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Chinese man in golden armor on a horse: the Qianlong Emperor

Qianlong Emperor wearing his armor (ca. 1750 AD)

Qing Dynasty in the 1700s AD

The Qing Dynasty continued to rule strongly until near the end of the 1700s AD. In 1735, the Yongsheng Emperor died and his son, the 24-year-old Qianlong Emperor, took power. Like his father and grandfather, the Qianlong Emperor kept power in his own hands.

Qianlong Emperor conquers the Uighurs

The Qianlong Emperor took advantage of the weakness of Central Asian kingdoms and the collapse of the Safavids in West Asia to send his army further west and conquer a lot of Central Asia, including the Uighurs in 1759 AD. Under the Qianlong emperor, China also started exporting porcelain to Europe again.

(Read more about the Uighurs)

The Qianlong Emperor also got more control over Tibet and Nepal, to the south. But when he tried to conquer further south into Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam, his army lost.

(Read more about the history of Burma)

As Qianlong’s army got weaker, Chinese traders were selling more and more tea, porcelain, and silk to Britain every year.

(More about the history of tea)

British people loved these things. They were willing to pay a lot of money for them. But Britain needed something to trade to people in China in exchange, and they weren’t having any luck with that. What could Britain sell to China? China didn’t really want anything Britain was selling. Wool cloth? Nope. Gin and whiskey? No, thanks. Enslaved African people? No. Glass beads? I don’t think so.

(Who were Britain’s leaders in the 1700s?)

British traders got an idea. They started to sell opium from India to people in China. Opium is an addictive drug, so once you got people addicted they would buy more and more opium.

(Read more about opium)

That worked great for Britain, but the government of China didn’t like everyone being on drugs!

drawing of Chinese man sitting at a low desk with shelves to one side and a potted plant

The Jiaqing Emperor in his study

Britain tries to colonize China

By this time, Britain had gotten control of India, but they had lost control of the United States.

(Read more about the American Revolution)

To make up for that, British generals were looking for a way to get control of China now. They could not convince China to allow British traders to come and go the way they had in India. The Qianlong Emperor saw what had happened to India. He didn’t want British generals to rule China!

(Read more about British India)

poor chinese people lying on the ground smoking opiumSo the British generals kept on smuggling more and more illegal opium into China and getting more and more people addicted to opium. There were people just lying in the streets, strung out on junk, all over the place, especially in Southern China.

The Jiaqing Emperor

In 1796, when he was 85 years old, the Qianlong Emperor retired and left the throne to his son, the Jiaqing Emperor. Still the Qianlong Emperor kept the real power until he died three years later. After the Qianlong Emperor died, Jiaqing worked to get power back into his own hands. He forced his father’s minister He Shen to kill himself. But by 1800 Europeans were becoming more and more of a problem for China.

Go on to the Opium Wars in China
Read more from the Encyclopedia Britannica

Bibliography and further reading about the history of China:

Ancient China
Ming Dynasty
Qing Dynasty
Opium Wars
Empress Cixi
People’s Republic home