BECK index


Qing Empire 1644-1799

Qing Conquest of Ming China 1644-61
Kangxi's Consolidation 1661-1722
Yongzheng's Reforms 1723-35
Qianlong's Expansion 1736-99
Confucian Intellectuals in the Qing Era
Theater in the Qing Era
Wu Jingzi's Novel The Scholars
Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber

This chapter has been published in the book CHINA, KOREA & JAPAN to 1800. For ordering information please click here.

Qing Conquest of Ming China 1644-61

Ming Decline 1567-1644

When Dorgon entered Beijing in June 1644, the new Qing dynasty proclaimed a general amnesty, enforced regulations against rape and enslavement, and abolished the Ming military surtaxes that people had been resisting. Areas where the Manchus campaigned had their taxes cut in half, and others who surrendered got one-third off theirs. This strategy won over most of Zhili and Shandong in northern China. In 1645 the Manchus expelled all Chinese with smallpox or skin diseases from Beijing.

After the Ming emperor Chongzhen committed suicide at Beijing in April 1644, the Ming administration attempted to carry on in the south at Nanjing amid urban riots, strikes, raids, and insurrections. The Prince of Fu was next in line to rule, and Fengyang viceroy Ma Shiying had him brought to Nanjing in June 1644 and proclaimed Emperor Hongguang. Shi Kefa had 30,000 troops. Nanjing expected six million taels annual revenue but needed more than that just for military expenses. Court expenses and plans for an imperial wedding soon bankrupted the ministries. Appointments were made by bribery. Ming forces hoped to stop Qing advances at the Yellow River, but the threat of Li Zicheng's fleeing army invading the Yangzi River valley provoked a mutiny in the Ming army. In January 1645 Dorgon's younger brother Dodo led a Manchu invasion that crossed the Yellow River and captured Luoyang, while Dorgon's older brother Ajige chased Li Zicheng's army of 60,000 into Huguang. Dodo added 138,000 surrendering Ming troops to his army and besieged Yangzhou, which surrendered 100,000 troops in June, the month Li Zicheng was probably killed. Qing general Li Chengdong lost his brother and many troops besieging Jiading and then massacred 20,000 people. The siege of Jiangyin began in August 1645 and lasted 81 days. The 60,000 people refused to surrender and were slaughtered by the Qing army of 240,000 that lost 67,000 men during the siege and another 7,000 in the street fighting. In the next generation five million acres of land around Beijing were given to Manchus, many of whom did not know how to farm and hired Chinese tenants. In 1646 the Complete Text of Land and Labor specified the taxes on cultivated land.

Ming regional commander Xuzhou invited General Gao Jie to a feast, had him murdered, and then went over to the Qing side. Shi Kefa tried to defend Yangzhou, but Dodo's army massacred them and killed Shi Kefa. The Prince of Fu fled Nanjing before the Qing army arrived in June 1645; but he was captured, sent to Beijing, and died the next year. The Manchus offered leniency to rebels who surrendered and gave them comparable administrative positions. All non-clerical men had to show loyalty with a shaven pate, long queue, and Manchu dress. Recalcitrant communities suffered massive loss of life and property. The rebel Zhang Xianzhong ruled Sichuan tyrannically. He beheaded and maimed thousands of scholars and their families and even executed many of his own troops. In late 1646 he abandoned Chengdu and set it on fire, moving east on a scorched-earth campaign until the Qing defeated and killed him in January 1647.

Ming efforts in the lower Yangzi region slowed the Manchu advance. Lu became regent for cities on the east coast from 1645 until 1651 and had an army of about 200,000. In the winter of 1645-46 starvation caused many of Lu's troops to go home or turn to looting and extortion. Even paying only 40,000 troops to defend Fujian would cost 862,000 taels a year. Huang Daozhou led a campaign but was defeated by the Qing army in February 1646; he was executed in Nanjing two months later. Ganzhou tried to hold out with 40,000 Ming troops while Regent Lu fled to the Zhoushan Islands in July. The Prince of Tang was the Longwu regent in Yenping and Fuzhou of Fujian, but he was captured and executed in October 1646.

The Ming regent Yongming was proclaimed Emperor Yongli in December 1646 and struggled against the Shaowu challenger. Dorgon squelched an alleged conspiracy and asserted dictatorial control over the Qing regime. He sent Meng Qiaofang to defeat a hundred thousand Muslim rebels who had occupied Lanzhou in Gansu. In 1648 ten thousand Muslims were killed in one battle. When the leaders were captured in Suzhou, 8,000 Muslims were beheaded. In February 1650 Manchu forces invaded Guangdong. Canton (Guangzhou) was captured, and many were massacred in November, including Shaowu and several Ming princes. Meanwhile the Yongli court was retreating southwest and reached Yunnan in 1651, alienating the people of Guangdong. Many communities defended themselves against any intruders-Manchus, Ming troops, loyalist bands, rebels, or bandits. The Confucian historian Wang Fuzhi remained loyal to the Ming dynasty and struggled with intrigues in the Yongli court. He wrote,

In a world in which disaster has reached its climax
and one stands alone,
trying to bring the country back to moral consciousness,
one must not grieve over one's loneliness.
In the future there will arise those who will carry on the task.1

Dorgon reversed Qing policy by imposing 2,490,000 taels in surtaxes on nine provinces to pay for his summer palace in Jehol. He went hunting in winter and died on the last day of 1650. A month later Ajige was imprisoned for plotting a coup and was forced to take his own life later in 1651. Dorgon's academic advisor Ganglin was dismissed and executed. Young Emperor Shunzhi began ruling for himself and issued an edict in April 1651 to eliminate corruption. Grand academician Feng Chuan was accused and replaced by Chen Mingxia, who was then also charged with corruption. Tantai went along with the first but not the latter, but he was put to death for arrogant abuse of power while serving Dorgon. Chen was executed for moral insensitivity and being loyal to the Ming dynasty. A Manchu linguist tutored eunuchs, who were given positions in the imperial household. The Fifth Dalai Lama was accompanied by 3,000 Tibetans in 1652 when he visited Beijing.

In 1652 Ming general Li Dingguo led campaigns in southern Huguang and eastern Guangxi, using elephants and native warriors. As they entered the city of Guilin, Qing's chief general Kong Youde committed suicide. Li Dingguo led his forces in Guangdong, but in January 1655 he suffered a major defeat by Qing reinforcements. Ming general Hong Chengchou had been captured by the Manchus in 1642 and commanded their southern operation. He attacked the Ming loyalists in Hunan, Sichuan, and Guangdong, driving them into Guizhou and Yunnan, where he did not pursue them for three years. He implemented relief programs to rebuild the economies and win back the people. He forbade his soldiers to harass the people and even beheaded a general who had allowed his men to pillage and rape. Li Dingguo had helped the Yongli emperor to exterminate a rival faction from Anlang that supported Sun Kowang, and then in 1656 Li moved the court from there to Yunnanfu. Sun's generals turned against him in the battle against Li Dingguo in eastern Yunnan, and in December 1657 Sun surrendered to Qing authorities. Three well fed Qing armies led by Wu Sangui, Doni, and Robdei defeated Li Dingguo's weakened army in January 1659 while Emperor Yongli fled from Yunnanfu to Burma. Only Yongli and a few followers made it to the Burman capital at Ava. Burman king Pindale gave him asylum, but the Burman council deposed and executed Pindale in June 1661. His brother Pye Min succeeded him and fought the Chinese. Finally Yongli was turned over to Wu Sangui's officers and killed in May 1662. Wu Sangui was appointed military governor of devastated Yunnan; Geng Jimao was transferred to Fujian, where his father had been prince; and Shang Kexi governed Guangdong.

Another effort of Ming resistance was led by the powerful maritime trader, Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga). Beginning in 1647 he gained control over his Zheng clan by 1651, and by 1654 he controlled the Zhangzhou prefecture and negotiated with Qing officials for eight months. He organized a force of 250,000 men with 2,300 ships, and in 1656 assaulted Quemoy and defeated the Qing fleet. In 1657 Zheng moved up the coast to Zhejiang, and by 1659 he was attacking the lower Yangzi region. He besieged Nanjing in August, but Qing cavalry and infantry destroyed his army in September. Zheng Chenggong retreated to Taiwan and persuaded the Dutch to depart in 1662. Family intrigues and a disease seems to have caused his insanity and death in June 1662. His son Zheng Jing held on to his position in Taiwan even after Fujian was taken over by the Qing in 1664.

The Manchus established an aristocratic hierarchy of nine ranks for its nobles; but as each incumbent noble died, the family dropped one rank. Unless the emperor rewarded someone for conspicuous merit, the family after a few generations would return to being commoners. In 1658 Emperor Shunzhi revived the Hanlin Academy and the grand secretariat according to Ming traditions. The Hanlin Academy under one Manchu chancellor and one Chinese chancellor only admitted graduates of the highest metropolitan exam. They did research, wrote memorials, and recommended lecturers. The next year they published the Complete Book of Land Tax and Services, and magistrates had to list all those in arrears. A bribery scandal tarnished the Beijing provincial examination in 1657, but the metropolitan examination was given in 1659 to celebrate the victories over the Ming remnants in the southwest. Emperor Shunzhi became depressed after his favorite consort died in September 1660; he got smallpox and died in February 1661.

Kangxi's Consolidation 1661-1722

The will produced by the Manchu regents after Emperor Shunzhi died in February 1661 has been generally recognized as a forgery, because he accused himself of various faults including laziness, extravagance, neglecting military issues, favoring eunuchs, and distrusting Manchu advisors. The document also named the four Manchus who were to govern as regents (Soni, Oboi, Ebilun, and Suksaha) for his seven-year-old smallpox-immune son Xuanye, who became Emperor Kangxi (r. 1661-1722). The new government abolished the Thirteen Offices that had been controlled by eunuchs, executed officials favored by the late emperor, reduced the influence of censors and the Hanlin Academy, and after a trial beheaded eighteen Han Chinese for tax delinquency. An edict banned binding the feet of female children, and disobeying families were punished. In 1662 the entire eastern coast from Shandong to Guangdong was ordered evacuated so that they would not supply the Zheng regime on Taiwan.

In 1665 Kangxi was married to Soni's granddaughter over Oboi's objection. Soon after Soni died in August 1667, Kangxi began to rule for himself. Suksaha was investigated and executed along with several of his relatives; other families involved were enslaved. Meanwhile Emperor Kangxi had been secretly tutored in Chinese by two eunuchs. Most Manchus learned the Chinese language, and by 1670 translators were being dismissed. In 1668 the Manchus banned the Han Chinese from Manchuria. Mixed marriages were prohibited, and Beijing became a segregated city. In 1669 Soni's son Songgotu helped the Emperor remove the last two regents. Kangxi accused Oboi of manipulating appointments, blocking memorials from getting to the Emperor, and using a clique to make government decisions. After a short trial, Kangxi had nine in Oboi's clique executed and others lashed. Oboi died in prison, but Ebilun was granted a reprieve. Kangxi equalized the ranks and salaries of Manchus and Chinese officials, and he increased the pay of soldiers. He reversed the policy of Oboi that had removed inhabitants from the southeast coast.

In the south Wu Sangui had increased his jurisdiction from Yunnan to include Guizhou and much of Hunan and Sichuan. Shang Kexi from Canton governed Guangdong and part of Guangxi, and a third Chinese general, Geng Jimao, governed Fujian. To keep their loyalty, the Qing capital was sending them ten million taels a year. Their sons married daughters of Manchu nobles. In 1671 Shang Kexi became ill and turned Guangdong over to his son, Shang Zhixin. Geng Jimao died that year and was succeeded by his son Geng Jingzhong. When Shang Kexi asked permission to retire to Manchuria in 1673, Kangxi agreed to his transfer and then to similar requests by Wu Sangui and Geng Jingzhong. Kangxi's order for them to give up their domains in the south led to the War of the Three Feudatories.

Wu Sangui rebelled in December; he proclaimed a new Zhou dynasty, and hundreds of officials in the south defected to his side. Geng Jingzhong revolted in 1674 and invaded Zhejiang. In 1675 Mongols led by Burni rebelled in Manchuria and marched on Mukden. The Emperor sent an army but also offered him amnesty. Burni was defeated by the Qing army and killed by Korchin Mongols. In 1676 Shang Zhixin imprisoned his father, who remained loyal to the Qing, and rebelled in Guangdong, but that year Geng Jingzhong surrendered to the Qing. The next year the cruel Shang Zhixin surrendered, and Wang Fuchen, governor of Shaanxi and Gansu, returned to Manchu loyalty. The arrogant Wu Sangui could not hold his forces together and died of dysentery in 1678. The Qing army won back Jiangxi in 1679, Sichuan in 1680, and Guizhou in 1681 as besieged Wu Shifan, Wu Sangui's grandson, committed suicide. Hundreds were beheaded, and even the leaders who surrendered were executed by the Qing armies. Emperor Kangxi did order the release of women, children, and refugees who had been forced into the rebel camps. Bannermen were appointed to govern the southern provinces, and revenues began flowing back to Beijing. Exams were resumed, but very few scholars came north from this distrusted region.

Zheng Jing retreated to Taiwan and died there. Shi Lang, whose relatives had been arrested and executed by Zheng Chenggong in the 1640s, led the Qing assault in 1683 on Taiwan, which was captured and became a prefecture of Fujian. After 1685 the Banners were no longer allowed to confiscate new land, and customs houses opened up trade in Canton, Zhangzhou, Ningbo, and Yuntaishan. China suffered an economic depression in the second half of the 17th century because of the depopulation and devastation caused by the Ming-Manchu war. In 1688 more than ten thousand soldiers mutinied in Wuchang.

In 1679 a special examination was held in Beijing, and Kangxi invited 188 scholars to work on an official history of the Ming dynasty; only 36 declined. After Songgotu lost favor in 1683, the Xu brothers joined with others to oppose the wealthy Mingju, who in 1688 was removed for corruption. The Xu family used a gang of men to assault people, disrupt trials, and kidnap children into slavery, but Mingju's relatives ousted them in 1690. The Emperor usually only dismissed officials guilty of corruption, but those who were involved with the heir apparent were executed. Factional struggles at court caused Kangxi to fear a plot to replace him with Yinreng, his only son by the Empress, who died when he was born in 1674. For siding with the crown prince, Songgotu was imprisoned in 1703 and died there. After Yinreng had an affair with one of his concubines, the Emperor would no longer let any of his concubines spend the entire night with him. Kangxi was offended by Yinreng's procuring of young boys, and in 1708 he had him arrested. The same year he disgraced those who suggested that his eighth son Yinsi be chosen as his successor. In 1712 Yinreng was pronounced insane and deposed.

Adam Schall von Bell had begun teaching Chinese officials how to make guns in 1642, and he wrote a book on the subject. The Jesuits continued to be influential in the Manchu court. In 1650 he was authorized to construct the first Catholic church in Beijing, but in 1665 Yang Guangxian published a book criticizing Christianity and the calendar that Schall had devised. In 1675 Ferdinand Verbiest arranged for the casting of cannons for the campaign against Wu Sangui. The Portuguese presented the Emperor with an African lion in 1678 and were allowed to retain their trading base at Macao. Emperor Kangxi listened to the advice of Jesuits on science and mathematics, especially after Verbiest had been proven correct on the calendar in 1689. They cured him of malaria by using quinine, and in 1692 he issued an edict of toleration that allowed Christians to preach in China. Joachim Bouvet returned to France and brought back more Jesuits in 1698, hoping that their knowledge of science would open the way for the conversion of the Emperor and China. However, Pope Clement XI sent Bishop Maillard de Tournon, who arrived in 1705 and clashed with the Emperor over accommodating Christian practices to Chinese rites. Kangxi believed that giving the papal legate authority over the other Jesuits would cause serious difficulties. He expected them to continue to do homage to Confucius, because he considered it a civil rather than a religious ceremony. Most of the Jesuits agreed to sign the Emperor's agreement, but several Franciscan, Dominican, and other missionaries refused to do so and were deported. Kangxi noted that the Jesuits were more concerned about a world they had not entered than the one in which they were living. Yet their work helped produce an imperial atlas in 1718 that was superior to its European counterparts.

In the north Russians had begun moving east in 1581. They founded Tobolsk in 1587, Tomsk in 1604, Yenisseisk in 1619, Yakutsk in 1632, Okhotsk in 1638, and by 1648 had reached the Kamchatka coast. They founded Irkutsk by Lake Baikal in 1651, Nerchinsk in 1658, and built a fort at Albazin in 1665. Emperor Kangxi sent a force that seized Albazin in 1685; but the next year he began negotiating, and in 1689 Russian and Chinese envoys agreed upon a treaty at Nerchinsk. Its six articles established the border between Siberia and Manchuria, dismantled the Albazin fort, allowed trade with passports, extradited fugitives and deserters, allowed foreign citizens to remain, and forgave all past incidents.

In the late 1670s the Dzungars had conquered western Xinjiang. Olod leader Galdan had been trained by the Fifth Dalai Lama and attacked Outer Mongolia in 1686. After they came south to Jehol and threatened Beijing, in 1690 Kangxi sent a force led by his two half-brothers; but Galdan held them off. In 1696 Kangxi himself led an army of 80,000, leaving as regent Yinreng. They crossed the Gobi Desert and drove the Dzungars north of the Kerulen River, defeating Galdan in the battle of Jao Modo; he fled into the Altai mountains and died in 1697. The Dzungars turned back a 1705 Qing incursion into Tibet. In 1715 Olods led by Zewang Araptan attacked Hami, and two years later his cousin Chereng Dondub invaded Tibet with 6,000 Dzungars. After they killed the Dalai Lama and replaced him, Kangxi felt justified in taking over Lhasa with the Qing army in 1720.

Emperor Kangxi worked hard, eating only two meals a day and commenting on about fifty memorials each day. He also had a system by which some memorials could be sent directly to him so that he would not be controlled by the Grand Secretariat. In 1670 he promulgated the following Sacred Edict of sixteen moral maxims and commanded they be read twice each month.

1. Stress filial piety and brother love to exalt human relations.
2. Be sincere to your kindred to manifest the virtue of harmony.
3. Maintain peace in your local communities
to absolve quarrels and litigations.
4. Emphasize agriculture and sericulture
to insure a full supply of food and clothing.
5. Promote thrift to save expenditures.
6. Expand schools to rectify the behavior of scholars.
7. Reject heterodox doctrines to honor the orthodox learning.
8. Make known the laws to warn the foolish and obstinate.
9. Manifest propriety and righteousness to cultivate good customs.
10. Accept your own calling
to the end that the minds of all may be stabilized.
11. Admonish your children and youngsters against evil-doing.
12. Eliminate false accusations to preserve the good and innocent.
13. Refrain from protecting fugitives
to avoid collective punishment.
14. Complete tax payments to dispense with official prompting.
15. Cooperate with the baojia neighborhood organizations
to forestall burglary and thievery.
16. Resolve vengeance and animosities to guard your own lives.2

More than twenty times Kangxi expressed his policy that Manchus and Chinese were to be treated equally. Each of the six ministries was headed by three Manchus and three Chinese. In the provinces the governor-generals were usually Manchus, but most of the administrators were Chinese. If the governor-general was Chinese, then the governors under him were Manchus. Senior officials were not allowed to serve in their home provinces so that they would be less likely to abuse their authority. He sought to prevent trouble and warned officials against causing trouble.

Between 1684 and 1707 Kangxi made six tours of the southern provinces to inspect water systems and visit academies. Although taxes were difficult to collect, he refused to raise them. In 1711 he froze the ding tax, which was a kind of poll tax on persons, even though population was growing fast. This edict prevented officials from making adjustments for growth, migration, and agricultural changes. In 1713 his imperial decree converted the corvée labor quota to a head tax on men; but since the number of men in each district had been frozen, these essentially became a land tax. Kangxi supported literature by sponsoring the publishing of the Complete Tang Poems, the translation of Chinese classics into Manchu, work on an immense encyclopedia, and the publication of a dictionary. He also patronized painters. Usually tolerant, he was sensitive to the Ming threat to the Qing dynasty, and in 1713 he had Dai Mingshi executed for his interest in the southern Ming regimes after 1644. In his Valedictory Edict issued upon his death on December 20, 1722, Kangxi had written,

To be sincere in reverence for Heaven and ancestors
entails the following:
Be kind to men from afar and keep the able ones near,
nourish the people,
think of the profit of all as being the real profit
and the mind of the whole country as being the real mind,
be considerate to officials and act as a father to the people,
protect the state before danger comes
and govern well before there is any disturbance,
be always diligent and always careful,
and maintain the balance between leniency and strictness,
between principle and expediency,
so that long-range plans can be made for the country.

Yongzheng's Reforms 1723-35

Because of the conspiracies involving his second son Yinreng, Kangxi refused to proclaim the name of his successor. In recent years he had trusted his fourth son, Yinzhen, with fifteen special assignments. Yinzhen claimed that Kangxi had named him verbally and in his will, and at the age of 44 he became Emperor Yongzheng. Kangxi's third son Yinzhi was a top-level prince and had been made editor of the imperial encyclopedia, and the fourteenth son Yinti led the campaign against the Khoshote Mongols in Tibet. Yongzheng had Yinzhi arrested for having conspired against the late Emperor, and he removed Yinti from command, assigning him to oversee Kangxi's mausoleum. Yinsi was made a top-level prince and was appointed to the Emperor's new advisory council. Yintang was sent to the northwest and was later convicted of conspiring to take over the government. In 1726 Yinsi was arrested, and both Yintang and Yinsi died in prison the next year.

Yongzheng put Sichuan's governor-general, Nian Gengyao, in command of the army fighting the Koshotes led by Lobjang Danjin. After being transferred to Hangzhou, Nian was accused of 92 crimes. Instead of being beheaded, Yongzheng allowed him to commit suicide in 1726. Imperial advisor Longgedo was tried for 47 crimes and died in prison in 1728. Zeng Jing read the writings of Lu Liuliang (1629-83), who criticized the Manchu rulers. After natural disasters in the southern provinces in 1728, Zeng sent his disciple Zhang Xi to the Shaanxi-Sichuan governor-general, Yue Zhongqi. Zeng accused Yongzheng of murdering his father, brothers, and loyal officials. Yue Zhongqi informed the Emperor, and he proscribed Lu's writings and punished his descendants and disciples. After Zeng and Zhang confessed to sedition and rebellion, they were allowed to return to Hunan. Yongzheng suspected Catholic missionaries of using the Roman alphabet as a code, and he criticized the factional influence of the church. However, he tolerated them, stating in 1726, "The distant barbarians come here attracted by our culture. We must show them generosity and virtue."4 Emperor Yongzheng ordered a documentary account of the Zeng conspiracy published, and he argued against Lu Liuliang's racist theory that the Manchus should not rule China. The Emperor noted how the Qing regime had rescued the Ming dynasty from rebels and fostered peace and prosperity by controlling crime while expanding territory, population, and cultivated land.

Yongzheng was strongly influenced by Confucian philosophy and was interested in Chan Buddhism. In 1724 he wrote an essay amplifying the instructions in the Sacred Edict of Kangxi. On strengthening clans he suggested that clan members are like parts of one body. If one part hurts, the whole body hurts, making necessary filial piety, brotherly love, harmony, willingness to endure for others, and charity. He observed that the orthodoxy of Buddhism is being concerned with the heart, not the talk about fasts, processions, temples, and idles that lazy monks and priests use to swindle people. Individuals should control themselves so as not to break the law and also to admonish others. Yongzheng prepared lectures that were given by local scholars twice a month. The Emperor wrote another essay on the dangers of factions, which he warned lead to corruption and bad judgment by erecting a barrier between ruler and minister. The encyclopedic Gujin tushu jicheng (Complete Collection of Illustrations and Writings from the Earliest to Current Times) was completed in the Kangxi reign and was published in 1728, totaling 800,000 pages with more than a hundred million Chinese characters.

Like his father, Yongzheng worked hard and spent many hours selecting officials and evaluating them. He formed a council in the inner court to control the outer bureaucrats during the transition but disbanded it in 1725. He relied on his brother Yinxiang until he died in the Dzungar war in 1730. By then the Emperor had formed the grand council of top advisors. Yongzheng sent Oertai to govern Yunnan and made Li Wei minister of revenue to remove corruption. After Tian Wenjing supervised famine relief in Shanxi, he was used to improve finances in Henan and Shandong. Tian proposed sending officials to the provinces to learn their craft, and the Emperor eventually implemented this. Yongzheng continued his father's policy of getting secret memorials directly, and these gave him many ideas for reforms.

Kangxi's reluctance to enforce taxation had left the treasury depleted, and much corruption and embezzlement in the provinces meant that the poor were overtaxed while landowners avoided taxes. Surtaxes had been added to pay for the cost of melting down the silver into ingots for the central government, but these had been greatly increased to provide the needed revenues for local use and were exploited by greedy officials. Yongzheng wrote in an edict in 1725, "When the flesh and blood of the common people is used to rectify the deficits of the officials, how can there not be hardship in the countryside?"5 He approved a fixed meltage fee and increased salaries from 45 taels a year to at least 600 so that officials could be honest. The meltage fees also enabled provincial officials to redistribute taxes from the wealthy regions to the needs of the poor. At the end of Yongzheng's twelve-year reign he left the treasury with sixty million taels of silver. In 1723 and again in 1729 Suzhou textile workers went on strike for better wages and the right to build a hospital, an orphanage, and a meeting-hall. Yongzheng was concerned about rebellion but commended the governor for only arresting and interrogating 22 workers.

Yongzheng implemented land reclamation by waiving taxes for a time on newly opened land, by rewarding officials who promoted resettling of previously wasted lands, and by giving loans to the poor so they could migrate to the frontiers and buy seed, cattle, tools, and food. Yongzheng curtailed the privileges of the scholars by limiting their tax exemptions, by making sure they paid their taxes, and by prosecuting those who abused tenants. The Chinese had been discriminating against some musicians, ethnic minorities, and certain occupations that had become hereditary. Such "mean people" had not been allowed to take the examinations. Yongzheng abolished this discrimination in 1723 and enforced it with a series of edicts through 1731. Guizhou suffered from poverty and raids by Miao. After the battle for Dingguang in 1726, Oertai offered amnesty and free land to encourage people to return to the land. Others lost their farms to Qing soldiers, and native chiefs were replaced by Qing administrators. Mining was encouraged in Yunnan, and the state ended its monopoly. Within a few years copper production more than quadrupled. Smoking tobacco had become popular in China during the 17th century, and soldiers sent to repress the rebellion on Taiwan in 1721 brought back the custom of smoking opium. As addiction spread in China, Yongzheng punished severely growing, selling, and smoking of opium. However, he came to recognize the right to sell medicinal opium for health reasons.

Yongzheng cancelled the independent commands of the banner chiefs, bringing them under his imperial control. He ordered the Qing troops to withdraw from Lhasa, because he had good communication with Tibet. However, he had to send 3,000 troops to put down the Khoshote rebellion led by Lobjang Danjin in 1724. Five years later eastern Tibet became the Yazhou prefecture, but native chiefs governed. A supplementary treaty with Russia made at Kyakhta in 1727 established a longer boundary between Mongolia and Siberia, and trade was allowed at Kyakhta as well as at Nerchinsk. A Russian caravan was allowed to trade with Beijing every third year, and a Russian Orthodox church was also maintained in the Qing capital. Two years later Yue Zhongqi led a campaign into the Gansu corridor, but they were badly defeated in 1731 and made a truce with the Dzungars the next year. On Taiwan aborigines rebelled; in 1732 they were joined by five tribes, but Qing forces crushed the revolt by the end of the year.

Qianlong's Expansion 1736-99

Emperor Yongzheng had written the name of his successor and locked it in a casket, enabling his fourth son to become Emperor Qianlong in 1736 without controversy at the age of 24. He also inherited his father's advisors, Oertai and Zhang Tingyu. A faction criticized Oertai for forcing defeudalization and Sinicization on the Miao people in the southwest, causing devastation and misery. In the mid-1730s Chen Hongmou (1696-1771) helped organize 650 charitable schools for the Miao in Yunnan. He also compiled a critical anthology of educational writings called Bequeathed Guidelines of Five Kinds that began appearing in 1739 and became very influential. In 1737 Qianlong tried to ban making liquor from grain in northern China, but this was ineffective and not enforced. He reduced the influence of eunuchs by decreeing in 1742 that they could not rise above the fourth grade in the civil service. Oertai continued to dominate policy until he died in 1745. After the Miao rebellion supported by the Hmong and Yao peoples was put down in 1740, Chinese moneylenders invaded and with usury managed to take over much land. Soldier colonists used Miao and Yao as slaves to work the abandoned or confiscated lands. Qianlong had Zhang Guangsi executed in 1749 for having suppressed the Miao. The examinations had minority quotas, but many Chinese claimed to be Miao or Yao in order to pass. Competition became stiffer with increased population, as the total number of positions for magistrates in the empire was surpassed by the number of Zhuren degrees earned every third year. Another Miao rebellion would erupt at the end of Qianlong's reign in 1795 to try to expel the intruders and recover their land.

During Qianlong's long reign the Qing empire nearly doubled both in territory and population. Chinese partible inheritance meant that land was equally divided between sons, and the average farm decreased to about 2.5 acres. Peanuts, corn (maize), and sweet potatoes were introduced from America and could grow on hillsides. Rice production increased, but the price increased fivefold in the second half of the 18th century, as did the price of cotton cloth. Cultivating land on the military frontiers allowed the reduction of taxes. Qianlong continued the Qing policy of relying on Manchu governors in the provinces with mostly Han Chinese as prefect administrators and county magistrates. He instructed the governors to prosecute corrupt prefects and magistrates and arrest provincial students who bully people or cause trouble. Hang Shizhun criticized the Emperor's favoring of Manchus and frontier Chinese over qualified Chinese scholars, but he was dismissed in 1743. Qianlong wanted to leave a literary legacy and composed more than 42,000 poems and many prose works. He collected paintings and imposed his calligraphy on them. Missionaries helped design a summer palace for Qianlong that was completed in 1747 and was embellished with paintings by Guiseppe Castiglione and Jean-Denis Attiret. In 1747 he tried to stop the selling of Miao children by Sichuan racketeers. Qianlong was deeply upset by the death of a son and his empress in 1748, and he punished more than a hundred senior officials for not mourning the empress properly. He also punished military officers who failed in battle. After two years of war the Qing were defeated by the Golden Stream (Jin Chuan) people in Sichuan in 1749, and he had two grand secretaries and an imperial commissioner put to death.

Just as the Chinese empire was ruled by the edicts of the emperor without a legislature, the local counties were under the jurisdiction of the magistrates, who acted as investigators, judges, and juries. Suspects were harshly treated in jails and were often tortured into confessing. For the convicted with money, small amounts of silver could be paid to avoid flogging; 720 taels covered banishment, and 1,200 taels got one a reprieve from beheading or strangulation. Sometimes allowances were made based on the ability to pay. A gentleman who had passed the examinations could not be prosecuted by a magistrate until he had been stripped of that status, and such gentlemen were also exempt from corvée labor service and the poll tax. The baojia system organized ten jia of one hundred households each into a bao. The headman was responsible for registering everyone and maintaining law and order. The baojia concept made everyone in the community responsible for all, and friends and neighbors might be penalized for the illegal acts of others. This community process also helped relieve those in need.

In the late 1750s the Manchu bannerman Zhaohui led the Qing army in the conquest of extensive western territory that was named Xinjiang, meaning "new territories." When the cities of Kashgar and Yarkand were captured in 1759, many Dzungars were slaughtered. The name Dzungars was wiped out, and those left were called Oloths. The Qing government paid about 20,000 troops more than three million taels annually to garrison Xinjiang. The Manchus allowed the Muslims to keep their religious traditions, and they did not have to shave their heads and wear a queue. Trade in copper, gems, saltpeter, wool, and slaves prospered, but the Qing government controlled the mining of gold and jade. More Mongolian tribes were also brought into the Qing empire. About half of the 200,000 banner soldiers were stationed near Beijing, and more than 600,000 troops in the Green Standard army were used for fighting wars against the Miao and in Xinjiang. Qianlong tried to unify the diversity of the empire and in 1764 relaxed the ban on inter-marriage with Chinese minorities. In the late 1760s Qing forces fought Burma over control of the Shan people. Chinese merchants imported much cotton from Burma up the Irrawaddy River. Qianlong tried to impose a trade embargo to punish King Hsinhpyushin; but this was not effective and only made the local people unfriendly.

The Qing army managed to pacify the Tibetans in western Sichuan between 1771 and 1776. Qianlong celebrated the victory by having Jin Chuan monks executed and exhibiting others in caged carts in Beijing. These two wars cost the Qing twice as much as the entire conquest of Xinjiang. In 1774 Muslim troops were sent to quell a White Lotus rebellion in Shangdong led by Wang Lun, an expert in martial arts and herbal healing. His followers captured towns and part of Linqing before they were slaughtered by the Chinese army. Customs taxes on growing commerce quadrupled between 1735 and 1795, helping the Beijing treasury to increase from 40 million taels in 1750 to 80 million in 1780. However, Hong Liangji warned in his book On Clothes and Food that the increasing population was consuming supplies that would no longer be there for the next generations. Yang Xifu (d. 1768) had given four reasons for the increase in poverty: population growth, concentrated land ownership, local granaries setting rice prices, and increased consumption. For a while the new land in the west absorbed many of the unemployed poor people from the interior, but late in Qianlong's reign the population of China surpassed 300 million. He rejected proposals to restrict migration because he believed that peasants should be free to move where they can find opportunity. He listened to the advice of Zhili governor Sun Jiagan not to disturb the rights of Chinese cultivators who had taken over lands from Manchu bannerman unable to farm. In 1778 Qianlong announced that he would retire at the end of 1795 at the completion of China's sixty-year cycle and so as not to surpass the 61-year reign of his grandfather Kangxi.

The immense project of compiling The Complete Works of the Four Treasuries began in 1773 and was completed in 1784. The four categories were classics, history, philosophy, and literature. Scholars collected 11,000 works and published 3,457 of them in 79,070 volumes. Ming founder Yongle was considered a usurper, and his Encyclopedia of 11,095 volumes was criticized for its antiquated arrangement and Daoist prayers. Emperor Qianlong ignored the literati who wanted him to close urban teahouses and wine shops or ban embroidered robes, because he believed that making them illicit would just increase their value. While scholars were searching from house to house for books, a great inquisition was carried out. In twenty years 151,725 books were destroyed, having more than 3,000 different titles of which 2,000 were lost to posterity. Books were condemned for anti-Manchu references or for containing geographical and other information that might affect national defense, and in the 1780s plays with vulgar language were also censored. In 1777 Wang Xihou was executed for having compiled a dictionary that criticized the dictionary of Kangxi's administration. Even stone texts were effaced and replaced with new messages. Qianlong also attempted to eradicate Christianity in 1746 and again in 1784. The Emperor executed 56 Gansu officials in 1781 for selling examination degrees. Yet late in his reign Qianlong began to sell lower degrees to raise money.

In 1781 Qianlong announced his plan to add 20,000 troops, but his advisor Agui opposed the spending. Some had become quite wealthy, and salt merchants contributed twelve million taels for half the cost. Zhao Yi (1727-1814) argued that the state would become bankrupt unless it used peasant militias and minority soldiers. Muslims in Gansu revolted twice in the 1780s. In 1787 a Qing army of 60,000 was used to defeat the Triad rebellion on Taiwan. The Emperor had to recruit Chinese peasants to fight but had no plan for demobilization after the war. The Qing court was allied with the Le dynasty of Vietnam and punished the Chinese miners who had caused a disturbance at Hanoi in 1767. When the Tay-son brothers led a revolt in 1786, the Le heir fled to Guangxi and appealed for Chinese help. After Nguyen Hue moved Vietnam's capital to south of Hanoi, Governor Sun Shiyi of Guangxi and Guangdong proposed the conquest of Vietnam. His soldiers occupied the capital but were attacked while they were celebrating the new year of 1789; they lost 4,000 men and fled back to Guangxi. These invasions harmed Chinese commercial interests. Learning from the quagmire in Burma, Qianlong made peace with the Nguyen ruler, who was willing to pay tribute. In 1791 Qianlong banned the use of Nepalese money in Tibet and ordered Gurkha merchants to leave. The Qing army invaded in 1792 and drove the Gurkhas back to Nepal, which began sending tribute to the Qing capital every five years.

During the 18th century the Chinese economy greatly developed. A favorable balance of trade with other countries imported increasing silver. Paper notes also helped the money supply. A warming trend in the climate coupled with improvements in the soil, farming tools, irrigation and drainage, and intensive cultivation increased productivity in grain and other foods. This prosperity and additional territory allowed reductions in taxes for most of the century, and China was powerful enough to deter or defeat rebellions and foreign aggression. Community organizations helped collect taxes and the command economy with mutual cooperation relieving the poor and famines. Many people migrated to new regions and formed market towns. Commerce and industry grew; but still 94% of the people lived in rural communities, and 80% were farmers. In the Canton area 20,000 people processed iron and marketed its products. Most communities were primarily self-sufficient with the customary economy being about three-quarters of the total economy.

Emperor Qianlong became enamored of the young bannerman Heshan in 1775 and promoted him quickly to the grand council, police commandant, revenue minister, lieutenant general, and to authority in the Four Treasuries office. In 1786 Heshan became grand secretary and began receiving graft for appointing his friends and relatives throughout the empire. During his reign Qianlong prosecuted thirty governors for corruption; but when he began confiscating the supplementary salaries of officials, many turned to embezzling funds to pay fines or give requested donations. Yet while he punished provincial officials, Qianlong failed to purge the corrupt officers in his capital. He no longer received the secret memorials as his father and grandfather had, and thus he was blind to the corruption. Qianlong ordered prefectures and counties to provide relief for those in need, and charitable granary networks were established to stave off famines. By 1792 more than 20,000 peasants were being fed in the capital's soup kitchens even though they were only used temporarily by itinerant laborers. Many avoided urban soup kitchens because of epidemic diseases.

The British East India Company had been trading informally with the Chinese at Canton (Guangzhou), Zhousan, and Xiamen (Amoy) since the 1630s. In 1699 they established a factory at Canton. Thirteen Hong merchants had factories or commercial agencies outside the city walls of Canton. In 1720 they organized a guild that was called the Cohong. Three percent of business transactions were put into the Consoo (Gongsuo) fund to relieve those who became insolvent. In 1759 trader James Flint was arrested and imprisoned three years for violating Qing laws. In 1760 maritime trade was limited to Guangzhou and was conducted each year only between October and March. After 1785 the Hong merchants had to pay an annual tribute of 55,000 taels to the imperial court. The foreign factories at Canton were under strict rules that prohibited women, firearms, or loans to Hong merchants, nor were they allowed to have Chinese books or learn Chinese. The silver the British paid for silk, porcelain, tea, and other goods went from three million taels in the 1760s to sixteen million taels in the 1780s. To reverse this trend, they began trading opium they brought from India, and this went from one thousand chests of opium in 1773 to 4,054 chests in 1790. By 1800 the English were buying 23 million pounds of tea annually. George Macartney arrived as the special envoy of George III in 1792. He refused to prostrate himself on the floor before Emperor Qianlong but said he would bow on bended knee as he would to King George. In 1793 he was received by the powerful Heshan, but the Emperor refused to make any special trade agreement with the English.

Although Qianlong announced his abdication at the end of 1795, he continued to rule through Heshan, who took over numerous offices and acquired an enormous fortune. When Qianlong died in 1799, Qianlong's son, Emperor Jiajing, accused Heshan of corruption and forced him to commit suicide. By various means Heshan had amassed 800,000,000 taels. The main charge was that he had embezzled money that was supposed to be used to quell the White Lotus rebellion that began in 1796, and then he lied that the war was going well. The White Lotus religion worshiped the Eternal Mother, and the rebellion went on until 1804.

Jiajing Era 1799-1820

Confucian Intellectuals in the Qing Era

During the last years of the Ming dynasty, a group of Chinese literati formed the Society of Renewal to revive the Donglin party that had been crushed by the eunuch Wei Zhongxian. Jin Shengtan wrote essays on popular literature and plays, but he was beheaded for siding with students protesting at the funeral ceremonies for Emperor Shunzhi in 1661. Huang Zongxi (1610-96) opposed rule by eunuchs or the Manchus. In 1649 he went to Nagasaki to organize resistance. In 1662 he published A Plan for the Prince, arguing for the liberal principles that the prince and ministers should serve the people rather than the reverse. He recommended that basic laws replace imperial edicts and that a prime minister and other ministers should have more power. He suggested curtailing eunuchs by reducing the number of emperor's wives. Examinations should be broader, and advancement should also be by recommendations. "Eight-paragraph essays" and poems had to follow rigid formulas using antithetical comparisons, and one could be eliminated by the wrong use of a word, by breaking the rhyme scheme, or by poor calligraphy. Only by passing the governmental examinations could one enter the class of gentlemen. Yet the exams did allow extraordinary opportunities to intelligent men who studied hard. The best half of about 20,000 civilian positions were filled by those with degrees. In 1679 Huang declined to work on the Ming history project. Instead he wrote a history of Chinese philosophy during the Song and Yuan eras, but it was unfinished at his death.

Wang Fuzhi (1619-92) also belonged to the Renewal Society. After supporting the southern Ming emperor Yongle, he retired to write. He believed that societies are transformed by natural evolution and continually make progress, and he argued that the modern concept of private property made the ancient ideal of equal land division obsolete. Gu Yenwu (1613-82) became very influential even though his book was not published until 1695. His foster mother fasted to death in protest of the Qing regime. He pioneered historical criticism and philology, and he also analyzed the political decadence of the late Ming era. He found that the central administration and its provincial agents had become divorced from the people. Because civil servants were not trusted, numerous regulations were imposed from above, reducing initiative and adaptability to local conditions. He urged more local autonomy. Gu was also a geographer, economist, and strategist, and he traveled extensively for 22 years to do his research. He criticized the influence in the Ming era from the Song Neo-Confucians and the idealistic Wang Yangming, whom he noted had been affected by Chan Buddhism. Gu proposed going back to the early commentaries from the Han dynasty, and his new textual criticism became known as "Han Learning." His research methods emphasized originality, utility, and extensive evidence.

Yen Yuan (1635-1704) turned against Neo-Confucian idealism for a more practical approach. In 1696 he was put in charge of an academy in Hebei and implemented a curriculum that included military training, archery, riding, boxing, mechanics, mathematics, astronomy, and history. He believed that real knowledge must have practical application. Although he was little known by his contemporaries, his ideas were promoted by his disciple Li Gong (1659-1733). Dai Zhen (1723-77) proposed the motto, "One must not let oneself be deceived either by others or by oneself."6 He criticized the distortions of the Neo-Confucian philosophers on the work of Mencius. He believed that the morality of practical life is based on the instincts of survival, hunger, sexual desire, and other needs and passions, and that these are all manifestations of the Way (Dao). He argued that the principles of the Song philosophers prevented the young and humble from expressing themselves and fulfilling their goals. Dai Zhen rejected meditation and sudden enlightenment and recommended study, investigation, reasoning, and sincere action. Zhang Xuecheng (1736-96) recommended studying the regional histories of China because the Way is known through its historical manifestations. Because of the intense competition for limited government positions, many scholars spent their time teaching in the academies and writing on the classics and histories. Bi Yuan (1730-97) was governor of Shaanxi and organizing the writing of thirty-three regional histories. Confucian philosophy in the 18th century emphasized evidential research (kaozheng).

Chen Hongmou (1696-1771) was one of the most successful governors in Chinese history. He believed that everyone could be educated, including women of every class. Some women managed to become recognized as poets. Yuan Mei (1716-98) was a poet who advocated rights for women; he opposed polygamy (though he had concubines) and the binding of little girls' feet, an aristocratic custom that had begun in the Song era. The early Qing rulers banned foot-binding, but they soon stopped enforcing it in Chinese households. Yuan Mei studied Manchu in Beijing but failed his Manchu exams in 1742. After his father died, he resigned from his official position and made his living the rest of his life by his writing. In 1753 he moved his mother, wife, and concubines to Harmony Garden. Yuan Mei recognized the love of wealth and sex as natural human desires and suggested that without them the human race would have become extinct. He also observed that some people who do not have feelings often act in wicked ways. He disliked religions like Buddhism that tried to deny human desires. He also criticized Confucian traditions that follow a narrowly defined straight line of transmission through the Neo-Confucian Cheng brothers and Zhu Xi. He believed that art is the Dao (Way) taking form. Pursuing art with refinement expresses the Dao, but in imitation both the Dao and art are lost. Yuan found that singing poems is pleasant to the feelings and that nothing stops anger better than poetry. He wrote that when one is at peace, nature and inspiration are revealed.

China continued to be a patriarchal society, and many women were confined to the home, where they were taught to spin and weave. Widows were expected to be chaste, but married men could take concubines. Age was greatly respected, and the younger were expected to defer to the older. Profound thinkers such as Spinoza, Leibniz, Goethe, and Adam Smith admired Chinese culture. Leibniz gathered material from Jesuits and in 1697 published a book on new Chinese things. During the European era of enlightenment Voltaire, Holbach, and Diderot argued that Confucian society in China proved that a culture could be ethical without being Christian.

Theater in the Qing Era

Chinese Theater in the Yuan Era
Theater in the Ming Era

Li Yu (1611-80) wrote several comedies in the 1660s, but the two most famous plays of the early Qing era are The Palace of Eternal Youth by Hong Sheng and The Peach Blossom Fan by Kong Shangren.

Hong Sheng (1645-1704) spent more than ten years working on The Palace of Eternal Youth and completed it in 1688. The story is based on Bai Juyi's poem "The Everlasting Sorrow." The play was immediately popular, but production the next year during a period of national mourning drew the attention of the censor. Emperor Kangxi read the play, dismissed the producer, expelled Hong Sheng from the Imperial College, and struck numerous scholars from the Official List. The story of a tragic romance at court during the An Lushan rebellion was apparently too controversial for this insecure Manchu emperor. Hong Sheng retired in Hangzhou to a life of poetry and wine until he fell into a river and drowned.

The play is set at the court of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712-56), who is called by his popular name Ming Huang. He was known for patronizing musicians, dancers, and actors in his Pear Garden Academy. The Tang empire had been expanded, but later in his reign military expenses of guarding the new frontiers caused hardships for the peasants. An Lushan is a Tatar general about to be executed, but he persuades the eunuch Gao Lishi and the Emperor to give him another command. Ming Huang falls in love with the beautiful Yang Yuhuan and in 1745 makes her his main concubine. He elevates her three sisters as duchesses, and Lady Yang is sometimes jealous of them. Her cousin, Yang Guozhong, becomes prime minister. Efforts to bring Lady Yang fresh lychee fruit by special couriers causes the death of two blind peasants. On the seventh day of the seventh moon in 1751 the Emperor and Lady Yang vow undying love to each other. In 1755 An Lushan rebels, and the Emperor has to flee. Some guards mutiny and kill Yang Guozhong and the Guo duchess, blaming their family for ruining the empire. To help the Emperor escape, Lady Yang takes her own life. Two years later he finds that her body has vanished. A necromancer finds her on a fairy mountain and takes the gold hairpin and jewel box the Emperor had given her back to him. Ming Huang stops eating and dies so he can be with Lady Yang, a goddess of the moon.

Kong Shangren (1648-1718) was a descendant of Confucius and became a doctor in the Imperial College. The Peach Blossom Fan was produced in 1699 and also was a long southern drama (in 40 scenes) and an immediate success. This romantic drama poignantly portrays the fall of the Ming dynasty between 1643 and 1645. In a house of pleasure run by Li Zhenli a 16-year-old girl is named Fragrant Princess by the painter and poet, Yang Wencong. Hou Fangyu has just passed the examination, and he writes a poem on her fan. She rejects expensive clothes sent by the corrupt dramatist and politician, Ruan Dacheng. General Zuo Liangyu says that his troops are hungry and that he is having difficulty restraining them. Yang tells Hou that Ruan may arrest him because he is a confederate of Zuo; but a stronger motivation is that he is jealous of Hou's relationship with Fragrant Princess. News arrives that Emperor Chongzhen has hanged himself. Hou travels to Shi Kefa, who has been promoted to President of the Board of War in Nanjing. Hou explains the reasons why they should not support Prince Fu as emperor. Shi refuses to see the resentful Ruan. Ma Shiying brags of his new power for having made Prince Fu the Hongguang emperor. Hongguang appears, and a eunuch announces that Ma is now prime minister and minister of war. Ma accepts Ruan as his private secretary. Yang becomes a councilor in the ministry of ceremonies. He summons Fragrant Princess, but she is contracted to Hou and refuses to go. The poet Ding comments, "No matter how rich you are, you cannot buy what is not for sale. Both threats and coercion are useless."7 In the on-going civil war Gao Jie tells Shi why he became a rebel. Shi pardons him and assigns him to defend the Yellow River region, sending Hou to advise him.

Yang Wencong tells Ma Shiying why Fragrant Princess refused Tian's proposal, and Ma sends men to force her. Her foster mother Li urges her to accept the 300 taels and submit, but Fragrant Princess says that Ruan and Tian are part of eunuch Wei's clique. She beats off Yang with her fan and knocks her head on the floor until she faints. Li tells Yang that she will impersonate the girl. Yang paints the fan with leaves so that the blood stains resemble peach blossoms and shows it to Fragrant Princess. She asks her singing teacher Su to take the fan to Hou. Ma and Ruan come for her, and she accuses them of promoting their personal ambition and pandering to the Emperor's lust. Yang stops the angry Ruan, who is kicking her, but Ruan and Ma order her to work in the Inner Court. The Emperor tells Ruan that he appreciates his new play, Swallow Letter, and he orders Fragrant Princess to memorize her role. Disregarding Hou's warning, General Gao is invited to a dinner by a disgruntled commander and is murdered. Traveling Su meets Li, who was driven out of Tian's house by his shrewish wife, and she is now married to a boat officer. Li and Su find Hou, and Su gives him the fan. Hou finds the painter Lan living in the room of Fragrant Princess. Hou meets with the bookseller Cai and two scholars of a club reviving the Donglin party, for which they are arrested by Ruan. Judge Zhang is a reclusive Daoist and keeps them in protective custody.

Su insists on seeing General Zuo so that they can impeach Ma and Ruan. At the first anniversary of Emperor Chongzhen's death, a messenger brings the public impeachment for seven crimes. Ma and Ruan decide to appeal to northern generals against the large forces of Zuo and go into hiding. When General Zuo Liangyu learns that his son has let his troops pillage and loot, he kills himself. General Shi Kefa with only three thousand men gallantly tries to defend Yangzhou from the northern army. Rioters strip Ruan and Ma of their possessions. They learn that the northern troops have crossed the Yangzi and that Hongguang has fled Nanjing. Su finds Fragrant Princess and tells her the prisoners are freed. They decide to go to Zhang's retreat. Hongguang asks General Huang Degong for protection; but two generals named Liu arrive and abduct Hongguang to take him to Beijing, as Tian wounds Huang, who commits suicide. Shi Kefa has fled fallen Yangzhou and learns that Nanjing is besieged; so he drowns himself. Hou and his friends go to the retreat of Zhang, who commemorates the Ming martyrs. The ghosts of Shi Kefa, Zuo, and Huang appear, but the apparitions of Ma and Ruan fall from the ridge of the immortals. Zhang notes the karmic circle. Finally Hou and Fragrant Princess are reunited, but Zhang persuades both to become Daoists. In an epilog three years later a Manchu official tries to track down the retired scholars, who flee into the hills.

Wu Jingzi's Novel The Scholars

Novels of the Ming Era

Wu Jingzi (1701-54) was from a scholarly family in the province of Anhui. He passed the first preliminary government examination in 1720, but after his father's death he squandered his inheritance by his extravagant generosity. He lived in Nanjing and wrote poetry and prose to amuse his friends. In 1736 he passed up an opportunity to take a special imperial examination. His proudest achievement was contributing the remainder of his fortune to renovate a temple dedicated to past sages. He spent about ten years writing his great satirical novel, The Scholars, and completed it in 1750, though it was not published until about 1770.

The first chapter is a prolog and describes Wang Mian, who lived during the end of the Yuan dynasty and had already been the subject of two biographies. Young Wang has to take care of water buffaloes but studies as he does so. One day after it rains, he notices the beauty of plants and flowers and decides to learn how to paint. Wang masters astronomy, geography, classics, and history, but he does not seek an official position. He even declines to accept an invitation from the magistrate because he and the wealthy Wei oppress the common people. Wang makes a living selling his paintings and also writes great essays. Before his mother dies, she makes Wang promise he will not become an official. Wang Mian tells the future founder of the Ming dynasty who has become the Prince of Wu that goodness and justice can win over the people; even the weak people of Zhejiang will not submit to force. Later when Zhejiang authorities intend to offer him a position, Wang escapes to live in the mountains as a hermit.

The rest of The Scholars is fictional and follows the lives of various intellectuals from 1487 to 1595. Many of the characters are based on people Wu knew, and Du Shaoqing is considered autobiographical. During the Ming dynasty even a young man under twenty years old who has passed the exams is considered senior to any old man who has not. In the second chapter the elderly Zhou Jin manages to pass the exam and become an examiner.

Poor Kuang Zhaoren is given money and a warm coat by Ma Qunshang so that he can return home. There Kuang works hard selling cooked pork and bean curd, studying while he dutifully takes care of his ailing father. They are nearly forced to leave their house, but then it burns down. They rent a place at a monastery. Kuang is helped by the village leader Pan and Magistrate Li, and he passes the examinations. His examiner emphasizes that moral character is more important than literary attainment. When they learn that Kuang has placed first on the prefectural exam, suddenly the family is thrust into the aristocratic class. Before he dies, Kuang's father tells him to take care of his worthless brother and warns him about putting fame and rank above virtue, advising him to marry a humble girl rather than try to improve his status by marrying into a rich family. Magistrate Li has been dismissed, and people demonstrate to block his removal. When the ringleaders are rounded up, Kuang is suspected and flees to Hangzhou.

On the way Kuang Zhaoren meets Jing Lanjiang, who tells him that many intellectuals have a low opinion of bagu (eight-paragraph) essays. Jing has his poetry published in anthologies. He brings Kuang into a circle of wine-drinking poets, and Kuang makes money editing 300 essays. The bailiff Pan warns Kuang about Jing and his friends but pays Kuang to forge a writ in a plot to abduct a woman for a wealthy man. Kuang also trades clothes with Jin Yan and takes an exam for him. Pan arranges for Kuang to marry the daughter of a runner. Reinstated, Li invites Kuang to Beijing, and Kuang sends his wife to his family in the country against her wishes. He passes the exam and is recommended for the Imperial College, but he learns that Pan has been accused of many serious crimes. Kuang does not admit he has a low-class wife, and Censor Li offers him a marriage to his niece with the wedding expenses paid. She is beautiful, and Kuang is very happy; but he learns his first wife died because she was so unhappy. Kuang declines to visit Pan in prison because he fears it will ruin his reputation. Kuang Zhaoren has ignored the advice of his dying father, and his story offers an ironic contrast to the reclusive virtue of Wang Mian.

Generous Du Shaojing often invites friends for dinner. Bao Dingxi has come to him to borrow money to finance an opera troupe. Du declines to go see Magistrate Wang and even regrets that he passed the district examination. Du orders a servant to pawn a chest of clothes so that he can pay for the funeral of his tailor's mother. Du is taking care of the ailing Lou and tells his steward, Whiskers Wang, to sell some of his land for 1300 taels. When Magistrate Wang loses his position, Du offers him a place to stay. Before he goes home to die, Lou gives Du this warning and advice,

You will soon come to the end of your property!
I like to see you acting in a just and generous manner,
but you must consider with whom you are dealing.
The way you are going on,
all your money is being tricked out of you
by people who will never repay your kindness;
and while we say charity expects no reward,
you should distinguish between those who deserve help
and those who don't.8

However, Du continues to be reckless with his money. He gives up his house and moves to Nanjing, where he rents a house. He provides money for the Lou clan to buy a burial ground. Du is invited to the provincial capital for an exam, but he declines a position and runs out of money on his way home. He donates 300 taels for a temple commemorating Dai Bo of the 12th century BC. He pretends to be ill to avoid working for Governor Li. Gao criticizes Du for going through an estate of 60,000 taels in less than ten years; but others admire Du, and his writing is valued. Zhuang Shaoguang helps arrange the sacrifice at the new temple and refuses to accept any position in Beijing; but he is asked to propose educational reforms and agrees to submit them. The Emperor gives him a house by Lotus Lake in Nanjing, where he can write. When Zhuang's guest Lu Xinhou is arrested for having banned books, Zhuang sends letters to high officials, resulting in Lu's release and the informer being punished.

Yu Yude becomes a teacher and tries to perform acts of kindness secretly. After failing, he passes the palace examinations and is admitted to the Hanlin Academy. Zhuang persuades Du to receive Dr. Yu, and they become good friends. Yu pays Du to write an epitaph. Yu agrees to be the master of sacrifice for the ceremony at the Dai Bo temple. As an examiner, Yu does not turn in a scholar for cheating so that he will not lose face. Filial Guo notes that Du Shaojing is famous throughout the empire for his liberality. Yu and Du gather money to help Guo in his career. After many more episodes, in the last chapter four new characters are introduced, but they are more like the reclusive Wang Mian; the Dao Bo temple has fallen into ruins. At the end of the novel Old Yu has cast off his official robes and has decided to practice religion alone. Wu Jingzi has written a realistic comedy of manners that satirizes the rigidity of the examination system and the limitations of office holding. Even though Du appears somewhat foolish financially, the theme of private charity shines through and is brought to greater perfection in the example of Dr. Yu.

Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber

Cao Xueqin (c. 1715-63) was known as the grandson of Cao Yin, who served Emperor Kangxi as Textile Commissioner in Suzhou and died in 1712. The fortunes of the Cao family were declining, and in 1727 Li Xu was imprisoned for having offered sing-song girls to Prince Yinsi. The next year Xueqin's father Cao Fu and Sun Wencheng were dismissed and had their estates confiscated. Cao Xueqin drew on the difficult experiences of his family to write what many consider the greatest Chinese novel. David Hawkes has translated it into English as The Story of the Stone in five volumes, but it is more generally known as The Dream of the Red Chamber. The first chapter states that Cao Xueqin worked on it for ten years and revised it five times, but he died before it was finished. Manuscripts were passed around the family for comments, and texts of the first eighty chapters dated 1754 and 1760 have survived. Alterations were probably made to keep it from being destroyed during Qianlong's literary inquisition, and Gao E edited and published the completed version with 120 chapters in 1792.

Cao Xueqin began the novel by explaining to the reader its mythical origin. The Goddess Nuwa repairs the heavenly dome but leaves one stone unused that she gives supernatural powers. A Buddhist monk and a Daoist priest find the stone, which asks them to take it into the dusty world. The monk transforms it into a pendant of translucent jade. The stone also has provided dew to nourish a plant that later incarnates as Black Jade, and it is found in the mouth of Baoyu (Precious Jade) when he is born. Zhen Shiyin, while reading in his home at Suzhou, falls asleep and meets the Buddhist and the Daoist, who proposes they go down to the mortal world along with descending spirits to save a few. They show the stone that is labeled "Precious Jade of Spiritual Understanding" to Shiyin. On an arch to the Illusion Land is written a couplet suggesting that truth and fiction, the real and unreal can change into each other. As the two immortals pass through the archway, Zhen Shiyin wakes up at home. The barefoot monk is with the lame Daoist and advises Shiyin to sacrifice his baby daughter, Lotus (Caltrop), to the Buddha, or she will bring misfortune upon her parents. The monk and the Daoist separate and agree to meet later.

Young Jia Yucun notices a pretty maid (Apricot), and she returns his glance. When Shiyin hears poor Jia Yucun reciting poetry, he offers to pay his expenses to the capital to take the exams. A careless servant loses little Lotus in town, and two months later Shiyin's house is burned down in a big fire. He takes his family to his wife's father Feng Su. After two years, Shiyin's money is gone, and he goes off with the lame Daoist. The new prefect is Jia Yucun, and he summons Apricot and marries her. Yucun is arrogant and corrupt, and he is removed for malfeasance. He gets a job tutoring five-year-old Black Jade (Lin Daiyu), the daughter of salt commissioner Lin Ruhai. She goes to live with her grandmother and meets her cousin Jia Baoyu, who considers girls more pure than men. Baoyu has a jade pendant; but he throws it down because neither of his sisters nor Black Jade have one. Lotus has been sold to Feng Yuan and then to Xue Pan, whose servants have killed Feng Yuan. Lady Wang, Baoyu's mother, lavishes affection on Black Jade. After visiting Jia Rong's wife Qinshi in her room, Baoyu dreams of the disillusionment goddess, who tells him that his licentiousness is pleasing to maidens. Baoyu then has his first sexual experience with his maid Pervading Fragrance (Aroma).

Lady Wang's niece Phoenix (Xifeng) is married to Jia Lian and helps hungry relatives by giving them twenty taels of silver. Baoyu gets Qinshi's brother Qin Zhong into his school. Baoyu shows Precious Virtue (Xue Baochai) his magic jade, and he sees her golden locket. She advises him that drinking heated wine is less harmful than cold wine. School-kids get into a fight, and Jia Rui is blamed for not controlling the situation. Qinshi is ill. Phoenix puts off enamored Jia Rui by standing him up in the cold and by sending disguised Jia Rong, enabling Jia Qiang to blackmail Rui for fifty taels. Rui still sees Phoenix in a magic mirror. Black Jade leaves to visit her ill father. Qinshi dies, and commentators have suggested she committed suicide because of her adultery. Phoenix is put in charge of her elaborate funeral, magnified by Jia Zhen's thousand-tael bribe that gives Jia Rong official rank. Phoenix strictly commands the servants and has one flogged for being late. Phoenix reluctantly agrees to help an old nun at a convent and makes 3,000 taels by getting a viceroy to break up a proposed marriage, though the two disappointed lovers commit suicide. Qin Zhong persuades a pretty nun to give in. His father finds out and gives Qin a thrashing, and both father and son soon die. Black Jade's father dies too, and Phoenix's husband Jia Lian brings her back to the home of her Grandmother Jia. Cardinal Spring (Jia Yuanchun), Baoyu's older sister, is promoted to imperial concubine, and she is allowed to visit her family in Prospect Garden.

Each family member has two older women as servants and four maids, not counting those who do the cleaning. Much of the novel is a realistic portrayal of the sisters, cousins, and their maids in the Jia household and their interactions with each other, often involving jealousy. Baoyu likes to spend most of his time with these women and enjoys the taste of perfumed lip rouge. When Phoenix's daughter comes down with smallpox, Jia Lian moves to the outer compound and sleeps with the cook's wife. After Lian comes back to Phoenix, his maid Patience finds a strand of hair but does not tell Phoenix. During a game of conundrums, Baoyu's father Jia Zheng becomes depressed by the unfortunate images and quits, allowing his son to relax. The imperial concubine suggests that Baoyu, his sisters, Black Jade, and their maids move into Prospect Garden that had been made elegant for her visit. Grandmother Jia approves, and Zheng urges his son Baoyu to study. Mingyen secretly gets novels and plays for Baoyu, who is inspired by the Romance of the Western Chamber. He loves the intelligence of Black Jade, but they often argue. Jia Huan, Baoyu's brother by a different mother, is disliked by all the maids except Rainbow. Huan becomes jealous and spills hot wax on Baoyu's face. The old sorceress Ma Daobo arrives and receives five pounds of oil to pray for Baoyu, and Huan's mother Zhao pays her fifty taels to use black magic on Baoyu and Phoenix. For three days Baoyu and Phoenix act like lunatics and become delirious; Grandma Jia blames Zhao. The Buddhist monk and lame Daoist visit to revitalize the corrupted pendant, and Baoyu and Phoenix recover.

Lady Wang catches her son Baoyu flirting with her maid Golden Bracelet and dismisses her. Black Jade is ailing; Baoyu advises her to stop worrying and accidentally confesses his love for her in the presence of his maid Pervading Fragrance, who says that Golden Bracelet has jumped into a well and died. Officers of the Prince come to Baoyu to find out where the actor Jiguan is. Blaming Baoyu for this homosexual affair and the girl's suicide, Zheng gives his son a terrible beating until Lady Wang stops him. Grandmother Jia also says that he must kill her first. Zheng repents, and Grandmother counsels him that in disciplining his son he should know where to stop. Baoyu dreams of Jiguan, and Golden Bracelet forgives him. Black Jade grieves for Baoyu and becomes more ill. Pervading Fragrance tells Lady Wang that her son needed the lesson. Precious Virtue accuses her brother Xue Pan of informing on Baoyu, who loves Black Jade more than her. Jia Zheng is appointed a grand examiner and leaves the compound. Quest Spring proposes a poetry club and is joined by Baoyu, Black Jade, Precious Virtue, and others. Jia Lian and Phoenix quarrel, and both blame the maid Patience; but Lian finds it easier to apologize to his maid than his wife. Phoenix has delayed the paying of allowances so that she can make money on short-term loans.

Actor Liu Xianglian is a friend of Baoyu but dislikes the homosexual attentions of Xue Pan so much that he gives him a beating. Pan's sister Precious Virtue advises her mother not to bring charges in order to avoid a scandal. Xue Pan leaves the capital, and Lotus stays with Precious Virtue. Phoenix has a miscarriage, and Lady Wang asks Quest Spring to manage the household. She makes sure the precedents are followed and does not give out extra money. Baoyu learns from the maid Purple Cuckoo that Black Jade is going back to Suzhou, but medicine helps him recover. Purple Cuckoo says that Black Jade and Baoyu would be a perfect match, and she quotes the proverb that it is easier to get much gold than an understanding heart. Jia Rong persuades the lecherous Jia Lian to marry beautiful You Erjie secretly, and Lian buys a nearby house for Erjie and her sister Sanjie, who threatens blackmail and makes demands. You Sanjie has fallen in love with actor Liu Xianglian and vows not to marry anyone else. Liu is reconciled with Xue Pan by saving his life from bandits. Jia Lian suggests that Liu marry Sanjie, and Liu gives his sword as a pledge. Liu talks with Baoyu and decides to break the engagement. When Sanjie hears of this, she cuts her throat with the sword. Liu realizes she loved him, cuts off his hair, and goes away with the Daoist priest. Phoenix learns of her husband's secret marriage. While Lian is away on business, Phoenix invites Erjie to live in her home as second wife; but she tells the maid to treat Erjie badly. Phoenix even arranges to have a suit brought against her husband Lian. Erjie has a miscarriage after a doctor makes a wrong diagnosis. Then Erjie kills herself by swallowing gold.

A young maid called Simple finds a purse embroidered with two naked figures and shows it to Lady Wang. This leads to a search of the maids' rooms. Baoyu is saddened by the marriage of his sister Welcome Spring. Xue Pan marries Cassia (Xia Jingui) but finds her too domineering and turns to her maid Cherry (Moonbeam). Cassia says she does not mind as long as it is open; but when she sends in Lotus, Cherry accuses Xue Pan of rape. Lotus is transferred to Xue Yima's daughter Precious Virtue. Baoyu goes back to school and studies for his exams. Black Jade dreams that Jia Yucun comes and takes her home to marry; she appeals to Grandmother Jia, and Baoyu says she is betrothed to him; but he plunges a knife into his heart. Black Jade wakes up crying. Phoenix suggests that Baoyu is ordained to wed Precious Virtue. Black Jade hears of it and neglects her illness. Then she learns that Baoyu is going to marry someone in the garden and recovers with hope. Grandmother Jia decides on Precious Virtue and orders that Black Jade not be told. Baoyu loses his jade pendant, and the imperial concubine dies. The matriarchs accept Phoenix's suggestion that Baoyu be told he is engaged to Black Jade. She learns that Baoyu is not marrying her and wishes to die to pay the debt of love from a former life. At the wedding Baoyu removes the bride's veil and discovers Precious Virtue; he thinks he must be dreaming. While this is happening, Black Jade dies.

Months later Baoyu recovers and becomes a real husband to Precious Virtue. The Garden is haunted by the ghosts of Qinshi and others until some Daoist priests dispel them. Jia Zheng is accused of letting his subordinates be corrupt. Two other members of the Jia family are arrested and have their property confiscated, but Zheng's title and property are restored. Grandmother Jia dies, and bandits abduct the nun Exquisite Jade. Phoenix, before she dies, is haunted by You Erjie and others she persecuted. The Buddhist monk arrives to restore the jade pendant and talks with Baoyu, leaving without the reward. Baoyu tells his mother that the place where the monk lives "is far if you think it is far and near if you think it is near." Baoyu's sister Compassion Spring threatens to commit suicide if she is not invested as a Daoist priestess. Baoyu studies for the exams with Jia Lan; both pass, but Baoyu disappears with the monk and the Daoist. Pervading Fragrance is married, and Precious Virtue gives birth to a son. Cassia tries to poison Lotus but accidentally poisons herself. Lotus becomes Xue Pan's chief wife but dies a year later in childbirth. Finally the stone returns to its place with its story of Baoyu.

This complex novel portrays the matriarchal aspects of Chinese society, as the women have the dominant roles in the home. Baoyu much prefers the company of women and wishes they would never marry. He and two other characters renounce the world to become Daoists. Thus this depiction shows how the feminine side often balanced the patriarchal aspects of Confucianism. The red mansions were the women's quarters, and this subtle domestic world, where feelings were usually more important than ideas, often reflected the reality of dreams.

Qing Decline 1799-1875

Korea to 1800


1. Tu T'ung-chien lun 28:13a quoted in "The Patriot and the Partisans" by Ian McMorran in From Ming to Ch'ing ed. Jonathan Spence, p. 159.
2. The Rise of Modern China by Immanuel C. Y. Hsu, p. 74.
3. Emperor of China: Self-portrait of K'ang-hsi ed. Jonathan Spence, p. 143-4.
4. Quoted in The Search for Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence, p. 84.
5. Ibid., p. 76.
6. Quoted in A History of Chinese Philosophy by Jacques Gernet, p. 513.
7. The Peach Blossom Fan by K'ung Shang-jen, tr. Chen Shih-hsiang and Harold Acton, p. 127.
8. The Scholars by Wu Ching-tzu, tr. Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang, p. 412-3.

Copyright © 2004-2005 by Sanderson Beck

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EAST ASIA 1800-1949

Shang, Zhou and the Classics
Confucius, Mencius and Xun-zi
Daoism and Mo-zi
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China 7 BC to 1279
Mongols and Yuan China
Ming Empire 1368-1644
Qing Empire 1644-1799
Korea to 1800
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Japan 1615-1800
Summary and Evaluation


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