Sino-Japanese War

The Battle of the Yalu River (“Naval Battle of the Yellow Sea”) was the largest naval engagement of the Qing-Japan War, and took place on 17 September 1894, the day after the Japanese victory at the land Battle of Pyongyang. It involved ships from the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Qing Beiyang Fleet. The battle is also known by a variety of names: Battle of Haiyang Island, Battle of Dadonggou, Battle of the Yellow Sea and Battle of Yalu, after the geographic location of the battle, which was in the Yellow Sea off the mouth of the Yalu River and not in the river itself. In the second half of the nineteenth century in Asia, both Qing and Japan put major resources into creating modern navies of armored steamships with guns firing explosive shells. Their battle at the Yalu River in 1894 ended with the defeat of Qing Empire Beiyang Fleet.

Turning to Germany for training and equipment of their army and to Great Britain for ships and naval instructors, the Japanese soon knew themselves to be the leading oriental military power and began to stretch their muscles. The first to feel their strength were the Chinese. Although the humiliating defeats leading up to the enforced treaties with the western powers had opened their eyes to the need to acquire western military and commercial skills and a `self-strengthening movement’ was set on foot under the guiding hand of the all-powerful minister Li Hung-chang, the Chinese people and their Manchu rulers lacked the martial ardour and the sense of purpose that raised the Japanese so rapidly to modern military and industrial power. Arsenals were founded at Shanghai, at Foochow and Nanking where small ships were built and guns manufactured. Chinese students were sent abroad, a naval academy founded at Tientsin and a steam navy, built abroad, was commissioned, or rather four separate navies – at Canton, at Foochow, in the Yangtse River and (in the north) the Peiyang fleet. Only the last of these was under the direct control of the Peking government.

Such an arrangement was an inadequate basis for sea power and when, in 1874, a Japanese expedition was sent to Formosa to exact retribution for the murder of some Ryu-kyu sailors by Formosan aborigines, the Chinese were unable to take any effective steps to protect this overseas outpost of their Empire. Actually the whole basis for the Japanese action was in Chinese eyes false. For the Ryu-kyu Islands had been a regular tributary of China since 1372. But the Japanese Lord of Satsuma had, unknown to the Chinese, subjugated them in 1609, since when the island king had been also a tribute-paying vassal of Satsuma.

Negotiations, in which the British minister to China, Thomas Wade, acted as mediator, led to a settlement by which China paid an indemnity of half a million dollars and agreed not to condemn the Japanese action. This latter concession tacitly implied Chinese acceptance of Japanese sovereignty over the Ryu-kyus and five years later this was confirmed by Japanese formal annexation.

Korea and Japan

In 1875 it was the Koreans’ turn to clash with the newly awakened aggressive power. Though Christian missionaries had, in spite of periodic persecution, spread their faith widely in the kingdom since the second half of the eighteenth century, the Koreans had successfully resisted all Western efforts to promote trade or establish diplomatic relations. In 1866, following a sweeping massacre of Christian priests, the French had sent a punitive expedition of seven ships and six hundred men which captured Kangwha near Seoul, but after suffering more than thirty casualties in a skirmish outside the city, withdrew. An American merchant ship seeking trade was destroyed and the crew killed in the same year. An American squadron sent to investigate the matter in 1871 steamed into the Han River, on which Seoul lies; on being fired on by shore batteries, the ships bombarded the city of Kangwha on two successive days but then withdrew, their mission unfulfilled.

To the Japanese, Korea represented either a natural stepping stone to their penetration of the mainland or a pistol pointing at the heart of their country. They soon determined it should be the former. An expedition to force diplomatic and trade relations was planned; a surveying team with gunboat escort began charting the approaches to the Korean capital in 1875, and when this was fired on, the gunboats retaliated, destroying the Korean forts. A squadron of six Japanese warships appeared. The Chinese government was at that time in no state to interfere on behalf of its tributary state. The Korean Regent was instructed to negotiate and the Treaty of Kangwha, 24 February 1876, was the result. Not only was Korea thereby opened to diplomatic and commercial relations with Japan, but she was recognized as an independent state on an equal footing with Japan and, in the absence of any protest by China, was thus freed of her ancient vassalage.

When the United States concluded a similar treaty in 1882, the Koreans took the opportunity, in a separate statement, voluntarily to acknowledge Chinese suzerainty ; and it was under the auspices of the Chinese government that the treaty and those with Britain, France and Germany which followed it were concluded. Nevertheless Japan soon became influential in Seoul, operating in support of Queen Min, to reform the government and modernize the army, and against the reactionary Regent, Taewongon. In 1882 the latter provoked a rising during which the Japanese legation was burned, seven Japanese officers were killed and the minister forced to flee to Japan.

Both Chinese and Japanese warships arrived to enforce a pacification. The Chinese envoy arrested the Regent and deported him to China. A settlement with Japan was patched up, the most significant feature of which was the establishment of the Japanese right to station troops for the protection of the legation. The Chinese government, however, now took steps to re-assert suzerainty. Extra-territoriality for their nationals was one of the terms of a commercial treaty ; six Chinese battalions were stationed in Korea and a young Chinese officer, Yuan Shih-k’ai, who was in the years ahead to play a leading role in the history of China, was appointed to train the Korean army.

Pro-Chinese and pro-Japanese factions now grew up and in December 1884 the latter, encouraged by the Japanese minister and aided by the Japanese legation troops, staged a revolt in which the royal palace was broken into and the king captured. Yuan Shih-k’ai’s troops gained the upper hand, however; the Japanese, facing annihilation, set fire to their legation and, formed into a square with their wounded and womenfolk in the centre, fought their way through the winter night to the coast.

With a technique that was to become only too familiar, the Japanese made the incident an excuse for sending an expedition to enforce payment of compensation while at the same time a Sino-Japanese Convention was concluded at Tientsin. By its terms both Chinese and Japanese troops were to be withdrawn; but, deeply significant for the future was the mutual agreement that either China or Japan might send troops into Korea for the restoration of order provided they gave each other prior notice. For the time being, however, Chinese influence was supreme with Yiian Shih-k’ai virtually Governor of Korea.

French Aggression

But the Japanese, growing ever stronger on land and sea, were biding their time, while China, for lack of adequate sea power suffered a humiliating defeat when she attempted to oppose French aggression in Vietnam. Annam, as Vietnam was then called, was an ancient tributary state of China. Tribute missions had been sent to Peking even after the French had annexed the three southern provinces (Cochin-China) following the despatch of a punitive expedition to Saigon in 1859 on account of attacks on missionaries. She established a virtual protectorate over the remainder by another treaty in 1874. French troops were stationed in North Vietnam and fortresses built along the Red River. They were opposed by an irregular Chinese `Black Flag’ army, a remnant of the rebel Taiping army which from 1850-64 had controlled much of China and came near to unseating the Ch’ing dynasty. Regular Chinese troops were also surreptitiously sent to Tonking.

The fighting on land that followed was sporadic and indecisive. But when on 23 August 1884 the French Rear Admiral Courbet, with a squadron consisting of three powerful armoured cruisers and nine smaller ships attacked the Chinese Foochow squadron of one iron vessel, six wooden sloops, two armed transports, two gunboats and a number of war junks, the huge French superiority of force made the encounter into little more than a military execution. It took a mere forty-five minutes, following which the French guns were turned destructively on the arsenal and the defensive forts. The French fleet went on to occupy Keelung in Formosa and the Pescadores.

Meanwhile a blockade of the Yangtse River estuary and stoppage of the tribute grain from South China to the capital had been undermining the warlike resolution of the Empress Dowager ; when a serious defeat of the French army in Tonking offered a face-saving opportunity, a peace treaty was negotiated in June 1885, which recognized France’s position in Annam.

Yet another ancient tributary was lost to China in the following year when Burma became a British protectorate. Japanese hunger for a share in the apparent break-up of China strengthened their determination to possess themselves of Korea when the moment was ripe.

In 1894 an uprising by a Korean religious sect known as the Tongkaks, assisted by agents of the Japanese secret society, Genyosha, caused the Korean government to appeal to Yuan Shih-k’ai for help. A force of about 2,500 Chinese infantry was landed at Asan on the Korean west coast. This was the moment the Japanese had been waiting for: a balanced army eight thousand strong was immediately transported to Chemulpo.

Li Hung-chang turned to the western powers for mediation. Proposals by the British and Americans were rejected by the Japanese and, with war imminent, the Chinese chartered three British steamers to carry reinforcements to Asan. Two of these, escorted by the small protected cruiser, Tsi-Tuen, and the sloop, Kwang-Yi, reached Asan safely ; but as the two warships put to sea again on 25 July 1894 to return to Taku, they were intercepted by the Japanese Flying Squadron of three fast light cruisers, Yoshino, Naniwa and Akitsushima, under the command of Rear Admiral Tsuboi who had orders to stop the transport of troops to Korea, if necessary by force, and to deal with any Chinese warships met, though war had not yet been declared.

Convoy Battle

In the unequal fight that developed the Chinese were overwhelmed, the Tsi-Yuen being heavily damaged, though she was unaccountably allowed to limp away to the Chinese naval base of Wei-hai-wei ; the little sloop was forced to beach herself, where she was quickly destroyed. While the Yoshino was chasing the Tsi-Yuen off the scene, there came in sight two more ships. These were the chartered Jardine and Matheson steamer, Kowshing, carrying 1,200 Chinese troops, twelve guns and two Chinese generals, and her escort the 572-ton sloop Tsao-kiang. The sloop was quickly induced to surrender to the Akitsushima. The Naniwa, commanded by Captain Heihachiro Togo (who eleven years later was to be the hero-admiral, victor at the Battle of Tsu-shima), meanwhile signalled the Kowshing to stop and, having ascertained that she was carrying troops, ordered her to follow the cruiser. When the British master signalled that the Chinese would not allow him to comply and requested Togo to take off the Europeans on board, the Japanese captain declined on the grounds that his boat might be attacked. Four hours of unproductive signalling was brought to an end when the Naniwa opened fire at point blank range and sank the Kowshing. The British officers were picked up by the Naniwa’s boats; some 512 Chinese managed to swim ashore or cling to wreckage, but loss of life was heavy.

War between China and Japan was formally declared on 1 August. As with all wars, this one would inevitably be concluded by the victory of one of the opposing armies; but the decision would have already been secured at sea, on the local control of which depended the support and supply of both. For although Korea was connected to China at its landward frontier, road communications were so primitive as to be of little use for the despatch of reinforcements or supplies.

That only by battle with the opposing fleet could such an essential control be secured was not understood by Fi Hungchang, who forbade Admiral Ting Ju-ch’ang, commanding the Peiyang fleet, to proceed to the east of a line drawn from his base at Wei-hai-wei to the mouth of the Yalu River. The Japanese fleet arrived off Wei-hai-wei on 10 August and bombarded its forts, but the challenge was not accepted; the Chinese ships remained in harbour. Thus Admiral Ito, the Japanese Commander-in-Chief, was left undisturbed to convoy his land forces to Korea where such a Japanese superiority was quickly built up that the Chinese army was defeated and driven north.

Battle of Yalu

Admiral Ting was now ordered to escort a troop convoy to the Yalu from Port Arthur. This was successfully achieved ; but it was off the mouth of the Yalu that Admiral Ito arrived on 17 September 1894, placing himself between Ting and his bases and forcing the Chinese admiral to accept the battle he had professed to desire. Ting at once put to sea and cleared for action.

The two fleets were, on paper, evenly matched. Indeed, to the school that believed that the heavily armoured battleship mounting four 12-inch guns was the arbiter of naval battles, the Chinese was the more powerful. For Ting had two of these, the Ting Yuen, his flagship, and the Chen Yuen as well as eight cruisers mounting guns varying in calibre from 10.2-inch to 5.9-inch. None of these guns was of the quick-firing type which had been invented seven years earlier.

The Japanese fleet under Admiral Ito was divided into a Main Squadron under his personal command and a fast Flying Squadron under Rear Admiral Tsuboi. The biggest ships of the Japanese Main Squadron were three unarmoured cruisers, Matsushima (Ito’s flagship), Itsukushima and Hashidate, which mounted but one 12.6-inch gun each. The remainder of the squadron consisted of two cruisers Fuso and Hiyei, ancient veterans built seventeen years before, carrying a few antiquated guns, and one, the Choyoda, armed with nothing bigger than 4.7-inch guns, but of the quick-firing type.

Rear Admiral Tsuboi’s flag flew in the cruiser Toshino, a fine modern ship of 4,150 tons with 6-inch and 4.7-inch quick firers. With him were three other fast cruisers; Takachiho and Naniwa, mounting two 10.2-inch guns and six 6-inch each, and the Akitsushima which, like the Toshino, carried only quick-firing guns of 6-inch and 4.7-inch calibre. None of these ships was armoured, but even the slowest could make nearly nineteen knots, a good speed at that time.

So far it might seem that the Japanese fleet was much too weak to think of facing the heavy guns of the Chinese. On the other hand all the Japanese ships except Takachiho, Naniwa, Fuso and Hiyei carried between ten and twelve quick-firing guns, either 6-inch or 4.7-inch. A meeting between the two fleets might show which of the rival theories was right – that of the believers in the massive blow of a few big guns, or the contrary theory that many quick-firers would smother the slow-firing, big-gun ships before they could score many hits.

When the time came, however, the test was not to be so clear-cut. There were several reasons for this. The Japanese fleet was a highly trained and skillful force, whereas the Chinese, who a few years previously had achieved a high state of efficiency under the guidance of Captain W. M. Lang of the British Navy, had reverted on his departure to the condition of glossed-over incompetence usual in the armed forces of the Empire. The ships were kept outwardly smart and well-painted, but behind this facade there were half-empty magazines and unpractised gunners. Troubles in the shell factories had led to indifferent bursting charges, or even cement and coal dust inserted in their place.

Furthermore, Admiral Ting had a faulty conception of naval fighting tactics based on the outcome of the Battle of Lissa, fought twenty-eight years earlier, in which the Austrian victory had been won by a frontal, line abreast attack on the Italian line, and an eventual recourse to the ram. The fact that the big guns of his two battleships could all fire ahead increased Ting’s faith in such a method. He had completely overlooked the fact that guns had greatly increased in range and effectiveness since Lissa, so that a fleet which awaited such an onslaught in line ahead would have a considerable gun advantage for a long period during the approach. The ram had consequently ceased to be a practical proposition.

Such were the two fleets that now steered for an encounter; the Japanese at about ten knots, which was the best that Fuso and Hiyei could achieve, the Chinese at a knot or two faster. Ito’s fleet was in line ahead with the Flying Squadron in the van. Besides the major units there were present two ships of little or no fighting value, the gunboat Akagi and an armed merchant steamer Saikio Adaru, which were to prove an embarrassment to Ito. It is not clear why the Japanese admiral did not send such vulnerable ships away to the southward, where they would have been clear of the battle. Instead he stationed them on the port side of his Main Squadron, the side away from the enemy.

Meanwhile Ting’s squadron was approaching on a south-westerly course in a formation somewhat similar to Tegetthoff’s at Lissa, with the two big ships in the centre. But owing to tardiness in getting under way, the two starboard wing ships were lagging, while on the other wing one of the Chinese cruisers, the Tsi-Tuen, was well behind and unable to get up into station. In fact, viewed from the Japanese ships, the Chinese squadron seemed to be in considerable disorder.

The tactics of the two admirals were soon evident. At the long range for those days of six thousand yards, the Chinese opened fire with their big guns. With calm confidence the Japanese held their fire, and indeed they could well afford to do so; for with the rapidly changing range making shooting difficult, the unpractised Chinese gunners failed to score a single hit during the approach.

The Japanese line drew steadily across the Chinese front until the Flying Squadron was able to pass round the starboard wing, and at a range of three thousand yards open a withering fire from their quick-firers on the wing ships of the Chinese formation. Their Main Squadron now came into action, passing close ahead of Ting’s flagship and the Chen Tuen, which bore down as though to ram, both battleships being heavily shot up in the process. The whole of Ito’s squadron except the Hiyei, the rear ship, passed safely round the northern flank of Ting’s line, and Ito then led round to star¬ board, circling the now completely disorganized Chinese fleet and keeping up a punishing fire to which only a feeble reply was made.

Indeed the Chinese had more than the enemy’s fire with which to reckon. Dense funnel smoke, increased by that from a hundred guns, enveloped the whole scene. The laggard Tsi-Tuen, coming up at last, plunged into the smother and ran amok, colliding with two ships of her own side, sinking one and so damaging another that it steamed away blazing to be beached. The Tsi-Tuen herself then withdrew to Port Arthur, where her captain subsequently paid for his actions with his head.

Meanwhile the Hiyei, unable to follow the Japanese Main Squadron round the Chinese flank, boldly turned to pass through the Chinese. Avoiding two torpedoes fired at her and which strangely enough hit nothing in spite of the milling throng of ships, the Hiyei won through, though suffering considerably in the process.

The two weak Japanese ships, Akagi and Saikio Maru, also cut off, kept on across the Chinese front, the former being badly battered. Seeing this, Rear Admiral Tsuboi led the Flying Squadron round to port to come back and cover them. This brought a temporary relief to the Chinese ships, but by the time Tsuboi had completed his turn the Chinese found themselves between two fires, Ito to the eastward and the Flying Squadron to the north-westward.

By now Ting’s squadron was in desperate straits. Apart from the victims of the Tsi-Tuen’s wild career, two other cruisers, smothered by the rapid fire of Tsuboi’s 6-inch and 4.7-inch guns, had gone down. Yet another had struggled away burning furiously, ultimately to be run aground near Port Arthur. Ting was thus left with only four of his original ten ships, all of which had suffered severely and had shot away nearly all their ammunition.

Complete annihilation of the Chinese squadron was in Ito’s grasp. The Japanese had not achieved this without damage to themselves, however; in particular Ito’s flagship Matsushima had been hit twice by 12-inch shells, once by a 10.2-inch, suffering more than a hundred casualties, and had been set on fire. By the time Ito had transferred his flag to the Hashidate and despatched the Matsushima, Hiyei, Akagi and Saikio to base for repairs, the sun was sinking low; and as dusk fell, the two fleets disengaged and formed up on parallel courses in line ahead.

A renewal of the fight might now have wiped out the Chinese force, but a new element had entered the situation. The two torpedo-boats of Ting’s squadron had joined him from the Yalu. This caused Ito to decide to await the dawn before completing the enemy’s annihilation, and in the night Ting slipped away with his surviving ships, which included his two battleships. Nevertheless the Japanese had won a considerable victory, and had secured control of the disputed sea area, making certain of victory on land. There the Japanese were able to occupy Dairen and to capture the fortified base of Port Arthur by attacking the forts from the rear. They went on to capture Wei-hai-wei in February 1895, turning the guns of the forts on the damaged remnants of the Peiyang fleet. Admiral Ting committed suicide; the fleet surrendered.

Li Hung-chang, the inspirer of the Self-strengthening Movement by which China had hoped to withstand further foreign aggression, but which had failed primarily because the Chinese public service was so riddled with corruption and incompetence, was disgraced and dismissed. He was reinstated, however, at Japanese insistence upon an envoy of sufficient stature being sent to negotiate a peace settlement. The Treaty of Shimonoseki which was finally signed on 17 April 1895 provided for recognition of Korean independence and termination of tribute to China ; a large indemnity ; the opening of four more Chinese ports ; Japanese right to open factories and engage in industry in China ; finally, and most ominously, the cession to Japan of Formosa, the Pescadores and the Liaotung Peninsula on which Port Arthur and Dairen were situated.

For the moment Japan had in spectacular fashion burst out of her backwardness and obscurity to claim an equal status with the western powers. Great Britain had already offered a treaty revision to abolish her extra-territorial rights and during the next few years her example was followed by other powers. But Japan was now to suffer a humiliating set-back on her road to great power status, one which was to colour her attitude ever afterwards.


Type 052B or Guangzhou Class Destroyer

The Type 052B or Guangzhou class destroyer (NATO reporting name: Luyang I class) is a class of multirole missile destroyer built by the People’s Republic of China. Two ships have been built, with Guangzhou (168) and Wuhan (169) both being commissioned into the PLAN in July 2004. This class features a stealthy hull and significantly improved air defence systems, an area that had been a major weakness on previous ships designed by China. These ships represent a major improvement over the older generation vessels and reflects PLAN’s need to have a modern destroyer.

The Type 052B is built with considerable Russian technology including the Russian-made 9M38 Buk-M1-2 (NATO codename: SA-N-12 Grizzly) air defence missile system, an extremely effective air defence system with a range of 38 km. Most military analysts expect the Guangzhou class to be similar to the Russian Sovremenny class destroyer in terms of general performance. The displacement of the Type 052B is 5850 tons. The ship features a “low point” design combined with radar absorbing paint to reduce radar signature. The ship’s funnel incorporates cooling devices to reduce infrared signatures. The stern flight deck can host a Kamov Ka-28 ASW helicopter.

The Type 052Bs are equipped with two missile launchers, one forward and one aft on the ship. These launchers can launch the SA-N-12 Grizzly Surface-to-Air Missile. Each launcher has two dedicated MR-90 Front Dome fire control radars and carries a total of 48 missiles. They also haves 4 quad YJ-83 Anti-Ship Cruise Missile launchers located amidships. For guns there is a 100mm cannon in ‘A’ position and this is the first PLAN vessel to be equipped with a Close-In Weapons System, or CIWS. For sub-surface threats, she is armed with 2 triple 324mm Yu-7 Anti-Submarine torpedo tubes and two Type 75 twelve-barrel 240mm antisubmarine rocket launchers. The Type 052B is equipped with four 18-barrel Type 724 chaff launchers for part of its self-defense suite.

Weapon Systems

The Type 052B destroyer is armed with two Russian-made surface-to-air missile launchers, one on the front deck behind the 100mm main gun, and one on top of the helicopter hanger. The launchers can fire the latest 9M317 Shtil (NATO codename: SA-N-12 Grizzly) semi-active, radar-homing, medium-range air defence missile. The missile uses the ship’s Russian-made Fregat M2EM Top Plate 3D circular scan radar for target acquisition, and the Front Dome (two radar for each launcher, each radar with two guidance channels) indication radar for missile guidance. Up to three missiles can be aimed simultaneously. The range is up to 38km against aircraft and 20km against anti-ship cruise missile. The ship carries 48 missiles.

Four 4-cell launcher for the YJ-83 (C-803) sea-skimming, radar-homing anti-ship cruise missile system are installed behind the funnel. The YJ-83 is said to have a final approach speed of Mach 1.5 and a maximum range of 150km. It was noted that the YJ-83 onboard the Type 052B relies on a Russian-made Band Stand fire-control radar to provide target information, which would enable the YJ-83 to reach its maximum range of fire without relaying target information by the shipborne helicopter.

The Type 052B destroyer was the first PLA Navy warship to be fitted with the CIWS. There is a seven-barrel 30mm Type 730 CIWS installed on each side of the bridge. The weapon system has a maximum rate of fire of 4,600~5,800 rounds/min.

The ship also has a single-barrel 100mm gun developed by 713 Institute on the basis of the French Creusot-Loire T100C design. The gun can be used against surface targets and air targets such as aircraft and low speed missile, with a maximum rate of fire of 90 rounds/min. The gun can be operated in fully automatic mode from the radar control system, from the shipborne optical sighting system, or laid manually. The turret design incorporates strong radar cross-section reduction features.

The Type 052B destroyer is fitted with two triple 324mm Yu-7 (Mk-46 Mod 1) antisubmarine torpedo tubes and two Type 75 twelve-barrel 240mm antisubmarine rocket launchers. Range is up to 1,200m. The rocket is armed with a 34kg warhead. Additionally, the destroyer has four 18-barrel multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) installed on the front deck. The purpose of these MRLs remains unknown but is thought to be used to launch antisubmarine rockets, ground- attack rockets and/or decoys/chaffs.


The Type 052B uses a Fregat-MAE-5 (Top Plate) 3D search radar, mounted at the top of the forward mast. Four MR90 Front-Dome radars provide fire control for the SA-N-12 missiles. A Type 344 fire control radar controls the main gun. A bandstand radar provides fire control for the YJ-83 ASCM missile.


The air search radar is a Russian Fregat M2EM (NATO codename: Top Plate) 3D air search radar operating at D/E band. The radar has a maximum detect range of 230km to aircraft and 50km to sea-skimming missile. There are four (in contrast to six on Sovremenny class) Russian Front Dome fire control radar (F band) for the 9M38 air defence missile. The main gun and anti-ship missile are controlled by the Russian Band Stand radar.

Command and Control

The ZJK-5 combat system onboard the Type 052B is thought to be an improved variant of the Type 051B (Luhai class)’s ZJK-4-3A. The ZJK-5 is based on the 1553B military data bus and the 100Mbps Ethernet technology. The multi-channel defence suite is capable of engaging several targets simultaneously.


The destroyer’s stern hanger accommodates one Kamov Ka-28 (NATO codename: Helix) antisubmarine warfare (ASW) helicopter. Carrying various weapons including torpedoes and deep charges, the helicopter can operate in all weather conditions up to 200km from the host ship. Alternatively, the destroyer can carry an indigenous Z-9C helicopter.


The Type 052C’s propulsion is in the form of CODOG, consisting of two Ukraine-made DA80/DN80 gas turbines rated at 48,600hp and two Shaanxi diesels (Chinese copy of the MTU 20V956TB92) rated at 8,840hp (6.5 MW).


Type: Guided missile destroyer

    Unit cost – around US$400 million per ship by 2004’s price

    Ships – Guangzhou (168) and Wuhan (169) as of 2006

    Propulsion – 2 x Zorya-Mashproekt DN80 gas-turbines

    2 x MTU Friedrichshafen 12V 1163TB83 diesels

    Length – 155 meters

    Beam – 17 meters

    Draft – 6 meters

    Displacement: 5,850 tons standard, 6,500 tons full load

    Speed – 30 knots

    Crew – 280 (40 officers)

    Combat Data System – ZKJ-7 information processing system designed by the 709th Institute (reported speed: 100 MB/s)

Sensors and processing systems:

    Fregat-MAE-5 (Top Plate) 3D air search phased array radar

    MR90 Front-Dome fire control radar

    Mineral-ME (Band Stand) over-the-horizon targeting radar

    Type 344 fire-control radar

    Data link: HN-900 (Chinese equivalent of Link 11A/B, to be upgraded)

    Communication: SNTI-240 SATCOM


        16 x YJ-83 SSM

        48 x SA-N-12 SAM in 4 x 12 magazine

        1 x 100 mm gun

        2 x 30 mm Type 730 CIWS

        2 x Triple 324 mm ASW torpedo tubes

        2 x Type 75, 12-barrel 240 mm antisubmarine rocket launchers (range 1200 m, 34 kg warhead)

        4 x 18-barrel Type 726-4 decoy/chaff launchers

        Aviation: 1 Kamov Ka-28 ASW helicopter

Type 051B Luhai-class / Luyang-class Multirole Destroyer

Fall of Nanjing I

The Taiping forces’ victory over the Qing army in capturing Nanjing is depicted here. The Taiping soldiers, were relentless in training and became fierce fighters. Harvard Yenching Library.

The Qing army recaptured Nanjing in 1864.

After Issachar Roberts left him in the winter of 1862, Hong Rengan had little contact with anyone else from the outside world. A stray German missionary named Wilhelm Lobscheid finally came through Nanjing a year and a half later, in the summer of 1863, while Gordon and the Anhui Army were making inroads in Jiangsu province. He found the Shield King bitter and defensive. “Have we ever broken faith with foreigners?” Hong Rengan asked him. “Have we ever retaliated [against] the enmity of England and France?” If the foreigners wanted to be the Taiping’s enemies, they had better beware, he said. “We are fighting in our own country, and to rid ourselves of a foreign power, and woe to the stranger who falls into our hands after the first shot has been fired against Nanking.” Lobscheid was dismayed by the sting of betrayal he heard in Hong Rengan’s voice and wished for a new beginning between the rebels and the foreign powers. “Sir Frederick Bruce will one day be recalled to give an account of the ruinous course of policy he has advised his Government to adopt,” he wrote to a Hong Kong paper after his return from Nanjing, “and foreign influence will at last prevail in the council of the rebels. But whether that will be upon the ruins of the silk and tea plantations, or upon the graveyards of thousands of British subjects, we shall soon have an opportunity of witnessing.”

Though Hong Rengan no longer managed foreign affairs, he was still the top-ranking official in the rebel court, and all of the capital’s business still passed through his hands. For the most part, the other kings still had to go through him to get access to his reclusive cousin the Heavenly King. And once the anger about the doings of missionaries had faded, his cousin gave him new responsibilities that in some ways were more personal, and therefore more trusting, than the ones he had given him before. In 1863, he asked Hong Rengan to take charge of his teenage son, the Young Monarch, and to ensure his safety no matter what happened to Hong Xiuquan himself. As the guardian of the heir apparent, Hong Rengan feared he might fall short “of the great trust reposed in me,” and he was “filled with anxiety and gave way to tears.”

The immediate pressures of the war forced Hong Rengan to put aside his plans for a new government and a new diplomacy for China. The military campaigns and the supply lines simply had to come first, and as the problems on those fronts intensified, the dawn of his imagined state receded into the distance. His cherished reforms—the railroads, the law courts, the trading entrepôts, the newspapers, mines, banks, and industries—would all have to wait. It was all he could do to hold the leadership in the capital together. Hong Xiuquan’s madness was growing as the military setbacks mounted, and intimations of doom drove his visionary mind toward its longed-for apocalypse. He refused to countenance a retreat, trusting only to the Heavenly Father, and began granting rewards and honors to his followers with careless abandon, creating so many new kings—more than a hundred of them—that his son the Young Monarch couldn’t even keep all of their names straight. The bickering of the officials in the capital was increasing and becoming more bitter, just at the time when it shouldn’t.


Meanwhile, the famine in the countryside deepened. Despite the relief stations Zeng Guofan had set up in southern Anhui, conditions in that mountainous part of the province had deteriorated far beyond even the horror that had existed when he first took control of Anqing. “Everywhere in southern Anhui they are eating people,” he wrote in his diary on June 8, 1863, a remark whose very banality signified the degree to which the unthinkable had become commonplace. It was one of several notations on cannibalism in his diary, though in this instance the concern that drove him to mention it wasn’t so much that human meat was being consumed per se—for that was old news—but that it was becoming so expensive: the price per ounce had risen fourfold since the previous year, meaning that even this most dismal of sustenances was becoming unaffordable. There was cannibalism in Jiangsu province as well, he noted, east and south of Nanjing, though the price of human flesh there was reported to be lower. Charles Gordon saw its gruesome footprint for himself while on campaign, though he didn’t think his brethren back in Shanghai could possibly understand the true horror of it. “[T]o read that there are human beings eating human flesh,” he wrote to his mother, “produces less effect than if they saw the corpses from which that flesh is cut.”

Northern Anhui was a wasteland. Bao Chao tried to scout out a supply line through the province to support an army on the northern bank of the Yangtze across from Nanjing, but he gave up hope. In normal times, the flat midsection of Anhui was an unbroken plane of jade in the spring, with rice shoots glowing in the open sun that dazzled in reflection off the threadlike irrigation canals. But Bao Chao reported that in a journey of more than a hundred miles through the region in the spring of 1863, he hadn’t seen so much as a blade of grass. There was no wood to be burned for cooking fires. There was nothing to support human life at all. Similar dark reports came from Jiangsu, where the fighting had all but emptied the countryside for a hundred miles around Shanghai. Wild pigs scavenged in abandoned villages, feeding on the dried corpses of the dead. As governor-general, this was the region of Zeng Guofan’s jurisdiction and lofty authority. “To hold such great responsibility in such terrible times,” he brooded in his diary, “surely this is the most accursed existence of all.”

Yet the desolation had its silver lining. Whether or not Zeng Guofan actively supported a scorched-earth policy, he clearly saw in the devastation of the landscape the same benefits for counterinsurgent warfare that others, at other times in the world’s history, would find as well. In a memorial to the throne on April 14, 1863, he described the ruin of southern Anhui. “Everything is yellow straw and white bones,” he wrote. “You can travel an entire day without meeting a single other person.” The most worrisome aspect of this desolation, as he saw it, was that the rebels, denied any access to food, might try to break out and head southwest into Jiangxi province.

At the same time, he explained, there was much to find pleasing in the situation. The rebels depended on the support and acceptance of the peasants among whom they lived, and the famine conditions would create conflict. People would leave the regions surrounding the Taiping’s area of control and “disappear like smoke,” leaving them without supporters. If the farmers had no seeds, they would have to abandon their fields, leaving the rebels with nothing to eat. “Campaigning in a region with no people, the rebels will be like fish out of water,” he wrote. “In a countryside devoid of cultivation, they will be like birds on a mountain with no trees.” The devastation, he expected, would eventually reach the point where the rebels could no longer survive.


Zeng Guoquan finally captured the stone fort on Yuhuatai on June 13, 1863, in a sudden nighttime attack following months of quiet preparation. He took the position with little loss of life, though Zeng Guofan (who sought to gain as much credit for his brother as possible) reported to Beijing that six thousand rebel defenders had been killed in the battle. With control of the hill, Zeng Guoquan now effectively shut down the south gate. From Zeng Guoquan’s new vantage point atop Yuhuatai, the rebel capital spread out below like a giant Chinese chessboard. The game of encirclement was begun for real now, and his elder brother, back in his chambers in Anqing, playing his obsessive rounds of Go, laid his pieces carefully, plotting out the pattern of moves that would surround the city, cut off all points of escape, and bring the contest to its conclusion.

The western and northernmost gates of Nanjing opened onto the Yangtze River, which ran past the city in a northeasterly direction. On the bank of the river opposite the city lay gigantic Taiping forts that protected the mile-wide Yangtze corridor as it skirted the capital. On June 30, the Hunan river forces launched a furious attack on these forts. Taking advantage of a strong crosswind, the Hunanese sent in wave after wave of sampans, which rode in close-hauled on the downstream current, tacking sharply against the headwind, then fired their guns and came about, sails spread wide, to run before the wind that pulled them back upstream out of range in a grand whirl of coordinated motion. The Taiping shore batteries blasted away at the circulating sampans, wounding and killing more than two thousand Hunanese sailors, but in the end the forts were taken and all of the defenders slaughtered. The Hunan Army took full control of the Yangtze River where it met the northwest corner of Nanjing, and the rebels could no longer make crossings to the north of the city. The western gates of the city were now useless to them.

The last Taiping general to cross the river before the forts were captured was Li Xiucheng, who returned on June 20 from an expedition to the north. He had left Nanjing with an army in February 1863, three months after he had failed to dislodge Zeng Guoquan from his camp at Yuhuatai, to try to break through the Hunan Army forces in northern Anhui and open a new supply line for the capital. His search through the wasteland of Anhui was as fruitless as Bao Chao’s, and his troops were ravaged horribly by starvation in the course of their journey. Reduced to eating grass, they still repeatedly found the cities they attacked occupied by well-provisioned Hunan Army garrisons that drove them off with heavy casualties. The news that Zeng Guoquan had captured the fort on Yuhuatai in his absence was the final straw, and Li Xiucheng returned straight to the capital when he heard. The army with which he returned to Nanjing on June 20, crossing the river in stages ten days before the forts on the north bank fell, was by his own estimate smaller by a hundred thousand men than the one with which he had left in February. But no sooner did he return to the side of his besieged sovereign than he had to leave again, because his help was needed in Suzhou, which was threatened by Li Hongzhang, and Hangzhou, under attack by Zuo Zongtang’s army. There were too many fronts, too few commanders, too few resources.

Control of the river gave the Hunan forces dominance over the western gates of the city, and with the southernmost gate shut down by his brother’s position on Yuhuatai, Zeng Guofan turned his attention to the northern and eastern faces of the city. Immediately after the river forts were captured, he sent Bao Chao to cross over to the city and lay siege to the Shence Gate, the primary inland gate on the city’s north side. In that alone he was unsuccessful; disease broke out in Bao Chao’s camp, and a call for help came from southern Anhui and Jiangxi, where the Hunan Army garrisons were contending with the flight of Taiping armies headed westward from Zhejiang. So Zeng Guofan had to remove Bao Chao from Nanjing and send him back to Anhui, leaving that gate open.

Through the summer and autumn of 1863, Zeng Guoquan’s forces continued to spread out, conquering a succession of ten heavily defended bridges and mountain passes that gave them mastery of the roads southeast of the city. In November, he sent a detachment northeast to the site of the Ming imperial tombs in the hills just east of the city, where he had his men build a three-mile wall linking to his southeastern positions, thereby blocking off the eastern approach almost completely. On the eastern side of Nanjing, the only gate that still remained open was the Taiping Gate, which opened outward a couple of miles to the west of the Hunan Army’s blockade at the Ming tombs. Two powerful rebel forts watched over it from the side of a precipitous mountain that edged up against the city outside the wall at that point. The city-facing slope of the mountain was known as the Dragon’s Shoulder, and the castle at its top was the Fortress of Heaven, while the one at its bottom was the Fortress of Earth. By December 1863, the Taiping Gate, with its two guardian fortresses, along with the Shence Gate on the north side of the city that Bao Chao had abandoned, were the only points of rebel control left on the city’s entire twenty-three-mile circumference.

Quiet terror reigned inside Nanjing. With only the two gates still open and therefore only two roads leading away from the city, food supplies were limited and there was almost no traffic in or out. There were about thirty thousand people inside the walls, a third of them soldiers. After Suzhou fell to Li Hongzhang in December, Li Xiucheng returned again to Nanjing and pleaded with the Heavenly King that they had to leave; they had to abandon the capital and lead an exodus down into Jiangxi province. But the Heavenly King refused, angrily accusing him of lacking faith. The sovereign’s intransigence was maddening, but Li Xiucheng was unwilling to defy his orders to stay put, so he began preparing the population inside for a prolonged siege. There was one advantage, though, in there being so few people in such a vast city. Under his direction they began opening up land in the northern part of the city for cultivation. With hard work, they could grow enough food to sustain themselves for a long time—perhaps even forever, if the walls held. But the entrapped society was not at peace. Hong Xiuquan’s paranoia was mounting, and even his cousin couldn’t temper the excesses of his mad cruelty. The people lived in fear of his grotesque and capricious punishments. For the crime of communicating with anyone outside the walls, people were now being pounded to death between stones or flayed alive in public.

More might have fled the city and begged to be allowed to shave their heads and return to the side of the dynasty, except that they knew what had happened to the civilians in Anqing. By late December, they also knew what had happened to the kings who had surrendered at Suzhou. Their judgment was wise. Several groups of women were sent out from Nanjing over the following months, and though they were not killed outright, in a fate more uncertain they were “given” to the rural population as wives.18 But even that indulgence would end. In the late spring of 1864, Zeng Guofan would advise his brother not to let any more women or children escape the city. Forcing the rebels to support the whole population inside, he explained, would accelerate their starvation. And he didn’t want his brother to inadvertently let any of the rebels’ family members survive.

With the Brave King dead and the Loyal King torn between multiple fronts, Hong Rengan once again found himself thrust into military command. As the exits from the city were cut off one by one, his cousin told him to go out of the capital to rally troops from the nearby territories and bring them back to relieve Nanjing. But even the military novice Hong Rengan could sense that the tide had shifted. The death of the brilliant and charismatic Brave King had left a vacuum in Anhui to the north and west of Nanjing, and without him there it was now impossible to defend the capital from northern approaches, impossible to reopen the river crossing and the northern road through Pukou that had been their all-important outlet during the previous siege of Nanjing. (Li Xiucheng’s attack on Hangzhou, which had broken that earlier siege, had started on the very crossing they were now unable to control.) There was no commander who could replace the Brave King, and despite the great numbers of troops who had followed him gladly while he lived, now that he was dead, his armies had dissolved, returning to their homes, heading north to join the Nian, or surrendering to the imperial side. “With the fall of the Brave King, the prestige of the troops was gone,” wrote Hong Rengan in reflection, “and as a matter of course they dispersed.” To make matters worse, the news came that even Shi Dakai the Wing King had surrendered with his renegade army in Sichuan during the summer, and there was no longer any hope of his coming to the aid of Nanjing either.

Hong Rengan set out from the capital on the day after Christmas 1863, leaving his brother and his wives and children behind in Nanjing. He journeyed first to Danyang, fifty miles to the east, where the Green Standard generals had met their end in 1860. The uncle of the Brave King commanded the garrison there, but he said there were no soldiers to spare for Hong Rengan to take back to Nanjing. So he prepared to continue onward, toward Changzhou, thirty miles farther east along the Grand Canal. But then the news came that Changzhou had fallen to Li Hongzhang’s army, and he had to stay in Danyang through the winter. When spring broke, he traveled south into Zhejiang province, where the city of Huzhou, fifty miles north of the capital, Hangzhou, was still holding out.

When Hong Rengan had gone out to raise an army back in 1861, the process of recruitment had been almost effortless—simply a matter of planting his standard, writing his poems, and then waiting as the multitudes came to him to lead them into battle. But not anymore. In both Danyang and Huzhou he found only vulnerability, not strength. The commanders were worried about attacks from the imperial forces who had just conquered Suzhou and Changzhou. The soldiers were afraid of food shortages and refused to leave the relative safety of their garrisons to follow him back to the capital. In compromise, he made a home for the summer in Huzhou, promising the commanders that he would wait there with them until September, when the new harvest of grain in Nanjing would be ready to feed them all and they could march together back to the capital.

Meanwhile, new recruitment was swelling the Hunan Army to an unprecedented size. By January 1864, there were 50,000 Hunan soldiers at Nanjing. In total, Zeng Guofan commanded some 120,000 troops, about 100,000 of them on land and the rest in the river navy. Along with the 50,000 under his brother at Nanjing, there were 20,000 garrisoned in southern Anhui, 10,000 in northern Anhui, 13,000 roving with Bao Chao, and 10,000 stationed between Anhui and Suzhou. And that wasn’t even counting Li Hongzhang’s Anhui Army, which followed up its conquest of Suzhou with a march toward Nanjing from the east, smashing through the walled cities of Wuxi and Changzhou in rapid succession. Nor did it count the army under Zuo Zongtang in Zhejiang province, fighting its way toward Hangzhou in preparation to come at Nanjing from the south. All of the forces were converging.

As the armies expanded, the battles continued to go their way. In February 1864, Zeng Guoquan’s forces managed to capture the castle at the peak of the Dragon’s Shoulder, the Fortress of Heaven. The rebels still held the Fortress of Earth at its base, which guarded the point where the mountain ridge met the city wall. But with the control of the upper fort, the imperials dominated the field, and they were able to set up stockade camps at the Shence Gate and the Taiping Gate against little resistance. Once those final two gates were invested, the city was closed off completely. Soon afterward, on March 31, the Zhejiang capital, Hangzhou, fell to Zuo Zongtang with support from the French-Chinese force out of Ningbo. The defenders who escaped the fallen city fled to Huzhou, fifty miles to the north, where they found refuge with Hong Rengan through the summer. The other rebel armies that were scattered throughout Zhejiang began abandoning the province, moving in a disorganized retreat westward into Jiangxi. With the loss of both Hangzhou and Suzhou, the Taiping no longer held any of the major eastern cities. There were no more avenues of rescue for the capital. All there was left was the siege.

Fall of Nanjing II

Zeng Guoquan had a dream. He dreamed that he was climbing up a high mountain peak, all the way to the summit. When he got to the top, however, he couldn’t find any path to continue forward, so he turned around. But when he did, he saw that there was no longer any path behind him either. He told his secretary about this dream on a grim, rainy day at the end of March. “I fear it is not auspicious,” he said sadly. His army’s supplies were nearly exhausted—for, as it was turning out, the devastation of the countryside bode even worse for the Hunan Army siege forces than for their enemies. Even though their supply line along the Yangtze remained open and uncontested, by the spring of 1864 there was no longer much food that could come to them from it. The soldiers were surviving on rice gruel, nothing more. He worried that his battalion commanders, ashamed of being unable to provide better for their men, were no longer keeping discipline in the camps. “Our food is about to run out, and there’s nowhere around to gather more,” Zeng Guoquan confided to his secretary. “If we don’t break this city in a month, our whole army is going to crumble to pieces.”

Inside the city, it was a different world. By April, broad expanses of land at the northern end of Nanjing sprouted green as the seedlings of the garrison’s first crop of wheat broke through the surface of the newly cultivated soil. In contrast to the landscape for hundreds of miles all around them, theirs was an oasis of fertility and cultivation. The results of their labor were viewed with envy and bitterness by one of Zeng Guofan’s admirals peering through a glass from a distance. Even as the rebels inside the city looked forward to a bountiful harvest, his own men faced the prospect of starvation if they didn’t bring the siege to a conclusion soon.

Zeng Guoquan’s forces managed to hold on into the early summer, but pressure was beginning to mount from Beijing, where the government was running out of patience. It demanded that Nanjing be conquered without further delay. But Guoquan wanted full credit for recapturing the city, so he resisted suggestions that Li Hongzhang’s Anhui Army be brought up to Nanjing to supplement his Hunan forces. As commander in chief, Zeng Guofan was torn between the anticipation of victory, and concern that his brother’s army at Nanjing would collapse from lack of supplies while he continued to stubbornly refuse help. He berated his brother’s vanity. “Why must you have sole credit for conquering Nanjing?” he wrote to Guoquan on June 19. “Why should one person be the most famous under heaven?” Zeng Guofan knew Beijing court politics better than his younger brother, who had no such experience, so he finally invited Li Hongzhang to join in the assault on Nanjing—knowing that a failure to do so would invite charges that his family put their personal ambitions above the good of the empire. Li Hongzhang, out of respect for his teacher’s predicament, politely made an excuse not to come and allowed the Zeng family to continue as the sole force against Nanjing while blunting the criticisms from the court.

By this time, Zeng Guoquan’s siege works at Nanjing had expanded to a breadth of scale that was stunning by any standard. The Hunan Army had built a three-mile road for supplies through a bog, connecting the river to hard ground within two miles of Zeng Guoquan’s headquarters on Yuhuatai. Charles Gordon visited him there as a private citizen after the Ever-Victorious Army was disbanded, and from the lookout atop the hill, gazing over the silent rooftops of Nanjing, he could see that there would be little resistance if and when the wall was finally breached. “For miles the wall is deserted entirely,” he noted, “only here and there is a single man seen, miles from any support.” All was quiet, and “a deathlike stillness” hung over the vast city.

The lines of vallation encircled the rebel capital as far as the eye could see: mile after mile of continuous wooden breastworks punctuated by mud forts—more than a hundred of them—each with a few hundred men inside. In some places they ran dangerously close to the wall, just a hundred yards or so, but nobody was shooting at them from above. Indeed, a sense of quiet and repose (some would say boredom) permeated the muddy camps. Makeshift shops had sprung up, where enterprising locals sold goods to the soldiers. There were no visible sentinels. It wasn’t that the Hunan troops were lazy, just that there wasn’t anything they could do for the time being other than wait and pass the time. The real work was being done underground and out of sight.

In the absence of any guns that could penetrate the wall, the Hunan Army relied on a more ancient method of defeating a walled city: they dug under it. Zeng Guoquan’s miners sank a series of pits around the city wall. Where the moat was interrupted or ran widely enough from the wall that they could begin their digging inside its reach, they dug down fifteen feet or so before starting inward horizontally toward the city. But where the moat protected the wall, they had to angle downward as deep as ninety feet underground to skirt safely below it. To screen their efforts from the spotters who made occasional appearance on the wall, they threw up stockades in front of the digging—but as each tunnel lengthened, the rubble hauled out by the miners piled up higher and higher until it finally rose above its concealing stockade. There was also the problem that as the shallower mines lengthened, the grass on the surface above them turned brown, leaving a telltale path for which the spotters were specifically looking.

The tunnels were about four feet wide and seven high, propped up internally with frames of wood and tree branches. If there was no water above them, the miners punched vertical holes through the surface for ventilation—which prevented suffocation but again risked attracting the attention of the spotters. Meanwhile, from inside the city, the Taiping were slowly digging their own countermines outward, guided by those same spotters. And when they managed to puncture the wall of an incoming mine, they used bellows to blast it full of noxious smoke or flushed it with boiling water or sewage to drown the miners and render the tunnel useless. In the one instance where the Hunan Army’s mine did get close enough to the wall for them to detonate a charge, it didn’t generate enough explosive force and failed to make enough of a breach to allow the Hunan troops inside. In that case, the rebels simply built a new wall behind the existing one, to block off the point of damage.

By June, the Hunan Army had sunk mines at more than thirty sites around the city wall with nothing to show for their efforts except four thousand dead miners. But on July 3, they finally captured the Fortress of Earth at the base of the Dragon’s Shoulder on the eastern side of the city. Like the stone fort on Yuhuatai to the south, the Fortress of Earth looked right over into the city, but it did so from an even higher vantage point and from an even closer position that practically touched the side of the wall. With the fort in hand, Zeng Guoquan’s forces set up a battery of more than a hundred cannons on the slope of the Dragon’s Shoulder and began pounding a constant barrage over the wall, night and day, the guns bellowing over the ramparts and blasting the buildings and ground surface on the other side, sending the spotters and miners scurrying for safety. They began filling in the gap between the fort and the wall with rubble, earth, and bales of straw, hoping to level the surface to the point where they could simply walk over it into the city. And below the covering fire of their cannons, under the ground at the foot of the Dragon’s Shoulder, Zeng Guoquan’s most ambitious tunnel yet grew longer and longer.

The tunnel started about seventy yards out, its main artery carving straight for the wall, groping forward at a rate of fifteen feet a day through earth and stone. As it neared the base of the nearly fifty-foot-thick city wall, it divided into several branches, each worming its way separately underneath, sapping hollow chambers at intervals under the mammoth structure above. The defenders knew it was there, but the incessant ground-shaking cannon fire from the battery on the Dragon’s Shoulder made it impossible to counter-tunnel against it. On July 15, Li Xiucheng led a blistering midnight sortie out of the Taiping Gate with a few hundred cavalry, trying to storm the stockade at the tunnel’s opening, but the Hunan forces drove them back into the city. Three days later the tunnel was almost complete, and Zeng Guoquan gave the order to load the chambers under the wall with explosives. This time, desperate for a success after so many failures and fearing that the court had lost its patience, he erred on the side of abundance. His men packed six thousand cloth sacks under the wall, containing a total charge of twenty tons of gunpowder.

They sprang the mine at noon on July 19. A battalion of four hundred handpicked veterans crouched low to the ground just before the wall, swords tightly gripped, steeling themselves to launch through the breach into close-quarters combat. At a distance behind them on the slope of the Dragon’s Shoulder, a thousand more were ready to follow. The lit fuse simmered and worked its way slowly down into the pit, then disappeared into the dark mouth of the tunnel. As time stretched out anxiously above ground—first five minutes passed, then ten, then twenty, thirty—the fuse continued invisibly on its slow path below, sparking along the rough floor of the mine and finally splitting off like spider legs at the end to trace the last distance to its multiple targets. Then, with a terrific shuddering of the earth, the massive wall went up—and up—blasting outward and skyward in a thunderous convulsion of smoke and stone that first obliterated the sky and then rained back down with a hailstorm of granite rubble so deadly it crushed every man in the vanguard of four hundred who crouched below. But when the black smoke cleared over their mangled and broken bodies, it revealed a breach nearly two hundred feet wide, right through the wall.


As the rumbling of the explosion echoed off into the distance, the Hunan Army forces arrayed on the Dragon’s Shoulder gave up a shout and started running down the hill, storming the breach with swords aloft, clambering over the rubble and the bodies of their dead comrades to meet the Taiping defenders head-on. The first troops to force their way through the ranks of defenders made a beeline through the wide streets of the city, maps in hand, straight for the palace of the Heavenly King. But Li Xiucheng had beaten them there and spirited away Hong Xiucheng’s son the Young Monarch before they could catch him. When the first Hunan troops arrived at the palace, they found it eerily empty and quiet—for the Heavenly King was already dead. He had perished more than six weeks before they broke through the wall, most likely of disease, and was already securely buried in his robes of state when they got there (Zeng Guofan would later have his body exhumed to make sure it really was he). Confused, they reported to Zeng Guoquan that the Young Monarch had committed suicide. Other units raced around the inside shell of the wall to attack the gates from behind, driving out the rebel defenders and opening the massive doors or raising ladders as the other Hunan forces poured into the city from all directions.

In the chaos of occupation that evening, Li Xiucheng bid a tearful good-bye to his family and led the Young Monarch with a small party on horseback through the streets of Nanjing disguised as Hunan soldiers. With the luminous glow of a setting sun directly behind them, they charged the breach in the wall, broke through the line of surprised sentries, and vanished into the gloaming.

When the Hunan troops couldn’t find Li Xiucheng, Zeng Guoquan panicked. He wrongly believed that the Young Monarch was dead like his father, but if Li Xiucheng had gone free, he knew he could re-form his army elsewhere and continue his resistance. The long-fought conquest of Nanjing would be for naught. The war would never end. But in the end they did catch him. After charging the breach in the wall and evading the cavalry who chased them into the night, Li Xiucheng gave the Young Monarch his best horse to help him escape and was left with a broken nag that soon wore itself out and refused to run any farther. He sent the child king ahead with the others, keeping only a couple of horsemen in his own party, and took refuge in an abandoned temple on a hillside twelve miles to the south of Nanjing.

The small rebel band had no supplies and no plan. A group of local peasants eventually discovered them there, and when they realized who Li Xiucheng was, they wept and knelt on the ground before him. They begged him to shave his head so he wouldn’t be caught and tried to find a place to hide him. But there were others in their community who figured out who this strange visitor was and saw riches to be had for turning him in. Two of them (“scoundrels,” he called them) captured him and turned him over to Zeng Guoquan’s forces on July 22, just three days after his escape.

The whereabouts of the Young Monarch were unknown, but Zeng Guoquan finally had the Loyal King in hand. He was the most coveted prisoner of all, the last great military commander of the rebels. Without his leadership, bands of Taiping soldiers might continue to fight and survive and even carve out small kingdoms for themselves in remote corners of the empire, but they could never conjure the momentum they had enjoyed under his leadership. With his capture, the war was effectively finished.

The vaunted discipline of the Hunan Army broke down completely when Nanjing fell. The militia soldiers were unpaid and barely fed, and with this total victory in their final objective—after years of bitter campaign away from their families and their homes—they broke ranks and laid waste to the rebel capital in an orgy of uncontrolled looting. Zeng Guoquan issued proclamations forbidding his troops to murder civilians or kidnap women, but the commanders paid no attention (and in some cases even helped) as their soldiers ran amok. The rebels who stood against them were butchered in the streets, while younger women were dragged off and the remaining able-bodied men were forced into service as porters to carry away huge loads of loot from the city—gold, silver, silks, furs, jade. Even some of Zeng Guoquan’s own aides who entered the city to investigate the looting were robbed and beaten by roving gangs of Hunan soldiers. First the soldiers set fire to the palaces; then they burned the homes. And then it was as if the whole city had gone up in flames. A purplish red pall hung over the broken capital for days, until a heavy rainstorm came pouring down on the afternoon of July 25 and finally washed the city clean.

Zeng Guoquan’s secretary entered the city on July 26 and was overwhelmed by what he found inside. All of the rebel males who were still alive appeared to be carrying loads for the Hunan Army soldiers or helping them dig up stashes of buried treasure. It looked to him as though they were being set free afterward or at least escaping the city. But not the others. The elderly had been slaughtered with abandon. So had the sick and the infirm, who couldn’t serve as forced labor. Most of the dead bodies he saw lying along the streets were those of old people, but there were countless children as well. “Children and toddlers,” he wrote in his diary, “some not even two years old, had been hacked up or run through just for sport.” As far as he could tell, there wasn’t a single woman left in the city under forty years old. The living prostrated themselves on the ground. They showed signs of mutilation by soldiers who had tortured them to reveal the locations of hidden loot. “Sometimes they had ten or twelve cuts on them,” he wrote, “sometimes several times that. The sound of their weeping and moaning carried into the distance all around.”

There was no question in his mind that all of this was the work of his own army. He listed in his diary the names of several of Zeng Guoquan’s commanders he knew had taken part in the massacre and looting, writing in fury, “How can they face their general? How can they face the emperor? How can they face Heaven and Earth? How can they face themselves?” An unbreathable stench filled the air from the bodies that rotted in the streets, and Zeng Guoquan issued feeble orders that the battalions should at least drag corpses to the side of the road and cover them with rubble, so there would still be an open path for travel through the city.

Little is known of what happened to the thousands of young women who were taken from Nanjing, but one, at least, managed to leave a record of what happened to her after the city fell. Her name was Huang Shuhua, and she was sixteen years old. The soldiers came, she said, and “They killed my two older brothers in the courtyard, then they went searching through the rooms of the house. One of the strong ones captured me and carried me out. My little brother tugged on his clothing, my mother threw herself down before him, weeping. He shouted angrily, ‘All rebel followers will be killed, no pardons—those are the general’s orders!’ Then he murdered my mother and my little brother. My eldest brother’s wife came out, and he killed her too. Then he dragged me away, so I don’t know what became of my other elder brother’s wife. I was grief-stricken, sobbing and cursing at him, begging him to kill me quickly. But he only laughed at me. ‘You, I love,’ he said. ‘You, I will not kill.’ ”

The soldier tied her up and put her on a boat to take her back home with him to Hunan. He was from Zeng Guofan’s home county of Xiangxiang, the very place where Zeng’s army—indeed, his whole campaign to bring order back to the empire—had originated. And now, after all those years, the forces Zeng Guofan had conjured were finally coming home with their legacy. At the soldier’s village, the young woman would face the horror of spending the rest of her life as the wife of the man who had murdered her entire family. She wrote down her story on two slips of paper one evening while they were still traveling, as they stopped at an inn for the night. One slip of paper she hid on her body; the other she pasted to the wall of the inn. Then she somehow found the wherewithal to kill him, before she hanged herself.

Zeng Guofan finally took possession of Nanjing when he arrived from Anqing on July 28, nine days after his brother’s forces breached the wall. Despite the loss of control over their troops, for the upper echelons of his army it was still a time for celebrations and the savoring of victory. Officers under his brother took him around the perimeter of the wall in a sedan chair, telling him tales of battles fought and won and showing him scenes of destruction that still leached their smoldering vapors into the air. The evenings were reserved for poetry and plays, for wine and song, for the sublime intermarriage of remembrance and forgetting. Operas were performed before grand banquets of more than a hundred tables, crammed with officers, secretaries, and advisers. And soon the honors would pour forth from the dynastic government, once the news of Zeng Guofan’s victory reached them in Beijing, and the imperial capital went silent, and the empress dowager wept.

But the empress dowager was far away; within Nanjing, it was the end of his war, not the dynasty’s. Zeng Guofan seeded his reports on the fall of Nanjing with fabrications, claiming that a hundred thousand rebel soldiers had been killed in the fighting, inflating the glory of his family and his army, masking their looting and atrocities against civilians. He kept careful control over what the court would know. To that end, from the day he arrived in Nanjing he took over the interrogation of Li Xiucheng for himself. The Hunan Army commanders had already secured a long confession from Li Xiucheng in the week since he had been captured—pages upon pages detailing his origins and the history of the war and explaining the tactical decisions he had made, many of which they still did not understand. The honor of beginning the questioning had fallen to Guoquan, who had taken to the job with undisguised relish; his primary tools were an awl and a knife, and he managed to cut a piece out of Li Xiucheng’s arm before the others made him slow down.

When Zeng Guofan took over the interrogations on July 28, at last the two hoary, weather-beaten commanders in chief of the civil war faced each other in person for the first time: square-shouldered Zeng Guofan on the one side, the weary-eyed scholar, his long beard turning gray; wiry, bespectacled Li Xiucheng on the other, the charcoal maker who had risen to command the armies of a nation. It would be no Appomattox moment, however. There was no wistful air of regret and respect between equals. For the defeated, it was no prelude to reconciliation, to twilight years on a rolling plantation. This war ended not in surrender but in annihilation. Zeng Guofan would spend long hours of the following evenings editing his counterpart’s fifty-thousand-word confession, striking out passages that didn’t paint his own army in a good light and having it copied and bound with thread for submission to the imperial government, before casually ordering Li Xiucheng’s execution—in spite of orders he knew were coming from Beijing, that the rebel general be sent to the Qing capital alive.


The last any foreigner saw of Hong Rengan was in Huzhou just before the fall of Nanjing. A mercenary named Patrick Nellis was there, a crew member from Sherard Osborn’s fleet who had been crimped into the rebel service and was helping to defend the city. It was early in July, and the kingdom was collapsing all around, though the walls of Huzhou still held for the moment. Hong Rengan and another king spoke from a platform to an assembly in one of the courtyards. The lectures seemed to go on for hours. Nellis didn’t speak any Chinese, so he couldn’t understand much, just the names of a few places he recognized: Suzhou. Hangzhou. They were losing. Jiangxi. They were going to escape. After the speeches were over, Hong Rengan descended from the platform and came over to him.

He spoke to Nellis in English, but his diction was slow and halting from lack of use. The old fluency was gone. It had, after all, been a long time since any of the missionaries had come to visit him at his palace. And it had been a long time since he had entertained his foreign friends with dinners of steak and wine, serenading them with hymns sung in English. It had been a long time since he had reminisced with them about glad days past in the emerald beauty of Hong Kong, or enchanted them with his brilliant hopes for the future of the kingdom. That world was gone now. His hopes had all withered on the vine.

He asked Nellis what his nationality was.

“An Englishman,” Nellis replied.

“I have never met a good foreigner,” said Hong Rengan.

They finally caught up with him in early October. After Li Xiucheng’s capture in July, Hong Rengan left Huzhou to take over the protection of the Young Monarch. Along with a ragtag escort of soldiers and horsemen, they survived for nearly three months, making it all the way down to the southern part of Jiangxi province, more than four hundred miles southwest of Nanjing and only a hundred and fifty miles from the Meiling Pass, over which he had first come from the south. In their search for a place of safety they were, by the time the imperials scouted out their trail, closer to Canton and Hong Kong than to the fallen capital they had left behind. Their flight ended in a remote, mountainous country fifteen miles northeast of a town known as Stone Wall. Hong Rengan was bringing up the rear of the ragged procession. The horses and men were exhausted, so they stopped to make camp for the night. Instinct told him to continue on through the darkness along the narrow rural paths, but they had no local guide who could show them the way. The attack came near midnight, without warning. A sentry must have fallen asleep at his post. The imperial soldiers were upon them before they could put on their armor or mount up their horses. Hong Rengan fled on foot into the night, alone, wildly running through the trees and into the dark mountains. But he came in the end to a place where the hills pressed together from both sides, and there was no passage to go forward. There was no longer a path behind him either.

The End of the Taiping Rebellion

An 1884 painting of The Battle of Anqing (1861)

Detail from The Suppression of the Taiping Rebellion, ink on silk.

The extent of Taiping control in 1854 (in red)

When Zeng Guofan arrived to take control of Nanjing in July 1864, for the dynasty it was an occasion not just of triumph but of terror as well. For he was, at that moment, the most powerful man in all of China. The rebel capital was crushed. His army was transcendent. He exercised a de facto military dictatorship over eastern and central China. And he had never been fully under the dynasty’s control. Though his Hunan Army fought to uphold the rule of the Beijing government, his command fell largely outside of its direct influence, and even as the dynasty had relied almost entirely on him to prosecute its war against the rebels to its end, there wasn’t a moment when his actions weren’t watched from Beijing with a strong measure of dread. As it turned out, Frederick Bruce’s worry that Zeng Guofan would prove “a formidable competitor for power in the centre of China” grasped only a fragment of the real picture. For generations after the fall of the Taiping, the story would be told that several of Zeng Guofan’s top commanders—including his brother Zeng Guoquan—had counseled him that the time was nigh to abandon the faltering Qing dynasty to its fated end and take power in Nanjing for himself, as the new emperor of China.

But he did not do that. In truth, even as his campaign for Nanjing began to enter its final stages, he was already preparing to disband his personal army and relinquish his military power. He would hold on to his grand position as governor-general of Jiangxi, Jiangsu, and Anhui after the war, supervising the reconstruction of eastern China from his offices in Nanjing—a palatial complex of offices he ordered built right on top of the ruins of the Heavenly King’s own palace. But just at the point when watchers in China and abroad waited on tenterhooks to see whether the victorious general would now send his army northward to Beijing to overthrow the emperor of the Manchus and clean up the mess of the Qing Empire, he had already made up his mind to cede power, to send his soldiers home, and to live out the rest of his life as a mere civil official within the imperial bureaucracy—the most powerful of the civil officials, to be sure, but still just an official and still a loyal subject of the child emperor and his regent, the empress dowager.

Zeng Guofan’s seemingly paradoxical combination of power and submissiveness, which baffled those who knew him as a ruthless military leader, was a result of the sharp division of his inward and outward selves. The outward man was indeed a brilliant and merciless general, who, by the end of the war, was possessed of almost unlimited power. He wielded a battle-hardened army, the most fearsome in China, formed of soldiers from his own home province, loyal only to himself, who viewed him very much like a god. He accepted the death of multitudes with a calm equanimity (the same equanimity, to be sure, with which he had viewed the prospect of his own death in the war). This was the man Yung Wing had seen as “literally and practically the supreme power in China,” the man Frederick Bruce had worried would take over the central empire. This was the man the Qing government feared, because it could not control him and he followed their orders largely at his own pleasure.

But the inward Zeng Guofan, the man known only to his brothers, his sons, and a handful of close friends, was a man of deep reverence and quietude who was often wracked by uncertainty and depression. He was a general who had never asked to be one. He was never truly sure of his own command or certain of his power. He was a man who wanted most of all to go back to his books and lead a quiet life of moral scholarship. And for that man, a grasp for power at the end of the war was utterly unthinkable. Skeptical as he may have been of the corruption, greed, and incompetence of the government bureaucrats in Beijing, Zeng Guofan never questioned the legitimacy of the emperor himself. Zeng Guofan’s was, after its fashion, a religious kind of loyalty—a faith that Heaven had chosen the ruler of the empire, and whatever the court’s advisers and secretaries and counselors might say or do, Heaven’s choice must be followed.

Furthermore, those who later wondered why he didn’t take the throne for himself—and there would be many—assumed that the rulership of China was somehow a thing to be desired. But for Zeng Guofan, especially given the tumultuous era in which he lived, power was a fearful prospect. It conjured up the terror of failure, of falling short of the great responsibilities laid upon him—and, indeed, the nagging fear that as his power and influence grew beyond all precedent, it would bring down divine punishment to crush him for overstepping his bounds. He knew that a conscientious emperor lived his life in fear, with the full weight of the kingdom on his shoulders, and the keenly judgmental eye of Heaven fixed upon him for his entire existence from coronation until death. Zeng Guofan had gotten a taste of such responsibility on a smaller scale in Anhui during the final years of the war, and he had found it the most accursed existence he could imagine. The emperor of China was not a man to be envied; he was a man to be pitied.

The demobilization of Zeng Guofan’s army began in August 1864, less than a month after the fall of Nanjing, though his preparations were under way even before the city was taken. In May, he had put in for a sick leave—which, he explained to his brother Guoquan, was really just an excuse to go into hiding after the war ended, to escape critics who were growing suspicious of his power. He recommended that Guoquan do the same. “If by good fortune Nanjing should fall, we brothers will have to retire, and this can be our way to prepare,” he wrote. But Guoquan resented his elder brother’s advice, and Zeng Guofan sent him scathing letters, warning him to toe the line. He had already seen memorials from the Board of Revenue speculating that Guoquan was trying to expand his economic powers, and he admonished his younger brother not to invite the jealousies of others. “Military commanders who have usurped fiscal power have never brought anything but evil to the country and harm to their own families,” he wrote. “Even if you, my brother, are a complete idiot, surely you cannot be ignorant that you have to distance yourself from power to avoid being slandered.”

In spite of his efforts to recede from view, the attacks from the court would begin soon enough—first, charges of looting and mismanagement leveled at Zeng Guofan’s brother Guoquan and his subordinates, accusing them of corruption and usurpation, of failure to keep discipline among their troops. Then the critics in Beijing would turn on Zeng Guofan himself, accusing him of bringing misery to the people of eastern China in order to embezzle an enormous personal fortune, carping that he had gained his high offices not by talent but by mere luck. They would tear him down for his presumption and arrogance now that he had fulfilled his service and was no longer needed. For the scant eight years that remained of his life, they would give him no rest, would approve no retirement or pause in his duties, as his beard turned white and his eyesight dimmed into blindness. His diary in the years after the war was suffused with expressions of regret. His dream of returning to his scholarship, his home, his life of contemplation was deferred, and deferred again, until he found himself once again looking forward wistfully to the release that would come with death. “I would be happier there,” he wrote in a letter home in 1867, “than I am in this world.”


The most widely accepted estimates put the death toll of China’s nineteenth-century civil war at somewhere between twenty million and thirty million people. The figure is necessarily impressionistic, for there are no reliable censuses to compare from the time, so it is typically based on demographic projections of what the Chinese population should otherwise have been in later generations. According to one American study published in 1969, by as late as 1913, nearly fifty years after the fall of Nanjing, China’s population had yet to recover to its pre-1850 level. A more recent study by a team of scholars in China, published in 1999, estimated that the five hardest-hit provinces—Jiangxi, Hubei, Anhui, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu—together suffered a population loss of some eighty-seven million people between 1851 and 1864: fifty-seven million of them dead from the war, and the rest never born due to depressed birthrates. Their projection for the full scale of the war in all provinces was seventy million dead, with a total population loss of more than one hundred million. Those higher numbers have recently gained wider circulation, but they are controversial; critics argue that there is no way to know how many of the vanished people died—from the war, from disease, from starvation—and how many took up lives elsewhere. Nevertheless, even the most subjective anecdotal reports from travelers on the lower Yangtze testified to the deep scars on China’s cities and countryside, which were still far from being healed even decades after the Taiping war, and those figures begin to give a sense of the unprecedented scale of destruction and social dislocation that consumed China in what is believed to be the deadliest civil war in all of human history.

Given the shocking scale of the chaos and violence, perhaps the most amazing outcome of all is that the Qing dynasty managed to remain in power afterward—and not just for a few limping years beyond the end of the Taiping but for nearly five decades, into the twentieth century, until a Chinese nationalist revolution finally brought it down in 1911. It can hardly be said, however, that the Qing dynasty won the war against the Taiping. Rather, it was saved—by a combination of Zeng Guofan’s provincial military, on the one hand, and the haphazard foreign intervention of the British, on the other. Those two independent forces—one internal and one external—were both deeply suspicious of the other, though their separate campaigns against the rebels appear strangely, in historical hindsight, to have played out as if they were somehow coordinated. Both fought to salvage the reign of the Qing because they believed, for very different reasons, that its endurance would bring the better outcome for their own futures: Zeng Guofan, by preserving the system of honors, recognitions, morals, and scholarship that had rewarded him so well before the war; and the British, because some of them—influential enough in aggregate—believed that the preservation of the Qing dynasty against collapse and the prevention of a Taiping regime in China were the only way to ensure the continued growth of their own trade and thereby make up for their heavy losses elsewhere in the world, particularly in the United States.

If the aftermath of the war was a disappointment for Zeng Guofan, the eventual payoff for the British was even more questionable. The predicted boom in commerce that was supposed to follow the suppression of the rebellion never materialized. On the contrary, the end of the war proved disastrous for Shanghai. Lord Palmerston, it turned out, had been quite correct to link Britain’s rising profits in China to her intervention against the Taiping—but not for the reasons he thought. It wasn’t the bringing of peace that helped British trade, but the continuance of war. By preventing the Taiping from capturing Shanghai and by prolonging the violence in the province surrounding it, the British intervention created a set of conditions under which Chinese traders, wealth, and goods all poured into the safe zone of Shanghai to escape the chaos the British themselves were helping to perpetuate. The wealthy who fled to Shanghai drove up land prices and flooded the foreign traders in Shanghai with goods for resale. Moreover, as long as the war raged along the Yangtze River, Chinese traders were willing to pay high premiums for the security of shipping their goods in foreign bottoms, under flags that would not draw fire. But once the Taiping were suppressed, those advantages evaporated. Foreign shippers lost much of their edge when the Yangtze became safe again, and departing refugees left the Shanghai real estate market to collapse behind them. The boom of the war years gave way to an extended slump in which two of the largest British firms went bankrupt. Ironically, what nobody—least of all Palmerston—had realized was that restoring peace to China had never actually been in Britain’s interests.

There was little for the British to celebrate on the diplomatic side, either. The intervention did not buy them the goodwill or favor of the Manchu government they had expected, nor did it gain them any kind of renewed openness to foreign trade. Frederick Bruce would soon be derided for his “Mandarin-worshipping policy,” which had turned the British government, as many saw it, into the lapdog of the Qing rulers. But in coming to terms with its role in the Chinese war, England’s pride depended on the constant repetition of Bruce’s version of events—to the point of nearly unanimous agreement—that it was the Taiping who had caused all the destruction in the war, that they were nothing more than a force of anarchy, that they were the enemy of all that was civilized or well governed. In that light, there was no question that Britain’s intervention in the war was humanitarian. Thanks to the canonization of this version of events, Charles Gordon and Frederick Townsend Ward would go down in history as the great foreign heroes of the China war, who saved the Chinese from destruction. Against the shame of the Opium War and the destruction of the Summer Palace, Gordon and Ward stood as hopeful (and even benevolent) symbols of cooperation between Chinese and foreigners. By the same logic, the war itself would be forever labeled in English not as a civil war but as the Taiping Rebellion—a name that takes the side of the Qing dynasty and renders the Taiping mere rebels against the proper and legitimate government, outlaws and sowers of disorder who bore sole responsibility for the chaos of the time.

Voices of dissent were few, but some who had questioned the basis of their country’s intervention at the time still managed to voice their continued disapproval afterward, even as they knew that such dissent was no longer welcome. Robert Forrest, the British consul who had traveled overland through the Taiping territories and who had lived for several months on a boat outside Nanjing, put it most poignantly in an article he wrote for the Journal of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1867. In the article, Forrest disputed the conventional belief in Britain that the destruction of the Taiping had finally set the Chinese Empire right again but lamented that “facts, no matter how recorded, never overthrow prejudice,…and my experiences of Taiping rule, although the result of a long residence at the Capital, will never be favourably regarded, if in any way opposed to existing ideas.” Pointing to the slump in trade that had followed the suppression of the Taiping, he mused that for all of the hatred his people had shown to the rebels during the war, “if it went to the vote to-morrow how many foreigners would not wish them back again?”

Nevertheless, he knew that none of his countrymen wanted to hear the truth, as he had experienced it, which was that the Taiping had never really been the monsters or locusts they were made out to be. “But if I were to tell what order did really reign at Nanjing,” he wrote,

very much like the Warsaw article it is true, but still order—that there were some uncommonly clever generals among the Heavenly King’s officers … that in places not actually the seat of war the ground was well cultivated—that the conduct of the Taiping troops was not one bit worse than that of the Imperialists—and that the inhabitants of such towns as Shaoxing and Hangzhou have asserted that their lot under Taiping rule was infinitely better than their unhappy fate when those cities were recovered and fell for a time into the hands of barbarian officers;—if I stated these things, with every proof, I should be reviled as a rebel and a speaker of blasphemy against the brilliant political dawn now spreading over the empire.

When the end finally came for the Qing dynasty in 1911, it would come at the hands of a new generation of anti-Manchu revolutionaries who were well aware of their predecessors. Some cut their queues and wore their hair long to look like stylized Taiping rebels. Others wrote propaganda tracts condemning Zeng Guofan as the greatest traitor to his race who had ever lived, who butchered untold numbers of his fellow Chinese in order to uphold the racially alien dynasty of the Manchus. The most prominent leader of this new generation was a Cantonese named Sun Yatsen, who had grown up hearing stories of Taiping heroes and whose friends nicknamed him Hong Xiuquan.

China had continued to weaken in the decades following the fall of Nanjing, in spite of valiant efforts by Li Hongzhang, Zuo Zongtang, and other former generals and Chinese officials to introduce reforms that would revive the country. They achieved remarkable success internally, suppressing the Nian and Muslim rebellions after the Taiping were vanquished, and restoring domestic order to the once broken empire. But crushing indemnities from foreign wars bankrupted the treasury, and the ongoing corruption and conservatism of the Manchu court hampered their attempts to introduce broad-based reforms. And while there may have been peace within the country, externally China was simply left behind by the breathtaking rise of its smaller neighbor Japan. For once again the Japanese benefited from the negative example of China. As the Japanese government in the 1850s had avoided its own Opium War by signing foreign treaties without overt hostility, so did influential young samurai in the 1860s look to China at the end of its civil war as a warning of what their country might become without dramatic change. A revolution later that decade gave way to a rapid program of industrialization and social transformation that bore a remarkable similarity in spirit—if not in religion—to what Hong Rengan had envisioned for his own thwarted state. By the 1890s, Japan’s modernized navy would decisively overpower the Qing fleet, and Japan would take the island of Taiwan from China as its first major colony. By the early twentieth century, Chinese reformers would be looking to Japan as the model of what their own country must become if it were to have any chance of surviving into the future.

But perhaps it didn’t have to turn out that way. In an interview with a British reporter in 1909, Japan’s elder statesman Ito Hirobumi—four-time prime minister and chief architect of the nineteenth-century reform movement—looked to the violence just beginning to unfold in China in the run-up to the 1911 Revolution and declared it long overdue. In his opinion, the new Chinese revolutionaries were merely finishing the work that the Taiping had started fifty years earlier, and in which he firmly believed they would have been successful if left to their own devices. “The greatest mistake which you Western people, and more especially you English people, made in all your dealings with China,” he told the reporter, “was to help the Manchus in putting down the Taiping Rebellion.”

Ito echoed the many observers from the time of the war who had argued on behalf of neutrality, who had maintained—ultimately in vain—that Britain must stay out because the warfare in China was part of a natural process of dynastic change that had to follow through to its end. “There can be very little doubt that the Manchu Dynasty had reached the end of its proper tether when the Taiping Rebellion occurred,” he insisted, “and, by preventing its overthrow, Gordon and his ‘Ever-Victorious Army’ arrested a normal and healthy process of nature. Nothing that the Manchus have done since then affords the slightest evidence that they deserved to be saved. Rather the contrary. And when they fall, as fall they must and will before very long, the upheaval will be all the more violent and all the more protracted for having been so long and unduly postponed.”

Speaking with the benefit of hindsight more than forty years after the fall of Nanjing, Ito helped to vindicate the opinions of those British at the time—in Shanghai, in Parliament, in the papers—who had argued so strenuously that a foreign military intervention in the Chinese civil war to bring order back to the country would not, in the long run, be a boon for China but instead consign the Chinese to continued oppression by a corrupt power whose era of greatness and fair rule was long past. And his observation, looking back on the dynasty’s continued reign after the war, that “Nothing that the Manchus have done since then affords the slightest evidence that they deserved to be saved” was a statement with which a very large number of Chinese in his own time would have readily agreed.

From the standpoint of our own time, a hundred years later still, Ito Hirobumi’s prediction that when the Manchus were finally overthrown, “the upheaval [would] be all the more violent and all the more protracted for having been so long and unduly postponed” was unfortunately borne out as well. The Manchus fell two years after the interview, to be replaced by a republic that broke down almost immediately into civil war. Wracked by decades of internal violence, weakened and nearly helpless in the face of continued foreign encroachments, China would spend the following century trying to claw its way back to the position of power and prominence in the world it had held for so much of its earlier history. But by 1912, when the delayed process of reinvention finally began in earnest, the country was already so far behind its competitors that the thought of catching up seemed—until recently—to be all but impossible.

If there is any moral at all to be gleaned from the outcome of this war, which brought so little of lasting benefit to either its victors or the country in which it was waged, it is not likely to be of the encouraging sort. For in a certain sense, the blame for the war’s outcome might be laid at the feet of our intrepid preacher’s assistant, Hong Rengan. After a few years among the missionaries in Hong Kong, he believed that he knew the hearts of the British and could therefore be the one to build a bridge between his own country and theirs. This belief led him to advocate a policy of appeasement and openness toward foreigners that ultimately proved the ruin of his own people. By the same token, blame could also be laid with the shy British ambassador Frederick Bruce for imagining, after a short residence in Shanghai and Beijing, that the Qing dynasts were a force of civilized monarchy standing against a chaotic horde of rebels who had no king or governing vision—and, on that basis, persuading his home government that it was necessary to intervene on behalf of what he thought was the only viable power in China.

Hong Rengan and Frederick Bruce had in common that each thought himself uniquely blessed with insight into what was good and knowable in the other’s civilization, and they also had in common that they were both grievously wrong. So in the end, perhaps the tale of the foreign intervention and the fall of the Taiping is a tale of trust misplaced. It is a tale of how sometimes the connections we perceive across cultures and distances—our hopes for an underlying unity of human virtue, our belief that underneath it all we are somehow the same—can turn out to be nothing more than the fictions of our own imagination. And when we congratulate ourselves on seeing through the darkened window that separates us from another civilization, heartened to discover the familiar forms that lie hidden among the shadows on the other side, sometimes we do so without ever realizing that we are only gazing at our own reflection.

Shenzhen (DDG-167) Type 051B destroyer

Santa Rita, Guam (Oct. 22, 2003) — The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) guided missile destroyer Shenzhen (DDG-167) enters Apra Harbor, Guam. The Shenzhen and the oiler Quinghai Hu (AO-885) are making the People’s Republic of China’s first ever port call to Guam.

TYPE 051B LUHAI-CLASS: Consists of only one ship, No.167 Shenzhen

Shenzhen was laid down by Dalian Shipyard in Northeastern China in May 1996. The Shenzhen made the switch from the Luhu-Class’ Diesel-Gas-Turbines to Gas Turbine engines. The Luhai-Class is 2,000 tons larger than the Type 052 destroyer, Luhu-Class.

The Type 051B programme caught great attention at the time as it was then the largest surface combatant ever built by China. It was also the first Chinese warship to have adopted the sloped-side hull to reduce the ship’s radar cross-section profile. However, when the ship was finally commissioned in late 1998, it became clear that the ship only had very limited improvement in its weapon systems over the previous Chinese indigenous destroyers. For example, despite the earlier speculation that the ship would be equipped with a vertical launch system (VLS) for air defence missile, it turned out to be only equipped with an eight-cell HQ-7 short-range SAM.

Shenzhen completed its sea trial in late 1998 and joined service with the PLA Navy South Sea Fleet shortly after. No subsequent ship was commissioned, though unconfirmed report suggested that a second hull was almost completed before the construction programme was stopped. The unfinished second hull was stationed in Dalian Shipyard for several years before it was finally launched in 2004 to be built as Type 051C (Luzhou class) air defence missile destroyer 115 Shenyang.

Type 051B was the first Chinese indigenous warship to have been incorporated with radar cross-section reduction features, including a streamlined hull with slightly sloped sides and superstructure, two solid masts with fewer protruding electronic sensor arrays, ‘cleaner’ deck with less weapon systems piled together, and two funnels with infrared signatures reduction devices. These features are inherited by the following-on indigenous destroyers in the PLA Navy.

The ZBJ-1 is the PLAN’s fleet command system. It is installed aboard major combatants so they can act as command ships. The first class to receive ZBJ-1 was the Type 051B destroyer but the system proved unwieldy and was dropped until an improved version was fitted aboard Type 052C destroyers and the current Type 052D. The ZBJ-1A supports amphibious task forces and is reputedly installed aboard Type 071 landing platform docks, while the ZBJ-2 is supposed to be used on the aircraft carrier Liaoning.

The sole Type 051B destroyer 167 Shenzhen participated in the PLA Navy’s first goodwill visit to Africa in 2000, the first visit to Europe in 2001 and the first visit to Japan in 2007. In 2004, the ship received its mid-life modernization refit in 2004, with its original 100mm main gun and the HQ-7 air defense missile system being replaced by improved models.

In early 2015, the sole Type 051B destroyer was spotted at the Zhanjiang naval base undergoing work. Initially it was unclear whether this was due to a midlife refit program or decommissioning, but pictures revealed in January 2016 that the ship was being refitted with new systems. For self-defense, the four old Type 76A 37 mm AA guns were replaced with two H/PJ-11 eleven-barreled 30 mm CIWS (export designation Type 1130) that can shoot 10,000 rpm, one covering each side. Anti-aircraft defense is upgraded from the 8-unit HQ-7 with a 10–15 km (6.2–9.3 mi) range to a 32-cell vertical launch system (VLS) in front of the superstructure for 50–60 km (31–37 mi)-ranged HQ-16s, directed by four Type 345 (Front-Dome type) illuminators, increasing SAM coverage by 16 times. The helicopter hangar was modified to carry a single Ka-28 ASW helicopter in place of the original dual Z-9 hanger, and two new mast structures were fitted; a Type 382 Radar on the forward mast and a Type 364 targeting radar (under dome) on the aft mast. The upgrades give the Type 051B weapon and sensor capabilities similar to the Type 054A frigate. The Type 382 replaced the Type 381 singe-faced phased-array radar, and moved from the aft to the forward mast to remove the blind arc it previously exhibited, the quarterdeck was fully enclosed, and new apertures were added in the transom indicating that torpedo decoy and towed array sonar systems have been added; a variable depth sonar has not been installed. The ship completed the weapon systems upgrade in August 2016.

Type 051B (Luhai Class) Missile Destroyer

General characteristics

Displacement: 6,100 tons

Length:  153 m

Beam:    16.5 m

Draught: 6 m


    2 Steam turbines

    94,000 shp (70,100 kW)

Speed:   31 knots (57 km/h; 36 mph)

Range:   14,000 miles

Complement:     250 (40 officers)

Sensors and processing systems:

    Combat data system – ZKJ-6 Information processing system designed by the 709th Institute (Reported speed: 10 Mbit/s)

    Data link: HN-900 (Chinese equivalent of Link 11 A/B, to be upgraded)

    Communication: SNTI-240 SATCOM

    Sea Eagle 3-D air search radar

    Type 360S air/surface search radar

    Type 344 fire-control radar (for 100 mm gun & SSMs)

    Hull mounted sonar

    Towed array sonar


    16 YJ-83 anti-ship missiles

    32 HQ-16 VLS

    1 dual Type 79A 100mm naval gun

    2 Type 1130 CIWS

    6 torpedo tubes

    2 anti-submarine rocket systems

    Before 2015-16 refit:

    16 HQ-7 surface-to-air missiles (replaced by 32 VLS HQ-16)

    4 x 37mm AA guns (replaced by 2 x Type 1130 CIWS)

Aircraft carried:  2 helicopters: (Kamov Ka-28 or Harbin Z-9C)

Aviation facilities:            

    Hangar accommodating 2 helicopters

    Landing platform for one helicopter

    Helicopter landing system

Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China (Chinese: Wanli Changcheng; “10,000-Li Long Wall”) consists of a series of defensive structures built across northern China. One of the largest building-construction projects ever carried out, it runs (with all its branches) about 4,500 miles (7,300 km) east to west. Large parts of the fortifi cation date from the 7th to the 4th century B.C.E. In the 3rd century BC the emperor Shihuangdi connected existing defensive walls into a single system fortified by watchtowers. These served both to guard the rampart and to communicate with the capital, Xianyang (near modern Xi’an) by signal-smoke by day and fi re by night. Originally constructed partly of masonry and earth, it was faced with brick in its eastern portion. It was rebuilt in later times, especially in the 15th and 16th centuries. The basic wall is about 23 to 26 feet (7 to 8 metres) high; at intervals towers rise above it to varying heights.

The Qin dynasty (221-207 B.C.E.) was so influential that the name “China” is derived from Qin. Shihuangdi was its founder and most notable emperor. On the one hand, he was a cruel tyrant. On the other hand, changes he made during his reign helped to define China even today. The boundaries he set during his reign became the traditional territory of China. In later eras China sometimes held other territories, but the Qin boundaries were always considered to embrace the indivisible area of China proper. He developed networks of highways and unified a number of existing fortifications into the Great Wall of China. He established a basic administrative system that all succeeding dynasties followed for the next 2,000 years. His tomb near Xi’an contains one of China’s most famous treasures-6,000 life-sized terra-cotta statues of warriors

It was Chu that innovated advanced weapons such as crossbows and steel swords, and Han that was skilled at making a wide range of weapons, including crossbows, swords, and halberds. Crossbows first appeared in Chu in the early fifth century B.C.E.  and were in general use in the fourth century B.C.E. Their strength and effective killing range generally increased over the centuries as their mechanisms were perfected.

There is no doubt that innovations in heavy crossbows, linked crossbows, and siege weapons such as catapults, rolling towers, mobile shields, scaling ladders, and battering rams facilitated the offense in the Warring States period. However, in ancient China as elsewhere, “[t]echniques for assault and defense advanced simultaneously.” Whereas military classics advocate the offensive doctrine, the less well-known Mohist school emerged as “the defensive counterpart,” so that various texts together “document a mutual escalation in the art of offense and defense.” As offensive weapons and techniques developed, various states also “undertook the expanded defense of borders, constructing great walls, ramparts, forts, and guard towers throughout the countryside to defend the entire territory against incursion.” After unification, the defense walls built by Qi, Yan, Zhao, and Qin against Xiongnu were connected to form the Great Wall, while those built by various states against one another were demolished.

The prevalence of conquests discussed earlier should not be interpreted as evidence that conquest was easy in the ancient Chinese system. Most major cities had such strong fortifications that they could not be taken except with resort to stratagems or at high cost. For instance, Qin’s siege of Han’s Yiyang produced high casualties. Qin’s conquest of Ba and Shu, which were ringed by mountains, required most of a century. Similarly, Han’s conquest of Zheng involved multiple wars fought intermittently over the course of five decades from 423 to 375 B.C.E. , and Zhao’s conquest of Zhongshan lasted from 307 to 286 B.C.E. . At the same time, Qi failed to conquer Yan in 314 B.C.E. . Yan, in turn, was not able to take two well-fortified Qi cities, Ju and Jimo, after five years of siege.

Construction of defensive walls began during the reign of China’s ‘‘First Emperor,’’ Qin Shi Huang, in 221 B.C.E. These connected sections of preexisting border fortifications of Qin’s defeated and annexed enemies, dating to the Warring States period, from which the Qin empire had emerged as victor. The building technique of this remarkable structure was the ancient method of stamped earth that employed masses of slave laborers as well as military conscripts. Some parts of the wall stood for nearly two millennia and were incorporated into the modern ‘‘Great Wall’’ built by the Ming dynasty following the humiliation of defeat and capture of the Zhengtong Emperor at Tumu (1449). After he regained the throne in 1457, the Ming court decided on a purely defensive strategy and began building 700 miles of new defensive walls starting in 1474, fortifying the northern frontier against Mongol raiders. The Ming system involved hundreds of watchtowers, signal-beacon platforms, and self-sufficient garrisons organized as military colonies. Infantry were positioned along the wall to give warning. But the main idea was for cavalry to move quickly to any point of alarm and stop raiders from breaking through. In that, the Ming strategy emulated Mongol practices from the Yuan dynasty. It was also reminiscent, though not influenced by, the Roman defensive system of ‘‘limes’’ which in Germania alone were 500 kilometers long.

The Great Wall was meant to reduce costs to the Ming of garrisoning a thousand-mile frontier by channeling raiders and invaders into known invasion routes to predetermined choke points protected by cavalry armies. This strategy was mostly ineffective. The Great Wall was simply outflanked in 1550 by Mongol raiders who rode around it to the northeast to descend on Beijing and pillage its suburbs (they could not take the city because they had no siege engines or artillery). The wall was also breached by collaboration with the Mongols of Ming frontier military colonies, which over time became increasingly ‘‘barbarian’’ through trade, marriage, and daily contact with the wilder peoples on the other side. Some Han garrisons lived in so much fear of the Mongols they were militarily useless; others lost touch with the distant court and hardly maintained military preparations at all. Finally, the Great Wall could always be breached by treachery or foolhardy invitation. Either or both occurred when a Ming general allowed the Manchus to enter China via the Shanhaiguan Pass to aid in the last Ming civil war in 1644, which brought the Ming dynasty to an end and put the Qing in power.

China never built a defensive wall along its Pacific sea frontier, as it felt no threat from that quarter. And yet, the main threat to its long-term stability and independence came across the Pacific in the form of European navies and marines. As with the 20th century Maginot Line in France, building the Great Wall in some ways signaled Ming defeatism rather than advertised Ming strength. The overall historical meaning of the Great Wall is ambiguous. To some, it signifies the worst features of China’s exploitative past; to others, it celebrates the longevity of China’s advanced, classical civilization.

Suggested Reading: Sechin Jagshid and V. J. Symons, Peace, War, and Trade Along the Great Wall (1989); Arthur Waldron, The Great Wall of China (1990).

China’s Type 055 destroyer

The Nanchang at the 2019 review

They are Asia’s largest and most advanced destroyers, designed to guard China’s first home-grown aircraft carrier and meet the navy’s demand for modern warships.

Moving at top speed to build up a global blue-water navy to safeguard its maritime interests, China has launched four Type 055 guided-missile destroyers in the past 13 months — two simultaneously in July — and is building four more.

The home-built warships — which analysts have called the second most powerful globally — are to serve as the primary escorts for People’s Liberation Army aircraft carrier strike groups.

The Type 001A aircraft carrier would provide the primary offensive firepower for a battle unit concluded its maiden sea trials in May 2018.

Type 055 is well equipped to be the primary escort in China’s aircraft carrier strike groups.

At more than 180 metres long and 20 metres wide with a full displacement of more than 12,000 tonnes, it is a fearsome piece of marine and military engineering, equipped with air-defence, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons.

Despite being officially classified by the PLA navy as a “destroyer”, the vessel’s size and capabilities exceed the traditional standards for the type of small, fast warship that typically plays a defensive role against submarines and aircraft.

In fact, in the US defence department’s annual China military power report, Type 055 is called a “cruiser”, which, by the US definition, is the largest and most powerful surface combatant after an aircraft carrier.

The type 055 has a larger vertical missile-launching system than most of the world’s destroyers. Its Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells are also bigger than those found on US naval ships.

The warship has a 112-cell VLS to fire HHQ-9 surface-to-air missiles, YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missiles, CJ-10 land-attack cruise missiles and missile-launched anti-submarine torpedoes.

It also has a 130mm dual-purpose naval gun and close-in weapon system and carries two anti-submarine helicopters.

The destroyer’s features include advanced X band radar in four active electronically scanned arrays and an integrated electronic system similar to the Aegis combat system on US naval ships.

Given its size, Type 055 could also serve as a platform for developing next-generation weapons such as high-energy laser equipment or rail guns, according to military analysts.

In theory, Type 055 is the world’s second most powerful destroyer after the US Navy’s DDG-1000, or Zumwalt class, the analysts said.

While China’s Type 055 destroyer raises comparisons with the US Navy’s Zumwalt class destroyer, the Chinese vessel still lags its US counterpart in important ways.

The Zumwalt is the world’s most technologically advanced destroyer, with 15,000 dominant tonnes of displacement.

Possessing a unique tumblehome hull design — where the sides slope inward — and an angular shape, the Zumwalt has a reduced radar return that can make it as stealthy as a fishing boat and quieter than a small submarine.

The Zumwalt also is equipped with a next-generation electronic system.

Designed primarily as a land attack vessel, the Zumwalt is fitted with powerful naval guns that include a 155mm advanced gun system and an 80-cell VLS distributed peripherally around its outer shell.

By contrast, Type 055 is designed to focus on air defence and anti-submarine missions and thus has more missile cells and a longer range than the Zumwalt class.

Type 055 destroyers will probably play a role similar to that of US Ticonderoga class cruisers and Arleigh Burke class destroyers, even though the Chinese ship is larger than both of the US vessels, which have displacements of fewer than 10,000 tonnes.

Type 055’s radar, electronic and missile system also uses newer technology than the two US warships, which were developed in the 1980s and 1990s.

Type 055 also has been compared to other warships deployed in the region, notably South Korea’s Sejong the Great class (DDG-991) and Japan’s Atago class and its newly launched Maya subclass. Both the Sejong and Atago-class destroyers have full displacements of around 10,000 tonnes and Aegis combat systems, with the Sejong the Great class boasting a 128-cell VLS.

But analysts said they believe Type 055 surpasses the Korean and Japanese vessels in size, radar system performance, missile capacity and multifunctionality.