By Frank J Biga III -
Historians often use the history of the Roman Republic and Empire as a guide stone to the development of the United States and seek analogous situations between the two to explain whether the United States is rising or declining. But I think a better historical period and civilization to study in this regard is late Imperial China. This revolves around issues that were very similar for both including illegal drugs, philosophical change, and foreign influence. Consider the following historical progression:
China is known as the Middle Kingdom. This self-appointed moniker derives from the fact that Imperial China (which ranged from the Shang Dynasty in the 2000s BC all the way through the Qing Dynasty to 1911) regarded other civilizations as barbarian and beneath the culturally superior Chinese. The Chinese were superior to all except the spirits in the Heavens - hence the name the Middle Kingdom.
And China was able to develop on its own for centuries without much disruption. Bounded by Siberia and the bitter cold of Manchuria to the north, the Gobi and Taklimakan deserts to the northwest, the Tibetan Plateau to the west, the Himalayas to the southwest, the jungles of Indochina to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the east, the Chinese could bask in splendid isolation. Two of its last three dynasties (the Mongols and the Qing, were non-Chinese, but were Asian and did not present a threat to the Confucian philosophical order.
But this isolation had its disadvantages. In the 1800s, the Europeans, who had been merely tolerated through the allowance of several trading posts in the 17th and 18th centuries, now had vastly superior technology. Economic imperatives in Europe led to the desire to open any new markets it could and China, 400 million strong, had the customers that the British desired.
But China was unwilling to open its markets. It was a very conservative country that had centuries of tradition and imperial prerogatives to defend and maintain. So two diametrically opposed desires were clashing. And one of them had to give. And what gave was the imperial Chinese system.
So, in the 1830s, the British East India Company, in control of India and Afghanistan and its poppy fields, surreptitiously sold opium through independent traders in to China to make some money from the vast market. China protested to Queen Victoria, who claimed no knowledge of such tactics. As the opium crisis worsened in China, the Confucian precepts that had been the basis of Chinese society for millennia eroded significantly. Many Chinese were no longer productive members of society, hooked on opium as they were. Opium dens opened up to service their newfound sloth and decrepitude. It got so bad that some Chinese actually sold their children in to slavery to feed their drug habit.
The Chinese Imperial Government then seized opium cargo which eventually led to the Opium Wars which were fought from 1839-1843. Britain, with its superior naval technology, won the war and received Hong Kong and the rights to unfettered trade in China.
And this is where the real problems for China began. Being too big for one foreign power to effectively control, China faced interference and domination by all the Great Powers of Europe and, by the 1890s, the newly transformed industrial power of Japan. The flood of new foreign made goods changed China forever.
But it was ideas that changed China the most. Christian missionaries infiltrated China in the 1840s and 1850s. Their message resonated with quite a few Chinese. So much so that one Hong Xiuquan, the “Chinese Jesus”, claimed that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ and was sent here to rid China of “the devils”. Due to the decline of China vis-a-vis the West this “movement” led to an attempt to overthrow the Imperial System. But this Taiping Rebellion in the 1850s, with the help of Western advisors like Frederick Townsend Ward, was put down over the next fifteen years and it resulted in the deaths of about 40 million people. Some historians say the total death toll was over twice as high actually. It was the bloodiest civil war in history, by far.
China then went through a period of slow and steady decline and, of course, domination by foreigners. The people hated it though and over time formed fighting clubs to practice martial arts and prepare for conflict. This was more generally called the “Self-Strengthening Movement”. It was essentially a movement with the goal of Making China Great Again.
One of the more famous of these clubs was the “Fists of Righteous Harmony” more commonly known as “The Boxers”. In 1895 the xenophobia got worse after the Chinese got humiliated by losing the Korean peninsula in a minor war with Japan. It was clear to the Chinese people that the foreign influence that had corrupted their government had to go.
So, after percolating a while, the Boxer Rebellion exploded in China in 1900. Foreigners were attacked with reckless abandon. The homes and estates of Western officials were ransacked and burned down. Telegraph lines (which some Chinese thought conveyed demons in them) were cut. Westerners who physically fell in to the wrong hands were often murdered or worse. Our own 31st President, Herbert Hoover was caught up in the melee as he worked there as a mining engineer. He was able to hole up with other Westerners in the Forbidden City complex until the Sikh troops of the British empire in conjunction with US Marines routed the Boxers and returned the fossilized Chinese Imperial government to power.
This was then the period of the very conservative Dowager Empress Cixi and then Pu Yi, the Last Emperor (a boy). In 1911 he was removed from the throne and an abortive republic of China under Dr. Sun-Yat-Sen lasted for a mere nine months before China entered a fractious period of civil war marked by fights between regional warlords. By the late 1920s the strongest of these, Chiang Kai-Shek eventually dominated China. Mao Tse-Tsung was driven from the coasts inland near Tibet and rebuilt the Communist Party of China. After World War II, Mao was able to defeat the Nationalist Chiang in a new round of civil war and established the Peoples’ Republic of China.
So China went through hell in the hundred plus years from 1830 through 1950. A large part of the population got addicted to opium, the underlying philosophy that had served Chinese order well for millennia was threatened by an alien culture, the country was broken up economically in to spheres of influence to benefit several European powers, and a xenophobic reaction led to a period of chaos. Sounds a bit like America in the 21st century.
The USA was isolated for over a century. George Washington’s farewell address advised the country to stay out of foreign entanglements and his successors largely followed his advice through the 1800s, combining a mix of nationalism and protectionism while assimilating millions of newcomers. The United States also had a Judeo-Christian moral system at its core, while embracing the ideas of the Enlightenment in terms of individual political rights and economic liberty. America had developed in its cocoon and came out a vibrant country and an example for the world. But things have changed. And most of it is our own fault.
Consider: We have serious drug problems in our country, especially among poor whites hooked on methamphetamines and various opiates. The philosophy that our country was founded upon is being undermined as our minds of our youth get corroded with liberal propaganda in our schools and universities. Our government cuts trade deals that have hollowed out American manufacturing and enriched globalists, foreigners, and elites. And our government deliberately works against its own citizens by allowing in hordes of immigrants which drain the resources of those very people who were hurt by the debilitating trade deals in the first place.
This is all a recipe for future civil strife at best and open rebellion at worst if not reversed. Many Americans today, like the Chinese of a century and a half ago, feel that they are losing their country and culture.
Only a bold and defiant leader can reverse this horrifying trend and eventually turn our country from going the way of Imperial China. That man is Donald Trump. If he is denied victory on November 8, given the historical lessons from imperial China, I do indeed fear our country’s long term future.