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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: December 2011

9 - The Qing Dynasty


The Yuan Dynasty crumbled from internal problems exacerbated by rebellions, but the Manchus, a newly risen steppe polity, destroyed the Ming Dynasty. The Manchus created a new dynasty, the Qing, which presided over a period of incredible territorial expansion in the eighteenth century, followed by a series of stinging military and political defeats at the hands of the encroaching Western powers in the nineteenth century. The Qing court and China itself struggled to formulate an adequate response to the West. This process continued after the dynasty fell in 1911 and a modern nation-state began to emerge. The Qing Dynasty thus straddles two distinct periods of martial arts history: the end of the time in which hand-to-hand combat skills were useful on and off the battlefield, and the beginning of the time in which modern weaponry cast all of those skills in an antiquarian, rather than practical, light. It was that shift that laid the basis for much of our modern understanding of Chinese martial arts.

Guns played an important part in the wars that founded the Ming, and they played a still greater role during the Qing conquest. From as early as the Yuan Dynasty, guns might even be included in the list of Eighteen Martial Arts. European Jesuits at the Ming court were compelled to contribute their knowledge of European gun making to the Ming war effort against the Qing, but the Manchus caught up quickly by capturing Chinese artillery experts trained by the Europeans. Both sides in the conflict fought with all the weaponry of the preceding centuries – swords, spears, bows, crossbows, handguns, and cannon. Military change was incremental, rather than revolutionary.