Sunday, January 4, 2009: 11:30 AM
Gramercy Suite A (Hilton New York)
Although China's Taiping Rebellion (1851-64) is in all likelihood the bloodiest civil war human beings have ever fought—with an estimated 20-30 million dead—it has remained almost completely beyond the purview of genocide scholars. In some ways this is not surprising; it is a non-Western conflict in a pre-industrial empire, and its historiography has generally portrayed it as a “progressive” or “revolutionary” movement, whose excesses were matched or even surpassed by the Qing Empire that eventually suppressed it. Yet, in its uncompromising quest to establish an entirely new society, with a religious ideology based on the movement's leader, Hong Xiuquan's claims to be God's son, radical attempts at social leveling, male-female equality, abolition of private property, extermination of the Manchus, and the complete dismantling of Confucian society, its character was unlike anything China had seen since its first empire was founded in 221 B.C.E. In all of these realms the movement incorporated older Chinese ideas of social welfare but in vital areas, particularly Hong's putative openness to useful innovation from any quarter, and his espousal of his personal version of Protestant Christianity, aspects of nineteenth-century “modernity” appear to present themselves. This paper will explore the impact that this totalizing, eliminationist approach to societal change, though far removed from what is customarily thought of as twentieth century modernity, had on the Taiping's all-to-often genocidal approach to warfare and pacification in the region around their capital of Nanjing. Here, an important primary source will be the eyewitness account of Li Gui (1842-1903) whose memoir of his captivity with the Taiping from 1860-2 presents a chilling portrayal of systematic destruction of families, casual torture and mayhem, forced labor and combat on a gargantuan scale, child soldiers, abuse of women, and general warfare on Confucian institutions.
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