Personal allegiances in nineteenth-century China’s southern borderland insurgencies

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A coalition of Chinese, Vietnamese, and French authorities spent much of 1878–1879 putting down a thousands-strong revolt led by Li Yangcai, an officer dismissed from the Guangxi provincial army. Using Chinese and Vietnamese court records, newspapers, and memoirs, I argue that the Li Yangcai rebellion and the imperial reactions, albeit ephemeral and limited compared to other revolts and their responses in the tumultuous nineteenth century, underline the crucial element of personal connections in borderland insurgencies during the last decades of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912). Literature on these figures highlights how personal circumstances, particularistic connections, and the borderland setting played a key role in facilitating the growth of these small but influential insurgencies. My examination of Li Yangcai, focusing on similar elements, contributes to the growing scholarship on limited wars. Additionally, I show how the state, in addition to using official bureaucratic channels, relied on personal relationships with influential characters in the local communities to suppress the rebels. I demonstrate not only how people behaved within institutional constraints but also how the state incorporated personal ties into its institutional arsenal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)725-746
Number of pages22
JournalSmall Wars and Insurgencies
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023


  • China
  • France
  • Vietnam
  • banditry
  • borderland
  • colony
  • frontier
  • nineteenth century
  • rebellion
  • war

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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