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Chinese History - Qing Dynasty 清朝 (1644-1911)

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Qing Dynasty
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The Manchu conquest of China - - The Way into the crisis of the 19th century - The Opium Wars - The Taiping Rebellion - The Self-Strengthening Movement - The further intrusion of foreign powers - The Reform movement of 1898 - The Boxer Rebellion - The Revolution of 1911

The Manchu Conquest of China

The Manchu People is a descendant tribe of the Tungus Jurchen People (Chinese: Nüzhen 女真, not Ruzhen!) that had founded the Jin Dynasty, the successor of Liao and Northern Song Dynasties in Northern China. The Manchu lived in the area that was later called Manchuria (Chinese: Manzhou 滿州), today the provinces Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning. The Jurchen clans were unified by Nurhaci, a strong leader who founded the Later Jin Dynasty (Hou Jin 後金) with a capital in Mukden (modern Shenyang 瀋陽/Liaoning). He organized his territory in military units called "banner" (qi 旗). His follower Abahai imitated the Chinese institutional framework to organize his empire with an effective civil and military administration. Abahai integrated Mongol and Chinese banners into his administration and therewith created a powerful and ideologically neutral army that was able to occupy the whole territory of the northeast.When peasant rebels und Li Zicheng 李自成 occupied the Ming Dynasty capital Beijing, the Chinese general Wu Sangui 吳三桂 collaborated with the semi-nomad empire of Manchuria (like Song Dynasty generals had done with the Jin and Mongol empires) to repell the peasant rebels. The Manchu crossed the Shanhai Pass 山海關, conquered Beijing, but instead of being content with their new territorial acquisition, they started the conquest of whole China. While northern China was no problem for foreign invaders (like under the Northern Dynasties and the Mongol Yuan Dynasty), the Manchu faced serious obstacles by patriots, pacifists and the Southern Ming (Nan-Ming 南明) rulers that had withdrawn to Yunnan. The pirat-merchant Zheng Chenggong 鄭成功, loyal to the Ming Dynasty, established an independent regime on the island of Taiwan. A third group of anti-Manchu resistance fighters are the "Three Feudal Lords" Wu Sangui 吳三桂, Geng Jingzhong 耿精忠, and Shang Zhixin 尚之信 who were able to challenge the Manchu rule in southern China between the years of 1674 and 1681. Their activities are called the "Rebellion of the Three" (San Fan zhi Luan 三反之亂). Only after subduing these rebellions, the Manchu were able to control whole China whith a strict and authoritarian central government.The Manchu rule over the countless inhabitants of Chinese origin for the first decades in many points resembled the efforts of the Mongols to exert a foreign rulership by use of violence and brutality, like during the conquest of Yangzhou. Chinese colonisation of Manchuria was forbidden, equally mixed marriages between Chinese and Manchu. In Beijing, the Manchus lived in the northern quarters "Tartar City", the Chinese in the south. The famous pigtail of the Chinese (bianzi 辮子) was prescribed for every Chinese.But as a small layer of the whole society, the Manchu rulers would never have been able to govern China without making extensive use of Chinese officials and specialists. Some of them had been Chinese colonists in Manchuria, some had already served the Ming Dynasty (called erchen 二臣 "serving two [dynasties]"). Unlike the Mongolian rulers of the Yuan Dynasty, the second generation of Manchu emperors recognized that there was the urgent need to liberate the Chinese population the status of slavery. Especially the peasants were rewarded for their suffering with the lowest tax a peasantry ever had to pay. And for every Chinese person of the higher classes, it was theoretically possible to acheive the highest civil or military post in the Qing official hierarchy. Excursion: The Manchu script is the only Tartarian script that has developed a real literature - although the main part of the literature corpus are translations the Chinese. The alphabet is modeled after the Mongolian alphabet and is enlarge by sounds that are different the Mongol language, some special letters were created for Chinese sounds. The final shape of the Manchurian alphabet was adopted under the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. Until the mid-18th century, Manchurian was also a subject of the state examinations.

The Way into Crisis

That such a vast empire like Qing China would meet conflicts with neighboring people, is a natural cause. Already the occupation of the Ili Territory in the west has not been without consequences for the loyalty of Muslim people of Chinese Turkestan. But expanding Russia also claimed these territories of Inner Asia. Treaties with the Russian tsars helped to settle the border conflicts. Chinese troops proved the Qing sovereignity over Burma and Nepal. Chinese settlers in Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan and Taiwan met rebellions of the aboriginal tribes that could only be subdued by military force. Muslim people stood up against the Qing regime in Gansu and Xinjiang.

A Weakening China

The 19th century brought developments over China that worsened the economical backwardness that was already seen after the long and glorious reigns of the three emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong. China has been - and still is - a vast imperium that challenges the economical and political abilites of the ruling class. The two main problems are the question of centralized or decentralized administration, and to what extent the state should control the economy for the sake of the population and to fill the state treasure. Both questions should also be crucial for the economical, technical and political backwardness of the 19th century China.A political, economical and social system that had been proved effectiveley for two thousand years seemed to have no need for change or modernization. In the eyes of the Westerners therefore, the political and social sphere of China had been unchanged since thousands of years. The economical sphere meanwhile seemed to have been influenced by Europeans - and at least experienced some modernization after Chinese mandarins became aware of China's economical backwardness. But in fact, economical changes already took place since the mid of 18th century. The long period of peace and the introduction of new crops the Americas (peanuts, corn, taro) resulted in a steady rise in the population. With an increasing population, there was also the need for a widespread commerce and trade network covering whole China, especially along the waterways of the great rivers and channels. Merchants needed banks for their funds and to finance their business. In Shanxi were the biggest money lending institutes of Qing China, and at the begin of 19th century, new financing methods like letter of credit, transfers, loans, and saving deposits became more widespread. The industry of Qing China was a highly sophisticated system of division of labour. Chinaware, tea, brocade and cotton was produced in specialized regions and cities. Merchants and producers formed non-governmental guilds with comprehensive administratorial functions. While in the west of the USA, a lack of labour force lead to the development of industrial agriculture, the surplus of labour force in China was an impediment for technification. And moreover, the social groups making profit and living in wealth, like the salt traders of the lower Yangtse valley, did consume their income rather for luxury instead of investing in long-term business like a heavy industry.The lack of governmental infererence into the sphere of the economy left this field a prey for the penetrating Western merchants.

The Opium Wars

China as a country with a highly developed manufacturing industry had no need for imported cotton fabrics or similar items produced in the West. The British merchants - especially the East India Company - saw their chance in the import of opium. As the import of opium had been prohibited by the Chinese government already during the 18th century, the only way to make profit by selling Indian opium was the smuggling business. During the 1830es, the British merchants systematically built up their opium import system and thereby met the huge demand of Chinese opium consumers and addicted people. Opium does not only mean a danger for health, but also has a deep impact on public moral. Moreover, the export of tea, silk and chinaware was not able to cover the costs for opium imports: the Chinese trade balance tended to become negative, the silver money left the country and depreciated the copper coins - a fatal development for the lower classes of population as well as for the rich merchants of the Yangtse area. The court in Beijing was divided between ministers proposing a forced barter (opium against Chinese products); allowance of opium import but imposing high taxes on the drug; or confrontation with the British merchants. A representative of the last group was Lin Zexu 林則徐 who acted as commissioner in Guangzhou (Canton) in 1839, the main import harbour of the south. He confiscated opium cases and tried to banish British merchants. But under the protection of their government, the Britains under Captain Elliott attacked some small harbors, occupied islands and threatened the port of Tianjin with canon boats: the begin of the so-called Opium War (Yapian Zhanzheng 鴉片戰爭). A British fleet, commanded by Henry Pottinger, proceeded until Nanjing, when the Chinese government finally gave in and signed the Nanjing Treaty (Nanjing Tiaoyue 南京條約) in 1842, the first of a long line of shameful treaties for the Qing government. For twenty centuries, Chinese emperors had dealt in the same way with penetrating "barbarians": making concessions to them by granting them material presents like Chinese silk or sending them princesses. In 1842, nobody in China was aware that the danger coming the West was much deeper than a few nomad barbarians attacking the Chinese frontiers.
In the Nanjing Treaty, the Qing government granted the British free (opium) trade in the harbors of Xiamen (Amoy), Shanghai, Ningbo, Fuzhou and Guangzhou (see map), abolishing the monopol of the Chinese merchant guilds in these cities. British goods were imposed with a very low import tax, and British subjects were allowed to move freely inside China. As a trade base (shangqu 商埠), the island of Hong Kong (Xianggang) was handed over to Great Britain. The financial damages China had to pay for the war counted 21 million silver dollars. Great Britain was officially recognized by the Qing government as a foreign power with equal rights. In an additional treaty, the Humen Treaty (Humen Tiaoyue 虎門條約), Great Britain was allowed to establish concessional settlement territories (zujie 租界) where British subjects were exempt of Chinese jurisdiction. But the most important item of this treaty was the Most Favorite Clausula (Zuihuiguo Daiyu Tiao 最惠國待遇條), allowing Great Britain to obtain every contractual concession any other country should obtain.Following the British, France (Treaty of Whampoa or Huangpu 1844 黃埔), the USA (Treaty of Wangsha 望廈), and the minor European states forced treaties with the Chinese allowing them free trade inside a handfull of harbor cities. France obtained the permission to dispatch missionaries to China.Still unsatisfied with the Najing Treaty, the British merchants claimed residential rights in China. When the Chinese police confiscated a Chinese ship under British flag named Arrow in 1856, and at the same time a French missionary was killed, British and French saw their chance to revise the Nanjing Treaty. Unifying their armies (Ying Fa Lianjun 英法聯軍), British and French occupied Guangzhou and forced the Qing government to sign the Tianjin Treaty (Tientsin Treaty; Tianjin Tiaoyue 天津條約) in 1858 after their canon boats had bombarded the Dagu Forts 大古 near Tianjin. But the French army invaded Beijing and burned down and plundered the Qing emperors' summer residence in the Yuanmingyuan Garden 圓明園; the court had fled to Jehol (Rehe 熱河) in Manchuria. These military actions are called the Second Opium War. Signed in 1860, the Beijing Treaty (Beijing Tiaoyue 北京條約) allowed British and French subjects free trade, travel and mission in all places of China, basing on a couple of open harbors (see map). Damages of 16 million silver bars (tael) were added by the cession of the Kowloon Peninsula (Jiulong Bandao 九龍半島) opposite to Hong Kong to Great Britain. British and French were subject only to their own jurisdiction, and the two countries were diplomatically recognized by the Qing government and the first real foreign ministry (Zongli Yamen 總理衙門). Until then, China had seen all other countries as subject to the Qing empire. Additionally, many foreign goods were freed import tax. The maritime customs office was confiscated and run by the British official Robert Hart to ensure the payment of damages China had to hand over to the Western Nations. China had lost her sovereignity over the import taxes, a field that normally provided the state treasury with a large income.
Meanwhile, Russia also claimed rights on Chinese territory. The treaties of Nerchinsk (chin. Nibuchu 尼布楚) in 1689 and Kyakhta (chin. Qiaketu 恰克土 or 恰克圖) in 1727 already had regulated frontier line and trade between Qing China and Russia. In 1858 Russia occupied the territory north of the River Amur and clamied this territory as Russian, ensured in the Aigun Treaty (Aihui Tiaoyue 璦琿條約).

The Rebellion of the Taiping

The increasing population and the depreciation of copper coins was the main origin of the deep social problems of the 19th century. Although there was a need to enlarge the administratorial staff, the quota for the official recruitment stayed stabil. Corruption and bribery was the consequence of a lack of tasks for the educated class; a very intense description of this situation is Liu E's late Qing novel "Travels of Lao Can". The local mandarins were obliged to hand over a special amount of collected taxes to the court in Beijing, but how much taxes the mandarins really levied, was up to them. Especially in southern China, many peasants did not own the fields they worked, but acted as tenant farmers, if they did not go to the cities do find a better work. Other people joined bandits or rovers, girls looked for employment in the red quarters of the lower Yangtse cities. Trying to escape the taxmen and the population pressure, many landless peasants looked for new estates in remote mountain areas. In 1795, a group of peasants rose against the Qing government, follwing some religious leaders believing in the coming of the Bodhisattva Maitreya. This traditional peasant uprising was called "White Lotus" (Bailian 白蓮).The immense uprising of the "Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace" (Taiping Tianguo 太平天國) was of a similar character like the other secret societes and peasant or worker uprisings during Chinese history, but it was one of only a few uprisings that were able endanger the foundation of a ruling dynasty. The founder of the Taiping movement was the frustrated scholar Hong Xiuquan 洪秀全. Hong had been in contact with Christians and developed his own pseudo-Christian religion. He saw himself as a kind of messias and preached a social egalitarism and puritanism. His followers were unemployed, desperados and the poor, and they started to rebel against the Qing governmental institutions in 1850 Guangxi Province. The organisation of the movement was a strict hierarchy without separating military, political and clerical functions. In 1853, the Taiping rebels occupied Nanjing and established this city as their capital. Their armies advanced to Tianjin and had cut the waterways south to north, the Taiping controled the whole lower Yangtse area (see map). The central government in Beijing was unable to subjugate the rebels, and instead, local governors and rich merchants recruited soldiers to subdue the mighty Heavenly Kingdom. Three armies of local governors (Zeng Guofan, Zuo Zongtan and Li Hongzhang) and the Western powers under Frederick T. Ward and Charles J. Gordon ("China Gordon") with their "Ever-Victorious Army" were able to gradually throw back the Taiping armies and to massacre the Heavenly Capital Nanjing in 1864.The Taiping Rebellion was only the mightiest of a long line of uprisings that shook the Qing government during the 19th century. The Nian Rebellion 捻亂 1853-68 was lead by poor peasants and smugglers with a social objective, the rebellions of the Miao Minority 苗亂 in Guizhou a little bit later and the Muslims 回亂 (as minority called Huizu 回族) in Yunnan, Gansu and Xinjiang under Yakub Beg until 1878 were clearly oriented against the Chinese exploitation and colonisation.The result of these rebellions was the clear evidence that the central government was further unable to control their vast empire. Instead, local governors and military commanders took over the responsibility for actual policy - a situation similar to the end of Han Dynasty, when generals could control the central government after subduing the Yellow Turban Rebellion, with the difference that the Later Han commanders tried to replace the emperor, while Li Hongzhang and his collegues saw themselves as moral defendors of the Qing throne against rebels. Because the Qing government did not want to negotiate with the Western powers, the provincial governors had a free hand in the field of foreign politics. The economical and demographical impact of these twenty years of internal war was deep enough to talk of a "restauration" under the Tongzhi Emperor: before building up a modern industry, the economy as a whole had to be reconstructed, especially the agriculture with the task of building dikes, waterways, water reservoirs, and granaries; the economical reconstruction required the increase of taxes and duties, a situation that did not help trade and commerce that had to encounter the foreign competition.

The Economy of Late Qing and the First Modernization Steps

The economical impact of the Opium Wars and the penetration of the Western powers in the Chinese trade system was mainly seen in currency problems. The huge amount of opium import could not be balanced by an equal amount of exports of Chinese goods. According to the treaties, China had to pay tens of millions of silver Dollars as war damage reparations to the Western powers. China's trade balance was critically endangered by these facts, and moreover by an inflation of the silver currency against the gold standard that was adopted by the Western countries. Especially the poor classes of China's society felt the inflation of the silver bars ("tael"; a Malay word) and the copper-zink coins ("sapèques"; a French-Hindi word; see picture to the right). The results of the Taiping Rebellions added further impediments to the development of Chinese industry, trade and commerce.The imperialism theory of Lenin only sees imperialism as exploitation of the occupied territories. Although this component can not be overseen and deeply contributed to the discrediting of the western powers and to the rise of nationalism, another component of imperialism can not be neglected. The occupation of economically and politically "backward" countries laid the foundation for a modern administration and infrastructure. The last point was also seen by Chinese mandarins that partially had contact with western diplomats during the treaty negotiations. They are actors of a phenomenon later called Self-strengthening Movement (Ziqiang Yundong 自強運動) or "Foreign Affairs" (=Westernization) Movement (Yangwu Yundong 洋務運動).
The most important persons are Zeng Guofan 曾國藩, Li Hongzhang 李鴻章, Zuo Zongtang 左宗棠, and Zhang Zhidong 張之洞; only few people at the court participated in the open and reform-oriented politics of these men, among them Prince Gong (Yixin) 恭親王奕訢. During the wars against the many rebellions, these new men had developed a modern army that replaced the Manchu banner organisation. Their target was, to "control the barbarians by barbarians" (Yi yi zhi yi 以夷治夷.). But much more important were the economical investions of the reformers: factories, arsenals, shipyards, ironworks and steelyards, railways, minging industry, telegraph lines, weaving mills, and financial institutes. Academies were established, and Chinese students went abroad to study Western technique and science. Unfortunately, the main focus of investment was the military industry, and not the producing industry that would have helped to win more capital. But there are also successful examples of private entrepreneurs like Tang Tingshu or students that made their degree abroad like Yong Wing. 1900 on, after China had lost her potential for own investions, Western and Japanese entrepreneurs founded factories, banks, manufacturies and mines on Chinese territory. They did not only exploit Chinese soil, resources, and manpower, but also helped to create modern industries with the need for labor force: the large cities of Hanyang (Wuhan), Shanghai, or Tianjin began to develop an industrial urban character. The provinces at the coast where foreign capital was invested, profited much more during this time than the interior parts of China. Foreign companies were able to sell their industrial goods much cheaper than the traditional Chinese agricultural producers; likewise, foreign shipping companies could transport goods for a much cheaper price than the Chinese shippers.The challenges of the many rebellions and external wars with their huge reparation sums imposed a heavy burdon upon the Chinese economy. The tax system was not modern enough to produce enough liquidity, and foreign loans could not help the Qing government to resolve the problem of state bankruptcy. Most people at the Qing court did not see that a modernization of the whole governmental and economical structure would be helpful - if it would be performable in such a vast empire! Instead, conservative circles in Beijing refrained making foreign politics and instead left this field to the mighty governors of the provinces and the foreign entrepreneurs and institutions.Although China was no foreign colony, the 19th century was an age of colonialisation with all bad aspects of this kind of exploitation. In the hearts of Chinese, the arrogant attitude of the Western powers and Western residents created a mixed sentiment of hatred and inferiority complex. These feelings should later be compensated with an exaggerated nationalist proud after the foundation of the People's Republic.

The Further Intrusion of Foreign Powers

While the Opium Wars had been acts of adventurers and merchants, the further penetration of foreigners into China was more and more state-guided and stood directly under the influence of imperialism. The race to gain the best places in the rest of world stood side by side with the need for the Western powers to protect their subjects in China, merchants, missionaries, diplomats, soldiers, and their families. The foreign powers used smallest incidents as a pretext for their demands after reparations and compensations. In many cases, murders of missionaries served as a tool for the further expansion of the foreign powers' rights in China. The conventions of Zhifu/Shandong in 1876 opened five new harbors to the British. In 1878-81, China had to cease some territories in the Ili River Basin 伊犁 to Russia by the Treaty of Livadiya/Krim (Lifadiya Tiaoyue 里發第亞條約), but in a revised treaty in 1882 China could gain back some territories. Japan, strengthened by the reform of the Meiji Emperor, occupied the Ryukyu Islands (Chinese: Liuqiu Qundao 琉球群島, by Japan called Okinawa 沖縄, Chinese pronunciation "Chongsheng") in 1881 and started to claim open trade in Korea. Korea (Chosŏn, Chinese: Chaoxian 朝鮮), ruled by the Yi Dynasty 李朝, was a nominal subject state to China, like Burma (Chinese: Miandian 緬甸; Konebaung Dynasty) and Vietnam (Chinese: Yuenan, Vietn.: Việt Nam 越南; Nguyen Dynasty, Vietn.: Nguyễn Triêu 阮朝). While the French tried to occupy Vietnam step by step, the British Empire expanded into Burma. The conquest of Southern Vietnam ("Cochinchine" and "Tonking" or "Tongking", Chinese: Dongjing 東京, Vietn.: Đông Kinh) until 1867 was quite easy to acheive for the French, but Vietnamese and Chinese troops withstood the French conquerors in the northern part of Vietnam. But in 1885, France acheived a victory over China and obtained free hand in "Annam" (Chin. Annan 安南, Vietn.: An Nam ), founding the French Union of Indochina (Union Indochine). In the same period, British troops occupied Upper Burma that in 1886 became a part of the British Empire.
At the end of the 19th century, the foreign powers started to claim their own colonial territories in China. In the same year of 1898, Great Britain demanded the New Territories (Chinese: Xinjie, Cantonese: Sàngaai 新界) north of Hong Kong (Chinese: Xianggang, Cantonese: Hèunggóng 香港) as a leasehold territory for 99 years. France obtained Guangzhouwan 廣州灣/Guangdong (modern Zhanjiang 湛江) as a colony, Germany occupied the Jiaozhou Bay 膠州灣/Shandong and founded Qingdao 青島 colony (Tsingtau), Britain again could gain Weihaiwei 威海衛/Shandong, and Russia claimed the Liaodong Peninsula with the harbor of Port Arthur (Lüshun 旅順 and Dalian 大連, 1905 on Japanese territory and called Dairen). But the deepest impact on Chinese sovereignity was the war with Japan in 1894/95 (Chinese: Jiawu Zhanzheng 甲午戰爭, Japanese: Nisshin Senso 日清戦争; *Jiawu is the year, see Chinese calendar). During the Meiji Reform, Japan had risen the stage of a weak and plundered developing country to a modern industrialized country. Unlike China, Japan did not try to withstand the pressure of the imperialist powers, but instead adopted their techniques and administration, only to join the ranks of the Western powers. 1870 on, Japan had tried to open trade harbors in Korea with first military interventions in 1881 and 1884. Japan's motive for an intense attack on the Chinese military on Korean soil was the interest of Russia to build a Siberian railway near Korean territory, and anti-Japanese activities among the Korean intelligence. With the objective to separate the Korean goverment Chinese influence, the bombardement of the Chinese fleet near Inchon posed a serious defeat to the Chinese military. The Treaty of Shimonoseki 下関 (Chinese: Maguan Tiaoyue 馬關條約) was another treaty of shame and disgrace for the Chinese government. China had further no suzeranity over the Korean kingdom, and it had to pay for the war damages. Japanese subjects were exempt Chinese law and tax inside of China. But the most important claim by Japan was the cession of Taiwan, the Penghu Islands (澎湖群島; Pescadores) and the southern part of the Manchurian province Fengtian 奉天. The last demand was refused by the other Western powers that feared for too much influence of Japan on East Asia. In 1905, when Russia was bound by deep internal conflicts, Japan tried to take over control over the weak Korean government.

The Reform Movement of 1898

A short-lived reform movement (weixin yundong 維新運動) of hundred days was lead by Kang Youwei 康有為 and Liang Qichao 梁啟超, people that could win the Guangxu Emperor for their cause. They tried to reform the state examinations, administration, state budget, ministries, education, jurisdiction, and military. The movement was abruptly ended by conservative circles, some followers of the reform movement like Tan Sitong 譚嗣同 were exectued, but Kang and Liang escaped to Japan. Kang blamed Empress Dowager Cixi for the abortion of the reforms and contributed much to the bad reputation of Cixi in China and the West. In fact, his undertaking was illusory the begin in a time when the central government lost more and more control over China. According to the Chinese cyclical year denominations, the reform movement is called Wuxu Bianfa 戊戌變法Only after the "Boxer Uprising" in 1900, the central government undertook some small steps in the direction of a reform. The state examinations should include practical science and were finally ended in 1905, ministries for finance and economy were created, and the target was a constitutional monarchy after the model of Japan, and in 1910 a national constitution was planned. But all these reformery undertakings came too late. The central government had shoven off the task of modernization to the provincial governors for too long, and these governors had not strength enough to modernize the whole empire of China.Modern offical explanations for Qing Chinas ruin include two reasons: the first reason is, of course, the economical exploitation by the imperialist powers that suppressed the birth of a Chinese capitalism; the second reason is seen in the fact that the late Qing government was not aware that deep changes had taken place in the Western world and that China could only encounter these challenges by modernizing its political and economical system, and that most people of the upper class did not give up the Confucian mentality that a morally exquisit ruler is able to cope with all internal and external problems.

The Boxer Rebellion

The so-called "Boxer Uprising" (Yihetuan 義和團 "Group for Justice and Peace" or Yihequan 義和拳 "Fists for ...") in 1900 originally was only one of many peasant uprisings that took place in the long history of China. The target of the rebelling proletariate was the actual government of China, the Manchu, and only later, the Qing government was able to redirect the movement against the foreigners. The "fist fighters" were able to occupy Beijing and Tianjin where they massacred Europeans and Christians. After they started besieging the European embassies, an international "Joint Army of the Eight Powers" Baguo Lianjun 八國聯軍 relieved Beijing. The Boxer Protocol (Xinchou Tiaoyue 辛丑條約 *Xinchou is the year) imposed a last heavy burden upon the Qing government that had fled to Xi'an during the assault of Beijing.China seemed about to suffer the same fate as other countries in Africa and Asia: to be dismembered by the imperialist powers.

The Revolution of 1911

The Tongzhi Restauration after the Taiping catastrophy had helped the Qing government to survive. But during the second half of the 19th century, the real power in China had shifted to the local governors and the higher gentry (estate owners) to the rich merchants. Internal wars and the efforts of people like Li Hongzhang had contributed to a militarization of the public. All these factors should prepare the time of political warlordism and social hopelessness in the first half of the 20th century.It was almost an accident that ended the Qing rule in 1911. Western ideas and solutions had long found their place in the heads of Chinese intellectuals. An immovable traditional Confucian government in Beijing that was inert to reformery thoughts helped to create groups of revolutionaries: force seemed to be the only way to get rid of the incrusted political system and to strengthen China against the foreign powers - althought there were also people like Liang Qichao who stressed that China would be by dismembered the imperialist powers in case of a revolution.Sun Yatsen (Mandarin: Sun Yixian 孫逸仙 che alled himself Sun Zhongshan 孫中山 "Nakayama" in the Japanese exile) understood himself as a professional revolutionary. He was Christian and had studied medicine. In his article "Three Principles of the People" (Sanminzhuyi 三民主義; a term that later became the catchword for his ideologly), nationalism, democracy and public welfare should be the guidelines for a political system of five powers: legislation, executive, jurisdiction, examination and censorial power. Sun's party Tongmenghui 同盟會 found their followers among intellectual, private entrepreneurs, and among the military. (Xinhai geming 辛亥革命... To be continued)

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t person of the empire, except the ruler himself. But during the reign of Emperor Wudi, who was a strong but distrustful ruler, the unofficial post of general-in-chief serving as commander-in-chief (dasima dajiangjun 大司馬大將軍) outshadowed the official posts. Two persons managed to gain the whole control over the weak Han emperors of the last century of Western Han Dynasty: Huo Guang 霍光 and Wang Mang 王莽. Both men were relatives of empresses and gained substantial influence on the government. Wang Mang was a nephew of Emperor Yuandi's consort Wang Zhengjun 王政君, mother of Emperor Liu Ao 劉驁 (posthumous Han Chengdi 漢成帝) who acceeded to the throne in 33 BC as a young man and was assisted by two experienced statesmen, Kuang Heng 匡衡 and Shi Dan 史丹. But Emperor Chengdi stood under the influence of his consorts, the sisters Zhao Feiyan 趙飛燕 and Zhao Hede 趙鶴德. Meanwhile members of Empress dowager Wang's familiy (Wang Feng 王鳳, Wang Gen 王根, Wang Mang) were given inofficial but influential posts within the government. Because Emperor Chengdi failed to produce a male heir, Liu Xing 劉興 was nominated crown prince, but he died earlier as the emperor. Instead, the young Liu Xin 劉欣 became emperor, a candidate not favored by the Wang clan. During his reign - he is known posthumously as Emperor Aidi 漢哀帝 - the aspirations of the Wang clan suffered a setback because other consort families like the Zhao 趙, Fu 傅 and Ding 丁 won the control of the emperor. But only a few years later, in the year 1 BCE, Emperor Aidi died without heir (because of his adherence to a catamite named Dong Xiang 董賢?) and was followed by Liu Xing's young son, Liu Jizi 劉箕子, known as Emperor Pingdi 漢平帝. Wang Mang immediately took control of the governmental affairs and married his own daughter to Emperor Pingdi 漢平帝. When the emperor suddenly died in 6 AD, Wang Mang acted as acting regent for a young child, descendant of Emperor Xuandi 漢宣帝, called by historians Ying the Kid (Ruzi Ying) 漢孺子嬰.
Once back to power, Wang Mang destroyed all his opponents. He was a reformist politician who pursued the policy of the emperors Xuandi and Yuandi in order to appease the peasant people. On several occasions Wang Mang as benevolent regent following the example of the old Confucian rulers, redistributed fields to landless peasants. With the support of Confucian scholars like Liu Xin 劉歆 who stressed the will of Heaven to end the Han Dynasty and to choose a new ruler, Wang Mang became more and more confident that the had to mount the imperial throne himself. While Ying the Kid was not the only left throne pretendant of the Han Dynasty, Wang Mang faced several rebellions the ranks of Princes and their loyal officers. After the successful suppression of these few single rebellions, Wang Mang proclaimed himself emperor in the year 8 AD, his dynasty was called Xin 新, "the New".

The reign of Wang Mang: Xin Dynasty

Wang Mang 王莽 was without doubt a very capable politician and regent, but his access to supreme power was only won by accident - his aunt Wang Zhengjun 王政君 being great empress dowager surviving several emperors, and Emperor Aidi 哀帝 died untimely, while his empress did not survive him. But the young emperor for whom Wang Mang acted as regent, likewise died very young, without leaving any heir. Accusations of Wang Mang having murdered the child emperor soon rose, but because Wang Mang was the father-in-law of Emperor Pingdi 平帝, we have no reason to suppose that Wang Mang should have poisoned the young emperor in order to enhance his political power. When the regent Wang Mang proclaimed himself emperor in 8 AD, he faced no serious opposition among the rows of officials and scholars. For the justification of his throne accession, he relied on the old theory of the changing Five Phases (wuxing 五行) and the Heavenly Mandate (tianming 天命) that was bestowed upon himself now. Wang Mang's ideal was the old Confucian classic Zhouli 周禮 that describes the ideal state of government in a Confucian sense. Trying to be an ideal ruler, Wang Mang tried to reform much of the state and governmental structure. He intended to reorganize the currency, the bureaucracy - he renamed all commanderies-, reformed the tax system and wanted to implement a land reform and to prohibit the buying and selling of private slaves (nubi 奴婢). Debt slavery was a very common social status of Han Dynasty. The prohibition of land selling and slave trade was soon given up under the pressure of large land owners. In order to repress the expolitation of peasants by merchants, Wang Mang implemented price regulations for the five largest markets (wujun 五均). The state monopolies and main control tasks were called the "six regulations" (liuguan 六筦) Later historians like Hu Shi 胡適 called him therefore the first "socialist" ruler of China. His contemporaries on the other hand blamed him for all faults of the former and later rulers. His reforms concerning the administration of the state monopolies on salt, iron and liquor did not prevent the salt traders expoliting their clients, i.e. the peasantry, and the implementation of new currencies with the prohibition of private coin casting are said to have resulted in an economical chaos as the new currencies were not accepted by the population. In fact, most of Wang Mang's reforms were not real revolutions but rather changes in names, slaves for example were just renamed "private belongings" (sishu 私屬). Some natural desasters lead to shortage in grain, grain prices rose, expenditures for war campaings against the Xiongnu 匈奴 and a low tax revenue, as well as the intensive implementation of punishments in order to perform his new policies (?) lead to a widespread rejection of Wang Mang's emperorship among the peasantry and the nobility. It was not his politics in general that caoused a widespread peasant unrest and eventually lead to downfall, but the immense inundations of the Yellow River who changed its course the north to the south and opened a second course south of the Shandong peninsula. The rebellions began in the north around 11 AD, continued in the east with the uprising of "Mother Lü" 呂母 in the region of modern Shandong, the first great uprising was that of the Lülin 綠林 region (modern Hubei) that caused severe damages to Wang Mang's reign 21 AD on. Among the Lülin armies was a member of the old Han Dynasty, Liu Xuan 劉玄. Other members of the Liu clan like Liu Yin 劉縯 and Liu Xiu 劉秀 sent their own armies out the fight against Wang Mang. In 23 AD Liu Xuan proclaimed himself emperor as refounder of the Han Dynasty, but the military force behind him were only the Lülin rebels. In the battle of Kunyang 昆陽 Wang Mang was defeated and made his escape to the capital Chang'an where he was killed inmidst street fightings. Meanwhile Liu Xuan had pronounced the reign motto Gengshi 更始 "New begin" - he is therefore later called the Gengshi Emperor. After his victory Liu Xuan took over the imperial palace in Chang'an where he later abdicated and was killed.
Shortly after the first uprisings of the Lülin peasant rebels, in the region of modern Shandong Fan Chong 樊崇 lead desperate peasants in a huge rebellion army called the Red Eyebrows (Chimei 赤眉) because they had they foreheads painted red. Their unregulated forces proved to be very effective against Wang Mang's regular armies under Wang Kuang 王匡 and Lian Dan 廉丹. The target of the Red Eyebrows were not only the troops of Wang Mang. Liu Xuan, the new emperor and refounder of Han, was also attacked by the Chimei brigades. On their side, the Red Eyebrows proclaimed Liu Penzi 劉盆子, a young man, as their favorite emperor. In 25 AD they occupied the capital Chang'an. Other peasant groups, militia of large land owners, and surviving brigades of Wang Mang were fighting against each other after the demission of Liu Xuan. One of the new leaders was Liu Xiu 劉秀 was proclaimed emperor and gained more and more territory in the eastern part of the Yellow River basin. He established his capital at Luoyang 洛陽 (modern Henan) and for a second time refounded the Han Dynasty, and a period began that was later called the Eastern Han (Donghan 東漢) or Later Han (Houhan 後漢) in contrast to the Western Han (Xihan 西漢) or Former Han (Qianhan 前漢). The Red Eyebrow rebels that still occupied Chang'an were starved out systematically and withdrew to the west in search for supplies. When they tried to come back to Chang'an and the Guanzhong Region 關中 the new emperor Liu Xiu destroyed their last forces in 27 AD. But his reign was not shure until the defeat of other usurpers like Wei Ao 隗囂 and Dou Rong 窦融 in modern Gansu and Gongsun Shu 公孫述 in the region of modern Sichuan.

The Later Han Dynasty: Between Consort Clans and Eunuchs

The usurpation by Wang Mang 王莽 who founded the "New" Xin Dynasty 新朝 was not mere than a short interlude for most historians, but the Han Dynasty before and after this usurpation was not the same. During the Former Han Dynasty, the emperors relied on individual followers, and the few clans of the consorts (waiqi 外戚) like the families Huo and Wang that obtained great power, were an exeption. Now, the dynasty refounder relied on a group of clans without them he would not have been able to hold up his regency. Imperial consorts came not any more the lower aristocray or even the peasantry but the high level society and the wealthiest clans and landowners. The second factor that was very different the Former Han Dynasty was the power of the eunuchs (huanguan 宦官). All of them came the lower levels of society and were able to attain substantial power when the consort clans were not able to hold on their power over weak emperors.
Liu Xiu 劉秀, the refounder of the Han Dynasty, was posthumously called Guangwudi 漢光武帝. After a civil war that had lasted for several years, he was able to destroy the Red Eyebrow rebels (Chimei 赤眉) and several other people that claimed to be the new emperor. He reestablished the princedoms (wangguo 王國) and marquisates (houguo 侯國) and redistributed the imperial land to peasants and to the aristocracy. Because he had to rely politically on the gentry, the granted them the possession of large land estates. But the establishment of the princedoms also contributed to cultural diversity: Prince Liu Ying 劉英 for example, the Prince of Chu 楚, was a great sponsor of Buddhism that was just developing in China. At the courts of the princes, many wandering knights (youxia 遊俠), philosophers and magicians (fangshi 方士) found employment. During the Western Han period Liu An 劉安, Prince of Huainan 淮南, had employed many philosophers that wrote down their theories in a book called Huainanzi 淮南子 "Master of Huainan".
One crucial task for the young Eastern Han Empire was the reconstruction of the economy after the deastrous years of civil war that followed the inundation catastrophies of the Yellow River in AD 3 and 11. Many peasant refugees roaming around in the countryside had to be forced back to their homelands, although we can observe that an immense voluntary migration to the south had taken place at the begin of Eastern Han. In order to control the population and to restrict the power of the local gentry, Emperor Guangwudi tried to implement a system of "measuring fields" (dutian 度田). The large land owners nontheless resisted the property assessment with armed forces. Great landowners made huge profits their farms and their engagement in trade during the Eastern Han period. Their manors (tianzhuang 田莊) included arable field, sericulture ground for silk production, factories producing the self-needed amount of iron tools, some estates included forests and even salt ponds. The farmsteads comprised not only the huge buildings for the living of the gentry family but also farm buildings, mills and factories and were surrounded by a wall that made the farmstead a small fortress (wubao 塢堡). Not few large estate owners also possessed a private army to defend their possessions. Hundreds of servants, slaves and tenant farmers were employed on their grounds. The tenant farmers did not pay taxes to the state but only rental money (dizu 地租) to the landowner. The life of this gentry can be reconstructed many mural paintings and brickstone reliefs that were be found in their tombs. We further possess some genealogies that account the generations of these rich family clans, e.g. the book Shiben 世本. Emperor Guangwudi tried to reinstate the central government that should possess as much power as possible. Consort clans should not interfere into politics that was to be made by the highest ministers and the board of ministries (shangshutai 尚書台). In fact, only a few ministers were able to hold the grip on government, like Deng Yu 鄧禹, Li Tong 李通, and Jia Fu 賈復. After Guangwudi's death the power fell into the hands of consort clans and the court eunuchs. In the field of military institutions, Guangwudi had the local military replaced by commanderies (duwei 都尉) that should be controlled the political center in the capital Luoyang 洛陽. The recruitment of officials for bureaucracy was reinstituted, passing the state academy (taixue 太學).
The prohibition of people selling themselves as slaves and the land reform of Wang Mang - both measures being continued under Emperor Guangwudi - proved to be ineffective in practice and were soon given up. An important undertaking to reconstruct economy was to repair the canals in the lower Yellow River area that had been destroyed by serious floodings in the years before. In the 60s CE Wang Jing 王景 and Wang Wu 王吳 organized the huge project to repair the Bianqu canal 汴渠, a work to which also many local magistrates contributed with sending peasants as workforce for these official works. Especially these waterworks (also used for water mills) were crucial for the significant rise in agricultural output during the Eastern Han period.
The time of the Emperor Mingdi 漢明帝 and Zhangdi 漢章帝 is seen as a period of relative peace and prosperity when the economy found time to recover the damages of the last decades. Internally, the political stage was also quite silent before the consort clans and eunuchs started their quarrel for power: When the 10 years old Emperor Hedi 和帝 mounted the throne in 88 AD, his mother, Empress Dowager Dou 窦太后 led the court audiences (linchao 臨朝), and her brother Dou Xian 窦憲 took over the governmental affairs. A eunuch of Emperor Hedi called Zheng Zhong 鄭眾 finally destroyed the power of the Dou clan and grasped the power himself. Aidi 哀帝, only 13 at his throne accession in 106 BC, was controled by Empress Dowager Deng 鄧太后 and her brother Deng Zhi 鄧騭. After the Empress Dowager's death, the eunuchs Li Run 李潤 and Jiang Jing 江京 dominated the court, together with Empress Yan 閻后 and her brother Yan Xian 閻顯. The next emperor, Shundi 順帝, only 11 years old, was installed in 125 AD by the eunuch Sun Cheng 孫程 who extinghuished the Yan clan and who obtained the title of marquis (hou 侯). After his death in 144, Empress Dowager Liang 梁太后 and her brother Liang Ji 梁冀 became the prominent powerholders of the Eastern Han court. They were able to control three successive child emperors, Chongdi 漢衝帝, Zhidi 漢質帝, and Huandi 漢桓帝. They were able to play off the eunuch factions against the state officials, Liang Ji accumulated immensurable wealth in the twenty years of his leadership. In 159 Empress Liang 梁后 died, a fact that gave way to Shan Chao 單超, a eunuch who could defeat the Liang clang. His step to power marked the highlight of the eunuch governance, titles of nobility were bestowed to eunuchs, and like Liang Ji before, they acquired much capital and land. At this point, state officials with their followers (mensheng 門生, guli 故吏) united and started to launch official critics at the eunuch power in the shape of "pure comments" (qingyi 清議). People like Li Ying 李膺 and the general Huangfu Gui 皇甫規 were banished office because of clique formation (danggu 黨錮). Under Emperor Lingdi 靈帝 in 168 AD the acting regents Chen Fan 陳蕃, Dou Wu 窦武 and Zhang Jian 張儉 tried to annihilate the powerful eunuch fraction at the court, but without success. Hundreds of their followers were executed or incarcerated. The rift between eunuchs and state officials seemed to be unbridgeable when an event of tremendeous impact made it necessary to unite the two parties: The rebellion of the Yellow Turbans (Huangjin 黃巾).

The Rebellion of the Yellow Turbans and the Fall of the Han Dynasty

Suffering inundations, starvation, earthquakes and heavy taxes, peasant refugees roamed northern China since the begin of the 2nd century CE, these fugitives (liumang 流氓) formed plundering gangs and even whole armies devastating the Yellow River plain. Some of their leaders announced the end of the Han Dynasty and proposed the change to the cylical color yellow (compare Five Phases). The Daoist magician Zhang Jiao 張角, known as a miraculous healer, propagated the Heavenly Peace (Taiping 太平) and lead the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans (Huangjin 黃巾) - their name is derived the yellow clothing their winded around their heads. 184 AD on the rebellion took serious dimensions, accompanied by the Daoist uprising of the Five-Pecks-of-Grain sect (Wudoumidao 五斗米道) in the north of modern Sichuan, lead by Zhang Daoling 張道領 (Zhang Xiuling 張修領). The Han government was uncertain about how to deal with the challenge of the rebel armies, amnesty, suppression, peaceful admonishions or even buying Zhang Jiao were presented as proposals. Finally the persons in power decided to release all persons that had been incarcerated during the proscription after 168 AD. The released state officials tried their best to suppress the peasant rebellions. Huangfu Song 皇甫嵩, Zhu Jun 朱儁 and Cao Cao 曹操 defeated the largest rebel army under Bo Cai 波才, but other troops of the religious rebels were surviving several years. The novel Sanguo yanyi 三國演義 "The Three Kingdoms" reports the oath of Liu Bei 劉備, Guan Yu 關羽 and Zhang Fei 張飛 to rescue the Han Dynasty the Yellow Turban rebels. As result of the Huangjin rebellions, northern China was devastated, and the military was prepared for the struggle among the warlords that should dominate China's history for the next 20 years.
When Emperor Lingdi 漢靈帝 died in 189 AD the clan of his Empress Dowager He 何太后 took over regency, installing Lingdi's young son 13 years old son Liu Bian 劉辯 as emperor. He Jin 何進, brother of the Empress Dowager, decided that the time had come to destroy the eunuchs definitely, and in order not the repeat the failure of 168 he invited Dong Zhuo 董卓 to advance with his troops to the vicinity of the capital Luoyang. He Jin was killed by the eunuchs, but the powerful catamites being without military support, commander Yuan Shao 袁紹 and his brother Yuan Shu 袁術 of the imperial guards entered the palace and killed all eunuchs. Zhang Rang 張讓, chief eunuch, captured the young emperor (later called Shaodi 少帝 "Minor Emperor") and left the capital. Dong Zhuo was able to detect the emperor who was abandoned in the wilderness and installed his brother, Liu Xie 劉協, instead (posthumously called Han Xiandi 漢獻帝). By intimidation and brutal force, Dong Zhuo had his own position at the court ensured, while most men of rank had left the capital. In the east, a coalition formed against the dictator, lead by Yuan Shao and Cao Cao 曹操. In 190 Dong Zhuo burned Luoyang to the ground and had the whole court moved to the old capital Chang'an 長安 in the west. Dong Zhuo died a year later but the young emperor only turned back to Luoyang in 196 when China was divided among many warlords of whom Cao Cao, Sun Quan 孫權 and Liu Bei 劉備 proved to be the strongest. In 220 AD finally Emperor Xiandi abdicated in favor of Cao Cao's son Cao Pi 曹丕 who founded the Wei Dynasty 魏 - his father had been enfeoffed as king of Wei a few years before. Sun Quan and Liu Bei founded their own empires and let China being divided into "Three Kingdoms" (Sanguo 三國) for the next 50 years.

The Heritage of Han

The unity of the empire was seen as a crucial task for every Chinese emperor, not only political, but also in the sphere of intellectuality, philosophy and culture. This claim of unity is still seen today, even if Confucianism is not any more the core of state or private thinking.
The word "China" derives the name of the Qin Dynasty, and a lot of terms for "China" are derived the name of the River Han 漢水 that was also the name of the glorious Han Dynasty. "Chinese language" is called hanyu 漢語, "Chinese characters" are called hanzi 漢字, the people inhabiting China are called hanren 漢人 or hanzu 漢族. The word "Han" does not simply mean "man", but "hero" (yingxiong hao han 英雄好漢). Many small dynasties in later times styled themself "Han", even Korean and Japanese clans claimed to be decendents of the Han ruling clan Liu. The Korean capital Seoul is called Hancheng 漢城 "City upon Han River". The centralized governmental system, legist law and Confucianism as state doctrine remained for almost two thousand years as foundations of the empire, led by the Han Dynasty.

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