In 1800, Napoleon attacked the Austrians in Italy, Jefferson and Burr were tied in the presidential election in the United States, and William Pitt seemed to have achieved the union of Ireland with Great Britain. In China, the Qianlong Emperor, who called himself "the old man who completed a perfect record," had been dead for barely a year. His favorite confidant, He Shen, had been arrested and ordered to commit suicide. Goods confiscated from his household were worth billions. The rebellion of the White Lotus Sect was getting out of hand. In Hubei, Shanxi, and Sichuan, the rebels gained large followings. The government forces repeatedly announced that the insurgents had been routed and annihilated; yet subsequently it became evident that the rebel camp had actually gained strength. On the recommendation of the governor-general at Guangzhou, the emperor decreed the prohibition of the importation of opium; the export of unminted silver had been proscribed a year earlier. These developments ushered in the new century, for China to be one of repeated defeats and insurmountable difficulties.
In view of the success and splendor mentioned in the preceding chapter, the reader may wonder: How could China's fortunes change so quickly?