The Last Emperor’s Collection Resources

All Grades, Arts & Literature, History, Resource Collection
  • Zhu Zhanji (Emperor Xuanzong, 1399–1435) Ten-Thousand-Year-Old Pine Tree(detail), 1431; Handscroll; ink on paper 33 x 453 cm

  • Hongli (Qianlong emperor, 1711–1799) Copying Huaisu’s "Thousand-Character Essay,” 1770; Handscroll; ink on paper 30.3 x 689.3 cm

Painting and Calligraphy from the Liaoning Provincial Museum

Introduction

The Last Emperor’s Collection features more than twenty-four works of painting and calligraphy from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Since all once belonged to the imperial collection, the exhibition is a broad survey of imperial collecting and connoisseurship. It’s also the story of the tragic loss of these treasures under Puyi (1906-1967), the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, and their journey through the turbulent world of early twentieth century China.

Before the twentieth century, educated Chinese regarded calligraphy and painting not only as polite arts, but also as a mark of what it meant to be civilized. With the intrusion of the West in the nineteenth century, the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, and the decades of war and revolution that followed, most aspects of traditional culture were called into question.

Also, modern, Western-style, visual media (graphics, photography, film) began to play a role in everyday life, changing people’s ways of seeing the world, particularly in urban areas. Traditional calligraphy and traditional painting didn’t vanish but they no longer occupied a central place in the lives of the elite. Perhaps a signpost in this new cultural landscape is the 1925 opening of the Forbidden City as a museum. It marked the transition of the imperial collection from a rarefied world of connoisseurship to the public realm of “Guobao” or “National Treasures.”

In order to better understand The Last Emperor’s Collection and its varied contexts, this web-companion discusses the following historical/cultural themes:

1. The Chinese Emperor as Link Between Heaven, Earth, and Humankind;
2. Late Imperial China—The Ming (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911);
3. The “Three Emperors”;
4. Qianlong and the World of the Arts;
5. The Decline and Fall of the Qing Dynasty;
6. The Life and Times of Pu Yi (1906-1967), Last Emperor of China;
7. The Dispersal of the Imperial Painting and Calligraphy Collection;
8. Cultural Property and Cultural Heritage: To Whom Does the Artistic Past Belong?

These emphasize the multidisciplinary nature of historical understanding and underline the general need for students to consult documents, journals, diaries, artifacts, historic sites, works of art, quantitative data, and other evidence from the past, and to do so imaginatively—taking into account the historical context in which these records were created. . .1

They are also relevant to basic concepts grouped under “History,” and “Civics, Citizenship, and Government” in New York State’s K-12 core curriculum for social studies:

History: Culture means the patterns of human behavior that includes ideas, beliefs, values, artifacts, and ways of making a living which any society transmits to succeeding generations to meet its fundamental needs.

Identity means awareness of one’s own values, attitudes, and capabilities as an individual and as a member of different groups.

Civics: Power refers to the ability of people to compel or influence the actions of others. “Legitimate power is called authority.”2

Finally, Standard 4 of the New York State Learning Standards for the Arts ties these varied threads together: Students will develop an understanding of the personal and cultural forces that shape artistic communication and how the arts in turn shape the diverse cultures of past and present society.3


1. From “Overview of Standards in Historical Thinking” from the National Standards for History Basic Edition, 1996

2. http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/socst/ssrg.html

3. http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/arts/artstand/arts4.html

Resource Type: Resource Collections
Caterogy: All Grades, Arts & Literature, History, Resource Collection

Author

Teach China Team

Teach China is a comprehensive professional development program offered by China Institute to provide a wealth of opportunities for K-12 educators to enhance their knowledge of China, past and present. We take an interdisciplinary approach consistent with national and state-mandated standards in order to help educators incorporate the teaching of China into all subjects and grade levels, including Mandarin language learning, the humanities, social studies, and the arts. Teach China promotes cross-cultural understanding through the use and creation of authentic materials, the presentation of balanced perspectives, and the fostering of enduring connections between educators around the world.