Qing dynasty

Nothing rivals a traditional Chinese banquet for opulence

In February 1985 I had the good fortune to be a guest in Hong Kong at the Mandarin hotel’s 21st birthday celebration, a lavish three-day reconstruction of the sort of imperial banquet given during the Qing dynasty by the Kangxi emperor (1654-1722) and his grandson the Qianlong emperor (1711-1799). Kangxi started the custom of banqueting during his tours of southern China – he made six between 1684 and 1707. These provincial feasts were relatively informal affairs, often held in a tent, quite different to the stifling protocol of the imperial court at Beijing, and combined some aspects of the ruling Manchu ‘Man banquet’ with the native Han Chinese ‘Han banquet.’

The 19th century Chinese craze for all things European

By the 1800s, the mechanical clock had become a status symbol for wealthy Chinese. The first arrived with Jesuit missionaries and Portuguese merchants years earlier, but it wasn’t until the early 19th century that those outside of the imperial court could afford them. Rich merchant families displayed their clocks proudly, like their European counterparts had showed off pineapples. Women’s jackets started to be decorated with ‘clock buttons’ made of enamel and one family embroidered a clock face on to their baby’s silk bib. European aesthetics made their way into other parts of Chinese society too. Traditional ink portraits became colourful and hyper-realistic, inspired by photography. Courtesans learned to play billiards