The 19th century
One common view of the 19th century was that it was an era in which Qing control weakened, and prosperity diminished. China suffered massive social strife, economic stagnation, explosive population growth, and Western penetration and influence. Britain's desire to continue its illegal opium trade with China collided with imperial edicts prohibiting the addictive drug, and the First Opium War erupted in 1840. China lost the war; subsequently, Britain and other Western powers, including the United States, forcibly occupied "concessions" and gained special commercial privileges. Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanjing. In addition, the Taiping rebellion and Nian rebellions, along with a Russian-supported Muslim independence movement in Xinjiang, drained Chinese resources and almost toppled the dynasty. .
Roughly between the Congress of Vienna and the Franco-Prussian War, Britain reaped the benefits of being the world's sole modern, industrial nation. Following the defeat of Napoleon, Britain was the 'workshop of the world', meaning that its finished goods were produced so efficiently and cheaply that they could often undersell comparable, locally manufactured goods in almost any other market. If political conditions in a particular overseas markets were stable enough, Britain could its economy through free trade alone without having to resort to formal rule or mercantilism. Britain was even supplying half the needs in manufactured goods of such nations as Germany, France, Belgium, and the United States. As these other newly industrial powers, the United States, and Japan after the Meiji Restoration began industrializing at a rapid rate, however, Britain's comparative advantage in trade of any finished good began diminishing.
Sovereign areas already hospitable to informal empire largely avoided formal rule during the shift to New Imperialism. China, for instance, was not a backward country unable to secure the prerequisite stability and security for western-style commerce, but a highly advanced empire unwilling to admit western (often drug-pushing) commerce, which may explain the West's contentment with informal 'Spheres of Influences'. China, unlike tropical Africa, was a securable market without formal control. Following the First Opium War, British commerce, and later capital invested by other newly industrializing powers, was securable with a smaller degree of formal control than in Southeast Asia, West Africa, and the Pacific. But in many respects, China was a colony and a large-scale receptacle of Western capital investments. Western powers did intervene military there to quell domestic chaos, such as the horrific Taiping Rebellion and the anti-imperialist Boxer Rebellion. For example, General Gordon, later the imperialist 'martyr' in the Sudan, is often accredited as having saved the Manchu dynasty from the Taiping insurrection.
The fall of the Manchus
By the 1860s, the Qing dynasty had put down the rebellions with the help of militia organized by the Chinese gentry. The Qing dynasty
then proceeded to deal with problem of modernization, which it attempted with the Self-Strengthening Movement. Several modernized armies were formed including the much renowned "Beiyang" militia; however the fleets of "Beiyang" were annihilated in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), which produced calls
for greater and more extensive reform. After the start of the 20th century, the Qing Dynasty was in a dilemma. It could proceed with reform and thereby alienate the conservative gentry or it could stall reform and thereby alienate the revolutionaries. The Qing Dynasty tried to follow a middle path, but proceeded to alienate everyone.
In the late 19th century another leader emerged in the Qing to finally bring the dynasty to an end. Empress Dowager Cixi, who was the mother of child emperor Tongzhi, successfully controlled the Qing government and was the de facto leader of China for close to 40 years.
10 years into the reign of Guangxu, western pressure was so big on China that she forcefully gave up all sorts of power. Guangxu had
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