The Qing Dynasty Like the Mongols
in the 13th century, the Manchu were barbarians who succeeded in
ruling the whole of China, but, unlike the 13th-century conquerors,
the sinicized Manchu made their rule more acceptable to the Chinese.
As a result, Qing rule lasted 267 years, compared with 89 years
for the Yuan. The Manchus took Peking with relative ease in 1644,
but they did not gain control of the whole of China until 1683.
Thereafter, the Manchus enjoyed more than a century of peace and
prosperity. By the end of that period the dynasty had reached the
height of its power. Two strong emperors who were considered models
of all Confucian ideals ruled for much of this period: the emperors
K'ang-hsi (1661-1722) and Ch'ien-lung (1735-96). By recruiting the
well-educated in government and promoting Confucian scholarship,
these two Manchu rulers firmly established themselves as Confucian
rulers in China. Outside China, both were successful conquerors.
All of the qing Empire’s vast territories, including Mongolia in
the north, Xinjiang in the northwest, and Tibet in the southwest,
were incorporated into the expanding Chinese Empire during this
The qing adopted the Ming system of government with two exceptions:
the insertion of Manchu power at the head of the Chinese state,
and the creation of the Grand Council in the emperor Yong Zheng's
reign. The Grand Council superseded the Grand Secretariat and became
the most powerful body in the government. In provincial government,
the Qing created 18 provinces from the 15 Ming provinces. A governor,
usually Chinese, headed each province, and a governor-general, usually
a Manchu before the 19th century, headed every two provinces. Local
landlords and administrators were generally left alone if they submitted
to the new rule.
The Kang Xi Era marked the height of Jesuit success in China, with
more than 200,000 converts. Thereafter, Jesuit influence waned rapidly
because of the rivalry between the Jesuits and other Catholic missionaries
and the so-called Rites Controversy, which concerned the Jesuits'
willingness to tolerate the converts' performance of ceremonies
honoring Confucius. The pope denounced the Jesuit view and prohibited
The long period of peace and prosperity had some adverse effects
on Chinese society. There was a shortage of land, resulting from
an increase in the population from 100 million to 300 million at
the end of the 18th century. Decadence and corruption spread in
the imperial court. There was a decline of the Manchu military spirit,
and the Qing military organization deteriorated. The long and illustrious
reign of the emperor Ch'ien-lung was marred by the first of many
serious rebellions in the Qing era, the White Lotus Rebellion from
1796 to 1804. It was not put down for ten years, and China entered
the 19th century rocked by revolt. More devastating were the incursions
of Western powers, which shook the foundation of the empire.
19th Century Invasions and rebellions. The first of many Sino-Western
conflicts in the 19th century was the first Opium War, fought from
1839 to 1842. It was more than a dispute over the opium trade in
China; it was a contest between China as the representative of ancient
Eastern civilization and Britain as the forerunner of the modern
West. Free trade advocates in the West had protested against the
restrictive trading system in force at Canton. They demanded free
trade in China, the opening of more ports to Westerners, and the
establishment of treaty relations. The Treaty of Nanjing, which
ended the first Opium War, opened five ports to the British--the
first of the "treaty ports" where Western nations were
granted various privileges. A second Opium War, also known as the
Arrow War, fought from 1856 to 1860, pitted China against Great
Britain and France.
The Opium Wars disrupted the old life and economy of southern China.
A number of peasant revolts occurred in the 1840s, coming to a head
in the Taiping Rebellion, the biggest rebellion in Chinese history.
The leader of the Taipings was Hong Xiuquan, from a village near
Canton. Believing that God had chosen him to save the world, he
adopted a confused version of Christianity as his guiding doctrine
and set out to overthrow the Manchus and change society. The combination
of religious fervor and anti-Manchu sentiment attracted a following
that rose to over 30,000 within a short time. In 1852 the Tai Ping
Tian Guo (Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace) was proclaimed. In 1853
the rebels took the city of Nanjing and made it their capital. Other
revolts erupted at about the same time: the Nien Rebellion in the
northeast and Muslim rebellions in the southwest and the northwest.
Fearing a linkup among the rebels that would engulf all of China,
the Qing government created regional armies manned entirely by Chinese
and commanded by Chinese of the scholar-gentry class. The commanders
of the new forces, all loyal supporters of the dynasty such as Zeng
Guofan, Zuo Zongtang, and Li Hongzhang suppressed the rebels with
the help of Western weapons and leadership. They annihilated the
Taipings in 1864, the Niens by 1868, and the Muslims by 1873.
The internal rebellions were suppressed, but external threats continued.
After a brief period of "cooperation" in the 1860s, foreign
powers renewed their assault on China, reacting to widespread anti-foreign
violence. Again, China became embroiled in a series of conflicts:
the Tianjin Massacre with France in 1870, the Ili crisis with Russia
in 1879, the Sino-French War from 1884 to 1885, and the Sino-Japanese
War from 1894 to 1895. Each brought further humiliation and greater
impairment of sovereignty. In the last two incidents territory was
lost, and an indemnity had to be paid to the victor
in the Sino-Japanese War.
China in the 19th century was beset by internal turmoil. It was
easy prey to more powerful nations that wanted to exploit every
advantage to profit from trade. Chief among these advantages was
the opium trade. Official Chinese resistance to opium resulted in
two trade wars in which Great Britain, France, the United States,
and Russia gained significant commercial privileges. These conflicts
were the first Opium War from 1839 to 1842 between China and Britain
and the second Opium War (1856-60) fought by China against Britain
Opium had been introduced into China in the 7th century. By the
early 18th century opium addiction had become such a severe problem
that the government tried to prohibit trade in it. The prohibition
was a failure. When the British discovered the value of the opium
trade in 1773, they determined to benefit. The Chinese paid the
British for the opium, and the British in turn used the money as
part payment for goods bought from the Chinese.
In 1839 the Chinese government made a concerted effort to suppress
the opium trade. All the opium warehouses in Canton were confiscated.
This serious effort, followed by a minor military incident, led
to hostilities. In February 1840 the British sent an expedition
The conflict, in which the more powerful British were victorious,
was ended by the Treaty of Nanjing, which was signed on Aug. 29,
1842, and a supplemental treaty of Oct. 8, 1843. These treaties
provided for payment of an indemnity of 21 million dollars by the
Chinese, cession of five ports for British trade and residence,
and the right of British citizens in China to be tried in British
courts. It was at this time that Britain gained control of Hong
In October 1856 the Canton police boarded a British-registered ship,
the Arrow, and charged its crew with smuggling. This incident led
to the second war. In this war the British were joined by the French,
and an Anglo-French force occupied Canton late in 1857. The Treaty
of Tianjin in 1858 temporarily halted the fighting, opened new trading
ports, allowed residence in Peking for foreign emissaries, gave
freedom of movement to Christian missionaries, and permitted travel
in the interior.
The Chinese refusal to ratify the treaty led to an Anglo-French
attack on Peking and the burning of the Summer Palace. In 1860 the
Chinese signed the Convention of Peking by which they promised to
observe the 1858 treaty.
Taiping Rebellion In terms of casualties, it was one of the worst
civil wars in history. More than 20 million--possibly more than
30 million--died, and 17 provinces were ravaged by the Taiping Rebellion.
This was the most serious of several internal disturbances that
took place in China between 1850 and 1873 and that seriously weakened
the Ch'ing Dynasty and helped prepare the way for the revolutions
of the 20th century.
The leader of the rebellion was Hong Xiuquan, an unsuccessful civil-service
candidate who came under the influence of fundamentalist Christianity.
Thinking of himself as a son of God sent to reform China, he helped
found the Association of God Worshipers in about 1846. Preaching
that all property should be held by the people, he attracted many
followers in Guangxi Province. By January 1851, when the rebellion
began, Hung's ranks had swelled from several thousand ragged peasants
to more than 1 million disciplined and eager soldiers. They took
the city of Nanjing in March 1853 and made it their capital. For
several years the rebel armies dominated the Yangtze River valley.
They failed, however, to take Shanghai, where the defenders were
commanded by an American named Frederick Townsend Ward and the British
general known as Chinese Gordon . By 1862 the movement was losing
steam, weakened by internal strife and defections. Nanjing fell
in July 1864 to the army of Gen. Zeng Guofan, and Hung committed
suicide. Sporadic resistance continued for four more years.
Late 19th Century Revolutionary ideas and organizations
The reforms that were sponsored by the imperial government were
too little and too late. A drastic change was necessary. The idea
of overthrowing the Manchus was suggested by Liang Qichao in his
concept of Xin Min (new people). Publishing a magazine in Japan,
where he had fled after the Hundred Days, Liang called for the Chinese
people to renew themselves and also indicated that the Chinese nation
was distinct and separate from the ruling dynasty of the Manchus.
Although he did not advocate overthrowing the dynasty, the message
was quickly picked up by the more radical leaders who were already
leaning toward revolution.
One such leader was Sun Yat-sen, who is now revered as the father
of modern China by Nationalists and Communists alike. Born into
a peasant family near Canton, the traditional stronghold of anti-Manchu
rebels Sun followed a traditional Chinese path during his early
years. He was educated in Hawaii, converted to Christianity, and
had a short-lived medical career before switching to politics and
attempting to propose a reform program to Li Hongzhang in 1894.
After forming a secret revolutionary society and plotting an unsuccessful
uprising in Canton in 1894, Sun began a long period of exile outside
China. He gained wide recognition as a revolutionary leader in 1896,
when his arrest in the Chinese legation in London and subsequent
rescue were reported sensationally in newspaper articles. In 1905,
in Japan, he brought together several revolutionary groups and formed
the Revolutionary Alliance Society. Its program consisted of the
now famous Three People's Principles: nationalism, freeing all China
from foreign control; democracy, overthrowing the Manchus and introducing
a democratic political system; and people's livelihood. Although
Sun he could not live in China, members of the alliance infiltrated
many social organizations there. The revolutionary spirit that had
been developed by Sun became especially high among students' and
The Empress Dowager CIxi (1835-1908). Known in
the West as the empress dowager, Cixi dominated the political life
of China for nearly 50 years. As ruler acting for child emperors,
she and her cohorts brought a measure of stability to their nation.
But, under her, the government was dishonest and did not make changes
that were needed to benefit the people. This eventually led to the
end of the Qing Dynasty, which ruled from 1644 to 1911, and a revolution.
Cixi was born in Peking on Nov. 29, 1835. She became a consort of
the emperor Xianfeng (ruled 1850-61) and mother of the emperor T'ung-chih.
When Tongzhi became emperor in 1861, he was only 6. She and another
consort became co-regents along with a brother of the former emperor.
Under this three-way rule the Taiping Rebellion was ended. Other
disturbances were put down, and some modernization was brought to
China. Cixi gradually increased her power within the ruling coalition,
and even when the emperor matured she continued to control the government.
After the young emperor's untimely death, she saw to it that her
3-year-old nephew was named as heir, though this violated succession
law. Thus the two dowagers continued acting as regents. The other
dowager died--presumably murdered--in 1881, and Cixi ruled alone.
From 1889 to 1898 she lived in apparent retirement in the summer
palace. The new emperor's attempts at reform after losing the Sino-Japanese
War (1894-95), however, brought her back into action--determined
to stave off any changes. In 1899 she backed the officials promoting
the Boxer Rebellion. After China's defeat at the hand of foreign
troops, she fled the capital and accepted humiliating peace terms.
She returned in 1902 and belatedly tried to install the reforms
she had once opposed. Before her death, on Nov. 15, 1908, she had
the emperor poisoned. His successor was a 2-year old who was forced
from the throne four years later.
In the summer of 1900 members of a secret society roamed northeastern
China in bands, killing Europeans and Americans and destroying buildings
owned by foreigners. They called themselves Yi He Quan or "Righteous
and Harmonious Fists." They practiced boxing skills that they
believed made them impervious to bullets. To Westerners they became
known as the Boxers, and their uprising was called the Boxer Rebellion.
Most Boxers were peasants or urban thugs from northern China who
resented the growing influence of Westerners in their land. They
organized themselves in 1898, and in the same year the Chinese government--then
ruled by the Qing Dynasty--secretly allied with the Boxers to oppose
such outsiders as Christian missionaries and European businessmen.
The Boxers failed to drive foreigners out of China, but they set
the stage for the successful Chinese revolutionary movement of the
early 20th century.
Foreigners had entered China during an era of imperialism. In the
late 1800s Great Britain and other European nations, the United
States, Russia, and Japan scrambled for spheres of influence there.
In some cases they seized Chinese territories, but usually they
only sought the riches of trade and commercial enterprise. At the
same time, Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries tried to convert
the Chinese to Christianity. These outsiders were resented and feared
by the Chinese, who saw Western religion and business practices
as a threat to their traditional ways.
By May of 1900, Boxers were wandering the countryside and attacking
Western missionaries and Chinese converts to Christianity. In June
an expeditionary force, made up of Russian, British, German, French,
American, and Japanese troops, was organized to proceed to Peking
(now Beijing), put down the rebellion, and protect Western nationals.
The Chinese dowager empress Cixi, the aunt of Emperor Guangxu, ordered
her troops to block the advance of this expedition. The foreigners
were turned back.
Meanwhile, Boxers were rampaging in Peking, burning down churches
and the houses of Westerners, and killing Chinese Christians. Foreign
troops then seized Chinese coastal forts to insure access to Peking.
Enraged, the dowager empress ordered the death of all foreigners
in China. The German minister to China was assassinated, and Boxer
rebels began an eight-week attack on the walled foreign compound
in Peking. In response, the allied foreign governments sent some
19,000 soldiers to Peking, capturing the city on Aug. 14, 1900.
The invaders looted the city and routed the Boxers, while the empress
and her court fled to the north. By the time the rebellion ended,
at least 250 foreigners had been killed. It took a year for the
parties to the conflict to agree on a settlement, which was entitled
the Peace of Peking. This protocol, which was signed in September
1901, was dictated by the Western powers and Japan in such a way
as to humiliate China. Heavy fines were levied against the Chinese
government, and existing commercial treaties were amended in favor
of the Western powers. The foreign coastal defenses were dismantled.
The failure of the Boxer Rebellion to eject the West and the humiliation
of the Chinese by the terms of the Peace of Peking generated more
support for nationalist revolutionaries. In 1911 the Qing Dynasty
collapsed. Revolutionaries led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen then took over
the Chinese government, ending more than 2,000 years of monarchy.