The Opium Wars and Taiping Rebellion are significant events in China’s history. They took many people’s lives and severely influenced the Chinese economy. The West was rapidly expanding in the 19th century, trying to make China a part of the world economy, yet the Chinese did not see benefits in trading with European countries. That conflict of interests resulted in the events mentioned before. The purpose of this paper is to explore the events of the Opium Wars and Taiping Rebellion and determine the conditions in China that led to the wars and their outcomes. The external and civil wars of the 19th century caused significant changes in the state and were precipitated by several issues that dominated China in that period.
The First and Second Opium Wars
The First Opium War occurred when opium was introduced to the world economy in the 19th century. Opium was an instrument that the British used to reverse the trade patterns as they wanted to initiate trade with China (Columbia University, 2021). When the Chinese tried to stop the British, they declared a war that occurred in 1839-1842 and is currently known as the First Opium War (Columbia University, 2021). China lost the following military confrontations, and they had to sign some documents forcing them to become a part of the world economy (Columbia University, 2021). Those documents stated that China was to open its ports to foreign states and relinquished jurisdiction over the ports and the foreigners living in China (Columbia University, 2021). Moreover, the Chinese had to exclude their nationals from areas and facilities under foreigners’ control and “allow Western Christian missionaries to proselytize in the interior of the country” (Columbia University, 2021, para. 3). As a result, China became an economically open state to foreigners, such as Europeans, Americans, and Japanese.
The Second Opium War took place in the second half of the 19th century. It occurred in 1856-1860, and China was further humiliated by Western states, which attacked and sacked the Old Summer Palace, the main imperial dwelling (Columbia University, 2021). The Second Opium War was a part of a major confrontation between the British, Germans, French, Americans, and Japanese for the influence within Chinese territories (Columbia University, 2021). They had to stop when China was at risk of destruction due to the foreigners’ confrontations (Columbia University, 2021). However, the Opium Wars significantly impacted China from political and economic viewpoints.
The Taiping Rebellion
The Taiping Rebellion was a major civil war that occurred in the second part of the 19th century. It was a part of a series of rebellions that took place across the country (Columbia University, 2021). The Taiping Rebellion continued during 1850-1864 and, according to the statistics, cost the lives of 20 to 30 million people (Meyer-Fong, 2013). The researchers claim that it was “the most devastating civil war in human history” associated with “extraordinary carnage and destruction” (Meyer-Fong, 2013, p. 1). The rebel forces managed to control a significant portion of Chinese territories, with their capital established in the city of Nanking (Columbia University, 2021). The central government had to delegate its military power to the provinces to control the rebellion (Columbia University, 2021). Therefore, the government of China was weakened, primarily since the Taiping Rebellion was not the only one in that period.
China’s Condition in the Period of Wars
Several conditions in China precipitated the wars and their outcomes. According to Columbia University (2021), four critical issues dominated China during the 19th century. First of them is the aggressive expansion of the West, which directly led to the Opium Wars, as was mentioned before (Columbia University, 2021). Then, several internal crises occurred in China, including its expanding population, migration unavailability, diminishing political control, and natural catastrophes such as drought and famine (Columbia University, 2021). Therefore, China could not win the wars that occurred in that period as they could not resist the “united” states of the West, especially with the internal crises described earlier. The third issue is the disagreement of China’s leadership about the best response to the present challenges and the required changes (Columbia University, 2021). Finally, China searched for a form of government to further lead the state (Columbia University, 2021). The issues mentioned above caused the wars in the 19th century in China, including the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion.
Summing up, the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion of the 19th century led to significant political and economic changes and were caused by several key issues present in China in that period. The Opium wars resulted from the aggressively expanding West’s attempts to make China a part of the world economy. They made China economically open to foreigners, namely Europeans, Americans, and Japanese. The Taiping Rebellion co-occurred with the Second Opium War and was a part of a series of rebellions in China. Yet, the Taiping Rebellion is considered to be the most devastating civil war in history. According to the historian’s research, the four critical issues in China caused the events described above. These include the expansion of the West, the internal crises in the country, the leadership disagreement, and the search for a new government form. These issues and the wars they caused severely impacted China’s history in the 19th century.
Columbia University. (2021). Key points across East Asia – By era 1750-1919. Asia for Educators. Web.
Meyer-Fong, T. (2013). What remains: Coming to terms with Civil War in 19th century China. The Stanford University Press.