The weakness of the Chinese empire by the nineteenth century can be explained as much by the superiority of the westerners as by the traditional Chinese society. China's beliefs and traditions, such as the mandate of heaven, the social hierarchy and Confucianism, played a pivotal part in restricting China's growth, and deterring China from acquiring Western technology and science. This then led to the Opium Wars which greatly immobilized China. However the western superiority both technologically and industrially also brought about the demise of the Chinese. Example of the realization of western superiority is the self-strengthening movement, the 100 days of reform and the Taiping Rebellion. Then came the Boxer Rebellion, the final blow to China's weak central government. These problems brought about China's weakness in the nineteenth century.
The First Opium War, 1839-1842, was always going to be won by the British. The victory, was swift and efficient, and a major factor in China's weakness in the nineteenth century. The treaty that followed the Chinese defeat, meant that China had to open several ports to trade, whereas previously only Guangzhou was open to western trade. Besides this China was forced to hand over a massive sum of money to the British Empire, as well as the island of Hong Kong. The central government had been strongly weakened during the war, and the already unstable country, made worse. .
The social structure of traditional China was a major cause of China's weakness in the nineteenth century. At the topmost of the social hierarchy was the emperor, followed by the senshi (scholars), peasants (farmers), workers/artisans, merchants and at the bottom of the social hierarchy came the soldier. The fact that the soldier was at the bottom of the social hierarchy deterred the Chinese people from joining the military and strongly weakened them when they were challenged by the west.