East Asia Workshop: Politics, Economy and Society

Feb. 7 Workshop


Workshop on East Asia: Politics, Economy and Society Presents

“Revolutionary Ecology and the Rise of Taiping Rebellion, 1846-1853”
Presenter: Yang Zhang
Doctoral Student of Sociology, University of Chicago

4:00-5:30pm, Tuesday
Feb. 7, 2012
Pick Lounge, 5828 South University Ave.

Abstract: The third quarter of the nineteenth century was the most turbulent era in imperial China and probably witnessed one of the greatest rebellions in world history, the Taiping Rebellion, which emerged as the first national, major rebellion among numerous others. This article proposes an ecological theory to explain why the Taiping Rebellion took off and stood out from local insurgencies that had been occurring since the late 1840s. Instead of using structural, preexisting factors to explain large, long-lived, and successful revolutions/rebellions, this article argues that the totality of rebellious and repressive forces constitute a revolutionary ecology in which certain rebellions could be better off by the coordinating and competitive inter-rebel relationships. Drawing on both court records and local gazetteers, the article presents a picture of rebellion, banditry, communal feuding, and increasing militarization in Guangxi Province starting in the late 1840s. The Qing state employed most of its regular forces to fight against familiar Triad rebels and bandits, and therefore overlooked the assembly of Taiping insurgents in late 1850 and had even not identified Taiping as rebellious until then. Even after the outbreak of Taiping in early 1851, the Qing state was unable to redeploy its regular forces to pacify Taiping, since it needed to cope with other rebellions as well. The Taiping rebels also applied a set of ecology-dependent strategies during this early period. This paper concludes that the emergence and development of Taiping and other major rebellions in this turbulent era could be better understood within the context of a changing revolutionary ecology.

Workshop website: http://cas.uchicago.edu/workshops/eastasia/
Student coordinator: Yang Zhang (yangzhang@uchicago.edu)
Faculty sponsors: Dali Yang and Dingxin Zhao

The workshop is sponsored by the Council on Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences and Center for East Asian Studies. Persons with disabilities who believe they may need assistance, please contact the student coordinator in advance.

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