Prince Kung (1829-1898)
Cixi (1836-1908)
Empress Wan Rong
Puyi's final resting place
The Marble Boat in the Summer Palace
Cixi's coffin in the Eastern Qing Tombs

China's last dynasty, the Qing, officially lasted 268 years, from the year of 1644 to 1911.

The official count starts with the declaration of the dynasty in Beijing but ignores that the dynasty was already formally declared in 1636 by the Chongde Emperor (alias Huangtaiji) at the inauguration of the dynastic palace in Shenyang (then called Mukden).

Move your mouse over any one of mini portraits above for more details on the era of each of the 12 Qing emperors ...

some text for starters
some text for starters

Nu'erhachi (1626-1626)

  • Nu'erhachi was born in 1559 and died 68 years old from a battle wound in 1626. He is from the Aisin Gioro clan. All subsequent Qing emperors are from the same clan.
  • He is indisputably the grandfather of the entire Qing dynasty. He starts it all by uniting the Manchu tribes and expelling the Ming from NE China during the period 1575-1621.
  • His defining moments come in 1599 when he establishes the efficient "banner system" and again in 1616 when he proclaims his own "Later Jin" dynasty openly defying the ruling Ming Dynasty.
  • He has a palace constructed in 1625 in Mukden (now Shenyang) but only becomes emperor posthumously when in 1636 he is canonized as first Qing emperor by his son.

The World 1559-1626

  • In Europe religious upheaval causes civil war in France between Protestants and Roman Catholics ending in 1598 with the Edict of Nantes giving equal rights to both.
  • From 1568 Netherlands under William of Orange (from 1581) revolt against Spain, finally gaining independence in 1648.
  • In 1571 the Ottoman Empire suffers a huge naval defeat over possession of Cyprus.
    In 1600-01 the Tokugawa family after winning a power struggle becomes shoguns of Japan with capital in Tokyo.
  • Pope Gregory implements a new calendar –still in use today- with leap years to correct for errors in the previous calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC.

Huangtaiji (1627-1643)

  • Where his father, Nu'erhachi, dedicated his life to uniting the northern tribes, Huangtaiji has a far greater vision: Ruling all of China.
  • Born 1559 as Aisin Gioro Aberhai, he is an able statesman and military leader and soon makes Mongolia and Korea vassal states.
  • He understands that the Chinese cannot be won over by force so instead he adopts a Chinese style system with examinations and uses Chinese supporters in government.
  • In 1636 he declares the foundation of the Qing Dynasty, canonizing his father and he himself becoming the Chongde (and second) Qing Emperor. He expands the imperial palace in Mukden into a palace fit for a grand empire.
  • In a cruel twist of fate, he dies in 1643 on the eve of victory over China and of the realization of his grand vision.

The World 1627-1643

  • In Europe battles between Roman Catholics and Protestants intensify soon engulfing all European countries. In Ireland alone more than 30,000 Protestants are massacred.
  • From 1630 to 1642 about 16,000 English colonists settle in Massachusetts -forerunners of the people who 150 years later would form the independent United States of America.
  • In 1630 the Turks take Hamadan in Persia and conquer Baghdad the following year. In 1637 Russsian explorers cross Siberia and reach the Pacific Ocean.
  • The Italian scientist Galileo Galilei is forced to recant his heretical and ridiculous assertion that the Earth revolves around the Sun!

Shunzhi (1644-1661)

  • Not observing primogeniture, a succession dispute breaks out when Huangtaiji dies, but in the end his 9th son, Aisin Gioro Fulin, ascends the throne as the Shunzhi and 3rd Qing Emperor.
  • Born in 1638, two uncles rule until he becomes 14 in 1651. Of these two, Dorgon spearheads the invasion of China and in 1644 officially proclaims Beijing as capital of the Chinese Qing ("pure") Dynasty.
  • The Shunzhi Emperor is conscientious and learns to read Chinese. He replaces Manchurian palace officials with Chinese eunuchs and converts to Buddhism. But most of his rein is spent on mopping up resistance from the former Ming Dynasty.
  • He dies in 1661 saddened by the death of his 22 year old favorite concubine, Xiao Xian.
  • In Chinese history he is considered the first Qing Emperor, although actually being the third.

The World 1644-1661

  • In Europe religious wars continue. Louis XIV -The Sun King- rules France with dictatorial powers. Civil war rages in England ending with the army assuming power under Cromwell.
  • 1648 sees the birth of two new republics, the Dutch and the Swiss, both still in existence. In Switzerland, Catholic and Protestant cantons go to war against each other. The Taj Mahal in India is built as a tomb for a beautiful wife.
  • The Turks and Venetians go to war over Crete with the former emerging victorious. Cape town is founded by the Dutch and England seizes Jamaica from Spain.
  • Reason begins to replace religious belief. The arts flourish with Dutch painters like Van Dyck and Rubens.

Kangxi (1661-1722)

  • China enters the first of her two prosperous Qing reigns under the Kangxi and 4th Qing Emperor. Born in 1654 as Aisin Gioro Xuan Ye he ascends the throne in 1661 and reins longer than any other Chinese emperor in history.
  • He was a humane person living a frugal life with a strong sense of duty. He softens the harsh treatment of the Chinese by lowering taxes, reducing corruption and banning further land confiscation. The hated queue is no longer mandated for Han Chinese.
  • His troops quell the last Ming resistance in Yunnan in 1662 and on Formosa in 1683. The Russians are kept in check with commercial treaties and Tibet is subdued in 1720.
  • He dies in 1722 leaving a prosperous and stable empire to his fourth son, ruling as the Yongzheng Emperor.

The World 1661-1722

  • Louis XIV (died 1715) builds the palace of Versailles. Fire and bubonic plague ravages London, killing 75,000 people and destroying 13,000 buildings.
  • Great profits are reaped by East India companies. A reign of religious fanaticism by Indian emperor Aurangzeb finally collapses in 1705 and breaks up the empire leaving it wide open for eventual control by the English East India Company and, later, the British Crown.
  • Peter The Great (1672-1725) modernizes Russia and creates a strong European power. Seizing it from the Dutch in 1664, England renames New Amsterdam to New York.
  • Sir Isaac Newton discovers the theory of gravitation.

Yongzheng (1723-1735)

  • The accession of this 5th Qing emperor is dubious so to secure his position he swiftly eliminates rivals and edits historical records.
  • To avoid future accession disputes, he puts the name of his heir in a sealed box and places the box behind a plague (above left) over the golden throne in the Hall of Celestial Purity in the imperial palace in Beijing.
  • Born Aisin Gioro Yinchen in 1678 he was 45 when becoming emperor. He only reigns for 12-13 years but still successfully tightens imperial control, promotes honesty, simplifies taxation and, as a first, publishes statements justifying the Aisin Gioro clan's divine right to rule China as Sons of Heaven.
  • He was the first to be buried in new imperial tomb complexes west of Beijing (above, right).

The World 1723-1735

  • In 1733 Europe plunges into war over succession to the Polish throne. Backed by France, Spain and Sweden the Poles choose Leszczynski, a former polish king. Russia and Austria eventually prevail and force Augustus III onto the throne.
  • The state of Hyderabad gains independence from India in 1724. From 1730 to 1735, the Maratha family becomes pre-eminent in India.
  • Catherine I, widow of Peter The Great, in 1725 succeeds to the throne of Russia and in 1727 George II becomes King of Great Britain. The colony of Connecticut is founded in 1733.
  • Composer and organist Johann Sebastian Bach becomes choirmaster in Leipzig.

Qianlong (1736-1795)

  • The reign of this the sixth Qing emperor saw such expansion and prosperity of the empire that by the early 1770s China was indisputably the wealthiest nation of the world.
  • Born 1711 as Aisin Gioro Hongli, the 4th son of the Yongzheng Emperor, the Qianlong Emperor was a strong, honest, just and intelligent man and a great leader. He was also a scholar and had many palaces built including the famous Beijing Summer Palace.
  • But from the 1780s the rapid growth begins to cause land shortage, hunger and poverty. Add financial trouble from court extravagance and the empire is set for decline. A visit in 1793 by British envoy Macartney to offer trade and technology turns disastrous.
  • In 1795, unlike other emperors, the Qianlong Emperor abdicates. He passes away peacefully four years later in 1799.

The World 1736-1795

  • The French Revolution (1789-1794) sees a reign of terror including the execution of the royal family. The War of Austrian Succession (1740-48) ends in a much reduced Austria under Maria Theresa.
  • Nadir Shah takes Afghanistan (1737), sacks Delhi (1739) but is himself assassinated in 1747. British rule over India becomes absolute from 1757.
  • The British win control of Canada but lose in 1783 the War of American Independence. The USA declares independence 1776 and George Washington becomes 1st president in 1789.
  • The works of political thinker Rousseau and philosopher Voltaire become harbingers of reforms leading e.g. to the French Revolution.

Jiaqing (1796-1820)

  • Upon the Qianlong Emperor's death in 1799, his 5th son becomes the Jiaqing and 7th Qing Emperor. He quickly wrings control of the empire back from an unscrupulous guard who had de facto ruled China under the Qianlong Emperor's last 15 years as emperor.
  • Named Aisin Gioro Yongyan, he ascends the throne in 1796, 36 years old. But the coffers are empty, hunger is widespread and open rebellion against the Qing is rampant. Major Yellow River flooding and coastal piracy just add to the calamities.
  • He follows his father's Confucian virtues but these are far from the best characteristics to deal with rebels, assassination attempts and corruption and he soon loses grip on power.
  • the Jiaqing Emperor dies from a heat stroke in 1820 but has secretly named his 2nd son as successor.

The World 1796-1820

  • France gets its own emperor in Napoleon Bonaparte. At first victorious in many battles he is finally defeated at Waterloo in 1815.
  • The United Kingdom is formed in 1801 and Singapore is founded by the British in 1819. The South African Zulu empire is founded 1818.
  • Most South American colonies fight for- and gain independence from Spain and Portugal.
  • In 1800 Volta produces the first electric battery and the first steam locomotive is built in 1804 accelerating the 'Industrial Revolution' in England. In 1796, first smallpox vaccination is performed by a British physician. In Europe, romanticism begins to replace reason and natural law.

Daoguang (1821-1850)

  • 40 years old when ascending the throne and 2nd son of the Jiaqing Emperor, the Daoguang Emperor is a poor leader and the Chinese empire accelerates its course towards eventual collapse.
  • He is born in 1782 as Aisin Gioro Minning. He is a kind person with the best of intentions. To restore financial stability he leads by example, but it is too little too late.
  • After a brief initial lull internal rebellions resume. Adding insult to injury, the Western powers attack and deal a decisive blow in the "1st Opium War" (1840-42) forcing China to concede territory, among others Hong Kong.
  • The Daoguang Emperor passes away in 1850 and is buried in the Western Qing tombs. Aware of his failure as emperor he refuses to be buried with his clothes instead distributing them to courtiers.

The World 1821-1850

  • Queen Victoria rules Britain 1837-1901. The country solves its massive trade deficit with China by forcing her to import Indian opium (1st Opium War 1840-42).
  • 1848 sees sweeping revolutions all over Europe, e.g. in France, Austria and Denmark.
  • Boer (Dutch) settlers found Transvaal in South Africa 1835 and defeat the Zulus 1838. The Mexicans win the 1836 battle of Alamo but it still paves the way for Texas to join the USA in 1845.
  • German composer Ludwig van Beethoven dies 1827. First steam passenger railways open 1830 soon followed by steamships. Karl Marx and Engels produce 'The Communist Manifesto' in 1848.

Xianfeng (1851-1861)

  • The Xianfeng and 9th Qing Emperor -born 1831 as Aisin Gioro Yichu, 4th son of Daoguang- is yet another poor and incompetent emperor. He soon retires leaving state affairs to officials.
  • The empire deteriorates further plunging into civil war in the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64), won by the empire because of Western military support. In the 2nd Opium War in 1860 Western powers loot and destroy the Summer Palace and Kowloon is ceded to England.
  • Despite his insignificance as emperor he nevertheless makes a huge impact on history by fathering a son with a lesser concubine named Cixi, China's future "Dragon Lady".
  • The Xianfeng Emperor dies in 1861 and is buried in the Eastern Qing tombs. His death becomes the starting shot of the end of the Qing Empire.

The World 1851-1861

  • In 1860 Italian Garibaldi overthrows the Kingdom of Naples and in 1861 the Kingdom of Italy is proclaimed; Venice joins in 1866 and Rome in 1870.
  • Florence Nightingale reforms nursing during the Crimean War (1854-56) fought by Britain, France and Turkey against Russia, the latter being defeated.
  • Mutiny in India 1857 is put down by British forces 1858 after which the British Crown takes control of India from the East India Company.
  • In 1861, the Confederate States of America is formed to protect the right to slavery. The Confederates and the Federals plunge America into civil war. The Confederates win the first battle at Bull Run.

Tongzhi (1862-1874)

  • Only son of Xianfeng, the Tongzhi and 10th Qing Emperor ascends the throne through skillful manipulation by his mother, Empress Dowager Cixi, and supported by his uncle, the powerful Prince Kung.
  • Born 1856 as Aisin Gioro Zaichun, the Tongzhi Emperor is historically irrelevant; he spends his entire life drinking and frequenting brothels.
  • Cixi rules the empire from 'behind the curtain' for the next 50 years. Prince Kung restores order in the empire by crushing rebellions, modernizing China and opening up to the West. He cooperates with Western Powers securing much needed state revenues. But the empire is already far too weak to truly regain control of China.
  • The Tongzhi Emperor dies suddenly in 1874 -organized by Cixi according to rumors. He leaves no heir.

The World 1862-1874

  • The Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) is won by the latter leading to the establishment of a German 'Reich' with William as Emperor and Otto van Bismarck as Prime Minister.
  • In 1865 Lee surrenders to the Union, ending the American Civil War. President Lincoln is assassinated at a theater performance.
  • In 1868 Japanese emperor Mutsuhito ousts the shogunate starting the 'Meiji' period, which sees modernization and ends isolation.
  • The Suez Canal opens in 1869. In painting, Impressionism gains foothold by e.g. Monet and Renoir. Karl Marx publishes 'Das Kapital' in which he presents his theories of economics and revolution.

Guangxu (1875-1908)

  • Nephew of Cixi, the Guangxu Emperor is a modern and well-educated ruler, who is keenly aware of China's need for reform. He was born as Aisin Gioro Zai Tian in 1871 ascending the throne at the age of four.
  • Vast resentment of Westerners' growing control of the Empire in 1898 leads him to declare reforms that would modernize China. Cixi opposes the reforms, imprisons the Emperor and in his name voids the reforms.
  • Next, she supports the Boxers' rebellion against the foreigners, ending in a crushing defeat in 1900. Beijing, including the Forbidden City, is ransacked and Cixi is forced to begin introducing reforms.
  • The Guangxu Emperor dies in 1908, the day before Cixi, and is buried in the Western Qing Tombs.

The World 1875-1908

  • William II becomes emperor of Germany in 1888 and dismisses Bismarck two years later.
  • Japan emerges victorious from war with Russia in 1904-5. Japan gets Manchuria and Korea. In St.Petersburg, 'Bloody Sunday' in 1905 leads to reforms from Tsar Nicholas II.
  • The 1884-85 Berlin Conference carves up Africa between the European powers leading to a spate of colonization. In 1880 the Boers in South Africa revolt against British ending 1902 with Britain annexing the Boer republics.
  • In 1888 Karl Benz' petrol powered car marks the beginning of the motor industry. Marconi invents the radio in 1896. First flight made by the Wright brothers in 1903.

Puyi (1909-1911)

  • Born 1905 as Aisin Gioro Puyi and a great-nephew of Cixi, Puyi -12th and final Qing emperor- ascends three years old in 1909.
  • Power is vested in incompetent Manchu princes led by Puyi's father, Prince Chun II. The Qing dynasty lies in its death throes.
  • The empire finally collapses without a fight on 9th October 1911, when Puyi abdicates to an anti-Manchu rebellion inspired by Dr. Sun Yatsen. After 2000 years under an imperial system, China now becomes a republic.
  • Puyi remains in The Forbidden City until expelled in 1924. In 1934 he becomes a puppet emperor of Manchuria, is captured by Russia  in 1945, reeducated by the China government and dies of cancer as a gardener in 1967. His final resting place is just outside the Western Qing Tombs.

The World 1909-1911

  • George V, King of England 1910, oversees a transition from Empire to Commonwealth. The British suffragettes become more militant.
  • Revolution in Mexico overthrows President Diaz; a period of disorder follows.
  • Japan annexes Korea 1910. Dr. Sun Yatsen leads revolution in China and overthrows the Manchu Dynasty declaring a republic in 1912.
  • American explorer Peary reaches the North Pole in 1909 and two years later, Norwegian explorer Amundsen reaches the South Pole. Henry Ford in 1909 starts mass production of cheap motorcars. Also in 1909 the keel is laid of an unsinkable ship to become famous when it sinks in 1912 -the Titanic.

Cixi (1862-1908) (I)

  • Although Cixi was never an emperor, she nevertheless reigns over China from 1862 to 1908; until 1874 for her son, the Tongzhi Emperor, and 1875-1908 for her great-nephew, the Guangxu Emperor.
  • Surprisingly little is known about the origins of this woman with so much impact on China's history. Born 1836 in an undisclosed location, daughter of an unknown Manchu officer, not even her maiden name is known.
  • Even when in 1851 chosen to become an imperial concubine, she is merely referred to as Lady Yehenara because she comes from the Yehe tribe of the Nara clan.
  • And in 1862 she becomes Empress Dowager Cixi because she lives in the western section of The Forbidden City (ci = empress; xi = west).

Cixi (1862-1908) (II)

  • Cixi's defining moment comes in 1856 when she gives birth to the only son of the Xianfeng Emperor. Upon the emperor's death in 1862 her six year old son becomes the Tongzhi Emperor.
  • An expert in court intrigue and in playing factions against each other, she rules the Celestial empire from 'behind the curtain'.
  • She completely fails to see China's need to adapt to a new reality and opposes reforms, thereby sealing the fate of the empire. She squanders the meager coffers on follies like the Marble Boat in the Summer Palace.
  • The tale goes that she clings on to life to outlive the Guangxu Emperor thus preventing him from invoking reforms. They die a day apart in 1908 and she is buried in the Eastern Qing tombs. Her tomb is desecrated in 1928.