Hong Xiuquan (洪秀全) was the Chinese evangelical Christian leader of a 19th century cult, who parlayed his religious leadership into an armed rebellion against the reigning Qing dynasty and established the "Taiping Heavenly Kingdom" throughout much of southern China, ruling from Nanjing.
Ministry and rebellion
After his third failed civil service exam at the age of 23, Hong underwent a series of strange visions of a man with a golden beard. The strange man gave him a sword, and complained about the demons of the world. When Hong encountered a Christian pamphlet five years later, after a fourth failed exam, he decided that the visions were a sign from God that he was the third member of the Trinity (along with Yahweh and Jesus, giving the poor Holy Spirit the boot). Thereafter, he labelled himself brother of Jesus and launched a ministry preaching to the poor, focusing strongly on Old Testament ideals of asceticism and sacrifice.
The Qing dynasty, the powerful rulers of China, took notice of Hong's sect as the ranks of the "God Worshippers Society" (bai shangdi hui 拜上帝會) swelled to tens of thousands. The Qing began a series of brutal pogroms that were so grim that "suicide stations" were set up to cater to those God Worshippers that wished to give themselves a more merciful end. However, Hong and his sect were saved by the timely arrival of a fleet of British and French ships that were looking to extract concessions from the Qing dynasty during this period of unrest. A series of nasty conflicts between the Qing administration and the allied forces over the next few years destroyed the integrity of the Qing Emperor's rule, and permitted Hong to build his forces to nearly a million and capture most of the south in his "Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace" (Taiping Tianguo 太平天國).
Hong and the other leaders of the God Worshippers Society all maintained enormous harems of concubines, although their followers were required to remain celibate, and lived in luxury in their capital of Nanjing from 1853. Despite repeated sorties to the north, and even an attempt to capture the Chinese capital of Beijing, a renewed Qing army was able to steadily reconquer the territory of the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace. To make matters worse, severe infighting, including a coup attempt against Hong in 1856, further added to the human misery caused by the regime. In 1864, Hong committed suicide, and shortly thereafter the Qing reconquered Nanjing and slaughtered more than 100,000 of its rebellious residents.
- Spence, Jonathan D. 1997. God's Chinese Son. New York: Norton.
- "Peter Duffy Reviews Stephen R. Platt's 'Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom', The New Republic
- "Hong Xiuquan." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2012.