(BRITISH IMPERIALISM and ASIA, to 1900 – continued)

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BRITISH IMPERIALISM and ASIA, to 1900 (8 of 9)

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The Taiping Rebellion and Second Opium War

The Chinese viewed the settlement of the First Opium War in 1842 – the Treaty of Nanjing – as unfair. The British were unhappy because profits were not what they had hoped they would be, and they believed that the Chinese were slow in implementing the Nanjing agreements involving trade. Opium, meanwhile, continued to be smuggled into China, which contributed to the resentment of foreigners by Chinese officials.

China's economy was in turmoil, flooded with foreign goods and burdened by reparations payments. With this, a rebellion started in 1850 against Manchu rule – rule by the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1911). This was the Taiping Rebellion. Twenty million would die. Western powers would choose sides and intervene. And it would leave a lasting impression among the Chinese.

The leader of the rebellion, Hong Xiuchuan, considered himself a Christian and saw himself as the son of God ordered to save the world. He led a movement that favored sharing wealth, land distribution and advocated following the Ten Commandments. It favored chastity and an end to foot-binding for women and was opposed to opium smoking. It swept across central-eastern China, intending to drive away "Manchu demons" and rival faiths, Buddhists and Taoists, whose temples they destroyed. Chinese intellectuals, of course, sided with Manchu rule against Hong's rebellion. And Christian missionaries rejected Hong's movement, seeing Hong's views as heretical and his movement as an infringement on their own interests in Christianizing China.

Five years into the rebellion, Manchu rule also confronted a British and French force. A ship registered with the British in Hong Kong and owned by a Chinese resident there was docked off Guangzhou (Canton) and searched by Manchu government agents looking for a notorious pirate. The British sent an expedition of ships seeking redress, and they were joined by the French, who wanted to avenge the Manchu execution of a French missionary, Father August Chapdelaine, in Jiangxi province that same year – 1856. The British and French force occupied Guangzhou. The force then cruised north, and in May, 1858, it captured forts near Tianjin. The Manchu government gave in and signed the Treaties of Tianjin with Britain and France and with Russia and the United States joining in the agreements.

The new treaties held that tariff barriers were to be adjusted downward further than previously agreed. China was to pay Britain and France indemnities. The British, French, Russians and the United Stated won the right to have embassies in Beijing. Eleven more ports were to be open to Western trade, and these powers were to have the right to navigate the Yangzi River. The opium trade was legalized; Christians were to be allowed to proselytize and to be guaranteed protection, and Westerners, including businessmen, were to be allowed to hold property in China.

China's emperor, Xianfeng, remained hostile to the Westerners. He refused to ratify the treaties and he forbade the creation of foreign legations in Beijing. In the summer of 1859 the British returned for treaty ratification and the Chinese attacked, killing more than 400 Britons and sinking four ships. The British were forced to withdraw while under the cover of fire from a United States naval squadron. A larger British and French force returned in 1860 and made their way to Beijing where they ransacked and looted the emperor's' Summer Palace and Old Summer Palace in retaliation for Chinese atrocities. The British and French took control in Beijing. And Queen Victoria was given a Pekingese dog that had been confiscated from one of the palaces, a dog she named Looty.

In 1860, foreigners began to monopolize trade along China's coastline. Meanwhile, the Manchu Emperor Xianfeng had been weakened by debauchery and drugs, and he died in 1861 at the age of thirty. On Xianfeng's death bed his shrewd former consort, Cixi, also a Manchu, managed to have the boy she called her son succeed Xianfeng, and she maneuvered her way into the position as regent for the boy. She acquired the title Dowager Empress – a title she shared with one other. The new government was influenced by Xianfeng's brother, Prince Kong, in partnership with Cixi. And, under pressure from the Taiping Rebellion, they were dedicated to appeasing the Western powers. They ratified the treaties that had been made with the Europeans, and they tried appeasing the Chinese by putting more Chinese rather than Manchus in positions of authority.

Prince Kong, in partnership with Cixi, modernized the Manchu army, and he enlisted Westerners against the Taiping rebellion. Some 600 cities had been overrun by the rebels. In the city of Shanghai, Western commercial interests had grown, and there the Westerners sided with Manchu rule. The Westerners financed a pro-Manchu army, which was led by a US citizen, Fred E. War. He was killed in 1862, and an Englishman, Charles G. Gordon, an evangelical Christian, took charge. Gordon's military took many cities for the Manchu. The Taiping rebellion was crushed by 1864. The Manchus suppressed more rebels in 1868, and in 1873 they defeated rebellions among Muslim tribes in Yunnan and Guizhou provinces toward China's southwest.

When Cixi's son, Tongzhi, became seventeen, in 1873, he received ambassadors from the West and from Japan without demanding the traditional kowtow. Tongzhi had resisted his mother by turning to eunuchs, who pampered his desire for dissipation. A conflict among those at court was followed in December 1874 with the announcement that Tongzhi had small pox. He is reported as having died on 12 January 1875. Cixi made her four-year-old nephew, Guangxu, emperor and continued Manchu dynastic rule as his regent.


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