The civil war in China in the 1800s was 25 times more deadly than the civil war in the United States of America in the 1800s. In the former 25,000,000 people died, whereas in the latter 1,000,000 lost their lives. China’s last dynasty, the Manchu Qing (1644-1912) saw the uprising of the Chinese people beginning in 1850, due to its autocratic rule and unfairness to peasants prevalent at that time. Headed by a Chinese Hakka, Hong Xinquan, who claimed he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ, the massive uprising resulted in severe loss of life, in war and in famine. The Qings managed to eventually quell the uprising in 1864 and afterwards implemented changes which included installing more ethnic Chinese people in its administration. In the USA, the Northern States Union under president Abraham Lincoln fought a civil war against the Southern Confederates beginning in 1861, primarily over the issue of slavery. Eventually Lincoln and his effective general Ulysses Grant beat the Confederates in 1865, which ended slavery or bondage in that nation, and all blacks began to live as equal citizens.

A. The Chinese Civil War

  1. In approximately 2,000 words, I will describe two major civil wars in the 1800s, and make a comparison of them.
  2. The civil war in China was the Taiping Rebellion.
  3. Manchu Qing-dynasty China during the early to mid-19th century suffered a series of natural disasters, economic problems and defeats by Western powers, in particular the humiliating defeat in 1842 by the British Empire in the First Opium War.
  4. Farmers were heavily overtaxed, rent was rising, and peasants were deserting their lands in droves.
  5. These problems were further exacerbated by a trade imbalance caused by the large-scale illicit import of opium.
  6. Banditry was becoming more common, as were secret societies and self-defense units, all of which led to an increase in small-scale warfare.
  7. Meanwhile, the population of China had increased rapidly, nearly doubling between 1766 and 1833. 
  8. The government, commanded by ethnic Manchus, had become increasingly corrupt.
  9. Anti-Manchu sentiments were strongest in southern China among the Hakka community, a Han Chinese subgroup.
  10. Around this time, Christianity was beginning to make inroads in China.
  11. In 1837, Hong Xiuquan, a Hakka man from a poor village in Guangdong province, once again failed the imperial examination, frustrating his ambition to become a scholar-official in the civil service. He returned home, fell sick and was bedridden for several days, during which he experienced mystical visions.
  12. In 1843, after carefully reading a pamphlet he had received years before from a Protestant Christian missionary, Hong declared that he now understood that his vision meant that he was the son of God, and that he had been sent to rid China of the “devils”, including the corrupt Qing government and Confucian teachings. Hong began preaching in 1844.
  13. In 1847, Hong went to Guangzhou, where he studied the Bible with an American Baptist missionary. The missionary refused to baptize him and later stated that Hong’s followers were bent on making religious pretensions to serve their political purpose.
  14. The movement at first grew by suppressing groups of bandits and pirates in southern China in the late 1840s.
  15. Then suppression of the movement itself by the Qing authorities led the confrontation to evolve into guerrilla warfare and subsequently a widespread civil war.
  16. The Taiping Rebellion began when local Qing officials launched a campaign of religious persecution against the God Worshipping Society. In early January 1851, following a small-scale battle in late December 1850, a 10,000-strong rebel army defeated the Qing forces.  
  17. On 11 January 1851, Hong declared himself the Heavenly King of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom.
  18. On 19 March 1853, the Taipings captured the city of Nanjing and Hong declared it the Heavenly Capital of his kingdom.
  19. Since the Taipings considered the Manchus to be demons, they first killed all the Manchu men, then forced the Manchu women outside the city and burned them to death.
  20. In 1853, Hong Xiuquan withdrew from active control of policies and administration to rule exclusively by written proclamations.
  21. Hong lived in luxury and had many women in his inner chamber, and often issued religious strictures.
  22. Hong declared that his followers should not “commit adultery or be lustful” and should reject “the cast of romantic glances, the harbouring of lustful thoughts about others, the smoking of opium and the singing of erotic songs” or be punished with beheadings.
  23. Further, the rebels announced social reforms, including strict separation of the sexes, abolition of foot binding, land socialisation, and “suppression” of private trade.
  24. In religion, the Kingdom tried to replace Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion with the Taiping’s version of Christianity, God Worshipping, which held that Hong Xiuquan was the younger brother of Jesus.
  25. The libraries of the Buddhist monasteries were destroyed. Temples of Daoism, Confucianism, and other traditional beliefs were often defaced.
  26. The Taiping army was the rebellion’s key strength. It was marked by a high level of discipline and fanaticism.
  27. The overall size of the Taiping army is estimated at around 2,000,000 soldiers.
  28. Combat was always bloody and extremely brutal, with little artillery but huge forces equipped with small arms.
  29. While the Taiping rebels did not have the support of Western governments, they were relatively modernized in terms of weapons. An ever growing number of Western weapons dealers and blackmarketeers sold Western weapons such as modern muskets, rifles, and cannons to the rebels.
  30. Socially and economically, the Taiping rebels came almost exclusively from the lowest classes.
  31. Almost none were landlords and in occupied territories, landlords were often executed.
  32. The Taiping Rebellion was a total war. Almost every citizen who had not fled the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was given military training and conscripted into the army to fight against Qing imperial forces.
  33. Under Hong Xiuquan, the goals of the Taipings were religious, nationalist, and political in nature; they sought the conversion of the Chinese people to the Taiping’s version of Christianity, the overthrow of the ruling Manchus, and a wholesale transformation and reformation of the state.
  34. Rather than simply supplanting the ruling class, the Taipings sought to upend the moral and social order of China. 
  35. Under the Taipings, the Chinese language was simplified, and equality between men and women was decreed. All property was to be held in common, and equal distribution of the land according to a primitive form of communism was planned.
  36. Inside China, the rebellion faced resistance from the traditionalist rural classes because of hostility to Chinese customs and Confucian values.
  37. The landowning upper class, unsettled by the Taiping ideology and the policy of strict separation of the sexes, even for married couples, sided with government forces and their Western allies.
  38. Opposing the rebellion was an imperial army with over a million regulars and thousands of regional militias with foreign mercenaries operating in support.
  39. Weakened severely by an attempted coup within the Kingdom and being unable to capture the Qing capital of Beijing, the Taipings were ultimately defeated.
  40. Four months before the fall of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, Hong Xiuquan abdicated in favour of his eldest son, Hong Tianguifu, who was 15 years old. The younger Hong was inexperienced and powerless, so the kingdom was quickly destroyed when Nanjing fell in July 1864 to the imperial armies after protracted street-by-street fighting. Tianguifu and few others escaped but were soon caught and executed.
  41. Hong Xiuquan declared that God would defend Nanjing, but in June 1864, with Qing forces approaching, Hong was found dead, believed to have been poisoned.
  42. In the province of Guangdong, 1,000,000 Taipings were executed. The Qing dynasty launched waves of massacres against the Hakkas, that at their height killed up to 30,000 each day. These policies of mass murder of civilians occurred elsewhere in China, including Nanjing. This resulted in a massive civilian flight and death toll, with some 600 towns destroyed.
  43. It is generally estimated that the war dead was 25 million, with a recent Chinese study estimating up to 70 million dead. 30 million people fled the conquered regions to foreign settlements or other parts of China.
  44. The Taiping Rebellion led to changes within the Qing dynasty. Power was, to a limited extent, decentralized, and ethnic Han Chinese officials were more widely employed in high positions than they had previously been.
  45. The Taiping Christianity placed little emphasis on New Testament ideas of kindness, forgiveness, and redemption. Rather, it emphasized the wrathful Old Testament God who demanded worship and obedience. Prostitution, foot-binding, and slavery were prohibited, as well as opium smoking, adultery, gambling, and use of tobacco and alcohol.
  46. Ultimately, the Taiping Rebellion inspired Dr Sun Yat-sen and other revolutionaries, as well as the Chinese Communist Party.

B. The American Civil War

  1. The American Civil War from 1861 to 1865 was fought between Northern states loyal to the Union and Southern states that had seceded to form the Confederate States of America.
  2. Slavery was illegal in much of the North, having been outlawed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was also fading in the border states and Southern cities, but it was expanding in the highly profitable cotton districts of the rural South and Southwest.
  3. The civil war began primarily as a result of the controversy over the enslavement of black people.
  4. Between 1861 and 1865, 237 battles were fought, as were many more minor actions and skirmishes. The American Civil War was to prove one of the most ferocious wars ever fought.
  5. From a tiny frontier force in 1860, the Union and Confederate armies had grown into the “largest and most efficient armies in the world” within a few years.
  6. Each side could have outmatched the French, Prussian and Russian armies of the time.
  7. To fight an offensive war, the Confederacy purchased ships from Britain, converted them to warships, and raided American merchant ships in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. (After the war, the U.S. demanded that Britain pay for the damage done, and Britain paid the U.S. $15 million in 1871.)
  8. The Confederate government failed in its attempt to get Europe involved in the war militarily, particularly Britain and France. Southern leaders needed to get European powers to help break up the blockade the Union had created around the Southern ports and cities.
  9. President Abraham Lincoln’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico naval blockade was 95% effective at stopping trade goods; as a result, imports and exports to the South declined significantly.
  10. The abundance of European cotton and Britain’s hostility to the institution of slavery severely decreased any chance that either Britain or France would enter the war.
  11. The war effectively ended on 9 April 1865, when Confederate General Robert Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses Grant. Much of the South’s infrastructure was destroyed, especially its railroads. The Confederacy collapsed, slavery was abolished, and four million enslaved black people were freed.
  12. An important aspect of the Northern force was Lincoln’s eloquence in rationalizing the national purpose and his skill in keeping the border states committed to the Union cause. The Emancipation Proclamation (that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states are, and henceforth shall be free) was an effective use of the President’s war powers.
  13. The war claimed the lives of 10 percent of all Northern men 20–45 years old, and 30 percent of all Southern white men aged 18–40.
  14. In total, around 1,000,000 people died.
  15. It is said that the Union victory had a major impact on the course of world history. The Union victory energized popular democratic forces.
  16. The Civil War was one of the earliest examples of an “industrial war”, in which technological might is used to achieve military supremacy in a war. New inventions, such as the train and telegraph, delivered soldiers, supplies and messages at a time when horses were considered to be the fastest way to travel.
  17. It was also in this war when countries first used aerial warfare, in the form of reconnaissance balloons, to a significant effect.
  18. It saw the first action involving steam-powered ironclad warships in naval warfare history.
  19. Repeating firearms first appeared during the Civil War; they replaced muzzle-loading and single-shot firearms in warfare. The war was also the first appearances of rapid-firing weapons and machine guns.

© Comasters October 2020.

  • Jim KABLE
    Posted at 16:13h, 01 October

    Around the same years as the US Civil War there was something similar in Japan – leading to the overthrow of the old military Dictator (Shogen) led government based in Edo – later in the modern era (1868->) renamed as the East Capital – TōKyō. while the Emperor and court were existing in a cloistered ceremonial role in Kyōto (aka the Capital City).

    The import of opium was pushed on China by the British – the so-called Opium Wars of the early 1840s were a fight-back against that British trade. I have far more sympathy with the Chinese in their battles against the British and other foreigners carving out their spheres of influence especially through the 19th to early 20th centuries. History….fascinating – and then how to interpret by whom and from which perspective. Amitav Ghosh wrote a trilogy of novels about the British East India Company and the Opium Wars – casting a brilliant literary eye over that era…

    As a consequence of the US Civil War – immediately post-war there was freedom and equality for African origin former slaves – until the arise of the push-back carpetbaggers and the ugly KuKluxKlan – now represented in these contemporary racist times by the Trump-supported Proud Boys! #BlackLivesMatter tells us that the US is no democracy – and in that there is an equivalence here in Australia as big business – hand-in-glove with criminal rorting politicians supporting their vested interest mates deal ugliness to First Nations Australians – #BlackDeathsInCustody. Privatisation and otherwise destruction of public instrumentalities and institutions – health, education, utilities, the ABC – on-and-on it goes – and attacks against other countries as a kind of front-row Sheriff for the ugliest of US commercial self-interest is a kind of treason against this land. I am thinking of Assange and Nauru/Manus/Christmas Island – anti-China paranoia as well.

    Thanks for your presentation here Jeff. Thought-provoking!

  • Jim KABLE
    Posted at 16:14h, 01 October

    Shogun (not Shogen)!!!

    • comasters1
      Posted at 13:44h, 07 October

      Jim, You are a history buff too. The Japanese are the world’s most polite people. I have begun to like Japanese cuisine right here in Sydney. Iiko Mazesobe https://www.mazesoba.com.au/ created by my client and former staff Michelle Widjaja is one such Japanese food I like. Japan’s history is rich and you would know it very well spending more than a decade living in Tokyo. I like to think Japan no longer has bad intentions shown to us in WW2. Colonisation is remembered in this generation – it is best to move on.

  • Albert Lee
    Posted at 15:34h, 07 October

    Thanks Jeff for the interesting account of the Taiping rebellion in China and the American civil war, I did not realise the casualty rate of the Taiping rebellion is so high. A more interesting part of China history is the imperialist wars waged by the foreigners particularly by the British. The Opium wars 1 and 2 brought untold misery and humiliation to China and resulted in the loss of Hong Kong. It taught China the lesson that it needed to keep up with the industrial development of the West, particularly in terms of military hardware and naval power. I think CCP has learnt its lesson from their past history, especially its century of humiliation, and is today well equipped militarily to defend itself against any enemy. Its military might was proudly displayed at their recent 70th Anniversary celebration.

    • comasters1
      Posted at 21:16h, 09 October

      Albert, Opium was banned in England, cultivated in India by the English and sold to China in the 1800s. One of the worst examples of colonialism. Our Chinese parents and their forefathers bore the brunt of this wrongdoing. Good riddance to colonialism! China is strong again today; and it remains largely peaceful, which is good. A Biden / Harris executive government in Washington in January 2021, together with the advent of Covid-19 vaccine, would bring world peace.

    Posted at 13:24h, 13 October

    Hi Jeffrey,

    A book published in 1972 ISBN 0 85922 001 by David Burt called Essays in Modern History should interest you. There are essays on twelve topics including the Tai-Ping Rebellion , The Boxer Rebellion and the American Civil War. The topics were selected because there needed to be a reappraisal or for historical facts in a more readable form. David Burt was a senior history master. I think the book is outstanding and it published by Westbooks Pty Ltd of Sydney and Perth and printed by The Griffin Press SA.

    Thank you for your articles and best wishes, Richard Halliday

    • comasters1
      Posted at 20:35h, 13 October

      Richard, D Burt’s book is not sold by iBooks nor Amazon. I will keep a look out of it. I try to read many versions or sources of modern history. The Taiping Rebellion (China civil war) was little discussed in the West, hence I wrote a Blog Post on it – comparing it to the US civil war. The US version has 100 times more prominence in books and films, when I was growing up. I watched many actors portray Abraham Lincoln. I have read many books critical of the Empress Dowager Cixi until Jung Chang wrote in her 2014 book to say otherwise – Cixi was a good head of government, she said. History of different nations remain fascinating to me. Jeff