CHAPTER XVIII. TAOUKWANG AND HIS SUCCESSOR
It would be difficult to exaggerate the effect of this success on the spirits of the Taepings, who had been seriously discouraged before they achieved this gratifying result. The capture of these towns removed all their most serious causes of doubt, and enabled them to repay themselves for the losses and hardships they had undergone, while it also showed that the enterprise they had in hand was not likely to prove unprofitable. After one month's rest at Hankow, and having been joined by many thousands of new followers, the Taepings resolved to pursue their onward course. To tell the truth, they were still apprehensive of pursuit from Tseng Kwofan, who had been joined by the Triad loader, Chang Kwoliang; but there was no ground for the fear, as these officials considered themselves tied to their own province, and unfortunately the report of the success of the imperialists in Hoonan blinded people to the danger in the Yangtse Valley from the Taepings. The Taepings resumed active operations with the capture of Kiukiang and Ganking, and in March, 1853, they sat down before Nankin. The siege continued for a fortnight, but notwithstanding that there was a large Manchu force in the Tartar city, which might easily have been defended against an enemy without artillery, the resistance offered was singularly and unexpectedly faint-hearted. The Taepings succeeded in blowing in one of the gates, the townspeople fraternized with the assailants, and the very Manchus who had defied Sir Hugh Gough in 1842 surrendered their lives and their honor to a force which was nothing more than an armed rabble. The Tartar colony at Nankin, numbering 2,000 families, had evidently lost the courage and discipline which could alone enable them to maintain their position in China. Instead of dying at their posts they threw themselves on the mercy of the Taeping leader, imploring him for pity and for their lives when the gate was blown in by Tien Wang's soldiery. Their cowardice helped them not; of 20,000 Manchus not one hundred escaped. The tale rests on undoubted evidence. A Taeping who took part in the massacre said, "We killed them all, to the infant in arms; we left not a root to sprout from, and the bodies of the slain we cast into the Yangtse."
The acquisition of Nankin at once made the Taepings a formidable rival to the Manchus, and Tien Wang a contestant with Hienfung for imperial honors. The possession of the second city in the empire gave them the complete control of the navigation of the Yangtsekiang, and thus enabled them to cut off communications between the north and the south of China. To attain this object in a still more perfect manner they occupied Chinkiangfoo at the entrance to the Grand Canal. They also seized Yangchow on the northern bank of the river immediately opposite the place where Sir Hugh Gough had gained his decisive victory in 1842. Such was the terror of the Taepings that the imperial garrisons did not attempt the least resistance, and town after town was evacuated at their approach. Tien Wang, encouraged by his success, transferred his headquarters from Hankow to Nankin, and proclaimed the old Ming city his capital. By rapidity and an extraordinary combination of fortunate circumstances, the Taepings had advanced from the remote province of Kwangsi into the heart of the empire, but it was clear that unless they could follow up their success by some blow to the central government they would lose all they had gained as soon as the Manchus recovered their confidence. At a council of war at Nankin it was decided to send an army against Pekin as soon as Nankin had been placed in a proper state to undergo a protracted siege. Provisions were collected to stand a siege for six or seven years, the walls were repaired and fresh batteries erected. By the end of May, 1853, these preparations were completed, and as the Taeping army had then been raised to a total of 80,000 men, it was decided that a large part of it could be spared for operations north of the Yangtsekiang. That army was increased to a very large total by volunteers who thought an expedition to humble the Manchus at the capital promised much glory and spoil. The progress of this northern army very closely resembled that of the Taepings from Kwangsi to Nankin. They overran the open country, and none of the imperial troops ventured to oppose them, but when any Manchu officer showed valor in defending a walled city they were fain to admit their inadequate engineering skill and military capacity. They attacked Kaifong, the capital of Honan, but were repulsed, and pursuing their former tactics continued their march to Pekin. Having crossed the Hoangho they attacked Hwaiking, where, after being delayed two months, they met with as signal a repulse as at Kaifong. Notwithstanding this further reverse, the Taepings pressed on, and defeating a Manchu force in the Lin Limming Pass, they entered the metropolitan province of Pechihli in September, 1853. The object of their march was plain. Not only did they mystify the emperor's generals, but they passed through an untouched country where supplies were abundant, and they thus succeeded in coming within striking distance of Pekin in almost as fresh a state as when they left Nankin. Such was the effect produced by their capture of the Limming Pass that none of the towns in the southern part of the province attempted any resistance, and they reached Tsing, only twenty miles south of Tientsin, and less than a hundred from Pekin, before the end of October. This place marked the northern limit of Taeping progress, and a reflex wave of Manchu energy bore back the rebels to the Yangtse.