Manchu to Mao - Modern Chinese History
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Manchu to Mao

blue and white china pitcher
Ming Dynasty porcelain pitcher

Early modern Chinese history starts with the Ming Dynasty, about 1500 AD. The Ming Dynasty was very powerful, with a big army and a big navy and a lot of land. When European traders began to sail directly to China with huge amounts of silver from South America, the Ming emperors were able to find all kinds of things to sell to Europeans in exchange for the silver, especially porcelain, silk, and tea.

The Chinese economy used more and more silver. But about 1580, the supply of silver ran out. This combined with the Little Ice Age made the Ming emperors seem like they were doing a bad job, and in 1644 the Ming Dynasty collapsed.

With the Ming Dynasty out of the way, people invaded from the north just like in the time of the Mongols. This time the invaders were the Manchus, and they ruled China as the Ch'ing dynasty.

The Ch'ing dynasty ruled China from 1644 AD until 1911 - nearly three hundred years. Over time, they fell more and more under European control, until by the late 1800s under the Empress Cixi they were unable to defend China against British warships and troops with modern weapons.

In 1911, the idea of a government run by the people reached China. Rebels forced the last emperor of the Ch'ing Dynasty to abdicate (quit) and formed the Republic of China. The Republic of China formed a modern Chinese army, and gradually also transformed Chinese culture and agriculture, creating a modern society that is now once again one of the richest in the world.

Bibliography and further reading:

Ming Dynasty
Ch'ing Dynasty
Opium Wars
Empress Cixi
People's Republic
Ancient China
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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