Taiping Uprising Essay

In the mid-nineteenth century China was facing serious problems which were compounded by numerous natural disasters of unprecedented proportions such as floods, famine and droughts.

The government was blamed for its neglect and some of the problems were directly pointed at its failure to build infrastructure. The Qing administration was largely blamed for doing nothing to alleviate the people’s suffering. The economic crisis, the defeat by the western powers and the anti Manchu sentiments contributed to the widespread rebellion which was mostly concentrated in the south.

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The south was the last region to yield to the Qing administration and the first area to be exposed to the western culture. This region provided the most likely setting for one of the largest uprising in the Chinese history and by large the bloodiest uprising in the world’s history. The Taiping rebellion took place between 1850 and 1864.Schrecker in his book “The Chinese Revolution in the Historical Perspective” describes the revolution as one of the most famous in the history of modern China. The revolution spread all over southern and central China between these periods. The event has been described as one of the largest and most popular rebellion in the world. (Schrecker, J 2004)The taiping rebellion was a reaction towards Qing administration as it had failed to address the problems that were afflicting the people at this time.

The government was characterized by grave corruption which was the order of the day. The peasants were overtaxed and the cost of living had grown to an all time high as the rent was ruinously high. The growing landlessness of the farmers made the matters worse as they could not produce enough for the population that was growing at a very high rate. The heightened rate of insecurity in the region acted as a catalyst for the rebellion as defense groups were formed for the purpose of self defense against incidences of banditry. (Xiaobing, L 2007)Southern China was largely affected by the opium trade and wars that characterized this region in the years preceding the revolution.

This made the areas more vulnerable to uprisings than any other region in China. There existed conflicts between the southern natives and the Hakka group which was largely seen as intruders. The group had settled here during the southern song period. The two groups were in constant conflict fighting for resources which were scarce. The Hakka people were considered more independent and daring than the southern natives.

They mainly engaged in charcoal making, mining and farming. The groups of hakka were largely recruited by revolutionary leaders during the Taiping revolution as they were easy targets due to the oppression they had been going through in the hands of the locals and the Manchu government. The leader of the uprising was a son of a peasant family of Hakka group. (Schrecker, J 2004)Hong Xiuqian was a son of a peasant farmer who showed great potential for learning from a very early age. His ambition to get a degree can be described as the genesis of this rebellion as it is through his frustrations and the general condition of the country that made him form a rebel group that was to change the history of China. He was working as a teacher and for several occasions he failed to pass the civil service examination. His inability to pass this examination severely depressed him making him fall in to a delirium for forty days.

It is at this period when he was in this state that he saw a vision where God told him to overcome the demons and the evil spirits. When he emerged from the delusional state Hong was a changed man, he was more tolerant, solemn and friendly characteristics which were not part of him before the delirium.He was able to interpret the message in his vision once he read the tracts that he had been given by the missionaries. He decided that the tracts were the key to his visions. He was converted to Christianity together with his family members. His conversion to Christianity and the open disapproval of Confucianism made him loose his position as a teacher.

He began to spread his interpretations of the Bible using them to build a group which came to be known as the Society of God Worshippers. The organization gained prominence among the peasants most of them from the Hakka group. Hong’s messianic Christianity messages found an audience that was eager to listen and act. His condemnations of the government and his promises of a better tomorrow where social justice will the order of the day endeared him to the masses majority of whom were peasants. A growing number of peasants, outlaws and miners lined up behind his cause making his group of the so called God worshippers swell in numbers. Those who were joining him had a common problem and cause they were disillusioned by the government failure to make their lives better becoming easier targets for the recruitment for a revolutionary cause that Hong started.

(Xiaobing, L 2007)On June 1850 the group called on its members to sell their property and channel the proceeds towards financing the group activities. This marked the completion of the Hong and his associates’ ambition to start a revolution in China. The revolution was officially declared on 11th January 1851 where Hong declared himself the leader of the Heavenly Kingdom of the Great peace. This marked the beginning of a rebellion that was bound to challenge the imperialism and authoritarian establishment that had continued to oppress the poor. (Schrecker, J 2004)The revolution was started by the son of a peasant family and largely remained a movement of the peasants and other workers. They were determined to make things work and see an order where their lives would be better.

They lined up behind Hong and sacrificed their properties to fund the cause. They participated through joining the army and fighting for a noble cause. They joined the army in great numbers as they were inspired by the promise of a better life ahead. The peasants were determined to see the end of the Qing dynasty and bring a new order that will redistribute the land and provide them with basic necessities in life. They followed the Hong movement fanatically as they believed he was the one who will show them the way. He was one of the peasants and he knew how they had suffered under the authoritarian rule of Qing.They were overtaxed and life to them was extremely difficult. They participated in this revolution to redeem themselves from the difficult situation they had found themselves in; the government in China did not represent their interest making them determined than ever to advance the cause.

Men and women participated in large numbers forming an army of more than two million fighters which was large enough to challenge the establishment in Beijing.The movement was confronted with massive imperial forces which were making an out assault against them. This did not deter them; the will to succeed kept them going. They adopted a method where the were leaving their possessions and houses behind and advancing to the next area, an incredible march that was referred to as mobile warfare that was to end with the entry of the city of Naijing.On the way they suffered occasional drawbacks but the force continued to grow stronger as millions continued to join their cause. The poor masses joined the movement and followed it up to the end as they were sure this was the only way they were going to be redeemed from the hopelessness that characterized their lives. (Gray, J 1990)The Taiping revolutionary force was formidable; their style was to gather the army as they proceeded.

They were able to inspire many people on the something that made them successful. Their promise of the land reforms, a common financial basket and the overthrow of the landlords endeared many especially the peasants and the working class making them join the cause to fight the establishment. This revolution had greatly inspired many people from the lower class throughout the empire. The first military success of this rebellion was the capture of the Hupeh after they had been held back by the imperial forces. This was a significant move as they were able to progress crushing the less motivated forces of the Qing dynasty. Their main goal from the beginning was to capture Nanjing one of the main cities of the Qing dynasty.

They were very much determined to get to this point so that they can establish their capital in the city and be able to advance until they got rid of the demons as they referred to the Qing leaders.Finally they were able to capture the city, here they established a government strongly stressing on the egalitarian values. Their main aim was to restore the glory of the China nation after its humiliating defeat by the foreigners. They formed a kingdom where kings were selected on the basis of their devotion and purity.

The central government was not able to subjugate the rebellion as they were faced with numerous problems and disorganized army which was on a low morale. The local governors had to take charge together with local traders where they recruited soldiers to help fight the rebellion that was threatening their very existence. They felt that they were the real target of the revolution as they were the elite and they controlled the economy. If they did not help in subjugation of the rebels then they were doomed. They called for help from the foreign forces but at this time the foreigners chose to remain neutral up to an appropriate time. They were somehow supportive of the Taiping movement as they had some philosophies which were close to the western values but could not support them either.

(Schrecker, J 2004)When the revolutionary army captured Nainjin, one of the important cities in the imperial China, Hong decided to relax as the capture of this city and the speed at which masses were joining the movement had left the authorities very weak. He did not press on the cause to complete the journey to capture the capital city. This is a decision that later came to haunt the cause of rebellion. It was a mistake on his part as this gave the imperial forces time to recapulate.It is at this time that Qing dynasty surrendered the initiative to the foreign forces leading to the British forces to take the charge of crushing the resistance.

Analyst have pointed out that the decision by Hong to establish his capital at Nanjiang before completing his mission of overthrowing the dynasty cost him the empire and worked towards the advantage of the Qing dynasty as they were able to amass their forces and fight back, this time with the help of the foreign forces. His biggest mistake was a blessing to the imperial forces as the advancement of the rebels was thwarted. Their attempt to capture Beijing was met with strong resistance from the imperial forces and the British fighters. This was one of the reasons why the taiping movements did not achieve their ultimate goal of ruling China and returning it to the former glory it enjoying before the embarrassing defeat by the foreigners. (Xiaobing, L 2007)The regime that was established when Hong took over the Nianjing city was different from the one that was preached when the march was on.

A form of communism may have been established where people were able to get land and basic needs in life. A system where women were empowered and prostitution, polygamy and smoking of opium were banned. The leadership established itself as anew theocracy where leaders lived lavishly surrounded by bodyguards, servants and all the form of the wealth and power. This was a deviation from the original cause of the rebellion where people were promised that the government will rule with fairness and the kingdom will be for every child of God.

For the ordinary person monogamy was the order of the day but for the leaders the Old Testament polygamy was introduced where even Hong himself surrounded himself with many concubines. These luxuries gave rise to jealousies, quarrels and disagreements among the top ranks where they started to fight among themselves even killing one another. This contributed towards the failure of the taiping movement to accomplish the mission of changing China.

            The second in command, Yang Xinging, the man who engineered the military success aspired to have equal status as Hong. This was bound to bring some conflict in the new government as power struggle would have ensued. This did not auger well with Hong and his supporters.

The struggle within continued where supporters and leaders rose against one another. The power struggle came to be settled when Yang, his supporters and family were killed in a massacre in September 1856.This was as a result of the infighting that ensued between the leaders within the movement where they settled scores through murders and assassinations. This was a big blow to the movement as the unity that had brought them together to fight the imperialism had now turned to competition where leaders and their supporters aimed at eliminating those who stood on their way to power and wealth.

(Lueng, E 2005)The entrance of the foreign forces in to the picture was another reason why the Taiping rebellion did not succeed in accomplishing their mission. The foreign forces were more organized, had superior weapons something that the rebels could not march. From that point the rebels were fighting two forces, the imperial forces and the foreign fighters. The British made it absolutely clear that if the Qing government did not destroy the rebels they would do help them crush them.Taiping chief minister is on record saying that the assistance that the Qing authorities received from the British was the main cause of their problems they experienced at the hand of defeat. The rebels attempt to rally the support of the foreign forces was met with resistance as they did not trust them. (Gray, J 1990)Taiping leadership was characterized by the excessive decentralization where various kings administered their own territories. This gave rise to constant conflict between the leaders.

They were constantly bickering and competing among themselves. This disunity within the government did not auger well for the rebellion as they could not have advanced as they were not speaking in one voice.Christianity was an untried religion in this part of the world and it was hard to translate it into an effective political philosophy. Several kings claimed divine power equal to the one that was possessed by the leader of the movement using it as a weapon to fight their battles.

The problem led to a situation where the struggle for supremacy resulted in a serious fight between the followers. This happened in 1856 when they slaughtered each other due to the struggle that characterized the movement. Such occurrences only served at slowing down the speed at which the movement was moving. It also marked the end of a cause that could have seen the nation of China regain its former glory. Although the kingdom was able to survive for sometime, the momentum of the rebellion had been lost due to the wrangles that ensued within the movement and miscalculation of the Taiping leadership. (Lueng, E 2005)Taipings were never able to get the support from the elite members of the society. The elite felt that their interests were threatened by the rebellion. The Qing government and the existing system was the only hope for them to survive.

They did not believe in opposition and more so a fanatic revolution which was bent towards overthrowing the social order that existed in China. They were repulsed by the anti Confucian sentiments and the Christian values that were being propagated by the Taiping followers. To them Christianity was just a superstitious doctrine which was not appropriate and at the same time dangerous to be relied on as a guide to the social order.( Lueng, E 2005)Although the rebellion did not succeed, China was never to be the same again. The rebellion changed the way China government managed its affairs. Every revolution that the Taiping rebellion inspired brought the country closer to the rest of the world. The country started to abandon the isolationist policy. The movement itself was a response against a western domination they embraced some of the western ideologies, perhaps this gave China a lesson as they abandoned some of their practices and embraced the western principles which were in line with their traditions (Gray, J 1990)The taiping rebellion had succeeded in challenging the imperialists in China; it had put a spirited fight against the establishment that was determined to make the peasants as powerless as ever.

They were against the excesses of the government which was not responsive to the people’s need. This rebellion served as an eye opener to the establishment as they were forced to embrace new ideas that were to change the course of this country. The Qing government was seriously affected by the rebellion up to a point where they had to call for the assistance from the foreign forces which were keen to advance their interest in this vast nation. Though the rebellion was crushed the effects were to be felt for a long time.

The uprisings  saw the  transfer of the military power to the warlords and at the same time  china was decentralized giving more power to the local authorities helping to end the imperial rule that has been characteristic in this country for so long. Despite its failure to revolutionize China the taiping rebellion helped in bring change in the China imperial system.ReferenceXiaobing, L (2007) A History of Modern China Army, Lexington, University Press of KentuckySchrecker, J (2004) The Chinese Revolution in Historical Perspective, West Port Greenwood Publishing GroupLueng, E (2005) Essentials of Modern Chinese History, Research and Education AssociationGray, J (1990) Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1800s to the 1980s,Oxford University Press;


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