|Hong Xiuquan (Hung Hsui-ch’uan)|
The Hong family lived 30 miles from Guangzhou (Canton), where Western influence on China was strongest. Ambitious to bring honor to his family through academic success, he sat for the lowest level civil service exams in Canton in 1828, 1836, 1837, and 1843 and failed each time.
He suffered a serious illness and delirium after his third failure, when he claimed being taken to heaven. There, according to his account, he met his Heavenly Mother (Mary), Elder Brother (Jesus), and Heavenly Father (God). God instructed him to return to Earth to defeat the demons and establish the heavenly kingdom.
He equated his vision with writings in the tract that he was given by a Protestant Christian missionary in 1836, titled “Good Words Exhorting the Age.” He obtained more translations of Christian teachings, then went to Hong Kong in 1847 and studied under an American Baptist missionary, Issachar Roberts, but was not baptized.
With this background of personal failure and limited understanding of Christianity, Hong formed a new trinity of God, Elder Brother Jesus, and himself (God’s second son); converted friends and relatives; and founded the Society of God Worshippers. His converts were mostly poor people in the southern province of Guanxi (Kwangsi); they destroyed local Buddhist temples and provoked the government to send in an army.
A clash in 1850 ignited the revolt, and success led to the establishment of the Taiping Tianguo (T’aip’ing T’ien-kuo), or Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace. Hong became the Heavenly King, and his top lieutenant, Yang Xiuqing (Yang Hsiu-ch’ing), the Eastern King (Yang claimed to be God’s third son, the Holy Ghost).
Other followers also received titles as kings and marquises. Early Taiping followers were fanatical believers in Hong’s version of Christianity; they hated the failing Qing (Ch’ing) dynasty and were highly disciplined.
By 1853 the Taiping army had swept over southern China and captured Nanjing (Nanking), which became the Heavenly Capital. There, Hong and his associates issued regulations and laws according to their interpretation of Christianity. But they had no skill in administration and implemented few reforms.
Western governments were initially interested in Hong’s Christianity and government and sent representatives to Nanjing to investigate. But they were disillusioned by Hong’s pretensions as universal king and other bizarre pseudo-Christian teachings and practices.
Rivalry between Yang and Hong erupted into civil war in 1856 and the defeat of Yang. Thereafter, Hong trusted no one except his family members, abandoned himself to pleasures, and became increasingly delusional.
The Taiping movement collapsed as Qing supporters led by Zeng Guofan (Tseng Kuo-fan) offered reforms and won military victories with Western arms, aided by Western officers. Hong committed suicide as his capital fell.