Qianlong Emperor Biography

The Qianlong Emperor, born in 1711 in Beijing, China, was the fourth Qing emperor and the sixth emperor of the Qing Dynasty. He was highly favored by his father and grandfather, and as a teenager, he excelled in military tactics, martial arts, and academics. Becoming emperor in 1735, Qianlong proved to be a capable military commander, leading China to become a prosperous and powerful nation. He was also a renowned poet and writer, contributing to the thriving artistic and cultural landscape of China. However, corruption tarnished the later years of his rule, leading to his decline. Despite handing over the throne in 1796, he continued to rule as a “de facto” leader until his death in 1799.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Aisin Gioro Hongli
  • Died At Age: 87
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Consort Dun, Consort Shu, Dowager Noble Consort Wan, Empress Xi, Empress Xiaoxianchun, Hoifa-Nara, Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui, Imperial Noble Consort Qinggong, Noble Consort Xin, Noble Consort Xun, Noble Consort Ying, Noble Lady Shun, the Step Empress
    • Father: Yongzheng Emperor
    • Mother: Empress Xiaoshengxian
    • Children: Gurun Princess Hexiao, Heshuo Princess Hege, Heshuo Princess Hejia, Jiaqing Emperor, Kurun Princess Hejing, Prince Chengzhe of the First Rank, Prince Ding’an of the First Rank, Prince Lüduan of the First Rank, Prince Yishen of the First Rank, Prince Zhe of the First Rank, Yongjing, Yonglian, Yonglin, Yonglu, Yongqi, Yongqi;Prince Rong, Yongrong, Yongzhang
  • Born Country: China
  • Height: 1.78 m
  • Died on: February 7, 1799
  • City: Beijing, China

Childhood & Early Life

The Qianlong Emperor, born Hongli, was born on September 25, 1711, in Beijing, China. He was the son of the Yongzheng Emperor and Empress Xiaoshengxian, and he belonged to the Manchu descent. There are legends and myths that claim he had Han Dynasty or mixed Han and Manchu origins. Hongli was the fourth son of the Yongzheng Emperor and was known for being the brightest and most well-mannered among his siblings. His grandfather, Kangxi, the second emperor of the Qing Dynasty, made Yongzheng the emperor because he wanted to see Hongli become an emperor someday. Hongli received the best education from teachers all over China and also trained in martial arts and military skills.

Ascension to the Throne

When Yongzheng became the emperor in 1722, he faced opposition from his brothers who also wanted the throne. To prevent bloodshed, Yongzheng implemented a method where the current ruler could write the name of his successor and hide it behind a high wall plaque in the palace. The name would only be revealed after the emperor’s death. Hongli was made a Qinwang, or prince, following his father’s ascension to the throne and was named the “Prince Bao of the First Rank.” Despite facing discontentment among his brothers, Hongli eventually became the successor to his father and became the Qianlong Emperor.

Military Prowess

One of the notable skills of the Qianlong Emperor was his military prowess. During his reign, the Qing Dynasty faced rebellions and conflicts in various parts of Asia. Qianlong successfully incorporated Chinese Turkestan into China, which was then named Xinjiang. He also launched military operations to conquer Ili and the western part of the dynasty. Qianlong defeated the Western Mongols, conquered Outer Mongolia, and sent his armies to Tibet to establish the Dalai Lama as the ruler. He also intervened in Vietnam to remove rebels who had occupied the country.

Military Expeditions and Challenges

Qianlong’s military expeditions expanded China’s territory, but they also came at a great cost. The imperial treasury suffered due to the expenses of maintaining control over conquered territories and potential hostilities. Not all military operations were successful, and the imperial army suffered casualties after years of warfare. Qianlong failed to conquer the Jin Chuan Dynasty and faced financial setbacks due to the military conflict with the Dzungars.

Other Highlights

Qianlong had an artistic inclination and ordered the preservation of ancient Chinese texts to preserve the culture. However, he also destroyed books and texts critical of the Qing Dynasty. He supported the flourishing art of ceramics in China and was known for his poetry and essays. Qianlong wrote over 44,000 poems during his lifetime and became a great patron of art in China. He also encouraged scientific innovations during his reign.

Later Years and Death

In his later years, Qianlong became disillusioned by his power and relied heavily on his corrupt favorite minister, Heshen. Heshen’s corruption led to the downfall of the Qing Dynasty’s financial strength. Qianlong had the opportunity to establish trade relations with the British Empire but was misled by Heshen into believing that China did not need foreign relations. Qianlong had multiple wives and fathered many children. He ruled for 61 years, retiring in 1796 but retaining the power of an emperor until his death on February 7, 1799, at the age of 87. He was one of the longest-reigning rulers in history.

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