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Emperors and emporia

April 8th, 2006 (12:09 am)
current music: Hem - various from 'Eveningland'

The Yongzheng Emperor, I learned on Thursday, used seals bearing the legends 'Being a ruler is difficult' and 'Perturbed by day and night'. For that reason I found him the most endearing of The Three Emperors whose courts are being commemorated at the Royal Academy for, I think, another week. I wouldn't have gone had a trip not been suggested by pellegrina, but in the event I've been glad to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of eighteenth-century China. I hadn't realised that relations with Europe, even with Great Britain, were as extensive and influential before George Macartney's unsuccessful attempt to start diplomatic relations in 1793-1794. There were examples of clocks ordered by the Qianlong Emperor in Beijing from the London craftsmen Timothy Williamson and John Cox; paintings by Jesuits such as Giuseppe Castiglione; and copies of prints from engravings ordered by the Qianlong Emperor from Paris to celebrate his conquests, for distribution across the Chinese Empire. I was particularly struck by a painting showing the Qianlong Emperor entertaining the leaders of recently conquered territories, the message being that it is good to be ruled by China, and that Chinese dependents need not do anything for themselves again, as the Emperor would feed them and they should only be sustained by the Emperor from then on. Of the three emperors - the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors - the last two came across as more human, the Yongzheng Emperor in particular with his Screen of Twelve Beauties and his series of portraits of himself in various roles, including as a European tiger-slayer, complete with a curled black wig that would have rivalled those of Louis XIV or Charles II, as a Daoist magician reviving a dragon, and as a Manchu horseman. Throughout I was impressed by pellegrina's knowledge of Chinese characters.

Afterwards pellegrina and I went shopping and, after a deeply scientific process involving much notetaking and saying that the new things we saw in shops 2, 3 and 4 weren't as good as what we saw in shop 1, bought a present for foradan and Meglorien. I then went back to Dunharrow with pellegrina - observing the problems of using TfL's Oyster pre-payment system en route - and joined pellegrina and the much recovered malaheed for that great banquet favourite of yore, the leek and oat soup, which is always appreciated.

Today was an office day, catching up with correspondence rather than doing anything dramatic. I have a visitor - Dr Woods - tomorrow, a blank Sunday, office on Monday, and then up to the ancestral seat for Easter on Tuesday.


Posted by: racisthomophobe (racisthomophobe)
Posted at: April 8th, 2006 06:39 am (UTC)

One wants to shout, "Keep building the ships, you fools!", and then one wants NOT to shout it..
Yongzheng's missing seal reads "Oh, for the British Colonial Civil Service", now tucked away in the same V&A vault as their paintings showing foxhunting.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 8th, 2006 08:51 am (UTC)

They'd given up on building the ships a few centuries before the Qing came to power. The Qing were Manchu rather than Chinese and emphasised how cosmopolitan they were - not only Chinese, but Uighur, Tibetan and Manchu rulers as well, and in their propaganda de jure rulers of the rest of the world too. So yes, Yongzheng might have appreciated the British colonial civil service, though they didn't exist during his reign.

Posted by: racisthomophobe (racisthomophobe)
Posted at: April 9th, 2006 08:35 am (UTC)

No, they didn't exist during his reign, which only goes to demonstrate just how far-thinking that hidden seal shows Yongzheng to have been.
Given the longstanding record of violence and deepseated stupidity of China's current ruling junta, perhaps they could do with both the Colonial Civil Service AND Yongzheng right now. A combination of a reluctant ruler and relatively incorruptible administrators is just what the Chinese doctor should have ordered.

Posted by: Penny Paperbrain (pennypaperbrain)
Posted at: April 8th, 2006 10:14 am (UTC)

I've been glad to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of eighteenth-century China.

Ah fluffy, if I could but remember what centuries even famous western events happened in, I would be glad. I ascertained the other day that I have no idea what American president is applicable to which century until JFK. I would just guess that they were all in power some time between 1750 and 1950.

I don't suppose you've read "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell", but if you ever do lay hands on a novel it would be a good choice. I kept thinking of you while reading it. John Uskglass achieved the ambitions of the 10-year-old you. He had dark curly hair, too, I think I remember.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 8th, 2006 06:45 pm (UTC)

I read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell before it was published, thanks to a member of the literati, and am re-reading it now, as it happens. As to identification with John Uskglass, I'm not certain - his influence on events is even more insidious than mine on articles not signed by me at TGW.

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 9th, 2006 08:49 am (UTC)

Reading books before they were published - ah yes, I remember those days! This was the one good thing about Creatrix's commute to London - that we could get hold of the latest Terry Pratchett etc in proof, or even typescript! (I refuse to call them "manuscripts", on grounds of pedantry).

Posted by: Penny Paperbrain (pennypaperbrain)
Posted at: April 9th, 2006 10:46 am (UTC)

And I believed you when you angsted about never reading novels.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 9th, 2006 10:47 am (UTC)

I don't read novels in the quantities that some speed-readers seem to manage!

Posted by: racisthomophobe (racisthomophobe)
Posted at: April 9th, 2006 08:43 am (UTC)

That's a refreshing change. I'm more used to Brits accusing Americans of ignorance and insularity, something I'm wont to respond to with questions about state capitals and, indeed, presidents. The conversations tend to be short. Anyway, more power to your elbow, and I bet you could place both Roosevelts as well.
I've been thinking about reading Jonathan Strange, although finding out what the Knight's ambitions at age 10 were is more of a motive than anything purely literary.

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: April 8th, 2006 10:18 am (UTC)

Not so much the problems of using the Oyster card, as of once have misused it and coming face to face with all parties' inability to straighten things out. Which reminds me, I will try phoning Oyster for a third time.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 8th, 2006 07:15 pm (UTC)

Any luck with Oyster?

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: April 8th, 2006 07:20 pm (UTC)

This will make you laugh - what I have to do is go back to an Underground station and tell *them* to call Oyster, because it can only be sorted out in the presence of the card...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 8th, 2006 07:57 pm (UTC)

The card, presumably, has the final say and you, the London Underground staff and the Oyster people at the end of the phone have to engage in a complex but precise rite of divination in order to reveal the fate of your unfinished journey. Where did it end, in some meta-London of closed lines and disused stations? Perhaps a ghost Oyster machine at Belmont or Primrose Hill, or at Uxbridge Road or far away Verney Junction, has the answer.

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: April 8th, 2006 08:02 pm (UTC)

You *have* been reading Susanna Clarke, haven't you!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 8th, 2006 08:05 pm (UTC)

While riding at the fore of my faerie host, of course.

Posted by: racisthomophobe (racisthomophobe)
Posted at: April 9th, 2006 08:50 am (UTC)

Although I've listened to hours of complaints about Oyster's vagaries, for my own part, I think it's a miracle, given the complexity of the system and that it had to mesh into a twenty-year-old booking system without interruption to the service. Part of the problem is that London also has overground railways who as things stand are unable to link their ticketing into Oyster's - as you say, Belmont, which is the closest station to where I now work.
I don't know about a ghost Oyster machine at Verney Junction - I've always been hoping for a ghost Eurotunnel terminal. I could check Racisthomophobe in at it, because it's just too much effort keeping up the pretense. In fact.. let's see if this works...

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 9th, 2006 08:06 am (UTC)

The "Emperors" exhibition does sound magnificent. Alas! - I've just seen it is only on until 17 April, and so we have no chance of getting down there.

I trust the delivery of your present to foradan is less traumatic than ours (our's?) was. We ordered it from Amazon.co.uk to be delivered to Norway - result: "We couldn't find the address, and have refunded your money". We then tried Amazon.com - no problem, and no more expensive to boot!

Posted by: racisthomophobe (racisthomophobe)
Posted at: April 9th, 2006 08:38 am (UTC)

You might not be able to make the Emperors, but at least you have countryside right outside your door!
Often with exhibitions of this kind, an evening in with the catalogue can be more intellectually satisfying than 2 hours pushing through crowds, so being out of town need not be such a loss.

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: April 9th, 2006 08:39 am (UTC)

Oh, indeed - and I do think I've got the better result, on the whole.