Yu Yuan 豫园
Song Dynasty Soldiers

The roof ornaments are detailed. In the bottom picture you can see the texture of the general's armor. The symbol on the flag is that of the Song Dynasty (宋, 960-1279). The rider is Yue Fei (岳飞, 1103-1142) a general who fought the Jurchen of the Jin Dynasty to the north. This was the war that caused the Song Dynasty to retreat south and begin what we call the Southern Song Dynasty in 1127.

Taiping Rebellion

After the Small Dagger Society escaped from Shanghai, and the Imperialists finished their burning and looting, things settled down and rebuilding began. Some of those who had fled into the settlements returned but most remained. The rest was brief.

The Taiping Rebellion had been raging since 1851 primarily in the south. By March of 1853 they had taken Nanjing and made it their capital. Led by Hong Xiuquan and Yang Xiuqing, both members of disadvantaged peasant groups, the Taiping mixed mystical religious beliefs with the strong appeal of replacing the overlords and landlords with a heaven on earth. The movement particularly appealed to repressed minorities such as the Hakka, the Zhuang, Muslims, and the Hui. Through the 1850's they controlled most of the Yangtse River and the area south to Guangzu, in other words, half of China.

This was not the friendly little rebellion of the Small Dagger Society, this was a raging war machine that burned down villages as they passed through. Landlords were beheaded and anyone who didn't join them was against them. As the army swept over the countryside they fed off the land, leaving those who hadn't been burnt out destitute. With an army numbering around a million they had had repeated victories over Imperial forces. But when they attempted to move north toward Beijing they were summarily repulsed by the Imperial forces.

In 1860 they occupied Suzhou and threatened Shanghai. For some reason the Imperial government asked the foreigners to join them in defending Shanghai and the Yangtse. It's strange because it is the same year that the British and French forces were in Beijing making war and burning down the Summer Palace. For the Chinese, the two situations were different arguments and an alliance was formed. Imperial troops were brought in and occupied the walled city, reinforced by some of the European forces. Most of the Europeans remained in their concessions and set up defenses on Defense Creek and Suzhou Creek. The men-of-war on the Huangpu River and Suzhou Creek were the greatest asset. They could shell well into the Taiping lines. The Taiping army was repulsed and never did enter Shanghai.

The victory changed the psychology of the war and the Imperial forces were able to retake Nanjing in 1853 and move south to consolidate China once again. One off-shoot of the battle for Shanghai was that the Chinese hired several foreigners to lead what became known as the "Ever Victorious Army." The army was Chinese but headed first by an American, Frederick Townsend Ward, and then after his death, Charles George Gordon was hired after a couple of less successful appointments. Ward and Gordon were both brilliant tacticians and could train their troops to have disciplined skill and inspire their confidence. They didn't win the war, the Imperialist forces under the command of Zeng Guofan and Li Hongzhang did that.

The earlier victories by the Taiping troops had been largely against local military groups controlled by the governors of the provinces. There was no central command to speak of so it was a matter of negotiation to get one general's troops to go to assist another general's troops. It took the Imperial government years to coalesce and centralize their forces, but once they did, they had resources and depth far beyond the peasant army.

There is a monument to the Taiping Martyrs in Shanghai. They are now seen as the precursor to the eventual revolution. How different history would have been had a more political and less mystical person led the uprising. That role was left open to be filled by Sun Yat-sen later.

China Index >> History of Shanghai and Suzhou Region >> Yu Yuan

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Last update: February 2007
© Marilyn Shea 1996, 1999, 2002, 2007