Chinese Sources for the Taiping Rebellion, 1850-1864

Chinese Sources for the Taiping Rebellion, 1850-1864

Chinese Sources for the Taiping Rebellion, 1850-1864

Chinese Sources for the Taiping Rebellion, 1850-1864


Strangely little is to be found in foreign literature about the great Taiping Rebellion which raged in China for over fifteen years (1850-1864), ravaged two-thirds of that empire, caused incalculable material damage, and is said to have cost over ten million lives. What little has been written about it deals mainly with the beginnings of the movement and its end.

The origins and early years are fairly fully documented in the reports of Protestant missionaries who were keenly interested in the movement because of its connection with Christianity. Its leader, Hung Hsiu-ch'üan (later to become the Heavenly King of the Taipings) had attended a Baptist Mission school in Canton and had taken his Christianity from Gutzlaff's translation of the Bible, though in a somewhat distorted form.

The development of the Christian teachings of the Taipings is shown in Dr Cheng's translations of their official writings, in which he draws especial attention to the differences in their doctrine at different periods.

The rebellion started, with a few minor skirmishes, at the end of the Eighteen-forties in the south-western province of Kwangsi, between Hung and his 'Christian' followers and the government forces sent to arrest them. Thanks to the incapacity of the Imperial commanders and the cowardice and indiscipline of the troops, within two years the tiny trickle of Hung's converts had swollen to a raging torrent which swept everything before them. Spreading rapidly north they reached the Yangtze leaving a trail of captured and looted cities behind them. They crossed the great river without any opposition, took the important trading mart of Hankow, and then continued down river to Nanking, the administrative centre of Central China. After only a few days' siege this important city fell into the hands of the Taipings on March 20, 1853. It was to be the capital of the 'Heavenly Kingdom'.

Why and how all this happened may be read in the official correspondence of the time which Dr Cheng has selected and translated in the second chapter of this book.

After the capture of Nanking a strange silence falls over the Chinese scene and, considering the vastness of events, we hear comparatively little about the Taipings, until towards the end, when foreign interest in their doings is sharply re-awakened.

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