Imaging Diplomacy: The Meridian Gate and the Making of European Perspectives on China (1655–1795)

Published: March 15, 2024

On March 12, Sylvia Tongyan Qiu, a first-year Ph.D. student in Art History at UCLA delivered an online lecture as the recipient of the 2023–24 Kenneth Karmiole Endowed Graduate Research Fellowship. The lecture delved into the intersection of early modern diplomatic literature and the European representation of Chinese architecture.

In her lecture, Qiu explored the journeys of European ambassadors to the Qing court, including Evert Ysbrants Ides, a Danish merchant sent to the Kangxi Emperor by Peter the Great in 1692. Ides’ account of his travels, titled Three Years of Travel from Moscow to China, published in 1706, provided a vivid narrative with captivating engravings. These printed images, as Qiu suggested, offer insights into the spatiality of transcultural encounters. Comparing European depictions of the gates of the Forbidden City from various diplomatic fictions in the Clark Library’s collection, Qiu highlighted how the architecture of the imperial palace was transformed into a theatrical backdrop, an optical device, a topography of overlapping fantasies, and a prototype for chinoiserie through the re-enactment of Eurasian diplomacy in the printed media.

Qiu received her MA in Art History from UCLA. She held internships and volunteered at the Palace Museum in Beijing, the British Museum, and the Sir John Soane Museum. Her previous project at the Clark Library investigated a Qianlong-era celestial globe inlaid with pearls and explored the complex material, religious, ideological, and metaphysical translations that took place in the making of this anomalous globe. Inspired by the rich collection of travel books on China at the Clark Library, her dissertation will examine the relationship between image-making and diplomacy at Eurasian courts between the 17th and 18th centuries, specifically, the trans-medial construction of European visions of the Qing Empire through illustrated ambassadorial accounts.

-Sylvia Tongyan Qiu, Art History, UCLA