Tianjing incident

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The Tianjing Incident (天京事變) occurred during the late Qing Dynasty from September 2 to October 1856. This was a major internal conflict within the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom which took place in its capital city Tianjing. A few key leaders of the Taiping Rebellion were killed; the East King Yang Xiuqing, the North King Wei Changhui and the Yan King Qin Rigang. More than 27,000 other civilians and troops perished in the conflict as well. The Tianjing Incident was said to be one of the factors which led to the eventual failure of the Taiping Rebellion, as well as the turning point in its fate.

Historical background[edit]

In 1851, the Taiping Rebellion's leader Hong Xiuquan conferred the title of 'King' on five of his most loyal followers and placed them under the jurisdiction of the East King Yang Xiuqing. After the deaths of the South King Feng Yunshan and the West King Xiao Chaogui, most of the power of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom fell into the hands of Yang Xiuqing.

In the early years of the Taiping Rebellion, the real power of the military was in the hands of the Military Advisor (軍師) and the leader Heavenly King Hong Xiuquan did not actually wield any power in his hands and was merely a puppet leader. The real power of the military was actually in the hands of the East King Yang Xiuqing, who gained more power following the deaths of the South and West Kings. Hong Xiuquan declared in 1848 that the spirit of the 'Holy Father' (天父) would possess Yang Xiuqing and give him orders through Yang. This had allowed Yang to become even more influential and placed him in a position higher than Hong, as Yang often gave orders to Hong, who was supposed to be his superior, in the name of the 'Holy Father'. When this happened, Hong had no choice but to follow the orders of the 'Holy Father', which were actually Yang's orders.

After the Taiping Army captured Nanjing and established its capital city there, renaming it to Tianjing, Yang Xiuqing's relationships with the other Kings gradually worsened. The North King Wei Changhui was flogged on Yang Xiuqing's orders once, as his subordinate had offended Yang. Later, Wei's relative had a dispute over property with Yang's relative, which angered Yang. Yang Xiuqing called Wei Changhui to decide the punishment for Wei's relative together, and Wei replied that his relative should be torn into five parts. Once, the Yi King Shi Dakai's father-in-law Huang Yukun offended Yang Xiuqing and was ordered to be flogged 300 times, and his nobility title removed and demoted. In the same incident, the Yan Prince Qin Rigang and another high-ranking official Chen Chengrong were also flogged on Yang Xiuqing's orders. Even the Heavenly King was not spared from being flogged, as Yang often pretended that the 'Holy Father' had possessed him and used the name of the 'Holy Father' to punish Hong Xiuquan. Yang Xiuqing monopolised the power of the kingdom and became increasingly influential, making him feared and hated by the others, but none dared to oppose him.


On 20 June 1856, the Taiping Army defeated the Qing army led by Xiang Rong and lifted the three-year-long siege on Tianjing. Xiang Rong died on 9 August and news of his death reached Tianjing. The East King Yang Xiuqing saw that the Kingdom was functioning well and began to make his plans to seize power.

Shortly afterwards, Yang Xiuqing pretended to be possessed by the 'Holy Father' and summoned the Heavenly King Hong Xiuquan to his residence. Yang said to Hong, "You and the East King are both my sons. The East King has made significant contributions, so why is he still being hailed as *'Long Live for Nine Thousand Years' instead of 'Long Live for Ten Thousand Years'?" Hong Xiuquan replied, "The East King has indeed made significant contributions by conquering an empire, so he should be hailed as 'Long Live for Ten Thousand Years'." The 'Holy Father'-possessed Yang Xiuqing asked again, "Should the East King's son be hailed as 'Long Live for a Thousand Years'?" Hong Xiuquan replied, "Since the East King is hailed as 'Long Live for Ten Thousand Years', his son and his descendants should also be hailed as 'Long Live for Ten Thousand Years' as well." The 'Holy Father'-possessed Yang Xiuqing said happily, "I'm returning to heaven."

At that time, the North King Wei Changhui requested for Hong Xiuquan to punish Yang Xiuqing by having Yang executed but Hong refused to do so. Yang Xiuqing ordered Wei Changhui and the Yi King Shi Dakai to leave the capital to reinforce the armies on the western frontier. As such, among all the Kings, only Yang Xiuqing and Hong Xiuquan were left in the capital city.

Chen Chengrong met Hong Xiuquan secretly, claiming that Yang Xiuqing had the intention of committing regicide and usurping the throne. Hong Xiuquan issued a secret edict to Wei Changhui, Shi Dakai and Qin Rigang, ordering them to get rid of Yang Xiuqing. Wei Changhui led 3000 troops from the western frontier back to Tianjing and on the night of 1 September, Wei Changhui and Qin Rigang's armies met outside the city. Chen Chengrong received them by opening the gates of the city, and the armies charged into the residence of Yang Xiuqing in the wee hours of the morning. Yang Xiuqing was killed, along with everyone else in his residence, including his 54 wives and concubines. Later, Wei Changhui started a purge to remove all of his potential rivals in the name of eliminating the remnant followers of Yang Xiuqing. Several of Yang Xiuqing's supporters and followers were killed in the massacre, along with several innocent civilians as well. The total number of casualties amounted to more than 27,000 people.

On 26 September, Shi Dakai returned to Tianjing. He met with Wei Changhui and he reprimanded the latter severely for the massacre of several innocent civilians before storming off in anger. Later, Shi Dakai fled Tianjing as he realised that Wei Changhui would not let him off. As expected, Wei Changhui did send troops to arrest Shi Dakai, but Shi had already fled, so Wei had Shi Dakai's family and subordinates killed as well. Shi Dakai started a rebellion outside Tianjing, calling for all to rise up against Wei Changhui and requested for Hong Xiuquan to have Wei Changhui executed to appease the anger of the common people. As most of the military outside Tianjing supported Shi Dakai, Wei Changhui started to panic and he ordered an attack on Hong Xiuquan's residence, attempting to seize power. The coup was crushed by Hong Xiuquan's loyal subordinates and the former followers of Yang Xiuqing. Wei Changhui was killed on 2 November and his severed head was sent to Shi Dakai to appease Shi Dakai's anger. Wei Changhui's partners-in-crime Qin Rigang and Chen Chengrong were subsequently executed as well after the death of Wei Changhui. This marked the end of the Tianjing Incident.

Later, Hong Xiuquan granted the deceased Yang Xiuqing amnesty and acquitted Yang of his crimes of harbouring the intention of usurping the throne. Yang Xiuqing's death was later marked as 'The East King ascends to Heaven'.


After the Tianjing Incident, the leaders of the rebellion gradually lost popular support from the people, and the rebellion started to decline. The military's morale was greatly shakened and they started losing battles against the Qing armies. The turn of tide caused the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom's territories to become gradually reduced and it fell towards the losing end.

After the deaths of the East King Yang Xiuqing and the North King Wei Changhui, the Yi King Shi Dakai was put in command of the Taiping Army and wielded control over the entire military. Hong Xiuquan was irate over Shi Dakai's popularity and feared that he might attempt to seize power again as Yang and Wei did, hence he appointed his brothers as Kings in order to weaken Shi Dakai's influence and prevent Shi from consolidating too much power. As Hong Xiuquan worked to undermine him, Shi Dakai realized that Hong's suspicions will not be dispelled, and that if he stayed he will face either murder or risk another civil war, Shi Dakai left Tianjing in 1857 with his army, which caused the Kingdom to be in greater peril.

In the early years of the Taiping Rebellion, the power of the military was in the hands of the Military Advisor (軍師), but after the Tianjing Incident and Shi Dakai's departure, the position of Military Advisor was not succeeded by anyone and only existed in name. Also, the government of the Kingdom gradually became more and more corrupt, which accounted for its decline and eventual collapse.