Few conflicts in history were as devastating and at the same time as reforming as that of the Taiping rebellion in 19th century China. A fourteen year battle that forever changed the Chinese landscape.
The Qing dynasty by this time had been ruling China for centuries, however by the nineteenth century it had been exposed to military loss to western forces, internal corruption, and ineffective government.
Hong Hiuquan had humble beginnings, a simple life, and began being influenced by Christianity in his early years, so much so, that after receiving several visions, he believed himself to be the son of God and the younger brother of Jesus Christ, sent to reform China.
Feng Yunshan was a childhood friend of Hong's, he was a leader in the rebellion that constantly opposed the ruling Qing dynasty. Once Hong told Feng of his visions, Feng used this to create the new religious group 'The God Worshipers' Society', which was mostly made up of peasants from the Guangxi province.
Hong joined the group in 1847 and after a few years, Hong led the group into an all out rebellion against the Qing's, proclaiming a new dynasty, the Taiping Tianguo, with himself as leader. The ranks of the rebellion grew over time, drawing mostly those from impoverished areas, stricken by the harshness of the Qing regime, who most believed were corrupt and ineffective. Soon the rebellion had drawn over 1 million supporters to its cause, and were well trained in military warfare.
A few years into the rebellion, as more and more numbers came to their cause, they made their march north to take the city of Nanjing, which they easily captured and renamed to Tianjing. While holding the city they sent a separate force to take Beijing, however that failed, all the while another force were making victories on the east coast.
Soon after the Taiping Minister of State (Yang Xuiqing) attempted to take control of the influence and power that Hong had, as a result Yang and thousands of his followers were killed by Hong's General Wei Changhui. Soon General Wei himself became insolent and arrogant, and Hong had him killed. This led General Shi Dakai to flee Tianjing in fear for his own safety, and he took many followers of the rebellion with him.
The rebellion once again tried to assert control of the Qing's and made an attempt at taking Shanghai, however they were defeated by the Qing armies led by American Frederick Townsend Ward, and later by British officer Charles George Gordon.
Zeng Guofan, a Qing government official, managed to rally the social classes to his cause, and made his way to lead the armies to take Nanjing back, they surrounded the city and in 1864 the city fell.
Hong was in poor health at the time, and many of followers encouraged him to flee, but he was defiant and committed suicide, but not before instilling his 15 year old son as the leader of the rebellion. The rebellion was soon put to an end, although spot fighting occurred over the country for the next four years.
The Taiping Rebellion was one of the bloodiest conflicts in history, with over 20 million lives lost. Modern China can trace some of roots back to the Taiping's, where they tried to create democracy, industry and many other civil services and models.
Although the Qing dynasty survived for another 53 years, it never really recovered from the rebellion, and was considerably weakened by it. It would become the last imperial dynasty of China.