The Early Years
Rise of the Taipings
Life in the Heavenly Kingdom
Empire in the Balance
Fall of the Taipings
How to pronounce Tai Ping Tian Guo
Introduction The Taiping Rebellion 1850-1871
Taiping soldiers, male and female, outside Shanghai
The Taiping Rebellion referred to as the Tai Ping Tian Guo in Chinese 太平天囯 ( 太 Tai-'Great' ,平 Ping - 'Peace', 天 Tian-"Heaven', 囯 Guo-'Country or Kingdom' ) the 'Kingdom of Heavenly Peace', was one of the bloodiest civil wars in history between the Qing Dynasty and the Chinese 'Christian' rebels, led by Hong Xiuquan ( old spelling Hung Hsiu-ch'uan ) who believed he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ, chosen by God to establish a heavenly kingdom upon earth and replace the corrupt Manchu Qing dynasty.The conflict, which took place mostly in south China , the Yangtze valley and in the Shanghai and Nanjing area, killed an estimated from 20,000,000 to 100,000,000 people killed (largely due to famine and wholesale slaughter of captured armies and cities which resisted ) . According to the census of 1851 there were 432 million in China. The next census of 1911 shows 375 to 400 million, which shows the staggering impact of the rebellions and natural disasters that beset China . There were other rebellions against the Qing such as the Nian and Muslim rebellions,but the Taiping rebellion was the largest in scale and came closest to toppling the Qing Dynasty.
A Chinese wedding in the 1850s
The Taiping Rebellion arose from the general discontent of the Chinese population against their Manchu conquerors, who were seen as corrupt and ineffective against the 'foreign devils' and the opium they imported into China and the growth of lawlessness and secret societies in the countryside. Foreign contact also added a new catalyst, an alien religion, Christianity.
The Taipings were also able to make great progress in the interior as the Manchus concentrated most of their forces against the invading British and French during the second Opium War of 1856-60 . Karl Marx had published his manifesto in 1848, but the proto-Communism of the Taipings comes from such ancient sources as the Rites of Chou's 'common well' system' their own interpretation of how a 'Heaven Kingdom' where God owns all should work and the egalitarian ideas of the secret societies.The Taipings might not of heard of Karl Marx, but he heard of them, saying
Perhaps the next uprising in Europe may depend more on what is now taking place in the Celestial Empire than any other existing political cause .
In theory, all Taiping lands were to be shared in common, by 1850 members turned over all funds to the public treasury. In practice, the Taipings were too hard pressed to put this system into effect, and relied on the old landlord-tenant system . There was a strict, puritanical morality, opium,tobacco, gambling and foot binding were prohibited.In theory women were placed on an equal basis and to a remarkable extent in fact, with female solders and administrators.Women were also allowed to take civil service exams, unheard of in the Qing system.
In the early 1850s, the God worshiping society cut of their queues, a sign of subjugation to the Manchus, and declared themselves in rebellion.They refused to shave there foreheads as well and were referred to as 'chang mao' long hair rebels by the Qing .The millenarian beliefs, utopian egalitarianism, anti-Manchu message and moral righteousness were a powerful combination when combined with the good organization and administration provided by Yang Xiuqing and other early Taipings .
Cixi was quite the hottie in the 1860s
As the Taipings armies marched eastward out of Guangxi, they gained adherents and booty. Many of the early Taipings were coal miners from Guangxi, and they put this talent to use to dig tunnels under city walls .Sometimes double tunnels were used, after the Qing forces rushed to fill in a breach made by a blast and rushed in reinforcement, another explosion went off .It is estimated they reached one million by the time they reached Nanjing in 1853. The Taiping fortunes were at their height in 1856 .After taking Nanjing, they decided to halt and consolidate, instead of trying to topple the Manchus while they were reeling .Only after the conclusion of the second Opium War in 1860 was it possible for the Manchus to gather enough force and make military reforms to effectively fight the Taipings .
The famous Porcelain Pagoda, built in the Ming Dynasty and covered with artistic tiles was built in the Ming Dynasty. Located just outside the Nanjing city walls, it was destroyed by dynamite by Taiping chief Wei Chang-hui to prevent Shih Dakai from using it as a platform for cannons. It is currently under reconstruction .
While the rebellion failed in the end, due to bloody internal fights for power leading to a purge of the more capable leaders in 1856,poor organization and administration, Hong Xiuquan's retreat into a life of pleasure after capturing Nanjing in 1853 , failure to win foreign support and failure to win over the Confucian literati and the wealthier classes, it signaled the imminent collapse of China's traditional order and the readiness of large parts of the common Chinese population to revolt against the traditional order . Where Hong Xiuquan would fail, Mao Zedong would succeed .The Chinese Communists came to regard the Taipings with their egalitarian aspects as heroic revolutionaries fighting against corrupt feudal system. Mao Zedong and Hong Xiuquan both denounced Confucius .The founder of modern Sun Yat sin, was greatly influenced by the Taipings, listened to stories told by the Taiping survivor Lai hang-ying and nicknamed himself Hong Xiuquan the Second as a boy .
A small foreign trained Chinese army was financed by rich Shanghai merchants and bankers ,"The Ever Victorious Army." Led by European and American officers and started by the American Frederick Ward , it was kept small. Li HongZhang also started his own foreign trained army, the "Ever-Triumphant Army", led by the Frenchman Prosper Giquel . Li Hongzhang never entirely trusted the "The Ever Victorious Army." there were rumours that Ward planned to carve out his own warlord domain after the Taiping revolt was over .The American, Burgevine, who took over "The Ever Victorious Army" after Ward's death certainly planned to do this.This led the Qing to disbanded them before the sack of Nanjing in 1864. The "Ever-Triumphant Army"" was dissolved in Oct, 1864. While some improvements to the imperial army remained, they were ill prepared to match the Japanese in the coming Sino Japanese War of 1894-95.
Coins of the Taiping
This large coin 10.8 by 0.7 cm is known as a large Flowery coin and was minted for commemorative purposes. The front side on the left is read from the top to bottom 'Tai Ping', then right to leftt 'Tian Guo' and is surrounded by two dragons chasing the 'sacred pearl' of wisdom or yang energy. The reverse has two phoenixes with the words 'shen pao' meaning holy currency with eight symbols of holy substances on the outer ring.
Coins of simpler design for general circulation
A Taiping 'holy tag' 5.7 by 4.2 cm, issued by generals to recruits
a Taiping rice field census tag used in Zhejiang
Resources for the study of the Taiping Rebellion
(1866) by Augustus F. Lindley online at archive.org
Prof Thomas Reilly's study of Hong Xiuquan’s interpretation of
Christianity connected the Taiping faith to an imperial
Chinese cultural and religious context
Joseph-Marie Callery (1853) online at archive.org
Men-At-Arms book on Taiping Rebellion. Ian Heath examines
the organisation, dress and weapons of forces on both sides of the Taiping Rebellion
Qing government troops vs Taiping army
清军力战太平军 The Warlords 2007