Emperor Qianlong’s Hidden Treasures

Reconsidering the Collection of the Qing Imperial Household


Nicole T. C. Chiang

ISBN : 978-988-8528-05-9


August 2019

168 pages, 6″ x 9″, 6 color and 3 b&w illus.

  • HK$360.00

In this stunning reassessment, Nicole T. C. Chiang argues that the famous Qianlong art collection is really ‘the collection of the imperial household in the Qianlong reign’. The distinction is significant because it strips away the modern, Eurocentric preconceptions that have led scholars to misconstrue the size of the collection, the role of nationalism in its formation, the distinction between art and artifact, and the actual involvement of the emperor in assembling the collection. No one interested in Chinese art will be able to ignore the ramifications of this important study.

Emperor Qianlong’s Hidden Treasures: Reconsidering the Collection of the Qing Imperial Household argues that the size of the collection was actually smaller than previously stated. Moreover, the idea that the collection put the whole of the empire on display (and thereby promoted political unity) does not square with the reality that most of the collection was hidden away. Instead, the collection was primarily for the emperor’s gaze alone. Chiang further explains that the collection was largely the product of work done by many specialists working at the Qianlong court, noting that the emperor often assumed a more supervisory role. Preliminary drawings, patterns, models, and prototypes of the items made in the imperial workshops also formed an important part of the collection, as they served to establish standardized models used to run the imperial household. The collection was thus both broader and narrower than previously stated.

Dr. Nicole Chiang’s research interests include the art and material culture of China’s Qing dynasty, cross-cultural studies, collecting histories and theories, and museum studies.

‘Chiang has identified many misguided assumptions about the Qing imperial collection. In their place, she proposes a new definition of an imperial collection that does not give primacy to art objects. This bold revisionist thesis may be controversial, but it is important and deserves to be read widely for this exact reason.’ —Dorothy Ko, Barnard College, Columbia University

‘Chiang makes a new argument which will contribute to the literature on Qing imperial art. She shows that a distinction should be made between the Qianlong emperor’s activities in commissioning objects from the palace workshop and his activities in accumulating, assessing, and cataloguing objects that went into what she calls the “imperial household collection.” This work will attract wide attention from scholars in art history.’ —Evelyn S. Rawski, University of Pittsburgh