In 1820, Daoguang succeeded his father Jiaqing as emperor of the Qing dynasty and was confronted by the challenge of an empire in decline, plagued by corruption, food shortages, domestic revolts and foreign threats. The Taiping Rebellion was initiated by Hong Xiuquan, self-styled ‘Brother of Jesus Christ’ and ‘Heavenly King’, who from 1850 led a religious, socially egalitarian anti-Qing movement that spread up from the southern province of Guangxi. By 1853 ‘the Taipings’ had taken control of Wuchang and Nanking, from where for thirty years they held sway over a large area of the Yangtze Valley. Meanwhile, the French and the British were conducting sea-borne operations, the latter’s being collectively known as the Opium Wars (1839–1842 and 1856–1860), in which profiteering British merchants, based mainly in Bengal, fostered widespread drug addiction in China. This fatally weakened the authority of the Qing who were obliged to cede Hong Kong and concessions over the ‘treaty ports’ of Shanghai and Canton. The Boxer Rebellion (so named after the martial art) was a pro-Qing revolt in the northeast between 1899 and 1901 which opposed expanding Christian and foreign influences. Foreign soldiers and civilians were besieged for 55 days in the legation quarter of Beijing before being rescued by a 20,000-strong, eight-nation army that then proceeded to plunder the region and exact costly reparations from the Chinese.
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