During the period of the China Trade, when Mainers were sailing to ports in China, the Qing (or Ch'ing) Dynasty (1644-1911) was in power. The Qing Dynasty was established by the Manchus in northeastern China, and expanded to surrounding territories of Inner Asia, establishing the Empire of the Great Qing. The Manchus were a semi-nomadic people who conquered the Ming capital of Beijing (Peking) in 1644 and remained there until the Qing Dynasty was overthrown by revolution in 1911 and the last Emperor abdicated in 1912.
Qing leaders were responsible for restrictive policies on books, political writing, and assembly of scholars; they also initiated the "eight-part essay" format for imperial civil service examinations.
Manchu males wore their hair braided into a pigtail known as a queue. During the Qing Dynasty the Manchus forced the Han population to follow this custom. Any male seen without a pigtail outdoors was beheaded.
China called itself the "Celestial Kingdom," and had been a flourishing civilization for thousands of years before westerners arrived. The Emperor of China was referred to as the "Son of Heaven, Lord of Ten Thousand Years," and lived in a special area of Peking known as the Forbidden City. The Emperor's Ministers supervised the Mandarins, who in turn supervised districts within the country. Mandarins were ranked into nine levels, reflected in their clothing. Chinese society was filled with custom and ritual; for example, the few people who were allowed to meet with the Emperor had to first kowtow to him. The kowtow ritual involved the visitor lying prone on the floor and banging his head. This practice was understandably a source of tension between the Chinese and European or American merchants. The Chinese revered their elders, both living and dead. In order to insure the proper respect for oneself in old age, large families with many children were considered a blessing.
The Chinese society was agricultural, organized around growing rice and cultivating tea. There was a wide gap between the standard of living for the wealthy landowners and that of the peasant farmers. Only male children were formally educated. Education consisted of intense study of the Chinese classical writings; calligraphy, poetry, and philosophy were stressed. The highest achievement for a man was to be known as a scholar; merchants and soldiers were held in low esteem. Boys had to take part in a series of written examinations, first on a local level, and then, if these were successfully passed, in the capital city of Peking. There the young man was enclosed in a small cubicle for two days to write the essays for his final exam. These examinations were open to all classes of young men, and it would bring the entire family great honor if the boy passed his exams, which would lead to a position in the civil service.
Girls were not educated. Marriages were arranged at an early age, and couples often did not meet until their wedding day, when the bride was carried in a covered chair to the home of her husband's family, where she would spend the remainder of her life, rarely venturing outside its walls. The practice of binding the feet of female children was widely practiced in China and, although it originally was a custom of upper class families, by the 17th and 18th centuries, peasant girls began to emulate the practice. By the 19th century it was extremely widespread.
The Chinese traveled around their country by rickshaw, being pushed in a wheelbarrow, or carried in a covered chair. Foreigners, however, were forbidden to use these methods of transportation.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the uneven distribution of wealth, undue foreign influence, and the absence of a strong Emperor led to the end of the Qing dynasty and the Chinese Empire.