The period from about 1770 to 1840, or at least 1785 to 1840, can be seen as one of escalating crisis for the Qing empire, fitting well with the proposed ‘age of revolutions’ or ‘world crisis’. (In the Qing case, however, the situation worsened after 1840.) The most striking indication of trouble was a series of rebellions, which revealed surprising military weaknesses and wiped out longstanding fiscal surpluses. Four of these rebellions — including by far the largest one — originated in highland areas to which many Han Chinese1 farmers had recently migrated: in Taiwan (1787–8); Hunan and Guizhou (1794–5); Sichuan, Hubei, Henan, and Shaanxi (the White Lotus Rebellion of 1796–1805); and in Shaanxi again (1813–15). North China millenarians led two brief uprisings (1774, 1813) — the only two that could, by any stretch of the imagination, be said to have begun in a ‘core’ region. (The relevant area was a long-settled, easily accessible plain entirely populated by Han Chinese, but it was economically and ecologically quite fragile.) Chinese pirates off the Guangdong coast, allied with a resurgent Vietnamese state, led another. Unsuccessful Qing incursions into Burma (1770) and Vietnam (1788) and an inconclusive war with the Kokandis on the far western frontier (c.1817–35) add to this sense of accumulating problems.
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- Their Own Path to Crisis? Social Change, State-Building, and the Limits of Qing Expansion, c.1770–1840
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