What Was the Qing Dynasty?

Temple of Heaven, Beijing china
Temple of Heaven, Beijing china.

 DuKai photographer / Getty Images

"Qing" means "bright" or "clear" in Chinese, but the Qing Dynasty was the final dynasty of the Chinese Empire, ruling from 1644 to 1912 and made up of ethnic Manchus of the Aisin Gioro clan from the northern Chinese region of Manchuria.

Although these clans took control of the empire in the 17th century, by the early 20th century, the Qing rulers were being undermined by aggressive foreign powers, rural unrest, and military weakness. The Qing Dynasty was anything but bright — it did not pacify all of China until 1683, some nineteen years after they officially took power in Beijing and the Last Emperor, 6-year-old Puyi, abdicated in February of 1912.

Brief History

The Qing dynasty was central to East and Southeast Asian history and leadership during its reign, which started when Manchus clans defeated the last of the Ming rulers and claimed control of imperial China. Extended China's vast history of imperial reign, the Qing military dominated East Asia after it finally managed to unify the entire country under Qing rule in 1683. 

During much of this time, China was a superpower in the region, with Korea, Vietnam, and Japan trying in vain to establish power at the start of Qing rule. However, with the invasion of England and France in the early 1800s, the Qing dynasty had to begin reinforcing its borders and defending its power from more sides.

The Opium Wars of 1839 to 1842 and 1856 to 1860 also devastated much of Qing China's military might. The first saw the Qing lose over 18,000 soldiers and yield five ports to British use while the second awarded extraterritorial rights to France and Britain and resulted in up to 30,000 Qing casualties. No longer alone in the East, the Qing Dynasty and imperial control in China was heading for the end.

Fall of an Empire

By 1900, Britain, France, Russia, Germany, and Japan had begun to attack the dynasty as well, establishing influence along its coast to assume control over trade and military advantages. Foreign powers began taking over much of Qing's outer regions and the Qing had to try desperately to maintain its power.

To make matters slightly easier for the emperor, a group of Chinese peasants held the Boxer Rebellion against foreign powers in 1900 — which initially opposed the ruling family as well as European threats, but had to unite in order to eventually throw out the foreign attackers and take back Qing territory. 

During the years of 1911 to 1912, the royal family made a desperate cling for power, appointing a 6-year-old as the last Emperor of China's thousand-year imperial rule. When the Qing Dynasty fell in 1912, it marked the end of this history and the beginning of republic and socialist rule. 

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Szczepanski, Kallie. "What Was the Qing Dynasty?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-was-the-qing-dynasty-195382. Szczepanski, Kallie. (2020, August 28). What Was the Qing Dynasty? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-was-the-qing-dynasty-195382 Szczepanski, Kallie. "What Was the Qing Dynasty?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-was-the-qing-dynasty-195382 (accessed June 2, 2023).