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Last Updated on January 6, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 524

The Emperors Wanli of the Ming dynasty and Kangxi and Qianlong of the Qing dynasty, as well as Mao Zedong, are among the figures portrayed by Jonathan Spence in The Search for Modern China.

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Wanli ruled from 1572 to 1620. He was well-educated and conscientious, and his rule started auspiciously. In the latter part of his reign, however, he withdrew from contact with the world outside the Forbidden City. In doing so, he ceded important duties to the court eunuchs, seriously weakening imperial power. This period also saw the emergence of the Manchurian warlord Nurhaci. His rebellion placed significant strains on the Chinese peasantry, who were taxed mercilessly to finance the Ming defenses. Wanli faced rebellions on many fronts, but it would be the incursion from Manchuria which finally overthrew the Ming.


Kangxi was one of the most illustrious rulers China has had. He ascended the throne in his early teens after ousting his regent. Known for his assiduous study of the Confucian classics, he reinstated the examination system which decided all appointments to higher officialdom. He also promoted the compilation of the immense encyclopedia known as the Gujin Tushu Jicheng. After a long struggle, he quenched a revolt by the generals of the southern Three Feudatories, and the rest of his reign was generally peaceful.


Qianlong's reign lasted from 1736 to 1799, the longest in the history of China. He continued his predecessor's resistance to the incursion of foreign traders. A famous missive from Qianlong to King George III stated that China had "never valued ingenious articles" and denied the English request to establish a diplomatic presence in the capital. His reign was characterized by an economic revival and a resurgence in the Chinese population. His most important achievement was the conquest and assimilation of large territories in the west of the country. In the cultural sphere, he greatly enlarged the imperial collection of art and calligraphy and also ordered the creation of the compendium of learned and literary works known as the Four Treasuries.


(The entire section contains 524 words.)

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