God's Chinese Son

by Jonathan D. Spence

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan is a nonfiction history book by Jonathan D. Spence. The main theme of the book is the historical account of the Taiping Rebellion, which occurred during the mid-nineteenth century. The Taiping Rebellion is considered the largest uprising in history, which lasted a decade and a half and claimed the lives of 20 million Chinese people. The book traces the events leading up to the rebellion and the root cause of the insurrection itself. The book then meticulously details the events of the long-winding Taiping Rebellion.

The other prominent theme of the book is the political science behind rebellions in general. Spence examines the economic stagnation that stunted the region's growth and how it became a catalyst for the rebellion. The weakened central government led to the uprising of provincial military leaders, illustrating a recurring theme in China's long political history: the importance of creating and maintaining a strong central government. The circumstances leading up to the Taiping Rebellion and the lessons learned from the aftermath are relevant in the present-day Republic of China, which is evident in the Communist Party of China's iron-fist rule today. Similar to how the past dynasties dealt with numerous rebellions before modern-day China, the current communist regime believed that unification of provinces and annexed territories is important in dissuading internal insurrections.

The other theme of the book is the influence of outside forces, which is illustrated in the section of the book that detailed Protestant missionaries trying to convert local populations, and Hong's own attempt at conversion to the Baptist sect through missionary Issachar Roberts. Hong believed that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ and even convinced family members that his theory was true. This sense of divine intervention and mission is similar to earlier Chinese dynasty rulers, who believed they were gods in the form of men on earth.

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