The Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864) is an event that has been lost in time and recently ignored except by the most passionate scholar of China. Even many who consider themselves students of modern China would not recognize the name Hong Xiuquan. Yet, this cataclysmic spectacle claimed more lives than any other world event excepting World War II. During this time of turmoil, over 20,000,000 Chinese died and the Qing Dynasty tottered on the brink of fall six decades before its eventual collapse. How was this failed member of the scholar gentry, who believed himself to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ and, thus, "God's Chinese Son" able to gather armies and challenge the Qing Mandate of Heaven? Previous Christian missions had been rewarded with little success. Yet, Hong's version of the gospel was indigenous and was introduced during a period of enormous population growth, goading poverty, and extreme economic dislocation. It was this combination of factors as much as his religious teachings that attracted the multitudes to the teachings of Hong Xiuquan. The eventual failure of the movement may be attributed to Hong's imperial and deistic pretensions, internal discord among the Taiping leadership, and foreign support for a dynasty that had recently yielded enormous concessions to European governments and traders. A student of this period may easily be bogged down in the theological tracts and imperial internecine warfare. For a true understanding of the movement and its leader, consult the works of Jonathon Spence* and approach your task using this quote from John Patrick Davies Jr. as a guide. ". . .Had it not been for the great groundswell of popular discontent, Hung (Hong) would not have gone beyond an obscure religious crackpot, unnoticed in history." *The most interesting work on the period is "God's Chinese Son." Two lectures, which Spence gave at Baylor University in 1996, are also informative. These lectures have been reprinted under the title, "The Taiping Version of a Christian China."
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