Life of the Emperors and Empresses in the Forbidden City (1644-1911)-VIII.
The arts of playing the Qin (seven-string zither), Chinese chess, calligraphy and painting are important cultural accomplishments in the Chinese tradition. The Qing emperors, especially Emperors Kang Xi, Yong Zheng and Qian Long, paid great attention to these activities.
Emperor Kang Xi was very fond of culture and science; he organized the compillation of many significant books, such as Ming Shi (History of the Ming Dynasty), Gu Jin Tu Shu Ji Cheng (Collection of Ancient and Modern Books) and Kang Xi Zi Dian (Kang Xi Dictionary). He himself studied mathematics, paid great attention to astronomy and geography, and had a great deal of astronomical and surveying instruments made or imported.
Emperor Qian Long made a great contribution to the preservation and collation of ancient literature by personally organizing the compilation of Si Ku Quan Shu (Complete Writings of the Four Categories-classics, histories, philosophical writings and belles lettres). He managed to collect three rare specimens of calligraphy of the Jin Dynasty-Kuai Xue Shi Qing Tie (the Clear Sky after Pleasant Snow) by Wang Xizhi, Zhong Qiu Tie (Mid-Autumn) by Wang Xianzhi and Bo Yuan Tie by Wang Xun-and named the room in which he kept them Sanxitang (Three Rarities Hall). He also ordered the carving of Sanxitang Fa Tie (Copy of Rubbings of Inscriptions) consisting of more than three hundred specimens of famous calligraphy to be preserved at Yuegulou (Tower for Reading Ancient Calligraphy) in Beihai Park.
Both Emperors Kang Xi and Qian Long paid great attention to music. The former ordered the compilation of Lu Lu Zheng Yi (The Basic Principles of Music) in four volumes, which discusses the principles of music, the rules for wind and string and main points for the manufacture of musical instruments. The latter ordered the writing of Lu Lu Zheng Yi Hou Bian (A Continuation of the Basic Principles of Music) was completed in the 11th year of his reign (1746) and includes a dissertation on ceremonial music and many music scores.
Many of the Qing emperors, empresses and concubines were adept of playing the Qin and Chinese chess and at composing poems and drawing pictures. A great number of their poems and essays and volumes and scrolls of their calligraphy and painting are preserved in the Palace Museum, among which the poems written by Emperor Qian Long alone numbered forty thousand.
The Qin is a seven-stringed instrument mounted on a long and narrow piece of wood. Of ancient origin, it has a wide range of notes and a variety of tone colours. It is played by plucking and other ways of touching the strings, and its sound is pleasant to the ear. Weiqi (played with black and white pieces on a board of 361 crosses) and Xiangqi are two kinds of Chinese chess which are changeful and absorbing. Like painting and calligraphy, these were also pastimes of the emperors, empresses and concubines.
(Next: THEATRICAL PERFORMANCE IN THE PALACE.)