Almost a month ago, I had announced on this blog that I would be writing a research paper, and that the topic would, of course, be about Chinas history (how fitting, right?) Now, after I have successfully completed all of the researching and drafting for said paper, I have a fully refined final product. Now, as a full disclaimer, the topic of the paper has changed. This decision was made for a number of reasons (most have to do with the lack of reliable information that was available to me), but the main reason was that I felt as if the topic was not relevant. I was originally writing about something that had occurred decades ago, and although that still would have been a great topic, I felt as if I should research something that is still affecting China as a whole. Therefore, the topic of my paper has changed from “the effects of Taoism, legalism, and Confucianism on China’s historical government” to “The cultural, economic, and imperialistic reasoning behind China’s switch from a Dynastical Monarchy to a Communist Regime during the early twentieth century.” Although both of these claims seem to be worlds away from each other, they both still have to do with a.) China’s government and b.) the countries history. The only difference between the two is again, the second claim is more relevant to current events in China. With that being said, here is the essay that I wrote on the topic…
Communism: A Means to an End
As the once great nation fell into a steady decline during the start of the nineteenth century, China’s future began to look grim. This nation, which once claimed solitude, opened its gates to western ideas. Although this influx of new technologies and ideologies may have originally benefited these once proud peoples, they ultimately brought about the nation’s demise. Imperialistic actions from countries such as Great Britain and France began to cripple the country’s economy, and as more ports were forced opened and larger quantities of westerners were allowed in, the native Chinese people became prisoners in their own nation. The government was losing its power from the people. Having seen famine and revolution, the natives lost their faith with the current government and desired a change. China’s ultimate shift in governing style from a dynastical monarchy to a communist regime during the early 1900’s was a direct result of the cultural, economic, and imperialistic attacks that were brought onto the country by western powers.
Foreign religion had already taken its toll on the Chinese culture. Before the government began to open its doors to the peoples of the western world, western ideas and technologies had already embedded themselves within the citizens by word of mouth. Foreign rumors and ideas traveled down the silk road, and even highly vetted Europeans who had been given a position within the domain of the emperor allowed aspects of their prior lifestyles to rub off onto those who worked around them. This cultural invasion, which remained unbeknownst to most who held positions of power within the current government, only worsened when the port of Canton was opened to unrestricted international trade. The western ideas of merchants, missionaries, and other modern thinkers flooded into the preexisting cultures and infrastructure of this city. Although these European men could not physically leave the limits of this port, their ideas did.
This spread of information throughout China led to some of the first motions which brought about the Taiping Rebellion, a massive religious movement beginning in 1850 which, sparked by western culture, nearly removed the standing Chinese government from power. Hung Hsiu-Chan was an aspiring educator under the rule of the Qing Dynasty. Due to the fact that he was economically worse off than others, Hung went into a depressive and almost insane state of solidarity after flunking his certification exams multiple times (Salisbury 28). It was during this time that Hung heard the words of Christian missionaries and other religious preachers and began pursue Christian rhetoric. It was during this time that Hung proclaimed he was the “Son of God, Brother to Jesus Christ” and was tasked with bringing Christianity to the Eastern World (Salisbury 28). With this idea cemented within his mind, it was easy for Hung to bring forth a band of Christian followers which he would use to bring his destiny onto the Eastern World.
Being described as radical Christians, Hung and his followers “put China into the hands of a neo-Christian militarized theocracy” (Salisbury 29). Because the movement was comprised of devout Chinese christians, they saw themselves as a “highly moralistic, puritanical, totally opposed to opium, tobacco, drink and sexual licentiousness…” movement who diverted radically from Confucianism and many of the other historical traditions practiced during the time (Salisbury 29). They were completely against any culture which was present within their country prior to their movement, and thus they attacked it. These were all grounds on which the new principles of communism in China were put in place. The Chinese government was at the time fearful of another cultural movement that would jeopardize their countries vast history, and thus saw communism as a solution to their problem. However, as previously discussed, there were other grounds for China’s switch in governing styles, and from those we get instances such as the opium wars.
The opium wars were a direct result of Imperialistic intervention of European nations out of a desire for profit within a developing China. Taking place during the same timeframe as the Taiping rebellion, the opium wars had major impact not only on the economy of a China, but also its people. The conflict began during the early nineteenth century. Being produced in British India, the opium was “smuggled into China by (mainly) British merchants.” who would then sell the product to local distributors (Chang 22). Although this illegal business was highly profitable, the drug not only left people in poverty, but also severely deteriorated their physical states. Described as having “Their shoulders hunched, eyes watering, nose running, and breath short, looking more dead than alive…”, the users of the substance were in poor health (Chang 22). It was from moving depictions such as this, along with other first hand encounters that the Chinese Government decided to ban the importation and distribution of the drug in most cities such as Beijing by 1800 (Chang 23). However, laws such as these never stopped the drug trade from continuing, and thus the opioid epidemic within the country would become worse for years to come.
With a dwindling control of power and a drug epidemic on their hands, Chinese officials had no choice but to crack down futher on the opium trade. In March, 1839, Emperor Daoguang (who was the current leader of China) tasked a native Chinese man by the name Lin Zexu (who was known commonly as being a “crusading drug fighter”) to be the Imperial Commissioner to Canton (Chang 22). By obtaining this role, Lin would be tasked with monitoring all imports into the city of Canton, which was at the time the only trade port open to European nations. Upon arrival at Canton, Commissioner Lin ordered all merchants to “hand over all opium in their possession.” (Chang 22). Ofcourse, this order was resisted by many (as they were making a sizeable profit off of this illegal trade), so Lin took matters into his own hands by Cordoning off all merchants who refused to comply, and held them in captive until all opium in Chinese waters was surrendered. Fearful of the consequences and possible casualties that could be created by an ultimatum such as this, the trading companies who were supplying the opium complied with Commissioner Lin, handing over as many as 20,183 chests of opium, weighing in at more than one million kilos (Chang 25). Lin would then go on to destroy the opium, first burning it and then dumping its remains into the ocean. This trade in itself was a major act of imperialistic actions by European nations on China, but the consequences would only become worse.
It was then at this point that international conflict arose. Almost as if China had not suffered enough by the economic crises created by the opium epidemic, many of the European trading companies who had partaken within this opium trade saw Lin Zexu’s actions as acts of aggression, and called for war. “Major trading companies and Chambers of Commerce from London to Glasgow were up in arms. Lin’s action was said to be “injurious” to British property, and there were calls for going to war to seek ‘satisfaction and respiration’.” (Chang 23)
Although there were many who did not wish to see a war with China over the opium trade (as they had already come to the conclusion of how horrible the drug was, seeming as it had already been banned in Britain for decades), a vote was still taken on the subject. Winning by a majority of nine in a 271 to 262 vote, a formal declaration of war against China was created, and thus the true Opium War began (Chang 23). What would follow would be known as the Treaty of Nanjing which was one of, if not the most humiliating and destructive series of events that would be imposed on China by Western Civilizations.
The losses felt by the Chinese from the Treaty of Nanjing came in waves. During the two years following the Britain’s formal declaration of war on China, scores of warships along with over 200,000 men (with over seven thousand of those being made of Indian Sepoy fighters) would come into Chinese waters to not only destroy the fleets owned by the defenseless Chinese, but to attack trading cities and ports as well (Chang 23). “Without gunboats and with a poorly equipped army, China was defeated and forced to sign the Treaty of Nanjing…” (Chang 23). This initial defeat shocked China, because although they were expecting to lose by combat, they were not expecting the horrific ramifications of their loss that were cited within the Treaty of Nanjing.
The first major blow that was dealt by this “treaty of peace” was done so through the countries open doors policy. As seen and explained before, China has historically been a closed country, with only certain areas being open to international trades. However, the Treaty of Nanjing completely removed these historical ruling by forcing China to “… Open four more ports for trade, in addition to Canton.” (Chang 24) These new ports would come to be known as “treaty ports”, and they would be subject to Western, rather than Chinese laws (Chang 24). This meant that foreign religions (such as Christianity) could legally be spread throughout the country. “A historic edict on 20 February 1846 lifted the ban on Christian missions. Although this only applied to treaty ports, the ban remained in force for the rest of China.” (Salisbury 14). This allocation of Christian practices throughout these five standing international ports allowed for a more “free flowing” dispersion of Christian ideals, and thus (as previously discussed) directly had an impact on the causes of the Taiping rebellion as these new ideas were far easier to transmit. Finally, the last (and most destructive) outcome of the Treaty of Nanjing was the legal continuation of the Opium Trade throughout all Chinese territories. Due to the the countries now crippled military and lack of possible opposition to the trade, the Chinese government could do nothing to stop the trade of this substance. Thus, in 1860, China finally “bowed to the reality” and made the opium trade legal (Chang 24). This final action (in both a figurative and legal sense) undid every effort the Chinese had previously made to stop the Opium epidemic, and if anything meant that their efforts brought them nothing but loss. The Imperialistic nature of these demands did nothing but add to the already deteriorating state of the country, thus further cementing China’s reasoning behind a switch fundamental government styles.
What is a government to do when their power and control over the state which they govern diminishes. Leading up to the beginning of the twentieth century, China had had experienced a variety of cultural, economic and imperialistic atrocities. From the Taiping rebellion which threatened the countries culture and historic heritage to the Opium Wars which created an economic crisis, China was close to an imminent collapse. Even the Treaty of Nanjing, which was designed to create peace in the Asian empire caused nothing but despair for the native people who then had to live under the new imperialistic rulings. In further years, it would be seen that China would experience more uprisings, such as the boxer rebellion which is often credited as being the countries first steps towards a stronger China (Preston 56). However, this movement would never be a means to an end for the struggles endured by Chinese, and thus Communism would be implemented as a solution to the oppression that this once proud nation faced from European and other Western superpowers.
Chang, Jung. Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine who Launched Modern China. Rundem House LLC, 2013.
Martin, Christopher. The Boxer Rebellion. Abelard-Schuman, 1968.
Paley, Alan L. The Establishment of Communism in China. Storyhouse corp, 1974.
Preston, Diana. The Boxer Rebellion. Walker Publishing Company, Inc., 2000.
Salisbury, Harrison E. China: One Hundred years of Rebellion. Hult, Rinehart and Wilson, 1983.