While waiting for an appointment, Li heard with dismay that Nanking had been taken by a body of rebels, and that his native province was in danger of being overrun by them. A new career opened before him,—one that led more directly to the highest offices within the gift of the sovereign. Asking a commission in the army, he was assigned to a position on the staff of Tsengkofan, father of the Marquis Tseng, who was afterwards Minister to England.
This rebellion, among the strangest of strange things, now claims our attention.
THE TAIPING REBELLION.
In April, 1853, the news reached us that Nanking had fallen into the hands of a body of rebels who, by a curious irony, called themselves Taipings, “Soldiers of Peace.”
They were Chinese, not Manchus, and their leaders were all from the extreme south. Starting near Canton, they had proclaimed as their object the expulsion of the Tartars. Overrunning Kwangsi and Hunan, they had got possession of Hankow and the two adjacent cities,—a centre of wealth which may be compared to the three cities that form our Greater New York. Everywhere they put to flight the government forces; but they did not choose to stop anywhere short of the ancient capital of the Mings. Seizing some thousands of junks, they filled them with the plunder of that rich mart, and sweeping down the river, carried by assault every city on its banks until they reached Nanking. Its resistance was quickly overcome; and putting to death the entire garrison of twenty-five thousand Manchus, they announced their intention to make it the capital of their empire, as Hung Wu had done when he drove out the Mongols and restored freedom to the Chinese race.
In a few months they despatched an expedition to expel the Manchus from Peking. But that proved a more difficult task than they expected. Before the detachment had arrived at Tientsin, it was met on the Grand Canal by a strong force under Sengkolinsin, the Mongol prince. Obliged to winter on the way, it was divided and cut off in detail; this defeat making it evident to all the world that the Manchu domination might still hope for a considerable lease of life. The blood and rapine which everywhere marked their pathway alienated the sympathy of foreigners from the Soldiers of Peace. Nor did the new power at Nanking manifest the least anxiety to obtain foreign aid, feeling assured of ultimate triumph. Yet, indifferent as they were to the co-operation of foreigners, the Taipings proclaimed themselves Christians, and appeared to aim their blows no less at lifeless idols than at living enemies. Shangti, the Supreme Ruler, the God of the ancient sages, was the object of their worship. They found his name in the Christian Bibles, and they published the Bible as the source of their new faith. Their faith amounted to a frenzy, giving them courage in battle, but not imparting the self-control essential to Christian morality. Filling their coffers with spoil, they stocked their harems with the wives and daughters of their enemies. If their lives had been more decent, they might have had a better chance to secure the favor of those powerful nations which had now become the arbiters of destiny in China.