Early Qing Dynasty
The successors of the Ming were another foreign people — the Manchus — descendants of the Jurchen. The Manchu homeland lay in the region of Manchuria and Liaodong (Liaotung). Rising to power on the fringe of Chinese culture, the Manchu tribes, like the Mongols before them, learned from China on a selective basis, particularly about how to govern a sedentary Chinese state. Nurhachi (1559–1626) followed the tradition of Genghis Khan, uniting the Manchu and Jurchen tribes under his personal authority. Gradually, he and his successors developed a civil administration on a Chinese model, even adopting Confucianism as the basis of rule. In 1644 the Manchus seized Beijing and proceeded to occupy all of the country. But the alien Qing (Ch'ing) dynasty (1644–1911) that they established represented more a continuation of the Ming than any sharp break. The Qing administration succeeded largely because, politically, it was a Manchu-Chinese synthesis.

The high point of Qing was reached under the long reigns of the Kangxi (K'ang-hsi) emperor (r. 1661–1722) and the Qianlong (Ch'ien-lung) emperor (r. 1736–95). During this time Chinese rule in Asia was extended over an area greater than that of any previous dynasty except the Mongol Yuan. The Chinese empire included Outer Mongolia, Chinese Turkistan (modern Xinjiang, or Sinkiang, province), Tibet, and in 1683, for the first time, Taiwan. But by the end of the 18th century symptoms of dynastic decline had begun to appear. Military campaigns on the periphery of the empire required enormous expenditures, and corruption was rampant at all levels of government. The overwhelming impact of the West thus came at a most disadvantageous time for China.

Qing Decline
The immediate source of conflict between China and the West was trade. The Qing had attempted to conduct diplomatic and commercial relations with the European powers within the traditional framework of the tribute system and to confine foreign trade to the single port of Guangzhou (Canton) in the south. The British, the most active European traders, were also among the most active in smuggling opium into the country. The destruction by the Chinese of all foreign opium at Guangzhou precipitated the Opium War of 1839–42. At its conclusion the Qing was forced by the Treaty of Nanjing to capitulate to a British naval force, cede Hong Kong to Britain, open several ports to unrestricted trade, and promise henceforth to conduct foreign relations on the basis of equality. It was also compelled to recognize the principle of extraterritoriality, by which Westerners in China were subject only to the jurisdiction of their own country's consular court.

More concessions were wrested from China after the Anglo-French War of 1856–60, which saw the foreign occupation and looting of Beijing and resulted in the opening of all China to Western diplomatic, commercial, and missionary representatives (see Tianjin, Treaties of). This second humiliation to the Qing coincided with a series of internal rebellions sparked by the decline of central authority, the most important of which, during 1851–64, was that of the Taipings, a radical military-religious movement. After achieving initial success, the Taiping Rebellion was put down by newly created provincial militias loyal to the Qing.

These provincial forces and their Chinese leaders represented a shift of power in the provinces from Manchus to Chinese and a new period of regionalism in Chinese politics. But the provincial leaders allied with the central leadership during the late 19th century in seeking first to restore the traditional Confucian system as a means of solving domestic disorder and foreign invasion, and later to introduce into China Western industrial and military technology as part of a self-strengthening movement. Both measures were doomed to fail.

China's continuing helplessness in the face of the foreign threat was revealed most clearly by the Sino-Japanese War over Korea (1894–95) and yet another defeat for China, which was compelled to recognize Korean independence, to cede Taiwan to Japan, and to allow the European powers and Japan to secure concessions. Yet defeat served to spark the abortive Hundred Days reform movement of 1898 and give added impetus to growing anti-Manchu sentiment. The reformers'failure was due in considerable measure to the corrupt and narrow-minded Dowager Empress Cixi (Tz'u-hsi), who dominated the last three decades of Qing government. But after the Boxer Uprising of 1900 precipitated yet another foreign occupation, Cixi found herself compelled to institute a group of genuine reforms.

 

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