The Qing conquest of Ming China placed the numerically superior ethnic group of the Han Chinese under the rule of the outsider Manchurians. The Han Chinese had governed China by way of the Ming dynasty for nearly three hundred years, until the Manchu Qing Dynasty usurped the Ming through military conquest in 1644 A.D. The Qing Dynasty was not the first non-ethnic Chinese dynasty to control China. The Yuan Dynasty was established in 1279 A.D. and was ethnically Mongolian. Just as the Mongolian culture had differed from the Han, so did the Manchu. The Han Confucian ideology placed emphasis on how regional differences in the environment allowed Manchu and Han culture to develop differently, but not equally. Both the Manchu and Han clearly identified themselves as separate ethnic groups and through social ideology, personal appearance, and fighting mentality, their ethnic differences become clear.
The largest difference between the Han and Manchu cultures was their perception of outsiders.
The Han Chinese had long been believers of Confucian ideology. This line of thought placed the Han at the center of earthly importance. The Han saw "alien groups living outside the pale of Chinese society as distant savages hovering on the edge of bestiality" (Dikotter 4). The Han characters for the names of outside ethnic groups incorporated "an animal radical" that degrades outsiders to a near-animal status; the Qing character denoted a sheep radical (Dikotter 4). The sheer number of Han Chinese combined with their Confucian ideas created a society that believed itself to be culturally superior to other ethnicities. Moreover, the large number of Han Chinese fostered the belief that outside groups, such as the Qing, would be more vulnerable to assimilation than the Han. The emphasis on the uniqueness of the Han ethnicity created an inherent racism in Chinese society.
The Han and Manchu cultures differed greatly in traditional dress. The Manchu hairstyle was to have a clean-shaven face and a clean-shaven head. The hairs in the back of the head were grown long, braided, and bound (Struve 51). The Manchu's traditionally wore "a round low Cap...garnished round with some precious skin three fingers broad" (Struve 51). The Manchu wore red silk or "black and purple horsehair" with long robes "falling down to the very foot" (Struve 51). The sleeves of the robe were unique to the Manchu, "the sleeve is drawn together at the wrist... a style that derives from hunting and battle dress (Struve 51). The Manchu carried a knife, two purses, and two handkerchiefs (Struve 51) The Manchu also carried a Scimitar, however, the weapon was angled with the hilt behind the man, this caused the Manchurian to draw his sword with his right hand and from behind his back, a most unique style (Struve 51).
The Manchu warriors could gather and mobilize with lightning speed. Manchu society was structured for combat, and warfare influenced much of the Manchurian way of life. Manchu society could transition between peacetime and war with extreme speed, "their Arms and Horses ready for an expedition; so as in one half hour they all are ready" (Struve 53). The Manchurians hunted regularly to maintain military prowess and conditioning. The Manchu's cared "not for Houses and Chambers", but rather they preferred the traditional rustic dwellings of their nomadic tents (Struve 53). The essence of the Manchurian military power was the individual skill of each warrior. The Manchurians "train[ed] their soldiers to hardness for War", and the military mindset allowed the Qing to quickly raze the most powerful Ming cities (Struve 53).
Manchurian and Han cultures were expressly individual, both ethnicities saw themselves as separate peoples. Through social ideology, appearance, and military mentality the Qing and Han distinguished themselves from one another. The social environment of the Han changed when the Qing took control of China. The Han culture was not able to assimilate the Qing because of Qing mandates that forced the Han to conform to Qing cultural characteristics.