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- China - 50/83 -


Chang Kwoliang, received an important command, and played a considerable part in the later stages of the struggle.

The defection of the Triads put an end to the idea of attacking Canton, and the Taepings marched to attack Kweiling, where the Imperial Commissioners still remained. Tien Wang's assault was repulsed with some loss, and, afraid of discouraging his troops by any further attempt to seize so strong a place, he marched into Hoonan. Had the imperial commanders, who had shown no inconsiderable capacity in defense, exhibited as much energy in offensive measures, they might then and there have annihilated the power of the Taepings. Had they pursued the Taeping army they might have harassed its rear, delayed its progress, and eventually brought it to a decisive engagement at the most favorable moment. But the Imperial Commissioners did nothing, being apparently well satisfied with having rid themselves of such troublesome neighbors. The advance of the Taepings across the vast province of Hoonan was almost unopposed. The towns were unprepared to resist an assailant, and it was not until Tien Wang reached the provincial capital, Changsha, that he encountered any resistance worthy of the name. Some vigorous preparations had been made here to resist the rebels. Not merely was there a garrison in the place, but it so happened that Tseng Kwofan, a man of considerable ability and of an influential family, was residing near the town. Tseng had held several offices in the public service, and, as a member of the Hanlin, enjoyed a high position and reputation; but he happened to be at his own home in retirement in consequence of the death of a near relation when tidings of the approaching Taepings reached him, and he at once made himself responsible for the defense of Changsha. He threw himself with all the forces his influence or resources enabled him to collect into that town, and at the same time he ordered all the militia of the province to collect and harass the enemy. He called upon all those who had the means to show their duty to the state and sovereign by raising recruits or by promising rewards to those volunteers who would serve in the army against the rebels. Had the example of Tseng Kwofan been generally followed, it is not too much to say that the Taepings would never have got to Nankin. When the rebels reached Changsha, therefore, they found the gates closed, the walls manned, and the town victualed for a siege. They attempted to starve the place into surrender, and to frighten the garrison into yielding by threats of extermination; but when these efforts failed they delivered three separate assaults, all of which were repulsed. After a siege of eighty days, and having suffered very considerable losses, the Taepings abandoned the attack, and on the 1st of December resumed their march northward, which, if information could have been rapidly transmitted, would have soon resulted in their overthrow. On breaking up from before Changsha they succeeded in seizing a sufficient number of junks and boats to cross the great inland lake of Tungting, and on reaching the Yangtsekiang at Yochow they found that the imperial garrison had fled at the mere mention of their approach. The capture of Yochow was important, because the Taepings acquired there an important arsenal of much-needed weapons and a large supply of gunpowder, which was said to have been the property of Wou Sankwei. Thus, well equipped and supplying their other deficiencies by celerity of movement, they attacked the important city of Hankow, which surrendered without a blow. The scarcely less important town of Wouchang, on the southern and opposite bank of the river, was then attacked, and carried after a siege of a fortnight. The third town of Hanyang, which forms, with the others, the most important industrial and commercial hive in Central China, also surrendered without any attempt at resistance, and this striking success at once restored the sinking courage of the Taepings, and made the danger from them to the dynasty again wear an aspect of the most pressing importance.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the effect of this success on the spirits of the Taepings, who had been seriously discouraged before they achieved this gratifying result. The capture of these towns removed all their most serious causes of doubt, and enabled them to repay themselves for the losses and hardships they had undergone, while it also showed that the enterprise they had in hand was not likely to prove unprofitable. After one month's rest at Hankow, and having been joined by many thousands of new followers, the Taepings resolved to pursue their onward course. To tell the truth, they were still apprehensive of pursuit from Tseng Kwofan, who had been joined by the Triad loader, Chang Kwoliang; but there was no ground for the fear, as these officials considered themselves tied to their own province, and unfortunately the report of the success of the imperialists in Hoonan blinded people to the danger in the Yangtse Valley from the Taepings. The Taepings resumed active operations with the capture of Kiukiang and Ganking, and in March, 1853, they sat down before Nankin. The siege continued for a fortnight, but notwithstanding that there was a large Manchu force in the Tartar city, which might easily have been defended against an enemy without artillery, the resistance offered was singularly and unexpectedly faint-hearted. The Taepings succeeded in blowing in one of the gates, the townspeople fraternized with the assailants, and the very Manchus who had defied Sir Hugh Gough in 1842 surrendered their lives and their honor to a force which was nothing more than an armed rabble. The Tartar colony at Nankin, numbering 2,000 families, had evidently lost the courage and discipline which could alone enable them to maintain their position in China. Instead of dying at their posts they threw themselves on the mercy of the Taeping leader, imploring him for pity and for their lives when the gate was blown in by Tien Wang's soldiery. Their cowardice helped them not; of 20,000 Manchus not one hundred escaped. The tale rests on undoubted evidence. A Taeping who took part in the massacre said, "We killed them all, to the infant in arms; we left not a root to sprout from, and the bodies of the slain we cast into the Yangtse."

The acquisition of Nankin at once made the Taepings a formidable rival to the Manchus, and Tien Wang a contestant with Hienfung for imperial honors. The possession of the second city in the empire gave them the complete control of the navigation of the Yangtsekiang, and thus enabled them to cut off communications between the north and the south of China. To attain this object in a still more perfect manner they occupied Chinkiangfoo at the entrance to the Grand Canal. They also seized Yangchow on the northern bank of the river immediately opposite the place where Sir Hugh Gough had gained his decisive victory in 1842. Such was the terror of the Taepings that the imperial garrisons did not attempt the least resistance, and town after town was evacuated at their approach. Tien Wang, encouraged by his success, transferred his headquarters from Hankow to Nankin, and proclaimed the old Ming city his capital. By rapidity and an extraordinary combination of fortunate circumstances, the Taepings had advanced from the remote province of Kwangsi into the heart of the empire, but it was clear that unless they could follow up their success by some blow to the central government they would lose all they had gained as soon as the Manchus recovered their confidence. At a council of war at Nankin it was decided to send an army against Pekin as soon as Nankin had been placed in a proper state to undergo a protracted siege. Provisions were collected to stand a siege for six or seven years, the walls were repaired and fresh batteries erected. By the end of May, 1853, these preparations were completed, and as the Taeping army had then been raised to a total of 80,000 men, it was decided that a large part of it could be spared for operations north of the Yangtsekiang. That army was increased to a very large total by volunteers who thought an expedition to humble the Manchus at the capital promised much glory and spoil. The progress of this northern army very closely resembled that of the Taepings from Kwangsi to Nankin. They overran the open country, and none of the imperial troops ventured to oppose them, but when any Manchu officer showed valor in defending a walled city they were fain to admit their inadequate engineering skill and military capacity. They attacked Kaifong, the capital of Honan, but were repulsed, and pursuing their former tactics continued their march to Pekin. Having crossed the Hoangho they attacked Hwaiking, where, after being delayed two months, they met with as signal a repulse as at Kaifong. Notwithstanding this further reverse, the Taepings pressed on, and defeating a Manchu force in the Lin Limming Pass, they entered the metropolitan province of Pechihli in September, 1853. The object of their march was plain. Not only did they mystify the emperor's generals, but they passed through an untouched country where supplies were abundant, and they thus succeeded in coming within striking distance of Pekin in almost as fresh a state as when they left Nankin. Such was the effect produced by their capture of the Limming Pass that none of the towns in the southern part of the province attempted any resistance, and they reached Tsing, only twenty miles south of Tientsin, and less than a hundred from Pekin, before the end of October. This place marked the northern limit of Taeping progress, and a reflex wave of Manchu energy bore back the rebels to the Yangtse.

The forcing of the Limming Pass carried confusion and terror into the imperial palace and capital. The fate of the dynasty seemed to tremble in the balance at the hands of a ruthless and determined enemy. There happened to be very few troops in Pekin at the time, and levies had to be hastily summoned from Mongolia. If the Taepings had only shown the same enterprise and rapidity of movement that they had exhibited up to this point, there is no saying that the central government would not have been subverted and the Manchu family extinguished as completely as the Mings. But fortunately for Hienfung, an unusual apathy fell upon the Taepings, who remained halted at Tsing until the Mongol levies had arrived, under their great chief, Sankolinsin. They seem to have been quite exhausted by their efforts, and after one reverse in the open field they retired to their fortified camp at Tsinghai, and sent messengers to Tien Wang for succor. In this camp they were closely beleaguered by Sankolinsin from October, 1853, to March, 1854, when their provisions being exhausted they cut their way out and began their retreat in a southerly direction. They would undoubtedly have been exterminated but for the timely arrival of a relieving army from Nankin. The Taepings then captured Lintsing, which remained their headquarters for some months; but during the remainder of the year 1854 their successes were few and unimportant. They were vigilantly watched by the imperial troops, which had expelled them from the whole of the province of Shantung before March, 1855. Their numbers were thinned by disease as well as loss in battle, and of the two armies sent to capture Pekin only a small fragment ever regained Nankin. While these events were in progress in the region north of Nankin, the Taepings had been carrying their arms up the Yangtsekiang as far as Ichang, and eastward from Nankin to the sea. These efforts were not always successful, and Tien Wang's arms experienced as many reverses as successes. The important city of Kanchang, the capital of the province of Kiangsi, was besieged by them for four months, and after many attempts to carry it by storm the Taepings were compelled to abandon the task. They were more successful at Hankow, which they recovered after a siege of eighty days. They again evacuated this town, and yet once again, in 1855, wrested it from an imperial garrison.

The establishment of Taeping power at Nankin and the rumor of its rapid extension in every direction had drawn the attention of Europeans to the new situation thus created in China, and had aroused opposite opinions in different sections of the foreign community. While the missionaries were disposed to regard the Taepings as the regenerators of China, and as the champions of Christianity, the merchants only saw in them the disturbers of peace and the enemies of commerce. To such an extent did the latter anticipate the ruin of their trade that they petitioned the consuls to suspend, if not withhold, the payment of the stipulated customs to the Chinese authorities. This proposed breach of treaty was emphatically rejected, and the consuls enjoined the absolute necessity of preserving a strict neutrality between the Taepings and the imperial forces. But at the same time it became necessary to acquaint the Taeping ruler with the fact that he would be expected to observe the provisions of the Treaty of Nankin as scrupulously as if he were sovereign of China or a Manchu viceroy. Sir George Bonham, the superintendent of trade and the governor of Hongkong, determined to proceed in person to Nankin, in order to acquaint the Taepings with what would be expected from them, and also to gain necessary information as to their strength and importance by personal observation. But unfortunately this step of Sir George Bonham tended to help the Taepings by increasing their importance and spreading about the belief that the Europeans recognized in them the future ruling power of China. It was not intended to be, but it was none the less, an unfriendly


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