How effectively did governments in pre-revolutionary societies deal with social and political unrest?
Governments in pre-revolutionary societies, such as the Autocratic governments of Russia and China obviously did not deal with social and political unrest very effectively if they were unable to stop the impending revolutions in their respective countries. In each case the majority of the population were looking for changes in the way their governments were ruling their country, but in each case their ideas for a better country were not heard by their governments which subsequently resulted in vast social and political unrest.
Such unrest eventually led to the downfall of each government system due to their inability to subdue the situation. In Russia as with China under an autocratic rule, the vast majority of the population, the peasants and proletariat, were unhappy with the way their governments were treating them. The peasantry in both countries were severely poor and often starved. This was not helped by the fact that both countries had very poor weather conditions in the winter months that brought food production to a virtual stand still.
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Peasants often did not own any land and were forced to work for landlords, who paid very little. Peasants were not happy with the current situation and wanted land reforms so they could own land for themselves. Unfortunately these pleas went unheard and so led to much discontent and unrest amongst the lower classes in these societies. The Tsar of Russia and the Empress of China were seen by the common person as a god-like deity selected by right of birth to rule the country as they see fit.
It was their divine right, and as such this placed the Tsar and Empress in a social status all of their own, way above anyone else. This could be a reason why they did not even care about the peasants, to them they were nothing. They were too interested in their own problems to worry about the affairs of state. Only when their power was threatened did they listen, in Russia it was when the effects of ‘Bloody Sunday’ threatened the image of the Tsar and in China when constant attack from westerners threatened to make people believe that the empress was losing the Mandate of Heaven.
In both cases, the resulting reforms put in place by each ruler was a case of too little too late. The effects of their incompetence were too deep rooted by now to be disguised by such minor and insignificant reforms. The Tsar and the Empress were very similar in the fact that they were both stuck in their old ways. The Tsar of Russia was often more concerned with family affairs than the affairs of state and wished to keep the government system the way it was so that he could pass it on to his son Alexei.
What he didn’t realise was that by not concerning himself with the affairs of state, he was in effect sealing the fate of autocracy in Russia by causing great discontent in the failing incompetent government system. Similarly in China, the Empress resisted western ideas and wished to keep the current system of government. By letting western ideas influence the people, they might have realised how ineffective their current government was and wish to change it. This would mean a complete lifestyle change for the Empress which of course she was not interested in.
So in both cases the government’s inability to accept change brought about great unrest as the people wanted to modernise, as conditions in other modernised countries were a lot better than their own. The effects of war played a major role in creating unrest in both Russia and China. In Russia, the Tsar had a choice whether or not to continue the wars in which Russia participated but in each case he chose to continue the wars, even though it was obvious that Russia lacked the capability to maintain and supply an army away from home.
The choices that he made only created more unrest, which the Tsar did not need. Obviously, if the Tsar simply avoided creating this unrest he wouldn’t have had to deal with it, so basically by not creating this unrest is a very effective way of dealing with it, pity the Tsar did not see it this way. Unfortunately in China there was no choice as to what wars could be participated in, they were all in defence. But these wars could have been avoided, especially those with Britain over trade.
China’s unwillingness to change or modernise was a major factor in causing these wars, if it had been more open to western ideas not only could China have avoided war with Britain, it could have been better prepared for wars later on with Japan. Of course this did not happen and Britain defeat China in many ‘Opium’ wars. Ports were opened up for trade and opium and cheap goods flooded in creating unrest amongst the merchants and peasants. China’s response was to build up it’s military and try to modernise by sending scholars abroad to learn western ideas.
This was like shooting themselves in the foot, many of the scholars became accustomed to western ideas and philosophy and concluded that it was more efficient and that for modernisation to occur the whole system of government must be changed. So this was not the best way to deal with unrest, because now there were more educated people with western ideas trying to gain support to change the government. The Tsar’s half-hearted attempt to solve the problems the arose after ‘Bloody Sunday’ could be credited for pushing the people that bit further into listening to revolutionary ideas that were floating around at the time.
The Tsar let the people have a Duma, so that they could have a say in how the country would be run, but he disbanded two Dumas in the first two weeks of their operation simply because they opposed him. Obviously the people did not truly have a say on anything because as soon as they wanted something that the Tsar did not like he simply disregarded it. Going back on his word was perhaps the most stupid thing the Tsar ever did, because now the people realised more than ever that the Tsar did not care about anything they had to say, so movements to oust the Tsar grew in popularity.
In both Russia and China, the governments trying to come to terms with political and social unrest did not do a very good job. In most cases they actually contributed to the creation of even more unrest than what was originally being tried to subdue. By trying to control unrest in their respective countries, the Tsar and Empress helped bring about their own demise, so effectively they did not deal with unrest at all.