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

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

Jonathan D. Spence. W. W. Norton & Company, $27.5 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03844-6

This is the strange, compelling tale of the mid-19th century Taiping Rebellion, a political-religious upheaval led by a Chinese visionary who believed himself commissioned by Christ to wage war on the demons of the Manchu dynasty. Hong Xiuquan, a Cantonese schoolteacher driven mad by his failure to pass the civil-service exam, proclaimed himself Heavenly King, formed the God-worshipping Army (comprised of famine-stricken peasants) and in 1853 seized Nanking as his capital. Spence (The Search for Modern China) describes how Hong attempted to turn it into his own New Jerusalem, imposing a harsh legal code based on his tortuous interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. Finally defeated by a Manchu army and a force of volunteers under British Army officer Charles ``Chinese'' Gordon after 11 years of rebellion, Hong's movement left 20 million dead in its wake. Researched in newly uncovered texts in the British Library, Spence's masterful history shows how widespread unrest stirred by the Taiping Rebellion led to Sun Yat-sen's overthrow of the Manchus in 1911-1912. A first-rate storyteller, he recounts this extraordinary event with verve, offering sharp insights into the political dangers of religious fanaticism. Illustrated. BOMC, History Book Club, QPB and Newbridge Book Club selections. (Jan.)