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The Curriculum of A-ge

The education for A-ge in the Qing imperial family required equal attention to both academic and martial skills. Book learning was the same as that for students in society, such as the Confucian classics required for the civil service examinations, and also included learning how to compose poetry and regulated prose-poems, write political discourse, and prepare imperial reports. In addition, painting and calligraphy were part of the required curriculum for A-ge, but the focus was on creating works of art and not, in terms of calligraphy, the “Academic” style mostly practiced by students taking the civil service examinations.

Manchu and Mongolian were required language classes for A-ge, which, compared to modern times, were like learning regional dialects. And the martial art of equestrian archery was also a core course of the A-ge. Training the body in such physical education activities at hunting grounds cultivated both courage and perseverance. This kind of physical training for A-ge was akin to the physical education classes taught today. In the Qing dynasty only those who specialized in the civil service examinations involving foreign languages and the military were required to learn other languages and engage in physical training or military skills, respectively.

Influenced by increasing prevalence of Western studies in China, the Imperial Court Instructions and Maxims proclaimed by the Kangxi emperor and recorded by the Yongzheng emperor encouraged A-ge to also learn more about the heavens above (astronomy) and the world below (geography), paying particular attention to the Western sciences of calendrical calculation, mathematics, and musical temperament. At the time, some of the natural sciences that the Qing court began to study are fundamental classes that students still take today.

Course Contents

The studies of A-ge can be divided into the following six fields: 1) Confucian classics of Chinese culture such as the Four Books and Five Classics, Records of the Grand Historian, Book of Han, and Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance; 2) essay and poetry composition; 3) Manchu and Mongolian language; 4) equestrian archery and military skills; 5) practice and training in calligraphy, and 6) Western sciences such as astronomy, calendrical calculation, mathematics, and musical temperament.


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  • Jiaqing Yuzhi Zongshi Xun (Imperial Family Instructions by Emperor Jiaqing)

    Written by Emperor Jiaqing in 1808, scroll (partial image), National Palace Museum collection

    The most important thing for Qing dynasty princes to learn was language, especially the Manchu and Mongolian languages. The Qing dynasty was an era characterized by exchanges between different ethnic groups. Manchurian rulers repeatedly emphasized the importance of abiding by ancestral precepts as well as maintaining the Manchurian tradition of “studying Mandarin and practicing mounted archery.” In 1644, Emperor Shunzhi established the eight banner school system, teaching Manchuarian students the Manchu language and mounted archery. However, both Emperors Kangxi and Jiaqing worried that their descendents would eventually forget the Manchu language as they focused on learning Chinese. Thus, in 1808, Emperor Kangxi wrote Imperially Produced Royal Family Precepts, mandating that everyone study Mandarin, practice mounted achery, read books, and abide the law. Additionally, a piece of related paper was hung in the Study Room as a reminder, uring the princes to respect their ancestors’ precepts.

  • Tingxun Geyan (Imperial Court Instructions and Maxims)

    Emperor Kangxi’s precepts; Emperor Yongzheng’s records of Emperor Kangxi’s Teaching Maxim, same book, Qing dynasty,
    imprint created by the Imperial Printing Office at Wuyingdian Hall in 1730, National Palace Museum collection

    Mounted archery was a part of the Manchu traditions. People’s mounted archery performance is heavily dependent on their horse riding skills. Qing dynasty princes were required to learn bow drawing, arrow shooting on foot, and arrow shooting on horses at a young age. In general, their mounted archery classes would start after the Confucian classics-reciting classes to blend their learning of Manchu traditions and Chinese classics together. Emperor Kangxi had a knack for mounted archery. In Father’s Teaching Maxim, he stated that “to excel in mounted archery, one must learn it at a young age, and those who are not good at horse riding would never excel in mounted archery.” Thus, the Qing dynasty imperial family attached great importance to providing mounted archery training to its princes at a young age in order to achieve the goals of being one with the horses, being sharpshooters on horses, and possessing aesthetically pleasing mounted archery skills.

  • Daqing Gaozong Chunhuangdi Shilu

    (Veritable Records of the Great Qing Emperor Chun, Gaozong) in fascicle 1384. Compiled on imperial order by Cinggūi (1737-1816), et al., Qing dynasty
    Small red silk-bound Chinese edition 8th month of the 56th year of the Qianlong reign (August to September 1791), Qing dynasty

    Records of Qing dynasty princes’ archery and hunting activities can be found in documents such as edited reign-period documentary histories, transcripts of court proceedings, and poetry anthologies. On Aug. 12, 1791, Emperor Qianlong watched his grandchildren shoot arrows at an archery event at the Summer Resort. Mianqing (1779-1804) and Ziaxi (1779-1804), who were the emperor’s grandson and great-great-grandson and 13 and 8 years of age, respectively, hit the targets three and three times, respectively. Overjoyed, the emperor bestowed them a yellow jacket with peacock’s feather (“three eyes”) and a yellow jacket with peacock’s feather (“two eyes”), respectively, and wrote a poem recording this event. In the record, he highlighted that Ziaxi was four years younger than him when he hunted with the late ex-Emperor Kangxi, indicating that this tradition had been passed down for seven generations already (see Chronicles of Emperor Qianlong, Vol. 1384).

  • Songtuo Duobao Fota Bei with three attached slips of paper (Calligraphy Practice)

    Calligraphy Practice Copy; Calligraphy Practice Book of Yan Yanzhi, a Southern Song Dynasty literary figure, "Three Poems on Southern Suburb Celebration - Greeting and Sending Off the Deities
    In Songtuo Duobao Fota Bei (Song Inscription on the Multi-treasure Buddhist Pagoda) with three attached slips of paper

    Practicing calligraphy was one of Qing dynasty princes’ daily homework. For example, when Emperor Qianlong began studying in the imperial palace in 1722, he began writing calligraphy in regular script (a Tang dynasty practice), imitating the works of calligraphers such as Yan Zhenqing (709-785) (e.g., Song Rubbing of the Duobao Pagoda Stele). The imitation of Song Rubbing of the Duobao Pagoda Stele written by the emperor put on display here was placed behind the original artifact and contained corrections (written using a vermilion writing brush) as well as the date that the imitation was written. Such a practice was common among the princes’ teachers when teaching the princes calligraphy in the imperial palace. Another artifact shown here is not an imitation but rather a free creation, revealing the emperor’s delicate, pretty penmanship.

  • Euclid's Elements

    Authored by Euclid (c. 325 BC - c. 265 BC, Ancient Greece), Translated by Matteo Ricci (1552-1610, Italy), Copied by Xu Guangqi (1562-1633, Ming Dynasty)
    Manuscript edition imprint by the Wenyuan Pavilion of Siku Quanshu (the Complete Works of the Four Treasuries), Qianlong region (1736-1795), Qing dynasty

    Emperor Kangxi learned natural sciences such as mathematics, astronomy, musical rhythm, and medicine from Western missionaries such as Joachim Bouvet (1656-1730) and Jean-François Gerbillon (1654-1707) from France, Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-1688) from Belgium, and Teodorico Pedrini (1671-1746) from Italy. Fasciated by Western science, the emperor exposed his princes to Western sciences as well. The Elements that is put on display here was written by Greek mathematician Euclid, interpreted by Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) from Italy, and transcribed by Xu Guangqi (1562-1633) in the Ming dynasty. According to Joachim Bouvet’s account of Emperor Kangxi’s learning of geometry in The Biography of Emperor Kangxi, the emperor would first ask the missionaries to teach it in the Manchu language, and order two ministers who were proficient in the Manchu language and Chinese to write down the content. Next, the emperior would study from the teachers, review the content, and draw pictures himself. In about five to six months, the emperor would become proficient in geometric principles.


Imperial Textbooks

Such books in the National Palace Museum collection as Di Jian Tu Shuo (Illustrated Lessons for Emperors) and Yangzheng Tujie (Illustrated Guide to Nurturing Integrity), are Ming dynasty texts hand-illustrated manuscripts or reprints by the Qing dynasty court that, with their lively illustrations, taught A-ge about how rulers in ancient China governed. Using both text and illustration, they made learning more interesting. A record from the tenth lunar month of the Xianfeng 11th year (1861) in the imperial Qijuzhu Ce (Imperial Diaries of the Qing dynasty) indicates that Di Jian Tu Shuo (Illustrated Lessons for Emperors) was an important textbook for the young Tongzhi emperor, and later such imperial preceptors as Qi Junzao and Wong Tonghe would read stories from it. Furthermore, in the National Palace Museum collection is a book entitled Dixue (The Imperial Guide to Governance and Rulership), written by Fan Zuyu of the Song dynasty, that the Qianlong emperor ordered his sons Yongcheng (1739-1777), Yongxing (1752-1823), and Yongrong (1744-1790), as well as his grandson Mianning (the future Daoguang emperor, 1782-1850), to transcribe. This book is precisely a history book for teaching over the ages about virtuous rulers and providing models to rectify the mind and cultivate the character as well as further studies and training. It was felt that, in the course of transcription, A-ge would learn the principles of governing the country.


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  • Dixue (The Imperial Guide to Governance and Rulership)


    Written by Fan Zuyu (1041-1098), Song dynasty
    Transcribed by Yongxing (1752-1823), Qing dynasty
    Red-lined pocket-sized edition, 40th year of the Qianlong reign (1775), Qing dynasty

  • Di Jian Tu Shuo (Illustrated Lessons for Emperors)

    Colorful illustrated edition of the Imperial Household Department

    “Decreeing Confucianists to Talk about the Classics” tells the story of Emperor Xuan of Han (91 B.C.-49 B.C.) decreeing that Confucian scholars compile the five classics (i.e., Classic of Poetry, Book of Documents, Book of Rites, Book of Changes, and Spring and Autumn Annals) and that his son’s teacher Xiao Wangzhi ( -46 C.C.) review and unify the compilation in order to use it as national guidelines. The Qing dynasty emperors followed the aforementioned tradition, where Emperor Shunzhi introduced imperial lecture halls to lecture classics daily; and imitated traditional national ceremonies to lecture compiled classics, demonstrating the emperors advocating Confucianism as basic national policies.