Structural-demographic analysis of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) collapse in China


This paper analyzes the collapse of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) through the lens of the Structural Demographic Theory (SDT), a general framework for understanding the drivers of socio-political instability in state-level societies. Although a number of competing ideas for the collapse have been proposed, none provide a comprehensive explanation that incorporates the interaction of all the multiple drivers involved.

We argue that the four-fold population explosion peaking in the 19th century, the growing competition for a stagnant number of elite positions, and increasing state fiscal stress combined to produce an increasingly disgruntled populace and elite, leading to significant internal rebellions.

We find that while neither the ecological disasters nor the foreign incursions during the 19th century were sufficient on their own to bring down the Qing, when coupled with the rising internal socio-political stresses, they produced a rapid succession of triggering events that culminated in the Qing collapse.

G. Orlandi, D. Hoyer, H. Zhao, J. S. Bennett, M. Benam, K. Kohn, P. Turchin, Structural-demographic analysis of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) collapse in China, PLoS ONE 18(8) (2023) e0289748.

This publication was supported by the following project(s):

  • FFG, Project No. FFG 873927