Culture and International Relations in the 18th Century

How did Engravings Function in Society?

The Qing emperors were enthusiastic publishers of fine books and illustrations. They supported the printing of encyclopedias, dictionaries, and literary anthologies, as well as works on agriculture, the emperor’s journeys and birthdays, local scenery, and editions of the Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian sacred texts. There was even a set of illustrations about how books were made in the palace! The high quality of printing was better than that in commercially published books. The emperors distributed these publications as gifts to important people. The images of the European Pavilions, as well as those of the Summer Palace and the Garden of Perfect Enlightenment, might have been given as souvenirs to relatives or special guests who had been allowed to visit. When these people showed these images to their friends, they spread knowledge of the court’s internationalism and sophistication to a larger audience. Before long, many educated people would have a sense of the grandeur and sophistication of the imperial gardens. Prints of the gardens of the aristocracy in Europe, of course, served a similar function.

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