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Taiping Rebellion


The Taiping Rebellion (1851 - 1864) was one of the bloodiest conflicts in history, a clash between the forces of Imperial China and those inspired by Hong Xiuquan, a mystic who was also a Christian convert. At least 30 million people are believed to have died. The rebellion is named after the revolutionaries' the Heavenly Kingdom of Great/Perfect Peace or Taiping tianguo (太平天國, Wade-Giles T'ai-p'ing t'ien-kuo), which lasted as long as the rebellion did.

Table of contents
1 Beginning
2 Army
3 The Kingdom's Policies
4 Administration
5 Climax
6 Downfall


Hong Xiuquan gathered support in a time of considerable turmoil. The country had suffered a series of natural disasters, economic problems and defeats at the hands of the Western powers, problems that the ruling Qing dynasty did little to lessen. Anti-Manchu sentiment was strongest in the south, and it was these disaffected that joined Hong. The sect extended into militiarism in the 1840s, initially against banditry.

The persecution of the sect was the spur for the struggle to develop into guerrilla warfare and then into full-blown war. The revolt began in Guangdong Province, the Imperial forces attacked but were driven back. In August 1851, Hong then declared the establishment of the Heavenly Kindgom of Taiping with himself as absolute ruler. The revolt spread northwards with great rapidity, taking Nanjing in March 1853, killing 30,000 Imperial soldiers and slaughtering thousands of civilians. The city became the movement's capital and was renamed Tianjing (in Wade-Giles: T'ien-ching) (Heavenly Capital).


The rebellion's army was its key strength. It was marked by a high level of discipline and fanaticism. They typically wore a uniform of red jackets with blue trousers and grew their hair long (長毛 chang2 mao2).

The fighting was extremely brutal, with little artillery but huge forces equipped with small arms; the fighting was always bloody. At the Third Battle of Nanking (1864) over 100,000 were killed in three days.

The Kingdom's Policies

Within the land that they controlled, a theocratic and highly militarised rule was established.

But the rule was remarkably ineffective, haphazard and brutal -- all efforts were concentrated on the army, and civil administration was very poor. Rule was established in the major cities but the land outside the urban areas was little regarded.

In its first year, the Heavenly Kingdom made coins that are 23-mm to 26-mm and around 4.1-gram. On the front, it reads The Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping, (太平天国), where "Kingdom" is written in simplified Chinese; on the back, Holy Treasure (聖寶).


Ranked below the King of Heaven, Hong Xiuquan, the territory was divided among provincial rulers called kingss or princes, initially there were four -- the Kings of the Four Quarters. Of the original rulers, the West King and South King were killed in combat in 1852, the East King was murdered by the North King in 1856 and the North King was subsequently executed. The kings' names are:

The later leaders of the movement were 'Princes': Other (minor?) princes include:


At its height, the Heavenly Kingdom encompassed much of south and central China, including Nanjing, the northwards extent reached Tianjing. But it did not include any major port, isolating the kingdom from external support. The capture of Nanjing marked something of a high-water mark for the kingdom.


The impetus of the movement suffered greatly as Hong withdrew from active control of policies and administration in 1853. He had become progressively less compos mentis and devoted himself to meditation, and allegedly more sensual pursuits. The failure of the movement to secure European support or that of the middle classes was another blow.

Following a setback near Beijing thereafter most expansion was westwards, with most fighting being to maintain their hold in the Yangtze valley. But from 1860 the kingdom's fall was rapid.

An attempt to take Shanghai in August 1860 was repulsed by forces under the command of Frederick Townsend Ward, a force that would later become the 'Ever-Victorious Army' led by 'Chinese' Gordon. Imperial forces were reorganized under the command of Zheng Guofan and Li Hongzhang. The Imperial reconquest then began in earnest. By early 1864 Imperial control was well established, Hong declared that God would defend Tianjing, but as the Imperial forces approached in June he took poison. His body was discovered in a sewer.

Four months before the fall of the Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping, Hong Xiuquan passed the throne to Hong Tianguifu, his eldest son. But Hong Tianguifu did nothing to restore the Kingdom, so the Kingdom was quickly destroyed.

Most of the princes were executed by Qing Imperials in Jingling Town (金陵城), Nanjing.

There were also rebellions in Nian (1853 - 1868), and Muslim rebellions in the southwest (1855 - 1873) and the northwest (1862 - 1877).

The Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping 1851 - 1864
Personal Names Period of Reigns Era Names (Nian Hao 年號) and their according range of years
All given names in bold.
Hong Xiuquan|洪秀全 hong2 xiu4 quan2 August 1851 - May 1864 Yannian (元年 yuan2 nian2) 1851 - 1864
Hong Tianguifu|洪天貴福 hong2 tian1 gui4 fu2 May 1864 - August 1864 none

See also: Chinese history -- Chinese sovereign -- Qing Dynasty -- Catholicism