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Persecution of Christians in Japan

Francis Xavier, the first European to evangelize in Japan, left the country in 1551. With the help of daimyō patrons, the Jesuit missionaries soon gained a considerable number of converts in the island of Kyushu. Their numbers increased during the time of the shogun and Japan’s first unifier Oda Nobunaga. However, everything went downhill when he was succeeded by the second unifier Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his successor Tokugawa Ieyasu. European missionaries were viewed as precursors of foreign invasion, so the persecution of Christians soon started in the country.  These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Online with World History during this time period.

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Christianity in Japan During the Final Years of the Sengoku Period

Ōtomo Sōrin was a Japanese feudal lord who converted to Roman Catholicism.

In late 1551, Father Francis Xavier left the fledgling Christian community of Japan and entrusted it to fellow Jesuits Father Cosme de Torres and lay brother Juan Fernandez. By then, Christianity only had a frail presence in some areas of the island of Kyushu and Yamaguchi. The suicide of the daimyō Ōuchi Yoshitaka, one of the Jesuits’ earliest patrons, was a blow to the Christian community. The fragile presence of the religion was saved when Xavier befriended the daimyō of Oita (Funai), Otomo Yoshishige (Sorin), before he left Japan for India.

Sorin’s interest in Christianity, however, went beyond intellectual curiosity. As one of the most powerful warlords of the period, he used his friendship with the Portuguese and the Jesuits to import firearms from Macau. He was the Christians’ primary protector in a war-torn country, but it was not until 1578 that he was baptized.

The Christian presence in Oita increased as years passed. In 1555, Sorin allowed the Portuguese physician Luis de Almeida (who was supported by the Jesuits) to establish an orphanage in Oita. It was followed by a hospital in 1557, and it was not long before Oita became the Jesuits’ headquarters in Japan. Christian missions, however, were still largely confined in Kyushu and growth was limited. It did not help the Jesuits’ cause when the missionary Gaspar Vilela started to burn Buddhist books and destroy images he found offensive.

One of the first daimyōs to convert to Christianity was Ōmura Sumitada. The Portuguese and the Jesuits had overstayed their welcome in Hirado, so they were forced to find a friendlier port in 1561. They approached Ōmura Sumitada, the daimyō who ruled Yokose-ura in Nagasaki Prefecture and tempted him with firearms and other products brought by Portuguese ships. In exchange, he would have to convert to Christianity and allow the Jesuits to preach in his land. The daimyō readily agreed and he was baptized two years later.

Christians who were expelled from Hirado and Yamaguchi soon flocked into Nagasaki where they established a community. By the early 1570s, Nagasaki had become the base of Portuguese merchants and of the Jesuit mission. During a conflict with other daimyōs in 1574, the Jesuits pressured Ōmura to repay their “favors” by ordering everyone to convert to Christianity and drive out anyone who refused to do so. They also asked him to destroy Buddhist and Shinto images in his territory and forbid his people from worshiping idols.

Ōmura agreed to do as the Jesuits ordered. In November 1574, he ordered his men to raze or burn Shinto and Buddhist shrines in his territory. Around 60,000 inhabitants of his domain were forced to convert to Christianity. The instant addition to their numbers made Father Torres and fellow Jesuit missionary Gaspar Coelho ecstatic.

 The Age of the Shoguns and the Start of Persecution

By the end of the Sengoku period and the rise of Japan’s unifier Oda Nobunaga, there were around 150,000 Christians in Japan. Oda Nobunaga disdained Buddhism because of the fighters of the Ikko sect who continually frustrated his efforts to unify Japan. Although he never converted to Christianity, the pragmatic daimyō chose to befriend the Jesuits. He allowed them to build a church and establish a school (the Seminario) in Azuchi. There the Jesuits instructed the upper-class children in Christian history, literature, and Latin. His patronage did not last as one of his vassals rebelled against him in 1582. He committed suicide and his enemies destroyed the daimyō’s Azuchi Castle along with the Jesuits’ Seminario.

Oda Nobunaga was succeeded as the unifier of Japan by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of his most capable and influential generals. He had established friendly relations with the Jesuits which he had granted certain privileges in 1586. He invaded Kyushu in 1587 and quickly brought to heel the daimyōs of the island.

Father Gaspar Coelho, Vice-Provincial of Nagasaki and Superior of the Jesuit mission, sailed to meet the victorious general off the coast of Hakozaki. Their first meeting on July 19, 1587, occurred without an accident, but the atmosphere became menacing five days later. To Father Coelho’s surprise, Toyotomi Hideyoshi issued an anti-Christian edict and an ultimatum for the missionaries to leave Japan within 20 days.  

The daimyō’s anti-Christian edict was not without reason. First, the forced conversions of Buddhists and Shinto practitioners did not sit well with him. He also compared the Christians to the followers of the Ikko sect and insinuated that they might one day rebel against him. In addition, he accused the Jesuits of being complicit to the trading of Japanese slaves to China, Korea, and India. Of all these accusations, only the third one was unfounded.

Father Coelho had no choice but to submit to the powerful daimyō. Toyotomi Hideyoshi then took Nagasaki and appointed an administrator for the city. He ordered the destruction of churches, and although none of the missionaries left Japan, they were forced to be discreet when it came to their activities in the future.

This tenuous tolerance of Christianity would be broken in 1593 when a group of Spanish Franciscan missionaries from the Philippines arrived in Kyoto. According to the Jesuits, their Franciscan rivals became so fervent in their evangelization that they fueled the suspicions of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

The situation would only worsen when the Manila galleon San Felipe was wrecked at Urado Bay in December 1596. The daimyō ordered his men to confiscate the cargo of the Spanish ship, but they were alarmed when they found some weapons along with the gold and bolts of silk. The alarmed guards arrested the ship’s navigator and then tortured him. The navigator “admitted” that the Spaniards prepared for the conquest of a country by sending their friars first to convert its people and establish churches. After softening the country’s defense with religion, a full-scale military invasion would then follow.

The navigator’s “confession” spelled disaster for both Franciscans, Jesuits, and Japanese converts to Christianity. Upon hearing the confession, Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered his men to execute twenty-six Christians (seventeen Japanese lay brothers, six Franciscans, and three Jesuits) in Nagasaki. He also renewed the edict that prohibited the evangelization activities in his realm. Hideyoshi’s preoccupation with the invasion of Korea, however, narrowly saved the Christian community of Japan. The country’s second unifier died on September 15, 1598, and his generals were soon forced to wrap up the long but unproductive invasion of Korea.

Hideyoshi’s generals soon scrambled to fill the power vacuum their master left behind. During the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of Oda Nobunaga’s generals, defeated the faction led by the Toyotomi clan. He then went on to become Japan’s most powerful daimyō. The arrival of the English navigator-turned-retainer William Adams became a turning point for Catholics in Japan. Adams, a Protestant, stoked the shogun’s fears by insinuating that the Portuguese missionaries were forerunners of a foreign invasion.

An incident between two Christian officials of the shogun would seal the fate of the religion in Japan. During the shogun’s reign, a Christian daimyō named Dom Protasio Arima Harunobu tried to reclaim some properties he lost during the reign of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. A fellow Christian official named Okamoto Daihachi then told Harunobu that he could serve as an intermediary between the daimyō and the emperor. Harunobu readily believed Okamoto and bribed him to facilitate the return of the properties.

Okamoto Daihachi, however, only forged some papers. In 1612, the frustrated Harunobu later learned that the transaction was fraudulent and that Okamoto’s superior was unaware of the incident. He immediately appealed to Tokugawa Ieyasu for redress who then ordered Okamoto’s execution. Before his death, Okamoto accused Harunobu of conspiring to kill the commissioner of Nagasaki whom the shogun had previously appointed. 

The punishment came swiftly for Harunobu. The shogun sent him to exile and later ordered his execution. The incident made Tokugawa Ieyasu more suspicious of Christians. Vigorous persecution of Christians followed, and he soon forbade the presence of the religion in his realm. Harunobu’s son, Dom Miguel Arima Naozumi, tried to pacify the shogun by renouncing his faith and forcing his people to do the same. This strategy did not work, and he was reassigned to another fief as punishment.

In 1614, the shogun finally issued the “Statement on the Expulsion of the Bateren.” Missionaries were driven out of Japan, but some stubbornly remained in the country and were forced to go underground. Conversions and baptisms continued even under the shadow of persecution. More adventurous (and foolhardy) missionaries, meanwhile, smuggled themselves into the country and continued their missionary activities.  

Two years later, the shogun ordered his officials to intensify the persecutions so that Christianity would be eradicated as soon as possible. Imprisonments, tortures, and executions centered in the Christian cities of Hizen and Nagasaki. In 1622, fifty-five European and Japanese Christians were executed in the city of Nagasaki.

By 1639, Japan had become isolated. The shogunate drove the Portuguese merchants and all European missionaries out of the country. Dutch merchants were the only ones allowed to trade in Tokugawa Japan. By 1660, three thousand Japanese Christians had died and the rest were forced to renounce their faith. Only a few hardy adherents remained but they were forced to practice their religion in secret.


Picture by: Unknown author京都国立博物館蔵, Public Domain, Link

Elisonas, Jurgis. The Cambridge History of Japan: Early Modern Japan. Edited by John W. Hall. Vol. 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Toon, S., and David Michell. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by J. D. Douglas and Earle E. Cairns. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.

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First Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774)

The Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire fought the First Russo-Turkish War between 1768 and 1774. The conflict stemmed from the Russia’s intervention in Polish-Lithuanian politics, particularly Empress Catherine II’s support for the election of Stanislaw Poniatowski as king of the Commonwealth. This was opposed by the officials of France who supported a Saxon candidate.

The Ottoman Empire was dragged into the conflict because of its alliance with France and its support for rebel Polish nobles. The First Russo-Turkish War was a disaster for the Ottoman Empire. The Turks suffered heavy losses in the Mediterranean, Crimea, and the Danube fronts at the hands of the Russians. Finally, the Ottoman Empire was forced to sue for peace in 1774.  These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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The Rise of Russia

A depiction of Catherine’s victory over the Turks by Stefano Torelli

The Ottoman Empire was only a shadow of its former self during the late 16th century and well into the 18th century. It was forced to concede large sections of territory to its enemies in the Treaty of Passarowitz (1699) and the Treaty of Belgrade (1739). The economy was in bad shape, while rebellions flared up every now and then in its territory. Austria, the Ottoman Empire’s long-time enemy, was not doing  well either. Russia, on the other hand, enjoyed a period of prosperity and military domination during the reign of Empress Catherine II.

However, the peace between Russia and the Ottoman Empire would be broken during the latter half of the 18th century. In October 1763, the Polish king Augustus III died. His heir, Frederick Christian, followed more than two months later. Now that the Commonwealth’s throne was vacant, Empress Catherine II of Russia pushed for the election of her former lover, Stanislaw Poniatowski, as the new king.

This was countered by France, Austria, and Prussia whose officials wanted an elector from Saxony on the throne. Despite the opposition, Catherine still managed to have Stanislaw Poniatowski elected as king of the Commonwealth in 1764. The Russian intervention did not sit well with some Polish nobles, so they formed a group (confederacy) to counter the Russians.

The problem, however, was that the group was disorganized and had no clear plans to shake off Russian influence in the Commonwealth. The Ottomans were dragged into this war with Russia when this Polish group appealed to them (as well as France) for help. The Ottomans were also eager to wage a new war with Russia as it threatened their domination in Crimea. The Turks responded by issuing an ultimatum to the Russians to recall their troops from the Commonwealth. The Russians, however, refused to leave Poland. In 1768, the Ottomans declared war against its powerful northern neighbor.

The First Russo-Turkish War was an ill-advised venture for the Ottomans. They suffered heavy losses at Khotyn in 1769 and at Kagul in 1770. In the same year, a Russian fleet sailed from the Baltic and into the English Channel. The fleet sailed past the Gibraltar, entered the Mediterranean, and sailed into the Aegean. The fleet’s goal was to dock in the Balkans and encourage the Orthodox Christians who resented the Ottomans to rebel against their rulers. This was an easy task, and before the Ottomans realized what they were up against, rebellions had flared up in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Albania, and Montenegro. The Russians also assisted the Christian rebels in the Peloponnese Peninsula.

The Ottomans scrambled to assemble a fleet to help the Turkish defenders in the Peloponnese. Led by admiral Husameddin Pasha, the Turkish warships sailed to the peninsula to engage the Russian navy, but it was just too strong. The Ottoman ships sailed to Cesme in the Anatolian coast to seek refuge, but the Russians followed closely behind. A major naval battle ensued, so the Ottomans were forced to sail deeper into the coast.

The Russians were still hot on their heels, and they later set the Ottoman ships on fire when they finally caught up. Around 5,000 Ottoman seamen died in the battle, and only one ship managed to sail back to Istanbul. The Ottomans were luckier in the Peloponnese as the Muslim locals resisted the invaders and the rebels.

The Russians attempted to negotiate with the Ottomans, but the latter refused. The Ottomans made an alliance with Austria, but they were forced to give up territory to the Habsburgs in exchange for military support. Unfortunately, this military assistance did not materialize as negotiations were abandoned in 1772.

Things worsened for the Ottomans when the Russians invaded Crimea in 1771. Unable to resist, the khan of the Crimean Tatars agreed to turn his domain into an “independent” state that was under the domain of Russia. It also included the vast steppe in southwestern Ukraine and the Kuban steppe.

In July 1772, Austria, Russia, and Prussia finally agreed to partition Poland. It was clear to the Turks that the odds were not in their favor after they experienced a couple more losses in Danubian front in 1774. Once again, they were forced to negotiate with Russia. In July 1774, the two parties finalized the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca (Kaynardzha).

In this treaty, Crimea became a part of Russia, and it pushed the Russian border further south in the coastal areas of the Black Sea. Russians ships could now sail freely in the Black Sea and enter the Mediterranean through the Bosphorus. The treaty also allowed the Russians to set up a consulate anywhere in the Ottoman Empire, as well as set up a permanent embassy in the Ottoman capital. For the first time, the beleaguered Ottoman Empire was also forced to pay war compensation to an enemy.


Photo by: Stefano Torelli – former image source [1]; current image source [2], Public Domain, Link

Lloyd, Christopher, and M.S. Anderson. The New Cambridge Modern History: The American and French Revolutions 1763-93. Edited by A. Goodwin. Vol. VIII. Cambridge University Press , 1965.

Faroqhi, Suraiya, ed. The Cambridge History of Turkey: The Later Ottoman Empire, 1603–1839. Vol. 3. Cambridge U Press, 2006.

Finkel, Caroline. Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923. NY, NY: Basic Books, 2007.

Kia, Mehrdad. The Ottoman Empire. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008.

Shaw, Stanford Jay. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey : Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

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Turkish (Ottoman) Empire Declines

The Turkish (Ottoman) Empire decline started during the reign of Selim I (1566-1574). This was followed by a series of weak rulers whose reign were dominated by palace intrigues, economic instability, wars, and rebellions. Sultan Murad IV and several Grand Viziers attempted to make reforms, but competing harem and government factions stood in their way. The decline of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire lasted until the deposition of Sultan Ibrahim I (the Mad) and the accession of Sultan Mehmed IV in 1648.  These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History during that time.

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Selim II

The great Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent died in 1566, leaving behind a vast, wealthy, and powerful empire to his son, Selim II. Fond of women and drink, Selim was Suleiman’s least qualified son to rule the Empire. However, he was the only one left alive after a bloody fight for the throne against his brother. Behind his back, the people called him “the Sot” or the “the Drunkard.” After he was crowned Sultan, he spent most of his time inside the harem. He left the administration of the empire to his son-in-law and Grand Vizier Sokullu Mehmed Pasha. During Selim’s time, the women of the harem  dominated the Ottoman court. One of the women who excelled during this time was Selim’s wife, Nur Banu Sultan.

Selim’s reign was marked by costly naval wars with Venice and Spain for Cyprus and Tunis. The Ottomans also engaged in long and expensive wars in the Caucasus and Mesopotamia with Safavid Persia. Thousands of Turkish soldiers died from injuries, diseases, and the extreme heat and cold of northwest Iran. There was so little to gain in the campaign as the Safavids used the scorched earth tactic which left little for the Ottomans to plunder. In spite of the incredible loss of life and money, the Ottomans rulers continued the Iranian campaign.

Murad III

Murad III succeeded his father Selim.

Selim died in 1574, and he was succeeded by his son, Murad III. The harem intrigues which started during the time of his father only worsened during his reign. The palace was divided into two factions with the first led by Murad’s mother, Nur Banu Sultan, and the rival faction led by the Sultan’s wife, Safiye Sultan. Sokullu Mehmed Pasha and his wife Ismihan Sultan backed the party of Nur Banu Sultan. They favored a more diplomatic approach in dealing with Safavid Persia and the European powers.

The pro-Venice viziers, meanwhile, backed Safiye Sultan’s faction. This group had a more aggressive stance against the Empire’s neighbors. During Murad’s reign, Safiye Sultan’s allied viziers convinced the sultan to launch a new war against Persia. This was opposed by Sokullu Mehmed Pasha, but this war turned out to be successful. The unpopular Grand Vizier was later assassinated by a dervish in 1579. The Ottoman victories in Persia were short-lived as the Safavid shah continued to strengthen his army. The Ottomans suffered defeat at the hands of the Safavids over the years.

The Habsburg threat in Central Europe also became stronger as the Ottomans fought in Asia. Warfare in the European front had changed over the years since the time of Suleiman the Magnificent. This made it difficult for the Ottomans to expand their territory. The first decisive factor was that the Europeans owned the latest small and large caliber weapons, while the Ottomans still held on to outdated ones. The threat of Ottoman expansion further north also made the Europeans realize that they needed to present a unified front against a common enemy.

Mehmed III

Mehmed III acceded the throne when his father, Sultan Murad, died in 1595. Rebellions greeted his accession in the Ottoman principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, so he decided to send his army north to quash it. They were forced to retreat south because of harsh winter. Unable to do anything about the threat, Mehmed requested the Crimean Tatar khan to put an end to it instead. This alarmed the Polish king, so he sent his own army to help the rebels in Wallachia and Moldavia.

In 1598, the Habsburg-backed Prince Michael of Wallachia took Nicopolis, Moldavia, and Transylvania. Transylvania was later recaptured by the Ottomans with the help of the Poles who were uncomfortable with Austria’s growing power in Eastern Europe.

Jelali revolts which started right after the Ottomans’ victory against the Austrians in Keresztes dominated Mehmed’s reign. The conflict stemmed from Grand Vizier Cigalazade Yusuf Sinan Pasha’s decree that all the troops should assemble before his tent after the battle. Those who were not present would be labeled as deserters. He also decreed that the deserters would be executed, and their properties in Anatolia would be seized. This angered the fief-holding cavalrymen, as well as the regular Turkish and Kurdish soldiers. Many of the disappointed soldiers went home and started the Jelali revolts.

Ahmed I

Mehmed died in 1603, and his 13-year-old son, Ahmed I, succeeded him. Since the new sultan was still a young boy, his mother Handan Sultan and the chief eunuch Dervish Mehmed Agha became the most influential forces in his court. The sultan inherited the Jelali revolts and the renewed wars with the Safavids from his father. Ahmed’s viziers were forced to sign a peace treaty with the Habsburgs in 1606 as it could not afford wars on both the European and Persian fronts. By this time, the Safavids had also revamped its army and acquired the latest weapons from its allies in Europe.

In 1604, the Safavids scored an important win in the Battle of Urmia. They quickly followed it up with the capture of Azerbaijan, Diyarbakir, Mosul, Najaf, Baghdad, Karbala, and some Ottoman territories in the Caucasus. The loss of these territories was a heavy blow to the Ottomans. The Persians were now dangerously close to the Ottoman heartland, while rebellions still simmered in Anatolia.

Because of the losses, the Turkoman and Kurdish tribesmen who swore loyalty to the Ottomans then sided with the Persians. This switch triggered another Jelali revolt, but this was later crushed by the ruthless Grand Vizier Kuyucu Murad Pasha between 1607 and 1610. Although the revolt was crushed, the roots of the problems remained. By 1612, the Ottoman losses against the Safavids were too hard to ignore, so they were forced to sue for peace.

The Ottomans were forced to give up their claims to some parts of the Caucasus. Iran, on the other hand, promised to send a hefty annual tribute of silk plus promise an alliance with the Ottomans against Russia in the Caucasus. This treaty came to nothing as both sides continued to raid each other’s borders. War flared up again by 1616, and the Ottomans suffered another defeat at the hands of the Safavids.

Chaos: From Mustafa I to Ibrahim

Mustafa I became sultan when his brother, Ahmed I, died in 1617. This weak ruler was only a figurehead for the more powerful Kosem Sultan, the concubine of Sultan Ahmed. During his reign, Mustafa relied heavily on Kosem Sultan. This was no wonder as he grew up and lived all his life inside the harem before his brother’s death. He reigned for three months before the ambitious Kosem Suntan deposed him. He was replaced by one Ahmed’s sons by Mahfiruz Hatun, Osman II, as the new ruler of the empire in 1618.

The young Osman II initially did well by securing a peace treaty with the Safavids in Persia. He also led the Ottoman army into victory against the Poles in 1620. Still, he was no match for the powerful enemies at home. These enemies included Kosem Sultan who wanted to get rid of him because she wanted one of her sons as sultan. Some of his most formidable enemies were the Janissary corps and the ulema (Muslim scholars expert in Islamic law). The Janissary corps rebelled when the sultan attempted to dissolve the troops that were recruited through the Devshirme system. The ulema, meanwhile, antagonized him when Osman tried to curb the power of the religious elite.

On the 20th of May 1622, Osman II’s reign ended when he was murdered by his own troops. His uncle, Mustafa I, was recalled and crowned as sultan once again. His reappointment did not sit well with the people, and Kosem Sultan’s appointment of a corrupt vizier did nothing to help him either. Chaos reigned once again as the Janissaries and sipahis rioted and looted all over the capital. The governor of Erzurum, Abaza Mehmed Pasha, also launched a rebellion to punish the Janissaries who were responsible for Osman’s death. The people demanded a new sultan, and by 1623, Mustafa was forced to step down a second time.

Things went smoothly for Kosem Sultan as she placed one of her sons, Murad IV, as sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He was dependent on his mother for every decision during his reign, but to his credit, Murad IV brought a bit of stability to the volatile empire. In 1624, the Safavids rose once again to recapture former territories now in Ottoman hands. The Shia Safavids occupied Baghdad and killed most of the city’s Sunni inhabitants. While this was happening, the rebel leader Abaza Mehmed Pasha and his followers launched another rebellion. He was defeated in 1624, but Murad IV pardoned him and told him (including his followers) to join the campaign against the Safavids.

The campaigns to dislodge the Safavids in Baghdad between 1625 and 1630 all ended in failure. In 1631, the frustrated Murad removed the Grand Vizier Husrew Pasha from his position for his failure in Baghdad. The Janissaries and sipahis promptly rebelled. Instead of crushing the rebellion, Murad mistakenly invited the rebels to the capital to hear their side. They came to Istanbul, and chaos descended when they started to riot.

The sultan was forced to make concessions to the rioters, so he ordered the execution of some high officials. However, the Janissaries and the sipahis were not satisfied, and the chaos in the capital continued. The mess worsened when a destructive fire raged in and destroyed a large part of Istanbul in 1633. Turkish smokers who frequently visited coffee houses were accused of setting the city on fire. Murad responded by shutting down the coffee houses and ordering the execution of some Ottoman intellectuals (who were also patrons of coffee houses).

After many years of defeats, the Ottomans finally recaptured Baghdad from the Safavids in 1638. Both parties signed a peace treaty in 1639. Mesopotamia went to the Ottomans, while the Safavids retained control of Azerbaijan and a large part of the Caucasus.

Murad IV died in 1640, and he was succeeded by his infamous brother, Ibrahim. The new sultan had spent most of his life in the harem and was nicknamed the Mad because of his mental instability. Palace intrigues returned with a vengeance, but the instability in the empire was balanced by the competent rule of the Grand Vizier Kemankeş Kara Mustafa Pasha. He was responsible for reforming the empire’s budget and taxation during Ibrahim’s reign.

He also helped curb corruption, tried to limit the number of Janissaries and sipahis in the army, and frustrated the expansion plans of the Poles and Russians in Ottoman territories. Unfortunately, one of his most powerful enemies was the sultan’s own mother, Kosem Sultan. She led a rebellion against him, and he was forced to step down in 1644. He was eventually executed.

Kosem Sultan was also responsible for pushing Ibrahim to approve of the naval invasion of Crete. It was largely unsuccessful, and the venture further drained the Ottoman treasury. Ibrahim’s excessive spending on clothes and furs also did not help the empire. The mad sultan had a tendency to demand expensive gifts from his officials, and this only fueled the corruption within the government.

In 1648, Venetian ships successfully blockaded the Dardanelles. The price of grain and other foodstuffs became higher as products from Egypt could not pass through the blockade. The Janissary corps, sipahis, and ulemas launched another rebellion until Ibrahim was forced to step down. He was succeeded by his son, Mehmed IV, on August 8, 1648. Ibrahim was executed ten days later.

Causes of the Decline

The Military

While the Ottomans were at war in Europe, Anatolia was brewing with rebellions. In the past wars, the Ottoman Empire lost many soldiers because of injuries and diseases. This included the disciplined Janissaries recruited through the Devshirme system (levy of Christian boys who later converted to Islam) who often brought them victory during wars. The Empire was later forced to replace them with Muslim recruits who were not trained enough or were ill-disciplined.

Economy: The High Cost of War

The long wars with Persia and Austria were expensive ventures for the Ottoman Empire. During the reign of Murad III, the English (with the help of its ambassador) established a trading relationship with the Ottoman Empire. This allowed the English to sell tin and other products to the Empire. The English’s most important products were expensive muskets, gunpowder, and other weapons that the Empire bought to use against the Persians and Austrians.

Over the years, the Empire also experienced shortages in gold and silver that were used to mint coins. The government had no choice but to reduce the quantity of precious metal in each coin that they made (debasing the coinage) and depend on imported metals for their coins. The coin’s lowered value then drove the prices of food and materials up. The government and the private employers, however, had no choice but to keep the wages of the people down. The high price of necessities and the imposition of high taxes coupled with low wages created discontent among the people.

Government officials, soldiers, and common people all suffered from this economic slump. Government officials who did not receive their salaries on time because the treasury was empty turned to corruption. The troops’ salaries also went unpaid or were simply insufficient when the wages finally came. The war booty that the sipahis captured over the years also became insufficient (especially with the scorched earth tactic the Safavids used), and this made the work of the cavalrymen less desirable. As the Empire plunged into chaos, the government also started to seize the sipahis’ lands (timars and ziamets) for additional revenues and taxes.

The situation of Janissary corps was no better as their wages also went unpaid or were insufficient. Their demand for a wage increase and donations made during the Sultan’s accession also did not materialize. In addition, they resented the entrance of ill-trained and ill-disciplined Muslim recruits in the Janissary corps. The Janissary corps rebelled in 1589, while the sipahis launched their own in 1592 and in 1603. The resentment between the two branches of the Ottoman army started when the Janissary corps quelled the sipahi rebellion in 1603.

The Empire was a haven for rebellion, but a more potent threat in the form of homeless peasants loomed on the horizon. As the government seized the sipahis’ lands, the peasants who lived and worked in the fiefs had no choice but to leave as well. These levendats or wanderers enlisted as members of private armies of Ottoman governors and fought in Persia or Europe. After the war, these experienced but unemployed men turned to banditry to live.


Photo by: Belli değil –, Public Domain, Link

Kurat, A.N. The New Cambridge Modern History: The Ascendancy of France. Edited by F. L. Carsten. Vol. V. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961.

Faroqhi, Suraiya, ed. The Cambridge History of Turkey: The Later Ottoman Empire, 1603–1839. Vol. 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Finkel, Caroline. Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923. NY, NY: Basic Books, 2007.

Kia, Mehrdad. The Ottoman Empire. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008.

Shaw, Stanford Jay. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey : Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

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The Boxer Rebellion 1899-1901

Between 1899 and 1901, the Boxer Rebellion engulfed the nation of China. The rebellion was the result of the Chinese people’s resentment of the presence of foreigners and Christian missionaries in their country, as well as the high-handed imperialism of Western nations during the 1800s. Atrocities were committed by both sides during the rebellion which became one of the bloodiest conflicts of the turn of the century.  This event is recorded on the Bible Timeline with World History during that time period.   

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Western Imperialism and Anti-Christian Sentiments in China

The Opium Wars which left China torn and humiliated were over, but so were the glory days of the Qing Dynasty. The imperial court was in disarray after the death of Xianfeng emperor, while Qing soldiers still fought the Taipings. The presence of the hated foreigners in Beijing—a reminder of the state’s weakness—was something the Manchus and the Han Chinese resented most.

With these losses on their minds, the regents of Tongzhi emperor thought it prudent to start a “self-strengthening” program. This included learning from the “barbarians,” as well as the adoption of Western technology. To keep up with the West, Qing authorities allowed the establishment of foreign schools. As per the Treaty of Tianjin (1858), foreign missionaries were allowed inside China where they proselytized freely. Apart from their jobs as missionaries, they also worked as teachers, as well as hospital and orphanage administrators.

Catholic and Protestant missionaries soon gained thousands of converts, but their relationship with the Chinese people (especially the rural elite) was often marred by violence. This violence was fueled by xenophobia and anger at the Western nations’ encroachment of their territories. It didn’t help that some Catholic and Protestant missionaries also used the same strong-arm tactics to gain converts. By then, Christians had a tainted reputation after they were associated with the Taiping Rebellion which had ended in 1864.  

One of the worst anti-missionary incidents occurred in 1870 in Tianjin where a mob massacred the French officials and the missionaries with him inside a church. The mob which killed them believed the missionaries were involved in the kidnapping and killing children. This massacre nearly brought war on Chinese soil once again but was deferred when Qing officials granted new concessions to the French. In addition to the execution and exile of the instigators, China was required to pay a hefty indemnity to France.

The Boxer Uprising

American troops are shown scaling the walls of Beijing.

In Beijing, Qing rule under Empress Cixi was crumbling. Despite the reforms implemented by the imperial court, there was simply no way the ministers could stanch China’s bleeding. It could only get worse. In 1876, a severe famine affected the peasants of the provinces of Zhili and Shandong. Many people died, and this tragedy was followed by severe flooding after the Yellow river swelled in 1898. This heartbreaking tragedy was followed by another drought which left many people dead. Survivors became so poor that many resorted to banditry.

Another incident which contributed to anti-Christian sentiment was the case of the murdered missionaries of Society of the Divine Word. These German missionaries were among the most aggressive in evangelizing in the Shandong area. Two of their missionaries were murdered in 1897 by members of the Big Sword Society, a martial arts group whose primary goal was to defend people from warlords and bandits. The German government then decided to use this incident as a justification to wrest the Jiazhou Bay area from China.

The Big Sword Society eventually gave way to the rise of fellow martial arts practitioners known as the Boxers. This movement had its roots in northwest Shandong which was hard hit by the crises. They engaged in ritual boxing which was said to give them the power to resist the Christians and protect from harm. Spirit possession was an important part of the group’s practices.

In 1899, they named themselves “Boxers United in Righteousness,” and hostilities soon flared out between them and the Christians. Qing authorities tried to stop the violence and maintain peace, but their efforts were in vain. By 1900, the Boxer rebellion had reached Tianjin and Beijing, alarming the Empress Cixi and the imperial court. Foreigners in Beijing were considered prime targets that Britain was compelled to send Vice-Admiral Edward Seymour and his troops to protect them. But the destruction of the Tianjin-Beijing railway line halted their advance, so they were forced to repair the line first. The British troops, however, were ambushed by Chinese troops and militias. They were forced to retreat and await rescue by the allied forces.   

In June 1900, Empress Cixi sided with the Boxers and declared war against the foreign powers. However, the stance of different Qing authorities on the Boxers was conflicting. In Shandong, governor Yuan Shikai fought against and subdued the Boxers. Yuxian, governor of Shanxi, sympathized with the group and ordered the execution of missionaries and their families. Foreign Christian missionaries and thousands of their local converts (including women and children) were murdered by Boxers or Qing troops during this period. The conflict was largely confined to the north and did not spread to some parts of southern China.

Allied forces finally lifted the siege against the Beijing legations on August 14, 1900, and occupied the city. Along with civilians and missionaries, they rampaged all over Beijing. Empress Cixi and the imperial family immediately evacuated and retreated to Xi’an in fear. Foreign troops then marched to Boxer strongholds and exacted harsh retaliation for the murder of Christians. They also committed rape and other atrocities against Chinese civilians in vengeance.

Further Losses and Humiliations

In September 1901, Qing officials and representatives of eleven Western nations signed the Boxer Protocol as a condition for the withdrawal of allied troops from Beijing. In the Boxer Protocol, China agreed to order the execution of ten Qing officials, including Shanxi governor Yuxian. Other Qing officials were exiled. Civil service examinations were suspended in cities that served as Boxer strongholds. The allied troops then destroyed important Qing forts, while the legation quarters of Beijing were expanded and fortified. The Qing were also required to pay 450,000,000 taels as war indemnity. The reparations were to be paid in installments within 39 years. The Western nations knew that Qing treasury was already drained, so they allowed the Chinese authorities to raise import tariffs from 3.18 to 5 percent.


Photo by: H. Charles McBarron, Jr. (description) (image), Public Domain, Link

 Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Fairbank, John King. China: A New History. Cambridge (Mass.): The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1994.

Fairbank, John K., ed. The Cambridge History of China. Late Ch’ing 1800–1911. Vol. 10. The Cambridge History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Mowat, C. L., ed. The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 12. The New Cambridge Modern History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968.

Roberts, J.A.G. A Concise History of China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

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Chinese Ports Opened to Britain 1842

The First Opium War began in 1839 after China cracked down on the illegal drug trade headed by British merchants in Guangzhou. Their loss of the First Opium War forced China to open its ports to Britain (as well as other European countries) in 1842 via the Treaty of Nanking. These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline with World History during that time period.

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The First Opium War (1839-1842): The Drug Trade and the Clash of Cultures

The British East India Company first established contact with Chinese traders in the early 1600s. British merchants bought tea and silk from Chinese traders and shipped these products back to Europe. Demand for Chinese products in Britain spiked, but the British could not find anything of their own with which to interest Chinese buyers. One exception, however, was opium, the highly addictive substance extracted from opium poppy seed pods. Grown and harvested in India, British merchants shipped the drug from their colony and offloaded the shipment at the port of Guangzhou starting in the mid-1700s.

A great number of Chinese soon became addicted to the substance, which they paid for with taels of silver. Alarmed at the rise of addiction and the outward flow of their silver reserves, the Qing officials tried in vain to stop British merchants from selling the drug. The Qing government’s futile attempt to stop the opium trade lit the fuse of China’s conflict with Britain that would last for over half a century.

The British government’s lack of knowledge of the Qing Dynasty’s culture (particularly the tribute system) worsened the conflict. In 1792, Britain sent Lord Macartney as an envoy to China to negotiate a trade treaty with the emperor. Foreign ships were confined to the waters off of Guangzhou, so the British government wanted the emperor to open several ports for them. The British government also wanted the emperor to grant its nation’s merchants access to areas where tea and silk were commonly produced. Lord Macartney was tasked to request the emperor’s permission in allowing a British minister to stay at the imperial court and oversee British interests in China.

As was the custom, Macartney brought lavish gifts for the emperor. However, the embassy failed when the British envoy refused to perform the kowtow when they met. This breach in court etiquette offended Qianlong emperor who later remarked disdainfully that China was self-sufficient and had no need for Britain’s products. Macartney’s requests were denied by the emperor, and he was forced to leave China soon after.

Lord William Napier was sent to China with goal of expanding British trade.

After breaking East India Company’s monopoly in Asia in 1834, the British government sent Lord Napier to China as Superintendent of Trade in Guangzhou. He broke protocol when he bypassed the hong merchants who served as brokers and requested a meeting with Qing officials upon his arrival. For the Qing officials, this was unacceptable as any nation which requested trade with China was essentially nothing more a than tributary and was not treated as a coequal. They refused to meet with Lord Napier who was also humiliated by the rejection.

In Beijing, scholars of the Spring Purification circle and government officials were debating the best course to combat the flow of opium into the Chinese market. Officials suggested the legalization of the substance so it could be taxed by the government. The scholars, however, opposed this suggestion for moral reasons. In 1838, Daoguang emperor appointed Lin Zexu as a special commissioner to combat the drug problem. The commissioner traveled to Guangzhou in the same year and targeted consumers and dealers alike. He enlisted the help of the local hong merchants whom he tasked to compel the foreign merchants to give up their stocks of opium.

The foreign merchants naturally refused, but Lin Zexu decided to strongarm them by having their factories barricaded and the merchants detained. The British superintendent Charles Elliott had no choice but to advise them to hand their stocks over to the Chinese authorities. They finally acquiesced when Elliott promised them compensation for the loss of their stocks. After the confiscation, Lin Zexu forced them to sign an agreement to get them to stop trading opium. Merchants who refused to comply would be sentenced to death.

Charles Elliott then sent a letter to the Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston to inform him of the situation. After lifting the detention order, the Qing authorities allowed the freed British merchants to transfer to Macau. Unfortunately, the situation only worsened when British sailors killed a local farmer. Back in 1784, a gunner of the British ship Lady Hughes was tasked to fire a gun salute while in Guangzhou. He shot two Chinese officials who died from their injuries. Chinese authorities demanded British officials to hand the gunner over to them, but the latter refused. After a long dispute, the emperor sentenced the gunner to death by strangulation. British officials had no choice but to hand him over to Chinese authorities who immediately had him executed.

Charles Elliott did not want a repeat of the Lady Hughes incident, so he refused to hand the sailors over to the authorities. Lin Zexu enlisted the help of the Portuguese authorities in Macau and asked them to boot the English out of the colony. They had no choice but to leave Macau and set up a temporary shelter at Hong Kong (Xianggang).

Meanwhile, the opium trader Dr. William Jardine had traveled to London to inform Lord Palmerston of the merchants’ situation. Jardine encouraged the foreign secretary to send a naval fleet to evacuate the merchants, as well as to reassert Britain’s “right” to trade opium in China. He was able to convince the minister to support three main goals which included the disbandment of the Cohong (guild of hong merchant-brokers) that would allow the British to deal directly with Qing officials. This forced China to compensate the British merchants for the opium stocks they lost during Lin Zexu’s crackdown.  This also compelled China to hand over one of its islands so that the British could use it as a base in East Asia

The fleet arrived off the coast of China in 1839, and immediately rescued the superintendent Charles Elliott and his companions in Hong Kong. During the greater part of 1840, Charles and his cousin Admiral George Elliott led the devastating naval attacks on China. British ships easily blockaded Guangzhou before sailing north to take Zhoushan Island off the coast of Ningbo.

This was too close for comfort to the capital. Daoguang emperor sacked Lin Zexu in frustration, and replaced him with the Viceroy of Zhili, Qishan, as chief negotiator. In January 1841, the two parties came to an agreement in the Convention of Chuanpi. Superintendent Charles Elliott represented the British side, while Qishan negotiated for the Qing. But to the emperor’s dismay, Qishan gave significant concessions to the British including the cession of Hong Kong. Despite receiving the island, the British were still unhappy with the deal. Chief negotiator and superintendent Charles Elliott was replaced with Sir Henry Pottinger when the negotiations finally broke down. Meanwhile, Elliott’s troops landed in Guangzhou and started to harass the people living in the city.

Pottinger himself was able to capture the ports of Ningbo, Zhoushan, Xiamen, and Zhapu between 1841 and 1842 in spite of the fierce resistance of the Manchu defenders. When Shanghai fell to the British navy in 1842, the emperor was forced to summon another parley. The result was the Treaty of Nanking which was signed by both parties on August 29, 1842, aboard the HMS Cornwallis. The terms of the treaty included:

  • The opening of the ports of Shanghai, Ningbo, Fuzhou, Xiamen, and Guangzhou to British trade
  • The cession of the island of Hong Kong
  • The establishment of fixed tariffs (set at 5 percent during the Treaty of Bogue)
  • The condition that Britain would no longer be a Qing tributary,  but a co-equal state
  • The abolishment of the Cohong guild of merchants

This was later supplemented by the Treaty of the Bogue in 1843. Bullied into submission, China gave Britain the most favored nation status and allowed British citizens to enjoy the benefits of extraterritoriality. Eager to take advantage of the lucrative Chinese market, France, and the United States soon entered into similar treaties in 1844. China also granted an edict of toleration to Roman Catholicism after entering into a treaty with France.


Photo by: “courtesy of Lord Napier and Ettrick” – Susanna Hoe; Derek Roebuck (1999). The Taking of Hong Kong: Charles and Clara Elliot in China Waters. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press. p. 18. ISBN 0700711457., Public Domain, Link

Bury, J. P. T., ed. The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 10. The New Cambridge Modern History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960.

Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Fairbank, John King. China: A New History. Cambridge (Mass.): The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1994.

Fairbank, John K., ed. The Cambridge History of China. Late Ch’ing 1800–1911. Vol. 10. The Cambridge History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Roberts, J.A.G. A Concise History of China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.



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Qing Dynasty, Part 2

The Jiaqing Emperor’s accession to the throne in 1796 was greeted by a double rebellion. The first was the Miao Rebellion which started in 1795 in the provinces of Hunan and Guizhou. This rebellion was eventually quashed in 1806. The White Lotus Rebellion which started in 1796 was finally suppressed around 1804. Although these rebellions were subdued, the illusion that the Qing rulers could hold the empire together had faded, while discontent always simmered just below the surface. Another uprising—this time incited by leaders of the Tianli sect—flared out in 1813 (Eight Trigrams Uprising). The Qing army quickly quelled it, but there was no way for them to stop the rot that had spread in the government.

These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History during this time period.

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Daoguang Emperor succeeded his father to the throne in 1821 and spent his reign fighting the spread of opium in China as well as the invasion of Western powers. He and his ministers were strong-armed into granting concessions to Western nations after the end of the First Opium War 1842. He died in 1850 and was succeeded by his son, the ill-equipped Xianfeng Emperor.  

Xianfeng Emperor faced the bloody Taiping Rebellion (1850) at the onset of his reign. The rebellion, which was at first centered in Nanjing, was quashed in 1864, but it was soon followed by several offshoot uprisings. First was the Nian Rebellion in Anhui (1853-1868), which was then followed by Muslim uprisings in Yunnan (1855-1873) and Gansu (1862-1873). The situation would only worsen for China when the Second Opium War broke out in 1856. The Qing army—already spread too thin—suffered defeats at the hands of allied Western nations. Xianfeng Emperor, like his father, was forced to grant concessions to Western powers when the war ended in 1860.

Xianfeng Emperor died in 1861, leaving the throne to his young son, the future Tongzhi Emperor, who was to remain under regency until he came of age. A coup d’etat led by Prince Gong, Tongzhi Emperor’s mother Consort Yi (later Empress Dowager Cixi), and the Manchu official Wenxiang ousted the appointed regents and held the reins of power themselves. Faced with a country devastated by the two Opium Wars and violent uprisings, this faction soon realized that China desperately needed rehabilitation. To this end, the corrupt regents tried in vain to curb the power of the equally corrupt gentry. They also tried to revive China’s agriculture which had stagnated during the past peasant uprisings.

The defeats China suffered in the Opium Wars was a hard lesson for the Qing rulers. To ensure that the empire would not suffer similar defeats in the future, the regents embarked on a “self-strengthening” program. This included the modernization of the military, as well as the adoption of Western education and technology. Chinese workers began to copy Western weapons and warships, but their inadequate knowledge on manufacturing often made the machines unserviceable. The Qing rulers also approved and supported the creation of heavy industries, such as coal mining, textile manufacturing, and the construction of telegraph lines and railroads.

As part of the modernization program, Qing officials allowed the establishment of foreign language schools in four of China’s major cities (Shanghai, Beijing, Fuzhou, and Guangzhou). American and European missionaries not only worked as evangelists but also as administrators of and teachers in these schools. For the first time in the empire’s history, a Chinese student named Yung Wing was allowed to travel to the United States to study at Yale College. He graduated in 1854 and went to back to his homeland to work as an interpreter and reformer. Hundreds of Chinese students sponsored by missionaries followed in Yung Wing’s footsteps and enrolled at colleges in New England during the late 1800s.

The self-strengthening program soon fell apart as modernization clashed with Chinese culture and the officials’ self-interest. Conservatives in the Qing imperial court (especially the scholar-officials) opposed the modernization because they believed that the heavy industries (mining and the railroad construction, for example) upset the land’s fengshui. Many of them also feared that the modernization would diminish their power and take away their privileges. Apart from power-hungry officials, the Qing bureaucracy was also bogged down by inept administrators who mismanaged the program. Empress Dowager Cixi herself diverted funds meant for the modernization of the navy and funneled them to the renovation of the Summer Palace.

Another reason for the failure of “self-strengthening” program was the existence of the unequal treaties Chinese officials signed with Western nations. These treaties gave American and European companies edge against local enterprise whose owners were ill-equipped to take on the competition. This, coupled with an empty treasury, effectively put a stop to the empire’s modernization program during Cixi’s reign.

The First Sino-Japanese War

Kim Ok-gyun pictured in Nagasaki in 1882. His assassination would contribute to tensions leading to the First Sino-Japanese War

Peace was once again shattered when China and Japan’s interests in Korea clashed during the late 1800s. Korea, though mostly isolated during the Joseon era, had long been China’s tributary. Japan, on the other hand, was forced by the Americans to emerge from its own isolation in 1853. It implemented its own modernization program which, unlike China’s version, proved to be very successful. It was not long before Japan became a powerful force in East Asia and was having its own expansionist dreams. Korea, the resource-rich hermit kingdom, was its first target.

In the 1870s, Korea slowly started to open its borders for trade with Japan. However, the Japan-Korea trade did not sit well with the Qing government as it still considered the kingdom as its tributary. The royal court of Emperor Gojong itself started to become divided between the conservative pro-China group and reform-minded pro-Japan faction. It did not help that during the 1880s Korea became engulfed in droughts, bankruptcy, and uprisings. The Koreans’ resentment of Japanese interference in internal affairs often manifested in violent incidents between the citizens of the two countries. The assassination of the pro-Japan Korean reformer Kim Ok-gyun and the Donghak Rebellion in 1894 only served as additional kindling to the First Sino-Japanese War.

When the Donghak Rebellion exploded in Korea in 1894, King Gojong was quick to ask the Qing government for reinforcements. This request was granted, and China sent more than 2,000 Qing troops led by Yuan Shikai to the peninsula. Japan took this as a direct violation of the Tientsin Convention the two countries signed in 1885 during the aftermath of the Gapsin Coup. The Meiji government responded by sending a larger expeditionary force to Korea.

By June 1894, the Japanese forces had captured the royal palace in Seoul and then set up a puppet government. Combat between the two troops soon started, but the Japanese were able to rout the Chinese soldiers in the Battle of Seonghwan (July 28-29, 1894) and Battle of Pyongyang (September 15, 1894). Two days later, the Japanese navy proved that its country’s military overhaul worked when it overpowered China’s Beiyang Fleet in the Battle of Yalu River. In October of the same year, Japanese forces crossed the Yalu River into Manchuria and proceeded to massacre Chinese soldiers and civilians. The Japanese occupation of Manchuria was followed by the invasion of the Pescadores (Penghu Islands).

The defeats China suffered during the First Sino-Japanese War finally forced its rulers to sue for peace. On April 17, 1895, representatives of both countries signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Korea, Taiwan, the Pescadores, and the Liaodong Peninsula were all annexed to Japan. (The annexation of the Liaodong Peninsula to Japan, however, was later blocked by Western powers.) The Russians, meanwhile, took advantage of China’s weakened state to pressure its rulers into leasing the Liaodong Peninsula to them instead. Apart from the annexation of several territories, China was forced to pay a hefty war indemnity and grant concessions to Japan.

China’s defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War doomed the Qing Dynasty further. The empire’s foremost scholar-officials, including Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, and Tan Sitong, all clamored for additional reforms. Their request was granted in June 1898 when the Guangxu Emperor finally approved what would be later called the Hundred Days’ Reform. But the conservatives felt that these reforms once again threatened their privileges, so they convinced the Empress Cixi to stop them. The empress then led a coup to oust the Guangxu Emperor. She then had the emperor imprisoned in one of the Qing palaces. The reformers Kang and Liang managed to escape to Japan, while the rest of the advocates for reform were executed.

Peace would be a far-fetched goal as the 20th-century greeted China with a peasant uprising called the Boxer Rebellion. This violent anti-imperialism and anti-Christian rebellion would only fuel the end of the Qing Dynasty. While Western troops were battling the rebels, Empress Cixi and members of the royal family fled to Xian in humiliation. The Qing Dynasty had completely lost not only its prestige but also the confidence of the Chinese people.

Reformers and revolutionaries alike emerged during the twilight years of the Qing Dynasty. The reformers were led by officials such as Zhang Zhidong, Yuan Shikai, and Liu Kunyi. The revolutionaries, on the other hand, included Huang Xing, Zuo Rong, and Qiu Jin.

One of the most significant reformer-revolutionary was Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), a native of Xiangshan (later renamed Zhongshan), Guangdong. He lived with his brother in Hawaii for some time during his youth before coming back to China. He then studied medicine in Hong Kong, and eventually converted to Christianity. In 1894, he tried to convince Viceroy Li Hongzhang to implement reforms but he was rebuffed. He went back to Hawaii, but he was no longer pushed for reforms. There he organized a revolutionary organization, and plotted to seize Guangzhou. This plot, however, failed.

While staying in London in 1896, Sun Yat-sen was kidnapped by Qing agents. He was released through the efforts of his friend James Cantlie and the British press who rallied behind his cause. He later met with exiled reformers Liang Qichao and Kang Youwei, but unlike them, Sun Yat-sen believed that the Qing Dynasty had no place in modern China. He later teamed up with fellow revolutionary Huang Xing to form the Revolutionary Alliance while exiled in Tokyo in 1905. Their initial goal was to overthrow the Manchu rulers, followed by the establishment of a military dictatorship which would usher China from monarchy to democracy.

In 1905, Japanese forces were able to rout the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War. Japan became the undisputed military power on this side of the Pacific, and this victory was soon followed by its occupation of Manchuria. But for the empress, Japan’s strength was a testament to the triumph of constitutionalism pushed by some reformers in her own court. In the same year, she finally gave in to pressure and allowed the promulgation of a constitution.

The Guangxu Emperor died of arsenic poisoning on November 14, 1908, and was quickly followed Empress Cixi’s own death the day after. As Guangxu was childless, his three-year-old nephew Puyi was enthroned as emperor upon his death. But the regents of the young emperor were unprepared to handle the uprisings that would rock China. An uprising shook Hunan in 1906, which was followed by a mutiny four years later in the city of Guangzhou.

The 1911 Revolution and the Foundation of the Republic of China

In May 1911, an uprising led by the local gentry flared up in the province of Sichuan. This was in protest to the central government’s proposal to nationalize and finish the provincial railroad networks using foreign loans. This proposal, however, did not sit well with the Sichuan gentry who had poured their own money into the local railroad project. The realization that they would only recoup a portion of their investments if the Qing pushed through with the nationalization of the railroad network naturally angered them. They then organized protests which the authorities promptly tried to suppress.

The Qing authorities, however, made the mistake of summoning the New Army stationed in Wuhan to suppress the rebellion in Sichuan. Their ranks had been infiltrated by Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionaries, and many soldiers by then were sympathetic to their cause. Instead of suppressing the rebellion, the revolutionary troops took Wuchang on October 10, 1911, and immediately set up a military government in Hubei province. This was supported by the local assembly which then announced Hubei’s independence. It was not long before the rebellions spread through central and eventually, to southern China.

Dr. Sun Yat-sen was in the United States when the revolution happened and only read about the events in the newspapers. He came home and agreed to become temporary president of the independent provinces.

Yuan Shikai, the Qing prime minister, tried to keep Puyi in power by suppressing the rebellions, but his efforts were in vain. He finally negotiated the emperor’s abdication in exchange for a sizable settlement. On February 12, 1912, Empress Dowager Longyu signed the abdication papers on behalf of the young Xuantong Emperor. This abdication effectively ended imperial rule and ushered in the era of the Republic of China. In December 1911, Dr. Sun Yat-sen resigned from the presidency and handed the reins of power over to Yuan Shikai.


Photo by Unknown author, Public Domain, Link

Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Fairbank, John King. China: A New History. Cambridge (Mass.): The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1994.

Peterson, Willard J., ed. The Cambridge History of China. The Ch’ing Dynasty to 1800. Vol. 9. The Cambridge History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Roberts, J.A.G. A Concise History of China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

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The Tokugawa Era, the Meiji Restoration, and the Rise of Japanese Nationalism

Japan was engulfed in political conflicts and wars between the 12th and 16th centuries. This period of upheaval ended during the reign of the Three Unifiers (Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu). Wary of foreigners and their influence, the shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu issued the sakoku edicts in 1635 and started the self-imposed isolation of Japan in 1639.  The country would remain isolated until Commodore Matthew Perry and his “Black Ships” arrived off the coast of Japan in 1853. Japan was forced to open itself to the West, but its people resented the concessions it was forced to give to America and other European nations. This resentment of Western Imperialism would evolve into excessive nationalism and motivate Japan to prosperity by the end of the 19th century.  These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline with World History during that time period.  

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The End of the Sengoku Period (1467-1603) and the Rise of the Tokugawa Era (1603–1868)

The first shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate was named Tokugawa Ieyasu,

During the early 1550s, Oda Nobunaga overcame rival daimyōs and started the long process of unifying a country during the last years of the Sengoku Period. He and his army terrorized the Japanese people, but were able to bring stability to a country torn by civil war. He and his soldiers were armed with Portuguese arquebuses which they used to the full extent to subdue daimyōs, samurais, and civilians alike. Oda Nobunaga died in 1582 after he was forced to commit seppuku by one of his vassals. He was succeeded by one of his generals, the brilliant and equally ruthless Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

By 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi had defeated most of his enemies to become the most powerful man in Japan. Brutal yet more flexible than his predecessor, he consolidated power by playing off rivals until they eliminated each other. He viewed European missionaries with suspicion and started the persecution of Christians in his domain. He led the Japanese invasion of Korea which devastated the kingdom during the last years of his reign.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi died in 1598 and was succeeded by his young son who was to be guided by appointed regents until he came of age. The regents and various generals promptly ignored him and soon embroiled themselves in a civil war. They came to a head in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 which was won by Tokugawa Ieyasu and his supporters. He also defeated Hideyori, Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s son, when the boy came of age.

Tokugawa Ieyasu took for himself the prefectures of Nara, Kyoto, Edo, Nagasaki, and Osaka as fiefs. He ruled as shōgun (military dictator) starting in 1603, but soon abdicated in favor of his son Hidetada. Although he was technically a retired shogun, he still wielded considerable power up until his death in 1616.

Portuguese, Spanish, English, and Dutch traders and evangelists flocked to Japan during the early years of the Tokugawa shogunate. The Europeans played each other off in their quest to dominate the Japanese market and acquire converts, but their strategies soon backfired. Tokugawa Ieyasu had always been wary of foreign and Christian influence on his subjects, leading him to prohibit trading and evangelization activities in his domain. (The only exception to the rule were the Dutch traders whom the Japanese perceived as pragmatic and cooperative.) In 1614, Japanese and European Christians alike were persecuted. The shōgun’s heirs maintained the anti-Christian policies until the end of the Tokugawa shogunate in the 19th century.

The Tokugawa shogunate’s anti-foreign stance hardened during the mid-1600s. The deep-seated suspicion on foreigners led the shōgun to impose the edicts of seclusion (sakoku) starting in 1635. Japanese citizens were not allowed to travel abroad, while foreign traders and European missionaries were ordered to leave Japan. Those who left and dare to come back were punished with death. The shōgun ordered the destruction of large ships to discourage the Japanese people from leaving the country.

Although feudal and backward, the Tokugawa era was generally a period marked by peace and stability. Though Japan still had an emperor, he and his family faded into obscurity.  The shōgun was the head of the bakufu (military dictatorship) and was at the top of the hierarchy. He was followed by various daimyōs and samurais. Those who were at the bottom of the hierarchy (peasants, artisans, and merchants) were expected to toe the line.

Cracks in the Tokugawa shogunate started to appear during the 1830s when Japan was plagued by droughts. Famine set in, and people soon died of starvation. The hoarding done by ruthless traders led to the rising prices of grain. Starving people engaged in protests, but these assemblies sometimes led to riots. The bakufu implemented reforms, but these measures often came too late.

Even samurais were not immune to changing fortunes during the last decades of the Tokugawa shogunate. They were forced to work other jobs, as well as contribute a part of their stipend to an incompetent government. Unable to maintain them any longer, some daimyōs were forced to let their samurais go. These masterless samurais (rōnins) sometimes became bodyguards of wealthier people or mercenaries.

Japan remained irresistible to the West despite its self-imposed isolation. Britain tried to initiate trade but was rebuffed by the bakufu. During the late 1700s and early 1800s, news of Russia’s colonization of eastern Siberia reached Japan. The bakufu prepared for any eventuality by tightening its control on the Ainus of Hokkaido. American ships also made attempts to land in Japan but were turned away.

Japan’s isolation was finally lifted when the American Commodore Matthew Perry and his flotilla of steamships arrived in the Edo Bay on July 8, 1853. Perry insisted on delivering a letter from President Fillmore to the “emperor” (it was, in fact, the shōgun). The letter contained a request for trade and diplomatic relations, shelter and provisions for stranded American whalers, and coal for their ships. The presence of the large steamships and the volley of the gunner’s practice shots compelled the Japanese authorities to receive Commodore Perry’s letter. Perry and his flotilla left, but not before promising to return to Japan one year later.

Despite Japan’s isolation, the bakufu was aware of China’s defeat and humiliation at the hands of Britain and her allies during the First Opium War. They feared that the Americans would do something similar, so some daimyōs counseled the shogun to resist any attempts to open the country to foreigners. Other daimyōs, however, acknowledged that Japan had remained isolated for so long that its weapons and army had become outdated. They simply would not stand a chance against foreign forces in the event of an invasion.

Perry and his flotilla returned in early 1534. Representatives of the bakufu signed the Treaty of Kanagawa with Perry but gave few concessions to their American counterparts. Perry, however, was satisfied with the outcome and left Japan in the same year. His visit was followed by Townsend Harris who became the first American consul general in Japan. He succeeded in forcing the bakufu to sign the Treaty of Shimoda in 1858 after insinuating that the humiliations China suffered might also happen to Japan if it did not comply.

The Treaty of Shimoda included terms that were advantageous only to Western nations. Apart from trade concessions, the treaty also granted Europeans and Americans the right to reside in or near the treaty ports and enjoy the benefit of extraterritoriality. Although it was not included in the treaty, foreigners began to bring Christianity back to Japan’s shores. Cheap goods from the West flooded Japan’s market, rendering local manufacturers unable to compete.

Japan was also forced to set the tariff on imported goods at a measly 5 percent, as well as grant the Most Favored Nation status on all Western nations which traded in its ports. What angered the Japanese authorities most was the fact that they were bound to this treaty forever. There was also no way for them to revise the terms without the consent of all concerned foreign powers.

The enemies of the Tokugawa shōgun felt that the bakufu had conceded much in dealing with the “barbarians.” They believed that this behavior was unbecoming of a shōgun and that he no longer held the privilege to rule them. Enemies of the Tokugawa shōgun—particularly the daimyōs of Satsuma and Chōshū—saw their chance to topple him during the early 1860s. They formed the Satchō Alliance with the intent of restoring the emperor to the seat of power after getting rid of the shōgun.

The humiliations Japan suffered after the bakufu signed the Treaty of Shimoda gave way to nationalism. To counter their feelings of inferiority, traditionalists asserted that Japanese culture and religion were superior to those of the “barbarian West.” The clamor to restore the emperor also became louder among the Japanese population.

Taking a cue from China, the nation embarked on its own “self-strengthening” program. Intellectuals learned about Western science and technology and translated Western books into Japanese. For the first time, Japanese students were allowed to leave their homeland and travel to the United States to study. Samurais were also sent by their daimyōs abroad to learn Western military tactics and acquire knowledge on Western weapons. Unlike in China, however, Japan’s “self-strengthening” program was a success story.

The Fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate

As years passed, the anti-foreign feelings of nationalistic Japanese often manifested in violence against Europeans and Americans living in the country. Foreign envoys promptly protested to the bakufu, but the shōgun’s position was already tenuous among his people so there was nothing he could do. The foreigners retaliated by bombarding Shimonoseki (the stronghold of the Chōshū clan) and Kagoshima (the stronghold of the Satsuma clan). The Satsuma clan secretly befriended the British to get them to stop the bombardment, and claimed that members of their clan had managed to drive the enemy away. This was done so they could save face.

The Satsuma clan was now subdued, so the Chōshū clan took up the slack. In 1863, the emperor decided to once again isolate Japan and gave the foreigners an ultimatum. When the foreigners refused to leave, the Chōshū clan fired upon Western ships off the coast of Shimonoseki. The American, Dutch, English, and French fleet promptly retaliated and overcame the Chōshū clan in September 1864.

Frustrated in their efforts to dislodge the foreigners, the Satsuma and Chōshū daimyō focused on toppling the Tokugawa shogunate and strengthening the Japanese military instead. The shogun died in September 1866, and it was followed by the emperor in the following year. This emboldened the daimyōs to convince the new shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, to retire. The shōgun agreed and allowed the restoration of Japan’s Yamato Dynasty to the seat of power. The 15-year old Prince Mutsuhito acceded the throne and took the name Emperor Meiji (“Enlightened One”) in 1868.

A short civil war (the Boshin War) ensued when the former shogun refused to give up his extensive lands and return them to the crown. The Tokugawa forces, however, were soon defeated and the family was forced to give up their claims to the lands. From then on, the Emperor and his ministers were free to implement reforms and usher Japan into the 20th century.


Photo by: Kanō Tan’yūOsaka Castle main tower, Public Domain, Link

Meyer, Milton Walter. Japan: A Concise History. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2012.

Nish, Ian H. A Short History of Japan. New York: Praeger, 1968.

Perez, Louis G. A History of Japan. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.


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George Müller (1805-1898)

George Müller (1805-1898) was unique among 19th-century missionaries. The majority of these missionaries came from the English-speaking world and preached the gospel to those who did not speak English.  Müller, a native of Prussia, chose to minister in Bristol, England instead of far-off Asia or Africa. 

His impact on the English people was tremendous. Müller was first and foremost a preacher, but he is best remembered for taking in and taking care of thousands of orphans in his adopted city of Bristol. His life is a testament to God’s providence and generosity in times of need.

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Early Life

George Müller was born on September 27, 1805, in the town of Kroppenstedt in the Kingdom of Prussia (now in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany). His father was a tax collector who worked for the Prussian government. 

Because his father was a tax collector, the younger Müller’s love for money was nurtured at home during his youth. George’s love for money and his recklessness with it landed him in prison in 1821. He was sent to prison after he rented a room at an inn and tried to check out without paying its owner.

George had a slight change of heart during his brief stint in prison. Upon his release, he went to a school at Nordhausen. He went on to the University of Halle in 1822 to study the classics and theology. His father sent him to these schools so he could begin his life as a comfortable Lutheran clergyman. 

Studying theology, however, did not stop him from getting into trouble. His partner-in-crime was a friend named Beta. Little did he know that Beta would be instrumental in his road to redemption. One day, Beta invited George to join a meeting with a Christian group. This group held a meeting every Saturday in the house of one of its members. 

George agreed to join Beta. As the meeting went on, it seemed that God was already changing his life for the better. This event had a profound effect on him, and he was no longer the young and reckless man that he was before.

In 1826, he met and befriended the wealthy missionary Hermann Ball. George was inspired by Ball’s work among the Jews in Poland, leading him to decide to become a missionary too. He wrote to his father informing him of his decision, but he was rebuffed. However, his father’s rejection of his chosen career did not deter him.  

In 1827, he applied to the England-based Continental Society to become an assistant to the elderly Bucharest-based missionary, Dr. Tholuck. Unfortunately, this plan failed to materialize because of the brewing war between Russia and Turkey.

Dr. Tholuck offered him a chance to work as a missionary among the Jews in England through the London Missionary Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews. George agreed, and in 1828, he was accepted by the London Missionary Society as a missionary student. 

Leaving Prussia was next to impossible because he had not rendered the mandatory 3-year military service and therefore could not be issued a passport. University students like George were required to serve for only a year, but he felt that the military was not for him.

Müller was desperate to start his new life as a missionary, but he was stuck in Prussia without a passport. To make things worse, he contracted an infection that burst a blood vessel in his stomach. The illness turned out to be a blessing. He was declared unfit to serve in the military, and was issued a passport shortly afterward. 

The Evangelist in England

George Muller was known for his reliance on the Lord in all circumstances.

George left Prussia on the 3rd of February, 1829, and arrived in London on March 19 of the same year. He fell ill once again as soon as he landed in London, and he was advised to travel to the seaside town of Teignmouth in Devon for his recovery. It was in Teignmouth that he met Scottish preacher and future lifelong friend, Henry Craik. He stayed in Teignmouth for some time, preaching among the locals in the Ebenezer Chapel while he recovered.

He returned to London in September 1829 in hopes of starting his work among the Jews. He wrote to the London Missionary Society, but he did not get a response. He began preaching to the Jews in London even without the support of the Society. 

George began his career as a missionary in London by teaching Sunday school to a group of Jewish boys and distributing religious tracts. He wrote once again to the Society after some time, but the Society informed him that they were severing their connection with him.  

George was devastated, but this did not stop him from continuing his service to the Lord as a missionary. He finally went back to Teignmouth to stay and preach in the Ebenezer Chapel. His return to Teignmouth was not in vain because it was here that he met the sister of a fellow missionary and his future wife, Mary Groves.

George and Mary were married on the 7th of October, 1830 after a short courtship. The couple had two children, Lydia (born 1832) and Elijah (born 1834). Only Lydia survived into adulthood.

Soon after his marriage, George announced that he would not accept a regular salary from the Teignmouth congregation. He told the congregants that he would accept donations only. He had a box placed in the chapel, and whoever wanted to donate some money could drop them into the box. By God’s grace, the Müller household never ran out of funds and supplies thanks to the benevolence of the members of the congregation.

The Bristol Orphanage

In 1832, George’s friend Henry Craik invited him north to Bristol. In the spring of the same year, he and his wife joined Craik at Bethesda Chapel in Bristol. Preaching was his main responsibility, but this job did not deter him from pursuing other interests. 

He founded day schools for young boys and girls. He also established adult schools, as well as Sunday schools. It was in Bristol in 1834 that he established the Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad.

Just like in Teignmouth, George did not receive financial support from the government and relied only on private donations. Surprisingly, the donations he received were more than enough to support his organization and the thousands of orphans he took care of.

The Müllers work among the orphans of Bristol began in 1836. They first took in thirty orphaned girls in their home on Wilson Street in Bristol. As the years went by and as their brood of orphans grew, the Müllers had to rent three additional houses. Apart from orphaned girls, they also took in orphaned boys and younger children.

The routine in the Müller household was simple. Bible reading and prayer were mandatory after breakfast.  Müller made sure that the children were educated, and even secured apprenticeships and jobs for them when it was time to move on. Each child received a Bible and two-days’ worth of clothing when it is time to leave the Müller’s orphanage.

By 1845, the couple already had 300 children in their care. The children under their care increased so much that they had to have a larger house built in Ashley Down, Bristol to house all of them. By 1870, there were more than 1,700 children in his organization’s care. 

Despite the enormity of their financial needs, George was notable because of his steadfast trust that God will answer his family and the orphans’ needs. He was meticulous when it came to keeping financial records, and he even invited trusted individuals and donors to scrutinize them. Müller was also diligent in providing receipts to make sure that the donors knew how their donations were spent.

Beyond Bristol

George’s wife Mary died in 1870. He married Susannah Grace Sanger the following year. In 1871, the couple left Bristol and embarked on a missionary journey all over England, Scotland, and Ireland.

By 1876, they had reached the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland. They visited North America and was even welcomed into the White House in 1878. They came back to continental Europe in the same year, and back again to North America in the following year.

Beginning in 1881, the couple toured and evangelized in the Levant, Turkey, Greece, Bohemia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Russia. They reached India in 1883, as well as Australia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia in 1885. The Müllers returned to continental Europe in 1890.

George and his wife returned to England in 1892. He died in Bristol on March 10, 1898. 


Picture by:, Public Domain, Link

Miller, Basil. George Muller: Man of Faith & Miracles. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1941.

Müller George, and Diana L. Matisko. The Autobiography of George Müller. Springdale, PA: Whitaker House, 1985.

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Gladys Aylward (1902-1970)

Petite and dark-haired, the woman would not have looked out of place in any Chinese city during the early 19th century. But upon closer inspection, one could see that she was a foreigner. She was Gladys Aylward, an intrepid English missionary who is renowned for her work among the orphans in Yangcheng County during one of the most turbulent periods in Chinese history.

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Early Life

Gladys May Aylward was born in the district of Edmonton in London on the 24th of February, 1902. Her parents, Thomas John and Rosina Aylward, belonged to the Anglican church. 

Gladys’s family came from a humble background. She was only 14 when she had to quit school and work as a housemaid to help her family. Her humble occupation, however, did not stop her from dreaming of becoming a missionary.

Twelve years later, Ms. Aylward finally worked up the courage to send an application to the China Inland Mission. She was accepted to study a preliminary course for missionaries, but then she hit a roadblock. It seemed Gladys did not have the aptitude to learn Mandarin. In addition, she was already older than most applicants at that time, so she was not allowed to continue the training.

This rejection did not stop her from pursuing her dream of serving the Lord as a missionary in China. She was working at that time as a parlor maid for Sir Francis Younghusband (the famous British military officer and explorer of Asia) when she heard of the request written by a certain Mrs. Jennie Lawson.

Mrs. Lawson, an elderly widow, was working as a missionary in China when she made an invitation for another missionary to join and help her. Gladys grabbed the opportunity and wrote to Mrs. Lawson to tell her that she had accepted her invitation. An expensive sea voyage, however, was out of the question as she did not have enough money or a sponsor. 

With her meager life savings, Gladys paid for a cheaper railway ticket via the Trans-Siberian Railway. She left England for China on the 15th of October, 1932.

The journey in itself was difficult, but it became more challenging because of her lack of money to purchase food and other necessities. Gladys was also briefly detained by Soviet officers, but she was able to escape with the help of the locals and by hitching a ride on a Japanese ship. She was able to land in China after making a detour in Japan.

In China

Gladys Aylward was known and revered for her work with Chinese orphans and founded the Gladys Aylward Orphanage.

She met Mrs. Lawson in Yangcheng County after traveling for several weeks across Japan and eastern China. Together, they established The Inn of the Eight Happinesses (Love, Virtue, Gentleness, Tolerance, Loyalty, Truth, Beauty, and Devotion). The inn served as a pitstop for merchants and other travelers en route to the western parts of China. Apart from provisions, the duo also told any guests who were willing to listen some Bible stories to convert them to Christianity.

Gladys proved her former teacher wrong when she went on to become fluent in Mandarin. She also became one of the most respected persons in Yangcheng.

 During this time, China was trying to break free from old customs. One of these customs was the practice of foot binding (lotus feet). One day, a high-ranking local official approached Gladys and asked her to become his assistant. Her role was to become a “foot inspector.” As a foot inspector, her job was to make sure parents would not bind their daughters’ feet as mandated by the new Chinese government.

Despite her small stature, Gladys was a formidable presence in Yangcheng. The local authorities have come to trust her and rely on her wisdom. In Yangcheng, she was not just another missionary and inn-keeper. During a particularly violent prison riot, the local authorities were forced to approach the petite Ms. Aylward to intervene to the prisoners on their behalf. 

Gladys was able to convert some of the locals to Christianity during her early years in Yangcheng. It was also during this time that she took several orphans under her wing. Mrs. Lawson had died by then, so she was free to turn the inn into an orphanage.

During the Second World War

The Second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937. The coastal cities of China were already overrun by Japanese soldiers, but Gladys heard that they were marching westward and could Yangcheng soon. To protect herself and her charges from the Japanese soldiers, Gladys decided to evacuate them all to the city of Xi’an in 1938. She and a companion named Feng were in charge of as much as 100 children in this desperate march west.

She led her ragtag crew through trails and mountains to escape detection and strafing from Japanese warplanes. There were also days when they were not so lucky. The children suffered through hunger, illness, and being exposed to the elements. 

Gladys herself was wounded after she was shot at by Japanese soldiers. This was followed by a bout of serious illness, but she continued caring for the children and bringing people to Christ after her recovery. She and the children finally found refuge in a Buddhist monastery in a remote valley in far west China.

The Furlough

It was not until 1949 that Ms. Aylward decided to take a long-due furlough. She also needed to leave China because the Communist Party of China already controlled much of the country and its partisans were threatening the lives of Christian missionaries.

With a heavy heart, Ms. Aylward sailed back to England. She left the country as a humble parlor maid, but came back to great acclaim thanks to her heroic efforts as a Christian missionary in her adopted country. At home, she met prominent English personalities, including as Queen Elizabeth and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Her life became the subject of several books and a Hollywood film. This film was entitled The Inn of Sixth Happiness, and starred the acclaimed Hollywood actress, Ingrid Bergman. Despite the star-studded cast, Ms. Aylward was unhappy with the inaccuracies in the film, as well as some of the embellishments made by its writers.

The Final Years

Gladys spent ten years in England before she decided to come back to Asia. She had wanted to come back to mainland China, but it was not to be as the Communist Party of China was hostile to missionaries.

She first traveled to Hong Kong, but then decided to go to Taiwan instead. In 1958, she founded a new orphanage in Taipei, and it was named the Gladys Aylward Orphanage. She worked with orphans in Taiwan before her death in 1970. She is buried in the Christ’s College cemetery in New Taipei City, Taiwan.


Picture by: original uploader was Ibekolu at Taiwan. – Transferred from zh.wikipedia to Commons by Shizhao using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, Link

Norman, J.G.G. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by J. D. Douglas and Earle E. Cairns, Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.

Swift, Catherine M. Gladys Aylward. Bethany House, 1989.

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David Livingstone (1813-1873): Explorer and Missionary

David Livingstone (1813-1873) stands as a giant not only in the history of Christian missions, but also in the history of exploration. He was able to overcome his humble background to study theology and medicine, as well as become one of the most daring Christian missionaries in the African continent.

David Livingstone was one of the most impactful 19th-century Christian missionaries. His contributions to the history of Christian missions were significant, but his beginnings were quite humble. Livingstone was born on March 19, 1813, in the town of Blantyre, Scotland. His family was poor, so he was forced to go to work in one of the town’s cotton mills at a young age. It was not unusual for workers even as young as Livingstone to work 14 hours each day.

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His punishing work schedule did not stop Livingstone from getting an education. He read everything he could get his hands on, from scientific books to religious literature that he borrowed from his devout father. He was particularly interested in nature and theology. Despite his early struggles, he was able to enroll at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School.

The young man’s interest in missionary work began after reading Karl Gützlaff’s Appeal to the Churches of Britain and America on Behalf of China. The road to becoming a missionary was not easy. Livingstone knew that no organization would accept him if he presented himself as just another devout Christian with some background in medicine. He needed to stand out to be considered as a missionary.

In order to achieve this, in 1836 Livingstone enrolled at Anderson’s College in Glasgow where he studied Greek and theology. He also studied Latin to get into advanced medical school, as well as Hebrew to deepen his understanding of the Bible. It was during this time that he joined the London Missionary Society (LMS). It was not long before he acquired his Licentiate of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

Early Years in Africa

Missionary David Livingstone was one of the most popular British heroes of the late 19th-century.

The First Opium War began in 1839. Because of the war between China and Britain, serving as a missionary in China was not possible. A meeting with Robert Moffat, a renowned London Missionary Society missionary, changed the course of Livingstone’s life. Moffat suggested that instead of going to China, David should join him in South Africa where he had a base.

Livingstone agreed and accepted Robert Moffat’s suggestion. He left England, and arrived in Bechuanaland (modern-day Botswana). He settled temporarily in a place called Mabotsa to preach to the natives there. During his stay in Mabotsa, Livingstone learned that a lion was terrorizing the locals. He decided to help the natives and join the lion hunt.

Livingstone was attacked and wounded by the lion during the hunt. His left arm was seriously wounded, but thanks to his medical training, he was able to set his broken arm. Although his arm healed, it was not set properly. This injury hampered his movement for the rest of his life.

His first decade in Africa was marked with challenges and a lack of success in the area of evangelization. Over the years, he moved from Mabotsa to Chonuane. He then moved to Kolobeng, but was met with little success when it came to converting the natives.

Frustrated with his failures in southern Africa, Livingstone decided to explore the heart of the continent instead and see if he could bring the natives in these uncharted territories to Christ.

Across Africa

The starting point in his first voyage was a place called Linyati in what is now Namibia. Livingstone and his companions (which included guides and warriors loaned to him by the chief of Linyati) crossed the jungle into Luanda, Angola which they reached in the middle of 1854.

He recrossed the jungle throughout 1855, following the Zambezi River until he reached the east coast of Africa in what is now Mozambique. Although many Portuguese traders had already come before him and had explored the region, Livingstone was the first known European to cross the continent in this particular latitude. The journey was extremely difficult and Livingstone nearly died from fever on the way to Luanda.

Slavery was abolished by the United Kingdom in 1833, but the Portuguese led African slave trade was still ongoing when Livingstone made his first journey. He was deeply affected by the abuses he saw and he made it his mission to garner support for the permanent abolition of slavery through Christianity and commerce.

He returned to England and decided to publish a book to raise awareness about the scourge of slavery in hopes that it would be permanently eradicated. He also decided to focus on exploring the continent instead of preaching to the natives because of the lack of support he received from the leadership of the LMS.

In England, Livingstone received the support he needed from the British government and the Royal Geographical Society. Despite this additional support, he did not completely cut his ties with the London Missionary Society.

From the Zambezi to the Source of the Nile

Livingstone, his wife Mary, and their English and African companions began the second Zambezi expedition in the spring of 1858. The journey was perilous in itself, but it was made more difficult due to Livingstone’s poor leadership.

Despite the difficulties, the group able to reach Lake Malawi. This was the first time a European expedition was able to reach this location. Livingstone’s misery, however, was compounded with the death of his wife from malaria.

The odds that were stacked against him did not stop Livingstone from moving forward. He was finally forced to put a stop to the expedition when some of his companions began to die and others abandoned him en route. He was finally forced to return to England in 1864. The expedition was considered a failure by the general public.

Livingstone found it difficult to raise funds for his forthcoming expedition in Africa after the fiasco of the Zambezi expedition. That failure, however, was not quite enough to stop him from returning to Africa.

He traveled to Zanzibar in 1866 to begin another journey. This time, his goal was to look for the source of the Nile River. He was accompanied by two of his faithful servants (Chuma and Susi), some Sepoys, some Comoros islanders, and several freed slaves. The starting point of the expedition was the Ruvuma river.

From the Ruvuma river, he reached Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Mweru, and Lake Bangweulu. He discovered that the Lualaba River flowed into the River Congo, and not into the Nile River.

This expedition was marked by desertions, declining health, and theft. In 1869, the explorer contracted pneumonia, cholera, and jungle rot (tropical ulcers). He was rescued from death by Arab traders and the locals. He abhorred slave traders, but ironically, it was the traders who repeatedly rescued him from certain death.

In 1871, Livingstone was forced to put an end to the expedition after witnessing a massacre of hundreds of Africans. He was horribly shaken by the experience and also seriously ill, and this forced him to return to Ujiji in fall of the same year. 

Despite the numerous setbacks, Livingstone’s reputation as an explorer was growing in Europe and America. But no one from the outside world knew whether he was still alive or not. For many, it was if he had fallen off the face of the earth. 

A Meeting with H.M. Stanley and Livingstone’s Final Years

A hunt for the intrepid adventurer began soon after he embarked on his disastrous Nile expedition. Henry Morton Stanley, a journalist for the New York Herald, managed to find him while he was recuperating in Ujiji. In spite of his illness and problems that plagued him in his quest to look for the source of the Nile, Livingstone was still determined to begin another expedition after his recovery. 

Stanley tried to dissuade him from carrying out his plan, but Livingston would not relent. He embarked on an expedition for the last time after he and Stanley parted ways. Unfortunately, Livingstone’s quest for the source of the Nile River remained fruitless. He wandered the Lualaba and Lake Bangweulu for a couple of years to no avail.

Livingstone died from malaria and dysentery on May 1 or 4, 1873 near Lake Bangweulu. After his death, his heart was buried under a baobab or mvula tree by Chuma and Susi, his loyal servants. His body was carried by the very same servants to Bagamoyo. His remains were returned to London, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.


Picture by: Unknown – This image is available from the National Library of Wales.  You can view this image in its original context on the NLW Catalogue, Public Domain, Link

Hughes, Thomas. David Livingstone. New York: Macmillan And Co., 1889.

Morrison, J.H. Missionary Heroes of Africa. New York: George H. Doran Co., 1922.

Seaver, George. David Livingstone: His Life and Letters. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957.