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The Manchu Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Prosperity, Population Growth, and Territorial Expansion
Qianlong Emperor, Ryukyu Islands, Manchuria, Qing dynasty, domestic order
In the mid-18th century, during the 60-year reign of the Qianlong Emperor, the Qing dynasty reached the height of its power. The Qing firmly established domestic order, which led to unprecedented peace and prosperity in China. Traditional scholarship and arts flourished, and even in rural areas schools were common and basic literacy relatively high.
Population grew rapidly under the Qing, and by the end of the 18th century China had at least 300 million people. China’s borders also expanded. Manchuria, Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan were all brought securely under Qing control, making the Qing empire larger than either the Han or the Tang. For the first time in 2,000 years, the northern steppe was not a serious threat to China’s defenses. Tributary ties to neighboring countries were maintained and were especially strong with Burma (now Myanmar), the Ryukyu Islands (now part of Japan), Korea, and northern Vietnam.
In the 19th century the Qing government faced problems associated with population growth. By 1850 the population had surpassed 400 million, and all the land that could be profitably exploited using traditional farming methods was already under cultivation. More and more people lived in poverty, unable to cope when floods or droughts occurred. The Qing government was unprepared for the effects of population growth. The size of the government remained static throughout the Qing period, which meant that by the end of the dynasty, government services and control had to cover two or three times as large a population as at the beginning. At the local level, wealthy and educated people assumed more authority, especially men who had passed the lower-level civil service examinations.
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