Chapter 5

Unfortunately for Emperor Xianfeng, in the second year of his reign, 1851, a great rebellion broke out in the south of China on a large scale, in a religious cloak. But before that, there had been other rebellions in a religious cloak, too. These rebellions had lasted very long. There were two main rebellious organizations. First was the White Lotus Taoists, which had originated in the Yuan Dynasty to fight against the Mongolian Clan, who had galloped down south from Mongolia in the far north and after occupying China, had established the Yuan Dynasty. When the Mongolian Clan had been driven back after their reign of a little less than a hundred years, the White Lotus Taoists had been dormant, because the next dynasty, Ming Dynasty, had been founded by the same Han Clan. Sometimes, they had killed some corrupted officials. When the Mandarin Clan had set up their Qing Dynasty, the White Lotus Taoists had risen up to arms again like an awakened lion or a phoenix rising from the ashes. Especially from 1793 to 1802, they had combated against the Mandarin Clan in five provinces in Midwest China. The other main rebellious organization was Heaven & Earth Society, first organized in 1786 in Taiwan. After 1793, they had set foot on the mainland. Their branches had scattered over many provinces, but battled separately, never united.


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Since early in Qing Dynasty, many clergymen and priests had come to China to save the souls of the Chinese people. They had left their footprints everywhere, even in the remote villages. Using the western religious theory as their basic creeds, the largest and longest rebellious organization was born in 1851. It was called God-Worshipper Society. There had been quite a few rebellions since the Mandarin Clan had crossed the Great Wall and conquered the Han Clan. These were really political organizations in a religious cloak. So was the God-Worshipper Society.
The leader of the God-Worshipper Society was then a young man, Hong by name, born on January 10, 1813, in Guangdong Province. His father was a peasant, tilling the fields to grow vegetables and raising poultries. Hong had two older brothers, who helped their father with the sowing and reaping work. At that time cows were used to plough the ground. They had two cows. Though the family was not rich, they had enough to live on. So the father sent his youngest son, Hong, to a local tutor for education, pinning the hope on the son that some day he would pass the government tests and become an official. But karma arranged for him to take another road in his life. He failed all the tests. In 1836 after his last test failed, he met with someone in the streets of Canton City, who was distributing some books. Hong was given a copy, but he kept it at home and never read it. The failure in the tests made him so downhearted that he decided he would no longer take the tests. He became a tutor giving classes to children in his village.
One day in May of 1843, he found time heavy on hands. As he wanted to get some book to read for pastime, he came across the copy long forgotten. It was a gospel book written by a Chinese Christian. The book charmed him so much after he finished it that he wanted to tell people things in the book. So he quit tutoring and started preaching. He no more believed in Buddha. He no more believed in Confucius, whom almost all the scholars worshipped. He believed in God now and created the God-Worshipper Society. He left home for another province, Guangxi Province (west to Guangdong Province he was born in), and turned over a new leaf in his life. He preached in villages after villages there, sowing his seeds. His believers increased rapidly. He set up his headquarters in Jintian Village, which was like a gunpowder barrel that only needed a match.
In 1850, there were droughts in Guangxi Province. Food was scarce. The food merchants raised the prices. People who were starving began to attack the rich people’s residences for food. The rich people organized their own guards to resist. The God-Worshipper Society had its believers in many places all over the province. The believers consisted of all kinds of people, from rich residents to poor tramps, from charcoal burners to peasants. In 1851, a match was applied to the gunpowder barrel. A small town police officer, who had been sent to arrest a thief, came across the charcoal burners in the woods near Jintian Village on his way back. He was a corrupted officer and often racketeered people for money. This time he asked for money from the charcoal burners, who made charcoals from the tree branches and lived from hand to mouth. Of course, they refused his demand. As the charcoal burners greatly outnumbered his policemen, he had to leave empty-handed, but he threatened to come back with more policemen to arrest them as rebels. The charcoal burners were afraid and gathered in a rich believer’s yard for a discussion what to do. Meantime, the police officer happened to meet another rich believer and took his concubine away from him as a vengeance on the believers. Now the gunpowder was ignited. All the believers came to Jintian Village and the leader Hong declared that God was Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ was Heavenly Brother and that he was Heavenly Son sent down by Heavenly Father to save the world. Then he organized them. They called themselves the Peaceful Army, because their purpose was to bring peace to this world. The uprising took place on January 11, 1851.
The emperor received the report about the riot seven days later. He sent government armies to quench the rebellion. The Peaceful Army marched eastbound. They defeated the armies of Qing government and took over quite a few towns, but they didn’t stay there long. They continued the eastward advance till they came to YongAn City. The word “YongAn” means “long safety”. It’s a good name for a city. So they founded a kingdom there, called Peaceful Heavenly Kingdom. Hong made himself the Heavenly King and gave titles to his chief followers, who were also leaders of troops. There were so many kings in this kingdom: East King, North King, West King, South King, Shrewdness King, Swallow King, Protection King, Assistant King and Wing King, who should be like the wings of a bird to make it fly up.
They put up slogans so that people could know what was their goal. Their slogans were: “If there’s land, plough together; if there’s food, eat together; if there’re clothes, use together; if there’s money, spend together.” And “Absolute equality everywhere. Enough food and clothes for everyone.” These slogans fascinated and attracted a vast number of poor people, and hence swelled the Peaceful Army.
Their sublime aim was to overthrow Qing Dynasty and drive the Mandarin Clan out beyond the Great Wall, back to where they had come from. An order stated that anyone in the Peaceful Army, if coming in possession of anything, must hand in to the Heavenly Treasury and everyone could get a share from it when needed. Therefore, unlike the armies of Qing government, the Peaceful Army had good discipline and was supported by the people. Many young beggars and vagabonds joined it. Another edict was given that people of the Han Clan should grow their hair on the front part of their pate and restore the hairstyle of Han Clan. The male hair style of the Mandarin Clan was to shave the front part of the pate clean and braid the back part of the hair into a pigtail. When the Mandarin Clan had built up their Qing Dynasty, they had ordered all the male people of the Han Clan to wear their hair in the same style. Whoever had refused would have been beheaded. Their slogan was: “Hair or head.” (It meant that if you wanted your hair, you could not keep your head on your shoulders.) So when the Peaceful Army grew their hair, Qing government called them Long-Hair.
While the Peaceful Army was celebrating their victory and newly-founded regime, Qing government gathered large troops and encircled YongAn City. In March, 1852, the Peaceful Army concentrated its forces and wedged out from the enclosure of the government army. The government army pursued, but was put to rout. The Peaceful Army headed for Guilin City, the capital of Guangxi Province. They surrounded the City for a month, but could not take it. So they quit and marched northbound.
The emperor sent three detachments to attack the Peaceful Army, but were also beaten. Then the government troops gathered in Wuchang City for the purpose to prevent the Peaceful Army from going further north. The emperor issued an order to allow cities, towns and even villages to organize and train their own people for self-protection.
On December 7, 1852, the Peaceful Army split itself into two sections. One section went on land and the other by water. They obtained plenty of ships from the government army. Their goal was the Wu-Han area, which included Wuchang City, Hanyang City and Hankou City. The Three Cities were the important military strategic area on the upper Yangtze River. Within ten days the Peaceful Army occupied the three cities one after another. The Heavenly King and all his other kings stayed in Wuchang City to celebrate and recruit while the emperor ordered his army commanders to set up defense lines in Hunan Province, Hubei Province and Anhui Province to blockade the advance of the Peaceful Army towards Nanking City.
On February 9, 1853, after the Chinese New Year, the Peaceful Army left Wuchang City, dividing itself again into two sections. They went on land alongside and by water on the Yangtze River. They aimed at Nanking City. They took over many cities and towns along the way, like Jiujiang City, Anqing City, which was a very important spot in the military point of view, and Wuwu City. On March 18, the Peaceful Army entered Nanking City. They changed the name to Tianking City. (Tianking means the Heavenly Capital.)
The Peaceful Army established new law and order in the City. It was very simple: “Those who killed others would be executed.” No robbery or theft happened because the excessive things must go to the warehouses of the Heavenly Treasury. Every twenty-five families formed a social unit. A unit leader was elected. Atrong male adult was chosen from every family to form the basic military unit. The twenty-five families worked together and lived together. There was a treasury warehouse in every unit. Everything they got was stored there and everything necessary for the living was supplied from there. It was said that the foreign governments sent their representatives to have a look in Nanking City, surprised at all these. They thought it was a revolutionary army and hereby kept strictly neutral between the two regimes.
When the message reached the Forbidden City, the emperor lost his appetite in anxiety. He appointed new commanders to organize two detachments. One set up their camp in the area of Purple Golden Mountain not far from Nanking City on the southern side of the Yangtze River. It was called the South River Camp. The other camped in Yangzhou City on the northern side of the Yangtze River, hence called the North River Camp.