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Tai Ping rebellion


The trade introduced by the ocean devils was gathered force in China during the 1840s, and come to a head in the Taiping Rebellion, the biggest revolt in Chinese history; possibly the world’s greatest civil war. Risings occurred in many parts of China, but the unifying force was Taiping Tien Kuo, the Heavenly Kingdom of the Great Peace, a moment which started in the south-east around Canton. The founder was a poor scholar of peasant origin, a school teacher named Hong Hsin-chun , who shared the general hatred of the Qin dynasty .Earlier in life he had come into contact with Christian
           Teaching, and as a result of ‘vision’ experienced during a serious illness, he believed he had received divine revelation and was called upon to spread the faith. He preached that men could move paradise from the heaven to earth by building a state of equal, free men, which he named Taiping Tien Kuo, the Heavenly Kingdom of the Great Peace. In 1843 he set up the ‘God-worshipping Society’ in his native town near Canton. The god-worshippers admitted no god other than the Christian god, were intolerant of Buddhist and Taoist worship, destroying many temples. They distributed free copies of the Bible in Chinese to their supporter and converts. The Ten Commandments were the foundation of their creed and the first thing that their children were taught.
            The Taiping marked a new stage in Chinese peasant rebellion: but at the transformation of society. The rebels were no longer looking back to a mythical ‘Golden age’. They advocated a revolutionary programmed of land redistribution, to give each peasant sufficient land to maintain an ordinary standard of living. “Where there is land, we will till together; where there is rice, we will eat it together; where there is money, we will spend it together.” No place without equality; no one cold or hungry. This simple egalitarianism appealed to the poverty –stricken peasants, and when in 1851 the Taiping Rebellion was formally declared after a series of famines in the south, thousands rallied to the Taiping cause. Amongst the scattered peasant forces that became united under the Taiping, there were many from the national minorities oppressed by the Manchus.

Other reforms enacted or envisaged by the Taipings were equally radical:They included the development not only water communications but of railways; not only measures of flood and famine relief. But the establishing of institutions for the blind and the deaf; they included the prohibition of infanticide, the abolition of group punishment and of all cruel physical punishment, of slavery and of concubine. Trade in opium was banned, gambling and corruption made punishable. One observer, speaking of Taiping justice, commented:
           The same observer noted that many of the reforms of the Taiping were of special benefit to women, who were granted complete equality. Regulation in the areas under Taiping control prohibited the sale of slaves, houses of prostitution adultery and foot binding.
           The civil service examinations were opened by the Taiping to men and women alike. The emancipation of women reached also the military sphere; guerrilla detachments of women were formed. Another observer estimate the one-fourth of the units he had seen were women, many held military rank and were in charge of companies.
           The Taipings encouraged art and set up Boards to supervise the production of embroidery, weaving and sculpture; a number of these works have survived. They established a disciplined army, banning looting and corruption on the one hand, but dealing ruthlessly with Ching officials, big landlords and moneylender on the other. They seized their wealth and distributed it among the poor. Unpaid and voluntary, the Taiping forces increased their numbers from the original twenty thousand or so to over a million. The armies of the imperial court degenerate and corrupt, were no match forces of the Taiping. At the beginning the middle Yangtze, and by spring they had entered Nanking, where they established their capital. They set up a revolutionary peasant state which ruled nearly half China for eleven years, under Hung Hsiu-chuan, who became Tien Wang (Heavenly King), temporal and spiritual head of state.
           The radical reforms which they enacted were impracticable in existing conditions, but many were enlightened, and some attempt was made to enforce them. Fundamental to Taiping reform was the Agrarian Law of 1853, based on the principle of peasant ownership. According to this law, every man and woman over sixteen years of age was entitled to share of land, and everyone under sixteen to a half share. Land was to be divided into nine grades according to its fertility. The unit of administration remained the family, each of which was expected to raise five hens and two sows. Every twenty-five families formed a communal group with a common storehouse, a church, and a head of temporal and spiritual affairs. After the harvest this chief was to reserve sufficient grain for his group, sending the surplus to the national storehouse for deficiency areas. The monthly tax system introduced was considerably lighter than that of Ching. Only part of this land reform could be implemented in the prevailing conditions of constant warfare. Title deeds were in some cases issued, and some land redistribution took place, but many of the other provisions were unattainable. Booty and supplies captured during the campaigns were, however, taken to the Sacred Treasury, including the thousand or so junks of tribute grain which fell into Tiping hands on the Grand Canal reroute for Beking; these were taken to the Taiping storehouse in Nanking.
           The Taiping were friendly to foreigners, referring to them as ‘foreign brothers’ in place of the traditional epithets such as ‘foreign devils’ or ‘red-haired barbarian’. They proposed to open the whole Chinese empire to the trade of foreigners, who might travel and reside where they pleased.

After organizing their government in Nanking, the Taipings tried to push northwards to oust the Manchu from Peking. By this time the big landlords and mandarins, seeing futility of the Manchu forces, had mobilized forces of their own to defend themselves.
With the fall of Nanking, in 1864, after the lengthy siege, the Taiping rebellion was defeated. Estimates put the loss of life at between twenty and thirty million people, the most destructive civil war in the world’s history.

 
 

 

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