Baroque Beijing

You would be forgiven for thinking that Beijing was gearing up to be the filming location for the Hobbit

Or perhaps a movie about Stonehenge

Or even Arcadia

Eventually, though, there are clues you are actually in a Chinese park:

This is the Old Summer Palace, built by Giuseppe Castiglione and Michel Benoist for the Qianlong Emperor. Qianglong is better known for his feud with George Macartney. Qianlong’s famously remarked to Macart9ney (actually, in a letter to King George III):

As your Ambassador can see for himself, we possess all things. I set no value on objects strange or ingenious, and have no use for your country’s manufactures.

Maybe he just preferred Italian craftsmanship?

Macartney, for his part, summed up the Manchu Apartheid State as follows: “The Government, as it stands, is properly the tyranny of a handful of Tatars over more than three hundred millions of Chinese.” Both Republican and Communist revolutionaries would agree.

The Summer Palace was destroyed in October 18, 1860, as retaliation for the murder of British and Indian personnel. Now, it is one of the most unusual parks in Beijing!

4 thoughts on “Baroque Beijing”

  1. It’s funny what you say about the Manchus. I always understood it that the Manchus were distinguishable from the Han by their long noses. But, are they truly Tatars? Or is that a close enough approximation for a slander?
    It’s kind of like Russians in Central Asia, everyone’s a little bit Mongol.

  2. In the context of English-language Chinese history, “Tatar” is a catch-all for North Asian pastueralists. It includes many famous groups of horsemen, including Mongols, Turks, and Manchu. The Great Qing considered their empire to be one of Five Races — Manchu, Mongol, Turk, Tibetan, and Han — with the sedentary Han at the bottom and the Tatar everyone-else on top.

    For instance, Han were not allowed to live withtn the Tatar City (the part of Beijing that is now within the 2nd ring road).

    A couple of months ago I finished China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Asia which argues that modern China was forged in the successful attempts by two successor states of the Mongol Empire [2] (Muscovy and the Great Qing) to consolidate their hold on the still-nomadic majority of Tatars using their agrarian subjects as an economic and commercial base.


  3. Fascinating. Most of my exposure to the word Tartar is from my Russian wife’s family. Of course it’s a catch-all there too, though in the west (of Asia) many turko-mongols look more European, less Asian than further east.

    The book sounds fantastic. I’m going to pick it up. It covers a couple of my fascinations: central Asia and Russian history (Chinese history is not as high up there, but a did take a great class about China taught by Jonathan Spence).

    The rise of Muscovy over Kieven Rus (which probably has a better claim as the birth of ‘Russia), always represented to me the victory of the Mongol system over the Greco-Roman (Byzantium).

  4. ElamBend,

    Thanks for your comment!

    The book is great, especially thru the Kangxi Emperor. Once the Qing cycle of conquest is established, the grandeur diminishes, and it becomes a list of stuff that the Yongzheng Emperor did.

    Interesting last paragraph. An almost parallel one could be written, for the land at the other end of the Horde:

    The rise of the Great Qing over the Great Ming (which probably had a better claim as the birth of Modern China), always represented to me the victory of the Mongol system over the Chinese (Han).


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