If the Ottoman Empire was, in the 19th century, the ‘sick man of Europe’, the Manchu Qing Dynasty was its equally ailing Far Eastern equivalent. The Opium Wars between Britain and China (1839–60), culminated in the British seizure of Beijing, imposing their ability to trade as they saw fit through a series of ‘treaty ports’ on China’s coasts and rivers. Powerful neighbours, Japan and Russia, smelling weakness, gnawed territory from its borders, from Korea to Dzungaria. And incessantly, the people rebelled, eroding imperial authority from within. The western provinces were riven by a Muslim secessionist uprising (1863–73), impelled by demands for ethnic self-determination. The Taiping rebellion (1850–64) by an apocalyptic cult, led by a self-proclaimed brother of Jesus Christ, overran much of the south, and even captured Beijing. The ‘Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists’, or ‘Boxers’, rebelled (1900–01) not against their near defunct Qing government, but the real powers in China, the various foreign powers invested in its territory. After attacking foreign legations, traders and missionaries, with the support of the Empress Dowager Cixi, they were crushed by European forces. Now in its death throes, the dynasty would be overthrown by yet another rebellion (1911–12).
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