Taiping Rebellion, 1850

The Taiping rebellion ranks among the deadliest wars in human history: at least 20 million people were killed during the 14 year course of the war between the Qing rebellion and a Christian-inspired separatist sect led by the charismatic Hong Xiuquan. Influenced by Christian texts he received from missionaries, Hong came to view himself as the incarnation of the younger brother of Jesus Christ whose task it was to rid China of demons, as embodied in Buddhist and Confucian statues and works of art. Hong was both a religious and social reformer: his teachings advocated an evangelical Christianity that included elements of socialist utopianism and gender egalitarianism that especially appealed to those who had been alienated by the traditional Confucian hierarchy that dominated Chinese society. By 1850, Hong had tens of thousands of followers in the southern region of China and the imperial government sent troops to capture Hong and disperse his followers. By 1852, Hong and his followers had defeated the imperial army in several major battles and had established the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom centered at the capital of Nanking. Over the next decade, the imperial forces struggled to subdue the rebellious kingdom. By 1864, the imperial government had managed to regain control of most of the southern provinces and, after days of vicious street fighting, had retaken Nanking in July of 1864. Hong had died of food poisoning in June and had already been cremated, but the imperial forces exhumed his remains and shot the ashes out of a cannon in order to ensure that he would have no final resting place as an eternal punishment for his rebellion. Fighting continued after the fall of Nanking and it would take seven more years to completely eradicate the remnants of the Heavenly Kingdom.


The Taiping Rebellion devastated the landscape of southern China, causing widespread bloodshed and famine


Manifesto on the Right to the Throne Top

Source: Franz Michael. 1971. The Taiping Rebellion: History and Documents. University of Washington Press.

The Manchoos who, for two centuries, have been in hereditary possession of the throne of China, are descended from an insignificant nation of foreigners. By means of an army of veteran soldiers well trained in warfare, they seized on our treasures, our lands, and the government of our country, thereby proving that the only thing requisite for the usurping empire is the fact of being the strongest. There is, therefore, no difference between ourselves, who lay contributions on the villages we take, and the agents sent from Pekin to collect taxes. Why, then, without any motive, are troops dispatched against us? Such a proceeding strikes us as a very unjust one. What! is it possible that the Manchoos, who are foreigners, have a right to receive the taxes of the captures provinces, and to name officers who oppress the people, while we Chinese are prohibited from taking a trifling amount at the public cost? Universal sovereignty does not belong to any one particular individual, to the exclusion of the rest. And such a thing has never been known, as one dynasty being able to trace a line of a hundred generations of emperors. The right to govern consists in possession.

Proclamation on the Cause for the Campaign Top

Source: Franz Michael. 1971. The Taiping Rebellion: History and Documents. University of Washington Press.

It is known that, situated in the central position and with high aspirations, we have for countless ages held a strict division between the barbarians and the Chinese. As for attacking a despotic ruler in order to save the people, the Three Kings were the first to send punitive expeditions. Therefore, in banishing the ruler to Nan-ts’ao, the eleven expeditions were the rain clouds which answered the prayers of the people. In crossing the river to the east and proclaiming the cause for the campaign, the three thousand troops showed their prestige like leopards and tigers. Ti-tzu followed the chase of the deer [throne] tp Hankuan, and in five years he had destroyed Hsiang and also annihilated the Ch’in. The Cheng-jen of the White Spring was not the Dragon of the White Spring, and in four years he annihilated the Hsin dynasty and restored the Han. The reason why heroes all turned toward them once their standards had been raised, and why the common people bowed down to them after one wave of their banners, was simply this: the the people who were all haggard from suffering, they were like rains which relieved the parched earth, and when their armies passed they did not cause the least disturbance.

As for myself, I live, it happens, at the end of an age. My thoughts are greatly concerned with the troubles of the time. I look backward five thousand years to the turning points of the rise and fall of emperors and kings, and off into space some forty thousand li, and see what determines the joys and sorrows of the people. The present comes and the past goes, but one’s accomplishments and fame are truly bound up with one’s destiny. When chaos reaches its extremity an orderly government arises, and the imperial throne always belongs to the hero. One who understands the times is called a truly great hero-and it can be seen that to achieve accomplishments lies in human effort. One who attains the imperial throne is a newly-risen emperor, and its mandate is claimed to be given by Heaven. Moreover, when the line of succession of the House of Chu had been terminated, the Manchus of Paishan took over. These Manchus were adventurers like Liu Yu:an and Shih-le, who seized the imperial throne; they were of the same origin as the Ya-lu: and the Huan-yen and they spread their poison over China. Their terror and despotism was identical with that of Yu and Li, and for six or seven reigns it was the same as of old. Now the Han and T’ang culture has been gone for two hundred years. We should apply the usual penalty for barbarians who invade China. Why should we restate with a righteous cause like that of the battles of Tso-lu and Pan-Ch’u:an?

Moreover, the [Manchu] rulers and their followers compete among themselves for profit, and only gold and silver will get through the main channels of the bureaucratic sea. The ministers all say “Excellent!” and their praise and flattery of each other open the short-cuts to the fields of fame. If you are already rich, why should you worry about not having a position? The title of assistant magistrate can be purchased, the title of district magistrate, can be purchased. In the matter of getting riches, why calculate the harm done to the people? The grain fields are taxed, the customs and markets are taxed, and the forests and on the mountains are also taxed. Thus those with the sable-trimmed caps and official robes came originally from the traders in the market place. Having the appetites of tigers and the greed of wolves, they have no consideration for the old or the young. In the second month [they tax] silk and in the eighth month [they tax] millet, thus completely depriving the people of their fat and marrow. In the morning they tax some four articles, in the evening they tax another three, which only brings bitterness to ignorant people. Imprisonment is actually a bitter sea to the common people, but the greedy officials look on it as a copper mint. As for accepting gifts and presents, how can this be a good rule for cultivated scholars? But the corrupt officials rely on these practices as a gold mine. In the provinces, they draw out the local bullies and make them their henchmen, turning over rain and reversing clouds [taking the law into their own hands]. Within the capital, they establish connections among the powerful and influential and make them their claws and teeth, chasing after rumors and catching at shadows. if their purse is filled, cases of murder and robbery will be dismissed without sentence. But with small pickings not satisfying their greed, the most trifling offenses, concerned only with foods, will be prosecuted. One grievance can sweep a well-to-do man of his property. Ten thousand stones could not fill up the wide ocean of grievance. The women sign and the children wail, and the sounds of sorrow fill the road. Severe punishments and heavy taxes cause their resentment to dash against the heavens. Locusts, flood, and fire pay repeated visits as spiritual admonitions to the disorderly sovereign. Plagues follow wars, adding to the sufferings of the common people. Acting in the name of famine relief or local-corps training, their inner purpose is to promote the unscrupulous officials. When the government treasury is empty, then they reap off all the people’s money. Since their military administration is not properly carried out, they can only resort to enlisting village volunteers. They drive farmers and laborers to face spears and arrows, and we can only [expect to] see their bared bones on the battlefields. They force the gentry to contribute to the supplies of the army. Who will pity those whose bodies are left in the ditches and by the roadside? The distress of the people becomes more and more intolerable; how could even the despotism of the Ch’in or Sui dynasties have compared with this? Oppressing the people to the extreme, then, is cause for rebellion, and thus we know that the end of the barbarians’ reign has already come.

As for myself, looking down upon the affairs of men, and gazing up towards the situation of heaven, I reflect thoughtfully upon the deeds of former heroes and proudly perceive my own mission. In the fifth watch of the night I respectfully burn incense and pray; I do not know what is Heaven’s intention or will. Pitying all the people who have fallen into helpless circumstances, I strongly feel that I cannot merely stand by and watch. Therefore, I have raised an army in Kwangtung and Kwangsi, and we have marched through Hunan. Wherever our battalions approach, their strength is overpowering; our legions are awe-inspiring, and victory is as assured as if we can grab it out of a bag. When the cavalry charges, the mountains resound and the valleys echo. The thousands of banners glisten in the sun, and the waves rock and the clouds move.

If I do not proclaim my cause, it will be difficult to avoid disturbing the people. For this reason, I admonish my troops and instruct you, the people; I obey Heaven and raise the banner of benevolence and righteousness; it is not to substitute tyranny for tyranny. In a short time I shall be reporting the completion of the pacification; I wish each of you to stay by your own fields. When you see the beacons, do not become frightened and run away; do not gather up your family and move; and do not become alarmed when you hear rumors, nor trust to your strength and resist us. The demon officials will necessarily be destroyed, and vicious petty officials will necessarily be destroyed. All others besides these are innocent. Rapists will be beheaded, and plunderers also will be beheaded. I only hope that I do not bring harm to the people. If you should bring baskets of food and jars of broth to welcome our troops, we realize it will come out of your own scant fare. And as to your children and articles of wealth, how could we let them divert our noble aspirations? We pledge that we will quickly clear away the foul air of the demons, and millions of human beings will breath a sigh of relief. Soon we will see the whole territory pacified and settled and the restoration of China’s thousands of years of great heritage. Let all look up and listen to this; do not disobey this proclamation.

Proclamation Denouncing Corrupt Officials Top

Source: Franz Michael. 1971. The Taiping Rebellion: History and Documents. University of Washington Press.


Hung, Commander in Chief in charge of military affairs of the Heavenly-mandated Taiping Dynasty, issues this sincere and earnest proclamation concerning the struggle against the oppressor and the salvation of the people.

It is known that, throughout the empire, rapacious officials are worse than violent robbers, and the corrupt petty officials in the yamens are no better than tigers and wolves. All this originates in the unscrupulous and sottish monarch, who drives honest people to a distance, and admits to this presence small men. Selling offices and disposing of preferments, he represses men of virtuous talents. The spirit of avarice is thus daily inflamed, and high and low are contending together for gains. The rich and great are abandoned to vice without control, while the poor and miserable have no one to whom they can complain of their grievances. The very recital of this exasperates one’s feelings, and makes one’s hair stand on end. To refer to the case of the land tax and grain tribute in particular, it appears that of late the exactions have been increased several times. The taxes due in the thirtieth year [of Tao-kuang, 1850] were at one time said to be remitted and then again exacted. The resources of the people are exhausted. The people’s hardship is extreme. When we, the benevolent and righteous, contemplate these things, our minds are deeply wounded. We cannot restrain ourselves from rooting out these plundering officials and wolfish petty officials of the various prefectures and districts in order to save the people from the flames and floods in which they are now involved. At the present moment our grand army is assembled like clouds. The province of Kwangsi has been settled, and Ch’ang-sha [the capital of Hunan] tranquilized. Being now about to proceed towards the region of Kiangsi, we deem it necessary to announce to the people that they need not be alarmed. The farmers, artisans, merchants, and traders may each peacefully pursue their occupations. If you are rich, you should have in readiness stores of provisions to aid in the sustenance of our troops. Let each clearly report the amount of his contributions, and we will furnish him with promissory notes as security that hereafter the money shall be repaid. If you are courageous and vigorous, you should join our righteous undertaking with common determination and utmost effort. When tranquility is restored, we will have you promoted and rewarded accordingly. All the incumbent officials of prefectures and districts who resist us shall be beheaded; but those who are ready to comply with our requisitions must forthwith send in to us their seals of office, and then they may retire to their native places. As to the rabble of wolfish yamen runners, we shall without exception hang up their heads in public view. Being now apprehensive lest roaming bandits should take occasion from our movements to breed disturbances, we permit you people clearly to report and accuse them, and we will immediately exterminate them. If any of the citizens or villagers dare to assist the marauding mandarins in their tyranny and resist our troops, no matter whether they reside in the prefectural or district city or in the villages, they will be completely annihilated. Heed this. Be careful. Do not oppose. This is therefore specially proclaimed.

The above proclamation is made known to all.
T’ien-te second year, first month, proclaimed.

Notification Announcing the Taiping Campaign Top

Source: Franz Michael. 1971. The Taiping Rebellion: History and Documents. University of Washington Press.

The T’ien Wang is the younger brother of the Prince, Jesus Christ, descended into the earthly world. Because the people of the world are deluded by the devils, the T’ien Wang was by design born into the world to save the people of the world. Therefore, h e is called the Saviour. Those who are trapped and become devils are like men who are contaminated by sickness. Further, the Tung Wang was born to advise the people to revert to righteousness, and to cure their sickness. Therefore the Tung Wang is called the Teacher of Advice and Consolation and the Redeemer from Sickness. The Taiping troops practice the Way of Heaven, save people, and do not harm people. After the unification of the rivers and mountains there will be a universal three-year exemption from [land] taxes in cash and grain. The rich should contribute money, the poor should yield their strength. After the undertaking is finished all will be rewarded with distinctive and hereditary official positions. Wherever we pass we will concentrate on killing all civil and military officials, and soldiers and militiamen. People will not be harmed and they can certainly pursue their livelihood as usual, and fairly buy and fairly sell. At the time when the city is taken if all families close their doors we can guarantee an absence of incidents. If you assist the devils in the defense of the city and engage in fighting, you will definitely and completely be annihilated.

Memorial Requesting the Troops be Sent to Exterminate the Demons Top

Source: Franz Michael. 1971. The Taiping Rebellion: History and Documents. University of Washington Press.

Younger brother Yang Hsiu-ch’ing stands before the steps of the throne, and younger brothers Wei Ch’ang-hui and Shih Ta-k’ai kneel before the steps of the throne to petition that troops be sent to exterminate the demons, and therefore report to explain the situation.

Because the Heavenly Father and Heavenly Elder Brother have munificently granted the heavenly favor and sent our Sovereign, the Second Elder Brother, earthward to annihilate the demons, now is the time when the remaining demons are near complete extermination. Therefoer your younger brothers have secretly deliberated that the second chief chancellor of the Summer Department, Chou Sheng-k’un, should be ordered to advance with troops to the vicinity of Lu-chou [Anhwei] to exterminate the devilish demons and pacify the good and benevolent. Moreover, he should set out with the soldiers of the Forward Eleventh Army, and the guards, officers, and soldiers of your younger brothers’ office. As this is the nature of the deliberations, it has been decided that on the fourteenth day of the eighth month [September 18, 1853] the troops will begin their march forward. For this reason, we have respectfully prepared this memorial to report to our Sovereign wan-sui, wan-sui, wan-wan-sui, for his imperial illumination and execution.

[The T’ien Wang’s rescript:] Imperially noted. You brothers must strictly enjoin the officials and troops to gather their courage and exterminate the demons. At an early date great peace may be achieved and all may enjoy the great blessings of the Heavenly Father. Respect this.

Joint Proclamation by the Eastern and Western Kings, June 1853 Top

Source: J.C. Cheng. 1963. Chinese Sources for the Taiping Rebellion, 1850-1864. Hong Kong: Cathay Press.

One the true mandate of Heaven; the Heavenly Kingdom of Universal Peace: Yang Ho-nai, Teacher, Disease-Redeeming Lord, Left Assistant Chief Generalissimo and Eastern King; and Hsiao, Right Helpful Second Chief Generalissimo and Western King, issue a proclamation to the four classes of people pursuing their normal occupations. Behold, as the desire of Heaven is expressed, the mind of the people should follow. As Heaven has given birth to the True Lord to reign over the people, so as people should incline their hearts offer their allegiance. Alas, since the Tartar slaves invaded China, they have taught people to worship their false idols, to renounce the true faith and to betray God by shaking the people’s beliefs. The Manchu demons are different from men. They affront High Heaven, tyrannize our black-haired multitudes, and destroy our people’s lives. They rely on their stinking odour to becloud Heaven, and cause morals to fall to the ground. Thus farmers and artisans, in spite of hard work, suffer annually from devastations; merchants and peddlers pay duties everywhere they go; within the four seas all hearts are hurt, and the ‘Central Area’ (China) is grieved. We, the Generalissimos, are commanded by Heaven not to tolerate the suffering of the people, but to raise the standard of righteousness and to exterminate the Tartar demons, to establish an army for the [Heavenly] King and destroy the devils. Our passage through counties and districts is like unto the fall of a welcome rain; wherever our pennants and flags wave, it is like righting something that has been upside down. All this clearly expresses the Will of Heaven, and is demonstrated by the response in the mind of the people. Since we started this campaign of righteousness in Kwangsi, wherever we go, those who face the King’s armies come forward to surrender their arms, and those who tremble at the might of Heaven immediately lose their devilish recklessness. At present, as we are establishing the foundation [Heavenly Capital] for the King, we earnestly command the multitudes that they shall respectfully worship God and give up false doctrines, in order to please Heaven and receive its blessings. All scholars, farmers, artisans and merchants shall each maintain their occupations. From the proclamation of this order onwards, you people should live in your homes peacefully and pursue your normal occupations happily. As our holy troops make no disturbance you people need not be shaken and frightened. When no traveller is molested, we think that recovery is in sight. This is, therefore, solemnly proclaimed to comfort you kind and good people, and to be publicised in the empire so that it may be known everywhere. Each of you should carefully obey this without fail! A special order. Dated the [Taiping] 1st day of the 5th month of the kuei-hao 3rd year [June 6, 1853] of the Heavenly Kingdom of Universal Peace.

A Proclamation to the People of Nanking, May 1854 Top

Source: Franz Michael. 1971. The Taiping Rebellion: History and Documents. University of Washington Press.

Yang the Comforter, Wind of the Holy Ghost, Ho-nai Teacher, Redeemer from Sickness, Assistant on the Left, Chief of Staff, and Tung Wang of the true Heavenly -ordained T’ai-p’ing T’ien-kuo, issues this proclamation for the information of the brothers and sisters inside and outside the city walls:

Whereas I, the chief of staff, having respectfully received the heavenly decree commanding me to aid the true Sovereign in sweeping clean the whole universe, did, in the spring of last year, lead a million brave warriors and arrive here at Chien-yeh. On the day when the city was taken, I , the chief of staff, gave strict orders to the troops under my command they they might slay the demons’ officers and soldiers, but must not lawlessly slay a single honest inhabitant. At that time the troops obeyed the heavenly orders, and you brothers and sisters, to the amount of several hundreds of thousands, both within and without the walls to the city, have had your lives spared. This was because I, the chief of staff, looking up, embodied the feeling of our Heavenly Father, who loves to cherish human life, as well as the liberality of our Sovereign, which is boundless as the ocean. In this way we marched our righteous troops to exterminate the fiends and preserve honest men alive. Afterwards, we, looking up, discovered the heavenly will that we were to separate the sexes into male and female quarters, in order to prevent any beginning of impropriety in conduct. But this was only intended as a temporary arrangement, and when Tsui-li province is subdued, families are to be allowed to be together again. In the estimation of you people, you imagined that we were wasting your patrimony and separating you from your relations, so you were apprehensive lest all your goods be annihilated and your wives and children scattered; indeed, the lamentations on this account have not yet ceased. But you do not consider that from old tyo the present time, whenever dynasties have been changed, the troops which have been employed to punish offenders have, when cities were taken, killed all whom they found therein, burning all without distinguishing pebbles from precious stones, so that blood has flowed in torrents, and neither dog nor fowl has been left alive. How different from our Heavenly Dynasty, which has not unnecessarily deprived a single person of life, but on the contrary has fed and clothed you as if you had been part of ourselves. If you do not believe this statement, ask those who are acquainted with history, or inquire of the gray-haired fathers and elders around you, who have themselves seen or heard of such things, and who might enlighten you on the subject. Now, being apprehensive lest you should still remain in ignorance, we have issued this proclamation. From the time of its appearance, therefore, do you with one mind acknowledge the favor of our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Elder Brother in fostering human life, which has induced us to spare your lives. Since your lives have been spared to you there will certainly come a time when you will enjoy their comforts. Upon the whole, if you will only study the periods of chaos in the history of bygone ages, you will soon come to appreciate the benevolence and kindness of the Heavenly Dynasty, which would never think of slaying the innocent, but which, having left you this body in the present life, has also afforded you an opportunity of attaining the glories and favors of the heavenly world. You should all of you rouse yourselves, and not be deluded by mistakes. Let this information be communicated to all. A special proclamation. Do not oppose.

Given in the fourth month of the fourth year, chia-yin, of the T’aip’ing T’ien-kuo [May, 1854].


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