The Qing Dynasty

by Nate Kang December 2020

Ironically, despite gaining vast swathes of new territory under Qing rule, from 1700 to 1900, China ultimately was more weakened than strengthened by its imperial expansion; this can be attributed to the costliness of the conquests themselves as well as how grossly mismanaged the local administrations in conquered regions were.

It seems that often times, many of the benefits of imperial territorial expansions made by the Qing were somewhat offset by the steep price the Empire had to pay for these campaigns in the first place. It is interesting to note how there is a certain duality to this sort of costliness. There were heavy military casualties, specifically the attrition and dismay upon being decisively defeated by the Dzungars. Meanwhile, in addition to the major loss of human life, China also suffered greatly economically, with the cost of some wars exceeding 100 million liang and plunging the Empire's administration into significant debt. It is also evident that losses suffered by the Qing were only exacerbated by weak and inept central leadership. While one emperor failed to adequately prepare his armies strategically against the Dzungars, another emperor neglected to ameliorate monetary debts by refusing to lift waivers on tribute payments. In both cases, it additionally seems that these emperors either overlooked or simply ignored the advice of strategists and officials.

This in fact ties in to the other primary reason for imperial expansion's negative effects on Qing China. After going through all that effort to conquer land, the Qing often couldn't even reap the benefits of having larger territory because they failed to implement effective local governments and administrations in their newly-acquired territories! Local policy under the Qing in these provinces evidently was a mess. There are many documents that clearly show how the local people in former Mongol territory attempted to exploit the indecisiveness of the Qing administration, which despite having successfully conquered the area, was severely delayed in deciding on any regional policy. There was Tibetan citizens' growing discontent with the Qing government because of blatantly uneven taxes that drove many into poverty and a complete lack of tax reform for decades. Finally, the local leadership under the Qing was completely idle in the ensuing 100 years after its conquests. This idleness helped make the Qing Empire susceptible to rebellion and invasion in these areas, which is demonstrated both by the fact that by the late 19th century Qing military had zero will to fight for corrupt officials, as well as that Manchu administration failed to install any public infrastructure and didn't even actually govern over all their territory.

Overall, these glaring flaws in how the Qing Dynasty handled the process of their imperial expansion from approximately 1700 to 1900 explain why their extensive conquests hurt the Empire rather than strengthening it. With such context it is also understandable why the Qing Dynasty completely collapsed not long thereafter, near the beginning of the 20th century.

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