In the waning days of China’s Qing Empire, a riot broke out in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province. After two years of flooding, a starving woman had drowned herself in desperation after an unscrupulous merchant refused to sell her food at a price she could afford. Three days of rioting followed during which symbols of Qing power were destroyed by an angry mob, which then turned its sights on Changsha’s Western compound. Historians have long assumed the mob was controlled by the landed gentry, but as nearly every dictator knows, a crowd has a mind of its own.
James Joshua Hudson, Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Knox College, describes the riots and some surprising finds he made conducting fieldwork in Hunan that offer a glimpse into the deeply layered tensions on the eve of the downfall of the Qing dynasty.