China: Not a Special Case After All
THE DEATH of Yuan Shikai ended a unique chapter in Chinese history. Before 1911, the Qing dynasty had exercised absolute dominion over China, albeit with the cooperation of the local gentry. So secure had been their grip on China that the Manchus were able to withstand numerous internal challenges to their rule, including the White Lotus Rebellion of 1796-1804, the Taiping Rebellion of 1850- 64 in south China, the Nian uprising of 1853-68 in north China, the Hui Rebellion of 1863-73, and a twenty-year war ( 1854-73) against the Miao aborigines. In addition to fending off these internal challenges to its reign, the Qing also found time to extend the authority of the empire to its farthest borders: Turkestan, Taiwan, Yunnan, Tibet, and Korea. The costs of these military campaigns were high, and to finance them the dynasty had to squeeze its subjects to an unprecedented degree. Yet, even though such financial exactions further contributed to domestic unrest, the hard-pressed Chinese people were unable to topple the Manchus.
It was not until the armed Western incursion into China began in the 1830s and 1840s, culminating in the Opium War, that the dynasty's fortunes began to slide, irretrievably as it turned out. Although England's war with China was fought ostensibly over the right of foreign nations to engage in the trade of a contraband product-- opium--the impact of Chinese defeat extended far beyond the partic-