Fall of the Ming dynasty

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map of 1580
map of 1580

The fall of the Ming dynasty was a protracted affair, its roots beginning as early as 1600 with the emergence of the Manchus under Nurhaci. Originally a vassal of the Ming emperors, Nurhaci in 1582 embarked on an inter-tribal feud that escalated into a campaign to unify the Jianzhou Jurchens. Later Nurhaci announced the Seven Grievances and openly renounced the sovereignty of Ming overlordship in order to complete the unification of those Jurchen tribes still allied with the Ming emperor. With superior artillery, the Ming were able to repeatedly fight off the Manchus, notably in 1623 and in 1628. However, they were unable to recapture their rule over the Manchus and the region. From 1629 onwards, the Míng were wearied by a combination of internal strife and constant harassment of Northern China by the Manchu, who had turned to raiding tactics so as to avoid facing the Míng armies in open battle.

Unable to attack the heart of the Míng directly, the Manchu instead bided their time, developing their own artillery and gathering allies. They were able to enlist Míng government officials as their strategic advisors. In 1633, they completed a conquest of Inner Mongolia, resulting in a large scale recruitment of Mongol troops under the Manchu banner and the securing of an additional route into the Míng heartland.

Han defectors played a massive role in the Qing conquest of China. Han Chinese Generals who defected to the Manchu were often given women from the Imperial Aisin Gioro family in marriage while the ordinary soldiers who defected were given non-royal Manchu women as wives. The Manchu leader Nurhaci married one of his granddaughters to the Ming General Li Yongfang after he surrendered Fushun in Liaoning to the Manchu in 1618 and a mass marriage of Han Chinese officers and officials to Manchu women numbering 1,000 couples was arranged by Prince Yoto and Hongtaiji in 1632 to promote harmony between the two ethnic groups.[1][2] Jurchen (Manchu) women married most the Han Chinese defectors in Liaodong.[3] Aisin Gioro women were married to the sons of the Han Chinese Generals Sun Sike (Sun Ssu-k'o), Geng Jimao (Keng Chi-mao), Shang Kexi (Shang K'o-hsi), and Wu Sangui (Wu San-kuei).[4]

Geng Zhongming, a Han bannerman, was awarded the title of Prince Jingnan, and his son Geng Jingmao managed to have both his sons Geng Jingzhong and Geng Zhaozhong become court attendants under Shunzhi and get married to Aisin Gioro women, with Haoge's (a son of Hong Taiji) daughter marrying Geng Jingzhong and Prince Abatai's (Hong Taiji) granddaughter marrying Geng Zhaozhong.[5]

By 1636, the Manchu ruler Huang Taiji was confident enough to proclaim the Imperial Qing dynasty at Shenyang, which had fallen to the Manchu by treachery in 1621, taking the Imperial title Chongde. The end of 1636 saw the defeat and conquest of the Míng's traditional ally Korea by a 100,000 strong Manchu army, and the Korean renunciation of the Míng dynasty.

On May 26, 1644, Beijing was sacked by a coalition of rebel forces led by Li Zicheng, a minor Ming official turned leader of the peasant revolt. The last Ming emperor, Emperor Chongzhen, committed suicide when the city fell, marking the official end of the dynasty. The Manchu Qing dynasty then allied with Ming general Wu Sangui and seized control of Beijing and quickly overthrew Li's short-lived Shun dynasty.

The Qing differentiated between Han Bannermen and ordinary Han civilians. Han Bannermen were made out of Han Chinese who defected to the Qing up to 1644 and joined the Eight Banners, giving them social and legal privileges in addition to being acculturated to Manchu culture. So many Han defected to the Qing and swelled up the ranks of the Eight Banners that ethnic Manchus became a minority within the Banners, making up only 16% in 1648, with Han Bannermen dominating at 75%.[6][7][8] It was this multi-ethnic force in which Manchus were only a minority, which conquered China for the Qing.[9]

It was Han Chinese Bannermen who were responsible for the successful Qing conquest of China, they made up the majority of governors in the early Qing and were the ones who governed and administered China after the conquest, stabilizing Qing rule.[10] Han Bannermen dominated the post of governor-general in the time of the Shunzhi and Kangxi Emperors, and also the post of governors, largely excluding ordinary Han civilians from the posts.[11]

The Qing showed that the Manchus valued military skills in propaganda targeted towards the Ming military to get them to defect to the Qing, since the Ming civilian political system discriminated against the military.[12] The three Liaodong Han Bannermen officers who played a massive role in the conquest of southern China from the Ming were Shang Kexi, Geng Zhongming, and Kong Youde and they governed southern China autonomously as viceroys for the Qing after their conquests.[13] Normally the Manchu Bannermen acted as only reserve forces while the Qing foremost used defected Han Chinese troops to fight as the vanguard during the entire conquest of China.[14]

Among the Banners, gunpowder weapons like muskets and artillery were specifically wielded by the Chinese Banners.[15]

To promote ethnic harmony, a 1648 decree from Shunzhi allowed Han Chinese civilian men to marry Manchu women from the Banners with the permission of the Board of Revenue if they were registered daughters of officials or commoners or the permission of their banner company captain if they were unregistered commoners, it was only later in the dynasty that these policies allowing intermarriage were done away with.[16][17]

Despite the loss of Beijing (whose weakness as an Imperial capital had been foreseen by Zhu Yuanzhang) and the death of the Chongzhen Emperor, Míng power was by no means destroyed. Nanjing, Fujian, Guangdong, Shanxi and Yunnan could all have been and were in fact strongholds of Míng resistance. However, the loss of central authority saw multiple pretenders for the Míng throne. Unable to work together, each bastion of resistance was individually defeated by the Qing until 1662, when the last southern Ming Emperor died, the Yongli Emperor, Zhu Youlang. The last Ming Prince to hold out was Prince of Ningjing Zhu Shugui who stayed with Koxinga's Ming loyalists in the Kingdom of Tungning until 1683. Despite the Ming defeat, smaller loyalist movements continued until the proclamation of the Republic of China.

In 1725 the Qing Yongzheng Emperor bestowed the hereditary title of Marquis on a descendant of the Ming dynasty Imperial family, Zhu Zhiliang, who received a salary from the Qing government and whose duty was to perform rituals at the Ming tombs, and was also inducted the Chinese Plain White Banner in the Eight Banners. Later the Qianlong Emperor bestowed the title Marquis of Extended Grace posthumously on Zhu Zhuliang in 1750, and the title passed on through twelve generations of Ming descendants until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912. The last Marquis of Extended Grance was Zhu Yuxun.