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WI: Taiping China

Circle of Willis

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The Taiping Rebellion was one of modern history's strangest civil wars, and certainly one of its bloodiest & most destructive as well. A farmer named Hong Xiuquan supposedly had a religious vision while in the midst of a nervous breakdown caused by failing the imperial exams one too many times, possibly influenced by pamphlets he picked up from a missionary and his Chinese translator, where God revealed that he was in fact the Chinese younger brother of Jesus who had orders from above to cleanse the world of demons.

Long story short, this resulted in him leading a 14-year-long rebellion against the extremely unpopular Qing dynasty (wracked by famines, natural disasters, the spread of opium and defeat at the hands of incoming Westerners at this time) which coincided with a bunch of other rebellions, such as the Nian Rebellion in central & southern China and the Dungan Revolt in the northwest, only to be narrowly defeated with the support of those very same foreigners at the cost of 20-30 million lives. While they were around, the 'Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace' also implemented a slew of policies which bore some resemblance to much later Maoist policies, as well.

However, there were points where it seemed like the Taipings might have won their holy war. They really did come close to taking the Qing capital in 1853 and Hong Xiuquan's cousin Hong Rengan, who actually directly worked with & was educated under Christian missionaries, had some ideas to win Western support over the Qing. The Taiping commanders attacking Beijing immediately instead of marching on Tianjin and dithering in wait for reinforcements who would never reach them in time, while Hong Rengan achieves greater success in realizing his policy goals and moderating the excesses of the more extreme & revolutionary-minded Taipings, seems like a good way to turn the Heavenly Kingdom's ship around.

So. How might the world react if by 1864, it is not the Qing dragon which still flies over China, but the smiling one of Christ's supposed Chinese brother and nephew? Could they hold China together (I doubt the Muslim insurgents in the northwest would be particularly interested in kneeling before the heterodox Christian regime in Nanjing/Tianjing, to start with, and the Nian rebels were never fully cooperative with the Taipings...) or even pull a Meiji? And if they somehow won European backing against the Qing thanks to Hong Rengan's efforts, would they be able to retain such support for long between their zealous opposition to opium and the contrast of their decidedly eccentric beliefs with the orthodox Christian ones?
 

ATP

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Such zealot movements are never good at actually ruling, so I reckon it will take a few years before it collapses due to resistance to forced conversions and peasant rebellions, most likely turning into new warlord era.
This.And England would attack it becouse of opium,and other european powers for their own reasons.Althought...if they leave army and economy to provessionals,and take USA alliance with becoming more protestant-like,then they could hold.
 

stevep

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Such zealot movements are never good at actually ruling, so I reckon it will take a few years before it collapses due to resistance to forced conversions and peasant rebellions, most likely turning into new warlord era.
I would say frequently rather than never as there are notorious exceptions, for instance both the communists, in Russia and China and the Nazis. Appalling outcomes for the people of those states as well as others but they unfortunately failed to collapse until ~70 years for the USSR and a very powerful coalition for the Nazis.
 

stevep

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This.And England would attack it becouse of opium,and other european powers for their own reasons.Althought...if they leave army and economy to provessionals,and take USA alliance with becoming more protestant-like,then they could hold.
An alliance with the US in the 19thC! Not going to happen even without the religious differences. Although it gave me the image of the Taiping sending volunteers to aid the union in the USCW. :)
 

History Learner

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Obviously, outside of the Taiping, the various other revolts ongoing would be able to achieve success in the face of the disintegration of the Qing armies fighting them as their source of pay, manpower and weapons dries up. The Taiping would be too busy establishing themselves to immediately confront them either, which would give the other rebellions the ability to solidify their control over their territories themselves. That alone stipulates some degree of "balkanization" of China, at least in the same sense as the 1910s-1930s OTL when the KMT was only able to exercise direct control over a part of China rather than the whole. Perhaps, however, it would get even worse than that. The Taiping were not exactly stable as the Tianjing Incident of 1856 shows, and here their victory has come before such could occur. Thus, the end result of this whole mess could be the collapse of the Qing just for the Taiping to fall apart too and now, from the late 1850s onward China is a mess of warring states that lay open to exploitation by the European powers.

Alternatively, perhaps the Taiping could surprise us or, in the event figures like Hong Rengnan are able to secure their power sooner and thus head off the above mentioned issues, we could have a brighter future ahead for China. Perhaps the Taiping will re-conquer the lost areas in the long run the same as the Qing managed, or perhaps they won't and instead embrace a specifically Han-centric idea of their new Chinese state. Regardless of what happens there, the main effect is that the Taiping-by claiming the Mandate of Heaven from the Qing-represent a totally new system and thus aren’t as tied down by centuries of historical precedent as the Qing were as well as their handicap of being Manchus ruling over a majority Han state. The end result of this could be an earlier, faster modernization of China compared to OTL and thus we get a "Meiji China" in the same way we saw Japan manage to do so historically.
 

ATP

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I remember some scenario on some dead site about succesfull Taiping who win over half of China,pulled Meji,Manchu did the same,and we have two modern china states as a result.Werll,till one conqered other after WW2.
 

Airedale260

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Huh. I was listening to a podcast on the rebellion. Anyway...

China was already starting to fracture and local nobles/warlords were being relied upon to suppress them. Plus Hong Xiuquan and his family members were all some variations of ambitious and not entirely right in the head.

The U.S. isn't going to ally with them, because in addition to preferring the status quo under the Qing, the Taipings don't practice what we'd recognize as Christianity -Hong claiming he's the brother of Jesus is going to be looked at very strangely at best, and at worst might actually trigger conflict due to the blasphemy (and that it's a Chinese man doing this is going to sit very poorly indeed with the West).

And more to the point, the Eight Nations Alliance intervened in 1900 to suppress the Boxers and maintain the status quo; if things get so bad the Taipings are on the brink of overthrowing the Qing, the West might intervene militarily, especially if it means an opportunity to seize concessions and colonies (Hong Kong, for example, was grabbed during this time). The only way the West doesn't intervene is if the Taipings don't fuck with the flow of commerce, expansion, etc. But not doing so means admitting the Taipings are just as weak as the Qing, and that means they're liable to suffer rebellions as well.
 

Circle of Willis

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France & Britain actually fought the Qing before they did the Taiping (the Arrow War about midway into the Taiping Rebellion), and that was after the Taipings nearly captured Beijing. In a scenario where the Taipings actually take Beijing in 1853 I don't think there'd be much of a Qing dynasty or Manchu powerbase left outside Manchuria itself to restore, considering how the Taipings treated their Manchu prisoners (ex. in Nanjing/Tianjing after capturing it, also in 1853), even if Britain & France wanted to.

That said, unless the relatively sane & pro-Western Hong Rengan manages to secure power & sideline his cousin Hong Xiuquan soon after the Taiping victory, I'm inclined to agree that the Taipings will probably butt heads with the West sooner or later (probably sooner). And considering the Taipings will still have the consolidation of the Chinese north & west ahead of them as well as their fractious internal politics to deal with on top of their obvious structural & technological weaknesses vs. the West, that's almost certainly going to end poorly for the Heavenly Kingdom.
 

Airedale260

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France & Britain actually fought the Qing before they did the Taiping (the Arrow War about midway into the Taiping Rebellion), and that was after the Taipings nearly captured Beijing. In a scenario where the Taipings actually take Beijing in 1853 I don't think there'd be much of a Qing dynasty or Manchu powerbase left outside Manchuria itself to restore, considering how the Taipings treated their Manchu prisoners (ex. in Nanjing/Tianjing after capturing it, also in 1853), even if Britain & France wanted to.

That said, unless the relatively sane & pro-Western Hong Rengan manages to secure power & sideline his cousin Hong Xiuquan soon after the Taiping victory, I'm inclined to agree that the Taipings will probably butt heads with the West sooner or later (probably sooner). And considering the Taipings will still have the consolidation of the Chinese north & west ahead of them as well as their fractious internal politics to deal with on top of their obvious structural & technological weaknesses vs. the West, that's almost certainly going to end poorly for the Heavenly Kingdom.
I’d note that the Arrow War was mainly about grabbing what they could while the Qing were at their weakest. If Beijing had fallen, I think it’s more likely the Western powers try to install a puppet rather than cozy up to the Taiping. Then, not only do they get a puppet but they can get additional concessions out of China. And then it becomes a question of “how do we keep our puppet from being overthrown.”

If the West has a much bigger stake in keeping the Qing afloat, it makes for an interesting question as to whether or not the empire might remain propped up, and how things fall into place between the end of the rebellion and up until the Cold War (other butterflies aside, a conflict like World War I is inevitable at some point, and the losing side is going to in turn want revenge).
 
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