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History of China (XIIIth to XXth centuries)


The forbidden city was built in the early fifteenth century (1406-1420), it is important to trace the history of China from a time a little earlier. This is the purpose of this document which traces the main events and proposes, for each period, a summary in a few lines.


Dynasty of Yuan (1271-1368)

Mongolian expansion on China

Everything begins in 1162 during the reunification of different Mongol tribes by Genghis Khan (1162-1227). The latter had begun the annexation of the northern part of China in 1215 with his troops, and it was his grandson, Kublai Khan (1215-1294), who ended it with the recovery of the southern regions, militarily speaking. In 1271 Kublai Khan founded the Yuan Dynasty under the name of "Yuán Chao" (1271-1368), declaring himself the first reigning emperor. Incidentally, he also declared Gengis Khan as the first Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, posthumously of course.

The Mongolians were from northern China. It is therefore normal that after unification of such a great empire, Kublai Khan put his capital in Beijing in 1266. He began to build the fortifications of a palace and then established a base of operations and government of the northern regions. from China, which were under Mongolian control. It should be known that formerly Beijing had been the capital of the Jin Jurchen dynasty, Beijing was therefore not an innocuous choice. When it became the Yuan capital, the city was renamed Dadu. For the anecdote, it was "Dadu" that Marco Polo visited in his travelogue, not "Beijing".

Summary: Mongolians create the Yuan Dynasty and move their capital to Beijing, near their historic territory.


The palace Yuan of Beijing

The Kublai Khan Palace was built north of the current Forbidden City. It was a real fortified town, of which unfortunately only a few sections of walls still exist today. Kublai Khan was the instigator of many great works. He quickly perceived the interest of the lines of communication in the country and thus undertook the construction of numerous channels (some of which still serve today). One of them connected Beijing to the Grand Canal, and from the Grand Canal the rest of China could be reached, still by channels, especially the rich areas of Nanjing and Suzhou, the granaries of China. Parallel roads have been built, taxes have been reformed, agriculture has been encouraged, and the territory has been expanded. Thanks to this expansion, China was in touch with all the peoples of Asia as well as with those of Europe. This desire for communication with the foreigner was due to the nature of the members of power: the Mongols had gathered under their banners many different peoples, they were therefore accustomed to cosmopolitanism and it is quite natural that they encouraged the exchanges of power. ideas and materials, that each brought back from his own culture. But they did not maintain friendly relations with the Chinese, whom they considered as foreigners, and despite the fact that they had taken some customs and traditions, they remained Mongols.

They used Chinese for their great skills in some specific areas, but they never had access to senior positions in the Mongol army. On the other hand, Chinese labor has been widely used for large projects, but still under Mongolian leadership.

Summary: The Emperor Kublai takes over China, the structure by creating roads and canals, and develops communications with their neighbors. He builds a palace in Beijing, on land north of the city and currently north of the Forbidden City.


Decadence

Thus the Mongols soon became very rich and became accustomed to the pleasures of wealth. Soon the Yuan Dynasty fell into decadence, caught between profit-taking procured by their new wealth and the growing desires of foreigners from the northern tribes who rightly wanted their share of the cake. Thus fell the Yuan dynasty, which was short-lived. In 1351 one of the groups of Chinese under Mongol rule, the "Red Turbans", rose up against their elites. Shortly after, a Chinese Buddhist monk joins the Red Turbans. His name was Zhu Yuanzhang. He had a strong charisma and quickly became the leader of the rebel forces.

In 1356, 5 years later, he took control of the city of Nanjing. In parallel, other armed groups revolted in China, and there was a general revolt against the Mongols, each of whom claimed leadership. It was however Zhu Yuanzhang who was the smartest, the quickest to eliminate his enemies, thus recovering the troops of the rebels. His own army rapidly increasing, he was ready to attack the Yuan Dynasty and sent an army against the city of Dadu (Beijing). He was victorious, the city was pillaged and largely burned. The last of the Yuan emperors, Huizong, fled to Mongolia.

Subsequently Huizong continued his dynastic rule in the north, creating what we call the Northern Yuan Dynasty. It must be said that the Yuan emperors had maintained their ties with their tribal origins and when it came time to attack the Chinese, they were able to gather important armies. Although it was the internal weakness of the Mongols that had allowed the rebels to defeat Huizong, the latter immediately began to plan plans to reclaim his territory. The Mongol Empire was still an important force in the world. Trade routes through the west have allowed them to act, but the loss of fertile southern land has limited the supply of agricultural produce and damaged the economy. It therefore lost its magnitude and merely harassed regularly the new Chinese dynasty, the Ming.

Summary: The luxurious lifestyle of the Mongol emperors makes them lose sight of the well-being of the Chinese. The revolts multiply. Their leader, Zhu Yuanzhang, meets a large army and manages to take Beijing. The last Emperor Yuan fled to Mongolia. Beijing is largely destroyed by fire, the Yuan palace is ruined.


The dynasty of Ming (1368-1644)

Change of capital in Nanjing

Once the Chinese territory reconquered over the Mongols, Zhu Yuanzhang came to power and created a new dynasty, the Ming ("Ming Chao"). It was in 1368 and took the lead under the name of Emperor Hongwu. He chose to establish his capital at Nanjing, because it was from here that his first followers had left, it was the starting point of his conquests. All his military installations were concentrated there. It was also a Chinese city with a long history and Zhu Yuanzhang wanted to restore the identity of the Chinese government, which was also one of the reasons for his choice. He had Nanjing rebuilt and built an imperial palace there, then he strengthened the walls of the city. The palace was built on the basis of an ancient plan of the Tang Dynasty, it was based on astrology and traditional customs. Later, it will serve as a model at the Imperial Palace in Beijing, the famous "Forbidden City".

Summary: Zhu Yuanzhang created the Ming Dynasty, 100% Chinese origin. He abandoned Peking and handed over the capital to Nanjing, which he rebuilt and built another imperial palace, which would serve as a model for the future forbidden city.


The war of succession

Emperor Hongwu had several sons and logically chose the oldest of them for his succession. Unfortunately he died before him, and Hongwu had to fall back on his grandson to ensure his continuation. After Hongwu's death, Hongwu's fourth son, Zhu Di, attacked his nephew and resumed the throne. Zhu Di (1360-1424) became the third Ming emperor in 1402, he is known by his reign name, Yongle, which means "perpetual happiness". He spent the rest of his life trying to prove that he was the legitimate successor and truly the bearer of heaven's mandate, in short, that he had the right to govern. His reign has a lot of eye between construction and destruction.

Summary: On the death of Zhu Yuanzhang, his son is removed from the throne by his uncle, who becomes the 3rd Ming emperor. The latter reigns under the name of Yongle, it is he who is at the origin of the Forbidden City.


The reign of Yongle

Yongle began his reign with a bloodbath which his nephew's supporters paid for. Throughout his career, he did not hesitate to execute his opponents, without remorse. He was also a builder, and although his father built a brand new palace in Nanjing and spent 21 years building the city's new walls, he decided to move his capital to Beijing. There were a number of reasons for this change, the main one being that in Nanjing he was essentially surrounded by his enemies. In Western monarchies, a usurper is more or less supported by a number of his relatives, and the "coup d'etat" succeeds or not without other consequences. In China, it is more complicated since it is the Gods who establish the ruling lineage. Usurping the throne means going against the Gods, which will inevitably result in a catastrophe. Hence Yongle's determination to prove that he is the legitimate descendant of the Ming Dynasty.

By moving the capital to Beijing, he not only moved his administration, but also his main armed forces, which was not stupid considering that the most serious threats to the Empire resided in the north of the country, the famous Mongol dynasty Yuan. Beijing was easier to defend than Nanjing, which is surrounded by hills allowing enemy fire from everywhere, making the ramparts ineffective.

The decision to move the capital was made in 1403, but the construction of the palace and the new walls did not begin until 1407. In the years following his takeover Yongle preferred to start by stabilizing the country. There were still rebel groups in the south that had flourished during the Yuan Dynasty, and had never recognized the Ming Dynasty. In addition, the robbers had taken advantage of the absence of government to indulge in robberies, or even worse abuses. The protest movements of the North quickly proved that China's canal system had a drastic need for repairs and even reconstruction, so it had to launch these major works to deepen and enlarge the Grand Canal to make communication between Beijing and Jiangnan region more efficient. The Jiangnan region is the area around the Yangtze River, including Nanjing, Suzhou and Shanghai. This region has been and continues to be China's richest region. A Chinese emperor demonstrates that he has the mandate of heaven by avoiding natural disasters and improving the lives of his people. However, in doing these works, the main natural disasters, the floods, were avoided. With the new dynasty came the eradication of corruption, which is still the prerogative of previous governments. The law was renovated, taxation also.

Summary: Yongle undertakes all he can to justify the overthrow of the throne and establish its legitimacy. He chose Beijing as a new capital to get away from his enemies and launched major renovation works of communication infrastructure, especially the canals. Regulating the floods effectively, Yongle becomes legitimate to the throne because the population, believing, believe that the Gods have averted natural disasters through his intervention. It eradicates corruption and reforms the tax system.


Construction of the forbidden city

Beijing was designed to demonstrate the strength and efficiency of the Emperor, she had to have a palace worthy of the imperial power. Such a palace is supposed to be filled with symbols beneficial to the Ming Dynasty and as such Yongle devoted himself to making a very studied plan. The southward orientation will channel the power of the heavens. The symmetrical design will reflect the balance. The number of doors, bridges, dragons, and even the ornaments of the roofs, everything is symbol and has a special meaning. To design and supervise the construction of the city he chose a young architect, Kuai Xiang who was about thirty when he was tasked with this task. He first decided to use the Nanjing Imperial Palace as a model for his new palace, to which he added many historical references to the previous dynasties, Tang and Song. He placed elements of Confucian, astronomical, Taoist and traditional beliefs to create a mixture of philosophical systems and Chinese religions. Hard worker, it took him only 13 years to complete the palace and the high walls that surround it. Throughout the centuries additions have been made to the Forbidden City, but the heart of the palace that can be seen today is still that of Yongle and Kuai Xiang.

Summary: Yongle deeply modifies Beijing and builds in 14 years the "Forbidden City" (1407-1420), its new palace. The whole is filled with religious symbols intended to ensure the perenniality of the city. The architect was Kuai Xiang, based on the Nanjing Palace.

Learn more about the construction of the forbidden city.


Cultural development

Yongle was not only interested in civil engineering, he was one of the forerunners of Chinese cultural development. His interest in his nation led him to commission an encyclopaedia of all known writings emanating from philosophers, poets, and historians of Chinese history. The Yongle Encyclopaedia ("Yonglè Dàdian") was started in 1403 and finished in 1408. More than 2,000 researchers gathered in Nanjing worked there. They produced 11000 volumes describing the arts, sciences, technology, religious beliefs and achievements of the Chinese people.


Religious development

Regarding religion, Yongle supported Confucianism. He followed the rites required by a leader of the Confucian school, to get closer to this religion. Confucius had explained that, following the rites, the rules of maintaining the balance of Chinese society would remain in place. He developed in parallel Taoism and Buddhism, which was not so surprising as it saw that already the previous dynasties did not hesitate to explore the different religions existing at the time, integrating them partially or totally with their modes of life. In 1403 Yongle asked that the Tibetan monk Deshin Shekpa come to Nanjing to explain Tibetan Buddhism. Concretely he arrived in 1407 and stayed for over a year. He convinced Yongle that all religions are an expression of honor and a prayer to the gods. The meeting between these two high characters was at the origin of the great religious tolerance of the Chinese people, which will be followed by most of the emperors of the Ming dynasty.

Yongle pursued the development of intellectualism and Confucianism by establishing a review system to control the knowledge of his people about it. Put in place by administrators and ministers, these examinations focused on Confucian fundamentals as they had been in the past. This code of ethics served for the daily life of the Chinese as well as for relations between members of the government. In turn, the establishment of this review forced the population to educate themselves, which multiplied the schools and the general literacy of the country. It is thanks to this that future generations had access to important intellectual resources that made Chinese culture shine for centuries.


Economic development

One of Yongle's best ways to stimulate the economy was to increase foreign trade and develop diplomatic relations. He needed to do it more than any other emperor because under the Yuan Dynasty there was a natural link with the aliens, as their own Emperor was of Mongolian origin. Yongle, he was diplomatically isolated, so he needed to find new business partners in many areas. Mongolian leaders were not reliable trading partners because of their recent stories. Yongle sent his favorite eunuch, Zheng He, on an exploration mission on behalf of China. His goal would be to establish links with all the people he could meet during his travels.

Zheng then embarked with a small flotilla and went back to all inhabited points of the coast of the China Sea, then, he explored the Indian Ocean, the eastern side of Africa and even reached the South from Africa, as well as Madagascar and the Red Sea. As a result of his visit he brought in complete armadas of merchant ships which exchanged Chinese products with the peoples from all sides. It should be noted that if the Chinese had already discovered all these territories, it was the first time in their history that they launched so many ships on all the seas, and that sponsored by the Chinese government.

The main problem of these explorations were their costs. Yongle was a spendthrift emperor, the riches brought back from distant lands did not make up for all the expenses of the Empire, starting with the overhaul of China's communication infrastructure (canals, roads, etc.). In addition, military spending was very important at that time, with Yongle fighting endlessly against Mongolians and Tartars. For that he needed to maintain a permanent army of great importance. To cope with the financial imbalance, the emperor raised new taxes, but it was not enough and he died in 1424 leaving the coffers of the Empire empty. His successor, his eldest son Hongxi, limited spending and initiated reforms that alleviated finances. He could not, however, enjoy it because he died a year later.

Summary: The Emperor Yongle is a traveling emperor, he multiplies the contacts with his neighbors, his people derive a great benefit. Trade is growing, Chinese culture benefits greatly. In parallel Yongle establishes an ethical code based on knowledge of religion and imposes examinations. The population is becoming literate. Religious tolerance is also increasing. It's a good time for China.


Emperor Zhengtong betrayed by his brother

The next emperor having any interest in the Forbidden City was Zhengtong (1436-1449). He was only 8 years old when he was crowned emperor. His advisor, a eunuch by the name of Wang Zhen, has started work to strengthen the defenses of the city as well as others on the Great Wall. He had the exterior walls reinforced by adding an extra layer of bricks inside the walls to reduce rain erosion. Then he added archery towers, tower gates, and water flow control gates in the ditches and in the river crossing the Forbidden City.

The bridges across the Golden Water River were rebuilt in stone to replace the original wooden bridges. In 1449, Emperor Zhengtong embarked on an expedition against the Mongols, still threatening the Empire. He was only 22 years old. Unfortunately for him he was taken prisoner. The Empire was entrusted to his brother, who later became Emperor Jingtai (1450-1457). The latter enjoyed his new role so much that when Zhengtong returned a year later, Jingtai had him captured and locked up for seven years in one of the southwestern palace buildings of the Forbidden City, an area not open to tourists today. 'hui. Zhengtong was able to finally overthrow his brother and take back his throne in 1457. He named his second reign the Tianshun era (1457-1464) .


The attack on the forbidden city by the Mongols

Upon his return to power, Zhengtong discovered that his worries with the Mongols still had not ended. Several generals of Mongol origin attempted a coup in 1461. They arrived in the center of Beijing in front of the gates of the Forbidden City and set it on fire. The emperor owed his safety only to heavy providential rains, which thwarted the plans of the attackers. From then on, the Mongolians had more and more difficulties to reach positions of responsibility in the Chinese army.

Summary: The successor of Yongle strengthens the Forbidden City, for example by adding regulation valves to the river crossing the outer courtyard. He is taken prisoner during a raid against the Mongols and is usurped by his brother, throwing him in the Forbidden City for 7 years. He resumed his post of Emperor in 1457. In 1461 Mongol generals, enlisted in the Chinese army, trigger a coup d'etat. The Forbidden City is under siege, the gates are set on fire, but heavy rains providentially save the palace.


Jiajing, the paranoid emperor

In 1521, the new emperor was Jiajing (1521-1566). This is a remarkable reign in that he chooses not to live in the Forbidden City. When he was younger, he did not really want to govern and did not want to be restricted to the rigors of the court. Unwilling to do his duty, he neglected his administrative functions, and his demonstration of power was only to indulge in personal cruelty, especially towards women. Towards the end of his life he lived almost like a recluse, seeing only a few people. His passion was to try to find an elixir to prolong life or to obtain immortality. He used many Taoist priests to help him experiment with different chemical compounds made from exotic herbs, precious stones and rare minerals. Existing commercial shipments allowed him to have a large quantity of raw materials.

Thanks to the manipulation of the precious stones, the Taoist monks became rich and therefore influential, which triggered the corruption within the Chinese administration, all the more quickly that the emperor did not control much. Another consequence was that he became a target for all these detractors. He was targeted by several attacks, none of which succeeded, but they made him aware of his vulnerability. That's why he gradually became isolated and paranoid. At this point the empire had become so weak that the northern Mongols decided to launch a new attack to try to take control of the Chinese empire. In 1542, they multiplied the raids against the Great Wall. In 1550, the Altan Khan reached the outskirts of Beijing before being repulsed. Immediately, the government ordered that a new wall be built around Beijing.

This project was completed in 1557, except for the east-facing defensive gates that were not completed until 1564. This new rampart encompassed the Temple of Heaven and the Temple of Agriculture but not the Temple of the Sun or the Temple of the Moon. These were new Taoist temples built by Jiajing for the priests of this religion. Emperor Jiajing died in 1566, leaving as a legacy a new fortification in Beijing and a great void in the organization of the country. When we take stock of his reign, the historian can only be surprised that the Ming dynasty was able to survive him.

Summary: The new emperor, Jiajing, takes power in 1521. He does not wish to govern and leaves his empire in the hands of the officials, who enrich themselves and leave the country to his destiny. Jiajing is a cruel emperor, whose deliberate malicious acts turn him into a target for his detractors. He folds back on himself and becomes paranoid. In front of the weakness of the empire the Mongols launch a new attack and arrive in 1550 in the suburbs of Beijing, but they are repulsed.


The reign of Wanli

The next emperor was Wanli, who also had a regent during his youth, Zhang Juzheng. Zhang Juzheng began by establishing a new government so that the future emperor could have reliable people to rely on. When he was old enough to rule, Wanli was a competent strategist. He raided the Mongol tribes, which proved particularly effective, leaving them without possibility of action for the next twenty years. Then he mounted equally effective defenses on the Korean peninsula, pushing back the Japanese. Alas for him, these successes made him want to continue his conquests. He let the government work alone, which resulted in infighting for power. As a result, the army ministers did not see a new enemy arrive, the Jurchen and Manchu peoples, who had attacked the Mongols on their eastern front.

Summary: The next emperor Wanli restores Chinese justice and power by launching new military conquests. But his absence from the forbidden city allowed the government to do what he wanted, not allowing him to see the new enemy, the Jurchen and the Manchu.

Dynasty Shun (1644)

Subsequently the successive emperors were not great conquerors. They relied too much on taxation, causing revolts in the population. In 1630 they became more frequent, especially in central China, Henan, Shanxi, and so on. From this movement was born a young leader, Li Zicheng, who declared himself the "wandering king", Chuang Wang. He managed to unify disparate tribes and attacked the Ming troops. He wanted to distribute the land equitably and abolish grain taxes. "In 1642, Li Zicheng and his army headed north to Luoyang and Kaifeng, where a memorable battle had to take place. A large army of more than 20,000 poorly equipped and motivated fighters, the Ming army was preparing for it, and suddenly the dikes of the nearby yellow rivers broke up without anyone knowing whether it was due to a natural phenomenon or a voluntary action by one of the two belligerents, but still 300,000 people died in this immense flood, preventing the battle from taking place.

Two years later, after having won much of Central China and conquered Xi'an, the ancient capital of China, Li Zicheng declared the Shun Dynasty in February 1644. Li Zicheng headed north again, on Beijing. But just then, the Ming forces were divided, because the Manchu forces were an imminent threat, which was an interesting opportunity. As the gates of Beijing were threatened Emperor Chongzhen asked the people to flee. On the second day of the attack the fires burned outside the walls of the city, the threat becoming more and more precise. Emperor Chongzhen then went to the top of Coal Hill and hung on a tree to avoid the humiliation of a capture that was becoming more and more serious for him. His sons fled to Nanjing and reinstated the Ming Dynasty, known as the "Ming Dynasty of the South". In April 1644 the Ming Dynasty as we know it ends. Unfortunately, this victory was short-lived as the Manchu forces, continuing to threaten the Empire in the North, launched a powerful attack in late May, passing the Great Wall in Shanhai. The Shun Dynasty did not survive this military tidal wave. It lasted only a year.

The Manchu quickly moved south, both against the remaining rebel forces, and then to Nanjing, where the Ming Dynasty survivors had set up a new emperor in the secondary capital.

Summary: Faced with the inaction of successive emperors and the rise of taxes, revolts multiplied. From 1630 Li Zicheng, a rebel leader, mounted an army and conquered all of central China, then marched on Beijing, which fell into his hands (1644). The emperor in place commits suicide and Li Zicheng becomes the first and only emperor of the new Shun dynasty. He then occupies the Forbidden City, thus marking his supremacy.

Dynasty of Qing (1644-1912)

The arrival of the Manchu

The next 17 years saw the Manchu forces enter China and sue the Ming emperors of Nanjing, first in Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Yunnan and finally in Burma where the last members of the Ming imperial family were captured, fired in China, and killed in 1662. Meantime the Manchu had carefully established their presence in Peking, overthrowing the very young Shun dynasty, and installed a Manchu emperor in the Forbidden City.

The Qing Dynasty was proclaimed by Emperor Huang Taiji in 1636 as part of his plan to colonize China. He came from the Jin Manchu dynasty whose name he changed to Qing. He chose water as a symbolic element because he wanted to go against the symbol of the Ming, which was fire. He has also changed the name of his people to "Jurchen". He thus wanted to break the association obtained by the Chinese of the previous Jurchen-Jin dynasty (1115-1234), who had ruled the north of China until the Mongols had defeated them and established the Yuan Dynasty (1271 -1368). Huang Taiji died in 1643, but failed to realize his dream. It was his five-year-old son, Shunzhi (1638-1661), who became the first king of Qing China in 1644. The fact that a child and his regent can succeed in assuming the government of the country is to be credit of the strong bureaucratic and military organization that his father had implemented. The takeover went well as most government structures had already been modeled on those used by the Ming.

When Emperor Shunzhi was old enough to rule, he turned out to be a competent leader. He will not tolerate corruption. Tax reforms and a good government did a lot to stabilize the country. This did not completely suppress the rebellions, but he worked behind the scenes to calm them down. It must be said that many Chinese never accepted to receive orders from Manchous. While painters like Gao Qipei (1660-1734) were supported by the Qing government, others such as Luo Pin (1733-1799) refused appointments to Qing academies. It was during this period that the Chinese formed secret societies, called triads, which long tried to re-establish a Chinese monarchy. For the next 400 years, the Qing rulers would have to face a series of threats posed by one or other of these secret societies, and finally, most of the Triads lost their ideals and became a structure for the crime. organized. This resistance to Qing rule continued throughout the dynasty.

Establishing the capital in Beijing was obvious to the Manchu. The Jin Dynasty had made Beijing its capital in the past (the palace was located southwest of the current Forbidden City). Although the Qing had adopted many Ming ideas they took steps to ensure that the sinification did not go too far. So all the signs of writing were in Manchu and Chinese. They named everything related to the Ming differently. Thus, most of the rooms in the Forbidden City have several names, each chosen by a different Qing ruler. Beijing was also divided into Chinese and Tartar cities. The Chinese were able to occupy the areas inside the walls of the southern part of the city, but not in the main section of the fortified city to the north. In addition, the Chinese could not migrate to Manchuria, it was forbidden them. This rule was maintained until the 1800s to prevent the loss of Manchu culture. The Qing emperors made frequent visits to their palaces in Manchuria and have always found their wives there. Emperor as mere mortal, marriages between Chinese and Manchu were prohibited at all levels of society.

The structure of the nobility and the tribal power of Manchuria had a strong influence on Beijing's decisions and policies. The Chinese could hold positions in the government, but could not run a military division. In 1646, the regent, Dorgon, ordered that Chinese men adopt the Manchu dress and their hairstyles. The men had to shave the front of the head and wore their hair in a single braid. Those who resisted were considered enemies in the country. The most important documents of the government have only been written in Manchu. However, the Manchu learned Chinese because they had to be able to make themselves understood by the people, and at the same time they supported and appreciated the Chinese culture. They have publicly observed the traditions of Chinese religion and the rites of the former government while maintaining their own private religious practices. Their children learned Chinese classics, poetry and literature. Absorption was a real threat to them. By the end of the 20th century only a handful of native speakers of Manchu still existed.

Summary: The Manchu enter the Chinese territory and profit from the flight of the Ming to overthrow the young Shun dynasty. They settle in Beijing in the Forbidden City and launch raids to reclaim the territory. Firm, the new Emperor Shunzi waged war against corruption and rebellion, and ensured his supremacy by force. It erased the Ming symbols but will ensure a reasoned mix of Chinese and Manchu cultures, so that the Chinese do not feel wronged in their way of life. The Forbidden City received, for each room, a Chinese name and a Manchu name.

There was a second threat to Manchu culture, but it came from the West. During the time of the Ming Dynasty, Westerners had come to China en masse, thanks to the great explorations of Europeans, provoking important cultural exchanges. The Qing, unlike their ancestors Jurchen, is not intended to trade, it relies instead on an agricultural economy. They promulgated laws to separate Westerners from their culture by limiting the influx of foreigners. As a result, foreigners, who had become wealthy through previous exchanges, preferred to communicate with the Chinese because they had a large merchant class that adapted to the new business models of the West quickly. The Manchu people have excluded themselves, for the most part, from their position in society. They were rich thanks to the taxes and continued to be, but it hurt the economy, instead of being a support. At the end of the Qing Dynasty, there was so much corruption among the governors that the circulation of money in the royal treasury had considerably slowed down.

Of the nine emperors who succeeded Emperor Shunzhi, the most important in the history of the Forbidden City are Emperors Kangxi, Qianlong, Dowager Empress Cixi, and Puyi, the last emperor. Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong created large buildings and structural projects important for the country. Under Emperor Kangxi the Chinese economy flourished again, which added to the treasure. This prosperity continued through the reigns of his son and that the first half of the reign of his grandson, Qianlong.

Summary: Manchu are not travelers, they are farmers. The Europeans who discovered China were pushed aside, the economy slowed down, and corruption increased, even to the reigns of Kangxi and Qianlong, who did what it took to turn the country around.

While maintaining the separation between Manchu and Chinese within the government and the army, the Qing emperors favored Chinese culture. From 1710 to 1716 Kangxi sponsored the biggest Chinese dictionary known to date, the "Kangxi Dictionary". It required the employment of hundreds of researchers whose work provided 47,000 entries to their dictionary. Although he did this to gain the confidence of the Chinese scholars, the emperor really appreciated Chinese literature and its history. Qianlong himself was a talented poet and an occasional painter. In the Forbidden City, he kept the names of the pavilions and halls in Chinese characters. During the renovation of the buildings he added gold tiles to most buildings that had other colors, such as green, blue or gray (yellow is the color of the Chinese emperor). He standardized roof ornaments using traditional Chinese rules. He also added some new buildings, especially in the western and eastern parts of the inner courtyard. Qianlong has remodeled the back of the eastern part as an independent villa, for his retirement. The two emperors Kangxi and Qianlong were travelers. During their travels they brought back new ideas and objects from different parts of China, intended to embellish the palace. Kangxi made the grand tour in southern China at least four times. He has done a lot to unite the country.

Summary: In the early eighteenth century Kangxi modified the Forbidden City to add traditional Chinese elements. He was an educated emperor, who understood the interest in him to be favorable to Chinese traditions. He had gold tiles added to the Forbidden City (Yellow is the color of the Chinese emperor)


Successive revolts

In 1813, during the reign of Jiaqing, the son of Qianlong, the secret society known as the "Society of Law of Heaven" fomented a series of rebellions that reunited up to 100,000 members in Beijing and attacked the Forbidden City. They managed to enter the inner courtyard, thanks to eunuchs at their balances. The military had to suppress the crowd. Another revolt, that of the Taiping, broke out in 1850 in Guangxi, it spread to most cities of the South, to Nanjing in 1853. When, in 1860, they tried to move north, the Qing forces defeated them in Shanghai. In 1864, imperial rule was restored in the south. This was not the end of the problems, however, because other rebellions appeared throughout the kingdom: The Nien Rebellion (1853-1868), the Wenxiu (1855-1873) and the "Hui Panthay Rebellion" (1856-1873) are some of many local movements. Poverty, floods, famine, corruption, a crumbling infrastructure, and a repressive response to problems have contributed to this turmoil. The Qing government did not have sufficient powers to resolve the underlying causes of the rebellion, choosing rather to put the dissidents in prison, to attack militarily and viciously, and to issue edicts in particular against minority groups . The result was that these groups split into a host of small secret societies. The two most famous are the Sun Yat-sen Movement for Democracy in Guangzhou and the Harmony Movement of the Righteous or "Boxers" in Shandong Province.

The boxers were angry. They were against any stranger, including Qing rulers. Their religious fervor led them to attack Christians, their economic rage led them to attack their wealth, their indignation led them to attack militarily. At first, the Qing army was able to control them, but the movement spread like wildfire. It rises everywhere without centralized command. In a pragmatic approach, the Qing government changed tactics and relied on the boxers when the movement reached Beijing. He declared war on foreign countries and foreigners from China to divert their attention. The boxers besieged the foreign delegations, just south of the Forbidden City, for 55 days, until the Allied Manchu army enters Beijing and eradicates the boxers. The French then occupied the Forbidden City until the return of the government and Empress Dowager Cixi of Xi'an.

Summary: In 1813 a new rebellion appeared, forming an army of 100,000 people who attacked the Forbidden City. They were able to enter the inner court with the help of eunuchs who were favorable to their causes, but the soldiers were able to drive them away. Throughout the nineteenth century other revolts were more or less important, including the boxers, who had nationalist claims. The emperors took the opportunity to make friends by leading them against foreigners. The boxers besieged the foreign delegations who defended themselves. The French then occupied the Forbidden City.

The following rebellion began in Wuchang in 1911. It provoked the mobilization of many anti-Manchu, pro-democracy factions throughout the region. Many members of the army were supporters of the reform and joined the rebellion, offering their command skills and tactical skills to the rebels. It began without real command, on the basis of the government's latest crackdown. But the latter did not react quickly, suddenly the rebels had time to organize and turn this simple incident of rebels into a concerted and organized revolution. Thousands of Manchu civilians living in Xi'an, Taiyun, Zhenjiang, Fuzhou and Nanjing have been massacred. The rebels took control of the government during the abdication of the last Qing Emperor, Puyi. Sun Yat-sen was elected provisional president, but he quickly resigned to maintain General Yuan Shikai, Qing's military support, who became the first president of the Republic of China. President Yuan Shikai occupied the outer side of the Forbidden City, while Puyi was restricted to the inner courtyard. Puyi left the Forbidden City in 1924. It will be open to the public as a museum later under the name of the Palace Museum ("Gugong Bówùyuàn").

In the 1930s Japan invaded China. Faced with the arrival of this enemy, the national treasures exposed to the Forbidden City were compromised, they had to be moved several times in several cities of the country before Chiang Kai-shek decided in 1947 to install them permanently in Taiwan, at the same time as many objects from the National Museum of Nanjing. Once the Chinese Civil War ended, these works of art formed the main collection of the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan. Nowadays it is in Taiwan that the rest of the Chinese artwork is found.

Summary: In 1911 a new revolt was badly rejected, the partisans took power in Beijing and exiled the last emperor, Puyi, in 1924. The republic was proclaimed and the Forbidden City becomes accessible to all in the form of a museum.



See also:

Discover the forbidden city




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