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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.

Daniel Hoyer (c) private

Daniel Hoyer

James Bennett (c) Kevin Chekov Feeney, member of the External Faculty

James Bennett

Majid Benam, researcher at the Complexity Science Hub © private

Majid Benam

Peter Turchin, faculty member at the Complexity Science Hub

Peter Turchin

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