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Decline of the Qing Dynasty


The Ming Dynasty ruled China for 276 years until, in 1616, a Manchurian army from northeastern Asia invaded China, defeated its forces, and occupied several areas on the northern border. Almost thirty years later, in 1644, China was completely defeated, and Emperor Shunzhi established the Qing Dynasty. The purpose of this paper is to provide information about the history of the Qing Dynasty, the reasons that lead to its decline, and the consequences.

Main body

The Manchu Qing Dynasty, which invaded Beijing in 1644, lasted about 260 years and became the last monarchical dynasty in China. The dynasty was founded in 1616 on the territory of Manchuria. Soon, taking advantage of the unstable situation that was because numerous uprisings weakened central power, this dynasty subjugated all of China, and then part of Mongolia and Central Asia. At first, the Qing dynasty, to strengthen its power and position in Beijing, issued a decree. According to it, under pain of death, every man in the empire was obliged to dress in clothes of the Manchu style and shave the crown, as was customary for the Manchu.

Nevertheless, the Manchu government adopted Chinese customs rather quickly, and, beginning with the second Qing emperor, Kangxi, the rulers started speaking Chinese, and government posts were given to many Chinese scholars. All of this helped to overcome the tension between the Chinese and Manchu aristocracy, and peace and prosperity came to the country for more than one and a half centuries. It was like a calm before a terrible approaching storm.

The peaceful rule of the Qing Dynasty was violated in the last years of the life of Emperor Qianlong in the 1790s. At this time, the cult of the White Lotus Society spread among most of the Chinese people, regardless of their status in society. Its uncontrolled growth aroused suspicion among the government, and it started an investigation that led to an armed uprising, and the White Lotus Society members began to attack government offices in the villages.

At the same time, the Miao tribes were rebelling in the south. It took the imperial army several years to suppress the riots, and this demonstrated to the West the weaknesses of the Chinese armed forces. Also, it significantly undermined the authority and power of the ruling house. In addition, at the end of the eighteenth century, secret criminal groups, triads, began to form in Taiwan. They opposed the Manchu emperor and undermined the foundation of the Qing Dynasty from the inside. All of these events marked the beginning of the Qing Dynasty’s decline.

The first half of the Qing Dynasty’s ruling period was marked by population growth and economic development. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, after the ban on trade with other countries was lifted in 1684, the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and Americans bought tea and silk paying with textile imports and silver. China’s exports significantly exceeded its imports, until the British, and later the Americans began to import opium into the country. This drug appeared to be a good-selling product; many aristocrats and officials turned into real drug addicts, and the degradation swept all segments of the Chinese population. The government decided to ban the opium trade, but this only led to illegal trade, smuggling, and corruption.

In an attempt to stop the inexhaustible flows of opium into China in 1839, Governor-General Lin Zexu demanded that the British merchants stop importing the drug, confiscate their reserves of opium, and destroy them in seawater. Following this, Britain declared the Chinese actions illegal and demanded compensation for the losses, and in 1840 declared war on China. Soon the Americans joined the British. China suffered a defeat in the First Opium War and was forced to sign the Nanjing Peace Treaty in 1842.

This treaty was a turning point in Chinese history, putting the country in an unequal position in its relations with Great Britain. A few years after the signing of the treaty, the British demanded a review of its terms, and at the same time, China began to be torn apart by endless riots, piracy, flourishing smuggling, and illegal trade. The hatred of the local population towards the barbarians reached its climax: the Europeans were being attacked in the streets and stoned.

However, this did not stop the British, and in 1856, England and France declared a new war on China. In 1858, the combined enemy army captured Tianjin that was located near Beijing, and the Qing government was forced to sign a new treaty. The war, however, did not end there, and after several battles, the Qing government was again forced to sign the shameful and unequal peace treaty.

Almost simultaneously with the second opium war in China, the most violent uprising in its history that later was called the Taiping Rebellion broke out. The leader of this riot was the Chinese Christian Hong Xiuquan, and his ideas, together with the hatred of the Manchus and barbarians from the West, very quickly found a response among the masses. In a few years, society turned into an influential and aggressive force.

The Taipings announced the creation of a new state within China, occupied the city of Nanjing, issued new laws, carried out land reform, and even created a new calendar. In 1856, disputes for power began in this new state, and the Qing army, taking advantage of the weakness of the enemy, decided to attack. In this war, the Europeans chose to support the Manchus, and in 1864 the rebellion was crushed. After exposing its weaknesses, China started losing power over its peripheral regions. By 1900, several foreign powers, including France, Britain, Germany, Japan, and Russia, created spheres of influence along with the coastal areas of China. In those regions, the foreign powers controlled the armed forces and the trade, although technically they continued to be part of China; the situation with power was unstable, and the dynasty was declining.


Finally, in 1911, the Qing Dynasty was overthrown by a riot that was slowly starting from 1894, when a revolutionary Sun Yat-sen formed the Chinese Revival Society. In 1905, he gathered several revolutionary groups into one, and in 1911, the National Party of China started a riot in Wuchang, which was helped by the Qing Dynasty’s soldiers. Sometime later, fifteen provinces started being independent of the empire, and the Qing court agreed to create a republic with its president, government official Yuan Shikai.

In 1912, Puyi, the last emperor from the Qing Dynasty, abdicated when Sun created an interim constitution for the new country, and it marked the beginning of many years of political unrest around Yuan. In 1917, a short attempt was made to return the Qing government when Puyi was briefly declared emperor during a military coup, but this attempt failed, and the Qing Dynasty faded forever.


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