Demetrius Charles de Kavanagh Boulger.

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of General Gordon and other trustworthy sources, which appears in the
last volume of my " History of China."

As far back as the year 1830 there had been symptoms of disturbed
popular feeling in Kwangsi, the most southern province of China
adjacent to Tonquin. The difficulty of operating in a region which
possessed few roads, and which was only rendered at all accessible
by the West River or Sikiang, had led the Chinese authorities, much
engaged as they were about the foreign question, to postpone those
vigorous measures, which, if taken at the outset, might have speedily
restored peace and stamped out the first promptings of revolt. The
authorities were more concerned at the proceedings of the formidable
secret Association, known as the "Triads," than at the occurrences in
Kwangsi, probably because the Triads made no secret that their object
was the expulsion of the Manchus and the restoration of the old Ming
dynasty. The true origin of the Triads is not to be assigned, but
there seems reasonable ground for the suspicion that they were con-
nected with the discontented monks of a Buddhist monastery which
had been suppressed by the Government. Between them they seem
to have formed the inception of what became the famous Taeping

The summer of 1850 witnessed a great accession of energy on the
part of the rebels in Kwangsi, which may perhaps have been due to
the death of the Emperor Taoukwang. The important town of
Wuchow on the Sikiang, close to the western border of Kwantung,
was besieged by a force reported to number 50,000 men. The
governor was afraid to report the occurrence, knowing that it would

62 The Life of Gordon.

carry his own condemnation and probable disgrace ; and it was left
for a minor official to reveal the extent to which the insurgents had
carried their depredations. Two leaders named Chang assumed the
style of royalty ; other bands appeared in the province of Hoonan
as well as in the southern parts of Kwantung, but they all collected
by degrees on the Sikiang, where they placed an embargo on
merchandise, and gradually crushed out such trade as there had been
by that river. Their proceedings were not restricted to the fair opera-
tions of war. They plundered and massacred wherever they went.
They claimed to act in the name of the Chinese people ; yet they slew
all they could lay hands upon, without discrimination of age or sex.

The confidence of the insurgents was raised by frequent success,
and by the manifest inability of the Canton Viceroy to take any
effectual military measures against them. Two hundred imperial
troops were decoyed into a defile, and slaughtered by an overwhelm-
ing force in ambush. This reverse naturally caused considerable alarm
in Canton itself, and defensive measures were taken. Governor Yeh
was sent against them with 2000 men, and he succeeded in compelling,
or as some say in inducing, them to retreat. Any satisfaction this
success may have occasioned was soon dispelled, for at Lienchow,
near the small port of Pakhoi, the rebels not merely gained a victory,
but were joined by the troops sent to attack them. But these successes
at several different points were of far less significance than the nomina-
tion of a single chief with the royal title of Tien Wang, or the
Heavenly King.

The man on whom their choice fell was named Hung-tsiuen. He
was the son of a small farmer, who lived in a village near the North
River, about thirty miles from Canton. If he was not a Hakka him-
self, he lived in a district which was considered to belong exclusively
to that strange race, which closely resembles our gipsies. He belonged
to a degraded race, therefore, and it was held that he was not entitled
to that free entry into the body of the civil service, which is the
natural privilege of every true-born Chinese subject. His friends
declared that he came out high at each of the periodical examinations,
but their statements may have been false in this as in much else.
'Jlie fact is clear that he failed to obtain his degrees, and that he
was denied admission into the public service. Hung was therefore
a disappointed candidate, the more deeply disappointed, perhaps, that
his Mjnse of injured merit and the ill-judging flattery of his admirers
made his rejection appear unjust.

Hung was, at all events, a shrewd observer of the weakness of
the Govtrnment, and of the popular discontent. He perceived the

The Tacping Rebellion. 63

opportunity of making the Manchu dynasty the scapegoat of
national weakness and apathy. He could not be the servant of the
Government. Class contempt, the prejudices of his examiners, or
it may even have been his own haughty presumption and self-sufificiency,
effectually debarred him from the enjoyment of the wealth and
privileges that fall to the lot of those in executive power in all
countries, but in Asiatic above every other. To his revengeful but
astute mind it was clear that if he could not be an official he mi-^ht
be the enemy of the Government and its possible subverter.

The details of his early career have been mainly recorded by those
who sympathised with the supposed objects of his operations; and while
they have been very anxious to discover his virtues, they were always
blind to his failings. The steps of his imposture have therefore been
described with an amount of implicit belief which reflected little credit
on the judgment of those who were anxious to give their sanction to
the miracles which preceded the appearance of this adventurer in
the field. Absurd stories as to his dreams, allegorical coincidences
showing how he was summoned by a just and all-powerful God to
the supreme seat of power, were repeated with a degree of faith so
emphatic in its mode of expression as to make the challenge of its
sincerity appear extremely harsh. Hung, the defeated official candidate,
the long-deaf listener to the entreaties of Christian missionaries, was
thus in a brief time metamorphosed into Heaven's elect for the Dragon
Throne, into the iconoclastic propagator of the worship of a single
God, and the destroyer of the mass of idolatry stored in the hearts
and venerated in the temples of the Chinese people for countless ages.
Whether Hung was merely an intriguer or a fanatic, he could not
help feeling some gratitude to those who so conveniently echoed his
pretensions to the Throne at the same time that they pleaded extenuat-
ing circumstances for acts of cruelty and brigandage often unsurpassed
in their infamy.

If he found the foreigners thus willing to accept him at his own
estimate, it would have been very strange if he had not experienced still
greater success in imposing upon the credulity of his own countrymen.
To declare that he had dreamt dreams which showed that he was
selected by a heavenly mandate for Royal honours was sufficient to gain a
small body of adherents, provided only that he was prepared to accept the
certain punishment of detection and failure. If Hung's audacity was
shown by nothing else, it was demonstrated by the lengths to which he
carried the supernatural agency that urged him to quit the ignominious
life of a Kwantung peasant for the career of a pretender to Imperial
honours. The course of training to which he subjected himself, the
ascetic deprivations, the loud prayers and invocations, the supernatural

64 The Life of Gordon.

counsels and meetings, was that adopted by every other religious
devotee or fanatic as the proper novitiate for those honours based on the
superstitious reverence of mankind, which are sometimes no inadequate
substitute for temporal power and influence, even when they fail to
pave the way to their attainment.

Yet when Hung proceeded to Kwangsi there was no room left to
hope that the seditious movement would dissolve of its own accord, for
the extent and character of his pretensions at once invested the rising
with all tlie importance of open and unveiled rebellion. After the pro-
clamation of Hung as Tien Wang, the success of the Kwangsi rebels
increased. The whole of the country south of the Sikiang, with the
strong military station of Manning, fell into their hands, and they pre-
pared in the early part of the year 185 1 to attack the provincial capital
Kweiling, which commanded one of the principal high roads into the
interior of China. So urgent did the peril at this place appear that
three Imperial Commissioners were sent there direct by land from
Peking, and the significance of their appointment was increased by the
fact that they were all Manchus. They were instructed to raise troops
en route, and to reach Kweiling as soon as possible. Their movements
were so dilatory that that place would have fallen if it had not been for
the courage and military capacity shown by Wurantai, leader of the
Canton Bannermen. This soldier fully realised the perils of the situa-
tion. In a memorial to the Throne he spoke plainly : —

"The outer barbarians (Europeans) say that of literature China has
more than enough, of the art of war not sufficient. The whole country
swarms with the rebels. Our funds are nearly at an end, and our troops
few ; our officers disagree, and the power is not concentrated. The com-
mander of the forces wants to extinguish a burning wagon-load of
fagots with a cupful of water. I fear we shall hereafter have some
serious affair — that the great body will rise against us, and our own
people leave us."

The growth of the rebellion proved steady if slow. A'though 30,000
troops were stated to be concentrated opposite the Taeping positions,
fear or inexperience prevented action, and the numbers and courage of
the Imperialists melted away. Had the Chinese authorities only pressed
on, they must, by sheer weight, have swept the rebels into Tonquin,
and there would thus have been an end of Tien Wang and his aspira-
tions. They lacked the nerve, and their vacillation gave confidence
and reputation to an enemy that need never have been allowed to
become formidable.

While the Imperial authorities had been either discouraged or at the
least lethargic, the pretender Tien Wang had been busily engaged in

The Taeping Rebellion. 65

establishing his authority on a sound basis, and in assigning their
respective ranics to his principal followers who saw in the conferring of
titles and posts, at the moment of little meaning or value, the recog-
nition of their past zeal and the promise of reward for future service.
The men who rallied round Tien Wang were schoolmasters and
labourers. To these some brigands of the mountain frontier supplied
rude military knowledge, while the leaders of the Triads brought as their
share towards the realisation of what they represented as a great cause
skill in intrigue, and some knowledge of organisation. Neither enthu-
siasm nor the energy of desperation was wanting ; but for those qualities
which claim respect, if they cannot command success, we must look in
vain. Yet the peasants of Kwangsi and the artisans of Kwantung
assumed the title of " Wang " or prince, and divided in anticipation the
prizes that should follow the establishment of some dynasty of their own

The war dragged on in the Sikiang valley during two years, but the
tide of success had certainly set in the main against the Imperialists, as
was shown by the scene of operations being transferred to the northern
side of that river. The campaign might have continued indefinitely
until one side or the other was exhausted had not the state of the pro-
vince warned Tien Wang that he could not hope to feed much longer
the numerous followers who had attached themselves to his cause. He
saw that there would very soon remain for him no choice except to
retire into Tonquin, and to settle down into the ignominious life of a
border brigand. To Tien Wang the thought was intolerable, and in
sheer desperation he came to the resolve to march northwards into the
interior of China. It was not the inspiration of genius but the pressure
of dire need that urged the Taeping leader to issue his orders for the
invasion of Hoonan. He issued a proclamation on the eve of begin-
ning this march, announcing that he had received "the divine com-
mission to exterminate the Manchus and to possess the Empire as its
true sovereign."

It was at this stage in the rebellion that the name "Taepings " came
into general use, and various accounts are given as to its origin. Some
say it was taken from the small town of that name in the south-west of
Kwangsi, where the insurrection began ; others that the characters
mean "Universal Peace," and that it was the style assumed by the
new dynasty. In seeming contradiction with this is the fact that some
of the Taepings themselves declared that they never heard the name,
and did not know what it meant. At this particular juncture the rebels
were in the heart of Kwangsi, at the district capital of Woosuen. In
May 185 1 they moved to Siang, a little north of that place. They


66 The Life of Gordon.

ravaged the country, making no long stay anywhere. In August they
were at Yungan, where 16,000 men were ranged under the banner of
the Heavenly King, and for a moment Tien Wang may have thought
of making a dash on Canton, Respect for Wurantai's military capacity
induced him to forego the adventure, and at Yungan, where he remained
until April 1S52, the Taeping leader made his final arrangements for
his march northwards.

At Yungan a circumstance occurred which first promised to
strengthen the Taepings, and then to lead to their disruption. Tien
Wang was joined there by five influential chiefs and many members of
the Triad Society. For a time it seemed as if these allies would
necessarily bring with them a great accession of popular strength ; but
whether they disapproved of Tien Wang's plans, or were offended
by the arrogant bearing of the Wangs, who, but the other day little better
than the dregs of the people, had suddenly assumed the yellow dress and
insignia of Chinese royalty, the Triad leaders took a secret and hurried
departure from his camp, and hastened to make their peace with the
Imperialists. The principal of these members of the most formidable
secret society in China — Chang Kwoliang by name — was given a military
command of some importance, and afterwards distinguished himself
among the Imperial commanders. In April 1852 the Taeping army
left its quarters at Yungan and marched direct on Kweiling, the principal
city of the province, where the Imperial conmiissioners sent from Peking
had long remained inactive. Tien Wang attacked them at the end of
April or the beginning of May, but he was repulsed with some loss.
Afraid of breaking his force against the walls of so strong a place, he
abandoned the attack and marched into Hoonan. Had the Imperial
generals only been as energetic in offensive measures as they had shown
themselves obstinate in defence, they might have harassed his rear,
delayed his progress, and eventually brought him to a decisive engage-
ment under many disadvantages. But the Imperial Commissioners at
Kweiling did nothing, being apparently well satisfied with having rid
themselves of the presence of such troublesome neighbours.

On 12th of June the Taepings attacked the small town of Taou in
Hoonan with better success. Some resistance was offered, and one of the
Taeping Wangs, known as the " Southern King," was killed. This was a
great loss, because he was a man of some education, and had taken the
most prominent part in the organisation of the Taeping rebellion.
General Gordon inclined to the opinion that he was the real originator
of the whole rising. His loss was a severe blow to the Taepings, whose
confidence in themselves and their cause was alike rudely shaken. They
could not however turn back, for fear of the force at Kweiling, and to halt

The Taeping Rebellion. 67

for any time was scarcely less dangerous. Necessity compelled them
therefore to press on, and in August they captured the three small
towns of Kiaho, Ching, and Kweyang. Their next march was both
long and forced. Overrunning the whole adjacent country, they appeared
early in the month of September before the strong and important
town of Changsha, situated on the river Seang, and only fifty miles south
of the large lake Tungting.

At this town, the capital of Hoonan, some vigorous preparations had
been made to withstand them. Not merely was the usual garrison
stationed there, but it so happened that Tseng Kwofan, a man of great
ability and some considerable resolution, was residing near the town at
the time. Tseng Kwofan had held several offices in the service, and
as a member of the Hanlin enjoyed a high position and reputation ; but
he was absent from the capital on one of those frequent periods of
retirement to their native province which the officials of China have to
make on the occasion of any near relative's death.

When tidings of the approach of the Taepings reached him he
threw himself with all the forces he could collect into Changsha. At
the same time he ordered the local militia to assemble as rapidly as
possible in the neighbourhood, in order to harass the movements of the
€nemy. He called upon all those who had the means to show their
duty to the state and sovereign by raising recruits or by promising
rewards to those volunteers who would serve in the army against the
rebels. Had the example of Tseng Kwofan been followed generally, it
is not too much to say that the Taepings would never have got to
Nanking. As it was, he set the first example of true patriotism, and he
had the immediate satisfaction of saving Changsha.

When the Taepings reached Changsha they found the gates closed
and the walls manned. They proceeded to lay siege to it ; they cut off
its supplies, and they threatened the garrison with extermination. They
even attempted to carry it by storm on three separate occasions.
During eighty days the siege went on ; but the Taepings were then com-
pelled to admit that they were as far from success as ever. They had
suffered very considerable losses, including another of their Wangs, the
Western King, and although it was said that the loss of the Imperialists
was larger, they could better afford it. On the ist December they
accordingly abandoned the siege and resumed their march northwards.
They crossed the Tungting Lake on boats and junks which they had
seized, and secured the town of Yochow on the Yangtsekiang without
meeting any resistance. Here they captured much war material,
including a large supply of gunpowder left by the great Chinese
Viceroy, Wou Sankwei, of the seventeenth century. From Yochow they

68 The Life of Gordon.

hastened down the river. The important city of Hankow surrendered
without a blow. The not less important town of Wouchang, on the
opposite or southern bank of the river, was then attacked, and after a
siege of a fortnight carried by storm. The third town of Hanyang,
which completes the busy human hive where the Han joins the great
river, did not attempt any resistance.

These successes raised the Taepings from the depths of despair to
the heights of hope. The capture of such wealthy places dispelled all
their doubt and discouragement. They were able to repay themselves
for the losses and hardships they had undergone, and the prize they had
thus secured furnished ground for hoping for more. But even now it
was no part of their mission to stand still. They waited at Hankow
only long enough to attach to their cause the many thousands attracted
to Tien Wang's flag by these successes. The possibility of pursuit by
Tseng Kwofan at the head of the warlike levies of Hoonan, where each
brave is considered equal to two from another province, was still
present to their minds. But he unfortunately rested content with his
laurels, while the Taepings swept like an irresistible wave or torrent
down the valley of the Yangtsekiang.

The capture of Kiukiang, a town situated on the river near the
northern extremity of the lake Poyang, and of Ganking followed in
quick succession, and on Sth March the Taepings sat down before
Nanking, the old capital of the Mings. The siege lasted only sixteen
days. Notwithstanding that there was a considerable Manchu force in
the Tartar city, which might easily have been defended apart from the
Chinese and much larger town, the resistance offered was singularly
faint-hearted. The Taepings succeeded in blowing in one of the gates.
The townspeople fraternised with the assailants, and the very Manchus,
who had looked so valiant in face of Sir Hugh Cough's force ten years
before, now surrendered their lives and their honour after a mere show
of resistance to a force which was nothing better than an armed rabble.
The Manchu colony of Nanking, to the number of some 4000 families,
had evidently fallen off from its high renown. Instead of dying at
their posts, they threw themselves on the pity of the Taeping leader.
Their cowardice helped them not; of 20,000 Manchus not 100
escaped. The tale rests on irrefragable evidence. " We killed them
all to the infant in arms ; we left not a root to sprout from ; and the
bodies of the slain we cast into the Yangtse."

The capture of Nanking and this sweeping massacre of the
dominant race seemed to point the inevitable finger of fate at the
Tatsing dynasty. It was no longer possible to regard Tien Wang and
his miscellaneous gathering as an enemy beneath contempt. AA'ithout

The Taeping Rebellion. 69

achieving any remarkable success, having indeed been defeated when-
ever they were opposed with the least resolution, the Taepings found
themselves in possession of the second city in the Empire. With that
■city they acquired the control of the navigation of the Great River, and
they cut off the better part of the communications between the northern
and southern halves of the Empire. They abandoned Hankow, and
confined their occupation of the river banks to the part between
Kiukiang and Nanking \ but they determined to secure the Grand
Canal, which enters the river east of the city. On ist April 1853 they
•occupied Chinkiangfoo, on the southern side of the river, and they held
it, but although they also captured Yangchow on the northern bank,
they evacuated it in a few days. These successes were obtained
without any loss, as all the garrisons fled at the mere approach of the
■dreaded Taepings.

The Imperialist authorities seemed paralysed by the rapidity and
success of the rebels, who devoted all their efforts to strengthening the
defences of Nanking and to provisioning it in view of all eventualities.
But the thoughts of Tien Wang and his immediate advisers were still of
■offensive and forward measures, and when Nanking was equipped for
defence a large part of the Taeping army was ordered to march against
Peking. At this time it was computed that the total number of the
Taepings did not fall short of 80,000 trustworthy fighting men, while
there were perhaps more than 100,000 Chinese pressed into their service
as hewers of wood and drawers of water. The lines of Nanking and the
batteries along the Yangtsekiang were the creation of the forced labour
of the population which had not fled before the Taepings.

On the 1 2th of May an army, stated to consist of 200,000 men, but
probably consisting of less than half that number of combatants, crossed
the Yangtse and marched northwards. It would be uninteresting to
name the many small places they captured on their way, but on 19th
June they reached Kaifong, the capital of Honan, and once of Chma
itself. They had thus transferred in a few weeks their advanced posts
from the Yangtsekiang to the Hwangho, or Yellow River.

The garrison of Kaifong made a resolute defence, and repulsed the
Taepings, who at once abandoned the siege in accordance with their
usual custom, and resumed their march. They succeeded in crossmg
the Yellow River under the eyes of the Kaifong garrison, and they then
attacked Hwaiking,an important prefectural town.where they encountered
a stout resistance. They besieged it for two months, and then had to
give up the attempt. Forces were gathering from difl"erent directions,
and it became necessary to baffle their opponents. They marched
westwards for some distance along the southern bank of the Hwangho,

/O TJic Life of Gordon.

turned suddenly north at Yuenking, and on reaching Pingyang they
again turned in an easterly direction, and secured the Lin Limming Pass
which leads into the Metropolitan province of Pechihli. The whole
of the autumn of 1853 was taken up with these manoeuvres, and it was
on 30th September that the Taepings first appeared in the province

Online LibraryDemetrius Charles de Kavanagh BoulgerThe life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order → online text (page 8 of 40)