Dorgon was regent for the Shunzhi Emperor, the first Qing Dynasty emperor to rule from Beijing, and was the de facto leader of the Qing during its conquest of China, and the initial establishments of many Qing institutions and structures in China.
The succession negotiations which followed the death of Manchu Khan Hong Taiji ended in the decision that Hong Taiji's son would succeed him as Qing emperor, and Dorgon, Hong Taiji's younger brother, would serve as regent. In 1644, with the aid of Ming general Wu Sangui, Dorgon led Manchu forces through the Shanhaiguan Pass (past the Great Wall), and into Beijing, where they placed the six-year-old heir on the throne, naming him the Shunzhi Emperor, and emperor of China. Invited into China in order to avenge the fall of the Ming and to defeat the rebels who had sacked Beijing, Dorgon then led his forces in pursuit of rebel leader Li Zicheng, destroying his rebellion and driving him to his death in 1645 or 1646. Dorgon also led Manchu forces south along the Grand Canal, besieging and then sacking Yangzhou in 1645, and Nanjing later the same year.
Meanwhile, Dorgon expanded or established many of the fundamental structures which would be key features of Qing rule. Immediately upon taking Beijing, he ordered that all Chinese men had to adopt the queue, shaving their heads and growing out their braids in the Manchu fashion; he retracted this in response to widespread opposition, but declared it once again the following year, threatening anyone who disobeyed with death. The Eight Banners system of the Manchus was combined with the Six Ministries governmental structure of the Ming and put into place as a new government, within which most posts were double-occupied by Manchu and Chinese officials. Dorgon reorganized the interior palace staff, dramatically reducing the power of the eunuchs and replacing them with Chinese bondservants. The civil service exams were reinstated in 1646.
Though profoundly effective in leading the Qing to success both militarily and politically, Dorgon is said to have also taken for himself extensive powers, and to have lived extravagantly, even outrageously. He ousted generals on a whim and seized control of their banners, married the widow of one of his dead rivals, demanded the Joseon Dynasty provide him with concubines, and made plans to build a huge palace fortress at Jehol (Rehe).
Upon Dorgon's death on a hunting trip in 1650, there were some succession disputes, as there had been according to Manchu custom each time one of the khans had died. However, the Shunzhi Emperor - who was in fact emperor throughout this period, with Dorgon merely as regent - managed to maintain a hold on the throne, and at age 13 began to wield power for himself.
- Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China, Second Edition, W.W. Norton & Co. (1999), 33-42.