Contemporary Economic & Cultural Capital in Chinese Tea Ceremony

Emperor Yongzheng (r. 1722 - 1735, 雍正帝) in his library at the Old Summer Palace (圆明园,Yuanmingyuan, “Gardens of Perfect Brightness”). Page of an album, Qing Dynasty, unknown court artist. The Palace Museum, Beijing.

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This portrait of the Yongzheng Emperor[1], painted during his lifetime, shows the man as he wished to be seen – as a literati-scholar in the dynastic Chinese tradition. Emperor Yongzheng sits with his feet by a stove on a cold winter day, book diligently in hand, surrounded by the accoutrements of the literati: behind him, a shelf holding rare books, hand scrolls, and ancient ceramics. Before him sits a teapot and two red tea cups[2] (known to have been in his collection and pictured below), next to a food box containing sustenance for long hours of study. To Yongzheng, a man at the pinnacle of society, with access to the wealth and wares of the empire at his command: this is what the accumulation of economic and cultural capital looked like[3].

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