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The jewel in China's crown

Updated: 2024-01-06 09:47 ( CHINA DAILY )
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This particular tour, second of the six, was re-created by court artists in a series of laboriously painted hand-scrolls, including one on view at the current exhibition. On loan from the University of Alberta Museums, the scroll, measuring 22.2 meters long, illustrates, in a central scene, Kangxi's arrival by boat at the gate.

The streets are decorated, lined with residents standing or kneeling as the imperial fleet approaches. There is no sign of the vehement opposition the emperor's ancestors once faced in Jiangnan, where they, by virtue of being the ethnic minority Manchu people, were viewed with great hostility and even greater suspicion.

This was before the Qing rulers — Kangxi and his equally long-reigning grandson Qianlong being two salient examples — proved themselves great patrons capable of "bringing Jiangnan to its heights", to use Von Spee's words.

By commissioning large quantities of goods — carved jade and porcelain, for instance — from Jiangnan artists and artisans, the Qing rulers promoted the region, which contributed one-third of the empire's tax revenue, while subtly imposing their own cultural standards.

Calling Jiangnan "an advantaged area with abundant water resources", Von Spee also credits the decision-making of those responsible for Jiangnan's fate for the region's enduring prosperity.

"We all know that the Southern Song emperors had an appeasement policy — they would rather pay silk than go to war with their enemies in the north. Consequently, there's this general perception of them being weak," she says. "But if you think about it, Confucianism is much more about wise politics than forcing things through military power.

"They could have gone down in history as fierce warriors, but that could have been a totally different story for Jiangnan."

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