The Downfall and Collapse of the Quing Dynasty in China

When the last Chinese Dynasty – the Qing, collapsed in 1911-1912 it marked the end of a nation’s long imperial history. The Qing Dynasty founded in 1636, simply put is a story of decline. The Qing dynasty isn’t entirely responsible for their downfall, but rather, the combination of external forces from European Nations, specifically Britain, prompted many wars and the pressuring demand for free trade caused countless internal issues such as famine, floods as well rebellions. The combination of external forces as well as China’s attitude and arrogance towards foreigners, escalated the collapse of China’s final imperial rule.

A large part of the downfall of the last imperial Dynasty of China is predominantly due to external factors. European nations began to extend their impact in Asia amid the nineteenth century. European impact, specifically Britain, caused China a lot of harm and damage as the push for trade brought about war, famine, obligation, change, and substantially more. Britain ventured to China for the demand of free trade and to open up ports, desperate need for recourses, and for their economic desire.

There was an intense interest for China’s tea in Great Britain yet an extremely low interest for Britain’s merchandise in China.

The main push for trade was made in 1793 when Lord Macartney travelled to China and displayed British advancements which were later viewed as “trinkets and toys”. Source A depicts a the Macartney Mission to China in 1793, as Lord Macartney is offering Britain’s merchandise to China.

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It depicts China to be dominant and emphasizes their power in this timeframe as they are depicted in the frontal area and the Emperor is raised above Macartney as well as their ‘disgusted’ facial expressions towards Britain’s offers.

As Britain’s merchandise did not satisfy Chinese needs, Britain began selling opium into China. Opium was a quick resolution to Britain’s debt owed to China and the fact that trade was not wanted with the British. China quickly began addicted to the illicit drug and it had many negative and harmful effects on China’s growing population. They begged for the flow of opium into their country to stop. Evidence of this can be found in a letter composed by Commissioner Lin Zexu to Queen Victoria highlighting his worry and a request for the flow of opium to be ceased in China. Chief Lin made it clear that China had done nothing wrong to the British: “Is there a single article from China which has done any harm to foreign countries?”

Britain never acknowledged the letter and it began the period of the First Opium War from 1839 to 1842. Britain vanquished the Chinese as they an superior armed force and more grounded military power that China simply could not match. Accordingly, Britain got their way around and got what they needed, obliging China to sign the treaty of Nanjing. The treaty of Nanjing was signed on August 29 1842, and was the first unequal treaty on foreign imperialist forces. China had to pay 20 million pounds from the war, leaving China in great debt and endangering their economy. Britain received the right of 5 ports as well as Hong Kong and extraterritorial rights.

Two things that China did not allow were Christian missionaries in China and the unlimited supply of opium had to stop. However, the British did not agree to this and refused to stop selling opium. Thus began the second opium war, which was caused by a disagreement in the Nanking Treaty. The opium wars were a series of unequal treaties and are known as the 100 years of shame to China and are a milestone in the dynastic decline. Britain didn’t simply beat China when they won the wars, they triumphed over the remainder of the world, scoring the best pieces of the nation before any other individual could meddle.

This can be found in Source B where authorities from European and Asian nations are on the whole attempting to pick up the best piece of China. The Source shows that after China’s humiliation, all countries were just ‘picking’ parts of China, as if it was a cake. The overall external forces prompted various different issues and external forces in China and shows how European impact caused harm amid this timeframe and highly contributed to the downfall of the Qing Dynasty.

The issues which the Europeans caused in this time period prompted numerous internal issues as China was in a vulnerable position as they began to experience famine and floods because of overpopulation and economic struggle. It caused many negative impacts inside the Chinese society and life began increasingly difficult and worrisome for Chinese citizens. The extent of this can be seen through the quote of A daughter of Han: the Auto-Biography of a Chinese Working man. “Day after day I sat at home. Hunger gnawed… I did not know how to beg. So I sat at home and starved. I was so hungry one day that I took a brick, pounded it to bits, and ate it.”

This shows how the profound European impact started to tear separated China as issues, suicide, famine and war took over.  Villagers and farmers were so unsatisfied and angry with their living conditions as well as the Qing government’s failure to react to industrialization and modernization. As result many internal rebellions occurred however the significant ones being Taiping Rebellion and the Boxer Rebellion. The Taiping Rebellion, a peasant uprising war over poverty and corruption, destroyed China’s economy and was responsible for millions of death. It was established by Hong Xiuquan, psychological an inspiring civil servant who experienced a psychological breakdown during which he saw visions instructing him to get rid of evil in China.

Hong Established the God Worshippers Society, compromised mostly of peasants and began to be a powerful movement. The Taiping Society was a fourteen year period stretching from 1850 to 1864. The emperor saw this as a threat to his power thus began a war between the Taiping Society and the Qing government. The Taiping Rebellion largely contributed to the downfall of the Qing as the war was so big, it costed 20 million soldier and civilian lives, which is the most lives lost in a civil war ever recorded in history today. It costed the Qing government millions of dollars to shut down as well as the help of Western foreign armies to combat with the Society.

Following the Taiping Rebellion, the Boxer Rebellion was another internal force contribution of the dynastic decline. The Boxer rebellion of 19001 to 1901 was a semi-religion, anti-foreign and anti-Christian peasant uprising supported by the Empress Cixi herself. The rebellion aimed to exterminate of all foreigners or foreign impact in China. Foreign impact in China had roused a nationalistic and anti-foreign feeling. Eventually, the Qing government and peasant united however where unable to defeat foreign forces. This marked the beginning of the downfall of the Qing dynasty.

Despite Europeans being largely responsible for the Qing’s downfall, a small extent of their downfall is due to China’s reaction to and the refusal of presence in international trade or modernisation and their high misassumption and miscalculation of Britain’s power and ruthlessness. Prior to this, just before the period of the Opium Wars, China showed no interest in Britain’s merchandise and showed all foreign countries that they were already self-sufficient. They saw Western trade as inferior and were very ethnocentric. Their attitude was very arrogant and all foreigners believed Chinese were very egotistical.

This can be seen through the quote of John Quincy Adams, the former secretary of state and president of the United States, wrote in 1840 that the war was defensible and it was necessary to fight China’s: ‘boasted superiority above every nation on earth’. He also called the Chinese System: ‘churlish and unsocial’. Every other nation believed China was arrogant and they were unwilling to contribute and trade with other parts of the world. Some even argue that they are not the victim of the Opium Wars and that the wars were justified. Hence, China was moderately responsible for their own downfall and from a different perspective Europeans were less responsible to what it may seem.

To conclude, the degree of the issues brought about by the Europeans on China in the nineteenth and mid twentieth century was large however was not it was not all of their responsibility. European nations did however prompt floods and famine as the aftermath of the war and as a result many internal rebellions occurred. However, China’s attitude and unwillingness to trade with other countries did somewhat contribute to the downfall of the Qing Dynasty. So, to a small extent, the Qing dynasty contributed to its own downfall but in combination with external forces it prevented the re-establishment of imperial power across China.

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The Downfall and Collapse of the Quing Dynasty in China. (2023, May 16). Retrieved from

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