The Taiping Rebellion, 1850 – 1864
Episode #5 of the course “Revolutions that changed the world”
Internal suffering is often the cause of a rebellion, so when those who are suffering, like the slaves in Haiti or the peasants in China, realize that there might be a better way, then they tend to gravitate toward that idea. The Taiping Rebellion is a good example of this. This rebellion was a radical revolution based on political and religious motivations in the 19th Century. It resulted in roughly 20 million casualties and significantly altered the Qing Dynasty.
The Taiping Rebellion was greatly based on religion. It began with Hong Xiuquan, who believed that he was the Son of God and younger brother to Jesus Christ. He felt that it was his calling to share Christianity with the people of China. A friend of his created a new religious group based on this idea and called it the God Worshippers’ Society. Eventually, this group became their own rebel group, and Xiuquan called his new dynasty Taiping Tianguo, which means “Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace.” He called himself the Tianwang, or “Heavenly King.”
Because of their emphasis on sharing property, they were extremely appealing to the locals who were suffering from famine. They eventually gained over one million followers, both men and women. They captured a major Qing Dynasty city in eastern China, Nanjing, and attempted to capture Beijing but ultimately failed. Internal conflict weakened the group, and the rebellion eventually disappeared, but there were occasional echoes of the group for years afterwards.
The Taiping Rebellion significantly weakened the Qing Dynasty, and they were never really able to regain complete control. Both Chinese Nationals and Chinese Communists trace their origins to the Taiping Rebellion.
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