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Prior to the 1800s and before foreign influence China was a powerful country and had been ruled by many different dynasties starting with the Hsia dynasty in the second millenium BC to the Ching dynasty ending in 1911 A Short History of China pp 12 166 Although dynasties had changed and several dynasties had been foreign the Manchus Ching dynasty were the last foreign people to rule over China The Manchus kept their own language and ethnic identity but maintained political order and military organization and thus insinuated themselves into China and gained the cooperation of the elite the traditional educated gentry who were the leading families in the communities and provided officials to the bureaucracy In the eighteenth century the Manchus and Chinese along with many foreigners saw China as the worlds greatest civilization representing the highest possible attainment of humanity China seemed to have lasting peace a high standard of living institutional stability art and literature Imperial China4-5 China was considered a beautiful vast country its people hard-working and sober its land fertile and blessed with many lakes rivers and canals but so populous and crowded that most of the people lived in poverty They worked continuously just to exist many so desperate that they sold themselves and their families as slaves hoping to redeem themselves at some future time Imperial China pp 115-19 Over time the scholar-gentry ruling class became distanced from the peasant population pursuing their private lives not having any apparent interest in technological advances or the world outside them becoming decadent inept and corrupt squandering resources During the nineteenth century Taiping rebels decried the corruption in the system But Europeans also knew little about China saw only its exotic products Europe itself had undergone centuries of experimentation and innovation and seeking truth and action But China felt they already knew the truth and failed to progress Imperial China pp 4-8The Chinese considered foreigners to be illiterate barbarians and forbade
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