Miao Rebellion - 1850
The Miao-tze have the nature of hardy mountaineers, and were sober, intrepid, capable of long endurance, and animated with a proud spirit of independence. After ages of occupation the Tartars had failed to bring to submission the most remote mountainous districts of Kouang-si. The very misery of the inhabitants was an element of strength, and an army of adventurers could nowhere recruit itself so easily as among a population living on the verge of want. Moreover, the mountain country afforded the very best possible battlefields to those who had yet their way to make by stratagem, by surprises, and mainly by defensive operations against the more numerous and organized troops - if such a term as the lost may be applied at all to the Chinese army - of the Celestial Emperor.
But there remained a more cogent reason still why any grand and comprehensive attempt against the existing dynasty of China should take its origin in the natural fastnesses of Kouang-si. In the more distant of these mountains dwell the Miao-tze, a community to whose adherence to the revolutionary cause in the first instance must certainly be attributed much of the success that has attended its progress. The Miao-tzes are the aborigines of a chain of mountains which take their rise in the north of Kouang-tong, and extend into the central provinces of the empire. They were husbandmen and warriors, fearless, and capable of any amount of fatigue.
The Tartars had never conquered them. They had preserved the ancient national costume; had never shaved their heads; had always repelled the authority of the mandarins and refused to adopt customs imposed by the Manchus. Their independence was a recognized fact, and in the maps of the country their districts were left blank in order to show that they had not yet been brought under submission to the emperor. The Miao-tzes were the horror of the civilized Chinese, who called them wolf-men. It is a firm belief in Pekin that tbey wore tails, and that when a Miao-tze was born the sole of the child's foot was cauterized in order to harden it and to render the owner incapable of fatigue.
To have planted the revolutionary standard away from these hardy mountaineers would have been to throw away an incalculable advantage ready made to the insurgents hands. They did not throw it away. On the contrary, they availed themselves to the full of the terror inspired by the very name of Miaotze, proclaimed an alliance with the supposed savages, and induced the latter to take up arms for the recovery of lost rights.
In August 1850 the Pekin journals first announced the breaking out of predatory warfare in Kouang-si. During the earliest months of 1850 the rebels performed divers insignificant military movements until they approached the frontiers of Kouang-tong. Here they possessed themselves of one or two important towns and slew three high-class mandarins. The viceroy of the two Kouangs, a functionary of the name of Siu, and whose prudence amounted to downright cowardice, as the enemy approached expressed a pious desire to withdraw from his viceroyalty in order to prostrato himself before the tomb of the defunct emperor. But he was ordered to keep to his post. In his extremity he despatched troops against the rebels, but the troops were beaten and utterly destroyed.
In fact, destruction was inevitable whenever they took the field. The tactics were invariably of one description. The insurgents, as often as the imperial troops advanced, pretended to take flight, and, as often as the rebels pretended to take flight, the imperial troops pursued until they were caught in ambuscade, and there pitilessly massacred. Experience went for nothing. The feint was made a hundred times, and a hundred times wholesale slaughter followed. Siu, stunned by the unaccountable success of the insurgents, hurried off to Pekin to sound the note of alarm. While he was rushing to the capital new victories were obtained by the guerillas. These continued to invite the imperial soldiers to destruction, and the soldiers were too good disciplinarians to disobey.
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