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EFFECTS OF THE OP
number of rebellions, inundations, famines, and similar disasters, than it bad seen for generations ;'but though the people were getting discontented, and the Government weak, it is undeniable that an enormous impulse was given to these evils by the foreign relationships which ensued. Soon after 1830 troubles began to arise with Foreigners, which caused the Peking Government considerable alarm, and induced it to take measures to maintain the isolation of the empire. The history of the events which followed has been recorded from various points of view, and need not be repeated here ; but it may be remarked, that however desirable it was that Chinese exclusiveness should be destroyed, every writer on the subject has expressed regret that the work of doing so should have been so much an attempt on the part of Great Britain to force the objectionable opium traffic.
The British war with China of 1841-42 was most in- . jurious to the peace of the country, because the power of the Government had for long defended greatly on prestige ; because large districts had been brought to ruin ; and because the calling out bands of local militia had taught the people their power. It is well known that, previous to that war, the appearance of the insignia of a Mandarin, accompanied by a few lictors armed with whips, could disperse the most turbulent crowd in Canton, the most turbulent city in the empire ; and, by a long-established rule, the people were denied the possession of firearms. But during the war arms were so generally distributed that loose characters of all kinds got possession of them, while at the same time respect for the Government had been destroyed by the manner in which its immense pretensions had been broken through by the despised Barbarian ; and, instead of ven
turing on a bold course against the local riots, robber bands, and insurrections which then arose, the Administration, conscious of its military weakness, and still stunned by its recent defeat, began to temporise and appeal. In 1845 at Ningpo, and in 1847 at Canton, when serious disturbances arose from trivial causes, the Mandarins quieted matters only by yielding. The associated banditti of the Triad increased so in many parts of the country that life and property became exceedingly insecure. The indemnity of 21,000,000 dollars exacted by Britain on account of the war brought on a financial crisis, while trade was suffering from the operations which had taken place. Great inundations of the Yellow River and of the Yangtsze occurred inopportunely to increase the distress and decrease the land-tax, the only great source of revenue. In these circumstances, the Government fell upon the fatal expedient of commuting punishments for money, and putting civil offices to salė, thereby increasing the number of criminals at large, holding out inducements to crime, and exciting against itself the animosity of the powerful literary and official classes, who thus saw themselves defrauded of their just privileges. Thus robbers began to increase on land, and pirates at sea ; the local governments being powerless to protect, the people armed and organised themselves against banditti; and everywhere over China, but especially in the south, troubles had gathered, and dark times seemed at band, when in February 1850 the Emperor Tau-kwang “ascended on the dragon-throne to be a guest on high,” and his youthful, ill-fated son, Hienfung, reigned in his stead.
THE TIEN WANG AND HIS HISTORY UP TO 1860.
HUNG SEW-TSUEN'S ORIGIN HIS POSITION AS A HAKKA HIS
TRANCES AND SUPERSTITIONS — THE TERRIBLE CHARACTER OF HIS CAREER-HIS PERSONAL APPEARANCE-THE TAI-RING WANGS -MURDER OF THE EASTERN KING HUNG'S JEALOUSY OF HIS CHIEFS—THE REBEL CAPITAL CONSTANTLY BESIEGED.
It was in this troubled fermenting state of China that there appeared one of those extraordinary men who incarnate in themselves the tendencies of a revolutionary period, and who, more frequently in the East than elsewhere, gather myriads round them, and pass over their country like a destroying but purifying tempest.
So many writers on this subject have availed themselves of the Rev. Mr Hamberg's pamphlet,* which really contains all that is known of the early life of the Taiping leader, that the facts of Hung Sew-tsuen's early history must be quite familiar, and these bave been further substantiated by the autobiography which the Kan Wang or Shield King wrote, prior to execution, when in the hands of the Imperialists in 1864. But it may be well, very briefly, to show the bearing of these facts, to point out how far the chief's career potentially originated in the ordinary circle of Chinese ideas, and
+ The Visions of Hung Sew-tchuen.' Hong-Kong, 1854.
how far it was affected by his peculiar descent and by his contact with Foreigners; in brief, to give the rationale of his history. No special notice seems to have been taken of the fact, that though born within thirty miles of Canton, he was of the Hakka, a rude race, who are regarded as aliens by the Punti, the mass of the people of Kwangtung.* This itself goes some way to account for his opposition to the Imperial Government, and for the ease with which he formed the nucleus of his insurrection. There have been hatred and feud for nearly two centuries in Kwangtung between the Punti, or “Indwellers," and the Hakka, or “Strangers,” who came down on the province from the mountains of Kiangsi and Fukien; and the latter are regarded by the former very much in the light of barbarians, or, say, as the Irish of Liverpool are by the English workmen of that city. Whether Hung Sew-tsuen's genealogy, as it was given to Mr Hamberg, was invented after he aimed at the empire • or was literally true, is a matter of no consequence; he was a poor youth of a rude despised race; and, either from prejudice against bim on that account, or from inability, never succeeded in taking a degree at Canton. Thus his start in life was on the opposition side; but the Kwangtungers, generally, would scoff at the notion of him and his confrères having had any special claim to represent the native patriotic element in China. At the same time the Hakkas are Chinese, less intelligent, and, consequently, more indifferent to the grander ruling ideas of the country, than are the rest of the agricultural population, but still pretty well imbued with these ideas. Bearing this in mind, it can easily be conceived that a
* For a description of the Hakkas, and of a residence among them, see “ Six Weeks in a Tower,” by the anthor, in ‘ Blackwood's Magazine' for June 1862
man of Sew-tsuen's undeniable ability and wild visionary spirit,--steeped to the lips in poverty, admired exceedingly by his immediate friends and neighbours, members of a despised but sturdy and numerous clan, moved, very likely, by traditions of illustrious ancestors, living in a portion of the country becoming more unsettled every day, hearing a rising undergrowl of discontent, and himself denied entrance at the door of admission to the ruling body,—would naturally cast about for some means of asserting, and perhaps avenging, his slighted family race and person. So far we have got circumstances and characteristics which cut him off from the mass of his countrymen ; and to the characteristics may be added the fact that repeated failures to take his degree threw him, in 1837, into a state of madness, epilepsy, trance, ecstacy, or whatever else we may like to call it. But this disappointed youth was not an Englishman or a Hindu. Essentially a Chinese of the Chinese, bis mind had a very wide circle of grotesque superstitions and solemn terrible thoughts in which it could find consolation. Was he the first in his country's history to mourn a distracted age, or be pursued by the demons? Might not “ Heaven's exterminating decree" be delivered to him also, as to so many “insignificant ones" before? This was the result into which his visions hardened ; but in the first of them I can recognise only the ordinary grotesque figures which baunt the imaginations of southern Chinese of a low class. The tiger, the cock, the old woman who washed him in a river, the taking out his heart and putting in a new one, the old man in a black robe, whom he afterwards believed to have been God, and the demon-exterminating sword, are the ordinary stock-in-trade of the village geomancers of Kwangtung. The only things which give dignity to