Taiping cannonade against the Qing war-junks besieging the Heavenly Kingdom capital
Later stages:
|Taiping Heavenly Kingdom|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
|Total dead: At least 20 million, including civilians and soldiers (best estimate).|
The Taiping Rebellion was a massive civil war in southern China from 1850 to 1864, against the ruling Manchu-led Qing Dynasty. It was a millenarian movement led by Hong Xiuquan, who announced that he had received visions in which he learned that he was the younger brother of Jesus. At least 20 million people died, mainly civilians, in one of the deadliest military conflicts in history.
Hong established the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom with its capital at Nanjing. The Kingdom's army controlled large parts of southern China, at its height ruling about 30 million people. The rebel agenda included social reforms such as shared "property in common," equality for women, and the replacement of Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion with their form of Christianity. Because of their refusal to wear the queue, Taiping combatants were nicknamed "Longhairs" (Script error) by the Qing government, which besieged the Taiping armies throughout the rebellion. The Qing government eventually crushed the rebellion with the aid of French and British forces.
In the 20th century, Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Chinese Nationalist Party, looked on the rebellion as an inspiration, and Chinese leader Mao Zedong glorified the Taiping rebels as early heroic revolutionaries against a corrupt feudal system.
China, under the Qing Dynasty in the mid-19th century, suffered a series of natural disasters, economic problems and defeats at the hands of the Western powers; in particular, the humiliating defeat in 1842 by the United Kingdom in the First Opium War. The Qing government, led by ethnic Manchus, were seen by much of the Chinese population, who were mainly Han Chinese, as an ineffective and corrupt foreign regime. Anti-Manchu sentiment was strongest in the south among the laboring classes and it was these disaffected who flocked to join the charismatic leader Hong Xiuquan, a member of the Hakka community, a Han-Chinese sub-group that inhabited southern China but traced their ancestries back to northerners in the Song Dynasty. Having arrived too late to acquire the best land, they were engaged in constant conflicts, culminating in the Punti–Hakka Clan Wars. Among these serious problems were the prevalence of female infanticide, creating massive imbalances with shortages of women being worst in the primary Taiping centers.
At the age of thirty-seven, Hong Xiuquan failed on multiple occasions to pass the imperial examinations (of those who attempted the examinations, only about 5 percent passed) which consequently denied him access to the ranks of the ruling scholarly elite. Hong experienced a lengthy illness and then after spending many days in bed, he recovered with a changed personality. His cousin Li Ching-fang noticed the pamphlet Hong had received from a Protestant Christian missionary in 1836 after his failed attempt at the imperial examination on a bookshelf inside Hong's house. After reading it Li suggested that Hong should read the material. After studying the material, Hong Xiuquan claimed that the illness he had following his imperial examinations was in fact a vision to the effect that he was the younger brother of Jesus, who was sent to rid China of the "devils," including both the corrupt Manchu rulers and the teachings of Confucius. After this vision, he felt it was his duty to spread his interpretation of Christianity and overthrow Manchu rule. Hong's associate Yang Xiuqing was a former firewood merchant from Guangxi, who claimed to be able to act as a voice of God, in order to direct the people and gain political power. American Baptist missionary Issachar Jacox Roberts became a teacher and an adviser to Hong.
The sect's power grew in the late 1840s, initially by suppressing groups of bandits and pirates; persecution by Qing authorities spurred the movement into a guerrilla rebellion and then into widespread, bloody civil war.
The revolt began in Guangxi province. After a previous small-scale battle resulting in a rebel victory in late December 1850, in early January 1851, a ten thousand-strong rebel army organized by Feng Yunshan and Wei Changhui routed government troops stationed in the town of Jintian (present-day Guiping, Guangxi). Taiping forces successfully drove back the imperial reprisal against the Jintian Uprising.
In 1853 Hong Xiuquan withdrew from active control of policies and administration, ruling exclusively by written proclamations that often had religious content. Hong disagreed with Yang Xiuqing in certain matters of policy and became increasingly suspicious of Yang's ambitions, his extensive network and spies, and his declarations when "speaking as God". Yang and his family were put to death by Hong's followers in 1856, followed by the killing of troops loyal to Yang.
With their leader largely out of the picture, Taiping delegates tried to widen their popular support with the Chinese middle classes and forge alliances with European powers, but failed on both counts. The Europeans decided to stay neutral. Inside China the rebellion faced resistance from the traditionalist middle class because of the rebels' hostility to Chinese customs and Confucian values. The land-owning upper class, unsettled by the Taipings' peasant mannerisms and their policy of strict separation of the sexes, even for married couples, sided with government forces and their Western allies.
In 1859 Hong Rengan, a cousin of Hong Xiuquan, joined the Taiping forces in Nanjing and was given considerable power by Hong Xiuquan. He developed an ambitious plan to expand the Kingdom's boundaries. In 1860 the Taiping rebels were successful in taking Hangzhou and Suzhou to the east (see Second rout of the Jiangnan Daying), but failed to take Shanghai (Battle of Shanghai (1861)), which marked the beginning of the decline of the Kingdom.
Fall of the KingdomEdit
An attempt to take Shanghai in August 1860 was repulsed by a force of Qing imperial troops and European officers under the command of Frederick Townsend Ward. This army would later become the "Ever Victorious Army", a group of Chinese soldiers trained and led by Charles "Chinese" Gordon, and would be instrumental in the defeat of the Taiping rebels. Imperial forces were reorganized under the command of Zeng Guofan and Li Hongzhang, and the imperial reconquest began in earnest. By early 1864 imperial control in most areas was re-established.
Hong Xiuquan declared that God would defend Nanjing, but in June 1864, with Qing imperial forces approaching, he died of food poisoning as a consequence of eating wild vegetables when the city ran low on food supplies. He was sick for 20 days before succumbing and a few days after his death Qing forces took the city. His body was buried in the former Ming Imperial Palace where it was later exhumed on orders of Zeng Guofan to verify his death, and then cremated. Hong's ashes were later blasted out of a cannon in order to ensure that his remains have no resting place as eternal punishment for the uprising.
Four months before the fall of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, Hong Xiuquan abdicated in favour of Hong Tianguifu, his eldest son, who was 15 years old. The younger Hong was inexperienced and powerless, so the Kingdom was quickly destroyed when Nanjing fell in July 1864 to the imperial armies after protracted street-by-street fighting. Most of the Taiping princes were executed by Qing forces in Nanjing.
Although the fall of Nanjing in 1864 marked the destruction of the Taiping regime, the fight was not yet over. There were still several hundred thousand Taiping rebel troops continuing the fight, with more than a quarter-million Taiping rebels fighting in the border regions of Jiangxi and Fujian alone. It wasn't until August 1871 that the last Taiping rebel army led by Shi Dakai's commander, General Li Fuzhong (李福忠) was completely wiped out by the governmental forces in the border region of Hunan, Guizhou and Guangxi.
In 1865, Liu Yongfu escaped in command of a splinter group he called his Black Flag Army (Script error; Vietnamese: Quân cờ đenScript error) recruited largely from soldiers of ethnic Zhuang background, and crossed from Guangxi into Upper Tonkin in the Empire of Annam, where his forces were engaged by the French. He later became the second and last leader of the short-lived Republic of Formosa (5 June–21 October 1895).
Other "Flag Gangs" armed with the latest in arms, disintegrated into bandit groups that plundered remnants of the Lan Xang kingdom, and then were engaged by incompetent forces of King Rama V (r. 1868–1910) until 1890, when the last of the groups eventually disbanded. Their victims did not know where the bandits had come from, and, as they were plundering Buddhist temples, confused them with Chinese Muslims from Yunnan called Hui in Mandarin and Haw in the Lao language (Thai language: ฮ่อScript error,) which resulted in the protracted series of conflicts being misnamed the Haw wars.
With no reliable census at the time, estimates are necessarily based on projections, but the most widely cited sources put the total number of deaths during the 15 years of the rebellion at about 20–30 million civilians and soldiers.  Most of the deaths were attributed to plague and famine. At the Third Battle of Nanking in 1864, more than 100,000 were killed in three days.
The rebellion happened at roughly the same time as the American Civil War. Though almost certainly the largest civil war of the 19th century (in terms of numbers under arms), it is debatable whether the Taiping Rebellion involved more soldiers than the Napoleonic Wars earlier in the century, and so it is uncertain whether it should be considered the largest war of the 19th century.Script errorScript error
The Nien Rebellion (1853–1868), and several Muslim rebellions in the southwest (Panthay Rebellion, 1855–1873) and the northwest (Dungan revolt, 1862–1877) continued to pose considerable problems for the Qing Dynasty.
The Panthay Rebellion's leader Du Wenxiu was in contact with the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. He was not aiming his rebellion at the Han Chinese, but was anti-Qing and wanted to destroy the Manchu government. Du's forces led multiple non-Muslim forces, including Han Chinese, Li, Bai, and Hani peoples. They were assisted by non-Muslim Shan and Kakhyen and other hill tribes in the revolt.
The other Muslim rebellion, the Dungan revolt was the reverse: it was not aimed at overthrowing the Qing Dynasty since its leader Ma Hualong accepted an imperial title. Rather, it erupted due to intersectional fighting between Muslim factions and Han Chinese. Various groups fought each other during the Dungan revolt without any coherent goal. According to modern researchers, the Dungan rebellion began in 1862 not as a planned uprising but as a coalescence of many local brawls and riots triggered by trivial causes. Among these were false rumours spread that the Hui Muslims were aiding the Taiping rebels. However, the Hui Ma Hsiao-shih claimed that the Shaanxi Muslim rebellion was connected to the Taiping.
The Heavenly Kingdom's policiesEdit
The rebels announced social reforms, including strict separation of the sexes, abolition of foot binding, land socialization, and "suppression" of private trade. In religion, the Kingdom tried to replace Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion with a form of Christianity, holding that Hong Xiuquan was the younger brother of Jesus. Troops were nicknamed "Longhairs", because they sported a traditional Confucian hairstyle which was different from the Qing queue. Qing government papers refer to them as "hairy rebels" (Script error, pinyin: fàzéi).
Within the land it controlled, the Taiping Heavenly Army established a theocratic and highly militarized rule. However, the rule was remarkably ineffective, haphazard and brutal; all efforts were concentrated on the army, and civil administration was non-existent. Rule was established in the major cities and the land outside the urban areas was little regarded. Even though polygamy was banned, Hong Xiuquan had numerous concubines. Many high-ranking Taiping officials kept concubines as a matter of prerogative, and lived as de facto kings.
Taiping Heavenly ArmyEdit
The army was the rebellion's key strength. It was marked by a high level of discipline and fanaticism.Script errorScript error They typically wore a uniform of red jackets with blue trousers, and grew their hair long so in China they were nicknamed "Longhairs". The large numbers of women serving in the Taiping Heavenly Army also distinguished it from other 19th-century armies.
Combat was always bloody and extremely brutal,Script errorScript error with little artillery but huge forces equipped with small arms. The Taiping Army's main strategy of conquest was to take major cities, consolidate their hold on the cities, then march out into the surrounding countryside to recruit local farmers and battle government forces. Estimates of the overall size of the Taiping Heavenly Army are around 500,000 soldiers.
The organization of a Taiping army corps was thus:
- 1 general
- 5 colonels
- 25 captains
- 125 lieutenants
- 500 sergeants
- 2,500 corporals
- 20,000 infantry
These corps were placed into armies of varying sizes. In addition to the main Taiping forces organized along the above lines, there were also thousands of pro-Taiping groups fielding their own forces of irregulars.
Ethnic structure of the armyEdit
Ethnically, the Taiping Heavenly Army was formed at the outset largely from these groups: the Hakka, a Han Chinese subgroup, the Cantonese, local residents of Guangdong province and the Zhuang (a non-Han ethnic group), which were minority groups as compared to the Han Chinese subgroups that form dominant regional majorities across south China. It is no coincidence that Hong Xiuquan and the other Taiping royals were Hakka.
As a Han sub-group, the Hakka were frequently marginalized economically and politically, having migrated to the regions they inhabit only after other Han groups were already established there. For example, when the Hakka settled in Guangdong and parts of Guangxi, speakers of Yue Chinese (Cantonese) were already the dominant regional Han group there and had been for some time, just as speakers of various dialects of Min are locally dominant in Fujian province. The Hakka settled throughout southern China and beyond, but as latecomers they generally had to establish their communities on rugged, less fertile land scattered on the fringe of the local majority group's settlements. As their name ("guest households") suggests, the Hakka were generally treated as migrant newcomers, often subject to hostility and derision from local majority Han populations. Consequently, the Hakka, to a greater extent than other Han Chinese, have been historically associated with popular unrest and rebellion.
The other significant ethnic group in the Taiping army were the Zhuang, an indigenous people of Tai origin and China's largest non-Han ethnic minority group. Over the centuries Zhuang communities had been adopting Han Chinese culture. This was possible because Han culture in the region accommodates a great deal of linguistic diversity, so the Zhuang could be absorbed as if the Zhuang language were just another Han Chinese dialect (which it is not). As Zhuang communities were integrating with the Han at different rates, a certain amount of friction between Han and Zhuang was inevitable, with Zhuang unrest on occasion leading to armed uprisings. The second tier of the Taiping army was an ethnic mix that included many Zhuang. Prominent at this level was Shi Dakai, who was half-Hakka, half-Zhuang and spoke both languages fluently, making him quite a rare asset to the Taiping leadership.Script errorScript error
In the later stages of the Taiping Rebellion, the number of Han Chinese in the army from Han groups other than the Hakka increased substantially. However, the Hakka and the Zhuang (who constituted as much as 25% of the Taiping Army), as well as other non-Han ethnic minority groups (many of them of Tai origin related to the Zhuang), continued to feature prominently in the rebellion throughout its duration, with virtually no leaders emerging from any Han Chinese group other than the Hakka.Script errorScript error
Social structure of the Taiping ArmyEdit
Socially and economically, the Taiping rebels came almost exclusively from the lowest classes. Many of the southern Taiping troops were former miners, especially those coming from the Zhuang. Very few Taipings, even in the leadership caste, came from the imperial bureaucracy. Almost none were landlords and in occupied territories landlords were often executed.
In fact, the military ability of the generals of the Taiping Rebellion was higher than that of the Qing government's generals, for example:
Opposing the rebellion was an imperial army with a size over a million regulars with unknown thousands of regional militias and foreign mercenaries operating in support. Among the imperial forces was the elite Ever Victorious Army, consisting of Chinese soldiers led by a European officer corps (see Frederick Townsend Ward and Charles Gordon), backed by British arms companies like Willoughbe, Willoughbe & Ponsonby. A particularly famous imperial force was Zeng Guofan's Xiang Army.
Although keeping accurate records was something imperial China traditionally did very well, the decentralized nature of the imperial war effort (relying on regional forces) and the fact that the war was a civil war and therefore very chaotic meant that reliable figures are impossible to find. The destruction of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom also meant that any records it possessed were destroyed.
Zuo Zongtang from Hunan province, who was also known as General Tso, was another important Qing general who contributed in suppressing the Taiping Rebellion.
The organization of the Qing Imperial Army was thus:
- Eight Banners Army: 250,000 soldiers
- Green Standard Army: ~610,000 soldiers
- Xiang (Hunan) Army: 130,000 soldiers
- Huai (Anhui) Army: 70,000 soldiers
- Chu Army: 40,000 soldiers
- Ever Victorious Army: 5,000 soldiers
- Village Militias (T'uan-lien): unknown thousands
The Taiping Rebellion was the first instance of total war in modern China. Almost every citizen of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was given military training and conscripted into the army to fight against Qing imperial forces.
During this conflict both sides tried to deprive each other of resources to continue the war and it became standard practice to destroy agricultural areas, butcher the population of cities and in general exact a brutal price from captured enemy lands in order to drastically weaken the opposition's war effort.Script errorScript error This war was total in the sense that civilians on both sides participated to a significant extent in the war effort and in the sense that armies on both sides waged war on the civilian population as well as military forces.
This resulted in massive civilian death toll with some 600 cities destroyed and other bloody policies resulting. Since the rebellion began in the province of Guangxi, Imperial forces allowed no rebels speaking its dialect to surrender. Reportedly in the province of Guangdong, it is written that 1,000,000 were executed. These policies of mass civilian murder occurred elsewhere including in Anhui, and Nanjing.
In art and popular cultureEdit
On the pedestal of the tablet there are eight huge bas-reliefs carved out of white marble covering the revolutionary episodes, which are depictions of Chinese struggle from the First Opium War in 1840 to the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. The reliefs can be read in chronological order in a clockwise direction from the east: 1) Burning opium during the Opium War in 1840. 2) The Jintian Uprising during the Taiping Rebellion in 1851.
- Robert Elegant's 1983 novel Mandarin depicts the time of the Taiping Rebellion from the unusual point of view of a Jewish family living in Shanghai at the time.
- Flashman and the Dragon (1986) — A portion of the memoirs of the fictional Harry Paget Flashman recount his adventures during the Second Opium War and the Taiping Rebellion.
- In 1988, Hong Kong's TVB produced Twilight of a Nation, a 45 episode television drama about the Taiping Rebellion.
- Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom by Katherine Paterson is a young adult novel set during the Taiping Rebellion (Puffin, 1995, ISBN 0-14-037610-0).
- Robert Carter's historical novel Barbarians (Orion, 1998, ISBN 0-7528-1339-0), deals in detail with the rebellion and the politics surrounding it.
- In 2000, China's CCTV produced Taiping Tianguo, a 46 episode television series about the Taiping Rebellion.
- Christopher West's novel The Third Messiah (2000) features a cult whose leader believes himself to be a reincarnation of Hong Xiuquan, leader of the Taiping rebels.
- The Consumer Goods' song "Taiping Riverboat" from their 2006 album "Pop Goes the Pigdog!" tells of the construction of Nanjing and the subsequent defense of the Heavenly Kingdom through a first-person narrative.
- The Warlords, a 2007 historic legend film set in the 1860s and concerning the Taiping Rebellion, presents one General Pang Qinyun, leader of the Shan Regiment, as the man responsible for the capture of Suzhou and Nanjing.
- The Hong Kong TVB television ev, Rosy Business made references to the Taiping Rebellion.
- A strategy computer game based on the Taiping Rebellion has been made in China, and is primarily available in mainland China and Taiwan. The player can play as either the Qing government or the Taiping rebels.
- Taiping society, in some sourcesScript error[which?] the Heavenly King himself, is given credit for developing the popular Chinese game of Mahjong.
- Lisa See's novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan takes place in China during the reign of Emperor Xianfeng; the title character is married to a man who lives in Jintian and the characters get caught up in the revolution.
- Amy Tan's novel The Hundred Secret Senses takes place in part during the time of the Taiping Rebellion.
- Richard Berg's boardgame, Manchu, covers the entire rebellion.
- Li Bo's Tienkuo The Heavenly Kingdom, an historical novel set during the Taiping period and written by a professional historian of China.
- Dean Barrett's novel, Mistress of the East, (Blue Moon Books, NY) in which one of Frederick Ward's lieutenants is captured by an all-female unit of Taipings and eventually falls in love with a Taiping woman warrior and joins them in their doomed struggle against the Manchus.
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Contemporaneous foreign accountsEdit
- Lindley, Augustus, Ti-ping Tien-Kwoh: The History of the Ti-Ping Revolution (1866, reprinted 1970) OCLC 3467844 Google books access
- Hsiu-ch°êng Li, translator, The Autobiography of the Chung-Wang (Confession of the Loyal Prince) (reprinted 1970) ISBN 978-0-275-02723-0
- Thomas Taylor Meadows, The Chinese and Their Rebellions, Viewed in Connection with Their National Philosophy, Ethics, Legislation, and Administration. To Which Is Added, an Essay on Civilization and Its Present State in the East and West. (London: Smith, Elder; Bombay: Smith, Taylor, 1856). American Libraries eBook text
- Franz H. Michael, ed.The Taiping Rebellion: History and Documents (Seattle,: University of Washington Press, 1966). 3 vols. Volumes two and three select and translate basic documents.
Modern monographs and surveysEdit
- Jonathan Spence, God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan (1996) ISBN 0-393-03844-0
- Jonathan D. Spence The Search for Modern China. New York: Norton (1999). Standard textbook.
- Jack Gray, Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1800s to the 1980s (1990), ISBN 0-19-821576-2
- Ian Heath. The Taiping Rebellion, 1851–1866. London ; Long Island City: Osprey, Osprey Military Men-at-Arms Series, 1994. ISBN 1-85532-346-X (pbk.) Emphasis on the military history.
- Immanuel C. Y. Hsu, The Rise of Modern China (1999), ISBN 0-19-512504-5. Standard textbook.
- Youwen Jian, The Taiping Revolutionary Movement (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973). Translated and condensed from the author's publications in Chinese; especially strong on the military campaigns, based on the author's wide travels in China in the 1920s and 1930s.
- Philip A. Kuhn, Rebellion and Its Enemies in Late Imperial China; Militarization and Social Structure, 1796–1864 (Cambridge, Mass.,: Harvard University Press, 1970). Influential analysis of the rise of rebellion and the organization of its suppression.
- Philip A. Kuhn, "The Taiping Rebellion," in John K. Fairbank, ed., Cambridge History of China Vol Ten Pt One (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press, 1970): 264–350.
- Tobie S. Meyer-Fong. What Remains: Coming to Terms with Civil War in 19th Century China. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013). ISBN 9780804754255. A study of the victims, their experience of the war, and the memorialization of the war.
- Stephen R. Platt. Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War. New York: Knopf, 2012. ISBN 978-0-307-27173-0. Detailed narrative analysis.
- Thomas H. Reilly, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: Rebellion and the Blasphemy of Empire (2004) ISBN 0-295-98430-9. Focuses on the religious basis of the rebellion.
- Caleb Carr, The Devil Soldier: The Story of Frederick Townsend Ward (1994) ISBN 0679411143.
- Rudolf G. Wagner. Reenacting the Heavenly Vision: The Role of Religion in the Taiping Rebellion. (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, China Research Monograph 25, 1982). ISBN 0912966602.
- Mary Clabaugh Wright. The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism: The T'ung-Chih Restoration, 1862–1874. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957; rpr. 1974 ISBN 0804704767. Account of the Han Chinese/ Manchu coalition which revived the dynasty and defeated the Taipings.
- Hosea Ballou Morse, In the Days of the Taipings, Being the Recollections of Ting Kienchang, Otherwise Meisun, Sometime Scoutmaster and Captain in the Ever-Victorious Army and Interpreter-in-Chief to General Ward and General Gordon (Salem, MA: The Essex institute, 1927; Reprinted: San Francisco: Chinese Materials Center, 1974).
- George Macdonald Fraser. Flashman and the Dragon. New York: Knopf, 1986. ISBN 0394553578. A volume in the Flashman series.
- Taiping Rebellion.com Narrative history, with many illustrations, a Timeline, and a detailed Map of the Rebellion.
- The Land System of the Heavenly Kingdom Document of 1853. (Chinese Cultural Studies Brooklyn College)
- The Taiping Rebellion [BBC] Discussion with Rana Mitter, University of Oxford; Frances Wood British Library; and Julia Lovell, University of London.
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