Последний крестовый поход: Восстание тайпинов и рождение современного Китая (eng subs)
and so September has commenced those of you who passed entrance examinations, are now going to college and those who failed them, are not going I know that some of you who didn't get into a good college are feeling down some of you are anxious of your future that's why to cheer you up I wanna tell you a story the story of the Taiping rebellion the Taiping rebellion that swept over China in the 19th c was the greatest civil and religious war in history it is the second most deadly conflict in human history it's death toll was surpassed only by the WWII WWI was far less bloody Let's start In consolation to those who failed the exams Hong Xiuquan was born in a poor rural family belonging to the Hakka subgroup of the Han people They lived in the very south of China, in Guangdong province near the foot of the White Cloud Mountains Hong Xiuquan was considered as a gifted kid He read voraciously, studying the Confucian classics and memorizing the fundamental texts by the heart unsurprisingly, his immediate and the entire clan decided that little Xiuqian is an instrument of their social advancement he's gonna study, take exams to become a civil servant and make a career in bureaucracy and when he makes it, he is not going to forget his kin, is he? so the entire clan invested into his education they paid for his books and tutors and did everything they could to get a powerful relative who would raise his clan from poverty and obscurity sounds like very common, very Chinese story Xiuquan studied a lot and once he was ready went to the capital of his province, Guanzhou, to take part in arduous Imperial exams for future civil servants but he failed he tried once more and failed again, a third attempt ended with failure too now let's stop for a moment why a talented student whose education is being financed by the entire village, has been constantly failing exams was it accidental or systemic? actually it was systemic it is a good moment to discuss the inner structure of China what are we gonna need for this talk? the map a piece of advice - if you wanna understand any social problem, first of all, you should open the map let's find China this doesn't look like China this doesn't either and this seems to be China if I am not mistaken the mere size of China is impressive there is however a problem about the half of Chinese territory is almost uninhabited these are mountains and deserts where few people live they became China quite recently - in the 18th century Tibet and Xinjiang are just newly colonised areas the old Chinese core is far smaller the Chinese core can be divided to two cultural regions the North - beifang, and the South - nanyang these regions are very different from each other the North is arid, the South is humid the North is the country of wheat, the South - of rice southern food is very spicy, northern is not that hot southerners and northerners don't look alike northerners are taller and stronger there is a stereotype in China that the north is masculine and the south is feminine northerners are stereotypically portrayed as direct and blunt while southerners are a more delicate people linguistically speaking, the north is the monolith the entire north is speaking one dialect - the Mandarin which is known in Russia as the 'Chinese language' South is different. Southerners are speaking in tons of dialects Cantonese, Ming, Hakka, etc. there are many of them and their speakers often can't understand each other and of course they don't understand the northerners e.g. the Cantonese has more tones than the Mandarin
and yet, they all understand the characters so characters is the thing that really holds China together in terms of culture there has been one more disparity between the south and the north for the past centuries all the money is in the south which alone produces the export goods in the 19th c. it was tea, which was exported from Guanzhou on the tea clippers now it is mostly electronics however, pattern stays the same - it is the south that produces the goods for export While China is being called the factory of the world, the province of Guangdong where Xiuqyan was born is called the factory of China the competitive economy is concentrated in the south meanwhile the power is concentrated in the north the south feeds the north, but is politically subjugated by the latter I am not referring to the fact that China has been mostly ruled from Beijing rather than from Nanjing from the 'Northern capital', rather than from the 'southern' one I am referring to the fact that the civil service recruitment process discriminated the southerners theoretically any Chinese except for kids of actors or prostitutes could participate in the Imperial examinations this sounds like a really egalitarian and meritocratic procedure However, different provinces were allocated different quotas on the number of successful applicants overall, the south got far less quotas than the north which means that it was very much harder for a southerner to pass the exam than for a northerner the system was rigged in a way ensuring the political domination of northerners over southerners in China the south provides while the north rules, so Xiuquan was just unlucky enough to be born in the south by the time of his third failure, Xiuquan was 23 - a very solid age and he was already a major disappointment for the entire clan unsurprisingly, he got a nervous breakdown upon his return, xiuquan asked his family for forgiveness for failing them and collapsed everyone thought he was dying Xiuquan spent 40 days in fever and once he recovered he revealed that he had been having strange visions In his dreams he was carried to a beautiful palace where he saw an old man in a black robe and the beard of gold sitting on the throne the old man complained that the people on the earth forgot him and worship the demons instead He gave Xiuquan a sword to slay the demons and cleanse the earth In another vision, Xiuquan was killing the demons in a company of a middle aged man (with a beard of course) who called himself his elder brother In yet another vision, Xiuqyuan met Confucius who cried and begged forgiveness for teaching wrongs to the Chinese people at that time neither Hon Xiuquan, nor his family did not realize the importance of his visions but very soon Xiuquan got a Protestant brochure which was distributed in Guanzhou by the American missionaries this book contained the main ideas of the Christain – well, Protestant – doctrine and Xiuquan realised - it was the key for interpreting his visions studying the basics of Christian religion, Xiuquan realised what he saw in his dreams was the Holy Trinity the old man on the golden throne was God the Father, Lord Savaof the middle aged bearded man was Jesus Christ, Son of God And – if Jesus called himself the elder brother of Xiuquan, then who was Xiuquan himself? Obviously, the younger brother the third member of the Holy Trinity, the younger son of God sent to Earth to purge it from the demons and from idolatry And who were the demons then? Apparently everything and everyone worshipped in Chinese religions Ancestral spirits, Buddha, Chinese gods – they were all idols to be overthrown. figuring this out, Xiuquan baptised and started recruiting first zealots mostly among other contestants who had also failed the exams they started collecting Christian texts, wherever they could find them so Protestant brochures translated to the Chinese language by American missionaries together with visions of Xiuquan laid into the foundations of the Taiping creed let's quote one of xiuquans's poems as an illustration when out transgressions high as heaven rise how well to trust in Jesus' full atonement We follow not the demons, we obey the holy precepts, worshipping alone One God, and thus we cultivate our hearts the heavenly glories open to our view and every being ought to seek thereafter I much deplore the miseries of Hell Oh turn you to the fruits of true repentance Let not your hearts be led by worldly customs that’s a really important point and I wanna stop here for a while the foundation of the Taiping sect illustrates the memetic theory of the cultural development the concept of meme was first introduced by Richard Dawkins in his Selfish Gene seems to be really useful for analyzing the cultural evolution of human society basically the idea is that our language, our religion, our culture – they all consist of memes like a gene is a functional unit of genetic information, a meme is a functional unit of cultural information memes are largely functioning like genes like genes, they are replicating and mutating now look what we have here Christian missionaries invested enormous effort into propagating the Christian faith in China so, the Christian meme was trying to replicate however, it also mutated Hong Xiuquan borrowed and re-worked the Christian doctrine in a way that facilitated his political aspirations so that the ultimate result differed a lot from what the Western missionaries had been preaching let me give you an example that’s how the birth of Christ was described in one of the most famous Taiping publications ‘The book on the Principles of the Heavenly nature’ when Taoism was introduced in China during the Qin dynasty and Buddhism was introduced during the Han dynasty the temptations of the devil in the minds of the people grew greater every day people forgot their heavenly father's grace and kindness and absurdly attributed the Heavenly Father's merits to the devil when the Heavenly Father viewed it all from on high and saw that people on Earth either followed the devils or transformed themselves into demons he got angry should I destroy them? that would be unkind should I let them remain ignorant? that would be unjust at that moment our Heavenly Elder Brother, Jesus the Heir Apparent bravely came forward and took up the task willing to give his own life to redeem the sins of humanity the Heavenly Father, his pity for the world and his love for the people being very deep sent without regret his Heir Apparent Jesus to be born in Judea to redeem our sins to propagate the true faith and tell people of the date of his return as a result, he was falsely accused and condemned to crucifixion so that all humanity could be cleansed from their sins through his sacred blood and the grace of the Heavenly Father, sacrificing his own son for the love of humanity could be fully demonstrated what do we have here? we have a clear attempt indigenise Christianity in China yes, Jesus is the Son of God yes, Jesus was born in Judea but the reason for his birth is the success of Taoism and Buddhism in China so he took Christian doctrine – and made it all about China I consider this to be a really interesting example of a memetic mutation with his first followers Xiuquan started preaching to peasants by 1847 he had about 2 thousand followers, mostly of the Hakka ethnicity they would attack Confucian and Buddhist temples, looting and burning them, killing monks and priests the Qing authorities sent a punitive expedition which was ambushed and slaughtered In 1851 Hong Xiuquan proclaimed the new state – the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom the ideology of this new realm had two main pillars firstly – propagation of Christianity secondly – the decimation of Manchus in Xiuquan’s mind it made total sense he was a member of the Holy trinity and the younger son of God, representing the good Who represented the evil then? Well, obviously the Manchus, the northern conquerors, who ruled China at this period. Satan, the serpent, was the enemy of God and Manchus were the demons, stinky reptiles, serving this serpent Everything about the Manchus and the Qing regime was demonic As one of Qing officials formulated: even more than Confucius Taipings hated the Manchus Manchus were demons who robbed and plundered China and Taipings proved their loyalty growing their hair long, because a shaved head symbolised submission to the Manchus a Qing official fighting against the Taipings formulated it in the following way 'The bandits regard the Emperor and the officials as demons when they see dynastic clothes and headgear. They're also regarded as demonic paraphernalia
They call scholars 'demon scholars', soldiers 'demon soldiers', messengers 'demon messengers'. There is nothing they do not demonize, they even call the people's militia 'demon maggots'. By 1853 Taipings controlled the entire South China.
Everywhere they went, they destroyed pagan temples, imposed Christianity, and massacred all the Manchus sparing neither sex nor age. This is actually very typical. Many movements currently celebrated as wars of liberation were in reality genocidal. Those who proclaim that they are fighting for freedom very often omit that the freedom for them means primarily the freedom for slaughter or expulsion of another ethnic group.
If you think of it, a lot of wars of national liberation were in reality very similar to Rwandan Genocide. We just choose to ignore those ethnic cleansings that are committed by the side which we sympathize, and decry those committed by a side which we don’t really like. While Hong Xiuquan was busy with preaching and war, his prime minister, Hon Rengan who happened to be Xiuquan’s cousin and the first follower was responsible for daily administration of his empire Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was a harsh Puritanic society.
Alcohol, tobacco and opium were strictly prohibited. Theatre as well as Buddhist and Taoist religious ceremonies were outlawed. Feng Shui was a superstition to be eradicated. Idleness was punished by exile. Overall, the Taiping state looked kinda Cromwellian. Interestingly enough, it were the Taipings who designed the first projects of westernization in the history of in East Asia. Well before the Meji Revolution in Japan Hong Rengan outlined the ambitious program of economic and technological modernization aimed to turn China into an industrial powerhouse.
He believed that China needs to impose the rule of law, create the patent system that would encourage innovations build a system of highways linking provinces with each other, create a modern banking system and so on. While the Holy Trinity comprised the ‘greatest treasure’ of the Taiping state, the state also needed ‘middle treasures’ such as steamships, trains and so on, which would turn China into a country of wealth and civilization. Being a Christian movement, Taipings considered Western powers to be their natural allies and expected support from them. That’s what the Heavenly King wrote to Lord Elgin, the British High Commissioner in China: "The Father and the Elder Brother led me to rule the Heavenly Kingdom, to sweep away and exterminate the devilish spirits, bestowing on me great honor," wrote the Heavenly King to Lord Elgin. "Foreign younger brothers of the western ocean, listen to my words. Join us in doing service to the Father and Elder Brother and extinguishing the stinking reptiles."
At the same time, one Taiping official wrote the following letter to a captain of a British ship HMS Retribution, begging him for cannons: "We are both sons of the Heavenly Father, God, and are both younger brothers of the Heavenly Elder Brother, Jesus. Our feelings towards each other are like those of brothers, and our friendship is as intimate as that of two brothers of the same parentage." this way he asked the British captain to share some cannons.
Taipings hoped that the Christian brothers would support them. But they were mistaken. After long consideration, the Europeans sided with the Qing Empire. The Royal Navy blockaded the Taiping ports from the sea while Western military experts were building new, modern army for the Qing. These Western style troops called the ‘Ever Victorious Army’ were personally commanded by the British Major-General Charles Gordon and were instrumental in crushing the Taiping Rebellion. The help from the Westerners was important – but still not enough. . In order to suppress the Taipings, the Qing Empire had to completely reorganize. Whereas before the Taiping revolt, Han officials were second-class bureaucrats, holding little real power You should check out my first video for more detailed information.
during the rebellion the Qings were forced to give them a lot of power and autonomy. Regional Han officials were allowed to recruit their own armies that fought against the Taipings and thus some of these officials turned into warlords virtually independent from Beijing. As a result, the balance of power in the Qing Empire turned in favour of the ethnic Han bureaucracy The Qing Empire before the rebellion was clearly a Manchu state, while after the rebellion – it turned to a largely Han state. This Sinification of the Qing regime extended not only to the administration but also to the state ideology.
In the aftermath of the rebellion, the ideology of the Qing regime became much more Confucian and traditionally Chinese. Very soon virtually all the efforts to preserve the old Manchu Way, keep the separate identity of Manchus and the Manchu privilege were abandoned. Before the rebellion, the Qing Emperor cared dearly about the Manchus, in the aftermath – they were considered more of a burden. The Empire gradually stopped associating itself with the Manchus. So, even though the Taipings were beaten on the battlefield, in a sense, they have won. So, what does the story of Hong Xiuquan teach us? First of all, it is a great illustration of a memetic theory of cultural development.
Once Protestantism diffuses to China it mutates to something very similar to Christianity, and yet different. It is also a good example, showing the dynamics of a revolution – the real danger for a regime comes not from the hardship of the people but from its failure to incorporate its most talented and ambitious subjects into the ruling elite. An elite is never challenged by the people, only by the counter-elites. If peasants in a village are dying of starvation, it is only a problem of the peasants themselves If a student has failed to pass an exam for a bureaucratic position for the 4th time, it is a problem of China per se.
Taiping rebellion is quite interesting not only from a historical but also from a sociological perspective. First of all, the very fact that the last great war inspired by the Christian zealotry took place in China and not in a region that we perceive as traditionally Christian, highlights how open China is to foreign influences and global cultural trends. China is not an autarky, as many of us perceive it.
China is extremely open to the world. Furthermore, it shows how heterogenous China is and how drastic are interregional divisions in this country. Ultimately, it was the inequality between the South and the North, the nanfang and the beifang that prepared the ground for the rebellion. Finally and the most importantly, the biography of the Christ’s younger brother teaches us the following. Even if you are not that successful academically and are repeatedly failing exams, don’t get desperate. Perhaps, you just need to try yourself in something else.
Thank you and see you next time.