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Monday, 11 April 2011

Giving You Hong Xiuquan and the Taiping Rebellion (1850 - 1864)


Hong Xiuquan
After the first opium war, Britain and France, plus other western nations, tried to make inroads into China. Protestant missionaries from Britain tried to Christianize many of the Chinese race, but this was largely unsuccessful because of Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion.

However, one Chinese convert did corrupt and take on a form of heterodox Christianity that would shake China and the western traders to the core. It brought about the Taiping Rebellion - a civil war that would last for 14 years with a mopping up campaign that would last further years. The death toll from this horrendous venture is estimated at 25 million people.

It all started when a young scholar, named Hong Xiuquin, had to quit his education because his parents could not afford to pay for his continued schooling. He took up teaching in his local town to pay for his continued studies. Then in 1836 at age 22 he passed an exam that offered an opportunity for him to go to Guangzhou and take the Civil Service Examination. This was a highly prized award among China's elite, which was a gateway into the higher echelons of Qing dynastic power. However, this vexing examination had a pass rate of less than 5%.

Hong Xiuquan failed the examination and then several more attempts afterwards. Demoralised by the constant failure, Hong became embittered. He fell ill for some time and when he finally recovered he had changed. In his room, was a pamphlet of the local Protestant missionary church and he had been influenced by its teachings - misreading the doctrines and fashioning them to his way of thinking. 

He told friends, that during his illness, he had seen a vision and in this, he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ. He was able to instil this belief in many followers and managed to assemble an army of converts. At first, they were small in numbers fighting insurgents. They attacked small villages and found the minority population receptive to the idea of the new religion that promised them equality and salvation from the doctrines of the old imperial China. Hong had a blacksmith forge two huge swords that he welded as he rode into the villages. He became a symbol among the downtrodden peasants who were eager to destroy statues of Buddha and Confucius. 

The government Qing authorities tried to hunt these pirates and bandits as they called them. In an open battle, Hong's Taiping forces defeated the Qing government soldiers and from this moment in 1850, the fighting became a full blown war known as the Taiping Rebellion.

Hong's growing army drove back the government Qing forces all over Southern China and he used his generals to recruit more men and women from the surrounding farms and towns that fell to his forces. This was easy to do among many southern Chinese who were resentful of the unpopular Qing rulers of Manchu heritage.


The heterodox Christian rebels and their self-styled brother of Christ, Hong Xiuquan, formed an inner nation called the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Peace. They took Nanking as their major city and continued to expand deeper into China.

The fighting became horrendous as the heterodox Christians of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom took control of more territory. Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk law were abolished. Any who tried to resist or would not conform were put to death. Some of the new religion's doctrines were very harsh, including the separation of men and women, even among married couples.

As the war progressed over the years, Hong Xiuquan tried to court the Chinese middle classes and the European powers to his cause but was unsuccessful. He retired from fighting and ruled from Nanking as a prophet and spiritual leader. He charged his Generals to the Heavenly Kingdom's cause and endeavours. He did have one important associate (Yang Xiuqing) killed. This man had been with him from the beginning and Hong was worried that he was slowly trying to take control.


Eventually, the Qing government had to go to the European powers for help. Great Britain along with France responded positively to the request. The Heavenly Kingdom tried to take the city of Shanghai in 1860 but were stopped by Chinese soldiers commanded by European officers. Among them was a British soldier nicknamed Chinese Gordan. He would also be known as Gordan of Khartoum in later years.
  

The European-led Qing government forces were named the Ever Victorious Army in future. Gradually, they pushed the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom forces back over the next four years. Eventually, the remnants of the defeated Heavenly Kingdom army fortified Nanking, where Hong Xiuquan proclaimed that God would protect all within Nanking's walls. He died from food poisoning just days before the city fell to Qing government forces in 1864.

His buried body was exhumed and burnt. Then his ashes and remains were put into a cannon and blasted from the city walls, scattering his remains far and wide - denying him a final resting place.

Some defeated remnants of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom went into remote areas to try and continue the strange Christian cult's campaign, but they were mopped up or fizzled out over a period of years.

It was one of the 19th century's most costly civil wars in terms of life and it was the start of China beginning to look in at itself. It was a nation ruled by archaic dynasties and it was crying out for change. The Heavenly Kingdom of heterodox Christians was one rebellion that failed. There would follow others in the near future.




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