The Qing Dynasty
The Ming Empire collapsed mainly from within as rival groups carved up sections of the empire for themselves and fought for supremacy. North of the Great Wall, their historical enemies the Mongols and the Jurchens lived. Both of these peoples had historically ruled in the region, but the Ming Empire kept them out. The Jurchen ruling families officially intermarried with Mongol ruling families, subjugated the Mongols, and absorbed their troops. In a way similar to the way Genghis Khan incorporated rival tribes and countries into his own in the beginning of his rule, the Jurchen ruler incorporated Mongols and Ming people. Just after a rebel army conquered Beijing, the Jurchens, Mongols and a Ming army swept south in 1644, and the Qing Dynasty began. The Qing Empire became quite big, even establishing some control in Tibet and Xinjiang. Like the Yuan Empire and the Ming Empire, the Qing Dynasty had strong and long-lived rulers at the beginning of the dynastic era, a period of prosperity in the beginning and middle of their dynastic era, and natural disasters, rebellions, invasions and inept ruling courts at the end.
Historical Relics of the Qing Dynasty
The Ming Empire lasted about 270 years. Unlike the Mongols, the Jurchens had a long-lasting empire. The Jurchens called themselves Manchus. A major difference in policy from almost the beginning was that the Manchus installed Ming officials and generals to positions of high power to help them rule the Ming regions that they conquered. The Ming officials, generals, and troops became somewhat loyal to the Qing court. This policy of allowing the Ming officials to have a lot of power began when they captured their first Ming cities years before they captured Beijing. In contrast, the Mongols distrusted the local people, and they brought in foreigners to administrate for them. Following this strategy, the Ming army gained experienced Ming generals, and their army was modernized by Ming military technicians. Experienced Ming bureaucrats administrated for them.
Beginning of the Manchus (1582-1644)
The Manchus started to expand their territory when a Jurchen tribal ruler named Nurhaci started to conquer other Jurchen tribes in 1582. The Jurchens were divided into rival tribes after the Ming army defeated the Yuan Empire. In 1625, Nurhaci conquered the Ming city of Shenyang（See early Qing rulers' imperial(Shenyang Imperial Palace in Shenyang), and made it his capital. The Ming cities gave his empire a greater base of population, and he used their skills. They helped him invade the rest of the Ming Empire. As part of his strategy to build a unified empire, he adopted the Mongolian script that Genghis Khan had earlier adopted from the Uighur script. Like Genghis Khan, he utilized the manpower and knowledge of the people he conquered instead of killing them all or chasing them away. His Mongolian cavalry strengthened his army. So he followed some of Genghis Khan's methods to meld diverse tribes and people into a fighting force, and he laid a foundation for further conquests. Nurhaci died from battle wounds in 1626.
His successor was Hung Taiji. He continued the attack on the Ming Empire, but unlike Nurhaci and the Yuan rulers, he put Ming officials into high positions of power. Eventually, the majority of his troops were not ethnic Jurchens but Mongols, Ming people and others. The Ming army used superior Portuguese cannon against Nurhaci's troops to defeat them. By 1600, the superiority of European technology was evident in the weaponry. So he employed Ming technicians to cast cannon for him modeled after European cannon, and he created his own artillery corps in 1634. The Ming officials helped him to stabilize conquered regions and financed him.
In 1635, he received a big boost in his drive for empire because the Mongolian ruling court presented him with the imperial seal of the Yuan Empire. In doing so, they officially recognized him as their Khan or ruler and the ruler of what was left of the Yuan Empire. His empire was called the Later Jin, but in 1636, he renamed it the Great Qing Empire. The word Qing (清) means clear and connotes the words clean and fresh. Perhaps, he wanted to signify that they were making a fresh start in contrast with the morass of the Ming Empire. However, he didn't live to conquer Beijing. He died in 1643.
By 1643, rebel groups had taken over most of the Ming Empire. Li Zicheng emerged as the leader of the whole rebel army after winning wars against his rivals. In 1644, when his army went to Beijing, someone opened the city gate for him. He then sent an army to attack a Ming general named Wu Sangui (1612–1678) and his army who were guarding the Great Wall against the Manchus at Shanhaiguan Pass. The general sided with the Manchus and let them through the gate of the Great Wall. Then the Manchus conquered Beijing.
Beginning of the Qing Empire (1644-1722)
Emperor Shunzhi who was a child was named the first emperor of the dynasty. It took about another 20 years for the Manchus to defeat the rest of the Ming forces who had strongholds in the south and on Formosa. Dorgon was the regent for the child emperor. One of his actions that helped the empire to quickly stabilize and prosper was that he largely reappointed Ming officials to their imperial posts. The Manchus did not destroy Beijing and decimate the population as was commonly done. Perhaps this was because Wu Sangui and many other Ming officials had already sided with him. In this way, he persuaded other Ming officials and military leaders to surrender to him.
Perhaps in a test of loyalty, in 1645 Dorgon decreed that Ming men must shave their hair in the front and make a long pigtail in the back. This started the hairstyle that is seen in movies about the Qing Empire. He said, "To keep the hair, you lose the head; to keep your head, you cut the hair." Tens of thousands of people who resisted the Ming were massacred. Dorgon died soon after this, and then Emperor Shunzhi died in 1661.
Emperor Kangxi (1661-1722)
After his death, the Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722) became the ruler. He had one of the longest reigns in dynastic history. Like Kublai Khan at the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty, and Zhu Yuanzhang in the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, during his long rule he set the policy direction for the empire and stabilized it. He had a somewhat stable court, though one of his own sons tried to usurp power. His main policy decisions were for territorial expansion, continuing the Neo-Confucian bureaucratic system, and trading with Europeans while resisting their expansion. Under the Ming Dynasty, the Ming Empire developed a somewhat laissez-faire attitude to internal trade and industry. But under the Kangxi Emperor and his successors, the court more carefully controlled commerce and industry and monopolized important industries, reverting to the style of earlier dynastic eras. He also let in a number of Jesuits and appointed them to positions in his court. He valued them for their knowledge and used them as advisers. They helped him in his diplomatic and military affairs, and they helped him modernize the empire. They taught his technicians how to make better guns and cannons. During his reign, the economy improved and the population started to grow.
The Kangxi Emperor was seven years old when he became an emperor, but regents ruled the empire in his place. When he was 15, he had a regent named Oboi imprisoned. In this way, he started ruling himself when he was 15. He was known as a very hardworking emperor. He had a secret message system involving locked boxes that he used to send messages directly to people. He did this to bypass court officials who he knew were not trustworthy and might try to manipulate things for themselves or usurp power. He spent many hours a day personally directing imperial matters, and he personally went to war in against the Dzungers.
A crisis for his empire began when he was 15 when Wu Sangui (1612–1678) who earlier had helped the Qing conquer the empire rebelled in 1673. As a reward, Wu Sangui was given Guizhou and Yunnan as a fiefdom. Two other generals were also given fiefdoms in the south. Wu Sangui rebelled together with the rulers of the other two fiefdoms and took control of the south. After Qing armies defeated this rebellion, Taiwan was also conquered by Qing forces in 1683. The Russians invaded the northern frontier in the 1680s. After a series of battles and negotiations, the two empires signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689 that secured the borders. Two Jesuits negotiated the treaty. In 1696, he led a Qing army to victory against the Dzungars in the northwest.
These rebellions, wars, and other conflicts killed a large number of people and damaged the economy. In their campaign to put the empire under their control, they killed millions of people. They destroyed the cities along the southern coast and drove the people inland to stop an invasion by Koxinga. But the empire improved by the time Emperor Kangxi died. There was a time of relative peace and the population grew quickly. New food crops such as corn, peanuts and potatoes helped the peasants to have enough to eat.
Middle of the Dynastic Era (1723-1796)
Emperor Kangxi had a lot of sons by different women. The man who emerged as the next emperor is called Emperor Yongzheng (1723–1735), and his son is called the Qianlong Emperor (1735–1796). The Qianlong Emperor also reigned for 61 years as Kangxi did. During this seventy-three year period, the Qing Dynasty prospered the most and the population grew quickly. Through foreign trade, the court and the merchants gained wealth. The empire was big because they subdued Tibet and the Xinjiang regions, and they inherited Mongolia from the empire's founders. The land area of the empire was second only to that of the Yuan Empire in size. The population reached about 300 million during this time.
End of the Qing Empire (1796-1913)
Like the Yuan and Ming Empires, the Qing Empire ended in rebellions, wars, natural disasters, famines, and invasions. European technology rapidly improved after the First Industrial Revolution at the end of the 1700s. In the 1800s, Europeans easily defeated the Qing army and navy, and they forced the Qing to give them trading ports. The Japanese modernized remarkably quickly in the latter part of the 19th century, and they started to attack the empire and take territories for colonies. During the 1800s, the dynasty seemed somewhat successful because the population kept growing, the territory stayed intact, and the empire slowly modernized, but on the other hand, the ruling court was inept to deal with a rapidly changing world and numerous uprisings and natural disasters.
From 1796 until the end of the dynastic era, the Qing court faced rebellion after rebellion and defeated or thwarted all of them until the Qing rulers gave up power to Sun Yatsen in 1912. There were also internal wars between ethnic groups. In 1796, a rebellion against the Qing court was led by the White Lotus Society. This rebellion lasted eight years until 1804. Then the Taiping Rebellion lasted for 13 years from 1851-1854. The leader of the Taiping was Hong Xiuquan who had been influenced by a missionary, but didn't become a Christian. Instead he led a quasi-Christian movement that had some Christian beliefs and ideals. Many of his ideas seem right. He banned slavery, men having concubines, arranged marriages, opium use, foot binding, torture, and the worship of idols. He wanted women to have more equality in society. He made Nanjing his capital, and his army seemed to be ready to attack Beijing. However, there were internal feuds and corruption. Britain and France sent troops to aid the Qing army. It is thought that during the long war, about 25 million people died. It is thought to be the second bloodiest war in history after WWII.
Several other large rebellions happened about the same time. The Dungan Revolt involved a large region around Gansu and Shaanxi in the central and north-western part of the empire. It was partly sectarian war between three Muslim religious sects called the Gedimu, Khafiya, and Jahariyya. One aim of Muslims was to establish a Muslim kingdom in the region. However, many Muslims sided with the Qing. It is thought that several million people were killed in this war and by the army's extermination of people to clear the Gansu Corridor of Muslims. The Qing army's goal in clearing the Gansu Corridor was to prevent the Muslims in Xinjiang and those in the central part of the empire from uniting. The Panthay Rebellion was another Muslim rebellion in Yunnan that lasted from 1855 to 1873. It is thought that perhaps a million people died in that war. The Muslim Miao people also rebelled in Guizhou. It is thought that millions of people were killed. In addition to these rebellions, the Hakka people and the Punti people in the southeast fought an ethnic war. Neighbouring villages and clans fought each other viciously. Then there was another Dungan revolt in the northwest in 1895. In this revolt also, Muslim groups aided the Qing army to quell the rebellion. There were also other rebellions.
During the 19th century, the Qing court also had conflicts with Europeans and Japanese. The First Opium War between Britain and the empire started in 1838. The British wanted to have greater access to the Qing Empire for trade, and the Qing court wanted to keep out British opium and maybe to keep out British influence. Britain gained Hong Kong in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanking. This war showed that the Qing army and navy were obsolete. The British then wanted greater access to the empire and the right to send ships on the rivers for trade and military purposes. They also wanted an embassy in Beijing. In 1854, Great Britain tried to renegotiate the Treaty of Nanking. When the court refused, there was the Second Opium War that the British easily won. There was a war between the French and the Qing Empire called the Sino-French War (1883-1885). There was also a war with the Japanese called the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). They lost both these wars also. The Japanese destroyed a modernized fleet and made Formosa a part of their empire. They turned it into an industrial island.
The Qing court was inept. The Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) who was a concubine of an emperor came to power in 1861 and ruled behind the scenes. Her son reigned from 1862 to 1874, and her nephew ruled from 1875 to 1908. But it is said that she was the real ruler during this long period of time from 1861 until 1908 at the end of the empire. Modern historians see her rule as a mystery. It is known that in 1898, he blocked her nephew from reforming the government and imprisoned him. He died from arsenic poisoning in 1908. People suspect that maybe Cixi killed him the day before she died. Some people suspect that she was poisoned too. She used her power and the court's riches to accumulate money, jewels, and antiques and to build lavish gardens and palaces. However, not much is known about her. People are not even sure where she was born. However, she was not well educated. She was simply a concubine who was favored by her emperor, so she had a high position among the concubines.
In 1860, British and French troops attacked Beijing with a comparatively small force. They destroyed the Imperial Summer Palace. It is said that when the Emperor Xianfeng heard of this, he fell into a depression, turned heavily to alcohol and drugs, and became seriously ill. When he was dying in 1861, he named eight regents for his five year old son who was to be the emperor when he died. He also wanted Cixi (his son's mother) and his Empress to help his son. Somehow, the Empress made Cixi a co-Empress. What followed after this were various plots and assignations. Somehow she ruled the empire from behind the scenes. But it is said that she didn't much appreciate the need for modernization of industry. She probably didn't understand how to set up a modern school system. At the end of the empire, most of the modern education in the empire was provided by missionaries.
After all the rebellions and exterminations in the 1800s, there were many natural disasters in the late 1800s. Due to modernization and imports, a lot of people lost their work. So the poor died and faced starvation, and the population became poorer overall. However, better health care and Western medicines provided by missionary doctors saved thousands of lives. So the population didn't drop as much as it would have due to the disasters. The Yellow River flooded in 1898. Then, in 1900, there was a serious drought in most of North China.
Railroads and some early factories made traditional work obsolete. Railroads put a lot of people who worked along the canal system out of work. Foreign imported industrial products such as cotton clothes were much cheaper than many locally produced products. This put a lot of people out of work also. It is said that by 1900, the value of imports was four times higher than the value of exports. This was much unlike the height of the Qing Empire in the 1700s when their products were considered very valuable around the world. So common people faced a lot of suffering. Many people blamed their problems on the Qing Dynasty, foreigners and Christians.
In 1900, another rebellion started among the poor and unemployed. It was led by people who studied martial arts. It was called the Boxer Rebellion. At first their goal was to overthrow the government and expel or kill foreigners. But Cixi supported the movement secretly, and then the leaders wanted to support the Qing. It became an anti-Christian movement. Tens of thousands of converts were killed and tortured. But relatively few Protestant missionaries were attacked by the mobs. The indigenous Christians probably didn't fight back. Then Cixi declared war on the Europeans, and their troops marched against the foreigners in Beijing. Foreign armies defeated the Qing troops and the Boxers. The famous Shaolin Temple's leaders were thought to have been involved in this rebellion, and some fled to other countries like Australia and the US. The US sent a detachment of troops in this war, and the Qing court was forced to pay war reparations to the US. The US used these funds to build a large university called Tsinghua University.
In the early 1900s, Sun Yatsen who was educated in Hawaii and in a Christian college in Hong Kong traveled around the world to organize a revolution. He espoused both Christianity and the need for a new government. In 1908, Cixi and the emperor died. The empire's official ruler was a regent named Zaifeng. The new emperor who was named Puyi was only two year old. The Wuchang Uprising succeeded relatively bloodlessly, and Sun Yatsen became the first president. The capital of the new government was in Nanjing. Sun Yatsen wanted to implement a republican constitution, but this never happened. Sun Yatsen stepped down to allow a Qing general named Yuan to be president. The Qing Empire ended in 1912.
The Qing era's main literary accomplishments were extremely large encyclopedias and compendiums of literature comprised of hundreds of volumes and popular novels. At the end of the Qing era, writers started to write literature like the Western-style literature that became available. Starting from Emperor Kangxi, the Qing court sponsored huge printing projects to print encyclopedias, histories and compendiums of literature.
The other main achievement was in the writing of novels. In the middle of their dynastic era, when the empire was at its height, one of the four great classic novels was written called Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢). The Dream of the Red Chamber has an uncertain authorship. Like the other three great classic novels that were written in the Yuan and Ming eras, it was written in a vernacular language – the Mandarin language that was the language of the Qing capital. It was probably mostly composed by Cao Xueqin (about 1715-1763) in the middle 1700s. It is known for its detailed portrayal of the lives of the people of Cao Xueqin's own clan. His clan was a wealthy ruling clan in the Qing era. The first printing of the book was in the late 1700s. It is thought that another person or other people contributed the ending of the story since the original ending of the story was lost. The book has a lot of textual problems, and there are different versions. In a preface to a printed version in 1792, two editors claimed to have put together an ending based on the author's working manuscripts that they had bought from a street vendor.
At the end of the Qing Dynasty era around the turn of the 20th century, educated people had easier access to foreign literature, and they were more influenced by Western culture. Students started to travel abroad to study, and schools built by missionaries educated tens of thousands of students. There was a general sense of crisis, and the modernistic literature that they wrote reflected this. Intellectuals started translating foreign works on science, politics, and literature. These were popular, and the culture started to change. Some writers produced fiction more like Western fiction.
The biggest religious change during the Qing era was that thousands of Protestant and Evangelical missionaries came in the 1800s and before 1912, and tens of thousands of common people converted. They lived among the common people and set up numerous schools and hospitals. Unlike the Catholic monks who had earlier arrived during the Ming and early Qing eras, they didn't concentrate in the ruling court. They wanted to be with and help the common people. However, they influenced young people who eventually became leaders. They were influential in educating tens of thousands of students and educating doctors and nurses in Western medicine. They also set up colleges and universities for higher education. By converting common people, the religion didn't disappear with the change of governments in the 20th century. The most famous of these Christians was Sun Yatsen.
Sun Yat-Sen (1866-1925) was born in 1866 in Guangdong. He is called the "Father of Modern China" because he helped to organize resistance and rebellion against the empire and was China's first president. It is said that when he was young, a former Taiping soldier of the Taiping Rebellion told him about their goals and beliefs. When he was 13, he went to Honolulu, Hawaii. He returned to Guangdong after graduating from a school in Hawaii. He had learned Christian beliefs, and when he arrived in Guangdong, he hated what he thought was superstitious idolatry and damaged an idol in a temple. He fled to Hong Kong after that, and he enrolled in a Christian academy in Hong Kong in 1884. He became a Christian doctor. Political, social and religious change was the main goal of his life. He started traveling around the world to organize people and collect funding. He helped to organize a revolution against the Qing that was successful and relatively bloodless, and in 1912, Sun Yat-Sen became temporary president. When asked about why the revolution was a success, he said: "To Christianity more than to any other single cause. Along with its ideals of religious freedom…and along with these it inculcates everywhere a doctrine of universal love and peace. These ideals appeal to the Chinese; they largely caused the Revolution, and they largely determined its peaceful character."
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Nice day!Nora Ou Replied on 2012-08-21
- Chinese Dynasties
- The Xia Dynasty
- The Shang Dynasty
- The Zhou Dynasty
- Spring and Autumn Period
- Warring States Period
- The Qin Dynasty
- The Han Dynasty
- Three Kingdoms
- The Jin Dynasty
- The Sui Dynasty
- The Tang Dynasty
- The Western Xia Dynasty
- The Song Dynasty
- The Yuan Dynasty
- The Ming Dynasty
- The Qing Dynasty
- The Kingdom of Dali