Rebels and Revolutionaries in North China, 1845-1945

By Elizabeth J. Perry | Go to book overview

2. Prelude to Protest: The Huai-pei Environment

Few areas of China can claim a legacy of collective violence more ancient or continuous than that of Huai-pei. Occupying the lowland territory between the Huai and Yellow rivers, Huai-pei is in the heart of China's so-called flood and famine region, an area noted for the harshness of both its geography and its people.

As early as the Chou dynasty, inhabitants of this area were known as "Huai barbarians" because of their recalcitrance in the face of repeated pacification attempts by Chou rulers. During the spring and autumn period ( 772-484 B.C.), the Huai River valley was the home of the states of Wu and Ch'u, regarded by members of the more northern states as bastions of belligerence. With such a reputation, it is not surprising that the area was the site of the first great popular revolt in Chinese history, the uprising of Ch'en She in 209 B.C. The rebellion, which helped to topple the mighty Ch'in empire, was directed almost entirely by men from the Huai region. Rebel leader Liu Pang, a peasant from what is now northwest Kiangsu, founded the Han dynasty, which persisted for some four hundred years. Repeated disturbances throughout the Han ( 209 B.C.-A.D. 219) led the historian Ssu-ma Ch'ien to characterize the people of this area as "proud, unruly and fond of making trouble." 1

This well-known propensity for violent resistance was demonstrated in the antiforeign struggles of the early Chin ( 265-316) and Southern Sung ( 1127-1279), when the Huai valley area played a key role in repulsing outside invasion. Significantly, opposition to Mongol rule ( 1277-1367) was also centered in this

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