Category Archives: migration

How Aberdeen SD Became “Hub City”

From Clara’s Journal and the Story of Two Pandemics, by Vickie Oddino (Dobson St., 2021), pp. 97-98:

When the Milwaukee [RR] was surveying its line through Brown County in 1880, conventional wisdom held that the line would be routed through Columbia, which was the county seat. Columbia’s town fathers, feeling that they were in a strong negotiating position, refused to provide the Milwaukee with land for a right of way and a depot free of charge. C. H. Prior, then chief surveyor of the Milwaukee, resurveyed the main line to bypass Columbia and then platted a rival town (on a tract of land owned by his wife) some 12 miles from Columbia. This site became the City of Aberdeen, which was designated as a railroad division point, became the junction for several Milwaukee lines, and eventually became the third largest city in the state. Columbia stagnated and lost the county seat to Aberdeen several years later.

One of Aberdeen’s claims to fame is that L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, lived there from 1888-1891 with his wife and two sons (the couple would have two more sons while in South Dakota). While there, he opened a gift shop, Baum’s Bazaar, and when it closed after two years, he purchased the weekly newspaper the Dakota Pioneer and changed its name to Saturday Pioneer. Believe it or not, this paper was one of Aberdeen’s seven weekly papers and two dailies at the time.

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Retreat from Burma, 1942

From Japan Runs Wild, 1942–1943, by Peter Harmsen (War in the Far East, Book 2; Casemate, 2020), Kindle pp. 69-70:

The retreat out of Burma into India was a race against time, as it had to be completed before the onset of the monsoon. The troops made it, just. The last stage of the British withdrawal was bogged down by torrential rains, which began in May. Pearl “Prue” Brewis, a British nurse, was on a train that managed to travel 65 miles in six days, since movement could only take place at night. On the sixth day, while the carriage was sitting idly on the tracks, a senior railway official entered and offered a ride up north on his train. It was crowded, but fast. “Standing room only, you know,” Brewis said about the 100-mile ride north. “Actually, we got the last plane to leave Burma because the next day the aerodrome was bombed.”

More than a million Indians lived in Burma prior to the war, but most still considered India their home. When the Japanese launched their invasion, there was a mass exodus of Indians, and soon most major Burmese cities were virtually emptied of them. The senior medical officer, Brigadier Short, described the Indians who arrived at the town of Ledo in easternmost India in the summer of 1942: “Complete exhaustion, physical and mental, with a disease superimposed, is the usual picture… all social sense is lost… they suffer from bad nightmares and their delirium is a babble of rivers and crossings, of mud and corpses… Emaciation and loss of weight are universal.” Slim watched how an Indian woman died from smallpox, leaving behind her small son. He and his staff bribed an Indian family to take the boy with them. “I hope he got through all right and did not give smallpox to his new family,” Slim wrote in his memoirs.

In the manner of Dunkirk, the defeat in Burma was in a way turned into a victory by the British. “The Army in Burma,” the official British history says, “without once losing its cohesion had retreated nearly one thousand miles in some three and a half months—the longest retreat ever carried out by a British Army.” The American assessment of the British record was less kind: “Though there were cases of individual heroism and desperate fights by small isolated forces, the main body of the British made little or no efforts to stand and give battle,” an official US military report on the Burma campaign said. “The piecemeal defense was a piece of stupidity which resulted in tens of thousands of casualties to the troops, the complete destruction of every town and city in Burma, and the loss to both the Chinese and the British of a vast amount of irreplaceable installations and equipment.”

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L.A.’s Railroad Boom, 1887

From From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War That Made the West, by John Sedgwick (Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster, 2021), Kindle pp. 261-267:

Always before, the Santa Fe’s arrival in a new town set off metaphorical fireworks. But at Pueblo, Raton, and the many other towns along the Santa Fe line, the display had amounted only to a bang and a shower of sparks. L.A. was the ultimate, and the Santa Fe’s arrival there produced a grand finale of thunderous booms and sizzling meteors and bursting flower blossoms and dazzling curlicues and startling zigzags that lit up the sky not just for the spectators gazing up from below but for the whole country watching from afar. The trains unleashed a torrent of newcomers like nothing America had ever seen, or ever would see again. Four jam-packed Santa Fe trains a day pulled into its spanking new L.A. station, and, not to be outdone, the Southern Pacific sent in no fewer. Between them, the two lines brought in 300,000 people just over the first six months, ten times the city’s resident population. The new arrivals filled hotels and boardinghouses as fast as they could be put up, some of the guests reportedly sleeping in bathtubs. And plenty of these newcomers built houses and stayed. Two thousand real estate agents saw to that. By 1890, the L.A. population had shot up to over 150,000, more than five times what it had been five years before, with most of the growth coming since the Santa Fe’s arrival in 1887. It made for the biggest surge in population of any city in the history of the United States.

Of all the places in the West, Los Angeles was least likely to disappoint. That was its appeal. It was not paradise, but by eastern standards, it came damn close. It had a superb climate—not too hot, not too cold, but just right practically all year round.

The grand vision took few years to fully settle in. Initially, the frenzy for Los Angeles real estate, sparked by the miracle of California for a dollar [thanks to cutthroat competition between the two railway companies], was oddly formless but was such an electrifying phenomenon that it acquired a new word to describe the frantic buying: “boom!” (usually with the exclamation mark included). There had been real estate bubbles before, but they had always popped. L.A. real estate, and the land around it, really was worth buying at ever-higher prices—and, indeed, they’ve almost never come down since. The boom had its publicists in town—every real estate salesman and developer doubled as one—but the unusual thing was that it had infinitely more boosters all over the country. It seemed an entire industry had sprouted up to promote the wonders of L.A. in printed matter of every type—brochures, posters, features, editorials, newspaper items, all adorned with copious illustrations of the good life and detailed maps showing potential real estate buyers what was where. Of all the endorsements, though, by far the most effective were the letters back home from people who actually had moved to L.A. They were so delighted with their new lives in the warm air, they wanted their friends and family to join them. In just the first six months of 1887, a staggering $100 million worth of Los Angeles property was sold. A typical lot on Seventh Street in downtown L.A. zoomed from $11,000 in 1886 to $80,000 a year later, post Santa Fe. The venerable pueblo turned itself into a true city almost overnight, as plans almost immediately came forth for a new city hall, a new courthouse, more schools, proper sewers, and, finally, paved streets.

Between January of 1887 and July of 1889, sixty brand new towns came into existence in Los Angeles County, twenty-five of them along the Santa Fe tracks to San Bernardino. They appeared “like scenes conjured up by Aladdin’s lamp,” went one contemporary account. They popped up everywhere—“Out of the desert, in the river wash, or a mud flat, upon a barren slope or hillside.” It seemed the Santa Fe created a land boom wherever it went, creating handsome, thriving places like Lincoln Park, Monrovia, Glendora, Altadena, Duarte, and Pomona, whose Congregational Church sprouted a college that then spawned Claremont and four more. In his excitement, [William Barstow] Strong sent tracks nearly everywhere in greater L.A. He ran a line out to the Pacific coast to build up Santa Monica, turning the site of the early American colony into a hotspot, and another southwest to Redondo to inspire a spectacular hotel on the beach. He sent yet another southeast to Santa Ana and then farther down the coast to San Diego to give that city a second train, along the way building up Anaheim, previously just a vineyard tended by a few hundred German immigrants, the Quaker-founded Whittier, and the new city of Orange. He even sent a train out just to do a crazy loop around newly burgeoning Riverside.

The BNSF Railway’s Southern Transcon route from Chicago to L.A. was later roughly paralleled by U.S. Route 66, the “Mother Road” that carried so many people west during later decades.

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Central Pacific Railroad’s “Big Four”

From From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War That Made the West, by John Sedgwick (Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster, 2021), Kindle pp. 203-205:

WHILE JUST ABOUT EVERY OTHER railroad in America was customarily topped by just one man, be it Strong, Palmer, or Jay Gould, the Southern Pacific had four, the “Big Four” as they were known, when they weren’t more dryly referred to as “The Associates.”

The Big Four had all once been Sacramento shopkeepers who’d come west in the gold rush, only to realize that the real money was not likely to come from panning for gold, but in selling dry goods to the fools who didn’t know any better. “I never had any idea or notion of scrambling in the dirt,” said the best-known of them, Collis P. Huntington. When the gold showed signs of petering out, the Big Four turned to the next big thing: the Central Pacific Railroad, which, unlike the gold, could be all theirs, every bit of it.

With the Federal government on the hook for so much of the construction money, the Big Four needed to scrounge up just $300,000 among them to buy a controlling interest in the railroad and win a broad swath of federal land on either side of the tracks. That land amounted to one-eighth of the state—the most valuable one-eighth, since it was the portion served by the railroad. Once they snapped up the subsidiary lines to control the state’s traffic, they effectively took charge of the state itself. Even in its earliest incarnation as the Central Pacific, the company was called the “third party” that actually ran the state, topping whichever of the two political parties foolishly imagined it was in power. It was said that before an elected California official went to Washington, the Central Pacific placed a collar around his neck bearing the words “Central Pacific” “so if he is lost or strayed he may be recaptured and returned to his lawful owners.” When the state created a three-man railroad commission to investigate the monopoly prices imposed by the Big Four, two of them were on the Central Pacific payroll. Rates, needless to say, remained untouched.

On the all-important greed scale, Mark Hopkins ranked lowest of the Big Four. He was a gaunt, lisping vegetarian of abstemious habits and a bookkeeper’s caution. He was also the first to go, dying in his sleep in his private railroad car in 1878. Then came Charles Crocker—or Charley, the only Associate personable enough to get a nickname—a former newsboy who turned lazy with wealth. “His feet are more often on the desk than under it,” the San Francisco Examiner once wrote. Shortly after, Crocker cashed out and went off on a two-year sojourn to the honey spots of Europe before buying back in. He was best known for putting up a $2.3 million house on a solid block of San Francisco’s Nob Hill, where he installed a forty-foot “spite fence” facing his neighbor, a Chinese undertaker who’d refused to sell him his parcel. (The undertaker retaliated by placing a coffin atop his roof and flying over it a flag of a skull and crossbones.) Next came the handsome, confidently full-bearded Leland Stanford. He had a touch of public-spiritedness, trying for the governorship before becoming a US senator, as well as enlisting the early photographer Eadweard Muybridge to take the now-famous shots of galloping racehorses that led to moving pictures. He also created Stanford University to memorialize a son who died young. He had a gargantuan Nob Hill mansion of his own, albeit a more tasteful one, with Italianate architecture and a stone entrance hall inlaid with signs of the zodiac in black marble.

Collis P. Huntington was without question the greed champion. The Great Persuader to some, the great conniver to others, he stood a robust six feet, with metal-gray eyes, and dressed in funereal black, as if preparing to bury his many enemies. The only speck of cheer on him was a gold pinky ring. If there was ever a trace of human sympathy on his face, his heavy beard concealed it. Born to a broken-down farmer in Poverty Hollow, Connecticut, Huntington went West via Panama to get in on the gold rush. But there were no carriages waiting to carry the ship’s passengers across the isthmus, and, stranded in the boiling heat for two months, passengers fell to famine and disease until Huntington hacked thirty-nine miles through the jungle to find food to sell to starving customers for a three-fold markup. The money bankrolled his first store. Collis P. Huntington.

With Huntington leading the way, the Big Four used their railroad monopoly to preserve their influence, forcing communities to pay exorbitant fees for tracks, and then charging outrageous prices to use them. And death to any invader. The first to try was Tom Scott, the domineering head of the Pennsylvania Railroad, then the country’s largest train company. Two years before the Pacific Railroad was complete, Scott wanted to join the Pennsylvania to the Central Pacific at Denver to create the nation’s second transcontinental. Huntington got his friends in Congress to kill his bid.

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Rail Tourism on the Santa Fe Railway

From From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War That Made the West, by John Sedgwick (Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster, 2021), Kindle pp. 192-193:

While both [William Barstow] Strong [of Sante Fe RR] and the General [Palmer of Rio Grande RR] sought a certain elevation in the travel experience, only Palmer associated it with exclusivity. Strong was not trying to appeal to a privileged few, but to a receptive many. His impulse was democratic, a matter of numbers. Strong always trusted volume.

The Santa Fe was not the first railroad to carry tourists, but it was the first to cater to them. The Harvey Houses were the first to develop the postcard for their guests to show off the local scenery to friends back home. Harvey soon added full tourist books that gave the West a romantic gloss for eastern consumption, and organized tours of the nearby countryside playing up the local color.

To enhance a sense of place, he displayed the indigenous architectural styles of the Southwest in his hotels, rather than adopt European standards as Palmer had done. In the city of Santa Fe, for instance, Harvey built La Fonda in the Spanish pueblo tradition, solidifying the adobe character of the city. And he made Native American culture a selling point. At some of his hotels, Harvey organized “Indian Tours” of the nearby Indian lands, where he arranged for natives to be on display, and created in-hotel retail shops to sell the jewelry, artwork, and other artisanal creations of the local tribes. He used an Indian thunderbird emblem for the Harvey House logo, and slapped it on every plate, bowl, and piece of cutlery in his eateries. He also brought in anthropologists to record the traditional ways of these vanishing tribes and encouraged artists and photographers to capture their spirit before it was lost. The movement ultimately brought artists such as Georgia O’Keefe to Taos.

As Strong pushed ever deeper into the West, he gained for his railroad the Harvey House aura of service—reliability and good taste. Advertising “Fred Harvey Meals All the Way,” the Santa Fe made clear it was not just another railroad. And Strong was now poised to take the Santa Fe brand all the way to the sea.

The Far Outliers indulged in a rather luxurious rail-tour vacation around the Canadian Rockies earlier this month, including four days aboard Rocky Mountaineer trains. The first-of-the-season train from Vancouver to Jasper (via busy Whistler and quirky Quesnel) had fewer cars and about 200 passengers; while the train back from Banff to Vancouver (via sprawling Kamloops), had many more cars and about 800 passengers. Pent-up travel demand is swelling passenger counts this season (May to October). We saw lots of fantastic scenery and learned a lot of fascinating history, but the two highlights of our trip were a private nature walk (dodging elk) through the hills above Jasper with multitalented Marie-Pierre Flip0-Bergeron of All Things Wild, and a private sunrise photography tour around Banff with sharp-eyed adventurer Nick Hardinge of Rocky Mountain Photo Adventures. The best of my photographic attempts on the trip can be found on my Flickr site.

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Wild West Law Enforcement, c. 1880

From From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War That Made the West, by John Sedgwick (Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster, 2021), Kindle pp. 160-161:

At the end of 1878, Colorado had been a state for only two years. Most of its western neighbors were still territories and would remain so for decades more. While the Colorado governor held the power to call out the state militia, it was a largely untrained force of irregular volunteers. There was no police force worth the name, just city marshals with a few deputies, who concerned themselves with individual crimes like murder, fraud, and theft. Horse theft was still on the books as a hanging offense, and, in mining camps, a five-dollar theft was enough to earn a noose from Judge Lynch. There was no state police, let alone any FBI, to deal with the larger-scale crimes of more powerful interests. In 1864, an innovative Denver city marshal named Dave Cook had the idea of creating a regional police force, the Rocky Mountain Detective Association, to counter broader-scale criminality, relying on cable communication to coordinate crime fighting across the West from Wyoming to Texas. At its height, it consisted of over a hundred cowboy detectives, most of them city marshals, and accounted for several thousand arrests over the thirty-five years of its existence.

But even that effort was somewhat ad hoc, designed to solve only the crimes for which there was reward money. While the Wild West was often thought to be populated by murderers and desperadoes, such criminality was mostly confined to seedy hotbeds like Deadwood, Tucson, and Dodge City that were filled with drunken cowboys out for a good time. Elsewhere, life was fairly sedate; people needed to be good neighbors to survive.

In the territories, and in fledgling states like Colorado, government was not designed to serve voters so much as the powerful moneyed interests who controlled the fortunes of the elected officials. The railroad men were at the top of this list, but cattlemen, developers, miners, and wholesalers had plenty of say. When those interests were threatened from below by, say, a miners’ strike, the governor might dispatch the militia to preserve order. But discord was much harder to contain when two powerful interests clashed, for each could usually call on friends in government to take their side, making the conflict nearly impossible to resolve.

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Origins of the Santa Fe Railroad

From From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War That Made the West, by John Sedgwick (Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster, 2021), Kindle pp. 83-85:

It no longer needed a visionary. It needed moneymen from the great capital centers of Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.

Of the three, Boston was the most railroad minded. It had been the nation’s first major hub, with any number of lines running in and out of the city. For a small city on a stub of a peninsula, Boston was surprisingly worldly. The first great Boston fortunes were made in the China trade, then amplified by investments in the textile mills of early industrialization, only to be compounded by provident marriages to the daughters of other wealthy Bostonians. The investors were referred to as the Boston Crowd because of this interbreeding. They were mostly drawn from that class of Bostonians—Brahmins was the derisive term—whose members were, in the main, Harvard-educated Episcopalians, with the occasional Unitarian thrown in, who lived for their clubs and thought of themselves as existing on a social plane only slightly down from God. They were like honeybees in a hive—industrious but interchangeable.

From this esteemed collective about the only one to emerge with a distinctive personality was Thomas Jefferson Coolidge—and he on the strength of a surprisingly frolicsome memoir he had privately printed, the copies limited to just forty-eight—who served as the Santa Fe president for a year starting in 1880. Coolidge took his middle name from the American president, his great-grandfather on his mother’s side, but his lineage could be traced back to a Coolidge who settled in Watertown, just downriver from Boston proper, in 1630.

Coolidge grew up in Canton, China, where his father was a partner in a Boston trading firm that dealt tea and opium in the China Trade. After Harvard, he married the daughter of William Appleton, clipper ship owner, European trader, president of Boston’s Second National Bank, congressman, president of the Massachusetts Hospital, and one of the richest men in the city.

Coolidge served as the ambassador to France, and on any number of important national commissions, but he prized above all else his membership in The Friday Club, which, he noted, had once blackballed the eminent Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, father of the Supreme Court Justice, for fear he would dominate the conversation. His memoir is rich in frivolity—meeting the actress Fanny Kemble at a monastery in the Alps, touring the Caribbean aboard his eighty-foot yacht, riding a donkey to the temple of Ramses in Egypt.

In recounting his life, Coolidge mentioned his yearlong presidency of the Santa Fe railroad only in passing. In October of 1878, he wrote, he took his son and namesake for an extensive tour of the West that covered almost ten thousand miles, particularly enjoying the Colorado portion aboard the Santa Fe Railroad with one William Barstow Strong. Coolidge did not mention that he was a director of the company at the time. When he returned to the West two years later, he noted that he again boarded a Santa Fe train, but this time stepped off at Topeka, where “I was elected president of the Atchison Railroad at the annual meeting.”

Six sentences later, he was done with it. “I resigned as soon as I could,” he wrote. “I think in about a year and a half.” He failed to mention that on assuming the presidency, he had purchased $700,000 worth of the company. The point being, he presided over the Santa Fe only as an investor. The moment the investment seemed unpromising, he sold it and got out.

None of the Boston Crowd served as presidents for more than a few years. But this was the way of the modern corporation as they came to define it. They were not managers, but investors, and that inclined them toward caution in a business that demanded daring.

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Railroad Boom and Panic, 1870s

From From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War That Made the West, by John Sedgwick (Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster, 2021), Kindle pp. 66-68:

The western trains didn’t just build America out. They built it up, raising America into the industrial colossus that was well on its way to succeeding the British empire as the mightiest in the world. By 1873, the railroads had succeeded farms to become the nation’s largest employer, the repository of most of its capital investment, the near-total basis of the stock market, and the creators of the most spectacular private fortunes the world had ever seen. The nation’s preeminent railroad man, Cornelius Vanderbilt of the New York Central and other railroad holdings, was well on his way to accumulating a fortune of $100 million, requiring a new word, tycoon, to describe someone so unimaginably rich. Many more tycoons would follow.

The speed of the transformation was simply staggering. The Northern money that had previously been bankrolling the Civil War shifted to building trains. By 1873, the total railroad investment had tripled after the close of the war to $3.7 billion, taking the total number of train companies operating in the US to an astounding 364. They pulled the entire economy along with them, raising the number of businesses in America by 50 percent in one year, 1870, alone.

No one demonstrated this shift—and its hazards—more than the financier Jay Cooke. He had been a major player in financing the war effort, dispatching thousands of salesmen into the northern countryside to sell $1 billion in war bonds to villagers who wanted to do their bit. Now that the war was over, Cooke switched to selling Northern Pacific railroad bonds on a similar basis, creating a bank in Philadelphia as his repository. The Northern Pacific had been created by Congress as a second Union Pacific—a private corporation relying on federal funding—but it suffered from the same flaw, much magnified. If there had been little immediate market for the lands of the Union Pacific, there was even less for the lands of the Northern Pacific that ran farther up along the chilly outback of the north. Tracklaying went so slowly, and the returns were so meager, that the company was still a thousand miles short of completion when the Crédit Mobilier scandal broke in 1873, exposing the Northern Pacific’s massive vulnerabilities.

Alarmed, the partner who ran Cooke’s New York City branch frantically shifted his holdings to his wife’s name to preserve his fortune, then shuttered the bank to keep other Northern Pacific investors from retrieving their funds. Cooke then closed the main Philadelphia branch, causing the big bag of air that was the Northern Pacific to suddenly burst. “If I had been struck on the head with a hammer, I could have not been more stunned,” said one Northern Pacific executive. The Cooke bank’s collapse sparked a run on banks throughout the East, driving forty of them into bankruptcy, and shaking financial institutions everywhere. The president of the Bank of California killed himself when his bank collapsed. Five thousand businesses went under, taking $250 million in debts with them, dragging down lenders and driving up national unemployment to fourteen percent. A “mad terror” so convulsed the stock market, it had to close for ten days. Western Union stock dropped by half, railroads as a class by a third. A quarter of them, eighty-nine in all, went out of business.

In the past, there had been regular economic “panics”—the word for financial disruption—but they had been relatively brief. This one, the Panic of 1873, extended all the way through 1879. For its length, severity and sweep, it would rival the Great Depression as the greatest financial catastrophe in American history. This was the downside of the spectacular railroad boom: while both the railroads and the country grew together, they shrank together, too. Duluth, Wisconsin, had largely been created by the Northern Pacific, and when the railroad went into bankruptcy, Duluth became a ghost town, its population plunging from five thousand to thirteen hundred as refugees left to hunt for work elsewhere. The ruin stoked fury all along the railroad routes, culminating in the biggest job action in American history, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, when eighty thousand railroad employees went out across the country, and a half million other workers followed in sympathy. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Railroad strikers set fire to the roundhouse, igniting the train station and starting a conflagration that burned down three square miles of the city.

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China’s Decline Under Daoguang

From Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf, 2018), Kindle pp. 302-304:

Conditions in China were getting worse under Daoguang’s reign. By the time he took the throne, and to some degree beginning even with his father, Jiaqing, it becomes easier to speak of the empire each sovereign inherited rather than what he created or built. They, and the emperors and regents to follow, would have their successes—the dynasty would, after all, survive into the early twentieth century—but rarely did they leave China in a more solid position than they had found it. By the early nineteenth century, an inexorable process of decline was setting in, the slow setting of a sun that had reached its zenith under Qianlong in the late 1700s. Jiaqing had done his best, making strong efforts to rein in the corruption of the military and suppress the White Lotus and other rebellions. But under the rule of his son Daoguang, new problems would plague the empire even as old ones kept coming back in different forms.

Patronage, bribery, and embezzlement were the accepted norm among civil officials, especially in the lower orders. Population pressures on the land continued unabated, and Han Chinese settlers seeking an escape from the crowding continued to move into mountainous regions of the empire that had long been home to indigenous peoples, sparking incidents of ethnic violence. A breakdown of trust between the government and peasants worsened. The military was weakened by Jiaqing’s cost-cutting measures after the White Lotus campaigns. Through the 1830s, internal rebellions erupted in different parts of the empire with regularity, every year or two—some led by religious sects similar to the White Lotus, others by rebel factions bonded together by regional or ethnic ties. The many divisions that ran naturally through a vast and diverse multiethnic empire were turning more frequently and more visibly into fractures.

Opium wove its way right through the tattering fabric of this restive society, the single most visible symbol of the Chinese government’s inability to control its people. In spite of Daoguang’s strong desire to control the drug, coastal enforcements on smuggling had failed so completely that by the later 1830s when a foreign ship materialized near the coast it would find not naval patrols but thousands of buyers standing along the shore and whistling to it in hopes that it would drop anchor and sell to them. A major north–south land transport route for opium through Hunan province formed the locus of a series of uprisings that took place in central China in 1836, and imperial troops transferred inland to pacify them turned out to be such heavy users of opium themselves that they could barely fight. Ironically, they had acquired their drug habits in the course of their previous mission, which was to police the smugglers on the coast near Canton.

China’s rising domestic unrest caught the attention of foreigners in Canton, who worried about damage to tea and silk production from the disturbances in the interior. However, some of them also sensed opportunity in the ones that took place on China’s periphery. In 1833, an explosive revolt of aborigines on Taiwan threatened Qing imperial control of the island for several months, in the midst of which it was announced in Britain’s parliament that Taiwan had “declared its independence of the Chinese.” Some foreigners had already begun touting Taiwan as a potential British colony, a base from which they could conduct their trade with China free from the restrictions of Canton. They argued that, morally speaking, to take control of Taiwan would be nothing like trying to seize territory on the Chinese mainland, because Taiwan had been a Dutch possession prior to its conquest by Qianlong’s grandfather Kangxi, so they judged it to be merely a colony of the Qing Empire rather than essential Chinese territory. According to one Canton English-language newspaper, the Taiwanese were a conquered people, “vassals of China; not willingly, but in consequence of bloody wars,” and so even foreigners who opposed aggression toward China shouldn’t object to the British taking control of the island, which the paper judged would be praiseworthy even if only for the sake of “ridding its people of the tyranny of the Chinese.”

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First Englishman in Lhasa

From Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf, 2018), Kindle pp. 146-147:

Manning was the first Englishman ever to lay eyes on the city (and the last for the remainder of the nineteenth century). His only European predecessors were a pair of Catholic missionaries who had reached the city two hundred years earlier. From a distance, at least, it was the Shangri-La of fables. The grand Potala Palace where the Dalai Lama lived loomed high and white on a hill above the city, visible from miles off, more magnificent in appearance than he had even imagined it could be. But some of the magic was lost on approach. A ceremonial gate they passed through on the road to the city had gilt decorations that caught the sun from afar, but up close the ornaments seemed imbalanced and off-kilter to Manning, reminding him of “pastry work” or “gingerbread architecture.” The blindingly white palace itself was like a hive, swarming with monks in gorgeous robes of deep maroon, but the city below it was poor and rough. The houses were “begrimed with smut and dirt.” Wild dogs with mangy and ulcerated skin ran freely in the streets, growling and digging about for food. In spite of himself, Manning sensed a deep strangeness to the place, an unreality. “Even the mirth and laughter of the inhabitants I thought dreamy and ghostly,” he recalled. “The dreaminess no doubt was in my mind, but I never could get rid of the idea.”

On the advice of his munshi [secretary and translator], Manning pretended to be a Buddhist lama from India, one who happened to be versed in medicine. He hid the fact that he could speak or read Chinese, since it would make the presence of an interpreter suspicious. He also hid that he could speak English, so the two of them only communicated openly in Latin (in which both were fluent, it being the confluence of Manning’s Cambridge education and the munshi’s childhood training by a Roman Catholic missionary). This led to a long chain of interpretation when Manning spoke to Tibetans: someone would first have to translate from Tibetan into Chinese, then Manning’s munshi would translate the Chinese into Latin for him, and he would have to respond in Latin, back along the chain. To avoid standing out—and because he decided he liked it—he performed the kowtow before Chinese and Manchu officials whenever he was asked (a lesser version than that reserved for the emperor, touching the head to the ground three times rather than nine). In fact, he said, he found it so restful to kneel down to the ground after all the walking he had to do that he tried to kowtow as much as possible—including in front of high-ranking Tibetans (which offended his munshi, who said no Chinese would ever do that).

Manning was granted an audience with the Dalai Lama on December 17, 1811. To get to it, he had to climb up hundreds of steps carved into the side of the mountain on which the Potala Palace was built, steps that gave way in time to ladders on which he continued climbing up through the nine floors of the palace, its air rich with the smoke of incense and yak-butter lamps, to reach the high roof with its breathtaking view over the city and the broad, vast plain to the deep blue-white mountains in the distance. A monk escorted him into a smooth-floored reception hall built onto the roof, walls hung with tapestries and its ceiling held up by high, strong pillars. Sunshine streamed down through a skylight. In the middle of the hall, on a throne supported by carved lions, he found a young boy in maroon robes and a pointed saffron hood who appeared to be about seven years old (he had, in fact, just turned six). Manning knelt down before the Dalai Lama and performed the kowtow.

Manning still had his beard, but he had shaved the top of his head in preparation for the audience, so that the boy could lay hands on him. The normally impish Englishman was quieted in the lama’s presence. “His face was, I thought, poetically and effectingly beautiful,” wrote Manning. “He was of a gay and cheerful disposition; his beautiful mouth perpetually unbending into a graceful smile, which illuminated his whole countenance. Sometimes, particularly when he had looked at me, his smile almost approached to a gentle laugh.” They made polite small talk. The Dalai Lama asked about his journey. Manning asked for Tibetan Buddhist books, and asked if someone who spoke Chinese could teach him their contents, though he was gently rebuffed. It wasn’t the conversation that mattered, though, but simply the fact of being in the Dalai Lama’s presence. Unlike Macartney’s audience with Qianlong, there was no power relationship in play, no hidden challenge, no posturing. Just curiosity. And friendliness. All of Manning’s playful cynicism vanished. “I could have wept through strangeness of sensation,” he wrote afterward. “I was absorbed in reflections when I got home.”

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