Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War
Stephen R. Platt
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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 years of the Qing dynasty, when word spread of a major revolution brewing in the provinces, led by a failed civil servant who claimed to be the son of God and brother of Jesus. The Taiping rebels drew their power from the poor and the disenfranchised, unleashing the ethnic rage of millions of Chinese against their Manchu rulers. This homegrown movement seemed all but unstoppable until Britain and the United States stepped in and threw their support behind the Manchus: after years of massive carnage, all opposition to Qing rule was effectively snuffed out for generations. Stephen R. Platt recounts these events in spellbinding detail, building his story on two fascinating characters with opposing visions for China’s future: the conservative Confucian scholar Zeng Guofan, an accidental general who emerged as the most influential military strategist in China’s modern history; and Hong Rengan, a brilliant Taiping leader whose grand vision of building a modern, industrial, and pro-Western Chinese state ended in tragic failure.
This is an essential and enthralling history of the rise and fall of the movement that, a century and a half ago, might have launched China on an entirely different path into the modern world.
Americans in Shanghai (“and a most disagreeable snobbish set they are,” wrote one Yankee), and though most of the Americans in China were northerners, their English neighbors were overwhelmingly pro-South. Nearly all Union naval power had been recalled to North America to blockade the southern ports—leaving only the Saginaw, which rotted out in December 1861 and left nothing at all. The American merchants in China were forced to depend on Her Majesty’s warships to protect their business
Capture of Ningpo by the Rebels,” in Papers Relating to the Rebellion in China, and Trade in the Yang-tze-kiang River, pp. 92–96, see esp. p. 94. 37. Moule, Personal Recollections, p. 11. 38. Harvey to Hammond, Ningbo, December 18, 1861, in Papers Relating to the Rebellion in China, and Trade in the Yang-tze-kiang River, p. 89. 39. Moule, Personal Recollections, p. 9. 40. W. H. (William Henry) Sykes, The Taeping Rebellion in China: Its Origin, Progress, and Present Condition (London: Warren
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their new expedition but conceded that “the scenes through which they must pass are too trying for a lady.”42 Griffith John wrote that the letters from Hong Rengan and Li Xiucheng “breathe a manliness and a kindliness of spirit … such as could never have been written by an unchristian Chinaman. I see in them a new element—an element which Christianity alone could infuse.”43 In their return to Suzhou at the beginning of August, Edkins and John found an even warmer welcome than they had enjoyed on
then he closed his eyes and lost all strength. They thought he was dead. But eventually he woke up and began telling them about strange things he had seen while he was asleep. In his dream, a dragon, a tiger, and a cock had entered the room, followed by musicians with a sedan chair. They carried him away to a “beautiful and luminous place” full of men and women who rejoiced when they saw him and an old woman who washed him to remove the defilements from his body. A group of old men also appeared,