||The Decline of the Qing Dynasty (1839-1900)
By the year 1900 the Chinese Empire had been in existence for over 2000 years, and during this time the Chinese had become extremely clever at astronomy, mathematics, engineering and medicine. They were the first people to use paper and had invented printing, and had been using paper and porcelain long before they had been invented in the West. They had also invented silk weaving, gunpowder, reading glasses, the magnetic compass and the suspension bridge.
By 1900 the empire had grown weak. Western powers like Britain, France as well as Japan had gained great influence through trade and the use of force during the nineteenth century, and the Manchu dynasty seemed paralysed and unable to modernise and accept the changes that were happening, or react in a proper way to the challenges. Between 1839 and 1842 the British fought an "Opium War" against China to force the Chinese to keep buying the drug opium from British India, although opium use was banned in China. One of the results of this war was that Hong Kong was signed over to Britain.
During a second war in 1860 a combined British French army attacked Beijing and burned down government buildings. In 1894-95 Japan attacked and annexed Korea, Formosa (Taiwan) and Port Arthur. After each of these wars the foreigners forced the rulers to sign "unequal treaties" giving the foreign powers control of China's sea ports and allowing them special trading rights. China was also divided up into spheres of influence, each falling under one or another foreign power.
There was a lot of discontent in China. Many Chinese blamed the Manchus for allowing China to be taken over by foreign powers and in 1850 the Taiping Rebellion broke out. For 14 years the country was laid waste, cities were destroyed and 20 million people were killed. The Manchus were forced to call on the Europeans to help them put down the rebellion, but this weakened their position even more.
In 1898 the Emperor Guangxu tried to strengthen China by modernising the way the empire was run and during a time known as the Hundred Days of Reform, Guangxu introduced new schools and colleges, improved the government budget and dismissed corrupt officials from court. However Guangxu's aunt, Empress Dowager Cixi had the emperor imprisoned and forced him to grant her the power to rule China in his place.
When two harvests failed one after the other and the Yellow River flooded causing a famine, the discontent boiled over. The rebellion was organised by a movement called Yi-Ho Tuan, meaning Righteous and Harmonious Militia. Because its members practised the martial arts, including boxing, they were known as the Boxers. Empress Cixi managed to win them over to her side and encouraged them to attack the foreigners.
The Boxer Rebellion reached a climax in 1900. When the Boxers killed
Europeans and Christian they had captured, European governments sent an armed force to Beijing to protect their nationals. The Chinese army collaborating with the Boxers, who burnt down the French cathedral in Beijing and placed the embassy area under siege for two months, defeating this European force.
The European governments reacted angrily to the siege of the Legations. A six-nation force invaded China, captured and looted Beijing and forced the Manchus to pay an enormous fine. The harsh methods used by the Europeans to suppress the Boxers made many Chinese hate them even more. At the same time, the invasion and looting of Beijing once again showed how weak the Manchus were.