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Late Qing Catastrophes: The Taiping (and Their Multitude of Foibles)

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
The entire Taiping Rebellion was built on a delusion he had experienced in the midst of a nervous breakdown.
We can say that without being accused of religious bigotry because the Taiping are no longer around. Had they won we would nod sagely and hold our tongue when we hear that Hong Xiuquan did, indeed, receive a divine revelation.

This is unfortunate, because a puritanical 20th Century theocratic China ruled by God’s alleged great-great-great-grandson would be an excellent hook for a story.
A cynic might wonder how different that China would be from the OTL one.

Ultimately, I personally don't regard the Taiping as very promising TL fodder--as the article concludes, butterflying them away altogether and having a more classic rebel movement harness the popular discontent simmering in mid-19th century China would probably have more potential. Another variant, which @Japhy has explored, is having Zeng Guofan himself turn on the Qing.
 

Alex Richards

Certified Goose Aware
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
This is an amazing mess and I certainly can't dispute: "a puritanical 20th Century theocratic China ruled by God’s alleged great-great-great-grandson would be an excellent hook for a story. "
Wardlord China with such a figure as the nominal figurehead is still a good concept IMO.

We can say that without being accused of religious bigotry because the Taiping are no longer around. Had they won we would nod sagely and hold our tongue when we hear that Hong Xiuquan did, indeed, receive a divine revelation.
EDIT: Eh people are generally dismissive enough of folks such as Joseph Smith that I think you'd at most see it moderated to 'a divine revelation he claimed he'd received during a mental breakdown' which is essentially a polite way of saying 'yeah like that actually happened.'
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
Eh people are generally dismissive enough of folks such as Joseph Smith that I think you'd at most see it moderated to 'a divine revelation he claimed he'd received during a mental breakdown' which is essentially a polite way of saying 'yeah like that actually happened.'
Yeah, I had that example in mind as I wrote that.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
For all the bad rap the late Qing get, it's a testament to their resilience that they managed to limp on into the early 20th century after all the wars and uprisings they went through.
 

TR1996

Well-known member
We can say that without being accused of religious bigotry because the Taiping are no longer around. Had they won we would nod sagely and hold our tongue when we hear that Hong Xiuquan did, indeed, receive a divine revelation.
Perhaps, but I imagine much of the (''properly'') Christian west would still be rather dismissive of Hong's supposed revelation.

Ultimately, I personally don't regard the Taiping as very promising TL fodder--as the article concludes, butterflying them away altogether and having a more classic rebel movement harness the popular discontent simmering in mid-19th century China would probably have more potential. Another variant, which @Japhy has explored, is having Zeng Guofan himself turn on the Qing.
Even a classical rebel movement that seizes power and establishes a new dynasty would still have China's many entrenched and systematic issues to deal with, though- so there'd be a question as to just how much better they can make things.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
Even a classical rebel movement that seizes power and establishes a new dynasty would still have China's many entrenched and systematic issues to deal with, though- so there'd be a question as to just how much better they can make things.
That is, indeed, very much an open question. One paradox of the late Qing is that, contrary to Japan, attempts at modernization were bottom-up rather than top-down, which means that they tended to weaken the central government from within at a time when it was also being battered from without by foreign encroachment. A "classic" uprising led by the aforementioned Zeng Guofan or another such figure (Zuo Zongtang also comes to mind) may have given the system enough of a shake-up that the modernizers would have been able to take charge from the center, but not enough to send it entirely crashing down. Or, of course, it might have played out like the Young Turks in the Ottoman Empire and hastened the collapse of the imperial order.
 

Avian Overlord

Mystical American Freedom Bird
My impression from the article is that the best way to get the Taiping Rebellion to succeed is to separate church and state as early as possible. Which is to say, have Hong Xiuquan take up a purely spiritual role and appoint someone more pragmatic and political to handle worldly affairs as whatever would be Taiping-speak for prime minister. I don't know if there's anyone who would be convenient for that role though.
 

TR1996

Well-known member
My impression from the article is that the best way to get the Taiping Rebellion to succeed is to separate church and state as early as possible. Which is to say, have Hong Xiuquan take up a purely spiritual role and appoint someone more pragmatic and political to handle worldly affairs as whatever would be Taiping-speak for prime minister. I don't know if there's anyone who would be convenient for that role though.
Yang Xiuqing, Shi Dakai, and Hong Rengan all fulfilled prime minister-ish roles for a time IOTL (you often see them referred to as 'chief minister'), but it never really worked out- the power went to Yang's head and he plotted usurpation (or he was disliked enough that his enemies could convincingly accuse him of plotting usurpation), whilst Shi and Rengan were undermined by jealous courtiers such as Hong's brothers.

You can play with things so that Hong is less paranoid towards his subordinates (though given the maelstrom of 1856 his paranoia is understandable), or have his brothers be less grasping and hostile (potentially keeping Shi around as 'chief minister' for longer), or have one of the brothers themselves emerge as a competent head of government- having the Heavenly King's complete trust and affection would probably give them some decent room to manoeuvre.

But, there's always going to be tension between what is pragmatic and the religious underpinnings of the movement- and the leadership seemingly bought in to the religious stuff. They were are caught up in the religious ecstasy of it all, and that will undermine one's pragmatic instincts (because God's will and stuff). And even if you have Hong withdraw entirely into his spiritual role, and not meddle as he did IOTL, people dissatisfied with the 'Prime Minister' are still going to try and appeal to him given his immense religious authority- and if the 'Prime Minister' is being too pragmatic and not adequately implementing whatever Hong's religious policies are, then Hong might be inclined to look for a more religiously committed 'Prime Minister'.

It's just really difficult to disentangle the 'church' and the 'state' of the Taipings, I think, given the whole movement was infused with and built around the spirituality.
 
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