Qing Dynasty


Qing Dynasty Essay, Research Paper

In 1644, the Manchus took over China and founded the Qing dynasty. The Qing weren’t the

worst rulers; under them the arts flowered and culture bloomed. Moreover, they attempted to

copy Chinese institutions and philosophy to a much greater extent than then the Mongols of the

Yuan. However, in their attempt to to emulate the Chinese, they were even more conservative

and inflexible than the Ming. Their approach to foreign policy, which was to make everyone

treat the Emperor like the Son of Heaven and not acknowledge other countries as being equal to

China, didn’t rub the West the right way, even when the Chinese were in the moral right (as in

the Opium Wars, which netted Britain Hong Kong and Kowloon).

To live during the Qing Dynasty was to live in interesting times. Most importantly, the Western

world attempted to make contact on a government-to-government basis, and, at least initially,

failed. The Chinese (more specifically, the ultra-conservative Manchus) had no room in their

world-view for the idea of independent, equal nations (this viewpoint, to a certain degree, still

persists today). There was the rest of the world, and then there was China. It wasn’t that they

rejected the idea of a community of nations; it’s that they couldn’t conceive of it. It would be like

trying to teach a Buddhist monk about the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. This viewpoint was

so pervasive that Chinese reformers who advocated more flexibility in China’s dealings with the

West were often accused of being Westerners with Chinese faces.

Other problems that plagued the late (1840 onwards) Qing included rampant corruption, a steady

decentralization of power, and the unfortunate fact that they were losing control on too many

fronts at the same time. Rebellions sprouted like mushrooms after a rain; apocalyptic cults

undermined what little official authority remained. Several of the rebellions, such as the Taiping

Rebellion, very nearly succeeded. Compounding the problems was squabbling between various

reformers who disagreed on how to best combat the chaos and the West (not necessarily in that

order); in hindsight, it is clear that the entire system was slowly collapsing. .

The attitude of the Western powers towards China (England, Russia, Germany, France, and the

United States, were, more or less, the primary players) was strangely ambivalent. On the one

hand, they did their best to undermine what they considered to be restrictive trading and

governmental regulations; the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) example of that

was the British smuggling of opium into Southern China. Other examples included the ‘right’ for

foreign navies to sail up Chinese rivers and waterways, and extra-territoriality, which meant that

if a British citizen committed a crime in Qing China, he would be tried in a British council under

British law. Most of these ‘rights’ came into being under a series of treaties that came to be

known, and rightly so, as the Unequal Treaties.

On the other hand, they did do their best to prop up the ailing Qing, the most notable example

being the crushing of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 by foreign troops (primarily U.S. Marines).

What the Western powers were interested in was the carving up of China for their own purposes,

and that, paradoxically, required keeping China together.

But things happened to prevent that. First, in 1911, the Qing dynasty collapsed and China

plunged headlong into chaos.

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