The Qing dynasty was founded by the Manchus, the indigenous population of Northeast China. The Qing dynasty ruled China since 1644 to 1911. The emperors of the Ming dynasty ruled China since 1368. High taxes made their rule unpopular, and the whole country was swept up by the commotion. The last emperor of the Ming dynasty hung himself when insurgent peasants captured Beijing. Taking disorder in the country, the Manchu ruler Dorgun moved an army to China. The Qing dynasty was founded and its name meant “pure”. At the beginning of the rule of Qing dynasty, China flourished. The empire expanded, trade developed, especially in relationships with Europe. Chinese silk and porcelain were the best in the world; cotton products were cheap and had high quality.
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The empire became so powerful that its rulers allowed themselves to treat the rest of the world with contempt. During the Kangxi’s times (1662 – 1722), foreign merchants were obliged to kneel when emperor’s commands were read. The Manchus made nearby countries (Tibet, Annam (Vietnam), Burma, Mongolia and Turkestan) as vassals, creating the greatest empire in the world at that time. The Qing dynasty succeeded to ensure peace in China.
In 1679, emperor Kangxi dismissed his uncle and took power into his own hands. From this time the so-called “Kangxi era” began. It became the period of prosperity, and the emperor himself was considered an exemplary ruler. Strengthening his personal power, Kangxi weakened the influence of the Manchu aristocracy and took the most important decisions independently. Since the beginning of the 80s of the XVII century, a sharp decline of the armed struggle in China had come. During the reign of Kangxi, more than 50 large and small uprisings occurred against the Manchu conquerors, but it was two times less than during the period when his father ruled the empire. Moreover, since 1681 they began a repair of the dams, canals, irrigation systems and roads which were damaged or destroyed.
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A skilled administrator, an intelligent politician and a cunning diplomat, Kangxi concentrated all power in his hands. He directly supervised the “six departments” and he solved the most important questions. Kangxi stopped the persecution of Christians, returned the missionaries from the disgrace, studied with them mathematics and other sciences. He received a classical Chinese education and became a zealous Confucian. He claimed the fame of a Confucian scholar and philanthropist. Strictly monitoring the mood of the population, Kangxi developed the “16 commandments” instead of Fulin’s “six precepts”. They were published in the form of a special “sacred decree” in 1670.
Kangxi’s goal was to defeat of the Dzungar Khanate and put Tibet in dependence on the Qing Empire. In 1705 – 1710, an armed struggle between the Khoshut ruler Lhavzan Khan and the Tibetan regent Sangye Gyatso (Sanzhai Zhamzo) broke out in Tibet. Trying to establish his influence in Tibet, the emperor supported the Khoshuts. In Beijing, it was well understood that the Qing rule in Mongolia could not be lasting without its religious support from Lhasa and without the Manchus friendly influence of the Dalai Lamas on the Buddhist church in Mongolia. However, Kangxi wished to weaken the rulers of Lhasa with the hands of Khoshut, in order to prostrate both of them.
To continue, it is relevant to admit the fact about Chinese relationships with Russia. The Qing Empire was forced to strengthen its northern borders. The emergence of Russians, servicemen, and settlers in the basin of the middle reaches of the Amur River forced the government to create a springboard to counter the expansion of the Moscow state. In 1678 Kangxi ordered the Mukden military commander Anzhuha to build a special system of fortified lines, called “Willow Palisade”. With the end of the war in China and the annexation of Taiwan, Kangxi paid special attention to the war with the Moscow state in the Amur region. The Russian government sent F. Golovin’s embassy to the Amur River with a proposal for negotiations. In 1689, in Nerchinsk, under the pressure of the great Qing army that surrounded the city, F. A. Golovin signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk. According to this treaty, the border between Russian and Qing Empire was determined in the upper reaches of the Amur River. Emperor Kangxi died in 1722.
In the XVIII century, the Qing Empire was at the top of its power. The country was ruled by Qianlong, who was Kangxi’s grandson and who ascended the throne in 1735 and ruled almost till the end of the century. During this period, China encountered the problem of overpopulation. The number of residents increased to three hundred million. As a result, a shortage of fertile arable land was felt. This period of Chinese history was horrifying, but Qianlong severely suppressed popular waves in Sichuan, personally led military expeditions in Mongolia and Xinjiang, and strengthened the influence of the Manchu dynasty in Tibet. In general, the emperor, continuing the traditions of his famous ancestors, tried to manage everything himself and delved into all the nuances of the functioning of his state.
In addition, Qianlong made a lot for Chinese culture. The Qing Imperial Library was created; it was the most grandiose publishing house in Chinese history. The result of the cultural project was to be the creation of the imperial library, which exceeded the famous encyclopedia Yunle. The period of Qianlong’s rule was the age of the expansion of the Old World everywhere, not excluding Southeast Asia. In the next century, attempts to resist the aggressive penetration of Europeans ended in two opium wars and the decline of the empire.
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The Qing Empire joined territories of about three million square kilometers and became the most powerful state in Southeast Asia. Qianlong, conquering Tibet and subjugating Kashgariya and Dzungaria, considered himself as the Lord of the world. Moreover, foreign economic was regulated very harshly; a huge number of prohibitions were imposed.
Despite the emperor’s attempts to become an exemplary ruler, not everything was perfect. By the end of Qianlong’s rule, corruption had reached cosmic proportions, and the country was on the verge of a large-scale conflict with the Western powers. In 1796, Qianlong was already 85 years old, and he could no longer manage a huge empire.
To conclude, it is relevant to repeat that the last dynasty of China Qing was founded by the Manchu invaders. However, it became one of the greatest Chinese dynasties. Kangxi, who ruled between 1661 and 1722, urged his officials and the Manchu aristocracy to learn Chinese, history, and traditions. He created a full dictionary of Chinese hieroglyphs. Kangxi’s grandson, Emperor Qianlong, adhered to the principle of universalism. He ruled the empire, where the Mongols, Turkic peoples, Tibetans and Han people lived. He was an enlightened monarch, who united the numerous peoples of his empire. Unlike Kangxi, Qianlong did not urge the Manchus to study Chinese literature and traditions. He wanted the Manchus to learn the language of their ancestors, and improve archery and riding. He told the soldiers that further study of Chinese culture is not necessary.
Thus, the most successful emperors of the Qing dynasty – Kangxi and Qianlong demonstrated by their policies that the Manchus can be Chinese, without forgetting their cultural characteristics and the status of the ruling nation.
- Rawski, S. Evelyn, The Last Emperors: A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions. University of California Press, 1998.
- Tanner, M. Harold, CHINA A history. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2010.