The Qing Dynasty
The Qing Dynasty was the last imperial dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912 with a brief, abortive restoration in 1917. It was preceded by the Ming Dynasty and followed by the Republic of China.
The dynasty was founded by the Jurchen Aisin Gioro clan in contemporary Northeastern China. The Aisin Gioro leader, Nurhachi, who was originally a vassal of the Ming emperors, began unifying the Jurchen clans in the late sixteenth century. By 1635, Nurhachi’s son Hong Taiji could claim they constituted a single and united Manchu people and began forcing the Ming out of Liaoning in southern Manchuria.
In 1644, the Ming capital Beijing was sacked by a peasant revolt led by Li Zicheng, a former minor Ming official who became the leader of the peasant revolt, who then proclaimed the Shun dynasty. The last Ming ruler, the Chongzhen Emperor, committed suicide when the city fell. When Li Zicheng moved against Ming general Wu Sangui, the latter made an alliance with the Manchus and opened the Shanhai Pass to the Manchurian army. Under Prince Dorgon, they seized control of Beijing and overthrew Li Zicheng’s short-lived Shun Dynasty. Complete pacification of China was accomplished around 1683 under the Kangxi Emperor.
Over the course of its reign, the Qing became highly integrated with Chinese culture. The imperial examinations continued and Han civil servants administered the empire alongside Manchu ones. The Qing reached its height under the Qianlong Emperor in the eighteenth century, expanding beyond China’s prior and later boundaries.
Imperial corruption exemplified by the minister Heshen and a series of rebellions, natural disasters, and defeats in wars against European powers gravely weakened the Qing during the nineteenth century.
“Unequal Treaties” provided for extraterritoriality and removed large areas of treaty ports from Chinese sovereignty. The government attempts to modernize during the Self-Strengthening Movement in the late 19th century yielded little lasting results. Losing the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 was a watershed for the Qing government and the result demonstrated that reform had modernized Japan significantly since the Meiji Restoration in 1867, especially as compared with the Self-Strengthening Movement in China.
The 1911 Wuchang Uprising of the New Army ended with the overthrow of the Empress Dowager Longyu and the infant Puyi on February 12, 1912. Despite the declaration of the Republic of China, the generals would continue to fight amongst themselves for the next several decades during the Warlord Era.
Puyi was briefly restored to power in Beijing by Zhang Xun in July 1917, and in Manchukuo by the Japanese between 1932 and 1945.