Historian and presenter Michael Wood explores the story of the Taiping Rebellion, which he calls the 'worst war of the 19th century.' He explores the background to the revolt - the defeat in the Opium War, and rural poverty. The Taiping Rebellion was mostly a revolt by poor rural peasants against their landlords and the rich, inspired by the religious pamphlets of an American missionary. Hong, the leader, spent years in the rural South of China, preparing the peasants for rebellion. Initially very successful, Hong, the leader of the rebels, with an army of 100,000 men, was installed as Emperor in Nanjing. China had two governments - one traditional (the Qing, in Beijing) the other revolutionary, in Nanjing. The Taiping rebels created a brave new world - a classless society where private property was abolished. Finally, in 1864, aided by Britain and the other Western Powers with their modern weapons, the Qing were able to re-conquer Nanjing and finally defeat the Taiping Rebellion and reunite China. Contains some violent scenes which younger viewers may find upsetting. Teacher review prior to use in class is recommended.
This could be used to discuss how significant was Hong in the rebellion and the part played by the West in causing the revolt, and in suppressing the revolt? Students could list the events that led to the rebellion. They could discuss the changes that were introduced by the Taiping in Nanjing? Did these changes contribute to the defeat of the rebels in 1864? Students could discuss whether they agree with Michael Wood that the Taiping Rebellion was 'the worst war of the 19th century', comparing this with other major conflicts of this period.