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Adsos Letter

(19,459 posts)
Thu Dec 29, 2011, 11:32 PM Dec 2011

"God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan" by Jonathan D. Spence.

DU'er ellisonz mentioned this work in an earlier post, and I'm about 3/4's the way through it. I know practically nothing of Chinese history so I'm not qualified to speak to Spence's scholarship; however, the voice he uses makes this narrative a pleasant break from what I'm used to from most historians.

An added plus is the unwillingness of the author to flood the reader with an overwhelming amount of detail, something I especially appreciate because it is my first reading on the subject. After I've finished I'll read The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: Rebellion and the Blasphemy of Empire by Thomas H. Reilly.

These Taipings might make an interesting subject for the R/T forum, if I can screw up the nerve to jump in there.

Anywayyyy...tip-o-the-hat to ellisonz for a great recommendation!

"God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan" by Jonathan D. Spence. (Original Post) Adsos Letter Dec 2011 OP
You're welcome. Hong Xiuquan was one crazy dude. A Chinese "John Brown" in a twisted way. ellisonz Dec 2011 #1
What a great post! Thanks for the bibliography and illustrations. Adsos Letter Dec 2011 #2
You're welcome ellisonz Dec 2011 #3


(27,607 posts)
1. You're welcome. Hong Xiuquan was one crazy dude. A Chinese "John Brown" in a twisted way.
Fri Dec 30, 2011, 05:33 AM
Dec 2011

Contemporary drawing of Hong Xiuquan, dating from around 1860

The following poem, titled Poem on Executing the Evil and Preserving the Righteous, written in 1837 by Hong, illustrates his religious thinking and goal that later led to the establishment of the "Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping". Note that in the seventh line, the name of the then yet-to-come kingdom is mentioned. This, and other poems of his, are considered by some scholars[who?] to be of low quality, because the lack of use of classical phrases:

Poem on Executing the Evil and Preserving the Righteous

In my hand I wield the Universe and the power to attack and kill,

I slay the evil, preserve the righteous, and relieve the people's suffering.

My eyes see through beyond the west, the north, the rivers, and the mountains,

My voice shakes the east, the south, the Sun, and the Moon.

The glorious sword of authority was given by the Lord,

Poems and books are evidences that praise Yahweh in front of Him.

Taiping [Perfect Peace] unifies the World of Light,

The domineering air will be joyous for myriads of thousand years.


The Communists under Mao Zedong generally admired Hong and his movement as a legitimate peasant uprising that anticipated their own.[9] Sun Yat-sen came from the same area as Hong and was said to have identified with Hong since his childhood days.[9]

In 1959 the People's Republic of China established a small museum, Hong Xiuquan's Former Residence Memorial Museum, in his birthplace, where there is a longan tree planted by him. The museum's plate is written by the famous literary figure Guo Moruo (1892–1978). The residence and Book Chamber Building were renovated in 1961.


Generally speaking the Taipings were the first mass outburst against what was considered foreign occupation by the Qing (Manchus), since the almost Mongol like invasion of the Manchus in the mid-17th century. Thus for about 200 years they were successfully able to co-opt China and run it effectively through the long-lived "imperial examination" system. Their adoption by the PRC as proto-Communists reflects the deep sense of Chinese nationalism that pervades the world-view of the PRC. The key motif is not so much that they replaced religion with a bastardization (:rofl of Christianity, but rather that they succeeded to an extent in replacing the past culture; otherwise, you would expect the PRC to reject the movement given its religious basis. They are ashamed that for so long Han China was effectively ran by outsiders. They do not acknowledge this "occupation" in the same breadth with which they denounce Western imperialism; it is a cause for loss of face. This vital feeling is what motivated Hong Xiuquan, to seek redemptive vengeance, and similarly Mao who while a part-time librarian at Peking University, read a defining text (Marx/Engels), was not able to secure a future, and in 1921 left and "became headmaster of a school and was involved in provincial cultural and educational agitation."

The Taiping rebellion was also contemporaneous with a weaker rebellion in the North and several Muslim ethnic wars against the Han Chinese. It also occurred during the Second Opium War in which the British and French sacked the Summer Palace in Beijing and forced the system of unequal treaties onto the Qing for good and forced opium as an item of trade onto the Chinese populace with no further opposition. After the Taipings were put down, there was no major unrest until the Boxer Rebellion. This period was the "romantic" period of European imperialism in China during which they were able to extract great wealth with little difficulty, which was no small feat considering China had 30 times the population of Great Britain, generally the ring-leader of European imperial diplomacy in China. Eventually, with the final collapse of the Qing Empire in 1911 China descended into more than 30 years of anarchy. Ultimately, the West was not successful in, and remains ineffective of bringing the behemoth of China into the international capitalist system in a meaningful way. We need to take a good hard look at our diplomatic approach to the Chinese people IMHO, but stopping our "special relationship" with China is not remotely within the realm of possibility. China is too big to ignore, we would do so at our own peril.


Mao in 1927

"French political cartoon from the late 1890s. A pie representing China is being divided between UK, Germany, Russia, France and Japan." - Notice the absence of the US.

Here are a couple additional works on 19th century China and how it came to be "brought into" the Western system for this brief period of relative harmony- roughly 1865-1898, how it played out in terms of the international order coming into the 20th century (my reading is more on the American end - I have an obsession with this topic for understandable reasons ):

English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China - James L. Hevia - Good history of the Opium Wars and especially the British approach.


Uncle Sam's War of 1898 and the Origins of Globalization - Thomas D. Schoonover - Most up-to-date "revisionist" history of the American role in the Grand Game.


China Market: America's Quest for Informal Empire, 1893-1901 - Thomas McCormick - Classic "Wisconsin School" study of Americans ambitions.


The Problem of Asia: Its Effect Upon International Policies - Alfred Thayer Mahan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Thayer_Mahan)


- You can find this on google books. It's an interesting work and is now being reprinted because it shows how one of the most influential advisers to American policy makers thought our role was in the grand game and at the same time assesses the problem with the European approach.

Also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_the_Person_Sitting_in_Darkness - by Mark Twain (1901) is an essential criticism of American imperial intention. You can download a pdf.

The various European histories are actually nowhere near as interesting as considering the American role, given that the British were generally the senior negotiating partner for the European interests and the Americans were generally the reluctant outlier scheming to overtake the game. I think the relevance of understanding this history in relation to the current predicaments of today cannot be understated. History certainly does not repeat, but slithers forward like a snake from its old skin. Buy used

I think people would have epileptic fits if you wrote a post about religion and the Taipings in R/T

Adsos Letter

(19,459 posts)
2. What a great post! Thanks for the bibliography and illustrations.
Fri Dec 30, 2011, 02:37 PM
Dec 2011
I think the relevance of understanding this history in relation to the current predicaments of today cannot be understated.

So true for so much of past/current predicaments, at home and abroad. One of my professors once pointed out that most Americans didn't understand that much of the Soviet distrust of the West was rooted in the allied intervention during the Russian civil war. I suspect many Americans don't understand the early relationship between the West and China; as you pointed out, the Opium Wars being a good example of that.

As if R/T didn't have enough Sturm und Drang! Epilepsy often seems to be the go to reaction over there.


(27,607 posts)
3. You're welcome
Fri Dec 30, 2011, 06:14 PM
Dec 2011

It'll be here too for a while in the history caves.

I think the dynamic of mistrust is even more powerful with our relationship with China than with the Soviet Union. It was much more long-running and in an ironic sort of twist I'm not sure that there isn't some association of the American intervention in defense of Nationalist China with Japanese invasion - we are both seen as "barbarians - very loosely)," unwelcome guests. Perhaps this is changing among the Chinese populace as we come into direct contact and knowledge of Western ideals such as freedom of religion and democracy clash with the traditional notions held close to vest by the PRC bureaucracy. However, I think we are still looking at an uphill struggle in much of China toward a popular movement in a pro-American direction. Admit it: for all the talk about how foreigners dislike Americans, we can be very lovable and the ideals of our revolution have swept the world in one form or another. The very idea of representative government without the pretense of rulers, and the concurrent debates over how we've put such ideals into effect, remains a very compelling symbolism for billions of people in the world.


This looks interesting: http://www.amazon.com/One-Billion-Customers-Lessons-Business/dp/074325841X/ref=sr_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325286555&sr=1-12

Now I just want to go spend a year teaching in China - although if I struggled mightily to learn French I don't think I'm going to learn Mandarin.

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