Chapter 2 Part IV
The Qing Dynasty (AD 1644 – 1911)
The (Manchurian) Qing Dynasty was founded after the defeat of the Ming, the last Han Chinese dynasty, by the Manchus. When Beijing was captured by Li Zicheng’s peasant rebels in 1644, the last Ming Emperor Chongzhen committed suicide in Jingshan Park, just North of the Forbidden City. The Manchu then allied with Ming Dynasty general Wu Sangui and seized control of Beijing, which became the new capital of the Qing dynasty. The Manchus adopted the Confucian norms of traditional Chinese government in their rule of China.
Over the next half-century, the Qing consolidated control of some areas originally under the Ming, including Yunnan. They also stretched their sphere of influence over Xinjiang, Tibet and Mongolia. But during the 19th century, Qing control weakened. Britain’s desire to continue its opium trade with China collided with imperial edicts prohibiting the addictive drug, and the First Opium War erupted in 1840. Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanking.
A large rebellion, the Taiping Rebellion (1851 – 1864), involved around a third of China falling under control of the Taiping Tianguo, a quasi-Christian religious movement led by the “Heavenly King” Hong Xiuquan. Only after fourteen years were the Taipings finally crushed – the Taiping army was destroyed in the Third Battle of Nanking in 1864.
The death toll during the 15 years of the rebellion was about 20 million. In addition, more costly rebellions in terms of human lives and economics followed with the Punti-Hakka Clan Wars, Nien Rebellion, Muslim Rebellion, Panthay Rebellion and the Boxer Rebellion. In many ways, the rebellions and the unequal treaties the Qing were forced to sign with the imperialist powers are symptomatic of the Qing’s inability to deal with the new challenges of the 19th century.
The Empress Dowager Cixi.
By the 1860s, the Qing Dynasty had put down the rebellions at enormous cost and loss of life. This undermined the credibility of the Qing regime and, spearheaded by local initiatives by provincial leaders and gentry, contributed to the return of warlords in China.
The Qing Dynasty under the reformist Emperor Guangxu dealt with the problem of modernization through the Self-Strengthening Movement. However, between 1898 and 1908 the Empress Dowager Cixi apparently had him imprisoned for being “mentally disabled”. Cixi, who spent much time at the Summer Palace enjoying a somewhat hedonistic lifestyle, initiated a military coup, effectively removing the young Emperor from power, and overturned most of the more radical reforms.
Guangxu died one day before the death of the Empress Dowager (some believe he was poisoned by her). Official corruption, cynicism, and imperial family quarrels made most of the military reforms useless. As a result, the Qing’s “New Armies” were soundly defeated in the Sino-French War (1883-1885) and the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895).
Jade Belt Bridge, Summer Palace, Beijing?
At the start of the 20th century, the Boxer Rebellion threatened northern China. This was a conservative anti-imperialist movement that sought to return China to old ways. The Empress Dowager, probably seeking to ensure her continued grip on power, sided with the Boxers when they advanced on Beijing. In response, a relief expedition of the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded China to rescue the besieged foreign missions. Consisting of British, Japanese, Russian, Italian, German, French, US and Austrian troops, the alliance defeated the Boxers and demanded further concessions from the Qing government.