Chapter 6

The historians have discussed why the Qing government armies were so easily defeated and their conclusions are: (1) The military system of Qing Dynasty was that the army controlled by the central government was called Eight-Flag Army and those belonged to the local government were named Green-Camp Army. The Eight-Flag Army could no longer fight after long time of peace (almost two hundred years) and lack of training and practice. The old fighters had long been dead. The new generation of soldiers all came from rich or well-to-do families. They joined the Army as an honor since there was no occasion for fighting at that time. There really were days fixed for training, but most of them just hired some poor young men to be drilled in their names for roll-calling. No one knew whoís who by face. Now the time came for the combat, but they didnít know how to fight. As for the Green-Camp Army their sole duty was to defend the city or town they belonged against small groups of outlaws. They had no experience in big-time fight on the battlefield, like forming a phalanx, and no training whatever for that matter. (2) Every commander wanted to be independent and fought separately. They couldnít unite as a strategic whole. Especially so was the Green-Camp Army. They were accustomed to the way that once they chased the rebels out of their jurisdiction, their duties were performed. The fleeing rebels were the problem of another jurisdiction. (3) There were conflicts of ideas and interests between officials and officers of the Mandarin Clan and those of the Han Clan. The latter looked down upon the former and wouldnít obey the former. The commanders were all from the Mandarin Clan and all were no good. (4) In Qing Dynasty, officials were above officers in status and ranks, but they didnít know how to fight. So officers often disobeyed them. Quite a few officials just ran away in the face of the enemies. (5) The government officers and soldiers often did nasty things to common people like extorting, and so they couldnít get universal support. When the Peaceful Army assaulted Nanking City, there were only five thousand government soldiers to defend it. This was a big city with the circumference of forty-eight kilometers and more than fifteen thousand battlements. Every soldier should safeguard three battlements. No wonder the Peaceful Army entered the city like back into their own home.
After the Heavenly King settled in Nanking City as his capital, he issued two orders. His Heavenly General and Earthly General (their position equivalent to that of a commander) would march twenty thousand strong northbound, detouring Yangzhou City where the government army camped. His Spring General would start from Pukou Town northward. The instruction given to them was to advance towards Peking to overthrow Qing Dynasty. They fought their easy way through Anhui Province and met resistance in Hunan Province. But they penetrated the defense line of the government army and approached Kaifeng City, the capital of Hunan Province. They assailed the city, but couldnít break through. So they went in a roundabout way and ferried across the Yellow River at Yixin Town. They enclosed Huaiqing Town and conquered the government army there, headed by the governor of Zhidi Province (Itís Hebei Province now on the map). They hoofed towards Baoding City, close to Peking.
The emperor was chocked by the message. He scraped up all his forces on hand, including the regiment of his bodyguards, one hundred and fifty thousand in all. By that time, the detachments of the Peaceful Army had reached Tianjin City. The mayor had a section of the dike dug open. The water from the Grand Canal deluged the area and blocked the advance of the Peaceful Army. It was winter already. The soldiers of the Peaceful Army were all from the south of China, where the climate is warm. They could not stand the cold of the north and had to beat a retreat. They were assaulted by the government army in their way to withdraw. The Qing government used Mongolian cavalry to attack the Peaceful Army. Four hooves were much quicker than two feet. Spring General of the Peaceful Army was killed in the battle. Heavenly General was surrounded, waiting for rescue. The Heavenly King did send reinforcement twice, but the reinforcement didnít reach Heavenly General because it was blocked by the government army. The Mongolian cavalry that was encircling Heavenly General broke a part of the dike of a nearby river. The flood soaked the provisions and gunpowder of the Peaceful Army. As a result, Heavenly General was captured and executed. Earthly General escaped with two thousand soldiers, but was ambushed, captured and executed, too. The goal to seize Peking failed, because forty thousand of the Peaceful Army could not fight against one hundred and fifth thousand of the government army. It was in 1855.
However, warfare went on at both sides of the Yangtze River. In April, 1856, Swallow King of the Peaceful Army vanquished the North River Camp of the government army. Then in July of the same year, Swallow King and Wing King together beat the South River Camp. The Peaceful Army had the control of the entire area of the Yangtze River. The revolutionary cause reached its summit.
Emperor Xianfeng ordered some of his courtiers to organize new troops in the southern provinces. One of the courtiers was Zeng Kuofan of the Han Clan. Zeng was born in 1811 in a landlord family. He passed all the government tests in 1838 and was promoted to be the Right Deputy Minister of Etiquette Ministry. When Emperor Xianfeng succeeded to the throne, he got another title of the Left Deputy Minister of Judicial Ministry.
Zeng exercised the self-education of his own character. He believed in patience, perseverance, honesty and hidden wisdom (to show you are not clever, or even stupid). These were his principles in all the things he undertook. There were different ways to organize troops. The way Qing government adopted was that everyone at the right age could join the troops, and the officers were appointed by the government. The officers and soldiers didnít even know each other. There were no other ties between them. Zeng followed another way. He appointed those he knew well as his officers and let his officers recruit their own soldiers, mostly from the same village or from the same neighborhood. They were familiar with each other and cared for each other. The ties between them were not mere military disciplines. So the morale was different. Furthermore, most of his officers were literate, some even learned, while many officers in the government army were illiterate; some even couldnít write his own name, or know his own name if when shown to him. The high-rank government officers if illiterate, had secretaries to do the writing job for them when needed.
Zeng named his army Xiang Army. (Xiang is the substitute word for Hunan Province just like N. Y. for New York State. This was invented for telegram purpose. One word that stands for a province can save money when sending a telegram.) In 1853 when Xiang Army was just born, it wiped out a group of outlaws like testing the sharpness of the edge of a new sword. Then it beat a division of the Peaceful Army. At that time, two detachments of the Peaceful Army had been fighting in the area of the Yellow River, trying to reach Peking. Some other detachments went back westward and took Anqing City and Wuchang City again. They met with Xiang Army in the district between the Xiang River and the Puyang Lake and defeated the young and inexperienced Xiang Army there. As Zeng gathered his beaten troops, he reorganized and trained them, both on land and on the Yangtze River. After that, Xiang Army marched eastward and conquered the detachments of the Peaceful Army and took back Wuchang City once more. Wuchang City was like a ball being played in the field, sometimes falling into the hands of the Peaceful Army and sometimes gotten by the government army. But the detachments that had been defeated were not the main forces of the Peaceful Army. Now Xiang Army advanced further eastward, both on land and by water, and suddenly faced the Wing King of the Peaceful Army at Jiujiang City. Troops headed by Wing King were one of the main forces of the Peaceful Army and so Xiang Army was subdued again. Wing King proceeded towards the upper Yangtze River and occupied Wuchang City once again. Now the Peaceful Army controlled a vast area of the Yangtze River, from Wuchang City in the west to Nanking City in the east, like the sun clambering at the zenith. It was 1856.
The fatal turning point of the Peaceful Army from victory to failure was the inside murdering of each other. It happened in that same year. When the Peaceful Army had just been formed, Heavenly King had made East King take charge of everything like his prime minister. Later, South King and West King had been killed in the battles. When they had settled in Nanking City as the capital, except for Heavenly King, there were only three powerful kings left: East King, North King and Wing King. Other kings were not so powerful. East King was very conceited and often bullied other kings. He had even no proper decorum for Heavenly King, who began to suspect that East King might usurp his position as the head king. Other kings, especially North King, harbored a grudge against East King, who didnít even know. When they had been fighting the government army, they had known the significance of unity and solidarity. But when they had won the day over the North River Camp of the government army, the victory had turned their heads. Heavenly King and North King commenced to plot against East King, who never had thought that such lethal danger could have come to him.
One day, Heavenly King and North King sent their faithful men to assail the residence of East King, who didnít have enough bodyguards to defend himself and was slain. Then the massacre began. His family, his
Relatives and his faithful followers were sought after and all put to death. It was said that the number of the people butchered amounted estimably to twenty thousand. All that time, Wing King was in Anqing City. When
He learned the bloody incident, he hurried back to the capital to blame North King for the slaughter. North King flared up in rage and schemed to assassinate Wing King, who got the wind of it and escaped under the cover of night back to Anqing City. North King had the family of Wing King murdered. When back to Anqing City, Wing King gathered his troops. He had a great deal of supporters among the Peaceful Army because he was always trustworthy and nice to people. When Heavenly King got the message that Wing King would bring his troops to the capital, he panicked and executed North King. Then he had the severed head of North King sent to Wing King to pacify him. When Wing King arrived in the capital, many other kings suggested that Wing King should take charge of everything like East King had done before. But Heavenly King feared that Wing King would become a threat to him some day and so he made his two brothers kings to help him. His eldest brother was made Safety King and his second brother Fortune King. The two kings often interfered with whatever Wing King was carrying out. This made Wing King uneasy. Being afraid to lose his life senselessly like East King and North King, Wing King had to leave the capital with his own troops to go westward for his own independent development. From then on, he didnít keep in contact with Heavenly King anymore. He didnít want to have anything to do with Heavenly King.
Four kings were dead and one king was forced to leave. This greatly weakened the Peaceful Army. The government army seized the opportunity to counterattack. Xiang Army occupied Wuchang City finally. Another government army took Hanyang City. A detachment of Xiang Army had Jiujiang City in control. Therefore, the banners of the Peaceful Army were no longer perceived in Hunan Province and Jiangxi Province. Wing King fought his way from Zhejiang Province through Jiangxi Province and Fujian Province, then across Hunan province, back to Guangxi Province, where he had taken up arms in revolt five years before. Qing government reorganized their North River Camp and South River Camp, which approached Nanking City again.
With five kings gone, two of the other kings became powerful. One was Shrewdness King, who was in Anqing City and the other was Loyalty King, who stayed in the capital to defend it.
In Spring of 1857, in the provinces between the Yellow River and the Yangtze River, there arose another rebellion, which was known as the Nian Army, one hundred thousand strong. They often allied with the Peaceful Army. Qing government had to divide its forces to combat both the Nian Army and the Peaceful Army simultaneously. The Nian Army also called the leaders kings. Every king led a detachment, but they did not have a head king. They fought separately, never unified as a whole, though they assumed the same name. They never set up a capital. They went here and there, never stayed at one place long. The leader of the largest detachment was called Fertility King with eighty thousand fighters. In 1858, he took control of Fengyang town and aimed at Peking. In September of 1858, the Peaceful Army led by Swallow King and Loyalty King subjugated North River Camp again at Pukou Town, and then annihilated a detachment of Xiang Army of six thousand soldiers in Anhui Province. A brother of Zeng was killed in the action. No more threat to Nanking City from the north. Then Action King and Loyalty King of the Peaceful Army worked out a stratagem. Loyalty King marched toward Hangzhou City, the capital of Zhejiang Province, feigning an attack to it. This area was very important to the government army because they got all the provisions from there. So the South River Camp maneuvered eastward to defend the city. A tiger, once out of its lair, was vulnerable. Now Loyalty King turned around to meet the advancing South River Camp of the government army while Shrewdness King, Action King, Service King, Assistant King and five generals attacked the rear and flanks of South River Camp, which couldnít resist the blow of ten fists and were scattered on May 5, 1860, and its commander committed suicide. Besides Jiangsu Province (Nanking City is its capital), the Peaceful Army possessed Zhejiang Province and Fujian Province, though they lost all the provinces west to Anqing City, which had been attacked since spring of 1860 by Xiang Army under the command of another brother of Zeng (Younger Zeng to distinguish from Elder Zeng).
When the shocked reports of the defeats of the two Camps lay on the emperorís desk, he was too downhearted to even have a meeting with his courtiers. He had been ambitious when he had succeeded to the throne many years before. He had wanted to restore his empire to its former glory and prosperity. But contrary to his fond hopes and wishes, the whole situation turned from bad to worse. He felt too tired and depressed to prod the leaning empire, nodding to fall. He gave up his hope and ambition. He didnít want to read any more of such sad reports. He would play the ostrich, burying his head in the sands. So he started to indulge himself in sex and merry-making.
In Qing Dynasty, a royal maid serving in the Forbidden City would either be released to her parentsí home or be married to anyone the emperorís whim took to when she reached the age of twenty-five unless she had become the emperorís concubine before that age. So almost every year, the emperor would select some new ones to replace those released. This took place even in the heat of the warfare between the rebels and the government. Girls from thirteen to seventeen of age must be reported to the Clan Affairs Management, which would do the sifting among girls on the list. After that, only a small group of most suitable girls were qualified to be presented before the emperor, who would choose from them himself. That day, many urgent reports from the war districts appeared before the emperor, demanding his immediate attention. He must read them at once and discuss with the courtiers about the military situations there and about how to instruct his commanders to maneuver their troops. He was back to his palace later than usual.
All the time, the girls were standing in the receiving room of the emperor, waiting for him. They were not permitted to sit down. Just imagine: if you were as young and standing for hours, how would you feel? Hungry. Exhausted. Irritated, maybe. Dare not complain. Wishing you were dead then and there. One of the girls was bold enough to complain aloud, ďItís the war time. Emperor still selects maids.Ē The eunuch in charge panicked because if the emperor heard of it, not only the girl would be executed, but he would also be punished. He bellowed at her, ďShut up. Youíll be beaten if you complain again.Ē He was told that the emperor would soon come. He didnít want the girl to cause trouble for him, and for her, too. But the girl continued as if she hadnít been interrupted, ďIím not afraid of death, let alone beating.Ē The eunuch was really piqued. He raised his right hand, intending to slap her face.
ďLet her speak.Ē The emperor just entered the room in time to save her skin. All the girls kowtowed to the emperor and were bidden to stand up. ďNow,Ē the emperor said to the girl, ďyou can say what you have to say. I wonít take offence.Ē The girl went on, ďEmperor must know thereís war in southern provinces and people died hundreds by hundreds everyday. Thereís flood south of the Yellow River. So many people lost home and everything. In this critical time, Emperor should spend his precious time and energy on these important matters, not on the selection of maids.Ē Cold sweat wetted the clothes of everyone else in this room. They thought the emperor would have her beheaded once she finished, but to everybodyís astonishment, the emperor didnít show any wrath. He only ordered that the girls be sent back to their respective homes. It was because the emperor heard a huge-roomful of flattering words everyday and was bored with them. Now such a young girl could tell him the cruel truth to his face. He was surprised and fascinated. So he pardoned her.