Rebels and Revolutionaries in North China, 1845-1945

By Elizabeth J. Perry | Go to book overview

4. Predators Turn Rebels: The Case of the Nien

Predatory activities of smuggling, feuds, and banditry were, we have seen, adaptive survival strategies for poor peasants in Huai-pei. An ongoing phenomenon, predation escalated during periods of natural calamity. Ad hoc bandit outfits grew first into semipermanent gangs and then into massive bandit armies that razed the countryside in search of a living.

Mid- nineteenth-century Huai-pei witnessed a dramatic rise in predatory aggression, a clear reflection of worsening ecological circumstances. Local militia and earthwall fortifications then sprang up in response to the growing threat. Competition might have remained at this parochial level had it not been for the involvement of outside actors: the central government and the Taiping rebels. These external forces merged predators and protectors in a common antagonism toward the state. What began as simple predation was pushed into a rebellious posture. But bandit origins could not be entirely overcome and, for most participants, the movement continued to be a means for securing household income rather than a self-conscious effort at toppling the dynasty.

The Nien Rebellion was a major peasant movement that effectively precluded government control in Huai-pei for more than a decade ( 1851-63). Although somewhat overshadowed by their contemporaries, the Taipings, the Nien are well known for their mobile warfare which decimated the Manchus' crack cavalry division and killed its commander, Prince Seng-ko-lin-ch'in. For years the entire North China Plain was subjected to periodic Nien incursions as hundreds of thousands of the mounted rebels darted from one plundering expedition to the next.

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Rebels and Revolutionaries in North China, 1845-1945
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xiii
  • 1. Introduction 1
  • 2. Prelude to Protest: the Huai-Pei Environment 10
  • 3. Strategies of Peasant Survival in Huai-Pei 48
  • Conclusion 94
  • 4. Predators Turn Rebels: the Case of the Nien 96
  • Conclusion 148
  • 5. Protectors Turn Rebels: the Case of the Red Spears 152
  • Conclusion 205
  • 6. Rebels Meet Revolutionaries: the Communist Movement in Huai-Pei 208
  • Conclusion 245
  • 7. Conclusion 248
  • Reference Matter 263
  • Appendix A Confession of Chang Lo-hsing 265
  • Appendix B Red Spear Code 267
  • Appendix C North China Protective Societies Contemporary with the Red Spears 269
  • Notes 274
  • Bibliography 294
  • Character List 312
  • Index 317
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