Nien-fei Rebellion - 1860
The suppression of the T'aip'ing Rebellion had not altogether restored peace to the country. The storm was over, but the ground-swell still remained, and from the disturbing elements which had been evoked another movement, hostile to the imperial government, rose in arms. The rebels had been so long accustomed to live by plunder rather than by honest work that, when as T'aip'ings their occupation was gone, they combined together again to raise the standard of revolt in the provinces of Shantung and Honan. Under the title of Nienfei these restless marauders wandered over the country looting and murdering. With some success they captured open towns and villages, and so serious was at one time the aspect of affairs that Li, whose experiences at Kiangsu were considered to have peculiarly fitted him for the task, was appointed commissioner to suppress the rising.
The Nien-fei (" northern rebels ") were the inhabitants of the north of Kiangsu, Anhuei and Honan, and of southern Shantung, districts through which the Yellow River formerly flowed and which have been left dry and impoverished since the change of course; they have been composed chiefly of the agricultural classes, who, not finding a means of livelihood in their ordinary calling, have, to save themselves from starving, banded together for the purpose of attacking villages or towns where the means of subsistence might be obtained by force.
Tho Nien-fei ("northern rebels "), whose insurrection, like that of tho Mohammedans, began in 1860, obtained in the first months of the year 1865 several successes. They contrived in the early part of April to take possession of the country north of the Tellow River, and to occupy the nnwalled city of Chung-sing, situated near the junction of the river with the Grand Canal. The Imperialists sought to prevent the Nien-fei from gaining possession of the canal, and thereby interrupting the direct communication with Pekin. They succeeded in driving them from this important position, and then guarded the right bank of the Huang-ho, thus protecting the wealthy cities in the Kiang-peh. San-ko-linsin, the commanding general of the Chinese army, was, however, killed in battle, and was succeeded by Tsing-Kuo-Fan, who, it was thought, would prove, as a general, greatly inferior to his predecessor.
The rebels derived great strength from the presence of three renowned leaders, viz., Miao, a son of the late Miao Pei-ling, Chang, a son of the equally renowned Chang Lo-hsing, and Shcn, a son of the Manchow Shcn Pao, who was executed in 1864 for corrupt practices in Shan-si. In May and June the Nien-fei obtained many successes in Shantung, and pressed on as far as the left bank of the Huang-ho (Yellow River). In July 1865 they advanced, in conjunction with bands of Taipings and of Mohammedans, to within 200 miles of Pekin, and at one time were even reported to have captured that city. This report was, however, not confirmed; but they were driven off by the Imperialist troops, and their power in the latter part of the year considerably decreased.
Throughout the year 1867, the Chinese Government had to sustain a hard struggle against the Nien-fei ("Northern") rebels. The imperial troops several times suffered severe defeats, and in August 1867 even the capital of the empire, Pekin, was threatened. Several others of the large cities, as the treaty-ports Chefoo and Hankow, were in danger of falling into tho hands of the rebels, though none was actually captured. The chief of the rebels declared himself emperor. In December, 1867, the imperial troops under Footai were severely beaten by the rebels in Southern Shan-king.
The rebel army was in an exceedingly well-organized state. The whole army is divided into fifty large banners, each of the large banners numbers fifty men, but under the command of each large banner were fifty small standards with fifty men each, so that the whole army would amount to 125,000 men. The banner was commanded by three officers, one commanding officer, one officer of the commissariat, and one officer in charge of the captives. No information about intended movements or the whole plan of operations is ever conveyed to any of the common soldiers; each has to look to his banner, when that is put down he has to stop, when it is turned he has to retire, when it is lifted up he has to march. Even the commanding officers of the smaller banners had no other means for learning where they have to march to, but by watching the movements of the large banners, which were directed by one immense standard. The fighting was all done by some of the smaller banners which marched ahead. Many of the soldiers were mounted on mules, and even some children that were among the captives were carried along on the backs of donkeys or mules. The rebels did not seem to observe any form of worship.
On receiving his nomination Li Hung Chang at once enlisted the services of as many of his old European officers as still were to be found in Shanghai, and with these as the backbone of his force he took the field against the rebels. The province of Shantung, where the rebels were strongest, so far resembles in outline the province of Kiangsu that three sides of it, the north, east, and south, are washed by the ocean. It had been Li's aim in the previous campaign to drive the T'aip'ings into the promontory of Kiangsu, and now, imitating the same tactics, he attempted to urge the Nienfei against the seaboard in Shantung, and there to overwhelm them. He was so far successful that he succeeded in driving the enemy into the desired position.
But he had forgotten that troops could be transported by sea as well as moved on land, and to his extreme mortification, after having built a wall across the neck of the promontory, he found that the rebels had taken ship, had outflanked his position, and were pursuing their predatory career in the districts in his rear. For this and other failures he was robbed of the yellow yacket, which he had won against the T'aip'ings, and was ordered back to his viceroyalty-having in the meantime become viceroy of the Liang Hu provinces. By the skillful use of his court influence, however, he retained his position, and by a fortunate series of victories, finally achieved the success which at first was denied him. At the conclusion of the campaign he was granted an imperial audience, when he had the gratification of once more finding the yellow jacket placed upon his shoulders.
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