Manchu Internal Collapse
Rottenness thus begins at the center, and in a few reigns, sometimes in a few years, it extends to all the provinces. Exorbitant and illegal taxation, unbridled living, and the shameless and open sale of legal sentences gradually alienate the hearts of the people, till at last some able patriot or ambitious upstart, a Cromwell or a Napoleon, appears in an obscure part of some province, and by stubborn resistance against injustice, or by successful robbery and pillage, increases the number of his followers, and widens the field of his operations, till the reigning dynasty is crushed out of existence. The man who begins his career by robbing his neighbours, and sacking the nearest cities, proves himself the emperor ordained by Heaven if he can unseat the reigning one; and the defeat of the latter is proof that Heaven has forsaken him.
The most ancient principle of government in China is that the ruler is for the people, not the people for the ruler; and though the ruler is absolute, he is real ruler only while he acts out that principle. As soon as he forsakes it, robberies, insurrections, famines, and droughts proclaim Heaven's anger. If he is wise he repents. If he does not repent Heaven abandons him. By the later part of the 19th Century, China was the acme of imperfection. Her forests were impoverished, her rivers uncontrolled, and with an increasing population, the figure of government was gnawed at the knees by starvation. Nothing was left unsaid of China by many Western critics, except that Hell yawned to receive her.
In 1674, Wu-san-kwei, the old Chinese general, who, by permitting the Tartars to cross the frontier, had been unintentionally instrumental in raising the reigning dynasty to the throne, declared against the emperor; and all the southern and south-western provinces instantly revolted, and for nine years successfully resisted the power of the government. Kwang-tung and Kwangsi, as usual, took a leading part in this rebellion. Wusan-kwei died shortly after the outbreak. After a long struggle, rendered hopeless by the total absence of any kind of combined action, the rebels were compelled to submit. This was the last insurrection of sufficient importance to shake the authority of the Manchus. Secret societies were formed, whose members pledged themselves to assist in subverting the government; but none of these, not excepting the celebrated Triad Association, had any influence in carrying out their views.
Kang-ki, one of the greatest monarchs that ever governed a country, at his death left the empire in such a well-organised state that his successors found no difficulty in maintaining peace; and from then until the beginning of the nineteenth century (when local pirates began to infest the coasts) the country remained comparatively free from troubles, save such as were caused by the petty riots that usually occurred after an inundation or a famine. In consequence of this long season of peace, the population became so excessive, that the produce of the land was barely adequate to meet their wants.
Compton's Encyclopedia states that "The long period of peace and prosperity had some adverse effects on Chinese society. There was a shortage of land, resulting from an increase in the population from 100 million to 300 million at the end of the 18th century. Decadence and corruption spread in the imperial court. There was a decline of the Manchu military spirit, and the Ch'ing military organization deteriorated. The long and illustrious reign of the emperor Ch'ien-lung was marred by the first of many serious rebellions in the Ch'ing era, the White Lotus Rebellion from 1796 to 1804. It was not put down for ten years, and China entered the 19th century rocked by revolt."
The whole history of the early 19th Century was little else than a continual series of local insurrections, bursting out in all directions. The coast was infested by pirates, who not only caused great injury to the coasting trade, but frequently landed and sacked the villages lying adjacent to the sea. Armed bodies of men moved from town to town, and committed large robberies in open day in defiance of all authority.
The anxiety of the government to provide stores of food for the necessities of the people in times of scarcity, shows rather the fear of the disastrous results usually following a short crop, such as the gathering of clamorous crowds of starving poor, and the consequent increase of bandits and disorganization of society, than any peculiar care of the rulers for their subjects, or that these storehouses really supply deficiencies. The evil consequences resulting from an overgrown population are experienced in one or another part of the provinces almost every year; and drought, inundations, locusts, mildew, or other natural causes, give rise to nearly all the insurrections and disturbances which occur.
One of the most common evils in China was starvation. The population was very dense; the means of subsistence were, in ordinary times, frequently not above the demand; and it was, therefore, nothing extraordinary to witness, on the least failure of the crop, utter wretchedness and misery. To provide for all the hungry mouths was impossible; and the cruel policy of the mandarins carried their indifference so far as to affirm that hunger was requisite to thin the dense masses of people. Whenever such a judgment had come upon the land, and the people were in want of the necessaries of life, dreadful disorders soon arose, and the most powerful government would not be able to put down the rising and robberies which are committed on the strength of the prevailing misery. There seemed to be a total change in the peaceful nature of the inhabitants, and many a patient laborer turns fiercely upon his rich neighbour, like a wolf or a tiger, to devour his substance.
The Moslem population of West China was constantly in revolt. In 1648-1649 Kansu Province rebelled. In 1757 Turkestan, in 1783 Kansu. From 1820-1828 there was rebellion again in Kansu and Turkestan; in 1855-1873 in Yunnan; 1862-1877 in Shensi and Kansu, and again in 1895 in Kansu. It was in the Province of Kansu that saint-worship was as common as it is in the Levant. The whole literature of Moslems showed Sufi influence.
Since 1831 several insurrections occurred in the northern provinces. The refractory spirit of the people, the oppression and embezzlement of the mandarins, and other causes, such as dearth and demagogues, frequently cause an unexpected revolt. In these cases, the destruction of property and hostility against the rulers of the land (especially if these have been tyrants) was often carried to great excess. On the other hand, the cruelty of government, when victorious, knew no bounds: the treatment of political prisoners was really so shocking as to be incredible, if one had not been an eye-witness of these inhuman deeds. It is well for the Manchu Dynasty of China that the rebellions which disturbed the peace of the empire during the last century were guided by men who proved themselves quite incapable of establishing a settled government in the districts over which they established their power.
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