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The Impact of Taiping Rebellion to Modern China

The Taiping rebellion was one kind of revolt that can be described as a “large scale revolt” in the history of China. It took place from 1850-1864 under the Qing Dynasty. The Taiping Rebellion as well as many other rebellions of the same nature that occurred in the history of China dealt a devastating blow to the country which almost bled it dry. Over thirty million people died in the Taiping war which lasted for fifteen years, this was then followed by drought and famine leading to a general decline of the Chinese population by well over 60 million people (John, pp. 81).

The rebels succeeded in gaining control of over 30 million people living on the Southern part of China, they forced these people to abandon their traditional practices and instead practice their newly introduced social reforms like strict sex separation and land socialization. The new leadership eliminated the traditional practice of foot binding, private trade suppression and replaced all the religious practices with some kind of Christianity Ideology. The Taiping rebellion was led by a self proclaimed Lord, Mr. Hung Hsiu-ch’uan.

Hung was a very promising student and a son to a peasant farmer in Canton. He failed to pass the civil service examination twice due to some uncertain reasons that were not very clear. This led him to suffer a nervous breakdown leading to a softening stand on the missionaries’ teachings. Seven year later upon constantly reading the missionaries booklets, he claimed to have received several visions that revealed to him that he was Jesus’ younger brother that was sent to earth by God to root out Devil worship which had infiltrated the world. And so, he initiated a means to effect this…

marking the beginning of the Taiping Rebellion (Lindley, pp. 7-9). The rebels were not left in peace by the Qing forces during the this 15 year revolution, but were constantly under attacks; attacks which only bore fruits after several years of bloodshed when the French and the British forces joined forces with the Qing government to eliminate the rebels. The Taiping Heavenly Army were quiet exclusive from all the other historical forces, they operated with a high level discipline and fanaticism, with a combat style that was described as so bloody and brutal.

They were reported to be aiming their goal only at one thing. That was to conquer all the major cities, penetrate into the countryside and recruit all the farmers into their camp to widen their base and power (Lindley, pp. 11-12). This essay will look at the consequences that the Taiping Rebellion had to the Modern China, it will further go ahead to analyze the consequences and determine whether they were beneficial or detrimental to China before finally drawing a conclusion on its impact to the modern China. The Historical Context of the Revolt

The 15 year bloody revolt which was intended to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and establish a “Messianic Christian Theocracy” has received more critics than supporters in the recent past. Arguing from the face value of the violence from the critic’s point of view, the rebellion could be viewed to be an evil idea which ended up in a total failure. But going to the historical context on the cause of the rebellion, it can be said that the rebels’ decision to carry out the revolt helped China a great deal in reaching its current state.

The rebels to some point therefore were justified in initiating the conflict. A lot of factors merged together to contributed to the Taiping Rebellion; The first one was the pathetic socio-economic status of the Chinese people, especially the Hakka (on the southern part of China), the Hakka blamed their poor status on the government’s system of administration which they said was inefficient, imposing heavy taxes on them and had completely failed to control population growth despite the escalating hunger (Spence, pp. 12-15).

Under the leadership of Hung and through the guidance of some Christian missionaries, the rebels formed Taiping Heavenly Army to fight what they called “evil” in the world and establish a Heavenly Kingdom on Earth (Spence, 1996, pp. 13). Another factor which fueled the rebellion was the decision by the Chinese government to increase foreign imports from America and Britain. Through this unfair trade deal, China ended up importing more goods than it exported leading to an economic slump.

For instance the excess imports on textile products drove the local handicraft dealers out of the market since they could not match the competition posed by the foreign imported goods. Most of the affected people were rendered jobless while others were declared bankrupt. Besides this bad financial situation, the import of opium shot by several folds, such that between the years 1831-1834 the annual expenditure on opium stood at 20 million taels (half of Chinese annual revenue) (Teng, pp. 228). The people got addicted to the drugs and most of them resorted to violence when they could not get the cash to buy opium.

The country’s economy was ailing and instead of helping fix the problem that they helped create, the foreign businessmen decided to extort more cash from the Chinese by selling them even other more addictive drugs so that they could continue buying even though they were in a financial disaster. This revelation shows that the government was partly to blame for the violence that erupted. Accusing fingers are also leveled on the Qing government to have resulted to the rebellion due to its increasing inefficiency.

Corruption incidences in the revenue system (tax collection), ineffectiveness in effecting welfare policies and the brutality by the police force, not to mention the trade imbalance, led to the publics lose of confidence on the government. These emerging facts showed just how much China needed a change, a change that would help revolutionize the dubious agenda of the government. This change eventually come through the Taiping Rebellion and to China, the change was initiated by Hung and his followers.

The rate of population growth in China during those times was like it is now, the only difference being that the modern China has an equally expanding economy to counter this growth, but back then, there was no economic improvement at all, if it was there then it was too little to support the surging number of citizens… a slight natural disaster of drought could therefore lead to a good number starving to death as the incident witnessed in the 19th Century drought (Spence, 1999, pp. 33-35). Demand for resources rose, prices shot up, population grew…

all these factors acting at the same time resulted into peasants quitting the farm and taking on arms to be vagabonds and bandits that being the only means of survival… at that rate China headed to the direction of a state of anarchy. The famine, which was experienced in the whole nation, persisted for several years coinciding with the Taiping Revolt, Floods and Drought, and because the unavailability of arable land, death became unavoidable; many people starved to death and some were pushed to the extent of killing themselves for pig slots.

(Teng, 1971, pp. 129). On a more bizarre note, the government appeared not to care for whatever was happening, for example the government of Kwangsi was reported to have ordered for the killing on the instant hungry people who it claimed were becoming a nuisance in the society. There seemed to be no way out, the poor were out of options apart from smuggling, begging, banditry and drug abuse, which become the order of the day and ruled the times.

These incidences escalated the hatred that the Hakka people had for the Qing Dynasty and they therefore led the revolt against the government. The Hakka managed to influence the revolutionary spirit in all their neighbors who by good luck had already grown dissatisfied by the Qing’s government. If anything, the Hakka stood to lose nothing even if they were to lose the battle for they had been alienated long before by the regime which regarded them as outcasts.

Though it has been widely claimed that the rebellion had only negative effects, by cutting through the fluff, some positive outcomes of the rebellion can be found. Some negative effects can be got by first getting to the historical context, where we discovered that the Taiping Rebellion led the secret societies in the Southern China getting the advantage to rare their ugly heads and rise to prominence in ready to wreck havoc and create insecurity.

The people of China, particularly the Southerners realized that Qing was no longer an absolute power anyway and could be opposed the same way the Taiping defied him. This realization awakened the defiance in most of those who felt pressured (Spence, 1971, pp. 178-201). Since Hung based his ideologies on a Christianity Conglomerate, he was geared to destroy the Manchus and establish this ideology to be the Chinese golden culture by any means…

this did not come to pass but on a more positive not, his two year study of the bible did also not go to waste, he did managed to influence the spread of Christianity in China and reduce the dominance nature of Confucian and Buddhism. Despite its technical failure, the eventual positive outcomes of the rebellion came much later as witnessed in the modern China. The rebellion made the government change their structure of leadership, drawing policies which were touching more on the public and reflecting the opinion of the majority.

The modern Chinese government has now become less oppressive to the poor so that it can avert a replication of such an occurrence [the majority or rebels were from the lower social class]. Such policies are reflected in the constitution of the modern China. In (Spence, 199, pp. 46-47), it is revealed that the rebellion changed Chinas face from the inside by bringing into an end the isolationist outlook that China represented into one of the worlds most respected nations in the 21st Century.

The post Taiping rebellion period saw China bid bye to being a realm of itself and developed into what we have in the modern time. The 15 year rebellion also impacted on the general beliefs of the Chinese community, a feeling which has persisted into the modern China. Just as Christianity was beginning to take root in China, most Chinese had a unified view of the Christian God, they said that this Christian God was jealous and they opted to take the Confucian teachings.

Though it is said that many of these people were only Confucian by thought and not in deeds. The 19th Century presented major challenges that drove people to abandon following any religion, not even Confucian which had a great grip on the society was spared, and the only group which seemed to have weathered the storm was that which worshiped ancestors. The curtain came down for the Taiping Rebellion, so did it happen for the reign of emperors in China. The Qing Dynasty came to its demise and a new government system came into existence.

To this effect the people of China were left with nothing to cling on to shape their societies apart from their traditional culture. These traditional practices took very strong roots in the people’s minds such that by the time modernization rocked the country-as the divisions joined together to form a world community, not all the traditional practices could be shaded off, the people continued with most of their traditional practices; this is the reason behind the mixed blend of traditional and modern ideologies in China to date.

Making China one of the countries in the world with the richest culture (Spence, 199, pp. 65). Substantiating the Rebellion From the historical facts gathered so far, it can be said that the rebellion could not have come at a better time. All the happenings were called for and justified, what might however be disputed is the fact that the rebels operated in a very inhuman and brutal manner… but that was the best way of how they could retaliate against an equally ruthless government.

But in one way or another, change had to be initiated to build the China that we have now, thanks to the timing rise of Christianity at a time when Taoism, Confucian and Buddhism was decaying (Spence, 1996, pp. 38-41). [Christian ideology were quiet similar with the Taipei ideology]. With the exposure of the evils of the Manchu Rule, no one wanted to be associated with a government that did not care for its people, leading to the spread of anti-Manchu sentiments in the entire country. The then authorities seemed either unable or unwilling to bring to a stop the humiliation by the foreign powers, they just played along.

The people therefore took it upon themselves to seek a way to reduce the influence of the parasitically oriented government, minimize the disparity between the rich and the poor, eliminate economic hardship and end the Western Dominance at their ports, through what they knew best, violence (Lindley, pp. 41-45). Were it not for the Taiping Rebellion, modern China could not have been what it is now; its boarders could have been pushed to a near meeting point. The Western domination was taking advantage of the unaccountable government and moving into the fore-ground of China bit by bit, both with their beliefs and culture.

The rebellion also marked China’s awakening call, the country had been stagnated into carrying on with the traditional practices and it was the rebellion that made a notable step into creating a visible rift between the Chinese ancestors and the modern China, this made the Chinese people come to the realization how different and good things would be if change comes. “The Taiping Rebellion symbolized the birth of a New Modern China which stood as a country among others and not as a nation under Heaven” (John, pp. 73).

Going by the mode of leadership, the Manchu seemed to have outlived their usefulness and if the Chinese people had to live to be able to differentiate day from light, the Manchu had to quit. The socio-economic distress were unbearable and the government could not measure up to the challenges that it presented. The people had a feeling of despair and were tired by a government which only excelled in extorting money from the sick and the poor for their own personal glory, while it could not perform its mandate of protecting China’s sovereignty from Western intruders.

If only it had taken root, we could have tested Hung’s genuineness in making good his promises of taking China to greater heights. He was to be the Heavenly King assisted by five other kings at the state council. He planned to establish a Military and Civil administration to help him enforce law and order. He also planned to set up a group of Military operators to help him capture and defend more territories. Hung promised to redistribute land equally to all the countrymen and ban the opium trade, while opening up exportation of silk and tea.

On top of these, he planned to encourage industrialization and improve infrastructure in his tenure (John, pp. 75-77). Hung committed himself to seeing that the equality of men and women would be observed, and education would be simplified to cater for the less bright (not forgetting that he was a victim of strict education rules). He also said that he would prioritize the building of more institutions and hospitals in China. But just as the critics had stated, most of these sentiments were bare political gimmicks which were geared to help Hung gain popularity, Hung could have achieved very few if not none were he to come to power.

Before he even took full control of China, Hung had already started going against some rules and regulations which he himself helped formulate. Instead of abandoning fully the emperor system, he embraced it and put himself above the law. His intention of forcing the entire population to practice the peculiar form of Christianity or face harsh penalties was unacceptable. To everyone’s judgment, Hung had played his part in bringing change to China, but he definitely was not going to be the best leader to steer the country into development of any kind. If anything, he appeared to be more rigid and ruthless than the previous emperors.

Drawing a conclusion from what happened in Nanking (Taiping Capital), nothing good could have come out of Hung’s leadership. He concentrated power to himself and forced socialism on the people. He allowed his imperial armies to harass the poor people from the countryside, an indication that he lacked administrative skills. To make matters worse, he turned away from the people who help him find his ground, just like other emperors; he even supported extortion, quiet ironical from the man he was during the revolutionary period, Hung was like a shadow of his former self.

Conclusion The rebellion came as a reaction against the system of governance which the rebels believed favored the rich and exploited the poor, it was to ensure change came to China and it surely did; both in the political sense and in the publics attitude. The spirit of putting pressure on the sitting government to give in to the demands of the public was carried into the modern China where the people believe that the power to effect changes lies with them and not the central government. It is said that no force is as strong as an idea whose time has come.

The people of China felt suffocated by the Qing System of governance and believed that it was high time they initiated change themselves… the only way into this they believed was by taking the above outlined factors into organizing a religious based rebellion against the “oppressive government”. This research paper has revealed the root cause of the Taiping Rebellion, how the failures by the Qing Dynasty led to the great Economic Slump and his inefficiency in running government projects, particularly those related to money matters like the revenue.

It has also elaborated how the increase in population drove the people into banditry during the 19th Century famine. The factors compounded into the people being so receptive to the ideas of the missionaries which marked the climax of the insurrection. It has also elaborated how the Taiping Rebellion impacted the modern China.

Works Cited John K. Fairbank. (1986). The Great Chinese Revolution 1800–1985. New York: Harper & Row. pp. 81. Lindley Augustus. (1970). Ti-ping Tien-Kwoh: The History of the Ti-Ping Revolution.

New York: Norton pp. 7-45. Spence D. Jonathan. (1996). God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan. New York: Norton. pp. 12-41. Ibid… (1999). The Search for Modern China. New York: Norton. pp. 33-65. Teng, S. Y (1974). The Taiping Rebellion and the Western Powers: Journal of the American Oriental Society. 94(2), pp. 17-218. Ibid… (1971). The Taiping Rebellion and the Western Powers: A Comprehensive Survey. Oxford: Clarendon. pp. 178-253.

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