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The Early Ch'ing
Emperor K'ang-Hsi (reigned 1661–1722) consolidated the Manchu regime by suppressing rebellions (1673–81) and defeating the Mongols and Tibetans. In 1689 the Ch'ing signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk with Russia, demarcating the northern extent of the Manchurian boundary at the Argun River. When Jesuit missionaries appeared, K'ang-Hsi issued (1692) an edict of toleration and employed some of them as astronomers and artists in the palace. But the Roman Catholic Church's decision not to allow the Chinese converts to worship Confucius and their ancestors led to the expulsion of the missionaries in the early 18th cent.
Under Emperor Ch'ien-lung (reigned 1735–96), China attained its greatest territorial expansion: Outer Mongolia, Tibet, Nepal, and Turkistan were included in the empire. The economy and commerce greatly expanded. Handicraft industries, such as porcelain manufacture, prospered. Painting, especially the “literati painting” (wen-jen-hua), by which artists tried to express personal feelings, flourished. The Beijing Opera was patronized by Manchu aristocrats. The Manchus, however, maintained an autocratic cultural policy of suppressing subversive writings. Many Chinese authors were jailed, exiled, or killed for criticizing the regime or commenting on current affairs. Study of the ancient classics thrived, and numerous works were compiled and cataloged.
The early Ch'ing's foreign trade policy was affected by considerations of national security. As China's economic growth attracted the attention of European maritime powers, the dynasty tried to limit contacts between foreigners and potential rebels. An imperial edict in 1759 allowed maritime trade only at the port of Guangzhou.
Western Imperialism and Internal Pressures
By the 19th cent. British merchants, who had actively traded in S China, pressured their government to make repeated attempts (1793, 1816, 1834) to open China's market by establishing official trade relations with the Ch'ing government. All these attempts failed. But Britain's victory in the first of the Opium Wars (1839–42) forced China to sign the Treaty of Nanjing (1842), the first of the unequal treaties that China signed with Western countries. By these treaties China was forced to open coastal and later internal ports to foreign trade and residence, cede Hong Kong to Great Britain, and establish extraterritoriality for Western nations.
The Manchu regime, already weakened by Western encroachments, was further enfeebled by internal rebellions. The Taiping Rebellion (1851–64) nearly brought the dynasty to an end. However, the Manchu regime suppressed the major rebellions and embarked on a policy of diplomatic, technological, and military modernization led by Tseng Kuo-fan (1811–72) and Li Hung-chang (1823–1901). These statesmen played important roles in the T'ung Chih restoration (1862–74), during which the dynasty attempted to restore the traditional order by reasserting Confucian social values and importing modern weaponry from the West.
China yielded to Western demands for permanent diplomatic representation in Beijing (1860) and continued to suffer territorial encroachments. Russia occupied Ili, Japan incorporated the Ryukyu islands, France made Annam a protectorate, and Great Britain completed its annexation of Burma (Myanmar). The First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) deprived China of its suzerainty over Korea and Taiwan, and the war was followed by the partition of mainland China into “spheres of influence.” The general agreement was that Great Britain should predominate in the Chang (Yangtze) valley, France in the extreme south, and Russia in Manchuria. After the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5), Japan took over Russia's sphere.
Efforts to strengthen the dynasty against foreign imperialism were undertaken by Kang Yowei (1858–1927) with the support of the emperor Kuang-hsu. These efforts, however, were frustrated by the dowager empress Tz'u Hsi, who aborted the reform movement in a coup. She supported the Boxer Uprising, however, in a vain attempt to dislodge the foreign powers (1898–1900).
Collapse of the Dynasty
Following foreign suppression of the Boxer Uprising, Tz'u Hsi changed course and allowed some moderate educational and administrative reforms. However, the dynasty acted slowly upon the demands of intellectuals, social leaders, and progressive provincial governors for a national assembly and a change to constitutional monarchy.
From abroad Sun Yat-sen helped to foster and lead a movement for the revolutionary overthrow of the Manchus and establishment of a republic. A coalition, which included moderate leaders in S China, revolutionary students who had returned from the West, and military officers, finally overthrew the dynasty in the Revolution of 1911. Following the collapse of the Ch'ing, China abandoned its 2,000-year tradition of monarchic rule in favor of a republican form of government.
See S. Y. Teng and J. K. Fairbank, China's Response to the West (1954); F. Wakeman, Jr., The Fall of Imperial China (1975) and The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in Seventeenth-Century China (2 vol. 1985); I. C. Y. Hsü, The Rise of Modern China (1990); J. D. Spence, The Search for Modern China (1990).