Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

In the list of the 10 Biggest Empires in history, the Qing Dynasty was one of the very few that was listed as the last in the strings of great empires all over the world. The Qing dynasty was deemed as the 5th biggest empire in the history of mankind with a 14.7 million kilometer square of conquered lands around the world.

The Qing Dynasty also known as Manchu dynasty was the last dynasty in the Chinese history. It began during the fall of the 276 year old Ming dynasty in 1644 and ended in 1912 though it was attempted to be restored to no avail in 1917. The end of Qing dynasty was known as the beginning of the Republic of China.

Known for its monarchic nature, the Qing Dynasty was established by the Manchu Clan Aisin Gioro within the archaic Manchuria (now known as Northeast China). It was originally founded as the Later Jin Dynasty but was renamed Qing in 1636 which literally translates to “clear”. This era was also said to be the time of the introduction of a new system of faith to the Chinese locals by the Westerners: Christianity.

The Manchu

As opposed to initial beliefs, the founders of the Qing dynasty were not the Han Chinese who were known as the local ethnics and residents of Beijing. The Later Jin Dynasty originated from the Manchus who were the descendants of the Jurchens, people who have lived around the regions that are now known as Chinese provinces Jilin and Heilongjiang. Their state founder, chieftain of a Jurchen tribe named Nurhaci, was originally a vassal of the emperors during the Ming Dynasty. In 1582 however, Nurhaci and his tribe in Jianzhou took part in an inter-tribal battle that later on became a crusade to unify all the tribes in the Jianzhou Jurchen region. By the year 1616, Nurhaci succeeded in amalgamating the whole Jianzhou region and had proclaimed himself the chief of the Great Jin which was derived from the previous Jurchen Dynasty. To distinguish this period to the first Jin Dynasty, historians referred to this as the Later Jin Dynasty, the period before Qing.

In 1618, Nurhaci openly announced his refusal to the rule of the Ming Dynasty so that the Jurchen tribes would be completely unified against the greater power. In the succeeding years, Nurhaci moved his capital to Hetu Ala and conquered bigger Ming cities land provinces like Liaoyang and Shenyang (later known as Shengjing). This brought him to get closer to Mongolia and had eventually paved the way for him to conquer the said land. This he did by befriending the Mongolians and seeking their alliance to fight against the Ming Dynasty. Despite his series of successes in conquering Mongolia and other Ming lands, Nurhaci was defeated in 1626 by general Yuan Chonghuan during a siege in the Ningyuan city. Because of the injuries he sustained, Nurhaci died a few months later, leaving the Manchu front weaker.

The Rise of the Qing Dynasty

In 1644, the Chinese rebel forces lead by Li Zicheng succeeded in driving the administration out of the Forbidden City. Emperor Chongzen’s suicide on a tree at the garden outside the Forbidden City marked the end of the Ming Dynasty and the beginning of the short-lived Shun Dynasty where ex-soldier and rebel chief Li Zicheng proclaimed himself as the first emperor.

At this point, the Manchu forces found out about the fall of the Ming Dynasty and sought to enter Beijing to seize the throne. With the help of Ming Dynasty general Wu Sangui who pursued to change allies (from Ming to Manchu) at the heat of the siege between rebel forces and Ming soldiers, The Manchu forces crossed the walls of Beijing and fought Li Zicheng’s army. They eventually succeeded and this patented the beginning of the Qing Dynasty.

From the establishment of the Qing Dynasty, a period of growth transpired for the Chinese and Manchu people. Repairs and maintenance of public works contributed to the growth of the cities and lower taxes improved the trade and living of the people. Aside from Christianity, Western Missionaries also influenced the Chinese in the field of science.

In terms of political state, the Qing Dynasty prospered well with the government positions being shared by both Manchu and Chinese. The military were organized into units and were each given separate banners. There were different assigned duties for Manchus and Chinese troops and the Qing Dynasty succeeded in expanding its borders for years. The Qing Dynasty was also marked by new literary texts, both Chinese and Manchu alike, and thriving artistic practices. One of the memoirs of the Qing Dynasty was the pottery and porcelain making which effectively captured the oriental style and living during this era. Ceramics, specifically, became the most popular Chinese exports and furnitures and textiles were also traded. These products captivated the British greatly and the whole world that until to this day, ceramics and porcelains from the Qing Dynasty are considered priceless in value.

The Fall of the Qing Dynasty

The Qing Dynasty prospered well into the 20th century despite the numerous problems the administration faced. But during the early days of the 20th century, civil disorders continued to grow in such unmanageable factions that the administration was pushed to do something about it. As an attempt for a solution, Empress Dowager Cixi proclaimed a call for proposals for reform from the generals and governors.  This was called the pledge for the Qing Dynasty’s “New Policy” or “Late Qing Reform”. The said proclamation resulted to the most extensive reforms in 1905 which includes a national education system. However, Empress Cixi and Emperor Guangxu reached a sudden death in 1908 which left the Qing Dynasty’s central authority powerless and weak.

Because the Qing Dynasty was a monarchy, Zaifeng, or Prince Chun, ordered his oldest son (age 2) to the throne. Zaifeng was left to the regency and sought to create a cabinet in 1911 where 5 of the 13 members were part of the imperial family. This resulted in countless negative opinions from other officials and locals that it moved rebellious uprisings against the government.

In October 1911, a revolution called “The Wuchang Uprising” succeeded in eradicating the monarchic government leading to the establishment of the Republic of China.