V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > E. East Asia, 1793–1914
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1796)
E. East Asia, 1793–1914
1. China, 1796–1914
This period embraces China's last imperial dynasty from its initial decline to its end, when it was overthrown by a revolution made in the name of republicanism, though it never took form as such. In addition to the systemic problems of the dynastic form of government, China was subject to natural and secular changes—principally, the disastrous changing course of the Yellow River and the debilitating impact of mass opium addiction—that enervated the Qing dynasty. China's population continued to grow in these years, topping 400 million by the middle of the 19th century. The presence of the Western powers, and later of Japan, and pressing demands on the court exacerbated the Qing's problems. Traditionally, Marxist and many non-Marxist historians dated the beginning of “modern Chinese history” to the Opium War of 1839–42, because the British defeat of the Chinese and the subsequent demands on the Qing government effectively transformed the nature of the Chinese economy. That view has not been seriously defended outside of the People's Republic of China for some time. A more important event signaling the decline of the Qing, and hence of the dynastic system, would be the White Lotus Rebellion, which begins this section.  1
The JIAQING REIGN of Emperor Renzong marked the turning point from the high Qing period into decline. Jiaqing did not actually begin to run the government until the death of the retired Qianlong emperor in 1799. China was faced with threats to the social order from within and without. Little in the way of open pressure was brought to bear on the court.  2
The WHITE LOTUS REBELLION, led by a millenarian Buddhist sect that believed in the return of the Buddha, erupted out of social and economic discontent in the north. It spread across the impoverished three provinces of Hubei, Shaanxi, and Sichuan, before being suppressed by Manchu forces. The fact that it took the armies of the empire eight years to put it down proved to be a harbinger of the declining effectiveness of the State's standing armies; the Qing was saved only by the use of Chinese recruits, the “green standards.”  3
c. 1800–1830s
The Western powers had been coming to China for some time; they were allowed to trade only through the strictly limited Canton system. Whereas customers in the West wanted ever greater quantities of tea, silk, and Chinese porcelains, the Chinese wanted nothing the West had to offer, except silver. From about 1800, though, Indian-grown opium found a hungry market in China, despite the fact that it was illegal, and it reversed the silver flow until Chinese coffers were drained. Eventually, this problem would come to a head.  4
Christian literature was proscribed, and a Catholic priest was strangled for being in China without permission (1815).  5
Robert Morrison (1782–1834), the first Protestant missionary to China, translator of the Bible into Chinese, and author of the first Chinese-English dictionary, arrived in Guangzhou. He lived there under the aegis of the British East India Company.  6
A millenarian religious group, the Tianli Sect, rose in rebellion and invaded the imperial palaces in Beijing, before being suppressed.  7
British ambassador Lord Amherst (1773–1857) was sent away from Beijing without being received, just as British forces were fighting against Nepal, a Chinese tributary.  8
Li Ruzhen's (c. 1763–c. 1830) satirical novel Flowers in the Mirror was completed (first printed in 1828). In it gender roles were reversed, with men binding their feet, applying makeup, and serving women. The novel was in part intended as a critique of the great difficulty many well-educated men were having in finding employment as officials.  9
The DAOGUANG REIGN of Emperor Xuanzong marked a tumultuous time in Chinese history, which included a disastrous war and the early beginnings of the greatest rebellion in China's entire history.  10
The illicit trade in opium, 5,000 chests annually (despite imperial prohibitions of 1800 and 1813), was transferred to Lintin Island near Guangzhou.  11
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.