Manchus Take Beijing Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Manchus seized control of Beijing mere weeks after the last Ming emperor had killed himself and the city had fallen to Chinese rebel leader Li Zicheng. They established themselves as the new rulers of China, founding the Qing Dynasty.

Summary of Event

By the early seventeenth century, the Ming Dynasty Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was in a state of decline. The empire’s military was unable to check the aggressive movements of the northern nomadic tribes. Its governmental bureaucracy was corrupt and dangerously inefficient. In addition, the peasant community was being ravaged by a combination of high taxes and famine. These events destabilized the Ming government and gave rise to widespread peasant uprisings. Famine;China [kw]Manchus Take Beijing (June 6, 1644) [kw]Beijing, Manchus Take (June 6, 1644) Government and politics;June 6, 1644: Manchus Take Beijing[1550] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;June 6, 1644: Manchus Take Beijing[1550] Expansion and land acquisition;June 6, 1644: Manchus Take Beijing[1550] China;June 6, 1644: Manchus Take Beijing[1550] Qing Dynasty (Ch’ing, 1644-1911) Manchus

At the same time, China’s northern provinces were dealing with incursions by an aggressive group of nomadic warriors who were part of the Manchurian Juchen tribe. These warriors were quickly becoming an important force on the frontier. Their location in Manchuria allowed them to interact with the Ming Dynasty. Over time, the Manchurian tribes developed a less nomadic society that was influenced culturally, economically, and technologically by Chinese civilization. The Manchus were also important military allies of the Ming in their fight against other nomadic tribes in northeast Asia.

The individual who began the process of forming the Manchu nation was Nurhaci Nurhaci . He used his successful military alliance with the Chinese to solidify his position among his own people. Capitalizing on his vast knowledge of the Ming bureaucracy, Nurhaci created a military and administrative structure modeled on the Chinese paradigm. This structure was known as the Eight Banner System; it was the basic organizational model for the military and also provided for census counts and taxation.

When Nurhaci died, his son Abahai Abahai succeeded him and drew on his father’s success to begin the process of bringing East Asia under Manchurian control. He first defeated Chinese forces in 1631, and this victory allowed him to establish a dynasty with its capital in Mukden, in 1635. The following year, Abahai changed the name of his dynasty to Qing, changed the name of his people from Juchen to Manchu, and declared himself the emperor of China. The Ming Chongzhen Chongzhen emperor still ruled in Beijing, but Abahai’s assumed title was more than false bravado. His Qing Dynasty already rivaled the declining Mings in power.

When Abahai died in 1643, his six-year-old son, Fulin, replaced him. Abahai’s brother, Prince Dorgon Dorgon , was appointed regent to advise the young boy in matters of state. It was under the leadership of Dorgon that the Manchus would capture Beijing and become the rulers of China.

By the time of Dorgon’s appointment, China and the Ming Dynasty were being devastated by peasant rebellions. A rebel leader named Li Zicheng Li Zicheng led the most important of these uprisings. Li’s forces prevailed on April 25, 1644, when the Chongzhen emperor killed himself; Li occupied the capital at Beijing on the same day. Li Zicheng’s Revolt (1631-1645)[Li Zichengs Revolt (1631-1645)] His men soon began looting and mistreating Beijing’s inhabitants. Thus, Li’s army confirmed their reputation as brutal conquerors. Over a period of a decade of rebellion against the Ming, Li’s war crimes had alienated most of the peasantry; therefore, by the time of the battle for Beijing, the population held as much antipathy for the rebels as they had for the Ming Dynasty.

Many Ming generals who had become disenchanted with the corruption and incompetence of the dynasty’s leadership willingly joined forces with the Manchu military; one such important commander was Wu Sangui Wu Sangui . Wu Sangui’s significance was based on two factors: He was a superb tactician, and he occupied the strategic Shanhai Pass. This gave him control of an important avenue to the capital. Wu was thus in the enviable position of being able to negotiate with both Li Zicheng and Dorgon. Li had offered Wu an impressive package if he would ally himself with the rebel cause. While Wu was impressed with the offer, he also knew that he would have to maintain a subordinate status in his relationship with Li. Therefore, he opened up communication with Dorgon, the leader of the Manchu military.

Wu also knew that many of the Ming generals who had sided with Dorgon and the Manchu forces had received both monetary compensation and vast tracts of land in which they could develop great estates. The potential power attached to the ownership of land convinced Wu that the Manchus had made the better offer. He also realized that the Chinese people hated Li for causing the death of the Chongzhen emperor. No matter what the outcome of the current military situation, Wu knew the Chinese people would never forgive Li; therefore, the Ming general decided to join the Manchu cause. When Li Zicheng was informed that Wu had allowed Dorgon’s forces to move safely through the Shanhai Pass, he decided he had to attack this new threat before it reached Beijing. The forces of Li, Wu, and Dorgon collided in the Battle of Shanhaiguan Shanhaiguan, Battle of (1644) (Shan-hai-kuan). Each army was potentially formidable and used a combination of infantry, cavalry, and artillery when engaging the enemy.

Of the three military forces, Li Zicheng’s army had the most serious discipline and morale problems. His force was mostly made up of peasants who had been confined to Beijing for months. During these months, discipline had broken down, and it was then that the occupying force had ravaged the inhabitants of the capital. Wu Sangui, by contrast, had a strong, well-disciplined, professional army that was more than ready to engage the enemy.

Wu and Dorgon agreed that Wu’s forces would lead the attack against the rebel army. Dorgon was still unsure about the extent of Wu’s power and wanted to make sure his own forces would be strong enough to defeat Li, if the rebel leader were able to overcome Wu’s army. The armies of Wu and Li engaged each other and fought in bloody combat for a number of hours, until it became evident that Wu was securing the upper hand. Dorgon then unleashed his Manchu army, and the impact of these fresh fighters broke Li’s lines. The peasant general began to withdraw. Wu quickly capitalized on Li’s weakness, pursued the retreating army, and dismantled the rest of Li’s force. Li escaped with a small contingent, but he never again had an impact on Chinese history. Dorgon led his forces into Beijing, where on June 6, 1644, he was greeted by thousands of grateful Chinese, who were glad to be free of rebel occupation. Dorgon responded by declaring the beginning of the Qing Dynasty’s rule of China. F87ulin was crowned emperor and given the reign name of Shunzhi Shunzhi , inaugurating the dynasty.

The Manchus then began the systematic elimination of the remaining forces that were loyal to the Ming Dynasty. Manchu military leaders were able to defeat the majority of the rebel groups quite easily. The Qing Dynasty’s forces did encounter substantial resistance from some of the Ming generals who had been their former allies, however. These extremely competent military men had used the land they had received from the Qing to enhance their wealth and military power. Many of the generals, including Wu Sangui, believed they could create independent feudal fiefdoms that would be beyond the control of the Manchu government. The Qing Dynasty responded to these challenges by launching a series of military campaigns that in time successfully neutralized the warlords and brought all of China under their control.

The Manchus also faced a serious naval threat from groups of pirates who operated along China’s eastern seacoast. In the late 1650’, the charismatic Chinese leader Zheng Chenggong Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga) led a force of almost 200,000 men in an attack against the city of Nanjing (Nan-ching). The armies of the Qing Dynasty successfully repelled the onslaught, and Zheng had to withdraw his forces. He then marched back to his power base along the coast and began to plan an attack against the strategic island of Taiwan Taiwan, Chinese conquest of . In 1661, he executed a successful military operation, defeating the Dutch who were occupying the island and bringing Taiwan under his control. The Qing Dynasty eventually defeated Zheng, however, and this important island became part of the Qing Empire.


The Qing Dynasty brought China under its control and was thus able finally to end the chaos that had gripped the country for decades. The foreign Manchus maintained many basic aspects of Chinese civilization under their reign by adapting many Chinese cultural and bureaucratic practices for their own use. However, the Manchus also implemented a number of negative regulations and forced some of their own cultural traditions upon their Chinese subjects. All Chinese men were required to shave the front of their heads and wear their hair in a ponytail as a sign of submission to Qing authority. The Manchu government also forbade intermarriage between the two peoples. Over time, these practices caused disunity, and they eventually created the opportunity for China to become dominated by European powers. In time, this led to the Revolution of 1911, which brought the Qing Dynasty to an end.

The Qing Dynasty brought the island of Taiwan under Chinese domination as well. This initially expanded Chinese power and control over the strategic Taiwanese Strait and subsequently increased the nation’s economic and military strength. The impact of this conquest still plays an import role in Chinese geostrategic thought.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crossley, Pamela Kyle. The Manchus. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1997. Excellent introduction to the Manchu culture. Index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crossley, Pamela Kyle. Orphan Warriors: Three Manchu Generations and the End of the Qing World. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. Explores the important events of the later Qing Dynasty. Index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crossley, Pamela Kyle. A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. Describes the evolution of Qing political philosophy. Index.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Abahai; Chongzhen; Dorgon; Shunzhi; Zheng Chenggong. Qing Dynasty (Ch’ing, 1644-1911) Manchus

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