Rise of the Manchus Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Juchen warlord Nurhaci conquered and united all the Manchu tribes under his banner. His son, Abahai, invaded China just as the Ming Dynasty was crumbling. Abahai founded the Qing Dynasty and began the process of installing that dynasty as China’s new rulers. However, his sudden death left it to his brother and son to complete the conquest.

Summary of Event

After the Juchens of the Jin Dynasty (Chin, 1115-1234) were defeated by the Mongols in 1234, they retreated back to the northeastern part of China outside the Great Wall. With the Chinese, they served as subordinates to the khans during the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty (1260-1368). Not until the appearance of Nurhaci Nurhaci and his son Abahai Abahai would the Juchens, later called the Manchus, succeed in again controlling China, launching a longer period of alien rule by the Qing Dynasty (Ch’ing, 1644-1911) Qing Dynasty (Ch’ing, 1644-1911) . [kw]Rise of the Manchus (1616-1643) [kw]Manchus, Rise of the (1616-1643) Expansion and land acquisition;1616-1643: Rise of the Manchus[0710] Government and politics;1616-1643: Rise of the Manchus[0710] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1616-1643: Rise of the Manchus[0710] China;1616-1643: Rise of the Manchus[0710] Manchuria;1616-1643: Rise of the Manchus[0710] Manchus

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) , trade markets were set up in Liaodong for the Mongols and Juchens, who came with silver, pearls, sable, horses, and ginseng in exchange for Chinese grains, textiles, pigs, farming tools, and iron implements. To ensure peace, guard points were established at major locations. The Jianzhou Guard of 1403 incorporated five Juchen tribes who lived to the east of Liaodong and north of the Yalu River. Nurhaci, the self-proclaimed first emperor of Hou Jin or the Later Jin Dynasty, came from the Jianzhou confederates.

Nurhaci belonged to the Aisin Gioro clan. His mother died when he was young, and he made a living by collecting ginseng and selling it at the trade markets. Nurchaci once lived in the Ming general Li Chengliang’s household and had accompanied him on tribute missions in Beijing. As a young adolescent, Nurhaci learned Chinese and was interested in Chinese history and military strategy. In 1583, Nurhaci’s father Tashi (Taksi) and grandfather, Giocanagga, a secondary chieftain, were massacred by Nikan Wilan (d. 1586), another strong leader in the Juchen confederation and a Ming ally. Nurhaci swore revenge and demanded compensation from the Ming, who allowed him to succeed his grandfather’s title. In 1583, Nurhaci defeated Wilan, who fled to the Ming for protection. In his rage, Nurhaci turned to subdue the cities in the vicinity of Jianzhou, as well as the smaller Juchen tribes. To appease him, the Ming administration named Nurhaci assistant commissioner in chief and, in 1595, “Dragon General.”

Nurhaci’s relationship with China aroused jealousy and conspiracy from the neighboring Juchen groups such as the Hoifa, Hada, Ula, and Yehe, together called the Four Hulun States. In 1593, the Hulan States allied with five other Mongol tribes to attack Nurhaci, but Nurhaci defeated them. Between 1599 and 1619, Nurhaci conquered the Hulun tribes one by one. In the meantime, the Manchu leader tried to ally with the Mongol tribes in his campaigns against the Ming. The Mongol chiefs from the Korchins, Chahars, and Five Khalakas exchanged women with Nurhaci in marriage, but their relationship was one more of mutual opportunism than of political solidarity.

The Mongols Mongols needed to trade their horses with the Ming government to survive. Finally, though, Nurchaci decided to break with the Ming, risking the loss of trade and tribute gifts that were important to his people. In 1616, he announced his independence from the Ming, proclaimed himself khan, and called his dynasty Hou Jin. He assumed the title of Brilliant Emperor, Nurturer of All Nations. In the next ten years, Nurhaci launched his campaigns against the Ming towns in the Liaodong area. Fushun, a major Ming trading post, fell in 1618. When the cities of Liaoyang and Shenyang (Mukden) submitted to Nurhaci in 1621, the Liaodong area was effectively under Manchu rule. Nurhaci first made Liaoyang the capital of Hou Jin, then transferred the capital to Shenyang in 1625.

In building his Manchu empire, Nurhaci reorganized his people into military units called banners, differentiated by the colors yellow, white, red, and blue. Each banner was headed by a beile, or wise prince, usually a son, brother, uncle, or grandson of Nurhaci, followed by a banner commander and two vice-commanders. At first there were four banners, a number later expanded to eight. As a result, the Manchus were sometimes referred to as the Baqi or Eight Banner Men. Nurhaci and the beiles had personal guards who could be deployed for war. Members of the banners were made up not just of Manchus, but also of Mongols and Chinese. Nurhaci himself controlled three banners and all the beiles reported to him in meetings held every five days.

Between 1623 and 1626, Nurhaci was faced with imminent problems. His neighbors, the Koreans, allied with the Ming forces against him. Moreover, famine led to rebellions in the Liaodong area, and widespread banditry emerged Famine;China . In 1626, Nurhaci led his army into Liaoxi hoping to take the town of Ningyuan, but the Ming army’s Portuguese cannons caused the Manchus great losses and they wounded Nurhaci himself, who died later in September.

Nurhaci’s eighth son, Abahai, was elected his successor by three senior beiles, with the understanding that his imperial position paralleled that of the three princes. Like his father, Abahai possessed significant military and political talents. He knew he had to pacify the Mongols and gain the support of the Koreans Korea in order to realize his father’s vision of conquering China. In 1627, Abahai signed a treaty with the Koreans, who agreed to become trade partners. The most important point in this treaty was that Korea would remain neutral in future Chinese-Manchu conflicts.

To avoid the cannons in the Chinese army, Abahai thought of entering China through Inner Mongolia in the southwest. Instead of fighting battles on open fields, the Manchu leader called for besieging strategic strongholds. To achieve this end, the Manchus drove the Chahar troops westward. In 1629, Abahai reached the outskirts of Beijing and occupied four major cities inside the Great Wall. But the greatest prize he obtained in this campaign, however, was the group of Chinese cannon experts he managed to kidnap. The new weapons his hostages designed proved their worth in 1631, during the Siege of Dalinghe, Dalinghe, Siege of (1631) an important town that linked the Northeast to China proper. After the defeat of the last khan of the Chahar Mongols in 1634, Abahai changed the name of the dynasty from Hou Jin to Da Qing or Great Purity in 1636 and proclaimed himself to be emperor of China. A year earlier, he began to use the name Manchu, an old nomenclature from Juchen history, in reference to his people.

With Korea and Inner Mongolia under his control, Abahai now concentrated in his campaigns against the Ming, who had already been severely weakened by internal rebellion and piracy. There were now two Chinese emperors, the Ming emperor Chongzhen Chongzhen and the Qing emperor Abahai. Between 1636 and 1643, the Manchus launched three major attacks to eliminate Chongzhen once and for all. One attack garnered huge amounts of silver, gold, and 400,000 captives, which provided a significant boost to the worsening economy in Liaodong. Abahai succeeded in taking over the Ming city of Jinzhou in 1643, leaving only one more Ming defense garrison between the Manchus and the throne, but he died on September 6 before reaching this goal. In June, 1644, after overcoming the Ming rebel Li Zicheng Li Zicheng (Li Tsu-ch’eng), Prince Dorgon Dorgon , another son of Nurhaci, accompanied the six-year-old Fulin (r. 1644-1661), Abahai’s son, who ascended the throne in Beijing as the Shunzhi Shunzhi emperor and began the uncontested rule of the Qing Dynasty.


Both Nurhaci and Abahai were the pioneers in establishing the long-lasting Qing Dynasty. From an insignificant ethnic group in the northeast, they led their people, the Manchus, in the conquest of imperial China. Nurhaci, not contented with only wealth and local power, had the ambition and vision to build an empire. Abahai’s victorious campaigns against the Mongols and the Chinese prompted him to consider a multinational empire seriously.

Abahai advocated equality between the Manchu and the Chinese people. Some Manchu laws were modified according to Chinese standards. For example, civil exams were used to recruit capable people, forming the basis of a meritocracy. The Manchu law requiring a man to marry the wife of a deceased uncle or brother was eliminated, as it went against the Confucian value of li, or decorum. Abahai even criticized Nurhaci’s reckless killing of the Chinese after their 1625 rebellion. Loyal Chinese officials were promoted and respected by Abahai. Even before the Manchus had control over China, they had a strong military and administrative system based closely on the Chinese model, and perhaps for that very reason, this small ethnic group of approximately one million was able to rule about 300 million Chinese for the next 267 years.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crossley, Pamela Kyle. The Manchus. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1997. The chapters on Nurhaci and the history of the Manchus are especially useful.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Elliott, Mark C. The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2001. Has detailed information on the origin and structure of the eight banners system. The book covers banner life, Manchu cities in China and the crisis of Qing in the eighteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Michael, Franz. The Origin of Manchu Rule in China. New York: Octagon Books, 1972. A book devoted to the history, politics, and social structure of the Manchus before their conquest of Ming China.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Peterson, Willard. The Ch’ing Empire to 1800. Vol. 9 in The Cambridge History of China. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. The first chapter by Gertraude Roth Li gives a comprehensive history of the Juchens since the twelfth century Jin Dynasty.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sinor, Denis, ed. The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Chapter 15 gives the origin and history of the Khitans and Juchens in the Liao state from the tenth to the seventeenth century. It also covers areas of religion, customs, and language.
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Abahai; Chongzhen; Dorgon; Shunzhi; Zheng Chenggong. Manchus

Categories: History