The Taiping Rebellion/Uprising in China
Analyse the nature, causes and impact of Taiping Rebellion/Uprising in China...
TAIPING REBELLION (1851 – 1864) Introduction The Taiping Rebellion (1851 – 1864), which erupted over most of South and Central China in the middle of the 19th century, was the biggest peasant uprising in Chinese history and one of the greatest peasant rebellions in world history. The Taiping Rebellion was directed primarily against the feudal rule of the Manchu dynasty and secondarily against foreign capitalism, which had been making steady inroads into the economy, society, and politics of China ever since the country’s defeat in the first Opium War and the signing of the Treaty of Nanking. Nature The Taiping Rebellion took place at a time when Chinese society had been undergoing a process of transition from a feudal society to a semifeudal and semi-colonial one. The process of transition started roughly from the time of the Opium Wars when Britain and other foreign powers had already began making active encroachments on Chinese soil. A number of scholars, both Chinese and western, have written on the nature and significance of the Taiping Rebellion. According to Jean Chesneaux, the Taiping Movement was characterised by its triple content: national, religious and social. It was: Anti Manchu, for it attacked the ruling dynasty as "foreign and barbarous" Religious in the sense that it vehemently attacked Confucianism; combined popular Chinese cults and borrowed ideas from Christianity A social protest movement in the sense that it not only shook the edifice of feudalism in China by offering a programme of changing the agrarian relations but also stood for emancipation of women. Mao Zedong (1939) pointed out that peasant uprisings and wars constituted a unique feature of Chinese history. According to him, class struggles between peasants and feudal forces constituted the dynamic element in the progress of China amidst the changing fortunes of ruling dynasties. He argued that in the absence of “correct leadership” by the proletariat and the Communist Party, peasant wars of the past were unable to liberate the peasantry from the feudal yoke. While speaking about the Taiping Rebellion, Mao said that it was one of the eight major events that occurred in the formative period of China’s bourgeois-democratic revolution.
According to Epstein (1956), the rebellion was simultaneously the last of China’s old-style peasant wars and the first great democratic fight of its people in the modern period. A different view was that the peasants attacked the regime, not feudalism as a class system. Hou Wailu described the Taiping revolt as the highest form of peasant war and a very good beginning for modern revolution. Another writer, Wu Shimo, asserted that Taiping stood for political equality, economic equality, and equality among nations. Karl Marx and The Times (August 30, 1853) hailed the event in identical language. Marx called it a formidable revolution and The Times described it as the greatest revolution the world had ever seen. Barrington Moore (1993) and Kung-chuan Hsiao (1979) maintain that it was a rebellion, not a revolution, as it did not alter the basic structure of society. Vincent Shih holds that the Taipings had genuine revolutionary possibilities in borrowing Christian and western ideas. However, these possibilities were nullified because the Taipings were only able to perceive Christian ideas through the glass of traditional concepts. The Taiping Rebellion was an agrarian revolution, which formed part of the democratic revolution. Causes The Taiping uprising was a new beginning in Chinese history as it arose in a setting that still contained the familiar elements characteristic of periods of ‘dynastic decline’ and rebellious uprisings in the past. This included grave corruption in government, heavy taxation of the farmers, high rent, desertion of the land by the peasantry, the increase in population, increasing insecurity, and rise in the number of bandits, local self-defence units and increasing importance of secret societies. These were the conditions that existed even during the first half of the 19th century in China under the Manchu dynasty that created the environment conducive for a major uprising to take place. However, different scholars have given different reasons for the origins of the rebellion. The earliest theory was propounded by Franz Michael, who used the ‘Dynastic Decline’ theory to explain the rise of the Taiping movement. He argued that the Taiping movement should be seen as part of the dynastic decline. In China, where the ‘Mandate of Heaven’ provided the legitimacy for each and every ruling dynasty, the rise and fall of each
dynasty followed a cyclical pattern. The Chinese society witnessed a period of major decline, which saw the fall of a dynasty; it was followed by an interim period, wherein the various contenders for power competed with one another and ultimately a new dynasty emerged. This dynasty then underwent its own period of crisis, which ultimately led to its decline. According to him, this cycle was an unalterable process and irrespective of whatever one may do the dynasty was going to fall. Michael argues that by the 19th century Chinese society came to be characterised by grave corruption in government, heavy taxation of the farmers, high rent, desertion of the land by the peasantry, the increase in population, increasing insecurity, rise in the number of bandits, local selfdefence units and increasing importance of secret societies. According to him, all these were features of a dynasty in decline and therefore created the conditions that were conducive for a rebellion. Barrington Moore Jr., in his “Social Origins of Dictatorship” argued that the peasantry in China occupied a pitiful position in the feudal structure. Their lives revolved around the three Nos: No religion, No Family and No property. While, the last was due to the feudal structure prevailing in China, the first two were an outcome of the peasant’s poor condition. The peasants had no time or inclination to indulge in religious activities nor did they have the means to support a family. Such a situation was worsened by conditions created by the Manchu government like over taxation. In 1853, Karl Marx argued in the New York Daily Tribune that the origins of Taiping rebellion were entirely based on external factors, mainly the opium war and European intrusion, and that the movement came forth with the Han peasant masses against the Manchu rule. Marx’s views have been widely accepted in mainland China where the Communist Party still treats Marx as one of its patriarchs in both the theory and practice of revolution. However, these two views seem to be too simplistic, as Marx overlooked the social causes that led many to become part of the movement and did not notice the key role played by the Hakka, a minority within the Han population, in the early development of the rebellion. The Taiping rebellion was considerably endogenous in origin, and was a result of the mobilization of the Hakka through Hong Xiuquan’s God-worshippers. Karl Marx also attributed the Taiping movement to the impact of the Opium War. In his article “Revolution in China and Europe” (1853) he argued that the war had shattered the invincible aura that had surrounded the Manchu dynasty. In his words “The English Cannon destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the Chinese.” The Manchus were completely
exposed in the eyes of the people and this encouraged even the common peasant to rise up in rebellion against the imperial forces. Marx also described the economic effects of the war to be a factor behind the popular outburst. The war and the consequent treaty had led to the general influx of foreign goods in the Treaty port areas. Local household and traditional industries were completely ruined and the self-sufficient economy also suffered dislocation. The decade of the 1840s also witnessed a large number of natural calamities. Among the major ones were the severe droughts in Hunan in 1847, the flooding of the Yangtze River over the four provinces of Hupei, Anhwei, Kiangsu, and Chekiang and famine in Kwangsi in 1849 and the flooding of the Yellow river in 1852. Millions of people were dislocated from their homes, thousands were killed and lots of property and assets were destroyed. The government relief in a situation like this was at the most obligatory, with much of the funds being embezzled at the same time. According to Hsu, this had given rise to a great deal of disappointment among the masses, who began to believe that the government was no longer interested or capable of looking after their needs. The Beijing Press published a monograph titled “The Taiping Revolution” that claimed that the movement was marked by the intensification of China’s internal contradictions caused by the Opium Wars. The Opium War had led to the increasing exploitation of the peasants, who already held a fractured position in the Chinese feudal society. As the War indemnity was huge it posed a severe financial constraint on the Manchu rulers. In order to pay the war damages they were forced to squeeze the peasants in order to extract more resources from them. This task was usually entrusted to the landlords, who already were known for their exploitative behaviour towards the peasants. Thus, it can be seen that the need for additional resources on account of the Opium War had led to a worsening of relations between the peasants and the landlords. In the early 19th century, all the conditions which made the life of the common people increasingly hard and insecure were prevalent in South China. In addition, the dislocation caused by the foreign presence and the Opium wars, the tensions generated by the presence of diverse ethnic communities in this region, and a pattern of chronic lawlessness and anarchic violence, all combined to make the situation in South China and specifically in the provinces of Kwangsi and Kwangtung particularly explosive. In these special local expressions of the overall problems can be found the immediate causes for the Taiping Rebellion.
Impact The Taiping rebellion was a massive popular uprising in the mid19thcentury which shook the foundations of the rule of the Ch'ing Dynasty. Born as a religious sect propagating a kind of Christianity in Kwangsi in the remote South-western corner of China, it rapidly assumed the dimensions of a broad political and social movement with formidable military power. This was due to the weakness of the Ch'ing dynasty and to the unsettled conditions of the time which led to unrest and disaffection among the masses - of people especially in South China. In its programme and vision the Taiping Movement showed a boldness and undoubtedly progressive character that distinguished it from earlier peasant rebellions and other rebel groups and movements of the time. However, it was crippled by certain fatal weaknesses, including the dissension and demoralization that set in within its top leadership. Its fate was sealed when the Ch'ing officials succeeded in rallying all the forces in defence of the old order and in creating a new military instrument which was capable of defeating the Taipings. The Taiping Rebellion was crushed and virtually exterminated, but in the process of its suppression, the Ch'ing Dynasty had to cede vital powers to its Chinese officials and Commanders of the new armies and to the local gentry. In the long run, this undermined the basis of Ch'ing power and hastened its downfall. The Taiping Rebellion itself remained as a vivid memory, which was to inspire later generations of nationalists and revolutionaries. Bibliography Peasant Revolts in China 1840-1949 – Jean Chesneaux IGNOU Modern Europe (Mid 18th to Mid 20th Centuries) The Taiping Rebellion 1851 – 66 by Ian Heath Taiping Rebellion 1851 - 64 by Amit Bhattacharya Websites http://idea-of-history.blogspot.in/2013/08/causes-of-taipingrebellion_29.html http://idea-of-history.blogspot.in/2013/08/taiping-rebellionprogrammes-policies.html