Rebel bands, enriched by plunder, and grown bold by success, began to assume the proportion of armies. Two rebels, Li Tsze-ch‛êng and Shang K‛o-hi, decided to divide the empire between them. Li besieged K‛ai-fêng Fu, the capital of Ho-nan, and so long and closely did he beleaguer it that in the consequent famine human flesh was regularly sold in the markets. At length an imperial force came to raise the siege, but fearful of meeting Li’s army, they cut through the dykes of the Yellow River, “China’s Sorrow,” and flooded the whole country, including the city. The rebels escaped to the mountains, but upwards of 200,000 inhabitants perished in the flood, and the city became a heap of ruins (1642). From K‛ai-fêng Fu Li marched against the other strongholds of Ho-nan and Shen-si, and was so completely successful that he determined to attack Peking. A treacherous eunuch opened the gates to him, on being informed of which the emperor committed suicide. When the news of this disaster reached the general-commanding on the frontier of Manchu Tatary, he, in an unguarded moment, concluded a peace with the Manchus, and invited them to dispossess Li Tsze-ch‛êng. The Manchus entered China, and after defeating a rebel army sent against them, they marched towards Peking. On hearing of the approach of the invaders, Li Tsze-ch‛êng, after having set fire to the imperial palace, evacuated the city, but was overtaken, and his force was completely routed.
The Chinese now wished the Manchus to retire, but, having taken possession of Peking, they proclaimed the ninth son of T‛ien-ming emperor of China under the title of Shun-chi, and adopted the name of Ta-ts‛ing, or “Great Pure,” Ta-ts‛ing dynasty. for the dynasty (1644). Meanwhile the mandarins at Nanking had chosen an imperial prince to ascend the throne. At this most inopportune moment “a claimant” to the throne, in the person of a pretended son of the last emperor, appeared at court. While this contention prevailed inside Nanking the Tatar army appeared at the walls. There was no need for them to use force. The gates were thrown open, and they took possession of the city without bloodshed. Following the conciliatory policy they had everywhere pursued, they confirmed the mandarins in their offices and granted a general amnesty to all who would lay down their arms. As the Tatars entered the city the emperor left it, and after wandering about for some days in great misery, he drowned himself in the Yangtsze-kiang. Thus ended the Ming dynasty, and the empire passed again under a foreign yoke. By the Mings, who partly revived the feudal system by making large territorial grants to members of the reigning house, China was divided into fifteen provinces; the existing division into eighteen provinces was made by the Manchus.
All accounts agree in stating that the Manchu conquerors are descendants of a branch of the family which gave the Kin dynasty to the north of China; and in lieu of any authentic account of their early history, native writers have thrown a cloud of fable over their origin (see Manchuria). In the 16th century they were strong enough to cope with their Chinese neighbours. Doubtless the Mings tried to check their ambition by cruel reprisals, but against this must be put numerous Manchu raids into Liao-tung.
The accession to the throne of the emperor Shun-chi did not restore peace to the country. In Kiang-si, Fu-kien, Kwang-tung and Kwang-si the adherents of the Ming dynasty defended themselves vigorously but unsuccessfully against the invaders, while the pirate Chêng Chi-lung, the father of the celebrated Coxinga, kept up a predatory warfare against them on the coast. Eventually he was induced to visit Peking, where he was thrown into prison and died. Coxinga, warned by his father’s example, determined to leave the mainland and to seek an empire elsewhere. His choice fell on Formosa, and having driven out the Dutch, who had established themselves in the island in 1624, he held possession until the reign of K‛ang-hi, when (1682) he resigned in favour of the imperial government. Meanwhile a prince of the house of Ming was proclaimed emperor in Kwang-si, under the title of Yung-li. The Tatars having reduced Fu-kien and Kiang-si, and having taken Canton after a siege of eight months, completely routed his followers, and Yung-li was compelled to fly to Pegu. Some years later, with the help of adherents in Yun-nan and Kwei-chow, he tried to regain the throne, but his army was scattered, and he was taken prisoner and strangled. Gradually opposition to the new régime became weaker and weaker, and the shaved head with the pig-tail—the symbol of Tatar sovereignty—became more and more adopted. In 1651 died Ama Wang, the uncle of Shun-chi, who had acted as regent during his nephew’s minority, and the emperor then assumed the government of the state. He appears to have taken a great interest in science, and to have patronized Adam Schaal, a German Jesuit, who was at that time resident at Peking. It was during his reign (1656) that the first Russian embassy arrived at the capital, but as the envoy declined to kowtow before the emperor he was sent back without having been admitted to an audience.
After an unquiet reign of seventeen years Shun-chi died (1661). and was succeeded by his son K‛ang-hi. He came into collision with the Russians, who had reached the Amur regions about 1640 and had built a fort on the upper Amur; but by the Treaty of Nerchinsk, concluded in 1689 (the first treaty made between China and a European power), the dispute was settled, the Amur being taken as the frontier. K‛ang-hi was indefatigable in administering the affairs of the empire, and he devoted much of his time to literary and scientific studies under the guidance of the Jesuits. The dictionary of the Chinese language, published under his superintendence, proves him to have been as great a scholar as his conquests over the Eleuths show him to have been famous as a general. During one of his hunting expeditions to Mongolia he caught a fatal cold, and he died in 1721. Under his rule Tibet was added to the empire, which extended from the Siberian frontier to Cochin-China, and from the China Sea to Turkestan. During his reign there was a great earthquake at Peking, in which 400,000 people are said to have perished.
K‛ien-lung, who began to reign in 1735, was ambitious and warlike. He marched an army into Hi, which he converted into a Chinese province, and he afterwards added eastern Turkestan to the empire. Twice he invaded Burma, and once he penetrated into Cochin-China, but in neither country were his arms successful. He is accused of great cruelty towards his subjects, which they repaid by rebelling against him. During his reign the Mahommedan standard was first raised in Kan-suh. (Since the Mongol conquest in the 13th century there had been a considerable immigration of Moslems into western China; and numbers of Chinese had become converts). But the Mussulmans were unable to stand against the imperial troops; their armies were dispersed; ten thousand of them were exiled; and an order was issued that every Mahommedan in Kan-suh above the age of fifteen should be put to death (1784).
K‛ien-lung wrote incessantly, both poetry and prose, collected libraries and republished works of value. His campaigns furnished him with themes for his verses, and in the Summer Palace was found a handsome manuscript copy of a laudatory poem he composed on the occasion of his war against the Gurkhas. This was one of the most successful of his military undertakings. His generals marched 70,000 men into Nepal to within 60 miles of the British frontiers, and having subjugated the Gurkhas they received the submission of the Nepalese, and acquired an additional hold over Tibet (1792). In other directions his arms were not so successful. There is no poem commemorating the campaign against the rebellious Formosans, nor lament over the loss of 100,000 men in that island, and the last few years of his reign were disturbed by outbreaks among the Miao-tsze, hill tribes living in the mountains in the provinces of Kwei-chow and Kwang-si. In 1795, after a reign of sixty years, K‛ien-lung abdicated in favour of his fifteenth son, who adopted the title of Kia-k‛ing as the style of his reign. K‛ien-lung died at the age of eighty-eight in 1798.
During the reign of K‛ien-lung commerce between Europe and Canton—the only Chinese port then open to foreign trade—had attained important dimensions. It was mainly in the hands of the Portuguese, the British and the Trade with Europe. Dutch. The British trade was then a monopoly of the East India Company. The trade, largely in opium, tea and silk, was subject to many exactions and restrictions, and many acts of gross injustice were committed on the persons of Englishmen. To obtain some redress the British government at length sent an embassy to Peking (1793) and Lord Macartney was chosen to represent George III. on the occasion. The mission was treated as showing that Great Britain was a state tributary to China, and Lord Macartney was received with every courtesy. But the concessions he sought were not accorded, and in this sense his mission was a failure.
Kia-k‛ing’s reign was disturbed and disastrous. In the northern and western provinces, rebellion after rebellion broke out, due in a great measure to the carelessness, incompetency and obstinacy of the emperor, and the coasts were infested with pirates, whose number and organization enabled them for a long time to hold the imperial fleet in check. Meanwhile the condition of the foreign merchants at Canton had not improved, and to set matters on a better footing the British government despatched a second ambassador in the person of Lord Amherst to Peking in 1816. As he declined to kowtow before the emperor, he was not admitted to the imperial presence and the mission proved
- See Morse’s Trade and Administration of the Chinese Empire, chap. ix.