In China, the 130 years of strong Qing leadership began with Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722) followed by Yongzheng (1678-1735) and then Qianlong (1711-1799).
In France, the time during which King Louis XIV (1638-1718) ruled was regarded as the Grand Century. The reign of France’s Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, lasted 72 years, which is longer than that of any other known European sovereign.
Both rulers were diligent in running state affairs and they followed ethics and rules. They loved science and art and were open to cultures from the West and the East.
The Taipei Palace Museum launched a special exhibition of Emperor Kangxi and Sun King Louis XIV called “Sino and Franco Encounters in Arts and Culture.” It took three years of preparation before the exhibition was finally held in 2011. The exhibition showcased the grand achievements of both rulers.
Emperor Kangxi was known to have a love for learning. He was proficient in poetry, literature, and drawing. He was also well-versed in the classics of ancient sages.
Kangxi loved Chinese calligraphy. He was one of only a few recorded Emperors who highly valued the principles of humanism in history, and who had a hungry learning appetite for Western science. In the book Kangxi Emperor Biography, written by Bai Jin who was a Western-missionary, we learn that Kangxi was said to be very attentive when he was learning; he practiced very diligently, he drew his own diagrams, and he also didn’t hesitate to ask questions when he did not understand something. Due to his curious nature, he spent hours learning.
Kangxi would keep the manuscript with his learning notes with him and would read it over and over again, privately in his room. Kangxi also often practiced mathematics and the use of instruments to derive an understanding based on Euclidean geometry. He would put much effort into remembering the reasoning process.
A day in the life of Kangxi
Kangxi was said to be a very diligent emperor. After the morning session, during which he attended the court, he finished his lunch and would spend two hours studying the astronomy calendar. Then, he would return to the palace to run through and approve decrees. After dinner, he would return to the missionary’s residence to solve geometric and mathematical problems. He would strictly follow this routine every day.
When he traveled around the country, he would always bring along a Western telescope. He would constantly practice the astronomical calculation for the local latitude and longitude, and whenever he faced a problem he couldn’t solve, he would ask the missionary who accompanied him.
King Louis XIV
In the West, Louis XIV was also known to be a diligent King. He ascended the throne in 1661. He would study country affairs with the Minister of State. He achieved glory through a series of battles during his lifetime.
He started mass production by introducing subsidies, tax exemptions, and market monopoly rights. He rewarded state and private enterprises to increase production and encouraged European artisans to come to France to establish the French East and West India companies.
Louis XIV established the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1666 and built the Paris Observatory between 1667 and 1672 for the development of academic studies in geometry, astronomy, mechanics, anatomy, botany, chemistry, and so on.
Louis XIV loved arts and holding banquets at the palace of Versailles. The royals and the aristocrats would compete in costumes during the functions. All the costumes and headwear were luxurious and colorful, showing the wealth and glory of the nobles, and also showing the unique French style and taste.
The Sino-French cultural exchange
It was mostly due to the Sino-French cultural exchanges that Emperor Kangxi learned about science, medicine, astronomy calendar, human anatomy, and became fond of French glass and enamel crafts. As for Louis XIV, he loved Chinese porcelain, arts, and culture.
Among his favorites were lacquerware and furniture. Luis XIV became particularly fond of Green French pottery, an imitation of Chinese porcelain craftsmanship. The Chinese also imitated the French craftsmanship. The imitation between China and France at that time was based on mutual respect by each side for each other’s culture.
Above all cultural exchange goods, Chinese porcelain was the most remarkable for the West. The surface was hard and lustrous, the pattern was cobalt blue and vivid. As a result, the French tried to break open the secret formula of Chinese porcelain and they wanted to create the special Green French porcelain based on French style and taste.
In the above-mentioned exhibition at the Taipei Palace Museum, the logarithmic table, compass, and other instruments used by Kangxi can be seen to imitate the scientific instruments produced in Europe; and it can be seen how the pottery produced by the French imitates Chinese porcelain.
Translated by Chua BC