Chapter 8 the Crisis Within

Social Dislocation in the North and South (pg 164 – 168)

During the early nineteenth century, China faced increasing domestic instability. This instability was caused by governmental corruption and failure to regulate parts of the bureaucracy such as the salt trade and the Yellow River and Grand Canal. In addition, the emperors during this period were less powerful which allowed the court to be taken over by factions.  These failures resulted in unrest among the common people. Unrest among the peasants led to the local elites building up militias in an attempt to compensate for the government’s shortcomings and to protect themselves and their communities from the rebels.

In 1813 there was an uprising in the North led by Lin Qing, a member of a religious sect called the Eight Trigrams. Lin was extremely charismatic and was able to gather a large following with promises guaranteeing that financial backing now would result in substantial rewards later. Ultimately, Lin orchestrated an assassination plot against Emperor Jiaqing, however, his plan failed, and Lin was sentenced to death.

Around this time, there was also rising unrest in Southern China. The dominant group in this region was the Heaven and Earth Society, an anti-Machu group established in Fujian in the late eighteenth century. The Heaven and Earth Society drew their followers from many social classes. However, the majority of their followers were sailors and poor city folk that were frustrated with the government’s inability to control the foreigners in Canton.

Seal of the Heaven and Earth Society

The Taiping (pg 168  – 175)

Hong Xiuquan led the Taiping Rebellion between 1850 and 1864. Hong Xiuquan converted to Christianity after failing the civil service exam for the fourth time. In a delirious state after his fourth failed attempt, he connected a Christian text he had been given on the way into his third attempt at the exam in 1837 and a dream he had after failing the 1837 examination. In his dream, Hong conversed with God and Jesus, who revealed to him that he was Jesus’s half-brother. After “understanding” his dream, Hong began collecting followers by publicly preaching the message of Christianity. In 1847, Hong studied the Bible with an American Baptist.

By 1850 Hong had amassed over 20,000 followers and declared himself the King of the Taiping Tianguo or the Kingdom of Heavenly Peace. Over the next three years the Taiping continued to amass followers, and in 1853 they seized Nanjing and killed all the Manchu’s in the city. The Taiping maintained control of the city from 1853-1864. Hong attempted to rule Nanjing as a utopia where everyone was equal. One of the methods Hong employed to do this was the equal division of land. The kingdom divided its land-based upon the size of each family. In addition, women were able to hold bureaucratic positions, and they stored property in a common treasury.

However, the Taiping were not able to maintain power. The leaders of the Taiping had grown complacent and had stopped fighting to gain more power and territory. Rather, the Taiping were content to stay in their Nanjing stronghold. In 1864 after Hong’s death Qing officials, with backing from the West, stormed Nanjing. When faced with defeat the rebels burned themselves alive instead of surrendering to the Qing.

A drawing of Hong Xiuquan

Foreign Pressures (pg 175 – 178)

In 1854 the British forced the Qing to renegotiate the Treaty of Nanjing. During the renegotiation, the British requested access to the interior of China, the legalization of opium, and a Peking residence for an ambassador, among other things. The Qing originally refused these terms but were forced to agree after the British seized Canton in 1857 and the Dagu forts in 1858. These seizures resulted in the negotiation of the Treaty of Tianjin in 1858 which gave in to the previously mentioned British demands. China received no benefit from the treaties beyond the British returning Canton and Dagu. The Chinese refused to follow the clause in the treaty that allowed for an ambassador in Peking. The Chinese’s violation of the treaty terms led to the British attacking Dagu again in 1859. The Qing were prepared and thus able to push back British attack. The British retaliated by marching on Peking and burning down the Summer Palace (Yuanming Yuan) in 1860.

Looting of the Old Summer Palace by Western forces in 1860

The Nian Rebellion (pg 178 – 181)

Location of the Nian Rebellion

The origin of the Nian can be traced back to roving groups of bandits along the north of the Huai River in the 1790s. Unlike the other three rebellions mentioned in this chapter, this group did not have a religious affiliation. In the beginning, the Nian also did not have firmly established leadership or a goal. However, the group grew steadily, mostly attracting poor peasants after mass flooding in 1851 and 1855. In 1852 the groups became more organized. They selected Zhang Luoxing as their official head and established military banners and secure bases.  The Nian employed a guerrilla strategy against the Qing who appointed Zeng Guofan to bring the rebel groups under control. In 1868 Zeng was able to bring about the collapse of the Nian forces and execute the surviving members of the rebel groups.

Muslim Revolts (pg 181-185)

During the Qing dynasty, there were large settlements of Muslims living in Gansu-Shaanxi region and the South-West, especially in Yunnan. The Muslim settlements dated back to the Mongol conquest in the thirteenth century. In 1855 the first Muslim rebellion broke out. The rebellion was brought about by heavy land taxes, extra taxes on Yunnanese Muslims imposed by Peking, and disputes over gold and silver mines. The Chinese in the area had exhausted their mines and tried to take over the Muslim’s. Violent rioting surrounding this issue led to a large-scale attack by the Chinese on the Muslims, who retaliated by seizing the Chinese cities Dali and Kunming. The rebels only maintained control of Kunming for a short period, but they maintained their hold on Dali where the rebel Du Wenxiu created a new state named Pingnan Guo “Kingdom of the Pacified South.” The difficult terrain in the area made it difficult for the Qing to put down the rebellion, but they succeeded in doing so in 1873.

Another Muslim rebellion began in 1862 in North Shaanxi and Gansu. The Muslims in this area were followers of the “New Teachings” derived from Sufism. The Qing attempted to ban this school of Islam after uprisings in 1781 and 1783. However, this deepened local tensions between the Muslims and the Chinese. The local tensions were the cause of the 1862 uprising. The revolt began because of an argument between a group of Muslims and a Chinese merchant over the price of bamboo poles. The argument got out of hand and led to the Chinese burning down a Muslim village and killing innocent families. The Muslims retaliated by laying siege on Tongzhou and Xi’an. The Qing were unable to put down the rebellion with military force. By 1866 Qing supplies were running out. As a last effort, the Qing appointed Zou Zongtang to put down the revolt. Zou’s approach was to break the toughest rebel leader, Ma Hualong, and then the others would follow. The siege against Ma took sixteen months. However, Ma surrendered in 1871 after his men ran out of supplies and Ma Hualong and his family were executed. In 1873 Zou put down the last bits of the Muslim rebellion.

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