China: The Qing Empire Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The adoption of an isolationist policy by the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) began a period of decline that ended in the downfall of the regime.

Political Considerations

The adoption of an isolationist policy by the Ming Ming DynastyDynasty (1368-1644) began a period of decline that ended in the downfall of the regime. This decline became evident by the beginning of the sixteenth century and was accelerated by the corruption of the bureaucratic infrastructure that destroyed the effectiveness of the central government. China’s most significant domestic problem was the collapse of the empire’s vast public works system. Widespread corruption led to misappropriation of funds meant for the construction and repair of the dikes and irrigation systems upon which China’s agricultural life depended. This shortfall led to starvation and open rebellion and invasion by the ManchusManchus from Mongolia. The Manchus captured Beijing in 1644, and by 1647 they had brought the rest of the nation under their control.China;Qing EmpireChina;Qing Empire

The new rulers of China established the Qing (Ch’ing) Qing DynastyDynasty (1644-1911), which would be the last dynasty in China’s history. The new leadership retained much of the Ming’s political structure, but it took a more activist role in the day-to-day operation of the government, placing Manchu officials in the most important positions. The Qing continued to use the Confucian examination system as the educational foundation of their governmental system. Despite the fact that the Qing maintained much of the traditional culture, many Chinese continued to consider them inferior and unfit to rule.

The early years of the Qing Dynasty were marked by a concerted effort to end the poverty of the rural population. The government passed reforms that lowered both the taxes and labor requirements of the peasants. The dynasty also allocated a considerable amount of money to the maintenance of the agricultural infrastructure. Regulations were also enacted to reduce the ability of the aristocracy to accumulate large amounts of agricultural land. These laws were the first modern attempt in China to enact meaningful land reform.

Most of these programs, however, were unsuccessful, and China’s agricultural elite used the widespread hatred of the Manchus to reduce the authority of the Qing government. This allowed the aristocracy to violate new regulations and continue to amass large landholdings. The gulf between the rich and rural poor grew to dangerous proportions.

China’s commercial sector also began to expand at an unprecedented rate. Much of this expansion was fueled by the new wealth of Western Europe and the silver from its mines in the Western Hemisphere. The Manchu government reacted to this new international economic reality by lifting the travel restrictions on Chinese merchants. This new freedom allowed the evolution of an extensive trade network that had far-reaching effects on Chinese society. The most important social impact of this Trade and warfare;Chinatrade was the creation of a powerful new class of merchants that controlled the majority of China’s international commerce. This new class used its wealth and power to challenge Manchu authority, especially in southern China.

By the 1780’s the Qing Dynasty was beginning to show signs of serious decline. The governmental bureaucracy was no longer the domain of the best and the brightest of Chinese society. The classical civil service examination system had been corrupted, and both cheating and favoritism had become commonplace. Wealthy landed aristocrats and merchants used their power to purchase influence within the government bureaucracy. Corrupt officials redirected money allocated for civil engineering projects into their own accounts. China’s crumbling infrastructure set into motion a series of disasters that would greatly undermine the political and social stability of the nation. Most important, China now lacked the ability to feed its increasing population, and the empire was racked by peasant uprisings.

China Under the Qing Dynasty, c. 1697

The nineteenth century was a political, social, and economic disaster for the Qing Dynasty. China was militarily humiliated by foreign powers, both European and Asian. Great Britain, in the Opium Wars Opium Wars (1839-1842, 1856-1860)(1839-1842), seized control of Hong Hong KongKong, and Japan, in the Sino-Japanese War Sino-Japanese War, First (1894-1895)[Sino Japanese War, First](1894-1895), forced China to cede control of Korea. At the conclusion of each conflict, China was forced to sign a series of agreements that stripped the country of its national dignity.

Chinese Expansion in the Eighteenth Century

In 1845 the British government forced China to sign a treaty that allowed the British to dictate economic policy and at the same time gave British nationals the power to operate free from the constraints of the Chinese legal system. This unrestricted power also enabled Christian missionaries to intensify their program to bring the Chinese population into the Christian sphere of influence. These policies undermined traditional Chinese culture and set the stage for China’s most devastating nineteenth century civil conflict, the Taiping Rebellion Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864)(1850-1864).

The Taiping Rebellion lasted for more than a decade and cost twenty million lives. An attempt to reform the social injustices inherent in the traditional Chinese social and political structure, it was motivated by the overwhelming feelings of disgrace and humiliation that had resulted from the Chinese defeat in the Opium Wars. A growing segment of Chinese society believed that history was passing China by, and if significant reforms were not made, the nation would be at the mercy of the growing power of the West. The social reforms, especially those concerning land redistribution and the rights of women, reflected the belief that the real power of the West rested in its mobile and egalitarian social structure.

The provincial gentry attempted a series of reforms to counter the incursion of Western influence. They sought to use the technology of the European powers to check imperial expansion. They wanted to modernize both the armed forces and China’s infrastructure. This was done not to bring Chinese society into the modern world, but as a last-ditch attempt to preserve the traditional order. As these leaders became more powerful, the Manchus lost political control of the provinces.

The Qing Dynasty resisted all attempts at reform. The imperial government, allied with the traditional Confucian bureaucracy, worked steadfastly to preserve the old order. In the final years of the nineteenth century, the empress dowager CixiCixi (Qing empress dowager)Cixi (Tz’u-hsi; 1835-1908) attacked all attempts at reform, and her support of the Boxer Boxer Rebellion (1900)Rebellion in 1900 would serve as a catalyst for the forces that opposed the dynasty.

As China entered the twentieth century, opposition to the Qing government permeated all segments of Chinese society. Alliances between the powerful merchant class and certain members of the scholar gentry set the stage for the overthrow of the Manchus. These two influential sectors of Chinese society envisioned a new China based upon the republican ideals of the West. In 1911 Sun Sun Yat-senSun Yat-senYat-sen (pinyin, Sun Yixian; 1866-1925) initiated a revolution that led to the downfall of the Qing Dynasty, and in 1912 the Chinese republic was established.

Military Achievement

The last century of the Qing Dynasty was devoid of any significant military achievement and was witness to the collapse of China’s defense establishment. This once-mighty nation was defeated by the armies of both Europe and Japan, which by the middle of the century had surpassed China’s military in both tactical and technological skill. The military disasters suffered during this century not only threatened to make China into a colonial subject, but they also were at the heart of two bloody and disastrous civil uprisings.

The Opium Opium Wars (1839-1842, 1856-1860)Wars were the first of these great military failures and clearly exposed both the diplomatic and military weaknesses of China. By the beginning of the nineteenth century the British had created a very profitable system of international trade in English and South Asian textiles and Chinese tea. By the 1820’s tea had become the most valued product in England and was consumed in large quantities throughout the British Empire. This demand resulted in a significant trade imbalance for the British, who attempted to correct the problem by increasing the opium trade with China. Initially, the Chinese government accepted the increase and even shared in the profits. Eventually, however, a number of prominent intellectuals began to speak out against the impact this narcotic was having on Chinese society. The most influential opponent of this trade was Lin Lin ZexuLin ZexuZexu (Lin Tse-hsu; 1785-1850), who held a powerful position within the Qing bureaucracy. When the British refused to stop dumping opium on the Chinese market, Lin Zexu ordered the European trading areas blockaded and had government officials destroy the warehouses that held the dangerous drug. The British military response initiated the Opium Wars.

The major problem facing the British was how to invade and defeat China without becoming bogged down in an extensive and potentially costly land war. The English military relied on their superior Naval warfare;Opium Warsnaval technology and Ships and shipbuilding;Opium Warsbuilt a series a small, highly maneuverable steamboats in their shipyards in South Asia. They armed the vessels with extremely accurate rotating cannons and transported them to the coast of China. These gunboats entered China’s major river systems and engaged the Chinese navy at every opportunity. The old wooden ships of the Qing fleet were no match for these state-of-the-art vessels, and the British had an easy time gaining control of these inland waterways. This left China’s great inland fortifications defenseless, and the Manchu government was forced to accept a British peace agreement.

As a result of its defeat in the Opium Wars, China was forced to sign the humiliating Treaty of Nanjing Nanjing Treaty of 1842(1842), the first in a series of diplomatic agreements known as the “unequal treaties,” which attacked China’s basic sovereign rights. This devastating military defeat would have an important political, social, and cultural impact on the Manchu Dynasty.

Three decades before the onset of hostilities with Britain, most of Chinese society had already been introduced to the basic tenets of Western civilization. Christian missionaries had been extremely successful in converting a substantial number of Chinese to Christianity;ChinaChristianity. Following the disastrous events of the Opium Wars, a large segment of Chinese society began to question the validity of many of its traditional beliefs. Many intellectuals believed it was time to set aside the Confucian worldview in favor of the Western model, which emphasized a blending of Christianity and the scientific method.

British troops taking formal possession of Hong Kong at the conclusion of the First Opium War (1839-1842).

(F. R. Niglutsch)

In conjunction with this cultural malaise, China’s population was suffering from a series of domestic problems resulting from the corruption of the Qing bureaucracy. Rural China was in a state of complete collapse. There were widespread public health problems, and the government was no longer able to provide the services necessary to carry out the day-to-day operation of an orderly society. Revolutionary groups began to appear, claiming to have the answers to this social chaos.

This was the political climate that set in motion the events that would give rise to the Taiping Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864)Rebellion. This massive civil uprising was the most devastating event in nineteenth century world history. Between 1850 and 1865 twenty million Chinese would become casualties of the disease, famine, and destruction caused by this civil war.

The Bai Shangdi Bai Shangdi Hui (Society of Worshipers)Hui (Pai Shang-ti Hui), or Society of Worshipers, was one of many secret, revolutionary organizations that grew out of the social and political discontent arising from the failure of the Qing Dynasty, and it played an important role in the rebellion. The majority of the society’s members were rural poor who had lost confidence in the Manchu Dynasty. The central figure in the Taiping Rebellion was an emotionally unstable educator named Hong Hong XiuquanHong XiuquanXiuquan (Hung Hsiu-ch’üan; 1814-1864) who had suffered a nervous breakdown after failing to pass the required civil service examinations for a teaching position. During a particularly difficult emotional period he came to believe that he had been transported to Heaven, where he was informed that he was the second son of God and the younger brother of Jesus Christ. He believed that he was involved in defeating an uprising against God by a coalition of evil spirits, and that he had been directed by his heavenly father to return to earth and restore peace, justice, and harmony to his homeland by deposing the Qing Dynasty, which had lost its “mandate of Heaven.”

The Taiping Rebellion was based upon the fundamental Christian belief in the universal relationship and basic equality of all humankind in the eyes of Religion and warfare;ChinaGod. The goal of the uprising was to create a society based upon social and economic equality. This new Western ideology challenged the traditional foundation of Chinese civilization, which was structured upon the Confucian model of the unchanging relationship between superior and subordinate. The rebellion’s program of economic equality based upon the complete redistribution of land threatened China’s landed aristocracy.

The Qing Dynasty was saved by a coalition of Chinese and international forces that eventually isolated and annihilated the rebel forces. Once again, however, the Chinese body politic was deeply frightened by these events, and the power and prestige of the Manchu Dynasty was degraded.

Rebels gather during the Taiping uprising (1850-1864).

(F. R. Niglutsch)

As the nineteenth century neared its conclusion, China faced a new threat from a traditional Asian competitor, Japan;vs. China[China]Japan. These rivals had followed different courses in the nineteenth century. While China under the Qing Dynasty steadfastly fought to maintain its traditional structure and worldview, Japan openly and aggressively embraced Western science, technology, and educational models. After the arrival of Commander Matthew C. Perry, Matthew C.Perry, Matthew C.Perry (1794-1858), the Japanese realized that their future would be threatened if they ignored the technological superiority of the West. Unlike the Confucian traditionalists that fought to save the Qing Dynasty and its outdated and corrupt structure, Japanese intellectuals and political leaders undermined the feudal Tokugawa Tokugawa era (Japan)regime (1603-1867) and restored the emperor to a position of power. This period is known as the Meiji Meiji RestorationRestoration (1866-1868), and was a major turning point in the history of East Asia. Rather than limiting Japan’s exposure to Western ideas, the new Japanese government sent the country’s best and brightest to the most prestigious Western institutions of higher learning. Japan’s goal was to learn as much as possible about these new scientific advancements so it would be able to prevent the West from making Japan into another China.

By the 1870’s Japan was well into the process of Industrialization;East Asiaindustrialization, and by 1890 it had developed a new, highly technological and very powerful military force. Both the army and navy had utilized Western technology to increase their military effectiveness, and Japan could now declare itself a true international power. Japan’s new political and military leadership were cognizant of the extent of European imperialism in Asia, and began to exercise its right to enter into this new international competition. Japan’s new aggressive posture was supported by a highly developed sense of cultural superiority and a unique racial bias that supported the Japanese belief in the nation’s right to dominate Asia.

The First Sino-Japanese Sino-Japanese War, First (1894-1895)[Sino Japanese War, First]War centered on the question of which country would control the Korean Peninsula. Because China had dominated the area for centuries, the Qing government believed that Korea;in Sino-Japanese War[Sino Japanese]Korea remained within the Chinese sphere of influence. The Japanese challenged this perception in 1876 when they sent one of their new naval squadrons to forcibly open the peninsula to Japanese economic interests. All-out war was avoided when Japan and China signed the Treaty of Kanghwa Kanghwa Treaty of 1876(1876), which gave Japan trading privileges at two of Korea’s ports. This was only a temporary solution, however; Japan fully expected eventually to dominate the area.

The Japanese military establishment continued to push for a military solution to the Korean question, and it was finally presented with an opportunity when the peninsula was the site of an anti-Japanese uprising in July, 1894. Units of Japan’s new modernized army put down the rebellion, captured the Korean monarch, and forced him to remove all Chinese nationals from the country. Within two days, the Japanese navy had engaged the Chinese fleet stationed in the area and destroyed the Kowshing (steamer) Kowshing, a British steamer that was carrying Chinese reinforcements. Relations between the two nations continued to deteriorate, and war was declared on August 1, 1894.

The Chinese armed forces were decisively defeated on all fronts by the Japanese military. Chinese supply lines to their armies on the peninsula were severed when the Japanese navy destroyed the Chinese fleet in the Battle of Yalu River Yalu River, Battle of (1894)(1894). The bloodiest and most controversial battle was for control of Port Arthur Port Arthur, Battle of (1894)(1894) on the Liaotung Peninsula in the Yellow Sea. Port Arthur’s massive fortress was believed to be impenetrable. A Chinese army of 20,000 occupied Port Arthur, and during the campaign they enraged the Japanese by defiling the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers. The modernized forces of the Japanese army, using the latest assault tactics, breached the fortifications and destroyed the defending force. Emboldened by their overwhelming success, the Japanese military moved into Shantung Province and captured the important city of Weihaiwei (1895). Faced with total military collapse, China sued for peace and turned over a large section of Manchuria, along with Formosa (Taiwan) and the Pescadores Islands (P’eng-hu), to Japan. The Japanese victory in the Sino-Japanese War elevated Japan to a position of prominence in East Asia.

As the twentieth century began, China had lost the respect of most of the international community. In the span of five decades it had suffered two major military setbacks and had been torn apart by civil war. The United States, Japan, and the major nations of Western Europe had carved China into economic “spheres of influence,” which allowed each nation to dominate the political and economic events of that region.

The systematic application of Western technology in China undermined an already weak and corrupt economic system. The construction of a modern infrastructure based upon rail transportation disrupted the lives of thousands of people. Railroads were both inexpensive and efficient, and drew business away from China’s traditional transportation network. The most devastating example was the decline of the Grand Canal, the waterway that had been the backbone of China’s domestic trade, linking the bureaucratic north with the agricultural south. Hundreds of families that had moved goods on the canal for generations were now among the growing numbers of unemployed, who crowded into China’s urban areas. The decline in trade also affected the cities that had grown up along the route of the canal. Similar circumstances could be found in the rural provinces that depended upon cash crops for their economic success. Inexpensive high-quality cotton yarn produced in England’s textile factories caused the collapse of the yarn industry in China.

China’s traditional culture, based upon Confucian and Daoist principles, was also under attack. Christian missionaries were successful in converting thousands of Chinese. At the outbreak of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, there were 3,000 Christian missionaries of various denominations operating throughout China. These missionaries tried to reform Chinese society based upon the social and religious principles of Christianity;ChinaChristianity, focusing mainly upon human rights and concentrating their efforts toward increasing the status of women and children. These attempted reforms clashed with the traditional values of Confucian society. The xenophobic Qings viewed the Christian missionaries as a substantial threat to the cultural heritage of China.

Japanese forces enter China after crossing the Yalu River (1894).

(F. R. Niglutsch)

By the end of the nineteenth century, a group of conservative aristocrats had become a very powerful force in the ManchusManchu government, with the primary goal of eradicating Western influence in China. These conservatives developed a plan of action that would take advantage of the large number of peasants and urban laborers who had lost their jobs to Western industrialization. A secret revolutionary organization known as the Yihequan (revolutionary organization)Yihequan (I-ho ch’üan), or Fists of Righteous Harmony, organized these unemployed men into an armed force and unleashed their anger upon the unsuspecting Westerners. The Boxers, as they would become known, linked China’s overall decline to both Western economic interests and Christianity. Because most of the missionary stations were located in isolated rural areas, the Christian clergy were especially easy targets. The rebels took advantage of this situation and carried out a series of vicious attacks that included rape and mutilation.

The Ninth U.S. Infantry Gatling Gun Detachment in Beijing, protecting U.S. interests in China during the Boxer Rebellion (1900).

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Western diplomatic community responded by creating a multinational strike force of more than 9,000 men to put down the uprising. The two most important engagements were at the cities of Tientsin Tientsin, Battle of (1900)(1900) and Beijing Beijing, Battle of (1900)(1900), with especially brutal fighting at Tientsin. Most interesting to the historian of East Asian military history is the fact that the Japanese army played a crucial role in both battles. The success of the Japanese armed forces instilled considerable confidence within the military leadership and would be a significant factor in Japan’s decision to engage Russia four years later. The Boxer Rebellion had disastrous effects on the Qing Dynasty. The victorious allies forced China to dismantle the majority of its armed forces and also fined it the equivalent of 333 million dollars.

Weapons, Uniforms, and Armor

The history of weaponry during the Qing Dynasty reflects the cultural and intellectual conflicts found throughout Chinese society during this time period. Initially the Manchu armed forces modeled themselves after those of the Ming Dynasty, using the traditional weapons of the infantry and cavalry, including the sword, lance, and crossbow. After its humiliating defeat by the British in the Opium Wars, the Qing Dynasty sought to adopt the weaponry of the modern industrial nations, including not only the latest handguns and rifles but also new steam-powered ships and gunboats. A significant debate occurred within Chinese intellectual circles concerning the future of China’s armed forces. This new military reality was widely discussed among an emerging class of intellectuals, who focused on the development of a new strategic doctrine. The failure of the Manchu government to employ these new theories would ultimately lead to the destruction of the Qing Dynasty.

Military Organization

The organization of China’s military went through two important changes during the nineteenth century. After the Opium Wars, China’s military leaders blamed the poor performance of the armed forces on three major problems: poor training, lack of morale, and an absence of unit cohesion. These deficiencies would be corrected by the implementation of a model that would create a well-trained and highly motivated military fighting force. These reforms began with the officer corps, which would now be allowed to choose subordinates and create units that were based upon close working relationships between officers and soldiers. In the future, when recruits joined a unit, they would be obligated to obey only the orders of their commanding officer. The theory behind this military paradigm was that the average fighting man would perform much better in the heat of battle if he had absolute confidence in his superiors. These reforms were the foundation of China’s military organization until its humiliation in the First Sino-Japanese War.

In 1895, after the First Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese military initiated sweeping changes in the organizational structure of its armed forces. These changes were based upon the regulations used by the armies of the industrial nations and were the result of the latest research conducted in the most prestigious military academies in the world. The foundation of this new organizational structure was the creation of a large permanent professional army. This new force would consist of two divisions, each having two infantry brigades and one cavalry and artillery unit. The enlisted personnel would serve four years of full-time duty and would then be placed on First Reserve unit duty. As First Reserves, they would be classified as civilians but would be required to report for training one month per year. During this time enlisted personnel would receive 50 percent of their regular army pay. At the end of three years, the soldiers would then be transferred to Second Reserve units, where they would serve for another four years, after which they would be released from military service. The theory behind this force structure was that China would always have a large supply of trained military personnel to draw upon in a time of crisis.

Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics

The most dynamic area of Chinese military policy during this time period dealt with the development of philosophy and doctrine. During the nineteenth century, many of China’s best intellectuals focused upon the creation of a sound philosophical military model that would provide China with the organization it so desperately needed.

The first significant work in this area was carried out in the years following the Opium Wars by the Qing historian and geographer WeiWei YuanWei YuanYuan (Wei Yüan; 1794-1854), who published a book on the planning of coastal defenses, in which he made two important observations about the future of Chinese security. First and foremost was that the Qing government needed to accept that European ships and guns were superior to those of China. Wei Yuan suggested that the emperor should allocate funding for both the purchase of these weapons and the creation of a military industrial complex that would enable China to manufacture similarly high-quality armaments.

Wei Yuan also argued that the success of Western armies was based upon the quality of their military personnel. Every Western army paid both high wages and good benefits, a requirement in the modern world of training, discipline, and action under fire. Wei Yuan advocated China’s development of a Professional militaries;Chinamilitary pay structure that would attract strong, intelligent, and loyal recruits.

Wei Yuan noted that once the nation made these basic changes, it must then develop the correct plan of implementation utilizing both military and diplomatic strategies. He believed that China needed to realize that it did not possess the military power to actively engage potential adversaries either in the South China Sea or along its coastline and instead should concentrate on protecting its inland waterways where it could use its vast territory and large population to its best advantage. Many military historians believe that Wei Yuan was the first to conceive of the strategy of a “retrograde Retrograde defense strategydefense,” based upon drawing a potential enemy deep into one’s own interior, isolating and then destroying it.

Like most intellectuals of his day, Wei Yuan believed that the use of the military must never be the first choice, but should be considered only when all other diplomatic alternatives have been exhausted. It was thought that a great leader should always use a combination of military alliances and international trade as the foundation of Foreign policy;ancient China[China]foreign policy. The ancient tradition of using one “barbarian” to control another was still relevant, and an extensive knowledge of current events was a necessary tool in advancing this strategy. Positioning one’s nation to take advantage of the current imperialist competition among the industrial nations could one day produce fruitful results. Wei Yuan also adhered to the concept that trading partners rarely entered into military conflict with one another, and he lobbied extensively for China to open its doors to foreign trade.

The second great strategist of the post-Opium War period was FengFeng GuifenFeng GuifenGuifen (Feng Kuei-fen; 1809-1874). Like Wei Yuan, he believed that China should adopt Western weaponry, but that it should also master the new scientific and technological knowledge that formed the theoretical foundation of this new world order. He believed that China’s military security was linked to the reform of its educational system. In the future, Chinese schools would have to offer courses in modern mathematics, chemistry, physics, and astronomy. Feng Guifen advocated these reforms as part of a Self-Strengthening Movement (1861-1895) that would propel China into the twentieth century.

The late nineteenth century witnessed the rise of a group of military philosophers who based their work on the teachings of ConfucianismConfucius (551-479 b.c.e.). They referred to themselves as Confucian rationalists, and believed that China’s future was to be found in a combination of Western science and Confucian ethics.

The first of these Confucian military theorists was Zeng Zeng GuofanZeng GuofanGuofan (Tseng Kuo-fan; 1811-1872), who occupied a position of authority within the Qing bureaucracy. He had received his military training under battlefield conditions when he was directed to organize the central Chinese militia during the Taiping Rebellion. As a result of this experience, he developed a military philosophy that in fact utilized both Western technology and Confucian philosophy. Tactically, he concluded that a commander should always follow the doctrine of the concentration of force. If one divides one’s unit it will necessarily become weaker and give one’s opponent the advantage. In conjunction with this fundamental reality, he created the overriding concept of the “master-guest” theory of the battlefield, arguing that the successful commander will always choose to be on the defensive, because the true position of strength is found in knowing both the adversary’s objectives and tactics. A commander who initiates an engagement will be acting on insufficient information and will become the “guest” on the battlefield. In turn, a commander who waits until the enemy moves will have the necessary information to defeat the opposing force, thus becoming “master” of the battlefield. This strategy of battlefield defense employed two fundamental Confucian beliefs. The military philosophy of Confucius was based upon the ethical premise that aggressive offensive warfare was immoral. The only reason to use military force, according to Confucius, was in defense of the nation, and thus all military philosophy should focus on the development of defensive strategies. In addition, the Confucian system focused upon the development of a personal moral code, the concept Zeng Guofan adapted to his military theory. He believed that the most important element in any military doctrine was the human factor. An army consisting of an officer corps soundly grounded in Confucian philosophy could always be counted on to make the correct battlefield decisions. Zeng Guofan believed that most military failures were caused by hasty, ill-conceived actions made by officers who were driven by their own arrogance. He maintained that the unphilosophical soul was more concerned with personal glory, which would cloud one’s judgment and lead to catastrophe. These two Confucian principles were the basis of Zeng Guofan’s defensive strategy.

The second great Confucian strategist was Li Hongzhang (Li Hung-chang; 1823-1901), who as a young man scored at the highest level in the Confucian examination system. Like most of his predecessors, he believed that China had to develop the capacity to produce modern weapons. He was the first modern Chinese military philosopher to develop a combined-arms doctrine that employed both ground and naval forces in a strategic defense. Li Hongzhang believed that a modernized navy would still be unable to defend China’s extensive coastline, and he recommended that the army be utilized to defend China’s most important harbors and that the Navy be held in reserve and used against an invading force after the axis of attack had been established.

The Confucian worldview, especially in its focus on the importance of good education, played a prominent role in the development of Li Hongzhang’s doctrine. Li Hongzhang advised the Qing government to change the examination system that was used to recruit members of the officer corps to reflect the technical expertise necessary to successful operation on the modern battlefield. He wanted to develop a truly integrated curriculum that emphasized both traditional ethics and modern technology.

The Qing government, however, placed too much emphasis upon modern weaponry and not enough on the creation of a system that would attract and keep officers of the highest quality. When China engaged Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War, this weakness undermined the effectiveness of the Chinese army and resulted in a humiliating defeat.

Contemporary Sources

Most of the ideas of the nineteenth century Chinese military theorists can be found in publications of their collected works. The most respected publication of the period was written by Wei Yuan. In Haiguotuji (1844; also known as Hai-kuo t’u chih, an illustrated handbook of maritime countries), Wei formulated the basic principles of nineteenth century Chinese military thought.China;Qing Empire

Books and Articles
  • Edgerton, Robert. Warriors of the Rising Sun: A History of the Japanese Military. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.
  • Gelber, Harry Gregor. Opium, Soldiers, and Evangelicals: Britain’s 1840-42 War with China, and Its Aftermath. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
  • Hsin-pao, Chang. Commissioner Lin and the Opium War. New York: W. W. Norton, 1970.
  • Lorge, Peter. “War and Warfare in China, 1450-1815.” In War in the Early Modern World, edited by Jeremy Black. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999.
  • _______. War, Politics, and Society in Early Modern China, 900-1795. New York: Routledge, 2005.
  • Mackenzie, S. P. “The Armies of the Heavenly Kingdom and the Taiping Rebellion in China, 1850-68.” In Revolutionary Armies in the Modern Era: A Revisionist Approach. New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • Perdue, Peter C. China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.
  • Spence, Jonathan D. God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.
  • Swope, Kenneth, ed. Warfare in China Since 1600. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2005.
  • Waley-Cohen, Joanna. The Culture of War in China: Empire and the Military Under the Qing Dynasty. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2006.
  • Worthing, Peter. A Military History of Modern China: From the Manchu Conquest to Tian’anmen Square. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Security International, 2007.
Films and Other Media
  • Eternal Emperor: Emperor Kangxi in Qing Dynasty, 1654-1722. Documentary. Peninsula Audiovisual Press, 2007.
  • Eternal Emperor: Emperor Qianlong in Qing Dynasty, 1711-1799. Documentary. Peninsula Audiovisual Press, 2007.
  • The Opium War. Feature film. Golden Harvest, 1997.

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