The Fall of China's Qing Dynasty

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  • 0:03 What Was the Qing Dynasty?
  • 2:01 War
  • 3:31 Unrest & Revolt
  • 4:19 Revolution, Collapse,…
  • 5:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about the fall of the Qing dynasty. We will explore the factors that led to its collapse, and highlight key events and developments.

What Was the Qing Dynasty?

If you're like most Americans, Chinese history is probably relatively foreign to you. You probably know your American history, like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and all that. And you probably know some European history as well: Hitler, World War II, the Berlin Wall, all that good stuff. But Chinese history is something many of us have not been exposed to. Let's dig in and look at an important development of Chinese history: the fall of the Qing dynasty.

But first of all, what was the Qing dynasty? The Qing dynasty was the last dynasty of imperial China, ruling from around 1644 to 1912. A Manchurian chieftain named Nurhaci is usually considered the founder of the Qing dynasty. His conquest of portions of northeastern China laid the foundation for the rest of China to come under the rule of his descendants. Sometimes the Qing dynasty is referred to as the Manchu dynasty because the rulers belonged to the Manchu people group, which were an ethnic group from the Manchuria region.

The Qing dynasty was an absolute monarchy. It was a conservative government that was reluctant to promote international trade. Population growth under the Qing dynasty was profound, but this led to problems like food shortages at times, and occasional peasant rebellions. Throughout the 19th century, internal and external pressures began to take their toll on the Qing dynasty, ultimately leading to its demise. Among these pressures were rebellions, wars, natural disasters, economic problems, famines, and invasions. Increasingly, the Qing dynasty and the European powers began to come into conflict.


Great Britain recognized the profit that could be made by addicting the Chinese to opium, then trading them opium for products like silks, tea, and other valuables. When the Qing government tried to curb opium trade, the British basically went to war with them over it. The First Opium War was fought between China and Great Britain between 1839 and 1842. With superior military technology, the British easily defeated the Chinese and forced a humiliating treaty upon them.

As a result, the Chinese were forced to cede Hong Kong to the British. For a while, this satisfied the British, but it did not last. They grew greedy and increasingly demanded more and more in terms of concessions. This led to the Second Opium War, which was fought between 1856 and 1860. Again, the British won and forced a second humiliating treaty upon the Chinese.

As if that weren't enough, the Chinese fought the French in the Sino-French War between 1884 and 1885, and then Japan in the Sino-Japanese War between 1894 and 1895. The Chinese lost both these wars. And, of course, increasingly, Chinese territory was being ceded to various countries as a result of Chinese defeat. So, you get the idea—things were not going well for the Qing government.

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