Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace
Banner used in the kingdom
Greatest extent (maroon) of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom.
|Capital||Tianjing (modern Nanjing)|
|Common languages||Hakka Chinese, Wu Chinese|
God Worshipping Society
|Government||Syncretic Christian-Shenic theocratic absolute monarchy|
|Taiping Heavenly King|
|Historical era||Qing dynasty|
|January 11 1851|
• Capture of Nanking
• Death of Hong Tianguifu
|November 18 1864|
|Today part of||China|
|Taiping Heavenly Kingdom|
|Traditional Chinese||太平天國[note 1][note 2]|
|Simplified Chinese||太平天国[note 1][note 2]|
|Literal meaning||Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace|
Greatly Peaceful Heavenly Kingdom
The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, later shortened to Heavenly Kingdom or Heavenly Dynasty,[note 3] was an unrecognized oppositional state in China and Chinese Christian theocratic absolute monarchy from 1851 to 1864, supporting the overthrow of the Qing dynasty by Hong Xiuquan and his followers. The unsuccessful war it waged against the Qing is known as the Taiping Rebellion. Its capital was at Tianjing (present-day Nanjing).
A self-proclaimed younger brother of Jesus Christ and convert to Protestant Christianity, Hong Xiuquan led an army that controlled a significant part of southern China during the middle of the 19th century, eventually expanding to a size of nearly 30 million people. The rebel kingdom announced social reforms and the replacement of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Chinese folk religion by his form of Christianity, holding that he was the second son of God and the younger brother of Jesus. The Taiping areas were besieged by Qing forces throughout most of the rebellion. The Qing government defeated the rebellion with the eventual aid of French and British forces.
During the 19th century, the Qing dynasty experienced a series of famines, natural disasters, economic problems and defeats at the hands of foreign powers; these events have come to be collectively known as China's "century of humiliation". Farmers were heavily overtaxed, rents rose dramatically, and peasants started to desert their lands in droves. The Qing military had recently suffered a disastrous defeat in the First Opium War, while the Chinese economy was severely impacted by a trade imbalance caused by the large-scale and illicit importation of opium. Banditry became more common, and numerous secret societies and self-defense units formed, all of which led to an increase in small-scale warfare.
Protestant missionaries began working from Macao, Pazhou (known at the time as "Whampoa"), and Guangzhou ("Canton"). Their household staff and the printers they employed corrected and adapted the missionaries' message to reach the Chinese and they began to particularly frequent the prefectural and provincial examinations, where local scholars competed for the chance to rise to power in the imperial civil service. One of the native tracts, Liang's nine-part, 500-page tome called Good Words to Admonish the Age, found its way into the hands of Hong Xiuquan in the mid-1830s. Hong initially leafed through it without interest. After several failures during the examinations, however, Hong told friends and family of a dream in which he was greeted by a golden-haired, bearded man and a younger man whom he addressed as "Elder Brother". Hong worked another six years as a tutor before his brother convinced him that Liang's tract was worth examination. When he read the tract he saw his long-past dream in terms of Christian symbolism: he was the younger brother of Jesus and had met God the Father, Shangdi. He now felt it was his duty to restore the faith in the native han religion and overthrow the Qing dynasty. He was joined by Yang Xiuqing, a former charcoal and firewood salesman of Guangxi, who claimed to act as a voice of the Supreme Emperor.
Feng Yunshan formed the Society of God Worshippers (Chinese: 拜上帝會; pinyin: Bài Shàngdì Huì) in Guangxi after a missionary journey there in 1844 to spread Hong's ideas. In 1847, Hong became the leader of the secret society. The Taiping faith, inspired by missionary Christianity, says one historian, "developed into a dynamic new Chinese religion... Taiping Christianity". Hong presented this religion as a revival and a restoration of the ancient classical faith in Shangdi. The sect's power grew in the late 1840s, initially suppressing groups of bandits and pirates, but persecution by Qing authorities spurred the movement into a guerrilla rebellion and then into civil war.
The Taiping Rebellion began in 1850 in Guangxi. On January 11, 1851 (the 11th day of the 1st lunar month), incidentally Hong Xiuquan's birthday, Hong declared himself "Heavenly King" of a new dynasty, the "Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace". After minor clashes, the violence escalated into the Jintian Uprising in February 1851, in which a 10,000-strong rebel army routed and defeated a smaller Qing force. Feng Yushan was to be the strategist of the rebellion and the administrator of the kingdom during its early days, until his death in 1852.
In 1853 the Taiping forces captured Nanjing, making it their capital and renaming it Tianjing ("Heavenly Capital"). Hong converted the office of the Viceroy of Liangjiang into his Palace of Heavenly King. Since Hong Xiuquan had been supposedly instructed in his dream to exterminate all "demons", which was what the Taipings considered the Manchus to be, thus they set out to kill and wipe out the entire Manchu population. When Nanjing was occupied, the Taipings went on a rampage killing, burning and hacking 40,000 Manchus to death in the city They first killed all the Manchu men, then forced the Manchu women outside the city and burnt them to death.
At its height, the Heavenly Kingdom controlled south China, centered on the fertile Yangtze River Valley. Control of the river meant that the Taiping could easily supply their capital. From there, the Taiping rebels sent armies west into the upper reaches of the Yangtze, and north to capture Beijing, the capital of the Qing dynasty. The attempt to take Beijing failed.
In 1853 Hong withdrew from active control of policies and administration, ruling exclusively by written proclamations often in religious language. Hong disagreed with Yang in certain matters of policy and became increasingly suspicious of Yang's ambitions, his extensive network of spies, and his declarations when "speaking as God". Yang and his family were put to death by Hong's followers in 1856, followed by the killing of troops loyal to Yang.
With their leader largely out of the picture, Taiping delegates tried to widen their popular support with the Chinese middle classes and forge alliances with European powers, but failed on both counts. The Europeans decided to stay neutral. Inside China, the rebellion faced resistance from the traditionalist middle class because of their hostility to Chinese customs and Confucian values. The land-owning upper class, unsettled by the Taiping rebels' peasant mannerisms and their policy of strict separation of the sexes, even for married couples, sided with the Qing forces and their Western allies.
In 1859 Hong Rengan, a cousin of Hong, joined the Taiping Rebellion in Nanjing, and was given considerable power by Hong. He developed an ambitious plan to expand the kingdom's boundaries. In 1860 the Taiping rebels were successful in taking Hangzhou and Suzhou to the east (See also: Second rout of the Army Group Jiangnan), but failed to take Shanghai, which marked the beginning of the decline of the Kingdom.
An attempt to take Shanghai in August 1860 was initially successful but finally repulsed by a force of Chinese troops and European officers under the command of Frederick Townsend Ward. This army would later become the "Ever Victorious Army", led by "Chinese" Gordon, and would be instrumental in the defeat of the Taiping rebels. Imperial forces were reorganized under the command of Zeng Guofan and Li Hongzhang, and the Qing government's reconquest began in earnest. By early 1864, Qing control in most areas was well established.
Hong declared that God would defend Nanjing, but in June 1864, with Qing forces approaching, he died of food poisoning as the result of eating wild vegetables as the city began to run out of food. He was sick for twenty days before the Qing forces could take the city. Only a few days after his death the Qing forces took the city. His body was buried and was later exhumed by Zeng to verify his death, and cremated. Hong's ashes were later blasted out of a cannon in order to ensure that his remains have no resting place as eternal punishment for the uprising.
Four months before the fall of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, Hong Xiuquan abdicated in favour of Hong Tianguifu, his eldest son, who was 14 years old then. Hong Tianguifu was unable to do anything to restore the kingdom, so the kingdom was quickly destroyed when Nanjing fell in July 1864 to Qing forces after vicious fighting in the streets. Most of the so-called princes were executed by Qing officials in Jinling Town (金陵城), Nanjing.
Although the fall of Nanjing in 1864 marked the destruction of the Taiping regime, the fight was not yet over. There were still several thousands of Taiping rebel troops continuing the fight. It took seven years to finally put down all remnants of the Taiping Rebellion. In August 1871 the last Taiping rebel army, led by Shi Dakai's commander, Li Fuzhong (李福忠), was completely wiped out by the Qing forces in the border region of Hunan, Guizhou and Guangxi.
25 provinces were mentioned in Taiping Heavenly Kingdom sources:
The Heavenly King was the highest position in the Heavenly Kingdom. The sole people to hold this position were Hong Xiuquan and his son Hong Tianguifu:
|Personal Name||Period of Reign||Era Names (and their according range of years)|
Ranked below the "King of Heaven" Hong Xiuquan, the territory was divided among provincial rulers called kings or princes; initially there were five – the Kings of the Four Cardinal Directions and the Flank King). 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 during a coup in 1856, and the North King himself was subsequently killed. The Kings' names were:
The later leaders of the movement were 'Princes':
Other princes include:
In the later years of the Taiping Rebellion, the territory was divided among many, for a time into the dozens, of provincial rulers called princes, depending on the whims of Hong.
Captured areas in Jiangsu were called “Sufu Province”.
In 1859 the Gan Prince Hong Rengan, with the approval of his cousin the Heavenly King, advocated several new policies, including:
While the Taiping rebels did not have the support of Western governments, they were relatively modernized in terms of weapons. An ever growing number of Western weapons dealers and blackmarketeers sold Western weapons such as modern muskets, rifles, and cannons to the rebels. As early as 1853, Taiping Tianguo soldiers had been using guns and ammunition sold by Westerners. Rifles and gunpowder were smuggled into China by English and American traders as "snuff and umbrellas". They were partially equipped with surplus equipment sold by various Western companies and military units' stores, both small arms and artillery. One shipment of weaponry from an American dealer in April 1862 already "well known for their dealings with rebels" was listed as 2,783 (percussion cap) muskets, 66 carbines, 4 rifles, and 895 field artillery guns, as well as carrying passports signed by the Loyal King. Almost two months later, a ship was stopped with 48 cases of muskets, and another ship with 5000 muskets. Mercenaries from the West also joined the Taiping forces, though most were motivated by opportunities for plunder during the rebellion rather than joining for ideological reasons. The Taiping forces constructed iron foundries where they were making heavy cannons, described by Westerners as vastly superior to Qing cannons. Just before his execution, Taiping Loyal King Li Xiucheng advised his enemies that war with the Western powers was coming and the Qing must buy the best Western cannons and gun carriages, and have the best Chinese craftsmen learn to build exact copies, teaching other craftsmen as well.
Initially, the followers of Hong Xiuquan were called God Worshippers. Hong's faith was inspired by visions he reported in which the Shangdi, the Supreme Emperor, greeted him in Heaven. Hong had earlier been in contact with Protestant missionaries and read the Bible. Officially, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom endorsed Hong Xiuquan's own syncretism between Christianity and Shenism, although there were also adherents of Buddhism, Chinese folk religion and other religious traditions native to China. The libraries of the Buddhist monasteries were destroyed, almost completely in the case of the Yangtze Delta area. Temples of Daoism, Confucianism, and other traditional beliefs were often converted to churches, schools or hospitals or defaced.
The Heavenly Kingdom maintained the concept of the Imperial Chinese tributary system in mandating all of the "ten thousand nations in the world" to submit and make the annual tribute missions to the Heavenly Court. The Heavenly King proclaimed that he intended to establish a new dynasty of China.
In its first year, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom minted coins that were 23 mm to 26 mm in diameter, weighing around 4.1 g. The kingdom's name was inscribed on the obverse and "Holy Treasure" (Chinese: 聖寶) on the reverse; the kingdom also issued paper notes.
With the collapse of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, the Qing dynasty launched waves of massacres against the Hakkas, killing up to 30,000 each day during the height of the massacres. Similar purges were taken while defeating the Red Turban Rebellion (1854–1856). In Guangdong, Governor Ye Mingchen oversaw the execution of 70,000 people in Guangzhou, eventually one million people would be killed throughout Guangdong. Another major impact was the bloody Punti-Hakka Clan Wars (1855 and 1867), which would cause the deaths of a million people. The Cantonese opera was purged clean.
Hong Xiuquan ordered his troops and followers to drop the name Taiping, and instead to use the one word “Heavenly,” to pay proper homage to God the Father. As Li later phrases his unease: The Heavenly King always used heavenly words to admonish people. We, his officials, did not dare to challenge him, but let him give what names he wanted. Calling them “Heavenly Dynasty, Heavenly Army, Heavenly Officials, Heavenly People, Heavenly Commanders, Heavenly Soldiers and Royal Troops”
Our Sovereign, the T’ien Wang [Heavenly King], is the true Sovereign of Taiping of the ten thousand nations in the world. Therefore all nations under heaven ought to revere Heaven and follow the Sovereign, knowing on whom they depend. We are especially afraid that you do not understand the nature of Heaven, and believe that there are distinctions between this and that nation, not knowing the indivisibility of the true doctrine. Therefore we send this special mandatory dispatch. If you can revere Heaven and recognize the Sovereign, then our Heavenly Court, regarding all under heaven as one family and uniting all nations as one body, will certainly remember your faithful purpose and permit you, year after year, to bring tribute and come to court annually so that you may become ministers and people of the Heavenly Kingdom, forever basking in the grace and favor of the Heavenly Dynasty, peacefully residing in your own lands, and quietly enjoying great glory. This is what we, the great ministers, sincerely wish. You must tremblingly obey; do not circumvent these instructions
For a fuller selection, please see the section Taiping Rebellion: Further reading
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