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China's Empire

Empress Cixi

Qing Dynasty's Empress Dowager Cixi, her hands visible, resting in her lap.

In the 19th century, the Qing Dynasty in China was imposed upon by the British, who were interested in trade. There was the First Opium War (1839-42) and the Second Opium War (1856-60) with the French joining the British imposition. And Germany and the United States also wanted their share in China. The Qing Dynasty meanwhile saw themselves as a great imperial power and had been imposing themselves on others. The Qing dynasty ruled in Xinjiang. They were trying to rule the Mongolians and Tibetans, Qing Dynasty troops having entered and conquered in Tibet in the early 1700s. The Qing Dynasty was Manchu, or Manchurian. Although they tried to maintain an identity separate from the Chinese, they also proclaimed their rule to be Chinese, having the power to ignore logic, and they considered Manchuria, Xinjiang, Mongolia and Tibet to be parts of China and this great China to be a multi-ethnic state. One major difference between China and Europe had become the superior fire power of the Europeans and navies to take that power to the Chinese, rather than the Chinese sending their power across the seas.

Japan was separated from China by ocean, but not the Koreans, and into the 1800s Korea remained within China's sphere of influence, and would remain so until challenged by the Japanese late in the century. China's Confucianism tradition dominated Korean thought.

Korea had been ruled by the Joseon monarchical dynasty since the late 1300s. Korea was considered by the Qing Dynasty as a tributary state, a foreign relations arrangement involving a network of trade favorable to China. This was based on the belief that the Qing Dynasty represented the Will of Heaven, was the cultural center of the world and that foreigners were "less civilized." Countries wanting to trade were obliged to send "tribute" missions to China that legitimized China's superiority and suzerainty via the ritual of ke-tou (kow-tow), which consisted of three kneelings, each involving three prostrations before the emperor and in return they could trade for a specified number of days at border points designated by China's imperial authority. Korea, the Ryukyu Islands, Annam (Vietnam), Siam (Thailand), Burma and Nepal were "tributary states," which sent regular tribute missions to China.

                     

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