By the mid-thirteenth century, the Mongols had subjugated north China, Korea, and the Muslim kingdoms of Central Asia and had twice penetrated Europe. With the resources of his vast empire, Kublai Khan (1215-94), a grandson of Genghis Khan (1167?-1227) and the supreme leader of all Mongol tribes, began his drive against the Southern Song. Even before the extinction of the Song dynasty, Kublai Khan had established the first alien dynasty to rule all China--the Yuan (1279-1368).
Although the Mongols sought to govern China through traditional institutions, using Chinese (Han) bureaucrats, they were not up to the task.
As in other periods of alien dynastic rule of China, a rich cultural diversity developed during the Yuan dynasty. The major cultural achievements were the development of drama and the novel and the increased use of the written vernacular. The Mongols' extensive West Asian and European contacts produced a fair amount of cultural exchange.
Rivalry among the Mongol imperial heirs, natural disasters, and numerous peasant uprisings led to the collapse of the Yuan dynasty. The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) was founded by a Han Chinese peasant and former Buddhist monk turned rebel army leader.
The Ming maritime expeditions stopped rather suddenly after 1433, the date of the last voyage. Historians have given as one of the reasons the great expense of large-scale expeditions at a time of preoccupation with northern defenses against the Mongols.
Long wars with the Mongols, incursions by the Japanese into Korea, and harassment of Chinese coastal cities by the Japanese in the sixteenth century weakened Ming rule, which became, as earlier Chinese dynasties had, ripe for an alien takeover. In 1644 the Manchus took Beijing from the north and became masters of north China, establishing the last imperial dynasty, the Qing (1644- 1911).
Although the Manchus were not Han Chinese and were strongly resisted, especially in the south, they had assimilated a great deal of Chinese culture before conquering China Proper.
The Manchus continued the Confucian civil service system. Although Chinese were barred from the highest offices, Chinese officials predominated over Manchu officeholders outside the capital, except in military positions.
Ever suspicious of Han Chinese, the Qing rulers put into effect measures aimed at preventing the absorption of the Manchus into the dominant Han Chinese population.
The Qing regime was determined to protect itself not only from internal rebellion but also from foreign invasion. After China Proper had been subdued, the Manchus conquered Outer Mongolia (now the Mongolian People's Republic) in the late seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century they gained control of Central Asia as far as the Pamir Mountains and established a protectorate over the area the Chinese call Xizang but commonly known in the West as Tibet.
The chief threat to China's integrity did not come overland, as it had so often in the past, but by sea, reaching the southern coastal area first.
The success of the Qing dynasty in maintaining the old order proved a liability when the empire was confronted with growing challenges from seafaring Western powers.
By the nineteenth century, China was experiencing growing internal pressures of economic origin.
As elsewhere in Asia, in China the Portuguese were the pioneers, establishing a foothold at Macao (Aomen), from which they monopolized foreign trade at the Chinese port of Guangzhou (Canton). Soon the Spanish arrived, followed by the British and the French.
Trade between China and the West was carried on in the guise of tribute: foreigners were obliged to follow the elaborate, centuries-old ritual imposed on envoys from China's tributary states.
The Manchus were sensitive to the need for security along the northern land frontier and therefore were prepared to be realistic in dealing with Russia.
Trade was not the sole basis of contact with the West. Since the thirteenth century, Roman Catholic missionaries had been attempting to establish their church in China.
During the eighteenth century, the market in Europe and America for tea, a new drink in the West, expanded greatly. Additionally, there was a continuing demand for Chinese silk and porcelain. But China, still in its pre-industrial stage, wanted little that the West had to offer, causing the Westerners, mostly British, to incur an unfavorable balance of trade.
In 1839 the Qing government, after a decade of unsuccessful anti-opium campaigns, adopted drastic prohibitory laws against the opium trade. The emperor dispatched a commissioner, Lin Zexu (1785- 1850), to Guangzhou to suppress illicit opium traffic.
The British retaliated with a punitive expedition, thus initiating the first Anglo-Chinese war, better known as the Opium War (1839-42). Unprepared for war and grossly underestimating the capabilities of the enemy, the Chinese were disastrously defeated, and their image of their own imperial power was tarnished beyond repair.
Under the Treaty of Nanjing, China ceded the island of Hong Kong (Xianggang) to the British; abolished the licensed monopoly system of trade; opened 5 ports to British residence and foreign trade; limited the tariff on trade to 5 percent ad valorem; granted British nationals extraterritoriality (exemption from Chinese laws); and paid a large indemnity.
During the mid-nineteenth century, China's problems were compounded by natural calamities of unprecedented proportions, including droughts, famines, and floods.
South China had been the last area to yield to the Qing conquerors and the first to be exposed to Western influence. It provided a likely setting for the largest uprising in modern Chinese history- the Taiping Rebellion.
The Taiping rebels were led by Hong Xiuquan (1814-64), a village teacher and unsuccessful imperial examination candidate. Hong formulated an eclectic ideology combining the ideals of pre-Confucian utopianism with Protestant beliefs.
To defeat the rebellion, the Qing court needed, besides Western help, an army stronger and more popular than the demoralized imperial forces.
The rude realities of the Opium War, the unequal treaties, and the mid-century mass uprisings caused Qing courtiers and officials to recognize the need to strengthen China.
Amid these activities came an attempt to arrest the dynastic decline by restoring the traditional order. The restoration, however, which applied "practical knowledge" while reaffirming the old mentality, was not a genuine program of modernization.
The effort to graft Western technology onto Chinese institutions became known as the Self-Strengthening Movement. The movement was championed by scholar-generals like Li Hongzhang (1823-1901) and Zuo Zongtang (1812-85), who had fought with the government forces in the Taiping Rebellion.
But despite its leaders' accomplishments, the Self Strengthening Movement did not recognize the significance of the political institutions and social theories that had fostered Western advances and innovations. This weakness led to the movement's failure. Modernization during this period would have been difficult under the best of circumstances.
The first step in the foreign powers' effort to carve up the empire was taken by Russia, which had been expanding into Central Asia.
At this time the foreign powers also took over the peripheral states that had acknowledged Chinese suzerainty and given tribute to the emperor.
In the 103 days from June 11 to September 21, 1898, the Qing emperor, Guangxu (1875-1908), ordered a series of reforms aimed at making sweeping social and institutional changes.
The imperial edicts for reform covered a broad range of subjects, including stamping out corruption and remaking, among other things, the academic and civil-service examination systems, legal system, governmental structure, defense establishment, and postal services.
Opposition to the reform was intense among the conservative ruling elite, especially the Manchus, who, in condemning the announced reform as too radical, proposed instead a more moderate and gradualist course of change.
The conservatives then gave clandestine backing to the anti-foreign and anti-Christian movement of secret societies known as Yihetuan (Society of Righteousness and Harmony). The movement has been better known in the West as the Boxers (from an earlier name--Yihequan, Righteousness and Harmony Boxers).
In the decade that followed, the court belatedly put into effect some reform measures. These included the abolition of the moribund Confucian-based examination, educational and military modernization patterned after the model of Japan, and an experiment, if half-hearted, in constitutional and parliamentary government.
Failure of reform from the top and the fiasco of the Boxer Uprising convinced many Chinese that the only real solution lay in outright revolution, in sweeping away the old order and erecting a new one patterned preferably after the example of Japan.
The republican revolution broke out on October 10, 1911, in Wuchang, the capital of Hubei Province, among discontented modernized army units whose anti-Qing plot had been uncovered. It had been preceded by numerous abortive uprisings and organized protests inside China.
To prevent civil war and possible foreign intervention from undermining the infant republic, Sun agreed to Yuan's demand that China be united under a Beijing government headed by Yuan. On February 12, 1912, the last Manchu emperor, the child Puyi, abdicated. On March 10, in Beijing, Yuan Shikai was sworn in as provisional president of the Republic of China.