Prince Dorgon

Dorgon was regent for his nephew between 1644 and 1650. He seized the opportunity offered by Ming general Wu Sangui (Wu San-kuei) to lead the Manchu forces inside the Great Wall and together to defeat the rebels who had seized Beijing (Peking) that ended the Ming dynasty.

After defeating the rebels Dorgon placed his six-year-old nephew on the vacant throne. With this act, the Qing (Ch’ing) dynasty was transformed from a frontier state to a national dynasty of all China.

When Manchu leader Abahai died in 1643, the Manchu clan leaders assembled to elect a new ruler among his sons. Dorgon, Abahai’s younger brother and the most able among the princes, successfully maneuvered to have five-year-old Fulin (Fulin) elected ruler, rather than an older son, so that he could be regent.

An able statesman and warrior, Dorgon continued to consolidate central power and strengthened the bureaucratic style government established by his brother. As the weakening Ming dynasty was threatened by internal revolts Abahai prepared to invade north China.

In April 1644, a rebel army led by Li Zucheng (Li Tsu-ch’eng) advanced on the capital city Beijing (Peking), taking the city before General Wu Sangui and his troops stationed at Shanhaiguan (Shanhaikuan) at the eastern terminus of the Great Wall of China could arrive to defend the city.

General Wu then invited the Manchus to assist him against the rebels, an invitation that Dorgon was delighted to accept. Prince Dorgon and Wu ousted the rebels and entered the city with their joint forces on June 6, 1644.

General Wu invited the Manchus to assist him against the rebels
General Wu invited the Manchus to assist him against the rebels

While Wu and some Manchu units chased down the rebels, Dorgon remained in Beijing, buried the last Ming emperor and empress (who had committed suicide) with honor, declared that the Manchus had come to restore order, and placed his young nephew on the vacant throne as Emperor Shunzi (Shun-chih).

He thus established a new national dynasty, the Qing (Ch’ing), that would last until 1911. He also confirmed most Ming officials in their positions, including the Jesuits who headed the Board of Astronomy; reduced taxes; and forbade Manchu imperial clansmen from interfering in administration.

The defeat of Li and other rebels and immediate reforms won over many northern Chinese although it took several decades to end Ming loyalist movements in southern China. However one of Dorgon’s orders, that all Han Chinese men wear their hair in a queue as Manchu men did, greatly irritated Chinese sensibilities.

Dorgon was a forceful administrator but his arrogance and autocratic style alienated many. He gave himself increasingly exalted titles, such as “Imperial Father Regent,” but was frustrated that he could not become emperor.

A showdown between Dorgon and his nephew never occurred because he died in 1650 during a hunting trip. Shunzi then took over personal control but continued the successful policies of his uncle. Thus while Nurhaci and Abahai prepared the way for the rise of the Manchus, it was Dorgon who seized the opportunity to realize it.