by John French
The Taiping Rebellion was a war on the largest scale that had been seen in the world up to that time. Some 10 million soldiers were involved and some 25 million plus casualties inflicted on the population of China. Populations in some areas were reduced by 40 to 80%.
Following the humiliation of the Chinese Government by the British in the 1st China War 1839-42 (also called 1st Opium War) there was a series of rebellions, one of which was the Taiping Rebellion.
The movement started when an individual, Hung Hsiu-ch’uan, claimed to have visions which demonstrated he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ and had been given a holy mandate to govern China. His followers teamed up with recently arrived Chinese from another province in a land war. They easily overcame local militia sent against them and survived an attempt by the Imperial troops to destroy their camp. The Taiping army quickly gathered more followers and gained more successes as the Imperialist armies relied upon their city walls for defence. They captured a massive flotilla and many cities, all the time remaining highly mobile.
It was only when they captured Nanking (in 1853) that they decided to make this their capital. This was probably their big mistake as the mobility had gone, troops when raised were often recalled to the city to beat off Imperialist threats or sieges (1858-60), and internal disputes led to one ‘Wang’ (king / leader) taking off some 70,000 men to set up on his own. Other military leaders came to the fore and once more they took the offensive. When they approached Shanghai with its European trading centre they thought that their tenuous links with Christianity and the fact that Britain and France were at war with Imperial China, would mean that they would be welcomed. Sadly for them, their reputation for brutality and massacres had preceded them, and as they approached the small Anglo-French garrison they were driven off.
In 1862 another attempt to capture Shanghai was beaten off by the Anglo-French troops with help from the Imperialists. To secure the area the Europeans went on the offensive and opposed any Taipings within a 30-mile radius of the city. Although British and French troops were involved the governments hoped to play a minor role by bolstering the Imperialists with weapons and instructors. An American Frederick Ward recruited a mercenary force with European officers called the Ever Victorious Army (EVA). General Gordon became commander at one point. They fought mostly within the 30 mile ‘limit’ of Shanghai. Other similar forces were raised as a result of the EVA’s success.
With the EVA’s help the Imperialists gradually regained control of many of the cities they had lost. When Nanking fell in July 1864 the Taipings were left with several scattered, but still significant, forces in various provinces which it took another 18 months to subdue.
THE EVER VICTORIOUS ARMY 1860-64
The E.V.A. was originally set up and commanded by an American, Frederick Townsend Ward. It's officers were American or European. From 1863 until the E.V.A.'s disbandment in 1864 Major Charles Gordon Was in Command. The 6 regiments of the E.V.A. were each about 500 men strong.
Miniatures of Frederick Townsend Ward and General "Chinese" Gordon can be found in pack CH021.
More information on E.V.A. Uniforms can be found here.
Suggested Reading (both Taiping Rebellion and 2nd China War):
Heath, Ian - ‘Armies of the Nineteenth Century: Asia no.2 China. (Foundry Books 1998). Part of the excellent new series from Foundry with dozens of illustrations.
Heath, Ian - ‘The Taiping Rebellion 1851-66’ (Osprey MAA 275 1994).
Hibbert, Christopher - ‘The Dragon Wakes’ (Longmans Group Ltd1970) Deals with China & the West 1793-1911.
Mann, Michael - ‘China 1860’ (Michael Russell Publishing. Wiltshire 1989).
Wilson, Andrew - ‘The Ever-Victorious Army’ (1st pub. 1868, reprinted Greenhill Books 1991).
There are also articles by Ian Heath in ‘Wargames Illustrated’ nos. 72,73,79,99 to 101 relating to EVA and Taipings.
Also see our section on the 2nd China War 1859-60 and Operations against the Taipings in the 1860s.