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It’s not for nothing that the period stretching around 100 years from the 1840s to the 1940s
is known as China’s century of humiliation.
During this time, the country suffered huge internal fragmentation,
embarrassing loss of territory, and invasion from powers that had,
for thousands of years, been subordinate to China.
Maybe it was nostalgia, maybe it was ignorance,
but Chinese rulers should have seen it coming.
Hello and welcome to It’s History.
My name’s Guy, and this episode in our story of China
takes you through a series of invasions, uprisings and revolutions
that led to the foundation of the Republic of China,
a hastily contrived state that emerged from the inglorious end
to thousands of years of regnal rule.
In the wake of the First Opium War, which resulted from confiscation of British opium shipments,
a series of treaties would swing the balance of power from China to the colonial states.
Having prevented just such a loss of influence through strict measures such as the Canton port system,
which allowed a state monopoly to keep a firm grip on all international trade,
China now lost Hong Kong to Great Britain,
and had to pay punishing indemnities to compensate for trade losses.
These were the “unequal treaties”, so-called because Britain had no obligations to China in return.
Meanwhile, the first major incidence of anti-Manchu sentiment was just round the corner.
In 1851, Hong Xiuquan established the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom.
It was a Christian revolt -- evidence that colonial missionaries had been successfully spreading the Gospel --
but also evidence of a severely deluded gentleman.
Hong had failed the Imperial Examinations, and then became very ill.
As he recovered from his fever, he claimed to have a vision --
that he we was the younger brother of Jesus. Either mother Mary had been in a time warp,
or Hong had been on something very strong.
In spite of the rather whacky justification for the uprising,
Hong’s newly declared kingdom could at least claim to hold high moral standing.
Slavery, prostitution, opium, footbinding and torture were all banned,
leaving only sex for evening entertainment --
or letter-writing, which was Hong’s main pastime.
In fact, he withdrew from frontline leadership and ruled exclusively by written decree.
His notes became increasingly cryptic, and then took on the form of sermons.
It did not take long to crush the revolt. In fact, Qing forces were backed up by colonial armies.
Hong and his associates had tried expressly to seal alliances with European powers
and the middle classes who’d had enough of Qing heavy-handedness.
The colonists’ religious sympathies might have lain with Hong and his followers,
but the threat they posed to internal stability was too great.
Nanjing, the seat of the fated new holy empire,
fell in 1864, but Hong had gained cult status
and there were still several hundred thousand loyal followers championing his cause.
Both Sun Yat-sen, China’s prized revolutionary,
and Chairman Mao cited Hong as an inspiration.
The Taiping Rebellion was a major wake-up call for the authorities,
and ushered in a period known as the Tongzhi Restoration starting in the 1860s.
This aimed to reestablish Confucian order and ethics as part of a self-strengthening movement.
The authorities turned back to old times and old thinking to try to avert a crisis,
but it was a policy that was never going to work.
The revolutionary spirit was rife, and there was abject failure to see that the theories
and practices that had governed China since prehistory could now only form the backdrop
to a much revised approach to politics, trade and international relations.
Empress Dowager Cixi did not help progress.
This was her heyday; while well-intentioned rulers tried to introduce changes
that might have restored some faith in Manchu rule,
Cixi stubbornly and, rather ignorantly, meddled to divert the course of modernisation.
The first phase of self-strengthening, in the 1860s, focussed on military prowess and foreign relations.
Western firearms, machines and scientific knowledge and training were the focus of imperial policy.
A strong indication of diplomatic progress was the foundation
of the Imperial Maritime Customs Service, led by diplomat Horatio Nelson Lay
(no relation to the great Lord Nelson, Britain’s naval hero):
The Service was designed to collect tariffs equitably, and generate new revenues for the Manchu court.
It was successful in its task,
increasing takings from 8.5m taels of silver annually in 1865 to 14.5m in 1885.
A tael, by the way, was a unit of measurement.
The second phase focussed on industrial development.
Shipping was commercialised, as were railways and mines.
This was less than successful, as core industries were now plagued by nepotism and corruption.
The Second Opium War, which resulted from an unjustified Chinese attack on a British vessel,
led to the 1858 Tientsin Treaty, which dealt a heavy blow to China.
All official documentation was now to be written in English,
and Britain was to be granted unrestricted access to all Chinese waterways.
By now, colonial powers were becoming nervous about the uprisings that were targeting religious groups.
Conservatives in the Qing court wanted in turn to distance themselves from foreign influence,
and Prince Gong, who had been instrumental in negotiating diplomatic relations,
was quietly quashed.
The first Sino-Japanese War ending in 1895 came as another huge blow to China.
Over the centuries, this comparatively small collection of islands had been a Chinese puppet.
But Japan had seen change on the horizon, and had opened up to foreign trade in the 1850s.
She sent delegations of students all over the world to study the makings of western governance and progress.
20 years of education paid off in subduing Korea in 1894,
which led to her independence and a large bounty to Japan that equalled over six times her GDP.
Japan’s interference led indirectly to the formation of the short-lived Republic of Taiwan in 1895,
and she entered into a series of new alliances with western powers
that began to encircle China.
Emperor Guangxu was on the throne after China’s heavy losses both to neighbouring and far-away powers.
He was shocked by Japan’s rampant progress, and feared the scramble for privileges in China
from German and Russian imperial prospectors.
He initiated the Hundred Days’ Reform,
where he intended to introduce widespread modernisation to China’s administration
and defence structures.
Guangxu wanted rapid industrialisation throughout China, and to inspire the capitalist ethic.
But China had no tradition of any of these things, and a decree from an emperor
was not going to change the status quo overnight.
Moreover, Empress Dowager Cixi loosened her grasp on the ultra-nationalist and fierce Boxers.
Both she and they resented the increasingly suffocating influence
that foreign powers had over China, and it led to war.
The damage Japan dealt to China during the first half of the Century of Humiliation
is evidence enough of how imperial China had lost its way, and how the colonial powers
had worked to wrest power from imperial hands. Japan’s rapprochement with the west
had been initiated by the US, and led to alliances with Great Britain in 1902.
She had precipitated Korea’s independence, and Taiwan’s too.
Though the colonial powers had been dragged into war to suppress the Taiping uprising,
and been the targets themselves of insurrection at the hands of the Boxers,
they had succeeded in taking advantage of a brief period of reform during the 1860s and 1870s.
But by now, the Qing dynasty’s demise was inevitable. Revolutionary fervour was rife,
and China’s declaration of independence was just a few years away.
One of the main events of this serious of uprisings was the Boxer Rebellion.
If you'd like to know more about this event in Chinese history click up here!
"Adapt or Die" so said Charles Darwin at a time where most of the world was doing just that.
The Qing dynasty would have been wise to take note of the edict.
But can the imperial leaders themselves be blamed for mismanaging the transition to a free-market world?
They certainly did not do much to help necessary changes on their way.
But could the imperial powers have been kinder, perhaps helping to introduce reforms
that would have left Chinese rule and order in a stronger position leading into the twentieth century?
And why did nobody assassinate Cixi?!
Leave your comments and queries in the section below.
We love the fact that so many of you are inspired by our videos, and we’re equally happy to engage in debate with you!
My name’s Guy, thanks for popping by see you next time.


The Century of Humiliation - Part 1 l HISTORY OF CHINA

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Pedroli Li 2016 年 4 月 24 日 に公開
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