The Qing dynasty or Manchu dynasty was the last imperial dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912. It was preceded by the Ming dynasty and succeeded by the Republic of China. The Qing multi-cultural empire lasted almost three centuries and formed the territorial base for the modern Chinese nation.
The dynasty was founded by the Jurchen Aisin Gioro clan in Northeastern China, historically known as Manchuria. In the late sixteenth century, Nurhachi, originally a Ming vassal, began organizing Jurchen clans into ‘Banners’, military-social units and forming a Manchu people. By 1636, his son Hong Taiji began driving Ming forces out of southern Manchuria and declared a new dynasty, the Qing. The Qing took the Ming capital of Beijing in 1644 but did not complete their conquest of China until 1683.
Following the Opium Wars, European powers imposed ‘unequal treaties’, free trade, extraterritoriality and treaty ports under foreign control. Eventually new Armies were organised, but the ambitious Hundred Days Reform of 1898 was turned back by the Empress Dowager Cixi, a ruthless but capable leader. When, in response to the violently anti-foreign Yihetuan (‘Boxers’) foreign powers invaded China the Empress Dowager declared war on them leading to a disastrous defeat. After the death of the Empress Dowager and the Emperor in 1908 the hardline Manchu court alienated reformers and local elites alike. Local uprisings led to the 1911 Revolution and the last emperor abdicated in 1912.
An 1645 Qing edict forced adult Han Chinese men to shave the front of their heads and comb the remaining hair into a queue, on pain of death. For the Han Chinese it was a humiliating reminder of Qing authority that challenged traditional Confucian values and the order triggered strong resistance to Qing rule in Jiangnan and massive killing of ethnic Han Chinese in retaliation.