Envisioning Authority: The Mongol Imperium and the Yonglegong Mural Paintings and Architecture

Li, Chun Tung 李俊彤
Supervisor: Dr. R.L. Hammers

This thesis addresses the question of how the Mongol imperium’s patronage in combination with Quanzhen Taoist proselytism inspired the mural paintings and architectural forms of the Yonglegong永樂宮. The Taoist temple of Yonglegong was constructed during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) on the site of the former residence of the Taoist immortal L? Dongbin呂洞賓. During the period of the temple’s construction from 1244 to 1358, the Quanzhen 全真order, to which the Yonglegong was affiliated, thrived under the Mongol imperium. Previous scholarship has emphasized the Quanzhen order’s autonomous and exclusive role in the formation of Yonglegong. An analysis of the development of the Quanzhen from its establishment in late Jin dynasty (1115-1234) to its rise to prominence during the Yuan suggests that it received significant imperial supports and thus was not wholly autonomous. The Quanzhen order’s development was intertwined with and propounded by imperial patronage. The Yonglegong’s status as one the three holiest patriarch halls of the order ensured its centrality as a showpiece of the Mongol-Quanzhen collaboration. This study explores the iconographic innovations of Chaoyuantu 朝元圖 (Paying homage to the Origins), a representation of the Taoist universe, a subject that existed in pre-Yuan art; and the Hagiography of L? Dongbin, a new category of Taoist imagery. These two mural painting programs show different modes of appropriation. In the Chaoyuantu, the Mongol imperium altered the scheme of depiction and inserted new iconography in order to register their claims over established traditions of representation. As for the depiction of L? Dongbin, prior to Yonglegong, the immortal was only represented in single scenes, not in a fully developed biographical narrative. The Hagiography of L? Dongbin represents arguably a new genre of narrative depiction that facilitated an alternative ideology. Such alterations are regarded in this thesis as evidence that illustrates the shared interests of the Mongol imperium and the Quanzhen order as they intersected. In comparison with the mural paintings, the Yuan dynasty architectural structures’ significance has not been adequately recognized in earlier scholarship. This thesis reexamines the implications of the architectural features’ parameters and the unique alignment of structures in the Yonglegong. As such this study acknowledges the Yonglegong’s multiple identities as a complex that serves both the imperial and religious interests. It also evaluates the extent to which the architectural structures directed the organization and presentation of the mural paintings they housed. Through the reclamation of Yongleong’s historical context, aligned as it was with a Mongol-Quanzhen collaboration, this study recognizes the larger significance of the temple complex. The Mongol imperium in combination with the Quanzhen order have given rise to a new formulation of Taoist mural paintings and architecture with new iconography, themes and modes of representation.