Qing Dynasty

An 18th century Imperial festival robe in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum
  • Dates: 1644-1911
  • Chinese/Japanese: 清 (Qīng / Shin)

The Qing Dynasty was the last dynasty of Imperial China. A period when China proper was incorporated into the broader Manchu empire, it began with the formal establishment of the Qing in 1636 and the fall of the Ming Dynasty in 1644, and ended with the Xinhai Revolution in 1911. As such, the Qing is easily seen as both the last period of "traditional" China, and as containing events and developments crucial to understanding modern China.

The Qing period saw a China-centered empire at its greatest territorial extent in history (with the exception of Yuan Dynasty China's incorporation into the Mongol Empire). The Qing Empire covered roughly 4.3 million square miles towards the end of the period, down from an even greater height in the 1790s, and still 606,000 square miles larger than the territory of the People's Republic of China today.[1] It was in the Qing period that Tibet, Taiwan, East Turkestan (Xinjiang), Manchuria, and Mongolia were first incorporated into a China-centered empire.

Though not a Han Chinese dynasty like the Ming which preceded it, due to its time, interactions with the West, and the overwhelming proportion of Qing period buildings, documents, and objects which have survived compared to those from earlier periods, it is the Qing which, perhaps, has most influenced or constituted the image of Imperial China, and of traditional Chinese culture; to name just a few examples of this phenomenon, men wearing their hair in queues, and men and women both wearing robes or dresses with off-center clasps (e.g. the cheongsam or qipao, commonly known in the West simply as a "Chinese dress") both derive from Manchu culture, and not from Ming or earlier "native" Chinese traditions. The standard historiographical understanding or description of the Qing Dynasty for nearly the entire 20th century was grounded in the idea of Manchu "Sinicization" - that is, the adoption of Chinese customs and cultural attitudes by the Manchus - as the chief source of Qing power and success; this interpretation, which still has considerable currency in the official ideologies of Communist China, also has it that it was Manchu incompetence, efforts at self-preservation (i.e. putting Manchu interests ahead of those of the Chinese nation), and the resurgence of Manchu attitudes and practices, which contributed significantly to China's decline and weakness against the Western imperialist powers in the 19th century. Since the last years of the 1990s, however, in a trend known as "The New Qing History," Western scholarship has seen a shift to greater emphasis on the Manchu character of the empire, and on China as just one part of this larger empire. The Manchus acculturated and assimilated to a certain extent, but according to the New Qing History it was their sophisticated balancing of Manchu and Chinese political philosophies, practices, and discourses of legitimacy, along with ones based in Tibetan Buddhism, that was the chief source of their stability and success.[2]

The Ming and Qing Dynasties together are often referred to as "Late Imperial China," a term which has come to be most standard among English-language scholars of China who reject terms such as "medieval" or "early modern" as judging China against European standards of development. Within China, it is common to use the term gǔdài (古代, J: kodai, "ancient times") to refer to all of Chinese history up until the late Qing; however, this refers more to the current post-Communist Revolution attitude of Imperial China as "the olden times," and should not be confused for the English-language historians' term "ancient."

Though nearly three hundred years in length, and seeing numerous considerable economic, political, social, and cultural developments over the course of those centuries, the Qing Dynasty is perhaps most strongly associated with the circumstances surrounding its decline and fall in the 19th to early 20th centuries, from the Opium War of the 1840s and the first of the Unequal Treaties which resulted, to the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864, failed attempts at reform and modernization, the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895-1896, the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901, and the final fall of the dynasty in 1911.

Manchu Takeover & Establishment of Qing Institutions

Historian Jonathan Spence attributes the success of the Manchu conquest to the possession of a well-organized military and administration, and the beginnings of a centralized bureaucracy, prior to moving against the Ming Empire.[3]

The Qing Dynasty has its origins in 1616, when Nurhachi, a steppes warlord based to the northeast of China, declared the establishment of the Later Jin Dynasty, a reference to the Jurchen Jin Dynasty which conquered the Northern Song Dynasty in 1127. The Manchus took Mukden (Shenyang) in 1625, and much of Inner Mongolia by 1632.[4] They then established in 1634 a system of civil exams in Manchu, Mongol, and Chinese languages, based on the Ming Dynasty model of Chinese imperial examinations. Two years later, in 1636, the Manchus formally declared the renaming of the Later Jin as the Qing Dynasty, establishing Mukden as the formal capital. The Manchus invaded Korea that same year, and secured a treaty the following year reestablishing Korean tributary obligations to the Chinese Court. Captured and surrendered Chinese served as advisors to the Manchus even in these earliest stages, both politically and militarily, as well as assimilating into Manchu society as artisans, soldiers, and farmers.[5]

Even prior to beginning the conquest of China proper, the Qing established a number of governmental institutions based on the Chinese model (along with some distinctively Inner Asian). These included the Eight Banners (C: baqi, Manchu: jakun gûsa) system, the Ministry of Colonial Affairs (or, Court Ruling the Outer Domains, C: Lifanyuan, M: Tulergi golo be dasara jurgan), Six Boards (C: liubu, M: ninggun jurgan), and Three Palace Academies (C: nei san yuan, M: bithe iilan yamun) comprising an "inner court."[6]

Beijing fell to the Manchus in 1644. The Chinese rebel leader Li Zicheng took Beijing in that year, leading to the Chongzhen Emperor hanging himself two days later. Hearing of this, the commander of the Ming armies in the northeast, Wu Sangui, who had been holding the Shanhaiguan pass against Manchu expansion, enlisted the Manchus' aid against Li Zicheng. Li left Beijing on June 4, 1644, one day after claiming imperial status, and two days later, Manchu forces led by Dorgon, younger brother of the previous khan, swept into the city with the aid of Wu Sangui, and placed Dorgon's nephew on the throne, declaring him the Shunzhi Emperor. This marks the formal fall of the Ming Dynasty, and the beginning of the Manchu/Qing claim to be the legitimate ruling imperial dynasty of China.[7] Chinese merchants informed Tokugawa authorities in Nagasaki before the year was out; their requests for Japanese aid against the Manchu invaders come to naught. Following the fall of the Ming, many Chinese fled elsewhere in the region, or else continued to fight. The Manchus, labeling themselves not as conquerors but as avengers of the Chonzhen Emperor, invited into China by a rightful representative of the Ming (Wu Sangui), destroyed the last of Li Zicheng's rebellion, and hunted down hundreds of claimants to the Ming throne, securing their control of mainland China by 1661.[7]

Many Ming loyalists fled to Taiwan, however, and continued the fight, holding out on that island for nearly forty years. Led by Zheng Zhilong and his son Zheng Chenggong (aka Coxinga), they harassed Chinese shipping and coastal communities to such an extent that in 1657 the Qing ordered a halt to maritime and coastal activities, and that coastal residents move further inland, in a policy known as qiānjiè. Meanwhile, many in Korea, Japan, and Ryûkyû saw the Chinese center as having fallen to barbarian rule, and saw their own lands or peoples as therefore representing the only surviving outposts of Ming - or true high Chinese - culture.

The Qing brought much of the central and southern parts of China under its control, including Hubei, Shaanxi, Sichuan and all the coastal provinces, within two years of taking Beijing, and finally secured control over Yunnan province, on the border with Burma and Vietnam, in 1659.[8]

The Qing state, and society, was divided to a certain extent along ethnic lines. Qing leaders, considering the strengths and failures of previous nomadic dynasties, such as the Tangut Xi Xia, the Khitan Liao Dynasty, the Jurchen Jin Dynasty, and the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, realized the need for a careful balance between Sinicization and maintenance of steppe traditions. The adoption of certain aspects of Chinese culture, especially in terms of the structure of government, was necessary for a strong, stable, well-managed state, and for preventing rebellion amongst the Han Chinese, who greatly outnumbered the Manchus. At the same time, however, a maintenance of nomadic horseriding and martial traditions was necessary to retain the loyalty of Manchu, Jurchen, and Mongol followers, and to ensure that the Qing would be able to defend themselves from attack by other nomadic groups (as the Khitans and Jurchens failed to, in the past). The Qing Emperors did not officially name their heirs prior to their deaths; instead of any one of the imperial progeny being known as Crown Prince, the Emperor selected his heir secretly (regardless of age), keeping this selection sealed within an imperial vault. Only upon the Emperor's death was the vault opened, and the document naming the heir revealed.[9]

Thus, Manchus, Mongols, and so-called "martial" Chinese (漢軍, C: Hàn jūn, descendants of Han Chinese & Korean allies of the Manchus, chiefly from Manchuria and northern China, from prior to the fall of the Ming) were each organized into eight "banners," and were governed and administered not by Han Chinese officials, but by their fellow bannermen. No Han Chinese worked within the Imperial Palace; all palace servants and staff otherwise were Manchus.[9] In each of the major provincial cities, bannermen lived in garrisons separated from the other areas of the city, served in a separate administrative hierarchy, and took a separate set of civil examinations to earn those administrative posts. These exams were offered not only in classical Chinese, but alternatively in the Mongol and Manchu languages, incorporated elements of military skill or prowess, and involved somewhat lower requirements for knowledge of Confucian classics, talent at Chinese poetry, and the like, as compared to the exams taken by Han Chinese candidates. In a system not entirely unlike the dyarchy (double rule) system of civil and military governors under the Kamakura and Muromachi shogunates in Japan, which might be said to have governed the samurai while leaving civil administration to the Imperial Court, the Qing Court similarly appointed two officials - one from the banners, and one Chinese scholar-bureaucrat - to a great many posts within a government based on that of the Ming, with Six Ministries at its center. The Grand Secretariat was similarly kept in place, albeit with a mix of Manchu and Chinese secretaries.

In Beijing, the various banners were settled in areas directly outside the palace walls, thus surrounding the palace with the most loyal warriors, a pattern not entirely dissimilar from the Tokugawa organization of Edo. Han Chinese were resettled in the southern half of the city only, and while this caused some consternation and economic hardship at first, the Chinese portion of the city quickly grew into a vibrantly active and prosperous commercial zone. Meanwhile, outside of the city, the Qing redistributed Ming Imperial farmland, and many of the estates of other Ming elites, giving roughly six acres apiece to over 40,000 Manchu bannermen, and some larger estates to a small number of senior Manchu officers. Some five million acres of farmland further from the city was similarly confiscated from Chinese farmers, many of whom then became vagabonds or bandits, but many of whom returned to the land as tenant farmers working for Manchu landlords.

The Manchus began to impose new cultural mandates upon the Chinese in 1645, the year after they took Beijing. All men were now required to wear their hair in long ponytails, known as queues. Though initially strongly resisted as a barbarian custom, and as wholly different from Chinese tradition, within a few generations, Han Chinese came to cherish this as part of their own customs and identity. Most if not all Chinese who emigrated to the United States (and elsewhere) in the 19th century wore such queues, as well as adhering to other Manchu-imposed cultural norms, and many found difficulty in abandoning these practices. Footbinding, meanwhile, was not practiced by the Manchus (at least not initially), and in fact one Qing Emperor attempted to ban the practice, but was unsuccessful, as the custom was widely practiced and well-ingrained among the Han Chinese since the Song Dynasty.[10]

Mongols were governed within a hierarchy of aimaks (principalities), chigolgans (leagues), and hoshigo (banners), which were overseen (along with much else) by a Bureau of Colonial Affairs, or Lǐfànyuàn (理藩院). Originally, Han Chinese were prohibited from settling in Mongol areas, but as early as the late 17th century, the Court reversed its position, and began encouraging Chinese settlement. By the later portions of the Qing period, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria had become significantly Sinicized, and Chinese settlements within Mongol & Manchu homelands came under separate administrative structures, like Han Chinese districts elsewhere in the realm.[1]

Official hierarchy among the "martial" Chinese was determined in large part by when one's family was first incorporated into the Qing state; those who surrendered early in the conquest of China, or prior to it, held the most elite positions.[11]

The royal seal of the Ryûkyû Kingdom during the Qing Dynasty, showing Chinese (琉球國王之印) in seal script on the right, and an inscription in the Manchu language on the left. As reproduced in Ryûkyû kokuô sappô no zu, handscroll, date unknown, University of Hawaii Collection.

While the Manchu elite absolutely adopted Chinese practices, Confucian political philosophy, and government structures, to a great extent, inserting itself into Chinese systems of governance rather than overthrowing them, they at the same time made great efforts to maintain their martial, equestrian, steppe culture. The Court chiefly employed the Chinese language in court business and court ceremonies, but the Manchu language was spoken in more everyday verbal interactions within the Palace.[9] Further, the Court used the Manchu language alongside Chinese in most if not all official documents, and powerfully promoted the language otherwise, and maintained complexes of yurts, in the manner of the khans of the steppes, alongside the Chinese-style wooden buildings of the Imperial Palace. In addition, the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735-1796) developed strong ties with the Dalai Lama, and built up Chengde as a religious center of Tibetan Buddhism, a form of Buddhism which had been embraced by the Mongols and Manchus, and which is quite different from Chinese Buddhism in fundamental ways.


The Kangxi Emperor, who reigned from 1661 until 1722, is generally credited with consolidating Qing rule over China.[5] In 1668, he had a willow palisade built across a section of Manchuria, and banned Han Chinese from crossing into that region. Though three feudatories in southern China rose up in rebellion against the Qing in 1673, this rebellion was finally suppressed in 1680. Similarly, the battle with the Ming loyalists finally came to an end in 1684, as Qing forces took Taiwan. This represents the first time the central Chinese "state" ever controlled the island. The Qing lifted coastal and maritime restrictions shortly afterwards.

By the end of the Kangxi reign, Qing control over Taiwan and Tibet had been initiated, and the Treaty of Nerchinsk resolved certain border disputes with the Russians. In short, Kangxi did much to not only solidify Qing rule within China, but also to expand Qing territory, and to strengthen border and territorial claims.

Demographic & Economic Expansion

The population of China roughly doubled over the course of the 18th century alone, from roughly 150 million in 1700 to around 300 million by 1800;[12] the population roughly tripled over the course of the Qing Dynasty taken as a whole, going from roughly 125-150 million at the beginning of the period in 1644, to around 400-450 million in the 19th century.[13] By the 19th century, there were roughly six times as many farming families in China as in the 14th century. However, as arable land did not expand nearly as quickly as the population, the amount of land held by an individual household shrank over the course of the period, in part due also to the practice of partible inheritance (rather than primogeniture).[14]

This dramatic population growth was supported in large part, as it was through the Ming Dynasty, by considerable increases in the food supply. In the Qing Dynasty, this came chiefly from expansion of the amount of land under cultivation, and from improvements in fertilizer, irrigation, and strains of plants. The introduction in the late Ming of new crops from the Americas, including maize, sweet potatoes, and peanuts, also contributed to the expansion of the food supply;[10] since many of these crops could be grown in places and soil types unsuitable for more traditional crops, they did not displace more traditional crops, but truly supplemented them. The expansion of the amount of land under cultivation also contributed significantly to supporting population growth.[15] The implementation of a smallpox vaccine in the 16th century (during the Ming Dynasty), along with a number of other developments contributing to a decline in the mortality rate, likely also were key elements in this unprecedented demographic growth. Some scholars, noting similar demographic trends in other parts of the world simultaneously, have suggested that climactic variations, including the end of the Little Ice Age, may have played a significant role as well.[16] Policies of the Kangxi Emperor, implemented in the last years of his reign, however, hampered the Court's ability to have this demographic expansion correspond to increases in tax revenues; possibly believing that population growth in and of itself constituted "prosperity," Kangxi aimed to encourage further population growth by terminating the poll tax. However, since no new land surveys had been done in a comprehensive manner since the Wanli reign, this now meant that taxes were based on both population figures and land surveys of the past, and would not capture any growth in population or productivity, but would simply remain static. Later reigns had considerable difficulties as a result, as they sought to manage the state's finances.[17]

While it is possible to measure levels of "industrialization" or "modernity" by myriad different constellations of criteria, one scholar estimates that around 1750, China was just as industrialized (on a per capita basis) as much of Western Europe, and twice that of the British thirteen colonies (in what would later become the United States of America); at that same time, he estimates China to have been producing as much as 1/3 of world manufacturing output, while Japan produced less than four percent.[18]

By the 19th century, China was quite likely one of the most commercialized parts of the world, alongside Japan. Organizations known as Shanxi piaohao, originating in Shanxi province, emerged during the early Qing Dynasty, a very significant development representing the creation of an early banking system. These piaohao operated branches in various parts of China, extending lines of credit, and allowing funds to be transferred across long distances. The piaohao survived into the modern period, eventually opening branches in Japan, Russia, and Singapore.[10]

Regional Developments

The Jiangnan region (south of the Yangzi, and including the cities of Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Shanghai) continued to grow increasingly densely populated and urbanized over the course of the period. The vast majority of the agricultural land in the region was used for growing cash crops such as silk and cotton, and by the beginning of the 19th century, the region needed to import food in considerable quantities in order to support itself.[10]

Population pressure within the southeastern coastal regions, along with other factors, spurred many people to move elsewhere, and much of western China became significantly more densely settled, and developed, in this period. For some, the Qing Court provided official incentives and rewards; regardless, in many areas, local landlords provided aid to new settlers, helping them obtain land, providing them with seed and livestock, and so on. In many of these areas, slash-and-burn agriculture initially led to the devastation of much otherwise fertile soil, but as settlement became more well-established, these frontier areas came to reliably supply a variety of products, including tea, ramie, timber, grain, copper, wool, leather, gypsum, and furs, to other parts of the country (especially to the urban areas of the southeastern coast). In many areas, settlers had to band together not only for success in developing the land, but also in defending their settlements from indigenous or minority ethnic peoples who reacted negatively, even violently, to the influx of outsiders into their lands.[19]

The area around the capital was largely less urban, and less densely populated than areas of the south. Centuries of taxing the soil had left the north comparatively less fertile, and thus less densely populated. Cotton and tobacco were among the main cash crops in the north at this time, and local or cottage industries such as coal mining, brewing, glassmaking, and cotton spinning and weaving were among the chief proto-industrial activities. Dispersed patterns of settlement, combined with the presence of stevedores and boatmen associated with the Grand Canal, among other factors, contributed to the north seeing considerable criminal and violent activity.[20]

Meanwhile, the area around Hankou, flanking the Yangtze River and extending south into Jiangxi and Hunan provinces, saw considerable population growth from in-migration during the Qing, particularly in the early 18th century. Many of these people acquired loyalties to their new homes even as they maintained connections to their former towns or regions; this group also included many tribal peoples or other ethnic minorities pushed off their ancestral lands by various forces. Hankou developed into a major commercial and financial center, while Jingdezhen, nearby, became one of the chief centers of porcelain production in China.[20]

Coastal areas of Fujian province enjoyed a degree of cosmopolitanism which derived from extensive trade contact with Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Ryûkyû, and beyond. The coastal city of Amoy (Xiamen) became a center of financial business, and in the more rural areas of the province, tea was a major cash crop, bringing a degree of wealth to the region. However, the area also saw considerable factional tensions and feuds, as powerful lineages vied for influence over entire villages. While the area had produced many scholar-officials in the past, jinshi coming out of Fujian became fewer and fewer over the course of the Qing, and due to the feuds and other concerns, the Qing Court stationed there additional guards, known as the Green Standards.[20]

Overseas Trade

Throughout much of the Qing Dynasty, Chinese tea, silk, and porcelain were in high demand both within East Asia and among European markets. Europeans did not discover the techniques for producing porcelain themselves until the 18th century. Tea + silk constituted at least 50% of Chinese exports throughout the 19th century, peaking as high as 92% in 1842 and 93.5% in 1868, though this figure fell to 64.5% in 1890, just before the turn of the century. At least 40% of tea production in China was for export, and 50-70% of silk production, all the way to the 1920s. Jumping ahead to the 20th century, the loss of foreign markets in the 1930s through 1940s (and into the PRC era) thus deprived "countless thousands of Chinese peasants" of their livelihoods.[21]

However, in return, the Chinese demanded chiefly precious metals as payment, insisting they had little need or desire for European goods. The Chinese had their own silver mines in Guizhou and Yunnan provinces, and opened new copper mines in the 18th century after Japanese exports of copper decreased dramatically, and of silver all but ceased entirely.[22] Further influxes of precious metals from overseas were still necessary, however, in order to fuel China's still-growing economy. With the chief sources of precious metals in the New World controlled by the Spanish & Portuguese, and Japanese mines - the most significant other source of silver in the world at the time - running dry midway through the 18th century, European powers sought alternative ways to access Chinese goods. The British East India Company initially expanded their trade networks in maritime Southeast Asia, obtaining marine products, tin, spices, and other luxury goods to sell at Canton (Guangzhou) as an alternative to payment in silver or gold,[23] but eventually turned to pushing opium upon the Chinese merchants. This quickly turned into a serious problem for the Chinese government, and society, as opium addiction ran rampant. The efforts of Canton Imperial Port Commissioner Lin Zexu to stem the tide, by collecting and destroying several million pounds of opium in the port, led to the outbreak of the Opium War in 1840, which is often cited as marking the beginning of the end for the Qing Dynasty. The war ended in a decisive British victory, and in the Qing Court being forced to grant numerous concessions to the British, including opening more ports to trade, granting rights of extraterritoriality to British subjects in China, paying the British Crown several million silver dollars in reparations, and ceding Hong Kong to the United Kingdom entirely. A Second Opium War would follow, in 1856-1860. As late as 1870, opium still constituted 43% of China's imports, and until 1890, it remained the largest single import product in China.[21]

Arts & Culture

Western styles of painting and architecture were embraced by the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735-1796), who hired Jesuits such as Giuseppe Castiglione into his court. He commissioned Castiglione to produce a number of oil paintings, as well as designs for Western-style pavilions at the Forbidden City, and Western-style structures which comprised the Yuánmíngyuán (also known as the Old Summer Palace).

Foreign Relations, Decline, and Fall

The Qing reestablished relations with the Ryûkyû Kingdom, Korea, and other tributaries quite quickly after the fall of the Ming disrupted them. The Qing received tribute from Korea annually, from Ryûkyû once every two years, from Siam every three years, Annam every four years, and from Laos and Burma once in a decade. Though all of these tributary relationships had de facto ended by the mid-to-late 19th century, an 1899 document still lists all of those polities as tributaries.[24] The Qing also established tributary relations with Nepal in this period.[25] Formal relations with Japan, severed in the 16th century, were not restored until 1871.[26] Unlike was the case in Tokugawa Japan and Joseon Korea, the Qing Dynasty allowed a number of Christian missionaries to reside permanently in China; some of these successfully sneaked into Korea and enjoyed some limited successes proselytizing there.[27]

Korea sent at least 435 missions to Qing China between 1637 and 1881, bringing goods such as deer and leopard skins, ox horns, gold, silver, tea, paper, various types of textiles, and rice, along with goods obtained from Southeast Asia or elsewhere, such as sappanwood, pepper, and swords and knives.[28]

Qiānjiè policies were instituted in 1657 forcing coastal residents to move further inland, in response to maritime harassment by Ming loyalists; all maritime trade was officially banned in 1662, though in truth it continued, illicitly. These policies were lifted following the conquest of Taiwan in 1684, but the Court continued to enforce various maritime prohibitions over the course of the period. Beginning in 1717, the Court banned Chinese ships from traveling to Southeast Asia (with the exception of Annam) as part of continued efforts to ensure the coastal security of Fujian province.

Russian traders and trappers began encroaching further upon Manchu and Chinese territory in the Amur River region in the 1660s, and the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1661-1722) responded by establishing military colonies and driving the Russians away. These tensions were resolved to an extent by the 1689 Treaty of Nerchinsk, negotiated via Jesuit translators, which permitted Russian traders to travel through the territory and all the way to Beijing, while forbidding Russian governmental intervention, settlement, or other more permanent activities in Manchuria.

Following a series of successful conquests in which the Qing acquired millions of square miles of new territories in the west, the Treaty of Kiakhta in 1727 similarly arranged for border agreements and trade arrangements between China and Russia in this more western region, where the Qing vied not only with Russia, but also with Tibet and the western Mongols. Outer Mongolia fell to Qing forces in 1697, Zungharia (to the west of Mongolia) in 1757, and East Turkestan (incl. Uighur lands and the city of Kashgar) in 1759, with Tibet becoming a protectorate in 1751.[8] The Qing consolidated a number of these areas into a "new territory" (Xinjiang) in 1768. Further border disputes between China and Russia over areas of Xinjiang would be addressed by a Treaty of St. Petersburg in 1881. Some of these lands had not been controlled by China since the Tang Dynasty, while others had never previously come under Chinese control. Nevertheless, all of Xinjiang and Tibet (invaded in the 1720s) are today often claimed by Chinese as integral parts of historical/traditional China. The Qing administered these western territories loosely for a time, allowing local or native administrative structures to remain in place. Only in the late 19th century did the Court first decide to integrate these regions more fully into "China proper."

Under the Qianlong Emperor, the Qing Empire engaged in Ten Great Campaigns, including intervention in a succession dispute in Vietnam in 1789; this ended in the expulsion of Chinese (Manchu) military force & civil control from Vietnam. The Chinese would fight for Vietnam again in 1884, this time against the French. Siam's final tribute mission to China took place in 1853.

The early encounters with Russia were to be just the beginning of broader and deeper interactions with Western powers. The 1793 British mission to the Court of the Qianlong Emperor led by George Lord Macartney is perhaps the most oft-discussed, but between the establishment of the Qing and the end of the Second Opium War in 1860, the Qing saw a total of 27 diplomatic missions from Western powers, including three from Britain, one from the United States, three from the Vatican, four from the Dutch, four from Portugal, and twelve from Russia.[29]

The Taiping Rebellion ended in 1864, and the Imperial Court set in motion the Tongzhi Restoration, a series of reforms aimed at slowing or reversing the dynasty's decline. While the expansion of foreign presence and influence in China at this time was widely seen in a negative light, the end of the Taiping Rebellion brought at least a respite from the war and chaos of previous decades, and is said to have been encouraging enough in that alone to warrant some calling the period a "revival" or "restoration." While China did not yet at this time set itself on the course towards industrialization, the economy was strengthened and expanded by a variety of agricultural policies, land reclamation projects, tax reforms, improvements in local administration, and so forth. Even among those who did advocate for an adoption of Western technologies (especially in military applications), the focus was on a restoration of virtuous government as conceived traditionally, according to Confucian ideals of the upright and virtuous gentleman scholar administrator.[30]

Japan's emergence into the world of modern nation-states began to have significant impacts on China's foreign relations as early as the 1870s. The 1876 Treaty of Ganghwa, concluded between Meiji period Japan and Joseon Dynasty Korea, acknowledged Korea as an independent nation-state, creating difficulties for China, which still saw Korea as a tributary state. Disputes between China and Japan over claims to Ryûkyû and Taiwan lasted throughout much of the 1870s, finally culminating in the Japanese abolition of the Ryûkyû Kingdom and annexation of its territory in 1879. Japan would then gain control of Taiwan in 1895, in the Treaty of Shimonoseki which ended the Sino-Japanese War. In addition to Taiwan, the Japanese exacted other considerable indemnities from the Chinese; Japan also gained control of the Liaodong peninsula in northeastern China, though Japan was forced to return the peninsula after Russia, France, and Germany objected (an incident known as the Triple Intervention). China was also obligated to pay sizable monetary reparations to the Japanese government.

Emperors of the Qing


Preceded by:
Ming Dynasty
Qing Dynasty
Succeeded by:
Republican China


  • Albert M. Craig, The Heritage of Chinese Civilization, Third Edition, Prentice Hall (2011), 113-124.
  1. 1.0 1.1 Ping-Ti Ho, "The Significance of the Ch'ing Period in Chinese History," Journal of Asian Studies 26:2 (1967), 189-195.
  2. Waley-Cohen, Joanna. “The New Qing History.” Radical History Review 88, no. 1 (2004): 193–206.
  3. Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China, Second Edition, W.W. Norton & Co. (1999), 3.
  4. Spence 24.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Spence, 3-4.
  6. Chang, Michael G. A Court on Horseback: Imperial Touring and the Construction of Qing Rule, 1680-1785. Harvard University Asia Center (2007), 20.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Spence, 33.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Robert Tignor, Benjamin Elman, et al, Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, vol B, Fourth Edition, W.W. Norton & Co (2014), 502.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Akazaki Kaimon 赤崎海門, Ryûkaku danki 「琉客談記」 1796, reprinted in Shiseki shûran 「史籍集覧」, vol 16, Kyoto: Rinsen shoten (1996), 629.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Craig, 101-103.
  11. Spence, 41.
  12. Lloyd Eastman, Family, Fields, and Ancestors: Constancy and Change in China's Social and Economic History, 1550-1949, Oxford University Press (1988), 3-4.
  13. Benjamin Elman, A Cultural History of Civil Examinations in Late Imperial China, University of California Press (2000), 130.
  14. Spence, 79.
  15. Eastman, 7-8.
  16. Eastman, 5-6.
  17. Spence, 73.
  18. Kang, David C. “Hierarchy in Asian International Relations: 1300-1900.” Asian Security 1, no. 1 (2005): 60, citing Paul Bairoch, “International Industrialization Levels from 1750 to 1980,” Journal of European Economic History, vol. 11, no. 2 (Spring 1982), 269–334.
  19. Eastman, 12-14.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Spence, 76-77.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Joseph Esherick, "Harvard on China: The Apologetics of Imperialism." Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 4:4 (1972), 10.
  22. In particular, expanding copper mining in Yunnan, where by the year 1800, some 500,000 people were involved in mining work, and in West Borneo and Vietnam, where, as of the 1760s, taxes on Chinese mines accounted for roughly half the annual income of the Trinh lords of Tonkin. Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 78-79.
  23. Hellyer, 83.
  24. Angela Schottenhammer. "The East Asian maritime world, 1400-1800: Its fabrics of power and dynamics of exchanges - China and her neighbors." in Schottenhammer (ed.) The East Asian maritime world, 1400-1800: Its fabrics of power and dynamics of exchanges. Harrassowitz Verlag, 2007. p31.
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  26. Schottenhammer, Angela. “Empire and Periphery? The Qing Empire’s Relations with Japan and the Ryūkyūs (1644–c. 1800), a Comparison.” The Medieval History Journal 16, no. 1 (April 1, 2013): 158.
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  28. Schottenhammer, "The East Asian Maritime World," 55-56.
  29. Erik Ringmar, "The Ritual/Performance Problem in Foreign Policy Analysis: European Diplomats at the Chinese Court," Rethinking Foreign Policy 101 (2012), 4.
  30. Wm. Theodore de Bary and Wing-sit Chan, Sources of Chinese Tradition, vol 2, Columbia University Press (1964), 43-44.