The Manchu Dynasty or also know as the the Qing dynasty was founded in 1644 and collapsed in 1912. It replaced the Ming Dynasty, which was the last Chinese dynasty to be ruled by the Han Chinese. The Qing Dynasty was founded by foreign Manchu rulers, and was the last dynasty in China's history. It was replaced by the Republic of China, which was founded in 1911.
In 1644, the Manchu powers, which were growing in the north, began to expand into Chinese territory. The Ming capital of Beijing had already fallen to Chinese rebel forces in 1644, but these rebels were quickly destroyed by the Manchu in the same year. However, the Manchu did not gain complete control of China until approximately 1683.
Furthermore, while the Qing Dynasty began in 1644, pockets of Ming loyalists remained in China throughout Qing's rule. Regardless, in the end China's territory under Qing rule was the largest it had ever been or would ever be; it included China Proper, Mongolia, areas of central Asia, and Tibet.
The Qing Dynasty and Chinese culture became very synthesized, and under emperors such as Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong, Qing rule reached its economic and social heights. During the Qing Dynasty, as can be expected, clear social distinctions were made between the Han Chinese and the Manchus.
For example, Han Chinese men were forced to shave the front of their heads and tie their hair in a pony-tail. Moreover, the central government appointed two people to every official post: one Manchu, and one Han Chinese. The result was that the Han official did the majority of the work, while the Manchu official ensured that the Han official remained loyal to the Qing rulers.
Despite the strong rule of the Manchu Dynasty, by the beginning of the 19th century, the central government began to face serious challenges, which eventually led to the collapse of the dynastic cycle. The 19th century was a time of social strife and unprecedented population growth which resulted in a strain of food supply.
A series of rebellions broke out around this period, beginning with the White Lotus Rebellion of 1796-1804. This rebellion weakened Qing's armed forces and led to further rebellions, such as the Taiping Rebellion in the mid-19th century. These events placed considerable pressure on the Qing government.
Added to these internal problems, China was beginning to be affected by its increased trade with European countries. While trade flourished between Europe and China, this was largely one-sided. Countries such as Great Britain and France desired a constant supply of China's tea, ceramics, and silks. However, China had very little interest in the trade items Europe could offer; Europe had nothing China wanted. In fact, many merchants only accepted silver as payment for their teas and silks.
This upset these European nations, which led to hostility between European governments and Qing China. Great Britain and France reacted by increasing importation of Opium to China - a drug which many Chinese citizens were addicted to, and therefore a trade item with great potential to relieve trade imbalances.