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Landscape Allegory: Manchu-Chinese Imperial and Ethnic Images at the Early Qing Tomb Parks

Alan R. Sweeten, California State University, Stanislaus, Project Grant 2009–2010

Please allow me to begin by expressing appreciation for the financial support of my research project, Landscape Allegory: Manchu-Chinese Imperial and Ethnic Images at the Early Qing Tomb Parks.

I focus on four crucial imperial tomb park landscape issues, each relevant in a different way to understanding important aspects of Manchu-Chinese interaction in the northeast and north China during the seventeenth century. First, I investigate how the earliest tomb parks reflected Manchu aesthetic and cultural orientations and how the Manchus used royal tombs to bolster an image of power and permanence. Next, I look at the parks' garden and landscape elements, especially Chinese influence on Manchu formulations at the northeastern sites. Third, I integrate this discourse with an examination of a broad geographic-topographical setting, that is, a constructed Homeland in which the tomb parks simultaneously enhanced this ethnic group's stature and self-defined greatness. Finally, numerous inscribed stelae, along with documentary records, provide an opportunity to study the Manchus' public emphasis on the historicity of Qing tomb parks. The last matter involves an evaluation of Manchuness, the Manchus' identification, appreciation, and preservation of qualities they considered uniquely theirs, and a discussion of the Sinification process, its presumed start in the early 1600s and acceleration thereafter.

From prior research experience in China, I know that well-established relationships (in Chinese, guanxi) are central to having access to materials and sites as well as finding new portals that often lead to unexpected sources of additional information. Consequently, soon after arriving in Beijing in mid September I contacted scholars who I know at two tomb research departments outside of Beijing. In discussions of bibliographical sources with Mr. Li Yin at the Qing Eastern Tombs in Zunhua I learned of and examined an un-catalogued Qing-period manuscript on the construction of an imperial tomb park. Another scholar, Mr. Fang Guohua, informed me of the research department's collection of hand-written notes taken from various documentary collections by an earlier generation of researchers active in the 1980s and 1990s. Unfortunately, the notes are carbon-paper copies on thin paper and faded by time. I did not have time to study them at length and the few photocopies I made proved unreadable. At some point in the future, I hope to reexamine these notes and determine to what degree they may supplement materials I have already studied.

At the Western Tombs' research department in Yixian, Director Li Jun showed me a detailed ground survey of the Guangxu Emperor's tomb park (Chongling), which I had not previously seen. In discussions with him, he asked if I knew anything about the occupation of the Western Tomb Park by foreign military forces during the suppression of the Boxer Uprising. I told him of a book on the subject published by a French army officer. I have now obtained a photocopy for him, which he intends to have translated into Chinese for use by his research department's scholars. I want to emphasize here that these several experiences illustrate the invaluable nature of personal relations/contact with Chinese scholars and how this frequently leads to mutually beneficial exchanges of information. I am positive that my experiences will benefit future scholars working at the tomb parks.

Another reason for being in China was to research the Qing/Manchu official records housed at Beijing's First Historical Archives (FHA), which are located on the palace grounds of the former dynasty (now commonly referred to in Chinese as Gugong and in English as the Forbidden City). During September, I familiarized myself with the FHA's many regulations for users and surveyed catalogues of Qing-period documents for relevant documents to retrieve. Although FHA catalogue descriptions indicate the documents' dates (in reign year, month, and day format), there are only brief content comments based on an archivist's review of it, usually done many years ago. Catalogues do not specify page length so a title entry may include only one sheet or a whole packet/bundle of documents. All researchers who use the archives are aware of this situation and welcome the FHA's ongoing efforts to reevaluate and recatalogue its collection of over two million documents. Obviously, this will take some time to complete. After two weeks in the northeast at the earliest Qing tomb parks (more below), I returned to the FHA for an extended period of work. Among the many documents I examined I found information that helps elucidate the aforementioned issues of interest. My preliminary conclusion is that the Manchus, especially the first generation of conquest leaders and heroes, took a deliberate course of action in first consolidating control in their heartland and later in north China, and that the establishment of grandiose imperial tomb parks played a key role in this process. Discussion of why and how is not explicit in the documents because Manchus leaders apparently did not feel it necessary to specify these details: they all knew the purpose and agreed on the importance of constructing tomb parks. Some may argue that high Chinese advisors influenced the Manchus' position, and, though this is partially true, implicit evidence plus the visual/material culture of the tomb parks themselves lends credence to the fact that the Manchus had their own agenda.

Central to understanding Manchu actions are the four early Qing tomb parks in the northeast. Located at Hetu Ala is Yongling, built in 1598, and thus the first of all the Qing tombs. Its modest size belies its importance as the site of Nurhaci's ancestors' graves, retroactively upgraded in 1657 to imperial tomb park status. Concurrent with this came rebuilding and remodeling projects that brought its appearance somewhat in line with the Manchus' evolving seventeenth-century view of the task. Mr. Xing Qikun, director of the Yongling Tomb Park, met with me and shared several local publications that are out of print. He also permitted me to photograph and survey the site. Next, I visited Liaoyang's Tomb Park (Dongjingling). Constructed in 1621, it was the Manchus' second imperial mausoleum site and a first-level tomb park until 1657 when the emperor decided to move his imperial ancestors' remains back to Hetu Ala. Today, the modest park includes grave memorials for four Manchu princes. Its value is both historical and comparative. Although it has not been as well maintained as the other tombs, the facilities do suggest something about the original form and landscape design. The most impressive tomb parks are those in Shenyang where we find separate sites for Nurhachi (Fuling) and Hongtaiji (Zhaoling), founders of the Manchu State. Both are excellent examples of early Qing architecture and garden layouts, albeit the Manchus later remodeled both. Fuling's locale and ground plan indicate that the connection Manchus felt to the natural world did not change after the establishment of their capital at Shenyang. Today, it is somewhat isolated from Shenyang city yet well maintained. Zhaoling, on the other hand, became a public park in the mid-twentieth century and is now surrounded by urban development including (sadly) a nearby amusement center. Fortunately, its core features are still visible and easily accessed for study. Both Zhaoling and Fuling reveal important ethnic dimensions to early Manchu tomb park planning.

While in Shenyang, I also investigated the holdings of the Liaoning Provincial Library and Liaoning Provincial Museum but their materials proved to be somewhat tangential to my research. On the other hand, meetings I had with several local scholars who are not only interested in the early Qing period but also have specialized knowledge regarding various Manchu imperial landscape projects went very well. Mr. Tong Yue of the Shenyang Palace Museum's research department and Mr. Li Qinpu of the Lu Xun Art Institute are two that especially impressed me. Discussions with them were wide ranging and productive as they both generously shared information as well as publication offprints with me. Given the overlapping nature of our research, I am sure we will remain in regular contact.

To close, I am quite satisfied with the amount of research I completed in such a short time. Moreover, I feel confident that my work brings new perspectives to the topic, ones that will help us to understand fully the Manchus' earliest tomb parks and the role they played in the transition to the grandiose ones built in the Beijing area.