The Qing were led by Manchus, not ethnic Chinese, meaning that the Qing Dynasty was basically a foreign power that ruled China. They adopted many of China’s ruling traditions, including looking inward and trying to keep foreigners out. Early in the Qing dynasty European countries began trying to engage China in trade. The Qings resisted but over time trade developed, mostly in products like tea, porcelain, and silk. The engagement also led to clashes as the foreigners continuously pressed for more access and China continuously resisted. The stage was set for further clashes between China and the rest of the world.
The Qing Dynasty, controlled by Manchus, Rules China from 1644-1922
Tribes from the north, who weren’t actually Han Chinese, conquered China. Out with the Ming and in with the Qing. Because northeastern China was known as “Manchruria,” they were called Manchus, like the moustache, although they were more famous for their hair style—the long, braided queue in the back with the hairline shaved above the forehead—which they forced Chinese men wear under the threat of execution for refusing to do so. Although the hair was new, the Qing kept most of the policies and traditions of the Ming, including this one: no foreigners allowed. A few important aspects of the early Qing Dynasty are as follows:
Closed to the outside world: Initially Qing maintains China’s long term policy of limited contact with the outside world
Even prior to the Qing dynasty China had long tried to insulate itself from the world. The Qing had no formal diplomatic corps as foreign relations weren’t considered important. Instead such matters were handled by other ministries. China’s main foreign relations were tributary, i.e., it would collect tribute payments from smaller, neighboring countries like Vietnam and Thailand. During the early Qing relations with Japan were minimal in part because the Tokugawa government refused to recognize Chinese superiority which was a standard part of the tributary relationship.
Barbarians at the gate: European nations begin engaging China
British, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Portugal all active in trade in early Qing. The Dutch and Portuguese tried to establish broad trading privileges but were rebuffed. Eventually trade was allowed in Canton, Xiamen, and Zhoushan. In 1680 the Qing dynasty allows access to coastal ports and drops the notion that Western nations need to assume tributary status in order to trade with China. Trade initially focused on items like Chinese silks, porcelains, and teas.
Arrested and rebuffed: China tries to keep the foreigners out
As foreigners, led by Brits, try to push further into China to increase trade, tensions with Chinese mount and clashes result. For example, in 1759 James Flint of the East India Company was sent to negotiate with Qing for better terms of trade. He sailed without permission to Ningbo then Tianjin. Though initially received well by the emperor Flint was eventually imprisoned for three years for illegally sailing to Ningbo, improperly presenting petitions, and learning Chinese. Other similar incidents demonstrate that the Qing’s, though permitting some trade, continued to be reluctant to give foreigners broad access to China.