Qianlong Imperial Gengji Poems Ink on paper, album of 19 double leaves Signed chen Peng Yuanrui, with two seals of the artist Carefully composed and written on finely textured papers, the compilation of sixty-four poems displayed in nineteen double pages, framed within front and back zitan covers The cover incised Yuzhi Gengishi within floral borders 17.5cm x 55cm (6¾in x 21½in) each. (19).
Provenance: an important Asian private collection
The Genjishi was compiled on the occasion of the Qianlong Emperor's seventy-ninth birthday before he became Emperor Emeritus. The content contains a fifty-four year record of the Emperor's twenty-eight experiences in presiding over the agricultural ceremonies at the Xiannongtan. Divided into sixty-four poems, they were also recorded in the Anthology of Imperial Poems (fig.1 and fig.2).
Peng Yuanrui (1731-1803), alias Yun Mei, from Nanchang, Jiangxi province, lived during the Yongzheng period. He became an Imperial scholar during the twenty-second year of Qianlong period (1757), and was admitted to and trained at the Hanlin Academy. He served at the Imperial libraries of Maoqindian and Nanshufang, before finally being appointed as the assistant minister in charge of various official duties involving labour and military matters. His notable compositions include Shengjiaoxu, Sanda Lifu and Bageng Quan Yunshi, all which gained much fame and were appreciated by the Emperor. The Emperor praised him with scholarly gifts of leopard mink fur, inkstone and ink, in addition to dedicating poems to him.
It is recorded in scroll number three hundred and twenty-six of the Qingshigao or Draft History of Qing, which translates as:
"Yuanrui's abilities as a scholar were acknowledged. His influence is vast and has penetrated all forms of cultural and official life in the Imperial palace. Truly remarkable and worth praising". Peng Yuanrui's scholarly abilities were unique and were developed during his twelve years of training at the Hanlin Academy, where he published records including Midian Zhulin, Shiqubao Ji, Xiqing Gujian and Tianlu Linlang Shumu. During the thirty-fifth year rule and the sixtieth birthday of the Qianlong Emperor, Yuanrui also published and gifted Wanfu Jicheng Shizhang to the Emperor; he later also published the religious scriptures Jibao Jing which was heavily favoured by the Qianlong Emperor. Peng Yuanrui lived a diligent life of unfaltering passion for learning by keeping a personal journal Zhisheng Daoqi Dushu Ba. This important collection consists of fifty different sections separated into two volumes: the first volume refers to classics and history books; the second volume consists of literary anthologies. The content of his works is usually short but precise and deeply meaningful. On the fifty-sixth year of Qianlong period (1791), Peng Yuanrui was ordered by Imperial decree to preside over the carving of the thirteen classics on a stone stele. This stele is known as Qianlong Shijing and became an implement of study for many future generations. Under Yuanrui's supervision and carved by master calligrapher Jiang Heng, the stele still stands today in its complete form.
Every wise ruler from every period comprehended that agriculture is the backbone of a prosperous nation, hence it is by Imperial regulations that the procession of gengji tianli, an agricultural ceremony held annually during springtime. This was highly regarded by the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Emperors. The procession includes educating the commoners on the religious importance of divine intervention and paying respects to the Heavens in return for rainfall and good harvest. Even under Manchu rule they still honoured and continued this major tradition. All three Emperors also issued Imperial decrees instructing the construction of agricultural bureaus at the Yuanmingyuan, Fengzeyuan and Yiheyuan, including weaving and dying workshops, temples for blessing silkworm cultivation, stone steles with scenes of agriculture as well as the Emperor's personal participation in the actual farming process. To explain the significance of agriculture during this period, see an Imperial Kangxi-style painting of the Yongzheng Emperor engaging in agricultural activities in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in, Paintings by the Court Artists of the Qing Court. The Complete Collection of the Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1996, p.76, no.3 (fig.3).
The Kangxi and Yongzheng Emperor never failed to personally attend to the annual procession unless they were in ill health, hence the Qianlong Emperor also highly regarded this tradition and continued to carry out his official duties yearly. Every year during spring time, the Qianlong Emperor would proceed through the Zhengyangmen to Xiannongtan to oversee the ritual. Xiannongtan is a ceremonial altar where the mentioned processions are held during the Ming and Qing dynasties, where such platforms were in service since the eighteenth year of Yongle period (1420) until the twenty-seventh year of the Qianlong period (1755). Such altars were constructed in increasing numbers and over the years involved the usage of various kinds of altar wares. The creation of the altar had to adhere to strict regulations and was complete with a private platform where the Emperor observed his ministers performing the entire procession. Such is the embodiment of belief and thousands of years of tradition left behind by ancestors of old, which has reflected the unity of strength and spirit of the Chinese society.
The mentioned structure is today in ruins with what remains of the foundation left. In the twenty-sixth year of Guangxu period (1900), the American's ninth and fourteenth battalion set up their military operations and headquarters at Xiannongtan. It was at this period that many of the ceremonial objects were removed from their original settings. The current lot is fortunate to have retained its current condition through this period of history. Another comparable example titled Shaonong Jidian, or 'Ceremonial Documentary of Agricultural Development' was included in Shiqu Baoji, see Midian Zhulin Shiqu Baoji Hebian, Shanghai, vol.11, pp.3026-3035. Compare also another identical looking album with different content dating to the Qianlong period, exhibited in the Macao Museum of Art and currently in the Palace Museum, Beijing, see The Life of Emperor Qianlong , Macao, 2002, no.18 (fig.4).
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