Chinese History (1996)

Jonathan Spence

God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan

Published: HarperCollins (Harper Collins)

Date: 1996

The Taiping rebellion in mid-nineteenth-century China was one of the strangest and most violent events in human history. It was led by Hong Xiuquan, a failed civil servant from a peasant family who was convinced by a dream that he was the son of the Christian God, entrusted with the divine task of saving the world. It cost at least twenty million lives, roughly the same number as died on the Russian Front in the Second World War. The basic outline of this bizarre rebellion is a matter of historical record: Hong's fiery preaching, which drew to him a fanatical army of followers in a region swarming with roving bandits and rootless people; the battles, massacres and sieges by which they established absolute power over a vast area of northern China; Hong's eleven-year rule over his 'Heavenly Kingdom' from his capital Nanjing, lolling on a golden sedan chair carried by concubines and playing his worshippers off against each other when they grew too powerful; the eventual demoralisation of his formerly invincible army, whose leaders by now included a motley collection of foreign mercenaries; a succession of defeats, the siege of Nanjing and the increasingly deluded and tyrannical Hong's death by poison. It is a titanic story. To this Jonathan Spence, writing in a form which recalls some of the historical epics of the nineteenth century, adds insight into the minds of the participants - Hong himself in particular - and an immediacy in the unfolding of the narrative which makes "God's Chinese Son" unlike any other history book of recent years. The book is a revelation both in its intimate details and its grand scale. It is a work of tremendous force, with all the passion, drama and intensity - and impact on the reader - of a great novel.

illustrated by b/w. drawings


Hardcover (Original Green Cloth)


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