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In the 1850's and 60's, the Taiping Rebellion broke out in China, observed by both the Tokugawa Bakufu and subsequently the Meiji Imperial government. Some 200 years earlier, Japan had suffered its own rebellion (at Shimabara) with some similar characteristics: e.g., began in the far south of the country, its leaders were supposedly children of prophecy (or sons of God), both were inspired (or at least heavily influenced by) Christian or pseudo-Christian theologies, both were extremely bloody, etc.

Given all this, did contemporary (or even current) Japanese draw parallels between this and their own experiences? What did Japanese writers, thinkers, media, actually think of the rebellion and its implications?

  • Okay, a little confused. what were the implications of the Taiping rebellion on Japan? the only ones i can see is that western religions became more popular in Asia, and that people were unhappy with China's government and thought it to be too weak and corrupt? or that society and the class order was changing?- side note, Japan was just coming out of isolationism and saw the Chinese as being weak and inferior and Japan began to focus more on the west. – Alexandre Aug 17 '15 at 19:56
  • An outbreak of an extremely violent civil war in an immediately neighboring country (that bears striking resemblances to a civil war that occurred in their own country's relatively recent past), and happening during an extremely sensitive and delicate period of transition from one type of government to another? Hmmm yes, I wonder what implications may have appeared to Japanese elites... – Meir Illumination Aug 18 '15 at 0:18
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Initially, Japanese observers thought the Taiping Rebellion was a nationalist revolt by Ming China loyalists. This perception was encouraged by for instance the rebel slogan "Destroy Manchuria, Revive Han China (滅満興漢)". Thus, Japan believed the rebellion to be an attempt by the subjugated Han Chinese natives to free themselves form their Manchurian overlords.

当初の情報は、太平天国を、明の末裔朱氏による明朝復興運動、もしくは天地会の運動とみなして五三年には南京を占領し、ついで北京に迫った。この情報は、一八五二年以来、日本に伝えられている。

The original information is that Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was a Ming restoration movement by the descendants of the Ming ruling house, or perhaps a movement by the Heaven and Earth Society. They conquered Nanking in 1853 and threatened Peiking. This information reached Japan from 1852 onward.

- Eto, J. katsu kaishu zenshu [Complete Works of Kaishu Katsu]. Tokyo: Keiso Shobo (1970).

Japan was traditionally friendly towards the Ming dynasty. During the Manchurian conquest, many in the Tokugawa Shogunate wanted to dispatch an army of 40,000 strong to assist the beleaguered Ming defenders (in response to the request of Nicholas Iquan Gaspard, in the name of the Longwu Emperor). This was forestalled by the rapid collapse of Chinese defences and defection of Nicholas Iquan, but Japan continued to provide limited material support to the Ming remnant in Taiwan.

Consequently, the belief that the Taiping rebels were fighting to end the Manchurian occupation created favourable first impressions in Japan. Several works of fiction were produced around this time, for example the New Tales of Yunnan (雲南新話), depicting the restoration of Ming China in a war of liberation clearly inspired by the Taiping rebellion.

As more news reached Japan however, it became apparent that the Taiping Rebellion was primarily a religious conflict. Coupled with the widespread destruction and bloodshed the rebels were inflicting, Japanese opinions soured. For example, the Samurai Hibino Teruhiro, who was part of a delegation to Shanghai in 1862, writes that:

《日比野輝寛・贅肬録》 長毛賊以復明大義起兵 無可非議 惟以邪教惑滋愚民 釀成大亂 災及十省 難以遏禁

《Zeiyuuruku》 The Long Haired bandits launched their rebellion in the name of restoring Ming. That's not something we can criticise. However, by using cults to brainwash peasants, they caused a massive chaos. Ten provinces were afflicted by the disaster.

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    You've beaten me to it! I was going to write an answer, based on this book: books.google.co.il/… (esp. p 91). Did you use it? – Felix Goldberg Aug 18 '15 at 10:25
  • @FelixGoldberg No, I haven't seen that book, but that is quite a nice find. I see it goes into some details about the New Tales of Yunnan (Unnan Shinwa in the book) I mentioned too. – Semaphore Aug 18 '15 at 11:58
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    nice answer, thanks! And @FelixGoldberg your book recommendation was very useful as well. Though I am surprised at the extent of the pro-Ming sentiments, considering Hideyoshi's attempt to overthrow the Ming (and its Joseon vassal) in the 16th c.! – Meir Illumination Aug 21 '15 at 17:24
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    @MeirIllumination Well, Hideyoshi invaded Korea; theories that he wanted to conquer Ming China as well aren't too convincing. He certainly never got that far. Or more to the point, it's just him being insane and/or brilliantly plotting to kill off surplus samurai. As soon as he died the Japanese retreated. – Semaphore Aug 21 '15 at 17:31
  • @Semaphore true he was getting crazy as a cut snake towards the end of his life! Re invading the Ming, I'm mostly going by H's own boasting, e.g., when he wrote to his mother on July 14, 1592: "Seoul will soon fall, and that by the autumn [I] will be able to receive [your] presents in the capital of China", and there are more along this line. Source: samurai-archives.com/mth.html – Meir Illumination Aug 22 '15 at 8:50
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The Japanese rebellion was caused by heavy taxes and Christians being persecuted. Its not like the taiping rebellion which was a cult organized by someone power hungry. So it probably didn't remind the Japanese of anything since there's such a big difference between what they are seeing in China, which was a deadly civil war, and their own much smaller uprising.

Taiping death toll is like 100x the numbers in Shimbara.

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