The Jurchen tribesmen from across China’s northern frontiers who called themselves
Manchus obtained victory based on their success in forming a system of military and
administrative units with the nucleus of a bureaucracy long before they were ready to
Most Chinese accepted the new rulers because the Manchus promised to uphold China’s
traditional beliefs and social structures. The Manchu’s newly founded Qing dynasty was
destined to rule China until 1912.
The main architect of the Qing consolidation was Kangxi (16611722). He concentrated
on restoring an effective national examination system, improving the flow of state
information through reliable and secret communication channels, attracting the support of
dissident scholars, and easing the tension between Manchus and ethnic Chinese.
Kangxi’s son struggled with aspects of his legacy and paid close attention to tax reform,
organization of cultural life, elimination of certain social inequalities and strengthening
the central bureaucracy.
In 1600, China appeared to be the largest and most sophisticated of all the unified realms
on earth. One segment of the large bureaucracy lived in Peking, serving the emperor in an
elaborate hierarchy that divided the country’s business among six ministries: finance,
personal, rituals, laws, military affairs, and public works.
The south of the Huai River had rich soil for intensive rice cultivation but northern China
suffered from harsh, dry weather.
In the midst of the rich cultural and economical life of the late Ming there were
dangerous hints of weakness in the social structure. Emperor Wanli would shut people
out and would not hold meetings. This resulted in eunuchs rising to power. Wanli’s reign
ended with his death in 1620 and China was beginning a complicated economic slide.
The Ming court slowly lost control of its rural bureaucracy and its tax structure. Pressed
at the same time for more money to pay and supply the troops needed to counter the
attacks of the Jurchen tribesmen, the court increased extra levies on those populated areas
that it still controlled and laid off many employees in the northwest.
Wanli’s grandson, Emperor Chongzhen, after hearing that the rebels had entered the city,
had hung himself. He was the last ruler of the Ming dynasty.
Chapter 2 We do know for sure that by the late sixteenth century the Jurchen had followed various
paths. Some of them had stayed in the Sungari region and lived mainly by fishing and
hunting. Others had established a firm base along the northern edge of the Korean border
in the region of the Changbai Shan, where they developed a mixed agricultural and
Nurhaci, who was to lay the groundwork for what would later be called the “Manchu
conquest” of Ming China, was born in 1559 to a noble family of the Long White
Mountain group of Jurchens. He rigidly disciplined his troops. He offered Chinese who
surrendered a change to serve in the Jurchen bureaucracy and marriage into his family.
The Manchus had seized Peking in 1644 with startling ease and by 1662 had killed the
last Ming claimants. Dorgon inherited a hybrid system of government, developed in
Liaodong, the six ministries was combined with the military and administrative Eight
banners organization of the Manchus.
Dorgon was determined to make the Chinese adapt to the Manchu hairstyle. All Chinese
men should shave their foreheads and have their hair braided in back in the Manchustyle
queue. This made it easier for Manchus to identify their enemies in battle. The Chinese
faced a stark choice: keep you hair or lose your head. Ming Chinese men had prized long
and elaborately dressed hair as a sign of masculinity and elegance and bitterly resented
Father Johann Adam Schall von Bell was a Catholic Jesuit missionary who practiced in
China. He soon became very close with Shunzhu and would be summoned for
conferences on religion and politics.
By the end of the 1600s, it looked as though the policy of peaceful adaptation to China
that in various ways had been developed by Nurhaci, Hong Taiji, Dorgon, and Shunzhi
was about to be abandoned in the name of a new Manchi nativism.
Qing emperors had to grow up fast if they were to grow up at all. Shunzhi was 13 when
he put himself in power. Shunzhi’s son, Kangxi, was also 13 when he first moved to oust
the regent Oboi, and 15 when he managed to arrage for Oboi’s arrest in 1669. Kangxi
began a reign that was to last until 1722 and make him one of the most admired rulers in
The whole of southern China was left under the control of 3 Chinese generals who had
directed most of the fighting there in the late 1650s. Each of the 3 was granted what
amounted to an almost independent domain and in Western histories they are named the
“Three Feudatories.” The first, Wu Sangui, controlled the provinces of Yunnan and
Guizhou and sections of Hunan and Sichuan. The second ruled Guangdong and parts of
Guangxi from his base in Canton. The third controlled Fujian from the coastal city of
Fuzhou. Together the 3 men were virtual masters over a region equivalent in size to France and Spain combined. They supervised all aspects of military and civil
government, the examination system, relations with the indigenous peoples, and the
collection of taxes.
Wu Sangui threw off his allegiance to the Qing in December 1673, declaring the
formation of a new dynasty, and driving his armies into Hunan. The other two generals
joined in 1674 and 1676 respectively.
The War of the Three Feudatories confronted the Chinese in the south with agonizing test
of loyalties. China remained a unified country as the result of 5 crucial factors. One was
Wu Sangui’s indecisiveness in not driving across the Hunan border and up to the north
when he first held the initiative in 1674. A second was Kangxi’s ability to rally his court
behind him and to develop a longrange strategy for conquest and retrenchment. A third
was the courage and tenacity of a number of Manchu generals who spearheaded the Qing
counterattacks. A fourth was the inability of the Three Feudatories to coordinate their
endeavors and to mount a sustained campaign against the Qing on any one front. A fifth
was their inability to appeal to the most loyal of the Ming supporters.
Wu Sangui finally declared himself emperor of the new Zhou dynasty in 1678 but the
gesture came too late to be meaningful. Wu died of dysentery later that same year. His
grandson fought on in his name for 3 more years but committed suicide when a number
of Manchu generals trapped him. Wu’s followers were executed.
A remarkable naval warrior, Koxinga, had been born in 1624 to a Japanese mother and
his upbringing suitably reflected the polyglot world of international trade and cultural
relations. He organized 10 trading companies and it was not until he tried a decisive
frontal assault on Nanjing in 1659 that he was seriously defeated. Koxinga made the bold
decision to attack the Dutch fortress of Zeelandia. Koxinga did not enjoy his success for
long because the news that his father and brothers were executed in Peking exacerbated
his already unstable mental condition.
Shi Lang was appointed by the emperor to be the senior admiral of an expeditionary
force. Leading his fleet from Fujian province in early July 1683, Shi Lang won a crushing
victory in the Pescadores over the last Zheng forces.
From the beginning of his reign, Emperor Kangxi addressed himself to this problem by
trying to strike a balance in which he reassured the Manchu nobles as to his martial vigor
and political firmness and tried to convince the Chinese of his respect for their traditional
culture. Kangxi continued to hold the exams and in 1679, ordered that nominations be
sent from the provinces for a special examination to be held for men of outstanding
talent. Fifty special degrees were awarded, mostly to scholars from the Yangzi delta
provinces. These scholars were put to work helping compile the official history of the
defunct Ming dynasty.
Three scholars stand out both for their actions and their writings in this period. One was
the Hunanese Wang Fuzhi. He devoted much effort to attacking the individualistic philosophy of the followers of certain midMing scholars and writers, claiming that their
insistence on finding the source of molarity within the individual conscience had wrecked
the moral fiber of the time. Wang Fuzhi wrote a history of the prince of Gui’s court and
appraisals of former “barbarian” regimes, which would have led to his execution had the
Manchus discovered them.
The second scholar, Huang Zongxi, was a passionate partisan of the Donglin and other
reformers. Huang Zongxi fought for years alongside the Ming claimants on the east coast
and build barricades in the mountains to slow the advance of Manchu troops. Finally,
after 1649, he retired to a life of scholarship. He tried to analyze the structure of
government and suggested that an alternative to the over centralization of the present lay
in a n earlier ideal Chinese society that had been governed by the moral force of scholars
working as administrators in their own communities. Huang believed the emperors
should have less power.
The most famous scholar was Gu Yanwu. He passed the lowerlevel examinations and
responded to what he saw as the political and moral collapse of his times by a program of
intensive study of traditional Chinese economics, government, and military defense. He
served briefly with the prince of Fu against the Manchus. Gu focused on such themes as
government, ethics, economics, geography, social relations, and philology.
Lifan Yuan is the burea of border affairs. This bureau had been an invention of Hong Taiji
and dealt originally with problems of diplomacy and commerce with the Mongols.
Much of the impetus for the Qing to sign a Russian treaty had come from the danger
posed by the Zunghar tribes in western China: the Qing feared that the Russians might
ally themselves with these dangerous nomadic warriors. Under a brilliant leader, Galdan,
and drawing added unity from their deep devotion to the Dalai Lama in Tibet. In the late
1670s, by seizing Kashgar, Hami, and Turfan in turn, Galdan imposed his rule over the
largely Muslim inhabitants of those cities and over their prosperous caravan routes
linking China and the Mediterranean. The tribes hostile to Galdan and defeated by him in
battle fled eastward, pressing into the western Qing province of Gansu.
Kangxi owed much of his fame to the firmness with which he pursued national unity and
to the vigor of his foreign policy. In several important ways, however, the results were
less happy, and he left a tangled legacy to his successors. This was especially true in 3
areas: the dispute surrounding Yinreng, the heir apparent to the throne; relations with the
Catholic missionaries; and rural administration.
Yinreng was designed to be a model in which all the precepts of moralistic Confucian
education would be followed and the Manchu virtues instilled. Yinreng showed signs of
being erratic, violent, and cruel. Yinreng was reported to have preened himself on his
future role as emperor, how he tyrannized his subordinates and household, and how he
ordered his agents to buy both boys and girls in the south and to bring them to his palace
for his private secual delectation. Kangxi ordered Yinreng disbarred forever from his