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The Qing Dynasty: Last of the Imperial Dynasties of China– Part 1


The last imperial dynasty of China, the Qing Dynasty, was established by the Manchus in 1636 to designate their regime in Manchuria. This dynasty remained in power until 1912, when it was overthrown in the Xinhai Revolution, which led to the formation of the Republic of China. The history of the Qing Dynasty can be divided into three parts – its formation and early years, its Golden Age, and its decline and downfall.

Emperor Nurhaci, ancestor of the Qing Dynasty ( Public Domain )

From Jurchen to Manchu

The Manchus are an ethnic group that inhabited the north-eastern part of China, which was named after them as Manchuria. The Manchus of the Qing Dynasty trace their lineage to the Jurchens who established the Jin Dynasty during the 12th century. From the late 16th to the early 17th centuries, a Jurchen leader by the name of Nurhaci unified the various Jurchen tribes. In 1616, Nurhaci declared himself the Emperor of the Later Jin. Two years later, Nurhaci instituted military operations against Ming China, justifiably based on his ‘Seven Grievances’. The Jurchens were successful in their campaign, capturing the cities of Liaoyang and Shenyang, both of which served as Nurhaci’s capital for some time. In 1626, however, Nurhaci suffered his first major military defeat by the Ming, who were led by Yuan Chonghuan, and he died later in the same year.

The Manchu campaign against the Ming continued under the leadership of Nurhaci’s son and successor, Hong Taiji. Apart from consolidating the gains made by his father, Hong Taiji also continued the expansion of the empire by invading Mongolia, and Korea. It was Hong Taiji who changed the name of his people from Jurchen to Manchu, and the name of his dynasty from the Later Jin to the Qing. Hong Taiji, however, did not bring an end to the Ming Dynasty. It was only during the reign of a later successor, the Shunzhi Emperor, that the Ming Dynasty came to an end. In 1644, Beijing was captured by an outsider rebel leader named Li Zicheng, who established the Shun Dynasty. The last Ming emperor, Emperor Chongzhen committed suicide before the rebels had entered the capital.

Shanhaiguan along the Great Wall, the gate where the Manchus were repeatedly repelled before being finally let through by Wu Sangui in 1644. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

About-turn from a Ming General

Having captured Beijing, Li Zicheng advanced north to confront Wu Sangui, a Ming general guarding Shanhaiguan. This was a militarily strategic point, as it was the garrison stationed here that had prevented the Manchus from entering the capital for years. Realizing that he was caught between a rock and a hard place, Wu Sangui decided to throw his lot in with the Manchus, and together with his new allies, they defeated Li Zicheng. For this, Wu Sangui was rewarded by being ennobled as a feudal prince. Additionally, he was given the governorship of Yunnan and Guizhou. Although the last Ming emperor was dead, Ming loyalists continued their resistance against the Qing Dynasty. Some of them moved to the south, to establish the Southern Ming, whilst others fled to Taiwan, where the Kingdom of Tungning was established.

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It would take the Qing Dynasty almost 20 years before the last of the Ming loyalists were defeated, thus allowing them to become the undisputed rulers of China. It may be said that the Qing Dynasty faced one more major rebellion during this time. Wu Sangui, together with two other feudal princes, launched the Revolt of the Three Feudatories, which lasted for 8 years. Ultimately, however, the Qing Dynasty was victorious.

Armored Kangxi Emperor ( Public Domain )

It was during the early reign of the Kangxi Emperor that the Revolt of the Three Feudatories took place. The Kangxi Emperor and his grandson, the Qianlong Emperor, are regarded to have been the greatest of the Qing emperors, and it was during their reigns that the Qing Dynasty achieved its Golden Age, the subject of the second part of this article, along with the decline and fall of the Qing Dynasty.

READ PART II HERE

Top Image: Flag map of Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1912) ( CC BY-SA 3.0)


    Top 10 Ancient Chinese Dynasties

    Chinese History revolves around the dynasties and the rulers of those dynasties. There were a total of 13 successive dynasties.

    The dynasty such as the Han dynasty, the Qin Dynasty, Xin Dynasty, the Yuan Dynasty, the Ming Dynasty, and the Qing Dynasty have helped China unify and become one of the strongest Empires in history.

    The achievements of these dynasties made the China Empire known to the world. Majorly the achievement including the Censuses, invention of paper, state academy, and Chinese Philosophies.

    However, we here talk about the top 10 essential dynasties of Chinese History.


    The Qing Dynasty: Last of the Imperial Dynasties of China– Part 1 - History

    Scholar Rana Mitter describes the era of modernization in China and the fall of the Qing Dynasty.

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    If you want to characterize what happened in China between the late 19th century and the outbreak of World War II in 1937, it's really a story of China as a country that is trying to find modernity. Now "modernity" is one of those words that we use often in a slightly vague, slightly broad fashion—but actually, for the Chinese, it had a real urgency during that period. And the reason for that was that China, for the first time in hundreds of years, found itself as a victim in the international system.

    Some way through the mid-19th century, Westerners arrived in China. People with military power behind them—the British with their gunboats—forcing China open, not only to sell opium, one of the products that they were very keen to push inside China, but also to bring a whole variety of new ideas and ways of operating. And while there was much about this that opened China to a wider world, we have to acknowledge that it happened at the point of a gun, and this was something that really terrified and concentrated the minds of the Chinese.

    And so, in the early 20th century, you see a whole variety of experiments in thought—the Chinese, thinking about their situation and working out how they could fight back against a world which seemed to have dominated them. And the products of that thinking were often very rich. For a start, we get the emergence of nationalism, one of the most important forces in the China of the time, and actually one that really has a great deal of significance even today.

    And so, in the late 19th century and the early 20th century, you'd find a whole variety of Chinese who argued that what China needed to do was to reconstitute itself, in many ways, along the lines of a Western country. And for many of these Chinese, one of the great mentors of that time was Japan, a country just across the sea which had managed very rapidly to modernize itself—in terms of government, in terms of technology, in terms of education.

    Much of the early 20th century in China is really the story of a country trying to come into being as a nation-state. It was a traditional empire that had existed under the emperors for many, many centuries. In 1911, the last emperor was overthrown, and after that China became a new fledgling republic—Asia's first republic, as it happened—which tried one way or another to work out how the problems of increased military strife within the country and imperialist attacks from outside could be dealt with, could be fought back against. This is really the central political and social narrative of China during those decades.

    China's push toward modernization began when the Qing dynasty, then current rulers of a 2000-year-old empire, started to crumble. The first major blow to the Qing reign came in the mid-19th century, a time when imperialist Western forces were looking to increase trade and influence with countries in the East. The Qing had been trading silk, porcelain, and tea with the British Empire for centuries. But as the dynasty was largely self-sufficient, its merchants only accepted silver as a form of payment.

    This created a massive deficit in Britain until the British realized the demand for opium in China. The Qing's attempt to stop the flow of opium resulted in two major wars that would change its relationship with the West—the Opium Wars. Although the Qing outnumbered their attackers about 10 to 1, they were no match for the high-powered British Navy, and their swift defeat greatly affected the dynasty's prestige.

    Worse though, a series of unequal treaties forced open China's ports for colonial trade to the British, French, and American forces more than ever before. They also allowed foreign Christian missionaries to travel and settle freely, and granted foreigners protection from local laws. As Western forces weakened the country from the outside, anti-Qing sentiment and movements within China grew dramatically.

    A real turning point moment for the last dynasty of China, the Qing, was the Taiping War from the early 1850s up to 1864. It was quite possibly the single bloodiest civil war ever in history.

    Tens of millions of Chinese died as the Qing and Taiping fought brutally for control of the empire. The Taiping fought so capably that, in order to defeat them, the Qing had to invite the provincial leaders within China to bring their own armies into war, independent from the Qing army. The war culminated in 1864 in a tremendously bloody battle in Nanjing.

    In the end, the Taiping threat to the Qing was finally put down, but it was put down at great cost to the Qing because they had let a particular sort of genie out of the bottle. By allowing the provincial leaders of China to set up their own armies, they had set the seeds for an acknowledgment that the central government no longer had the power to control things from Beijing, from the capital.

    And eventually, the emergence of these local armies would lead to a phenomenon that became associated with early 20th century China, what's often called "warlord-ism." In other words, the idea that each province of China might have its own strongman in charge—with his own army—who would pay very little attention to the central government, because he had plenty of men on horseback behind him.

    Another movement that arose at the turn of the century calling for the end of the Qing rule was a peasant revolt that came to be called the Boxer Uprising. The Boxers, a self-described spiritual group from northern rural China, believed the rise in Chinese Christianity and the influence of Western powers in the region were responsible for the grueling period of drought and economic hardship that had befallen them in the years following the Taiping War. They attempted to bolster the power of the dynasty by violently forcing foreigners and Chinese Christians off their lands. The plan backfired quickly, unintentionally exacerbating problems for the already weakened dynasty.

    Although this started as a peasant uprising in the more rural parts of northern China, it actually turned into a huge international incident—because of course when they started attacking Chinese Christians, and when ultimately they besieged the foreigners in the embassies—the legations of Beijing—the foreign community struck back with 20,000 soldiers sent from a variety of different countries, including not just the West, but also Japan.

    The Boxers, and also the Qing dynasty who supported them, were basically defeated pretty comprehensively. As a result, not only was the dynasty humiliated, but a huge financial penalty was placed upon the Chinese state. And this economic burden, known as the Boxer Indemnity, a huge fine that was basically put upon the Chinese state, was one of the things that pushed it even further towards economic bankruptcy.

    The dynasty, now reeling from decades of struggle and unrest, knew that it had to change to keep pace with the modern world. It looked at Meiji Japan's rapid industrialization and its more modernized government institutions, and saw a model that appeared to be thriving, and it attempted to make a variety of similar reforms in the early 20th century. Unfortunately for the Qing, they would find that across a wide spectrum, they no longer had the support or resources to carry out their reform goals. And in 1911, they faced a shock that would alter the country forever.

    In October 1911, over the space of just a few weeks, a small uprising in the south central city of Wuhan, sometimes known as Hangkou in the West, exploded—not just into a local uprising against the government there, but into a national uprising where city after city, province after province declared independence from the dynasty. Why did this happen? Why did the dynasty collapse so quickly?

    Well, part of the answer, we have to look at the subject of railways. In the late 19th, early 20th century, China did make some important decisions about modernizing its economy and its system of government. One of the things that, of course, came—as in India, as in other countries in Asia—was the railway. But the Chinese government simply didn't have the money to pay for its own railway system, so foreign capital had to be brought in to do it. And as a result, large numbers of railway rights were being sold to foreigners, and this created a lot of resentment and anger amongst many of the social groups in China who had grown up by that stage, who had no allegiance to the dynasty.

    Let's have a quick think, who these people would be—what about the middle classes who are emerging? Well, they were merchants—they were making their own money, they were not particularly dependent on the government. Obviously they needed regulation and bureaucracy, but ultimately, they were creating a civil sphere of their own in which they could operate. Then there were the new armies that had emerged in the late 19th century at a more local level in China.

    These were not as strongly attached to the central government as the old armies had been, and therefore, that meant there was less direct loyalty to the dynasty. Or of course, there were people who had expected to take the traditional bureaucratic examination system to get into the Chinese bureaucracy—a really important way of linking yourself to the traditional Chinese state—but these have been abolished by the Qing dynasty in the city in 1905. And so the candidates who would have taken those were now an alienated group.

    So when a small revolt over the selling of railway rights to foreigners in the city of Wuhan in October 1911 really took off, the dynasty suddenly found there was almost nobody in China who had a really vested interest in the emperor staying on the throne. And that's why in a broadly peaceful—there was a certain amount of violence, but broadly peaceful—series of events over weeks and months in the autumn and winter of 1911, the 2000-year-old imperial system collapsed to make way for Asia's first republic.


    Imperial China's Dynasties

    From the mythic origins of the Chinese dynasties to the eventual fall of the last imperial house, Chinese emperors have long fought to maintain control over one of the most enduring empires on Earth. The rise and fall of various imperial families oversaw waves of innovation and cultural advancement.

    Anthropology, Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations, World History

    Terracotta Warriors

    Qin Shin Huang unified China, becoming the nation's first emperor. He was buried with almost 8,000 life-size statues known of as the terracotta warrior army.

    Photograph by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

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    The Opium Wars

    The Opium Wars undermined China’s traditional mechanisms of foreign relations and controlled trade. This made it possible for Western powers, particularly Britain, to exercise influence over China’s economy and diplomatic relations.

    Learning Objectives

    Evaluate the Opium Wars and the motivations of the imperial powers in bringing opium to China

    Key Takeaways

    Key Points

    • After the British gained control over the Bengal Presidency in the mid-18th century, the former monopoly on opium production held by the Mughal emperors passed to the East India Company. To redress the trade imbalance with China, the EIC began auctions of opium in Calcutta and saw its profits soar from the opium trade. Since importation of opium into China had been virtually banned, the EIC established a complex trading scheme of both legal and illicit markets.
    • A porous Chinese border and rampant local demand facilitated trade. By the 1820s, China was importing 900 long tons of Bengali opium annually. In addition to the drain of silver, by 1838 the number of Chinese opium addicts had grown to between four and 12 million and the Daoguang Emperor demanded action.
    • The Emperor sent the leader of the hard line faction, Special Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu, to Canton, where he quickly arrested Chinese opium dealers and summarily demanded that foreign firms turn over their stocks with no compensation. When they refused, Lin stopped trade altogether and placed the foreign residents under virtual siege in their factories.
    • The First Opium War over the trade and diplomatic relations between Imperial China and Britain began in 1839. It quickly revealed the outdated state of the Chinese military. The Qing surrender in 1842 marked a decisive, humiliating blow to China. The Treaty of Nanking demanded war reparations and forced China to open up the Treaty Ports of Canton, Amoy, Fuchow, Ningpo, and Shanghai to western trade and missionaries and cede Hong Kong Island to Britain.
    • The Second Opium War, triggered by further British demands, began in 1856 and ended with the 1860 Convention of Beijing. The
      British, French, and Russians were all granted a permanent diplomatic presence in Beijing. The Chinese had to pay 8 million taels to Britain and France. Britain acquired Kowloon, next to Hong Kong. The opium trade was legalized and Christians were granted full civil rights, including the right to own property and to evangelize. The treaty also ceded parts of Outer Manchuria to the Russian Empire.
    • The terms of the treaties ending the Opium Wars undermined China’s traditional mechanisms of foreign relations and methods of controlled trade. More ports were opened for trade and Hong Kong was seized by the British to become a free and open port. Tariffs were abolished, preventing the Chinese from raising future duties to protect domestic
      industries, and extraterritorial practices exempted Westerners from Chinese law. In 1858, opium was legalized. The Qing dynasty never recovered from the defeat and the Western powers exercised more and more control over Imperial China.

    Key Terms

    • Treaty of Tientsin: A collective name for several documents signed in 1858 that ended the first phase of the Second Opium War. The Qing, Russian, and Second French Empires, the United Kingdom, and the United States were the parties involved. These unequal treaties opened more Chinese ports to foreign trade, permitted foreign legations in the Chinese capital Beijing, allowed Christian missionary activity, and legalized the import of opium. They were ratified by the Emperor of China in the Convention of Peking in 1860 after the end of the war.
    • East India Company: An English and later British joint-stock company formed to pursue trade with the East Indies but in actuality trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and Qing China.
    • Treaty of Nanjing: A peace treaty that ended the First Opium War (1839–42) between the United Kingdom and the Qing dynasty of China, signed in August 1842. It ended the old Canton System and created a new framework for China’s foreign relations and overseas trade that would last for almost 100 years. From the Chinese perspective, the most injurious terms were the fixed trade tariff, extraterritoriality, and the most favored nation provisions. It was the first of what the Chinese later called the unequal treaties in which Britain had no obligations in return.
    • First Opium War: An 1839–1842 war fought between the United Kingdom and the Qing dynasty over their conflicting viewpoints on diplomatic relations, trade, and the administration of justice for foreign nationals in China.
    • Convention of Beijing: An agreement comprising three distinct treaties between the Qing Empire (China) and the United Kingdom, France, and Russia in 1860, which ended the Second Opium War.
    • Century of Humiliation: The period of intervention and imperialism by Western powers and Japan in China between 1839 and 1949. It arose in 1915 in the atmosphere of increased Chinese nationalism.
    • Second Opium War: A war pitting the British Empire and the French Empire against the Qing dynasty of China, lasting from 1856 to 1860.

    Opium Trade in China

    The history of opium in China began with the use of opium for medicinal purposes during the 7th century. In the 17th century, the practice of mixing opium with tobacco for smoking spread from Southeast Asia, creating a far greater demand.

    After the British gained control over the Bengal Presidency, the largest colonial subdivision of British India, in the mid-18th century, the former monopoly on opium production held by the Mughal emperors passed to the East India Company (EIC) under the The East India Company Act, 1793. However, the EIC was £28 million in debt, partly as a result of the insatiable demand for Chinese tea in the UK market. Chinese tea had to be paid for in silver, so silver supplies had to be purchased from continental Europe and Mexico. To redress the imbalance, the EIC began auctions of opium in Calcutta and saw its profits soar from the opium trade. Considering that importation of opium into China had been virtually banned by Chinese law, the EIC established an elaborate trading scheme, partially relying on legal markets and partially leveraging illicit ones. British merchants bought tea in Canton on credit and balanced their debts by selling opium at auction in Calcutta. From there, the opium would reach the Chinese coast hidden aboard British ships and was smuggled into China by native merchants.

    In 1797, the EIC further tightened its grip on the opium trade by enforcing direct trade between opium farmers and the British and ending the role of Bengali purchasing agents. British exports of opium to China grew from an estimated 15 long tons in 1730 to 75 long tons in 1773 shipped in over 2,000 chests. The Qing dynasty Jiaqing Emperor issued an imperial decree banning imports of the drug in 1799. Nevertheless, by 1804, the British trade deficit with China turned into a surplus, leading to seven million silver dollars going to India between 1806 and 1809. Meanwhile, Americans entered the opium trade with less expensive but inferior Turkish opium and by 1810 had around 10% of the trade in Canton.

    In the same year the emperor issued a further imperial edict prohibiting the use and trade of opium. The decree had little effect. The Qing government, far away in Beijing in the north of China, was unable to halt opium smuggling in the southern provinces. A porous Chinese border and rampant local demand facilitated the trade and by the 1820s, China was importing 900 long tons of Bengali opium annually. The opium trafficked into China was processed by the EIC at its two factories in Patna and Benares. In the 1820s, opium from Malwa in the non-British controlled part of India became available and as prices fell due to competition, production was stepped up.

    In addition to the drain of silver, by 1838 the number of Chinese opium addicts had grown to between four and 12 million and the Daoguang Emperor demanded action. Officials at the court who advocated legalizing and taxing the trade were defeated by those who advocated suppressing it. The Emperor sent the leader of the hard line faction, Special Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu, to Canton, where he quickly arrested Chinese opium dealers and summarily demanded that foreign firms turn over their stocks with no compensation. When they refused, Lin stopped trade altogether and placed the foreign residents under virtual siege in their factories. The British Superintendent of Trade in China Charles Elliot got the British traders to agree to hand over their opium stock with the promise of eventual compensation for their loss from the British government. While this amounted to a tacit acknowledgment that the British government did not disapprove of the trade, it also placed a huge liability on the exchequer. This promise and the inability of the British government to pay it without causing a political storm was an important casus belli for the subsequent British offensive.

    Two poor Chinese opium smokers. Gouache painting on rice-paper, 19th century.

    Initially used by medical practitioners to control bodily fluid and preserve qi or vital force, during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), opium also functioned as an aphrodisiac. First listed as a taxable commodity in 1589, opium remained legal until the early Qing dynasty.

    First Opium War

    In October 1839, the Thomas Coutts arrived in China and sailed to Canton. The ship was owned by Quakers, who refused to deal in opium. The ship’s captain, Warner, believed Elliot had exceeded his legal authority by banning the signing of the “no opium trade” bond and negotiated with the governor of Canton, hoping that all British ships could unload their goods at Chuenpi, an island near Humen. To prevent other British ships from following the Thomas Coutts, Elliot ordered a blockade of the Pearl River. Fighting began on November 3, 1839, when a second British ship, the Royal Saxon, attempted to sail to Canton. Then the British Royal Navy ships HMS Volage and HMS Hyacinth fired warning shots at the Royal Saxon. The Qing navy’s official report claimed that the navy attempted to protect the British merchant vessel and reported a victory for that day. In reality, they had been overtaken by the Royal Naval vessels and many Chinese ships were sunk.

    The First Opium War revealed the outdated state of the Chinese military. The Qing navy was severely outclassed by the modern tactics and firepower of the British Royal Navy. British soldiers, using advanced muskets and artillery, easily outmaneuvered and outgunned Qing forces in ground battles. The Qing surrender in 1842 marked a decisive, humiliating blow to China. The Treaty of Nanking demanded war reparations, forced China to open up the Treaty Ports of Canton, Amoy, Fuchow, Ningpo, and Shanghai to western trade and missionaries, and to cede Hong Kong Island to Britain. It revealed weaknesses in the Qing government and provoked rebellions against the regime.

    Second Opium War

    The 1850s saw the rapid growth of Western imperialism. Some shared goals of the western powers were the expansion of their overseas markets and the establishment of new ports of call. To expand their privileges in China, Britain demanded the Qing authorities renegotiate the 1842 Treaty of Nanking, citing their most favored nation status. The British demands included opening all of China to British merchant companies, legalizing the opium trade, exempting foreign imports from internal transit duties, suppression of piracy, regulation of the coolie trade, permission for a British ambassador to reside in Beijing, and for the English-language version of all treaties to take precedence over the Chinese language.

    To give Chinese merchant vessels operating around treaty ports the same privileges accorded British ships by the Treaty of Nanking, British authorities granted these vessels British registration in Hong Kong. In October 1856, Chinese marines in Canton seized a cargo ship called the Arrow on suspicion of piracy, arresting 12 of its 14 Chinese crew members. The Arrow was previously used by pirates, captured by the Chinese government, and subsequently resold. It was then registered as a British ship and still flew the British flag at the time of its detainment, although its registration expired. Its captain, Thomas Kennedy, aboard a nearby vessel at the time, reported seeing Chinese marines pull the British flag down from the ship. The British consul in Canton, Harry Parkes, contacted Ye Mingchen, imperial commissioner and Viceroy of Liangguang, to demand the immediate release of the crew and an apology for the alleged insult to the flag. Ye released nine of the crew members, but refused to release the last three.

    On October 25, the British demanded to enter Canton. The next day, they started to bombard the city, firing one shot every 10 minutes. Ye Mingchen issued a bounty on every British head taken. On October 29, a hole was blasted in the city walls and troops entered, with a flag of the United States of America being planted by James Keenan (U.S. Consul) on the walls and residence of Ye Mingchen. Negotiations failed, the city was bombarded, and the war escalated.

    In 1858, with no other options, the Xianfeng Emperor agreed to the Treaty of Tientsin, which contained clauses deeply insulting to the Chinese, such as a demand that all official Chinese documents be written in English and a proviso granting British warships unlimited access to all navigable Chinese rivers. Shortly after the Qing imperial court agreed to the disadvantageous treaties, hawkish ministers prevailed upon the Xianfeng Emperor to resist Western encroachment, which led to a resumption of hostilities. In 1860, with Anglo-French forces marching on Beijing, the emperor and his court fled the capital for the imperial hunting lodge at Rehe. Once in Beijing, the Anglo-French forces looted the Old Summer Palace and, in an act of revenge for the arrest of several Englishmen, burnt it to the ground. Prince Gong, a younger half-brother of the emperor, was forced to sign the Convention of Beijing. The agreement comprised three distinct treaties concluded between the Qing Empire and the United Kingdom, France, and Russia (while Russia had not been a belligerent, it threatened weakened China with a war on a second front). The British, French, and Russians were granted a permanent diplomatic presence in Beijing, something the Qing Empire resisted to the very end as it suggested equality between China and the European powers. The Chinese had to pay 8 million taels to Britain and France. Britain acquired Kowloon (next to Hong Kong). The opium trade was legalized and Christians were granted full civil rights, including the right to own property and the right to evangelize. The treaty also ceded parts of Outer Manchuria to the Russian Empire.

    Legacy

    The First Opium War marked the start of what 20th century nationalists called the Century of Humiliation. The ease with which the British forces defeated the numerically superior Chinese armies damaged the Qing dynasty’s prestige. The Treaty of Nanking was a step to opening the lucrative Chinese market to global commerce and the opium trade.

    Opium smokers, c. 1880, by Lai Afong.

    Historian Jonathan Spence notes that the harm opium caused was clear, but that in a stagnating economy, it supplied fluid capital and created new tax sources. Smugglers, poor farmers, coolies, retail merchants and officials all depended on opium for their livelihoods. In the last decade of the Qing dynasty, however, a focused moral outrage overcame these vested interests.

    The terms of the treaties ending the Opium Wars undermined China’s traditional mechanisms of foreign relations and methods of controlled trade. More ports were opened for trade, gunboats, and foreign residence. Hong Kong was seized by the British to become a free and open port. Tariffs were abolished preventing the Chinese from raising future duties to protect domestic industries and extraterritorial practices exempted Westerners from Chinese law. This made them subject to their own civil and criminal laws of their home country. Most importantly, the opium problem was never addressed and after the treaty ending the First War was signed, opium addiction doubled. Due to the Qing government’s inability to control collection of taxes on imported goods, the British government convinced the Manchu court to allow Westerners to partake in government official affairs. In 1858 opium was legalized.

    The First Opium War both reflected and contributed to a further weakening of the Chinese state’s power and legitimacy. Anti-Qing sentiment grew in the form of rebellions such as the Taiping Rebellion, a civil war lasting from 1850-64 in which at least 20 million Chinese died.

    The opium trade faced intense enmity from the later British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. As a member of Parliament, Gladstone called it “most infamous and atrocious,” referring to the opium trade between China and British India in particular. Gladstone was fiercely against both Opium Wars, denounced British violence against Chinese, and was ardently opposed to the British trade in opium to China. Gladstone criticized the First War as “unjust in its origin, a war more calculated in its progress to cover this country with permanent disgrace.” His hostility to opium stemmed from the effects of the drug on his sister Helen.

    The standard interpretation in the People’s Republic of China presented the war as the beginning of modern China and the emergence of the Chinese people’s resistance to imperialism and feudalism.


    Why Qing Dynasty is the Last Dynasty in Chinese History?

    Why Qing Dynasty is the Last Dynasty in Chinese History?

    Why Qing Dynasty is the Last Dynasty in Chinese History?

    In 2070 B.C, the very first dynasty in Chinese history was founded. The rise and fall of the thirteen dynasties are a crucial part of Chinese history. However, people may wonder why the era of dynasties came to an end following the Qing’s decline. Reviewing the history of the thirteen Chinese dynasties, it is clear that each one began anew, transitioned to a silver age, and ended with a downfall. In this paper I will discuss the downfall of the Qing dynasty and why no other dynasties came to follow. At the end of its rule, the Qing dynasty faced problems with its corrupt politics, small-scale economy, the imperial examination, cultural changes, and Western influence on the Chinese monarchy, which all contributed to its collapse. In addition, in the end, the feudal dynasty was affected by the new ideas of capitalism, and autocracy was replaced by civil rights and democracy.

    Important points to emphasize when studying the history of Chinese monarchies is the strengthening of the state principles, purposeful alignment of the vertical power in politics, the economy, and the ideology. The tendency of authoritarian, autocratic control of enormous human array lies in Chinese tradition. That management is carried out through broadcasting by the authorities and through the carefully branched and filtered bureaucratic bureaucracy. The structure of the Chinese monarchies played a huge role in the interaction between the emperor and his subjects and between the government and the opposition.

    Chinese insularity was violated by the invasion of the West, marking the beginning of the interaction of two different civilizations, Chinese (Confucian-traditionalist) and Western (capitalistic). The invasion of the West resulted in China’s forced globalization. The global socio-economic and cultural process was carried out in the form of colonial and semi-colonial conquests. The Chinese were used to being a powerful force, so when Western powers begun to push for more treaties and contact, it did not sit well with the Qing emperors. Because China would not relent, the foreigners resolved to trade opium with the Chinese. When this trade was banned, it triggered the first and second opium wars in which China was defeated and forced to give payments and sign treaties with the foreigners. The people, disappointed by the actions of the monarchy, rebelled, which partly led to the dynasty’s collapse.

    The merging of these two cultures affected the development of the monarchical regime in China. Denying the significance of the West and the merging of the two cultures would be wrong. The world of ancient Chinese traditions collapsed under the pressure of a century of change, influenced by the West. Since the mid XIX century, two dimensions defined the Qing empire: the traditional and the western. The confrontation of these two principles collided head first, and the traditional view that China was the center of the universe was proved to be flawed. The process of saving a line of autonomous development within China failed. The West imposed on China a new, more dynamic, modern (from the Europeans point of view of) model of development. China was forced to take in these changes, painfully digesting in the spirit of its traditionalist conceptions. The complex process of interaction between traditional Chinese and Western principles were expressed every step of the way. Differences were faced in the interaction principles of Western technicism, a reliance on technology and knowledge, and Chinese Confucian spirituality, a reliance on one’s moral and ethical views. Cultural differences extended to Western rationality and Chinese irrationality, Western traditions of equality and the Chinese use of hierarchies. Westerners were traditionally viewed to carry revolutionary spirits and the Chinese valued evolutionary spirits (the desire for consensus).

    The Xinhai revolution was inevitable due to the crisis of the Qing monarchy and the development of centrifugal tendencies in the political life of the country. Outwardly, everything seemed to resemble the traditional phase of the dynastic cycle, which usually meant a downfall of one dynasty and the emerging of a new one, changing power from, one dynasty to the next.

    The defeat of the royal troops, in a confrontation with powers, ended with the signing of the humiliating “Final Protocol,” a peace treaty that China signed which had received foreign help to stop the Boxer Rebellion. The treaty transformed China from the “country-hegemony” to the semi-colony. It meant, “losing face” and was a sensitive moment for the psychology of Chinese nationalists. Chinese society blamed the Manchus for the downfall of the dynasty. The Manchus were the last group to have power before the downfall of the dynasties, yet they still allowed the humiliation of the Middle Kingdom by the Western “barbarians.” After the Taiping movement, the ruling dynasty showed a certain willingness to allow the development of Chinese in the Manchu-Chinese community. This led to the formation and development of the new Chinese military-bureaucratic elite, and played a role in overthrowing the Qing dynasty (Yi, Fangfang, Bingxin & Hui, 2012).

    There was a significant decline in the intellectual component of the Qing dynasty at the end of their reign. Amazingly enough, this was a component that accompanied the end of almost every dynasty in Chinese history. A significant weakening of power in the beginning of the XX century influenced the collapse of the Manchu dynasty. The Qing dynasties emphases on vertical power cold not uphold itself during its ending season of political turmoil. Many viewed the personnel balance between the Manchus and the Chinese bureaucratic structure, especially on its power (the military) and the governor’s “floor”, as the Qing dynasty hastening their own collapse, promoting Chinese nationalism in its anti-Manchu version (Waley-Cohen, 2006).

    The attempts to revive the monarchy in China always ended in failure. Attempts ranged from trying to form parades and demonstrations, similar to the Japanese methods used to revive a monarchy during the Meiji period. Reviving a monarchy in a Chinese viewpoint meant the complete termination of the militarist dictatorship and “outlaws,” which could not be allowed by the rulers of militaristic enclaves. Revival of the monarchy and the elimination of the dictatorship on the part of Chinese territory (in the Northeast) meant going with external force actions: in the first case, with the help of Japan secondly, from the side of the Soviet Union.

    However, the slow death of monarchical institutions in Chinese political life continued until 1945. Though the monarchical form of government came to an end, their influence was continuously reflected even in Republicans. For example, it can be seen in Bonaparte’s manners of Chiang Kai-shek and the authoritarian style of ruling by Mao Zedong. Even modern Chinese historical consciousness still retains many images of the past, including stories about the past greatness of the imperial-monarchical structures of old China. In other words, the traditions established in the period of China’s monarchic systems, today manifest themselves in different realities of modern China. Modern public services of China, Taiwan (as a part of China) as well as some other countries in East and Southeast Asia, are the direct heirs of the political culture of the imperial era (221 BC – 1911-1912.).

    Corruption in the Qing dynasty was a factor in its decline and end. There was foreign pressure coming from countries like Britain, and the people’s respect for the Qing emperors started declining because they saw most of them as too corrupt to do anything effective against these foreigners. The Qing dynasty was founded by the Manchurians, and when they took power they formed the Eight Banners system for two reasons. First was to distinguish the Manchurians from the rest of the population, and secondly, for military purposes. The banner men, as they became known, asserted the emperor’s control in the empire, and also defended it from external threats. For their work, these banner men enjoyed many privileges like housing, food and money, and they begun to see it as a source of wealth, rather than a profession.

    Training was neglected because the soldiers and officials were busy finding ways to get paid more. By the time the emperors had figured out what was happening, it was too late because the military was too far gone to be able to stop a rebellion, much less foreign invaders. Another way in which corruption contributed could be traced from the 1800s, when the population had expanded rapidly and the empire could not provide employment and food for everyone. This was because the funds that had been set aside by the emperors had either been stolen or squandered. For example, the Empress Dowager Cixi, who ruled China for almost 50 years, spent 30 million silver taels, which had been set aside for the navy’s weaponry to buy decorations for her 60 th birthday.

    In another instance, there was Hesen, who is considered to be the most corrupt official in all of Chinese history. He was greatly favored by the emperor Qianlong, who gave him complete freedom. He became very corrupt while at court, and those who supported him followed his lead. He raised taxes on a people that were already poor and suffering, and was responsible for the casualties caused when the Yellow River flooded because he had stolen the funds set aside to maintain dams and canals. These leaders and others more, showed the people that the emperors and officials only cared for themselves, and they wanted change where they did not have to pay for the pleasures of the court. They rebelled, and it became easy to see that the empire was very weak (Rowe, 2009).

    Another factor that led to the end of the Qing dynasty was the imperial examination. The government used this exam to find suitable males for employment. Therefore, it was very popular and people would go to great lengths to pass. The rules and regulations enforced during the examination period were very strict, and the examination officials used a very rigid system to determine those who had passed and those who had failed. For example, there was the eight-legged essay, an essay with eight sections, which the intellectuals had to reproduce word for word. Any changes meant failure (Wang & Shang, 2005).

    The examination was also strictly literal, with no technical knowledge being tested. This rigid system of selection and the narrow scope of the examination meant that China’s intellectuals developed a rigid way of thinking and their creativity was stifled. Focus on literature meant that China’s military was not given the same attention, which impeded its ability to respond to rebellions and foreign invasions. In addition, the procedures required a lot of time and effort to be carried out, which meant that a lot of time was wasted. China had become resistant to change, and fell behind the rest of the world. This was felt especially in the Qing dynasty.

    The economy of the Qing dynasty was also another factor in its end. At the beginning of the dynasty the economy suffered during the power struggle. It then recovered and even developed significantly. However, this recovery was very slow and China’s economy fell behind the economies of the foreign Western powers, which were going through the Industrial Revolution. In one case, the emperor prohibited people from living on the shores of China to prevent attacks from overseas by the supporters of the previous dynasty. This severely affected home trade in the coastal areas and trading with foreigners and the people were focused on planting grains. Prices were low, the economy was down and people starved until peace was established (Zhao, 2013).

    The economy prospered for a while, especially because of China’s exports, and the populations increased at a rapid pace. However, there were certain policies that constricted the economy. The economy was a small-scale peasant economy, largely dependent upon agriculture. Even so, farmers were instructed to grow grain instead of cash crops. The emperors also monopolized salt, and, cautious of the wealth of trading merchants, they placed many restrictions on the licenses of these merchants (Isett, 2007). For years, the dynasty had prohibited foreign trade, and even when the prohibition was lifted, trade was kept to a minimum. Foreign powers were not impressed with this isolation policy, and introduced opium to China, which greatly affected able-bodied men who were China’s labor source. Two opium wars broke out, where the Chinese were repeatedly defeated and were forced to give payments of silver to the foreigners, which weakened the economy further.

    Angered by this state of affairs, the Chinese, led by Hong Xiuquan began the Taiping Rebellion, which was one of the worst conflicts in China’s history. Still weak from the opium wars, the economy was devastated even further by this rebellion. This was because the emperor had to use a lot of resources to stop the rebellions, even raising the taxes higher to get these resources. After the rebellion, the Self-Strengthening Movement was introduced in an attempt to save the economy. However, industrialization was very slow during this time. At this point, the dynasty had been so weakened by these last years of conflict that in it collapsed and the Republic of China established.

    The overthrow of the Qing monarchy and the transition to a republican form of government is an important link in China’s breakthrough in the modern world. Of course, the events of 1911-1912 were complex, controversial, and far from unambiguous. On the one hand, they have revived the destructive principle in the political life of the country (the disintegration of the state, civil wars, confrontation of militarist cliques). The same events marked China’s serious movement towards Westernization, and, more importantly, the modernization of the vast country. This process continues to this day. Speaking about the fate of modern China, in connection with the analysis of the Xinhai events, hopefully, the country has exhausted its time for revolution, which, as history shows, leads to incalculable loss of lives and other catastrophic consequences.

    Unlike the previous times where new dynasties were possible, the Qing dynasty underwent drastic changes that made it impossible for any other to follow. China was not as powerful as it had once been, and external influence from foreigners had opened it up to change from its traditional way of life. With the way the world was changing, it would be impossible to force the people to maintain their old way of life when they could see the possibilities that change offered them. The Chinese had been through a lot of conflict, and so another power struggle to establish another dynasty would not be tolerated. The economy had collapsed along with the Qing dynasty, therefore it would have proved an uphill task to establish a new dynasty with no finances. The politics of China were also changing, moving from a monarchical feudal system to an era where democracy was possible and equality for all could be achieved. Establishment of the Republic of China ended the 3940 years era of the dynasty. Therefore, with the pressure for change coming from all areas of China, the Qing Dynasty became the last dynasty in China.

    Isett, C.M. (2007). State, peasant, and merchant in Qing Manchuria. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

    Rawski, E. (1998). The last emperors. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    Rowe, W. (2009). China’s last empire: the great Qing. Cambridge, UK: Belknap Press of Havard.

    Waley-Cohen, J. (2006). The culture of war in China. London, UK: I.B. Tauris.

    Wang, D., & Shang, W. (2005). Dynastic crisis and cultural innovation: from the late Ming to the late Qing and beyond. Cambridge, UK: Havard University Asia.

    Yi, D., Fangfang, L., Bingxin, L., & Hui, L. (2012). A concise history of the Qing dynasty. Singapore: Silkroad Press.

    Zhao, G. (2013). The Qing opening to the ocean: Chinese maritime policies, 1684-1757. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

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    The collapse

    The reasons behind the Qing dynasty’s ultimate disintegration are manifold. However, they can be summarized as: economic mismanagement, foreign predation, elite disconnect, and consequent rebellion.

    The Taiping Rebellion

    The outbreak of the Taiping Rebellion in the mid-19th century was the first sign that the foundations of the Qing empire were beginning to crack. This was also the first time that anti-Manchu sentiment was weaponized at scale.

    The rebellion was led by the young and charismatic Hong Xiuquan . He claimed to be the brother of Jesus Christ and to have received visions from God directing him to build a utopian society devoid of the daily torments of peasant life. The society he believed he had been tasked with establishing was known as the ‘Kingdom of Heavenly Peace.’ Seduced by his promises of a better life, millions of peasants flocked to his yellow, dragon-emblazoned banner.

    In crushing the Kingdom of Heavenly Peace, the Qing were pitiless.

    The chaos of the era makes exact records difficult to come by, but it is likely (when considered in relation to world population at the time) that the Taiping Rebellion was the bloodiest war in world history. From 1850 to 1864, between 20 and 30 million people lost their lives. A melange of natural disasters and brutality on the part of Qing generals turned large swathes of China into an uninhabitable wasteland.

    By the end of the 14-year war, Qing forces had regained control of the empire—but at a terrible cost: millions dead, thousands of hectares of farmland destroyed, and China’s international standing permanently tainted by having been forced to call on the military support of France and the United Kingdom.

    The Taiping Rebellion may have been the bloodiest war in world history.

    The First Sino-Japanese War

    The First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) was a highwater mark in the repeated humiliations of China in the face of foreign armies. For millennia, China had overshadowed Japan and jealously guarded its position of centrality in Asia using the tributary system.

    By the end of the nineteenth century, however, Japan had modernized its military and economy and was eager to flex its newfound muscle. After years of diplomatic slights, Japan was now prepared to jostle openly with China for control of territory, namely the Korean peninsula and Taiwan.

    In a mere eight months, Japan had achieved all of its military objectives. Despite their new fangled training and attempted modernization (part of what is known as the ‘Tongzhi Restoration’), China’s armies had nonetheless performed poorly on the battlefield. The blow to Chinese prestige was swift and severe.

    The First Sino-Japanese war was further proof to the other hungry colonial powers (such as France, the UK, and Germany) that when push came to shove, China could no longer offer real resistance to their intrusions, commercial or otherwise.

    The loss of the First Sino-Japanese War was a major blow to Qing prestige.

    The Boxer Rebellion

    What became known as the Boxer Rebellion hammered the final nail into the already decaying coffin of the Qing empire.

    Named “Boxers” by the Christian missionaries who observed them training in martial arts, the Righteous and Harmonious Fists (义和拳 Yìhéquán), were a secret society that originated in the Shandong region. Years of severe drought and economic malaise had created a huge surplus population of unemployed youths. This was the main recruitment base for the Boxers.

    Their central tenets were a commitment to purging China of foreigners and Christianity. The Rebellion kicked off in earnest in 1900. A force of between 50 and 100 thousand boxers marched on Beijing, intent on besieging the foreign quarter and expelling or executing the foreigners.

    The Qing Empress Dowager Cixi, caught between encroaching western forces on the one side and tens of thousands of enraged Boxer militia members on the other, sided with the Boxers and formally declared war on the foreigners.

    The foreign powers used the defense of their besieged envoys and merchants as a pretext to invade China. A 20,000 strong military coalition called the Eight-Nation Alliance consisting of American, Austro-Hungarian, British, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Russian forces crushed the Boxers and entered the capital.

    The Empress Dowager fled the capital for Xi’an, but eventually she was forced to sign the Boxer Protocol, a document that authorized the permanent placement of foreign troops in Beijing, the execution of government officials who had given aid to the Boxers, and the payment of crippling reparations.

    Following the signing of the Boxer Protocol, the Qing dynasty would survive only another 10 years.

    Qing Empress Dowager Cixi made the fateful decision to support the Boxers during the Boxer Rebellion.

    The fall

    By 1911, the empire had reached its breaking point.

    Corruption was rampant and overt. The ossification of Qing elites had created a parasitic class who lacked the ability to adapt to a fast changing world. Decades of economic weakness had undercut the tax base and the burgeoning population that had once been a source of strength now only served to swell the ranks of the rebel groups that proliferated throughout the empire.

    The arrival of the technologically superior Western and Japanese powers (who collectively enforced what in China are termed the “ Unequal Treaties ”) and the unbearable yoke of reparations imposed after the Boxer Rebellion, had created an untenable situation.

    Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam had already been wrenched out of the tributary orbit. By the time that Puyi, the last Qing emperor, had come to power, the empire was ripe for collapse.

    For years there had been internal calls for reformation and revolution. Qing decadence had created an atmosphere in which Chinese intellectuals were desperate to find a way for China to reclaim its central place in world affairs. Prosperity and an end to the repeated humiliations that China had suffered at the hands of foreign powers motivated them to act.

    Foremost among these figures was Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China. Statesman, physician, political philosopher, Sun Yat-sen was a tireless campaigner for an independent, powerful, and wealthy China, and he believed that a republican form of government would best serve these goals. By rallying to his cause an ideologically diverse band of followers he would, after a lifetime of toil, eventually succeed in founding the Republic of China.

    After years of violent contestation, a wave of rebellions swept the empire. With no other choice left, the child emperor Puyi was forced to abdicate, bringing China’s imperial system to an abrupt end. With the departure of Puyi, the Qing empire died and the Republic of China was born.

    The Republic of China came into being after the Qing collapsed in the wake of armed rebellion.


    • How the Manchus conquered Ming China.
    • How the last of the imperial dynasties were established.
    • How the Qing dynasty became the foundation on which modern China was built.
    • How to evaluate the imposition of foreign rule.
    • How to develop your own approaches to history and gain a critical appreciation of China’s literary, philosophical, political and cultural resources.
    • How to express ideas more clearly and confidently.

    This course, part of a comprehensive series on China, looks at the Qing state in the early 1600s and the challenges that the Manchus faced as minority rulers. While living in Chinese cities and surrounded by Chinese culture — a culture that was far more sophisticated than their own — the Manchus struggled to hold onto their identity as a conquesting people.

    We'll look at the last period of ascendancy for China before the modern era. We’ll cover China in the 18th century, under the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong emperors — a period in which the size of the empire nearly doubles.

    The Qing was the last dynasty before the foundation of the modern republics and sets the stage for everything that will come after. Join us to learn about this critical era in Chinese history, an era that sets the stage for a truly modern China.


    Emperor Daoguang (ruled 1821–1851) - War with Europe

    The Trade Wars and Opium Wars (1838, 1854)

    In the 1800s, Europeans easily defeated the Qing army and navy, and forced the Qing to give them trading ports.

    The British wanted greater Qing Empire trade, but the Qing court wanted to keep out British opium and influence. Britain defeated China twice in 1838 and 1854 (the Opium Wars) to force trade treaties, and gained Hong Kong until 1997 under the Treaty of Nanking of 1842.


    Imperial China's Dynasties

    From the mythic origins of the Chinese dynasties to the eventual fall of the last imperial house, Chinese emperors have long fought to maintain control over one of the most enduring empires on Earth. The rise and fall of various imperial families oversaw waves of innovation and cultural advancement.

    Anthropology, Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations, World History

    Terracotta Warriors

    Qin Shin Huang unified China, becoming the nation's first emperor. He was buried with almost 8,000 life-size statues known of as the terracotta warrior army.

    Photograph by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

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    Watch the video: The Rise of the Qing, Chinas Last Empire (November 2021).