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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 451

Jonathan Spence, an academic historian who specializes in China, offers an insightful analysis of a crucial phase of nineteenth-century Chinese history in God's Chinese Son: The Chinese Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan. He analyzes numerous impacts that Christianity had on several dimensions of China’s highly diverse population.

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Spence concentrates on a millenarian or messianic movement that threatened the stability of Manchu China for more than a decade. The man who became the movement’s leader, Hong Xiuquan, had studied Christianity with British Protestant missionaries in Guangzhou, an important Pacific coast port which was formerly called Canton. Dissatisfied with the social restrictions of Manchu society that kept him from advancing, Hong turned to both Christian and Buddhist philosophy. However, Hong took these teachings to an extreme degree. He experienced a vision (which he understood as divine revelation), in which it was revealed to him that he, like Jesus, was a son of God.

Spence shows that Hong was not alone in internalizing the radical teachings that Europeans had introduced to China. A combination of factors contributed to the increase of social unrest in the 1830s–1840s in southwestern Chinese territories. These factors included the Manchu restriction of European presence to the coast and the migration of thousands of people to the cities because of drought and famine. Hong’s message held a great appeal to those who, like him, experienced or felt discriminated against by the Qing ruling ethnicity.

Combining religious fervor with political and social unrest, numerous groups joined with Hong in an effort to destabilize Manchu control. Hong, declaring himself the Heavenly King, did not merely equate his lineage and status with that of the Manchu emperors; he saw himself as superior to them...

(The entire section contains 451 words.)

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