Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War

Stephen R. Platt. Knopf, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-0-307-27173-0
History’s bloodiest civil war ended in 1864—in China. The cataclysmic Taiping rebellion is given a splendid account by UMass-Amherst historian Platt (Provincial Patriots: The Hunanese and Modern China). In 1837 a peasant named Hong Xiuquan announced that he was Jesus’ younger brother, sent to rid China of “devils” including its weak, corrupt, ethnically foreign Manchu rulers. His charisma attracted a vast following that by the 1850s had conquered a large area, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, with a capital at Nanjing. Despite the oddball theology, many Christian missionaries from England and elsewhere enthusiastically supported the Taipings, but could not win over their governments, who were preoccupied with pugnacious efforts to extract trading concessions from the enfeebled central government. Crushed with immense bloodshed, the rebellion left the Manchu dynasty even weaker, although it limped on for 50 more years. An upheaval that led to the deaths of 20 million, dwarfing the simultaneously fought American Civil War, deserves to be better known, and Platt accomplishes this with a superb history of a 19th-century China faced with internal disorder and predatory Western intrusions. 16 pages of photos; 5 maps. Agent: Brettne Bloom. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/14/2011
Release date: 02/07/2012
Show other formats
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!