Maybe you’ve seen the cover of this week’s Economist (left), featuring President Xi Jinping’s head (and some party props) skilfully photo-shopped on emperor Qianlong’s body. The “1793 party” refers to emperor Qianlong’s attitude towards foreign (British) visitors during his Qing-dynasty rule. Leaving aside the question of how this comparison is relevant to the point made in the article (I couldn’t really see it, but see for yourself and read the article here), it certainly makes for interesting visuals. I couldn’t help but finding the original image of Emperor Qianlong (see below). I personally really like these images of emperors, and would love to have a collection of them in my living room. The Qianlong portrait also brought me to the webpage of the Beijing Palace Museum (北京故宫博物馆), where you can browse their collection online, read about current and future exhibitions, and check out the curator’s favorite pieces. It’s a good resource for visual materials about Chinese art, painting, calligraphy, and ceramics. But nothing beats going there yourself, of course!
The Economist cover struck a chord with me for another reason. As it happened, I had just assigned the article on Emperor Qianlong for the forthcoming Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography, that day. Part of my job as Project Coordinator is identifying and contacting possible authors. It is great to be in touch with so many scholars from around the world, and it is definitely a part of my job that I very much enjoy. But it can also be one of the harder (and more frustrating) ones, as you sometimes get stuck in a “loop of recommendation.” Professor A is to busy to write and recommends either Professor B, or Professor C. But Professor B hasn’t done research on this figure for so long, that he also suggest we contact recently promoted Professor C. Professor C, however, doesn’t feel confident enough, and suggest we contact expert in the field Professor A. And then you’re back where you started. As it turned out, finding authors for articles on emperors proved to be especially challenging. All the more reason I was very excited to have Emperor Qianlong assigned. At least we can include him, alongside 120 other figures from Chinese history (from the very beginning to 1976), in the Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography. Articles will also be available on ChinaConnectU, with many online extras, including teaching materials, timelines, full-color images, additional articles, regular updates, bibliographies, and more. Stay tuned!