A Shanghai dock after the American bombardment
| United States
Taiping Heavenly Kingdom
| Qing Empire (until 1854)
|Commanders and leaders|
|Hong Xiquan|| Xianfeng Emperor†
Various rebel leaders
The Taiping War was a conflict waged from 1850 to 1864 between the Qing Dynasty and the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, later supported by the United States on a semi-official basis. The war would eventually trigger the disintegration of the Qing Dynasty, starting the Ten Years' of Chaos within China and resulting in its division into numerous successor states. The war created long-lasting hatreds which still exist to this day, especially against the United States, which is perceived as the instigator of civil strife which would claim tens of millions of lives.
Hong Xiuquan, a failed scholar, suffered from a lengthy illness, in which he experienced visions naming him the younger brother and successor of Jesus. He decided that it was his mission to exterminate China's evils, including traditional social structure, opium, alcohol, and the Emperor, and to replace it with his millenarian version of Christianity. He contacted American missionary Issachar Jacox Roberts, who enthusiastically agreed. He began smuggling in Western weapons to supply the nascent sect. He was also able to use his contacts in the West to secure funding and support from a number of Christian Evangelists, including wealthy businessmen and merchants, who formed the Society for the Succour of Chinese Christians. Hong was able to secretly recruit tens of thousands of men and arm them with rifles. He gradually gained the support of local communities by suppressing rampant bandits, bring much of Guanxi province sunder his de facto rule.
The Qing finally decided it was necessary to curb Hong's power, and ordered him to stand his private army down. He refused. His troops crushed a Qing force sent to subdue them and declared the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, initially ruling only Guanxi. His troops forcibly conscripted hundreds of thousands of peasants, implementing a policy of forced conversion.
The Qing counterattacked, seeking to cut Hong off from arms shipments along the coast. The badly-armed, badly-trained Qing army was no match for Hong's well-armed troops, who shattered the Qing offensive in a series of battles along the coast, leaving around 50,000 dead on either side. A Taiping offensive successfully took the city of Nanjing, which was renamed to Jianing, or "Heavenly Capital", by the victorious Taiping forces. The Taiping offensive expelled the Qing from Jianxi and Hunan, isolating the wealthy Gaungdong province in the south and triggering uprisings among the Hmong in Yunnan.
The second year of the war opened with a Qing "Winter Offensive", aiming to retake Nanjing. Over the winter, however, Hong had imported massive amounts of foreign (mainly American) artillery and small arms. His troops' greater firepower enabled them to again halt the Qing on the Yangtze River. This left the Emperor largely discredited, and several generals attempted a palace coup in February of 1852. For three days, fighting raged in the streets of Beijing before imperial forces were victorious. The Emperor recalled and executed almost all of his senior officers for fear of trachery, hamstringing his troops' effectiveness, and leaving almost all under the command of junior officers.
While the Qing were rocked by internal unrest, Hong's troops launched a lighting advance on Canton, besieging 200,00 Qing troops in the city. Homg's adviser Roberts successfully used his contacts to have Chinese Christians open the city's gates to Hong, and it fell on June 8th. This was a significant blow to the Qing. The rest of Guangdong province fell swiftly to the Taiping forces. The myth of the Qing dynasty's invincibility had been finally broken, as the rest of China swiftly realized.
The Fall of a Dynasty
As the news of the defeat of the largest Qing army spread through China, restless ethnic minorities began to rise up across southern and central China. In Tibet, mobs overwhelmed Qing garrisons in Lhasa, declaring the restoration of the Dalai Lama's temporal control over China. In Central China and Yunnan, Hui and Panthay Muslims rose up, followed by the Hmong, the Uighurs in the far West, the Dzungars and the Mongols in the North, and even Han Chinese simply taking advantage of the general chaos to do a little looting and rape.
The Imperial troops in southern China swiftly began to defect, desert or simply become bandits. Several generals seized control of Jiangsu, Hubei and Anhui, forming the Pact of Three. Their troops easily repelled the weakening Qing armies, pushing the Emperor back into Hebei. Meanwhile, the European powers circled like vultures, looking for an opportunity to grab land. However, the US, using its contacts with the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom to maximum effect, was able to grab the most land. An American expeditionary force of 50,000 under Matthew C. Perry landed on Taiwan in January of 1854, seizing the island in a three-week-long campaign characterized by massive use of artillery and equally massive civilian casualties. This force than easily seized Shanghai.
American diplomats, meanwhile, arrived in Jianjing, where a triumphant Hong was reaffirming his control of his new kingdom. After three weeks, they successfully negotiated an treaty of alliance, signed in Taipei in March. By this agreement, the Kingdom conceded Canton to the Americans, as well as Taiwan and Shanghai, while agreeing to preferential trade and to give free access to American (Christian) missionaries. Hong had, however, already seen the advantages of making himself more palatable to foreign backers, and he officially accepted Jacox Roberts' Southern Baptist church as (nominally) his, and, by extension, the entire Kingdom's. Forced conversion continued unabated in the countryside.
Ten Years' of Chaos
With the Qing Empire falling apart, various forces sought to seize pieces or gain their independence. In Yunnan, the Hakka and the Hmong successfully rose up, seizing control of the province and expelling Qing garrisons. In Tibet and Xinjiang, native forces were also successful at expelling the disintegrating dynasty's troops. In Central China, along the Yellow River, the Pact of Three rebel generals controlled much of the remaining Qing army. The Mongols and Dzungars rebelled also, regaining their only recently lost independence. In the far south, the Vietnamese, in alliance with Cantonese rebels, took control of Hainan, while in Manchuria the crumbling remnants of the Qing Dynasty held sway. Even the inward-looking Tokugawa Shogunate was eyeing Tianjin, eager to gain hegemony over the country that had often demanded tribute from Japan.