The Most Wanted Violence Groups in Late Imperial China
The Most Wanted Violence Groups in Late Imperial China
Accompany with rapid growth of population and decline of government administration, violence groups became a significant popular culture in late imperial China. Although religious sects, brotherhood associations and banditry were all considered as illegal violence groups, they were very different because of their different political perspectives. A comparison and contrast of religious sects, brotherhood associations and banditry indicates that religious sects, who were considered threatening and be suppressed by the Manchu government, played a main role on the final overthrow of the dynasty.

Religious sects (jiaomen) were non-political, religious organizations first appeared in Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). Their belief was a syncretism drawn from Buddhist, Daoism, Confucianism and other popular indigenous religious. Members of religious sects were basically recruited from the lowest level of the society, most of whom were ignorant peasants. They formed a loose organization with no clearly leadership structure. Appeals to potential members in religious sects were healing, divination, exorcism and martial arts such as from boxing and fencing. The egalitarian perspective which rejected distinctions based on wealth or gender was also a significant appeal to potential members. Religious sects existed peacefully until the late imperial period when the White Lotus sects believed that the end of the world was coming. Several rebellions were held then. The most famous two of them were the White Lotus Rebellion (1796-1804) and the Boxer Uprising (1898-1900), which nearly pulled down the ruling dynasty.

Brotherhood associations, unlike the religious sects, are non-religious organizations started to proliferate after the mid-1700s. They contained none of the sects’ superpower beliefs such as healing, divination or exorcism. However they did respect Buddhist, Taoist, Confucianism, and other forms of religion beliefs. Their main worship were usually war heroes like Guan Di- an ancient general who stand for loyalty and courage. Much different from religious sects, brotherhood associations had a clear political motive which is overthrowing the Qing and restoring the Ming, however this motive was sometimes just a political slogan. Brotherhood associations were originally formed by neighbors and friends to provide mutual aid and protection to its members. Like religious sects, members of the brotherhood associations were from lower level of the society. Their appeals to potential members were a form of kinship, security, and mutual support. These appeals attracted many marginal members of society seeking protection which they could not get from the government and families. Similar to religious sects, brotherhood associations formed a loose organization with no clear centralized leadership. Branch of organizations sometimes engaged in bloody fights between each other. Contrasted with religious sects, brotherhood associations also engaged in all kinds of criminal activities such as gambling, narcotics trafficking, and illegal salt trading. While on the other hand, brotherhood associations maintained much more strict morality disciplines over the members; for example, veiling secrets, adultery, cheating while gambling, robbery, rape, drunkenness, cursing, and disorderly conduct were all considered crime and might lead to different level of punishments. The largest brother associations in the late imperial China were triad and Elder Brothers. Because of their traditional ideology of anti-Munchuism, they became allies with the anti-government rebellion forces. However, in contrast with religious sects, brotherhood associations’ contributions were very limited because of their self-regarding and criminal nature.

Banditry was more like an occupation rather than an organization, its rapid propagation started in the early decades of the 19th century. Banditry gangs were non-religious organizations like brotherhood associations. They were usually formed by the poor peasants facing the threat of hunger, or young unemployed men with neither land nor career prospects, they became bandits during certain seasons, so they were named seasonal bandits. Sometimes, particularly during natural disasters,

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Religious Sects And Brotherhood Associations. (April 3, 2021). Retrieved from