The Taiping Rebellion raged across southern China for more than a decade. At its height, rebels controlled significant territory and several of China’s wealthiest cities. For the Qing, facing external aggression from the French and British at the height of the rebellion, this was a classic instance of what the Legalists called neiyou waihuan (内忧外患), “anxiety within, calamity without.”
During this period, Feng Guifen desperately tried to save his native Suzhou, raising funds and armies for its defense. Failing to hold his hometown, he fled to Shanghai and the safety of its foreign troops.
The leader of the Taiping Rebellion, Hong Xiuquan, combined Christian and Confucian doctrine into a unique set of political beliefs. Interestingly, Karl Marx had a lot to say about the Taiping Rebellion.
Fresh work on the global significance of the Taiping civil war can be found in Stephen Platt’s Autumn of the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War, and for a penetrating study of the meaning Chinese made of the rebellion, Tobie Meyer-Fong’s What Remains: Coming to Terms with Civil War in 19th Century China