This activity aims to facilitate a shared understanding of the themes and concepts relevant to experiences during the Qing Dynasty, as explored in the Australian Curriculum. It provides a context for students before they begin to explore specific sources from the Celestial Empire exhibition.

Getting to know the major ethnic groups in China 1644-1911

Short summaries have been provided here. Organise students into groups and have them give a short oral presentation on one of the ethnic groups in China during this time period. Have students focus particularly on how their group was brought into (or came to rule) the Qing state.


Founded as an amalgamation from different tribes in the late 16th century from what is today known as Manchuria, throughout the Qing dynasty they continued to develop their sense of identity.  As the rulers of Chinese territory, they adopted culturally Chinese methods of rule, but they also remained sensitive to the different needs of some of their other territories.

The nature of being Manchu evolved during the nearly three centuries of the Qing dynasty as, like all dynasties, it engaged with and even sought to emulate high points of the past.  The court did not entirely abandon its warlike origins, but members of the Manchu elite were expected to be competent horsemen and archers while also demonstrating cultivation of the gentlemen-scholar world.


The definition of the Han identity has varied over time, although throughout most of history Han Chinese have comprised the largest ethnic group in China. During the Qing dynasty Han Chinese who had entered the Eight Banners military system were considered Manchu. In the latter period of the dynasty many groups seeking to overthrow the imperial system emphasised their Han identity in order to promote nationalist sentiment.


The term Mongol generally refers to the East-Central Asian ethnic group of tribesmen brought together under Genghis Khan’s reign during the thirteenth century. Mongols were known for their horsemanship and fierce military prowess, although their power began to wane during the fourteenth century. During the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth centuries the Manchus were able to subjugate the Mongols and absorb their troops. Eventually, the Qing ruled the entire territory that comprises modern day Mongolia. 

Item list

The following Trove List contains many of the items featured in the exhibition Celestial Empire: Life in China 1644-1911 It is recommended for students to explore this as an introduction to the content contained in this learning resource.

Trove list: Celestial Empire