The Westerners had been trading with China for some time. But, there was a great trade imbalance. The Chinese had many goods that the Westerners desired, yet the Westerners had very little to offer the Chinese in return. Then, the Westerners realized China’s craving for opium on the black market. Opium had become a problem in China. The outlawed drug had claimed countless victims to addiction, and many of the addicts were high end officials. This, in turn, created a plethora of social problems.
Despite this, the British began to import the drug from India. Since the drug was illegal, aboveboard purchase was impossible. Opium importation became opium smuggling, and vast amounts of the drug were smuggled in. For the first time, China was importing more than it was exporting. Yet, because the government was unable to tax the opium imports, the Chinese economy was destabilized. Eventually, the Daoguang emperor adopted radical prohibitory laws. An official, Lin Zexu, was commissioned to enforce the new laws. In 1839, When the British came to bring the opium, 21,000 chests were confiscated from the ships. The British saw this as a cause for war.
The Chinese were not prepared for war; their military had neither the technology nor the training. Because of this, the Chinese were humiliatingly defeated by 1842, and the image of their imperial power was blemished. The Treaty of Nanjing was signed after the Chinese’s surrender. The Treaty of Nanking relinquished Hong Kong to Great Britain, ended the licensed monopoly system of trade, and opened up five ports. The treaty was called “unequal” because China did all the giving, and received little in return.
Social unrest continued to grow after the Opium Wars. By 1851, the deadliest of the four major rebellions erupted. This was the Taiping Rebellion, led by Heterodox Christian Hong Xiuquan. Hong believed that he was the brother of Jesus, and formed a religious sect named the God Worshippers. The God Worshippers ideology was starkly different than the traditional Chinese way. The main aim was to stamp out demon worship. Since they viewed the Manchus as being the main propagators of demon worship, they desired to stamp out the Manchus. Thus, the message became politicized.
In July 1850, the God Worshippers massed and created an immense military camp and began to form an army. This is when the Qing government realized the threat was serious. The God Worshippers began to march, and seized many small cities on their quest. When the God Worshippers captured Nanjing, they went no further. Here, in 1864 after countless lives were lost, they were defeated by the Qing government. The “â€¦most important reason for the failure of the Taiping Revolution was military defeat at the hand of Chinese civil servants who were deeply committed to traditional Chinese culture and who saw the Taiping as spearheading an attack on their way of life.” (Schoppa 77).
While the government was preoccupied with the Taiping Revolution, a new rebellion was underway. The Nian Rebellion, which began in 1853, was the only major midcentury rebellion that was not motivated by religious aspects. Instead, the Nian Rebellions consisted of groups of antigovernment rebels who had been discontented by years of famine and flooding. Although the Nian bands were not a threat to traditional cultural identity, they were a threat to the government’s authority. The rebels used guerrilla tactics and employed “â€¦various predatory practices – banditry, smuggling, theft, plunder, kidnapping, and organized feuds.” (Schoppa 78). But, the Nian bands lacked meaningful ideology and effective leadership. In 1868, after several blows from Qing armies, the rebellion was brought to a close.
In1855, not long after the Nian Rebellion began, the Panthay Rebellion arose. This rebellion was waged in Southwest and Northwest China. Ethnic and religious tensions had been growing among the Han Chinese Muslims (Hui) and the imperial administration. The tensions came to a boiling point when economic rivalry came into play. The Han Chinese’s mines had been exhausted over the years, and they set eyes on the Muslim’s mines as a result. Brawling and violence began among the two groups. The rebellion picked up pace in 1856 when a Manchu official organized a massacre of two to three thousand Muslims. As Muslims fought back, killing Qing officials and seizing Dali, a voice for the rebellion rose up. Du Wenxiu was an educated Hui who immediately claimed the title of sultan. Du’s forces took control over about half of Yunnan. Du was eventually challenged by another Muslim faction and local military forces. The cities that Du controlled were seized, resulting in atrocious massacres by imperial forces. In the end, Du was apprehended and put to death.
The Panthay Rebellion was not the only rebellion that involved clashes in cultural identity between the Muslims and Chinese. At the heart of the Northwest Muslim Rebellion, which took place from 1862 to 1873, was Muslim-Han Chinese animosity. After an unsettling Taiping expedition occurred close to home, Han Chinese and Muslims of the New Teaching sect began to form military defenses. Both sides eventually began attacking each other. The Qing forces were able to contain the violence, primarily because many Muslims evaded west to Gansu. The Muslims controlled essentially all of Gansu by 1867, and the Qing government was effectively ousted.
This power that the Muslims held would not last long, however. The Qing court assigned Zuo Zongtang to campaign against the Muslim Rebellion. During the five year long campaign, his forces were merciless. A multitudinous number of Hui – men, women, and children – were slaughtered. The Chinese empire was rebellion free for the first time in many years.
The Imperial government of China was unprepared for the crises it was faced with in the mid-eighteenth century. The Opium War, the “unequal” Treaty of Nanjiing, and the rebellions throughout the sprawling empire sent the Qing powers in a tailspin. Essentially all of these crises raised and threatened issues of identity. Instead of the rebellions being suppressed by Qing officials, they were controlled by scholar-officials who strived to save the Chinese culture, despite their differences with the Manchu overlords. “In one sense, the military actions of the scholar officials were cases of ethnic Chinese saving Manchu overlords; but more accurately, they were efforts of scholar administrators imbued with Chinese culture aiding their rulers also committed to that culture. ” (Schoppa 84)
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