Contact and conflict

In relation to the West, when the Qing dynasty began in 1644, access to Chinese markets for the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English had been restricted to Canton since 1550.  Europeans were not allowed to reside in Canton. However China remained a place of infinitive fascination and possible opportunity for Western leaders and merchants.

The West tried through diplomatic, religious and other more aggressive methods to gain access and influence in China, and there were consequences for the Chinese people and the Qing dynasty.

Discuss the Opium Wars with the group.

1. Display this woodblock-printed map for your students. As a class, discuss the following (using the background information as a guide):

  • What evidence of foreign presence can you see?
  • Use the image to make a list of nations present in the port of Hankou at the time this image was made (1875).
  • Locate Wuhan (including Hankou) on a modern map of China
  • Discuss the concepts of  concessions and extraterritoriality

2. Ask students to investigate the Treaty Port system in China, with particular reference to the Opium Wars. By the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 there were over 50 treaty ports throughout China. Allocate a major Treaty Port to students working in pairs. They will complete a small investigative task by answering the following questions as they relate to their allocated port.

  • Where was the port located?
  • Which treaty opened the port to foreign access? Was it as a result of the First or Second Opium War?
  • Which foreign nations had a presence at the port?
  • Identify your port’s strategic and commercial importance for foreign nations. What was traded?
  • Are there any influences on the modern day city that might come from its history as a Treaty Port (cultural, architectural etc)?

The following Trove Lists contain excellent primary source material which may be useful in this task:

Celestial Empire: Opium Wars

Celestial Empire: Foreign Intervention 

Celestial Empire: China Trade 

The Taiping Rebellion lasted from 1850 to 1864 and was the major internal military challenge to the Qing dynasty in the 19th century. It was one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history, with more than 20 million people killed and 600 cities destroyed. The Taiping were led by Hong Xiuquan, a man who believed himself to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ.

This huge yellow poster with dragon motifs was acquired by the National Library of Australia in 1961 as part of the London Missionary Society Collection of old and scarce works sent back by missionaries to England from China.

Taiping forces captured Nanjing in 1853 and immediately set about transforming society in the lands under their control. This required that they communicate their aims and calm the people. This was done effectively through publications and banners such as these.

The fall of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom finally came when the ‘Ever Victorious Army’ a contingent of Qing forces helped by foreign mercenaries was able to put down the rebellion using European military tactics.

Ask students to analyse the impact of the Taiping Rebellion on the Qing Dynasty:

  • socially
  • militarily
  • and politically

The following Trove List contains excellent primary source material which may be useful in this task:

 Celestial Empire: Taiping Rebellion

The Boxer Rebellion was a grass-roots, anti-foreign movement that started in Shantung Province in 1898 and spread through much of northern China. In English they were called ‘fists of righteous harmony’ and its motto ‘preserve the dynasty, destroy the foreigners’. Adherents practised martial arts, performed rituals designed to make them invulnerable to weapons and swore to destroy Christian converts. Its origins lie in the decline of the Qing dynasty and the series of humiliations and defeats by foreign powers. The Boxers had the support of many at court including the Empress Dowager Cixi and the imperial troops. The foreigners in Peking were slow to realise their danger until a month before being given 24 hours to leave the foreign legation quarters in Peking.  The first international relief force was turned back. The siege was broken after two months by a foreign force of 20,000 troops and the city was looted. The Empress Dowager fled with the Emperor. They returned only after the terms of the peace had been signed. The foreign allies squabbled over the spoils but China had to pay a huge indemnity. Many thousands of Christians were killed.

The following Trove List contains excellent primary source material which may be useful in this task:

Celestial Empire: Boxer Rebellion