The Second Son of Heaven: A Novel of Nineteenth-Century China

C. Y. Lee, Author, Lisa Drew, Editor William Morrow & Company $19.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-688-05140-2
The fictional retelling of the rise and fall of Hung Shiu-ch'uan, who led the Taiping rebellion in 19th-century China and ruled briefly in Nanking as self-proclaimed emperor, is surprisingly dull. Because China's history is largely unfamiliar to Western readers, , it is incumbent on the author to provide the necessary background while creating viable characters. Unfortunately, Lee's ( Flower Drum Song ) hero is unappealing. Spoiled by his family from the moment of his birth during a comet's passing (an imperial omen), Hung is groomed to assume leadership. After he fails the public examination twice and learns that without a sufficient bribe he will never earn a certificate, he has a feverish ``vision'' that combines his attitudes toward the corrupted Manchu dynasty with the symbolism of the Christian faith he has recently adopted (in his own interpretation). Hung generates a following and initiates a successful rebellion. In quickly assuming the trappings of royalty, however, he falsifies the Christian message to suit his purposes and is easily drawn into the schemes of his subordinates, so that his defeat by British General Charles Gordon is almost a welcome return to a sorry status quo. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/05/1990
Release date: 06/01/1990
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