Gray, Laura

The seal of the Taipings

The seal of the Taipings

The Taiping Rebellion was a highly unsuccessful attempt at revolution led by Hong Xiuqang, a man who believed himself to be a sort of messiah. It lasted over 10 years and resulted in the deaths of around 20 million, known to be the deadliest war in the 19th century.

China had been going through a difficult time, with a severe food shortage as well as flooding and bankruptcy. Tensions were rising among the people. Hung Hsiu-ch’üan, an intelligent yet , one day supposedly had a vision, where some sort of a god told him to come overthrow the evil demons of China.  By claiming to be a son of God and giving empty promises of wealth to those under his control, Hung Hsiu-ch’üan gathered up the starving peasants and any other forces he could get in an uprising against the ‘corrupt’ Manchus of the Qing dynasty; his forces were later known as ‘Taipings’ (1).

Those who chose to listen to his rule and go into battle gained a strange confidence, following their ‘Savior’ wherever he would go, obeying his orders without question. Many gave up their land and food to him without question, forced to when they chose to support his cause. They were very successful at first, quickly marching north, gaining rationale after establishing their base at Tien-Ching, previously Najing until its‘capture. Soon after this, however, their forces started to crumble. The battle at Bejing ended in defeat for the Taipings. Upon the loss, they turned back to their base, trying to plan a new attack. They didn’t have a successful military leader to depend on, however, as most of the army had no type of military training. Hung was out of the picture as far as a leader, choosing instead that the people should take charge while he flitted around in his palace, surrounded by pleasures(2). Their lack of structure and strategy became their downfall. The Taipings fought within themselves, military leaders versus religious enthusiasts, causing a large percentage of the deaths. Hung was killed by food poisoning at 7 years before the war ended, and the government eventually crushed the rebels(1).

China had lost much of its wealth due to European meddling, causing an economic change which helped spur the rebellion. The economic downfall due to the Opium Wars and the loss of silver caused an internal anger at the ruling Qing government(1). The government made farmers pay a huge land tax to try and repair the economy, creating tension there as well(2). The people wanted a strong force to protect them from poverty and external interference, and this once highly profitable land was no longer catering their needs, giving Hong the perfect opportunity for an uprising.

Foreigners’ Christian ideologies obviously were another change that caused the rebellion. Hong claimed to have been chosen by a god to assist the struggling country. It was not until he heard of Christianity that he ‘realized’ his vision needed to come true. The Christian’s God wanted him to ‘eradicate the demons of the land,’ those being mainly Buddhist teachings and Confucianism that had been popular in China for so long, as well as the Han minority who were in charge(2). People who felt attacked by those two religions immediately flocked to his rule, desiring to be led under his Communistic regime. Hong actually took the ideas from Christianity, adding his own twist to them, and people immediately reacted(1).  Had the Europeans not brought over Christianity, Hong may not have been able to get as many followers in his ill thought out revolution.