A Sage-Emperor Charm Offensive: Emperor Kangxi's Imperial Poems on the Mountain Estate for Escaping the Heat
This dissertation examines the Imperial Poems on the Mountain Estate for Escaping the Heat which was published in 1712 in Qing China (1644-1911). When the imperial garden of the Mountain Estate for Escaping the Heat was mostly completed in 1711, Emperor Kangxi (r. 1662-1722) created an album for it which includes his poems on thirty-six garden vistas as well as illustrations by court painters. Four hundred copies of the album were presumably produced and distributed.
To illustrate why Kangxi made an unprecedented move to publish his garden album, I reconstruct three sets of contexts that occasioned its creation. The first set concerns the Qing’s northern frontier policy. The Manchus expended much efforts on fostering close ties with the Mongol tribes. The Mountain Estate was at once part of the policy and an embodiment of its success, backdropping and forming an undertone of the Imperial Poems.
The second set concerns the Qing’s legitimacy crisis. Chinese literati dismissed the Manchus as barbarians and refused to submit to the Qing’s rule. Kangxi launched an ideological offensive in which he poses as a sage-emperor, the archetypal ideal Confucian ruler, to confer legitimacy and garner support from the Chinese. As part of the campaign, the Imperial Poems promoted Kangxi’s visage as a sage-emperor which I demonstrate through textual and visual analysis of the album. I also review other Kangxi imperial art projects to show that art was consistently employed for the same purpose.
The last set concerns Kangxi’s need of self-expression emerged in around 1710s. The uncertainty at court and anxiety of his failing health gave rise to the urgency to make his thoughts known to the country and to posterity.
Previous studies on Kangxi imperial art have touched upon the idea of sage-emperor but most stop at inquiring its relation to broader contexts. This dissertation bridges the gap between art-historical and political-philosophical accounts of Kangxi’s sage-emperor image-building.