online: 27 december 2005
modified: 22, 27 december 2005

21 december 2005 rulers of China

12:46 ...a sunny afternoon on a bus to an exhibition: China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795, at the Royal Academy Gallery... (the most renowned rulers of the last Chinese Dynasty, the Qing, 1644-1911)...

i ask myself what era do we inhabit, here and now, in England, in Europe, in this globalised life on earth, or at this time of new complexities and connectivity...

Baker Street - we pass a policeman (in old-fashioned cape and helmet) guarding (or is he advertising?) a Sherlock Holmes museum in this street that is world famous for its imaginary inhabitants - Holmes and Watson.

a few things noted at the exhibition:

the official colours of empire:

heaven blue,
earth yellow,
sun red,
pale blue for moon

'these rites placed the emperors within a cosmology of the forces of the universe'

the throne is 2 or 3 times as wide and as deep as what fits a human but in height it is of normal size... nevertheless its overwhelming effect is of subjection of every one and every thing to a ruler (who perhaps shares something of being 'like everyone' - especially those with high skills and intellects - the literati?)

the five-limbed dragon is everywhere
(y ddraig goch, the red dragon of Wales, is there any connection? John Cowper Powys thought there was*)

the enormous strengthening of political power by the subjection and use of religion and art to politics (via the medium of ritual and unquestioned belief)

(what would be the reverse of this? ...perhaps the weakening of political power by subjecting it to religion and art - and has that ever happened? ...perhaps it happened in China, under these very emperors, when they adopted or strengthened Confucianism and the arts)

and afterwards, after seeing this organised splendour, what remains in mind?

what i liked most is a series of water colours (by reclusive scholars and artists) of simple things like 'listening to night rain and winds', 'conversations between old friends'...

...and i remember the overwhelming magnificence reflecting power and imposed order, not discovered beauty... the kings (despite their many-sided skills and munificence**) leave me unhappy at the totality of their power.

...but i've yet to read the Gallery Guide or the Catalogue - i suspect that these fragmentary impressions would change if i read them.

*John Cowper Powys, Obstinate Cymric, Village Press, London 1973, pages 49-54.

**for instance one of the emperors initiated an encyclopedia of 5000 volumes each the work of a scholar who was asked (or commanded?) to write everything he knew.

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