China, Qing (Ching) Dynasty


Ch'ing (chĬng) or Manchu (măn´chōō´, măn´chōō´), the last of the Imperial dynasties of China.


The Ch'ing dynasty was established by the Manchus, who invaded China and captured Beijing in 1644, and lasted until 1911. The term Ch'ing means "pure," and it was used to add legitimacy to an alien rule. The Manchus adopted many aspects of Chinese culture, won widespread Chinese collaboration, and ruled China in some ways while preserving special privileges for themselves. Although many Chinese officials were employed in central and local governments, the Manchus held half of the high offices to assure control over administration.

The Early Ch'ing

Emperor K'ang-Hsi (reigned 1661–1722) consolidated the Manchu regime by suppressing rebellions (1673–81) and defeating the Mongols and Tibetans. In 1689 the Ch'ing signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk with Russia, demarcating the northern extent of the Manchurian boundary at the Argun River. When Jesuit missionaries appeared, K'ang-Hsi issued (1692) an edict of toleration and employed some of them as astronomers and artists in the palace. But the Roman Catholic Church's decision not to allow the Chinese converts to worship Confucius and their ancestors led to the expulsion of the missionaries in the early 18th cent.

Under Emperor Ch'ien-lung (reigned 1735–96), China attained its greatest territorial expansion: Outer Mongolia, Tibet, Nepal, and Turkistan were included in the empire. The economy and commerce greatly expanded. Handicraft industries, such as porcelain manufacture, prospered. Painting, especially the "literati painting" (wen-jen-hua), by which artists tried to express personal feelings, flourished. The Beijing Opera was patronized by Manchu aristocrats. The Manchus, however, maintained an autocratic cultural policy of suppressing subversive writings. Many Chinese authors were jailed, exiled, or killed for criticizing the regime or commenting on current affairs. Study of the ancient classics thrived, and numerous works were compiled and cataloged.

The early Ch'ing's foreign trade policy was affected by considerations of national security. As China's economic growth attracted the attention of European maritime powers, the dynasty tried to limit contacts between foreigners and potential rebels. An imperial edict in 1759 allowed maritime trade only at the port of Guangzhou.

Western Imperialism and Internal Pressures

By the 19th cent. British merchants, who had actively traded in S China, pressured their government to make repeated attempts (1793, 1816, 1834) to open China's market by establishing official trade relations with the Ch'ing government. All these attempts failed. But Britain's victory in the first of the Opium Wars (1839–42) forced China to sign the Treaty of Nanjing (1842), the first of the unequal treaties that China signed with Western countries. By these treaties China was forced to open coastal and later internal ports to foreign trade and residence, cede Hong Kong to Great Britain, and establish extraterritoriality for Western nations.

The Manchu regime, already weakened by Western encroachments, was further enfeebled by internal rebellions. The Taiping Rebellion (1851–64) nearly brought the dynasty to an end. However, the Manchu regime suppressed the major rebellions and embarked on a policy of diplomatic, technological, and military modernization led by Tseng Kuo-fan (1811–72) and Li Hung-chang (1823–1901). These statesmen played important roles in the T'ung Chih restoration (1862–74), during which the dynasty attempted to restore the traditional order by reasserting Confucian social values and importing modern weaponry from the West.

China yielded to Western demands for permanent diplomatic representation in Beijing (1860) and continued to suffer territorial encroachments. Russia occupied Ili, Japan incorporated the Ryukyu islands, France made Annam a protectorate, and Great Britain completed its annexation of Burma (Myanmar). The First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) deprived China of its suzerainty over Korea and Taiwan, and the war was followed by the partition of mainland China into "spheres of influence." The general agreement was that Great Britain should predominate in the Chang (Yangtze) valley, France in the extreme south, and Russia in Manchuria. After the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5), Japan took over Russia's sphere.

Efforts to strengthen the dynasty against foreign imperialism were undertaken by Kang Yowei (1858–1927) with the support of the emperor Kuang-hsu. These efforts, however, were frustrated by the dowager empress Tz'u Hsi, who aborted the reform movement in a coup. She supported the Boxer Uprising, however, in a vain attempt to dislodge the foreign powers (1898–1900).

Collapse of the Dynasty

Following foreign suppression of the Boxer Uprising, Tz'u Hsi changed course and allowed some moderate educational and administrative reforms. However, the dynasty acted slowly upon the demands of intellectuals, social leaders, and progressive provincial governors for a national assembly and a change to constitutional monarchy.

From abroad Sun Yat-sen helped to foster and lead a movement for the revolutionary overthrow of the Manchus and establishment of a republic. A coalition, which included moderate leaders in S China, revolutionary students who had returned from the West, and military officers, finally overthrew the dynasty in the Revolution of 1911. Following the collapse of the Ch'ing, China abandoned its 2,000-year tradition of monarchic rule in favor of a republican form of government.


See S. Y. Teng and J. K. Fairbank, China's Response to the West (1954); F. Wakeman, Jr., The Fall of Imperial China (1975) and The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in Seventeenth-Century China (2 vol. 1985); I. C. Y. Hsü, The Rise of Modern China (1990); J. D. Spence, The Search for Modern China (1990).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

China, Qing (Ching) Dynasty: Selected full-text books and articles

Empire at the Margins: Culture, Ethnicity, and Frontier in Early Modern China By Pamela Kyle Crossley; Helen F. Siu; Donald S. Sutton University of California Press, 2006
The Prospect of Global History By James Belich; John Darwin; Margret Frenz; Chris Wickham Oxford University Press, 2016
The History of China By David Curtis Wright Greenwood Press, 2001
Librarian's tip: "Manchu Conquest: 1644-1912" begins on p. 91
The Search for Modern China By Jonathan D. Spence W. W. Norton, 1999 (2nd edition)
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "The Manchu Conquest" and Chap. 10 "New Tensions in the Late Qing"
Government Enterprises & Industrial Relations in Late Qing China By Pong, David The Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 47, No. 1, March 2001
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The District Magistrate in Late Imperial China By John R. Watt Columbia University Press, 1972
Librarian's tip: Part III "Politics of Ch'ing District Administration"
Unity and Diversity: Local Cultures and Identities in China By Tao Tao Liu; David Faure Hong Kong University Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "Provinces, City Gods and Salt Merchants: Provincial Identity in Ming and Qing Dynasty Hangzhou" and Chap. 3 "Literary, Ethnic or Territorial? Definitions of Guangdong Culture in the Late Qing and Early Republic"
Remapping China: Fissures in Historical Terrain By Gail Hershatter; Emily Honig; Jonathan N. Lipman; Randall Stross Stanford University Press, 1996
Coming out of the Middle Ages: Comparative Reflections on China and the West By Wei-Cheng Chu; Ruth Hayhoe M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1990
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "Coming out of the Middle Ages: Historical Reflections on the Late Ming to the Late Qing"
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.