History of Qing Dynasty

The Qing Dynasty (Chinese: 清朝; pinyin: Qīng cháo; Wade-Giles: Ch'ing ch'ao; Manchu: Daicing gurun; Mongolian: Манж Чин Улс), also known as the Empire of Great Qing of China (simplified Chinese: 大清帝国; traditional Chinese: 大清帝國; pinyin: dàqīngdiguó) and Manchu Dynasty, was the last ruling dynasty of China from 1644 to 1912.

The dynasty was founded by the Manchu clan Aisin Gioro in what is today northeast China (Manchuria). Starting in 1644 it expanded into China proper and its surrounding territories, establishing the Empire of the Great Qing (simplified Chinese: 大清国; traditional Chinese: 大清國; pinyin: dàqīngguó). The Qing Dynasty was the last Imperial dynasty of China.

Originally declared as the Later Jin Dynasty (後金 Hòu Jīn) / Amaga Aisin Gurun (), in 1616, it changed its name to "Qing", meaning "clear" or "pellucid", in 1636 and captured Beijing in 1644. By 1646 it had come into power over most of present-day China, although complete pacification of China would not be accomplished until 1683.
During its reign, the Qing Dynasty became highly integrated with Chinese culture. However, its military power weakened during the 1800s, and faced with international pressure, massive rebellions and defeats in wars, the Qing Dynasty declined after the mid-19th century. The Qing Dynasty was overthrown following the Xinhai Revolution, when the Empress Dowager Longyu abdicated on behalf of the last emperor, Puyi, on February 12, 1912.

Formation of the Manchu State

 
The Dynasty was founded not by the Han Chinese who form the majority of the Chinese population, but the Manchus, who are today an ethnic minority within China. The Manchus are descended from Jurchens (Ch: 女真, Man:  Jušen), a Tungusic people who lived around the region now comprising the Russian province of Primorsky Krai and the Chinese provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin. What was to become the Manchu state was founded by Nurhaci (Ch: 努尔哈赤), the chieftain of a minor Jurchen tribe in Jianzhou (Ch: 建州), in the early 17th century. Originally a vassal of the Ming emperors, Nurhaci in 1582 embarked on an inter-tribal feud that escalated into a campaign to unify the Jianzhou Jurchen tribes. By 1616 he had sufficiently consolidated Jianzhou region to proclaim himself Khan of "Great Jin" in reference to the previous Jurchen dynasty. Historians refer to this pre-Qing entity as "Later Jin" to distinguish it from the first Jin Dynasty. Two years later Nurhaci openly renounced the sovereignty of Ming overlordship in order to complete the unification of those Jurchen tribes still allied with the Ming emperor. After a series of successful battles he relocated his capital from Hetu Ala to successively bigger captured Ming cities in the province of Liaodong (Ch: 辽东), first Liaoyang (Ch: 辽阳; Man: dergi hecen) in 1621 and again in 1625 to Shenyang (Ch: 沈阳; later renamed Shengjing; Ch: 盛京; Man:  Mukden).

Relocating his court from Jianzhou to Liaodong provided Nurhaci a bigger power base in terms of human and material resources; geographically it also brought him in close contact with the Mongol domains on the plains of Mongolia. Although by this time the once-united Mongol nation under Genghis Khan had long fragmented into individual and at times hostile tribes, these disunited tribes still presented a serious security threat to the Ming borders. Nurhaci's policy towards the Mongols was to seek their friendship and cooperation, thus securing the Jurchens' western front from a potential enemy. Furthermore, the Mongols proved a useful ally in the war, lending the Jurchens their traditional expertise as cavalry archers. To cement this new alliance Nurhaci initiated a policy of inter-marriages between Jurchen and those Mongolian nobility compliant to Jurchen leadership, while those who resisted were met with military action. This is a typical example of Nurhaci's many initiatives that eventually became official Qing government policy. Some of Nurhaci's other important contributions include ordering the creation of a written Manchu language based on Mongolian script, and the creation of the civil and military administrative system that eventually evolved into the Manchu Banners the defining element of Manchu identity, thus laying foundation for transforming the loosely knitted Jurchen tribes into a nation.

 
Nurhaci's unbroken series of military successes came to an end in January 1626 when he was dealt his first major military defeat by general Yuan Chonghuan while laying siege to the Ming city of Ningyuan. He died a few months later and was succeeded by his eighth son Hung Taiji who emerged after a short political struggle amongst other potential contenders as the new Khan. Although he was an experienced general and the commander of two Banners at the time of his succession, Hung Taiji's reign did not start well on the military front. The Jurchens suffered yet another defeat in 1627 at the hands of Yuan Chonghuan. As before, this defeat was the result of the superior firepower of the Ming forces' newly acquired Portuguese cannons. To redress the technological and numerical disparity Hung Taiji in 1634 created his own artillery corps (Ch: 重军, Man: ujen chooha) from amongst his existing Han troops who cast their own cannons from European design with the help of captured Chinese artisans. In 1635 the Manchu's Mongolian allies were fully incorporated into a separate Banner hierarchy under direct Manchu command. Hong Taiji then proceeded in 1636 to invade Korea for the second time. This was followed by the creation of the first (two) Han Banners in 1637 (which eventually increased to eight in 1642). Together these military reforms enabled Hung Taiji to resoundingly defeat Ming forces in a series of battles from 1640 to 1642 for the territories of Songshan (Ch: 松山)) and Jingzhou (Ch: 锦州)). This final victory resulted in the surrender of many of the Mings' most battle hardened troops and the complete permanent withdrawal of remaining Ming forces from lands north of the Great Wall.

On the civil front, Hung Taiji, on the advice of surrendered Ming officials, set up a rudimentary bureaucratic system based on the Ming model of government. Hung Taiji's bureaucracy was staffed with an unprecedented number of Han Chinese, many of them newly surrendered Ming officials. However, the Jurchens' continued dominance in government was ensured by an ethnic quota for top bureaucratic appointments. Hung Taiji's reign also saw a fundamental change of policy towards his Han Chinese subjects. Whereas under Nurhaci all captured Han Chinese were seen as a potential fifth column for the Ming Dynasty and treated as chattel— including those who eventually held important government posts– Hung Taiji in contrast incorporated them into the Jurchen "nation" as full if not first class citizens, who were also obligated to provide military service. This change of policy not only increased Hung Taiji's power base and reduced his military dependence on those banners not under his personal control, it also greatly encouraged other Han Chinese subjects of the Ming Dynasty to surrender and accept Jurchen rule when they were defeated militarily. Through these and other measures Hung Taiji was able to centralize power unto the office of the Khan, which in the long run prevented the Jurchen federation from fragmenting after his death.

One of the defining events of Hung Taiji's reign was the official adoption of the name Manchu (Ch: 满族; Man: ) for all Jurchen people in November 1635. And when the imperial seal of the Yuan emperors was presented to Hung Taiji by Ejei Khan the son of Lingdan Khan, the last grand-Khan of the Mongols, Hung Taiji in 1636 renamed the state from "Later Jin" to "Great Qing" and elevated his position from Khan to Emperor, suggesting imperial ambitions beyond unifying Manchu territories. Some sources suggested that the name "Qing" was chosen in reaction to that of the Ming Dynasty (明) which consists of the Chinese characters for sun (日) and moon (月)]], which are associated with the fire element. The character Qing (清) is composed of the water (水) radical and the character for blue-green (青), which are both associated with the water element. Others suggested that the name change went a long way to rehabilitate the Manchu state in the eyes of the Ming-era Han Chinese, who, being heavily influenced by a Neo-Confucian education system, had regarded the former Jurchen Jin dynasty as foreign invaders.

 

Claiming the Mandate of Heaven
 
Hung Taiji died suddenly in September 1643 without a designated heir. Because Jurchens had traditionally "elected" their leader through a council of nobles, the Qing state did not have in place a clear succession system until the reign of Emperor Kangxi. The leading contenders for power at this time were Hung Taiji’s eldest son Hooge and Hung Taiji’s agnate half brother Dorgon. In the ensuing political impasse between two bitter political rivals a compromise candidate in the person of Hung Taiji’s five-year-old son Fulin was installed as Emperor Shunzhi, with Dorgon as regent and de facto leader of the Manchu nation. The Manchus' nemesis the Ming Dynasty was fighting for its own survival against a long peasant rebellion and was unable to capitalise on the Qing court’s political uncertainty over the succession dispute and installation of a minor as Emperor. The Ming Dynasty's internal crisis came to a head in April 1644, when the capital at modern day Beijing was sacked by a coalition of rebel forces led by Li Zicheng, a minor Ming official turned leader of the peasant revolt. The last Ming, Emperor Chongzhen committed suicide when the city fell, marking the official end of the dynasty.

After easily taking Beijing, Li Zicheng led a coalition of rebel forces numbering 200,000 to confront Wu Sangui, the general commanding the Ming garrison at Shanhaiguan (Ch:山海關). Shanhaiguan is a pivotal pass of the Great Wall of China located fifty miles northeast of Beijing, and for years its defenses were what kept the Manchus from directly raiding the Ming capital. Wu, caught between a rebel army twice his size and a foreign enemy he had fought for years, decided to cast his lot with the Manchus with whom he was familiar, and made an alliance with Dorgon to fight the rebels. Some sources suggested that Wu's actions were influenced by news of mistreatment of his family and his concubine Chen Yuanyuan at the hands of the rebels when the capital fell. Regardless of the actual reasons for his decision, this awkward and some would say cynical alliance between Wu and his former sworn enemy was ironically made in the name of avenging the death of Emperor Chongzhen. Together, the two former enemies met and defeated Li Zicheng's rebel forces in battle on May 27, 1644. After routing Li's forces, the Manchus captured Beijing on June 6, where Emperor Shunzhi was installed as the "Son of Heaven" on October 30. The Manchus who had positioned themselves as political heir to the Ming Emperor by defeating Li Zicheng, completed the symbolic act of transition by holding a formal funeral for Emperor Chongzhen. However the process of conquering the rest of China took another seventeen years of battling Ming loyalists, pretenders and rebels. It also involved huge loss of life, including the infamous Yangzhou massacre of 1645, when a ten-day rampage by troops in the city with the permission of Prince Dodo resulted in an estimated 800,000 deaths. The last Ming pretender, Prince Gui, sought refuge with the King of Burma, a vassal of the Ming Dynasty, but was turned over to a Qing expeditionary army commanded by Wu, who had him brought back to Yunnan province and executed in early 1662.

 
The first seven years of Shunzhi’s reign were dominated by the regent prince Dorgon, who, because of his own political insecurity within the Manchu power structure, followed Hung Taiji’s example of centralizing power under his own control in the name of the Emperor at the expense of other contending Manchu princes, many of whom eventually were demoted or imprisoned under one pretext or another. Although the period of his regency was relatively short, Dorgon cast a long shadow over the Qing Dynasty. Firstly the Manchus were able to enter "China Proper" only because of Dorgon’s timely decision to act on Wu Sangui’s appeal for military assistance. After capturing Beijing instead of sacking the city as the rebels had done before them, Dorgon insisted over the protests of other Manchu princes on making it Qing’s capital and largely reappointed Ming officials to their posts. Setting the Qing capital in Beijing may seem a straightforward move in hindsight, but it was then an act of innovation because historically no major Chinese dynasty had ever "inherited" its immediate predecessor’s capital. Keeping the Ming capital and bureaucracy intact helped quickly stabilize the country and greatly sped up the Manchu process of conquest. However, not all of Dorgon’s policies were equally popular nor easily implemented.

One of Dorgon's most controversial decisions was his 1646 imperial edict (the "Queue Order") which forced all Han Chinese men, on pain of death, to adopt the Manchu style of dress, including shaving the front of their heads and combing the remaining hair into a queue. To the Manchus this policy might both be a symbolic act of submission and in practical terms an aid in identification of friend from foe, however for the Han Chinese it totally went against their traditional Confucian values. Unsurprisingly it was deeply unpopular and, together with other policies unfavourable towards the Han Chinese, might account for the increasingly steep resistance met by Qing forces after 1646. Hundreds of thousands were killed before all of China was brought into compliance.

Dorgon died suddenly while on a hunting expedition in 1651 marking the official start of Emperor Shunzhi’s personal rule. However, because the Emperor was only twelve years old at that time, most decisions were made on his behalf by his mother, the Empress Dowager Xiao-Zhuang, who turned out to be a skilled political operator. Although Dorgon’s “support” was essential to Shunzhi’s ascent and rule in the early years of the his reign, Dorgon had through the years centralised so much power in his office as imperial regent as to become a direct threat to the throne, so much so that upon his death Dorgon was extraordinarily bestowed the posthumous title of Emperor Yi (Ch: 義皇帝), the only instance in Qing history of a Manchu "prince of the blood" (Zh: 亲王) was so honored. However two months into Shunzhi’s personal rule Dorgon was not only stripped of his titles, but his corpse was disinterred and mutilated to atone for multiple "crimes"—one of which was persecuting to death Shunzhi’s agnate eldest brother Hooge. More importantly Dorgon’s symbolic fall from grace also signalled a political purge of his family and associates at court thus reverting power back to the person of the Emperor. However, from a promising start, Shunzhi’s reign was cut short by his early death in 1661 at the age of twenty-four from smallpox. He was succeeded by his third son Xuan-Ye, who became Emperor Kangxi.

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