Taiping Rebellion


Taiping Rebellion
(1850–1864)
   A rebellion against the Qing Dynasty of China. It began in China’s southern Guangxi province under the leadership of Hong Xiuquan (1813–1864), a teacher and failed civil service exam candidate from nearby Guangzhou (Canton). Hong had been the victim of a hallucinatory episode in 1837 following his fourth failure to pass the state civil service examination. Reading some early Protestant teachings circulating in Guangzhou, Hong came to believe he was the son of God and brother of Jesus Christ come to save China. In collaboration with Feng Yünshan, a Christian convert, Hong founded the “God Worshipper’s Society,” composed mostly of disaffected peasants of Guanxi province. In 1850, Hong led the society in rebellion and the next year declared the establishment of a new dynasty, the Taiping Tianguo - Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace - proclaiming himself its heavenly king.
   With growing membership and efficient organization, the Taiping rebels scored a series of stunning early victories and, by spring 1853, had captured the major Chinese city of Nanjing, which they made their new capital. The Taipings set off on a broad program of social and land reform that promulgated social equality and a peculiar version of Christianity while repudiating Confucianism. Initially curious as to the nature of the rebellion and its Christian and reformist aspects, several Western powers dispatched envoys to the Taiping capital to learn more and initially opted to take a neutral stance toward the rebels.
   While the Taiping was wracked by infighting in 1856, the Qing government began to see some successes in the form of an army led by the talented official and scholar, Zeng Guofan (1811–1872). Zeng’s well-trained forces, all from his native Hunan province, were able to put the Taiping on the defensive. Following its defeat in the Arrow War of 1856–1860, the Qing Dynasty opted for a more cooperative attitude with the West. This, combined with a second Taiping attack on Shanghai, a treaty port open to Western trade, instigated Western support of the Qing against the Taiping. It came in the form of the “Ever-Victorious Army,” a foreign mercenary force headed first by the American Frederick Townsend Wade and then the Englishman Charles George Gordon. From 1862, with the combined assault of Qing and Western troops, the Taiping was in retreat. Hong died of illness during the siege of Nanjing in June 1864, and the city’s fall the following month brought an effective end to the rebellion.
   The Taiping Rebellion cost more than 20 million lives and bequeathed a legacy of tremendous destruction. Although the Qing Dynasty was able to defeat it, the rebellion was severely weakened by the effort and never able to restore full central authority before its eventual fall in 1912. Although defeated, the egalitarian and revolutionary ideas the Taiping rebels espoused have had a lasting impact on Chinese Society.
   See also <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Gregory, J. S. Great Britain and the Taipings. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969;
    Reilly, Thomas H. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: Rebellion and the Blasphemy of Empire. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004;
    Spence, Jonathan. God ’ s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan. New York: Norton, 1996.
   DANIEL C. KANE

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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