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Edicts: Edict for the Personal Rule of the T'ung-chih Emperor

Tags: documents | edict | National Palace Museum


Anonymous, T'ung-chih Reign (1862-1874), Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911)
84 x 410 cm 
An edict is one of the "sacred instructions" (or decrees) issued by the emperor. Being an official document presented by the emperor, the beginning must start with the phrase, "Entrusted as such by the Heavens, the Emperor hereby proclaims...." The intended audience is also the widest possible, the purpose being to inform all officials, nobility, and commoners of the land about the emperor's orders. For this reason, the phrase "Announced to all under the Heavens, hereby be it fully heard and known" was included at the end. This and the general impression differ from the personal or clan type of "sacred instruction" kowtow. That type of imperial decree usually is in the form of a handscroll, the audience being only a single person or the family, in which the formal name was "order by decree" with the beginning of "Entrusted as such by the Heavens, the Emperor hereby 'produces'..." (emphasis added to note distinction).

Edicts basically all deal with matters of great national importance, with almost all of them intricately bound to some major historical event. The edict on display in this exhibit involves the T'ung-chih Emperor, who assumed the throne at the tender age of six in 1862. Two dowager empresses, however, ruled behind the scenes for eleven years, before the emperor personally assumed control of the country, proclaiming this fact to all with this document. The contents of the edict, written in both Chinese and Manchu, mention his praise of Dowager Empresses Tz'u-an and Tz'u-hsi as well as his dedication to the people. It also reveals the self-deprecatory and expectations of a young emperor through inclusion of the phrase, "From now on, I will be cautious and conscientious. From day one to tens of thousands, I dare not indulge in idle or leisure." Who would have thought that a year later this young life would come to an abrupt end?

Handwritten copied edicts were known as “yellow copies”, while woodblock printed versions were known as “yellow rubbings”. This edict belongs to the former category. The characters are somewhat small, and the format is typical of edicts of the Ch’ing dynasty.

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum