From Ming to Qing


Since 1589 the Jurchen had been allies of the Chinese in their war against the Japanese invaders of Korea (1592-1598). Their leader, Nurhaci, unified the peoples of eastern Manchuria (Liaoning province) who were trading with pearls, fur, ginseng, and mining products.


In 1601 Nurhaci created a military administration which was headed by aristocrats from the clans of the alliance. These military units were modeled after Chinese border garrisons that had been established during the Ming. They were called Inner and Outer Banners, the Inner Banners consisted predominantly of Manchus, while the Outer Banners were kept for auxiliary troops made up from Han Chinese, Mongols etc.


In 1609 the Manchus formed an alliance with the Eastern Mongols against their Western relatives. This alliance with the Eastern Mongols, the enemies of China, made the Manchus to enemies of the Chinese as well.


In 1616 Nurhaci, who was the leader respected by both Manchus and Mongols now, proclaimed himself Khan and founded the Later Jin dynasty. The name was chosen in commemoration of the first Jurchen dynasty with the name 'Jin dynasty' that had ruled in the northern territories of what had become the living space of the Manchus in the meantime and had conquered the northern territory of the Song in 1126.

Map of Jin territory ('first Jin') conquered from the Song in 1126.


A few years after the proclamation of the Later Jin the Manchus began attacking the northern territory of China and finally established a capital in Shenyang, called Mukden. Nurhaci died soon after the founding of the capital and was succeeded by Abahai (1627-1643). In order to create a functioning state, Abahai imitated Chinese institutions with the assistance of Chinese civil and military advisors.


In 1635 Abahai proclaimed the name 'Manchu' to be used for his people (instead of Jurchen) and the dynastic name Later Jin was changed to Great Qing [=Clear, Clarity]. With the military and strategic strength that the Manchu had gained and with their political unity and administrative organization all prerequisites for a stabile rule had been established.


When the conquest of China began the Manchus were assisted by a group of Chinese generals, most of whom hailed from former border garrisons in Liaoning province. Fan Wencheng (1597-1666) and Wu Sangui (1612-1678) were the most important among them. These generals knew Chinese and Manchu and had been accepted into the Inner Banners. They gained a position that was similar to the status of the eunuchs in the Ming though they did not gain excessive power:

They were entrusted with the internal administration of the palace and with the control of the imperial workshops.


The conquest caused resistance which was quelled with strict laws:

In 1645, when Abahai established the capital of the Great Qing in Beijing, all Chinese inhabitants of the northern part of the city were expelled and had to settle in the southern part, reserved for the non-Manchu population. All Chinese inhabitants of Beijing who were suspected to have smallpox were to be expelled from the capital. Under the pretext of keeping the epidemy under control the Manchu administration simply banned all Chinese persons with skin diseases from the capital.

Chinese men were ordered to wear Manchu hairstyle: The forehead had to be shaved, the remaining hair was braded in a pigtail which was wound around the head. The same hairstyle, which was popular among peoples in the steppe, had been enforced on Chinese men by the Jurchen during the Jin dynasty in the 12th century.


In the same year - 1645- enclaves for exclusively Manchu inhabitants were founded in the northern provinces of China. The Manchus enslaved prisoners of war and landless peasants who had to till the land for them. This harsh rule over the Chinese population was eventually given up because the Manchu realized that lean taxation and a better rule would guarantee the cooperation of the non-Manchu majority of the population much easier than brutal force. Nevertheless, they still tried to enforce laws of segregation and in 1668 all Han Chinese were banned from settling in Manchuria. This ethnic segregation had cultural and economic reasons: intermarriage was forbidden to keep up Manchurian heritage and minimize sinicization and at the same time the exploitation of the ginseng production, a great source of income, remained in Manchu hands.


The conquest of the southern parts of China was more challenging than establishing a new rule in the north. Comparable to developments in the Southern Song, the remnants of the Ming court had fled south and had proclaimed a new emperor in Nanjing who headed the Southern Ming dynasty. But resistance was broken by force. Yangzhou, which had been defended with an iron hand by the Ming-loyalist Shi Kefa was taken by the Qing and the emperor had been handed over to the Qing when Nanjing fell a few days after Yangzhou.

The rest of the imperial family and the court fled to Yunnan province in southwestern China and again a new emperor was proclaimed. He and his entourage could not withstand the perpetual attacks by general Wu Sangui, who fought for the Qing. The emperor took refuge in Burma, was captured in 1661, brought back to China, and strangled in Kunming.


The resistance in the south lasted some 50 years and was assisted by figures like Zheng Chenggong (1624-1662), a Ming loyalist who survived  by successfully combining piracy and trade. He was closely associated with the Southern Ming court and even allowed to use the Imperial family name, Zhu. This privilege brought him the nickname 'Guoxingye', ‘Excellency with the royal family’s name’ which was transliterated by the Dutch and others Westerners as ‘Coxinga’. In order to subdue him and his fellow pirate-loyalists, the Qing government in 1662 evacuated the entire coastal regions from Shandong to Guangdong. All coastal villages and cities were destroyed, the inhabitants had to move to the hinterland. The resulting destruction of Chinese trade relations facilitated the intrusion of Western merchants from Portugal, Spain, and Holland in East Asia.


A stern Ming loyalist, Zheng Chenggong expelled the Dutch from Taiwan and rebelled against the Qing.


Shrine for the national hero, Zheng Chenggong in Taiwan

As mentioned before, the initial rule of the Qing had been facilitated by the service of Chinese officials who had served under the Ming as well. Some of them became military governors under the Qing and obtained a rank similar to imperial princes. They were entrusted with the administration of large parts of southern China, areas that eventually became rather autonomous and finally sought independence from the central administration in Beijing.


Three of these governors became increasingly powerful:

Wu Sangui who had destroyed the army of the rebel Li Zicheng and then had chased the Ming loyalists to Yunnan. He had kept his troops under arms and while financially supported by the Qing government, finally controlled the south-western provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Hunan, Shanxi, and Gansu.


When the governor of Canton, Shang Kexi (1604?-1676) tried to obtain autonomy from the Qing, the freedom of the ‘prince-like’ military governors was curtailed. Wu Sangui and the military governor of Fujian, Geng Jingzhong (?-1682) rebelled openly and won over several other governors, including the son of Shang Kexi named Shang Zhixin, for their cause. But eventually they had to show their submission to the Qing. After Wu Sangui had died in 1676 the Qing army successfully recaptured the southern and southwestern provinces. As soon as this military challenge was ended in 1681 with the conquest of Taiwan, the Qing dynasty was in command of the entire territory of China.

Territory of the Qing Dynasty