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White Lotus Rebellion 1796-1804

The White Lotus peasant rebellion broke out in 1795 (White Lotus was the name of a secret society that had first fought against the Mongols). It took nine years of warfare and great loss of life before the rebellion was put down. The feared Manchu banners, since their conquests of the early 1700s, showed they were no longer a military force of much value, and the emperor had to recruit a new army made up of Chinese militia.

Althongh there were several risings against the Manchu dynasty during the first four reigns, the White Lotus Society kept quiet until about 1761, when the Emperor Kien-lung issued an edict against it and the Ming Tsuen or Illustrious Worthies and the Pah Yun or White Cloud sects. In 1775, a chief of the White Lotus Society, named Liu Sung, was banished from Anhwei to Kansuh after sending people to the area under pretext of healing diseases by prayer and incantation, to gain adherents to his cause in Western China. Many partisans joined and the society grew rapidly until 1794, when it broke out into the rebellion that subsequently spread over Hupeh and Western China under Liu Cbi-hieh and cast a gloom over the close of the long and brilliant reign of Kien-lung.

This Liu Chi-hieh set up a youth named Wang Fa-sheng, whom he represented to be a member of the Chu family and a descendant of the Ming emperors, as the rightful sovereign of the people. He declared that to prevent the capture of the young prince when a child, he had fled with him and concealed him beyond the borders of China.

In the period after about 1680 the introduction of corn (maize) and sweet potatoes, followed in the 18th century by the introduction of the Irish potato, made upland farming possible. A pattern emerged of growing rice in the valley bottoms, corn on the lower mountain slopes, and Irish potatoes on the higher land. Southern Shensi, with its great amounts of vacant land, attracted immigrants on a large scale after severe famines and crop failures had occurred in Hupeh and Szechwan provinces in the 1770s. Rapid and often reckless development of the Shensi uplands, however, often led to soil erosion, rapid loss of fertility, and declining crop output. Local disaffection broke out in the so-called White Lotus Rebellion of 1796-1804, which was centerd in the Szechwan- Shensi- Hupeh- Honan border regions.

This rebellion grew rapidly under Lin Chi-hieh and other leaders, oue of whom was a woman surnamed Wang, until there were a hundred thousand rebels in arms, who fought with varying fortune against an at least equal number of imperialist solidiers. Sometimes whole provinces were subdued by them, and it looked as if their efforts were going to be successful, and Western China, if no other part, would remain theirs. Then a turn of fortune and successive victories of the imperialists would almost annihilate their armies and crush all their hopes. And so the war was waged. After the strnggle had lasted six years, Lin Chi-hich was captunredd. But as oue leader fell or was captured, another replaced him, and as the rebellion was extinguished in one place, it blazed out in another.

This internecine war lasted over ten years, at a cost of tens of thousands of lives and an expenditure, by the government alone, of two hundred million taels in money. The young pretender, Wang Fa-sheng, was never any other than a puppet in the hands of the leaders. Nothing is known of his end. He simply and quietly disappeared.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:30:12 ZULU