The Devil Soldier
October 10, 2012 12:22 AM   Subscribe

In 1859 an American named Frederick Townsend Ward arrived in Shanghai. A sailor, mercenary, smuggler and filibuster, he created a force of Europeans to protect the city from, and engage directly in, the Taiping Rebellion against the Qing Dynasty, to avoid the complications of Western powers getting directly involved. After a severe defeat at Sungkiang/Songjiang, he decided to recruit from the local Chinese population instead, arming and training them in the Western fashion. This force was dubbed the 'Ever-Victorious Army.'

Ward, due to some legal trouble with the authorities in Shanghai, ended up renouncing his American citizenship and became an Imperial subject. After a string of victories against the Taipings, he was made a 3rd-rank mandarin and awarded the rank of 'General.' He died of his wounds after the battle of Cixi in 1862, and was buried at Songjiang. After Ward's death, command of the Ever-Victorious Army eventually passed the Charles George 'Chinese' Gordon.

Ward was the subject of a book, The Devil Soldier, reviewed in the LA Times and Chicago Tribune
posted by the man of twists and turns (10 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
In China, he found the Taipings were using religion to mask their looting and rebellion against the Manchus. It was said of the Taipings, "Wherever they go, they plunder and destroy. Civilization and even animal life seem to disappear before them, and their march may be tracked by bodies of murdered peasants and the ruined habitations which they leave behind."

Using religion to mask their looting? Plundering and destroying? Who did those Taipings think they were? Europeans? Good thing, by jove, there was a white man on the scene to organize the ignorant peasants into an effective fighting force to defeat those people who did not know their place.
posted by three blind mice at 1:06 AM on October 10, 2012

Ever-Victorious Army

Ah, the secrets we lose to history. If only Romney could pick this as his slogan.

But, seriously, thanks for this.
posted by axiom at 1:15 AM on October 10, 2012

filibuster (n.)
1580s, flibutor "pirate," probably ultimately from Du. vrijbuiter "freebooter," used of pirates in the West Indies as Sp. filibustero and Fr. flibustier, either or both of which gave the word to Amer.Eng. (see freebooter). Used 1850s and '60s of lawless adventurers from the U.S. who tried to overthrow Central American countries. The legislative sense is first recorded c.1851, probably because obstructionist legislators "pirated" debate. Not technically restricted to U.S. Senate, but that's where the strategy works best. The verb is recorded by 1853 in both the freebooting and the legislative senses. Related: Filibustered; filibustering.
During the late 1840s and early 1850s Southern, pro-slave, pro-expantionist, launched guerrilla-like expeditions to Cuba, Baja California, Nicaragua,and other Central American nations in attempts to overthrow governments and claim the lands for the United States.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:34 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Using religion to mask their looting? Plundering and destroying? Who did those Taipings think they were?

A religious group led by a failed state examination candidate who had visions and believed he was the younger brother of Jesus? A religious group that was heavily rooted in the ethnic grievances of the Hakka, a large but marginalized group in Southwest China? A peasant rebellion, driven by desperation to revolt against the Qing Dynasty by one of the periodic agricultural crises brought on by China's historical inability to address the needs of its rural workers? It's a pretty fascinating group, and I get the feeling that, if it had been any one thing, it might have done better than being all three.

It was founded by Hong Xiuquan who apparently had a series of visions after an illness/breakdown sparked by repeated failures to pass the civil-service examinations. His followers, seeing as they opposed the central government and Confucianism, were subjected to repression, which led to militancy and, eventually, an estimated 30 million rebels seizing control of much of southern China under the increasingly erratic direction of its leadership.

Anyway, it's fascinating stuff, and the interactions between Westerners and the Taiping are pretty interesting. Europeans initially see them as a possible way to break the central government and replace it with a Christian-friendly regime, but they pretty quickly realize that a) the Taiping have no interest in being exploited, b) their Christianity is decidedly unusual and not particularly open to orthodox Western missionaries, and c) their social aspirations are not in line with Colonialism. I highly recommend a little study for anyone interested in mass social movements and/or millennial groups, since the Taiping don't get much press in the West.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:38 AM on October 10, 2012 [10 favorites]

The Taiping Rebellion is one more of those strangely timed civil war-like conflicts that all happened in a two decade period in the 19th Century, be it the American Civil War (1860s) to the Boshin War in Japan (1860s).

Had the Taiping Rebellion been successful, it would been interesting to see how geopolitics would have played out in the 20th Century. Would the resulting political structure cured/avoided the same economic/corruption issues which undermined the Qing Dynasty, and created a less fertile ground for the Chinese Communists or a stronger less corrupt/economically stronger ground for the Nationalists?

This is also a neat reflection of how fluid mercenary soldiers/sailors were in the 19th Century. There was an interesting flow of soldiers/sailors who went from the greater powers to serve with/for the lesser powers, be it Russia or Venezuela.

Anyone know if the Devil Soldier book's research stands up to 17 years of more recent study?
posted by Atreides at 7:38 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Great article, fascinating stuff. Also, the fact that there is a site dedicated to the history of mercenaries is as interesting a discovery as the article itself.
posted by Edgewise at 7:45 AM on October 10, 2012

I highly recommend a little study for anyone interested in mass social movements and/or millennial groups, since the Taiping don't get much press in the West.

You don't even need to study! Jonathan Spence (my favorite writer on China) has already done the studying, so you just have to read his book, God's Chinese Son:
The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan
posted by benito.strauss at 9:34 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

A sailor, mercenary, smuggler and filibuster

Sailor - check. Mercenary - check. Smuggler - check. Filibuster - ch.......hang on a sec.

Filibuster: the use of irregular or obstructive tactics by a member of a legislative assembly to prevent the adoption of a measure generally favored or to force a decision against the will of the majority.

How can anyone be described as a "filibuster" in terms of its being a sort of occupation? Did this guy deliberately attend parliamentary meetings in order to talk bollocks for hours? A rather thin living I should have thought. I might be being unreasonable, but this strikes me as utter bollocks....
posted by gallus at 10:30 AM on October 10, 2012

gallus: here. Ward was apparently a participant in William Walker's Nicaragua scheme.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:12 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

gallus, see twists and turns's comment, above. The term "filibuster" in legislative sense was derived from its use in a piracy sense, not the other way around. A very analogous transformation has resulted in the term "hijacking a conversation". See also media "piracy", by which we do not mean that by installing file-sharing software, someone is navigating the high seas and boarding a ship armed with matchlock pistoliers.

See the film Walker for a more visceral understanding.
posted by dhartung at 11:19 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

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