Jiehua of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

Chung, Miu Fun Anita 鍾妙昏
Supervisor: Prof. J.H. Chou

The Qing dynasty witnessed the resurgence of a traditional category of Chinese painting dominated by subjects like architecture, vehicles, furniture, and so on. This category of painting is often called jiehua. The present study focuses on images of architecture created inside the court in Beijing and outside the palace in Yangzhou during the golden age from the Kangxi (1662-1722) to the Qianlong (1736-1795) periods. Although it explores the development of the genre in only two major centres, detailed analyses of themes, styles, and meanings of works produced within and without the court academy suffice to reveal how jiehua has served as the media for transmitting cultural messages within Qing Chinese society. These paintings reveal the preoccupation of a segment of Qing population with power legitimation and status assertion within the hierarchical order. This hierarchy was perpetuated by the many rituals performed within society and by the fact that those in superior positions were in possession of luxurious material cultures. Grand pictorial images of actual architecture including ritual space, royal palaces, the ruler’s empire, and private estates were sites on which to advertise the social station of particular individuals or groups, and visions of splendid estates of the historical and the mythical worlds were pertinent to their contemporary material life. Monumental scale and descriptive complexity thus characterise these architectural images. Qing jiehua artists expressed a new cosmological view through images of the material world. Their solid renderings of architecture underscored the contemporary concern for the substance of things. The stylistic innovations in Qing jiehua were based on traditions. Although European representational techniques were adopted as a result of missionary activities at court, the borrowing was partial and selective. In transforming past conventions, artists created meaningful built environments for articulating contemporary views. In brief: Qing jiehua feature distinct styles that have important cultural and social implications.