The End of the Ming Empire
Following the death of Nurhaci in 1626, Hung Taiji continued the Manchu attacks on the Ming Empire. In 1635, he was presented with the imperial seal of the Yan Empire by the Mongolian ruling court which officially recognized him as their Khan or ruler. In 1636, he renamed his empire the Great Qing Empire but did not live to conquer Beijing as he died in 1643.
By the time of Hung Taiji’s death, rebel groups had taken over control of most of the Ming Empire. After winning wars against his rivals, Li Zicheng emerged as the leader of the entire rebel army. The Qing Dynasty began in 1644 with the conquer of Beijing by Li Zicheng’s rebel army after his army attacked and defeated Ming general Wu Sangui (1612-1678). This led to the subsequent southern retreat by the Jurchens, Mongols, and a Ming army, and the conquer of Beijing by the Manchus.
The Qing Empire would eventually become very big, even establishing control in Tibet and Xinjiang. Just as the Yan Empire and the Ming Empire, the Qing Dynasty boasted strong rulers who lived a long time at the beginning of the dynastic era. During the beginning and middle of this era, the Qing Dynasty enjoyed a prosperous period. However, the end of the dynasty was marked by invasions, rebellions, natural disasters, and inept ruling courts.
Beginnings of the Qing Empire (1644-1722)
Shunzhi, the child Emperor was the first in a line of the rulers of the Qing Dynasty. Dorgon served as regent for Emperor Shunzhi and helped the empire to quickly stabilize and prosper by largely reappointing Ming officials to their imperial posts.
Perhaps as a test of their loyalty, Dorgon decreed in 1645 that Ming men must shave their hair at the front and create a long pigtail at the back. The decree was in fact an ultimatum that stated: "To keep the hair, you lose the head; to keep your head, you cut the hair." Tens of thousands of people that resisted the Ming were massacred. Soon after, Dorgon died, and in 1661 Emperor Shunzhi also died.
Emperor Kangxi (1661-1722)
Following the death of Emperor Shunzhi, Emperor Kangxi took over control of the Qing Dynasty and would later enjoy one of the longest dynastic reigns in history. During his long reign, Emperor Kangxi established a policy direction for his empire and made efforts to stabilize it. This policy direction focused on territorial expansion, the continuation of the Neo-Confucian bureaucratic system, and continued trade with Europeans, even while resisting their expansion. His court was more careful than previous dynasties in its control of commerce and industry, as well as the monopolization of key industries in the empire.
The main literary achievements of the Qing Dynasty included extremely large encyclopedias and compendiums comprising hundreds of volumes, as well as popular novels. At the end of this era, writers began to write with western style influences from the literature they had access to. Under Emperor Kangxi, the Qing court sponsored large printing projects that produced encyclopedias, histories, and literature compendiums.
Another major literary accomplishment was the writing of classic novels. In the middle of this dynastic era when the empire was at its height of prosperity, The Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the four great classic novels was written. This novel was written in the vernacular Mandarin language, the language of the Qing Capital. Thought to have been authored by Cao Xueqin c.1715-1763, this novel is recognized for its detailed portrayal of the lives of the people of the author’s clan, a wealthy ruling clan during the Qing era. The book was first printed in the late 1700s.
During the decline of the Qing Dynasty around the turn of the 20th century, educated people enjoyed easier access to foreign literature and were much more influenced by western culture. Some writers began to produce fiction that was quite similar to western-style fiction. Students began to travel abroad to study, and the modernistic literature they authored began to reflect a general sense of crisis. Intellectuals began to translate foreign works on politics, science, and literature which were popular at the time and proved instrumental in the transformation of Chinese culture.
The biggest change in religion during the Qing Dynasty was the arrival of thousands of protestant and evangelical missionaries in the 1800s. By 1912, this massive influx led to the conversion of tens of thousands of people to Christianity. The missionaries were influential in the education of tens of thousands of students in western medicine and the setting up of numerous hospitals, schools, colleges, and universities.
The Qing Dynasty left a rich cultural heritage in terms of architecture from the period. Some of the historical relics of the Qing Dynasty include the Shenyang Imperial Palace, the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, the Chengde Summer Palace, and the Temple of Heaven.
During the Qing Dynasty writers began to write with western style influences. Simultaneously, the Qing court sponsored large printing projects that produced large encyclopedias, histories, and literature compendiums comprising hundreds of volumes and popular novels. Educated people enjoyed easier access to foreign literature and students began to travel abroad to study and produced modernistic literature. Intellectuals began to translate foreign works on politics, science, and literature.
With the arrival of thousands of protestant and evangelical missionaries arrived in the 1800s, tens of thousands of people were converted to Christianity by 1912. The missionaries were influential in the education of tens of thousands of students in western medicine and the setting up of numerous hospitals, schools, colleges, and universities.
The Qing Dynasty put in place a series of economic systems that allowed it to prosper, while also leading to its eventual demise. During this period, railroads were introduced and increasingly used as the main transportation method, which encouraged trade within the kingdom. In addition, early factories encouraged production, although they left traditional work obsolete. Foreign imported industrial products such as clothes made out of cotton were cheaper than locally produced products, which led to drastic unemployment.
The Qing Dynasty made a series of contributions to Chinese culture and society, whose impact is still felt today. Writers began to write with western style influences and the Qing court-sponsored large printing projects that produced large encyclopedias, histories, and literature compendiums comprising hundreds of volumes, popular novels, and the writing of classic novels, such as The Dream of the Red Chamber.
Educated people enjoyed easier access to foreign literature and were much more influenced by western culture. Students began to travel abroad to study and produced modernistic literature. Intellectuals began to translate foreign works on politics, science, and literature which proved instrumental in the transformation of Chinese culture into what it is today. Tens of thousands of people were converted to Christianity, while tens of thousands of students were educated in western medicine. Many hospitals, schools, colleges, and universities were also established during this period.
Rise and Decline
Rise of the Qing Dynasty
At the height of the Qing Dynasty in the 1700s, their products were considered to be very valuable around the world. During the 1800s, the dynasty seemed prosperous because the population increasingly grew to an estimated 300 million people, the territory remained intact and the empire began to undergo a slow but successful modernization phase.
The empire became big after subduing Tibet and the Xinjiang regions and inheriting Mongolia from the founders of the empire. Following these annexations, the geographical area of the Qing Dynasty Empire was second in size only to that of the Yuan Empire. Nevertheless, the ruling court of the Qing Dynasty was unable to deal with the rapidly changing world, coupled with numerous natural disasters and uprisings.
The Decline of the Qing Dynasty
With the rapid improvement of European technology following the first industrial revolution at the end of the 1700s, Europeans were able to easily defeat the Qing army and navy in the 1800s, thereby wresting control of the trading ports. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Japanese experienced a remarkably fast modernization phase which enabled them to successfully attack the Qing Empire and occupy their territories as colonies.
Just as the preceding Yuan and Ming Empires, the Qing Dynasty’s decline was marked by wars, rebellions, famines, natural disasters, and invasions. These wars, rebellions, and other conflicts led to the deaths of many people and caused massive damage to the economy. Rebellions were mainly instigated by the poor and unemployed who hoped to overthrow the government and expel or kill foreigners whom they believed to be the cause of all their woes.
The Qing Dynasty finally ended in 1912 following by a bloodless coup of the Wuchang Uprising that installed Sun Yatsen as the first president. With his capital in Nanjing, Sun Yatsen tried to implement a republican constitution but this failed. He later stepped down and allowed Qing general Yuan to take over as president.