Emperor Qianlong was the fourth Qing emperor of China, reigning 11 October 1735 to 8 February 1796. This was not his death date; he abdicated because he'd made a promise that he wouldn't reign longer than his grandfather, Emperor Kangxi. Under his reign China reached its greatest territorial extent and its economy boomed, leading some to consider him the greatest Qing emperor. In the process of this he ordered thousands of Dzungars massacred in what would become Xinjiang; this is one of the first recorded genocides of the modern era.
Qianlong was born Aisin Gioro Hongli in 1711 to Yinzhen, Prince Yong of the First Rank(later Emperor Yongzheng) and his second wife. Despite having an older brother, Hongshi, Hongli was his father and grandfather's favorite. When Prince Yong became Emperor Yongzheng, Hongli became Prince Bao of the First Rank.
Emperor Yongzheng suddenly died in 1735. Following his death, his will was read before the court; Hongli was his appointed successor. He chose the imperial name Qianlong, meaning "Lasting Eminence".
The Dzungars were an Oirat(West Mongolic) tribe that had a state in the northern part of present day Xinjiang. In the 1750's there was a civil war between Dawachi and Amursana, two claimants for the position of Khan. Amursana was defeated, but sought the support of the Qing. They then defeated Dawachi in 1755.
Qianlong split Dzungaria into four khanates, one of which would be ruled by Amursana's Khoit clan. However, Amursana did not accept this, wanting to rule all Dzungars. Together with Khalkha Mongol prince Chingunjav, he rebelled against the Qing. Their rebellion failed, and to punish the Dzungars, Qianlong ordered their extermination:
"Show no mercy at all to these rebels. Only the old and weak should be saved. Our previous military campaigns were too lenient. If we act as before, our troops will withdraw, and further trouble will occur.
If a rebel is captured and his followers wish to surrender, he must personally come to the garrison, prostrate himself before the commander, and request surrender. If he only send someone to request submission, it is undoubtedly a trick. Tell Tsengünjav to massacre these crafty Zunghars. Do not believe what they say."
Following his order, Manchu Bannermen(Qianlong's tribal troops) and Khalkha(Eastern) Mongols entered Dzungaria, also having been told that the Dzungars were to be treated as bandits, to be completely exterminated. Accounts are conflicting, but they present a clear picture: between the years 1756 and 1758, hundreds of thousands were massacred, and many were taken by the death squads as slaves. Although they did not achieve a 100 percent kill rate(Chinese historian Wei Yuan estimates 70-80 percent, other estimates lean closer to 80 percent) the survivors were either enslaved or banished and assimilated into other Mongolic tribes; therefore, the genocide can be considered a success, as the Dzungars ceased to exist. Another Oirat tribe, the Khoshut, had a population in Dzungaria that may have also been targeted, and it's likely that many other Oirats in the region were killed as well.
Ironically, the conquest of Dzungaria and eradication of its native population was seen as representing the unity of the ethnic groups which the Qing ruled; in 1759 a monument in Manchu was made stating that the former Dzungar lands were now part of China, which included not only the Han, but also Manchus(which Qianlong's Aisin Gioro family was), Inner Mongols, Khalkha Mongols and Tibetans. This was also represented in the settlement of Xinjiang with Han and Uyghur, which would have the lasting effects of Xinjiang later becoming a Uyghur Autonomous Region under the People's Republic.
Qianlong believed that the Dzungars were subhuman barbarians, and thus Heaven supported him in his efforts. This echoed his grandfather Kangxi's beliefs that sweeping away barbarians brought stability to the interior. According to Peter Perdue's book China Marches West the Dzungars, unlike their Khalkha counterparts(and even some other Oirats), had refused to submit to the Qing as vassals at virtually ever opportunity given; this may have also motivated Qianlong's decision to exterminate them.
Other notable acts of villainy
Jinchuan is a region in Western Sichuan that was historically inhabited by the rGyalrong. They lived in two chiefdoms, Chuchen(Greater Jinchuan) and Tsanlha(Lesser Jinchuan). In 1747 Qianlong sought to increase Qing control over the region; after two attempts to invade, Chief Slob Dpon of Chuchen was defeated and agreed to be a tributary to China.
In 1771, Qianlong decided to intervene when Dpon's grand-nephew Sonom and his friend SSenge Sang started a conquest of Tsanlha. Qianlong sent Governor Artai of Sichuan to stop the uprising, but he failed and was replaced by Grand Secretary Wenfu, who led a two-pronged offensive with his forces in the north and those of Guilin, the new governor of Sichuan, in the south. Although Wenfu succeeded, Guilin failed and was executed, then replaced with General Agui.
Despite their successes, Wenfu and Agui were unable to capture SSenge Sang, so they tried offering Sonom the rulership of all Jinchuan if he handed SSenge Sang over. He refused, and the war continued; due to the fierceness of the resistance, the Qing army was forced to massacre the inhabitants. After the war, the chiefdoms were replaced with a military prefecture and settled with Han Chinese to replace the dead rGyalrong. This campaign had required 600,000 soldiers to be deployed to the region, and cost 70 million silver taels.
Although they are now the minority in the region due to massacres and displacement by Han Chinese, the rGyalrong were not completely exterminated, and still exist today.
Censorship of pro-Ming books
The Siku Quanshu(Chinese:Four Repositories Complete Library) is an official collection of Chinese books created by Qianlong between 1772 and 1782. Seven copies were created; four were sent to imperial residences, and others were sent to public libraries in Hangzhou(this copy is still there), Zhenjiang, and Yangzhou(these latter two were destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion).
While this compilation was a massive undertaking assembling a great deal of Chinese history and culture, around 2,855 books that Qianlong found to have a pro-Ming Dynasty or anti-Manchu sentiment were banned and put on a list known as the Siku Jinshu(Chinese: Four Repositories Banned Library). The books themselves were burned, and anyone who researched using them would be executed by a thousand cuts; each cut would remove body parts until the victim was dead. If a writer was already dead, his corpse would be mutilated and his family members would be executed. One did not have to directly praise the Ming Dynasty or disparage the Manchu people; a poet named Cai Xian who wrote a poem praising red peonies, believing them to be the true peony color whereas others were "alien", was executed on the grounds that the Chinese word for red, zhu, was a homonym of the surname of Ming emperors, and that the Qing Dynasty was not Han(and therefore alien to China)
In doing this, Qianlong sought to eliminate any remaining support for the Ming Dynasty, which his great-grandfather, Emperor Shunzhi, had overthrown a little over a hundred years earlier. Such attempts at censorship had occurred before as far back as Shunzhi's reign, but under Qianlong they became systematic. What was known as the "literary inquisition" would continue until his son, Emperor Jiaqing, ended it in 1799.
The Macartney Embassy
To Western audiences, Qianlong is best known for a diplomatic trade mission that George III of Great Britain sent to him.
In 1757, Qianlong made a law limiting foreign trade with China to Guangzhou(known by Europeans as Canton) in order to protect China from foreign influences. The East India Company did not approve of this, as it limited the profits they could be making in China(as well as limiting access to Chinese products such as tea), so they lobbied for an ambassador to go before the emperor. Whoever they sent would also have to solve the problem of trade deficits; all the EIC had to buy Chinese tea with was silver and hard currency, which they were running out of. In 1791, George Macartney, Governor of Madras, was chosen as ambassador.
The embassy comprised the following:
- George Staunton, assistant to Macartney
- Thomas Staunton, son of George Staunton and a page
- John Barrow, head of finances
- Doctors Hugh Gillan and William Scott
- Armed guards
- James Dinwiddie, a scientist, accompanied by other scientists
- 4 Chinese Catholic priests serving as interpreters
- Assorted scholars
Goals of the embassy included opening up more cities to trade, getting a British embassy(or British representatives in the imperial court, as Portugal did), and having China give them an island to use as a trading post. They brought trade items such as clocks, telescopes, carriages and other technological devices and arrived at Qianlong's hunting estate in Jehol in September of 1793, a few weeks before his 82nd birthday.
Problems were immediately encountered. Macartney did not want to kowtow before the emperor or his messengers bearing his edicts. So he made a proposal that if he were to kowtow to Emperor Qianlong, a Qing official of equal rank would have to kowtow to King George III, based on the idea that George III was the ruler of the greatest nation in the world, but nonetheless an equal to Qianlong. However, legate Zhengrui refused, saying Qianlong was the Son of Heaven and greater than any other ruler. Eventually, Macartney simply genuflected.
With that issue resolved, Macartney presented his trade items to Qianlong. However, the emperor thought they were tribute items, and when Macartney explained that they weren't, he was dismissed.
Qianlong then wrote a letter to George III, calling the British "barbarians" and saying that China had everything it needed, and thus had no need of Macartney's tribute; in addition, he said that China would deny Britain's requests because of how they would not be convenient for Britain, and would not bring them peace.
In response, the East India Company started selling opium to Chinese smugglers in Calcutta; thus Qianlong's arrogance had set in motion the events that would lead to the Opium Wars, and ultimately the downfall of the Qing Dynasty.
- Qianlong's genocide of the Dzungars is not taught in Chinese schools in the interest of promoting "racial harmony", and is barely touched upon in Mongolian schools.
- According to legend, Qianlong wasn't Yongzheng's(then Yinzhen's) son, nor was he even Manchu; he was the son of Haining County official Chen Shiguan(a Han Chinese), and was switched out with Yinzhen's daughter at the urging of Emperor Kangxi. This is most likely false.
- Despite his abdication, Qianlong still held influence and de facto power as Retired Emperor for the last three years of his life. He built the Tranquil Longevity Palace which he was supposed to move into during his time in retirement, but did not do so.
- Qianlong shares characteristics with Emperor Hirohito as both are egotistical, chauvinistic Asian emperors determined to achieve victory at any cost, who were never punished for any of their villainy.
- He is also similar to Xi Jinping, who, in his capacity as leader of China, is currently accused of genocide in Xinjiang. Ironically, Xi's alleged victims, the Uyghurs, settled in the region because Qianlong had depopulated it by exterminating the Dzungars.
- The Jinchuan campaign was one of many expensive campaigns he waged, including failed attempts to conquer Burma and Vietnam.