I wasn’t sure how this episode would be received, but since it went up several people have told me how appreciative they are that I’m doing some non-Western history. I’m trying for truly a global reach on Second Decade, so China was always on the list. This proved to be one of the most interesting episodes, research-wise, that I’ve done so far. Enjoy!
Despite seeming to the West as if it was “sleeping,” China in the 1810s was in fact experiencing the crucial transition of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty from its cultural and political zenith under the Qianlong Emperor to the ruin and chaos that would ramp up in the later 19th century. Ruled at this time by Aisin Gioro Yongyan, also known as the Jiaqing Emperor, China rebuffed not one but two British diplomatic missions and continued its policy of isolation and indifference to the West. But at the same time dangerous and dramatic events were brewing, including a rebellion in 1813 that almost toppled the dynasty, and a nefarious plan by British merchants to introduce addictive drugs into Chinese society. Overshadowed by his illustrious father, Yongyan was unable to arrest the cancers that were just beginning to eat away at the foundations of his country—but the evidence indicates he was fully aware of them. China, in fact, was not “sleeping” at all.
In this episode, historian Sean Munger takes you into one of the most mysterious places on the planet in the 1810s, right into the gilded halls and Alice in Wonderland surrealism of the Forbidden City where the “Lord of 10,000 Years” and a tiny elite ruled over nearly a third of the world’s population. You’ll meet some members of the mysterious “White Lotus Society,” rub shoulders with China’s most notorious embezzler, and learn how a British diplomat’s refusal to get down on his knees may have doomed millions of Chinese to a vicious cycle of drug addiction. You may not know much about the history of China, but after hearing this episode you may well come to understand some of the powerful forces that would eventually transform the world’s most populous nation into what it has become in modern times.
Click Here for More: Episode 18: Let China Sleep