The Qianlong Emperor (25 September 1711 – 7 February 1799) was the fifth Emperor of the Qing dynasty and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China proper, reigning from 1735 to 1796. Born Hongli, the fourth son of the Yongzheng Emperor, he reigned officially from 11 October 1735 to 8 February 1796. In 1796, he abdicated in favour of his son, the Jiaqing Emperor, out of filial piety towards his grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor, who ruled for 61 years, so that he would remain the longest-reigning emperor. Despite his retirement, however, the Qianlong Emperor retained ultimate power as the Retired Emperor until his death in 1799, making him one of the longest-reigning monarchs in history, and, dying at the age of 87, one of the longest-lived.
As a capable and cultured ruler inheriting a thriving empire, during his long reign, the Qing Empire reached its most splendid and prosperous era, boasting a large population and economy. As a military leader, he led military campaigns expanding the dynastic territory to the largest extent by conquering and sometimes destroying Central Asian kingdoms. This turned around in his late years: the Qing empire began to decline with corruption and wastefulness in his court and a stagnating civil society.
A valet who accompanied a British diplomatic mission to the Qing court in 1793 described the emperor:
The Emperor is about five feet ten inches in height, and of a slender but elegant form; his complexion is comparatively fair, though his eyes are dark; his nose is rather aquiline, and the whole of his countenance presents a perfect regularity of feature, which, by no means, announce the great age he is said to have attained; his person is attracting, and his deportment accompanied by an affability, which, without lessening the dignity of the prince, evinces the amiable character of the man. His dress consisted of a loose robe of yellow silk, a cap of black velvet with a red ball on the top, and adorned with a peacock's feather, which is the peculiar distinction of mandarins of the first class. He wore silk boots embroidered with gold, and a sash of blue girded his waist.