The Qing Dynasty
Episode #10 of the course “The Most Powerful Empires in History”
The Qing Dynasty included 5.7 million square miles, which was almost 10 percent of the earth’s land mass. It was the last of the imperial dynasties in China. At its height, it included roughly 450 million people, including many who were not Chinese. The Qing Dynasty is also referred to as the Manchu Dynasty.
The Manchus created the Qing Dynasty in 1636, and its establishment meant the fall of the prior dynasty, the Ming. When the capital of the Ming Dynasty, Beijing, was captured by a bandit leader, Li Zicheng, the Ming officials asked their Manchu neighbors for help in defeating the intruders. The Manchus instead seized the capital for themselves and the Qing Dynasty was born.
The Manchus kept the majority of the Ming leaders in power, which helped pacify the citizens, but they kept about half of the administrative control for the Manchus. They encouraged military leaders to surrender by offering them nobility status, and they reorganized the country’s military forces. The Qing Dynasty expanded the territory of the Ming to include areas like Tibet, Dzungaria, Turkistan, Nepal, and Outer Mongolia.
In the Qing Dynasty, commerce and industry thrived for the first 250 years or so. Handicraft industries were particularly successful; painting, porcelain manufacture, and print making became more commonplace. Science and philology developed. However, after Qianlong’s rule ended in 1796, the Qing Dynasty began to experience problems. The armies deteriorated and internal conflict erupted, partially fueled by the inability to control the large population increase in the area.
The internal conflict had a lot to do with conservative rulers who did not want to “westernize” their culture; however, that also meant that modernization was virtually halted. These conservative ideals even reached decorative crafts, which used repetitive designs based on traditional art forms. The skill used to create porcelain and jade, however, excelled a great deal, even to the point that many observers could not see the artist’s marks.
A series of wars with western powers severely weakened China. It eventually fell to the Republican Revolution in 1911, who established a provisional government under Yuan Shikai.
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