Chinese Century of Humiliation

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Michael Smith
Mr. Politelli
Eastern Civ Honors
18 November 2012
Chinese Century of Humiliation
The Chinese held the Middle Kingdom mentality for thousands of years, demonstrating their belief of the superiority of the Chinese and their Emperor. The Century of Humiliation, lasting from the first Opium War in 1839 until the 1940’s and the rise of the Communist Party, forced Western ideas into China and caused doubts of and the eventual fall of the Middle Kingdom. Many factors of the Century of Humiliation, ranging between the Taiping Rebellion, the ‘rice bowl’ mentality of the Chinese in the face of reform, and World War 1 influenced the cultural shifts and the humiliation of China, but the most significant of the contributing events of the Century of Humiliation was the Opium Wars and the Unequal Treaties, especially the Treaty of Nanking.

The beginning of the Century of Humiliation was the Opium Wars, which not only rid China of its tribute system but also was the beginning of opium was banned by the Chinese government, denying the British the trading rights they saw that they superiorly deserved. This began the illegal importation of opium by the British, which continued through the early 19th Century. Further illegal importation of opium by 1839 caused the emperor to permit Commissioner Lin Zexu to confiscate illegal opium upon a British ship in the port of Guangzhou, inciting the first Opium War between the British and the Chinese (5-6). The Chinese overwhelmingly lost to the British due to the superior firepower of the British navy. The victory of the British began the placement of the unequal treatise, which continued following the Second Opium War in 1858. The first unequal treaty was the Treaty of Nanking, established in 1842 in the aftermath of the first Opium War. Under the Treaty of Nanking, China had to pay indemnities for the opium it seized during the Opium War. Furthermore, the British weren’t allowed to levy takes higher than five percent on British imports. The cities of Canton, Foochow, Amoy, Ningpo, and Shanghai were opened to British trade, and British residents of said cities were exempt from Chinese law. These factors began the spheres of influence in China, allowing Britain to assume economic control of Chinese society through these controlled ports. The island of Hong Kong was additionally taken from the Chinese as a trading base for the British (2-3). Numerous other treaties were implemented during this era of unequal treaties. The most prominent of these were the Treaty of Wanghsia, which furthered extraterritorial privileges and opened internal waterways to American ships, and the Tientsin Treaties following the Sino-French War, in which England and France reestablished opium trade, allowed missionary activities in China, and assumed perpetual control of Chinese customs. In both cases, the rights gained by America and France, respectively, were assumed by Britain under the most-favored-nation clause of the Treaty of Nanking (3). The results of the Opium Wars and the unequal treaties established the Western dominance of China that began the series of events in the Century of Humiliation, weakening the dynasty system and most importantly allowing the Chinese to question and alter their assumed superiority (6).

The questioning of Chinese tradition and the influence of Western ideas that began in the Opium Wars lead to the Taiping Rebellion, another major contributor to the Chinese Century of Humiliation. Led by Hong Xiuchuan, a man influenced by the influx of Western ideas and the religious basis of Christianity to the point of declaring himself the brother of Jesus called to establish the Heavenly Kingdom, the Taiping Rebellion began with rapidly increasing success. The Taiping rebels seized Nanjing in 1853 and claimed it to be the capitol of the new kingdom. The influence of Western ideas in combination with the civil unrest of the Chinese peasants was combined and demonstrated...
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