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

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  694 Ratings  ·  79 Reviews
Whether read for its powerful account of the largest uprising in human history, or for its foreshadowing of the terrible convulsions suffered by twentieth-century China, or for the narrative power of a great historian at his best, God's Chinese Son must be read. At the center of this history of China's Taiping rebellion (1845-64) stands Hong Xiuquan, a failed student of Co ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published December 17th 1996 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 1996)
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Mar 24, 2011 William1 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
1. The book is about the rise of one Hong Xiuquan in the mid-19th century China to become leader of the Christian millenarian sect that caused the Taiping Rebellion.

2. The book for me really begins with the excellent overview of the pantheistic religious traditions prevalent in Hong Xiuquan's home district of Hua, about forty miles north of Canton. This is no doubt the ignorance against which Hong will rant in furture chapters.

3. For some reason, perhaps because it's hardwired into me by ge
Aug 22, 2012 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-history
There are millions of goopy songs and movies about star-crossed lovers, but you hardly ever hear anything about star-crossed readers. I am a star-crossed reader.

I bought this book in the year 2000 and placed it lovingly in my crates of books to be shipped around the world to an extremely isolated location, where I planned to live for a few years. My vision: to sit out on the veranda on long tropical evenings, sipping cocktails and reading this particularly lunatic tale of historical mayhem and r
May 29, 2012 Graham rated it liked it
A thorough investigation of the Taiping Rebellion. As historical scholarship, it's exhaustive. As a casual read for somebody, like myself, without an extensive grounding in Chinese history, it can be exhausting. As far as the former, there's little better. As far as the latter, it's hard to recommend, except for those keenly interested in some of history's more obscure currents.

I will say that I would have liked to see more of the results of the aftermath of the Taipings. It doesn't examine the
Jul 31, 2012 Ashley rated it liked it
Talk about your crazy Christians!!! I finally finished God’s Chinese Son, and man. It was more challenging than I thought to set aside my preconceived notions of what is acceptable, or at the very least, understandable regarding religious doctrine. For those not in the know, this book by Jonathan Spence follows the rise and end of the Taiping in nineteenth century china. And for those really not in the know, the Taiping were some crazy Christians. Seriously. It movement originated with a guy who ...more
Oct 01, 2012 Gene rated it really liked it
I really did enjoy this book about the Taiping Rebellion in China. Having lived in the Orient for almost 25 years and also being a Christian missionary, I found it doubly interesting and instructive. Sometimes just a little Christianity can do more harm than good if the recipient is mentally unstable, and I think it is fair to judge Hong Xiuquan to have been in just that sort of condition, with a mixture of self-serving and corruption thrown in for good measure. I also saw glimpses of what would ...more
Jun 02, 2012 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, history
Highly successful as a work of narrative and psycho-history (yes, that is a real term). However, I was hoping for a more birds eye narrative that would explain the social, economic, political, and religious forces that affected (Hong) Xiuquan, his world and how these impetuses caused this young many to wreak so much havoc on the Middle Kingdom in the late-middle 19th century. Moreover, for what is probably one of the most bloody and destructive events in not just the 19th century but world histo ...more
Apr 29, 2013 Stephen rated it really liked it
Interesting read. Hong Xiuquan was a local school teacher who took (and failed) the Confucian licenate tests several times to try to rise in position in the governing Qing bureaucracy. After his fourth and final attempt, Hong had a fever induced vision while he was bed ridden for forty days with an illness. Hong had recently read and been influenced by some protestant religious tracts that were being distributed at the examination site. The vision he had had him ascending to heaven where he foug ...more
Nov 29, 2013 Jonathan rated it liked it
Hong Xiuquan failed the provincial tests on Confucian texts to get a job in the old Imperial Chinese bureaucracy four times. So, after a dream that he had ascended to heaven to meet his father God and his big brother Jesus, he set out on a new career as a messianic leader, "God's Chinese Son." Oh, and he also decided to revolt against the Quin Dynasty who ruled China back then. The result was the bloodiest event in history up until the Second World War: the Taiping Rebellion of 1845-64 in which ...more
Chris Brown
Apr 10, 2011 Chris Brown rated it it was amazing
Jonathan Spence is THE modern Chinese historian. No one else comes close. Here is covering one of the most interesting, bizarre uprisings in world history and the beginning of the end for the Qing Dynasty: The Taiping Rebellion. Anyone interested in history, religious leaders, China, or just excellent scholarship and writing needs to read this book.
Zeke Chase
Oct 21, 2012 Zeke Chase rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china
The Taiping Rebellion is considered history's deadliest uprising, a messianic Christian rebellion that left 20-30 million dead in just 14 years. Fought between 1850 and 1864 in southern China, it was led by Hong Xiuquan, a man proclaiming himself the younger brother of Jesus Christ, and became the most fundamentalist theocracy in human history. At it's peak, it involved everything totalitarian that “The Onion” could think of and more, including a capital ban on all sex – it was Rick Santorum's w ...more
Ginger Heskett
I registered a book at!
Derek Weese
Feb 10, 2012 Derek Weese rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a hard book to review as it covers a broad and complex story in a manner that I thought could have been done better and with far greater detail. The setting is China immediately following the Opium War with the British in the early 1840's (Qing Dynasty). The Chinese are, to say the least, down on their luck in this point in history. Western powers are slowly beginning to encroach upon Chinese territory and the Opium War has just proved that militarily China has about as much chance of wi ...more
Ian Muehlenhaus
Mar 08, 2017 Ian Muehlenhaus rated it it was amazing
This book was amazing.

The Christian God kills people everywhere, all the time. Even in nineteenth-century China. Wow!

Great historical review.
Dec 27, 2011 Dwain rated it liked it
This was an interesting book, and although it is not particularly long, getting through it was a slog. Jonathan Spence's writing style is dense and academic, which makes for slower reading, but the way he tells the story makes it harder to follow and stay engaged. Spence, who is a prominent China scholar, explains a situation or experience in great detail, then jumps several years and often to another set of people to describe the next event. This helps the reader to have a very good understandi ...more
Michael Nash
Jul 22, 2014 Michael Nash rated it it was amazing
I don't like to throw around the word "masterpiece" like it was nothing, but that was a word that I thought throughout this book. When writing general history like this there's always a trade off between providing the reader with accurate, nuanced historical information and providing a compelling narrative. In God's Chinese Spence somehow manages substantial fidelity to both goals.
Spence manages to cram an astounding amount of detail into his prose. I one paragraph near the beginning I learned
Randol Hooper
Aug 26, 2014 Randol Hooper rated it really liked it
This is a very accessible book on one of the most complicated and fascinating events in Chinese History. It's a narrative biography of Hong Xiuquan, the central figure in the Taiping Rebellion. Rarely studied in the United States the Taiping Rebellion was one of the bloodiest civil wars in world history with a death toll that would not be seen until the advent of mechanized warfare in the 20th century. As much a nationalist rebellion as a religious movement the Taiping movement very nearly toppl ...more
Village teacher and failed imperial examination candidate Hong Xiuquan has a vision, he's the younger brother of Jesus Christ and youngest son of God, and as such, he was sent to Earth to spread the word, slay the foreign demons (manchus) and establish his own Heavenly Kingdom.

A very interesting book on a conflict that is not that well known, it's fascinating how such a 'lowly' person could amass so many followers and carve out a chunk of southern China for himself (common in chinese history). H
Good old-fashioned narrative history, using a variety of European and Chinese sources. It tells the story of Hong Xiuquan, a 19th century failed Confucian scholar who blended a vivid vision/dream of God and his family with Christian missionary tracks he came across in southeast China. Hong came to beleive that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ and went about setting up his heavenly kingdom, "Taiping." His missionary efforts garnered support among the societal outcasts in southeast China ...more
Czarny Pies
Sep 15, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Des gens qui aiment l'histoire des mouvments populaires.
Shelves: asian-history
Ce livre raconte l'histoire de la Révolte des Taiping et du Royaume celeste d'Hong Xiuquan un état trois le grandeur la France qui a existe dans le Sud de la Chine entre 1851 et 1864. Hong Xiuquan le chef du Royaume Celeste était d'origine paysanne. Apres avoir frequenté des missionnaires protestants des Etats-Unis, Hong Xiuqan est devenu convaincu qu'il était le fils du Dieu et que Dieu lui avait donné la mission de creer un royaume égalitaire en Chine. Grace au charisma d'Hong Xiuqan, les fort ...more
Aug 02, 2007 George rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Chinese or 19th Century History
Stickly non-fiction, although you would be excused if you chose not to believe it. This is the story of Hong Xiuquan, one of the important but most bizarre historical figures of the 19th Century. Hong was a young Chinese scholar who aspired to become a civil servant in imperial government. However, he flunked the exams and fell into extended illness. When he eventually recovered from his fever, he awoke to the realization that he was, in fact, the Younger Brother of Jesus Christ and the Second S ...more
May 03, 2007 Max rated it really liked it
The Taiping Rebellion is one of those many fascinating and epic stories in history given short shrift in the West for no good reason. How could one *not* find a massive (20 million casualties!) cultish evangelical Christian rebellion against the 19th century Qing Dynasty in China, resisted by an alliance of Qing and Western forces, fascinating? Spence's book is a great, heavily-footnoted take on a captivating event. He spends less time on the military history than on the ideas that drive the reb ...more
Joseph Ott
Jan 10, 2017 Joseph Ott rated it it was amazing
This fascinating account of the Taping Rebellion seems uncannily familiar in today's political climate. God's Chinese Son tells the stranger than fiction story of Hong Xiuquan, a young Chinese man in the 1820's. When Hong fails the all-important state exam that determines his ability to serve in government, his despair turns into delusion. Following an apparent dream vision, he convinces a large following of China's agrarian peasantry that he is the second son of God, elder brother to Jesus Chri ...more
Jun 21, 2010 Manuel rated it it was amazing
One of the most fascinating books I have ever read. It's a history of the Taiping Rebellion, perhaps a less well-known (by non-Chinese) chapter in Chinese history. Hong Xiuquan beleived himself to be the younger brother of Jesus, charged with creating a heavenly kingdom on Earth. The Taiping rebellion was a massive millennial movement that, in its violent rise and fall between 1845 and 1864, cost at least 20 million Chinese their lives. Jonathan Spence's masterful book tells this story with fasc ...more
Feb 06, 2012 Charles rated it really liked it
Shelves: in-taiwan
Very interesting. I find the idea that some Chinese guy almost 2000 years after Jesus lived, has a dream and "realizes" he's his little brother interesting. What I find amazing is that he was followed by hundreds of thousands of people. Not all of the "Believed", some just didn't like the current government. Like most revolutions, "the grass is always greener on the other side". The new government didn't seem any better than the old one.

I thought it was funny when he finally started to meet with
Jun 03, 2007 Rhiannon rated it liked it
This is about the Taiping Rebellion - how one man encountered Christianity, through a series of sickbed visions determined he was the son of God, and gained thousands of followers and eventually controlled a large region of China.

While I was initially thrown off by Spence's use of the literary present, I eventually got into it. A lot of his focus is on Hong Xiuquan's inner circle of followers (all of whom were given majestic titles such as East King and Wing King) and the power plays between the
Mar 19, 2016 Alex rated it liked it
Written by a Yale professor, a little more complicated to follow along, VERY detailed, which can be detrimental to your understanding if you can't stand being mired in details. Intricate glimpse into another rebellion in Chinese history, based off one man believing he was the second Messiah, the Hong dynasty lasted 4 years, though, because the emperor didn't behave like an emperor and let his "empire" suffer while he was away studying and writing theology. Ultimately difficult to follow along, b ...more
Ryan Fohl
Aug 29, 2013 Ryan Fohl rated it really liked it
Unfortunately leaves you wanting more. A coda or afterward is sadly missing. The author fails to put the history into a final context. How many died? What were the consequences of the war? Did this war change Chinese views to Christianity? Draw your own conclusions. The book has a little of everything and every perspective. I would love to read more on the topic and will re-read portions of this book. I would have liked to know more about how battles in this period were actually fought, from a s ...more
Oct 16, 2010 Zoey rated it it was ok
If you like informative books that try to compact as many details as possible between their covers, you'll probably like this book. For me this book is a chore to read. Although Dr. Spence's writing is very educational and seemingly well-researched, it makes for a dry read. The Taiping Rebellion is interesting to learn about, but my rating has nothing to do with what Dr. Spence was writing about and everything to do with how he actually wrote it.

The book is packed with facts big and small. Most
Feb 19, 2013 Emily rated it it was amazing
As much as I adore history, it is not often that I can comfortably describe a history book as beautiful, but that's what this one was. It is the rare historian indeed who is also a brilliant writer. It is even rarer for a veteran historian such as Spence to retain a giddy, passionate fascination with history after so many years of academic work, and to have the ability to pass that excitement and fascination on to his reader. I do not concentrate in Chinese history, but Spence's truly beautiful ...more
Sep 29, 2014 Michael rated it really liked it
Fascinating, engaging and thorough. Spence paints a fascinating picture of the rise and fall of the Taiping empire. The only reason I am not giving it 5 stars is that it ends with the collapse of Taiping rule without going in to the long term effects that the rebellion had on China. Since the Qing had to spend so much and cede so much authority to local warlords, or left them permanently weakened. The policies regarding land redistribution also has a long term impact. Adding an epilogue or last ...more
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What God's Kingdom Means to Us 1 3 Oct 04, 2014 10:21AM  
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Jonathan D. Spence is a historian specializing in Chinese history. His self-selected Chinese name is Shǐ Jǐngqiān (simplified Chinese: 史景迁; traditional Chinese: 史景遷), which roughly translates to "A historian who admires Sima Qian."

He has been Sterling Professor of History at Yale University since 1993. His most famous book is The Search for Modern China, which has become one of the standard texts
More about Jonathan D. Spence...

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