From the China History Forum this question: Does anyone know of instances where a foreigner (westerner or an Asian not under imperial authority) was awarded or earned an official rank?
My reply: Frederick Townsend Ward of the Ever Victorious Army (1860-1864) was given a mandarin red button (2nd grade, or 1st grade; coral buttons) and the rank of Green Standard Colonel [Fu-chiang 副將] in the Qing army (Smith, Mandarins and Mercenaries, 1978).
Both Ward and Henry Burgevine of the Ever Victorious Army (1860-1864) received at the same time the button of the fourth class, and Ward a peacock’s feather. Only nine days later a further decree gave both the button of the third class (Morse, Intern’l Relations of the Chinese Empire, 1918).
Commander P. A. Nevue d’Aiguebelle of the [French] Ever Triumphant Army was conferred the brevet rank of titu 提督, “general,” and the distinction of the Yellow Jacket.(Morse, Intern’l Relations of the Chinese Empire, 1918).
Prosper Giquel, also of the Ever Triumphant Army, was given the rank of tsungping 總兵, “brigadier general.” (Morse, Intern’l Relations of the Chinese Empire, 1918)
Off the top of my head, I do not recall other Western officers fighting against the Taiping who received imperial rank, but there were other foreign contingents – The “Ever-” this and that – and it’s not unlikely they also received rank, as that was a common tactic of the mandarins to reward and control the unruly Westerners. The Taiping also gave out ranks, to people like Lindley, but there is little documentation that I have found that mentions such.