The Opium War and the Taiping Uprising

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2 events that had unforeseen and terrifying consequences for China, bringing it to the threshold of destruction for the first time due to the invasion of foreign powers and the explosion of local rivalries. The final piece before the definitive start of the Dungan Revolts.

The Opium War (1839-1842)

Throughout its history, China had always been a country of export rather than import, managing to self-feed its internal needs and even managing to export many goods, including porcelain and tea, objects much desired by the British. Since the sixteenth century, however, opium consumption was very present in the Qing Empire, a particular drug obtained from the Papaver somniferum, which over time became a serious problem for the country. Precisely for this reason the emperor Yongzheng forbade its sale in 1729, however he was unable to stem this scourge completely.


Just in those years, the British Empire had conquered Bengal and, to remedy the loss of the United States, began to cultivate poppies and import the product massively in China. In 1839 the emperor Daoguang destroyed 1300 tons of it, providing England with a pretext for being able to attack the Qing militarily. A year later the British fleet will arrive in Macau and only 2 years later will the treaty of Nanjing be signed, with which the Empire will begin an ever more evident decline and destined to last for almost 100 years.

Taiping, the revolt of the brother of Jesus

Only 8 years later, China will be shaken by the greatest revolt of all time: that of Taiping, less than the Second World War only in terms of death toll. This clash featured Hong Xiuquan, an aspiring bureaucrat who, after being refused the final exam, had visions and proclaimed himself “brother of Jesus Christ“. Thanks to the growing discontent with the Qing, due to increasingly poor living conditions, Xiuquan soon managed to create a real army, keeping the Empire busy for 14 very violent years.

Hong Xiuquan, the “brother of Jesus

If on the one hand the policies of the Taiping were concerned with redistributing fields and wealth, on the other they can be considered among the most violent that History has ever seen, counting a toll of more than 25 million victims at the end of the conflict. This was due to both third-party events, such as famines and plague, and to the ferocious policies of the “brother of Jesus“, who gave several orders to exterminate each Manchu (the Qing ethnic group) stood before him, considering them as like demons. It will be precisely to stem this revolt that the Chinese government will entrust General Zeng Guofan to permanently activate the Yong Ying, a militia that will be central to the Dungan revolt and that will lead to the beginning of this conflict. Just the latter will then allow the Qing to quell this revolt which will end in 1864 with the fall of Nanjing.

Now that we have put all the pieces in place, we can definitely start talking to you about the Dungan Uprising, see you tomorrow with the first episode.

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