The Last Dynasty of China

The Qing Dynasty

The Qing dynasty was China’s final imperial dynasty. It lasted from the years 1644 to 1912. It was a time noted for its growth and boisterous final years. The period was also noted for not being under the Han’s rule for the second time.

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Establishment of the Qing Dynasty

The Qing dynasty was established in the year 1636 by the Manchus. This was to label their rule in Manchuria – today’s Northeast Region of China.

In 1644, the capital at Beijing was occupied by the rebel leader named Ali Zicheng. Here, desperate Ming officials called on the Manchus for help.

Of course, the Manchus took advantage of the situation. They seized the capital then established their dynasty in the country.

They adopted Ming’s form of government then continued to employ officials from the Ming. Soon, the Manchus pacified the Chinese successfully.

Emperor Kangxi

Kangxi was an emperor who ruled for 61 years. His reign lasted from the years 1654 to 1722 – the longest of all Chinese emperors. He was able to oversee different cultural leaps like the creation of dictionaries.

This emperor considered the uniformity of the Han language. He then made the most extensive map of China. He decreased taxes and prevented corruption and government excess.

Emperor Kangxi also enacted policies that were beneficial to farmers and halted land seizures. He trimmed down the number of his staff, as well as his expenditures. He was able to squash military threats.

He succeeded pushing back three rebellions of the Han, even seizing Taiwan. He also prevented the constant invasion attempts of Tsarist Russia. He successfully brokered the Nerchinsk treaty in the year 1689. This brought about a wide area of Siberia into the control of the Chinese. It allowed him to stop the rebellions in Mongolia.

Native plants to Americans like potatoes and corn, were introduced during his rule. Food was also abundant during his rule. He saw the explosion in exports of cotton, ceramics, silk, and tea.

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Ancient China

Emperor Qianlong

Emperor Qianlong rose up to the throne in the year 1735. He reigned for a total of 60 years. He was not a dynamic ruler, and his control displayed his disinterest in governing.

The Emperor was more interested with artistic pursuits. He was able to publish more than 42,000 poems and added these, by hand, to pieces of historical artworks. Although he loved the craft, he was not considered as someone very talented.

Emperor Qianlong was a man obsessed with maintaining the Manchu culture. Here, he enacted genealogy and dictionary projects to the end. He also believed that the sorcerers were aiming for Manchurians. This is why he established a system of torture to prevent this.

While at it, he aimed to create a program where thousands of Chinese books were destroyed. These were ruined when even the slightest criticism of Manchurians were present.

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The Empress

Empress Dowager Cixi

Imperial China ended due to the influence of Empress Dowager Cixi. She was the widow of Emperor Xian Feng who ruled the country from the years 1851 to 1861. Ci Xi was her infant son’s regent from 1862 to 1874. She eventually became the regent of her 3 year old nephew, Guang Xu.

Guan Xu ruled for 46 years together with Empress Dowager Cixi but she was considered as the true power behind the throne. In 1898, Guan Xu attempted to take the role of reformer, thus, attempted to modernize the country. His efforts were, unfortunately, quelled by Ci Xi after only a couple of months.

This led Guang Xu to seek the help of an army general who later betrayed him. He was soon under house arrest under Ci Xi’s orders. She also had Guang Xu’s fellow reformers executed.

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Statuses in society

Based on the statute, the Qing was categorized into closed estates of five. Aside from the estates of officials, small aristocracy and degree-holding literati were present. There were also primary divisions among the ordinary people. It was between people with inferior status and commoners.

There were two categories namely the good commoners and the mean people. The latter were called servile and debased. Most of the population belonged to the first division and described as Liangmin. It was a legal term that meant good people which opposed Jianmin which meant ignoble people.

The laws of Qing stated that the classic four occupational groups were good. This consisted of scholars, artisans, farmers, and merchants. Bond-servants or slaves, entertainers including actors and prostitutes, were the mean people.

The mean people were inferior to commoners and endured unequal treatments. They were also forbidden to take the imperial examination. Furthermore, they were not allowed to marry free commoners. These people had to acknowledge their disgrace in society via actions like bowing.

Yet throughout the Qing, the emperor aimed to lessen this distinction. Unfortunately, he was not able to succeed even during the end of its period in merging the classes.

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White Lotus Rebellion

This was a rebellion proposed by the advocates of the White Lotus movement.

This rebellion started in the year 1794 when groups of rebels came from the mountain regions. This area divided the Sichuan province from the Shaan Xi and Hubei provinces.

A much smaller precursor to the primary rebellion broke out. It was under the lead of Wang Lung, a herbal healing and martial arts expert.

This rebellion was quelled by the government but still marked a turning point in this dynasty’s history. Their control eventually weakened and their prosperity dropped. The rebellion caused the death of about 100,000 rebels.

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“We have only one thing to learn from the barbarians, and that is strong ships and effective guns.”

~ Feng Guifen, 1861

The Opium Wars

The 19th century had a few military disputes between China and the West. One of the first issues was the Opium Wars of 1840. This was a two-year concern pitting China against Great Britain during the course of time.

Opium was earlier used as medicine in China. Yet by the 18th century, it became popular in a recreational manner. Following its Indian conquest, Britain cultivated then exported the drug to China. They generally flooded the country with opium.

This followed an addiction crisis so a ban was strictly tried and smoking the drug was outlawed. Yet the British traders collaborated with the black market to bypass the law. Military confrontation was likely then British forces soon closed the Chinese ports. With some adjustments during negotiations, China had to give up Hong Kong to the British.

There was a second Opium War waged in the years 1856 to 1860. This was now against the British and French who brought more unequal agreements. Christian missionaries could flood the country, while western businessmen freely opened factories there.

Ports were usually leased to foreign powers which let them operate within China. They did things according to their laws, thus, caused the rise of opium addiction.

Taiping Rebellion

Internal military and political threats caused more instability for the government. The White Lotus group was controlled after eight long years. Despite this, the Eight Trigrams sect rose in the year 1813.

They took a couple of cities and entered the Forbidden City. This was before they were successfully defeated by the Qing.

The deadliest was the Taiping Rebellion which lasted from the years 1850 to 1864. Put into motion by Hong Xiu Quan, Nanjing was occupied by the rebels for a decade. He was a fanatic of Christian religion and the rebellion took the lives of 20 million Chinese.

Boxer Protocol

The Rebellion

This Boxer Rebellion started in the year 1899. It was the works of the secret society called the Harmonious Fist. They seized the Christian missionaries’ property, attracted militant followers, then attacked cities. They aimed to attack and kill foreigners in the area.

Because of this, western countries sent their troops to quell the rebellion. Yet Empress Dowager chose to side with the Boxers and called war on the West. However, the imperial army and the Boxers were defeated in the year 1901. They executed government officials who supported the Boxers.

Sanctions were imposed that weakened the Qing’s rule. This was after the death of Empress Dowager in 1908. Xuantong, referred to as the last emperor, took the throne but did not rule long.

The government agreed to sign the Boxer Protocol. After this, they commenced unprecedented administrative and fiscal reforms. These included a new legal code, elections, and the elimination of the examination system.

Sun Yat-sen and other revolutionaries contested with Liang Qichao and Kang Yowei. These two were constitutional monarchists. This was to turn the Qing Empire into a modern nation. The incident took place after Cixi and the Guangxu Emperor had died in 1908.

The irreconcilable Manchu court estranged local elites and reformers. The social reform was obstructed. On the 11th of October 1911, the Wuchang Uprising led to the Xinhai Revolution. General Yuan Shikai discussed the resignation of the last emperor Puyi.

Arts in the Qing Dynasty

The shift to conservatism showed through the arts. There was a turn against stage plays and literature that were suspected to be subversive. Those books were banned and theaters closed.

The previous members of the Ming clan, Shi Tao and Zhu Da, became monks. This was to flee from governmental roles in the Qing Empire. Instead, they became painters.

Zhu Da welcomed the silence as he wandered across the country. He depicted landscapes and nature with a manic fashion. Shi Tao is known to be an artistic rule breaker. He had the Impressionist-style strokes and illustrations that preceded surrealism.

Literature in the Qing Dynasty

Literary works during the Qing Dynasty was similar to the previous Ming Dynasty. It centered on classical forms.

In the 18th century, the Manchu organized a literary investigation. Its purpose was to eliminate subversive writings. Those suspected were destroyed. Its authors were exiled, jailed, or killed.

Novels about romance and adventure that were in the vernacular underwent considerable development.  In the mid-19th century, the Chinese ports opened to international commerce. After this, a lot of foreign works were translated to Chinese.

Development in Music during the Qing Dynasty

The most remarkable development of the Qing Empire in terms of music was the Peking opera or Jingxi. This was highly popular throughout several decades around the 18th century’s end.

The style was a combination of a few regional music theater traditions and the accompaniment of instruments. These included the plucked lute, flute, clappers, and a double-reed wind instrument. Several drums, gongs, and cymbals were also used.

Jingxi uses lesser melodies than other forms. Instead, these are repeated with different lyrics. It is believed to have acquired stature through the patronage of Empress Dowager Cixi. It had also become extremely popular with commoners.

Conservatism in the Qing Dynasty

Social practices became more conservative during the Qing Empire. Homosexuals had worsened punishment. The purity in women increased in demand and most men refused to marry widows. This resulted in more widows committing suicide.

During this time, homes for widows were also made to welcome widowers. Interaction with men became limited in these homes.

Despite conservatism on the lead, it seemed like a lot of artists of the dynasty were innovative and unique. According to the dicta of an artist critic during the late Ming Empire, Qing painters are individualist masters. Some famous painters were Zhi Da and Daoji. There were also schools of painting that shared a common location instead of a similar style.

Most artists during the time strongly preferred literati painting or Wenrenhua. This emphasized personal expression above anything else.

Fall of the Qing Dynasty

The Qing Dynasty fell in 1911. A revolution that began since 1894 overthrew the empire that began in 1894. This was the time when Sun Zhongshan formed the Revive China Society in Hawaii and in Hong Kong. He was a western-educated revolutionary.

In 1905, Sun unified various revolutionary divisions into one party. He gained assistance from the Japanese and wrote the manifesto. This was the Three Principles of the People.

In 1911, China’s Nationalist Party instigated a revolt in Wuchang. Qing soldiers assisted the Nationalist Party. 15 provinces proclaimed their independence from the empire.

Within a few weeks, the Qing court ratified the establishment of a republic. Yuan Shikai, the dynasty’s top general, became the president.

Xuantog stepped down from the throne in 1912. At the same time, Sun was making a provisional constitution for the new nation. This led to political turmoil that centered on Yuan which lasted for years.

In 1917, an attempt to restore the Qing Empire with Xuantog failed. This was during a military coup and lasted for less than two weeks.

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