a1 McGill University, Montreal
The peasant unrest which marked the period 1850–1875 in China was not solely a matter of major risings such as the Taiping or Nien rebellions. These posed the most serious threat to the Ch'ing dynasty and received accordingly the lion's share of the government's attention, but the period saw an increase in more localized disturbances as well. Sometimes the harbinger of larger rebellions, sometimes their result, most often in response to purely local miseries and opportunities, local and regional unrest ranged from banditry and smash-and-grab raids on market towns to large outbreaks such as the Red Turban revolt which threatened Canton in the summer of 1854. Although there was the constant possibility that their sparks might ignite a more massive conflagration, much of this unrest was sporadic and confined, as the horizons of peasant life were confined, to a single district or to even smaller areas—market towns which lay on the outskirts of a district, particularly if the district boundary ran through hilly country, were standing invitations and encouragements to bandit gangs. Some parts of the country—the relatively prosperous, the relatively homogeneous, or those under the eyes and guns of major concentrations of governmental power—were relatively tranquil. In other areas, disorder became endemic.