China: The Three Emperors, 1662–1795 by Evelyn S Rawski and Jessica Rawson (ed) - review by Jonathan Mirsky

Jonathan Mirsky

Being A Ruler Is Difficult

China: The Three Emperors, 1662–1795


Royal Academy of Arts 494pp £25.95 order from our bookshop

Can there have been another emperor during the last 2,500 years of Chinese history who had himself painted ladling human manure onto a rice paddy? Yongzheng (1678–1735) did. Most royal portraits, like those in the Royal Academy's exhibition 'The Three Emperors’, were intended to awe. In more informal pictures the emperors pursued tigers, galloped horses through the mountains, and received grovelling subjects. Only Yongzheng ladled shit. 

One of the most eccentric emperors in Chinese history (he reigned from 1722 to 1735), Yongzheng was sandwiched between two of the greatest: his famous father, Kangxi (reigned 1662–1722 ), and his yet more famous son, Qianlong (reigned 1736–95). He is described, in Regina Krahl's short but informative essay in

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