CHINAKNOWLEDGE - a universal guide for China studies | HOME | About | Guestbook |
Encoding: Unicode (UTF-8) [Location: HOME > History > Qing > event history < Manchus]

Chinese History - Qing Dynasty 清 (1644-1911)
event history

The Foundation of the Manchu Dynasty - The Manchu Conquest of China - The Rebellion of the Three Feudatories - The Apogee of China (Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong) - The Way into Crisis - The Opium Wars and the Unequal Treaties - The Taiping Rebellion - The Self-Strengthening Movement - The Further Intrusion of Foreign Powers - The Reform Movement of 1898 - The Boxer Rebellion - The Revolution of 1911

The Foundation of the Manchu Dynasty

The Manchu People is a descendant tribe of the Tungus Jurchen people (Chinese: Nüzhen 女真, not Ruzhen!, also Jürchen, in Mongolian: Jürched or Jurched) that had founded the Jin 金 Dynasty, the successor of Liao 遼 and Northern Song (Beisong 北宋) Dynasties in Northern China. The Manchu lived in the area that was later called Manchuria (Chinese: Manzhou 滿州), today the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning (the "Three Eastern Provinces", Dongsansheng 東三省).
The different groups of the Jurchens were unified by Nurhaci (Chinese: Nuerhachi [Nuerhaqi] 努邇哈赤 [努邇哈齊], also called Nurgaci), a strong leader of the Aisin Giorro clan (Chinese: Aixin Jueluo 愛新覺羅) who emerged victorious from the power struggles of different Jurchen clans in 1589 founded the Later Jin Dynasty (Hou Jin 後金) in 1616. Nurhaci as khan of the Jurchens - and more and more of neighbouring peoples like the Khalkha (Qalqa) Mongols - organized all his subjects from the year 1615 on in military units called "banners" (qi 旗) that at the same time served as civil administration units (the first Jurchen companies had been created in 1601). In the course of time he accumulated eight banners , the so-called baqi 八旗 that each had their own colours, four colours (yellow, white, red, blue) in plain (zheng 正) and four bordered (xiang 鑲). The sub-units of the banners were "companies" (Manchu: niru, Chinese "niulu 牛錄"), five niru constituted one "regiment" (gala, Chinese "jiala 甲喇"), five gala constituted one "division" (gusan, Chinese "gushan 固山"). With the increasing population of his empire, Nurhaci had to enlarge the number of banners and step by step added eight Mongolian (Menggu baqi 蒙古八旗, from 1634 on) and eight Chinese banners (Hanren baqi 漢人八旗, from 1642 on), so that he in fact commanded twenty-four banners. From the Shunzhi 順治 period on (1644-1661) the emperor himself was commander of the three higher banners (shangsanqi 上三旗: Bordered Yellow, Plain Yellow, and Plain White), while the other banners stood under the command of princes (Manchu: beile 貝勒, Chinese: qinwang 親王) and other merited Manchu nobles (Chinese: zhuwang 諸王). After the conquest of Beijing and China, a part of the bannermen were garrisoned around the imperial city in Beijing, and other troops were garrisoned in the various provincial capitals (zhisheng zhufang 直省駐防). By far the largest part of the banner troops and population was living in Beijing, the so-called Tartar City within the inner city walls, as imperial guard (jinwei 禁衛). Even today a large part of Beijing's population is therefore of Manchu origin. After the conquest of China, the armies of the dynasty were extended by non-banner troops, the so-called Chinese "Green Brigades" (luying [not lüying !] 綠營).
The conception behind the banner system was that the whole population was expected to be able to serve as soldiers; civil and military administration were therefore the same, and the soldiers' families were likewise part of the banners. Officers were at the same time state officials. In peacetime the Manchu soldiers were given their pay (bingxiang 兵餉), but soon the Manchu population became to large to be supported by such a reserve-military system, and from the Qianlong 乾隆 period on (1736-1795) there were large proportions of bannermen who became "normal" people. In the first half century of the Qing period bannermen obtained tracts of land mostly in northern China, to live on. But these allotments did not help many banner families to make their life, and at the end of the 19th century, many bannermen had become substantially poor and engaged in minor business to survive.
Nurhaci's capital was moved in 1625 to Mukden (modern Shenyang 瀋陽/Liaoning) that later became the emperors's summer seat.
Cooperating with Chinese commanders of the Ming 明 dynasty (1368-1644), Nurhaci was able to control much land beyond the borders of the Jurchen domain. But he also suffered defeats in his wars against the Ming border garrisons, the last in 1626, shortly before he died. Nurhaci's son and follower Abahai (Abahai, Chinese name: "Huangtaiji 皇太極", r. 1626-1643) not only relied on the well-working system of the Banner military organisation but he also imitated the Chinese institutional framework to organize his empire of (Later) Jin with an effective civil and military administration, like the six ministries (liubu 六部). Abahai integrated Mongol and Chinese banners into his administration, made Korea a tributary state, and therewith created a powerful and ideologically neutral environment (not concentrating on one single ethnicity) in which was able to occupy the whole territory of the northeast. Because the Manchu officers in first place had to act as warriors and had no experience in the administration of land, Abahai created a Manchu-Chinese dyarchy in which a Manchu and a Chinese took over the same responsibilites. This kind of redundant administration style had been created by the Mongol Yuan 元 dynasty (1279-1368), but unlike the Mongols half a millenium before, the Manchus quickly became accustomed to Chinese culture and produced many very able governors and high officials. While Chinese became the official language of the daily routine of the Manchu administration, most documents, expecially those of military content, were translated into Manchu for which language Nurhaci had adopted the Mongol alphabet.
In 1635 Abahai introduced the term "Manchu" (a word possibly of Sanskrit origin) as new name for his people, and one year later he styled his dynasty "Qing 清 - the Pure": too many Chinese had joined Abahai that the name of Jin 金 (as identical to and exclusive for the Jurchens) had to be replaced with a new, integrative name. For "international" relations to the Mongols and Koreans, Abahai then set up the Court of Colonial Affairs (Lifanyuan 理藩院) that should become the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the late 19th century.

The Manchu Conquest of China

The last phase of prosperity of China's Ming Dynasty was seen during the reign period Wanli 萬曆 (1573-1619). A well-organised bureaucracy ruled over a realm that was economically and culturally prospering, where scholarship and literature were producing works of great influence. But the Wanli Emperor (Ming Shenzong 明神宗) had become tired of his task as a ruler of the largest empire in the Far East. For twelve years he did not hold any court audiences and refused to deal with governmental affairs of any kind. The resulting power vacuum was filled by the higher and often mighty eunuchs that acted as intermediaries between the imperial city and the bureaucratic world outside, for example by taking over the task of collecting taxes and revenues. The most spectacular example of a eunuch tyrant was Wei Zhongxian 魏忠獻 (suicide in 1627). A counterpart of these groups of powerful eunuchs was created by different scholars that united in the Donglin Academy (Donglin shuyuan 東林書院) as the Donglin Party (Donglindang 東林黨) that fought against the eunuch parties that often resulted in bloody clashes. Aggravating these inner quarrels, the Ming Dynasty was shaken by attacks from outside, from several Mongol tribes, by piracy that ravaged the southeast coast, the invasion of China's vassal Korea by the Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi 豊臣秀吉 in 1592, the occupation of Macao by the Portuguese with all economic impacts of the international trade, and finally, the challenge by the new warriors in the northeast.
The increase of taxes - combined with natural calamities - lead to widespread popular unrest and the emergence of several leaders that rose against the local government. One of these rebels was the military leader Li Zicheng 李自成 from the province of Shaanxi who fought against the local government from the begin of the 1630es on. Another rebel was Zhang Xianzhong 張獻忠 who together with Li Zicheng roamed northern and central China and finally created a base in Sichuan where he proclaimed himself emperor in 1644, while Li Zicheng also made himself the new Son of Heaven, in Hubei. The Ming emperor meanwhile, with the reign motto Chongzhen 崇禎 (r. 1628-1644) had to concentrate all his forces in the northeastern direction from where the Manchus endangered the northern frontier of the Ming empire. Although the Ming government had hired some able generals, internal quarrels lead to outer weakness, like the execution of general Yuan Chonghuan shows, and even if the Manchus could be defeated at some points by the use of artillery provided by the Jesuits, the defense of the northern frontier was not sure.
But the downfall of the Ming came from inside: In 1644 Li Zicheng occupied and looted the Ming capital Beijing, the Chongzhen Emperor hanged himself. Wu Sangui 吳三桂, commander of the Shanhaiguan Pass 山海關 north of Beijing, at this point decided to collaborate with the powerful and well-promising Qing empire whose troops already stood before the gates of the Great Wall. For Wu Sangui - who was later highly rewarded by the Qing - the cause of the Ming was dead, and since the bandit regime of Li Zicheng was not worth supporting, he opened the gates for the Manchu troops who entered Beijing on 6th of June, 1644. Abahai had died one year before, and his brother, prince regent Dorgon, enthroned the young prince Fulin 福臨 as the new emperor, the first Qing emperor of China, with the reign motto Shunzhi 順治 (r. 1644-1661).
Instead of being content with their new territorial acquisition that was not unlike the conquest of northern China by their forerunners, the Khitans (Liao) and Jurchens (Jin), the Manchus began the conquest of whole China. While northern China was no problem for foreign invaders, the defeat of Li Zicheng (1645), Zhang Xianzhong (1647), and several princes of the Ming dynasty house of Zhu 朱 took them several years and lead them deep into southwestern China. The Prince of Fu 福, Zhu Yousong 朱由崧, was captured in the old Ming secondary capital Nanjing in 1645, two other princes, the brothers Zhu Yujian 朱聿鍵 and Zhu Yuzhao 朱聿釗 that had their strongholds in Fujian and Guangdong, were defeated in 1646. The Prince of Gui 桂, Zhu Youlang 朱由榔, was, after several years of permanent flight, forced to flee to Burma and was handed over to Wu Sangui by the king of Burma in 1661. This last period of the Ming dynasty is known as the Southern Ming 南明 (1644-1661).
The Manchu now ruled over the countless inhabitants of Chinese origin for the first decades in many points resembled the efforts of the Mongols to exert a foreign rulership by use of violence and brutality, like during the conquest of Yangzhou. Chinese colonisation of Manchuria was forbidden, likewise mixed marriages between Chinese and Manchu. In Beijing, the Manchus lived in the northern quarters, the "Tartar City" around the imperial city, while the Chinese population was restricted to the south. The famous pigtail of the Chinese (bianzi 辮子) was prescribed for every Chinese. It is often named an instrument of discrimination by the Manchus but the issue is more complicated: the Chinese as subjects to the Manchus had to adopt some Manchu customs, and one of these customs was the shaved forehead and the pigtailed hair at the back, a custom that the nomad tribes of the north had pursued since millenia.
As a small layer ("the ruling class") of the whole society, the Manchu rulers would never have been able to govern China without making extensive use of Chinese officials and specialists. Some of them had been Chinese colonists in Liaodong 遼東, some had already served the Ming Dynasty (called erchen 二臣 "serving two [dynasties]"). Unlike the Mongolian rulers of the Yuan Dynasty, the second generation of Manchu emperors recognized that there was the urgent need to liberate the Chinese population from the status of slavery. Especially the peasants were rewarded for their suffering with the lowest tax a peasantry ever had to pay in Chinese history. And for every Chinese person of the higher classes, it was theoretically possible to acheive the highest civil or military post in the Qing official hierarchy when passing the state examinations.
The Rebellion of the Three Feudatories

As indispensable supporters of the Manchu's conquest of China the three Chinese military leaders Wu Sangui 吳三桂, Geng Zhongming 耿仲明 and Shang Kexi 尚可喜 were rewarded with the title of kings (wang 王; Wu Sangui even as Prince, qinwang 親王), Wu Sangui became the King Pacifying the West (Pingxi wang 平西王) in Yunnan; Geng Zhongming, succeeded by his son Geng Jimao 耿繼茂 and his grandson Geng Jingzhong 耿精忠, was enfeoffed as King Tranquillizing the South (Jingnan wang 靖南王) in Fujian; Shang Kexi was entitled as King Pacifying the South (Pingnan wang 平南王) in Guangdong. It was especially Wu Sangui who had accumulated highest merits in the conquest of southwestern China and the destruction of the last resistance of the Southern Ming emperors. In these positions the so-called Three Feudatories (sanfan [san fan] 三藩) were extremely powerful and could count on the support of half the military strength of the Qing empire - and consumed half of the state expenditures for their lavish and luxurious life. Wu Sangui acted like a ruler of his own when he organized quasi-state examinations for his western domain (xixuan 西選) and had casted his own "western" money (xiqian 西錢). Furthermore, the Qing government was not able to exert tax sovereignity over the southern provinces of Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangdong and Fujian that were wholly controlled by the Three Feudatories.
When the Shunzhi Emperor died, his successor, the Kangxi Emperor decided that it should be time to terminate the quasi-autonomous government of the Three Feudatories. All three of them became aware that the Qing court did not further tolerate their powerful grip on the southern provinces. In 1673 Wu Sangui started his rebellion against the Manchu government although his plans to reinstall the last Ming ruler were already bound to fail. In the first years after the rebellion started Wu Sangui gained control over the neighboring provinces where the highest officials submitted to the rebel and joined his cause. The fate only changed side when Shang Zhixin 尚之信 who had occupied the southeastern region in Fujian, and his ally Zheng Jing 鄭經 from Taiwan submitted to the Qing armies. In the same year of 1676 Sun Yanling 孫延齡, rebel in Guangxi province, was killed by Wu Shifan 吳世璠, grandson of Wu Sangui. In 1678 Wu Sangui proclaimed himself emperor of "Great Zhou 大周" but died in the same year. Wu Shifan, successing leader of the rebellion, was able to withstand the Qing troops for further two years until the end of 1681. Their insurrection is called the "Rebellion of the Three Feudatories" (San fan zhi luan 三藩之亂). The Manchu emperors were now the undisputed rulers of China, and the southwestern region should be tranquil for the next decades...

The War against Zheng Chenggong
The pirat-merchant Zheng Chenggong 鄭成功, loyal to the Ming Dynasty, established an independent regime on the island of Taiwan. He was once bestowed the Ming imperial surname Zhu 朱 and therefore received the laudatory epithet of Guoxingye 國姓爺 "Uncle With the Dynasty's Surname", by the Dutch merchants rendered as Koxinga, according to the Minnan topolect pronunciation (gwok-sing-ga). The integration of the island of Taiwan is often antedated but can politically only be dated to the early 17th century when larger amounts of Chinese settlers from Fujian crossed the seastrait.

The Apogee of China (Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong)

During the reign periods Kangxi (1662-1722), Yongzheng (1723-1735), and Qianlong (1736-1795) Qing China was the largest and most prosperous state on earth.
The Qianlong Emperor as a Universal Ruler

The Military Expansion of the Qing Empire
Kangxi campaigns in the northwest
Yongzheng campaigns in the west and southwest
As a univeral ruler the Qianlong Emperor had the task to subdue each rebellion against his world system. He was thus a quite belligerent ruler that spent a large part of the state treasure for military expeditions, in the whole ten wars that were "successfully" lead (the "Ten successful campaigns", shiquan wugong 十全武功): the First Jinchuan War (1747-49), the First and Second War in Dzunghary (1755; 1756-57), the War against the Muslims in the west (1758-59), the Burma Campaign (1766-70), the Second Jinchuan War (1771-76), the Taiwan Campaign (1787-88), the Annam Campaign (Vietnam; 1788-1789), and the First and Second War against the Nepalese Gurkhas (1792).


The Way into Crisis

That such a vast empire like Qing China would meet conflicts with neighboring people, is a natural cause. Already the occupation of the Ili Territory in the west has not been without consequences for the loyalty of Muslim people of Chinese Turkestan. But expanding Russia also claimed these territories of Inner Asia. Treaties with the Russian tsars helped to settle the border conflicts. Chinese troops proved the Qing sovereignity over Burma and Nepal. Chinese settlers in Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan and Taiwan met rebellions of the aboriginal tribes that could only be subdued by military force. Muslim people stood up against the Qing regime in Gansu and Xinjiang.
The 19th century brought developments over China that worsened the economical backwardness that was already seen after the long and glorious reigns of the three emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong. China has been - and still is - a vast imperium that challenges the economical and political abilites of the ruling class. The two main problems are the question of centralized or decentralized administration, and to what extent the state should control the economy for the sake of the population and to fill the state treasure. Both questions should also be crucial for the economical, technical and political backwardness of the 19th century China. A political, economical and social system that had been proved effectiveley for two thousand years seemed to have no need for change or modernization. In the eyes of the Westerners therefore, the political and social sphere of China had been unchanged since thousands of years. The economical sphere meanwhile seemed to have been influenced by Europeans - and at least experienced some modernization after Chinese mandarins became aware of China's economical backwardness. But in fact, economical changes already took place since the mid of 18th century. The long period of peace and the introduction of new crops from the Americas (peanuts, corn, taro) resulted in a steady rise in the population. With an increasing population, there was also the need for a widespread commerce and trade network covering whole China, especially along the waterways of the great rivers and channels. Merchants needed banks for their funds and to finance their business. In Shanxi were the biggest money lending institutes of Qing China, and at the begin of 19th century, new financing methods like letter of credit, transfers, loans, and saving deposits became more widespread. The industry of Qing China was a highly sophisticated system of division of labour. Chinaware, tea, brocade and cotton was produced in specialized regions and cities. Merchants and producers formed non-governmental guilds with comprehensive administratorial functions. While in the west of the USA, a lack of labour force lead to the development of industrial agriculture, the surplus of labour force in China was an impediment for technification. And moreover, the social groups making profit and living in wealth, like the salt traders of the lower Yangtse valley, did consume their income rather for luxury instead of investing in long-term business like a heavy industry. The lack of governmental infererence into the sphere of the economy left this field a prey for the penetrating Western merchants.

The Opium Wars and the Unequal Treaties

China as a country with a highly developed manufacturing industry had no need for imported cotton fabrics or similar items produced in the West. The British merchants - especially the East India Company - saw their chance in the import of opium (Chin. yapian 鴉片, Cant. ngapin). As the import of opium had been prohibited by the Chinese government already during the 18th century, the only way to make profit by selling Indian opium was the smuggling business. During the 1830es, the British merchants systematically built up their opium import system and thereby met the huge demand of Chinese opium consumers and addicted people. Opium does not only mean a danger for health, but also has a deep impact on public moral. Moreover, the export of tea, silk and chinaware was not able to cover the costs for opium imports: the Chinese trade balance tended to become negative, the silver money left the country and depreciated the copper coins - a fatal development for the lower classes of population as well as for the rich merchants of the Yangtse area. The court in Beijing was divided between ministers proposing a forced barter (opium against Chinese products); allowance of opium import but imposing high taxes on the drug; or confrontation with the British merchants. A representative of the last group was Lin Zexu 林則徐 who acted as commissioner in Guangzhou (Canton) in 1839, the main import harbour of the south. He confiscated opium cases and tried to banish British merchants. But under the protection of their government, the Britains under Captain Elliott attacked some small harbors, occupied islands and threatened the port of Tianjin with canon boats: the begin of the so-called Opium War (Yapian zhanzheng 鴉片戰爭). A British fleet, commanded by Henry Pottinger, proceeded until Nanjing, when the Chinese government finally gave in and signed the Nanjing Treaty (Nanjing tiaoyue 南京條約) in 1842, the first of a long line of shameful treaties for the Qing government, called "unequal treaties" (bu pingdeng tiaoyue 不平等條約). For twenty centuries, Chinese emperors had dealt in the same way with penetrating "barbarians": making concessions to them by granting them material presents like Chinese silk or sending them princesses. In 1842, nobody in China was aware that the danger coming from the West was much deeper than a few nomad barbarians attacking the Chinese frontiers.
In the Nanjing Treaty, the Qing government granted the British free (opium) trade in the harbors of Xiamen (Amoy), Shanghai, Ningbo, Fuzhou and Guangzhou (see map), abolishing the monopol of the Chinese merchant guilds in these cities. British goods were imposed with a very low import tax, and British subjects were allowed to move freely inside China. As a trade base (shangqu 商埠), the island of Hong Kong (Xianggang) was handed over to Great Britain. The financial damages China had to pay for the war counted 21 million silver dollars. Great Britain was officially recognized by the Qing government as a foreign power with equal rights. In an additional treaty, the Humen Treaty (Humen tiaoyue 虎門條約), Great Britain was allowed to establish concessional settlement territories (zujie 租界) where British subjects were exempt of Chinese jurisdiction. But the most important item of this treaty was the Most Favorite Clausula (zuihuiguo daiyu tiao 最惠國待遇條), allowing Great Britain to obtain every contractual concession any other country should obtain. Following the British, France (Treaty of Whampoa or Huangpu 1844 黃埔), the USA (Treaty of Wangsha 望廈), and the minor European states forced treaties with the Chinese allowing them free trade inside a handfull of harbor cities. France obtained the permission to dispatch missionaries to China. Still unsatisfied with the Najing Treaty, the British merchants claimed residential rights in China. When the Chinese police confiscated a Chinese ship under British flag named Arrow in 1856, and at the same time a French missionary was killed, British and French saw their chance to revise the Nanjing Treaty. Unifying their armies (Ying-Fa lianjun 英法聯軍), British and French occupied Guangzhou and forced the Qing government to sign the Tianjin Treaty (Tientsin Treaty; Tianjin tiaoyue 天津條約) in 1858 after their canon boats had bombarded the Dagu Forts 大古 near Tianjin. But the French army invaded Beijing and burned down and plundered the Qing emperors' summer residence in the Yuanmingyuan Garden 圓明園; the court had fled to Jehol (Rehe 熱河) in Manchuria. These military actions are called the Second Opium War. Signed in 1860, the Beijing Treaty (Beijing tiaoyue 北京條約) allowed British and French subjects free trade, travel and mission in all places of China, basing on a couple of open harbors (see map). Damages of 16 million silver bars (tael, Chin. liang 兩) were added by the cession of the Kowloon Peninsula (Jiulong bandao 九龍半島) opposite to Hong Kong to Great Britain. British and French were subject only to their own jurisdiction, and the two countries were diplomatically recognized by the Qing government and the first real foreign ministry (zongli yamen 總理衙門). Until then, China had seen all other countries as subject to the Qing empire. Additionally, many foreign goods were freed from import tax. The maritime customs office was confiscated and run by the British official Robert Hart to ensure the payment of damages China had to hand over to the Western Nations. China had lost her sovereignity over the import taxes, a field that normally provided the state treasury with a large income.
Meanwhile, Russia also claimed rights on Chinese territory. The treaties of Nerchinsk (Chin. Nibuchu 尼布楚) in 1689 and Kyakhta (Chin. Qiaketu 恰克土 or 恰克圖) in 1727 already had regulated frontier line and trade between Qing China and Russia. In 1858 Russia occupied the territory north of the River Amur and claimed this territory as Russian, ensured in the Aigun Treaty (Aihui tiaoyue 璦琿條約).

The Taiping Rebellion

The increasing population and the depreciation of copper coins was the main origin of the deep social problems of the 19th century. Although there was a need to enlarge the administratorial staff, the quota for the official recruitment stayed stabil. Corruption and bribery was the consequence of a lack of tasks for the educated class; a very intense description of this situation is Liu E's late Qing novel "Travels of Lao Can". The local mandarins were obliged to hand over a special amount of collected taxes to the court in Beijing, but how much taxes the mandarins really levied, was up to them. Especially in southern China, many peasants did not own the fields they worked, but acted as tenant farmers, if they did not go to the cities do find a better work. Other people joined bandits or rovers, girls looked for employment in the red quarters of the lower Yangtse cities. Trying to escape the taxmen and the population pressure, many landless peasants looked for new estates in remote mountain areas. In 1795, a group of peasants rose against the Qing government, follwing some religious leaders believing in the coming of the Bodhisattva Maitreya. This traditional peasant uprising was called "White Lotus" (Bailian 白蓮). The immense uprising of the "Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace" (Taiping Tianguo 太平天國) was of a similar character like the other secret societes and peasant or worker uprisings during Chinese history, but it was one of only a few uprisings that were able endanger the foundation of a ruling dynasty. The founder of the Taiping movement was the frustrated scholar Hong Xiuquan 洪秀全. Hong had been in contact with Christians and developed his own pseudo-Christian religion. He saw himself as a kind of messias and preached a social egalitarism and puritanism. His followers were unemployed, desperados and the poor, and they started to rebel against the Qing governmental institutions in 1850 from Guangxi Province. The organisation of the movement was a strict hierarchy without separating military, political and clerical functions. In 1853, the Taiping rebels occupied Nanjing and established this city as their capital. Their armies advanced to Tianjin and had cut the waterways from south to north, the Taiping controled the whole lower Yangtse area (see map). The central government in Beijing was unable to subjugate the rebels, and instead, local governors and rich merchants recruited soldiers to subdue the mighty Heavenly Kingdom. Three armies of local governors (Zeng Guofan, Zuo Zongtan and Li Hongzhang) and the Western powers under Frederick T. Ward and Charles J. Gordon ("China Gordon") with their "Ever-Victorious Army" were able to gradually throw back the Taiping armies and to massacre the Heavenly Capital Nanjing in 1864. The Taiping Rebellion was only the mightiest of a long line of uprisings that shook the Qing government during the 19th century. The Nian Rebellion 捻亂 1853-68 was lead by poor peasants and smugglers with a social objective, the rebellions of the Miao Minority 苗亂 in Guizhou a little bit later and the Muslims 回亂 (as minority called Huizu 回族) in Yunnan, Gansu and Xinjiang under Yakub Beg until 1878 were clearly oriented against the Chinese exploitation and colonisation. The result of these rebellions was the clear evidence that the central government was further unable to control their vast empire. Instead, local governors and military commanders took over the responsibility for actual policy - a situation similar to the end of Han Dynasty, when generals could control the central government after subduing the Yellow Turban Rebellion, with the difference that the Later Han commanders tried to replace the emperor, while Li Hongzhang and his collegues saw themselves as moral defendors of the Qing throne against rebels. Because the Qing government did not want to negotiate with the Western powers, the provincial governors had a free hand in the field of foreign politics. The economical and demographical impact of these twenty years of internal war was deep enough to talk of a "restauration" under the Tongzhi Emperor: before building up a modern industry, the economy as a whole had to be reconstructed, especially the agriculture with the task of building dikes, waterways, water reservoirs, and granaries; the economical reconstruction required the increase of taxes and duties, a situation that did not help trade and commerce that had to encounter the foreign competition.

The Self-Strengthening Movement

The economical impact of the Opium Wars and the penetration of the Western powers in the Chinese trade system was mainly seen in currency problems. The huge amount of opium import could not be balanced by an equal amount of exports of Chinese goods. According to the treaties, China had to pay tens of millions of silver Dollars as war damage reparations to the Western powers. China's trade balance was critically endangered by these facts, and moreover by an inflation of the silver currency against the gold standard that was adopted by the Western countries. Especially the poor classes of China's society felt the inflation of the silver bars ("tael"; a Malay word) and the copper-zink coins ("sapèques"; a French-Hindi word; see picture to the right). The results of the Taiping Rebellions added further impediments to the development of Chinese industry, trade and commerce. The imperialism theory of Lenin only sees imperialism as exploitation of the occupied territories. Although this component can not be overseen and deeply contributed to the discrediting of the western powers and to the rise of nationalism, another component of imperialism can not be neglected. The occupation of economically and politically "backward" countries laid the foundation for a modern administration and infrastructure. The last point was also seen by Chinese mandarins that partially had contact with western diplomats during the treaty negotiations. They are actors of a phenomenon later called Self-strengthening Movement (Ziqiang Yundong 自強運動) or "Foreign Affairs" (=Westernization) Movement (Yangwu Yundong 洋務運動).
The most important persons are Zeng Guofan 曾國藩, Li Hongzhang 李鴻章, Zuo Zongtang 左宗棠, and Zhang Zhidong 張之洞; only few people at the court participated in the open and reform-oriented politics of these men, among them Prince Gong (Yixin) 恭親王奕訢. During the wars against the many rebellions, these new men had developed a modern army that replaced the Manchu banner organisation. Their target was, to "control the barbarians by barbarians" (Yi yi zhi yi 以夷治夷.). But much more important were the economical investions of the reformers: factories, arsenals, shipyards, ironworks and steelyards, railways, minging industry, telegraph lines, weaving mills, and financial institutes. Academies were established, and Chinese students went abroad to study Western technique and science. Unfortunately, the main focus of investment was the military industry, and not the producing industry that would have helped to win more capital. But there are also successful examples of private entrepreneurs like Tang Tingshu or students that made their degree abroad like Yong Wing. From 1900 on, after China had lost her potential for own investions, Western and Japanese entrepreneurs founded factories, banks, manufacturies and mines on Chinese territory. They did not only exploit Chinese soil, resources, and manpower, but also helped to create modern industries with the need for labor force: the large cities of Hanyang (Wuhan), Shanghai, or Tianjin began to develop an industrial urban character. The provinces at the coast where foreign capital was invested, profited much more during this time than the interior parts of China. Foreign companies were able to sell their industrial goods much cheaper than the traditional Chinese agricultural producers; likewise, foreign shipping companies could transport goods for a much cheaper price than the Chinese shippers. The challenges of the many rebellions and external wars with their huge reparation sums imposed a heavy burdon upon the Chinese economy. The tax system was not modern enough to produce enough liquidity, and foreign loans could not help the Qing government to resolve the problem of state bankruptcy. Most people at the Qing court did not see that a modernization of the whole governmental and economical structure would be helpful - if it would be performable in such a vast empire! Instead, conservative circles in Beijing refrained from making foreign politics and instead left this field to the mighty governors of the provinces and the foreign entrepreneurs and institutions. Although China was no foreign colony, the 19th century was an age of colonialisation with all bad aspects of this kind of exploitation. In the hearts of Chinese, the arrogant attitude of the Western powers and Western residents created a mixed sentiment of hatred and inferiority complex. These feelings should later be compensated with an exaggerated nationalist proud after the foundation of the People's Republic.

The Further Intrusion of Foreign Powers

While the Opium Wars had been acts of adventurers and merchants, the further penetration of foreigners into China was more and more state-guided and stood directly under the influence of imperialism. The race to gain the best places in the rest of world stood side by side with the need for the Western powers to protect their subjects in China, merchants, missionaries, diplomats, soldiers, and their families. The foreign powers used smallest incidents as a pretext for their demands after reparations and compensations. In many cases, murders of missionaries served as a tool for the further expansion of the foreign powers' rights in China. The conventions of Zhifu/Shandong in 1876 opened five new harbors to the British. In 1878-81, China had to cease some territories in Ili 伊犁 to Russia by the Treaty of Livadiya/Krim (Lifadiya Tiaoyue 里發第亞條約), but in a revised treaty in 1882 China could gain back some territories. Japan, strengthened by the reform of the Meiji Emperor, occupied the Ryukyu Islands (Chinese: Liuqiu Qundao 琉球群島, by Japan called Okinawa 沖縄, Chinese pronunciation "Chongsheng") in 1881 and started to claim open trade in Korea. Korea (Chosŏn, Chinese: Chaoxian 朝鮮), ruled by the Yi Dynasty 李朝, was a nominal subject state to China, like Burma (Chinese: Miandian 緬甸; Konebaung Dynasty) and Vietnam (Chinese: Yuenan, Vietn.: Việt Nam 越南; Nguyen Dynasty, Vietn.: Nguyễn Triêu 阮朝). While the French tried to occupy Vietnam step by step, the British Empire expanded into Burma. The conquest of Southern Vietnam ("Cochinchine" and "Tonking" or "Tongking", Chinese: Dongjing 東京, Vietn.: Đông Kinh) until 1867 was quite easy to acheive for the French, but Vietnamese and Chinese troops withstood the French conquerors in the northern part of Vietnam. But in 1885, France acheived a victory over China and obtained free hand in "Annam" (Chin. Annan 安南, Vietn.: An Nam), founding the French Union of Indochina (Union Indochine). In the same period, British troops occupied Upper Burma that in 1886 became a part of the British Empire.
At the end of the 19th century, the foreign powers started to claim their own colonial territories in China. In the same year of 1898, Great Britain demanded the New Territories (Chinese: Xinjie, Cantonese: Sàngaai 新界) north of Hong Kong (Chinese: Xianggang, Cantonese: Hèunggóng 香港) as a leasehold territory for 99 years. France obtained Guangzhouwan 廣州灣/Guangdong (modern Zhanjiang 湛江) as a colony, Germany occupied the Jiaozhou Bay 膠州灣/Shandong and founded Qingdao 青島 colony (Tsingtau), Britain again could gain Weihaiwei 威海衛/Shandong, and Russia claimed the Liaodong Peninsula with the harbor of Port Arthur (Lüshun 旅順 [Japanese: Ryojun] and Dalian 大連, from 1905 on Japanese territory [Japanese: Dairen; Russian: Dalny). But the deepest impact on Chinese sovereignity was the war with Japan in 1894/95 (Chinese: Jiawu Zhanzheng 甲午戰爭, Japanese: Nisshin Senso 日清戦争; *Jiawu is the year, see Chinese calendar). During the Meiji Reform, Japan had risen from the stage of a weak and plundered developing country to a modern industrialized country. Unlike China, Japan did not try to withstand the pressure of the imperialist powers, but instead adopted their techniques and administration, only to join the ranks of the Western powers. From 1870 on, Japan had tried to open trade harbors in Korea with first military interventions in 1881 and 1884. Japan's motive for an intense attack on the Chinese military on Korean soil was the interest of Russia to build a Siberian railway near Korean territory, and anti-Japanese activities among the Korean intelligence. With the objective to separate the Korean goverment from Chinese influence, the bombardement of the Chinese fleet near Inchon posed a serious defeat to the Chinese military. The Treaty of Shimonoseki 下関 (Chinese: Maguan Tiaoyue 馬關條約) was another treaty of shame and disgrace for the Chinese government. China had further no suzeranity over the Korean kingdom, and it had to pay for the war damages. Japanese subjects were exempt from Chinese law and tax inside of China. But the most important claim by Japan was the cession of Taiwan, the Penghu Islands (澎湖群島; Pescadores) and the southern part of the Manchurian province Fengtian 奉天. The last demand was refused by the other Western powers that feared for too much influence of Japan on East Asia. In 1905, when Russia was bound by deep internal conflicts, Japan tried to take over control over the weak Korean government.

The Reform Movement of 1898

A short-lived reform movement (weixin yundong 維新運動) of hundred days was lead by Kang Youwei 康有為 and Liang Qichao 梁啟超, people that could win the Guangxu Emperor for their cause. They tried to reform the state examinations, administration, state budget, ministries, education, jurisdiction, and military. The movement was abruptly ended by conservative circles, some followers of the reform movement like Tan Sitong 譚嗣同 were exectued, but Kang and Liang escaped to Japan. Kang blamed Empress Dowager Cixi for the abortion of the reforms and contributed much to the bad reputation of Cixi in China and the West. In fact, his undertaking was illusory from the begin in a time when the central government lost more and more control over China. According to the Chinese cyclical year denominations, the reform movement is called Wuxu Bianfa 戊戌變法 Only after the "Boxer Uprising" in 1900, the central government undertook some small steps in the direction of a reform. The state examinations should include practical science and were finally ended in 1905, ministries for finance and economy were created, and the target was a constitutional monarchy after the model of Japan, and in 1910 a national constitution was planned. But all these reformery undertakings came too late. The central government had shoven off the task of modernization to the provincial governors for too long, and these governors had not strength enough to modernize the whole empire of China. Modern offical explanations for Qing Chinas ruin include two reasons: the first reason is, of course, the economical exploitation by the imperialist powers that suppressed the birth of a Chinese capitalism; the second reason is seen in the fact that the late Qing government was not aware that deep changes had taken place in the Western world and that China could only encounter these challenges by modernizing its political and economical system, and that most people of the upper class did not give up the Confucian mentality that a morally exquisit ruler is able to cope with all internal and external problems.

The Boxer Rebellion

The so-called "Boxer Uprising" (Yihetuan 義和團 "Group for Justice and Peace" or Yihequan 義和拳 "Fists for ...") in 1900 originally was only one of many peasant uprisings that took place in the long history of China. The target of the rebelling proletariate was the actual government of China, the Manchu, and only later, the Qing government was able to redirect the movement against the foreigners. The "fist fighters" were able to occupy Beijing and Tianjin where they massacred Europeans and Christians. After they started besieging the European embassies, an international "Joint Army of the Eight Powers" Baguo Lianjun 八國聯軍 relieved Beijing. The Boxer Protocol (Xinchou Tiaoyue 辛丑條約 *Xinchou is the year) imposed a last heavy burden upon the Qing government that had fled to Xi'an during the assault of Beijing.
China seemed about to suffer the same fate as other countries in Africa and Asia: to be dismembered by the imperialist powers.

The Revolution of 1911

The Tongzhi Restauration after the Taiping catastrophy had helped the Qing government to survive. But during the second half of the 19th century, the real power in China had shifted to the local governors and from the higher gentry (estate owners) to the rich merchants. Internal wars and the efforts of people like Li Hongzhang had contributed to a militarization of the public. All these factors should prepare the time of political warlordism and social hopelessness in the first half of the 20th century. It was almost an accident that ended the Qing rule in 1911. Western ideas and solutions had long found their place in the heads of Chinese intellectuals. An immovable traditional Confucian government in Beijing that was inert to reformery thoughts helped to create groups of revolutionaries: force seemed to be the only way to get rid of the incrusted political system and to strengthen China against the foreign powers - althought there were also people like Liang Qichao who stressed that China would be by dismembered the imperialist powers in case of a revolution. Sun Yatsen (Mandarin: Sun Yixian 孫逸仙 che alled himself Sun Zhongshan 孫中山 "Nakayama" in the Japanese exile) understood himself as a professional revolutionary. He was Christian and had studied medicine. In his article "Three Principles of the People" (Sanminzhuyi 三民主義; a term that later became the catchword for his ideologly), nationalism, democracy and public welfare should be the guidelines for a political system of five powers: legislation, executive, jurisdiction, examination and censorial power. Sun's party Tongmenghui 同盟會 found their followers among intellectual, private entrepreneurs, and among the military. (Xinhai geming 辛亥革命... To be continued)

Map and Geography


Event History


Emperors and Rulers


Government and Administration


Literature and Philosophy


Religion


Technology and Inventions


Economy


Arts

  © 2000 ff · Ulrich Theobald · Mail