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THE SECRET SOCIETIES OF CHINA. 31
effect, both directly and suggestively, on the Tai-ping movement; but, as in all such cases, it is difficult to find out to what extent they existed, and what their real objects were. From the severity with which they were pursued by the Imperial Government, we may infer that some of them were really dangerous to the State; but others again seem to have been harmless enough. Thus the “Tea Society” was suppressed in 1816, and its leaders executed; but on turning to the Imperial edict” on the subject, it does not seem that this association, though illegal, was very hurtful. Of the leaders of it, who called themselves Wangs, the worst that is said is, “They lyingly and presumptuously affirm that the progenitor of the clan of Wang resides in heaven. They affirm that Mi-li-Fuh (the Buddha to come) will descend and be born in their family, and carry all the members of the society after death into the regions of the West, into the palace of the immortal Sien, where they will be safe from the dangers of war, of water, and of fire.” Other societies, however, we know, did conspire against the Government, and sometimes openly raised the standard of rebellion; and it is interesting to notice how far they presented characteristics common to the Tai-ping also. In so far as they rose above mere robber associations, or guilds for mutual protection, they seem to have aimed either at professing a divine commission or an intention to substitute a native Chinese for the Manchu dynasty. The Yaou-Jin rebels, who gave so much trouble in the provinces of Kwangtung, Kwangsi, and Hoonan in 1832, but who had appeared so far back in Chinese history as the Sung dynasty,f alleged that they were descendants of Pwan-ku, a sacred legendary character, the shaper of earth and heaven. The Pih Leen Keaou, or Water Lily Society, which has appeared at various times throughout the duration of the Ta-Tsing, the present dynasty, scarcely made a secret of their desire to overthrow the Manchus, and early in this century caused considerable trouble in the southern provinces. The San Ho Hwui, or famous Triad Society, the most formidable of all in late times, not only prepared the way for the Taipings, but also evidently gave them a number of hints. Its original title was “Tien Te Hwui”—the Celestoterrestrial Society; and its neophytes were sworn “to recall the Ming, to exterminate the Barbarian, to cut off the Tsing, and to await the right prince.” They took for their surname the word Hung. They had traditions of being directed by supernatural beings, and their headlance took the name of Tien Hung, or Tien-yu Hung, the “Heaven-protected Hung,” which is not very far from the Tai-ping Hung Tien-Wang—“Hung the Heavenly Prince,” the Chinese character for Hung being in both cases the same—a point worthy of notice. There is no ground to conclude that these societies were very formidable ; but their mere existence, and the claims they put forward, were sufficient to prepare the way for a wider associated movement in troublous times, and such times did speedily arrive, caused by an external series of events, and increasing incapacity in the Celestial Government.” That the period of disorganisation, rapine, and war which afflicted China from 1851 to 1864 was not entirely caused by foreign import, is clear from the state of the country from 1830 to 1840, when there was a greater
* “Peking Gazette, 27th day, 5th moon, 21st year Kia-king. t “Chinese Repository, vol. i.
* See on the Triads Dr Milne's paper in “Transactions of the Royal Society of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. i. part ii. (1826), and the ‘Chinese Repository, vol. xviii. p. 281.
EFFECTS OF THE OPIUM WAR. 33
number of rebellions, inundations, famines, and similar disasters, than it had seen for generations; but though the people were getting discontented, and the Government weak, it is undeniable that an enormous impulse was given to these evils by the foreign relationships which ensued. Soon after 1830 troubles began to arise with Foreigners, which caused the Peking Government considerable alarm, and induced it to take measures to maintain the isolation of the empire. The history of the events which followed has been recorded from various points of view, and need not be repeated here ; but it may be remarked, that however desirable it was that Chinese exclusiveness should be destroyed, every writer On the subject has expressed regret that the work of doing so should have been so much an attempt on the part of Great Britain to force the objectionable opium traffic. The British war with China of 1841-42 was most injurious to the peace of the country, because the power of the Government had for long depended greatly on prestige; because large districts had been brought to ruin; and because the calling out bands of local militia had taught the people their power. It is well known that, previous to that war, the appearance of the insignia of a Mandarin, accompanied by a few lictors armed with whips, could disperse the most turbulent crowd in Canton, the most turbulent city in the empire; and, by a long-established rule, the people were denied the possession of firearms. But during the war arms were so generally distributed that loose characters of all kinds got possession of them, while at the same time respect for the Government had been destroyed by the manner in which its immense pretensions had been broken through by the despised Barbarian ; and, instead of venC
turing on a bold course against the local riots, robber bands, and insurrections which then arose, the Administration, conscious of its military weakness, and still stunned by its recent defeat, began to temporise and appeal. In 1845 at Ningpo, and in 1847 at Canton, when serious disturbances arose from trivial causes, the Mandarins quieted matters only by yielding. The associated banditti of the Triad increased so in many parts of the country that life and property became exceedingly insecure. The indemnity of 21,000,000 dollars exacted by Britain on account of the war brought on a financial crisis, while trade was suffering from the operations which had taken place. Great inundations of the Yellow River and of the Yangtsze occurred inopportunely to increase the distress and decrease the land-tax, the only great source of revenue. In these circumstances, the Government fell upon the fatal expedient of commuting punishments for money, and putting civil offices to sale, thereby increasing the number of criminals at large, holding out inducements to crime, and exciting against itself the animosity of the powerful literary and official classes, who thus saw themselves defrauded of their just privileges. Thus robbers began to increase on land, and pirates at sea; the local governments being powerless to protect, the people armed and organised themselves against banditti; and everywhere over China, but especially in the South, troubles had gathered, and dark times seemed at hand, when in February 1850 the Emperor Tau-kwang “ascended on the dragon-throne to be a guest on high,” and his youthful, ill-fated son, Hienfung, reigned in his stead.
CHA PTER III.
THE TIEN WANG AND HIS HISTORY UP TO 186O.
HUNG SEW-TSUEN’s ORIGIN — HIS POSITION AS A HAKKA — his
IT was in this troubled fermenting state of China that
* “The Visions of Hung Sew-tchuen.' Hong-Kong, 1854.