Throughout history, China was plagued by internal revolts and rebellions.
Often these revolts were movements that gave people hope for a different
life and offered an end to their suffering. For this reason, the Chinese
authorities were always suspicious and alert for the development of any
group that challenged traditional beliefs in family and state. The 1800s
were no different. What was striking, however, was the kind of rebellion
that occurred and the extent of the upheavals.
No other event devastated China as much in the 19th century as the Taiping (pronounced
(1850-64). It was sparked by the leadership
of one man, Hong Xiuquan (pronounced shiou-chuan), from the south of
China, who in 1847 failed the imperial examinations for the third time
and was delirious for 30 days. When he recovered, he believed that he
and his band of believers had been chosen to conquer China, destroy the
demon Manchu rulers, and establish the Taiping Tianguo — the Heavenly
Kingdom of Great Harmony. Gathering followers first from the poor and
outcast, he and his recruits gradually built up an army and political
organization that swept across China. They made their way to central
China and by the late 1850s controlled over a third of the country. Their
movement was so strong and so popular that it took the central government
millions of dollars and fifteen years to defeat them. Not until 1864
was the rebellion brutally put down. It is estimated that the entire
rebellion cost more than twenty million lives (twice that of World War
I). Even by the 1950s, some parts of central China had not yet fully
recovered from the destruction of the Taiping era.