By the 19th cent. British merchants, who had actively traded in S China, pressured their government to make repeated attempts (1793, 1816, 1834) to open China's market by establishing official trade relations with the Ch'ing government. All these attempts failed. But Britain's victory in the first of the Opium Wars (1839–42) forced China to sign the Treaty of Nanjing (1842), the first of the unequal treaties that China signed with Western countries. By these treaties China was forced to open coastal and later internal ports to foreign trade and residence, cede Hong Kong to Great Britain, and establish extraterritoriality for Western nations.
The Manchu regime, already weakened by Western encroachments, was further enfeebled by internal rebellions. The Taiping Rebellion (1851–64) nearly brought the dynasty to an end. However, the Manchu regime suppressed the major rebellions and embarked on a policy of diplomatic, technological, and military modernization led by Tseng Kuo-fan (1811–72) and Li Hung-chang (1823–1901). These statesmen played important roles in the T'ung Chih restoration (1862–74), during which the dynasty attempted to restore the traditional order by reasserting Confucian social values and importing modern weaponry from the West.
China yielded to Western demands for permanent diplomatic representation in Beijing (1860) and continued to suffer territorial encroachments. Russia occupied Ili, Japan incorporated the Ryukyu islands, France made Annam a protectorate, and Great Britain completed its annexation of Burma (Myanmar). The First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) deprived China of its suzerainty over Korea and Taiwan, and the war was followed by the partition of mainland China into "spheres of influence." The general agreement was that Great Britain should predominate in the Chang (Yangtze) valley, France in the extreme south, and Russia in Manchuria. After the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5), Japan took over Russia's sphere.
Efforts to strengthen the dynasty against foreign imperialism were undertaken by Kang Yowei (1858–1927) with the support of the emperor Kuang-hsu. These efforts, however, were frustrated by the dowager empress Tz'u Hsi, who aborted the reform movement in a coup. She supported the Boxer Uprising, however, in a vain attempt to dislodge the foreign powers (1898–1900).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.