Humanities 210 MIC/WIC- Cora Agatucci
Cultures & Literatures of Asia

China Timeline 4:
Qing Dynasty &
Clashes with the West
(1644 / 1662 - 1911)

Asian Timelines Table of Contents Literary & Cultural History
Learn more about selected Chinese topics by clicking the links embedded in these timelines.
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The timeline pages are under construction and probably always will be...

QING DYNASTY 1662 - 1912

Qing Dynasty (1644/1662-1911) (or Manchurian Ch'ing Dynasty) is the last imperial Chinese dynasty, based on gun-supported land armies. (See The Rise of the Manchus, map and essay, Univ. of Maryland.) The Manchus (2% of population) adopt Chinese institutions, ways, traditional Confucian virtues; and are generous patrons of Chinese arts. Early Manchu emperors move to alleviate rural distress and unrest, and repair public works. (see also Robert Gray's links & images: Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), John Fairbank Memorial Chinese History Virtual Library).
17th century China increasingly chooses isolation, resolutely uninterested in keeping up with Western developments, and rebuffing Western enthusiasm for Chinese porcelain (which the West calls "china") and other trade goods. (See The Western Powers Arrive.) Growing population puts pressure on the lack of open, cultivatable acreage; and Manchu rulers can't control China's dynamic urban commercial classes interested in lucrative overseas markets.
"By Qing times after 1644 the non-Chinese Inner Asian ingredient of military control had been absorbed into china’s social-political system. The symbiosis of China with Inner Asians (Manchus and Mongols) confirmed and perfected the Neo-Confucian order. It was an agrarian-nomadic-bureaucratic style distinctly difference from the industrial-military- entrepreneurial style then developing among the Western nations" (Fairbank 428).

"One impediment to Neo-Confucian China’s equal intercourse with the West was this difference in social-political style. For example, the emperor remained in theory all-powerful, the keystone of the imperial arch, but from the first his central power had been able to motivate many social groups on a self-managing or self-maintaining basis. The result was that Chinese life was dominated by an all-powerful central state that monopolized final authority in theory but in fact did not pervade the local scene." If the Qing emperor could make omnipotent claims and destroy all "rebels, traitors, and rivals for authority," his presence was only minimally felt in regional community life outside the capital. "Gentry and peasantry were expected to maintain their local institutions and not look to the court for solutions except in emergencies….Upper class life centered on the examination system, which asserted the duties of Neo-Confucian conduct even though few actually became officials. The Neo-Confucian ideal was to train commoners in obedience and to train the elite to be ‘self-propelled adults’ devoted to their duties of local leadership and management….—all should be imbued with the Neo-Confucian outlook that reverenced the ancestors as well as the emperor and enjoyed the responsible performance of duties, whatever one’s role as father or son, scholar or peasant" (Fairbank 428).

1709 Yuan Ming Yuan, imperial garden of the Qing emperors, is built by emperor KangXi and bestowed it on his son, emperor YongZheng. "In traditional Chinese and the Confucius philosophy, Yuan (circle) means the doctrine of the mean; Ming (bright) means wisdom and insight. KangXi used this name to encourage the new emperor to follow Confucian philosophy and have a wise insight into state affairs." (Destroyed in 1860, the Garden of Centered Wisdom has been "virtually" re-created by Lifeng Wang and Chih-An Chen).
Buddhist statue of Guanyin (Avalokitesvara) located in the "Widespread Calm Temple" (also known as the "Temple of the Great Buddha," referring to this statue) at Rehe. Although the Manchu people had adopted Tibetan Lamaism as their religion, the sophisticated Qing emperors were thoroughly Confucian in style and thought, and patronized Buddhism almost solely as an instrument of Inner Asian policy. Among the Chinese, only the Chan (Zen) sect, which emphasized individual enlightenment via meditation and sanctioned personal artistic latitude, retained any sort of hold on China's scholarly elite. The peasantry were largely followers of old sinicized cults, most notably the Pure Land Sect, and an often corrupt and illiterate Buddhist-Daoist clergy. Despite its demise as a coherent body of belief or a distinct way of life, Buddhism nonetheless continued to exert a permanent, if often subtle or indirect, influence on the intellectual, cultural, linguistic, and artistic life of China.


QING Fiction & Dream of the Red Chamber

Many writers produced Chinese novels and short stories, but, because fiction was considered a minor art form compared to poetry and nonfiction, individual authors often preferred to remain anonymous or used pseudonyms, and circulated their work among small groups of friends.
Earlier 1700s? - Ju-lin Wai-shih (Informal History of the Literati, or The Scholars) by Wu Ching-Tzu (1701-1754), a satirical novel unmasking the shameless behavior of the sham scholars of his time, and exposing human weakness in general; it was probably written before Dream of the Red Chamber.
1754; 1791 - Hung-lou Meng (Dream of the Red Chamber), a realistic novel by Ts'ao Hsueh-ch'in (1724?-1764), vividly details the prosperity, decline, and fall of a rich official family. 80 chapters were copied and circulated in Tsao Chin’s lifetime; the complete 120-chapter novel was published posthumously, prepared by Kao E, an unsuccessful scholar.

QING Beijing Opera

"Beijing Opera was born when the Four Great Anhui Troupes [of Anhui Province] came to Beijing in 1790 [on performance tour and were a hit!]. Beijing Opera was originally staged for the royal family and came into the public later [drawing on Hubei and other local operas]. In 1828, some famous Hubei Troupe players came to Beijing. Hubei and Anhui troupes often jointly performed in the stage. The combination gradually formed the mainstream of Beijing Opera's melodies. One of the rare forms of entertainment, it was favored by people from all walks of the society, from the high-ranking government officials to the lower levels of society. There are thousands of pieces covering the entire history and literature of China, even including revised stories from the west." From Bejing Opera or Peking Opera (Xu-Ming Wang, Syracus Univ.)

Clashes with the West

After 1750 Western industrialization gives the West new world role; other civilizations, in decline, increasingly cannott react effectively to Western advances. (See Chinese View of an 18th century English Sailor.)
For centuries virtually all the foreigners that Chinese rulers saw came from the less developed societies along their land borders. This circumstance conditioned the Chinese view of the outside world. The Chinese saw their domain as the self-sufficient center of the universe and derived from this image the traditional (and still used) Chinese name for their country--Zhongguo, literally, Middle Kingdom or Central Nation. China saw itself surrounded on all sides by so-called barbarian peoples whose cultures were demonstrably inferior by Chinese standards. This China-centered ("sinocentric") view of the world was still undisturbed in the nineteenth century, at the time of the first serious confrontation with the West.
"The weakness of the imposing Neo-Confucian society and Late Imperial empire lay in the fact that the ancient autocracy had preserved its claims to final supervisory control over all persons, writings, thoughts, rituals, and military actions without developing a structure of institutions that could tolerate diversity and dissent, military views, or competing policies." The imperial ideal of unity was "hollow. Between it and the facts of daily life was a vacuum…," and no arrangements had been made to address "for the pluralism of modern life" in the regional provinces (Fairbank 429). Furthermore, China experienced a phenomenal population explosion after 1680, creating "an unwieldy society with vast problems of literacy, hygiene, food supply, local justice, and order that began to be unmanageable because of their unprecedented style. In the nineteenth century, the Qing state could not keep up with its problems" (Fairbank 429).
1793-1799 British embassy to Qianlong Emperor; Qing China resists Western missionaries and trade, refuses European ambassadors, treats "southern barbarians" with contempt; Qing Empire is corrupt , the economic/social system can't carry the empire’s population (410-415 million); and the empire is threatened by social unrest and economic disruption. See photos of young eunuch exposing the effects of castration and a young woman with bound feet.
"Modernization has brought amenities and disasters perhaps in equal measure to most peoples. In China’s case its disastrous effects were China’s tardiness in attempting to modernize. If the Qianlong Emperor in 1793 had accepted George III’s request via Lord Macartney to join the trading world of nation-states, China’s modernization might have rivaled Japan’s. China slow response brought instead the century of the unequal treaty system" (Fairbank 429).
Late 18th – early 19th centuries Qing can't control growing native demand for Western imports of opium from India, and opium dens spread in China. (See image of Opium Smokers.) The West wants porcelain, teas, other desirable Chinese products, but Westerners confined to two Chinese ports: Macao and Canton. A major collision brews between China and West: Opium traffic upsets Qing China's favorable balance of trade, and threatens the economic and social order.
1839 - 1842 First European "Opium War" (1839-1842) with China exposes Chinese vulnerability. See Lin Tse-Hsu's "Letter of Advice to Queen Victoria" (1839) "written before the outbreak of the Opium Wars. It was a remarkably frank document, especially given the usual highly stylized language of Chinese diplomacy. There remains some question whether Queen Victoria ever read the letter."
1851-1864 Taiping Rebellion, the largest uprising in modern Chinese history, was fueled by economic tensions, military defeats at Western hands, anti-Manchu sentiments, and widespread unrest, especially in South China-- the last area to yield to the Qing conquerors and the first to be exposed to Western influence. The rebels attacked traditional Confucian systems, and demanded social reforms, land redistribution, the liberation of women, a simplified writing script, and mass literacy. In the 1850s and 1860s, other massive rebellions followed in the first in 1851.
1856-1860 Second Anglo-French "Opium War" against China: Europeans are victorious and force China to open diplomatic exchange and trade in Hong Kong and 5 other ports. Qing China begins modernizing its army and navy. After 1850, the Qing Dynasty is further weakened by a self-serving negligent administration, collapsing infrastructure (canals, dikes, roads, bridges), absentee landlords, corruption, and suffering peasant masses. Qing China is threatened from within by peasant revolts, and from without by encroaching Western powers.
China had taken it for granted that its relations with Europeans would be conducted according to the tributary system that had evolved over the centuries between the emperor and representatives of the lesser states on China's borders as well as between the emperor and some earlier European visitors. But by the mid-nineteenth century, humiliated militarily by superior Western weaponry and technology and faced with imminent territorial dismemberment, China began to reassess its position with respect to Western civilization. By 1911 the two-millennia-old dynastic system of imperial government would be brought down by its inability to make this adjustment successfully.
1890s European leases in China, and a new wave of concessions to Russia, France, Germany, and Japan are forced. 90 Chinese ports of call are opened to 300,000 European and U.S. traders, missionaries, diplomats. See Map: Effects of Western Imperialism in Qing China, late 19th century.


1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War: Qing China suffers a shocking defeat by Japanese fleet; meanwhile dynamic provincial leaders agitate for reform, self-strengthening, modernization, Western investment; but Qing rulers are determined to preserve old order.
1898 - 1901 Boxer Rebellion (Society of Harmonious Fists) and 100 Days of Reform: anti-foreign Boxers persecute Westerners in China with imperial sanction; then Western forces entered China, defeat and occupy Peking (Beijing). Radical reforms were promised, and the Qing emperor was imprisoned: influenced by the Japanese success with modernization, the reformers declared that China needed more than "self-strengthening" and that innovation must be accompanied by institutional and ideological change. But there was strong resistance to reform and the conservative Empress Dowager took over the Qing imperial government, even as middle-class resistance grew.
"When China did respond to the seafaring world of the early twentieth century, it could not do so by a mere change of dynasty. The agrarian-bureaucratic structure was commercialized, completing a process under way since the Ming, but this did not ensure development. Before that could happen, the content of Neo-Confucianism had to be supplanted by modern scientific learning. This in the end created a new type of scholar oriented to training abroad as a specialist. Nationalism had to find expression in the nation-state" (Fairbank 429).
1905 Last civil service exams, the hallmark of Confucian system, are given.


New Literary Movements

From the 18th to the early 20th century, the "high" literary tradition declined, and Chinese vernacular literature continued to develop, until it coalesced with a new, more inclusive literary movement in early 20th century. Stimulated by Western literature, a literary revolution urged the use of written colloquial language and heightened its status as a means of scholarly expression.
Mei Lan-Fang (1894-1961), the "best known Beijing Opera master ever. A superlative singer, actor and dancer of Beijing Opera female role Qing Yi," Mei Lan-Fang will become "a towering figure in the Chinese theater."
1911 - 1912 Revolution of anti-Qing alliances is led by Sun Yat-sen, a Western-educated middle-class politician. Fall of Qing Dynasty: the last emperor deposed in 1912, and China is declared a republic.

China Timelines Introduction 
China Timeline 1: 
Early China (to 3rd c. BCE)
China Timeline 2:  Qin & Han Dynasties & "Time of Troubles"  (3rd c. BCE - CE 7th c.)
China Timeline 3: Tang, Song, Yuan & Ming Dynasties (7th - 17th c.)
China Timeline 4: Qing Dynasty & Clashes with the West (1644-1911)
URL of this webpage:
China Timeline 5: Republican & Communist China (20th c.) & China Timelines Sources

Asian Timelines: India China Japan
  were first prepared by Cora Agatucci, in 1998. 
They are slowly being updated in Winter 2001.  Please bear with me.
Other Online HUM 210 Course Resources:
HUM 210 Syllabus Course Plan Assignments Student Writing 
Asian Film Asian Links: India China Japan

Cora's Home Page | Site Map | Current  Schedule | Cora's Classes
Student Writing | COCC Links  
If you're interested in other world literatures and cultures, visit these course websites:
Hum 211 - Culture and Literature of Africa 
Eng 109 - Western World Literatures (late 18th-late 20th centuries)