Checked content

Qing Dynasty

Related subjects: General history

About this schools Wikipedia selection

SOS Children made this Wikipedia selection alongside other schools resources. Visit the SOS Children website at

Great Qing
Daicing gurun.svg




" Gong Jin'ou"
("Cup of Solid Gold")
The Qing Empire in 1890.
Capital Beijing
Languages Mandarin Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian, Tibetan, Turki ( Modern Uighur), numerous regional languages and dialects of Chinese
Religion Heaven worship, Shamanism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Christianity, Chinese folk religion, others
Government Absolute monarchy
 -  1644–1661 Shunzhi Emperor
 -  1908–1912 Xuantong Emperor
 -  1908–1912 Empress Dowager Longyu
Prime Minister
 -  1911 Yikuang
 -  1911–1912 Yuan Shikai
Historical era Imperial era
 -  Collapse of the Ming 25 April 1644
 -  Battle of Shanhai Pass 27 May 1644
 -  Sino-Japanese War 1 Aug 1894–17 Apr 1895
 -  Wuchang Uprising 10 October 1911
 -  Xinhai Revolution 12 February 1912
 -  1760 est. 13,150,000 km² (5,077,243 sq mi)
 -  1790 est. (incl. vassals) 14,700,000 km² (5,675,702 sq mi)
 -  1740 est. 140,000,000 
 -  1776 est. 268,238,000 
 -  1790 est. 301,000,000 
Currency Tael (Tls.)
Today part of  China
 North Korea
Qing Dynasty
Chinese name
Empire of the Great Qing
Traditional Chinese 帝國
Simplified Chinese 帝国
Postal Map Ta-Tsing Empire
Later Jin Dynasty
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Manchu name
Manchu Daicing gurun.svg (Daicing Gurun)

Amaga aisin gurun1.png (Amaga Aisin Gurun)

History of China
History of China
3 Sovereigns and 5 Emperors
Xia Dynasty 2100–1600 BCE
Shang Dynasty 1600–1046 BCE
Zhou Dynasty 1045–256 BCE
  Western Zhou
  Eastern Zhou
    Spring and Autumn period
    Warring States period
Qin Dynasty 221 BCE–206 BCE
Han Dynasty 206 BCE–220 CE
  Western Han
  Xin Dynasty
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei, Shu and Wu
Jin Dynasty 265–420
  Western Jin 16 Kingdoms
  Eastern Jin
Southern and Northern Dynasties
Sui Dynasty 581–618
Tang Dynasty 618–907
  ( Second Zhou 690–705)
5 Dynasties and
10 Kingdoms

Liao Dynasty
Song Dynasty
  Northern Song W. Xia
  Southern Song Jin
Yuan Dynasty 1271–1368
Ming Dynasty 1368–1644
Qing Dynasty 1644–1911
Republic of China 1912–1949
People's Republic
of China

Republic of
China (Taiwan)


The Qing Dynasty, also Empire of the Great Qing or Great Qing, was the last imperial dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912 with a brief, abortive restoration in 1917. It was preceded by the Ming Dynasty and followed by the Republic of China.

The dynasty was founded by the Jurchen Aisin Gioro clan in contemporary Northeastern China. The Aisin Gioro leader, Nurhachi, who was originally a vassal of the Ming emperors, began unifying the Jurchen clans in the late sixteenth century. By 1635, Nurhachi's son Hong Taiji could claim they constituted a single and united Manchu people and began forcing the Ming out of Liaoning in southern Manchuria. In 1644, the Ming capital Beijing was sacked by a peasant revolt led by Li Zicheng, a former minor Ming official who became the leader of the peasant revolt, who then proclaimed the Shun dynasty. The last Ming ruler, the Chongzhen Emperor, committed suicide when the city fell. When Li Zicheng moved against Ming general Wu Sangui, the latter made an alliance with the Manchus and opened the Shanhai Pass to the Manchurian army. Under Prince Dorgon, they seized control of Beijing and overthrew Li Zicheng's short-lived Shun Dynasty. Complete pacification of China was accomplished around 1683 under the Kangxi Emperor.

Over the course of its reign, the Qing became highly integrated with Chinese culture. The imperial examinations continued and Han civil servants administered the empire alongside Manchu ones. The Qing reached its height under the Qianlong Emperor in the eighteenth century, expanding beyond China's prior and later boundaries. Imperial corruption exemplified by the minister Heshen and a series of rebellions, natural disasters, and defeats in wars against European powers gravely weakened the Qing during the nineteenth century. " Unequal Treaties" provided for extraterritoriality and removed large areas of treaty ports from Chinese sovereignty. The government attempts to modernize during the Self-Strengthening Movement in the late 19th century yielded few lasting results. Losing the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 was a watershed for the Qing government and the result demonstrated that reform had modernized Japan significantly since the Meiji Restoration in 1867, especially as compared with the Self-Strengthening Movement in China.

The 1911 Wuchang Uprising of the New Army ended with the overthrow of the Empress Dowager Longyu and the infant Puyi on February 12, 1912. Despite the declaration of the Republic of China, the generals would continue to fight amongst themselves for the next several decades during the Warlord Era. Puyi was briefly restored to power in Beijing by Zhang Xun in July 1917, and in Manchukuo by the Japanese between 1932 and 1945.


Both in honour of the earlier Jurchen Jin dynasty in the 12-13th century and his Aisin Gioro clan (Aisin being the Manchu for the Chinese 金 (jīn, "gold")) Nurhachi originally named his state the Great Jin (lit "Gold") dynasty, afterwards called the Later Jin Dynasty by historians. His son Hong Taiji renamed the dynasty Great Qing (lit "Clarity") in 1636. The name "Qing" was selected in reaction to the name of the Ming Dynasty ( 明) which consists of the characters for "sun" ( 日) and "moon" ( 月), both associated with the fire element. The character Qing ( 清) is composed of "water" ( 氵) and "azure" ( 青), both associated with the water element. This association would explain the Qing conquest through defeat of fire by water. The water imagery of the new name may also have had Buddhist overtones of perspicacity and enlightenment and connections with the Bodhisattva Manjusri.

The state was known internationally as China, or the Chinese Empire and considered to comprise China proper or the Eighteen provinces, Chinese Tartary, Chinese Turkestan, and Tibet. It was also known in the romanization of the time as the Ta Tsing Empire from the Chinese for "Empire of the Great Qing" ( 帝国, p Dà Qīng Dìguó).


Formation of the Manchu state

An Italian map showing the "Kingdom of the Nüzhen" or the " Jin Tartars", who "have occupied and are at present ruling China", north of Liaodong and Korea, published in 1682

The Qing Dynasty was founded not by Han Chinese, who form the majority of the Chinese population, but by a semi-sedentary people known as the Jurchen, a Tungusic people who lived around the region now comprising the Chinese provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang. What was to become the Manchu state was founded by Nurhachi, the chieftain of a minor Jurchen tribe – the Aisin Gioro – in Jianzhou in the early 17th century. Originally a vassal of the Ming emperors, Nurhachi embarked on an inter-tribal feud in 1582 that escalated into a campaign to unify the nearby tribes. By 1616, he had sufficiently consolidated Jianzhou so as to be able to proclaim himself Khan of the Great Jin in reference to the previous Jurchen dynasty.

Two years later, Nurhachi announced the " Seven Grievances" and openly renounced the sovereignty of Ming overlordship in order to complete the unification of those Jurchen tribes still allied with the Ming emperor. After a series of successful battles, he relocated his capital from Hetu Ala to successively bigger captured Ming cities in Liaodong Province: first Liaoyang in 1621, then Shenyang (Mukden) in 1625.

Relocating his court from Jianzhou to Liaodong provided Nurhachi access to more resources; it also brought him in close contact with the Mongol domains on the plains of Mongolia. Although by this time the once-united Mongol nation had long since fragmented into individual and hostile tribes, these tribes still presented a serious security threat to the Ming borders. Nurhachi's policy towards the Mongols was to seek their friendship and cooperation against the Ming, securing his western border from a powerful potential enemy.

Furthermore, the Mongols proved a useful ally in the war, lending the Jurchens their expertise as cavalry archers. To cement this new alliance, Nurhachi initiated a policy of inter-marriages between the Jurchen and Mongol nobilities, while those who resisted were met with military action. This is a typical example of Nurhachi's initiatives that eventually became official Qing government policy. During most of the Qing Dynasty time, the Mongols gave military assistance to the Manchus.

Some of Nurhachi's other important contributions include ordering the creation of a written Manchu script based on the Mongolian so as to avoid the earlier Jurchen script which had been derived from Khitan and Chinese and the creation of the civil and military administrative system which eventually evolved into the Eight Banners, the defining element of Manchu identity and the foundation for transforming the loosely knitted Jurchen tribes into a nation.

Qing Dynasty era brush container

Nurhachi's unbroken series of military successes came to an end in January 1626 when he was defeated by Yuan Chonghuan while laying siege to Ningyuan. He died a few months later and was succeeded by his eighth son, Hong Taiji, who emerged after a short political struggle amongst other potential contenders as the new Khan.

Although Hong Taiji was an experienced leader and the commander of two Banners at the time of his succession, his reign did not start well on the military front. The Jurchens suffered yet another defeat in 1627 at the hands of Yuan Chonghuan. As before, this defeat was, in part, due to Ming's newly acquired Portuguese cannons.

To redress the technological and numerical disparity, Hong Taiji in 1634 created his own artillery corps, the ujen chooha, Chinese: 軍 from among his existing Han troops who cast their own cannons in the European design with the help of captured Chinese metallurgists. In 1635, the Manchus' Mongol allies were fully incorporated into a separate Banner hierarchy under direct Manchu command. Hong Taiji then proceeded in 1636 to invade Korea again.

This was followed by the creation of the first two Han Banners in 1637 (increasing to eight in 1642). Together these military reforms enabled Hong Taiji to resoundingly defeat Ming forces in a series of battles from 1640 to 1642 for the territories of Songshan and Jingzhou. This final victory resulted in the surrender of many of the Ming Dynasty's most battle-hardened troops, the death of Yuan Chonghuan at the hands of the Chongzhen Emperor (who thought Yuan had betrayed him), and the complete and permanent withdrawal of the remaining Ming forces north of the Great Wall.

Meanwhile, Hong Taiji set up a rudimentary bureaucratic system based on the Ming model. He established six boards or executive level ministries in 1631 to oversee finance, personnel, rites, military, punishments, and public works. However, these administrative organs had very little role initially, and it was not until the eve of completing the conquest some ten years later that they filled out their government roles.

Hong Taiji's bureaucracy was staffed with many Han Chinese, including many newly surrendered Ming officials. The Manchus' continued dominance was ensured by an ethnic quota for top bureaucratic appointments. Hong Taiji's reign also saw a fundamental change of policy towards his Han Chinese subjects. Whereas under Nurhachi all captured Han Chinese were seen as potential fifth columnists for the Ming and treated as chattel – including those who eventually held important government posts – Hong Taiji instead incorporated them into the Jurchen "nation" as full (if not first-class) citizens, obligated to provide military service. By 1648, less than one-sixth of the bannermen were of Manchu ancestry.

This change of policy not only increased Hong Taiji's manpower and reduced his military dependence on banners not under his personal control, it also greatly encouraged other Han Chinese subjects of the Ming Dynasty to surrender and accept Jurchen rule when they were defeated militarily. Through these and other measures Hong Taiji was able to centralize power unto the office of the Khan, which in the long run prevented the Jurchen federation from fragmenting after his death.

One of the defining events of Hong Taiji's reign was the official adoption of the name "Manchu" for the united Jurchen people in November, 1635. The next year, when he is said to be presented with the imperial seal of the Yuan Dynasty after the defeat of the last Khagan of the Mongols, Hong Taiji renamed his state from "Great Jin" to "Great Qing" and elevated his position from Khan to Emperor, suggesting imperial ambitions beyond unifying the Manchu territories.

Claiming the Mandate of Heaven

Pine, Plum and Cranes, 1759 AD, by Shen Quan (1682–1760). Hanging scroll, ink and colour on silk. The Palace Museum, Beijing.

Hong Taiji died suddenly in September 1643 without a designated heir. As the Jurchens had traditionally "elected" their leader through a council of nobles, the Qing state did not have in place a clear succession system until the reign of the Kangxi Emperor. The leading contenders for power at this time were Hong Taiji's oldest son Hooge and Hong Taiji's agnate half brother Dorgon. In the ensuing political impasse between the two bitter political rivals, a compromise candidate in the person of Hong Taiji's five-year-old son Fulin, was installed as the Shunzhi Emperor, with Dorgon as regent and de facto leader of the Manchu nation.

The Manchus' archenemy, the Ming Dynasty, was fighting for its own survival against a long peasant rebellion and was unable to capitalise on the Qing court's political uncertainty over the succession dispute and installation of a minor as emperor. The Ming Dynasty's internal crisis came to a head in April 1644, when the capital at Beijing was sacked by a coalition of rebel forces led by Li Zicheng, a former minor Ming official who became the leader of the peasant revolt and established a short-lived Shun Dynasty. The last Ming ruler, the Chongzhen Emperor, committed suicide when the city fell, marking the official end of the dynasty.

After easily taking Beijing, Li Zicheng led a coalition of rebel forces numbering 200,000 to confront Wu Sangui, the general commanding the Ming garrison at Shanhai Pass. Shanhai Pass is a pivotal pass of the Great Wall, located fifty miles northeast of Beijing, and for years its defenses were what kept the Manchus from directly raiding the Ming capital. Wu Sangui, caught between a rebel army twice his size and a foreign enemy he had fought for years, decided to cast his lot with the Manchus with whom he was familiar, and made an alliance with Dorgon to fight the rebels.

Some sources suggested that Wu Sangui's actions were influenced by news of mistreatment of his family and his concubine Chen Yuanyuan at the hands of the rebels when the capital fell. Regardless of the actual reasons for his decision, this awkward and some would say cynical alliance between Wu Sangui and his former sworn enemy was ironically made in the name of avenging the death of the Chongzhen Emperor. Together, the two former enemies met and defeated Li Zicheng's rebel forces in battle on May 27, 1644.

After routing Li Zicheng's forces, the Manchus captured Beijing on June 6, where the Shunzhi Emperor was installed as the "Son of Heaven" on October 30. The Manchus who had positioned themselves as political heir to the Ming emperor by defeating Li Zicheng, completed the symbolic act of transition by holding a formal funeral for the Chongzhen Emperor. However the process of conquering the rest of China took another seventeen years of battling Ming loyalists, pretenders and rebels.

It also involved huge loss of life, including the infamous Yangzhou massacre of 1645, when a ten-day rampage by troops in the city with the permission of Prince Dodo resulted in an estimated 800,000 deaths. The last Ming pretender, Prince Gui, sought refuge with the King of Burma, but was turned over to a Qing expeditionary army commanded by Wu Sangui, who had him brought back to Yunnan province and executed in early 1662.

A Chinese paddle-wheel driven ship from a Qing Dynasty encyclopedia published in 1726.

The first seven years of the Shunzhi Emperor's reign were dominated by the regent prince Dorgon, who, because of his own political insecurity within the Manchu power structure, followed Hong Taiji's example of centralizing power under his own control in the name of the emperor at the expense of other contending Manchu princes, many of whom eventually were demoted or imprisoned under one pretext or another. Although the period of his regency was relatively short, Dorgon cast a long shadow over the Qing Dynasty.

Firstly the Manchus were able to enter "China proper" only because of Dorgon's timely decision to act on Wu Sangui's appeal for military assistance. After capturing Beijing instead of sacking the city as the rebels had done before them, Dorgon insisted over the protests of other Manchu princes on making it Qing's capital and largely reappointed Ming officials to their posts. Setting the Qing capital in Beijing may seem a straightforward move in hindsight, but it was then an act of innovation because historically no major Chinese dynasty had ever directly taken over its immediate predecessor's capital. Keeping the Ming capital and bureaucracy intact helped quickly stabilize the country and greatly sped up the Manchu process of conquest. However, not all of Dorgon's policies were equally popular nor easily implemented.

One of Dorgon's most controversial decisions was his July 1645 edict (the "haircutting order") that forced all adult Han Chinese men to shave the front of their heads and comb the remaining hair into a queue, on pain of death. The slogan of the order is: "To keep the hair, you lose the head; To keep your head, you cut the hair." To the Manchus, this policy was a test of loyalty and an aid in distinguishing friend from foe. For the Han Chinese, however, it was a humiliating reminder of Qing authority that challenged traditional Confucian values. The Classic of Filial Piety (Xiaojing 孝經) states that "a person's body and hair, being gifts from one's parents, are not to be damaged" (身體髮膚,受之父母,不敢毀傷). Under the Ming Dynasty, adult men did not cut their hair but instead wore it in the form of a top-knot. Before capturing Beijing, the Later Jin government implemented a mandatory shaving of the hair in Liaodong in the early 1620s, which led to a rebellion of the Han Chinese of this area in 1622 and 1625, resulting in the death of more than 500,000 people and a stricter separation between Han Chinese and Manchus such as prohibition of intermarriage.

The 1645 order was so deeply unpopular that it triggered strong resistance to Qing rule in Jiangnan until at least the late 1640s, resulting in massive killing of ethnic Han Chinese in this area. One well documented massacre was the triple massacres at Jiading, in which Li Chengdong, a Han Chinese general who previously served the Ming Dynasty but later surrendered to the Qing, ordered troops to carry out three separate massacres on the Jiading inhabitants within a month, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths. At the end of the third massacre, there was hardly any living person left in this city.

On December 31, 1650, Dorgon suddenly died during a hunting expedition, marking the official start of the Shunzhi Emperor's personal rule. Because the emperor was only 12 years old at that time, most decisions were made on his behalf by his mother, the Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang, who turned out to be a skilled political operator.

Although Dorgon's support had been essential to Shunzhi's ascent, Dorgon had through the years centralised so much power in his hands as to become a direct threat to the throne. So much so that upon his death he was extraordinarily bestowed the posthumous title of Emperor Yi ( Chinese: 義皇帝), the only instance in Qing history in which a Manchu " prince of the blood" ( Chinese: 親王) was so honored. Two months into Shunzhi's personal rule, Dorgon was not only stripped of his titles, but his corpse was disinterred and mutilated. to atone for multiple "crimes", one of which was persecuting to death Shunzhi’s agnate eldest brother, Hooge. More importantly, Dorgon's symbolic fall from grace also signalled a political purge of his family and associates at court, thus reverting power back to the person of the emperor. After a promising start, Shunzhi's reign was cut short by his early death in 1661 at the age of twenty-four from smallpox. He was succeeded by his third son Xuanye, who reigned as the Kangxi Emperor.

The Kangxi Emperor's reign and consolidation

The Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662–1722)

At sixty one years, the reign of Kangxi was the longest of any Chinese emperor. But more importantly, apart from its length, Kangxi's reign is also celebrated as the beginning of an era called "Kang-Qian Golden Age" (Chinese: 康乾盛世), also known as "High Qing", during which the Qing Dynasty reached the zenith of its social, economic and military power. Kangxi's long reign started when he was eight years old upon the untimely demise of his father. To prevent a repeat of Dorgon's dictatorial monopolizing of state power during the period of regency, the Shunzhi Emperor, on his deathbed, hastily appointed four senior cabinet ministers to govern on behalf of his young son. The four ministers — Sonin, Ebilun, Suksaha, and Oboi — were chosen for their long service to the emperor, but also to counteract each other's influences. Most importantly, the four were not closely related to the imperial family and laid no claim to the throne. However as time passed, through chance and machination, Oboi, the most junior of the four ministers, was able to achieve political dominance to such an extent as to become a potential threat to the crown. Even though Oboi's loyalty was never an issue, his personal arrogance and political conservatism led him to come into ever escalating conflict with the young Kangxi Emperor. In 1669 Kangxi, through trickery, disarmed and imprisoned Oboi — a not insignificant victory for the fifteen-year-old emperor, as Oboi was not only a wily old politician but also an experienced military commander.

The Manchus found controlling the " Mandate of Heaven" a daunting task. The vastness of China's territory meant that there were only enough banner troops to garrison key cities forming the backbone of a defence network that relied heavily on surrendered Ming soldiers. In addition, three surrendered Ming generals were singled out for their contributions to the establishment of the Qing dynasty, ennobled as feudal princes (藩王), and given governorships over vast territories in Southern China. The chief of these was Wu Sangui, who was given the provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou, while generals Shang Kexi (尚可喜) and Geng Jingzhong (耿精忠) were given Guangdong and Fujian provinces respectively.

Pilgrim flask, porcelain with underglaze blue and iron-red decoration. Qing Dynasty, Qianlong period in the 18th century.

As the years went by, the three feudal lords and their territories inevitably became increasingly autonomous. Finally, in 1673, Shang Kexi petitioned the Kangxi Emperor, stating his desire to retire to his hometown in Liaodong province and nominating his son as his successor. The young emperor granted his retirement, but denied the heredity of his fief. In reaction, the two other generals decided to petition for their own retirements to test Kangxi's resolve, thinking that he would not risk offending them. The move backfired as the young emperor called their bluff by accepting their requests and ordering all three fiefdoms to be reverted to the crown.

Faced with the stripping of their powers, Wu Sangui felt he had no choice but to rise up in revolt. He was joined by Geng Zhongming and by Shang Kexi's son Shang Zhixin (尚之信). The ensuing rebellion lasted for eight years. At the peak of the rebels' fortunes, they managed to extend their control as far north as the Yangtze River. Ultimately, though, the Qing government was able to put down the rebellion and exert control over all of southern China. The rebellion would be known in Chinese history as the Revolt of the Three Feudatories.

To consolidate the dynasty, the Kangxi Emperor personally led a series of military campaigns against the Dzungars, and later the Russian Empire. He arranged the marriage of his daughter to the Mongol leader Galdan Boshugtu Khan to avoid a military conflict. Galdan's military campaign against the Qing Empire failed, further strengthening the power of the dynasty. During Kangxi's reign, Outer Mongolia and Tibet were invaded by the Dzungars and asked for help from China. The Kangxi Emperor was able to successfully expel Galdan's invading forces from these regions, which were then incorporated into the empire. Taiwan was also conquered by Qing forces in 1683 from Zheng Keshuang, grandson of Koxinga. Koxinga had conquered Taiwan from the Dutch colonists to use it as a base against the Qing Dynasty. By the end of the 17th century, China was at its greatest height of power since the Ming Dynasty.

The Kangxi Emperor also handled many Jesuit missionaries that came to China. A series of missionaries, including Tomás Pereira, Martino Martini, Johann Adam Schall von Bell, Ferdinand Verbiest and Antoine Thomas, also held significant positions as mathematicians, astronomers and advisers to the emperor.

Reigns of the Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors

The Putuo Zongcheng Temple of Chengde, built in the 18th century during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor.

The reigns of the Yongzheng Emperor (r. 1723–1735) and his son, the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735–1796), marked the height of the Qing Dynasty's power. During this period, the Qing Empire ruled over 13 million square kilometres of territory.

After the Kangxi Emperor's death in the winter of 1722, his fourth son, Prince Yong (雍親王), succeeded him as the Yongzheng Emperor. Yongzheng remained a controversial character because of rumours about him usurping the throne, and in the late years of Kangxi's reign, he was involved in great political struggles with his brothers. Yongzheng was a hardworking administrator who ruled with an iron hand. His first big step towards a stronger regime came when he brought the State Examination System back to its original standards. In 1724, he cracked down on illegal exchange rates of coins, which was being manipulated by officials to fit their financial needs. Those who were found in violation of new laws on finances were removed from office, or in extreme cases, executed.

"The reception of the Diplomatique ( Macartney) and his suite, at the Court of Pekin". Drawn and engraved by James Gillray, published in September 1792.

Yongzheng showed a great amount of trust in Han Chinese officials, and appointed many of his proteges to prestigious positions. Nian Gengyao was appointed to lead a military campaign in place of his brother Yinti in Qinghai.

More territory was incorporated in the northwest. Starting in 1727, Qing imperial residents were stationed in Lhasa, and commanded over Qing garrisons in Tibet. A toughened stance was directed toward corrupt officials, and Yongzheng led the creation of a Grand Council, which grew to become the de facto cabinet for the rest of the dynasty.

The Yongzheng Emperor died in 1735. This was followed by the succession of his son, Prince Bao (寶親王), as the Qianlong Emperor. Qianlong was known as an able general. Succeeding the throne at the age of 24, Qianlong personally led the military in campaigns near Xinjiang and Mongolia. Revolts and uprisings in Sichuan and parts of southern China were successfully put down, and the control over Tibet was strengthened.

The Qianlong Emperor also launched several ambitious cultural projects, such as the compilation of Siku Quanshu, or Complete Library in Four Branches of Literature. With a total of over 3,400 books, 79,000 chapters, and 36,304 volumes, Siku Quanshu is the largest collection of books in Chinese history as well as the largest series of books ever edited by the feudal authority. Nevertheless, Qianlong had used Literary Inquisition to silence opposition. The accusation of individuals began with the emperor's own interpretation of the true meaning of the corresponding words. If the emperor decided these were derogatory or cynical towards the dynasty, persecution would begin. Literary inquisition began with isolated cases in the times of Shunzhi and Kangxi, but had become a pattern during Qianlong's reign, during which there were 53 cases of literary persecution.

During the late years of Qianlong's reign, the Qing government saw a return of rampant corruption. Heshen was arguably one of the most corrupt officials in the entire history of the Qing Dynasty. Heshen was eventually forced into committing suicide by Qianlong's son, the Jiaqing Emperor (r. 1796–1820).

In 1796 open rebellion by the White Lotus Society against the Qing government broke out. The White Lotus Rebellion continued for eight years, until 1804, and marked a turning point in the history of the Qing Dynasty.

Rebellion, unrest and external pressure

Flag of Qing Dynasty, 1862–1890

The Qing struggled with the concept of international and state to state relations. Prior to the 19th-century, the Chinese empire was generally the hegemonic power in East Asia. However, the 18th century saw the European empires gradually expand across the world, as European states developed stronger economies built on maritime trade. European colonies had been established in nearby India and on the islands that are now part of Indonesia, whilst the Russian Empire advanced into the areas north of China. The Qing response was successful for a time in establishing the Canton System, which restricted and controlled maritime trade and the Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689), which stabilized relations with Czarist Russia.

In 1793, the British East India Company, with the support of the British government sent a delegation to China under Lord George Macartney in order to change the nature of trade between the two countries in a direction which they believed was more befitting for a country of Britain's status. Up to this point, all Western powers were forced to trade only at one port (at Canton) and traded very much on the Chinese system. This was formed around a fundamental disdain for both Western merchants and their goods. The government viewed trade as unimportant. For the British, however, maritime trade was the key to sustaining their economy.

Xi Wangmu ("Queen Mother of the West"), a Taoist deity, decor on a Qing dynasty porcelain plate, famille-rose style, Yongzheng Emperor period, 1725 AD.

The Qianlong Emperor reported to the British ambassador Lord Macartney that China had no use for European manufactured products. Consequently, leading Chinese merchants only accepted bar silver as payment for their goods. The demand in Europe for Chinese goods such as silk, tea, and ceramics could only be met if European companies funneled their limited supplies of silver into China. By the late 1830s, the governments of Great Britain and France were deeply concerned about their stockpiles of precious metals and sought alternate trading schemes with China — the foremost of which was meeting the growing Chinese demand for opium. When the Qing regime tried to ban the opium trade in 1838, Great Britain declared war on China in the following year.

In this political cartoon, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, France, and Japan are dividing China

The First Opium War revealed the outdated state of the Chinese military. The Qing navy, composed entirely of wooden sailing junks, was severely outclassed by the modern tactics and firepower of the British Royal Navy. British soldiers, using advanced muskets and artillery, easily outmaneuvered and outgunned Qing forces in ground battles. The Qing surrender in 1842 marked a decisive, humiliating blow to China. The Treaty of Nanjing, which demanded reparation payments, allowed unrestricted European access to Chinese ports, and ceded Hong Kong Island to Great Britain. It revealed many inadequacies in the Qing government and provoked widespread rebellions against the already hugely unpopular regime.

The Taiping Rebellion in the mid-19th century was the first major instance of anti-Manchu sentiment threatening the stability of the dynasty. Hong Xiuquan, a failed civil service candidate, led the Taiping Rebellion, amid widespread social unrest and worsening famine. In 1851 Hong Xiuquan and others launched an uprising in Guizhou province, established the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom with Hong himself as king, claiming he often had visions of God and that he was the brother of Jesus Christ. Slavery, concubinage, arranged marriage, opium smoking, footbinding, judicial torture, and the worship of idols were all banned. However, success and subsequent authority and power led to internal feuds, defections and corruption. In addition, British and French troops, equipped with modern weapons, had come to the assistance of the Qing imperial army. It was not until 1864 that Qing armies under Zeng Guofan succeeded in crushing the revolt. The rebellion not only posed the most serious threat towards Qing rulers; it was also "bloodiest civil war of all time." Between 20 and 30 million people died during its fourteen-year course from 1850 to 1864. After the outbreak of this rebellion, there were also revolts by the Muslims and Miao people of China against the Qing Dynasty, most notably in the Dungan revolt (1862–1877) in the northwest and the Panthay Rebellion (1856–1873) in Yunnan.

A scene of the Taiping Rebellion, 1850-1864

The Western powers, largely unsatisfied with the Treaty of Nanjing, gave grudging support to the Qing government during the Taiping and Nien Rebellions. China's income fell sharply during the wars as vast areas of farmland were destroyed, millions of lives lost, and countless armies raised and equipped to fight the rebels. In 1854, Great Britain tried to re-negotiate the Treaty of Nanjing, inserting clauses allowing British commercial access to Chinese rivers and the creation of a permanent British embassy at Beijing. This last clause outraged the Qing regime, who refused to sign, provoking another war with Britain. The Second Opium War ended in another crushing Chinese defeat, whilst the Treaty of Tientsin contained clauses deeply insulting to the Chinese, such as a demand that all official Chinese documents be written in English and a proviso granting British warships unlimited access to all navigable Chinese rivers.

Yet the dynasty rallied. Chinese generals and officials such as Zuo Zongtang had led the suppression of rebellions and stood behind the Manchus in the Tongzhi Restoration Zeng Guofan, in alliance with Prince Gong sponsored the rise of younger officials such as Li Hongzhang who put the dynasty back on its feet financially and instituted the Self-Strengthening Movement. The reformers then proceeded with institutional reforms, including the formation of modernized armies, such as the Beiyang Army. However, the fleets of "Beiyang" were annihilated in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), which produced calls for greater and more extensive reform.

Rule of Empress Dowager Cixi

Political map of Asia in 1890, showing late-Qing China (centre, in light brown).

The Empress Dowager Cixi (also spelled as T'su-hsi), concubine to the Xianfeng Emperor (r. 1850–1861) came to power in 1861 during the Xinyou Coup, when, with the help of Prince Gong, she ousted eight regents (led by Sushun) whom the Xianfeng Emperor had appointed on his deathbed to rule for the child emperor Tongzhi, Cixi's son. For 7 years in the Tongzhi era (1862–1874) and during the reign of her nephew, the Guangxu Emperor (1875–1908), Cixi was the de facto ruler of China and the Qing Empire. She was known for "ruling from behind the curtain" ( simplified Chinese: 垂帘听政; traditional Chinese: 垂簾聽政; pinyin: chuílián tīngzhèng).

From 1889 to 1898, the Empress Dowager lived in the Summer Palace in semi-retirement. After losing to Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War, the Guangxu Emperor initiated the Hundred Days' Reform, in which new laws were put in place and some old rules were abolished. Newer, more progressive-minded thinkers like Kang Youwei were trusted and recognized conservative-minded people like Li Hongzhang were removed from high positions. The empress dowager then returned to the imperial court to call off the emperor's reform, and at the same time put him under house arrest and ordered eunuchs faithful to her to keep watch. Cixi continued to centralise her own power base. On her sixtieth birthday, she spent over 30 million taels of silver for the decorations and events, funds that were originally planned to improve the weaponry of the Beiyang Fleet.

In the years before the turn of the century, the Boxers United in Righteousness emerged as a violent anti-foreign force in North China. In 1900 local groups of Boxers, in the so-called "Boxer Rebellion," murdered large numbers of Chinese Christians and then converged on Beijing to besiege the Foreign Legation Quarter. The Eight-Nation Alliance then entered China without diplomatic notice or permission. Cixi declared war on all eight nations, only to lose control of Beijing after a short but hard fought campaign. Along with the Guangxu Emperor, she fled to Xi'an in a mule drawn cart. The victorious alliance listed scores of demands on the Qing government, including compensation for their expenses in invading China and execution of complicit officials. Li Hongzhang was sent to negotiate and the alliance backed down from several of the demands.

Painted silk textile, 45 × 29½ in. (114.3 × 74.93 cm), Qing Dynasty, China, mid-18th century

Fall of the dynasty

Yuan Shikai was an adept politician and general.

By the early 20th century, mass civil disorder had begun and continuously grown. To overcome such problems, Empress Dowager Cixi issued an imperial edict in 1901 calling for reform proposals from the governors-general and governors and initiated the era of the dynasty's "New Policy", also known as the "Late Qing Reform". The edict paved the way for the most far-reaching reforms in terms of their social consequences, including the creation of a national education system and the abolition of the imperial examinations in 1905.

The Guangxu Emperor died on November 14, 1908, and on November 15, 1908, Cixi also passed away. Rumors held that she or Yuan Shikai ordered trusted eunuchs to poison the Guangxu Emperor, and an autopsy conducted nearly a century later confirmed lethal levels of arsenic in his corpse. Puyi, the oldest son of Prince Chun, was appointed successor at the age of two, leaving Zaifeng with the regency. This was followed by the dismissal of General Yuan Shikai from his former positions of power. In April 1911 Zaifeng created a cabinet, in which there were two vice-premiers. Nevertheless, this cabinet was also known by contemporaries as "The Royal Cabinet" because among the thirteen cabinet members, five were members of the imperial family or Aisin Gioro relatives. This brought a wide range of negative opinions from senior officials like Zhang Zhidong.

The Wuchang Uprising succeeded on October 10, 1911, which led to the creation of the new central government, the Republic of China, in Nanjing with Sun Yat-sen as its provisional head. Many provinces began "separating" from Qing control. Seeing a desperate situation unfold, the Qing government brought an unwilling Yuan Shikai back to military power, taking control of his Beiyang Army, with the initial goal of crushing the revolutionaries. After taking the position of Prime Minister and creating his own cabinet, Yuan Shikai went as far as to ask for the removal of Zaifeng from the regency. This removal later proceeded with directions from Empress Dowager Longyu.

With Zaifeng gone, Yuan Shikai and his Beiyang commanders effectively dominated Qing politics. He reasoned that going to war would be unreasonable and costly, especially when noting that the Qing government had a goal for constitutional monarchy. Similarly, Sun Yat-sen's government wanted a republican constitutional reform, both aiming for the benefit of China's economy and populace. With permission from Empress Dowager Longyu, Yuan Shikai began negotiating with Sun Yat-sen, who decided that his goal had been achieved in forming a republic, and that therefore he could allow Yuan to step into the position of President of the Republic of China.

On 12 February 1912, after rounds of negotiations, Longyu issued an imperial edict bringing about the abdication of the child emperor Puyi. This brought an end to over 2,000 years of imperial China and began an extended period of instability of warlord factionalism. The unorganized political and economic systems combined with a widespread criticism of Chinese culture led to questioning and doubt about the future. In the 1930s, the Empire of Japan invaded Manchuria and founded Manchukuo in 1934, with Puyi, as the nominal regent and emperor. After the invasion by the Soviet Union, Manchukuo collapsed in 1945.


Administrative divisions

Qing Dynasty in 1820, with provinces in yellow, military governorates and protectorates in light yellow, tributary states in orange.

Qing China reached its largest extent during the 18th century, when it ruled China proper as well as Manchuria ( Northeast China), Inner Mongolia, Outer Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet, at approximately 13 million km2 in size. There were originally 18 provinces, all of which in China proper, but later this number was increased to 22, with Manchuria and Xinjiang being divided or turned into provinces. Taiwan, originally part of Fujian province, became a province of its own in the 19th century, but was ceded to the Empire of Japan following the First Sino-Japanese War by the end of the century. In addition, many surrounding countries, such as Korea ( Joseon Dynasty), Vietnam and Nepal, were tributary states of China during much of this period.

  1. Northern and southern circuits of Tian Shan (later became Xinjiang province) - including several small semi-autonomous khanates such as Kumul Khanate
  2. Outer Mongolia - Khalkha, Kobdo league, Köbsgöl, Tannu Urianha
  3. Inner Mongolia - 6 leagues (Jirim, Josotu, Juu Uda, Shilingol, Ulaan Chab, Ihe Juu)
  4. Other Mongolian leagues - Alshaa khoshuu (League-level khoshuu), Ejine khoshuu, Ili khoshuu (in Xinjiang), Köke Nuur league; directly ruled areas: Dariganga (Special region designated as Emperor's pasture), Guihua Tümed, Chakhar, Hulunbuir
  5. Tibet ( Ü-Tsang and western Kham, approximately the area of present-day Tibet Autonomous Region)
  6. Manchuria (Northeast China, later became provinces)
  • Eighteen provinces ( China proper provinces)
  1. Zhili
  2. Henan
  3. Shandong
  4. Shanxi
  5. Shaanxi
  6. Gansu
  7. Hubei
  8. Hunan
  9. Guangdong
  10. Guangxi
  1. Sichuan
  2. Yunnan
  3. Guizhou
  4. Jiangsu
  5. Jiangxi
  6. Zhejiang
  7. Fujian (incl. Taiwan until 1885)
  8. Anhui
  • Additional provinces in the late Qing Dynasty
  1. Xinjiang
  2. Taiwan (until 1895)
  1. Fengtian, later renamed and known today as Liaoning
  2. Jilin
  1. Heilongjiang

Territorial administration

Eighteen provinces (China proper) 1875

The original provinces of Qing China was based on the fifteen administrative units set up by the Ming Dynasty, though some minor reforms took place to become the eighteen provinces (for example, Huguang was split into Hubei and Hunan provinces). Adopted the model used by the Yuan and Ming dynasties, the Qing provincial bureaucracy also contained three commissions: one civil, one military, and one for surveillance. Each province was administered by a governor ( 巡撫, xunfu) and a provincial military commander ( 提督, tidu). Below the province were prefectures ( 府, fu) operating under a prefect ( 知府, zhīfǔ), followed by subprefectures under a subprefect. The lowest unit was the county, overseen by a magistrate. These areas under the administration of the eighteen provinces are also known as "China proper". The position of viceroy or governor-general ( 總督, zongdu) was the highest rank in the provincial administration. There were eight regional viceroys in China proper, each usually took charge of two or three provinces. The Viceroy of Zhili, who was responsible for the area surrounding the capital Beijing, is usually considered as the most honorable and powerful viceroy among the eight.

  1. Viceroy of Zhili – in charge of Zhili
  2. Viceroy of Shaan-Gan – in charge of Shaanxi and Gansu
  3. Viceroy of Liangjiang – in charge of Jiangsu, Jiangxi, and Anhui
  4. Viceroy of Huguang – in charge of Hubei and Hunan
  5. Viceroy of Sichuan – in charge of Sichuan
  6. Viceroy of Min-Zhe – in charge of Fujian, Taiwan, and Zhejiang
  7. Viceroy of Liangguang – in charge of Guangdong and Guangxi
  8. Viceroy of Yun-Gui – in charge of Yunnan and Guizhou

By the mid-18th century, the Qing had successfully put outer regions such as Inner and Outer Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang under its control. Imperial commissioners and garrisons were sent to Mongolia and Tibet to oversee their affairs. These territories were also under supervision of a central government institution called Lifan Yuan. Qinghai was also put under direct control of the Qing court. Xinjiang, also known as Chinese Turkestan, was subdivided into the regions north and south of the Tian Shan mountains, also known today as Dzungaria and Tarim Basin respectively, but the post of Ili General was established in 1762 to exercise unified military and administrative jurisdiction over both regions. Likewise, Manchuria was also governed by military generals until its division into provinces, though some areas of Xinjiang and Manchuria were lost to the Russian Empire in the mid-19th century. Manchuria was originally separated from China proper by the Inner Willow Palisade, a ditch and embankment planted with willows intended to restrict the movement of the Han Chinese into Manchuria, as the area was off-limits to the Han Chinese until the Qing government started colonizing the area with them later on in the dynasty's rule, especially since the 1860s.

Qing China in 1892

With respect to these outer regions, the Qing maintained imperial control, with the emperor acting as Mongol khan, patron of Tibetan Buddhism and protector of Muslims. However, Qing policy changed with the establishment of Xinjiang province in 1884. During The Great Game era, taking advantage of the Dungan revolt in northwest China, Yaqub Beg invaded Xinjiang from Central Asia with support from the Russian Empire, and made himself the ruler of the kingdom of Kashgaria. The Qing court sent forces to defeat Yaqub Beg and Xinjiang was reconquered, and then the political system of China proper was formally applied onto Xinjiang. The Kumul Khanate, which was incorporated into the Qing empire as a vassal after helping Qing defeat the Zunghars in 1757, maintained its status after Xinjiang turned into a province through the end of the dynasty in the Xinhai Revolution up until 1930. In early 20th century, Great Britain sent an expedition force to Tibet and forced Tibetans to sign a treaty. The Qing court responded by asserting Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, resulting in the 1906 Anglo-Chinese Convention signed between Britain and China. The British agreed not to annex Tibetan territory or to interfere in the administration of Tibet, while China engaged not to permit any other foreign state to interfere with the territory or internal administration of Tibet. Furthermore, similar to Xinjiang which was converted into a province earlier, the Qing government also turned Manchuria into three provinces in the early 20th century, officially known as the " Three Northeast Provinces", and established the post of Viceroy of Three Northeast Provinces to oversee these provinces, making the total number of regional viceroys to nine.

Central government agencies

The Qing Dynasty inherited many important institutions from the preceding Ming Dynasty. The formal structure of the Qing government centered on the Emperor as the absolute ruler, who presided over six Boards (Ministries) (Chinese: 六部; pinyin: lìubù), each headed by two presidents ( simplified Chinese: 尚书; traditional Chinese: 尚書; pinyin: shàngshū; Ma: Aliha amban.svg Aliha amban) and assisted by four vice presidents (Chinese: 侍郎; pinyin: shìláng; Ma: Ashan i amban.png Ashan i amban). In contrast to the Ming system, however, Qing ethnic policy dictated that appointments were split between Manchu noblemen and Han officials who had passed the highest levels of the state examinations. The Grand Secretariat ( simplified Chinese: 内阁; traditional Chinese: 內閣; pinyin: nèigé; Ma: Dorgi yamun.png Dorgi yamun), which had been an important policy-making body under the Ming Dynasty, lost its importance during the Qing Dynasty and evolved into an imperial chancery. The institutions which had been inherited from the Ming Dynasty formed the core of the Qing "outer court," which handled routine matters and was located in the southern part of the Forbidden City.

In order not to let the routine administration take over the running of the empire, the Qing emperors made sure that all important matters were decided in the "Inner Court," which was dominated by the imperial family and Manchu nobility and which was located in the northern part of the Forbidden City. The core institution of the inner court was the Grand Council ( simplified Chinese: 军机处; traditional Chinese: 軍機處; pinyin: jūnjī chù). It emerged in the 1720s under the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor as a body charged with handling Qing military campaigns against the Dzungar Mongols, but it soon took over other military and administrative duties and served to centralize authority under the crown. The Grand Councillors ( simplified Chinese: 军机大臣; traditional Chinese: 軍機大臣; pinyin: jūnjī dàchén) served as a sort of privy council to the emperor.

The Six Ministries and their respective areas of responsibilities were as follows:

2000- cash banknote from 1859
  • Board of Civil Appointments (Chinese: 吏部; pinyin: lìbù; Ma: Hafan i jurgan.png Hafan i jurgan)
The personnel administration of all civil officials - including evaluation, promotion, and dismissal. It was also in charge of the "honours list".
  • Board of Finance (Chinese: 户部; pinyin: hùbù; Ma: Boigon i jurgan.png Boigon i jurgan)
The literal translation of the Chinese word hu (户) is "household". For much of the Qing Dynasty's history, the government's main source of revenue came from taxation on landownership supplemented by official monopolies on essential household items such as salt and tea. Thus, in the predominantly agrarian Qing Dynasty, the "household" was the basis of imperial finance. The department was charged with revenue collection and the financial management of the government.
  • Board of Rites ( simplified Chinese: 礼部; traditional Chinese: 禮部; pinyin: lǐbù; Ma: Dorolon i jurgan.png Dorolon i jurgan)
This board was responsible for all matters concerning court protocol. It organized the periodic worship of ancestors and various gods by the emperor, managed relations with tributary nations, and oversaw the nationwide civil examination system.
  • Board of War (Chinese: 兵部; pinyin: bīngbù; Ma: Coohai jurgan.png Coohai jurgan)
Unlike its Ming predecessor, which had full control over all military matters, the Qing Board of War had very limited powers. First, the Eight Banners were under the direct control of the emperor and hereditary Manchu and Mongol princes, leaving the ministry only with authority over the Green Standard Army. Furthermore, the ministry's functions were purely administrative campaigns and troop movements were monitored and directed by the emperor, first through the Manchu ruling council, and later through the Grand Council.
  • Board of Punishments (Chinese: 刑部; pinyin: xíngbù; Ma: Beidere jurgan.png Beidere jurgan)
The Board of Punishments handled all legal matters, including the supervision of various law courts and prisons. The Qing legal framework was relatively weak compared to modern day legal systems, as there was no separation of executive and legislative branches of government. The legal system could be inconsistent, and, at times, arbitrary, because the emperor ruled by decree and had final say on all judicial outcomes. Emperors could (and did) overturn judgements of lower courts from time to time. Fairness of treatment was also an issue under the apartheid system practised by the Manchu government over the Han Chinese majority. To counter these inadequacies and keep the population in line, the Qing government maintained a very harsh penal code towards the Han populace, but it was no more severe than previous Chinese dynasties.
A postage stamp from Yantai (Chefoo) in the Qing Dynasty
  • Board of Works (Chinese: 工部; pinyin: gōngbù; Ma: Weilere jurgan.png Weilere jurgan)
The Board of Works handled all governmental building projects, including palaces, temples and the repairs of waterways and flood canals. It was also in charge of minting coinage.

From the early Qing Dynasty, the central government was characterized by a system of dual appointments by which each position in the central government had a Manchu and a Han Chinese assigned to it. The Han Chinese appointee was required to do the substantive work and the Manchu to ensure Han loyalty to Qing rule. The distinction between Han Chinese and Manchus extended to their court costumes. During the Qianlong Emperor's reign, for example, members of his family were distinguished by garments with a small circular emblem on the back, whereas Han officials wore clothing with a square emblem.

In addition to the six boards, there was a Lifan Yuan unique to the Qing government. This institution was established to supervise the administration of Tibet and the Mongol lands. As the empire expanded, it took over administrative responsibility of all minority ethnic groups living in and around the empire, including early contacts with Russia — then seen as a tribute nation. The office had the status of a full ministry and was headed by officials of equal rank. However, appointees were at first restricted only to candidates of Manchu and Mongol ethnicity, until later open to Han Chinese as well.

Even though the Board of Rites and Lifan Yuan performed some duties of a foreign office, they fell short of developing into a professional foreign service. It was not until 1861 — a year after losing the Second Opium War to the Anglo-French coalition — that the Qing government bowed to foreign pressure and created a proper foreign affairs office known as the Zongli Yamen. The office was originally intended to be temporary and was staffed by officials seconded from the Grand Council. However, as dealings with foreigners became increasingly complicated and frequent, the office grew in size and importance, aided by revenue from customs duties which came under its direct jurisdiction.

There was also another government institution called Imperial Household Department which was unique to the Qing Dynasty. It was established before the fall of the Ming Dynasty, but it became mature only after 1661, following the death of the Shunzhi Emperor and the accession of his son, the Kangxi Emperor. The department's primary purpose was to manage the internal affairs of the imperial family and the activities of the inner palace (in which tasks it largely replaced eunuchs), but it also played an important role in Qing relations with Tibet and Mongolia, engaged in trading activities (jade, ginseng, salt, furs, etc.), managed textile factories in the Jiangnan region, and even published books. The department was manned by booi (Chinese: 包衣; pinyin: bāoyī), or "bondservants," from the Upper Three Banners. By the 19th century, it managed the activities of at least 56 subagencies.


Beginnings and early development

The Qianlong Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll Twelve: Return to the Palace (detail), 1764—1770, by Xu Yang

The development of the Qing military system can be divided into two broad periods separated by the Taiping Rebellion (1850–1864). The early Qing military was rooted in the Eight Banners first developed by Nurhachi as a way to organize Jurchen society beyond petty clan affiliations. There are eight banners in all, differentiated by colours. The banners in their order of precedence were as follows: yellow, bordered yellow (i.e. yellow banner with red border), white, red, bordered white, bordered red, blue, and bordered blue. The yellow, bordered yellow, and white banners were collectively known as the "Upper Three Banners" (Chinese: 上三旗; pinyin: shàng sān qí) and were under the direct command of the emperor. Only Manchus belonging to the Upper Three Banners, and selected Han Chinese who had passed the highest level of martial exams were qualified to serve as the emperor's personal bodyguards. The remaining Banners were known as "The Lower Five Banners" (Chinese: 下五旗; pinyin: xià wǔ qí) and were commanded by hereditary Manchu princes descended from Nurhachi's immediate family, known informally as the "Iron Cap Princes" ( simplified Chinese: 铁帽子王; traditional Chinese: 鐵帽子王; pinyin: tiě màozǐ wáng). Together they formed the ruling council of the Manchu nation as well as high command of the army.

As Qing power expanded north of the Great Wall in the last years of the Ming Dynasty, the Banner system was expanded by Nurhachi's son and successor Hong Taiji to include mirrored Mongol and Han Banners. After capturing Beijing in 1644 and as the Manchu rapidly gained control of large tracts of former Ming territory, the relatively small Banner armies were further augmented by the Green Standard Army, which eventually outnumbered Banner troops three to one. The Green Standard Army so-named after the colour of their battle standards was made up of those Ming troops who had surrendered to the Qing. They maintained their Ming era organization and were led by a mix of Banner and Green Standard officers. The Banners and Green Standard troops were standing armies, paid for by central government. In addition, regional governors from provincial down to village level maintained their own irregular local militias for police duties and disaster relief. These militias were usually granted small annual stipends from regional coffers for part-time service obligations. They received very limited military drills if at all and were not considered combat troops.

Peace and stagnation

A red lacquer box from the Qing Dynasty.

Banner Armies were broadly divided along ethnic lines, namely Manchu and Mongol. Although it must be pointed out that the ethnic composition of Manchu Banners was far from homogeneous as they included non-Manchu bondservants registered under the household of their Manchu masters. As the war with Ming Dynasty progressed and the Han Chinese population under Manchu rule increased, Hong Taiji created a separate branch of Han Banners to draw on this new source of manpower. However these Han bannermen were never regarded by the government as equal to the other two branches due to their relatively late addition to the Manchu cause as well as their Han Chinese ancestry. The nature of their service—mainly as infantry, artillery and sappers, was also alien to the Manchu nomadic traditions of fighting as cavalry. Furthermore, after the conquest the military roles played by Han bannermen were quickly subsumed by the Green Standard Army. The Han Banners ceased to exist altogether after the Yongzheng Emperor's banner registration reforms aimed at cutting down imperial expenditures.

The socio-military origins of the Banner system meant that population within each branch and their sub-divisions were hereditary and rigid. Only under special circumstances sanctioned by imperial edict were social movements between banners permitted. In contrast, the Green Standard Army was originally intended to be a professional force.

After defeating the remnants of the Ming forces, the Manchu Banner Army of approximately 200,000 strong at the time was evenly divided; half was designated the Forbidden Eight Banner Army (Chinese: 禁旅八旗; pinyin: jìnlǚ bāqí) and was stationed in Beijing. It served both as the capital's garrison and Qing government's main strike force. The remainder of the Banner troops was distributed to guard key cities in China. These were known as the Territorial Eight Banner Army ( simplified Chinese: 驻防八旗; traditional Chinese: 駐防八旗; pinyin: zhùfáng bāqí). The Manchu court keenly aware its own minority status reinforced a strict policy of racial segregation between the Manchus and Mongols from Han Chinese for fear of being sinicized by the latter. This policy applied directly to the Banner garrisons, most of which occupied a separate walled zone within the cities they were stationed in. In cities where there were limitation of space such as in Qingzhou (青州), a new fortified town would be purposely erected to house the Banner garrison and their families. Beijing being the imperial seat, the regent Dorgon had the entire Chinese population forcibly relocated to the southern suburbs which became known as the "Outer Citadel" (Chinese: 外城; pinyin: wàichéng). The northern walled city called "Inner Citadel" (Chinese: 內城; pinyin: nèichéng) was portioned out to the remaining Manchu Eight Banners, each responsibled for guarding a section of the Inner Citadel surrounding the Forbidden City palace complex ( Chinese: 紫禁城; pinyin: zǐjìnchéng; Ma: Dabkūri1.png Dabkūri dorgi hoton).

The policy of posting Banner troops as territorial garrison was not to protect but to inspire awe in the subjugated populace at the expense of their expertise as cavalry. As a result, after a century of peace and lack of field training the Manchu Banner troops had deteriorated greatly in their combat worthiness. Secondly, before the conquest the Manchu banner was a "citizen" army, and its members were Manchu farmers and herders obligated to provide military service to the state at times of war. The Qing government's decision to turn the banner troops into a professional force whose every welfare and need was met by state coffers brought wealth, and with it corruption, to the rank and file of the Manchu Banners and hastened its decline as a fighting force. This was mirrored by a similar decline in the Green Standard Army. During peace time, soldiering became merely a source of supplementary income. Soldiers and commanders alike neglected training in pursuit of their own economic gains. Corruption was rampant as regional unit commanders submitted pay and supply requisitions based on exaggerated head counts to the quartermaster department and pocketed the difference. When the Taiping Rebellion broke out in 1850s, the Qing court found out belatedly that the Banner and Green Standards troops could neither put down internal rebellions nor keep foreign invaders at bay.

Transition and modernization

General Zeng Guofan

Early during the Taiping Rebellion, Qing forces suffered a series of disastrous defeats culminating in the loss of the regional capital city of Nanjing in 1853. The rebels massacred the entire Manchu garrison and their families in the city and made it their capital. Shortly thereafter a Taiping expeditionary force penetrated as far north as the suburbs of Tianjin in what was considered imperial heartlands. In desperation the Qing court ordered a Chinese mandarin, Zeng Guofan, to organize regional ( simplified Chinese: 团勇; traditional Chinese: 團勇; pinyin: tuányǒng) and village ( simplified Chinese: 乡勇; traditional Chinese: 鄉勇; pinyin: xiāngyǒng) militias into a standing army called tuanlian to contain the rebellion. Zeng Guofan's strategy was to rely on local gentries to raise a new type of military organization from those provinces that the Taiping rebels directly threatened. This new force became known as the Xiang Army, named after the Hunan region where it was raised. The Xiang Army was a hybrid of local militia and a standing army. It was given professional training, but was paid for out of regional coffers and funds its commanders — mostly members of the Chinese gentry — could muster. The Xiang Army and its successor, the Huai Army (淮軍), created by Zeng Guofan's colleague and student Li Hongzhang, were collectively called the "Yongying" ( simplified Chinese: 勇营; traditional Chinese: 勇營; pinyin: Yǒngyíng; literally "Brave Camp").

Prior to forming and commanding the Xiang Army, Zeng Guofan had no military experience. Being a classically educated Mandarin his blueprint for the Xiang Army was taken from a historical source — the Ming general Qi Jiguang who, because of the weakness of regular Ming troops, had decided to form his own "private" army to repel raiding Japanese pirates in the mid-16th century. Qi Jiguang's doctrine was based on Neo-Confucian ideas of binding troops' loyalty to their immediate superiors and also to the regions in which they were raised. This initially gave the troops an excellent esprit de corps. Qi Jiguang's army was an ad hoc solution to the specific problem of combating pirates, as was Zeng Guofan's original intention for the Xiang Army, which was raise to eradicate the Taiping rebels. However, circumstances led to the Yongying system becoming a permanent institution within the Qing military, which in the long run created problems of its own for the beleaguered central government.

In 1894–1895, fighting over influence in Korea, Japanese troops defeated Qing forces.

Firstly, the Yongying system signalled the end of Manchu dominance in Qing military establishment. Although the Banners and Green Standard armies lingered on as parasites depleting resources, henceforth the Yongying corps became the Qing government's de facto first-line troops. Secondly the Yongying corps were financed through provincial coffers and were led by regional commanders. This devolution of power weakened the central government's grip on the whole country, a weakness further aggravated by foreign powers vying to carve up autonomous colonial territories in different parts of the Qing Empire in the later half of the 19th century. Despite these serious negative effects the measure was deemed necessary as tax revenue from provinces occupied and threatened by rebels had ceased to reach the cash-strapped central government. Finally, the nature of Yongying command structure fostered nepotism and cronyism amongst its commanders whom as they ascended the bureaucratic ranks laid the seeds to Qing's eventual demise and the outbreak of regional warlordism in China during the first half of the 20th century.

The Beiyang Army in training

By the late 19th century, China was fast descending into a semi-colonial state. Even the most conservative elements within the Qing court could no longer ignore China's military weakness in contrast to the foreign "barbarians" literally beating down its gates. In 1860, during the Second Opium War, the capital Beijing was captured and the Summer Palace sacked by a relatively small Anglo-French coalition force numbering 25,000. Although the Chinese invented gunpowder, and firearms had been in continual use in Chinese warfare since as far back as the Song Dynasty, the advent of modern weaponry resulting from the European Industrial Revolution had rendered China's traditionally trained and equipped army and navy obsolete. The government attempts to modernize during the Self-Strengthening Movement were in the view of most historians with hindsight piecemeal and yielded little lasting results. Various reasons for the apparent failure of late-Qing modernization attempts have been advanced including the lack of funds, lack of political will, and unwillingness to depart from tradition. These reasons remain disputed.

Footage of a naval battle during the First Sino-Japanese War (1894).

Losing the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 was a watershed for the Qing government. Japan, a country long regarded by the Chinese as little more than an upstart nation of pirates, had convincingly beaten its larger neighbour and in the process annihilated the Qing government's pride and joy — its modernized Beiyang Fleet then deemed to be the strongest naval force in Asia. In doing so, Japan became the first Asian country to join the previously exclusively western ranks of colonial powers. The defeat was a rude awakening to the Qing court especially when set in the context that it occurred a mere three decades after the Meiji Restoration set a feudal Japan on course to emulate the Western nations in their economic and technological achievements. Finally, in December 1894, the Qing government took some concrete steps to reform military institutions and to re-train selected units in westernized drills, tactics and weaponry. These units were collectively called the New Army. The most successful of these was the Beiyang Army under the overall supervision and control of a former Huai Army commander, General Yuan Shikai, who exploited his position to eventually become President of the Republic of China, dictator and finally abortive emperor of China.


The most significant fact of early and mid-Qing social history is population growth. The population doubled during the 18th century. People in this period were also remarkably on the move. There is evidence suggesting that the empire's rapidly expanding population was geographically mobile on a scale which, in term of its volume and its protracted and routinized nature, was unprecedented in Chinese history. Indeed, the Qing government did far more to encourage mobility than to discourage it. Migration took several different forms, though might be divided in two varieties: permanent migration for resettlement, and relocation conceived by the party (in theory at least) as a temporary sojourn. Parties to the latter would include the empire's increasingly large and mobile manual workforce, as well as its densely overlapping internal diaspora of local-origin-based merchant groups. It would also included the patterned movement of Qing subjects overseas, largely to Southeastern Asia, in search of trade and other economic opportunities.

According to statute, Qing society was divided into relatively closed estates, of which in most general terms there were five. Apart from the estates of the officials, the comparatively minuscule aristocracy, and the degree-holding literati, there also existed a major division among ordinary Chinese between commoners and people with inferior status. They were divided into two categories: one of them, the good "commoner" people, the other "mean" people. The majority of the population belonged to the first category and were described as liangmin, a legal term meaning good people, as opposed to jianmin meaning the mean (or ignoble) people. Qing law explicitly stated that the traditional four occupational groups of scholars, farmers, artisans and merchants were "good", or having a status of commoners. On the other hand, slaves or bondservants, entertainers (including prostitutes and actors), and those low-level employees of government officials were the "mean people". Mean people were considered legally inferior to commoners and suffered unequal treatments, forbidden to take the imperial examination.


By the end of the 17th century, the Chinese economy had recovered from the devastation caused by the wars in which the Ming Dynasty were overthrown, and the resulting breakdown of order. In the following century, markets continued to expand as in the late Ming period, but with more trade between regions, a greater dependence on overseas markets and a greatly increased population. After the re-opening of the southeast coast, which had been closed in the late 17th century, foreign trade was quickly re-established, and was expanding at 4% per annum throughout the latter part of the 18th century. China continued to export tea, silk and manufactures, creating a large, favorable trade balance with the West. The resulting inflow of silver expanded the money supply, facilitating the growth of competitive and stable markets.

Qing Dynasty vases, in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal.

The government broadened land ownership by returning land that had been sold to large landowners in the late Ming period by families unable to pay the land tax. To give people more incentives to participate in the market, they reduced the tax burden in comparison with the late Ming, and replaced the corvée system with a head tax used to hire labourers. The administration of the Grand Canal was made more efficient, and transport opened to private merchants. A system of monitoring grain prices eliminated severe shortages, and enabled the price of rice to rise slowly and smoothly through the 18th century. Wary of the power of wealthy merchants, Qing rulers limited their trading licences and usually refused them permission to open new mines, except in poor areas. These restrictions on domestic resource exploration, as well as on foreign trade, are held by some scholars as a cause of the Great Divergence, by which the Western world overtook China economically.

By the end of the 18th century the population had risen to 300 million from approximately 150 million during the late Ming Dynasty. The drastic rise in population was due to several reasons, including the long period of peace and stability in the 18th century and the import of new crops China received from the Americas, including peanuts, sweet potatoes and maize. New species of rice from Southeast Asia led to a huge increase in production. Merchant guilds proliferated in all of the growing Chinese cities and often acquired great social and even political influence. Rich merchants with official connections built up huge fortunes and patronized literature, theatre and the arts. Cloth and handicraft production boomed.

Arts and culture

Under the Qing, traditional forms of art flourished and innovations were made at many levels and in many types. High levels of literacy, prosperous cities, successful publishing industry, and the Confucian emphasis on cultivation all fed a lively and creative set of cultural fields.

The Manchu emperors were generally deft at poetry and often skilled in painting, and offered their patronage to Confucian culture. The Kangxi and Qianlong Emperors, for instance, embraced Chinese traditions both to control them and to proclaim their own legitimacy. The Kangxi Emperor sponsored the Peiwen Yunfu, a rime dictionary published in 1711, and the Kangxi Dictionary published in 1716, which remains to this day an authoritative reference. The Qianlong Emperor sponsored the largest collection of writings in Chinese history, the Siku Quanshu completed in 1782. Court painters made new versions of the Song Dynasty masterpiece, Zhang Zeduan's Along the River During the Qingming Festival whose depiction of a prosperous and happy realm demonstrated the beneficence of the emperor. The emperors undertook tours of the south and commissioned monumental scrolls to depict the grandeur of the occasion. Imperial patronage also encouraged the industrial production of ceramics and Chinese export porcelain.

Yet the most impressive work aesthetically was done among the scholars and urban elite. Calligraphy and painting remained a central interest to both court painters and scholar-gentry who considered the Four Arts part of their cultural identity and social standing. The painting of the early years of the dynasty included such painters as the orthodox Four Wangs and the individualists Bada Shanren (1626-1705) and Shitao (1641-1707). The nineteenth century saw such innovations as the Shanghai school and the Lingnan School which used the technical skills of tradition to set the stage for modern painting.

Literature grew to new heights in the Qing period. Poetry continued as a mark of the cultivated gentleman, but women wrote in larger and larger numbers and poets came from all walks of life. Pu Songling brought the short story form to a new level in his Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, published in the mid-18th century, and Shen Fu demonstrated the charm of the informal memoir in Six Chapters of a Floating Life, written in the early 19th century but published only in 1877. The art of the novel reached a pinnacle in Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber, but its combination of social commentary and psychological insight were echoed in highly skilled novels such as Wu Jingzi's The Scholars (1750) and Li Ruzhen's Flowers in the Mirror (1827).

In drama, Kong Shangren's Kunqu (southern) opera The Peach Blossom Fan, completed in 1699, portrayed the tragic downfall of the Ming dynasty in romantic terms. The most prestigious form became the so-called Peking Opera, though local and folk opera were also widely popular.

The gentleman gourmet, such as Yuan Mei, applied aesthetic standards to the art of cooking, eating, and appreciation of tea at a time when New World crops and products entered everyday life. The Manchu Han Imperial Feast, although probably never common, reflected the appreciation by Han Chinese for Manchu culinary customs.

By the end of the nineteenth century, all elements of artistic and cultural life had recognized and begun to come to terms with world culture as found in the West and Japan. Classically trained Confucian scholars such as Liang Qichao and Wang Guowei broke the ground later cultivated in the New Culture Movement.

Retrieved from ""