China 1837 CE

Factors both familiar and new to China's history are at work in weakening the Qing dynasty.

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What is happening in China in 1837CE

China in the period of the later Qing dynasty was by now showing signs of strain. Despite the expansion of food production in China, by the end of the 18th century there were clear indications that it was not able to keep pace with the continuing rise in population. Each acre was having to feed more people, and standards of living – especially amongst already-poor peasants – were slipping. These adverse trends manifested themselves in a fashion repeated throughout the history of China: rural disorder and banditry leading to full-scale peasant uprisings. Such uprisings began to break out in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The White Lotus rebellion took the Qing government several years to bring under control (1796-1804). However, at this date these episodes were comparatively local affairs.

At the same time, the Qing government was getting increasingly concerned with the rise in opium smuggling into the country, and the spreading addiction to the drug at all levels of society. Opium was being brought to China by British merchants in ever-larger quantities, both because the Chinese government placed severe restrictions of legitimate trade and because China’s economy was so self-sufficient that it had little need for the kind of goods British merchants had to offer. Such was the scale of the problem that by 1837 the senior Qing dynasty ministers were concluding that the Opium trade had to be stamped out once and for all.

Next map, China in 1871

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