Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Taiping Rebellion (1851 - 1864) was one of the bloodiest conflicts in history, a clash between the forces of Imperial China and those inspired by a Hakka self-proclaimed mystic named Hong Xiuquan, who was also a Christian convert. Most accurate sources put the total deaths at about 20 million civilians and army personel, although some claim the death toll was much higher (as many as 40 or 50 million according to some sources). The rebellion is named after the revolutionaries' name Heavenly Kingdom of Great/Perfect Peace or Tàipíng Tiānguó (太平天國, Wade-Giles T'ai-p'ing t'ien-kuo), which lasted as long as the revolutionaries.
Hong Xiuquan gathered his support in a time of considerable turmoil. The country had suffered a series of natural disasters, economic problems and defeats at the hands of the Western powers, problems that the ruling Qing dynasty did little to lessen. Anti-Manchu sentiment was strongest in the south, and it was these disaffected that joined Hong. The sect extended into militarism in the 1840s, initially against banditry.
The persecution of the sect was the spur for the struggle to develop into guerrilla warfare and then into full-blown war. The revolt began in Guangxi Province; the Imperial forces attacked but were driven back. In August 1851, Hong then declared the establishment of the Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping with himself as absolute ruler. The revolt spread northwards with great rapidity, taking Nanjing in March 1853, killing 30,000 Imperial soldiers and slaughtering thousands of civilians. The city became the movement's capital and was renamed Tiānjīng (天京, in Wade-Giles: T'ien-ching) (Heavenly Capital).
The rebellion's army was its key strength. It was marked by a high level of discipline and fanaticism. They typically wore a uniform of red jackets with blue trousers and grew their hair long (長毛 Chángmáo).
The fighting was always bloody and extremely brutal, with little artillery but huge forces equipped with small arms. By 1856, the Taiping armies numbered just over 1 million. Their 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.
The Kingdom's Policies
Within the land that they controlled, a theocratic and highly militarised rule was established.
- The subject of study for the examinations for officials (formerly civil service exams) changed from the Confucian classics to the Christian Bible.
- Private property was abolished and all land was held and distributed by the state.
- A solar calendar replaced the lunar calendar.
- The society was declared classless and the sexes were equal.
- Foot binding was therefore banned.
- Monogamy was promoted.
- Other new laws were promulgated including the prohibition of opium, gambling, tobacco, alcohol, polygamy, slavery, and prostitution.
But 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, many high ranking Taiping officials kept concubines and lived as de-facto kings.
In its first year, the Heavenly Kingdom made coins that are 23 mm to 26 mm and around 4.1 grammes. On the front, they read The Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping, (太平天国), where "Kingdom" was written in simplified Chinese; on the back, Holy Treasure (聖寶).
Ranked below the King of Heaven, Hong Xiuquan, 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 (meaning flanks). Of the original rulers, the West King and South King were killed in combat in 1852. During a coup d'etat in 1856, the East King was murdered by the North King, and the North King himself was subsequently killed. The kings' names are:
- South King (南王), Feng Yunshan (馮雲山) (-1852)
- East King (東王), Yang Xiuqing (楊秀清) (-1856)
- West King (西王), Xiu Chougui (蕭朝貴) (-1852)
- North King (北王), Wei Changhui (韋昌輝) (-1856)
- Yi King (翼王), Shi Dakai (石達開) (captured and executed by Qing Imperials in 1863)
The later leaders of the movement were 'Princes':
- Zhong Prince (忠王), Li Xiucheng (李秀成) (1823-1864, captured and executed by Qing Imperials)
- Ying Prince (英王), Chen Yucheng (陳玉成) (1837-1862)
- Gan Prince (干王), Hong Rengan (洪仁玕 Hóng Rēngān) (1822-1864, executed), younger brother of Hong Xiuquan
- Fu Prince (福王), Hong Renda (洪仁達) (executed by Qing Imperials in 1864), Hong Xiuquan's second eldest brother
- Tian Gui (Tien Kuei) (田貴?) (-1864, executed)
Other (minor?) princes include:
- An Prince (安王), Hong Renfa (洪仁發), Hong Xiuquan's eldest brother
- Yong Prince (勇王), Hong Rengui (洪仁貴)
- Fu Prince (福王), Hong Renfu (洪仁富)
At its height, the Heavenly Kingdom encompassed much of south and central China, including Nanjing, the northwards extent reached Tianjing. But it did not include any major port, isolating the kingdom from external support. The capture of Nanjing marked something of a high-water mark for the kingdom. The Taipings marched on toward Beijing but were forced to turn back after stiff resistance from military forces.
The impetus of the movement suffered greatly as Hong withdrew from active control of policies and administration in 1853. He had become progressively less compos mentis and devoted himself to meditation, and allegedly more sensual pursuits. The failure of the movement to secure European support or that of the middle classes was another blow.
The Taipings failed to get unanimous support for their rebellion because of their hostility to many long-standing Chinese customs and certain Confucian values. This and their peasant mannerisms encouraged the gentry, the landed upper class, to side with the Imperial forces and their Western allies.
Following a setback near Beijing most expansion was thereafter westwards, with most fighting being to maintain their hold in the Yangtze valley. But from 1860 the kingdom's fall was rapid.
An attempt to take Shanghai in August 1860 was repulsed by forces under the command of Frederick Townsend Ward, a force that would later become the 'Ever-Victorious Army' led by 'Chinese' Gordon. Imperial forces were reorganized under the command of Zeng Guofan and Li Hongzhang. The Imperial reconquest then began in earnest. By early 1864 Imperial control in most areas was well established, Hong declared that God would defend Tianjing, but as the Imperial forces approached in June he took poison. His body was discovered in a sewer.
Four months before the fall of the Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping, Hong Xiuquan passed the throne to Hong Tianguifu, his eldest son. But Hong Tianguifu did nothing to restore the Kingdom, so the Kingdom was quickly destroyed when Nanjing fell to the Imperial armies after vicious street-by-street fighting.
Most of the princes were executed by Qing Imperials in Jingling Town (金陵城), Nanjing.
|Personal Name||Period of Reign||Era Names "Nian Hao 年號" (and their according range of years)|
Hong Xiuquan - 洪秀全
Hong Tianguifu - 洪天貴福
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