Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Deadly Cost of Wars in China

One of the more fascinating discoveries I have made in the last few weeks is that when it comes to war deaths, internecine conflicts in China can account for more casualties than those from all other major wars. In Wikipedia, you may sort by high estimate and low estimate of casualties.

Seal of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom
While the Second World War is usually considered the most deadly of all wars, with somewhere between 40 million and 72 million killed, the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864) is thought to have accounted for somewhere between 20 million and 100 million deaths so it may be the "winner."

Warfare during the late Yuan Dynasty and transition to the Ming Dynasty accounts for some 30 million lives lost and the Qing dynasty conquest of the Ming Dynasty between 1616 and 1662 cost another 25 million lives (high and low estimates are the same for both these dynastic transition periods).

General An Lushan
The Mongol Conquests killed around 30 to 60 million people between 1207 and 1472 AD--a 265 year period, and, then, even earlier between 13 and 36 million people died in the An Lushan Rebellion (755 to 763 AD).

Also, a mere 8 to 12 million lost their lives in the Dungan revolt, which was set off by a pricing dispute over bamboo poles which a Han was selling to a Hui, who did not pay the amount the Han merchant demanded. The Dungan Revolt and Panthay Rebellion, of which the Dungan Revolt is sometimes considered part, took place between 1862 and 1877. They are separate from the Taiping Rebellion, mentioned earlier, which partially overlaps.

Finally, we ought not to forget the Yellow Turban Rebellion, which accounted for another 3 to 7 million between 184 and 205 AD--known in China as the opening event in Luan Guanzhong's historical novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Last night I watched Red Cliff (2008), which deals with the Battle of Red Cliffs. From the plethora of arrows, the wanton use of explosives and fire, and the swaths of people cut down with swords, this too seemed like no trivial matter. In fact, in the minds of the modern Chinese, this event is paramount. The movie is the only one to have grossed more than Titanic in China.

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