The Shengjing weichang quantu 盛京圍場全圖, or the “Complete illustrations of the Shengjing hunting grounds”
The library of Chinese studies of the Collège de France holds an album describing a Manchu hunting ground. The Shengjing weichang quantu – or the “Complete illustrations of the Shengjing hunting grounds” – is an exceptional collection of maps and illustrations of hunting in the province of Manchuria near Shengjing (the modern city of Shenyang), the Manchu capital before the Qing conquest of China in 1644. It is a manuscript illustrated in colour, dating to 1839. The five volumes (41.9×34.4cm) comprise 104 detailed maps indicating the landscape, riverbeds, inhabited settlements, and hunting circuits, as well as a meticulous description of the hunting camps, the hunts themselves and the worship of the local godsThis beautiful edition seems quite rare; to our knowledge, only one other hunting ground album exists, in the Taiwanese Palace Museum in Taipei.
The five volumes are mounted in a traditional Chinese butterfly binding between two wooden covers, and contain respectively 23 double pages for the first volume, 41 for the second, 22 for the third, 21 for the fourth, and 2 for the fifth. The portrayal of figures, animals and elements of the landscape is very precise and meticulous.
The first volume presents an introduction written by Qiying 耆英 (1787-1858), General Commander of Manchuria (將軍總管) from 1838 to 1842, who commissioned the album.
Qiying was a bannerman, from the plain blue banner – the first Manchu leader Nurhachi (1559-1626) organised the population into a banners system which served military and administrative functions –. Qiying was also a member of the imperial clan (Aisin Gioro). He belonged to the Neiwu fu 内務府 (the Imperial House Department), the institution in charge of everything relating to the Emperor and the Imperial clan, where he had many important responsibilities at the beginning of his career and later served in various positions in different ministries. In 1838, he was sent to Manchuria as military governor of Shengjing to suppress the smuggling of opium and prepare the coastal defences of the Liaotung Peninsula (mainly by fortifying them) in case of an attack by the English fleet. At the time, Great Britain was at war with China (the First Opium war, 1839-1842), and Qinying was one of the senior officials who negotiated the Nankin Treaty which put an end to this war in 1842.
As military commander of the Shengjing region, Qiying was in charge of the hunting ground of the former Qing capital Shengjing Weichang. There were two other hunting grounds in Manchuria (respectively in Jilin and in Heilongjiang provinces), and one near Peking created after the conquest of China by the Manchu, called Nanyuan. And, of course, there was the hunting ground that later on was the most visited by the emperors, especially Kangxi and Qianlong, the Mulan hunting ground in Mongolia, about 150 km north-west of the city of Chengde. Of all these hunting grounds, Shengjing had a special place and significance as the cradle of the Manchu people. This was where the ancestors’ altar had been erected, and the reigning emperor was supposed to go there on a regular basis to pay his respect to the them.
The military commander had a large number of civilian and military officers under his supervision and hundreds of soldiers to look after the hunting ground, specifically to prevent poaching and to prepare the area for the hunting season.
The role of hunting in Manchu culture
Hunting had a special place in both the Manchu and the Mongol culture. First, it was a sport and a military exercise. It was important to the Manchus because it helped them preserve their cultural and ethnic particularities, and train and maintain their physical abilities as warriors. Hunting was also an occasion for the Emperor to occupy his warriors and to see and judge his men’s abilities, as well as training and preparing them for war. It afforded him the opportunity to select his next generals and captains, test the princes, and choose his future heir apparent. The gathering of all men and their officers for about a month was a way to reinforce the cohesion of the banner system and glorify the Manchu martial virtues and the dynasty. Of course, only the Manchu nobility and its close ally, the Mongol nobility and the bannermen could participate.
The imperial hunts could take place around the year and had a different name for each season, as Qiying explains in his introduction. For instance, the spring hunt was called sou 蒐 and the autumn hunt xian 獮. They would involve thousands of men, sometimes more. The hunt in Mulan Weichang could involve as many as 10,000 men.
In his introduction, Qiying details the different types of hunting (seasonal) and the location of the hunting ground, which was vast, in the north-eastern part of the modern city of Shenyang. The hunt in Shengjing took place during the winter and, as mentioned above, the military governor was in charge of organizing and supervising the whole event. While doing so he used the pretext of an annual winter hunt at the imperial hunting grounds to ask some of his deputies (two colonels and a general intendant) to survey and check the whole hunting ground. He also required them to determine and mark out precisely each circuit area and its limits, as well as the number of troops necessary for each type of hunt and the place to install the camps, to draw precise maps of the whole hunting ground, and so on. He otherwise had no reliable map of the 105 different circuits nor any regulations about the course of the hunt and the person in charge of the different circuits.
The first illustration shows the wooden front cover of the first volume. The covers are mounted with paper printed (or painted?) to look like blue silk brocade.
The first volume contains four illustrations, depicting first the worship of the local god, two types of hunting, and a map of the camp. The rest of the volume, like the other volumes, comprises maps of hunting circuits. The last volume consists of two illustrations: one is a general map of all the circuits, and the other a chart detailing the circuits and the name of the persons (namely Manchu Banner military officers) in charge of these circuits.
The second illustration presents the introduction, written in Chinese and dated to the 19th year of the Daoguang reign, equivalent to 1839. The text uses only Chinese script, even though Manchu script is also used in the rest of the album, albeit far less than Chinese script. In this introduction, Qiying explains why he had these maps drawn up and compiled with the illustrations.
The third illustration shows the ceremony taking place before the hunt, during which a designated person pays respect to the Tree God (shen shu) at the altar erected inside the hunting ground situated east of the Gate of Weiyuabao, a hunting lodge where the Kangxi Emperor had stayed during one of his journeys to the East. Note that the script used to name the god inside the altar is in Manchu and reads “Banda mafa i soorin”, the throne of Banda mafa, the god of hunters, while a Chinese script is used to depict the altar and the person in charge of the ceremony.
The fourth illustration shows one type of hunt, the xingwei, where the hunters form a semi-circle around the animals. This is a kind of chasse à courre, where the animals are hunted in a semi-open circle so that they still have a chance to escape. The hunters are on horseback, using bows and arrows, and are demonstrating all their skill in front of the Emperor.
The fifth illustration shows the other main type of hunt, the Shouwei or encircled battue, where the troops make a very large circle with a diameter of more than a kilometre. The circle is tightened little by little, until it is finally reduced to a couple of hundred meters, with the animals trapped in the middle (shou). These animals were often put into reserves to be bred. The battue was conceived as a military operation, involving strategy, velocity and courage.
The sixth illustration shows the map of the camp. Note that the names of the most important banner officers are written in Manchu script.
The seventh illustration shows one of the maps of a circuit. This is the last map of the second volume. For each sub-circuit depicted on the map, it gives the name, the dimensions of the area and the district it belongs to (kalun in Chinese, which comes from the Manchu karun, meaning frontier or border). Specific features of the landscape – here, for example, the strange stone in the middle – are always depicted.
The eighth illustration shows the general map comprising all the circuits depicted in the five volumes. As the author himself put it: “it is a little blurred and disorderly”.
The ninth and last illustration shows the chart detailing all the circuits, sub-circuits, and the names of the people in charge.
These five volumes are the manifestation of something exclusively Manchu (and Mongol to a lesser extent) handed down to us. As such, it is a remarkable testimony of the multi-ethnicity and diversity of the late Chinese Empire.
Ce(tte) œuvre est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution – Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale – Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International