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.