‘Banquets for a Thousand Seniors’ in the Forbidden City

‘Banquets for a Thousand Seniors’ are large-scale royal banquets with the largest number of feasters held by Qing Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong. It was held four times in the Forbidden City and all the participants are seniors at least over 60 years old. The holding of the banquet reflected the policy of respecting and treating the old people during the Qing Dynasty (1636 - 1912). It was helpful for the Emperors to win over the people and maintain the rule of the court.

‘Banquets for a Thousand Seniors’ in 1713

In the third month of the lunar calendar in 1713, Emperor Kangxi (1654 - 1722) held the first banquet for a thousand seniors in the Garden of Everlasting Spring in the Forbidden City to celebrate his 60th birthday. He thought that there were 193 emperors in China history, but none lived longer than him. So his 60th birthday was a great event all over the country. He decreed that people over 65 years old, whether officials or ordinary people, could come to the capital for the banquet. The banquet began on March 5 of the lunar calendar and lasted for three days. More than 7,000 people attended the banquet. The colorful sheds for the celebration extended from Xizhimen to the Garden of Everlasting Spring, which was 20 Li (10 kilometers or 6.2 miles) long. All the male royal descendants aged over 10 and under 20 proposed a toast to the seniors, helped the elderly over 80 to drink in front of Emperor Kangxi, which was a great honor at that time. The elderly from other provinces were rewarded money. By holding this banquet, a trend of respecting and loving the old people formed.

‘Banquets for a Thousand Seniors’ in 1722

In the first lunar month of 1722, the 69 year-old Emperor Kangxi held the second banquet for a thousand seniors in the Palace of Heavenly Purity in the Forbidden City in order to celebrate his 70th birthday in advance, and the peace and prosperity of the country. At that time, 12-year-old Holing, later Emperor Qianlong (1711 - 1799) also attended the banquet. On the second day of the first lunar month, the banquet entertained 680 on duty or retired ministers of culture and military over 65 years old. Three days later, 340 more people were entertained.

Emperor Qianlong admired his grandfather Kangxi very much, and set him as an example. So he also held two banquets for a thousand seniors during his resign.

‘Banquets for a Thousand Seniors’ in 1785

On the sixth day of the first month of 1785, Emperor Qianlong held a banquet for a thousand seniors in the Hall of Heavenly Purity because he was happy with the coming of his descents of the fifth generation. The Forbidden City was bustling and saw more than 800 dinner tables. The people who attended the banquet included the relatives of the emperor, old officials, and ordinary seniors over 60 years old. And the total number of the participants was more than 3,000. During the banquet, Qianlong summoned highest ranked ministers and those over 90 years old in front of him and awarded them wine. He also ordered his sons, grandsons and great grandsons to toast in the palace. The elderly people present also received various rewards, such as Ruyi (a talisman used by Chinese to symbolize power and good fortune), court beads and sliver medals. It is said that the oldest man at the banquet was 141 years old. Qianlong also made a couplet for him.  

‘Banquets for a Thousand Seniors’ in 1796

In order not to exceed the reign time of 61 years of his grandfather Emperor Kangxi, Qianlong decided to abdicate the throne to his 15th son, Yu Yan in his 60th year’s resign in 1795. On the fourth day of the first month of 1796, Qianlong Emperor, who was 86 years old and had been meditating for just three days, held a banquet for a thousand of seniors again in the Hall of Imperial Supremacy of Palace of Tranquil Longevity and stipulated that attendees were over 70 years old. A total of 3,056 people attended the banquet. He drank with the princes, dukes, major ministers and seniors over 90 years old and wrote poems with participants together. 3,497 poems were wrote during the banquet. In addition to feast the elderly, Emperor Qianlong also gave many rewards. Two centenarians were given the official titles ranking the sixth level. Seniors over 90 were given the official titles ranking the seventh level and those over 80 given the seventh level. Special crutches and silver medals designed for the banquet which were equal to the pension certificate were also given to them.  

Since when Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong held banquets for a thousand seniors, people paid more respect to the seniors. And Emperor Qianlong was probably the only people who had experienced all four banquets for a thousand senior.

- Last updated on May. 29, 2023 -
Questions & Answers on Let Me Say about
Asked by Nathan from AUSTRALIA | May. 28, 2023 06:22Reply
Do you know if this is related
Hi I came across this plaque and was wondering if this is somehow related to the article.
My friend Elaine said this:

It's something about it's a gift from the emperor to take care of you in your old age. I read online that the emperor held dinners for the elderly people and gave these to them. It's probably a replica though as there're very few real ones around and they're in museums.
Answers (1)
Answered by George | May. 29, 2023 18:40

I'm not very sure but this paragraph may refer to the silver medals given by emperors for elderly care. Every old man who joined the banquet could get one silver medal and they could get money from local government by holding this at that time. At present, most of these silver medals are collected in the museums.
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