War for the Future

China

China and the Pacific

Welcome to the RVA Global Tour. eat great food, see great art, take selfies with history, and earn prizes at the museum. 

  1. Snap a photo with two or more posters. 

  2. visit the american civil war museum to get your prize.

Scroll down for Hong Xiuquan’s story, find others at the tour home page, and take off around the world… from Richmond! [Note: This is a prototype test of the Global Tour. Please let us know what you think! email to cgraham@acwm.org]

Royal seal of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom.

Royal seal of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom.

 

Virginia governor John Letcher looked at this railroad along the James River and saw China. He noted in his 1861 governor’s message that direct trade between Europe and Norfolk would “secure for us commercial independence.” Even better, a railroad beginning in Norfolk, passing through Richmond, and “fast progressing to [the] Pacific” would position Virginia as “part of a central belt from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Virginia hence has the power in or out of the Union to this great...exterior trade.”

Western nations had long coveted Asian markets and Confederates were no different. France, Great Britain, and Russia all had trading ports in China, and coaling stations to fuel fast moving steamships dotted islands from Hawai’i to the Philippines.

China, the goal of western marketeers, seemed an unpromising place to trade in 1861. Destabilized by British victory in the First Opium War (1839-1842), Qing Dynasty China succumbed to a devastating civil war known as the Taiping Rebellion, beginning in 1850. The war began when the Qing government attempted to suppress a quasi-Christian sect known as the God Worshipping Society led by Hong Xiuquan, that wanted to tear down traditional authority in China. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom sustained itself nearly fourteen years before falling in one of the most bloody wars in history, consuming over 20 million lives.

Confederates in Richmond knew about the Taiping, but more important—and more concerning to them—was that they knew that the Opium Wars had shaken loose hundreds of thousands of partially-enslaved laborers--popularly known as coolies--to work in British colonies. Southern slaveholders feared the competition with unfree labor so easily crossing borders overseas, and determined to gain influence over hemispheric labor by expanding American slavery.

One Confederate in Richmond in early 1865, as his own nation crumbled around him, still confidently envisioned an “empire that shall rise on the shores of the Pacific, surpassing in grandeur the most opulent nation history,” but Confederates never made any headway toward China.