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The Qing-Dynasty (1644 – 1912)

The Qing-Dynasty (1644 – 1912)

Fall of the Ming

The fall of the Ming-dynasty (1368-1644) was ushered by power struggles and intrigues, leading altogether to political instability, which was primarily caused, on one hand by regencies of several minor and weak emperors, and on the other hand by an increasing threat coming from the north: Here, the Jurchens, descendants of the founders of the Jin-realm in the 12th century, established under the leading of Nurhaci (1559-1626), a military powerful realm in the area of today’s Manchuria. The realm began fostering since 1629, under the leadership of his successor, prince Abahai (who proclaimed himself emperor in 1638), increasing expansionist tendencies towards the south, and began to attack China.

The weakened Ming could not offer sufficient resistance to the superior invaders, and thus the Jurchens finally got help from the Manchu-General Wu Sangui, who went over to the enemy in 1644, the dynasty of the Quing in Beijing. They did this after they had already established an interim government in Shenyang. Thus, Shunzhi (who ruled 1644 – 1661) became first emperor of the Qing.

The southern Ming:

However far in the southern area movements of resistance against the new occupying forces continued, who called themselves Manchu. The rebellions took place above all in Zhejiang, Fujian, Hunan, Hubei and in parts of south-west China. There, generals gathered armies consisting of farmers, who strived for getting rid of the new occupants in order to implement a Chinese dynasty. However, these movements for separation did fail due to the military power of the Manchu and therefore it was possible for them to shatter the last realm of the southern Ming in 1862.

Consolidation under emperor Kangxi:

Immediately after the unification of China, the Qing rulers were anxious to strengthen their authority and to expand their sphere of influence. This autocratic and absolutistic movement, which led to an all-powerful central government, was going to become one of the main outstanding features of the Manchu-government during the reign of all the three great Qing-emperors Kangxi (1662-1722), Yongzheng (1722-1735) and Qianlong (1736-1795) and it should be followed by an enormous expansion of the empire.

In order to achieve this, the emperors counted primarily on the army, which decidedly won increasingly strength by way of a comprehensive reform. Worth mentioning are especially the so-called Eight banners, which consisted of Manchurian troops that included several ten thousands of men, who were stationed permanently on strategically important places covering the whole empire. They had not only to protect the reign of the Qing for aggressors from outside, but also to ensure inner peace and to impose the new laws that were embodied in the “statute book of the great Qing”, written in 1646.

Initially the Manchu ruled over China in the same way as once the Mongols did: Chinese were forced to dress with Manchurian clothes, mixed marriages became forbidden and in many cities the Han-Chinese and the Manchu had to live separated from each other. However, after some time, especially since the reign of Kangxi, they tried to adopt Chinese traditions, in order not to be primarily seen as foreigners. They also did so in order to suppress eventual nationalistic movements within the Chinese people right in their beginnings. So, for example, nearly the complete administrative system they applied was adopted from the Ming.

Especially, during the reign of the first great emperor Kangxi, agriculture began to gain importance significantly, because Kangxi saw herein the basis for becoming able to ensure a functioning society and flourishing economy. The upturn that began immediately right after resulted in an unparalleled population upturn, which eventually should prove to become the rulers fate at the end of the Qing’s reign.

There was also substantial progress achieved in the area of technology, be it in agricultural tools, in shipbuilding, or in industry. Even the first money houses were established at that time, specializing in money exchange, loans and credits. The resulting capitalistic tendencies were however soon stopped by the central government, because it saw its power endangered by the increasing privatization and the resulting influential tradesmen class. It was accordingly anxious to hold economy further under state control, for example by means of introducing several state monopolies.

With regard to foreign policy, the permanent expansionist tendencies of the Manchu resulted in China achieving with approx.11,5 million square kilometers the largest expansion of its history (today, China extends over an area covering approx. 9,5 million square kilometers).

These expansionist tendencies brought along with them the possibility to develop an ever more and more intensive trade with the neighboring states, which in turn resulted in prosperity on large social width embracing all levels. A kind of prosperity that by far exceeded the achievements of the large European countries at that time.

The decline of the Qing-empire:

At the end of the 18th century, the state’s economical situation however began to worsen substantially: After the salaries for officials were cut back, corruption and bribery entered within these circles. In addition, there were enormous financial burdens needed for maintaining inner peace, which began to become endangered increasingly by rebellions that flared up repeatedly on the countryside.

The most serious problem however proved to be the influence of the Europeans, who increasingly began pursuing economical interests in China. With help of the intensive exchange of goods, which originally developed as a result of the expansionist tendencies that were undertaken ever since beginning of the dynasty, finally Opium arrived by the way of British influence in China.

The economic consequences of the import of Opium soon came to the surface, and thus, it was eventually officially forbidden by the emperor. It was this trade embargo that finally led to the so-called Opium war in 1839, from which the British emerged victorious. The resulting contract of Nanjing 1842 (and Beijing 1860; result of the second Opium war) contained among high reparation payments also the opening of several Chinese ports as well as the ceding of Hong Kong to a British administration.

Weakened by these oppressive contracts, the Chinese economy began to stagnate and to wreck society, which on its part expressed its displeasure against the Qing rulers more and more vehemently. The ensuing farmer rebellions climaxed with the Taiping-rebellion in the mid of the 19th century.

Their leader, Xien Xuan, who called himself “Younger Brother of Christ”, promised his followers to found the Tai Ping Empire, empire of peace on earth, which was to guarantee social improvements. He captured Nanjing in 1853 and made it his capital by giving it the name Tianjing. A civil war followed and lasted for many years. It eventually took the life of approximately 20 million Chinese, and devastated large regions.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Chinese people vented their anger on the European occupying forces with the so-called Boxer Rebellion, which was primarily directed against Christianity. After these rebellions were finally stroke down by the Qing, it was no longer possible to restore inner stability, so that the dynasty’s decline became inevitably sealed.

Culture at times of the Qing-dynasty:

As it already did at times of the Ming, the novel was the most prevailing type of literature under the Qing too. Most important works are “The Robbers of Liangshan-moor”, in which the author lively and authentically tells of numerous farmer rebellions that took place in today’s province Shangdong at times of the Song-dynasty. The novel is clearly intending to promote these rebellions as models for resistances against actual repressions imposed by the rulers.

Another work that was written during Qing-dynasty is the nowadays world-famous “Hongloumeng” (“The dream of the red chamber”) by Cao Xueqins (ca. 1715-1764). Here, the author describes in detail rise and fall of an official’s family, clearly meaning it as to symbolize the development of the dynasty.  

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