Taiping Heavenly Kingdom

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Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace
Tiānfù Tiānxiōng Tiānwáng Tàipíng Tiānguó

Greatest extent (maroon) of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom.
Capital Tianjing (天京)
Languages Chinese
Religion God Worshippers Evangelical Christians
Government Heterodox Christian Theocracy & Absolute Monarchy
Heavenly King of Great Peace
 •  1851–1864 Hong Xiuquan
 •  1864 Hong Tianguifu
Kings Feng Yunshan (South King)
Yang Xiuqing (East King)
Xiao Chaogui (West King)
Wei Changhui (North King)
Shi Dakai (Flank King)
Historical era Qing dynasty
 •  Jintian Uprising January 11, 1851
 •  Capture of Nanking March 1853
 •  Tianjing Incident 1856
 •  Death of Hong Tianguifu November 18, 1864
Currency Holy Treasure

The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (Chinese: 1; pinyin: Tàipíng Tiānguó; literally: "Great Peaceful Kingdom of Heaven" or "Heavenly Kingdom") was an oppositional state in China from 1851 to 1864, established by Hong Xiuquan, the leader of the Taiping Rebellion (1850–64). Its capital was at Tianjing (Chinese: 天京; Wade–Giles: Tienching; literally: "Heavenly Capital"), which is present-day Nanjing.

A self-proclaimed convert to Christianity, Hong Xiuquan led an army that controlled some parts of southern China, with about 30 million people. The rebel kingdom announced social reforms and the replacement of the powers of Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion by his form of Christianity, holding that Hong was the second son of God and the younger brother of Jesus. The Taiping areas were besieged by Qing forces throughout most of the rebellion. The Qing government defeated the rebellion with the eventual aid of French and British forces.

History of the Taiping Rebellion[edit]

Main article: Taiping Rebellion
Hong Xiuquan

Origins of the rebellion[edit]

In the mid-19th century, China under the Qing dynasty suffered a series of natural disasters, economic problems, and defeats at the hands of the Western powers; in particular, the humiliating defeat in 1842 by the British in the First Opium War. The war disrupted shipping patterns and threw many out of work. It was these disaffected who flocked to join the charismatic visionary Hong Xiuquan.

Missionaries working with native Chinese speakers published a series of introductory Christian tracts, one of which Hong came across, though he apparently did not read at first. After Hong failed to pass the imperial examination that would have made him one of the scholar-officials, he had a delirious dream or a vision in which he was greeted by a golden-haired, bearded man who presented him with a sword, and a younger man whom he addressed as "Elder Brother." For six more years Hong worked in the village as a tutor, then failed the exams a fourth time before opening the tracts again. He then realized the meaning of his dream: he was the younger brother of Jesus and had met Jehovah. He now felt it was his duty to spread Christianity and overthrow the Qing dynasty. He was joined by Yang Xiuqing, a former charcoal and firewood salesman of Guangxi, who claimed to be able to act as a voice of God to direct the people and gain political power.[1]

Feng Yunshan formed the Society of God Worshippers (Chinese: 上帝; pinyin: Bài Shàngdì Huì), in Guangxi after a missionary journey there in 1844 to spread Hong's ideas.[2] In 1847 Hong become the leader of the secret society.[3] The sect's power grew in the late 1840s, initially suppressing groups of bandits and pirates, but persecution by Qing authorities spurred the movement into a guerrilla rebellion and then into civil war.

Establishment of the Kingdom[edit]

The Taiping Rebellion began in 1851 in Guangxi. After minor clashes, the violence escalated into the Jintian Uprising in February 1851, in which a 10,000-strong rebel army routed and defeated a smaller Qing force. On January 11, 1851 (the 11th day of the 1st lunar month), incidentally Hong Xiuquan's birthday, Hong declared himself "Heavenly King" (Chinese: 天王; pinyin: TiānWáng) of a new dynasty, the "Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace".[4]

Capital at Tianjing (Nanjing)[edit]

Royal seal of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom

In 1853 the Taiping forces captured Nanjing, making it their capital and renaming it Tianjing, "Heavenly Capital". Hong built his Palace of Heavenly King there by converting the Office of the Viceroy of Liangjiang.

At its height, the Heavenly Kingdom controlled south China, centered on the fertile Yangtze River Valley. Control of the river meant that the Taipings could easily supply their capital. From there, the Taiping rebels sent armies west into the upper reaches of the Yangtze, and north to capture Beijing, the capital of the Qing dynasty. The attempt to take Beijing failed.

Internal conflict[edit]

In 1853 Hong withdrew from active control of policies and administration, ruling exclusively by written proclamations often in religious language. Hong disagreed with Yang in certain matters of policy and became increasingly suspicious of Yang's ambitions, his extensive network of spies, and his declarations when "speaking as God". Yang and his family were put to death by Hong's followers in 1856, followed by the killing of troops loyal to Yang.[5]

With their leader largely out of the picture, Taiping delegates tried to widen their popular support with the Chinese middle classes and forge alliances with European powers, but failed on both counts. The Europeans decided to stay neutral. Inside China, the rebellion faced resistance from the traditionalist middle class because of their hostility to Chinese customs and Confucian values. The land-owning upper class, unsettled by the Taiping rebels' peasant mannerisms and their policy of strict separation of the sexes, even for married couples, sided with the Qing forces and their Western allies.

In 1859 Hong Rengan, a cousin of Hong, joined the Taiping Rebellion in Nanjing, and was given considerable power by Hong. He developed an ambitious plan to expand the kingdom's boundaries. In 1860 the Taiping rebels were successful in taking Hangzhou and Suzhou to the east (See also: Second rout of the Army Group Jiangnan), but failed to take Shanghai, which marked the beginning of the decline of the Kingdom.

Fall of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom[edit]

Taiping–Qing naval battle on the Yangtze river near Nanjing
Greatest extent of the Taiping Rebellion.

An attempt to take Shanghai in August 1860 was initially successful but finally repulsed by a force of Chinese troops and European officers under the command of Frederick Townsend Ward.[6] This army would later become the "Ever Victorious Army", led by "Chinese" Gordon, and would be instrumental in the defeat of the Taiping rebels. Imperial forces were reorganized under the command of Zeng Guofan and Li Hongzhang, and the Qing government's reconquest began in earnest. By early 1864, Qing control in most areas was well established.

Hong declared that God would defend Nanjing, but in June 1864, with Qing forces approaching, he died of food poisoning as the result of eating wild vegetables as the city began to run out of food. He was sick for twenty days before the Qing forces could take the city. Only a few days after his death the Qing forces took the city. His body was buried and was later exhumed by Zeng to verify his death, and cremated. Hong's ashes were later blasted out of a cannon in order to ensure that his remains have no resting place as eternal punishment for the uprising.

Four months before the fall of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, Hong Xiuquan abdicated in favour of Hong Tianguifu, his eldest son, who was 15 years old then. Hong Tianguifu was unable to do anything to restore the kingdom, so the kingdom was quickly destroyed when Nanjing fell in July 1864 to Qing forces after vicious fighting in the streets. Most of the so-called princes were executed by Qing officials in Jinling Town (金陵城), Nanjing.

Although the fall of Nanjing in 1864 marked the destruction of the Taiping regime, the fight was not yet over. There were still several thousands of Taiping rebel troops continuing the fight. It took seven years to finally put down all remnants of the Taiping Rebellion. In August 1871 the last Taiping rebel army, led by Shi Dakai's commander, Li Fuzhong (李福忠), was completely wiped out by the Qing forces in the border region of Hunan, Guizhou and Guangxi.

The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom's policies[edit]

Within the land that it controlled, the Taiping Heavenly Army established a theocratic and highly militarized rule.

  • The subject of study for the examinations for officials changed from the Confucian classics to the Bible.
  • Private property ownership was abolished and all land was held and distributed by the state.
  • A solar calendar replaced the lunar calendar.
  • Foot binding was banned. (The Hakka people had never followed this tradition, and consequently the Hakka women had always been able to work the fields.[7])
  • Society was declared classless and the sexes were declared equal. At one point, for the first time in Chinese history civil service exams were held for women. Some sources record that Fu Shanxiang, an educated woman from Nanjing, passed them and became an official at the court of the Eastern King.
  • The sexes were rigorously separated. There were separate army units consisting of women only; until 1855, not even married couples were allowed to live together or have sexual relations.[8]
  • The Qing-dictated queue hairstyle was abandoned in favor of wearing the hair long.
  • Other new laws were promulgated including the prohibition of opium, gambling, tobacco, alcohol, polygamy (including concubinage), slavery, and prostitution. These all carried death penalties.


The movement's founder, Hong Xiuquan, had tried and failed to earn his shengyuan civil service degree numerous times. After one such failure in 1836, Hong overheard a Chinese Protestant missionary (Liang Fa) preaching and took home some Chinese translations of Bible tracts which had been translated by Robert Morrison, including a pamphlet titled "Good Words for Exhorting the Age" by Liang Fa. "Hong and his cousin were both baptized in accordance with Liang's directions.[9] The missionary was probably Edwin Stevens of New England, who operated illegally in China.[10] In 1843, after Hong's final failure at the exams, he had what some regard as a nervous breakdown and others as a mystical revelation, connecting his in-depth readings of the Christian tracts to strange dreams he had been having for the past six years. In his dreams, a bearded man with golden hair and a black robe called himself Jehovah, gave him a sword, and taught him to slay demons beside a younger man whom Hong addressed as "Elder Brother".[11]

Hong Xiuquan came to believe that the figures in his dreams were God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son, and that they were revealing his destiny as a slayer of demons and the leader of a new Heavenly Kingdom on Earth.[12] The demons were later interpreted by him to be the Qing and false religions.

Hong developed a literalist understanding of the Bible, producing a set of his own annotations. He rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, saying "God is the Father and embodies myriads of phenomena; Christ is the Son, who was manifest in the body... The Wind of the Holy Spirit, God, is also a Son... God is one who gives shapes to things, molds things into forms, who created heaven and created earth, who begins and ends all things, yet has no beginning or end himself..." and "God and the Savior are one."[13]


In its first year, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom minted coins that were 23 mm to 26 mm in diameter, weighing around 4.1 g. The kingdom's name was inscribed on the obverse and "Holy Treasure" (Chinese: ) on the reverse; the kingdom also issued paper notes.[14]


Miniature of the Palace of Heavenly Kingdom in Nanjing
The Heavenly King's throne in Nanjing

Ranked below the "King of Heaven" Hong Xiuquan, the territory was divided among provincial rulers called kings or princes; initially there were five – the Kings of the Four Cardinal Directions and the Flank King[citation needed]). Of the original rulers, the West King and South King were killed in combat in 1852. The East King was murdered by the North King during a coup in 1856, and the North King himself was subsequently killed. The Kings' names were:

The later leaders of the movement were 'Princes':

  • Zhong Prince (忠王), Li Xiucheng (1823 – 1864, captured and executed by Qing forces)
  • Ying Prince (英王), Chen Yucheng (1837 – 1862)
  • Gan Prince (干王), Hong Rengan (1822 – 1864; cousin of Hong Xiuquan, executed)
  • Jun Prince (遵王), Lai Wenkwok (1827 – 1868)
  • Fu Prince (福王), Hong Renda (洪仁達; Hong Xiuquan's second-eldest brother; executed by Qing forces in 1864)
  • Tian Gui (田貴; executed in 1864)

Other princes include:

  • An Prince (安王), Hong Renfa (洪仁發), Hong Xiuquan's eldest brother
  • Yong Prince (勇王), Hong Rengui (洪仁貴)
  • Fu Prince (福王), Hong Renfu (洪仁富)

In the later years of the Taiping Rebellion, the territory was divided among many, for a time into the dozens, of provincial rulers called princes, depending on the whims of Hong.

See also[edit]


1Note that the uncommon variant character is used, as opposed to the more common (and later, ). The Taiping used wang (, "king") in the center of their character, as opposed to the traditional Chinese huo (, "or", used as a phonetic marker) or the later simplified Chinese yu (, "jade").
Note also that Ten.png uses an uncommon variant with a longer upper stroke than the normal 天. This is similar to the Japanese ten , but Unicode does not offer support as separate character, instead only displaying the Japanese version when Chinese functionality is disabled.


  1. ^ Spence In Search of Modern China, p. 171.
  2. ^ "Feng Yunshan (Chinese rebel leader) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2013-03-08. 
  3. ^ "Taiping Rebellion (Chinese history) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2013-03-08. 
  4. ^ China: a new history, John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman. Harvard, 2006.
  5. ^ Spence 1996, p. 243
  6. ^ Spence (1996)
  7. ^ Spence 1996, p. 25
  8. ^ Spence 1996, p. 234
  9. ^ The Taiping rebellion History and Documents Volume 1 p. 25
  10. ^ Spence 1996, p. 31
  11. ^ Spence 1999, p. 171-172.
  12. ^ Wsu.edu. "Wsu.edu." Taiping Rebellion. Retrieved on 11 April 2007.
  13. ^ The Taiping Rebellion History and Documents, Volume 1 p. 138
  14. ^ "Money of the Kingdom of Heavenly Peace". The Currency Collector. Retrieved 24 March 2016.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

Further reading[edit]

  • Spence, Jonathan D. (1996) God's Chinese Son. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-03844-0
  • Spence, Jonathan D. (1999) The Search for Modern China. New York: Norton.
  • Thomas H. Reilly, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: Rebellion and the Blasphemy of Empire (2004) ISBN 0-295-98430-9
  • Lindley, Augustus, Ti-ping Tien-Kwoh: The History of the Ti-Ping Revolution (1866, reprinted 1970) OCLC 3467844 Google books access
  • Hsiu-ch°êng Li, translator, The Autobiography of the Chung-Wang (Confession of the Loyal Prince) (reprinted 1970) ISBN 978-0-275-02723-0
  • Carr, Caleb, The Devil Soldier: The American Soldier of Fortune Who Became a God in China (1994) ISBN 0-679-76128-4
  • Gray, Jack, Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1800s to the 1980s (1990), ISBN 0-19-821576-2

Additional sources[edit]

The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, 1851–1864
Personal Name Period of Reign Era Names "Nian Hao 年號" (and their according range of years)
Hong Xiuquan洪秀全
August 1851–May 1864
Yannian (元年 Yuánnián) 1851–1864
Hong Tianguifu洪天貴福
May 1864–August 1864