Taiping (The Great Peace, 1850–1864)
This chapter treats the career of Hong Xiuquan, a brilliant peasant boy who failed four tries to pass the imperial exams, and almost died of shame at the failure, during which time he received a series of visions that led him to claim to be “God's Chinese Son,” the younger cousin of Jesus. Beginning as a profoundly demotic movement, and going through several phases of missionizing and iconoclasm, by 1850, his followers formed an army that conquered the entire south of China, including the ancient imperial capital of Nanjing. But rather than continue on to the Qing capital at Beijing, Hong became increasingly isolated in imperial splendor creating a uniquely bipolar millennialism that was at once radically egalitarian and hierarchical. By the time his kingdom fell in 1864, over 20–35 million Chinese had died, making their self-designation of Taiping—the “Great Peace” one of the most ironic terms in the history of millennialism.
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