predators attempting to seize scarce resources at the expense of others. They shared the limitations of predatory movements the world over. Eric Hobsbawm has summarized the plight of banditry as "inefficient in every way." 89 Its very structure --an association of small, segmented gangs--precluded well- coordinated activity. Its ideology--at best a yearning for a more just society--was a traditionalist ethos unsuited to modern revolution. Anton Blok has pointed out that banditry may impede social transformation both directly, by means of terrorist tactics, and indirectly, by providing channels of upward mobility that tend to weaken class solidarity. 90 In these respects the Nien were in the end little different from other bandit movements. As Ella Laffey has commented, "In general and in the long run, the Taipings were right: survival as local bandits and rebels produced individuals who were poor material for massive and sustained revolt." 91 Successful adaptation as parochial predators would not ensure a smooth transition to modern revolutionary action.
For most participants, the Nien presented a concrete opportunity to garner one's livelihood in a situation of extreme insecurity. The movement began as a series of familiar efforts by impoverished peasants to seize scarce resources from others. The later Nien reflected these origins: plundering forays followed the routes of salt smugglers, community feuds continued to be conducted along previous lines, bandit gangs retained their independence of action, and so on. Although the movement managed to absorb protective institutions and to redirect its aggression against the state, it remained primarily the expression of mundane strategies of survival.
An explanation of the Nien as arising out of a parochial dialectic in the Huai-pei countryside runs counter to conventional interpretations both of Chinese peasant rebellion in general and of the Nien in particular. Rural unrest in China has typically been