Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Shaffer, James R.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of History


China--History--Taiping Rebellion; 1850-1864


This study examines Western reaction to the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864), one of the greatest rebellions in Chinese history, which was an almost fatal challenge to the Ch'ing dynasty. The account follows the main developments of the rebellion in the various forms that manifested themselves to diplomats, military men, merchants, missionaries, and adventurers living in China or connected with the diplomatic scene. The discussion develops along general chronological lines. One of the major problems surrounding the study of foreign reaction to the Taipings is the reliability of sources. The accounts of the Taiping movement by many contemporary western observers are filled with errors; virtually all of these writers reflect a point of view depending on their own interests and purposes. Most of the writings of the period 1860-1864 emphasize the accounts of General Frederick Townsend Ward and Col. Charles "Chinese" Gordon and their "Ever-Victorious Army." These errors have been exposed by the light of recent scholarship. In discussing the foreign influence upon the course and results of the rebellion it is important to note that early in the revolt many foreigners, especially Protestant missionaries, looked with favor on the movement, thinking that God, although moving in a somewhat mysterious way, had brought this "Christian" movement into being as the means of redemption of the Chinese. Foreign diplomats who were not fond of the Imperial government carefully weighed the chances that the Taipings might become the new recipients of the Mandate of Heaven. However, for all of their semi-Christian pronouncements, the Taipings had virtually no understanding of the West or the role it was playing, and could play in Chinese history. Despite the enthusiasm of the Protestant missionaries, the foreign diplomats did not five the Taipings recognition in 1853-1854, and the foreign powers remained officially neutral. In the 1860's the foreigners shifted from neutrality to the defense of their commercial interests and treaty privileges and finally to outright support of the Manchus. When the Taipings attempted to take Shanghai in 1862, Chinese and foreign merchants were frightened and for political, economic and religious reasons organized for defense against the Taipings. The actual military intervention by Westerners started when the Ever-Victorious Army and other foreign led Chinese forces attempted to repulse the Taiping attack. These units were in the main successful. However, alone they had no real ability to check a prolonged assault, and in the final analysis Chinese forces led by Tseng Kuo-fan and Li Hung-chi a destroyed the Taipings. The paper reaches a conclusion with the observation that after 1862 the co-operative policy led foreign governments to offer military aid to the Imperial government, but the Chinese were reluctant to allow wholesale foreign intervention. The Chinese felt that the chief reliance must be placed on Chinese troops. Anglo-French forces were "permitted' to aid in the campaigns against the Taipings, but their role was clearly a secondary one. Foreign aid perhaps hastened the decision in the final phase of the fighting in the lower Yangtze, but did not and could not determine it.


Includes bibliographical references (pages 113-121)


iii, 121 pages




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