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Imperial China, The Manchu Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

Jurchens, Chinese traditions, Manchus, Chinese customs, Yuan dynasty

Although the Ming was overthrown by peasant rebellions, the next dynasty to rule China was founded not by a warlord or rebel leader but by the chieftains of the Manchus, a federation of Jurchen tribes. In late Ming times the Jurchens, formerly a nomadic people, had been building up the political and military institutions needed to govern sedentary farming populations. In the 1630s the Jurchen leader Abahai renamed his people the Manchus and proclaimed a new dynasty, the Qing. In 1644, when Chinese rebels reached Beijing, the best Ming troops were deployed elsewhere, at the Great Wall, guarding against invasion by the Manchus. The Ming commander accepted Manchu aid to drive the rebels from the capital. Once this was accomplished, the Manchus refused to leave Beijing, which they made the capital of the Qing dynasty, and soon set about conquering the rest of China.

Like the Mongols, the Manchus were foreign conquerors. However, the Qing dynasty did not represent nearly as fundamental a break with Chinese traditions as did the Yuan dynasty. The Manchus tried to maintain their own identity and traditions but largely left Chinese customs and institutions alone (with the important exception that they forced Chinese men to adopt the Manchu hairstyle, with its shaved front and braid down the back of the head). By the end of the 17th century, the Qing had eliminated all Ming opposition and had put down a rebellion led by Chinese generals in the south. Although Chinese intellectuals who had served the Ming often refused to serve the Manchus, the Qing worked hard to recruit well-respected scholars to the government. The Qing emperor Kangxi, who came to power in 1661, was intrigued by European science and technology, and initially kept on the Jesuits who had served as astronomers under the Ming. However, Kangxi turned against the Jesuits after the Catholic pope ruled that the Jesuits had been wrong to allow Chinese converts to continue to practice ancestral rites.

As rulers of China, the Manchus based their political organization on that of the Ming, although they tightened central control. A new central organ, the Grand Council, conducted the military and political affairs of the state under the direct supervision of the emperor. The chief bureaus in the capital had both a Chinese and a Manchu head. Manchu governor-generals generally supervised Chinese provincial governors.

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Article key phrases:

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