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A-ge Go to School

The Qianlong emperor (1711-1799) began schooling at the age of six and at the age of twelve met for the first time his grandfather, the Kangxi emperor (1654-1722), at Peony Pavilion in the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan). At that time, he could already recite “On the Love of the Lotus” by the Song dynasty Neo-Confucian Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073) by heart from beginning to end. Touching his grandfather, he was admitted to the palace for further cultivation and became heir to the throne himself. The Qianlong emperor excelled at academic and military skills, his achievement seen in the number of poems that he composed: more than 40,000, itself an indication of his deep cultivation. This brings up the question: For Manchu imperial sons who grew up deep in the palace, exactly what kind of education did they actually receive??

The Qing system of education for imperial sons began under the Yongzheng emperor (1678-1735), and the Shang Shu Fang (also known as the Palace Study or A-ge Study) was where A-ge went to school. The A-ge studied from the age of six to fifteen years old, corresponding more or less to elementary and middle school nowadays. Even A-ge who had been promoted to a high-ranking noble or prince were required to enter school for their studies. Every day in the “ying” period (from three to five o’clock in the morning), they first practiced pulling a bow and learning Manchu and Mongolian languages in the study. Then in the “mao” period (from five o’clock to seven o’clock), they learned the Chinese classics, with school not ending until dusk. After school, though, it was time to practice horseback archery, recite in Manchu and Mongolian, and review their Chinese. The study schedule for A-ge was indeed long and packed.

Throughout the year, an A-ge could only take five days off: Lunar New Year’s Day, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, the emperor’s birthday, and his own birthday. There were no winter or summer vacations at all. The place where A-ge learned was not only in the study but also at the Southern Study, Yuqing Palace, and Maoqin Hall in the Forbidden City and at the Yuanmingyuan and Chengde Summer Resort outside the city. Located next to the study was a yard for archery practice, and in the palaces there were “Archery Pavilion.” As the imperial Mulan Paddock hunting grounds were an important place for A-ge to practice their equestrian archery.


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  • Yangjizhai Conglu

    Written by Wu Zhenfu (1892-1870), Qing Dynasty
    Qiantang Wu family edition 22nd Year of the Guangxu Reign (1896), Qing Dynasty.

    To find out the ages by which Qing dynasty princes began studying in the Study Room as well as their learning content and schedules, one can reference Qing Dynasty records and notes. According to Yangjizhai Conglu written by Wu Zhenyu (1792-1870) during the reigns of Emperors Daoguang and Xianfeng, the sons and grandsons of Qing dynasty emperors studied outside the palace by the age of six. From 3:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m., they would leave the palace to study the Manchu and Mongolian languages. Next, they would read the Book of Han. From 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., the teachers would come in and teach the students till noon or 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. the latest. On Chinese New Year’s Day, no classes were held. On Chinese New Year’s Eve and the day before that, classes were held until 9:00 a.m. to 11 a.m.

  • Huangcheng Gongdian Yashutu (Map of the Imperial Palace, Palaces, and Government Offices)

    Qing dynasty silk scroll in color (partial image)
    original scroll size: 237.8 cm × 179 cm, ational Palace Museum collection, 2D image

    1. The Shang Shu Fang, located inside Qianqing Gate, was the place where A-ge went to school. The emperor in his spare time from holding court could any time go and observe the classes for A-ge.

    2. Yuqing Palace, located east of Qianqing Palace, was especially built for the crown prince Yunreng (1674-1725) during the Kangxi reign. From the Yongzheng reign, it became the place where A-ge studied, and such princes and future emperors as Hongli (Qianlong emperor), Hongzhou, Yongyan (Jiaqing emperor), and Mianning (Daoguang emperor) all studied there. It was also the study site for the Tongzhi and Guangxu emperors.

    3. The Jian Ting (Archery Pavilion), also known as the Shooting Hall, was located outside Jingyun Gate in the eastern part of the Forbidden City. Outside the kiosk were wide, flat grounds where A-ge would train in riding horses and shooting arrows. This plaza was also the site where military Presented Scholars would take palace examinations for horseback riding, archery, and other weapon use.

  • Yuzhi Yuanmingyuan Sishi Jing shi, Dong Tian Shen Chu (Hidden Realm)

    Imperially Commissioned of Forty Scenic Poems of the Yuanmingyuan (Book 2, Vol. 2), Qing dynasty
    Red-and-black imprint created by the Imperial Printing Office at Wuyingdian Hall in 1745, National Palace Museum collection

    Located inside the Bliss Garden Gate (in the Palace Gate Zone, Garden of Perfect Brilliance), Deep in a Cavern World was one of the 40 scenes of the Garden of Perfect Brilliance and where Emperor Qianlong once remarked “this was where I and my brothers used to study.” During Emperor Yongzheng’s reign, he resided in the Garden of Perfect Brilliance and his sons studied in Deep in a Cavern World. Thus, the cavern was also called the Garden of Perfect Brilliance Study Room.

  • Yuzhi Yuanmingyuan Sishi Jing shi, Lou Yue Kai Yun (Moon Carved, Clouds Unveiled)

    Imperially Commissioned of Forty Scenic Poems of the Yuanmingyuan (Book 2, Vol. 1), Qing dynasty
    Red-and-black imprint created by the Imperial Printing Office at Wuyingdian Hall in 1745, National Palace Museum collection

    Carved Moon in the Scattered Clouds, the Peony Terrace in the Garden of Perfect Brilliance, was where Qianlong met Emperor Kangxi for the first time; he was 12 at the time. During Emperors Yongzheng and Qianlong’s reigns, the Garden of Perfect Brilliance underwent expansions; the expansions were roughly completed in 1744. Imitating Emperor Kangxi’s 36 scenes of the Summer Resort, Emperor Qianlong found 40 scenes in the Garden of Perfect Brilliance; and wrote poems for these secenes and renamed the Peony Terrace “Carved Moon in the Scattered Clouds.”

  • Imperially Produced Poems for the Summer Resort (Wind in Pines Among a Myriad Valleys)

    red-and-black imprint created by the Imperial Printing Office at Wuyingdian Hall in 1712
    National Palace Museum collection

    Qianlong visited the Summer Resort with Emperor Kangxi when he was little, and was arranged to study at the “Wind in Pines Among a Myriad Valleys” in the Mountain Villa Palace area where he received the teachings of his grandfather daily. To express his gratitude for his grandfather for his upbringing, in 1766, he renamed the “Carved Moon in the Scattered Clouds” (in the Garden of Perfect Brilliance) and “Wind in Pines Among a Myriad Valleys” (in the Summer Resort) both as “Hall of Grace Remembrance.”