Qing Dynasty Expansion into Manchuria and Mongolia

The Qing Dynasty and the Borderlands: The Cost of Expansion into Manchuria and Mongolia


J. Devine


From 1636 to 1911 China would be under the rule of the largest and last dynasty in its Ancient history. The Qing dynasty would originate from the Manchu people of Manchuria, for generations the Manchu lived in a system of separate tribes and clans until they were united as one by Nurhaci. Under this new unification, the Manchu quickly drove out the Han Chinese of the Ming Dynasty and took power. Under the Qing, China would begin to witness substantial cultural, political, technological, economic, and most importantly environmental changes occur.  Influenced by the calls of the foreign market as well as the need to support an ever increasing population, The Qing dynasty would began expanding into the frontiers of other regions of Inner Asia in order to satiate this new and ever increase demand.

17th Century Qing Dynasty Art “Whiling Away the Summer”







Manchuria was the home province for the ruling Manchu class of the Qing Dynasty. It consisted of scattered farmland and plains surrounded by swathes of heavily wooded pine forests  hosting  large and diverse number of wildlife and plants. This variety of life was an important aspect for the lives of the Manchu as it allowed them to survive in the very beginnings of their civilization. After their conquest of China and settlement in Beijing the lands of Manchuria would once again became an important part of the new Manchu empire.

Han Migration and Agriculture in Manchuria.

In 1644. after a 40 year long conquest of China by the Manchus. The settlement and changing of Manchuria would began almost immediately  after  In fact, some of the earliest policies of the Qing Dynasty were made in order to encourage Manchu settlement into their homeland as well as preserve their own culture. However, for much of the Qing dynasties rule, they did not allow the emigration and settlement of Han Chinese into Manchuria. Going as far as to have a large military presence and construction of what is know as the Willow Palisades. These laws were not effective and many Han began to illegally immigrate into the region in large numbers before the changing of the law in the later 19th century.  By the 1780s, Han Chinese farmed 500,000 hectares in Manchuria and by 1800 populations of urban centers were almost 80% Han Chinese.

Three Sections of the Willow Palisade, 1863

Manchuria Wildlife and the Destruction of Consumption

A Chinese black silk and fur winter coat, late Qing Dynasty, embroidered with prunus and peonies

One of the biggest environmental impacts caused by the Qing Dynasty in Manchuria was the exploitation and destruction of Manchurian wildlife. Under the Qing dynasty the material culture and consumption of resources as well as the symbols of status and wealth changed dramatically, becoming based in preserving the traditional “Manchu way”. Now instead of wearing silks and jades the ruling class wore animal furs and riding boots, what before was seen as barbaric and uncivilized was now a mark of wealth and elitism. This newfound demand in animal and plant good would go on to have devastating effects on populations of tigers, bears, leopards, multiple types of fish, or storks as well as the hoarding of plants such as pine nuts and ginseng root.  So much was this demand that the Qing Dynasty created a large and complex bureaucratic system to handle the influx of animal and plant goods while also ensuring the highest productivity possible.

Qianlong Emperor Hunting Deer


The people of Mongolia lived within the expansive grasslands, plains, and steppes of Eurasia as well as Northern China beyond the Great Wall. These steppes and lands Mongolia consists of large rolling plains of grass, scrublands, and desert, all punctuated by expansive mountain ranges. This type of environment and ecological led to the development of the distinct way of life for much of the people of Mongolia as pastoral nomads They are well known for there position and skills as a nomadic people. Surviving through activities such as fishing, hunting, foraging, or pastoralism. For thousands of years the province consisted of several different clans and tribes  all with different lineages and cultures rather than united as one nation.

One Day of Mongolia by B. Sharav (1869-1939)

The Manchus and the Mongols

The people of Mongolia had a relationship with the Manchu long before their rise to power in the Qing Dynasty. After Nurhaci unified the Manchu state, many federations of the Mongols joined them as the unpopular reign of last Khan, Ligdhan Khan let to much infighting and division between Mongols. After Nurhaci unified the Manchu state, many federations of the Mongols joined them as the unpopular reign of last Khan, Ligdhan Khan let to much infighting and division between Mongols. These Mongols tribes would be the first allies of the Qing Dynasty and some of their earliest banner units. After the conquering of the Ming dynasty by the Qing in 1635 much of the lands of Mongolia would come under the control of the Qing Dynasty.

Titled "Imperial Banquet in the Garden of Ten Thousand Trees Qing dynasty, 1755," by Giuseppe Castiglione
A banquet given by the Qianlong Emperor for the leaders of Dörbet Mongols (Choros) tribes in Chengde Mountain Resort in 1754, By Giuseppe Castiglione.

Mongolia under the Qing

Under the Qing Dynasty, the political and environmental geography of Mongolia would begin to rapidly change. A new highly organized administrative system system would be developed to control the lands. Inner Mongolia and Outer Mongolia were ruled separately by local appointed officials who kept local traditions and cultures alive while others regions would come under direct control of the Qing. Inner Mongolia consisted of 6 “Chuulgans”  or leagues while much of the tribes of Outer Mongolia were governed by 4 khanates. However, many tribes would still resist again Qing rule for hundreds of years. The main governmental body of the Qing that supervised over the frontier areas like Mongolia was known as the Lifanyuan. This body was the main source of mediating between and with Mongols. The Lifanyuan oversaw several different duties most importantly in regards to the environment, the pastoral development, allocation, bordering, and pastoral relief under a system called Imperial Pastoralism. This Strict control alongside a lack of Governmental funds and relief caused severe damage to the Pastoral culture of the Mongols as well the Steppes.

1912 Map of Chinese Territories in Mongolia


The Qing Dynasty would be the last  dynasty of China, during its around 200 year long reign of power the Qing under the Manchu would go on to make fundamental and impactful changes within China as well as the regions surrounding it. Manchuria and Mongolia are only two of the many other regions and cultures affected by the expansion of the Qing Dynasty. The environmental impact that the resource demanding and consuming Qin would have on the wildlife of Manchuria serves as an example of how rapid consumerism can go on to have deep ecological impact while the implemented policies and structures within Mongolia that go on to  conflict with the more traditional culture and lifestyle of the previous ages shows how the Qing took advantage of people throughout the frontiers. The Qing Dynasty may have helped bring China into the modern age and lead to its development as an economic power but the people, environment, and cultures of the frontier lands were forever changed in the process.

Work Cited

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