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The Powers Carve Up China 1841 – 1914

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China, that immense portion of East Asia bounded by the chilly Amur River and the hot jungles of Indo-China, by the Pacific Ocean and the Himalaya Mountains, was the most populous country on earth. For thousands of years, China had had a highly developed civilization. Its people thought of their land as the world itself; to them, it was the Middle Kingdom between the upper region, heaven and the lower region, hell, which was made up of all other lands. They considered foreigners nothing but barbarians. Only a few Europeans had entered China since the Middle Ages and the Chinese had scornfully refused to trade with them. The Europeans remembered China, from accounts like those of the Venetian traveler Marco Polo, as a land of fabulous wealth. They longed to lay hands on this wealth and during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the imperialist powers managed to get some of it. Despite its size, China was very weak. In the family of nations it was like a fat old grandfather whose head was so full of old-fashioned actions that he could not understand the boisterous young people around him. The old man was sick, too — with “internal disorders.” For the Chinese were more and more discontented with their Manchu emperors. The Manchus were the latest imperial dynasty in a line stretching back over two thousand years. Their ancestors from Manchuria had conquered China in the seventeenth century and many of their subjects still thought of them as foreign barbarians. From time to time, the Chinese rebelled against them and tried to drive them out. China had troubles of its own even before the foreign imperialist came. The greatest uprising against the Manchus was the Tai-Ping Rebellion of 1850. Twenty million people died — as many as lived in …

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