Shanghai and the Taiping Rebellion

Shanghai and the Taiping Rebellion

Botanist and gentleman adventurer Robert Fortune, in his book A Residence Among the Chinese, published in 1857 reported on the panic in the city of Shanghai as rum,ours of an advance by the Taiping army swept through the populace in 1853:

The excitment among all classes of the community at Shanghae daily increased, and all sorts of exaggerated reports were promulagted. At one time it was reported that the insurgents were within thirty miles of us, and might be upon us at any moment. In addition to the means we had taken for the protection of the foreign settlement, the Taoutai, after his own manner, was indefatigable in taking measures for the safety of the city. He purchased large supplies of gunpowder and guns from foreigners, enlisted soldiers, and called out the militia. But evidently being rather doutful of the results, and perhaps not having much confidence in the bravery of his troops, he removed his treasure from the Imperial treasury in the city, and placed it on board the H.M. brig "Lily".

On the morning of the August 20th, 1860 the Taipings advanced to the West Gate of the Chinese city, and then turned toward the Settlements. No sooner had they planted their standards close to the Racecourse than they were attacked by shells and rockets. The river despatch boat " Nimrod" sent shell after shell over the Settlements into the fields beyond, and the "Pioneer" on the Soochow Creek attacked the rebel force with 13-inch shells. After a two-hour bombardment the rebels retreated towards Siccawei.

With the approach of the Taipings, there was a huge influx of Chinese into the Settlements. Officials and merchants, rich and poor, all alike rushed in, seeking a place of safety. Every available space was soon occupied, even the creeks and the river being crowded with boats of all descriptions. The population of the native city fled into the Settlements or across to Pootung. Soon the Chinese population had increased to 300,000 and the cost of living advanced rapidly. Real estate values soared, and land purchased originally for $74 per acre was sold for $12,000 per acre.

On February 24th, a combined force of English and French sailors led by Admiral Hope, and 700 men servicing in the force raised by the adventurer Frederick Townshend Ward attacked the Taipings at Kaokiao ( Kajow ) on the Pudong side between Shanghai and Woosung - and defeated them. A short time afterwards another body of about 6,000 Taipings were put to rout by this same force at Nankiao ( Najow ). For these victories Ward was promoted by Imperial decree to the rank of Brigadier General in the Chinese army, and the title of the " Ever-Victorious Army " was bestowed on his force.

Ward was killed during an action near Ningbo in 1862. Burgevine was appointed to replace him as head of the Army, but he did not have Ward's knack for getting on with the Chinese officials. The Chinese fell behind in payment of his troops pay, and Burgevine refused to assist in an attack on Nanking, the Taiping capital, until he received the money. He was relieved of his post and went over to the side of the Taiping rebels, finally being taken prisoner by the Chinese Imperialist forces in Fujian. He died in their custody.

Although by late 1860 the foreign Powers had espoused the cause of the Chinese Imperial Court, the Taiping rebels continued to obtain large supplies of guns and ammunition from foreign firms in Shanghai and undoubtedly they were thus enabled to prolong the rebellion.