Taiping Riot

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Area controlled by the Taiping in 1854 (red)

The Taiping Uprising (1851–1864) was a confrontation between the Chinese Empire under the declining Qing Dynasty and the Taiping Movement. This religious and increasingly political group was founded by the mystic Hong Xiuquan ( 洪秀全 ) after contact with Christian missionaries and his own illness-related visions. The movement that began with the Jintian uprising was named after the Tàipíng Tiānguó ( 太平天囯 ), the Heavenly Realm of the Great Peace , which was proclaimed by the insurgents. The movement was mainly driven by ethnic minorities who felt they were disadvantaged or oppressed by the central government.

In Taiping Rebellion 20 to 30 million people died - he was therefore the victim largest civil war of human history .

Causes and origins

By the middle of the 19th century, China was plagued by many problems. A number of natural disasters had struck the country. The Qing dynasty was unable to solve the economic problems caused, among other things, by high population growth and an encrusted bureaucracy. In addition, there were military defeats against Western powers (see Opium Wars ).

In the southern provinces of Guangxi and Guangdong , the social fabric was particularly undermined by pirate mischief (especially 1795–1809), the activities of the triads and the lucrative opium trade of the British (1820s, 1830s). Demobilized mercenaries from the First Opium War (1839–1842) acted as bandits, and the British fleet pushed piracy inland, ie into the Guangxi river system. Incidentally, the rise of Shanghai was at the expense of traditional trade via Canton and created unemployment there.

However, ethnic conflicts led to the actual emergence of the Taiping movement, through which the outcast groups became receptive to new ideas in their struggle for survival. In the years 1836 and 1847 there were e.g. B. two revolts of the Yao minority, behind which the imported White Lotus cult and the triads stood, which knew how to use the minority conflicts for themselves. Another revolt in 1849 (after a famine) also managed to mobilize the minorities for themselves.

Since no help could be expected from the corrupt and incompetent administration, all problem areas led to the rural population forming self-defense organizations (t'uan) and local militias.

Hong Xiuquan and the Formation of a Sect

Hong Xiuquan (1814–1864) founded his sect around 1847 in southern China. The son of a Hakka nomad from the Canton area originally wanted to become a civil servant. But he failed the civil servant exams four times (the first time in 1827 at age 14; a second time in 1836; the third time in 1837; and finally a fourth time in 1843). After failing the second attempt, he met a missionary (presumably an American named Roberts) who preached and gave him nine short titles that read Good Words to Admonish the World (勸 世 良 言) to read. The author of this book, Liang Fa (1789–1855), was to exert a significant influence on Hong. In these scriptures the omnipotence of God, the shame of sin and idolatry, and the choice between salvation or damnation were discussed. The historian Philip A. Kuhn writes that Liang's writing was the only written source for Hong to the best of his knowledge. These writings did not immediately have an influence on Hong, but after a while they were to serve as a religious and ideological foundation.

After the third failure (1837) he became seriously ill and lay in his bed for days. During the hallucinations that occurred , he dreamed of an ascension to heaven, during which his internal organs were replaced and thus brought about a kind of spiritual rebirth. In addition, a bearded old man on a throne and a middle-aged man appeared to him, whom he later identified as Jehovah and Jesus using the scripture Good Words to Admonish the World (勸 世 良 言) . Since then he has considered himself the "little brother of Jesus". In 1843, Hong finally failed the civil servant exam a fourth and final time. This time, however, Hong did not fall into depression again, but instead turned actively against the political system, strengthened by his visions and his newfound religious convictions. He lost his post as a teacher and gathered more than 20,000 followers in a broken society.

He was able to do this by taking advantage of the ethnic conflicts. In the mid-1840s, his writings still aimed at a union of Christian and Confucian moral concepts. But by combining his religious visions and moral ideas with the affairs of the beleaguered Hakka community - scattered immigrants without a militia, connected only by their language - Hong's mission suddenly became political. Feng Yunshan , a school friend and cousin of Hong († 1852), had stayed with the Hakka communities for years, converted and organized them so that they could survive the ethnic conflicts. New leaders joined when Feng was temporarily arrested and deported. They, too, nominally recognized Hong's religious authority. An arms manufacturer joined the sect because, as a member of the Miao , he was despised by the Han Chinese and wanted to return the favor to his neighbors. Armed in this way, the group committed attacks that were initially attributed to common criminals in the poorly administered province and were therefore not given special attention. In the summer of 1849 these Hakka communities were a more or less closed religious-political movement. " The Hakka communities were now [in the summer of 1849] in full flood of religious ecstasy, an ecstasy that their leaders readily bent to the service of political authority. "(" The Hakka communities were now immersed in religious ecstasy; an ecstasy that their leaders readily placed at the service of political authority. ")

The Jintian Uprising and the March on Nanjing

The sect was eventually persecuted, which under the aggravated conditions of the famine of 1849/50 led to a guerrilla war between the Hakka and the other groups. The leaders realized that they could no longer exist in Guangxi and that they had to enter into an open riot. They gathered in Jintian (hence the Jintian Uprising) in July 1850 and moved north. They were finally noticed by the court in October 1850, but Lin Zexu , who was used to fight them, died on the way and his successors were unable to coordinate the various provincial forces and mercenaries.

On January 11, 1851, Hong proclaimed the Taiping Kingdom, proclaimed himself its "Heavenly King" and received increasing popularity from the rural population, including coal burners, unemployed river boatmen, porters and miners, as well as pirates and deserted soldiers. Members of the Hakka, Miao and Yao were particularly numerous. In the beginning there were a number of triad members, but they found it difficult to integrate. Despite the influx and determination, the Taiping not only inflicted defeats on the imperial troops in the course of the campaign (via Guilin to Hunan ), but also suffered some. In June 1852, Feng Yunshan, the political head of the organization, was defeated and killed by a mercenary battalion en route to Hunan. Hong's most capable man, a former charcoal burner named Yang Xiuqing , was dubbed "King of the East" and was thus the de facto leader of the army. In those months, a minor provincial uprising turned into a mass movement that broke out over central China, and by September 1852, Yang commanded 120,000 men outside Changsha .

After the conquest of Wuhan there were 500,000 men, and with these he turned to Nanjing and included it on March 8, 1853. Eleven days later, Nanjing was captured, killing 30,000 imperial soldiers and thousands of civilians. The common people were spared when they painted the sign for submission on the door and provided tea. Nanjing became the capital of the Heavenly Kingdom and as such was renamed Tianjing (Heavenly Capital). Since Hong Xiuquan did not think the governor's palace was big enough, he had it demolished and a new "Forbidden City" built with a diameter of five kilometers.


The Taiping combined anti-Manchurian, religious and social revolutionary ideas. On the one hand, they justified themselves as fighters against the Manchurian Qing dynasty, i. H. northern barbarians who would have usurped the throne and ruled accordingly cruelly and corrupt. On the other hand, they did not bother to hide their Christian influenced religious message, but instead presented the Manchus as the incarnation of evil, against which they had to fight with their heavenly mandate. The bans on alcohol, opium and tobacco as well as the separation of men and women were part of this worldview. The Taiping resorted to Christian, Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian ideals of equality, e.g. B. the "Great Harmony" praised in the Book of Rites . Their message of universal brotherhood was made easier by the fact that some circles in society saw the justification for rebellion in the simple contrast between rich and poor and that utopian thinking always existed beneath the surface of society (cf. e.g. White Lotus ). Private property and exploitation were condemned with the reference that all property actually belongs to God (or, in his representation, to the state).


The insurgent army was characterized by high discipline and fanaticism. The soldiers wore red jackets, blue trousers and (with the abolition of the Manchu braid) long hair. Simple banditry in their ranks was suppressed as much as possible by strict discipline. For example, anyone who did not kneel down in front of a commander passing by was killed instantly.

In accordance with the customs of the southern Chinese Hakka culture, women also took part in the campaign and could also serve as officers; From the age of 16 they were entitled to the same land rights. An innovation due to Christian motivation was the (initially) separate accommodation of men and women on the campaigns in separate camps. Sexual contact (including between spouses) was punishable by death; new marriages were forbidden. After 1855, however, these rules had to be loosened considerably and ultimately even reversed because they were bad for morality. In particular, the leadership itself did not follow the rules. Hong Xiuquan was said to have served thousands of female officers as concubines under him.

The fighting was extremely brutal, with little artillery used but large numbers of people with hand weapons. In the Third Battle of Nanjing (1864) alone, 100,000 people were killed in just three days.


Hong Xiuquan - self-proclaimed heavenly king of Taiping Tianguo

Under the "Heavenly King" Hong Xiuquan, the area was divided between kings and princes. Originally there were four of these kings, as the territory was divided into four areas according to the cardinal points, and there was also an adjunct fifth king. Each of these kings had their own secretariat, which was functionally structured along the lines of the traditional “six ministries”. A complete administrative chaos was only prevented by the fact that the East King Yang Xiuqing made himself a kind of premier and coordinated the entire bureaucracy, and was recognized as commander in chief of the armies of all kings.

The Heavenly King also introduced a court ceremony that he had copied from the popular theater. His government was a theocratic and military dictatorship. The elite came from Guangxi and filled every substantial number of posts. But neither the ethnic minorities there nor the triads had the capacity to develop the social theory for a continuous and sustainable social revolution in the Han rural population. In order to put the movement here on a broader basis, the Taiping resorted to the established Chinese civil servant examination and modified it according to their ideas. The Confucian-educated elite could not be won over to the Taiping cause, but at least the graduates of these exams now had a broader social base.

Apart from the large cities, the civil administration was extremely weak, because the Taiping practically did not intervene in the administration below the district level ( xian ). These posts were (as under the Qing Dynasty) assigned locally. Their owners were not Taiping and thought little or nothing of their programs, partly because they had already benefited from the old regime. The old relationships between landowners and tenants continued and were tolerated in most areas, as the Taiping could not afford to interrupt their tax revenues. However, their presence ensured that the tax pressure in agriculture and trade was eased and the landowners had to be satisfied with partial payments.

Special features of the Taiping rule compared to the Qing dynasty were:

  • The civil service examination was partially modified. Officials were no longer checked for knowledge of the Confucian classics , but rather Christian subjects.
  • Private property was officially abolished, as was private trade; instead there were shared coffers and granaries. All land belonged to God or, in its representative, the state and was distributed by the latter for use and processing. Taxes have also been reduced or, ideally, abolished.
  • Other bans included opium, tobacco and alcohol consumption, as well as polygamy , slavery and prostitution .
  • The lunar calendar has been replaced by the solar calendar , i.e. H. there was a seven-day week with Sunday worship.
  • Society was declared classless and the sexes were given equal status in all important respects (including renouncing the practice of tying the feet of women , alloting land, access to certain offices). The increased social status of women was borrowed from the Hakka culture, which, in contrast to the Han culture, also saw women in the role of workers and fighters. However, this equality resulted in equal burdens and not equal rights.
  • Unity of military, religious and administrative functions.

The huge influx of the Taiping can be explained by the social misery in rural China. Hong therefore also dealt with an agrarian reform after 1853, which only existed on paper. He divided the land into parcels according to its fertility and divided it according to the number of able-bodied men. A maximum of five chickens and two pigs per family were allowed. 25 families formed a community with a church.

Climax and decline

Expansion of the uprising

After the conquest of Nanjing in 1853, Hong Xiuquan withdrew from politics and administration to devote himself to meditation . He spent his time in his new palace grooming his beard and his harem. At the time, the Heavenly Kingdom comprised the most important parts of southern and central China, and the fall of the Qing Dynasty seemed within one's grasp.

Soon after the fall of Nanjing, the Taiping advanced against Beijing in May 1853. They came to Tianjin . The Manchu emperor and his court fled the capital, but surprisingly, Senggerinchin , a Mongolian commander, held up the Taiping with only 4,500 horsemen. Morale among the troops sank, winter brought food shortages and thus the end of the campaign. The failure resulted from the fact that the leadership under the dominance of Yang Xiuqing saw Nanjing as the economic and logistical heart of the empire and only wanted to mobilize limited resources and resources for the conquest of Beijing. In the spring of 1855 the remains of the expedition were driven out and the Qing dynasty survived the crisis.

Perhaps an even bigger mistake was that the Taiping did not capture Shanghai , which first fell into the hands of the Small Sword Society and then in 1855 (with the help of the French) back to the Imperialists. No port was under the control of the insurgents, which is why it was impossible to secure outside support. But the relevant negotiations failed because of the protocol, because the Taiping believed in their priority.

Despite the failure of the northern campaign in 1853/54, the Taiping Empire continued to expand, with most of the fighting taking place in the Yangtze River valley . There the Mandarin Zeng Guofan tried to win back positions that had been lost for the court. His so-called Xiang or Hunan army fought back the invasion of Hunan in May 1854 , but suffered defeats against the fifth Taiping king Shi Dakai , so that the area between Wuchang and Zhenjiang initially remained in Taiping hands. In June 1856, Yang inflicted another heavy defeat on the imperial family at Nanjing.

Then the Taiping leadership clashed in a bloody power struggle. Yang in particular, the "King of the East", was merciless and constantly sent people to God as "Heavenly torches". Hong Xiuquan slipped from power and after his victory at Nanjing, Yang (who sold himself as the incarnation of the Holy Spirit) demanded his equality with him. But Hong managed to recall another "king" named Wei Changhui from the war. Wei killed Yang and massacred his followers under the pretext of a public event (September 1856). Wei then took action against Shi Dakai, who disapproved of the massacre of Yang's followers (allegedly about 20,000 dead), and exterminated his family. When Shi Dakai's troops advanced on Nanjing with overwhelming support, Hong Xiuquan reacted quickly and eliminated Wei Changhui with his own troops. Then he made Shi Dakai premier, but he gave up the post after half a year due to the palace intrigues (Hong's family).

At this point it became clear that the Taiping Kingdom could neither overthrow the dynasty nor solve the accumulated problems. The leadership tore itself apart and preached rules to which they themselves did not adhere. She could not find any support in the middle class or obtain support from outside. With that it was doomed, its decline began. In 1856 the Taiping Empire lost Wuchang, then large parts of Jiangxi, and finally saw the imperial family again in front of Nanjing.

The end of the Taiping

But the crisis also spawned a new generation of commanders. The political head was now Hong Rengan , a cousin of Hong Xiuquan, who came to Nanjing in 1859 and was trained in the West. He hit u. a. a modernization of the Taiping examination system, but was dropped again in early 1861. Li Xiucheng and Chen Yucheng, who both received royal titles, served as military commanders . In May 1860, the imperial attack on Nanjing failed and resulted in the death of its commanders, and afterwards the Taiping went on the offensive again with the aim of conquering the Yangtze Delta and the coast.

In doing so, they came into conflict with the colonial powers England and France. These were officially neutral. Unofficially, however, their representatives disapproved of the destructive nature of the Taiping Uprising and what they saw as blasphemous and immoral beliefs. They also feared that the Taiping would not be able to effectively govern China and that the economy and trade would be thrown into chaos. As a result, the determination to defend the trading ports, especially Shanghai, was soon followed by an approach to the interests of the Qing government. This made it difficult for the Taiping to access modern weapons.

When Taiping King Li Xiucheng attacked Shanghai in August 1860 (with only 3,000 men) , he was repulsed by the British and French (1,200 men and a few gunboats). This gave the local gentry the idea of ​​recruiting a Foreign Legion under FT Ward (and then under Charles Gordon ) for their protection . When Li Xiucheng reappeared outside Shanghai after the occupation of Ningbo and Hangzhou , he was stopped by the combined troops of the British, French and Wards, which were soon joined by the imperial under Li Hongzhang . Despite a contingent of 50,000 men this time, the Taiping were defeated (January – August 1862).

The imperial troops were consolidated and increasingly modernized under Zeng Guofan and his protégé Li Hongzhang and marched in 1864 against the Taiping Empire, which was encircled after the fall of the strategically important river port of Anqing in September 1861 and the failure off Shanghai. Hong ceded the throne to his underage son Hong Tianguifu and announced that God would defend the capital Nanjing or Tianjing. Shortly before the city was conquered by the imperial troops, he may have died of food poisoning after eating weeds from the palace gardens against the lack of food. Suicide by poison or poisoning by someone else's hand were also discussed later.

After the fall of the capital (July 19, 1864), most of the Taiping princes were captured and executed by the Qing.

In the north (in league with the Nian rebels until 1868) and in southwest China (with the Miao until 1872), however, the struggle continued, finally numerous Taiping rebels fled to Vietnam , where they were still in 1884 as " black flag partisans " against the French fought.

See also


  • The Warlords (Hong Kong 2007) feature film by Peter Ho-sun Chan.



Web links

Commons : Taiping Riot  - Collection of Pictures, Videos, and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Philip Kuhn, "The Taiping Rebellion", in: John King Fairbank et al. Denis Crispin Twitchett (ed.), Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911 (= The Cambridge history of China, Vol. 10.1), Cambridge 1995, pp. 264-317, here pp. 266-268.
  2. Jacques Gernet 'The Chinese World', Suhrkamp
  3. Ibid., P. 267.
  4. Ibid., P. 268.
  5. This is not so unusual, as former Chinese rebel leaders proclaimed themselves to be the reincarnations of Maitreya .
  6. Ibid., P. 268.
  7. ^ Philip Kuhn: The Taiping Rebellion, p. 271.
  8. China Radio International - Chinese History: The Taiping Peasants' War , accessed on January 10, 2012
  9. ^ Francesco Parodi: The Taiping Rebellion in the Letters of the Catholic Fathers in China . In: Ming Qing Studies , vol. 2014, pp. 143–179.
  10. a b Dagmar Hemm: Ways and wrong ways of women's liberation in China Edition global Munich, 1996. ISBN 3-922667-33-3 . P. 23.
  11. This so-called "Always Victorious Army" consisted mainly of Chinese of irregular origin, but also Filipinos ("Manilamans"), was commanded by American and European adventurers, trained on the British model and equipped with breech loading rifles from Sharp. It was financed by the gentry of the lower Yangtze region, in particular the banker Yang Fang. She was officially reporting to Li Hongzhang.
  12. The forgotten state of God . Der Spiegel, January 10, 2015