Bleeding Hearts: Religion, Violence, and the Tianjin Riots of 1870
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Bleeding Hearts: Religion, Violence, and the Tianjin Riots of 1870

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On June 21, 1870, rioters in the city of Tianjin killed 20 foreigners and a Chinese Catholic priest attached to the Lazarist mission in North China. The “Tianjin Massacre,” as it became known in the West, was the deadliest incident of anti-foreign violence in China until the Boxer Crisis of 1899-1901. Among the dead were the French consul and ten nuns who administered an orphanage in Tianjin as part of the Paris-based Holy Childhood Association. Word of the riots swiftly spread to other cities in China and then, via telegraph lines, around the world. In China, the news stoked fears in the international community that the riots in Tianjin might be the start of a coordinated campaign of violence targeting foreigners. The representatives of the foreign powers expressed outrage and demanded the Chinese government take steps to protect foreign nationals and foreign interests in China. As most of the casualties had been French citizens, Count Julien de Rochechouart, representing France, demanded reparations and the heads of the officials in Tianjin. Rochechouart threatened military reprisals if the government did not give in to his demands. For several weeks it looked like a war between France and China was inevitable, at least until events in Europe intervened. The first two chapters examine the situation for Christianity in China through 1860 and the signing of the Beijing Convention. Chapter one also looks at Tianjin society and introduces several social groups which took part in the riots, including the hunhunr, flamboyant but violent gangs who engaged in low-level criminal activity and were an important source of muscle for the city’s fire brigade and militia. The third and fourth chapters describe the Lazarist mission in China in the 1860s and the establishment of the Catholic orphanage in Tianjin. Dispensing medicine was a part of the nuns’ mission, but what the nuns saw as the advantages of modern medicines and the healing power of the Christian Faith could, to others, appear like magic, even sorcery. The Holy Childhood Association baptized young children at the point of death, which raised suspicions among residents. Rumors and salacious stories, some spread by printed anti-Christian polemics, only added to the fear and loathing many Chinese felt toward the missionaries. French authorities in China expended a great deal of energy and defending missionaries when their activities led to conflict. Chapter six looks at how Count Julien Rochechouart (1831-1879) and his predecessors managed these cases and argue that their defense of missionary privileges worsened tensions leading to a cycle of reprisals and more conflict between Christians and non-Christians.

Chapters seven and eight describe the events leading up to the riots and use official reports, eyewitness statements, and other contemporary materials to reconstruct the events of June 21. The final chapters examine the aftermath of the riots, the official investigation carried out by the eminent statesman Zeng Guofan and the tense diplomatic standoff between France and China over the Chinese government’s handling of the case.

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This item is under embargo until February 14, 2024.