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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 countrys defeat in
the first Opium War and the signing of the Treaty of Nanking.
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
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 Chinas bourgeois-democratic

According to Epstein (1956), the rebellion was simultaneously the last of

Chinas 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
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.
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 peasants 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. Marxs
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 Xiuquans 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
The Beijing Press published a monograph titled The Taiping
Revolution that claimed that the movement was marked by the
intensification of Chinas 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.

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
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