A. The Later Ming Empire, to 1644
1. The cultural brilliance and economic achievements of the early
Ming continued up to 1600. But at the same time, a number of factors had
combined to exhaust the Ming economy, weaken its government, and cause
2. Some of the problems of the late Ming may be attributed to a drop
in annual temperatures between 1645 and 1700, which may have contributed
to the agricultural distress, migration, disease, and uprisings of this
period. Climate change may also have driven the Mongols and the Manchus
to protect their productive lands from Ming control and to take more
land along the Ming borders.
3. The flow of New World silver into China in the 1500s and early
1600s caused inflation in prices and taxes that hit the rural population
4. In addition to these global causes of Ming decline, there were
also internal factors particular to China. These included disorder and
inefficiency in the urban industrial sector (such as the Jingdezhen
ceramics factories), no growth in agricultural productivity, and low
B. Ming Collapse and the Rise of the Qing
1. The Ming also suffered from increased threats on their borders: to
the north and west, there was the threat posed by a newly reunified
Mongol confederation, and in Korea the Ming incurred heavy financial
losses when it helped the Koreans to defeat a Japanese invasion.
Rebellions of native peoples rocked the southwest, and Japanese pirates
plagued the southeast coast.
2. Rebel forces led by Li Zicheng overthrew the Ming in 1644, and the
Manchu Qing Empire then entered Beijing, restored order, and claimed
China for its own.
3. A Manchu imperial family ruled the Qing Empire, but the Manchus
were only a small proportion of the population, and thus depended on
diverse people for assistance in ruling the empire. Chinese made up the
overwhelming majority of the people and the officials of the Qing
C. Trading Companies and Missionaries
1. Europeans were eager to trade with China, but enthusiasm for
international trade developed slowly in China, particularly in the
2. Over the course of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese, Spanish,
and Dutch gained limited access to Chinese trade.
3. By the seventeenth century, the Dutch East India Company had
become the major European trader in the Indian Ocean.
4. Catholic missionaries accompanied Portuguese and Spanish traders,
and the Jesuits had notable success converting Chinese elites. The
Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) used his mastery of Chinese language and
culture to gain access to the imperial court.
D. Emperor Kangxi (r. 1662–1722)
1. Kangxi (r. 1662–1722) took formal control over his government in
1669 (at the age of sixteen) by executing his chief regent. Kangxi was
an intellectual prodigy and a successful military commander who expanded
his territory and gave it a high degree of stability.
2. During the Kangxi period the Qing were willing to incorporate
ideas and technology from Mongolian, Tibetan, Korean, and Chinese
sources. The Qing also adapted European knowledge and
technology—mapmaking, astronomy, and anatomical and pharmaceutical
knowledge—taught by the Jesuits who frequented Kangxi’s court.
3. The Jesuits were also affected by their contact with China. They
revised their religious teaching in order to allow Chinese converts to
practice Confucian ancestor worship and they transmitted to Europe
Chinese technology including an early form of inoculation against
smallpox and the management techniques of the huge imperial porcelain
E. Chinese Influences on Europe
1. The exchange of ideas and information between the Qing and the
Jesuits flowed in both directions.
2. The wealth and power of the Qing led to a tremendous enthusiasm in
Europe for Chinese things such as silk, tea, porcelain, other decorative
items, and wallpaper. Jesuit descriptions of China also led Europeans
such as Voltaire to see the Qing emperors as benevolent despots or
philosopher-kings from whom the Europeans could learn.
F. Tea and Diplomacy
1. The Qing were eager to expand trade, but wanted to control it in
order to be able to tax it more efficiently and to control piracy and
smuggling. In order to do so, the Qing designated a single market point
for each foreign sector: the market point for those coming from the
South China Sea (including the various European traders) was the city of
Canton. This system worked fairly well until the late 1700s.
2. In the late 1700s the British East India Company and other English
traders believed that China’s vast market held the potential for
unlimited profit and thought that the Qing trade system (the "Canton
System") stood in the way of opening up new paths for commerce. At the
same time, the British Parliament was at once worried about the flow of
British silver into China and convinced that opening the China market
would help to bring more English merchants into the trade and bring
about the end of the outmoded and nearly bankrupt EIC.
3. In 1793–1794 the British sent a diplomatic mission led by Lord
Macartney to open diplomatic relations with China and revise the trade
system. The Macartney mission was a failure, as were similar diplomatic
embassies sent by the Dutch, the French, and the Russians.
G. Population and Social Stress
1. The peace enforced by the Qing Empire and the temporary revival of
agricultural productivity due to the introduction of American and
African crops contributed to a population explosion that brought China’s
total population to between 350 million and 400 million by the late
2. Population growth was accompanied by increased environmental
stress: deforestation, erosion, silting up of river channels and canals,
and flooding. The result was localized misery, migration, increased
crime, and local rebellions.
3. While the territory and the population of the Qing Empire grew,
the number of officials remained about the same. The Qing depended on
local elites to maintain local order, but was unable to enforce tax
regulations, control standards for entry into government service, or
prevent the declining revenue, increased corruption, and increased
banditry in the late 1700s.