The Qing Dynasty 1644-1911

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Manchu chieftain Nurhaci is credited with organizing the Banner Armies that enabled his successors to overthrow the Ming Dynasty. Born in 1558/9, he united steppe nomad tribes beyond the Great Wall and established himself as the authority figure in Shenyang (formerly Mukden,) increasing his attacks on the Ming in 1618. Although he did not overthrow the dynasty, he renounced its sovereignty over his Jin domain. Historians generally acknowledge Nurhaci as the founding figure of the Qing Dynasty. Nurhaci/Nurhachi/Nurgaci took as his reign name Qing Taizu. His eighth son, Huang/Hong Taji, succeeded him and continued the depredations against the Ming.


Image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nurhaci >

Nurhaci organized his warriors into separate units who fought together under a colored banner, each comprising 7500 men (Zen Lee). After the establishment of the new dynasty in 1644, all Manchu men were required to enlist under one of the banners. The Banners came to represent administrative divisions in which all Manchu families were registered. At first Han Chinese were not allowed in the Banner Armies, as part of Qing efforts to maintain separation and superiority over their Han subjects. In their final iteration, the Banners constituted three "upper" banners responsible to the Emperor and and five "lower" banners responsible to various imperial princelings ("Eight Banners"). By the end of the Qing era, there were actually twenty-four Banners (Fairbank and Goldman 146).


Image source < http://www.chss.iup.edu/baumler/HIST_403_Nomads_and_China.html >

Huang/Hong Taiji (1626-1643) carried on the work begun by his father and undermined the ambitions of his half-brothers and other princes, using his own two Banner Armies as a base and perfecting the Banner system. Unlike his father, he quickly recognized the importance of modern firepower and incorporated artillery into the Banners. Although he didn't conquer Beijing, he announced his Qing (Pure) Dynasty and is considered the first Qing Emperor. He was enroute to the capital in 1643 when he died, possibly at the hands of one of his lieutenants ("Huang Taiji").


Image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Taiji >

The Shunzhi Emperor (1643-1661)was only a child when his father died, so he can't really be given credit for seizing Beijing, but he was the ruler in 1644 when the capital fell. Some historians refer to him as the first Qing emperor though not the founder of the dynasty. On his watch, so to speak, Prince Dorgon pronounced the imperial edict ordering all Han Chinese men to adopt Manchu dress and the queue as a sign of their subjugation ("Shunzhi Emperor"). When he came of age, the Shunzhi Emperor worked to incorporate Han Chinese into his administration and even had some limited contact with the Jesuits. His reign was cut short by his early death in 1661 at age 22, although there is speculation that he was murdered, or possibly that he became a Taoist monk.


Image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shunzhi_Emperor >

If you remember the heroic founder/great consolidator/golden age metaphor, the Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722) is considered one of China's greatest rulers and a pivotal figure at a pivotal time in its history. He consolidated o-p-u-p + s, completing the work of his Manchu forebears. He addressed himself to resolving three crucial challenges: controlling floods of the Yellow River, repairing the Grand Canal, crushing rebellion in the South ("Kangxi Emperor"). During his reign, China and Russia regularized their relations and boundaries with the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689. The Kangxi Emperor also worked to restore, resurrect Confucianism, the Confucian value system, and all that those values entailed. His "Sacred Edicts," issued in 1670, when he was only sixteen, illustrate both his determination to maintain o-p-u-p and to strengthen Confucianism.


Image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangxi_Emperor >

The Kangxi Emperor was determined to maintain order-peace-unity, and one of his tactics was to ensure the proper observance and practice of ritual and ceremony: the son must kowtow to his father as the subject must kowtow to his emperor. Proper conduct was essential to the social order. Like Louis XIV, his exact contemporary, the Kangxi Emperor was a stickler in his "daily solicitude for his mother and his performance of ceremonies for the reverence of his dynastic ancestors" (Fairbank and Goldman 154). Perhaps you remember his "Sacred Edicts," mentioned above as well as from C&C.


Image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangxi_Emperor>

Born 1678 and ascending the throne in 1722, Yinzhin took the reign name Yongzhen (Harmonious Justice) and ruled until his death in 1735. His father, the Kangxi Emperor ensured that the imperial princes had a solid education as well as practical experience outside of the Forbidden City. Yinzhin assumed command of the Plain Red Banner Army and held various administrative positions during his father's reign. When he became emperor in 1722, the Yongzhen Emperor required that his brothers and half-brothers perform the full kowtow to him, the "Three-Kneels and Nine-Salutes" ("Yongzhen Emperor"). Sibling relationships were not altogether friendly, as he removed them from their Banner armies, subjected some of them to house arrest or death under mysterious circumstances. His reign was cut short by his death from smallpox (though legends differ) at the age of fifty-eight. To preserve the succession for his son, Hongli, the Yongzhen Emperor had ordered his ambitious other son, Hongshi, to commit suicide.


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yongzheng>

An ominous blip on the Qing radar screen appeared during the reign of the Yongzhen Emperor as Europeans began to import opium into southern China, and he issued edicts to curtail its sale and possession. Used medicinally for pain relief, processed opium had been known since ancient times. The tragedy for China came when domestic production was outstripped by European imports of the highly addictive drug.

image source < http://www.ctrl.org/boodleboys/boddlesboys2.html >

 

Hongli was the fourth son of the Yongzhen Emperor, cherished and loved both by his father and his grandfather, the great Kangxi Emperor. He ascended the throne in 1735 at the age of twenty-four and took as his reign name and title Qianlong or Era of Heavenly Prosperity ("Qianlong Emperor"). An experienced military leader, the Qianlong Emperor (1735-1796) expanded Qing authority into non-Han territories such as present-day Xinjiang and Tibet; according to the tribute system, he also required that Burma and Nepal acknowledge Chinese hegemony. Later in his reign, however, he allowed discipline to lapse and local warlords to rise. By the end of his reign, the deadly trio of complacency, corruption, chaos began to rear their hydra heads. Historians comment that as he became more interested in the arts and life in the Forbidden City, he left his nation corrupt and vulnerable to uprisings such as the White Lotus Rebellion at the end of the 18th century.


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qianlong >

Over the course of his long reign, the Qianlong Emperor fought numerous wars and engaged in massive building and renovation projects, triggering, as historians now conclude, the beginning of Qing decline. As his reign progressed, the Qianlong Emperor became increasingly conservative and complacent, spending more time writing poetry and collecting porcelain. Power devolved into the hands of his chief minister Heshen. During the 18th century, the Europeans, especially the British, pressured the Qianlong Emperor to establish diplomatic relations and open up China to trade. He, however, persisted in referring to the Europeans as "barbarians" and requiring that they perform the full kowtow in his presence ("Qianlong Emperor"). Although he continued to rule behind the scenes, he abdicated in 1796 so as not to reign longer than his esteemed grandfather. This act was much admired in its demonstration of filial piety.


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qianlong>

George, 1st Earl Macartney, led the fateful expedition, the Macartney Embassy, to China in 1793, with the hope of opening China--beyond Canton/Guanzhou and Macao--to British trade and for the two nations to establish formal diplomatic relations. Historians comment that recalcitrance on both sides, British and Chinese, meant that no accommodation was reached. Lord Macartney refused to accept tributary status or to perform the kowtow. The court of the Qianlong Emperor refused to open his nation to broader European commerce and wrote a letter to King George III refusing the terms of the Macartney Embassy. Neither side addressed the opium issue at that time.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Macartney,_1st_Earl_Macartney >

 

The Jiaqing Emperor (1795-1820) actually took de facto control of power in 1799 when his father died. He moved quickly to try to arrest the creeping complacency and corruption of his father's last years by stripping the hated Heshen of his various titles and ordering him to commit suicide. Heshen had demonstrated his venality in amassing a huge fortune and then experienced military defeat at the hands of the White Lotus rebels. The Jiaqing Emperor quickly dumped Heshen and initiated an energetic pacifiation policy, that was considered successful by 1804 (Wertz). He also faced a burgeoning financial crisis in the draining of specie from the imperial treasury and the growing opium trade in the South. By the end of his reign, Europeans were importing 4000 opium chests per year into southern China ("Daoguang Emperor").


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiaqing_Emperor >

The situation in China went from bad to worse during the reign of the Daoguang Emperor (1820-1850.) Although as a boy he fought bravely against White Lotus rebels, he could not halt the accelerating decline of Qing China. By this time, the Europeans, mainly but not only the British, were funneling 30,000 opium chests into China annually ("Daoguang Emperor"). From his pen and his court, a plethora of edicts flowed outlawing the sale and possession. He sent Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu to enforce his decrees, leading to the First Opium War, military defeat, and the humiliating Treaty of Nanking/Nanjing in 1842. Historians comment that the Daoguang Emperor died not fully understanding the scale and scope of what was happening to China, indeed, could not locate Britain on a map ("Daoguang Emperor").


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daoguang >

Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu, an experienced and honest scholar-bureaucrat, did his best (or worst from the British perspective) to follow the instructions of the Daoguang Emperor. He arrested opium traffickers, confiscated opium pipes, seized and destroyed hundreds (perhaps thousands ) of opium chests. He wrote a famous letter or memorial to Queen Victoria urging--even begging--her to cooperate in curtailing the iniquitous trade in opium. His determined efforts had no impact on her (if, indeed, she read the letter) but did provoke British retaliation in the First Opium War (1839-1842) and the disastrous Treaty of Nanking/Nanjiing ("Lin Zexu").

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lin_Zexu >

 

Ascending the throne at the age of nineteen in 1850, Yizhu took the reign name Xianfeng (Universal Prosperity)--a misnomer if ever there was one. Not only did the Europeans encroach every more obnoxiously into China, but he faced the gigantic Taiping Heavenly Kingdom rebellion, as well as uprisings in Islamic areas. The Taiping Rebellion lasted almost twenty years and claimed, according to some estimates, thirty million lives (Hooker). See handouts for details of the Taipings. The Xianfeng Emperor, with his imperial concubine (of whom more later) fled the Summer Palace as the Europeans sacked it in the Second Opium War and forced him to agree to the Second (Unequal) Treaty Settlement. His unhappy reign ended with his death in 1861 at the age of thirty.


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor_Xianfeng >

Zaichun was the only surviving son of the Xianfeng Emperor and Concubine Yi, known as the Empress Dowager Cixi after 1861. His mother named his reign Tongzhi (1861-1875,) which means something like "to reform/restore to a state of order" ("Tongzhi Emperor"). It was she who exercised the real authority during his brief reign. Only five at the year of his accession, he died of smallpox at the age of nineteen in 1875. Cixi, according to some historians, encouraged the drug addiction and sexual excesses that led to his early death. He left no surviving sons.


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongzhi_Emperor >

Zaitian, only four at the time of his accession in 1875, was not the son of the Xianfeng Emperor by empress, consort or concubine. Instead, he was the son of Empress Dowager Cixi's younger sister by Prince Chun. A cabal at court, led by her, named him heir and successor. The Empress Dowager quickly adopted him, named his reign Guangxu (Glorious Succession,) and continued to exercise authority and power throughout most of his sad reign ("Guangxu Emperor"). Cixi saw to it that the young emperor (1875-1908) had a good education, including tutors with knowledge of the West. She announced his majority and her "retirement" in 1898, whereupon the Guangxu Emperor, with his friend and advisor, Kang Youwei, proclaimed a series of economic, political, social, and other reforms, in some ways similar to what the Meiji reformers had done a generation earlier in Japan. The vested interests were outraged and turned to the Empress Dowager. Fearing a coup d'état, the Guangxu Emperor sent a trusted general, Yuan Shikai, to arrest her. He, alas, "turned his coat" and participated in the arrest and imprisonment of the young emperor on a small island inside the Forbidden City, where he spent the remainder of his life, dying there in 1908 at the age of thirty-seven.


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guangxu_Emperor >

And now, the "Old Buddha," who exercised power (behind the scenes or not) from her coup in 1861 until her death in 1908. Beginning her career as Concubine Yi to the Xianfeng Emperor, she completely dominated her son, the Tongzhi Emperor and her nephew, the Guangxi Emperor, securing the appointment of Puyi, "The Last Emperor" just prior to her death in 1908. Her rise to prominence began with the birth of her son, Zaichun, by the Xianfeng Emperor (1855,) the future Tongzhi Emperor (1861-1875.) She plotted with the imperial princes, Gong and Chun (sons of the Daoguang Emperor) in the "Xinyou Coup" to precipitate herself to power ("Empress Dowager Cixi"). Together they acquiesced to the demands of the Second Treaty Settlement and moved to reform and crush the Taipings. It was Cixi who sought out and elevated Han Chinese advisors (Li Hongzhang, Zuo Zontang, Zeng Guofan) during the Self-Strengthening Movement, although she herself remained venal and corrupt. She continued to manipulate and exercise power and in 1898 conspired with conservative generals Ronglu and Yuan Shikai to thwart the 100 Days Reform. Although his reign name continued until his death in 1908, the Guangxu Emperor spent the last decade of his life isolated on an island in the grounds of the Forbidden City.


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empress_Dowager_Cixi >

One of the legends surrounding the era of Cixi is that she squandered vast sums of money that had been earmarked for modernization, especially of the military to build an exquisitely beautiful marble "boat" or pavillion in the grounds of the Summer Palace. Blame for defeat in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-5,) the failure of the 100 Days, the humiliation of the Boxer Uprising may all, at least to a certain extent, be placed at Cixi's feet!

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The Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1900 presented the Empress Dowager with her next challenge. Originally anti-Qing as well as anti-foreign and anti-Christian, the Boxers began their rampage in northern China in 1899. Cixi channeled their rage to suit her own purposes and "threw her lot in with the rebels" as they beseiged the Legation Quarter of Beijing in the summer of 1900. Her troops and the rag-tag Boxers were no match for the technologically superior Eight Nation Alliance that fought their way from Tianjian to the capital ("Empress Dowager"). An American artist, Katherine Carl, painted the portrait of the Empress Dowager in 1903, five years before her death. The current historical verdict on the Empress Dowager is mixed, though many historians consider her China's "evil genius."


image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empress_Dowager_Cixi>

The "Last Emperor," Puyi was born in 1906 and selected by the Empress Dowager to rule after her death (and, incidentally, after the death of the Guangxu Emperor.) His complicated geneology--great grandson of the Daoguang Emperor, though not a direct descendant of the Xianfeng, Tongzhi, or Guangxu Emperors--and close ties to Cixi's family and supporters led to her "deathbed" announcement of his succession in 1908. His short rule as Xuantong Emperor lasted from 1908 to 1911. His tragic life has been memorialized in the film, The Last Emperor. He was only a child when the Revolution replaced the Qing dynasty with the Republic in 1911. Its rulers provided Puyi with a stipend and apartments in both the Forbidden City and Summer Palace. In March, 1932, the Japanese made him Emperor of Manchukuo, where he was their puppet until 1945. When the communists came to power in 1949, they sent him to be re-educated; he spent the remaining years of his life working in the Beijing Botanical Gardens and died in 1967.

image source < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puyi >

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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< http://www.chss.iup.edu/baumler/HIST_403_Nomads_and_China.html >

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< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daoguang >

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Fairbank, John King and Merle Goldman. China: A New History. Cambridge and London:
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< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Macartney,_1st_Earl_Macartney >

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Hooker, Richard. "The Taiping Rebellion." Ch'ing China [sic] Online Available.
< http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/CHING/TAIPING.HTM >

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< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Taiji >

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< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiaqing_Emperor >

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< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangxi_Emperor >

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< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lin_Zexu >

Milligan, Kris. "The Opium Poppy." "The Opium Wars." The Boodle Boys. Online Available.
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< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nurhaci >

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< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qianlong >

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