China’s Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) was one of
the bloodiest conflicts in human history; somewhere
between twenty and forty million people lost their
lives, in battle, or to starvation and disease.
With the exception of World War II, more lives were
lost in this conflict than in any conflict in history.
The Taiping rebels fought to spread their own bizarre
form of evangelical Christianity throughout China, and
to overthrow the Manchus who in 1644 had defeated the
Chinese and established the Ch’ing Dynasty. The
Taipings were opposed not only by Ch’ing forces but
by various western adventurers and professional soldiers
who formed their own private armies: men such as
America’s Frederick Townsend Ward and England’s Charles
George “Chinese” Gordon.
Among the fiercest and most-feared soldiers of the
Taipings were the divisions of beautiful women warriors
dressed in gorgeous silks who often fought independently
from men. These were known as “the silken armies.”
On June 10, 1862, Thomas Rowley, 24 years old, serving
as a lieutenant to Ward, was separated from his men in
battle and captured by Taiping women warriors. This
is his story.