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 whether the Taiping rebellion was merely a revolt by the rural poor against the rich, what part religion played in the revolt and whether students think the revolt was originally successful? Students could evaluate the factors that led to the defeat of the rebels in 1864 and the long-term impact of the Taiping Rebellion on China?