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Thursday, 27 April 2017

Taiping error! (not really)

OK, pop quizzers, here's your starter for 10: name the second bloodiest conflict in the whole of human history, after World War II (according to the list here).

A little light reading for me.

Oops, did I give it away in the title of this blog post? That's right, the Taiping Rebellion which lasted from 1850 to 1864 certainly claimed tens of millions of lives. It's the war in which Gordon of Khartoum aka "Chinese Gordon" made his name, and the modern version of the game of Mah Jong may have been born during it (allegedly during a major siege, hence the tiles represent the walls of the besieged city). But despite the huge casualties and these small cultural contributions, I think it fair to say that most westerners are entirely unaware of it, and even those of us nerdy obsessive wargamers who like to explore obscure corners of history don't know much about it.

As my thing is bloody big battles of the nineteenth century, and as the Taiping Rebellion was one of the biggest and bloodiest of C19 wars, I obviously need to find out about its major battles and give them the "Bloody Big BATTLES!" treatment. Now finding out about them is easier said than done. This thread on TMP reveals the paucity of sources. Even the apparently best source in English, Jen Yu-Wen's "The Taiping Revolutionary Movement" gets criticised for its cursory treatment of the actual battles.

So I talked to a Chinese academic friend of mine. He did some research and identified a 2,700-page 4-volume work that might have the level of detail I need: "A Complete War History of the Taiping Kingdom", edited by Professor Cui Zhiqing of Nanjing University. With the help of a Chinese colleague, I tracked down a set in a Chinese bookshop; and with the help of her niece, I was able to buy it. This week it arrived.

I am thus the proud owner of this magnificent and (hopefully) comprehensive work. The small obstacle now is that it is all in Chinese apart from the table of contents. Next step, then, is to wheedle favours from Chinese friends and colleagues, first to work out which chapters cover the biggest battles in detail, and then to get the relevant pages translated ...

What do you reckon, then: was it an error, or an inspired purchase? I'm optimistic that it was the latter, and that a bit of effort and patience will eventually produce some fascinating BBB scenarios to give some insight into this vast yet hidden war.