Tianjing incident

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Tianjing Incident
Part of Taiping Rebellion
DateSeptember 2 — October, 1856
Result Massive setback of the Taiping rebellion, Shi Dakai takes control of all five Taiping armies
Yang Xiuqing   Hong Xiuquan Wei Changhui  
Qin Rigang  
Commanders and leaders
Shi Dakai
Wei Changhui
Qin Rigang

6,000 100,000 ?
Casualties and losses
27,000+ opposition soldiers

The Tianjing Incident [1] (Chinese :天京事變; pinyin :Tiānjīng Shìbiàn) occurred during the late Qing Dynasty from September 2 to October 1856. This was a major political internal conflict within the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom which took place in its capital city Tianjing. A few key leaders of the Taiping Rebellion were killed: the East King Yang Xiuqing, the North King Wei Changhui and the Yan King Qin Rigang. More than 27,000 other opposition rivals including soldiers perished in the conflict as well. The Tianjing Incident was said to be one of the factors which led to the eventual failure of the Taiping Rebellion, as well as the turning point in its fate.


Historical background

In 1851, the Taiping Rebellion's leader Hong Xiuquan conferred the title of 'King' on five of his most loyal followers and placed them under the jurisdiction of the East King Yang Xiuqing. After the deaths of the South King Feng Yunshan and the West King Xiao Chaogui, most of the power of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom fell into the hands of Yang Xiuqing.

In the early years of the Taiping Rebellion, the real power of the military was in the hands of the Military Advisor (軍師). The military East King Yang Xiuqing, who gained more power following the deaths of the South and West Kings. Hong Xiuquan declared in 1848 that the spirit of the 'Holy Father' (天父) would possess Yang Xiuqing and give him orders through Yang. This had allowed Yang to become even more influential and placed him in a position higher than Hong, as Yang often gave orders to Hong, who was supposed to be his superior, in the name of the 'Holy Father'. When this happened, Hong had no choice but to follow the orders of the 'Holy Father', which were actually Yang's orders.

After the Taiping Army captured Nanjing and established its capital city there, renaming it to Tianjing, Yang Xiuqing's relationships with the other Kings gradually worsened. The North King Wei Changhui was flogged on Yang Xiuqing's orders once, as his subordinate had offended Yang. Later, Wei's relative had a dispute over property with Yang's relative, which angered Yang. Yang Xiuqing called Wei Changhui to decide the punishment for Wei's relative together, and Wei replied that his relative should be torn into five parts. Once, the Yi King Shi Dakai's father-in-law Huang Yukun offended Yang Xiuqing and was ordered to be flogged 300 times, and his nobility title removed and demoted. In the same incident, the Yan Prince Qin Rigang and another high-ranking official Chen Chengrong were also flogged on Yang Xiuqing's orders. Even the Heavenly King was not spared from being flogged, as Yang often pretended that the 'Holy Father' had possessed him and used the name of the 'Holy Father' to punish Hong Xiuquan. Yang Xiuqing monopolised the power of the kingdom and became increasingly influential, making him feared and hated by the others, but none dared to oppose him.


On 20 June 1856, the Taiping Army defeated the Qing army led by Xiang Rong and lifted the three-year-long siege on Tianjing. Xiang Rong died on 9 August and news of his death reached Tianjing. The East King Yang Xiuqing saw that the Kingdom was functioning well and began to make his plans to seize power.

Shortly afterwards, Yang Xiuqing pretended to be possessed by the 'Holy Father' and summoned the Heavenly King Hong Xiuquan to his residence. Yang said to Hong, "You and the East King are both my sons. The East King has made significant contributions, so why is he still being hailed as *'Long Live for Nine Thousand Years' instead of 'Long Live for Ten Thousand Years'?" Hong Xiuquan replied, "The East King has indeed made significant contributions by conquering an empire, so he should be hailed as 'Long Live for Ten Thousand Years'." The 'Holy Father'-possessed Yang Xiuqing asked again, "Should the East King's son be hailed as 'Long Live for Ten Thousand Years'?" Hong Xiuquan replied, "Since the East King is hailed as 'Long Live for Ten Thousand Years', his son and his descendants should also be hailed as 'Long Live for Ten Thousand Years' as well." The 'Holy Father'-possessed Yang Xiuqing said happily, "I'm returning to heaven."

Shortly before seeking a title commensurate with Hong Xiuquan's, Yang dispatched Wei Changhui, Shi Dakai, and Qin Rigang to separate provinces. [2] Hong, viewing Yang's request as treasonous, alerted the three generals to return at once. [2] Wei returned to Nanjing with three thousand troops on September 1, 1856 and found that Qin Rigang had already arrived. [3] In consultation with Hong Xiuquan and his allies, the two generals decided not to wait for Shi Dakai's arrival. [3] Instead, they and their troops immediately stormed Yang's palace and slew him before he could escape. [3] They then slaughtered his family and followers within the palace, despite having agreed with Hong that only Yang was to die. [3] At this point, six thousand of Yang's followers remained in Nanjing. [4] Hong and his generals agreed to set a trap for those men. [5] Hong pretended to arrest Wei and Qin Rigang for their actions and invited Yang's followers to watch as the two were beaten. [5] Once the majority of Yang's followers were inside, the beatings ceased and Yang's followers were imprisoned inside the halls from which they were watching the beatings. [5] The next morning, they were all systemically slaughtered. [6] Killings of Yang's followers continued for three additional months. [7]

Shi Dakai finally reached Nanjing in October and blamed Wei Changhui for the excessive bloodshed. [7] Wei in turn suggested that Shi may be a traitor [7] Having been warned that he could be assassinated next, Shi fled Nanjing, leaving the same day he arrived. [7] That night, Wei and Qin Rigang stormed Shi's mansion and slaughtered his family and retinue. [7] Shi then consolidated an army of 100,000 and demanded the heads of Wei and Qin. [7] Wei directed Qin to block Shi's advance and began plotting to imprison Hong Xiuquan. [7] Hong Xiuquan was able to preempt those plans, however, and had his bodyguards kill Wei. [7] Qin was lured back and killed shortly thereafter. [7]

Later, Hong Xiuquan granted the deceased Yang Xiuqing amnesty and acquitted Yang of his crimes of harbouring the intention of usurping the throne. Yang Xiuqing's death was later marked as 'The East King ascends to Heaven'.


After the Tianjing Incident, the leaders of the rebellion gradually lost popular support from the people, and the rebellion started to decline. The military's morale was greatly shaken after the death of Hong Xiuquan [2] and they started losing battles against the Qing armies. The turn of tide caused the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom's territories to become gradually reduced and it fell towards the losing end.

After the deaths of the East King Yang Xiuqing and the North King Wei Changhui, the Yi King Shi Dakai was put in command of the Taiping Army and wielded control over the entire military. Hong Xiuquan was irate over Shi Dakai's popularity and feared that he might attempt to seize power again as Yang and Wei did, hence he appointed his brothers as Kings in order to weaken Shi Dakai's influence and prevent Shi from consolidating too much power. As Hong Xiuquan worked to undermine him, Shi Dakai realized that Hong's suspicions would not be dispelled, and that if he stayed he would face either murder or risk another civil war, Shi Dakai left Tianjing in 1857 with his army, which caused the Kingdom to be in greater peril. After the Tianjing Incident and Shi Dakai's departure, the position of Military Advisor (軍師) was not succeeded by anyone and only existed in name.


  1. Steven Platt refers to it as the Eastern King’s coup
  2. 1 2 3 Jonathan D. Spence, God's Chinese Son 237 (1996)
  3. 1 2 3 4 Jonathan D. Spence, God's Chinese Son 242 (1996)
  4. Jonathan D. Spence, God's Chinese Son 242–243 (1996)
  5. 1 2 3 Jonathan D. Spence, God's Chinese Son 243 (1996)
  6. Jonathan D. Spence, God's Chinese Son 243–244 (1996)
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Jonathan D. Spence, God's Chinese Son 244 (1996)

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