Taiping Rebellion: What differs it from other peasant rebellions in China?

The Taiping Rebellion is an uprising led by Hong Xiuquan in late Qing. This uprising is attached to great importance by many historians. What makes it so special compared with other rebellions and uprisings in China? One pattern of Chinese history is in a repeated rising and declining cycle of dynasties. When the power of a dynasty becomes weak, it loses control of its territory, then uprisings come in follow until someone takes the place of the previous dynasty. The Taiping Rebellion seems like one of those peasant uprisings which takes place in the phase of declining of a dynasty, the reasons why historians take it so seriously are revealed by Kilcourse’s analysis on Taiping Rebellion;  the significance of the Taiping Rebellion can differ between Chinese scholars and Western scholars due to their distinctive focuses.

Chinese scholars’ focus has a specific emphasis on the historical context of the Taiping Rebellion. It took place in the latter half of the 19th century when the Qing government was encountering the western world, many new ideas were flowing into China. It was the time when the belief in old traditions was trembling, and many people sought to find a new way to reform and strengthen the nation. Putting Hong’s attempt of building a different society in this context, Chinese scholars tend to interpret Hong as a predecessor of promoting capitalist or communist society, the starting point of following revolutions, he challenged “feudal autocracy” in China, and sought a new version of the society by importing Western ideas. They do not interpret him only in the contemporary context but also in the latter period. The Taiping Rebellion is seen as an important node in the development of China in the late Qing period, without the attempt of the Taiping Rebellion to overthrow Qing, there would not be Xinhai Revolution.1 So, for Chinese scholars, why the Taiping Rebellion is different from other peasant rebellions is due to its significance of trying to replace the decadent social structure of Qing, Hong’s ideal model is an immature prototype of a more advanced version of society. Though other peasant rebellions may also raise similar promotions, only Hong successfully put it into practice, and he was the only one who was influenced by western ideas and lived in the era when Chinese traditions were shattered by the west.

The second significant point of the Taiping Rebellion is its embrace of Christianity, drawing the attention of western scholars. Uprisings in a religious framework are also not new for peasant rebellions, for example, the White Lotus uprising. What is different for the Taiping Rebellion is that Hong did not solely adopt Christianity in his ideal world model, Taiping heavenly kingdom was the product of both Christianity and Confucianism. According to Kilcourse, Hong’s adaptation of Christianity was not just a mere distorted transplant from the West into China.2 Many Taping texts show his familiarity with Christian texts and doctrines, for example, the borrowing of Noah’s era from Great Genesis.3 This combination and rationalization of Christianity with Confucianist traditions is neither a total denial nor a yield to Western thoughts. Taiping is an alternative to investigate how Western and Eastern ideas are conflicted, combined, reshaped, and practised at the beginning of the 20th century. Since after Qing was forced to open to the rest of the world, it was inevitable for Chinese to face a different kind of thinking from the other end of the earth. Taiping is one of the early cases, after it, there would be more.

  1. Kilcourse, Carl S. Taiping Theology: The Localization of Christianity in China, 1843–64. Springer, 2016, P8. []
  2. Ibid, P2. []
  3. Ibid, P65-66. []