The Qing Dynasty, also known as the Manchu Dynasty was the last non-Han ruling dynasty of China, reigning from 1644 to 1911. Nurhachi established the Later Jin Dynasty in 1616 and its name was later changed to Qing in 1636 which meant "clear" in Mandarin.

Throughout the reigns of Emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong, the Qing Dynasty reached its peak. This was known as the Kang Qian Sheng Shi (meaning the Flourishing Age from Kang to Qian, 1662-1759). During this period, Emperor Kangxi recaptured Taiwan in 1683. With a vast territory, the Qing gradually gained stability, which enabled a steady development of economy, culture, industry and commerce. The Qing Dynasty also became highly integrated with Chinese culture.

Left to Right : Emperors Kangxi, Yongzhen, Qianlong

Kangxi enjoyed the longest reign of 61 years among all the emperors who had existed in history. Yongzhen's reign as emperor was disputed but during his time, the Manchu Empire because a great power and a peaceful country, further strengthening the Kang Qian Period of Harmony. Great trust was also placed in Chinese officials. He also created a procedure for selecting successor in response to his father's tragedy (who did not name a proper successor).

In the late years of Emperor Qianlong's reign (around 1792), the Qing Dynasty began its decline due to intensified social conflicts and continuous uprisings. The corrupt regime was best illustrated by the deeds of He Shen, who amassed a huge fortune by taking bribes and exploiting people. This led to the Qing's defeat in the Opium Wars.

After the Opium War of 1840, the Qing entered a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society, which can be divided into two periods. With the opening of more and more coastal trade ports after the war, China's sovereignty became encroached by foreign powers. Under such humiliating circumstances, patriots never ceased to pursue independence. Uprisings led by Sun Yat-Sen in the 1911 Revolution overthrew the Qing Dynasty and established the Republic of China; this ended more than 4500 years of dynasty rule.

AD1757: Closed Door Policy

In order to limit the spread of Christianity in China, Qianlong adopted a Closed Door Policy toward the Western World in 1757. Guangzhou became the only trading port in China and merchants were not allowed to land on China soil, but could only trade or stay shortly at sea port under supervision.

Other than the 10 missionaries who stayed in the palace with positions as historians or astronomers, there were only a limited number of missionaries who took care of 300,000 believers in China. This tight situation persisted for 20 years with China lagging behind while Europe was being transformed and invigorated by the rise of rationalism, nationalism, colonialism, and ultimately the industrial revolution.

AD1839 - AD1842: The 1st Opium War and The Treaty of Nanjing

By the early nineteenth century, raw cotton and opium from India had become the staple British imports into China, in spite of the fact that opium was prohibited by imperial decree. The opium traffic was made possible through the connivance of profit-seeking merchants and a corrupt bureaucracy.

In 1839 the Qing government, after a decade of unsuccessful anti-opium campaigns, adopted drastic prohibitory laws against the opium trade. The emperor dispatched a commissioner, Lin Zexu (1785- 1850), to Guangzhou to suppress illicit opium traffic. Lin seized illegal stocks of opium owned by Chinese dealers and then detained the entire foreign community and confiscated and destroyed some 20,000 chests of illicit British opium. The British retaliated with a punitive expedition, thus initiating the first Anglo-Chinese war. Unprepared for war and grossly underestimating the capabilities of the enemy, the Chinese were disastrously defeated, and their image of their own imperial power was tarnished beyond repair.

The Treaty of Nanjing signed on August 29, 1842

The Treaty of Nanjing (1842) was the first of a series of agreements with the Western trading nations later called by the Chinese as the "unequal treaties." Under the Treaty of Nanjing, China ceded the island of Hong Kong to the British; abolished the licensed monopoly system of trade; opened 5 ports to British residence and foreign trade; limited the tariff on trade to 5 percent ad valorem; granted British nationals extraterritoriality (exemption from Chinese laws); and paid a large indemnity. In addition, Britain was to have most-favored-nation treatment; it would receive whatever trading concessions the Chinese granted other powers then or later. The Treaty of Nanjing set the scope and character of an unequal relationship for the ensuing century of what the Chinese would call "national humiliations."

AD1850 - AD1864: The Taiping Rebellion

During the mid 19th century, China's problems were compounded by natural calamities. The government's neglect of public works was in part responsible for this and other disasters, and the Qing administration did little to relieve the widespread misery caused by them.

The Taiping rebels were led by Hong Xiuquan (1814 - 1864), a village teacher and an unsuccessful imperial examination candidate. He formulated an eclectic ideology combining the ideals of pre-Confucian utopianism with Protestant beliefs. He soon had a following of thousands who were anti-Manchu and anti-establishment. Hong's followers formed a military organization to protect against bandits and recruited troops not only among believers but also from among other armed peasant groups and secret societies.

In 1851 Hong Xiuquan and others launched an uprising in Guizhou Province. Hong proclaimed the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (Taiping Tianguo) and himself as king. The new order was to reconstitute a legendary ancient state in which the peasantry owned and tilled the land in common; slavery, concubines, arranged marriage, opium smoking, foot binding, judicial torture, and the worship of idols were all to be eliminated. The Taiping tolerance of the esoteric rituals and quasi-religious societies of South China--themselves a threat to Qing stability--and their relentless attacks on Confucianism--still widely accepted as the moral foundation of Chinese behavior-- contributed to the ultimate defeat of the rebellion.

Its advocacy of radical social reforms alienated the Han Chinese scholar-gentry class. The Taiping army, although had captured Nanjing and driven as far north as Tianjin, failed to establish stable base areas. The movement's leaders found themselves in a net of internal feuds, defections, and corruption. Additionally, British and French forces, being more willing to deal with the weak Qing administration than contend with the uncertainties of a Taiping regime, came to the assistance of the imperial army.

Zeng Guofan

To defeat the rebellion, the Qing court needed, besides Western help, an army stronger and more popular than the demoralized imperial forces. In 1860, scholar-official Zeng Guofan (1811-72), from Hunan Province, was appointed imperial commissioner and governor-general of the Taiping-controlled territories and placed in command of the war against the rebels. Zeng's Hunan army, created and paid for by local taxes, became a powerful new fighting force under the command of eminent scholar-generals. Zeng's success gave new power to an emerging Han Chinese elite and eroded Qing authority. Simultaneous uprisings in north China (the Nian Rebellion) and southwest China (the Muslim Rebellion) further demonstrated Qing weakness.

AD1856 - AD1860: 2nd Opium War and The Treaties of Tianjing

In the mid-1850s, the European powers and the United States sought to renegotiate their commercial treaties with China. The British who sought the opening of all of China to their merchants, an ambassador in Beijing, legalization of the opium trade, and the exemption of imports from tariffs led this effort. Unwilling to make further concessions to the West, the Qing government of Emperor Xianfeng refused these requests. Tensions were further heightened on October 8, 1856, when Chinese officials boarded the Hong Kong (then British) registered ship Arrow and removed 12 Chinese crewmen.

In response to the Arrow Incident, British diplomats in Canton demanded the release of the prisoners and sought redress. The Chinese refused, stating that Arrow was involved in smuggling and piracy. To aid in dealing with the Chinese, the British contacted France, Russia, and the United States about forming an alliance. The French, angered by the recent execution of missionary August Chapdelaine by the Chinese, joined while the Americans and Russians sent envoys. In Hong Kong, the situation worsened following a failed attempt by the city's Chinese bakers to poison the city's European population.

View of the British bombardment of the treaty port of Canton during the Second Opium War, Canton, China, 1850s.

In 1857, after dealing with the Indian Mutiny, British forces arrived at Hong Kong. Led by Admiral Sir Michael Seymour and Lord Elgin, they joined with the French under Marshall Gros and then attacked the forts on the Pearl River south of Canton. The governor of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, Ye Mingchen, ordered his soldiers not to resist and the British easily took control of the forts. Pressing north, the British and French seized Canton after a brief fight and captured Ye Mingchen. Leaving an occupying force at Canton, they sailed north and took the Taku Forts outside Tianjin in May 1858.

Treaty of Tianjin:

With his military already dealing with the Taiping Rebellion, Emperor Xianfeng was unable to resist the advancing British and French. Seeking peace, the Chinese negotiated the Treaties of Tianjin. As part of the treaties, the British, French, Americans, and Russians were permitted to install legations in Beijing, ten additional ports would be opened to foreign trade, foreigners would be permitted to travel through the interior, and reparations would be paid to Britain and France.

AD1870: Tianjing Massacre

It started because Catholic nuns made the mistake of offering small payments for orphans brought to their missions. Then, rumors spread that the children were being kidnapped and the sisters were removing their hearts and eyes to make medicine. A mob took the life of the French consulate and 20 other foreigners. 6 Chinese were executed in order to make peace with the foreigners. And this signified the end of the cooperation between the Qing government and the West.

Destroyed nun's chapel. Tianjing Massacre 1870

While the incident was truly unfortunate, it also documented a period when a passive China was dominated and literally carved up by foreign powers. Mindful of it not so distant past, it is predictable how China reacts in the political arena today especially with foreign intervention involving its immediate neighbors.

AD1894 - AD1895: 1st Sino-Japanese War

This war was provoked by a dispute over the control of Korea. The Sino-Japanese War came to symbolize the degeneration and enfeeblement of the Qing dynasty. It demonstrated how successful modernization had been in Japan since the Meiji Restoration as compared with that in China.

Japan feared Russian expansion into northern China and Korea, and sought foreign conquests in line with nationalistic Meiji ideology. Yi dynasty Korea sought to preserve its traditional seclusion and tributary relationship with China, which in turn strove to protect its principal vassal.

Since 1875 China had allowed Japan to recognize Korea as an independent state. Then, as China tried to reassert influence over its former tributary, this provoked rivalry with Japan and a split in Korean public opinion between modernizing reformists and inward-looking conservatives.

In 1894 a pro-Japanese Korean reformist was assassinated in Shanghai and a Korean religious sect, the Tonghak, began a rebellion. The Korean government appealed to China for assistance and the Japanese encouraged Chinese intervention, only to send an expedition ostensibly in support of Korean reformists, reaching Seoul by June 8 and seizing the royal palace a fortnight later.

War was officially declared on August 1, 1894, although land and naval fighting had begun before that. The Japanese army defeated the Chinese in a series of battles around Seoul and Pyóngyang, forcing them to retreat north. Further victories in Liaoning opened the way to China proper, and by November 21 the Japanese had taken Port Arthur (modern Luda).

The Chinese were forced to sue for peace and sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki in April 1895. Though nominally recognized as a sovereign state, Korea effectively became a Japanese protectorate, and China had to cede Taiwan, the Liaodong Peninsula, and the Pescadores to Japan "in perpetuity".

In addition, China had to pay a war indemnity of 200 million tales, and open four more treaty ports to external trade. In the so-called Triple Intervention, Russia, France, and Germany forced Japan to return the Liaodong Peninsula, but China was obliged to pay a further 30 million tales.

This outcome enraged Chinese students and intensified pressure for more radical modernization. Shortly afterwards Sun Yat-Sen founded the revolutionary republican movement, which later became the Kuomintang. The war also encouraged further Japanese encroachments on Chinese territory.

AD1861 - AD1895: The Self Strengthening Movement

The rude realities of the Opium War, the unequal treaties, and the mid-century mass uprisings caused Qing courtiers and officials to recognize the need to strengthen China. Chinese scholars and officials had been examining and translating "Western learning" since the 1840s. Under the direction of modern-thinking Han officials, Western science and languages were studied, special schools were opened in the larger cities, and arsenals, factories, and shipyards were established according to Western models.

The Qing government adopted western diplomatic practices, and students were sent abroad by the government and on individual or community initiative in the hope that national regeneration could be achieved through the application of Western practical methods.

Amid these activities came an attempt to arrest the dynastic decline by restoring the traditional order. The effort was known as the Tongzhi Restoration, named for the Tongzhi Emperor (1862-74), and was engineered by the young emperor's mother, the Empress Dowager Ci Xi (1835-1908). The restoration, however, which applied "practical knowledge" while reaffirming the old mentality, was not a genuine program of modernization.

Li Hongzhang

The effort to graft Western technology onto Chinese institutions became known as the Self-Strengthening Movement. The movement was championed by scholar-generals like Li Hongzhang (1823-1901) and Zuo Zongtang (1812-85), who had fought with the government forces in the Taiping Rebellion. From 1861 to 1894, leaders such as these, now turned scholar-administrators, were responsible for establishing modern institutions, developing basic industries, communications, and transportation, and modernizing the military.

But despite its leaders' accomplishments, the Self-Strengthening Movement did not recognize the significance of the political institutions and social theories that had fostered Western advances and innovations. This weakness led to the movement's failure. Modernization during this period would have been difficult under the best of circumstances. The bureaucracy was still deeply influenced by Neo-Confucian orthodoxy. Chinese society was still reeling from the ravages of the Taiping and other rebellions, and foreign encroachments continued to threaten the integrity of China.

The first step in the foreign powers' effort to carve up the empire was taken by Russia, which had been expanding into Central Asia. By the 1850s, tsarist troops also had invaded the Heilong Jiang watershed of Manchuria, from which their countrymen had been ejected under the Treaty of Nerchinsk.

In 1860 Russian diplomats secured the secession of all of Manchuria north of the Heilong Jiang and east of the Wusuli Jiang (Ussuri River). Foreign encroachments increased after 1860 by means of a series of treaties imposed on China on one pretext or another. The foreign stranglehold on the vital sectors of the Chinese economy was reinforced through a lengthening list of concessions.

In 1898 the British acquired a ninety-nine-year lease over the so-called New Territories of Kowloon, which increased the size of their Hong Kong colony. Britain, Japan, Russia, Germany, France, and Belgium each gained spheres of influence in China. The United States, which had not acquired any territorial cessions, proposed in 1899 that there be an "open door" policy in China, whereby all foreign countries would have equal duties and privileges in all treaty ports within and outside the various spheres of influence. All but Russia agreed to the United States overture.

AD1898 - AD1900: The Boxer Rebellion

The Boxer Rebellion saw an uprising in a non-western country against what was seen as the corrupting influence of western practices and ideologies. Basically, a grass roots organization fought what they saw as a holy war against a technologically superior collection of foreign powers to preserve their values and beliefs.

The siege of Peking 1900

On one side of the rebellion were the so-called Boxers known as the Righteous Harmonious Fists. This was originally a secret society that dated back before 1700 and whose origins are cloaked in myths and legends. What is clear is that in 1747 a group of Jesuits were expelled from China due to Boxer influence. A series of bad harvests, plagues, and harsh sanctions imposed by the Western powers and Japan (after the war of 1894-5) had caused much bad feelings. There was a growing fear that the Chinese would be reduced to servants of the western powers. Into this environment, the Boxers started preaching anti western beliefs. The Boxers saw anything Western as evil and practiced traditional martial arts and used Chinese weapons such as curved halberds and spears.

All foreigners were 1st class devils and Chinese who had converted to Christianity were 2nd class devils, those who worked for the foreigners were 3rd class devils. The Boxers were very superstitious, believing in spells and magic that would mean they were immune to western bullets and such incantations would be used to create a trance like state among the followers. The used printing presses to publish huge numbers of leaflets spreading their propaganda accusing the Catholic Church of abusing Chinese women and children.

Dowager Empress Cixi

By 1900, the Boxers had many powerful sympathizers in the Chinese court although little official recognition. Their most notable supporter was the Dowager Empress Cixi. China was at this time very vulnerable, struggling to bring an almost feudal society into the 20th century without destroying the traditions upon which Chinese society was based. The Western powers had virtually taken over some areas seeking to exploit China in her weakened state. Military technology for the Chinese army was very slowly improving but it was still far too weak to mount any kind of opposition to the Western powers.

When in January 1900 the Empress released an edict explaining that secret societies were part of Chinese culture and not to be confused with criminal elements, the Western powers were furious as this gave almost official support to the Boxer movement. The Boxer movement started to spiral out of control and massacres of Chinese Christians began, along with anti Western riots and destruction of foreign property.

The official Peace protocol was signed 7th September 1901 but by that time most Western armies had left China. The price for China was high with a huge bill to pay for the cost of the allied expeditions and memorials built in the honor of the killed diplomats. The foreign powers gained huge concessions to China's mineral wealth and trade. For China, it showed that her armies were weak and outdated and this sparked a more rapid industrialization of the country and modernizing of her armed forces.