There were internal convulsions in China during the period 1850- 64. The Taiping Uprising was one of the greatest convulsion which it almost succeed in overthrowing the Qing govt. It aimed at driving out the Manchurians and established the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace. Although it resembles the features of a revolution, it did not aim at drastic changing of China’s political structure. This great uprising carried a lot of features of a rebellion but also a revolution. It was said to be more than a rebellion, but less than a revolution.
Revolution is known as a large-scale uprising which aim at overthrowing the existing system and set up a new kingdom with completely different form of government. It needed to have a well-trained army, good leadership and solid foundation in order to have good planning and strategy. Comprehensive programme of changes should be carried out for the sake of the people. All these features could be found in the Taipings.
Firstly, the Taipings was similar to a revolution in the sense that it aimed at drastic change. The Manchurians were not welcomed in ruling China after the downfall of the Ming dynasty. They were always regarded as barbarians and aliens. The Hans had always wanted to overthrow the Qing and restore a dynasty ruled by the Hans therefore the Taipings was aiming at setting up the “Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace” in China and overthrown the Qing ruled.
Secondly, the Taiping was well organized with solid foundation. The armies had a strong sense of commitment and feeling of mission to eliminate evil as they were chosen member of the Heavenly Kingdom. They have strong sense of unity, as the Taipings promoted sense of brotherhood and have high morale and regarded the Heavenly Kingdom as their homes. There were strict rules regarding the mode of living of the army.
The members of the army were loyal, cooperative to the leaders and fought to their best. There were also good strategies and plans for the Taipings. They attack the Southern part of China where it was the weakest point of the Qing army, as the central government had weak control over the place due to geographical location. They also acted fast, direct confrontation with the enemy was avoided. They would make spontaneous attack and fought the battles in a quick way. Thus, there was no chance for the other side to plan a counter-attack. They also did not dwell in a battle and wouldn’t stay in the old battlefield to fight if success could not be achieves in a short time. This was to keep their moral high.
Thirdly, there were 6 leading figures in the Taiping army. They provided good guidance’s and leadership to the rebels. They had a clear hierarchy of military structure. The officers carried out their own duty. Main leadership was provided by Hong Xiu Quan who came from a Hakka farming family and was attracted by the idea of Christianity. He was known as the Heavenly King, Yang Xiu Qing was the East King, Feng Yun Shan was the South King, Xiao Chao Gui as the West King and Wei Chang Hui as the North King. They all provided good leadership to the Taipings rebels, as they all have the same aim in overthrowing the Qing and set up a Heavenly Kingdom. The Taiping rebels followed the interpretation of Bible by Hong. They attacked corruption and hostile to the Qing. They were man of capability and provided good leadership for the rebels.
Fourthly, they have an ideology with is based on Christianity. Their Christianity was a unique East-West amalgam of ideas and practices geared to militant action. It consisted the idea of Christianity, which stressed the importance of harmony in society, sense of brotherhood and equality of sex. It upheld social hierarchy, sense of brotherhood and equality, loyalty, obedience, filial piety which was based on Buddhism.
It also stressed on the forces of nature and the important of harmony in society which was Taoism beliefs. Hong also used the Dynastic Cycle to justify Qing government to be overthrown which was Mencius beliefs. Their ideology was a mixture of all different religion instead of pure Catholic. It stressed on the righteous wrath of Jehovah more than the loving kindness of Jesus. It was primarily Protestant Christianity which was basically a protest against the existing order. Hung believed that God is the creator of the world and there is the existence of heaven, hell and final judgment. Under this ideology, they fought to their best and aimed at eliminating the evils, which was the Manchu.
Fifthly, they have a comprehensive programme of changes. They have a constitution to the land system of the Heavenly Kingdom in 1853. It was the most drastic reform of the Taipings in which the idea was based on communal utilization of land. They have 3 principles which were the public ownership of land, equal allotment of surplus and self-supporting economy. Savings or private ownership of properties was abolished, all lands should be shared equally and divided into 9 categories. People were given lands to use but not owning them. Surplus of money or food should be dedicated to the public storehouse.
For social system, they had to lead a puritan life, activities such as gambling, smoking, drinking were prohibited. Women status was raised due to the beliefs in sexual equality. Foot binding was banned. Women were allowed to take part in the military and civil service exams. Social Welfare was provided in order to take care of the widows, beggars, the sick…etc. Free marriage was allowed and household slavery was banned.
For educational system, the Civil Service Examinations was held in plain language and based on Bible teachings. A new, unique calendar was also introduced. By all these reforms, more people were attracted to this uprising. The life of people was better and there were popular support for this movement.Lastly, the achievements of the Taipings was far reaching. 16 out of 18 provinces were affected during the period of Taipings. Provinces were being damaged physically. Many people from different classes had joined the uprising. It covered a large scope of people and provinces. Qing weakness was being exposed and it inspired Dr. Sun to start his revolutionary movements in later years.
The Taiping Uprising was being regarded as a revolution because of the above reasons. But in fact, it also carried some features of a rebellion. It cannot be fully regarded as a revolution. Firstly, although there were many leaders for the Taipings, but the leaders were mostly from the grass-root, they were mostly uneducated or frustrated scholars. Such as Hong who was their Heavenly King, was a frustrated scholars and failed in the civil service examinations 4 times. They were lacking political and administrative experiences and therefore could not evolve long-range constructive policies or overall military strategy.
For example, they failed to identify Shanghai as an important centre of communication to the foreigners, they disturbed the foreign trade and lives there made the foreigners to withdrew their initial symphony towards the movement. They also ignore the plea for assistance from the Small Sword Society, which was an influential secret society in Shanghai at that time. They therefore lost a chance to deprive the Qing of an important point of contact with foreigners and a base for operations. The leaders were ideologically difference and power struggle was found between them, which in turn led to disunity among rebels. This led to the downfall of Taipings .
Secondly, the Taipings was in a small scope as it did not gained mass support. They were engrossed in religion and refused to cooperate with the secret societies because the secret societies members were not Christians and they were not fond of setting up a Heavenly Kingdom. This showed that religious considerations were out above nationalistic revolution. Their image of being a nationalistic revolutionary was blurred, and therefore the people lost faith towards them. As the Taipings failed to cooperate with the secret societies because of different future plans and ideology, which in turn weakened the revolutionary force.
The members were mainly lower-class people who were uneducated and want better life instead of instability. Foreign support was not gained, because of the unorthodox, superficial and weird nature of Taiping Christianity; the enjoyment of the concessions after the signing of the new treaties with the Qing court in 1860; continuous disturbance in foreign trade and lives at Shanghai and the weakness and incapability of the Taipings, little hope in winning, therefore the foreigners withdrew their sympathy and supported the Qing financially and militarily.
Thirdly, although they seemed to have far reaching achievement, they did not really succeed in overthrowing the Qing government. They only concentrated on advancement but they failed to consolidate power in the advanced cities. They moved forward quickly to seize the treasure there and then gave up the cities afterwards. Their shortsighted nature gave chances for Manchu to recapture the conquered areas. Such as Wuchan as a transportation center of China, the Taipings failed to identify its importance and they gave up the city after seizing the treasure there.
Lastly, there were no innovative changes, the ideologies were not fully carried out. The reforms and ideas were still based on Confucianism. Their Christianity was a mixture of the Catholics and many Chinese traditional believes such as Buddhism and Taoism. The suggestions were just policies on paper which were not really carried out fully. The leaders themselves did not followed their own teachings.
They preached the abolition of private ownership, but they have accumulated vast wealth by owning of lands. They did not lead a puritan life, as Hong himself has 88 concubines, and other leaders kept many too. Hong forbade people to read works of Confucius and Mencius, he himself read them freely, borrowed ideas from the Rite of Chou, and explained his Christianity in Confucian terms. Lend reform was not fully implemented, as there was insufficient land for redistribution.
Therefore, the people lost faith in the uprising. The ideologies were just plans, but not really worked out. To conclude, the Taipings has carried the features of both revolution and rebellion. It cannot be regarded as either one of them as both of them have not really contained all the characteristics of the uprising. Therefore, the Taipings was regarded as less than a revolution but more than a rebellion.