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Chinese History - 1644-1912 AD - Qing / Ch'ing (Manchu) Dynasty

China History Map - Qing / Ch'ing (Manchu)To help restore order after the Ming Dynasty's last emperor hanged himself, the Chinese invited foreign Manchu soldiers into their country. As the Manchus quashed resistance, they confiscated land and declared a new dynasty by 1673. The dynastic title chosen was that of Tai Ch'mg, or Great Pure Dynasty. Ch'ing emperors were autocratic, controlling almost completely the administration's bureaucracy. The Qing Dynasty adopted the systems of administration of the Ming Dynasty with minor adjustments. The major adjustment was that all positions were held jointly by one Manchu and one Chinese, with the Manchu having the final say. Thus, in 1651 the Emperor began to govern without a regency, and ordered the Six Boards to have their numbers doubled, so that there should be a Mantchu and a Chinese in every post.

The Manchu kept themselves largely separated from the Chinese. They retained their own language and fashions, lived apart, and married other Manchus. For a long time Chinese people weren't even permitted to settle in the Manchu homeland. Ever suspicious of Han Chinese, the Qing rulers put into effect measures aimed at preventing the absorption of the Manchus into the dominant Han Chinese population. Han Chinese were prohibited from migrating into the Manchu homeland, and Manchus were forbidden to engage in trade or manual labor. Intermarriage between the two groups was forbidden. In many government positions a system of dual appointments was used--the Chinese appointee was required to do the substantive work and the Manchu to ensure Han loyalty to Qing rule.

Although the Manchus were not Han Chinese and were strongly resisted, especially in the south, they had assimilated a great deal of Chinese culture before conquering China Proper. Realizing that to dominate the empire they would have to do things the Chinese way, the Manchus retained many institutions of Ming and earlier Chinese derivation. They continued the Confucian court practices and temple rituals, over which the emperors had traditionally presided. The Manchus continued the Confucian civil service system. Although Chinese were barred from the highest offices, Chinese officials predominated over Manchu officeholders outside the capital, except in military positions. The Neo-Confucian philosophy, emphasizing the obedience of subject to ruler, was enforced as the state creed. The Manchu emperors also supported Chinese literary and historical projects of enormous scope; the survival of much of China's ancient literature is attributed to these projects.

With 300,000,000 people, it was the world's most populous and, arguably, wealthiest country. This period proved, however, to be China's zenith. The country had difficulty keeping pace with industrialized countries. New farming techniques, including the introduction of potatoes and maize from America, proved too little to keep pace with its population growth. Strained resources, pressure by European powers, and severe flooding wracked China's strength.

The success of the Qing dynasty in maintaining the old order proved a liability when the empire was confronted with growing challenges from seafaring Western powers. The centuries of peace and self-satisfaction dating back to Ming times had encouraged little change in the attitudes of the ruling elite. The imperial Neo-Confucian scholars accepted as axiomatic the cultural superiority of Chinese civilization and the position of the empire at the hub of their perceived world. To question this assumption, to suggest innovation, or to promote the adoption of foreign ideas was viewed as tantamount to heresy. Imperial purges dealt severely with those who deviated from orthodoxy.

By the nineteenth century, China was experiencing growing internal pressures of economic origin. By the start of the century, there were over 300 million Chinese, but there was no industry or trade of sufficient scope to absorb the surplus labor. Moreover, the scarcity of land led to widespread rural discontent and a breakdown in law and order. The weakening through corruption of the bureaucratic and military systems and mounting urban pauperism also contributed to these disturbances. Localized revolts erupted in various parts of the empire in the early nineteenth century. Secret societies, such as the White Lotus sect in the north and the Triad Society in the south, gained ground, combining anti-Manchu subversion with banditry.

The chief threat to China's integrity did not come overland, as it had so often in the past, but by sea, reaching the southern coastal area first. In an age of missionary zeal, the West sent priests and preachers who sought converts but also helped the Ch'ing map its great lands. Western traders, missionaries, and soldiers of fortune began to arrive in large numbers even before the Qing, in the sixteenth century. China's port cities were increasingly dominated by merchant fleets of the West. One of their prized imports was the drug opium. Imperial measures to curb its spread led to the Opium Wars of the middle part of the nineteenth century. These China lost, resulting in Britain, France, Japan, and others carving up China's coast. Millions of Chinese peasants were thrown out of work. In this cauldron of the disaffected, anti-foreign sentiment boiled, and from it spilled the Taipings, a zealous Confucian-Christian group numbering in the millions. The Taipings rebelled and, by 1853, they captured the city of Nanking. Here they declared the formation of a new state and Nanking its "Heavenly Capital." But their victory ended in 1864 as government forces, aided by European armies finally crushed the rebellion.

Sobered by these experiences, China plotted a course for modernizing but found it difficult to sail against the tide of centuries of tradition. All the while foreign powers continued to slice territory from the coast, and in 1900 another rebellion erupted. Known as the Boxers, these anti-foreigner peasants laid siege to the embassy district of Peking. Despite the support of Ch'ing's Dowager Empress, this uprising was routed by a coalition of foreign armies, further humiliating China and costing it dearly in territory and revenue. The Emperor began new reforms with greater earnest, modernizing government and the education system. But time had run out on imperial rule. The empire's inability to evaluate correctly the nature of the new challenge or to respond flexibly to it resulted in the demise of the Qing and the collapse of the entire millennia-old framework of dynastic rule. In 1911 the province of Wuchung declared its independence, and other provinces quickly followed.

The Monarchy of China was abolished in 1912 when the Qing Dynasty was overthrown and the Republic of China was declared. Since 1997, the current pretender to the Chinese throne is HH Prince Hengzhen (born 1944) who is the son of Prince Yuyan (born 1918, died 1997) who was the appointed heir of the Xuantong Emperor (better known as "Puy"), the last Emperor of China.

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Page last modified: 01-08-2021 14:09:42 ZULU