Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644–1912

Further learning

Dive deeper into Qing dynasty art and culture through an array of Freer|Sackler resources—from online exhibitions to podcasts of concerts. Educators can use these resources in the classroom to help explain the art, culture, and history of the Qing dynasty. Those who want a more in-depth look can check out our scholarly programs and publications geared toward academic audiences.

Note: The Qing dynasty gradually came to an end in 1911 and 1912. Some resources provide 1911 as the end date of the dynasty, while others use 1912. The last emperor’s abdication papers were signed in February 1912.

Explore Qing Visual Culture | Listen to Podcasts | Access Educators’ Resources | Discover Scholarly Resources

Explore Qing Visual Culture

Power|Play: China’s Empress Dowager
From the 1860s until her death, Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) was the dominant political figure of China’s Qing dynasty. This online exhibition explores photographed portraits of Cixi, decoding their rich symbolism and their rare insight into presentations of public and private life in the Qing court.

Worshiping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits
Chinese ancestor portraits have rarely been studied as a genre, despite their compelling presence and often exquisite quality. This digital version of the richly illustrated book explores the artistic, historical, and religious significance of these remarkable paintings.

Empresses of China
The January–February 2019 issue of the journal Arts of Asia (vol. 49, no. 1) presents several articles on Qing empresses, including two written by exhibition co-curators Jan Stuart and Daisy Yiyou Wang.

This issue of the magazine Orientations (vol. 49, no. 6) includes two articles on Qing empresses and representations of them.

Listen to Podcasts

Painting with Music: Bell Yung, qin
Hear the distinctive sounds of the stringed qin through compositions written during the Qing dynasty and preserved in manuscript notations.

Master of the Chinese Pipa: Wu Man
Grammy Award-nominee Wu Man is widely considered the premier soloist on the pipa, an ancient Chinese lute. Here she plays classic pieces from the Qing dynasty and earlier.

Buddhist Music from Zhihua Temple
Hear Buddhist music from seventeenth-century China, played on traditional instruments by the Zhihua Buddhist Temple Ensemble.

The Global Baroque: Four Nations Ensemble with Rosa Lamoreaux, soprano
European music traveled to Asia and the Americas with missionaries, merchants, and performers during the early eighteenth century and the era of composers Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. This concert features a sonata that the Jesuit composer Teodorico Pedrini wrote for the Qing emperor in 1720.

Access Educators’ Resources

Empresses of China’s Forbidden City offers teaching and learning opportunities for educators of diverse disciplines and grade levels. Refer to these resources on the art and culture of the Qing dynasty.

Background Reading and Context
Life in the Qing Dynasty

Living in the Chinese Cosmos: Understanding Religion in Late-Imperial China (1644–1911)
Religious beliefs and practices in Qing dynasty China, including popular religion, imperial influences on religion and beliefs, Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, are discussed in Asia for Educators, a resource from Columbia University.

Recording the Grandeur of the Qing
Learn about daily and imperial life in the Qing dynasty through interactive handscrolls, lesson plans written by classroom educators, and other information in this resource developed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Asia for Educators, and the Visual Media Center at Columbia University.

A Teacher’s Sourcebook for Chinese Art and Culture (pdf)
Created by educators and curators at the Peabody Essex Museum, this resource introduces the Qing dynasty and provides a guide to pronouncing Qing names, a timeline of Chinese history, and an overview of Chinese philosophy and religion.

We All Live in the Forbidden City
Study the architecture of the Forbidden City, imperial life, and Chinese culture and history through texts, online games, workshops, student activities, and lesson plans.

A Visual Sourcebook for Chinese Civilization: Timeline
Utilize resources on Chinese dynasties, from the Neolithic period to the early twentieth century, in this resource from the University of Washington.

Calligraphy and Brushpainting

China’s Calligraphic Arts
Learn about the six major scripts of Chinese calligraphy through works of art in the Freer and Sackler collections.

Brushpainting: Nature in Art
Explore lesson plans, videos, and other resources related to Chinese calligraphy and brushpainting and developed by the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco for kindergarten through adult learners.

The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911): Painting
Read brief essays on Qing dynasty paintings from the perspectives of loyalist, individualist, and traditionalist artists on this site developed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Qing Dynasty Clothing and Textiles

Chinese Dress in the Qing Dynasty
The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Australia provides an overview of Qing dynasty court clothing via brief texts, images, and lesson plans.


Women in Traditional China
Learn about gender roles throughout China’s imperial history in this brief essay from the Asia Society.

More at the Sackler

Plan Your School Visit
Submit a request form for a docent-led tour four weeks in advance, and bring your students to experience Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644–1912 in person.

Educator Programs
Register for educator professional development workshops and networking opportunities.

Workshops and Public Programs
Learn about public programs related to temporary exhibitions and to objects in the permanent collections of the Freer and Sackler.

For Kids
Explore objects from the Palace Museum in Beijing on this kid-friendly webpage.

Discover Scholarly Publications and Archives

Learn more about Qing art and architecture in these digitized Freer|Sackler essays, books, and archival photographs.

Ars Orientalis

Freer Occasional Papers

Freer|Sackler Bookshelf

Photographs of Cixi, Empress Dowager of China, 1835–1908 (F|S Archives)

cover of Empresses catalogue

Purchase the exhibition catalogue Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644–1912

To see more Qing dynasty art on display in the museums, visit Looking Out, Looking In (gallery 13) and listen to the podcast for more information.