History of Qing Dynasty 1644–1911; The Republic of China 1911-1949

Qing DynastyDuring the late period of the Ming period, the government was weak and the throne was in danger. Not only was there an uprising by Han people, there were also invasions of the Mongolians from the North and the Manchus from the Northeast. After much struggle, the dynasty collapsed and the Manchus succeeded in ruling China and founded the Qing dynasty. The Qing emperors accepted the Han Chinese language as the official language and used the Han people to govern the country.

The early Qing emperors were very capable and intelligent. Emperor Kangxi (the second emperor of Qing dynasty) was a capable leader and administrator. Using Han people to serve in his government he established a strong government and expanded China’s spheres of influence to neighboring countries. He was responsible for the compilation of a comprehensive dictionary which the Chinese still use today.

In 19th century, the Qing emperors were incompetent and the government was weak. It happened to be a high point of the British Empire. The Empire covered large areas in the continents of Africa, Europe, America, Asia and Australia. It included India, where economic power was exercised through the East India Company. Through this company, the British wanted to trade with China, as they desired Chinese goods such as porcelain, silk and especially tea. The British were consuming a large amount of tea at that time. To pay for the Chinese products they needed to export to China. The Chinese did not care much about the products that the British had to offer, except for opium.

The Qing government wanted to stop the import of opium. The conflict of the two countries resulted in the Opium War of 1840. China was defeated. In the Treaty of Nanking signed in 1842, China not only gave up its right to prevent the import of opium, but was forced to give Hong Kong to the British and open its rivers for British shipping. China’s government became even weaker following the defeat. The Chinese people were humiliated and angry at the British and the Qing government.

After the Opium War, other foreign powers obtained concessions from China through wars followed by a succession of unequal treaties. Controversies arose from attempts to open up Canton (now Guangzhou) to trade, resulting in a joint Anglo-French expedition against Peking in 1858. One consequence of this episode was the burning of the famous Yuan Ming Yuan, (the Summer Palace) a few miles west of the capital by the British and French troops. The Manchu government was compelled to sign the Treaty of Peking in 1860 and to give up further rights to both countries. A war with France ended with the signing of the treaty of Tientsin in 1885, conceding Vietnam as a French protectorate. Burma was seceded to the British in 1886. In 1897, Germany occupied Tsingtao, and obtained a lease of Kiaochow for 99 years. Similar leasing agreements were reached with Russia (for Dalian), Britain (Weihaiwei) and France (Kwangchowwan). China’s concessions included war indemnities, opening of city ports, surrendering of rights to inland water navigation and to railroad building, leasing of territories to foreign powers, and loss of territories formerly within China’s sphere of influence as stated above. Areas in parts of Shanghai were leased to the British, the French and other foreign governments.

Two of the most tragic events were the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5 and the foreign invasion of 1900 after the Boxer Rebellion. Defeated in the Sino-Japanese War, China gave up Korea, a country formerly paying tribute to China, and Taiwan, a part of its territory. In reaction to the rebellion of the Boxers who had harmed foreigners, armies from eight countries (Britain, Russia, Germany, France, America, Italy, Austria and Japan) invaded China and extracted indemnities from China after she was defeated. The American government later used a part of the war indemnity to support Chinese students to study in the United States. By the early 20th century many parts of China became semi-colonies of foreign powers. Modernization became the dream of China’s government and its people, and nationalism was aroused. Some government officials initiated what was known as the Hundred Days’ Reform of the Qing government in 1898. It was supported by a weak and young emperor Guangxu but opposed by the strong Empress Dowager. The reformers were quite idealistic, but the reform movement was able to last only for 103 days. Other officials in the Qing government did not support the Hundred Days’ Reform and preferred a more gradual reform, perhaps to establish a constitutional monarchy. A third group, outside the government, advocated a revolution to overthrow the Qing dynasty for its failure in dealing with the foreign invasions and in modernizing China.

A revolution succeeded in 1911 when the Qing government was overthrown and the Republic of China was established. The revolution succeeded because the Qing government no longer received the support of the Chinese people, or even of its own army which yielded to the revolutionaries. The revolutionaries were not well organized. They attempted to overthrow the Qing government several times without success. Many of them were surprised when one attempt in Wuhan succeeded in 1911. Sun Yat-sen, the leader of the Nationalist Party, hurriedly returned from abroad to become its Temporary President. The 37 years of the Republic of China were a short, but very turbulent and decisive period of Chinese history. The chances for a thorough political and social change were missed by internal turmoil and external challenge (Japanese aggression).

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