Michael Chang to Deliver Lecture on Imperial Tours in Eighteenth-Century China

Professor Michael Chang will deliver a lecture at the University of Alberta in British Columbia, Canada, this February 25 to 27. Titled "The Emperor Qianlong’s Tours of Southern China in Painting, Poetry, and Logistical Practice," Chang's lecture is part of a Mactaggart Art Collection Lecture Series on "Visualizing China’s Imperial Order (1500-1800)."

The website of the lecture series offers fuller detail:


This presentation will focus on the well-known southern tours of the Qianlong emperor (1711-1799, r. 1736-1795), the fourth Manchu emperor to rule over China-proper. Each of Qianlong’s six southern tours, which took place between 1751 and 1784, were extended affairs during which the emperor and his rather sizeable entourage spent anywhere from three to five months traveling through one of the empire’s most prosperous and critical regions—the Lower Yangtze delta (a.k.a. “Jiangnan”). But what did a southern tour actually look like? And what was the visual impact and symbolic meaning of the mobile court as it journeyed to and through the Lower Yangtze delta?

In this presentation, Chang will address such questions by considering a variety of historical sources including court paintings, imperial poetry, literati accounts, administrative regulations, and archival documents. By reading this array of sources in conjunction with and against each other, Chang hopes to elucidate how court paintings of the Qianlong emperor’s southern tours as well as of other imperial spectacles did not necessarily represent reality in any direct (positivistic) manner. Instead, these paintings were themselves ideologically imbued documents that served to maintain strict and stereotypical boundaries between northern and southern landscapes, between civil and military spheres, and between Chinese and Inner Asian cultural norms and political sensibilities. Equally important, Chang will also detail how the logistical management and written accounts of the mobile court’s two most basic material forms—that is, a court on horseback and a court in camp—symbolically undermined the visual taxonomy constituted by court paintings and thereby generated ethnically imbued projections of imperial authority within the heart of China-proper.