My earliest recollections of learning about wars are of conversations which took place in my family home when I was a young child of grade school age. I remember my parents openly discussing the very real possibility of a nuclear war during the period of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Because we had an underground fallout shelter in our backyard and at school we had nuclear attack drills; my education about war began before I could read. However, I have no recollection of war being discussed at school during those years; just as I have no recollection of tornadoes being discussed at school when we had tornado drills. As far as the school was concerned, all we needed to know was where to go when the particular warning sound was given and how to perform the appropriate protective positions. Actual education about deadly weather and deadly bombs was not really considered the task of grade schools back then. Parents were expected to educate their own children on issues which might upset them; it being their discretion as to how much information about “real life” they wanted their children to possess.
The closest grade school ever came to informing me about war was in the telling of quaint anecdotes about the founding fathers during specific cultural heritage pageants. Teachers drilled their students in costumed skits about Independence from the British and in the telling, it was understood by all that there had been a war in the days of old. Because my mother had been a historian and my father an officer in the Air Force, the topic of war provided more conversations at home than at school. I don’t know what other kids my age knew about war back then. But, when I reached Junior High School, I entered the realm of “formal education” concerning the conflicts of nations. My school was on an Air Force base and did not circumvent the topic of war during history class. For my history class, the Junior High School I attended had chosen to lay a thin foundation of world history which began in Greece, proceeded to Rome, and then managed to make its way across the Atlantic and into the New World, to the eventual forming of a united country. In High School, my history book began with that New World and proceeded through World War Two. This covered a much shorter period of time than World History; so, the degree of detail had grown to a point where the wars of history were no longer merely names and dates; but, presented actual causes, concerns, and issues of which to contemplate and discuss. Halfway through the year, my history teacher closed the history book and we spent from January to June of 1970 discussing the living history of the time; Vietnam. It was never declared a war, so, officially it was classified as a “conflict”. But, everyone called it the Vietnam War because that is what it was.
For me and my classmates, the Vietnam War was not just a rendering of facts and figures on the pages of a school history book. It was alive and watched in tension every evening on the nightly news. Boys in my class were already 17 and were to be eligible for the draft at 18. Everyone had male family members sent to war under one circumstance or another, being; fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, boyfriends, husbands. Some were drafted, others enlisted to avoid the draft, or because they felt it their duty to their country. Women were not included in the draft; so the mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, aunts, girlfriends, and wives in the military were all there by the choosing of their own conscience alone. Everyone had someone to welcome coming home and someone to grieve because they were missing in action or brought back in a coffin. People followed the history in the making in a desperate attempt to understand what was happening and to feel some semblance of control over their own life and destiny. Emotions were at an all time high because the understanding of the one was an affront to the understanding of the other. Pride, anger, humiliation, frustration, fear, sorrow, and patriotism were palpable across the entire nation. No one really seemed to want the war; but each had their reasons for either supporting it or speaking out against it.
Because the Vietnam War was the nation’s first war in the new age of modern media, the war and everything about it had entered into every home and every aspect of daily life. The policies of the government were under an unprecedented scrutiny. Violence and murder were filmed and aired, uncensored by the major television networks, during prime-time hours for all to experience in horror. My generation had been sheltered from the confronting realities of war, by schools which had preferred to teach only of the more distant pasts; giving little worthy attention to the wars of our parents before us. Naive and unprepared, yet being sent to war at a time when the voting age was still 21; there were traumas in the making which are even today still being lived through. I think that the people of the country also lost their fundamental faith in the integrity of their government toward the end of the Vietnam War. The nation was in shock to realise the degree to which they had been lied to about the military and political strategies being carried out during the war. In the end, the citizens had to recognise that they had not only lost the war in terms of loss of life, but, in terms of morality as well. The reality revealed was that the government had become Strange Bedfellows of the powers they had been condemning. The distinction of possessing the moral high ground was no longer upheld in the eyes of the world abroad nor for many at home. The Age of Innocence, which the generation of WWII based their self-identity upon, was over. And with the demise of that age a new Age of Questioning emerged; leading many to revisit histories, to reveal new perspectives for reinterpretations of the past.
If my parent’s generation can be considered as the Age of Innocence and my own generation as the Age of Questioning; I find myself somewhat at a loss in giving the generation of the Taiping an Age of description in regard to war. In the previous seven essays, I have followed my own natural path of curiosity as my mind has walked around the entity of the Taiping Rebellion. The essays written were each a description of perception from one particular angle of observation. These were perspectives from the exterior which provided me a view from a particular vantage point. As in the first essay, the vantage was broad and far away, composed of names and dates with little detail and presenting only a sparse sense of emotional human connection. That view was an overview and had value in its revealing of the basic historical patterns created over the centuries by the rebellions of China. My path of inquiry each week has led me continually to new points of perspective; each with a different view, some may be likened to narrow and focused roads, while others are more akin to winding river-like explorations revealing hidden ports and tributaries along the way. What all these essay contemplations have in common is that they are, by necessity, explored from the position of having both feet planted securely on exterior ground. It is my mind which travels to the interior, and that traveling is limited by my view from any particular point of vantage which is exterior to the subject matter. What these contemplations have in contrast to the telling of my own growing up in the Cold War and living in a country at war, is the position from which the story has been experienced and explored; the perspective of the interior as opposed to that of the exterior. Reporting from the interior is not necessarily a more accurate telling of events than a report from the exterior. Historians often have a greater amount of investigative information upon which to present events and to objectively evaluate them. Yet, only the perspective from the interior can bring a person closer to a sense of a shared visceral knowledge of those very same events. That visceral knowledge is what attracts me to the entity of the Taiping Rebellion. I want to understand, on a human level, what life was like, what people experienced, what their mental worlds were conceiving and how those things motivated them to act in the way that history tells us they did.
During the mid to late 19th century, the record keeping of the Qing was quite extensive. From my understanding, there are many documents still in existence and available as research material for historians to write their stories. However, this needs to be seen and understood in context. Whereas the bureaucrats of this period produced a plethora of records, many of these records were also discarded or destroyed to make room for further recordings of a more timely importance. The result which I am constantly faced with is that most articles about the Taiping Rebellion all contain the same basic shared information; disjointed information presenting a broad overview of superficial events. It takes an investigative journey into the nooks and crannies of the matter to discover that historians have at their disposal diaries and interviews and autobiographies from a number of prominent people who actually lived the history of the Taiping Rebellion. This is the history of which today’s essay is concerned. The perspective which provides the topic is concerned with the use of foreign forces by the Taiping and the Qing during the 1860s in the central region of conflict: Shanghai, Nanjing, and the Yangtze River Valley. To discuss this topic, I will be jumping from external to internal perspectives, hopefully giving a good mix for creating both an understanding of facts and figures and a comprehension of the era on a level of shared human experience.
This story begins with a reminder that nothing ever stands alone in history. My introduction to world history in Junior High School had presented wars as single events; each in a little chapter or book tied up neatly with a bow. For the sake of expediency in basic education, events are pulled apart from each other to be learned as separate parts of history. This method works for the goal of global overviews, but, it leaves many questions unasked and others unanswered for goals of comprehending eras of human behavior. China is no exception. In fact, during the mid-19th century, China was a prime example of the impracticality of isolating the events of the Taiping Rebellion as one entity unto itself. When in reality, the Taiping Rebellion was woven into the cloth of the Age; and no amount of pulling threads will aid in the understanding of it. The cloth as a whole must be read and the threads followed. This cloth begins with the Opium Wars between China and Great Britain (1839-1842) because it brings the subject of foreign forces into the arena of the Taiping.
During this first Opium war, England had been illegally exporting opium from India to China since the 18th century. By the 1820s, China had an opium addiction problem which was disrupting the workings of society. In 1839, the Chinese had confiscated and destroyed 20,000 chests of opium in Southern China; Guangzhou, the capital of the homeland of the Hakka. British merchants had brought these 1,400 tons of opium with the intent of profiteering off of the misery of the addicted Chinese population. The incident led to tension between the Chinese authorities and the British. When a dronken British sailor killed a Chinese villager, the British refused to hand the culprit over to the police. This is considered to be the instigation of the hostilities of the First Opium War; a war which the British had won and which led directly to very detrimental treaty payments and concessions of the Qing to the British. This establishes a very strong aggressive British presence during the period in which Hong Xiuquan and his followers were developing their ideologies, intentions, and methods of movement. The Second Opium War (1856-1860) began after the Taiping Rebellion had already started. During the mid-1850s the Qing were concerned with fighting the Taiping when the British renewed their hostilities. The excuse which the British used to resume their aggressions against China was an incident in Canton. The British ship, “Arrow”, had been boarded by the Qing to arrest several Chinese crew members. The British claimed that the Qing had lowered their flag during this action. The British responded to this affront by sending a warship up the Pearl River and bombing the city of Canton. The Qing and the British troops had skirmishes, trade was stopped, and the Chinese burned foreign trading warehouses to the ground. The “Arrow War” had begun.
The French joined forces with the British, using their own excuse; the murder of a French missionary within inland China during 1856. One might consider the French and British joining forces at this point in history to be a case of Strange Bedfellows. There had never been much love lost between these two nations, yet, each saw their own profit to be made by taking advantage of the Taiping Rebellion. They felt they could weaken the Qing in order to force China to open her trade ports and to eventually carve their own portions of the country to incorporate into their own imperial emporiums. The British attacking China meant a disruption in the balance of foreign powers who were all attentively watching and waiting for their own chance to attack China. Britain was using its opportunity to attack China to reposition itself into a more advantageous place of bargaining power. France was using the opportunity of the British to gain their own power; but, also, to keep the power of Britain in check. The French were afraid that Britain would gain all of the trading rights and exclude them from their share of the pie. The war moved north to Beijing and Tianjin in 1858. The Treatise of Tianjin was drawn up, but, the Qing refused to ratify it. “In August 1860 a considerably larger force of warships and British and French troops destroyed the Dagu batteries, proceeded upriver to Tianjin, and, in September, captured Beijing and plundered and then burned the Yuanming Garden, the emperor’s summer palace. Later that year the Chinese signed the Beijing Convention, in which they agreed to observe the treaties of Tianjin and also ceded to the British the southern portion of the Kowloon Peninsula adjacent to Hong Kong.” – [Encyclopedia Britannica]
The Qing had every reason to be wary of the foreign powers converging at the table. They were quite aware of the strategic games being played out between the British and the French in Southern China. They also were acutely aware of how thinly spread their forces were in 1860. At the same time, the Taiping were struggling with their forces and supplies; finding themselves in a military stalemate with the Qing. Alex Guozoules, in his scholarly paper, “The Use of Foreign Soldiers During the Taiping Rebellion”, addresses this particular period of the Taiping Rebellion. Guozoules first presents his readers with the standard perception of the Taiping which has dominated historical researchers over the years. He tells us that the Taiping have been viewed as being very rigid and inflexible in their dealings with foreigners. Most researchers had focused upon the early years of the Taiping Rebellion and the expressed attitudes of the Taiping had been abrupt and critical of Westerners. The reason most researchers kept to the early years for their studies is that most of the official written records dealing directly with the Taiping were from this early period. Guozoules’ paper is concerned with the late period of the 1860s, in which he relies heavily upon personal accountings which have survived the ravages of time and war. These accountings bring a different perspective to understanding the complex relationships between the Qing, the Taiping, and the Western mercenaries and military during the last years of the rebellion. Whereas, it has been widely known that the Qing employed Western soldiers and officers to fight the Taiping; it has taken the academic community much longer to realise that the Taiping also made ready employment of these forces during the very same years as the Qing. Both the Qing and the Taiping shared a certain amount of common ground on this topic. Both sides showed the same amount of flexibility in using Western troops during the 1860s; albeit, using different constructions and manner of accommodation. Both sides used Westerners officially and unofficially in the war. And, both sides engaged in ambiguous relationships with foreign soldiers.
Gouzoules writes that the large spread use of Westerners began 10 years into the fighting between the Qing and the Taiping. The fighting was intense and neither side was anywhere near achieving a victory. “At this time, Taiping armies were making a drive at Shanghai, and the Imperial forces were unable to stand against them. The Europeans, whose trade centered upon the treaty port of Shanghai, were nervous about a possible Taiping takeover of the city. On the other hand, the Europeans were by no means allies of the Manchu government, and the French and British were in fact still engaged in the conflict with the Qing known as the Second Opium War. This situation led to the awkward position of the Western powers hoping for a victory by the Qing Imperial government which they were warring with.” The Qing, in turn, did not want Western troops coming in contact with the Taiping, in fear that they might join with the Taiping and defeat the Qing in two wars at once. Robert Smith, in his book, “Mercenaries and Mandarins”, wrote about the perspective of the Qing throne, explaining that, “they objected to foreign intervention on the grounds that prolonged contact with the rebels might foster collusion……[and] that the military assistance would give the barbarians pretext for later demands.” The Qing had every reason to mistrust Western powers. So, the Qing held off enlisting the help of Western soldiers in any form whatsoever, at first.
It was Shanghai, itself, which would first take the steps of approaching the West for man-power and modern military technology. China had a centralized government which often chose not to “officially” rule centrally. The Qing allowed local governments to take initiatives on their own behalf. This politic relieved the Qing of providing financial support and from recognising their stately responsibility. If an initiative turned out badly, then, the government was free to say they had not been involved. This is the situation which Shanghai found itself in, in 1860. The Taiping desperately wanted to take the city because they were short of supplies. Shanghai was a treaty port with goods for the taking, if one could manage to take the city. Two Shanghai merchant officials, Wu Xu and Yang Feng, knew exactly what was at stake. They took the initiative to approach the governor of Jiangsu about forming a foreign-led army to protect Shanghai. Beijing considered this to be a merchant undertaking and the Chinese did not tell their superiors that the army was led by an American. The American was Frederick Townsend Ward, from Salem, Massachusetts. He was a sailor and a mercenary who had gained his sailing and fighting experience in: Central America, the Crimea, and in the Far East. Ward saw an opportunity in Shanghai and took two other Americans as officers under him: Edward Forester and Henry Burgevine. For their crew, they took on deserters from Western militaries and Filipino mercenaries. The name of their army was the “Shanghai Foreign Army Corps”; which was funded by the merchants, Wu and Yang. This army was no match for the Taiping during their initial battles. The Taiping had many years of fighting under their belts and a tried and true organisation. “In 1861, Ward remade his force, keeping his better Western soldiers on hand and using them as officers to train a Chinese army. Ward’s Chinese recruits were trained in a western style and under strict but regular discipline. They were drilled with Western weapons and artillery, trained to respond to English commands and bugle calls, and equipped in uniforms made to resemble the colonial forces of the European empires. The new force proved very successful and was renamed the Ever Victorious Army by the court in Beijing.” – [Guozoules]
The Ever Victorious Army was a mercenary army; owing no allegiance to any world power. This is exactly what the Qing needed. Once the central government was satisfied that this army was successful, it was approved officially. And in that approval, the Qing took the matter into their own hands. Since the Song Dynasty, it has been Chinese tradition to take foreigners into their armies if they were willing to adopt the Chinese culture. Ward and Burgevine were ready and willing to meet that condition; both renouncing their American citizenship for that of the Chinese. Ward married a Chinese woman and was sincere in his loyalty toward the Qing government. Burgevine met the outward requirements, yet would eventually prove that his loyalties were to himself alone. Ward is exactly what the Qing wanted. He had access to Western military material and the knowledge for using it. He had an undivided loyalty to the Qing. And, no foreign government could claim his victories; Ward’s successes were feathers in the cap of the Qing. As idyllic as this was for the Qing, the day came when Ward was killed in battle by the Taiping, in 1862. In the two short years of Ward’s service, the political position of the Qing had shifted. The Second Opium War had ended, not in the favor of the Qing. The treaty of Tianjin had officially settled the grievances of Great Britain and France against the Qing. On the side of the West, the hindrance of fighting against the Taiping was removed. They now returned their focus to protecting the treaty port of Shanghai, to ensure that the Qing could pay them what the treaty had established as their war-retribution. The Western military powers were now ready to do business with the Qing. The Qing were more amenable to employing the Western military because they knew first hand that their methods achieved the desired effects. But, that is not to say that the Qing turned a blind eye to their deep mistrust of the British and the French. “This led to a step that neither side was completely comfortable with but which served the purposes of both China and the West. In 1863, an order was passed in Parliament authorizing British military officers to take temporary service under the Chinese Emperor.”- [Guozuoles]
This resulted in the Qing placing a British officer in command of the Ever Victorious Army. Burgevine had expected to be placed in command after the death of Ward. He had been second in command and had, after all, given up his American citizenship and had adopted Chinese customs to please the Qing. But, the Qing had watched Burgevine during his service to them. They noted that he had a greater allegiance to alcohol than to the Qing. One can only assume that standing next to the extremely sincere and competent Ward, that Burgevine’s insincerity and the effect of his drinking must have been quite apparent. Apparent enough for the Qing to risk taking on a British officer to command the Ever Victorious Army instead of giving Burgevine the position. Charles Gordon, “Chinese Gordon” as he would later be called once back in England, took the command of the EVA while the Imperial control of the forces were placed into the hands of Li Hongzhang (governor of Jiangsu). The agreement between Gordon and Li was that the army would be commanded by both of their nations. On paper, the army was controlled by the British. Off-paper, Li could do whatever he wanted to do. This arrangement would bring the British officers and the Chinese officials into conflict with each other.
Charles Gordon was exactly the kind of man of which the British military was most proud. He was deeply religious, from a military family, a member of the Royal Engineers, served combat in the Crimean War, and had volunteered for China during the Arrow War. He was a man with the self-image of commitment and honor. In the end, he would become one of Britain’s most famous commanders of the 19th century. The admirable British military qualities of being an “officer and a gentleman”, were exactly what caused the friction mentioned above. Culture and morality came to clashes for Gordon during the Suzhou massacre. It was a complicated situation in Suzhou. The Taiping “king” in charge at Suzhou had betrayed those under his command. He had gone into negotiations with Gordon and was willing to sacrifice forces in exchange for a guarantee of his own safety. Gordon agreed, the king betrayed his men, Li captured the “king” and had him decapitated. Gordon was furious because he had given his word as an officer and a gentleman, and he felt his reputation had been tainted. Li, evidently, had a different sense of morality than Gordon. Li was less concerned than Gordon about keeping his word to a traitor who so blatantly betrayed his own men. Li’s sense of morality was fulfilled through the execution of an unworthy leader.
Gordon had removed himself from the Ever Victorious Army’s escapades for a time, thereafter. He was angry and did not want to work with Li again. However, duty to his own country, England, caused him to reconsider. This particular sense of duty had not to do with upholding England’s moral high ground against the Qing nor with any sense of moral obligation to fight the Taiping; instead, Gordon went back to his position in the Ever Victorious Army to uphold England’s honor in being better at anything and everything than the French. The Qing had found the sensitive spot in the British military character. “The Qing government found effective ways to control the relatively large number of Western military personnel that were loaned to them. One effective and traditional method was to play the “barbarians” off each other. This was one reason that, when the Ever Victorious Army in Shanghai went from being an American mercenary force to a more official British force, the Chinese encouraged the creation of the Franco-Chinese Ever Triumphant Army in Ningbo. As Liebo describes, “While ostensibly working together to support the ailing Ch’ing dynasty, the two European powers worked also to undermine each other’s accomplishments.” By creating these two forces, neither the British nor the French could withdraw their officers and support from the Qing without fearing that their rival would step into their place and gain influence in China at their expense.” -[Guozuoles]. In effect, England and France had gone from being Strange Bedfellows with each other while fighting against the Qing in the Arrow War, to becoming even Stranger Bedfellows with the Qing while fighting against the Taiping. Both France and Britain were only fighting the Taiping so that the treaty ports could stay open; willing to share their services to the Qing only until a moment of greater opportunity would arise. And, all the while the eyes of Britain and of France were kept sharply on each other in great distrust and pompous arrogance.
But, what of the Taiping in this scenario? So far, the only real mention of the Taiping in relation to Western forces has been in the statements that the Taiping were not fond of them and that there were serious cultural differences between the Westerners and the Chinese; be they Qing or Taiping. Yet, Guozoules is telling us that the Taiping did, indeed, make use of Western forces. “At the close of the rebellion, the European governments opposed the Taiping, so the rebels consequently had no Western officers such as Gordon loaned to them. During the 1860s, however, the Taiping frequently made use of Western soldiers.” Why would they do this when their own proclaimed ideology seemed diametrically opposed to Western norms? In what manner did these Western forces serve the Taiping? How are we to imagine these men engaged with the Taiping as they fought against the Qing, the French, and the British? Where did the motivation and incentive lay for Western forces to fight for the Taiping? It is well-known that the Taiping held a very precarious position during their rebellion. All Western powers were opposed to the Taiping. No one seemed to support them within their government policy, and still, the Taiping had Westerners amongst their military ranks.
The Western soldiers in service of the Taiping can be divided into three basic categories which explain their main motivations. The first category is filled with men who volunteered to fight for the Taiping because they supported their ideology. The second category is composed of those who joined the Taiping for monetary gain. The third category contained persons who were pressed into service involuntarily. The most important and most influential person of the first category was the Englishman, A. F. Lindley; who wrote of his experiences with the Taiping in his autobiography, “Taiping Tianguo”. Lindley is in the first category because he had shared a deep conviction of basic Christian ideology with the Taiping. He had also abhorred the Qing and described them as being corrupt, decadent, and heathen. Lindley followed his conscience and that led him to the Taiping. Together with two others, he joined the Taiping in Nanjing. There he trained Taiping soldiers to use artillery. Lindley made it a point to encourage Westerners to smuggle supplies to the Taiping; including a stolen steamer. Lindley used the model of the Ever Victorious Army to raise a Taiping force known as the Loyal and Faithful Auxiliary Legion. Most of his European officers were killed when the Qing captured Suzhou. During his service for the Taiping, Lindley never accepted money for his work. “Although Lindley was doubtlessly the most dedicated Westerner in Taiping service, other Europeans also joined the rebellion for ideological reasons. Lindley’s two companions served the movement for no pay, both married Taiping women, and gave their lives for the movement. These dedicated volunteers were often used by the Taiping as officers for their troops. Lindley and his companions served as officers in the Chung-Wang’s artillery and intended to officer the Legion they planned on raising.” -[Guozuoles]
As times became exceedingly difficult for the Taiping, they saw little other options than to employ European soldiers who were offering their services for reasons other than ideology. Our second category covers mercenaries fighting for money and loot. The most famous example being Henry Burgevine. Burgevine had been a lieutenant of Frederick Townsend Ward for the Ever Victorious Army. When Ward was killed in 1863, by the Taiping in battle, the Ever Victorious Army passed into the combined hands of the British and the Qing. Burgevine was more than angry about the change of command. He reacted by taking 125 of his American troops and defecting to the Taiping. The group took all of their equipment and lengthy experience of warring with them; including a Qing steamer. Unfortunately for the Taiping, Burgevine proved to be as unreliable for them as he had been for the Qing. “The Taiping turned to men such as Burgevine late in the war to replace men they had lost in the previous decade. These mercenaries were better trained and equipped than untrained levies, but they were far less useful than dedicated partisans such as Lindley.”- [Guozoules]. The main concern of the Taiping at that time was to hold on to the cities they had once captured. These cities yielded no loot. The Taiping’s finances dwindled and it became difficult to meet the aims of the mercenaries. “Most of the remainder of Burgevine’s group, including its commander, also soon left the rebellion as the tides of the war turned against the Taiping and as they came to need medical attention that could not be found by the rebels.” – [Guozoules]
The third category of Westerners in service of the Taiping were soldiers who were coerced after having been captured during unfortunate circumstances. The Taiping were at their most desperate moments to force foreign soldiers to cooperate with them. This was not a sanctioned method of the Taiping government. It occurred sporadically as local initiatives seeking solutions to their problems. Edward Forester (another lieutenant of Ward) had been captured and held prisoner by the Taiping. He was tortured and threatened with execution if he refused to be an officer in the Taiping army or to be a spy for the Taiping in Shanghai. Forester refused both options. However, Ward was allowed to buy his freedom and return him to the Ever Victorious Army. Patrick Nellis was another unfortunate soul to fall into the hands of the Taiping. Nellis was an English Silk Trader. In 1864, he was held prisoner. The Taiping had him shoot a rifle at a target. Being satisfied that he could manage the weapon, they gave him command of a group of captured Silk Traders. They were forced to travel with the Taiping troops and were given $4,000 a day for the groups expenses. Eventually the money ran out and the group escaped when they saw the chance. Even so, both Forester and Nellis had refused to actually fight for the Taiping. Both were offered money even though they were held as prisoners. This paints an odd picture of the Taiping. Once again the Bedfellows being described are definitely Strange.
Certainly, just being Christian was not enough to motivate Western soldiers to seek service with the Taiping. It is one thing to speak of a shared ideology between Westerners and the Taiping through Christianity, yet quite another to be moved to fight with them against other Christians. In the case of Lindley, he saw in the Taiping a chance to Christianize all of China. He may well have known that the Western forces were concerned merely with political maneuvering. After all, the European countries were rather forward in expressing their intentions; and those intentions were often less than honorable. Lindley was a pious man and he recognised the piety of the Taiping, and that impressed him. With the Taiping, he and others, could more easily bridge the culture gap between Europeans and Chinese than could be done with the Qing. From the perspective of the Taiping, Westerners were very useful in obtaining modern weapons and modern training methods. The Taiping were far out-gunned by the Qing. Both Lindley and Burgevine had brought stolen steamers to the Taiping. These steam powered gunboats were of great use to tilt the balance of power on the waterways which had been dominated by the Imperial military. Gordon was having a difficult time getting past those gunboats. There was much to be gained by both sides in the use of Western forces and the knowledge of these advantages were known to the Taiping. In 1861, a certain Captain Alpin of the Royal Navy found 104 Westerners fighting under the leader “Savage” against Ward’s Shanghai Foreign Army Corps.
In addressing the rigidity and lack of flexibility attributed to the Taiping in regard to Westerners, Gouzoules adds, “More importantly, the Taiping were often willing to override their own traditions and customs to accommodate foreign soldiers.The Taiping movement as a whole had a different attitude toward money than the Qing did, usually sharing it in a somewhat collective fashion. Foreigners, however, were always offered pay when it was available. Lindley’s team of mercenaries was given a reward of 20,000 dollars for stealing the Imperial steamer Firefly, a huge sum for the Taiping at a late stage of the war which would never have been given to Taiping soldiers.”- [Guozuoles]. The Taiping went to extraordinary lengths to accommodate their Western soldiers. The strict rules and regulations imposed upon the Taiping by the Taiping, were not applied to their mercenaries. Westerners could drink and loot, whereas the Taiping, themselves, were commanded to abstain from both. As mentioned several times already, Westerners were offered money above and beyond what the Taiping soldiers were given. To make the situation of Strange Bedfellows even more remarkable is to know that both mercenaries and Western soldiers were known to defect from one side and join the other; going back and forth on multiple occasions. This means that troops fought against each other on one occasion and next to each other on another; as the situation required. This seemed to have been a normal and accepted occurrence.
The things which fall under “normal and accepted” are the things which define and determine the Age of a generation. Looking into the interior world of the Taiping Rebellion, from the exterior vantage point of the Age of Questioning, makes me want to name their generation the Age of Insanity. Within the confines of my own Age, I find myself questioning: the violence, the strategic political games, and the continual reconfigurations of Strange Bedfellows which all parties during the Taiping Rebellion experienced as so normal that their motives and actions were assumed, accepted, and shared within the collective mentality of their Age. No one from this Age of Insanity appeared to feel any need to apologize or excuse their own actions. Everyone seemed to know exactly what the other was up to and all took these things into account when planning their own actions. A shared, unspoken knowledge of a common working reality held these diverse ideological groups together in a sphere; a sphere which I am calling the Age of Insanity because my own Age of Questioning experiences them all as being insane.
In reality, most of the actual motives and actions taken by the people in the Age of Insanity are to be found in all of the Ages of all the generations which man has brought forth throughout the Ages of Man. There has always been violence. There have always been strategic political games played in one form or another. And, Man has probably taken on Strange Bedfellows since times far beyond any collective remembrances. It becomes apparent to me that my experience of estrangement toward the Age of Insanity has not to do with what I have been questioning. My questions have been answered and, still, my estrangement remains. My estrangement lies in the recognition of the “normalcy and acceptances” of the Age of Insanity, rather than in the actions taken during the Taiping Rebellion, itself. By entering into the interior of this Age, by following the words of thoughts and experiences of those who lived it, I can accept their point of view. I can even accept their actions; without condoning them. It is, pure and simple, the visceral realisation of what was “normal and accepted” during the Age of Insanity which creates this unbridgeable sense of estrangement within me. And, that is okay. I am part of the Age of Questioning and not of the Age of Innocence, nor of the Age of Insanity. I do not need to become a member of another Age in order to gain an understanding of how they experienced their world.