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The Last Dynasty of China. The Qing Dynasty of China. The Manchus. The Manchus were from Manchuria, the large region to the north and east of China itself The Manchus were related to the Chinese but ethnically distinct

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The Last Dynasty of China

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the last dynasty of china

The Last Dynasty of China

The Qing Dynasty of China

the manchus
The Manchus
  • The Manchus were from Manchuria, the large region to the north and east of China itself
  • The Manchus were related to the Chinese but ethnically distinct
  • The Chinese, as a subject people, were forced to wear certain clothing and to wear their hair in long braids, or queues

Males had to shave their foreheads, as reflected in a Chinese proverb of the time: “lose your hair or lose your head”


The empire established by the Manchus was called the Qing (or Ch’ing, 1644-1911)

  • It included Manchuria, then, after 1644, northern China
  • By 1683, the Manchus had absorbed southern China into their empire, as well as the large island of Formosa (now Taiwan)
  • The Manchus also controlled or added to their tributary system areas such as Mongolia, Tibet, Nepal, Burma, and much of Central Asia

Qing expansion to the north and west also brought the Chinese into contact with Russia, which was moving into Siberia and East Asia by the 1600s and 1700s

  • It took much negotiation for the Chinese and Russians to arrive at a mutually acceptable boundary

Full-scale trade with European nations began under the Qing, during the 1690s

  • Foreign trade was closely regulated by the state, and by the 1750s, it was directed exclusively through the port of Canton
  • Along with silk and porcelain, China’s most important commodity was tea
  • While the Qing Empire sent a high volume of exports to other nations, it allowed few imports, giving it a highly favorable balance of trade

During the 1600s and early 1700s, the Qing emperors were capable rulers, good administrators, and strong centralizers

  • The emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) is widely considered to be one of the greatest monarchs in Chinese history: a skilled general, a just lawgiver, and a sponsor of culture and learning
  • Kangxi bolstered the imperial authority of the Qing by patronizing Confucianism, with its emphasis on respect for authority

Another eighteenth-century ruler, Qianlong (1736-1795), was the last intelligent, dynamic ruler the Qing had

  • He strengthened China’s borders, fostered economic growth, and promoted scholarship

During the last half of the 1700s, Qianlong defended China’s long borders, kept the far-flung regions under control

  • During the reign of Qianlong, one of the greatest novels in Chinese literary history appeared: Cao Xueqin’s Dream of the Red Chamber (1791)
  • The novel, which depicted upper-class family life in eighteenth-century China, narrated the tragedy of two young lovers caught up in the decline of a wealthy and powerful clan
the first stages of qing decline
The First Stages of Qing Decline
  • After Qianlong, however, the quality of the Qing rulers declined
  • They grew softer and less active
  • Also, as during the late Ming period, the Chinese population grew steadily partly due to the introduction of new crops from the Americas– and much faster than the economy (population surpassed 300 million by 1799)
  • Over time, national wealth was barely sufficient to support the population
  • For all but the upper classes, poverty worsened
the forces of decline
The Forces of Decline
  • Unfortunately for the Qing, several negative trends began to weaken China simultaneously, almost immediately after Qianlong’s death
  • As mentioned earlier, the quality of leadership declined steeply, as weak, incompetent emperors took the throne
  • More widely, the government as a whole became riddled with corruption

The cost of maintaining border defenses along the northern and western frontiers became increasingly burdensome

  • The economy worsened, and as mentioned earlier, population growth became too rapid (China had 300 million people at the beginning of the century, and would have 400 million by the end)
  • Popular discontent with the Qing government and bad economic conditions broke out into open revolt on a number of occasions

The most famous early revolt was the White Lotus Rebellion (1796-1804), which took years for the authorities to suppress

the west
The West
  • At the same time, an external problem began to make itself felt: increased economic and diplomatic pressure from the West, particularly from Britain
  • As late as the 1810s, the Chinese had the upper hand in their relationship with the West
  • China was too strong to conquer, and it enjoyed enormous advantage in its balance of trade

Aside from Macao, which had been colonized hundreds of years before by Portugal, the Europeans could trade with China only in a small number of designated ports and cities(including Kiaktha in the north and Canton on the southern coast)

  • The Chinese accepted only a tiny selection of Western goods in trade
  • Conversely, the Chinese sold the nations of the West silks and porcelain ware
  • The most profitable commodity was tea, which the Chinese sold in immense quantities to the outside world, especially Russia and Britain

In exchange, the West paid China vast amounts of silver bullion

  • For years, Westerners complained about these conditions and requested the Chinese to allow them to sell more goods in China
  • In 1793, a British delegation led by Lord Macartney made such a request, but it was denied

Famously, Macartney, in order to meet the emperor Qianlong, was compelled to lower himself onto one knee, and he was referred to by the Chinese not as an ambassador, but as a tribute bearer

  • When Macartney asked the British be allowed to sell more of their goods to China, Qianlong replied, “Your country has nothing we need”
  • In 1816, a similar mission under Lord Amherst received much the same response

Much of the Qing’s refusal to bargain had to do with a tough business sense

  • Part of it also had to do with feelings of superiority: the Qing leadership sincerely believed that the emperor was the Son of Heaven, that China was the Middle Kingdom and center of the universe, and that all outsiders were barbarians
  • What the Qing failed to realize, however, was that the Western “barbarians” were, by this point, much more scientifically and technologically advanced than the Chinese

Consequently, the Westerners had stronger navies, better weapons, and better-equipped armies

  • The days when the Chinese could intimidate foreigners into accepting such an embarrassing and unprofitable imbalance of trade were about to end quickly
the opium trade
The Opium Trade
  • Meanwhile, the British, followed by other Europeans, found a clever, if unethical, way to break into Chinese markets: opium
  • This drug had been known in China since the early 1700s, but it was not yet available enough for its use to have become widespread
  • The British changed all this
  • A prime source of opium was northeast India, part of Britain’s empire

In the 1820s and 1830s, the British began to flood China with opium

  • Opium became the drug of choice among Chinese of all classes, and addiction became widespread
  • The British made fantastic profits from the opium trade, and the balance of trade, previously so heavily advantageous to China, swung suddenly in Britain’s favor
  • Over time, other countries – such as France, Portugal, and the United States – also sold the drug to China, but Britain dominated the business, controlling 80 percent of the opium trade

The Chinese government was outraged

  • The trade was illegal
  • It reversed the balance of trade, meaning that silver bullion, instead of flowing into China, was flowing out, at an alarming rate
  • Moreover, addiction to opium was so widespread that it affected the economic productivity of the Chinese population: on any given day, millions of Chinese farmers and workers would be so incapacitated by the drug that they could not work
  • The Chinese authorities protested

As one official wrote, “The foreigners have brought us a disease which will dry up our bones, a worm that gnaws at our hearts, a ruin to our families and persons. It means the destruction of the soul of our nation.”

the opium wars
The Opium Wars
  • The Qing government tried to strike back by arresting dealers, seizing opium supplies, and intercepting boats carrying the drug
  • In 1839, when the Chinese navy blockaded Canton, one of the few ports where foreigners were allowed to trade, war began
  • The first Opium War (1839-1842) was between Britain and China
  • The British won easily, then forced the humiliating Treaty of Nanking on the Chinese

The Qing government was required to open five more ports to foreign trade, lower tariffs on British goods, and grant extraterritorial rights to areas in China where the British lived and worked (this meant that British, not Chinese law prevailed in these areas)

  • In addition, China had to surrender Hong Kong to Britain
  • A second Opium War occurred shortly thereafter and more treaties were signed
  • Ultimately, the opium trade became legal and more ports were opened to foreign trade

China grew increasingly weaker and was steadily forced to give more and more privileges to foreign traders

  • Substantial pieces of territory along the Chinese coast were extraterritorial, meaning that they were legally under foreign, not Chinese, control
  • By 1898, foreign vessels were allowed unrestricted travel up the rivers of China
  • The Chinese were terribly upset about the changing status of China and many Chinese rebelled
the taiping rebellion
The Taiping Rebellion
  • It was the worst, costliest, and most devastating civil war in world history
  • From 1850-1864, the Taiping Rebellion claimed somewhere between 20 million and 30 million lives, making it the second deadliest war in history, next to World War II
  • The uprising was started by Hong Xiuquan, a Cantonese clerk educated partly by Protestant missionaries
  • An aspiring official, he failed his civil-service examination

The shock seems to have caused him to have visions, in which he became convinced that he was Jesus Christ’s younger brother, destined to establish a “Heavenly Kingdom of Supreme Peace” – the meaning of the word taiping – in China

  • Hong’s rebellion began in 1850
  • In 1853, the Taiping rebels captured the major city of Nanjing; in 1860, they came close to taking the great port of Shanghai
  • At their peak, Hong and the Taiping leaders controlled one third of China

The rebellion appealed to many Chinese because they too resented the Qing’s high taxes, arbitrary and oppressive rule, and the fact that the Manchus were foreigners

  • But the Taiping Rebellion began to wane after 1860
  • Competent generals took over the Qing war effort, and the government was assisted by a foreign force
  • By the early 1860s, the Taiping forces were in retreat
  • Hong committed suicide by taking poison in 1864, and the remaining Taiping leaders were captured and executed
dowager empress cixi
Dowager Empress Cixi
  • A strong leader did emerge in 1878 but this leader was adamantly opposed to modernizing reform
  • This leader was the Empress Dowager Cixi, who “ruled” China from 1878 to her death in 1908
  • A concubine to the emperor in the 1850s, Cixi became a major figure at court
  • In 1878, she managed to place her nephew on the imperial throne and gain for herself the position of regent
the boxer rebellion
The Boxer Rebellion
  • Finally, in 1900, Chinese anger at foreign influence burst out of control
  • The rebels were called “boxers” because many were martial-arts experts
  • Most of the rebels’ rage was directed at foreigners
  • In the end, the rebellion was put down, mainly by foreign troops
  • In revenge, the foreign communities in China burned a number of temples
  • They also forced the Qing government to pay a heavy financial penalty

After the rebellion, even Cixi recognized the need for at least some reform

  • But these reforms were too little and too late even when reform efforts continued under China’s last emperor, Henry Puyi