Images, Knowledge and Empire: Depicting Cassowaries in the Qing Court

  • Yu-Chih Lai (Author)
    Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica

    Lai Yu-chih received her Ph.D. in art history at Yale University in 2005. She has been Assistant Research Fellow at the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Taiwan, since July 2010. She previously had worked as an assistant curator in the Department of Painting and Calligraphy at the National Palace Museum in Taipei for seven years, participating in several important exhibitions. Her current book projects include “Visual Empire: Image Productions, Governance, and Empire-Building in the Qianlong Court” and “Moments of Change: Japan in Modern Chinese Painting.” 

Identifiers (Article)


How did Qianlong understand the increasingly globalised world? And what role did visual imagery play in his understanding? This paper tracks the production at the Qianlong court of images and writing describing an exotic bird known as emo. The bird proves to be a cassowary, a creature which fascinated Europe during the Age of Exploration after it was brought back by the first Dutch voyage to Indonesia.

This paper argues, firstly, that Qianlong’s Imperial Inscription for the Picture of Emo Birds is derived from a French anatomical report published by Claude Perrault in 1671-1676. Secondly, by analysing the Qing court’s images of the cassowary, this paper aims to show how Qianlong accessed, selected, and transformed information and images from Europe. Most importantly, the appropriated European information and images contributed to his innovative construction of a universal system of knowledge, helping him to rewrite the traditional narrative of emperorship.

The paper was translated from the Chinese by Philip Hand.


Academic discipline and sub-disciplines
Chinese Studies, Cultural Studies, Art History, Visual Culture
Visual cultural exchanges between China and Europe, knowledge production, cassowaries, Qing Court
How to Cite
Lai, Y.-C. (2013). Images, Knowledge and Empire: Depicting Cassowaries in the Qing Court. The Journal of Transcultural Studies, 4(1), 7–100.