Dec 12, 2022
Last time we spoke Hong Xiuquan had gathered a rabble of peasants, named them the god worshippers and declared war upon the Qing dynasty. He gave titles to his closest comrades forming the North, South, East, West and Flank Kings who led the great Taiping armies on a march towards the secondary capital of China, Nanjing. Countless cities fell the Taiping and the Qing desperately tried to encircle and quell the menace. But the Taiping never stayed in any given place long enough to be captured and even when they were dealt significant losses, they simply moved on and recruited more and more to their cause. Their armies grew exponentially and so did their conquests until they reached the secondary capital of China, Nanjing. Nanjing was put through a brutal siege and taken, her citizens put to the sword and now the Taiping held a grand capital city.
#26 This episode is The Taiping Rebellion part 3: The Heavenly Kingdom of Tianjing
Welcome to the Fall and Rise of China Podcast, I am your dutiful host Craig Watson. But, before we start I want to also remind you this podcast is only made possible through the efforts of Kings and Generals over at Youtube. Perhaps you want to learn more about the history of Asia? Kings and Generals have an assortment of episodes on history of asia and much more so go give them a look over on Youtube. So please subscribe to Kings and Generals over at Youtube and to continue helping us produce this content please check out www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. If you are still hungry for some more history related content, over on my channel, the Pacific War Channel where I cover the history of China and Japan from the 19th century until the end of the Pacific War.
14 years after his first vision, Hong Xiuquan alongside an incredible 2 million followers had captured the secondary capital of China, Nanjing. Hong Xiuquan, the heavenly king, Yang Xiuqing the East King and the surviving Taiping leadership had developed their military based on the work of the late Feng Yunshan and their combined experiences from the march from the Thistle Mountains all the way to Nanjing. Much like the military structure the new capital would have 4 families linked to every corporal's family and 25 family units linked under every sergeant. These communities would build the public granaries, chapels for worship and so forth. The sergeants would dwell in chapels, the corporals would take their family and those families under their command to sabbath to worship. Every sabbath day, all senior officers, from generals to captains would visit one of the great churches of the sergeants to pray and work hard obeying the Ten commandments.
By day people would work the land, all serving in some form, whether it was pottery, ironwork, carpentry, masonry, whatever according to their skills. The land under Taiping rule was divided up amongst all with one full share for every man and women aged 16 and older and half a share for children below 16. All of the land was graded according to its productivity and when land was insufficient for the peoples needs, the people were moved to land that was plentiful. Of the products of labor, each corporal saw to it that every family under him had food, but all the rest went to the public treasuries. Sergeants checked the books and tallied the accounts, presenting records to superiors “ for all people on this earth are as the family of the Lord their God on High, and when people of this earth keep nothing for their private use but give all things to God for all to use in common, then in the whole land every place shall have equal shares, and every one be clothed and fed. This was why the Lord God expressly sent the Taiping Heavenly Lord to come down and save the world.”
The public treasuries would give gifts to every family at times of birth, marriage and death according their needs, but never in excess of one thousand copper cash or one hundred catties of grain. Surpluses had to be maintained incase of famine or war. Every family unit with a living male head had to give a soldier to the army, but the Taiping would not take widowers, widows, orphans or childless, nor weak or sick. With births came new families and every 5th family gave a new corporal, and every 25th a new sergeant and so on. All officers and officials, even the highest would be reviewed every 3 years and promoted or demoted according to performance. This was the system pushed out upon Nanjing when it was taken. As you can imagine it was a goliath task to meet these demands, thus the system could not actually be implemented all at once, but they were diligent to starting the listing and recording keeping to establish it. Not everyone flocked eagerly to the Taiping ranks. Many households were reluctant to register their members and hid for weeks, countless fled Nanjing.
The Taiping burnt down countless Taoist and Buddhist architecture, smashed statues and image and stripped or killed priests. Everyone was to conform to the new Taiping religion. Notably though the Chinese Muslims in Nanjing were not attacked and their mosques were allowed to stand. One group in Nanjing that were in a position of particular ambiguity were the catholics who numbered around 200. At least 30 catholics were burned in their homes or cut down in the streets during the early chaos. The Taiping found the catholic survivors in a catholic church, but when pressed they refused to recite Taiping liturgy. The Taiping authorities gave them 3 days to comply, then they burst into the church and destroyed the cross and overturned their altar. 70-80 catholic men had their arms tied behind their backs and were given a trial before a Taiping judge and condemned to death unless they said Taiping prayers. They refused opting for martyrdom, but in the end 25 eventually recited the Taiping prayers and the rest were sent to be vanguard forces in the army. In order to push the movement, the Taiping had to seize the Nanjing printing industry to distribute their sacred texts to all the sergeants for reading and preaching. Back when the Taiping captured Yangzhou in april of 1853 they acquired printing press craftsmen, so they brought them to Nanjing.
Hong Xiuquan makes 3 major strategic decisions, the first was to select Nanjing as the new Taiping Capital now known as Tianjing, the second was to create the printing system to promote the Taiping program and the 3rd was to alter name places in China. Hong Xiuquan proclaimed henceforth the city of Beijing was to be named “Yaoxue- demon’s den” and the province of Zhili “criminal’s province”. When all the Manchu demons were destroyed, Beijing’s name could be restored and Zhili once its people repented for their sins and began worshiping the heavenly father. “The world has long been deluded by these demonic Tartars, and it is imperative that they be soon destroyed. But before we destroy these people, we must first destroy their bases. And before we can destroy the power of their bases, we must first destroy the bases’ names.” Emperor Xianfeng by definition was the leader of earthly demons and Hong Xiuquan changed his name that meant “united in glory” to have a dog component added and he also did this to terms referring to Manchu.
The Taiping followers in Nanjing were told the time to end sexual separation had not come yet, any men who forced themselves on women, whether they be veterans or new would be executed. Those who worked as prostitutes would not only be executed, but also their families. Male homosexuality was severly punished, if partner were both aged 13 or older they would be beheaded. If you were under 13 you could be spared unless it was proven you were an active partner. The city of Nanjing was divided similar to what the Taiping did in Wuchang, with blocks for men and those for women and children. Those skilled in specific types of labor lived amongst another, for example carpenters with carpenters tailors with tailors.
Hong Xiuquan had a ceremonial hat made with a fan shaped front, decorated with twin dragons and twin phoenixes. The other kings were allowed to have twin dragons as well but only one phoenix. On the upper part of Hong Xiuquans hat he alone had written “the mountains and river are unified and the heavens are filled with stars”. The 3 surviving kings each had one line embroidered on their hats; for the East king Yang Xiuqing “long phoenix perching in the clouds”, for the north king Wei Changhui “long phoenix perching on the mountain peak” and for the flank king Shi Dakai “lone phoenix perching on the peony”.
Hong Xiuquan had 10,000 people work for 6 months to built him a palace in the former site of the governor generals mansion in the center of the northern side of the main residential city. Within mere days of taking Nanjing, the Qing began counter attacks leading to the gates of Nanjing being reinforced with additional gates built in front or behind the existing ones. Cannon emplacements and palisades for gunners are created en masse. Forward defensive encampments, wooden watch towers as high as 30 or even 40 feet are created. Smaller towns surrounded nanjing are reinforced. Large swathes of area have ditches dug, palisades erected, felled, honeycombed networked of small round holes with straw placed over them and bamboo spikes underneath. Its a regional fortress built with the purpose of overthrowing the Qing.
Now until the capture of Nanjing, the Taiping had been a mobile force whose success for a large part was simply because they would seize a major city and move on before the Qing could get them. The establishment of their Tianjing Capital meant the core of the Taiping movement, its leadership and central army were now in a fixed position. The Qing could finally plan and coordinate large scale action directed at their capital. Interestingly enough, the decision to hunker down in Nanjing is what many scholars regard as the crucial reason for their eventual failure. If they had simply done what they done best and took Nanjing for perhaps a month or so and moved on to Beijing they could have very well toppled the Qing. None the less, the Taiping were in a good position in Nanjing compared to that on Beijing. It is estimated in 1853 Nanjing held 18 million taels of silver, while Beijing was depleted to a possible 3 million. The Nanjing granaries by the end of 1853 totalled 1,270,000 piculs of unhulled rice and 750,000 hulled rice, sufficient to feed the Taiping for many months. An American missionary named E.C Bridgman visited Nanjing in may of 1854 and reported “all the people we saw were well-clad, well fed and well provided for in every way. They all seemed content, and in high spirits as if sure of success”. The surrounding areas continued to supply Nanjing with grain and the Yangtze river continued to serve as its artery of communication and trade.
Now once they had Nanjing the Taiping set out to accomplish their ultimate goal, the final defeat of the Manchu demons in Beijing. But when the Taiping took Nanjing a lot of internal strife began to grow. While Hong Xiuquan was the bonafide religious and political leader to the Taiping, he was never alone and although many of the great figureheads had died, a few large ones remained. Yang Xiuqing the east king, Wei Changhui the north king and Shi Dakai the flank king were the 3 largest leaders alongside Hong Xiuquan. Yang Xiuqing established himself as the highest ideological leader, above that of Wei Changhui and in many aspects above hong Xiuquan. When Xiao Chaogui the West King died, Hong Xiuquan made a proclamation that granted Yang a supervisory power over the 4 other kings, clearly promoting him above the rest. When Xiao Chaogui died, Shi Dakai sort of filled the dead kings space in many ways and when Nanjing was captured he was the only king constantly occupied in the field, directing and personally leading western campaigns. Hong Xiuquan as the spiritual leader, began to gradually isolate himself within his palace only acting through proclamations. Wei Changhui the north king, acted as the coordinator for the defense of the region around the capital and was responsible for food supplies. This left general administrative supervision in the hands of Yang Xiuqing who also acted as the coordinator of all military campaigns. Now Yang Xiuqing back in the early days of 1851 had coalesced the Taiping when he began in trance-like states to state he was the mouthpiece of God the father. Likewise Xiao Chaogui had these trances where he said he was the mouthpiece of Jesus, hmmmmm. Oh and there was a lot of roleplay in this by the way, when Xiao Chaogui spoke to Hong Xiuquan in a trance state he would refer to him as “younger brother” like wise Yang would refer to him as son. Both Yang and Xiao it seems were in league with another using this unique trance behavior to raise their status. But when Xiao died, there was a lot of confusion, leading Yang to stop messing around for awhile as the voice of god the father. But in december of 1853 Yang once again began to speak publicly as the voice of god. Yang began a campaign where he attempted to humiliate the heavenly king using trances as the voice of god. Yang begins a campaign to humiliate Hong where he uses the voice of god to accuse the Heavenly King of growing to be too harsh and indulgent with his power. That he is harsh to women who serve him and far too indulgent of his 4 year old son. One accusation in particular was that 4 of Hong’s palace women were treated so badly that they should be released from Hong’s palace and instead should live at Yang’s palace. Yang says Hong orders women under him to work in rain or snow and allows his concubines to sneer and scold the other women, oh yes despite all the laws and such Hong and many of the Taiping leaders have concubines. Remember when I said the Taiping rebellion was like a proto marxist one? Yes just like any good marxist they dont live the way they preach, shots fired. Yang continues to argue the women officials are prevented from their duties by the mean concubines and that Hong Xiuquan had even kicked some of them in anger and punished pregnant concubines similarly, something that is a serious crime. You don’t kick pregnant women.
He follows this up saying in God's voice that the heavenly king should receive 40 blows of the rod for his derelictions. To this Hong publicly prostrated himself to receive said blows, so god would forgive him. Hong’s 4 year old son is said to be too self-indulgent and willful because he plays in the rain, and smashes presents given to him…..weird. God states he must stop all of this because it will lead him to abuse the people in the future when he leads.
Yang Xiuqing did not stop at attacking Hong, he also went after two others in particular: the north king Wei Chanhui and marquis Qin Rigang, both men who had been with Hong since the earliest days at Thistle mountain. Wei was an educated man, Qin was a miner who studied military arts and proved himself a formidable strategist. For years both men handled key military assignments for Hong, Qin was regarded as the senior ranking Taiping officer after the surviving kings. Yang began to use the voice of god to humiliate Wei in many ways. Whenever his trances began, Yang’s woman attendants would summon Wei at once using drum calls and if Wei was late the women would berate him. Wei was forced to kowtow to Yang when he was in trance and when Yang was in trance he moved by sedan chair while Wei was forced to walk beside it. Yang kept his attendants on Wei’s ass also disturbing him. Qin had to endure similar humiliations and was forced to help carry Yangs sedan chair up the palace stairs a few times. To give some more flavor, here is one story about a clash that occurred in december between Yang and Wei.
Yang one day in public suggested that Hong had more than enough embroideries and robes in his palace and should economize for a time instead of getting more. Wei ignored what Yang said and told Hong “You, our second elder brother, are the true Sovereign of all nations of the world, and you are rich in the possession of all within the four seas; although robes and garments are sufficient, it will still be necessary to be constantly engaged in making up more.” Upon hearing this Yang responded “I beseech you, our second elder brother, to pardon this younger brother’s crime and permit this younger brother to memorialize straightforwardly. If apparel were insufficient, then it would be necessary to make up more; but if it is said it is sufficient, it will be better to delay the making up of more, and then we can see the second elder brother’s virtues of economy and love of man. Why should our younger brother Zheng [the North King] memorialize on the necessity of constantly making up more clothing?” To both of them Hong replied “Brother [Yang Xiu]Qing! You are certainly what the ancients called a bold and outspoken minister. And you, brother Zheng, although you may have a sincere regard for your elder brother, are not so straightforward and open in your statements as our brother Qing; for which he is to be much more commended. Later, in the reign of the Young Monarch, all who are ministers should imitate the example of our brother Qing in speaking straightforwardly as he has done this day; thus will they fulfill their duty as ministers.”
Some of the events I just talked about occur a bit later on, but I wanted to give you the idea that in the background, Yang was humiliating others and doing whatever he could to take more and more power. Now of the 5 kings, 3 survived and the administrative staffs of the former 2 simply were distributed amongst the 3 survivors. But after Nanjing was captured the kings would not be the solo ruling leaders anymore. Additional “princes” were added, they were similar to the kings, just lesser so. They held lesser rank than the kings, but were above the Taiping military rank structure. They come about at different times but there would be the Zhong price: Li Xiucheng, Ying prince: Chen Yucheng, Jun Prince: Lai Wenkwok, Fu Prince: Hong Renda, An Prince: Hong Renfa, Yong Prince: Hong Rengui, Fu Prince: Hong Renfu and the Gan Prince: Hong Rengan, yes our old friend Rengan will come to this story but much later on. It seems Yang orchestrated the creation of these princes and the multiplicity of administrative staffs to make it easier for him to weaken the authority of his most senior rivals.
Yang Xiuqing acting as commander in chief of the Taiping military sent out 4 offensives, 2 towards the north against Beijing and 2 up the Yangtze river into western China. Yang Xiuqings overall plan was to use the northern and western expeditionary forces to create a large pincer to capture the whole of northern and western China. According to Missionary Bridgman “ The Taiping had four armies in the field, carrying on active aggressive operations: 2 of these had gone northwards: they were designed to cooperate and after storming and destroying Peking, to turn westwards and march through Shanxi, Shensi, Kansuh, into Szechuan, where they are expected to meet their other 2 armies, which from Kingsi and the Lake provinces are to move up the great river and along through the regions on its southern bank’.
The northern expedition of around 80,000 men was led by 2 commanders, Li Kaifang and Lin Fengxiang who led the vanguard to take Yangchow on April the 1st. By May the 8th they left Yangchow after receiving reinforcements and advanced towards Ch’u-chou in Anhwei province. As their forces went into Anhwei and Henan province they were bolstered by local bandits, particularly the Nian rebels, who were performing the Nian rebellion simultaneously. Following the same strategy applied to the Hunan campaign and the Yangtze valley, they moved rapidly through Anhwei and Henan without leaving behind garrisons nor supply stations. At first, they did not attempt to take any city that proved to be well defended. However at Huaiqing in Henan at the border of Shanxi, they used their 80,000 strong force to besiege the prefectural city, believing it held rich military supplies.
The siege lasted 2 months, but the Taiping failed to capture it and had to move on. The delay in their march as the result of failing at Huaiqing seems to be a decisive turning point for the northern expedition as a whole. The Taiping suffered terrible losses in both shock troops and officers, while the Qing court in Beijing gained valuable time to prepare against the impending Taiping attacks. The Taiping gradually penetrated Zhili via Shanxi province and reached the suburbs of Tianjin, and it was here another large mistake was made for the second time. The Taiping could have simply marched on Beijing, but yet against chose to attack a secondary target. The northern expeditionary force was tiny compared to that of the entire Taiping army which should have been consolidated and marched upon Beijing. The Taiping were greatly hindered by northern chinas winters, because do remember most of the Taiping were from southern china. The Qing had begun a war of attrition, making sure to take away food stuffs in the path of the northern expedition. The Taiping found it extremely hard to forage and on top of this the Qing even broke dikes in the grand canal to flood the Taiping out.
Emperor Xianfeng also released what would be his greatest weapon, the Mongolian prince Senggelinqin. Prince Seng was from the Horqin left back banner of inner Mongolia and a member of the Borjiqin clan. He was a 26th generation descendant of Qasar brother to Genghis Khan. His name Sengge Rinchen was made up of two tibetan words meaning Lion and Treasure. When he was just a child he was adopted by Sodnamdorji a Jasagh “head of a mongol banner” of the Horqin left back banner and Junwang, second rank prince under the Qing dynasty. He would inherit his adoptive fathers titles during the reign of Emperor Daoguang. It was at the 1853 battle for Tianjin where Prince Seng would earn his fame.
The Taiping expeditionary force had fought its way bitterly from Nanjing to Tianjin, leaving just 80 miles between them and Beijing. Prince Seng rushed to the scene aided greatly by a valuable ally, winter. The winter ravaged the Taiping, many of them had never seen snow in their lives and this forced them to fall upon a village fortification to survive it causing an immediate stalemate. When the weather broke in spring, Prince Seng ordered his troops to build a dirt and stone wall to encircle the entire Taiping army camp from a distance while a crew of 1000 laborers spent a month digging a series of trenches to connect it, via a dry riverbed to the grand canal over 40 miles away. When they broke the dikes, the canal water rushed in flooding the Taiping camp to its rooftops, drowning a considerable amount of the army and forcing their submission. Being a Mongol, Prince Seng and those he commanded preferred the bow and arrow as their chief weapon, something they had overwhelming supremacy over the southern chinese. The Taiping could have overwhelmed Prince Sengs cavalry units, if they had western firearms, but they did not. The Taiping forces were dispersed and destroyed. Lin Fengxiang was captured at Lichen in Zhili province on march 7th of 1855 and Li Kaifang was captured at Fengkuat’un in Shandong on March the 31st of 1855. This was the ultimate end to the north expedition. Had the Taiping marched on Beijing at the rate they were going, it is argued they could have taken down the Qing. Tactical blunders, logistical issues, severe weather and the capability of Qing commanders such as Prince Seng ultimately put an end to the Taiping threat to Beijing, though they were certainly nowhere near defeated.
While the northern expedition was going on there was also a western expedition that left Nanjing on May 19th of 1853, just 11 days after the northern expedition launched from Yangzhou. The objective of the western expedition as conceived by Yang Xiuqing was to follow the Yangtze river and ultimately meet up with the northern expedition in Sichuan province. This would have resulted in a pincer maneuver that could swallow up all of western and northern China. On June 10th the western forces recaptured the vital city of Anqing which had been taken back by Qing forces. They were able to provision up from there and divided the force into several armies to march through the Yangtze valley. One army was commanded by Hu Yiguang who set out north of the Yangtze to conquer Anhwei province. Lai Hanyang took another army south to conquer Jiangxi. A 3rd mobile force led by Zeng Tianyang began to independently attack cities south of the Yangtze.
Hu Yiguang’s force got as far as Luzhou, the new capital of Anhwei province at the time. Luzhou was guarded by one of the most capable Qing commanders, Jiang Zhongyuan, a Hunanese native from Xinning. He became the magistrate of Xiushi and Lishui, earning a reputation for being a great scholar and military leader. Zeng Guofan recommended Jiang for a higher office in 1850 to Emperor Xianfeng, but when he was supposed to leave for Beijing his father died and he had to return home to mourn. When the Taiping rebellion began, Jiang was appointed to assist the Grand secretary Sha-Shan-a in quelling the insurrection. Jiang began a campaign of gathering Hunanese volunteers who for the first time fought outside Hunan. It was one of the first waves of local forces led by a gentry class to fight the Taiping menace, something that influenced future Yung-Ying armies. Jiang won a great battle in Guangxi and was promoted to the rank of first class sub prefect. When the Taiping were invading Guilin in 1852, Jiang led his men from his home of Xinning to attack them. He won 3 major battles and managed to lift the Taiping siege of Guilin earning the rank of prefect. After this Jiang thwarted a Taiping naval invasion of Hunan province. He dammed the Xiang river near Suoyi ford and ambushed the Taiping Navy causing massive casualties upon them. It was the battle I mentioned where 10,000 Taiping men and Feng Yunshan perished. He thwarted the Taiping overland invasion of Hunan and besieged the Taiping stronghold of Chenzhou for a month before they fled to attack Changsha, the capital of Hunan. Jiang was one of those who helped defend Changsha earning the promotion of provincial judge of Hubei and then by 1853 assistant commander of the Qing armies in Jiangnan. He then aided in the defense of Nanchang which was besieged from June 22 to september 24th of 1853. For this he was appointed governor of Anhui which is what led him to the battle over Luzhou. When word came that the Taiping sought to attack Luzhou, Jiang rushed over with a small force to try and defend the new capital. He found himself outnumbered and outgunned, especially in siege mining technology that the Taiping had dramatically improved by this point in time. The Taiping took the city by January the 15th and in the process Jiang was wounded and he opted to commit suicide by drowning himself. The Qing lost an important capital city and one of their finest commanders who had proven himself successful at defeating Taiping using local militia forces.
Lai Hanying’s army besieged Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi from june to september of 1853, but ultimately failed to take the city. This resulted in Lai losing his command and his army divided in 2 to hit Hubei and Hunan under the leadership of Wei Jun and Shi Zhenxiang. The high point of their campaigns led to the capture of Xiangtan on April 24th of 1854. After a year of taking Nanjing, the Taipings expeditions had run out of momentum. The northern expedition was a failure, the western had gained limited success, but not enough to extend their reach to the upper Yangtze and that of western china. The Taiping riverine forces dominated the Yangtze up into Hunan allowing them to use it for provisioning, logistics and most importantly further recruiting. But the original lightning speed drive of the Taiping had faded and the Qing were beginning to recover from the blitzkrieg. Now the offensives became see-saw’s which allowed the Qing more time to recover, reorganize and build up new leadership that could effectively face the Taiping menace. Being a Pacific War specialist, its very much like the situation during the Guadalcanal campaign. Prior to this, the Japanese ran rampant on offensive controlling the when and where actions would occur, but after the horrible loss at Midway and Guadalcanal, the Japanese had gone past their logistical capabilities and lost the initiative, for the rest of the Pacific War the allies controlled the initiative. This is what we call the turning point, and it was here a year after taking Nanjing and losing the window of opportunity to take Beijing that was the Taiping rebellion's turning point. It is not to say they could not win the war, but the initiative was now in the hands of the Qing.
Although the campaign to take Beijing failed and the western campaign only held limited successes near the Yangtze, the Taiping were steadily extending their territory and thus were gaining additional manpower and supplies from the greater Yangtze region. The Taiping were struggling to consolidate their gains to establish better rule. Their offensives were being hampered by both political and religious confusion, often orchestrated by the efforts of Yang Xiuqing. The Taiping structure threatened Chinese traditions and saw backlash particularly from the Gentry class. I would note the gentry and landowner types probably were not the keenist on a group who sought land/wealth redistribution haha. The Taiping were a threat to Chinese social order as much as it was a threat to the Qing rule. Thus the gentry of China began to put their resources together to help the war effort resulting in a large push to the creation of Yung-ying militia groups such as Zeng Guofan’s Xiang army. On top of the external actors trying to destroy the Taiping, the Taiping were having a ton of inner conflict as well. A violent and bloody power struggle had emerged destroying the unified political and military command established under Yang Xiuqing.
Now although I spoke about the formation of the new armies, I need to go into it a bit further, especially in regards to Zeng Guofan. While I explained how Zeng Guofan created his force, I did not talk about how this all looked from the Qing dynasties point of few. In late 1852 and early 1853 a number of edicts were made by Emperor Xianfeng leading to the appointment of 43 supervisors of new local corps in the provinces of Hunan, Anhwei, Jiangsu, Zhili, Henan, Shandong, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Guizhou and Fujian. Amongst the appointed was Zeng Guofan. The Qing government sought to have these organized smaller forces led by the gentry class so they could be loyal and relied upon. These forces were set up in each district to contest the Taiping. Zeng Guofan’s Xiang army proved themselves to be highly effective, but Zeng Guofan chose to be very cautious when reporting back to the Qing court. This was because his military organizational building was strongly autonomous and could be seen as a threat to the Qing military. There had been numerous local militia groups that shifted from pro-government to banditry. The establishment of these armies was obviously a last resort means, and definitely could be a threat to the dynasty, they were not so unalike to the bandit armies created in the 17th century to fight the Daxi or Dashun armies afterall.
Zeng Guofan did not state exactly what he was doing to the Qing court, in one of his first memorial he simply reported back that he was enlisting men from the countryside to establish a large military corps at its capital to be trained. It looked like Zeng Guofan was building a personal army, one that could be led on campaigns outside its local area. He sent more memorials stating that local corpsmen could not be relied upon in critical moments and that it was better to recruit from these local corpsmen an official militia, whose rations could be paid from public funds. When he was building the Xiang army he was consciously departing from the Qing courts authorization. He realized that local defense corps that had sprung up all over China were useful against local bandits and small raiders, but they were not large nor strong enough to withstand attacks from larger organized armies such as the Taiping. The Taiping were only growing larger, more organized, better armed. They simply could not be stopped by just local corps, what the Qing needed was a mobile army that could be used for offensive campaigns throughout larger areas.
Now the way Zeng Guofan made the Xiang army was based strongly on personal loyalty, the units were recruited, led and paid for by their commander. The commanders were loyal to Zeng Guofan, thus more or less the Xiang army was a personal army at his command. Zeng Guofan also assembled a number of future leaders who would go on to create their own versions of the Xiang army. Such men were Zeng Zongtang and Li Hongzhang of Anhwei province. By the end of the century, Zeng Guofan’s example led to most provinces being dominated by regional forces under military organizations over whom the Qing central government had only minimal control. In many ways Zeng Guofan was a symptom of the ailing dynasty, the Qing were gradually losing control and there was emerging a threat to the political and social order in china. Zeng Guofan say the Taiping menace as a threat to traditional chinese society. He made many proclamations stating as such. “The Taiping rebels have stolen the ways of the foreign barbarians when they distort family relations by calling all people brothers and sisters, when they declare that all land belongs to the heavenly king and that all profit also belongs to him. They force scholars to give up the COnfucian classics to read instead the so called teaching of Jesus. They wipe away our moral standards, the very way we conduct ourselves as humans, the classics, and the institutions that have existed in CHina for several thousands of years. This is not only a tragedy for the Qing dynasty but a great tragedy for the whole of “ming-chiao” Chinese tradition and causes confucius and Mencius to weep bitterly in the underworld. How could any educated person remain sitting, hands in sleeves, without doing something about it”.
Zeng Guofan kept bringing up how the Taiping destroyed Buddhist and Taoist temples, that they were angering the gods who would take revenge. To right these terrible wrongs he said he was under Qing orders to advance his troops by land and water, not just to ease the Qing monarchs but also to console Confucious and Mencius, to avenge the slaughter of millions of Chinese. Appealing to the masses, Zeng Guofan began to ask for recruits, financial support and the surrender of any who decided to join the Taiping. Now I said he paid his army handsomely compared to that of the Green standards and such, but a lot of the funds were not under Qing control. The Gentry class were strongly supporting those like Zeng Guofan. Zeng Guofan began to ask and obtain permission from the Qing government to sell certificates of academic degrees, official titles and office appointments to sell to these said Gentry. The sale of all these degrees and titles increased gentry contributions, but also increased their influence and it began to build a new gentry role in leadership.
Another major source of income for the Xiang army was new internal custom taxes introduced in 1853. And although the Qing government permitted this new tax, it held no control or supervision over it. Zeng Guofan and other commanders of regional armies were gaining control over regular provincial taxes and were using them to build their armies. The combined income from the gentry class and regional taxes made men like Zeng Guofan basically warlords. Their forces were not really governmental troops although they were fighting for said government. The other side, the Taiping failed to gain any support from the Gentry class because of their alienating religious and economic beliefs. Fundamentally the Taiping were a revolutionary group breaking the stratum of Chinese society, and a large part of that was the Chinese gentry class.
Now Zeng Guofan began with a army of just a thousand men in 1853, composing 3 battalions. When they began to really clash with the Taiping they were soon 20,000 strong with naval and cavalry units. Later on they would become 120,000 men strong and Zeng Guofan had planned to use them for a long drawn out campaign despite pressure coming from Beijing to smash the rebels. Now the first major engagement between the Xiang army and the Taiping came in early 1854 and the Taiping defeated them. But on May 1st of 1854, the Xiang army defeated the Taiping at Xiangtan forcing them to withdraw. Then in a battle at Yuzhou in Hunan in July, the Xiang army on land and river gained a major victory. This victory gained Zeng Guofan great prestige and demonstrated the effectiveness of his army. The battle cost the Taiping more than half their fleet of boats and thus the loss of control over the central Yangtze river area. It was the first serious setback for the Taiping and it reduced their perimeter of military operations. Following up this victory, the Xiang army entered Hubei province and quickly recaptured Wuchang and Hanyang by october of 1854. Soon Zeng Guofans forces began to penetrate into Hubei and Jiangxi provinces marking the failure and end to the Taiping western expedition.
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The Northern expedition was a complete bust, the Taiping had lost the opportunity to claim the dragon throne. But the western expedition proved fruitful and gradually the heavenly kingdom was growing, and perhaps it could eclipse the Qing.