World History 1850

About the history of the world in 1850, the Taiping Rebellion begins in China, the first undersea telegraph cable is completed.

TWO CENTURIES OF WORLD HISTORY: 1778-1978

1850

July The Taiping Rebellion began in China. Lasting 15 years, this rebellion was the bloodiest civil war in history, accounting for the death of approximately 20 million people-a number equal to the entire population of England at that time.

Led by a deranged mystic named Hung Hsiuch'uan, the movement originated in southern China among the Hakkas, descendants of northern Chinese migrants who still, after two centuries, had not been assimilated into the local population. Hung, who had acquired some missionary tracts from Canton, initiated a religious cult based loosely on the Protestant Bible, with himself as the "heavenly younger brother" of Jesus Christ and the second son of God. Hung brought Chinese philosophy and utopian thinking into his new religion, and had a definite preference for the militancy of the Old Testament while totally ignoring Jesus' message of love and his Sermon on the Mount.

Hung's followers formed militia units which clashed with imperial soldiers in July, 1850, bringing the movement into open rebellion against the Manchu dynasty. Marching north, Hung proclaimed himself T'ai-p'ing T'ien-Kuo ("Heavenly King of the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace"), thus giving his followers the name Taiping, or "Great Peace." In the next four years, Hung and his conniving disciple Yang Hsiu-ch'ing led Taiping forces into 16 of the country's 18 provinces. They took 600 walled cities-including Nanking, which became their capital-and occupied the rich and populous Yangtze River valley.

The Taipings destroyed Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian temples and idols and zealously prohibited adultery, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, witchcraft, and slavery. Equality of the sexes was preached and practiced, with women serving alongside men in the armies.

The Taiping Kingdom declined because of internal discord. Hung had Yang assassinated and then, in turn, had the assassin assassinated. Regional armies equipped with European weaponry came to the aid of the Manchu emperor, in addition to a force of Western mercenaries led by Frederick Townsend Ward of Salem, Mass. When Ward died, command went to Maj. Charles George Gordon, who was on loan from the British Army.

By the end of 1864, the Taipings had been routed and Hung had committed suicide by taking poison. However, the Taiping Rebellion had greatly shaken the Manchu emperor's hold on China and had led the country further into the disorder which was to plague it for almost a century.

Aug. 28 The first successful undersea telegraph cable was completed between Dover, England, and Calais, France, across the English Channel. The project was made possible by the use of gutta-percha, a sap similar to rubber, which deteriorated in the sun but worked as an insulator underwater, and also by Werner von Siemens's invention of a machine to apply the insulator to cable. This success was followed by cables laid under the Irish, North, and Mediterranean seas.

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