Qing Rulers Promoting and Preserving Manchu Identity (1635–1850)

The Manchu rulers faced a complex set of issues as they conquered China and established the Qing dynasty. On one hand, they sought to adopt Chinese methods of imperial rule. On the other, they simultaneously sought to retain their distinctive cultural identity. Beginning with Hongtaiji (1592-1643) the founder of the Qing dynasty, Manchu rulers aggressively sought to maintain their own ethnic identity while preventing the assimilation of Han Chinese cultural practices. With frequent threats and harsh enforcement, the Manchu leadership aggressively promoted their distinctive language, dress, and martial skills among the Manchus. As part of their Manchu identity, they cultivated the notion that they shared an affinity with Mongol and Tibetan peoples and actively promoted themselves as patrons of Mongol and Tibetan culture. These measures helped to preserve Manchu unity while advancing the Manchu's desire to create a multiethnic and cosmopolitan empire.


  • 1. Why did the Qing emperors place such a premium on Manchu identity? What elements did they most cherish?
  • 2. Are pro-Manchu sentiments implicitly anti-Han Chinese?

Hongtaiji on the Adoption of the Term Manchu (1635)

Our gurun (tribe, state) originally had the names Manju, Hada, Ula, Yehe, and Hoifa. Formerly ignorant persons have frequently called [us] jusen. The term jusen refers to the Sibo and Chaomergen barbarians and has nothing to do with our gurun. Our gurun establishes the name Manju. Its rule will be long and transmitted over many generations. Henceforth persons should call our gurun its original name, Manju, and not use the previous demeaning name.

Hongtaiji on Maintaining Manchu Traditions (1636)

Nowadays sons are only acquainted with roaming the streets and planning plays and music. In the old days when everyone was poor, we were happy if a hunt was announced. Very few had servants; everyone looked over their horses, cooked food, and saddled up to go. Even with hardship everyone still unceasingly put forth their best effort. . . . Nowadays when there is a hunt, many youngsters say, "My wife or son is sick," or "I'm busy with affairs at home." If they're clinging to wife and babies and don't know how to exert themselves, how can the nation not be weakened?

XIUNU—A selection process used by the imperial household to select Manchu women as partners for the Qing emperors and princes.


"Banners" were large civil- military units, organized along ethnic (Manchu, Mongol, or Han) and hereditary lines, though during the Qing, the term "bannermen" became synonymous with being Manchu.

JUELO (GIORO)—Imperial kinsmen who, because of their relationship to the imperial line, received special treatment and titles.


Conventionally viewed as one of the two highest reincarnated lamas of Tibet's main Buddhist order (Gelugpa). Since the seventeenth century, the Dalai Lama has been the head of the Tibetan government based in Lhasa. In 1959, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama fled China and established a government in exile in neighboring India.


reincarnated Tibetan Buddhist religious leader in Tibet's Gelugpa Buddhist order, second only to the Dalai Lama. The Panchen Lama is traditionally based at the Tashilhunpo Monastery near Shigatse.

Qianlong on Manchu Women Adopting Chinese Style Clothing (1759)

When I inspected the xiunii [marriage draft] this time, there were girls who emulated Han Chinese clothing and jewelry. This is truly not the Manchu custom. If they do this before me, what is willfully worn at home? . . . Although this is a small matter, if we do not speak to correct it, there must gradually be a change in our customs, which are greatly tied to our old Manchu ways. Take this and have the banner high officials proclaim it to the bannermen.

Qianlong on Manchus Adopting Chinese Names (1767)

Recently the Board of Rites nominated Manjishan, the son of Mamboo. The name Manjishan is really using "man" as a surname. I have changed Manjishan's name to Jishan. Jishan is a judo, which is very prestigious. But Jishan doesn't honor this, instead he takes "man" as a surname, like Han people. Where's the principle in this? The Imperial Clan Court ought to pay attention to prevent this kind of thing.

A Reminiscence by Yihuan (Prince Chun) on the Royal Family's Skill at Archery (c. early 1850s)

During the Xianfeng reign [1851-1861], I accompanied eighth brother . . . and ninth brother ... to reside in the Agesuo. We would be summoned to test our literary and martial skills for glory or shame. One day the emperor ordered me, followed by fourth elder sister ... to compete in archery. Eighth brother put four arrows into the cloth target, ninth brother thirteen arrows, and the emperor gave each of them a jade piece. I hit the target three times, but I was not rewarded. Instead, he ordered a tiny pigeon five cun [inches] in size to be hung and said to me, "if you hit this pigeon, you'll get a reward." At this point fourth sister bent her bow and took her first shot, hitting the target. I then shot and with my second arrow I hit it. I was summoned in front of the emperor and he personally handed me a jade lion.

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