China's Taiping Rebellion:
The International Diplomacy of the Confederacy

by Michael O. Billington

Printed in The American Almanac, June 14, 1993.

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The two British Opium Wars against China occurred between 1842-44 and between 1856-60, the second coming purely because the British were not satisfied with the concessions extracted from the first. In between, China was convulsed by the largest and most devastating peasant revolt in Chinese history outside of the Maoist revolt this century. Nearly one-half of the country was under the control of the Taiping Tianguo (``Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace''), between approximately 1853 and 1865. Between 20 and 30 million people were killed on both sides of the warfare between the Taiping-controlled South and the forces of the Manchu Dynasty in Peking. Overall, China's loss of population, taking into consideration both the death toll and the breakdown of the nation's capacity to support and expand population growth, is estimated by some to approach 100 million.

This in itself gives strong evidence that the British must have had a major hand in the process. This is indeed the case. Lord Palmerston's Britain, together with his allies in the United States, who were in the process of forming the Confederacy, ``played'' the Taiping rebels against the Peking government, both to achieve their genocidal population reduction and to force the Chinese to open up the interior of the country to ``free trade,'' especially in opium. The British Foreign Office, the Caleb Cushing faction of the pre-Confederate forces in the United States, and a faction of the Protestant missionary community in their employ in China can be credited with responsibility for one of the greatest holocausts in history.

Hung Hsiu-Ch'uan and Hung Jen-kan

The Taiping emerged from the devastation of southern China wrought by the first Opium War. When the British crushed the technologically inferior Chinese defenses in 1842, India-grown opium poured into China through Canton and Hong Kong in even greater quantities than before 1840, with tens of millions of Chinese becoming addicts, and the wealth of the nation drained out in the process. In this environment, Hung Hsiu-Ch'uan, a Hakka student from the countryside outside Canton, after failing in the provincial examinations four times, had a nervous breakdown, spending 40 days in bed in a delirious state. He had a ``vision'' which he was later to interpret in the context of some Christian tracts he had picked up in Canton. In the vision, he ascended to Heaven, where an old man (later ``recognized'' as God) gave him a sword and told him to kill demons. Another middle-aged man (this was supposedly Christ) told him how to do it. The old man summoned Confucius to be scorned and whipped for having omitted the true doctrine in his writings.

It was not until his cousin Hung Jen-kan, who had first read the Christian tracts published by the London Missionary Society, told him about Christianity several years later (in 1843) that Hung Hsiu-Ch'uan ``understood'' his vision.

The two Hungs began preaching and organizing, smashing idols, Confucian tablets, etc., and preaching that Hung Hsiu-Ch'uan was the second son of God, Christ's brother, who had been sent to destroy the evil in China. Preaching against opium, fortune-telling, fornication, and the basic sins, they established a religious following.

In 1847, Hung Hsiu-Ch'uan went to Canton to learn more about his adopted religion. He studied for two months with an American missionary, I.J. Roberts, but returned without being baptized when Roberts wouldn't (or couldn't) support him.

While he was gone, some of his followers had organized a movement called the God-Worshipping Society based on Hung as the second Christ, with several thousand followers. A core leadership was formed, with each of the leaders having some magical capacity--one would become possessed whenever there was an organizational problem, and God would speak through him, giving orders. Jesus spoke through another.

The religious content was a mish-mash of an Old Testament autocratic God, with various Buddhist and Taoist notions thrown in. Their view of the after-life was Buddhist, including the transmigration of souls, and much of their imagery was Taoist. Although they taught the New Testament, they never used the cross as a symbol. As we will see, their belief was purely satanic, an explicit rejection of the Christian view of man as created in the image of God, in favor of an obedient piece of a machine, ruled by tight discipline and mystical forms of mind control. This, of course, appealed to the British, and to the Confederate-minded among the American officials and missionaries.

After a confrontation with Manchu officials in 1850, the movement seriously armed itself and began military operations, taking control of an expanding area in southern China. In 1852, they declared war on the Manchu, and appealed to nationalist sentiment to gain support.

In that year, Hung's cousin Hung Jen-kan left for Hong Kong, where he stayed until 1859. While the Taiping captured Nanking, which became their capital, and carried out a northern expedition that nearly succeeded in taking Peking, cousin Jen-kan was engaged in intense training by British and American missionaries. The missionaries were provided by Jen-kan with material for books and articles, launching a massive Anglo-American campaign to glorify the Taiping.

The Taiping were much admired by Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, and, indeed, they closely resembled the communists in many ways. While successfully appealing to the disgust in the population over the moral decay and corruption which accompanied the opium epidemic, and British-led economic looting, those who joined were forced to submit to a total ``communization'' of their possessions, their families, and themselves.

Although women were ``liberated''--foot-binding was forbidden and sexual abuse was strictly punished--they were separated from the men, including their husbands. Women either fought alongside the men in military operations or worked in support functions in segregated female workshops and barracks. All wealth was pooled in a public treasury, and was supposedly equally shared by all, according to communal needs. Land was to be equally divided, although it is not certain this ever happened. Meals were communal, with prayers and worship services strictly adhered to.

The leadership was ``above'' all this. Hung Hsiu-Ch'uan, known as the Heavenly King, was never seen in public. He had a retinue of 1,600 aides and servants serving his court, including a harem (such practices were forbidden for the masses). The other top leaders, known as the Eastern King, the Northern King, etc., had their own mansions and retinues of thousands. The army was not united, but divided into units under the command of the various leaders, who were both generals and administrative officials.

This led to an internal explosion in 1856, when the bestial worldview of the Taiping turned to internecine self-destruction. The army of one faction massacred 20-30,000 followers of another, followed by a third faction laying waste to the first, and so on. In the end, only two of the original six leaders were left, and the empire they had built along the Yangtze River began to collapse.

The Missionaries

Up to this point, it could be argued that this movement was generally ``indigenous,'' with a minor ideological input--and a distorted one at that--from Western missionaries. However, the Taiping could never have reached this stage of power without British covert operations and propaganda. As to the years after this internal collapse, the Taiping owed its entire existence (and ultimately the massacre of its entire following) directly to the British and their American Confederate friends.

Although there were certainly some well-meaning Protestant missionaries in China, the missionary community was also the structure through which some of the greatest evil of British colonial policy was imposed and enforced. One of the most important concessions in the treaty imposed after the first Opium War (along with the seizure of Hong Kong, the opening of several ports to free trade, the legalization of opium sales through these ports, and massive ``reparations,'' to pay the costs incurred by the British in waging war and in lost opium revenues), was the right of missionaries to work freely in the interior of the country. As missionaries had more freedom of operation than merchants, many ``missionaries'' were political or merchant operatives wearing a collar.

Perhaps the best example was the American W.A.P. Martin, a Presbyterian from Indiana who was a close personal friend of Caleb Cushing, the Attorney General in the pre-Civil War years. Cushing, whose family had become rich in the opium trade in China, had personally headed the U.S. mission in 1844 that forced the Chinese, under threat of war, to grant Washington all the concessions extracted by the British through the Opium War--including the right of Cushing's family to continue selling opium to the Chinese people. According to Anton Chaitkin's Treason in America, Cushing went on the bedome the ``single most important U.S. government official in the development and staging of the insurrectionary Southern secession movement throughout the 1840s and 1850s.'' Missionary W.A.P. Martin would later draw on Attorney General Cushing to support his plan to dismember China and impose foreign rule through the Taiping rebels.

Martin was one of many U.S. and British missionaries and statesmen who traveled back and forth from their growing settlement in Shanghai to the Taiping capital in Nanking, starting immediately after the capture of Nanking in early 1853. The reports of these trips and their impressions were printed around the world, sounding very much like the starry-eyed first few rounds of tourists after the 1971 ``opening'' of Maoist China by Henry Kissinger, before the bloody truth emerged from the survivors after Mao's death. Before proceeding to Martin's more diabolical writings, I include here a few quotes that shaped public opinion ``back home'':

Rev. George Smith, Anglican Primate on the China coast: ``The future of English hopes ... center on the Taiping... whose combination of essential truth with partial error had convulsed one-third of mankind!''

Dr. Medhurst of the London Missionary Society: ``What a moral revolution! The Wonder of the Age!''

Rev. Joseph Edkins and others from England, writing jointly in the British North China Herald, praised the Taiping openness to the ``brethren of the Western Ocean,'' reporting that they were not as cruel as some had said, and gushed that ``the opening of the 18 provinces to trade, they say, would be a blessing to them.''

This, the ``opening of the 18 provinces,'' was the crucial issue. The treaty of the first Opium War was scheduled to be re-negotiated in 1856. The Anglo-Americans were determined to force the Peking government to agree to unlimited access to the interior of the country, not just the designated coastal ports, as well as the total legalization of opium and other concessions. This effort began well before the 1856 date, and the Taiping were the major ``leverage'' against Peking. The Western powers were officially neutral in the Peking government's war against the Taiping until 1862, but their support for the rebellion was published openly in the press, while diplomatically Peking was threatened with British recognition of the Taiping government in the south if Peking did not concede to every demand on the treaty renegotiation.

The American missionary W.A.P. Martin was a key player in this British game. Martin came from the ``Old School'' of mid-nineteenth century Presbyterians, which strongly opposed the fight against slavery in the ``New School'' faction. His father, at his death, decreed freedom for his slaves, but only if they agreed to go to Liberia under the direction of the ``American Colonization Society,'' to which the Martins belonged. Arriving in China in 1849, Martin was to become a legend, remaining there (except for visits to the U.S.A.) until his death in 1916. He was among the closest personal friends of Robert Hart, the virtual British ``Governor-General'' of colonial China from his position as director of the Imperial Maritime Customs for nearly half a century, and of Anson Burlingame, the American minister, who was hired by the defeated Chinese government to ``represent'' them as minister plenipotentiary in 1868.

Martin became an early spokesman for the Taiping, writing for the colonial Shanghai newspaper, the North China Herald, and, not surprisingly as a paid correspondent for the New York Times (under a pseudonym). Against those who complained of the fanaticism of the Taipings' pseudo-Christian beliefs, Martin responded: ``Would not a ruler who styled himself the `younger brother of Jesus Christ' be more likely to submit to the Holy See than one who calls himself the `Son of Heaven'?''

But his primary concern was not the disposition of the souls of the Chinese. In a series of three ``open letters'' to his friend, U.S. Attorney General Caleb Cushing, published in the North China Herald for all to see, Martin argued for recognition of the Taiping in order to force political and economic concessions from the Peking government.

He wrote: ``The Tartars (Manchu) dynasty, too far gone in senility to afford any encouraging prospect of reformation, will now, perhaps, consider the expediency of recognizing its youthful rival which, catching the spirit of the age, may be prevailed upon to unlock the treasures of the interior and throw open its portals to unrestricted trade.... Divide and conquer is the strategem to be employed in storming the citadels of oriental exclusiveness. The rival dynasties may readily be played against each other.... We have obtained from the Manchus (the right to trade on the coast), and the insurgents having to their sorrow (referring to shortages experienced due to early British cutoffs of goods--ed.) learnt the value of foreign trade, would open to us all the cities along the Yangtze and its tributaries.... Should our envoy appear in the Yangtze with a squadron of our own lordly(!) steamers flyers the banners of liberty..., the Taiping chief, overawed by the display of power... would not likely refuse the utmost of our demands.'' All this in the name of God.

In a statement which may be the first declaration of the ``Thornburgh Doctrine,'' the product of a later attorney general who clearly followed in Cushing's footsteps, Martin wrote that he agreed with Cushing that ``the law of nations is in fact only the international law of Christendom,'' obviously referring to the dictates of the two most powerful nations in the Christian world, England and the United States. So much for the sovereignty of nations.

The Diplomatic "Soft Cops"

On the diplomatic side, the British consul in Shanghai, Rutherford Alcock, typified the ``hard cop, soft cop'' approach to Peking. Alcock publicly opposed the Taiping, and called for a military blockade by Western forces of the Taiping areas as early as 1853. His proposal called for a full mobilization, coupled with a demand of Peking to allow immediately unlimited access to the interior, ``direct relations with Peking, and legalization of the opium trade--all to be had within 2 months.'' Later, in 1860, while the British were preparing their invasion of Peking to force submission to their treaty demands, Alcock threatened Peking with British recognition of the Taiping while at the same moment provoking an incident to justify British shelling of Nanking, the Taiping capital!

The U.S. diplomats were essentially an appendage of British policy. In 1855, the Rev. Peter Parker, an old China hand from Yale, was named U.S. consul. He proposed that the United States back the British treaty demands, and that France should be given Korea, while the U.S.A. took Formosa. By 1859, the U.S. plenipotentiary to China was a Georgia lawyer, John Ward, who, together with the head of U.S. Naval forces, Josiah Tattnall, also a southerner, brought in U.S. military support to the British after a tactical victory by Chinese forces defending Peking. It was Tattnall who, at that time, coined the racist phrase that ``blood is thicker than water,'' to justify this U.S. pact with the devil.

A Closer Look at Hung Jen-kan

In 1859, cousin Hung Jen-kan, after seven years of intense training in Hong Kong, returned to Nanking. This was after the internal collapse in 1856 and 1857 had left the Taiping totally dependent on Britain's ongoing second Opium War against Peking, which prevented the government armies from mopping up the crumbling Taiping. Jen-kan was immediately made the effective ruler of the entire Taiping operation, although not without resentment from other leaders. He was named Shield Prince, Premier, and Generalissimo. He immediately wrote a document called ``A New Work for Aid in Government,'' a proposal based entirely on British bureaucratic social and economic structures, centered on free trade and an alliance with the British. He said in the document: ``At present (England) is the mightiest nation of the world, owing to its superior laws. The English are noted for their intellectual power and national strength, are proud by nature, and averse to being subordinate.''

Where did he acquire this Anglophile training? During his seven years in Hong Kong, he studied with British, American, and Swiss missionaries. The Swiss minister wrote a book about the Taiping based on Jen-kan's reports, and baptized him. The British Dr. Medhurst, quoted earlier praising the Taiping as the ``Wonder of the Age,'' instructed Jen-kan in the Bible. But his primary mentor was the famous James Legge, whose translations and annotations of all the Chinese classics, Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist, are still the accepted ``authority'' today. Legge hired Jen-kan as an evangelist for four years. While laboring to destroy the humanist tradition in Confucianism, with a special hatred for the great leader of the Confucian Renaissance in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Chu Hsi, Legge was training the leader of a pagan insurgency to impose British colonial rule over China.

Hung Jen-kan's document on government was sent to his missionary controllers in Hong Kong before it was published in Nanking. It was, in fact, published first in the North China Herald in 1860, along with a long interview with Hung Jen-kan and voluminous praise from his missionary friends. This was taking place while the British and French forces were overrunning Peking, and looting and burning the Summer Palace, the spectacular concentration of buildings and artwork, which had been constructed over centuries, with significant collaboration from the Jesuit missionaries and other international forces. With the collapse of the Peking government, the Taiping were no longer needed by the British/Confederate alliance led by Lord Palmerston.

During 1860 and 1861, the British remained officially neutral, until a palace coup d'etat in 1861 placed the Manchu government firmly in the hands of British collaborators and ousted those allied with nationalist forces in the military. The British then turned entirely against their own protected insurgency, giving full support to the government forces in wiping out the Taiping, to the last man. This included British and American sponsorship of the infamous ``Ever Victorious Army'' under American soldier of fortune Frederick Townsend Ward, and later under Charles ``Chinese'' Gordon. Gordon had earlier personally torched the Summer Palace, and was later to be killed by the Sudanese rebels at Khartoum in 1885.

Following this massive genocide, W.A.P. Martin professed regret over the devastation, while embracing the most evil aspects of the racist ``Manifest Destiny'' and ``White Man's Burden'' ideology: ``In the dispensation of Providence, it seems to be necessary that these conceited Asiatics should be humbled by the Sword, before they are exalted by the Gospel.''

His advocacy of Adam Smith's ``free trade'' views also conformed to Adam Smith's famous ``invisible hand'' doctrine: ``To the man of reflection, it presents a striking instance of what is so often noticed in the course of history--God accomplishing his great and wise purposes by allowing man to pursue his petty, private and unjustifiable ends.''

The population of the three provinces of Chekiang, Anhuei and Kiangsi in 1850, at the beginning of the Taiping rebellion, was 136,300,000. One hundred years later, in 1953, the population of those three provinces was still only 117,138,000.

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The preceding article is a rough version of the article that appeared in The American Almanac. It is made available here with the permission of The New Federalist Newspaper. Any use of, or quotations from, this article must attribute them to The New Federalist, and The American Almanac.

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