasty. He succeeded the throne in late 1820, after his father’s unexpected death from unknown causes. It was during his reign, that China was experiencing major problems with the opium trade, as well as a threat of western Imperialists encroaching on China’s borders. Opium was being imported into China by British merchants in ever increasing numbers.

During his great grandfather’s Emperor Yongzheng’s reign, only 200 chests were imported into China annually, by the time of Daoguang’s reign, the number increased to 30,000. The illegal spread of opium resulted in what became known as the First Opium War between the Qing Dynasty and the British Empire. The conflict eventually resulted in China seceding the territory of Hong Kong to become a British colony.

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Emperor Jiaqing (1796 – 1820)

Emperor Jiaqing was the seventh emperor of the Manchu Qing Dynasty and the fifth Qing emperor to rule over China. Jiaqing was proclaimed emperor in February 1796 after his father emperor Qianlong retired. For the next three years however, Jiaqing ruled by name only, the main decisions were still carried out by his father.

During his reign, Jiaqing’s main accomplishment was to rid the Imperial court of Heshen, a corrupt government official who was involved in extortion, bribery and stealing funds from the treasury. After his arrest in February 12, 1796, Heshen was condemned to execution by slow slicing, but Jiaqing spared him from this brutal execution and he was ordered to hang himself with a silk rope instead.

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Ru Ware Bowl – The Percival David Collection

Ru Ware Bowl – The Percival David Collection

With rounded sides and everted lip and slightly splayed base rim. The glaze is thick, opaque and covered with a feint irregular crackle. The colour of the glaze is pale lavender and under a strong glass or light appears to be full of tiny bubbles. The foot and base are glazed. On the base are five oval spur marks. The rim is bound with a copper band.

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Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795)

Qianlong succeeded his father Yongzheng to become the fourth emperor of the Manchu dynasty. Qianlong became known as the “Patron of the Arts and Letters”, due to his love for calligraphy, poetry, art and architecture. He wanted his name to be associated with work of the highest literary importance and ordered the members of the Hanlin Academy to compile all of the most valuable Chinese writings from the earliest times. Thirty-six thousand volumes from the Imperial and private collections were copied into a vast encyclopedia of Chinese literature, known as the Siku Quanshu. Apart from his written accomplishments, the emperor was an avid painting collector owning a mass collection, much of which can now be found at the Taiwan Museum.

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Yongzheng Emperor (1723-1735)

The fourth son of Kangxi, Yongzheng was 44 when he succeeded his father. For the whole of his short reign he had to contend with the intrigues of his brothers, some of whom had been converted to Christianity. The direct result of which, was that he tried to avenge himself on the missionaries by relentlessly oppressing the Christians established in China. Only the Jesuits admitted to court were spared. In the reign of Yongzheng, Giuseppe Castiglione, a pupil of Andrea Pozzo, helped Nian Siyao with adapting the treatise Perspective pictorum et architectorum (1729) into Chinese. Nian Siyao was the Superintendent of Customs, and also, from 1726 to 1736, director of the Jingdezhen porcelain factory. He himself supervised the pieces made for the court at Peking.

Blue and White Porcelain

The chief characteristic of blue-and-white in the reign of Yongzheng is the archaic taste both in form and in decoration. However, the copy is rarely faithful; the influence of the 18th century is apparent even in the transposition of the past.

The blue is darker and flecked with black in imitation of Xuande pieces, but is artificially contrived and feels mechanical, so that is never manages to capture the effect of the original. The silvery blue of Chenghua, the violet sheen of Jiajing are also reproduced, again with a varying degree of success. Decoration repeats Ming themes: lotus scrolls, peonies, tight arabesques of leaves and clouds. There are also copies of large dishes, called “Constantinople dishes”, and some pieces on a yellow ground described by Tang Ying in his list as copies of Xuande models.

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Kangxi Emperor Era (1662-1722)

Emperor Kangxi ruled the Qing Dynasty for a period of 60 years. He was the third son of the previous Emperor Shunzhi. When he took over the throne he was still a young boy, so he did not have full control until 1677. He was interested in the arts and sciences and was actually a poet and calligrapher himself. This could be the reason why he ordered the reconstruction of the Jingdezhen kilns in 1682, and also why the Kangxi period became the most successful period in the history of Chinese Art. Many new types of porcelain were developed, including the opaque biscuit, colourful famille verte wares, as well as the stronger, bolder blue and white porcelains.


In the early years of Kangxi reign, many pieces were produced in biscuit: the body was given an initial high firing without the glaze. This biscuit is more opaque than porcelain; it doesn’t reflect light, and is, on occasions rough and porous. Many pieces previously attributed to the Ming period are now dated to the last decades of the 17th century. It is not surprising, since such perfectly crafted pieces could not have been manufactured during the politically unstable Ming period.

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