The period between 1500 and 1900 encompasses important years that mark the time that preceded the development of modern China. First oppressed by the Mongolian rule in the 14th century, the nation was taken over by the Ming Dynasty that sought out to rebuild centralized control and reunite the country. The Ming Dynasty was replaced by the Qing Dynasty in the 17th century, signaling the start of the Manchu rule. We will discuss in turn the political, social, and cultural developments in China in that time period. Political Life The Ming Dynasty
Coming to the nation as a break from the hated Mongolian dominance, the Ming Dynasty was started by a Han Chinese farmer and a Buddhist monk. In the early 16th century, its heyday when China conducted intense sea expeditions with the aim to conquer the surrounding area and challenge the Mongol expansion was to a great extent over. The Ming Dynasty had to engage in prolonged wars with Mongols to challenge their dominance and protect its borders. In the meantime, its own coastal areas were often attacked by the Japanese pirates that gave Ming emperors a lot of headache.
In the north, even the construction of the world’s best known fortification, the Great Wall, did not prevent the attacks of the Mongols. As a result, the Ming emperors in the 16th-17th century were much weaker than their predecessors, like the powerful Zhu Yuanzhang who founded the dynasty in the early 14th century. In addition, internal conflicts were plaguing the court since “the harassed emperors abandoned more and more of their responsibilities to eunuchs” (Encarta). The Ming started a war with Japan in 1592 when they sent their troops to help the Korean allies to defend themselves against Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
This turned into a prolonged warfare that lasted over seven years and dealt a heavy blow to the Ming’s treasuries. The result was an increase in social tensions all over the country. An example is the peasant rebellions in North China that started in 1628. These revolts finally led to the demise of the Ming Dynasty. A hefty rebellion occurred in 1642 when the dikes of the Huang He were cut by a rebellious group, leading to a flood and a starvation thereafter. The assault on Beijing, the capital used by the Ming, in 1644 resulted in the seizure of the city by the rebels and suicide of the last representative of the dynasty.
The Qing Dynasty The Ming was replaced by the Qing Dynasty. As is often the result of a politically weak structure, their rule was in fact a foreign invasion since the Qing rulers were not Han Chinese, but Manchu. In order to be accepted by the Han Chinese majority, they retained a lot of customs of the Chinese and even upheld the Confucian tradition, nevertheless they always remained different from the Han Chinese. Thus, they also imposed some of their customs and traditions on their Chinese subordinates.
They forced, for example, the Han to pick up the queue in the Manchu haircut style and to dress in their fashion, in this way replacing the traditional Han pigtail. To this day the Chinese wear “Qipao (bannermen dress) and Tangzhuang” that actually come from the Manchus (Encarta). It is noteworthy in which way the Manchus forced the Chinese to adopt these styles: the penalty for non-compliance was death. In the political system, the two groups were also separate. As the ruling ethnicity, the Manchus outnumbered the Han Chinese in the highest-ranking offices in the capital.
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With time, they also gained control of Taiwan. With the efforts of the Qing Dynasty, almost all danger to China Proper had been eradicated. In the 19th century, the Qing Dynasty entered a period of steady decline. Their control of the country became weak, and the nation once again plunged into a state of social tension and economic troubles. The Opium Wars began with the First Opium War in 1840, triggered by the desire of Britain to control the lucrative opium trade in China. The desire of the Western nations to control “concessions” in China led to unfavorable peace treaty following the First Opium War.
The Opium Wars resulted in the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 and the Taiping Rebellion in 1851-1864 and the Boxer Rebellion in the same century. As a result of military campaigns and rebellions, the control of the Qing over the country became even weaker. Social Life Under the Manchu rule, the nation was dominated by foreign rulers who imposed their rules and traditions on everything. In addition, they also made efforts to keep themselves separate from the mainstream Chinese life. For example, marriages between the Manchus and the Han Chinese were prohibited.
The Chinese could not move permanently into the traditionally Manchu lands, and occupations such as trade or manual labor were reserved only for the Han as the Manchus were prohibited to do these jobs. In many administrative positions, the office was taken by the Manchu person and the Chinese counterpart so that the Manchu official could check in on his Chinese colleague. The Qing rulers also imposed some of their customs and traditions on their Chinese subordinates. They forced, for example, the Han to pick up the queue in the Manchu haircut style and to dress in their fashion, in this way replacing the traditional Han pigtail.
To this day the Chinese wear “Qipao (bannermen dress) and Tangzhuang” that actually come from the Manchus (Encarta). It is noteworthy in which way the Manchus forced the Chinese to adopt these styles: the penalty for non-compliance was death. Cultural Life The years under the rule of the Ming and the Qing Dynasties were an important period in Chinese culture. The Ming rule is marked by the arrival of the Europeans, among them a lot of Christian preachers. Particularly noteworthy were “Jesuits, members of a Roman Catholic religious order, showed respect for Chinese culture and overcame the foreigners’ reputation for lawlessness” (Encarta).
The Jesuits tried to integrate with the local reality, learning the Chinese language and setting up settlements in the nation from which they could disseminate their religion. One of the important leaders in the Christian community was Mateo Ricci who took effort to learn Chinese and settled down in China. In intellectual life, as said, Confucianism was the dominant influence. The government placed emphasis on conforming to the official interpretation of Confucius’ writings consistent with the one provided by Zhu Xi. For centuries, his interpretation was considered standard, and deviation was not permitted.
However, in the later Ming period, a few dissenting ideologies emerged, among them one proposed by “Wang Yangming, a scholar-official who rejected Zhu Xi’s emphasis on the study of external principles and advocated striving for wisdom through cultivation of one’s own innate knowledge” (Encarta). Although the Qing Dynasty was of Manchu, not Chinese origin, they also invested effort in the development of the Chinese culture. Thus, they engaged in projects devoted to Chinese literature in history. In fact, their efforts helped preserve a lot of Chinese ancient literary works.
An outstanding effort was made by Emperor Kangxi who “ordered the creation of the most complete dictionary of Chinese characters ever put together at the time” (Encarta). The project on compiling the list of the important works related to Chinese culture was undertaken in the reign of Emperor Qianlong. Conclusion China in the period ranging from 1500 to 1900 experienced many events that left a deep imprint on modern China. Torn together by many different rulers, it nevertheless managed to maintain its unique culture and build upon it.
It remained loyal to the ideals of Confucianism that were consistently implemented by the powerful monarchs who used the ideology to demand obedience. The rise of the Ming Dynasty was followed by its decline, the end of a cycle that opened the way to new rulers, the Manchus. Even being foreigners, they left a great deal of Chinese customs in place and left China even more culturally developed than it was. Even so, by the end of the nineteenth century, the nation was weakened politically and was heavily influenced by European powers.