The summer palace of the Chinese emperor is burned down, and all of Europe is outraged! Well, perhaps not all of Europe, but the most surprising aspect of this chapter to me is the reaction of the British establishment. Rather than being jingoistic, with exceptions, they seem ambivalent to opposed to the aggressive actions of Lord Elgin. This, despite the reality that the European prisoners were truly ill-treated by the Chinese when in their authority.
I suppose this makes me realize again that I tend to see people from an earlier period as bigoted and blood-thirsty when in reality they had morals just like us. These were the British who after all abolished the slave trade, despite their economic interests.
Much of the rest of the chapter is focused on where it should be, on China. The emperor has fled, and his brother is left holding the bag in Beijing. This is a dynasty without virtue at the head. There is great power politics, and possible aid from Russia, along with foreign mercenaries. It’s amusing to read about the Chinese evaluation of Americans as “pure and honest.” How things have changed.
Much of the latter portion of the chapter was hard for me to follow, in that it alludes to the complicated and confused impressions of the Taiping by the rebels, and various diplomatic efforts involving Europeans, Taiping, and the Manchus. Additionally, there seem to be a fair number of European freelancers operating between the various groups.
Total and utter chaos. No one seems to know what’s going on.