Qing Dynasty, Yongzheng period (1723-l735)
Ink and slight colour on silk
H: 62 cm, L: 459 cm
(Inv. MG 21449)
Paris, National Museum of Asian Arts - Guimet
The 78 ceremonies which constituted the State Sacrifices (Guojia Zhusi) under the Qing gave emphasis to the agricultural calendar (Nongli) and punctuated the life of the sovereign . One such occasion occurred in the springtime.
According to the ritual, the emperor, having, fasted at the palace, went to the Altar of the Inventor of Agriculture in the southern part of the capital where, after presenting offerings, he traced the first furrow of the season in an area sanctified for this purpose.
This symbolical gesture marked the beginning of the sowing season for the Empire.
As the first farmer under Heaven , Yongzheng is shown on this horizontal scroll in the center of the composition, holding the traditional plough and preparing to begin the ceremony. He has donned a long yellow dragon robe or longpao, such as is suitable to a sacrifice to the Earth. An imposing canopy protects the sacred space where the emperor makes the first furrow. On both sides of the canopy, several ploughs repeat this initial gesture, applying it by extension to the entire Empire.
Were it not for the movement of several civil servants and guards forming an escort around the emperor, time would seem suspended, abolished.
It is true that Yongzheng is here repeating a sacrifice which had already been described four centuries before the birth of Jesus in the Book of Rites (Liji), and which generations of sovereigns had observed over the course of two millennia.