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James Legge, Missionary and Scholar
Chapter VIII. The Shield King of the Tai-ping Rebellion

TO Dr Legge the Tai-ping Rebellion presented strange complications. For the 'Shield King' who, it is said, was for a time second in command, and who certainly became a prominent leader in the rebellion, had been for some years his friend. And not only this, but a friend for whom Dr Legge felt special affection and a warmth of admiration such as he gave to hardly any other Chinaman.

It was about the year 1854 that a Swedish missionary brought to Hong Kong a man named Hung Jin. 'He is a cousin' he told Dr Legge, 'of the Tai-ping king.' The man himself said that he had been separated from his cousin when the latter raised the standard of rebellion. Wishing to join him, he gathered a small band of followers and attempted to march through Kwang Hsi, but was intercepted by a band of Imperialist soldiers and sustained a defeat. Most of his followers were cut to pieces, but he fought his way through and then found himself near a German missionary settlement at which he asked for shelter. There were, however, no means of sheltering him at the German station: he was sure there to fall into the hands of the Imperialists sooner or later, and so they sent him to Hong Kong and begged Dr Legge to give him some employment.

Dr Legge found work for him in teaching. There seems to have been something peculiarly attractive in his disposition, for very soon he was greatly liked by all, both English and Chinese. He grew very much in knowledge of the Scriptures, and became a wonderful helper in all that was good in the community, so much so that Mr Chalmers said one day, when Dr Legge remarked that a new attendant at the mission services sought constantly Hung Jin's company, 'Ah, then he's sure to be getting good.'

It soon became known in Hong Kong that he was a cousin of the Tai-ping king, and scores came to him and asked him to lead them into the interior to join the king at Nanking. Dr Legge advised him to have nothing to do with the rebels, and said he should be thankful that he had escaped from his entanglement, for, from the first, Dr Legge had expressed his distrust and disapprobation of certain obnoxious tenets held by the Tai-ping leader. But the character of Hung Jin himself Dr Legge held in high esteem.

When the Doctor was obliged to go to England for eighteen months, he laid strict injunctions on Hung Jin to remain in Hong Kong and not to join the rebel forces. Hung Jin was led astray, however, disguised himself as a pedlar, and with a pack of stationery succeeded in getting to Nanking, where the king acknowledged him as his cousin and made him one of his chiefs, with the title of Kanwang, the Shield King.

Before he left Hong Kong, however, he had brought his family and his brother to the Mission House, where his brother, named Sye-po, became chief servant in Dr Legge's family, and behaved well. Allusions to Sye-po, who was a good and trusted servant, are found in various letters. It is worthy of note that when Hung Jin left Hong Kong, there were two principal objects which he said he would keep before him if he should succeed in reaching Nanking.

The first was the correction of religious errors; and the second, the prosecution of a line conciliatory to foreigners. Installed at Nanking, he conducted his affairs with great success, had interviews with many foreigners, and was highly spoken of by them. The first proclamation from him, and a long memorial 'To the Celestial King/ were worthy of all praise. He wrote to Dr Legge frequently, and sent him copies of the different publications which he issued. The Tai-pings held Nanking for about nine years; they ruled the city and a considerable portion of the province besides, and they had an army of some tens of thousands of men.

Among other things which the Shield King did was to write out in large characters the Ten Commandments and portions of the Sermon on the Mount, and put them up, on and around the principal gates of Nanking, that all might know the laws of the heavenly kingdom.

Writing in reference to this matter to the Religious Tract Society, Dr Legge gives expression to his views as affecting the Mission enterprise, and the desire to give China the Truth.

In the great work, says the Religious Tract Society's Report of 1854, which is opening to the Society and kindred institutions, it is encouraging to find that the leader of the insurgent troops is promoting widely the issue of portions of the Scriptures and many religious tracts. It is reported that he keeps 400 printers employed, principally in the production of copies of the Scriptures. He also sends forth numerous tracts, and superintends the printing operations. Although the tracts contain some things of a doubtful character, yet they clearly abjure idolatry—recognise the duty to serve the living and true God—they make known Jesus Christ as the only and all-sufficient Saviour—lead the people to rejoice in the prospect of the future life which Christianity discloses to them, and the duty of possessing and reading the Sacred Scriptures.

In reference to these statements, Dr Legge writes:—

'If the insurgents held only these principles, we could not refuse to them a large measure of our admiration. The starting up on a sudden of hundreds of thousands of men and women, professing these views in China—stereotyped and benumbed China— is a phenomenon in which I dare not but magnify the power of God.'

The Report continues: Another important event has also been connected with the present state of China. The missionaries have long conscientiously differed as to the proper Chinese term to be employed for 'God' in their Christian publications. This difference of opinion has impeded to a considerable extent the circulation of the Scriptures and tracts. On this subject the Bishop of Victoria, in a recent charge delivered to his clergy remarks: 'The unexpected religious movement in the interior of China has occurred to settle this question, and to take it virtually out of our hands. In the prayers offered up daily throughout the army and camp of Tai-ping-wang, and addressed to the one true God our heavenly Father, through the merits of the one Redeemer, for the gift of the one sanctifying Spirit— is a providential intimation which I feel bound to acknowledge in favour of the term "Shang-te." Thus a great difficulty has been removed, and henceforth the term "Shang-te" will be universally employed for "God" in all the works issued by the Christian missionaries of China.'

One day, Sye-po, the Shield King's brother, came to Dr Legge, saying that the Shield King had sent him a bag containing a thousand dollars, with directions to give a hundred dollars each to certain friends in Hong Kong, those friends being Dr Legge himself, Mr Chalmers, two German missionaries and some Chinese Christians. Dr Legge asked where the Shield King got the money. 'He is the king,* replied Sye-po, 'and can get what money he likes.* Dr Legge replied, 'You call him the king; I call him a rebel. If the Tai-ping rebellion succeeds in overturning the Chinese government, I will recognise him as a king, but now I can only recognise him as a rebel, and I doubt whether the thousand dollars have been honestly procured. He used to be happy here with ten dollars a month ; write to him and say that I cannot receive the bag of one hundred dollars.' 'But he will be angry,' said the brother. 'I cannot help that,' replied Dr Legge, 'tell him I appreciate his kind intentions, and must wait for the issue of the rebellion.'

This offer became known among the Chinese, and when, a few years after, Dr Legge found himself at the city of Shaou-king, a number of Chinamen on learning his name, came and saluted him and said 'Though we have never seen you before, you are well known in many parts of Canton province as the ' righteous man.' ' Why do you call me so ?' asked Dr Legge. ' Because you refused the money sent you by the Shield King.'

Sye-po, who grew most anxious to join his brother, left Dr Legge's service and found his way to Nanking. Dr Legge wrote asking him to return, but he replied that he could not, because it was the time for using men. Once Dr Legge heard of him through Judge Adams, who, on one occasion, on leaving Nanking, was hailed by a Tai-ping official, who was Sye-po. Passages in the Shanghai papers were read by Dr Legge with pleasure, being always in praise of his old friend the Shield King.

At last came the news of the capture of Nanking by the Imperialists. The leader of the rebellion killed himself, and the Shield King, if he had thought only of his own safety, might have escaped. But his sense of right would not let him leave the young prince. He therefore took the lad under his protection and tried to make his escape with him. They were both captured. Hung Jin was carried to Peking, put on his trial, and there beheaded. Thus the whole rebellion collapsed.

In 1862 a letter by Dr Legge was published in England, relative to the hostilities directed by the British and French forces under General Gordon against the Tai-ping insurgents. In former years the avowed policy of the British government was that of neutrality. But the threatened attack of the Tai-pings on Shanghai and other cities secured by treaty for purposes of British commerce, provoked a departure from that neutrality.

Extracts from Dr Legge's letter reveal his opinion both of the Tai-pings and of the Manchu Government which they wished to overthrow, an opinion formed after nearly twenty years1 residence in China.

'I do not take this matter in hand as an apologist for the religious views and political course of the Tai-pings. It is assumed by many that missionaries have been and still are their advocates, in spite of the plain witness of undeniable and melancholy facts. The utmost that can be alleged against missionaries is, that when the rebel movement first came prominently before the world, in 1853, after the capture of Nan-king, many of them hailed the religious sentiments expressed in the tracts and manifestoes of their leaders. But when, in the course of time, the promise connected with the movement began to wither, their regret was corresponding, and as they had opportunity they remonstrated with the Tai-pings themselves, nor did they hide anything which they knew from the public. As I carefully send my thoughts back over the last nine years, I can single out from amongst the missionary body in China, but one solitary eccentric exception to the statement just given. In a letter from my own pen in July 1854, I wrote—Two points seem to be established; first, that the religion of the insurgents is running into a wild and blasphemous fanaticism; and second, that they have assumed an attitude of determined hostility to foreigners. From the first I professed my disbelief in the revelations to which Hung Seu-tseun, their chief, laid claim.

'My old friend Hung Jin, the Shield King, was prepared to counsel them wisely as to the cultivation of friendly relationship with foreigners. Had we been willing to enter into negotiations with them in 1860 or 1861, we should have found that their calling us "foreign brethren" had a real good substantial meaning in it. Still the Shield King was not equal to the difficulties of his position.

'But as regards our entering into hostilities with the Tai-pings—what casus belli have they given us? Possibly there may be a sufficient one stated in some despatch that the Government at home received, and which has been laid before Parliament. They profess many absurd and fanatical dogmas; their views as to theology are miserably degrading; their warfare against the Imperialists leads to indescribable misery among the people. All these things are true; but I fail to discover in them anything like a casus belli against ourselves. Have the rebels outraged British property, and then refused to give satisfaction? Have they entered into engagements with us and then wilfully and knowingly violated them? Did they threaten to stop our trade, or have they instituted any measures for that purpose? I have not heard any of the things involved in these questions alleged against the Tai-pings. I contend that after holding the second city of the Empire for nine years and coming forth victorious from hundreds of conflicts with the Imperial forces, they ought to have been respected by us as belligerents. It is vehemently asserted that the foreign settlement would not have been safe with Shanghai in the hands of the rebels. Such an assertion can only be met by another equally vehement on the opposite side. But I fully agree with many who hold that if we had clearly professed our neutrality and fully explained our views to the rebels, they would have kept aloof from every place where foreigners were located by treaty right

'But it avails not to deplore the fact that we have taken the field against the Tai-pings; it is a fact. We have defeated them in every engagement, losing also valuable lives on our own side. But we were obliged to concentrate our troops in and around Shanghai We handed over our conquests to the Imperialists, and when we had done so and retired, down came the Tai-pings and made short work of the "braves." The poor people are now in harder case than they were before. They have been driven by thousands into Shanghai. There they are, nearly houseless and half-fed. Cholera finds them an easy prey. More than 900 died last month within three days.

'These, it may be said, are unavoidable miseries of war: The war is a fact and it must be prosecuted. But I ask, in whose interest are we to put down the rebellion? Now, I protest against our putting down the rebellion on behalf of the Imperial Government on two grounds. The first is the ground of its cruelty. I have read harrowing accounts of the devastations of the rebels. The accounts are no doubt true. But I have seen also the ways of the Imperial braves and kept company with them for hours together. Their march over the country was like the progress of locusts. Their thirst for blood was quenchless; their outrages on the young and old were indescribable. But the Question is not about the masses but about the officers of government. And to know what will be the consequence if we put down the rebels on behalf of the Imperial Government, we have only to think of Yeh and his doings in Canton, when in about twelve months he beheaded 70,000.

'The second ground on which I object to the putting down of the rebellion on behalf of the Imperial Government, is the utter inefficiency of that government. Apart from rebel districts the people everywhere set it at defiance. It is unable to fulfil its treaty engagements. Its soldiers are often uncivil and rude; the gentry are everywhere sullen and insolent; the mob is often riotous and violent; but against soldiers, gentry and the mob, the authorities can hardly give any protection. We may say we shall insist on securities from the Chinese Government that it will fulfil its treaty stipulations, and will secure to us greater privileges. This is to me a vain dream.

The Israelites had certainly an easier task to make bricks without straw than we have in undertaking to pacify China in harmony with the Manchu Government The Manchus are not worthy that we should interfere in their behalf. And whereas it is affirmed that we interfere on behalf of our own commerce, it has not been shown that the rebels have ever tried to check our commerce. Our green tea and our silk have come for eighteen months from districts in their hands.

'I think that our attempt to bolster up the Manchu dynasty will be found a very thankless and uncertain undertaking. For hundreds of years since the Christian era there have been in China anarchy and civil strife. The nation has groaned in pain for centuries. Information on the state of things in China is sadly needed at home.

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