War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression
(1931-1945)
Civil War and Founding of the PRC
(1945-1949)
Tales of Hong Kong
(1840-1949)
Tales of Macao
(1840-1949)
mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.2_nov19
mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.2_nov19

Since the launch of the rebellion, the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (太平天國) was busy establishing a new social system while waging battles against the Qing government. By the time they made Tianjing (天京) their capital, they had mostly fleshed out this new system. Its political and military workings were typical for new regimes, and featured some standard practices such as bestowing of titles, establishment of around a dozen official ranks, and active military conscription. Meanwhile, it continued to recruit officials via the imperial examination, but the candidates were tested on their knowledge of the doctrines of the God Worshipping Society (拜上帝會) instead of the Confucian classics.

As the result of a mass revolt, the establishment of the new regime that brought along new land regulations and gender equality were noteworthy. In the winter of 1853 (the third year of Emperor Xianfeng’s ﹝咸豐﹞ reign), the Kingdom issued the Land System of the Heavenly Dynasty (《天朝田畝制度》), which mandated that men and women should receive equal shares of land. Additionally, surplus produce was to become communal property and be centrally allocated on an egalitarian basis. Furthermore, men and women who wanted to be civil servants could attend separate imperial examinations, which made possible the debut of female soldiers, female generals and female zhuangyuan (狀元, top graduates). Meanwhile, several practices such as the purchase of brides and slaves, foot-binding for women, acquisition of concubines, prostitution, and opium smoking were banned. These were all progressive measures instituted for the time.

Hong Rengan (洪仁玕), a cousin of Hong Xiuquan (洪秀全), also presented new ideas when he arrived in Tianjing from Hong Kong in 1859 (the ninth year of Emperor Xianfeng’s reign) with his work A New Treatise on Aids to Administration (《資政新篇》). It proposed emulating the West in developing factories, mining industries, railways, banks, newspaper offices and other industries. Nevertheless, the ongoing war made implementing many of these measures difficult. What the Taiping Army did accomplish was lowering the rent and taxes wherever they went.

What is the contemporary view of the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace’s initiatives to distribute farmland equally and promote gender equality?  If the Taiping regime was more long-lived, would it succeed in realising these goals in due course?

See answer below.

mainsite_psd_nov5-taiping03.01_en
mainsite_psd_nov5-taiping03.01_en

Since the launch of the rebellion, the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace was busy establishing a new social system while fighting with the Qing government. After capturing Yong’an (永安) in September 1851, a leadership mechanism comprising Hong Xiuquan as Heavenly King (天王) and other rebel generals as the “Eastern King (東王)”, “Western King (西王)”, “Southern King (南王)”, “Northern King (北王)” and “Assistant King (翼王)” respectively was established. Once they finished making Tianjing their capital, they proceeded to establish a series of official ranks, mansions of the kings, and administrative offices. Pictured are the Heavenly King’s imperial seal and a map showing the distribution of the kings’ mansions, government lodges, and administrative offices in Tianjing.

mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.2_nov19
mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.2_nov19

The Land System of the Heavenly Dynasty was the governance framework of the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace. It mandated the equal distribution of land among people, regardless of their genders. Additionally, surplus produce was to become communal property and be centrally allocated on an egalitarian basis. Nevertheless, most of these measures were never implemented because of the ongoing war.

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It is stated in the Land System of the Heavenly Dynasty that: “... all the people in the Kingdom may together enjoy the abundant happiness of the Heavenly Father. There being fields, let all cultivate them; there being food, let all eat; there being clothes, let all be dressed; there being money, let all use it, so that nowhere does inequality exist, and no man is not well fed and clothed.” Its content can be summarized as follows:

1. Division of all fields into three classes and nine grades according to their crop yield; men and women were to receive equal shares of land.

2. Establishment of a system for allocating provisions.

3. Reorganisation of social institutions in villages based on the Taiping Army’s military establishment.

4. Officials of various ranks were to be categorised into three types: court, military and local. Senior officials might recommend candidates for appointment annually, while officials in service would be promoted or demoted based on their performance triennially.

5. Education via participating in religious activities. For every 25 households, there would be one chapel which was also served as a school.

6. Establishment of a judicial system.

mainsite_psd_-taiping03.03_2019jan20
mainsite_psd_-taiping03.03_2019jan20

Hong Rengan (洪仁玕) and his handwriting. A cousin of Hong Xiuquan, Hong Rengan had lived in Hong Kong for many years. When he arrived in Tianjing in 1859, he was bestowed the title of “Ganwang (干王)”, or “Shield King”, and appointed as the new regime’s tactician. He once even oversaw all state affairs. Among the Taiping leaders, he was the most knowledgeable about Western civilisation.

mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.4_nov19
mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.4_nov19

In 1859, Hong Rengan’s work, A New Treatise on Aids to Administration, was presented to Hong Xiuquan and approved for promulgation. As a policy agenda that bore the markings of capitalism, it proposed emulating the Western nations in developing factories, mining industries, railways, banks, newspaper offices and other industries. However, these progressive measures were hardly implemented due to the ongoing war. 

mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.5_nov19
mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.5_nov19

The Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace made great efforts to develop its own financial and economic system. Pictured are coins cast by the Kingdom.

mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.6_nov19
mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.6_nov19

The Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace had its own systems of etiquette and education: officials were recruited through the imperial examination that was open to women as well. It was a sign of the regime’s support for gender equality. Pictured are the text Taiping System of Etiquette (《太平禮制》) and the primer Ode for Youth (《幼學詩》) promulgated by the Kingdom.

mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.7_nov19
mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.7_nov19

The Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace chapel in Suzhou (蘇州). With an attempt to garner support through God worshipping, the regime required soldiers and civilians to attend services once a week. During the service, all sang hymns together, with principal officials and scribes standing in the middle and civilians standing on the sides. The figures clothed in red and yellow in the picture are high-ranking officials.

mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.8_nov19
mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.8_nov19

A sculpture of the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace’s female soldier. Women were allowed to enlist in the Taiping Army. These female soldiers were the equal of their male counterparts in terms of their ferociousness in battles.

mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.9_nov19
mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.9_nov19

Marriage certificates issued by the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace to the couples Li Daming (李大明) and Cai Damei (柴大妹), Zhai Heyi (翟合義) and Zhu Damei (祝大妹). The Kingdom mandated gender equality, demanded monogamy and forbade practices like concubine acquisition, purchasing brides and slaves, foot binding and prostitution. These symbolised its progressiveness.

mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.10_nov22
mainsite_tushuojindai_taipingtianguo3.10_nov22

Despite the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace’s advocacy of equality, various kings in the Kingdom lived decadently in opulent mansions, and many kept harems of wives and concubines. Many historians considered this one of the reasons leading to the Kingdom’s ultimate demise. Pictured is a confession written by Hong Tianguifu (洪天貴福), Hong Xiuquan’s son and the Junior King of Heaven (幼天王). He confessed that he married four wives at the age of nine, while the Heavenly King had 88 wives and concubines.

What is the contemporary view of the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace’s initiatives to distribute farmland equally and promote gender equality?  If the Taiping regime was more long-lived, would it succeed in realising these goals in due course?

The majority of the population in China was peasants at the time of the Taiping Rebellion. Meeting peasants’ huge demand for land was crucial for the success of Taiping Rebellion as a political movement. Throughout Chinese history, parties who sought to overthrow an existing regime through mass movements always rallied their supporters by promising equality, equal distribution of farmland, establishment of a society in which all members want for nothing, and so on. No sophisticated or progressive philosophies were even needed, these simple messages alone were usually enough to achieve their intended goals. Li Zicheng (李自成), for example, put an end to the reign of the Ming dynasty with the slogan “equal shares of land for the noble and the lowly”. Hong Xiuquan, meanwhile, used the slogans “a paradise in which all are equal” and “there being fields, let all cultivate them” from the Land System of the Heavenly Dynasty of the God Worshipping Society to amass gatherers, thereby seizing half of the nation. From what historians have learned about the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace’s political system, the infighting within it, and its rise and fall, it was merely a traditional regime resulted from mass uprising. If the Kingdom overthrew the Qing dynasty and ruled China, its leaders would become the new ruling class. It was dubious whether the principle of equality could even be put into practice. The Heavenly King and the other kings, for example, kept harems despite the Kingdom’s policies prohibiting the acquisition of concubines. Taking this into account, how could the Kingdom ever hope to achieve true social and gender equality?

Source of most photos used in this feature piece: Fotoe

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