The Manchus, founders of the Qing (‘pure’) dynasty that came to rule China, were descendants of those Tartars who invaded Beijing in the 12th century. This time they were to stay for 267 years.
The Qing were more interested in maintaining the existing capital and administrative systems than in making any radical changes. As they themselves became culturally assimilated (to the extent that they lost their own language), their improvements Lo Beijing and its environs tended to preserve the styles and techniques of the Ming period. The most interesting contributions the Qing rulers made to their adopted capital were the various summer palaces that they built outside the city.
Notable Qing rulers included Kangxi ( reigned 1661-1722), Qianlong (reignecl1736-95) and the Empress Dowager, Cixi (ruled 1861-1908). Kangxi’s reign was the longest in Chinese history; he was a contemporary of Louis XIV of France and Peter the Great of Russia (both of whom he had contact with). During the long reigns of Kangxi and Qianlong, China enjoyed peace and prosperity. The 18th-century European ideal of the Chinese nobility as a highly cultured people dressed in gorgeous silks and much given to splendid ceremonies derived from Western travelers’ accounts of this land of plenty.
But the ideal was an elaborate facade, the Manchu court had, by the 19th century, become enervated and stagnant. Clinging rigidly to ancient systems of thought and rituals, the ultra-conservative officials rejected all original ideas or innovations as seditious. Attempts by reformers to modernize China were invariably quashed.