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Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  1,083 ratings  ·  169 reviews
A gripping account of China’s nineteenth-century Taiping Rebellion, one of the largest civil wars in history. Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom brims with unforgettable characters and vivid re-creations of massive and often gruesome battles—a sweeping yet intimate portrait of the conflict that shaped the fate of modern China.
The story begins in the early 1850s, the waning
Hardcover, 512 pages
Published February 7th 2012 by Knopf
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Maru Kun
Why read "Game of Thrones" when you could be reading "Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom"?

Who is on the cast list?

A failed civil servant re-invents himself as the younger brother of Jesus Christ, dressing in yellow silk robes and ruling his Heavenly Kingdom from the old imperial palace at Nanjing, promoting equality for women, renouncing opium and promising a Christian peace with the west.

A gentle scholar who is so full of self doubt that he twice attempts suicide after failure in battle before beco
Aug 26, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: china
I have a hard time knowing exactly how to review this book. I enjoyed it a great deal -- the writing is solid and Platt tells the story of the latter portion of the Taiping civil war/rebellion quite well. He makes a strong case that the Taiping were close to toppling the Qing Dynasty and that the western powers' sporadic interventions favoring the Qing may have made a critical difference.

That said, I've also read J. Spense's account of the conflict, God's Chinese Son, and with that backdrop, it
May 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, china
A few months ago, I visited China, staying in Nanjing, Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou -- all foci during the long, devastating Taiping Civil War that took place between 1850 and 1864. When Westerners think of Nanjing, of course, it is the brutal Japanese occupation before and during WWII that springs to mind, but I soon became aware as I visited the city that there are successive layers of history, each of which affected later developments.

The Taiping era fascinates me, and since Nanjing was th
Oct 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A fascinating story on a piece of previously unknown history to me.

The first time I heard of the Taiping Civil War (or Rebellion, depending on your pov) was when I saw this book nominated as a BR in a group. I read the description and found it to be interesting, especially because I had not known of the subject of this book before. Fortunately, this book definitely satisfied my curiousity of what was the Taiping Civil War. Mr. Platt wrote an epic, comprehensive yet quite brief history of the Ta
Jul 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Taiping civil war in China caused more than twenty million deaths, and featured larger than life figures warring over the fate of the most populous country on earth. It's an inherently dramatic story that is almost unknown here in America (I took a few East Asian history classes in college and I only know the basic narrative), and AUTUMN IN THE HEAVENLY KINGDOM is Stephen R. Platt's attempt to create a clear, compelling popular history of the conflict for American readers.

Platt's focus is pr
Molly McCaffery
Jun 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a narrative history about the Chinese civil war that left 20 million or more people dead. I had one huge problem with the book and you can see it easily by checking out the huge endorsement on the back cover. The back of the book reads:

“Stephen Platt brings to vivid life a pivotal chapter in China’s history...The Taiping Rebellion in the mid-nineteenth century, which cost one of the greatest losses of life of any war in history...”
-Henry A. Kissinger

I was taken aback here because is He
Nov 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love it when a history book is entertaining, almost fiction like. This has it all: characters that run the gamut of archetypes, from meddling foreigners to wise Chinese leaders; a racing plot with so many twists you'll never see coming; and there is much action to hold attention, including an EXPLOSIVE climax.

The Taiping Uprising/Revolution/Rebellion is a little known part of history that played out concurrently with the civil unrest that Europe was suffering during the 19th century, and was a
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I listened to this book on tape. Normally when I listen to books on tape, it is in order to have some background noise while I'm doing something else. If I really want to read a book, I read it. But this book refused to be background noise and I was soon engrossed. It is an absolutely gripping account of China's great civil war of the 19th century. The author's most compelling twist is the laying out of just how bumbling, contradictory, and confused the British were in their handling of China du ...more
Porter Broyles
Jun 24, 2020 rated it liked it
I struggled with this book.

I majored in Chinese history in college, but that was 30 years ago. I wrote my junior thesis (senior?) In the Taiping.

So it was a subject I knew.

The book was told from a point of view that I had less familiarity with and the end of the war--- which want my focus. So a lot of new materials.

But it didn't grab me. I was going to be brought back into the world of Chinese history that I do loved in my youth, but I wasn't.

In other words, this review is for me. Probably not m
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Taiping Rebellion must be one of the most underrated wars/historical happenings of the past two centuries. I don't know how it is remembered in China, but I know it's virtually unknown in the US, despite the fact that around 20-30 million people died in the war (upper estimates put the death toll as high as 85 million) and it almost saw the installment of a Christian dynasty in China.

It's too bad because the war, as this book makes clear, was really fascinating. There are two main 'protagoni
Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War, by Stephen Platt, is a interesting narrative history of the Taiping Rebellion in China during the closing 50 years or so of the Qing Empire (1850's/60's). The narrative in this book is split. On the one hand, it focuses on Hong Rengan, the Taiping "Shield King" and right hand man of the Heavenly Brother, who was instrumental in the Taiping's near victory in its foreign relations with Western nations. On ...more
Christopher Saunders
May 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant account of the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864), China's catastrophic civil war that fatally crippled the Qing Dynasty, cemented Western dominance in the Orient and killed over 20,000,000 people. Platt keeps western figures like Lord Elgin and Frederick Bruce on the sidelines. Frederick Townsend Ward and Charles Gordon, often lionized as gallant adventurers, come off as unprincipled freebooters. Platt's mainly interested in the Chinese protagonists: Zeng Guofan, the scholar-turned-general ...more
Mar 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent history of one of the most Illuminating moments in Chinese history
Matt Brady
Jul 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2014, china
Rather than a full history of the Taiping Civil War, a decade-and-a-half long conflict in the middle of the 19th century that killed tens of millions of people, this was a bit different to what I expected. Instead, Platt wants to place this incredibly bloody war in a global context, and show how the fighting was not just a matter of Chinese history but had far reaching effects in Europe and the United States. The narrative follows three main courses; 1)the rise to power of Hong Regan, a western ...more
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Do you know what was the world’s bloodiest civil war? Most people wouldn’t guess it correctly. Did you also know that this civil war involved a heretical version of Christianity in which the leader claimed to be the spiritual younger brother of Jesus? In this book Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom author Stephen R. Platt looks at the Taiping Rebellion that took place in China during the mid-1800s. The account in this book is simply fascinating!
Anyone reading this book will learn about how from 1850
Aug 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Stephen Platt strikes the precise pace needed for the scope of this book. On one hand, he clips along from siege to negotiation to media response, using an array of sources but mindful that most of us can't absorb 400 pages of meticulous detail. He doesn't belabor any points, which is why this book remains gripping until the end.

The points, however, are thoughtfully and deliberately made, and herein must lie the other reason Autumn has gotten so much attention. Even at his pace, Platt never comp
Jun 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china
This book is an extraordinary history of the end of the 19th century Taipings in China, and how the British Empire came to a decision to get involved in a Chinese civil war. It is a book about flawed great men, ambitious men who are ruthless, yet idealistic about the future of China. Coming into this book, I knew little about the Taiping Rebellion (the author makes the case for calling it the Taiping Civil War), and I had a basic understanding of British-Chinese relations in the 19th century a l ...more
Sahil Pandey
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The only backdrop I had coming to this book was this 2007 movie titled " The Warlords" starring Jet Li and Andy Lau (Worth a watch) . In this movie there were flashing montages of a Jesus appearing in the middle a chinese civil war. I was left scratching my head, but then took it to be some inside joke and thought nothing of it.

This book was sitting in my recommendation feed for a very long time but I couldn't bring myself to read it. Mostly because I thought of it as some local scrimmage, some
Matthew Stienberg
Apr 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A concise single volume work on the end of the Taiping Civil War. I say end as the work only briefly details the events leading up to the rebellion and the course of the war itself. Instead it largely focuses on the tumultuous events from 1858-64, largely through the eyes of three major players; scholar-general Zeng Guofan (leader of the Hunan Army), Hong Rengnan (The Shield King, and servant of the Taiping Heavenly King), and Frederick Bruce (British minister in China). These three characters, ...more
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Once again failed by the American school system. This war, which took place partially at the same time as the American Civil War, is considered to be the most deadly civil war in history, and yet I only heard of it by chance when I was looking for something else in the library catalog. This is an excellent book. It's infuriating (if you didn't hate British imperialism before, you will after you read this) and horrifying (all those people dying, after all), and so fascinating.
Tim Casteel
Mar 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Very well written. The author does an amazing job taking what had to be an enormous amount of research and turning it into a one volume novel-like summary of the deadliest civil war in human history. This Chinese civil war took place at the exact time of the American civil war but was far more brutal- with casualties 100x worse than its American counterpart.

I knew nothing of this era of Chinese history. And was shocked to hear how China almost became a Christian (if just a wee bit heretical!) na
Apr 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
The title does not disappoint: the book really is epic in scope. I really didn't know anything about the topic prior to beginning the text, and after finishing it, I feel that I know a great deal. My previous experience with the Taiping Rebellion derives from a visit to a museum for the rebellion in Nanjing, the Taiping Kingdom History Museum. I visited in 2006 and was bewildered by the museum's focus on military formations. Being a novice to military history, I found the exhibits exhausting. Wh ...more
Rob Hocking
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Taiping Civil war isn't something I ever thought I would feel the need to read a whole book about. The short version is that around 1850 guy in China thought he was Jesus's brother, tried to overthrow the Qing dynasty, and (by about 1865) failed. This premise didn't seem interesting enough for me to invest dozens of hours of reading for the sake of learning more. But since the book came highly recommended by a friend, I decided to give it a chance.

In the end, this book really surprised me an
Lachlan Macfarlane
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ned Lipes
Feb 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Very tough challenge to cover the scale of this conflict - each engagement seems like it could easily have volumes of books on it. The foreign intervention perspective was particularly interesting for an American or British reader, made the topic more approachable.
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent and very interesting book about a period of time that is not well known and to the extent that it is known it is not well understood in the West. The Taiping Rebellion or Civil War was a massive conflict that ripped through central China in the middle of the nineteenth century lasting just over ten years. During it, the Taiping controlled some of the most populous and wealthy provinces in South Central China, and it controlled the Yangtze river from Suzhou to Wuhan with it's ...more
Feb 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I got exactly what I wanted out of this, plus I thought the writing itself was really good. Though Platt describes a very complicated situation with a rather large cast of characters, I really didn't get all that confused. I could see how someone might be a little disappointed if they picked this up because they wanted a "If you only read one book about the Taiping Rebellion" kind of deal. Platt doesn't really get into the build up to the war, and really doesn't spend time on the first few years ...more
Gina Rheault
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This fabulous book tells the very important story of the 14 year long, 19th century Chinese Civil War where 20 million died. It is a military history focused on characters who are thrown into action: a quasi-Christian visionary who created the Taiping side of the war, a Manchu imperial dynasty the Qing charged with suppressing the rebels, a Hunan-ese philosopher general unflinchingly loyal to his Manchu command, and supporting cast of British characters--traders and missionaries and governmental ...more
Mar 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Quite possibly the best history I have ever read. Platt writes history like a novelist, and in this book he mixes primary and circumstantial evidence to bring out his main character's inner thoughts and workings. The book also provides a compelling history of xenophobia and racism in China at the same time the U.S. exploded because of its own.

I've never had an interest in Chinese history, but the magnitude of death caused by this war caught my attention. Platt provides wide ranging estimates of
Bridger A-10
Apr 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A very nice look at the civil war between the Manchu Qing Empire and the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. The author manages to give an extensive overview of the entire period, from the founding of the pseudo-Christian sect that started the war to the bloody and almost anti-climatic end. Also manages to avoid the Euro centrism that pops up a lot whenever the Taiping Rebellion gets talked about - Frederick Ward's and "Chinese" Gordon's mercenary Ever Victorious Army is examined but it's clearly a sidesh ...more
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Stephen R. Platt is a professor of Chinese history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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