The Taiping Rebellion or Rebellion of Great Peace was a large-scale revolt against the authority and forces of the Qing Government in China. It was conducted from 1850 to 1864 by an army and civil administration led by heterodox Christian convert Hong Xiuquan. He established the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (; ; pinyin: Tàipíng Tiān Guó), namely Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace with capital Nanjing and gained control of significant parts of southern China, at its height ruling over about 30 million people. They tried to institute several social reforms, such as strict separation of the sexes, abolition of foot binding, land socialization, "suppression" of private trade, and the replacement of Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion by a form of Christianity, holding that Hong Xiuquan was the younger brother of Jesus. Troops were nicknamed the Long hair (長毛) pinyin: cháng máo, as they sported a different queue to the Qing. Qing government papers refer to them as "hair rebels".
The Taiping areas were constantly besieged and harassed by Qing forces; the rebellion was eventually put down by the Qing army aided by French and British forces. With an estimated death toll of between 20 and 30 million due to warfare and resulting starvation, this civil war ranks as one of the bloodiest conflicts in history (see List of wars and disasters by death toll). Mao Zedong viewed the Taiping as early heroic revolutionaries against a corrupt feudal system. Today, artifacts from the Taiping period can be seen at the Taiping Kingdom History Museum in Nanjing.
In the mid-19th century, China under the Qing Dynasty 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 (ethnically Manchu) were seen by the Chinese citizenry (majority Han) as ineffective and corrupt foreign rulers. Anti-Manchu sentiment was strongest in the south among the laboring classes, and it was these disaffected who flocked to join the charismatic visionary Hong Xiuquan.
Hong's associate Yang Xiuqing was a former firewood salesman of Guangxi, who frequently claimed to be able to act as a voice of God to direct the people and gain himself a large amount of political power.
The sect's power grew in the late 1840s, initially in response to its struggle to suppress groups of bandits and pirates, but persecution by Qing authorities spurred the movement into a guerrilla rebellion and then into civil war.
The revolt rapidly spread northward. In March 1853, between 700,000 and 800,000 Taiping soldiers directed by commander-in-chief Yang Xiuqing took Nanjing, killing 30,000 Imperial soldiers and massacre thousands of civilians. The city became the movement's capital and was renamed Tianjing, "Heavenly Capital". Hong built his Palace of Heavenly King there by converting the former residence of Qing officials.
At its height, the Heavenly Kingdom encompassed much of south and central China, centered on the fertile Yangtze river valley. Control of the river meant that the Taipings could easily supply their capital at Nanjing. From there, the Taipings continued their assault. Two armies were sent west, to secure the upper reaches of the Yangtze. Two more armies were sent north to take the Imperial capital, Beijing. Potentially, these two expeditions could have acted as a giant pincer movement across the country. The western expedition met with some mixed success, but the attempt to take Beijing failed.
In 1853 Hong withdrew from active control of policies and administration, ruling exclusively by written proclamations that often had religious content. Hong disagreed with Yang 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 their 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 the Imperial forces and their Western allies.
In 1859 Hong Rengan, a cousin of Hong, joined the Taiping in Nanjing, and was given considerable power by Hong. He developed an ambitious plan to expand the Kingdom's boundaries. In 1860 the Taiping were successful in taking Hangzhou and Suzhou to the east, but failed to take Shanghai, which marked the beginning of the decline of the Kingdom.
Hong declared that God would defend Nanjing, but in June 1864, with Imperial forces approaching, he died of food poisoning as the result of eating wild vegetables as the city began to run out of food. He was sick for 20 days before the Imperial forces could take the city. Only a few days after his death did the Imperial forces take the city. His body was buried in the former Ming Imperial Palace where it was later exhumed by the conquering Zeng to verify his death, and 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 Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping, Hong Xiuquan abdicated in favour of Hong Tianguifu, his eldest son, fifteen years old. Hong Tianguifu was unable to do anything to restore the Kingdom, so the Kingdom was quickly destroyed when Nanjing fell in July 1864 to the Imperial armies after vicious street-by-street fighting. Most of the princes were executed by Qing Imperials in Jinling Town (金陵城), 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 would take more than half a decade to finally put down all remnants of the Taiping Rebellion: it was not 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.
However, the rule was remarkably ineffective, haphazard and brutal; all efforts were concentrated on the army, and civil administration was very poor. Rule was established in the major cities but 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.
The movement's founder, Hong Xiuquan, had tried and failed to earn his shengyuan civil service degree numerous times. After one such failure in 1836, Hong overheard a Chinese Protestant missionary preaching and took home some Bible tracts, including a pamphlet titled "Good Words for Exhorting the Age" by Liang Fa. The missionary was probably Edwin Stevens of New England, who operated illegally in China. In 1843, after Hong's final failure at the exams, he had what some regard as a nervous breakdown and others as a mystical revelation, connecting his in-depth readings of the Christian tracts to strange dreams he had been having for the past six years. In his dreams, a bearded man with golden hair and a black robe, naming himself Jehovah, gave him a sword, and, with a younger man (Jesus) whom Hong addressed as "Elder Brother," taught him to slay demons.
"Hong and his cousin were both baptized according to the way perscribed in the pamplet Good words to admonish the age
Based on his readings, Hong Xiuquan came to believe that the figures in his dreams was The Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and that they were revealing his destiny as a slayer of demons and the leader of a new Heavenly Kingdom on Earth. The demons were later interpreted by him to be the Qing and false religions.
Hong developed a literalist understanding of the Bible, which soon gave rise to a Oneness theology. He rejected the doctrine of the Trinity -- only the Father was truly God. Jesus Christ was the Elder Brother of Hong Xiuquan in Hong's system of belief. Hong said the Holy Spirit is God. Hong believed in the oneness of God as it is apparent in his own poetry:
"Three are united in one body, of which there is no origin. Combined in nature but separated in duty, it shall never be changed. The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost, fixed are their names."
Colossians 2:9 "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
Hong's deputy Yang Xiuqing later took the title "Holy Wind the Comforter", as he was keen to gain titles. Yang Xiuqing's religious motivations are disputed.
He wrote annotations to the old and new testament. Which would be Bible commentary not a new book to the bible. The translation of this seems to be shakey as his poems express his true views on God.
Ranked below the "King of Heaven" (天王), Hong Xiuquan (洪秀全), the territory was divided among provincial rulers called kings or princes, initially there were five—the Kings of the Four Quarters and the King of the Yi (flanks). Of the original rulers, the West King and South King were killed in combat in 1852. The East King was murdered by the North King during a coup d'état in 1856, and the North King himself was subsequently killed. The kings' names were:
The later leaders of the movement were 'Princes':
Other princes include:
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 nineteenth 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 nineteenth century.
Combat was always bloody and extremely brutal, 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 battle Imperial forces. Estimates of the overall size of the Taiping Heavenly Army varied from 1,000,000 to 3,000,000.
The organization of a Taiping army corps was thus:
These corps were placed into armies of varying sizes. In addition to the main Taiping forces organised along the above lines, there were also thousands of pro-Taiping groups fielding their own forces of irregulars.
The other significant ethnic group in the Taiping army were the Zhuang (; pinyin: Zhuàngzú), 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.
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.
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 Heavenly Kingdom also meant that any records it possessed were destroyed.
Also of importance in putting down the rebellion was Zuo Zongtang, also known as General Tso, from Hunan Province. His name is given to a chicken dish in Chinese restaurants in the United States, but in China this dish is all but unknown, having likely been invented in the early 1970s by a Chinese chef who had moved to the United States.
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