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.
The adoption of an isolationist policy by the Ming
The new rulers of China established the Qing (Ch’ing)
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
As a result of its defeat in the Opium Wars, China was forced to sign the humiliating Treaty of Nanjing
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
British troops taking formal possession of Hong Kong at the conclusion of the First Opium War (1839-1842).
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
The Bai Shangdi
The Taiping Rebellion was based upon the fundamental Christian belief in the universal relationship and basic equality of all humankind in the eyes of
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).
As the nineteenth century neared its conclusion, China faced a new threat from a traditional Asian competitor,
By the 1870’s Japan was well into the process of
The First Sino-Japanese
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
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
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
Japanese forces enter China after crossing the Yalu River (1894).
By the end of the nineteenth century, a group of conservative aristocrats had become a very powerful force in the
The Ninth U.S. Infantry Gatling Gun Detachment in Beijing, protecting U.S. interests in China during the Boxer Rebellion (1900).
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
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.
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.
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 Wei
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
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
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
The second great strategist of the post-Opium War period was Feng
The late nineteenth century witnessed the rise of a group of military philosophers who based their work on the teachings of
The first of these Confucian military theorists was Zeng
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.
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.
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