Ch'ing China

The Establishment of the Ch'ing Empire


   Led by the dynamic and brilliant leader, Nurhaci (1559-1626), the Jurched slowly became consolidated through a series of raids into a single political unit. In 1607, he had become so powerful in the north that the Mongols gave him the title, Kundulen Han, or "Respected Emperor." In 1616, with the Jurched tribes consolidated under his rule, he declared a new state, the Chin, to have been established with himself as emperor. He claimed the Mandate of Heaven and set his sights on the whole of China, but died in 1626.

   He was succeeded by Abahai (1592-1643), his second son, who first attacked Korea and then marched on China. After looting Beijing, Abahai set up a civil administration modelled after that of China; this administration, however, was slightly different from the Chinese model. Each ministry (or board) was not administered by a president and vice-president, but rather by a Manchurian prince. Beneath Manchurian prince were five assistants of which at least one was Mongol and one was Chinese. This, called by historians the Manchu-Mongol-Chinese rule, became the model for Ch'ing government until 1911.

   Abahai also renamed his people, "Manchu," rather than "Jurched," and renamed the dynasty from "Chin," which had bad connotations in China, to "Ch'ing," meaning "Pure." When Abahai died in 1643, the crown fell to his son, Fu-lin, who was only six years old. The government, then, fell into the hands of the regents, Jirgalang and Dorgan.

   In the late 1630's, Abahai attacked North China; by this time, China wsa falling apart with rebellion. The major rebel leader was Li Tzu-ch'eng (1605-1645); he attacked Beijing in late April of 1644. Without much resistance, he entered the city on April 25 and the last Ming emperor, the Ch'ung-chen emperor, hanged himself. The glorious Ming dynasty, so promising at its start, died on that afternoon.

   Dorgan, meanwhile, proceeded towards Peking at the head of an army, presumably to aid the Ming. Li burned part of the forbidden city down and fled. Dorgan made a big show of burying the Ch'ung-chen emperor, but his real scheme was to place Fu-lin on the throne of China. Li was eventually hunted down and killed in 1645, but before then, Dorgan placed Fu-lin on the throne. Thus began the last imperial dynasty in Chinese history: the Ch'ing or Manchu dynasty.

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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 3-2-97