Page:Tseng Kuo Fan and the Taiping Rebellion.djvu/13

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INTRODUCTION

 

Many careful observers of world events believe that no calamity of the nineteenth century approached the Taiping rebellion in the total of misery and destruction. Several hundred district cities were taken and retaken, with looting and slaughter on both sides. Great cities became wildernesses; fruitful fields, deserts. Sanguinary battles and still more bloody massacres marked its progress. It threatened disruption to the empire and downfall to the emperor. In his Middle Kingdom, as late as 1882, S. W. Williams says of this group of insurgents:

 

Their presence was an unmitigated scourge, attended by nothing but disaster from beginning to end, without the least effort on their part to rebuild what had been destroyed, to protect what was left, or to repay what had been stolen. Wild beasts roamed at large over the land after their departure, and made their dens in the deserted towns; the pheasant's whirr resounded where the hum of busy populations had ceased, and weeds or jungle covered the ground once tilled with patient industry. Besides millions upon millions of taels irrecoverably lost and destroyed, and the misery, sickness, and starvation which were endured by the survivors, it has been estimated by foreigners living at Shanghai that, during the whole period from 1851 to 1865, fully twenty millions of human beings were destroyed in connection with the Tai-ping rebellion.

 

That it was allowed to spread so far and wide was due to Chinese decentralisation and official incompetence; that the fanatical insurgents did not win was due to their lack of leadership from 1853 to 1858, and to the