Taiping Rebellion

From Academic Kids

The Taiping Rebellion (18511864) 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 (http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/wars19c.htm) put the total deaths at about 20 million civilians and army personnel, 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 Tipng Tiāngu (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, 500,000 Taiping soldiers 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 Chngmo). Large numbers of females serving in the army were also a unique feature amongst 19th century armies.

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.

Opposing these forces was an Imperial army of more than 2 million with something in the order of hundreds of thousands of regional militias and foreign mercenaries operating in support.

At the Third Battle of Nanking (1864) over 100,000 were killed in three days.

The Kingdom's Policies

Within the land that they controlled, a theocratic and highly militarised rule was established.

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:

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 Hng 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, with the northwards extent reaching 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 Tianjin, 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. However, 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.

TheNian Rebellion (捻軍起義) (1853 - 1868), and several Muslim rebellions in the southwest (1855 - 1873) and the northwest (1862 - 1877) were led by the remants of the Taiping rebels.

The Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping - 1851 - 1864
Personal Name Period of Reign Era Names "Nian Hao 年號" (and their according range of years)
Hong Xiuquan - 洪秀全
August 1851 - May 1864
<center>Yannian (元年 Yunnin) 1851 - 1864
Hong Tianguifu - 洪天貴福
May 1864 - August 1864

Further reading

  • Jonathan Spence, God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan (1996) ISBN 0393038440
  • Thomas H. Reilly, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: Rebellion and the Blasphemy of Empire (2004) ISBN 0295984309

See also

ja:太平天国の乱 no:Taipingopprret pl:Powstanie tajpingw pt:Rebelio Taiping fi:Taiping-kapina zh:太平天国


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