The Rise of the Manchus
Although the Manchus were not Han Chinese and were strongly resisted,
especially in the south, they had assimilated a great deal of Chinese culture before
conquering China Proper. Realizing that to dominate the empire they would have
to do things the Chinese way, the Manchus retained many institutions of Ming and
earlier Chinese derivation. They continued the Confucian court practices and
temple rituals, over which the emperors had traditionally presided.
The Manchus continued the Confucian civil service system. Although Chinese
were barred from the highest offices, Chinese officials predominated over
Manchu officeholders outside the capital, except in military positions. The
Neo-Confucian philosophy, emphasizing the obedience of subject to ruler, was
enforced as the state creed. The Manchu emperors also supported Chinese
literary and historical projects of enormous scope; the survival of much of China's
ancient literature is attributed to these projects.
Ever suspicious of Han Chinese, the Qing rulers put into effect measures aimed at preventing the absorption of the Manchus
into the dominant Han Chinese population. Han Chinese were prohibited from migrating into the Manchu homeland, and
Manchus were forbidden to engage in trade or manual labor. Intermarriage between the two groups was forbidden. In many
government positions a system of dual appointments was used--the Chinese appointee was required to do the substantive
work and the Manchu to ensure Han loyalty to Qing rule.
The Qing regime was determined to protect itself not only from internal rebellion but also from foreign invasion. After China
Proper had been subdued, the Manchus conquered Outer Mongolia (now the Mongolian People's Republic) in the late
seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century they gained control of Central Asia as far as the Pamir Mountains and
established a protectorate over the area the Chinese call Xizang () but commonly known in the West as Tibet. The Qing
thus became the first dynasty to eliminate successfully all danger to China Proper from across its land borders. Under
Manchu rule the empire grew to include a larger area than before or since; Taiwan, the last outpost of anti-Manchu
resistance, was also incorporated into China for the first time. In addition, Qing emperors received tribute from the various
The chief threat to China's integrity did not come overland, as it had so often in the past, but by sea, reaching the southern
coastal area first. Western traders, missionaries, and soldiers of fortune began to arrive in large numbers even before the
Qing, in the sixteenth century. The empire's inability to evaluate correctly the nature of the new challenge or to respond
flexibly to it resulted in the demise of the Qing and the collapse of the entire millennia-old framework of dynastic rule.
Emergence Of Modern China
The success of the Qing dynasty in maintaining the old order proved a liability when the empire was confronted with growing
challenges from seafaring Western powers. The centuries of peace and self-satisfaction dating back to Ming times had
encouraged little change in the attitudes of the ruling elite. The imperial Neo-Confucian scholars accepted as axiomatic the
cultural superiority of Chinese civilization and the position of the empire at the hub of their perceived world. To question this
assumption, to suggest innovation, or to promote the adoption of foreign ideas was viewed as tantamount to heresy. Imperial
purges dealt severely with those who deviated from orthodoxy.
By the nineteenth century, China was experiencing growing internal pressures of economic origin. By the start of the century,
there were over 300 million Chinese, but there was no industry or trade of sufficient scope to absorb the surplus labor.
Moreover, the scarcity of land led to widespread rural discontent and a breakdown in law and order. The weakening through
corruption of the bureaucratic and military systems and mounting urban pauperism also contributed to these disturbances.
Localized revolts erupted in various parts of the empire in the early nineteenth century. Secret societies, such as the White
Lotus sect () in the north and the Triad Society () in the south, gained ground, combining anti-Manchu
subversion with banditry.
The Western Powers Arrive
As elsewhere in Asia, in China the Portuguese were the pioneers, establishing a foothold at Macao ( or Aomen in
pinyin), from which they monopolized foreign trade at the Chinese port of Guangzhou ( or Canton). Soon the Spanish
arrived, followed by the British and the French.
Trade between China and the West was carried on in the guise of tribute: foreigners were obliged to follow the elaborate,
centuries-old ritual imposed on envoys from China's tributary states. There was no conception at the imperial court that the
Europeans would expect or deserve to be treated as cultural or political equals. The sole exception was Russia, the most
powerful inland neighbor.
The Manchus were sensitive to the need for security along the northern land frontier and therefore were prepared to be
realistic in dealing with Russia. The Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689) with the Russians, drafted to bring to an end a series of
border incidents and to establish a border between Siberia and Manchuria (northeast China) along the Heilong Jiang (
or Amur River), was China's first bilateral agreement with a European power. In 1727 the Treaty of Kiakhta
delimited the remainder of the eastern portion of the Sino-Russian border. Western diplomatic efforts to expand trade on
equal terms were rebuffed, the official Chinese assumption being that the empire was not in need of foreign--and thus
inferior--products. Despite this attitude, trade flourished, even though after 1760 all foreign trade was confined to Guangzhou,
where the foreign traders had to limit their dealings to a dozen officially licensed Chinese merchant firms.
Trade was not the sole basis of contact with the West. Since the thirteenth century, Roman Catholic missionaries had been
attempting to establish their church in China. Although by 1800 only a few hundred thousand Chinese had been converted,
the missionaries--mostly Jesuits--contributed greatly to Chinese knowledge in such fields as cannon casting, calendar making,
geography, mathematics, cartography, music, art, and architecture. The Jesuits were especially adept at fitting Christianity into
a Chinese framework and were condemned by a papal decision in 1704 for having tolerated the continuance of Confucian
ancestor rites among Christian converts. The papal decision quickly weakened the Christian movement, which it proscribed
as heterodox and disloyal.
The Opium War, 1839-42
During the eighteenth century, the market in Europe and America for tea, a new drink in the West, expanded greatly.
Additionally, there was a continuing demand for Chinese silk and porcelain. But China, still in its preindustrial stage, wanted
little that the West had to offer, causing the Westerners, mostly British, to incur an unfavorable balance of trade. To remedy
the situation, the foreigners developed a third-party trade, exchanging their merchandise in India and Southeast Asia for raw
materials and semiprocessed goods, which found a ready market in Guangzhou. By the early nineteenth century, raw cotton
and opium () from India had become the staple British imports into China, in spite of the fact that opium was prohibited
entry by imperial decree. The opium traffic was made possible through the connivance of profit-seeking merchants and a
In 1839 the Qing government, after a decade of unsuccessful anti-opium campaigns, adopted drastic prohibitory laws against
the opium trade. The emperor dispatched a commissioner, Lin Zexu ( 1785-1850), to Guangzhou to suppress illicit
opium traffic. Lin seized illegal stocks of opium owned by Chinese dealers and then detained the entire foreign community and
confiscated and destroyed some 20,000 chests of illicit British opium. The British retaliated with a punitive expedition, thus
initiating the first Anglo-Chinese war, better known as the Opium War (1839-42). Unprepared for war and grossly
underestimating the capabilities of the enemy, the Chinese were disastrously defeated, and their image of their own imperial
power was tarnished beyond repair. The Treaty of Nanjing (1842), signed on board a British warship by two Manchu
imperial commissioners and the British plenipotentiary, was the first of a series of agreements with the Western trading nations
later called by the Chinese the "unequal treaties." Under the Treaty of Nanjing, China ceded the island of Hong Kong (
or Xianggang in pinyin) to the British; abolished the licensed monopoly system of trade; opened 5 ports to British residence
and foreign trade; limited the tariff on trade to 5 percent ad valorem; granted British nationals extraterritoriality (exemption
from Chinese laws); and paid a large indemnity. In addition, Britain was to have most-favored-nation treatment, that is, it
would receive whatever trading concessions the Chinese granted other powers then or later. The Treaty of Nanjing set the
scope and character of an unequal relationship for the ensuing century of what the Chinese would call "national humiliations."
The treaty was followed by other incursions, wars, and treaties that granted new concessions and added new privileges for
For people interested in knowing more about the history of opium in China and its effect on the opium user, please
check out Cliff Schaffer's Opiates page which includes a brief history of the Opium Wars. You might also be
interested in a Brief History of Hong Kong.
The Self-Strengthening Movement
The rude realities of the Opium War, the unequal treaties, and the mid-century mass uprisings caused Qing courtiers and
officials to recognize the need to strengthen China. Chinese scholars and officials had been examining and translating
"Western learning" since the 1840s. Under the direction of modern-thinking Han officials, Western science and languages
were studied, special schools were opened in the larger cities, and arsenals, factories, and shipyards were established
according to Western models. Western diplomatic practices were adopted by the Qing, and students were sent abroad by
the government and on individual or community initiative in the hope that national regeneration could be achieved through the
application of Western practical methods.
Amid these activities came an attempt to arrest the dynastic decline by restoring the traditional order. The effort was known
as the Tongzhi Restoration, named for the Tongzhi ()Emperor (1862-74), and was engineered by the young emperor's
mother, the Empress Dowager Ci Xi ( 1835-1908). The restoration, however, which applied "practical knowledge"
while reaffirming the old mentality, was not a genuine program of modernization.
The effort to graft Western technology onto Chinese institutions became known as the Self-Strengthening Movement (
). The movement was championed by scholar-generals like Li Hongzhang ( 1823-1901) and Zuo
Zongtang ( 1812-85), who had fought with the government forces in the Taiping Rebellion. From 1861 to 1894,
leaders such as these, now turned scholar-administrators, were responsible for establishing modern institutions, developing
basic industries, communications, and transportation, and modernizing the military. But despite its leaders' accomplishments,
the Self-Strengthening Movement did not recognize the significance of the political institutions and social theories that had
fostered Western advances and innovations. This weakness led to the movement's failure. Modernization during this period
would have been difficult under the best of circumstances. The bureaucracy was still deeply influenced by Neo-Confucian
orthodoxy. Chinese society was still reeling from the ravages of the Taiping and other rebellions, and foreign encroachments
continued to threaten the integrity of China.
The first step in the foreign powers' effort to carve up the empire was taken by Russia, which had been expanding into
Central Asia. By the 1850s, tsarist troops also had invaded the Heilong Jiang watershed of Manchuria, from which their
countrymen had been ejected under the Treaty of Nerchinsk. The Russians used the superior knowledge of China they had
acquired through their century-long residence in Beijing to further their aggrandizement. In 1860 Russian diplomats secured
the secession of all of Manchuria north of the Heilong Jiang and east of the Wusuli Jiang (Ussuri River). Foreign
encroachments increased after 1860 by means of a series of treaties imposed on China on one pretext or another. The
foreign stranglehold on the vital sectors of the Chinese economy was reinforced through a lengthening list of concessions.
Foreign settlements in the treaty ports became extraterritorial--sovereign pockets of territories over which China had no
jurisdiction. The safety of these foreign settlements was ensured by the menacing presence of warships and gunboats.
At this time the foreign powers also took over the peripheral states that had acknowledged Chinese suzerainty and given
tribute to the emperor. France colonized Cochin China, as southern Vietnam was then called, and by 1864 established a
protectorate over Cambodia. Following a victorious war against China in 1884-85, France also took Annam. Britain gained
control over Burma. Russia penetrated into Chinese Turkestan (the modern-day Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region).
Japan, having emerged from its century-and-a-half-long seclusion and having gone through its own modernization movement,
defeated China in the war of 1894-95. The Treaty of Shimonoseki forced China to cede Taiwan and the Penghu Islands to
Japan, pay a huge indemnity, permit the establishment of Japanese industries in four treaty ports, and recognize Japanese
hegemony over Korea. In 1898 the British acquired a ninety-nine-year lease over the so-called New Territories of Kowloon
( or Jiulong in pinyin), which increased the size of their Hong Kong colony. Britain, Japan, Russia, Germany, France,
and Belgium each gained spheres of influence in China. The United States, which had not acquired any territorial cessions,
proposed in 1899 that there be an "open door" policy in China, whereby all foreign countries would have equal duties and
privileges in all treaty ports within and outside the various spheres of influence. All but Russia agreed to the United States
Emergence Of Modern China: III
The Hundred Days' Reform and the Aftermath
In the 103 days from June 11 to September 21, 1898, the Qing emperor, Guangxu ( 1875-1908), ordered a series of
reforms aimed at making sweeping social and institutional changes. This effort reflected the thinking of a group of progressive
scholar-reformers who had impressed the court with the urgency of making innovations for the nation's survival. Influenced by
the Japanese success with modernization, the reformers declared that China needed more than "self-strengthening" and that
innovation must be accompanied by institutional and ideological change.
The imperial edicts for reform covered a broad range of subjects, including stamping out corruption and remaking, among
other things, the academic and civil-service examination systems, legal system, governmental structure, defense establishment,
and postal services. The edicts attempted to modernize agriculture, medicine, and mining and to promote practical studies
instead of Neo-Confucian orthodoxy. The court also planned to send students abroad for firsthand observation and technical
studies. All these changes were to be brought about under a de facto constitutional monarchy.
Opposition to the reform was intense among the conservative ruling elite, especially the Manchus, who, in condemning the
announced reform as too radical, proposed instead a more moderate and gradualist course of change. Supported by
ultraconservatives and with the tacit support of the political opportunist Yuan Shikai ( 1859-1916), Empress
Dowager Ci Xi () engineered a coup d'tat on September 21, 1898, forcing the young reform-minded Guangxu into
seclusion. Ci Xi took over the government as regent. The Hundred Days' Reform () ended with the rescindment of
the new edicts and the execution of six of the reform's chief advocates. The two principal leaders, Kang Youwei (
1858-1927) and Liang Qichao ( 1873-1929), fled abroad to found the Baohuang Hui ( or Protect the
Emperor Society) and to work, unsuccessfully, for a constitutional monarchy in China.
The conservatives then gave clandestine backing to the antiforeign and anti-Christian movement of secret societies known as
Yihetuan ( or Society of Righteousness and Harmony). The movement has been better known in the West as the
Boxers (from an earlier name--Yihequan, or Righteousness and Harmony Boxers). In 1900 Boxer bands spread
over the north China countryside, burning missionary facilities and killing Chinese Christians. Finally, in June 1900, the Boxers
besieged the foreign concessions in Beijing and Tianjin, an action that provoked an allied relief expedition by the offended
nations. The Qing declared war against the invaders, who easily crushed their opposition and occupied north China. Under
the Protocol of 1901, the court was made to consent to the execution of ten high officials and the punishment of hundreds of
others, expansion of the Legation Quarter, payment of war reparations, stationing of foreign troops in China, and razing of
some Chinese fortifications.
In the decade that followed, the court belatedly put into effect some reform measures. These included the abolition of the
moribund Confucian-based examination, educational and military modernization patterned after the model of Japan, and an
experiment, if half-hearted, in constitutional and parliamentary government. The suddenness and ambitiousness of the reform
effort actually hindered its success. One effect, to be felt for decades to come, was the establishment of new armies, which, in
turn, gave rise to warlordism.
The Republican Revolution of 1911
Failure of reform from the top and the fiasco of the Boxer Uprising convinced many Chinese that the only real solution lay in
outright revolution, in sweeping away the old order and erecting a new one patterned preferably after the example of Japan.
The revolutionary leader was Sun Yat-sen ( or Sun Yixian in pinyin, 1866-1925), a republican and anti-Qing activist
who became increasingly popular among the overseas Chinese and Chinese students abroad, especially in Japan. In 1905
Sun founded the Tongmeng Hui ( or United League) in Tokyo with Huang Xing ( 1874-1916), a popular leader
of the Chinese revolutionary movement in Japan, as his deputy. This movement, generously supported by overseas Chinese
funds, also gained political support with regional military officers and some of the reformers who had fled China after the
Hundred Days' Reform. Sun's political philosophy was conceptualized in 1897, first enunciated in Tokyo in 1905, and
modified through the early 1920s. It centered on the Three Principles of the People ( or san min zhuyi):
"nationalism, democracy, and people's livelihood." The principle of nationalism called for overthrowing the Manchus and
ending foreign hegemony over China. The second principle, democracy, was used to describe Sun's goal of a popularly
elected republican form of government. People's livelihood, often referred to as socialism, was aimed at helping the common
people through regulation of the ownership of the means of production and land.
The republican revolution broke out on October 10, 1911, in Wuchang (), the capital of Hubei () Province, among
discontented modernized army units whose anti-Qing plot had been uncovered. It had been preceded by numerous abortive
uprisings and organized protests inside China. The revolt quickly spread to neighboring cities, and Tongmeng Hui members
throughout the country rose in immediate support of the Wuchang revolutionary forces. By late November, fifteen of the
twenty-four provinces had declared their independence of the Qing empire. A month later, Sun Yat-sen returned to China
from the United States, where he had been raising funds among overseas Chinese and American sympathizers. On January 1,
1912, Sun was inaugurated in Nanjing as the provisional president of the new Chinese republic. But power in Beijing already
had passed to the commander-in-chief of the imperial army, Yuan Shikai, the strongest regional military leader at the time. To
prevent civil war and possible foreign intervention from undermining the infant republic, Sun agreed to Yuan's demand that
China be united under a Beijing government headed by Yuan. On February 12, 1912, the last Manchu emperor, the child
Puyi (), abdicated. On March 10, in Beijing, Yuan Shikai was sworn in as provisional president of the Republic of
The republic that Sun Yat-sen () and his associates envisioned evolved slowly. The revolutionists lacked an army, and
the power of Yuan Shikai () began to outstrip that of parliament. Yuan revised the constitution at will and became
dictatorial. In August 1912 a new political party was founded by Song Jiaoren ( 1882-1913), one of Sun's
associates. The party, the Guomindang ( Kuomintang or KMT--the National People's Party, frequently referred to as
the Nationalist Party), was an amalgamation of small political groups, including Sun's Tongmeng Hui (). In the national
elections held in February 1913 for the new bicameral parliament, Song campaigned against the Yuan administration, and his
party won a majority of seats. Yuan had Song assassinated in March; he had already arranged the assassination of several
pro-revolutionist generals. Animosity toward Yuan grew. In the summer of 1913 seven southern provinces rebelled against
Yuan. When the rebellion was suppressed, Sun and other instigators fled to Japan. In October 1913 an intimidated
parliament formally elected Yuan president of the Republic of China, and the major powers extended recognition to his
government. To achieve international recognition, Yuan Shikai had to agree to autonomy for Outer Mongolia and Xizang (
). China was still to be suzerain, but it would have to allow Russia a free hand in Outer Mongolia and Britain
continuance of its influence in Xizang.
In November Yuan Shikai, legally president, ordered the Guomindang dissolved and its members removed from parliament.
Within a few months, he suspended parliament and the provincial assemblies and forced the promulgation of a new
constitution, which, in effect, made him president for life. Yuan's ambitions still were not satisfied, and, by the end of 1915, it
was announced that he would reestablish the monarchy. Widespread rebellions ensued, and numerous provinces declared
independence. With opposition at every quarter and the nation breaking up into warlord factions, Yuan Shikai died of natural
causes in June 1916, deserted by his lieutenants.
Nationalism and Communism
After Yuan Shikai's death, shifting alliances of regional warlords fought for control of the Beijing government. The nation also
was threatened from without by the Japanese. When World War I broke out in 1914, Japan fought on the Allied side and
seized German holdings in Shandong () Province. In 1915 the Japanese set before the warlord government in Beijing the
so-called Twenty-One Demands, which would have made China a Japanese protectorate. The Beijing government rejected
some of these demands but yielded to the Japanese insistence on keeping the Shandong territory already in its possession.
Beijing also recognized Tokyo's authority over southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia. In 1917, in secret
communiques, Britain, France, and Italy assented to the Japanese claim in exchange for the Japan's naval action against
In 1917 China declared war on Germany in the hope of recovering its lost province, then under Japanese control. But in
1918 the Beijing government signed a secret deal with Japan accepting the latter's claim to Shandong. When the Paris peace
conference of 1919 confirmed the Japanese claim to Shandong and Beijing's sellout became public, internal reaction was
shattering. On May 4, 1919, there were massive student demonstrations against the Beijing government and Japan. The
political fervor, student activism, and iconoclastic and reformist intellectual currents set in motion by the patriotic student
protest developed into a national awakening known as the May Fourth Movement (). The intellectual milieu in
which the May Fourth Movement developed was known as the New Culture Movement and occupied the period from 1917
to 1923. The student demonstrations of May 4, 1919 were the high point of the New Culture Movement, and the terms are
often used synonymously. Students returned from abroad advocating social and political theories ranging from complete
Westernization of China to the socialism that one day would be adopted by China's communist rulers.
Opposing the Warlords
The May Fourth Movement helped to rekindle the then-fading cause of republican revolution. In 1917 Sun Yat-sen had
become commander-in-chief of a rival military government in Guangzhou () in collaboration with southern warlords. In
October 1919 Sun reestablished the Guomindang to counter the government in Beijing. The latter, under a succession of
warlords, still maintained its facade of legitimacy and its relations with the West. By 1921 Sun had become president of the
southern government. He spent his remaining years trying to consolidate his regime and achieve unity with the north. His
efforts to obtain aid from the Western democracies were ignored, however, and in 1921 he turned to the Soviet Union, which
had recently achieved its own revolution. The Soviets sought to befriend the Chinese revolutionists by offering scathing
attacks on "Western imperialism." But for political expediency, the Soviet leadership initiated a dual policy of support for both
Sun and the newly established Chinese Communist Party ( CCP). The Soviets hoped for consolidation but were
prepared for either side to emerge victorious. In this way the struggle for power in China began between the Nationalists and
the Communists. In 1922 the Guomindang-warlord alliance in Guangzhou was ruptured, and Sun fled to Shanghai (). By
then Sun saw the need to seek Soviet support for his cause. In 1923 a joint statement by Sun and a Soviet representative in
Shanghai pledged Soviet assistance for China's national unification. Soviet advisers--the most prominent of whom was an
agent of the Comintern, Mikhail Borodin--began to arrive in China in 1923 to aid in the reorganization and consolidation of
the Guomindang along the lines of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The CCP was under Comintern instructions to
cooperate with the Guomindang, and its members were encouraged to join while maintaining their party identities. The CCP
was still small at the time, having a membership of 300 in 1922 and only 1,500 by 1925. The Guomindang in 1922 already
had 150,000 members. Soviet advisers also helped the Nationalists set up a political institute to train propagandists in mass
mobilization techniques and in 1923 sent Chiang Kai-shek ( Jiang Jieshi in pinyin), one of Sun's lieutenants from
Tongmeng Hui days, for several months' military and political study in Moscow. After Chiang's return in late 1923, he
participated in the establishment of the Whampoa ( Huangpu in pinyin) Military Academy outside Guangzhou, which
was the seat of government under the Guomindang-CCP alliance. In 1924 Chiang became head of the academy and began
the rise to prominence that would make him Sun's successor as head of the Guomindang and the unifier of all China under the
right-wing nationalist government.
Sun Yat-sen died of cancer in Beijing in March 1925, but the Nationalist movement he had helped to initiate was gaining
momentum. During the summer of 1925, Chiang, as commander-in-chief of the National Revolutionary Army, set out on the
long-delayed Northern Expedition against the northern warlords. Within nine months, half of China had been conquered. By
1926, however, the Guomindang had divided into left- and right-wing factions, and the Communist bloc within it was also
growing. In March 1926, after thwarting a kidnapping attempt against him, Chiang abruptly dismissed his Soviet advisers,
imposed restrictions on CCP members' participation in the top leadership, and emerged as the preeminent Guomindang
leader. The Soviet Union, still hoping to prevent a split between Chiang and the CCP, ordered Communist underground
activities to facilitate the Northern Expedition, which was finally launched by Chiang from Guangzhou in July 1926.
In early 1927 the Guomindang-CCP rivalry led to a split in the revolutionary ranks. The CCP and the left wing of the
Guomindang had decided to move the seat of the Nationalist government from Guangzhou to Wuhan. But Chiang, whose
Northern Expedition was proving successful, set his forces to destroying the Shanghai CCP apparatus and established an
anti-Communist government at Nanjing in April 1927. There now were three capitals in China: the internationally recognized
warlord regime in Beijing; the Communist and left-wing Guomindang regime at Wuhan (); and the right-wing
civilian-military regime at Nanjing, which would remain