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See J. M. Callery and M. Yvan, History of the Insurrection in China (tr. 1853, repr. 1969); W. J. Hail, Tseng Kuo-fan and the Taiping Rebellion (1927, repr. 1964); E. P. Boardman, Christian Influence upon the Ideology of the Taiping Rebellion, 1851–1864 (1952); F. H. Michael, The Taiping Rebellion (3 vol., 1966–71); S. R. Platt, Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom (2012).
(1850–64), a peasant war in China, directed against feudal oppression and the alien Manchu dynasty; during the rebellion the rebels formed their own government.
The Taiping rebellion was caused by the acute exacerbation of the contradictions between the peasantry and the feudal lords and between the vast mass of the Chinese people and the Manchu aristocracy, which had come to power in the mid-17th century. The condition of the peasantry had worsened as they were deprived of land, as feudal exploitation was increased, as the tax burden became heavier, and as aggressive capitalist powers arrived in the country. A major role in the preparation of the rebellion was played by the Society of God-Worshipers (Pai Shang-ti Hui), founded in 1843 in Kwangtung Province as a legal Christian religious organization by the future supreme leader of the Taiping movement, Hung Hsiu-ch’iian. The Taiping rebellion began in the summer of 1850 in Chint’ien region, Kwangsi Province, as a local phenomenon. In the early period the rebels created a disciplined army, proclaimed the Heavenly Kingdom of Eternal Peace and Prosperity (Taiping Tieukuo) and conducted military operations against government forces in several districts of Kwangsi Province.
In May 1852 the Taiping rebels moved out of Kwangsi Province toward the central part of the country. During the campaign, the rebels’ ranks swelled from 20,000–30,000 to 300,000–500,000. This enormous increase in strength combined with significant military successes transformed the rebellion into a peasant war covering all of China. The campaign was concluded in March 1853, when the Taiping forces seized Nanking, which they renamed T’i-enching (“heavenly capital”).
In Nanking the leaders of the Taiping rebellion published the booklet Land Administration of the Heavenly Kingdom, which presented a Utopian program for transforming Chinese feudal society into a militarized patriarchal society based on “peasant communism” and on the principle of the equality of all its members. In practice, the social and economic policies of the Taiping leaders merely decreased somewhat the rent payments the peasants made on the land and shifted a significant part of the tax burden onto landowners and the rich. The Taiping leaders were friendly toward the Western states but demanded that foreign representatives in Nanking honor Hung Hsiu-ch’üan as the “second son of god, the younger brother of Jesus Christ” and the “true sovereign” of all countries and peoples.
In May 1853 the Taiping forces undertook a campaign against Peking, with the goal of overthrowing the Manchu dynasty. Their troops forced the Huang Ho and by the end of the year had reached the approaches to T’ientsin. However, the northern campaign was not supported by enough troops, and by May 1855 it ended in the complete rout of the Taiping forces. This repulse allowed the Manchu-Chinese feudal reactionaries to fortify their position. Between 1853 and 1856 the Taiping forces conducted an offensive in central China, where they achieved major victories and occupied a significant amount of territory. However, they did not succeed in decisively defeating the enemy.
Dissension among the ruling strata of the Taiping forces in the autumn of 1856 adversely affected the future development of the movement. It resulted in the deaths of three of the leaders—Yang Hsiu-ch’ing, Wei Ch’ang Hui, and Ch’in Jih-kang—and the extermination of many thousands of rebels in Nanking. The rebel camp was further weakened by a split in its ranks in the autumn of 1857: some of the rebels, led by Shih Ta-k’ai, went off to the southwest. Taking advantage of the weakened condition of the rebel camp, the feudal reactionary forces seized between 1856 and 1858 many important supply areas of the Taiping forces and a significant amount of territory. The situation at the front was stabilized somewhat in the autumn of 1858, after the Taiping forces commanded by Li Hsiu-ch’eng sustained two great victories over the enemy. In 1860, the Taiping forces inflicted a number of crushing defeats on the enemy and captured the southern part of Kiangsu Province. By the end of 1861, they occupied most of Chekiang Province as well, but they lost the important Anking fortress.
In February 1862, Great Britain and France joined the military struggle against the Taiping forces. The British and French had received new privileges from the Manchu government as a result of the Anglo-French-Chinese War of 1856–60 (Second Opium War), and they were therefore interested in preserving Manchu rule in China and suppressing the Taiping rebellion as quickly as possible. The English and the French and foreign mercenaries headed by the American adventurer F. T. Ward and later by the English officer C. G. Gordon openly intervened in the civil war in China on the side of the reactionaries. As a result, by mid-1863 the insurgents lost all the territory they had previously won north of the Yangtze River, most of the territory of Chekiang, and important positions in southern Kiangsu. Their capital of Nanking was completely blockaded by the enemy, and all attempts by the Taiping forces to break the blockade were unsuccessful.
In June 1863 the Manchu forces routed and destroyed a grouping of Shih Ta-k’ai’s troops in Szechuan. In the embittered battles of the second half of 1863 and the first half of 1864, the Taiping forces lost nearly all their supply areas, and their main military forces were routed by Manchu troops. When Nanking was captured in July 1864 and the main leaders of the Taiping rebellion were killed, the Taiping government ceased to exist.
The struggle was continued for a time by the remnants of the Taiping army, consisting of two uncoordinated military groupings that had survived the end of the Taiping state. One grouping retreated to the Fukien-Kwangtung border and was defeated there in January 1866. The other grouping fought north of the Yangtze and joined in the summer of 1864 with the Nien rebels (seeNIEN REBELLION); for several years they fought a guerrilla war over a broad territory north of the Yangtze. This last group was finally defeated by government forces in August 1868.
REFERENCESTaipinskoe vosstanie 1850–64: Sb. dokumentov. Moscow, 1960.
Iliushechkin, V. P. Krest’ianskaia voina taipinov. Moscow, 1967. (Bibliography, pp. 386–92.)
Michael, F. The Taiping Rebellion: History and Documents, vols. 1–3. Washington, D.C., 1971.
Jen Yu-wen. The Taiping Revolutionary Movement. New Haven, 1973.
V. P. ILIUSHECHKIN