The Shunzhi Emperor (15 March 1638 – 5 February 1661) was the third emperor of the Qing dynasty and the first Qing emperor to rule over China, from 1644 to 1661. A committee of Manchu princes chose him to succeed his father, Hong Taiji (1592–1643), in September 1643, when he was five years old. The princes also appointed two co-regents: Dorgon (1612–1650), the 14th son of the Qing dynasty's founder Nurhaci (1559–1626), and Jirgalang (1599–1655), one of Nurhaci's nephews, both of whom were members of the Qing imperial clan.
From 1643 to 1650, political power lay mostly in the hands of Dorgon. Under his leadership, the Qing Empire conquered most of the territory of the fallen Ming dynasty (1368–1644), chased Ming loyalist regimes deep into the southwestern provinces, and established the basis of Qing rule over China despite highly unpopular policies such as the "hair cutting command" of 1645, which forced Qing subjects to shave their forehead and braid their remaining hair into a queue resembling that of the Manchus. After Dorgon's death on the last day of 1650, the young Shunzhi Emperor started to rule personally. He tried, with mixed success, to fight corruption and to reduce the political influence of the Manchu nobility. In the 1650s, he faced a resurgence of Ming loyalist resistance, but by 1661 his armies had defeated the Qing Empire's last enemies, seafarer Koxinga (1624–1662) and the Prince of Gui (1623–1662) of the Southern Ming dynasty, both of whom would succumb the following year. The Shunzhi Emperor died at the age of 22 of smallpox, a highly contagious disease that was endemic in China, but against which the Manchus had no immunity. He was succeeded by his third son Xuanye, who had already survived smallpox, and who reigned for sixty years under the era name "Kangxi" (hence he was known as the Kangxi Emperor). Because fewer documents have survived from the Shunzhi era than from later eras of the Qing dynasty, the Shunzhi era is a relatively little-known period of Qing history.
"Shunzhi" was the name of this ruler's reign period in Chinese. This title had equivalents in Manchu and Mongolian because the Qing imperial family was Manchu and ruled over many Mongol tribes that helped the Qing to conquer China. The emperor's personal name was Fulin, and the posthumous name by which he was worshipped at the Imperial Ancestral Temple was Shizu (Wade–Giles: Shih-tsu; Chinese: 世祖).
In the 1580s, when China was ruled by the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), a number of Jurchen tribes lived northeast of Ming territory in the region that is now known as China's Northeast, or "Manchuria". In a series of campaigns from the 1580s to the 1610s, Nurhaci (1559–1626), the leader of the Jianzhou Jurchens, unified most Jurchen tribes under his rule. One of his most important reforms was to integrate Jurchen clans under flags of four different colors—yellow, white, red, and blue—each further subdivided into two to form an encompassing social and military system known as the Eight Banners. Nurhaci gave control of these Banners to his sons and grandsons. Around 1612, Nurhaci renamed his clan Aisin Gioro ("golden Gioro"), both to distinguish his family from other Gioro lines and to allude to an earlier dynasty that had been founded by Jurchens, the Jin ("golden") dynasty that had ruled northern China from 1115 to 1234. In 1616 Nurhaci formally announced the foundation of the "Later Jin" dynasty, effectively declaring his independence from the Ming. Over the next few years he wrested most major cities in Liaodong from Ming control. His string of victories ended in February 1626 at the siege of Ningyuan, where Ming commander Yuan Chonghuan defeated him with the help of recently acquired Portuguese cannon. Probably wounded during the battle, Nurhaci died a few months later.
Nurhaci's son and successor Hong Taiji (1592–1643) continued his father's state-building efforts: he concentrated power into his own hands, modeled the Later Jin's government institutions on Chinese ones, and integrated Mongol allies and surrendered Chinese troops into the Eight Banners. In 1629 he led an incursion to the outskirts of Beijing, during which he captured Chinese craftsmen who knew how to cast Portuguese cannon. In 1635 Hong Taiji renamed the Jurchens the "Manchus", and in 1636 changed the name of his polity from "Later Jin" to "Qing". After capturing the last remaining Ming cities in Liaodong, by 1643 the Qing were preparing to attack the struggling Ming dynasty, which was crumbling under the combined weight of financial bankruptcy, devastating epidemics, and large-scale bandit uprisings fed by widespread starvation.