Hong Xiuquan

Hong Xiuquan (1 January 1814 – 1 June 1864), born Hong Renkun, style name Huoxiu (火秀), was a Hakka Chinese who led the Taiping Rebellion against the qing dynasty, establishing the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom over varying portions of southern China, with himself as the "Heavenly King" and self-proclaimed brother of Jesus Christ.

Early life and education

Hong Xiuquan's name at birth was "Hong Huoxiu", the third son of a poor Hakka family. He was born in Fuyuanshui Village, Hua County (now part of Huadu District Guangzhou), Guangdong to Hong Jingyang and Madam Wang. His grandfather was Hong Guoyou, who was, like his ancestors, a farmer. He later moved to Guanlubu Village. His wife was Lai Xiying.

Hong showed an interest in scholarship at an early age, so his family made financial sacrifices to provide a formal education to him, in the hope that he could one day complete the civil service examinations. Hong started studying at a school called Book Chamber House at the age of seven. He was able to recite the Four Books after five or six years. At around the age of 15 his parents were no longer able to afford his education, so he became a tutor to children in his village and continued to study privately. He took the local preliminary civil service examinations and came first; so, at the age of 22, in 1836, he took the provincial examinations in Guangzhou. Unsurprisingly, he failed the imperial examinations, which had a pass rate of less than 1%. He retook the test four times, but never succeeded. This was partly due to being unable to secure a bribe to the examination officials.

Visions and iconoclasm

On his visit to Guangzhou to take the civil service examination in 1836, Hong heard a Christian missionary preaching about his religion. While there, Hong received translations and summaries of the Bible written by the Christian missionaries Edwin Stevens and his assistant, Liang Fa. Hong may have briefly looked over these pamphlets, but did not pay much attention to them at the time. Hong failed to pass the examinations in 1836.

In 1837 Hong again attempted to take the imperial examinations, but apparently suffered a nervous collapse when he failed them again. During his recovery in 1837, he had a number of vivid and terrifying dreams, which he interpreted as mystical visions. In his dreams Hong was visited by two figures, an old, paternal figure and an elder brother-figure. In one dream the old man complained to Hong about men worshiping demons rather than him. In a second dream, Hong saw Confucius being punished for his faithlessness, after which he repented. In another dream, Hong dreamt of angels carrying him to heaven, where he met the elder-brother figure wearing in a black dragon robe with a long golden beard who gave him a sword and a magic seal, and told him to purge China of demons. Several years later, he would interpret this to mean that God the Heavenly Father (whom he identified with Shangdi from Chinese tradition) wanted him to rid the world of demon worship. In order to complete his mission of ridding the world of demons, the elder brother-figure changed Hong's name to "Hong Xiuquan". His friends and family said that after this episode he became authoritative, solemn and taller in height. After failing his forth examination in 1837, Hong stopped studying for the imperial examinations and sought work as a teacher. For the next several years Hong taught at several schools around the area of his hometown.

It was not until six years later that Hong took time to carefully examine the Christian tracts he had received. After reading these tracts Hong came to believe that they had given him the key to interpreting his visions: the old man was God, and the elder brother that he had seen was Jesus Christ. This interpretation led him to believe that he was a Chinese son of God, and that he was the younger brother of Jesus. After coming to this conclusion Hong began destroying idols and enthusiastically preaching his interpretation of Christianity.

Hong began by burning all Confucian and Buddhist statues and books in his house, and began to preaching to his community about his visions. His earliest converts were relatives of his who had also failed their examinations and belonged to the Hakka minority, Feng Yunshan and Hong Rengan. He collaborated with them to destroy idols in small villages to the ire of local citizens and officials. Hong and his converts' acts were considered sacrilegious and they were persecuted by Confucians who forced them to leave their positions as village tutors. Hong Xiuquan and Feng Yunshan fled the district in 1844, walking some 300 miles to the west to Guangxi , where the large Hakka population was much more willing to receive his teachings. As a symbolic gesture to purge China of Confucianism, he asked for two giant swords, three chi (about 1 metre) long and nine jin (about 5. 5 kg), called the "demon-slaying swords" (斬妖劍), to be forged.

The God Worshippers

Hong then preached on Mount Zijing (紫荊山) in Guiping District (桂平縣) to a large number of charcoal-burners. Most of these people also belonged to the Hakka minority and readily joined him. He preached a mixture of communal utopianism, evangelism, and Christianity. While proclaiming sexual equality, the sect segregated men from women and encouraged all its followers to pay their assets into a communal treasury. By the end of the 1840s, Hong had a sizeable following which he called the God Worshippers (拜上帝會), but local officials still attempted to suppress his religious movement after his move to Guangxi .

Hong stayed at the Yuan Floral Hall (袁氏花廳) in Shiling (c. 1845 - 1847) where he studied, preached, developed his revolutionary theory and wrote many of his famous works.

In 1847 Hong studied with the American Southern Baptist missionary, Reverend Issachar Jacox Roberts, for two months in Guangzhou, during which time he gained most of his knowledge of Christianity. He formally studied the Old Testament. After Hong asked Roberts for aid in maintaining his sect, Roberts (wary of people converting to Christianity for economic aid) refused to baptise him.

Most of Hong Xiuquan's knowledge of the scriptures came from the books known as "Good Words to Admonish the Age" by the Chinese preacher Liang Fa as well as a localized Bible translated into Chinese. Many Western missionaries grew jealous of Hong and his local ministry. These missionaries were fond of spreading rumors about him, one such rumor being that he had not been baptized.

Hong and his cousin were both baptized according to the way prescribed in the pamphlet "Good words to admonish the age"

When Hong returned to Guangxi , he found that Feng Yunshan had accumulated a following of around 2,000 converts. Guangxi was a dangerous area at this time with many bandit groups based in the mountains and pirates on the rivers. Perhaps due to these more pressing concerns, the authorities were largely tolerant of Hong and his followers. However, the instability of the region meant that Hong's followers were inevitably drawn into conflict with other groups, not least because of their predominately Hakka ethnicity. There are records of numerous incidents when local villages and clans, as well as groups of pirates and bandits, came into conflict with the authorities, and responded by fleeing to join Hong's movement. The rising tension between the sect and the authorities was probably the most important factor in Hong's eventual decision to rebel.

Rebellion and the Heavenly Kingdom

By 1850 Hong had between 10,000 and 30,000 followers. The authorities were alarmed at the growing size of the sect and ordered them to disperse. A local force was sent to attack them when they refused, but the imperial troops were routed and a deputy magistrate killed. A full-scale attack was launched by government forces in the first month of 1851, in what came to be known as the Jintian Uprising, named after the town of Jintian (present-day Guiping, Guangxi ) where the sect was based. Hong's followers emerged victorious and beheaded the Manchu commander of the government army. Hong declared the founding of the "Heavenly Kingdom of Transcendent Peace" on 11 January 1851.

Despite this evidence of forward planning, Hong and his followers faced immediate challenges. The local Green Standard Army outnumbered them ten to one, and had recruited the help of the river pirates to keep the rebellion contained to Jintian. After a month of preparation the rebels managed to break through the blockade and fight their way to the town of Yongan (not to be confused with Yong'an), which fell to them on 25 September 1851.

Hong and his troops remained in Yongan for three months, sustained by local landowners who were hostile to the Manchu-ruled qing dynasty. The imperial army regrouped and launched another attack on the rebels in Yongan. Having run out of gunpowder, Hong's followers fought their way out by sword, and made for the city of Guilin, to which they laid siege. However, the fortifications of Guilin proved too strong, and Hong and his followers eventually gave up and set out northwards, towards Hunan . Here, they encountered an elite militia created by a local member of the gentry specifically to put down peasant rebellions. The two forces fought at Soyi Ford on 10 June 1852 where the rebels were forced into retreat, and 20% of their troops were killed. However, in March 1853, Hong's forces managed to take Nanjing and turned it into the capital of their movement.

After establishing his capital at Nanjing Hong implemented an ambitious programme of reforms. He created an elaborate civil bureaucracy, reformed the calendar used in his kingdom, outlawed opium use, and introduced a number of reforms designed to make women more socially equal to men. Hong ruled by making frequent proclamations from his Heavenly Palace, demanding strict compliance with various moral and religious rules. Most trade was suppressed and property socialized. Polygamy was forbidden and men and women were separated, although Hong and other leaders maintained groups of concubines.

Yang Xiuqing, also known as the "East King", was a fellow Taiping leader who had directed successful military campaigns and who often claimed to speak with the voice of God. Hong became increasingly suspicious of Yang's ambitions and his network of spies. In 1856, he had Yang and his family murdered.

Following a failed attempt by the Taiping rebels to take Shanghai in 1860, Qing government forces, aided by Western officers, slowly gained ground.


Some sources say Hong committed suicide by taking poison on 1 June 1864 at the age of 52 after Qing authorities finally gained a decisive military advantage and all hope of maintaining his kingdom was lost. However, in other sources, he was said to have died of illness. Hong Rengan, Hong Xiuquan's cousin, said his illness was caused by "eating manna" - a command taken from the Bible that Hong had given to his people as they starved.

On 30 July 1864, Qing general Li Chendian found Hong's badly decomposed body in the palace of Nanjing.

Hong was succeeded by his teenage son, Hong Tianguifu. The Taiping Rebellion was suppressed by Qing forces later in 1864.


Imperial Decree of Taiping (《太平詔書》) (1852)

The Instructions on the Original Way Series (《原道醒世訓》系列) (1845–1848): included in the Imperial Decree of Taiping later. The series is proclaimed by the People's Republic of China's National Affairs Department to be Protected National Significant Documents in 1988.

Instructions on the Original Way to Save the World (《原道救世訓》)

Instructions on the Original Way to Awake the World (《原道醒世訓》)

Instructions on the Original Way to Make the World Realize (《原道覺世訓》)

New Essay on Economics and Politics (《資政新篇》) (1859)


The following poem, titled Poem on Executing the Evil and Preserving the Righteous (斬邪留正詩), written in 1837 by Hong, illustrates his religious thinking and goal that later led to the establishment of the "Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping". Note that in the seventh line, the name of the then yet-to-come kingdom is mentioned. This, and other poems of his, are considered by some scholars to be of low quality, because the lack of use of classical phrases.

《斬邪留正詩》 Poem on Executing the Evil and Preserving the Righteous

手握乾坤殺伐權, In my hand I wield the Universe and the power to attack and kill,

斬邪留正解民懸。 I slay the evil, preserve the righteous, and relieve the people's suffering.

眼通西北江山外, My eyes see through beyond the west, the north, the rivers, and the mountains,

聲振東南日月邊。 My voice shakes the east, the south, the Sun, and the Moon.

璽劍光榮存帝賜, The glorious sword of authority was given by the Lord,

詩章憑據誦爺前,Poems and books are evidences that praise Yahweh in front of Him.

太平一統光世界, Taiping [Perfect Peace] unifies the World of Light,

威風快樂萬千年。 The domineering air will be joyous for myriads of thousand years.


Views and opinions on Hong differ greatly.

The Communists under Mao Zedong generally admired Hong and his movement as a legitimate peasant uprising that anticipated their own. Sun Yat-sen came from the same area as Hong and was said to have identified with Hong since his childhood days.

In 1959 the People's Republic of China established a small museum, Hong Xiuquan's Former Residence Memorial Museum (洪秀全故居紀念館), in his birthplace, where there is a longan tree planted by him. The museum's plate is written by the famous literary figure Guo Moruo (1892–1978). The residence and Book Chamber Building were renovated in 1961.

Hong has been compared to Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi in that he rallies a large number of people behind a religious or spiritual cause to challenge the status quo, although Li's political intentions have been of intense debate.

Last update 19-06-2012

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