Rhythms of Revolt: Religion, Ethnicity, and Rebellions in the Qing Empire of China, 1850-1873

Yang Zhang, American University

In the third quarter of the 19th century, a series of Muslim uprisings occurred in three provinces of Southwest and Northwest China in the wake of the Christianity-inspired Taiping Revolution. Millions of Muslim and non-Muslim Chinese died in the insurgent civil wars between the rebel armies and the Qing Empire. Why did Muslims rise up and how did these rebellions come into being? I argue that this wave of Muslim rebellions was not the uniform outcome of structural strains or empire-wide ethno-religious confrontations, but comprised disparate uprisings that emerged from distinct cleavages spanning several regions. Furthermore, the development and crystallization of these rebellions were unexpected results of local organizational actors’ iterative interactions with one another. As such, rebellious identities and actions are incrementally produced in response to the insurgent process itself rather than merely to pre-existing conditions. Through the empirical exploration, my work demonstrates that ethnic and religious identities are not only intricate but are also often rapidly reconfigured as the mobilizing bases for political contentions. Echoing a dynamic, relational theory, I further contend historical change is neither structurally determined nor completely contingent but unfolds in an unexpected yet patterned way.

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 Presented in Session 93. Boundary Making and Resistance: Categorization and Classification Struggles in Africa, Asia, and the Americas