The Taiping Rebellion or Taiping Civil War (太平天国运动, literally “Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Movement”) was a massive rebellion or civil war in China that lasted from 1850 to 1864 fought between the established Manchu-led Qing dynasty and the millenarian movement of the Heavenly Kingdom of Peace. The Taiping Rebellion began in the southwestern province of Guangxi when local officials launched a campaign of persecution against a millenarian sect known as the God Worshipping Society led by Hong Xiuquan, who believed himself to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ. The war was mostly fought in the provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangxi, and Hubei, but over 14 years of war, the Taiping Army had marched through every regularized province of China proper except Gansu. The war was the largest in China since the Qing conquest in 1644, and ranks as one of the bloodiest wars in human history, the bloodiest civil war, and the largest conflict of the nineteenth century with estimates of war dead ranging from 20 to 70 million, to as much as 100 million, as well as millions more displaced.

Hostilities began on January 1, 1851 when the Qing Green Standard Army launched an attack against the God Worshipping Society at the town of Jintian, Guangxi. Hong declared himself the Heavenly King of the Heavenly Kingdom of Peace (or Taiping Heavenly Kingdom), from which the term Taipings has often been applied to them in the English language. The Taipings began marching north in September 1851 to escape Qing forces closing in on them. On March 19, 1853, the Taipings captured the city of Nanjing and Hong declared it the Heavenly Capital of his kingdom.

For a decade, the Taiping occupied and fought across much of the mid and lower Yangzi valley, some of the wealthiest and most productive lands in the Qing empire. The Taiping nearly managed to capture the Qing capital of Beijing with a northern expedition launched in May 1853, and were quite successful in capturing large parts of Anhui, Jiangxi, and Hubei provinces with a western expedition launched in June 1853. Qing imperial troops proved to be largely ineffective in halting Taiping advances, focusing on a perpetually stalemated siege of Nanjing. In Hunan Province, a local irregular army, called the Xiang Army or Hunan Army, under the personal leadership of Zeng Guofan, became the main armed force fighting for the Qing against the Taiping. Zeng’s Xiang Army proved effective in gradually turning back the Taiping advance in the western theater of the war.

In 1856, the Taiping were weakened after infighting following an attempted coup led by the East King, Yang Xiuqing. During this time, the Xiang Army managed to gradually retake much of Hubei and Jiangxi province. In May 1860, the Taiping defeated the imperial forces that had been besieging Nanjing since 1853, eliminating imperial forces from the region and opening the way for a successful invasion of southern Jiangsu and Zhejiang province, the wealthiest region of the Qing Empire. While Taiping forces were preoccupied in Jiangsu, Zeng’s forces moved down the Yangzi River capturing Anqing on September 5, 1861.

In May 1862, the Xiang Army began directly sieging Nanjing and managed to hold firm despite numerous attempts by the Taiping Army to dislodge them with superior numbers. Hong died on June 1, 1864, and Nanjing fell shortly after on July 19. After the fall of Nanjing, Zeng Guofan and many of his protégés, such as Li Hongzhang and Zuo Zongtang, were celebrated as saviors of the Qing empire and became some of the most powerful men in late-nineteenth century China. A small remainder of loyal Taiping forces continued to fight in northern Zhejiang, rallying behind Hong’s teenage son Tianguifu, but after Tianguifu’s capture on October 25, 1864, Taiping resistance was gradually pushed into the highlands of Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Fujian, and finally Guangdong, where the last Taiping loyalist, Wang Haiyang, was defeated on January 29, 1866.

With no reliable census at the time, estimates are necessarily based on projections, but the most widely cited sources put the total number of deaths during the 15 years of the rebellion at about 20–30 million civilians and soldiers. Most of the deaths were attributed to plague and famine. At the Third Battle of Nanking in 1864, more than 100,000 were killed in three days.

Wikipedia

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