The progress and temporary settlement of the foreign question so completely overshadows every other event during Taoukwang's reign that it is difficult to extract anything of interest from the records of the government of the country, although the difficult and multifarious task of ruling three hundred millions of people had to be performed. More than one fact went to show that the bonds of constituted authority were loosened in China, and that men paid only a qualified respect to the imperial edict. Bands of robbers prowled about the country, and even the capital was not free from their presence. While one band made its headquarters within the imperial city, another established itself in a fortified position in the central provinces of China, whence it dominated a vast region. The police were helpless, and such military forces as existed were unable to make any serious attempt to crush an opponent who was stronger than themselves. The foreign war had led to the recruiting of a large number of braves, and the peace to their sudden disbandment, so that the country was covered with a large number of desperate and penniless men, who were not particular as to what they did for a livelihood. It is not surprising that the secret societies began to look up again with so promising a field to work in, and a new association, known as the Green Water Lily, became extremely formidable among the truculent braves of Hoonan. But none of these troubles assumed the extreme form of danger in open rebellion, and there was still wanting the man to weld all these hostile and dangerous elements into a national party of insurgents against Manchu authority, and so it remained until Taoukwang had given up his throne to his successor.
In Yunnan there occurred, about the year 1846, the first simmerings of disaffection among the Mohammedans, which many years later developed into the Panthay Rebellion, but on that occasion the vigor of the viceroy nipped the danger in the bud. In Central Asia there was a revival of activity on the part of the Khoja exiles, who fancied that the discomfiture of the Chinese by the English and the internal disorders, of which rumor had no doubt carried an exaggerated account into Turkestan, would entail a very much diminished authority in Kashgar. As it happened, the Chinese authority in that region had been consolidated and extended by the energy and ability of a Mohammedan official named Zuhuruddin. He had risen to power by the thoroughness with which he had carried out the severe repressive measures sanctioned after the abortive invasion of Jehangir, and during fifteen years he increased the revenue and trade of the great province intrusted to his care. His loyalty to the Chinese government seems to have been unimpeachable, and the only point he seems to have erred in was an overconfident belief in the strength of his position. He based this opinion chiefly on the fact of his having constructed strong new forts, or yangyshahr, outside the principal towns. But a new element of danger had in the meantime been introduced into the situation in Kashgar by the appointment of Khokandian consuls, who were empowered to raise custom dues on all Mohammedan goods. These officials became the center of intrigue against the Chinese authorities, and whenever the Khan of Khokand determined to take up the cause of the Khojas he found the ground prepared for him by these emissaries.
In 1842 Mahomed Ali, Khan of Khokand, a chief of considerable ability and character, died, and his authority passed, after some confusion, to his kinsman, Khudayar, who was a man of little capacity and indisposed to meddle with the affairs of his neighbors. But the Khokandian chiefs were loth to forego the turbulent adventures to which they were addicted for the personal feelings of their nominal head, and they thought that a descent upon Kashgar offered the best chance of glory and booty. Therefore they went to the seven sons of Jehangir and, inciting them by the memory of their father's death as well as the hope of a profitable adventure, to make another attempt to drive the Chinese out of Central Asia, succeeded in inducing them to unfurl once more the standard of the Khojas. The seven Khojas--Haft Khojagan--issued their proclamation in the winter of 1845-46, rallied all their adherents to their side, and made allies of the Kirghiz tribes.
When the Mohammedan forces left the hills they advanced with extreme rapidity on Kashgar, to which they laid siege. After a siege of a fortnight they obtained possession of the town through the treachery of some of the inhabitants; but the citadel or yangyshahr continued to hold out, and their excesses in the town so alienated the sympathy of the Kashgarians, that no popular rising took place, and the Chinese were able to collect all their garrisons to expel the invaders. The Khojas were defeated in a battle at Kok Robat, near Yarkand, and driven out of the country. The affair of the seven Khojas, which at one time threatened the Chinese with the gravest danger, thus ended in a collapse, and it is remarkable as being the only invasion in which the Mohammedan subjects of China did not fraternize with her enemies. Notwithstanding the magnitude of his services as an administrator, Zuhuruddin was disgraced and dismissed from his post for what seemed his culpable apathy at the beginning of the campaign.
Another indication of the weakness of the Chinese executive was furnished in the piratic confederacy which established itself at the entrance of the Canton River, and defied all the efforts of the mandarins until they enlisted in their behalf the powerful co-operation of the English navy. The Bogue had never been completely free from those lawless persons who are willing to commit any outrage if it holds out a certain prospect of gain with a minimum amount of danger, and the peace had thrown many desperate men out of employment who thought they could find in piracy a mode of showing their patriotism as well as of profiting themselves. These turbulent and dangerous individuals gathered round a leader named Shapuntsai, and in the year of which we are speaking, 1849, they controlled a large fleet and a well-equipped force, which levied blackmail from Fochow to the Gulf of Tonquin, and attacked every trading ship, European or Chinese, which did not appear capable of defending itself. If they had confined their attacks to their own countrymen it is impossible to say how long they might have gone on in impunity, for the empire possessed no naval power; but, unfortunately for them, and fortunately for China, they seized some English vessels and murdered some English subjects. One man-of-war under Captain Hay was employed in operations against them, and in the course of six months fifty-seven piratical vessels were destroyed, and a thousand of their crews either slain or taken prisoners. Captain Hay, on being joined by another man-of-war, had the satisfaction of destroying the remaining junks and the depots in the Canton River, whereupon he sailed to attack the headquarters of Shapuntsai in the Gulf of Tonquin. After some search the piratical fleet was discovered off an island which still bears the name of the Pirates' Hold, and after a protracted engagement it was annihilated. Sixty junks were destroyed, and Shapuntsai was compelled to escape to Cochin China, where it is believed that he was executed by order of the king. The dispersion of this powerful confederacy was a timely service to the Chinese, who were informed that the English government would be at all times happy to afford similar aid at their request. Even at this comparatively early stage of the intercourse it was apparent that the long-despised foreigners would be able to render valuable service of a practical kind to the Pekin executive, and that if the Manchus wished to assert their power more effectually over their Chinese subjects they would be compelled to have recourse to European weapons and military and scientific knowledge. The suppression of the piratical confederacy of the Bogue was the first occasion of that employment of European force, which was carried to a much more advanced stage during the Taeping rebellion, and of which we have certainly not seen the last development.
One of the last acts of Taoukwang's reign showed to what a depth of mental hesitation and misery he had sunk. It seems that the Chinese New Year's day--February 12, 1850--was to be marked by an eclipse of the sun, which was considered very inauspicious, and as the emperor was especially susceptible to superstitious influences, he sought to get out of the difficulty, and to avert any evil consequences, by decreeing that the new year should begin on the previous day. But all-powerful as a Chinese emperor is, there are some things he cannot do, and the good sense of the Chinese revolted against this attempt to alter the course of nature. The imperial decree was completely disregarded, and received with expressions of derision, and in several towns the placards were torn down and defaced. Notwithstanding the eclipse, the Chinese year began at its appointed time. Some excuse might be made for Taoukwang on the ground of ill-health, for he was then suffering from the illness which carried him off a few weeks later. His health had long been precarious, the troubles of his reign had prematurely aged him, and he had experienced a rude shock from the death, at the end of 1849, of his adopted mother, toward whom he seems to have preserved the most affectionate feelings. From the first day of his illness its gravity seems to have been appreciated, and an unfavorable issue expected. On February 25, a grand council was held in the emperor's bed-chamber, and the emperor wrote in his bed an edict proclaiming his fourth son his heir and chosen successor. Taoukwang survived this important act only a very short time, but the exact date of his death is uncertain. There is some reason for thinking that his end was hastened by the outbreak of a fire within the Imperial City, which threatened it with destruction. The event was duly notified to the Chinese people in a proclamation by his successor, in which he dilated on the virtues of his predecessor, and expressed the stereotyped wish that he could have lived a hundred years.
Taoukwang was in his sixty-ninth year, having been born on September 12, 1781, and the thirty years over which his reign had nearly extended were among the most eventful, and in some respects the most unfortunate, in the annals of his country. When he was a young man, the power of his grandfather, Keen Lung, was at its pinnacle, but the misfortunes of his father's reign had prepared him for the greater misfortunes of his own, and the school of adversity in which he had passed the greater portion of his life had imbued him only with the disposition to bear calamity, and not the vigor to grapple with it. Yet Taoukwang was not without many good points, and he seems to have realized the extent of the national trouble, and to have felt acutely his inability to retrieve what had been lost. He was also averse to all unnecessary display, and his expenditure on the court and himself was less than that of any of his predecessors or successors. He never wasted the public money on his own person, and that was a great matter. His habits were simple and manly.
Although Taoukwang's reign had been marked by unqualified misfortune, he seems to have derived consolation from the belief that the worst was over, and that as his authority had recovered from such rude shocks it was not likely to experience anything worse. He had managed to extricate himself from a foreign war, which was attended with an actual invasion of a most alarming character, without any diminution of his authority. The symptoms of internal rebellion which had revealed themselves in more than one quarter of the empire had not attained any formidable dimensions, and seemed likely to pass away without endangering the Chinese constitution. Taoukwang may have hoped that while he had suffered much he had saved his family and dynasty from more serious calamities, and that on him alone had fallen the resentment of an offended Heaven. The experience of the next fifteen years was to show how inaccurately he had measured the situation, and how far the troubles of the fifteen years following his death were to exceed those of his reign; for just as he had inherited from his father, Kiaking, a legacy of trouble, so did he pass on to his son an inheritance of misfortune and difficulty, rendered all the more onerous by the pretension of supreme power without the means to support it.
The accession of Prince Yihchoo--who took the name of Hienfung, which means "great abundance," or "complete prosperity"--to the throne threatened for a moment to be disturbed by the ambition of his uncle, Hwuy Wang, who, it will be remembered, had attempted to seize the throne from his brother Taoukwang. This prince had lived in retirement during the last years of his brother's reign, and the circumstances which emboldened him to again put forward his pretensions will not be known until the state history of the Manchu dynasty is published. His attempt signally failed, but Hienfung spared his life, while he punished the ministers, Keying and Muchangah, for their supposed apathy, or secret sympathy with the aspirant to the imperial office, by dismissing them from their posts. When Hienfung became emperor he was less than twenty years of age, and one of his first acts was to confer the title of Prince on his four younger brothers, and to associate them in the administration with himself. This was a new departure in the Manchu policy, as all the previous emperors had systematically kept their brothers in the background. Hienfung's brothers became known in the order of their ages as Princes Kung, Shun, Chun, and Fu, and as Hienfung was the fourth son of Taoukwang, they were also distinguished numerically as the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth princes. Although Hienfung became emperor at a time of great national distress, he was so far fortunate that an abundant harvest, in the year 1850, tended to mitigate it, and by having recourse to the common Chinese practice of "voluntary contributions," a sufficiently large sum was raised to remove the worst features of the prevailing scarcity and suffering. But these temporary and local measures could not improve a situation that was radically bad, or allay a volume of popular discontent that was rapidly developing into unconcealed rebellion.
An imperial proclamation was drawn up by the Hanlin College in which Hienfung took upon himself the whole blame of the national misfortunes, but the crisis had got far beyond a remedy of words. The corruption of the public service had gradually alienated the sympathies of the people. Justice and probity had for a time been banished from the civil service of China. The example of the few men of honor and capacity served but to bring into more prominent relief the faults of the whole class. Justice was nowhere to be found; the verdict was sold to the highest bidder. The guilty, if well provided in worldly goods, escaped scot-free; the poor suffered for their own frailties as well as the crimes of wealthier offenders. There was seen the far from uncommon case of individuals sentenced to death obtaining substitutes for the capital punishment. Offices were sold to men who had never passed an examination, and who were wholly illiterate, and the sole value of office was as the means of extortion. The nation was heavily taxed, but the taxes to the state were only the smaller part of the sums wrung from the people of the Middle Kingdom. How was honor, or a sense of duty, to be expected from men who knew that their term of office must be short, and who had to receive their purchase money and the anticipated profit before their post was sold again to some fresh and possibly higher bidder? The officials waxed rich on ill- gotten wealth, and a few individuals accumulated enormous fortunes, while the government sank lower and lower in the estimation of the people. It lost also in efficiency and striking power. A corrupt and effeminate body of officers and administrators can serve but as poor defenders for an embarrassed prince and an assailed government against even enemies who are in themselves insignificant and not free from the vices of a corrupt society and a decaying age, and it was only on such that Hienfung had in the first place to lean against his opponents. Even his own Manchus, the warlike Tartars, who, despite the smallness of their numbers, had conquered the whole of China, had lost their primitive virtue and warlike efficiency in the southern climes which they had made their home. To them the opulent cities of the Chinese had proved as fatal as Capua to the army of the Carthaginian, and, as the self-immolations of Chapoo and Chinkiangfoo proved to have no successors, they showed themselves unworthy of the empire won by their ancestors. For the first time since the revolt of Wou Sankwei, the Manchus were brought face to face with a danger threatening their right of conquest; yet on the eve of the Taeping Rebellion all Hienfung could think of to oppose his foes with was fine words as to his shortcomings and lavish promises of amendment.
Among the secret societies the Triads were the first to give a political and dynastic significance to their propaganda. The opening sentence of the oath of membership read as follows: "We combine everywhere to recall the Ming and exterminate the barbarians, cut off the Tsing and await the right prince." But as there were none of the Mings left, and as their name had lost whatever hold it may have possessed on the minds of the Chinese people, this proclaimed object tended rather to deter than to invite recruits to the society. Yet if any secret society shared in the origination of the Taeping Rebellion that credit belongs to the Triads, whose anti-Manchu literature enjoyed a wide circulation through Southern China, and they may have had a large share in drafting the programme that the Taeping leader, Tien Wang, attempted to carry out.
The individual on whom that exalted title was subsequently bestowed had a very common origin, and sprang from an inferior race. Hung-tsiuen, such was his own name, was the son of a small farmer near Canton, and he was a _hakka_, a despised race of tramps who bear some resemblance to our gypsies. He was born in the year 1813, and he seems to have passed all his examinations with special credit; but the prejudice on account of his birth prevented his obtaining any employment in the civil service of his country. He was therefore a disappointed aspirant to office, and at such a period it was not surprising that he should have become an enemy of the constituted authorities and the government. As he could not be the servant of the state he set himself the ambitious task of being its master, and with this object in view he resorted to religious practices in order to acquire a popular reputation, and a following among the masses. He took up his residence in a Buddhist monastery; and the ascetic deprivations, the loud prayers and invocations, the supernatural counsels and meetings, were the course of training which every religious devotee adopts as the proper novitiate for those honors 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. He left his place of seclusion to place himself at the head of the largest party of rebels, who had made their headquarters in the remote province of Kwangsi, and he there proclaimed himself as Tien Wang, which means the Heavenly Prince, and as an aspirant to the imperial dignity. Gradually the rebels acquired possession of the whole of the territory south of the Canton River, and when they captured the strong and important military station at Nanning the emperor sent three commissioners, one of them being his principal minister Saichangah, to bring them to reason, but the result was not encouraging, and although the Taepings were repulsed in their attempt on Kweiling, they remained masters of the open part of the province. One of the Chinese officers had the courage to write and tell the emperor that "the outlaws were neither exterminated nor made prisoners." Notwithstanding the enormous expenditure on the war and the collection of a large body of troops the imperial forces made no real progress in crushing the rebels. Fear or inexperience prevented them from coming at once to close quarters with the Taepings, when their superior numbers must have decided the struggle in their favor and nipped a most formidable rebellion in the bud. That some of Hienfung's officers realized the position can be gathered from the following letter, written at this period by a Chinese mandarin: "The whole country swarms with rebels. Our funds are nearly at an end, and our troops few; our officers disagree, and the power is not concentrated. The commander of the forces wants to extinguish a burning wagonload 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 military operations in Kwangsi languished during two years, although the tide of war declared itself, on the whole, against the imperialists; but the rebels themselves were exposed to this danger--that they were exclusively dependent on the resources of the province, and that these being exhausted, they were in danger of being compelled to retire into Tonquin. It was at this exceedingly critical moment that Tien Wang showed himself an able leader of men by coming to the momentous decision to march out of Kwangsi, and invade the vast and yet untouched provinces of Central China. If the step was more the pressure of dire need than the inspiration of genius, it none the less forms the real turning-point in the rebellion.
Tien Wang announced his decision by issuing a proclamation, in the course of which he declared that he had received "the Divine commission to exterminate the Manchus, and to possess the empire as its true sovereign"; and, as it was also at this time that his followers became commonly known as Taepings, it may be noted that the origin of this name is somewhat obscure. According to the most plausible explanation it is derived from the small town of that name, situated in the southwest corner of the province of Kwangsi, where the rebel movement seems to have commenced. Another derivation gives it as the style of the dynasty which Tien Wang hoped to found, and its meaning as "Universal peace." Having called in all his outlying detachments and proclaimed his five principal lieutenants by titles which have been rendered as the northern, southern, eastern, western and assistant kings, Tien Wang began his northern march in April, 1852. At the town of Yungan, on the eastern borders of the province of Kwangsi, where he seems to have hesitated between an attack on Canton and the invasion of Hoonan, an event occurred which threatened to break up his force. The Triad chiefs, who had allied themselves with Tien Wang, were superior in knowledge and station to the immediate followers of the Taeping leader, and they took offense at the arrogance of his lieutenants after they had been elevated to the rank of kings. These officers, who possessed no claim to the dignity they had received, assumed the yellow dress and insignia of Chinese royalty, and looked down on all their comrades, especially the Triad organizers, who thought themselves the true originators of the rebellion. Irritated by this treatment, the Triads took their sudden and secret departure from the Taeping camp, and hastened to make their peace with the imperialists. Of these Triads one chief, named Chang Kwoliang, received an important command, and played a considerable part in the later stages of the struggle.
The defection of the Triads put an end to the idea of attacking Canton, and the Taepings marched to attack Kweiling, where the Imperial Commissioners still remained. Tien Wang's assault was repulsed with some loss, and, afraid of discouraging his troops by any further attempt to seize so strong a place, he marched into Hoonan. Had the imperial commanders, who had shown no inconsiderable capacity in defense, exhibited as much energy in offensive measures, they might then and there have annihilated the power of the Taepings. Had they pursued the Taeping army they might have harassed its rear, delayed its progress, and eventually brought it to a decisive engagement at the most favorable moment. But the Imperial Commissioners did nothing, being apparently well satisfied with having rid themselves of such troublesome neighbors. The advance of the Taepings across the vast province of Hoonan was almost unopposed. The towns were unprepared to resist an assailant, and it was not until Tien Wang reached the provincial capital, Changsha, that he encountered any resistance worthy of the name. Some vigorous preparations had been made here to resist the rebels. Not merely was there a garrison in the place, but it so happened that Tseng Kwofan, a man of considerable ability and of an influential family, was residing near the town. Tseng had held several offices in the public service, and, as a member of the Hanlin, enjoyed a high position and reputation; but he happened to be at his own home in retirement in consequence of the death of a near relation when tidings of the approaching Taepings reached him, and he at once made himself responsible for the defense of Changsha. He threw himself with all the forces his influence or resources enabled him to collect into that town, and at the same time he ordered all the militia of the province to collect and harass the enemy. 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 generally followed, it is not too much to say that the Taepings would never have got to Nankin. When the rebels reached Changsha, therefore, they found the gates closed, the walls manned, and the town victualed for a siege. They attempted to starve the place into surrender, and to frighten the garrison into yielding by threats of extermination; but when these efforts failed they delivered three separate assaults, all of which were repulsed. After a siege of eighty days, and having suffered very considerable losses, the Taepings abandoned the attack, and on the 1st of December resumed their march northward, which, if information could have been rapidly transmitted, would have soon resulted in their overthrow. On breaking up from before Changsha they succeeded in seizing a sufficient number of junks and boats to cross the great inland lake of Tungting, and on reaching the Yangtsekiang at Yochow they found that the imperial garrison had fled at the mere mention of their approach. The capture of Yochow was important, because the Taepings acquired there an important arsenal of much-needed weapons and a large supply of gunpowder, which was said to have been the property of Wou Sankwei. Thus, well equipped and supplying their other deficiencies by celerity of movement, they attacked the important city of Hankow, which surrendered without a blow. The scarcely less important town of Wouchang, on the southern and opposite bank of the river, was then attacked, and carried after a siege of a fortnight. The third town of Hanyang, which forms, with the others, the most important industrial and commercial hive in Central China, also surrendered without any attempt at resistance, and this striking success at once restored the sinking courage of the Taepings, and made the danger from them to the dynasty again wear an aspect of the most pressing importance.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the effect of this success on the spirits of the Taepings, who had been seriously discouraged before they achieved this gratifying result. The capture of these towns removed all their most serious causes of doubt, and enabled them to repay themselves for the losses and hardships they had undergone, while it also showed that the enterprise they had in hand was not likely to prove unprofitable. After one month's rest at Hankow, and having been joined by many thousands of new followers, the Taepings resolved to pursue their onward course. To tell the truth, they were still apprehensive of pursuit from Tseng Kwofan, who had been joined by the Triad loader, Chang Kwoliang; but there was no ground for the fear, as these officials considered themselves tied to their own province, and unfortunately the report of the success of the imperialists in Hoonan blinded people to the danger in the Yangtse Valley from the Taepings. The Taepings resumed active operations with the capture of Kiukiang and Ganking, and in March, 1853, they sat down before Nankin. The siege continued for a fortnight, but notwithstanding that there was a large Manchu force in the Tartar city, which might easily have been defended against an enemy without artillery, the resistance offered was singularly and unexpectedly faint-hearted. The Taepings succeeded in blowing in one of the gates, the townspeople fraternized with the assailants, and the very Manchus who had defied Sir Hugh Gough in 1842 surrendered their lives and their honor to a force which was nothing more than an armed rabble. The Tartar colony at Nankin, numbering 2,000 families, had evidently lost the courage and discipline which could alone enable them to maintain their position in China. Instead of dying at their posts they threw themselves on the mercy of the Taeping leader, imploring him for pity and for their lives when the gate was blown in by Tien Wang's soldiery. Their cowardice helped them not; of 20,000 Manchus not one hundred escaped. The tale rests on undoubted evidence. A Taeping who took part in the massacre said, "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 acquisition of Nankin at once made the Taepings a formidable rival to the Manchus, and Tien Wang a contestant with Hienfung for imperial honors. The possession of the second city in the empire gave them the complete control of the navigation of the Yangtsekiang, and thus enabled them to cut off communications between the north and the south of China. To attain this object in a still more perfect manner they occupied Chinkiangfoo at the entrance to the Grand Canal. They also seized Yangchow on the northern bank of the river immediately opposite the place where Sir Hugh Gough had gained his decisive victory in 1842. Such was the terror of the Taepings that the imperial garrisons did not attempt the least resistance, and town after town was evacuated at their approach. Tien Wang, encouraged by his success, transferred his headquarters from Hankow to Nankin, and proclaimed the old Ming city his capital. By rapidity and an extraordinary combination of fortunate circumstances, the Taepings had advanced from the remote province of Kwangsi into the heart of the empire, but it was clear that unless they could follow up their success by some blow to the central government they would lose all they had gained as soon as the Manchus recovered their confidence. At a council of war at Nankin it was decided to send an army against Pekin as soon as Nankin had been placed in a proper state to undergo a protracted siege. Provisions were collected to stand a siege for six or seven years, the walls were repaired and fresh batteries erected. By the end of May, 1853, these preparations were completed, and as the Taeping army had then been raised to a total of 80,000 men, it was decided that a large part of it could be spared for operations north of the Yangtsekiang. That army was increased to a very large total by volunteers who thought an expedition to humble the Manchus at the capital promised much glory and spoil. The progress of this northern army very closely resembled that of the Taepings from Kwangsi to Nankin. They overran the open country, and none of the imperial troops ventured to oppose them, but when any Manchu officer showed valor in defending a walled city they were fain to admit their inadequate engineering skill and military capacity. They attacked Kaifong, the capital of Honan, but were repulsed, and pursuing their former tactics continued their march to Pekin. Having crossed the Hoangho they attacked Hwaiking, where, after being delayed two months, they met with as signal a repulse as at Kaifong. Notwithstanding this further reverse, the Taepings pressed on, and defeating a Manchu force in the Lin Limming Pass, they entered the metropolitan province of Pechihli in September, 1853. The object of their march was plain. Not only did they mystify the emperor's generals, but they passed through an untouched country where supplies were abundant, and they thus succeeded in coming within striking distance of Pekin in almost as fresh a state as when they left Nankin. Such was the effect produced by their capture of the Limming Pass that none of the towns in the southern part of the province attempted any resistance, and they reached Tsing, only twenty miles south of Tientsin, and less than a hundred from Pekin, before the end of October. This place marked the northern limit of Taeping progress, and a reflex wave of Manchu energy bore back the rebels to the Yangtse.
The forcing of the Limming Pass carried confusion and terror into the imperial palace and capital. The fate of the dynasty seemed to tremble in the balance at the hands of a ruthless and determined enemy. There happened to be very few troops in Pekin at the time, and levies had to be hastily summoned from Mongolia. If the Taepings had only shown the same enterprise and rapidity of movement that they had exhibited up to this point, there is no saying that the central government would not have been subverted and the Manchu family extinguished as completely as the Mings. But fortunately for Hienfung, an unusual apathy fell upon the Taepings, who remained halted at Tsing until the Mongol levies had arrived, under their great chief, Sankolinsin. They seem to have been quite exhausted by their efforts, and after one reverse in the open field they retired to their fortified camp at Tsinghai, and sent messengers to Tien Wang for succor. In this camp they were closely beleaguered by Sankolinsin from October, 1853, to March, 1854, when their provisions being exhausted they cut their way out and began their retreat in a southerly direction. They would undoubtedly have been exterminated but for the timely arrival of a relieving army from Nankin. The Taepings then captured Lintsing, which remained their headquarters for some months; but during the remainder of the year 1854 their successes were few and unimportant. They were vigilantly watched by the imperial troops, which had expelled them from the whole of the province of Shantung before March, 1855. Their numbers were thinned by disease as well as loss in battle, and of the two armies sent to capture Pekin only a small fragment ever regained Nankin. While these events were in progress in the region north of Nankin, the Taepings had been carrying their arms up the Yangtsekiang as far as Ichang, and eastward from Nankin to the sea. These efforts were not always successful, and Tien Wang's arms experienced as many reverses as successes. The important city of Kanchang, the capital of the province of Kiangsi, was besieged by them for four months, and after many attempts to carry it by storm the Taepings were compelled to abandon the task. They were more successful at Hankow, which they recovered after a siege of eighty days. They again evacuated this town, and yet once again, in 1855, wrested it from an imperial garrison.
The establishment of Taeping power at Nankin and the rumor of its rapid extension in every direction had drawn the attention of Europeans to the new situation thus created in China, and had aroused opposite opinions in different sections of the foreign community. While the missionaries were disposed to regard the Taepings as the regenerators of China, and as the champions of Christianity, the merchants only saw in them the disturbers of peace and the enemies of commerce. To such an extent did the latter anticipate the ruin of their trade that they petitioned the consuls to suspend, if not withhold, the payment of the stipulated customs to the Chinese authorities. This proposed breach of treaty was emphatically rejected, and the consuls enjoined the absolute necessity of preserving a strict neutrality between the Taepings and the imperial forces. But at the same time it became necessary to acquaint the Taeping ruler with the fact that he would be expected to observe the provisions of the Treaty of Nankin as scrupulously as if he were sovereign of China or a Manchu viceroy. Sir George Bonham, the superintendent of trade and the governor of Hongkong, determined to proceed in person to Nankin, in order to acquaint the Taepings with what would be expected from them, and also to gain necessary information as to their strength and importance by personal observation. But unfortunately this step of Sir George Bonham tended to help the Taepings by increasing their importance and spreading about the belief that the Europeans recognized in them the future ruling power of China. It was not intended to be, but it was none the less, an unfriendly act to the Pekin government, and as it produced absolutely no practical result with the Taepings themselves, it was distinctly a mistaken measure. Its only excuse was that the imperial authorities were manifesting an increasing inclination to enlist the support of Europeans against the rebels, and it was desirable that accurate information should be obtained beforehand. The Taotai of Shanghai even presented a request for the loan of the man-of-war at that port, and when he was informed that we intended to remain strictly neutral, the decision was also come to to inform the Taepings of this fact. Therefore in April, 1853, before the army had left for the northern campaign, Sir George Bonham sailed for Nankin in the "Hermes" man-of-war. On the twenty-seventh of that month the vessel anchored off Nankin, and several interviews were held with the Taeping Wangs, of whom the Northern King was at this time the most influential. The negotiations lasted a week, and they had no result. It was soon made apparent that the Taepings were as exclusive and impracticable as the worst Manchu mandarin, and that they regarded the Europeans as an inferior and subject people. Sir George Bonham failed to establish any direct communication with Tien Wang, who had by this retired into private life, and while it was given out that he was preparing sacred books he was really abandoning himself to the pursuit of profligacy. There is nothing to cause surprise in the fact that the apathy of Tien Wang led to attempts to supersede him in his authority. The Eastern King in particular posed as the delegate of Heaven. He declared that he had interviews with the celestial powers when in a trance, he assumed the title of the Holy Ghost or the Comforter, and he censured Tien Wang for his shortcomings, and even inflicted personal chastisement upon him. If he had had a following he might have become the despot of the Taepings, but as he offended all alike his career was cut short by a conspiracy among the other Wangs, who, notwithstanding his heavenly conferences, murdered him.
At this period one of the most brilliant military exploits of the Taepings was performed, and as it served to introduce the real hero of the whole movement, it may be described in more detail than the other operations, which were conducted in a desultory manner, and which were unredeemed by any exhibition of courage or military capacity. The government had succeeded in placing two considerable armies in the field. One numbering 40,000 men, under the command of Hochun and the ex-Triad Chang Kwoliang, watched Nankin, while the other, commanded by a Manchu general, laid close siege to Chankiang, which seemed on the point of surrender. The Taepings at Nankin determined to effect its relief, and a large force was placed under the orders of an officer named Li, but whom it will be more convenient to designate by the title subsequently conferred on him of Chung Wang, or the Faithful King. His energy and courage had already attracted favorable notice, and the manner in which he executed the difficult operation intrusted to him fully established his reputation. By a concerted movement with the Taeping commandant of Chankiang, he attacked the imperialist lines at the same time as the garrison made a sortie, and the result was a decisive victory. Sixteen stockades were carried by assault, and the Manchu army was driven away from the town which seemed to lie at its mercy. But this success promised only to be momentary, for the imperialist forces, collecting from all sides, barred the way back to Nankin, while the other Manchu army drew nearer to that city, and its general seemed to meditate attacking Tien Wang in his capital. An imperative summons was sent to Chung Wang to return to Nankin. As the imperialist forces were for the most part on the southern side of the river, Chung Wang crossed to the northern bank and began his march to Nankin. He had not proceeded far when he found that the imperialists had also crossed over to meet him, and that his progress was arrested by their main army under Chang Kwoliang. With characteristic decision and rapidity he then regained the southern bank, and falling on the weakened imperialists gained so considerable a victory that the Manchu commander felt bound to commit suicide. After some further fighting he made good his way back to Nankin. But when he arrived there the tyrant Tung Wang refused to admit him into the city until he had driven away the main imperialist army, which had been placed under the command of Hienfung's generalissimo, Heang Yung, and which had actually seized one of the gates of the city. Although Chung Wang's troops were exhausted they attacked the government troops with great spirit, and drove them back as far as Tanyang, where, however, they succeeded in holding their ground, notwithstanding his repeated efforts to dislodge them. Heang Yung, taking his misfortune too deeply to heart, committed suicide, and thus deprived the emperor of at least a brave officer. But with this success the Taeping tide of victory reached its end, for Chang Kwoliang arriving with the other imperialist army, the whole force fell upon Chung Wang and drove him back into the city with the loss of 700 of his best men, so that the result left of Chung Wang's campaign was the relief of Chankiang and the return to the status quo at Nankin. It was immediately after these events that Tung Wang was assassinated, and scenes of blood followed which resulted in the massacre of 20,000 persons and the disappearance of all, except one, of the Wangs whom Tien Wang had created on the eve of his enterprise. Chung Wang seems to have had no part in these intrigues and massacres, and there is little doubt that if the imperialist commanders had taken prompt advantage of them the Taepings might have been crushed at that moment, or ten years earlier than proved to be the case.
While the main Taeping force was thus causing serious danger to the existing government of China, its offshoots or imitators were emulating its example in the principal treaty ports, which brought the rebels into contact with the Europeans. The Chinese officials, without any military power on which they could rely, had endeavored to maintain order among the turbulent classes of the population by declaring that the English were the allies of the emperor, and that they would come to his aid with their formidable engines of war if there were any necessity. Undoubtedly this threat served its turn and kept the turbulent quiet for a certain period; but when it could no longer be concealed that the English were determined to take no part in the struggle, the position of the government was weakened by the oft-repeated declaration that they mainly relied on the support of the foreigners. The first outbreak occurred at Amoy in May, 1853, when some thousand marauders, under an individual named Magay, seized the town and held it until the following November. The imperialists returned in sufficient force in that month and regained possession of the town, when, unfortunately for their reputation, they avenged their expulsion in a particularly cruel and indiscriminating fashion Many thousand citizens were executed without any form of trial, and the arrest of the slaughter was entirely due to the intervention of the English naval officer at Amoy. The rising at Shanghai was of a more serious character, and took a much longer time to suppress. As the European settlement there was threatened with a far more imminent danger than anywhere else, preparations to defend it began in April, 1853, and under the auspices of the consul, Mr. Rutherford Alcock, the residents were formed into a volunteer corps, and the men-of-war drawn up so as to effectually cover the whole settlement. These precautions were taken in good time, for nothing happened to disturb the peace until the following September. The Triads were undoubtedly the sole instigators of the rising, and the Taepings of Nankin were in no sense responsible for, or participators in it. They seized the Taotai's official residence, and as his guard deserted him, that officer barely escaped with his life. Other officials were not so fortunate, but on the whole Shanghai was acquired by the rebels with very little bloodshed. In a few hours this important Chinese city passed into the hands of a lawless and refractory mob, who lived on the plunder of the townspeople, and who were ripe for any mischief. The European settlement was placed meantime in a position of efficient defense, and although the Triads wished to have the spoil of its rich factories, they very soon decided that the enterprise would be too risky, if not impossible.
After some weeks' inaction the imperialist forces, gathering from all quarters, proceeded to invest the marauders in Shanghai, and had the attack been conducted with any degree of military skill and vigor they must have succumbed at the first onset. But, owing to the pusillanimity of the emperor's officers and their total ignorance of the military art, the siege went on for an indefinite period, and twelve months after it began seemed as far off conclusion as ever.
While the imperialists laboriously constructed their lines and batteries they never ceased to importune the Europeans for assistance, and as it became clearer that the persons in possession of Shanghai were a mob rather than a power, the desire increased among the foreigners generally to put an end to what was an intolerable position. On this occasion the French took an initiative which had previously been left to the English. The French settlement at Shanghai consisted at this time of a consulate, a cathedral, and one house, but as it was situated nearest the walls of the Chinese city it was most exposed to the fire of the besiegers and besieged. In consequence of this the French admiral, Laguerre, determined to take a part in the struggle, and erecting a battery in the French settlement, proceeded to bombard the rebels on one side of the city while the imperialists attacked it on another. Although the bombardment was vigorous and effective, the loss inflicted on the insurgents was inconsiderable, because they had erected an earthwork behind the main wall of the place, and every day the Triads challenged the French to come on to the assault. At last a breach was declared to be practicable, and 400 French sailors and marines were landed to carry it, while the imperialists, wearing blue sashes to distinguish them from the rebels, escaladed the walls at another point. But the assault was premature, for, although the assailants gained the inside of the fortification, they could not advance. The insurgents fought desperately behind the earthworks and in the streets, and after four hours' fighting they put the whole imperialist force to flight. The French were carried along by their disheartened allies who, allowing race hatred to overcome a temporary arrangement, even fired on them, and when Admiral Laguerre reckoned up the cost of his intervention he found it amounted to four officers and sixty men killed and wounded. Such was the result of the French attack on Shanghai, and it taught the lesson that even good European troops cannot ignore the recognized rules and precautions of war. After this engagement the siege languished, and the French abstained from taking any further part in it. But the imperialists continued their attack in their own bungling but persistent fashion, and at last the insurgents, having failed to obtain the favorable terms they demanded, made a desperate sortie, when a few made their way to the foreign settlement, where they found safety, but by far the greater number perished by the sword of the imperialists. More than 1,500 insurgents were captured and executed along the highroads, but the two leaders of the movement escaped, one of them to attain great fortune as a merchant in Siam. The imperialists unfortunately sullied their success by grave excesses and by the cruel treatment of the unoffending townspeople, who were made to suffer for the original incapacity and cowardice of the officials themselves. At Canton, which was also visited by the Triads in June, 1854, matters took a different course. The Chinese merchants and shopkeepers combined and raised a force for their own protection, and these well-paid braves effectually kept the insurgents out of Canton. They, however, seized the neighboring town of Fatshan, where the manufacturing element was in strong force, and but for the unexpected energy of the Cantonese they would undoubtedly have seized the larger city too, as the government authorities were not less apathetic here than at Shanghai. The disturbed condition of things continued until February, 1855, when the wholesale executions by which its suppression was marked, and during which a hundred thousand persons are said to have perished, ceased.
The events have now been passed in review which marked the beginning and growth of the Taeping Rebellion, from the time of its being a local rising in the province of Kwangsi to the hour of its leader being installed as a ruling prince in the ancient city of Nankin. But from the growing Taeping Rebellion, which we have now followed down to the year 1856, our attention must be directed to the more serious and important foreign question which had again reached a crisis, and which would not wait on the convenience of the Celestial emperor and his advisers.