Abstract

This is a study of the social and economic functions of Chinese secret societies between the age of rebellions, 1850–1878, and the Boxer Uprising. The rebellions and their ensuing peaceful reconstruction of Chinese society brought important changes to both the secret societies and Chinese society at large. These are analyzed in detail in this essay. By so doing, the essay attempts to throw some light on the mechanism and processes of the structural changes of Chinese secret societies. It also attempts to correct some methodological defects which seem to exist still in the study of Chinese secret societies. One of these is that historians tend to focus their attention only on rebellions while neglecting the activities of the rebel elements in peace time; another is the reluctance to make better use of popular literature as a reliable source of historical information. Widi emphasis on the social and economic functions of these societies in peace time, the essay also helps to dispel the belief that all Chinese secret societies came from one mother body—a monistic myth created by the nationalist revolutionaries of the 1900's.

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