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Qing Dynasty


Although the Manchus were not Han Chinese and were strongly resisted, especially in the south, they had assimilated a great deal of Chinese culture before conquering China Proper. Realizing that to dominate the empire they would have to do things the Chinese way, the Manchus retained many institutions of Ming and earlier Chinese derivation. They continued the Confucian court practices and temple rituals, over which the emperors had traditionally presided.

The Manchus continued the Confucian civil service system. Although Chinese were barred from the highest offices, Chinese officials predominated over Manchu officeholders outside the capital, except in military positions. The NeoConfucianism philosophy, emphasizing the obedience of subject to ruler, was enforced as the state creed. The Manchu emperors also supported Chinese literary and historical projects of enormous scope; the survival of much of China's ancient literature is attributed to these projects.

Ever suspicious of Han Chinese, the Qing rulers put into effect measures aimed at preventing the absorption of the Manchus into the dominant Han Chinese population. Han Chinese were prohibited from migrating into the Manchu homeland, and Manchus were forbidden to engage in trade or manual labor. Intermarriage between the two groups was forbidden. In many government positions a system of dual appointments was used--the Chinese appointee was required to do the substantive work and the Manchu to ensure Han loyalty to Qing rule.

The Qing regime was determined to protect itself not only from internal rebellion but also from foreign invasion. After China Proper had been subdued, the Manchus conquered Outer Mongolia (now the Mongolian People's Republic) in the late seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century they gained control of Central Asia as far as the Pamir Mountains and established a protectorate over the area the Chinese call Xizang, but commonly known in the West as Tibet. The Qing thus became the first dynasty to eliminate successfully all danger to China Proper from across its land borders. Under Manchu rule the empire grew to include a larger area than before or since; Taiwan, the last outpost of anti Manchu resistance, was also incorporated into China for the first time. In addition, Qing emperors received tribute from the various border states.

The Qing weren't the worst rulers; under them the arts flowered (China's greatest novel, a work known variously as The Dream of the Red Chamber, A Dream of Red Mansions, and The Story of the Stone, was written during the Qing) and culture bloomed. Moreover, they attempted to copy Chinese institutions and philosophy to a much greater extent than then the Mongols of the Yuan. However, in their attempt to to emulate the Chinese, they were even more conservative and inflexible than the Ming. Their approach to foreign policy, which was to make everyone treat the Emperor like the Son of Heaven and not acknowledge other countries as being equal to China, didn't rub the West the right way, even when the Chinese were in the moral right (as in the Opiun Wars which netted Britain Hong Kong and Kowloon).

To live during the Qing Dynasty was to live in interesting times. Most importantly, the Western world attempted to make contact on a government-to-government basis, and, at least initially, failed. The Chinese (more specifically, the ultra-conservative Manchus) had no room in their world view for the idea of independent, equal nations (this viewpoint, to a certain degree, still persists today). There was the rest of the world, and then there was China. It wasn't that they rejected the idea of a community of nations; it's that they couldn't conceive of it. It would be like trying to teach a Buddhist monk about the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. This viewpoint was so pervasive that Chinese reformers who advocated more flexibility in China's dealings with the West were often accused of being Westerners with Chinese faces.

The attitude of the Western powers towards China (England, Russia, Germany, France, and the United States, were, more or less, the primary players) was strangely ambivalent. On the one hand, they did their best to undermine what they considered to be restrictive trading and governmental regulations; the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) example of that was the British smuggling of opium into Southern China. Other examples included the 'right' for foreign navies to sail up Chinese rivers and waterways, and extra territoriality, which meant that if a British citizen committed a crime in Qing China, he would be tried in a British council under British law. Most of these 'rights' came into being under a series of treaties that came to be known, and rightly so, as the Unequal Treaties.

On the other hand, they did do their best to prop up the ailing Qing, the most notable example being the crushing of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 by foreign troops (primarily U.S. Marines), and the defeat of TaiPing (Red Hair) Rebellion. What the Western powers were interested in was the carving up of China for their own purposes, and that, paradoxically, required keeping China together.

But two things happened to prevent that. First, in 1911, the Qing dynasty collapsed and China plunged headlong into chaos. Second, in 1914, the Archduke Ferdinand told his driver to go down a street in Sarajevo he shouldn't have, and Europe plunged headlong into chaos.

Dish with butterfly and chrysanthemum design, fen-cai enamels Qing dynasty, Yong-zheng (1723-1735) mark and period. Jing-de-zhen ware. Height 10.0cm. Diameter 50.4cm. The characteristic of wu-cai (famille verte) porcelain of the Qing dynasty lies in painterly designs painted on its white porcelain body. A new technique which made this painterly decoration possible was the fen-cai (famille rose). Wu-cai on porcelain started in the fourteenth century at Jing-de-zhen. Addition of gradation by mixing glass powder in the coloring agents made delicate expressions possible.

This large dish is one of the typical works of Qing-dynasty fen-cai porcelain. Its decoration in bright colors is irresistibly attractive. The chrysanthemum branches rising in curves bear yellow, pink, white and red flowers painted in careful brush work. The branches and leaves are also painted in delicately graduated shades of green, adding to the vividness of the designs which look almost like still-life paintings. The ample spacing enhances their noble grace.


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