The Manchu conquest of China had been unexpected by the Chinese, despite the ever-constant preoccupation of the Chinese with the fear of invasion--the reason why the Great Wall was originally built was to keep out invaders from the north. Nurhaci (1559, reigned 1616-1626) was able to unite the Manchu tribes into eight armies and then gain the aid and support of the Mongols. In 1644 a local Chinese official invited some Manchu forces across the Great Wall to help put down a local rebellion. That proved to be a big, big mistake for the Chinese. The Manchus quickly captured Beijing, the capital, and then slowly occupied the rest of China (by 1681). The Manchu conquerors, being a very tiny minority in China, tried to keep in place the existing Ming governmental structure and make use of the scholar-gentry class as administrators. Under Manchu rule, China reached an unprecedented level of imperial size and prosperity with a population of one hundred million by 1662 (415 million by 1850).
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