Fotos: Debating Monks from the Sera and Drepung Monasteries of Lhasa, Tibet
“In the beginning, there was no history or literature: there were just tales, mythic narratives of the legendary past. It was a storyteller’s duty to praise the ancestors, both real and divine, so that the contact between the past and the present was not broken. Then came writing. Historical time is, by definition, the time of writing, the time of written time and written documents. Writing freezes the moment of enunciation, turns it into a trace, a document. As traces from the past, written documents are both continuous and discontinuous with the past – often they are actual remains of what once was, but since they have been cut away from their original context, we must constantly interpret and reinterpret them as signs that refer to that virtual and constantly changing construction that we call [history].” – [Kuisma Korhonen, “Tropes for the Past: Hayden White and the History/Literature Debate”]
The poetic words of Kuisma Korhonen, presented above, are a beautiful invitation to enter into the world of historical debate. We are reminded of an essential vulnerability when attempting to trace any particular history; uncertainties concerning the accuracy of facts and the reliability of interpretations being told within the tales. History is presented as a construction which is constantly changing; and as such, becomes constantly re-envisioned by the changing world which is looking back for evaluation and validation of a past which is forever gone; save through the artifacts which mankind has left behind. The many scholastic queries into the Taiping Rebellion have produced many such changing constructions as the years have progressed and the people doing the enquiring have shifted perspectives. With the shifting of perspectives, new information comes to light and new light is shed on what had been known before. This is a process of growth and transition in the understanding of moments in history; as the scholars of the world present their arguments and debate the meaning and importance of the evidence which they have gathered.
For understanding the Taiping Rebellion, this process has been underway since the 1850s, when it caught the attention of the West. The analysis of the Taiping movement has been somewhat different depending upon the paradigm of the person telling the story. Karl Marx and Mao Zedong, in particular, were both outspoken on the subject of the Taiping Rebellion; yet, each from a different physical place on the timeline of history and from a different conceptual place on the timeline of communist ideology. Over the years, scholars from the East and the West have joined in on the great debate concerning the Taiping. As the group expanded; the material to be considered also expanded; now including Marx and Mao themselves as subjects of debate.
Before delving head first into the Taiping debates, it is worth clarifying what I mean by the word “debate”. Richard Nordquist has gone before me in the endeavor to explain the many uses of the word debate in his article, “Definitions and Examples of Debates”. From Nordquist, I shall share a few notes. In general terms, debate is just a discussion in which people present their opposing claims; giving their arguments for their claims. In more specific terms, a debate can refer to a regulated contest where two sides present opposing points of view. In these contests, the participants defend their appointed view and attack the view of their opponent. Throughout Nordquist’s article, the accent is upon debate as a spoken art with listeners rather than as a written art for readers. That is unfortunate, because, written debates also take place in books, articles, and papers. The main difference between the two forms of delivery being, that a written debate is one-sided (at least at the time of writing). An author uses the methods of debate to compare and contrast the thoughts and theories of others with their own; as a written thought experiment or as a more formal scholarly thesis.
It is important to realise that debate is, essentially, about communicating claims to others. The goal to win may well be human, but, it is not inherent in the meaning of the word, debate. So, when I speak of scholars debating history, I am not referring to a debate team at a university, nor a political debate in parliament. I am concerned only with the putting forth of arguments which support their theories and ideas of understanding in contrast and comparison to those of other scholars. How one does this, is a matter of personal experience. “How to argue is something people are taught. You learn it by watching other people, at the breakfast table, or in school, or on TV, or, lately, online. It’s something you can get better at, with practice, or worse at, by imitating people who do it badly. More formal debate follows established rules and standards of evidence. For centuries, learning how to argue was the center-piece of a liberal-arts education…..Debating, like voting, is a way for people to disagree without hitting one another or going to war…..”- [Jill Lepore, “The State of Debate”]. As true as this may be, debating has more than the potential for decreasing levels of violence to commend it. Acquiring the “Art of Supporting Arguments” requires the development of two basic skills. 1.)Research Skills: because the quality of the argument depends on the strength of the supporting evidence. 2.)Evaluation Skills: understanding methodology, determining source credibility, and processing data into “argument briefs”. “Argument briefs bring together the strongest logical reasons and evidence supporting various positions.” – [Richard E. Edwards: “Competitive Debate”]
We know that the Taiping Rebellion has been the subject of much scholarly debate. We also know that scholars have divided the subject of the Taiping Rebellion into its many conceivable compositional parts; in order to obtain small understandings which will aid in comprehending the “whole”. For the issue of explaining scholarly debates, two compositional parts of our subject rise to the surface of attention: The Taiping and The Communists. Much has been said, over the years, about the Taiping Rebellion. This essay series, alone, has already set focus on ten selective aspects of this rebellion, covering themes of : History of Chinese Rebellions, Religious Madness, Hakka History and Culture, Hakka Martial Arts, Taiping Muliebrity, Hunan Resistance, Taiping Northern Expedition, Foreign Alliances, Marginality and Rebellion, and Traditional vs Modern Warfare. All these topics fall within the Taiping debate; yet, there is one point to add as a preparation for the discussion of Communism in relation to the Taiping Rebellion. The Taiping Rebellion is often cited as being a forerunner of Communist ideology. When we look at the many compositional parts of the Taiping Rebellion in the effort to understand its relationship to Communism, particular points are brought to the foreground for examination.
The link made between Taiping ideology and Communist ideology is both an odd and an obvious link to make; a link which has much supporting evidence while stimulating the creation of many scholarly questions. I have plucked a number of comments presented by six authors, from their articles found on the Internet, to present an inkling of what this discussion encompasses. Amit Bhattacharyya, Alexander Chavers, Janice Y. Leung, Adrian Chan-Wyles, David Little, and a blogger named Nick provide supporting evidence for this basic ideological link. Alexander Chavers gives us the reference of historical background through a comparison of China and Russia from the 19th century. Both countries were on the verge of revolution and shared situational common ground which is seen to have influenced the rise of Chinese Communist ideology. Imperial China and Imperial Russia were bogged down by a vast bureaucracy, burdened by their wealthy elite, encumbered by the extreme poverty of their masses, overpopulated with insufficient agricultural production, and demoralized by broad scale government corruption. China was also confronted with many natural disasters in the 1840s; the flooding of the Yellow River and the Yangtze River, adding to the ever escalating reach and degree of starvation across the country. These conditions are generally accepted as those elements found to be relevant in the development of many rebellions. Certainly, China has witnessed these combinations of circumstances at many points upon the historical timeline of rebellions, revolts, and revolutions; yet, the Taiping Rebellion appears to be the first war which produced this particular type of ideology. In respect to the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, ideology came in the form of religious doctrine. It is at this point where the comparison between China’s and Russia’s communist ideological origins must part; for the latter banished religion from the base of its ideology, whereas the former planted itself squarely upon the pedestal of its Chinese Christian dogmatism.
Janice Y. Leung brings the historical evidences concerning the effects of Liang A-fa’s book, “Good Words”, and the exploitations of the God Worshippers by Hong Xiuquan into her evaluation of the development of core communist ideological elements by the Taiping. The salient concepts promoted in Liang’s “Good Words” were based on the existence of an omnipotent God and the offer of salvation through belief. The book presented a Hell of fire and damnation for non-believers. The book condems Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism because they blinded man to God. Leung tells us that this book, placed in this time period, within Southern China, lent itself to the interpretation of the Bible within the historical-political paradigm of the Chinese society and government as being corrupt and immoral. “It is likely that the readers interpreted this tract in the way that China’s moral salvation required some form of societal action, as well as a specific political component, and that this might in fact require the embodiment of moral regeneration in a new dynastic regime.”
Alexander Chavers concerns himself with the particular role in which Hong Xiuquan played in the shaping and re-shaping of the God Worshipper’s doctrine. He begins with the initial forming of Hong’s ideology, “In Hong’s bizarre vision, Confucius escapes heaven with the leader of demons (aka Satan), promoting God to send down a league of angels after him. After being tied up Confucius is brought back to heaven and whipped respectfully for his sins.” Seven years later, Hong “re-imagined” his visions and came up with the conviction that he was the second son of God; the younger brother of Jesus. In the early, formative years of the God Worshipping Society, Hong transitioned his aggressive stance from a general ideology to a specific goal of destroying the Qing Dynasty after the Qing had imprisoned six God Worshippers between 1847-1849. Hong’s petitions for their release were denied. Leung cites the courts denial of Hong’s petitions as a turning point in Hong’s militarization of his religious movement. “This is probably the decisive factor that drove the God Worshippers into a formal anti-government movement. Hong had been preaching against the “devil demons” since his dream in 1837, but he was always quite unclear of who these devils were. However, by the end of 1849 when he failed to set free the imprisoned God Worshippers, he began to identify the Qing officials as demons.”
Hong had always had a certain amount of aggression and violence built into his various visions from God; as well as the sanctioned solution of rebellion for solving the social problems of China. Yet, the ideologies of the God Worshipping Society and the later Heavenly Kingdom were built upon the humanitarian aspects of Christian ideology. These were concerns for equality and compassion. Our friend, Nick the blogger, points out that Hong had stated, “There being fields, let all cultivate them; there being food, let all eat; there being clothes, let all be dressed; there being money, let all use it, so that nowhere does inequality exist, and no man is not well fed and clothed.” Chavers stresses a similar point, “His [Hong’s] philosophy held that nothing on earth is for private use: that ALL things should go to God for common use so that EVERYONE is provided for.” Chavers also tells us that Hong took one central value of Christianity, “God’s earth is for all people” and used it to find an “Earthy” solution to the problem of unequal distribution of wealth. The Communist version of this point is expressed as using “earthly means to address earthly problems”. Hong infuses this ideology with the “Will of God” to create a classless society; a “Heaven on Earth” where men and women are equal and wealth is shared.
Somewhere along the road of rebellion the humanitarian Christian ideology shifted to the far end on the line of control; leaving the realm of free will, compassion, and charity behind. The Taiping became extremist to the extreme. The Taiping burned books of Confucianism and Buddhism in their homes. They destroyed holy statues from other religions. They institutionalised extreme forms of: Women’s Rights, Trade Suppression, Opium Laws, Communal Land Reform, Gender Segregation, and Communal Banking. All these measures were enforced using severe forms of violence. All the while, Hong’s sanity was diminishing and he became increasingly paranoid. During a number of the long years when the Taiping war was raging, Hong had secluded himself in his Pleasure Palace to write poetry and edicts while surrounded by 2,000 female servants and a harem of 88 women. The grain supplies were monopolized by Hong’s corrupt administrators; leading to severe shortages for the people. Starvation led to many deaths and Hong’s reply was to let the people eat Manna from heaven and weeds from the ground. “No doubt that Hong Xiuquan was a madman ravaged by a grandiose vision. He paved the road to hell with his intention of equal rights and land-for-all distribution. The same dream was planted in Marx, albeit atheistically, and later germinated in the minds of some of history’s worst mass murderers. Hong was not a Communist in name; but he might as well be considered almost Communist in belief, though the philosophy had nearly a century yet to come to China. He embroiled his wild delusion with Christian teachings, ultimately misusing them, like thousands of others in history. But, through his militant class movement, he gave China a visceral sense of thing to come.”- [Alexander Chavers]
Amit Bhattacharyya comments upon the nature and significance of the Taiping Rebellion for the eventual rise of Communism in China. “Although the Taipings did attempt to establish an egalitarian utopian society, their reforms were actually such as to pave the way to capitalism. But peasant rebellions without the creation of new productive forces through the participation of an urban bourgeoise could not achieve capitalist development. In effect, the peasantry was used by the landlords and the nobility as a lever to bring about dynastic change.” Bhattacharyya continues to explain that during the time of the Taiping Rebellion, China was in a process of societal transition. China was moving from a Feudal system to a Semi-Feudal system; and was well on its way to becoming immersed in a Semi-Colonial system. This process of transition began during the Opium Wars. He also tells us that the Taiping Rebellion expressed this transition of times and was composed of both traditional and modern elements in their fight for democratisation. The Taiping Rebellion had many elements of Pro-Nationalism, stating that, “It was this nationalistic element that explains the participation of a large number of educated and rich people whose anti-Manchu patriotism gave them some sympathy for the rebel cause.”
In the closing statements of Nick, the graduate student blogger, the question is posed as to why the Taiping Rebellion had failed to incorporate their reforms into a lasting change of the Chinese society, while the later Communist movement would succeed in implementing many of the same reforms for the same society. “The Taiping Rebellion lasted from 1850-1864; thus the Chinese had not yet lost the Sino-Japanese war to the Japanese. According to the McKay textbook, it was not until after the Sino-Japanese war that the Chinese realised that they were internationally weak (McKay). That being said, at the time of the Taiping Rebellion, there was no major desire for the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty because there was no reason to believe that the Chinese needed to reform, and certainly did not need to reform with Western influence (Hong preached Christianity). Conversely, when Mao came to power, the Qing Dynasty had already been overthrown. Secondly, there was no absolute government in China during the 1940s. The “government” at the time were Nationalists, who were preoccupied with the Japanese in China (McKay). This distraction gave Mao the perfect chance to recruit followers and to spread propaganda; this coupled with the massive Chinese casualties suffered by the war between nationalists and the Japanese gave Mao the perfect window of time to seize power.”
This brings us to a consideration of both Marx and Mao in relation to the Taiping Rebellion. Marx was a contemporary of the Taiping Rebellion. He wrote numerous articles concerning the rebellion for major newspapers in the Western world. Marx had already formed the foundations of his economic and social theories which modern Communist revolutionary movements would rest upon. So, what he had to say about the Taiping Rebellion is interesting and scholars have studied his words on the matter quite carefully; noting, with hindsight, how to reliably evaluate his methodology, credibility, and manner of processing the data at hand in the 1850s. What we find from these modern evaluations is that Marx was not initially enamored with the Taiping nor with their Rebellion. “What is original in this Chinese revolution are only its bearers. They are not conscious of any task except the change of dynasty. They have no slogans. They are an even greater scourge to the population than the old rulers. It seems that their vocation is nothing else than to set against the conservative disintegration of China, its destruction, in grotesque horrifying form, without any seeds for a renaissance.”-[Marx]
Janice Y. Leung, in her article “A Critique of Marx’s View of the Taiping Rebellion and its Origins”, cites an article by Marx which was published in 1853 by the New York Daily Tribune. In this article, Marx relies on external factors for explaining the rise of the Taiping. These exogenous origins upon which Marx sets his focus included: European intrusion into China, Foreign Trade and the Opium Wars which bankrupt China, causing national unrest and rebellions against the Qing. Whereas, these points made by Marx are all valid pieces of evidence, they are lacking in the comprehension of the deeper relevance of the endogenous social factors influencing the Hakka. Marx seemed to have been lacking sufficient information about the Hakka and/or the Taiping movement. It appears that Marx may have written his words too quickly; having blinded his view because of the enormity of his own theories standing before him. “Understandably, Marx’s views have been widely accepted in mainland China where the Communist Party still treats Marx as one of its patriarchs in both the theory and practice of revolution. Yet these two views seem to be too simplistic, as Marx overlooked the social causes that led many to become part of the movement and did not notice the key role played by the Hakka, a minority within the Han population, in the early development of the rebellion. Actually the Taiping rebellion was considerably endogenous in origin, and was a result of mobilization of the Hakka through Hong Xiuquan’s God Worshippers. Hong’s actions suggest that origins of the Taiping Rebellion were largely endogenous rather than exogenous; his religious pursuits and political actions were basically results of an individual’s personal experience in 19th century China that inherited institutional and social problems from its long history.”-[Janice Y. Leung]
Marx had claimed that the revolt against the Qing was a result of the efforts made by the Han peasants and Chinese intellectuals, teachers, lower officials and craftsmen. He ignored or was blinded to the influence of the Hakka Taiping. We know that the origin of this rebellion was not due to any Han desire to overthrow the Qing. It was Hong Xiuquan, a Hakka religious fanatic who, through his personal charisma, gathered a large group of followers who did want to overthrow the Qing. Hong preached to the public and headed the God Worshipping Society. The movement spread throughout the Hakka homelands and many of the Hakka became converts to Hong’s new Christian religion. By 1849, he had 10,000 followers. Eventually, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom would be composed of a mixed group of Chinese ethnic peoples; including the Han. But, the Hakka had always been the heart and soul of the Taiping throughout the movement.
Marx believed that history was the outcome of a series of chronological events. Working from this theory, he deduced that the Taiping Rebellion must have been a direct result of the Opium Wars. He saw the presence of the British quite clearly in view. He commented on the effect of the British forcing their textiles upon China. In the same 1853 article for the Daily Tribune, Marx writes, “In China the spinners and weavers have suffered greatly under this foreign competition, and the community has become unsettled in proportion. Why should there not be initiated, after 300 years, a movement to overthrow it [meaning, the Qing Dynasty who had brought this situation upon China]?” David Little, in his article, “Marx and the Taiping” agrees with Leung in her observations of Marx’s analysis of the Taiping Rebellion. He states, “So the 1853 theory postulates the weakening of the Chinese social order as a chief cause, while the 1862 theory postulates a nationalistic motivation — a desire of Han people to overthrow Manchu rule. (An irony here is that the Taiping movement emerged with key support from Hakka people, a cultural minority within the Han population.)” Little goes on to explain that Marx was correct in identifying the exogenous aspects of the Taiping Rebellion. However, there were things which Marx failed to identify. He did not identify the class aspects inherent in the Taiping Rebellion. He did not ask about the social causes which motivated people to join the Taiping. He also, did not address the social program of the Taiping. “So whatever happened to the tools of historical analysis that Marx recommended — the forces and relations of production, the concrete circumstances of class relations, the intimate connection between material conditions of life and political behavior, and the emphasis on exploitation and rebellion? Why was Marx not disposed to ask the basic questions about the Chinese case: who are these people? What are the social relations from which they emerge? And what are they attempting to bring about in their rebellion? Why, in short, didn’t we get something more akin to the Civil War in France, with an effort at a detailed social and political analysis of the uprising?” The answer given is: Eurocentrism. Marx, being so totally set by his own point of Western reference, was incapable of fully understanding the true nature of the Taiping Rebellion; nor was he able to appreciate that his own theories were being played out in China in ways he had not recognized. Instead, he imposed European experience upon the discussion. Little tells us that it is with an analysis from the Chinese perspective which gives different answers to the question which Marx, himself, had failed to satisfactorily answer.
That Chinese perspective will come first through the words and actions of Mao and be followed by a century of Chinese scholars trying to make sense of it all. Amit Bhattacharyya, in his article, “Taiping Rebellion” considers the effect of the Taiping Rebellion on the history of China which was to follow. After the turn of the century, after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the definite possession of power to rule China was anything but a certainty. Social and political reforms were desired by the masses, but, who would provide for change and which change would come about were yet unknown. What were the principles which people and parties sought to achieve? Had the Taiping dreams of revolutionary social change vanished from the collective memory of the political consciousness of China? “In fact, many of the principles of the Taiping Rebellion served as an inspiration and model for Sun Yat-sen and the Kuomintang (National People’s Party) he founded, as well as for the May 4 movement of 1919 and the communists. Franke writes that the Taiping took the idea of equality from Christianity. This idea combined with many ancient ideas and did much to strengthen their revolutionary social program.” Because we know which party eventually settled-in to rule the Chinese nation through the second half of the 20th century up until the present, we need not spend time investigating the many other struggles for power in China which occurred in the course of those hundred interim years. Instead, we can jump ahead to consider the doctrine of Mao, compare his communist principles with those of the Taiping, take a look at Hakka history through the eyes of Mao Zedong, and note for ourselves their relevance to Chinese Communism.
To begin this line of inquiry, we must first be informed about Mao Zedong, himself. Mao was Hakka by descent. His forefathers had migrated from Hunan to Jiangxi more than 500 years before his birth. These ancestors were Hakka by origin, but not by culture. The forefathers of Mao had lived in the same area for so long that they had thoroughly assimilated and were considered to be no different than the locals who had originated there. This is an unusual distinction to make; it is a distinction which Hakka make between themselves and other Hakka. The non-assimilated Hakka are referred to as being Hakka by ethnicity. Mao knew of his Hakka bloodline and had become obsessed with learning about the customs and history of the Hakka people. There had been two Hakka women of great importance in the life of Mao. His first wife/partner, Yang Kaihui, was Hakka by descent and from a family of intellectuals; her father having been Mao Zedong’s first academic teacher. The second woman was He Zizhen, a Hakka by ethnicity from Jiangxi, who came from the family of landed gentry. In 1928, Mao and He Zizhen were together in Bian Village to launch the land reform campaign. He Zizhen knew the dialect spoken in the area and acted as translator for Mao. From He Zizhen, Mao learned about Hakka culture and about Hakka thought.
This information comes to me through the words of Adrian Chan-Wyles, PhD., in the article “Mao Zedong Thought: An Integration of Marxist-Leninism & Hakka Attitudes”. Chan-Wyles has written many articles about the Hakka and many articles about Chinese Communism. When considering “source credibility” we need to keep in mind that Chan-Wyles is a Communist committed to correcting, what he considers to be, the misinformed Western perspective on Chinese history. As such, he definitely meets the brief of presenting a Chinese perspective. Chan-Wyles clarifies the Hakka ancestry of Mao, “The Hakka people in question descend from ancestry in Ji’an (Jiangxi) during the early Ming Dynasty. Mao Zedong was a native of Xiangtan (Hunan), but during the 1920s and 1930s, almost as if by an act of destiny, Mao Zedong returned to the origin of his Hakka ancestry. Just as fish cling to water, and the tiger heads to the hills, Mao Zedong was historically drawn toward Jiangxi. It was from here that his career as a great Revolutionary leader was born… In many ways, the Revolutionary situation ensured the unshakeable bond between Mao Zedong and ethnic Hakka culture. Indeed, the Revolutionary Period of modern China contributed to the people of Hunan re-discovering their Hakka culture and the Hakka love of rebellion and Revolution. When Hakka people and non-Hakka Chinese people united, they both changed the world forever.”
From Nick, the graduate student blogger, I am told that Mao was inspired by the actions of Hong Xiuquan. Mao, like Hong, wanted to purge China of Confucianism and traditional Chinese culture. Mao closed temples. He had monuments, books, and antiques destroyed. Mao abolished private ownership of land and created communes which worked on a quota system quite similar to that of Hong’s communities of “25” families. Both Mao and Hong had a similar approach to change through the elimination of traditional Chinese culture and the creation of an egalitarian economy. Amit Bhattacharyya presents the ideas of Mao Zedong through Mao’s own writings. Therein, Mao contends that peasant uprisings and wars are a unique recurring feature of China. Mao saw class struggles between peasants and the feudal forces of power as being a dynamic element in China’s developmental process; noting that dynasties tended to change through rebellion. “He argued that in the absence of “correct leadership” by the proletariat and the Communist Party, peasant wars of the past were unable to liberate the peasantry from the feudal yoke.” – (Amit Bhattacharyya). Mao considered the Taiping Rebellion to be one of the eight major events occurring during the formative years of China’s “bourgeois-democratic revolution”.
The story of Mao’s own wars continue through the telling of Chan-Wyles. He informs us that during the Autumn Harvest Uprising (known as the Second Revolutionary Civil War), the Red Army and the National Soviet Movement headquarters were nestled in the border areas between Hunan and Jiangxi. This is roughly the same geographical area of the “Hakka Base Camp”. The Long March of Communist forces began in 1934 and for seven years the Red Army of Chinese Workers & Peasants were led by Mao Zedong and his companions through the Hakka regions of Hunan, Jiangxi, Fujian, and Guangdong. Xingguo County records state statistics for the period of the Civil War: 230,000 lives improved, 80,000 troops, and 23,000 “martyrs”. It is said that for every mile on the Long March another Hakka hero from Xingguo was buried; so great was the Hakka service to the Communist revolution. Xingguo is known as the “County of Generals”; having produced 62 generals of Hakka descent/ethnicity to the national cause. Even the Nationalist KMT had 30 generals from Xingguo County.
Chan-Wyles places the forming of Chinese Communist ideology in the Agrarian Revolution, “…Mao Zedong integrated Hakka cultural thinking with that of Marxism-Leninism – and the reality of the Chinese Revolution. This subsequent body of knowledge has become known as Mao Zedong Thought and serves as the guiding ideology of the Communist Party of China.” Mao had spent years in the Hakka homelands, had He Zizhen as a partner, and made a long study of the nature of the Hakka, their culture, their actions and their interactions. Mao used his observations in his book, “The Battle of Jinggangshan”, to analyse the Hakka. “Indigenous issues: There is one more special thing in these Hakka counties. There is a great demarcation between natives of ethnic origins and those who moved North hundreds of years ago. History has seen a very deep hatred and sometimes fierce fighting between the two groups. This kind of Hakka people has its origins in the borders of Fujian and Guangdong, and along the border between Hunan and Jiangxi Provinces which stretches to the south of Hubei Province – perhaps numbering a few million. The occupation of the mountains by the Hakka is a product of repression by the natives who occupy the best land, and exclude the Hakka from all political rights. In recent years, the National Revolution has welcomed the Hakkas who have proven to be good thinkers and brave fighters. The Hakkas are frustrated at the failure of the National Revolution and are now prepared to join the Red Army all across their homelands. In all those regions, the Hakkas are oppressed by landlords and the aristocracy. As these are enemies of the people the Communist Party of China welcomes all the Hakka people into its ranks. Although in the various regions there is much ethnic strife, under the leadership of the Communist Party the enemies of the people will be over-thrown and their tyranny brought to an end. Our approach is to propagandize the slogans ‘Do not kill the farmers even if they resist’, and ‘Give back the stolen fields to all farmers’ so that they are free from the influence of the gentry, and can go home with peace of mind. Education is the key to remove the violence between Hakkas and non-Hakkas. All Chinese people are equal and we should not allow the landed gentry to divide us with their bourgeois attitudes.” This quote from Mao is followed by a comment from Chan-Wyles, “This is a classic discourse which uses Marxist dialectic to remedy the Hakka – native conflict issue. Mao Zedong clearly integrates Marxist-Leninist thinking with Hakka ideas amd creates a synthesis of the two. Hakka attitudes of steadfastness, fighting spirit and Revolution are all part of Mao Zedong Thought.”
By now it should be clear that Mao had an avid interest in the Hakka. He identified with his Hakka heritage and used many of the original ideas from the Taiping Rebellion when ruling China under Communism. Mao’s ideas concerning Chinese history, the nature of rebellions, and the concepts arising from the Hakka culture were subjects of much interest within scholarly circles in China. In 1952 the Chinese Historical Society gathered together 8 volumes of source materials concerning the Taiping Rebellion. Eleven years of research followed; producing 400 research articles which were published by Chinese journals. Amit Bhattacharyya ends his own article over the Taiping Rebellion with a very interesting discourse about the great debates amongst Chinese and Western scholars as to the interpretation of the “argument briefs” supporting various theories explaining the Taiping Rebellion and the Communist Rebellion which followed in its wake.
Bhattacharyya begins his discourse by addressing the initial lack of interest for the large body of Chinese research presented for investigation, “However, as Tan Chung (1985) argues, this important intellectual achievement has hardly been noticed outside China. J.P.Harrison, who followed this debate with interest, was critical of the communist historians’ attempts to put the peasant movements of the past on a pedestal. Tan Chung argued that in earlier times the gentry had suppressed information about the importance of peasant rebellions in Chinese history, an importance that was recovered only after the aforementioned debates. These debates helped Chinese scholars view their past as a continuous process of social evolution with peasant movements acting as locomotives, having an anti-feudal dynamic. A different view was that the peasants attacked the regime, not feudalism as a class system. Hou Wailu described the Taiping revolt as the highest form of peasant war and a very good beginning for modern revolution. Another writer, Wu Shimo, asserted that Taiping stood for political equality, economic equality, sexual equality, and equality among nations. Karl Marx and The Times (August 30, 1853) hailed the event in identical language. Marx called it a formidable revolution and The Times described it as the greatest revolution the world had ever seen. On the other hand, Barrington Moore (1993) and Kung-chuan Hsiao (1979) maintain that it was a rebellion, not a revolution, as it did not alter the basic structure of society. Vincent Shih holds that the Taipings had genuine revolutionary possibilities in borrowing Christian and western ideas. But these possibilities were nullified because the Taipings were only able to perceive Christian ideas through the glass of traditional concepts. It is ridiculous to argue that all revolutionary possibilities should identify solely with western ideas. While opposing Vincent Shih, Tan Chung argues that Taiping ideology drew heavily on native cultural aspirations such as folklore, but the trace of continuity does not necessarily dilute its revolutionary character. D.S.Zagoria has made an ecological analysis and argues for the inevitability of the moment. He maintains that a peasant rebellion of the Taiping type was the inevitable outcome of “Monsoon Asia”. China, one of the wettest countries in the world, is well known as a “rice economy”, highlighted by intensive utilization of farmland, a dense population, hunger for land, elimination of small holdings, and proletarianization of the peasants, thereby creating the conditions for rural unrest, revolts, and anti-feudal wars. Although old demographic revolutions consisting of Taiping, Boxer, and the 1911 nationalist revolution failed to free China from the tentacles of feudal and imperialist forces, its successor, the new democratic revolution, from the May 4 movement onwards – when the working class entered the political stage – could bring about the liberation of the country within a short span of 30 years. The Taiping Rebellion was an agrarian revolution, which formed part of the democratic revolution.”
Suddenly, I feel like the many voices debating the Taiping Rebellion have brought us back to the beginning words of this essay. It occurs to me that we have once more reached the point of being told that before there was history, there were just tales, mythic narratives of the legendary past; and that it was the storyteller’s duty to praise the ancestors, both real and divine, so that the contact between the past and the present would not be broken. Once again, I find myself contemplating the words which describe the coming of the time of writing; a time of written time and written documents; allowing us to trace the past in its continuity and in its discontinuity; as we compensate for cutting out bits and pieces of the whole by constant interpretation and reinterpretation of what is examined; as we forever attempt the re-construction of the ever-changing assembly of the past. It seems evident that there are multiple scholarly perceptions of the Taiping Rebellion; making the Taiping Rebellion still very much a matter of debate. Each reader is left to his/her own counsel in the weighing of the words against the many grains of doubt which are found within the shifting sands of constructed history.