Religious Nationalism, Violence, and Taiping Christianity


The Bible . . . was to propel Hong Xuiquan’s transformation of his Society of God Worshippers from a religious movement with political overtones into a full-fledged political rebellion.


--Thomas H. Reilly[1]


I have received the immediate command of God

in his presence; the will of Heaven rests with me.


--Hong Xiuquan[2]


Taiping soldiers preach[ed] the new religion with

drawn swords in their hands, to underline the message.


          --Jonathan D. Spence[3]


          I once viewed a video that showed the earth’s population grow from a single dot, representing the first thousand homo sapiens, to hundreds of thousands of dots indicating the citizens of the world’s first civilizations.  As the 14th Century came up on the chronometer, ticking at about a year a second, we saw, as we fully expected, many dots disappear from plague-ridden Europe.  As 1850 came up, many people were puzzled by dots disappearing in Eastern China from Guangdong to Shanghai.  If I had not been reading about the Taiping Rebellion, I would have been just as baffled.

          The Taiping Rebellion has been called the “greatest civil war [and] the greatest popular rebellion in history.”[4] It is estimated that between 10 and 20 million Chinese lost their lives in a conflict initiated by group of militant Christians led by Hong Xiuquan, a convert to Christianity who came to believe that, after visiting God’s extended family in Heaven in a 1837 vision, he was Christ’s younger brother with a sacred sword to kill all evil doers.  After successfully evangelizing in Guangdong and neighboring Guangzi Province in the 1840s, Hong and his followers raised huge armies that marched northward, taking as many a 600 cities, and eventually conquering Nanjing in 1853.  Hong had already crowned himself Heavenly King in 1851, and he now declared Nanjing as the capital of China as a holy nation, a New Jerusalem ruling over the 10,000 nations.  As we shall see, Hong’s religious views have significant parallels to American postmillennial dominion theologians.

This paper is a part of chapter of a book investigating the origins of religious violence. The book’s thesis is that there has been far less religiously motivated violence in the Asian religions than in the Abrahamic faiths.  As the religious violence in the latter has been well documented, the task of my study is to analyze those conflicts in Asia that appear to have religious motivation.  At this conference I’ve already presented three papers dealing with Muslim conquests in India, contemporary Hindu fundamentalism, and Buddhist militants in Sri Lanka.  In the last two cases, I discovered that most of the violence has been committed by Hindus and Buddhists operating in a postcolonial environment in which an exclusive religious identity has been fused with militant nationalism.

The same factors appear to come together in Taiping Christian ideology.  Religiously motivated violence had occurred in China, prime examples were the White Lotus School and the Triad Society.  The Triads, only quasi-religious usually worshipping the war god Guan Di, were one of China’s most famous secret societies.  In contrast, the White Lotus devotees openly preached the imminent coming of Maitreya, the Buddhist Messiah.  What is significant here is the presence of an apocalyptic vision radicalized by a Manichean division of the forces of light and righteousness and the forces of darkness and evil.  In the first and second sections I will discuss these Chinese precursors in order to determine differences that might have made the Taipings more successful, at least initially, in their religious goals.  As Thomas H. Reilly states: “Neither of these movements [the White Lotus and Eight Trigram] demonstrated the kind of creative impulse and constructive energy that the Taiping displayed.”[5]

In this paper I will note with some concern Reilly’s evident disregard for the negative consequences of the Taiping Rebellion.  Reilly himself remarks that Ming officials admitted that, even in their suppression of Catholicism, these Christians were not “responsible for inciting any kind of disturbance,” and Reilly admits that it was not they, but the Taipings who laid “the fuse of rebellion.”[6] During the Taiping Rebellion, Catholic missionaries were keen to separate themselves from the violent and destructive Taipings, because these two sects were easily confused by outsiders, a conflation exacerbated by Qing tracts attributing Taiping doctrines to Chinese Roman Catholics, commonly called the Heavenly Lord sect.

Catholics were also distressed that the Taipings had killed thirty of their coreligionists in Nanjing and put the rest of them on trial.  On Easter, 1853, 22 Catholics agreed to recite the Taiping prayers, “finding nothing in them that specifically contradicts their faith,” and those who refused were forced into labor or sent to the front line. Catholic authorities were very concerned about the Taiping’s challenge to imperial authority of Emperor, dramatically expressed in Taiping battle flags emblazoned with “The Religion of the Supreme Emperor [Hong himself].”[7] Catholics had been particularly careful in not using the divine term Shangdi, which Hong deliberately embraced to demonstrate that he was the Son of Heaven, not the Qing emperor.  (The early use of Shangdi by Catholic missionaries was proscribed by Nicholas IV in the late 13th Century.) After 120 years of persecution, Catholics did not wish to lose the promise of toleration granted them by the Qing emperor in 1844.

The third section will discuss one religiously motivated reaction against the Taipings, the short-lived resistance offered by Bao Lisheng's Righteous Army of Dongan.  What is significant here is Bao’s purely defensive posture and his undogmatic, agnostic way of interpreting the coming apocalypse. The fourth section will demonstrate how Taiping theology gradually but decisively extricated itself from an early alliance with Classical Confucianism.  Only Hong’s Eastern King wanted to preserve the Classics and the ceremonies that accompanied them.

The fifth and sixth sections will deal with several aspects of Taiping Christianity, particularly its view of Satan, its materialistic conception of God, its odd doctrine of the Trinity, and Hong’s own interpretation of the Bible. The most recent scholarship, especially Reilly’s book The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, argues that the Taipings, although fully incorporating their theology within a Chinese worldview, were more “uniquely Christian” than previous scholars have thought, a view that strengthens the general thesis of my book.  The final section discusses various hypotheses about why the Abrahamic religions may have produced more violence, and it will offer further thoughts and conclusions about Taiping Christianity as a catalyst for religious violence.

 Bao Lishing, 13: Footnote 41. The Taipings in the Shaoxing prefectural capital cut off an old woman's ear because she recited a Buddhist prayer.  Spence, 176.  In Nanking Taiping soldiers preach their Gospel with swords drawn.  Same page:  the Muslims are tolerated, mosques left standing.


The White Lotus School arose in the early 12th Century as an offshoot of Pure Land Buddhism.  According to White Lotus records, in 1129 a monk by the name of Maoziyuan initiated some of the distinctive White Lotus practices, which included a married clergy, the use of a vernacular scripture, non-Buddhist, indigenous idols, and vegetarianism.  Because of their ban on meat eating and emphasis on apocalypticism, they were sometimes identified with the vegetarian, “devil” worshipping Manicheans. 

White Lotus devotees were condemned by both mainline Buddhists and the government.  Two surviving edicts from 1281 and 1308 indicate that the government officials did not approve of White Lotus texts that predicted the rise and fall of dynasties. As a result, “temples and idols of the sect were destroyed; the believers were ordered to resume secular life and were made to labor for the government.”[8]  As with the Tang persecution of Buddhism and the Ming proscription of Roman Catholicism, the reasons for governmental action appear to be more political than religious.

John K. Fairbank describes the White Lotus Schools as “religiously diverse and broadly syncretic.”[9]  Pure Land Buddhists worship the Amitabha (Amida) Buddha as the enthroned savior of the Heavenly Kingdom in the West, a penultimate life in which believers enjoy pure bliss in a pure land with craving and attachment.  The White Lotus Schools, however, substituted the Maitreya Buddha, the Buddhist Messiah who would come during times of great crisis to establish the Great Peace (taiping).  Added to this apocalyptic and millennial vision was the influence of Manicheanism from Central Asia, a view that intensified the difference between the preferred group of saints and all the others.  A Manichean dualism between the righteous and the wicked definitely permeated Taiping Christianity.

The worship of Maitreya Buddha came to China in the 6th Century, and Maitreya believers soon came under government criticism: “[The Maitreya monks] would confuse [the people] with vague statements, frighten them with a hell of incessant suffering, lure them with their absurd theories, and entice them with the happiness of the Tusita heaven.”[10] As a result of their suppression, apparently more political than religious as with most all imperial persecution, White Lotus Maitreya Buddhists frequently fomented rebellion during the Tang and Song dynasties.  On this basis one could argue that this sectarian violence was more defensive and reactive rather than the offensive character of the Taiping Rebellion.

Fairbank explains the effects of Maitreya messianism on the White Lotus Schools very well: “The descent of the future Buddha, Maitreya (Milefo), was to usher in final stage of world history and establish a regime of peace and plenty. And an incarnate Manichae[n] deity, the ‘prince of light' (ming-wang) was to bring about the triumph of light over darkness in an ultimate world cataclysm. Like the Triads, [the White Lotus School] embodied an ardent faith and a compelling eschatology capable of mobilizing great masses of followers against the existing state system.”[11]  They were instrumental in bringing down the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty and they were active in the Shantung Rebellion at the end of the Ming Dynasty.

The influence of Manicheanism can be seen in much heterodox Chinese belief.  Most significantly, it attached itself to the reappearance of the Taiping Dao movement in 1086.  Its originator, Chang Chueh, was the leader of the Yellow Turban Rebellion of the 2nd Century, which originally was Daoist in terms of its religious dress.  Chang’s main message was that he had the power to heal individuals and to bring them peace (taiping).  Chang required that his disciples kneel and confess their sins before the healing ritual began. Chang’s views were also apocalyptic in his prediction that “the taiping qi [peace force] is about to arrive, and a ruler of great virtue will appear, and the spirit will through him descend upon the earth.”[12] In the Song revival of Chang’s Taiping Dao, devil worship and vegetarianism, which was not part of his original vision, but a distinctive combination indicating Manicheanism, became a major concern for government officials as they attempted to put down a rebellion in Chang’s name. Vincent Shih is convinced that the rebels were using Chang’s thought as a religious disguise for their subversive activities.

Reilly argues that Taiping millenarianism was more Confucian than Buddhist.  He contends that the latter was more otherworldly as opposed to Hong’s view that “Shangdi entered history not to end it, but to bring his kingdom into it.”[13]  This position is more in accord with the postmillennialism of Christian Reconstruction, in which godly men prepare a heavenly kingdom on earth in which God's rule will be established by saintly men.  Sometimes called “dominion” theology, George Grant, an annual visitor to our town at the invitation of a local Calvinist minister, described it in terms of world conquest:

That's what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less. If Jesus Christ is indeed Lord, as the Bible says, and if our commission is to bring the land into subjection to His Lordship, as the Bible says, then all . . . our political action will aim at nothing short of that sacred purpose.”[14]

In several pronouncements, Hong makes it clear that he envisions his new dynasty to include all the nations of the world.  Hong claims that he has God’s and Christ’s authority to “unite all elements whether up in heaven, down beneath the earth, or in the human world to be one grand dynasty at all times and in all places.”[15]  Philip L. Wickeri discerns the difference between premillennialism and Hong’s postmillennialism: “They did not wait upon the will of God to bring in the new order, but instead sought to usher it in themselves as the active agents of God in this world.”[16]

Reilly contends that Hong is eminently Confucian in his belief that he has Heaven’s mandate (tian ming) to establish a new Chinese nation under rule of Shangdi.  In the second section I will demonstrate how Taiping thought, heavily influenced by Confucianism early on, was later emended to exclude much of it.  The Confucian Heaven is also impersonal and abstract and could never be said to enter history in the form of a man.  Furthermore, any good Confucian would reject Hong’s arrogation of tian ming unto himself, primarily because Heaven is incredibly subtle and inscrutable in its ways.  Finally, it would be inconceivable for a Chinese emperor to point to a passage in the Classics that gave him permission to wage war or to rule in God’s name.

From a logical standpoint, claiming the Mandate of Heaven and declaring that someone has lost it boils down to an exercise in circular reasoning. The Zhou kings proclaimed that they gained tian ming because of their virtue, but all that an outsider could verify is that the Shang dynasty had been defeated and that the Zhou now ruled.  Did Hong somehow have Shangdi’s mandate for 20 years and then lose it as the Qing armies were entering Nanjing in 1864? When the Zhou dynasty started breaking up in the 9th Century BCE, this passage from The Book of Poetry blames Heaven, interestingly enough, not the human beings:

Oh, universal Tian, whom we call parent!

          I am innocent and blameless,

          Yet I suffer from such great disorders.

          Majestic Heaven, you are too stern;

          for truly I am innocent.

          Majestic Heaven, you are too cruel;

for truly I am blameless?[17]

Except for a Christian who insisted on a very unorthodox reading of Job, it is inconceivable, especially with someone as theonomous as Hong, that this unique expression of Confucian humanism could become a Christian view of God’s actions in history.  Furthermore, it should be stressed that Confucius’ transcendent anchor is not the anthropomorphic Shangdi of the Shang dynasty and the Classics but the impersonal Tian of Classical Confucianism.

Except for odd borrowings, such as the Buddhist 33rd heaven and the Buddhist King of Hades, one must agree with Vincent Shih, who concludes that there is “no evidence that the Taipings borrowed from these unorthodox Buddhist societies.”[18] It was the Roman Catholics who adopted Buddhist models.  See Reilly.  Positive about Confucian, even later when they believed that the Confucian texts could be saved, but Buddhism completely dismissed and seen as the cause of the demise of later dynasties.  Hail, 97

Wickeri, p. 13: “He did not use the Buddhist eschatology which was all around him, except to assist in explaining his new language.


The Heaven and Earth Society (tiandihui) was an important early ally of the Taipings. They were also called the Triads because of the cosmic triad of heaven, earth, and human beings. The Chinese phrase for the hea­ven-earth-human al­liance is san cai, which means "three powers, three forces, three ori­gins."­[19] Theoretically, each partner in the Cosmic Triad is able to maintain its in­te­gri­ty because each is equiprimordial.  While all three are es­sen­t­ially interdepen­dent, none is created by the other.  The con­trast with other worldviews is striking.  In orthodox C­hris­tianity the universe is created out of nothing, and after being used as an instrument for God's redemptive purposes, it re­turns to nothing.  Nature has no intrinsic value in most Indian relig­ious traditions either.  The earth, other worlds, and the bo­dy are also mere instru­ments for spiritual liberation. 

One would have assumed that the concept of the Cosmic Triad would have motivated the Chinese to protect their environment, but for many centuries it was ruined, primarily because of massive deforestation. With regard to religion, however, I have argued that the Cosmic Triad may have limited instances of what I call “spiritual Titanism” in China to a minimum.[20]  One of the tendencies in the Abrahamic religion is a radical transcendentalism that ignores the earth and body and as result distorts the relationship between God and humans.  As we have seen above, the idea that God would lead a heavenly army or any human could arrogate the Mandate of Heaven as Hong did is alien to the Chinese mind.  With his grandiose claims, one could say that the Christian Hong was just as much a spiritual Titan as he claims the Qing emperor was.  It is significant to point out that while orthodox Christian philosophers had no problem deifying Jesus, no Chinese philosopher ever deified Confucius.[21]

Unfortunately, the Triads did not live up to the ideals of the Cosmic Triad.  On the positive side, they did serve as a mutual aid society and helped many members during hard times.  They were especially popular with the impoverished people of Southeast China with their Robin Hood policy of robbing the rich to feed the poor.  Their political slogan of “destroy the Qing to restore Ming” (fan qing fu ming) also resonated well with people who had never accepted Manchu rule. According to Jonathan Spence, the Triads were responsible for 55 uprisings in Guangdong and other southeastern provinces between 1800 and 1840.[22]

Unlike the Taipings, the Triads were only quasi-religious and they lacked the discipline and moral force that was key to the early Taiping success. Nevertheless, Taiping leaders generally found the Triads an important ally until 1852, although there were alliances of convenience as late as 1855-56.  While many Triad members refused to formally join the Taipings, others did happily and some became trusted commanders.  Triad forces in cities in the Taiping march north were key to the surrender of those urban centers, including the conquest of Nanjing in 1853.

The decision to consolidate their power in Nanjing and not send their armies immediately north to Beijing may have prevented a final Taiping victory, but the fact that Nanjing was the old Ming capital helped them verify traditional dynastic claims.  As Ming restorationists, the Triads were of course elated that the Taipings had chosen Nanjing as their capital.  One of the Triad’s taboo words was “Hong,” because it was the first character in the Ming imperial name. The character Hong literally means “flood” and Jonathan Spence suggests that Hong could not have failed to notice a divine message that he was the second Noah, this time commanding a flood of righteous warriors who would establish a world-wide Heavenly Kingdom.[23]

While a simple coincidence of characters indicating Ming restorationism may have appeared auspicious to many Triads, Taiping leaders were not completely happy with the alliance even from the beginning. As we have already noted, Hong was not interested in restoring the Ming dynasty; rather, his goal was worldwide empire under his rule. The Triads were also closely connected with organized crime, especially gambling in Canton.  In his revision of the Ten Commandments Hong added gambling, wine drinking, and opium smoking to the other prohibitions. Always the strict moralist, Hong eliminated Old Testament stories that told of wine drinking and sexual improprieties by presumably godly people. 

In a close examination of Taiping documents, Vincent Shih notices that positive references to the Triads were deleted in later editions starting in 1852.  As Shih states: “The Taipings wanted to get clear of any relation to the Triad Society . . . However, this omission also shows that they must have a great deal to do with that society before this date.”[24]  Shih also explains that, in addition to deleting references to the Triads, Hong wanted to “eliminate all traces of traditionalism and intensify the influence of the Bible.”[25] We will discuss this in more detail in sections below.

In the end the Triads proved to be disappointing ally.  Commentators note that the later degeneration of discipline in the Taiping army, while generally due to indiscriminate recruiting along the way, was more specifically due to the demoralizing effect of associating with Triad forces.[26] (Alliances with the Nian rebels in the north also had the same effect on Taiping troop morale.)[27] The Triads and the Nians also had a reputation for inconsistency, sometimes negotiating and surrendering to imperial troops. The Taipings may well have won against the imperial forces if the Triads had not betrayed them in Shanghai, where they held the city for some time; the Triads also failed to take Canton, their traditional stronghold.  With these two cities and a navy, Hong could have become the first Christian Emperor of China.



          Although he posed only a minor obstacle in the path of the Taiping advance, Bao Lisheng’s Righteous Army of Dongan is significant for this paper because of the rich mix of religious influences in Bao’s thought.  A short study of Bao’s resistance will help us better understand Buddhist millennialism and appreciate the fact that his militancy and resistance was defensive in nature.

In his early years Bao’s fellow villagers thought that he was deranged.  Although he did not have a classical education, he was literate and was fond of making predictions according to the Zodiac.  He spent his days fasting, sitting in mediation, pacing out the Big Dipper and chanting a mantra, frequently laughing to himself, dancing and then kneeling in “worship [to] something that others could not see,” and sometimes “running so fast that he seemed to be flying.”[28]

The turning point in his life was a vision in which the Immortal of the White King Crab gave him the equivalent of the Chinese Excalibur with which he was to slay the long-haired bandits, the Taipings whom Bao predicted would soon cause great destruction in the area. After witnessing about his vision, Bao’s credibility rose rapidly: the people called him Superman Bao (bao shenxian), and after their first disastrous encounters with Bao’s militia, the Taipings feared him as demon (yao) or as god (shen).  His new standing was made official when after an interview a local magistrate allowed Bao to perform a ritual postponing the Buddhist apocalypse (kalpa) at the city temple.  Later Communist historians made much of the fact that Bao’s resistance was not pro-Manchu; rather, it was a local peasant rebellion based on the belief that will power alone would make up for any lack in military equipment or expertise.

The people attributed miraculous powers to Commander Bao.  He was able to multiply grains of rice in the same way that Jesus multiplied fishes and loaves.  It was said that Bao could accurately predict Taiping troop movements and thereby be able to direct his own forces accordingly.  According to one account, it was claimed that all Bao had to do was yell loudly and the Taipings would retreat in chaos. After experiencing several major defeats, the Taipings confessed that “from the Zhe River east, the Taipings fear only one man, Bao."[29] 

James H. Cole observes that earlier in 1796, Qing troops were similarly affected by White Lotus rebels because their belief that the turning of the kalpa would favor these Buddhist millennarians.[30]  In the end, Bao’s powers left him almost a quickly as he gained them.  The Taipings noticed this turn of fate and they were then able to defeat Bao’s soldiers, and he died of a bullet wound at the age of 24. Some refused to accept this and a legend arose about him surviving as a mountain sage.

We need to better understand the phrase “turning of the kalpa” and how Bao’s millennial views differed from that Taiping’s and other Buddhist inspired sects.  Although Bao was vegetarian and was on good terms with the Buddhist establishment, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether he was a member of a Buddhist sect.  To his own credit, Bao interpreted the concept of kalpa, the Buddhist eschaton, in a humble, undogmatic way.  Hong and other Chinese sectarians claimed to know who would be saved and who would be “doomed,” one common meaning of zaijie, the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit kalpa.  In a warning to his followers Bao asked them: “Are you sure that your own parents are not doomed?”[31] Bao and Hong agreed that there was a moral basis for salvation, but contrary to the Taiping Manichean exclusivism, Bao recognized that there were good and bad Taipings.  Crowning his humble eschatology was Bao’s admission that the kalpa might not be to his advantage.

There are some instructive lessons to be gained by studying the documents that were exchanged between Bao and the Taipings as they tried to negotiate a truce.  With regard to the turning of the kalpa one can discern what looks like fatalism in Bao’s language that may explain his humility and his agnosticism.  As I have argued elsewhere,[32] there is nothing necessarily negative about a fatalism based on the law of karma, which simply means that actions have consequences and you reap what you sow. We can say that those who are unmindful and do not develop the virtues are destined to experience the harsh truth that the vices are their own punishment. Buddhist ethics can be formulated in a simple conditional: “If we act motivated by greed, hatred, or delusion, we are planting the seed of suffering; but when our acts are motivated by generosity, love, or wisdom, then we are creating the karmic conditions for abundance and happiness.” What may look at first like fatalism is now explained positively in the famous motto: character is destiny.

In his first response to the Taipings, Bao gives them a lecture on the history of the Chinese dynasties, explaining their demise by declaring that “their kalpa was exhausted.”  Here kalpa means good karma, or more specifically, the rulers’ virtue.  Bao states:

The reason for this is none other than that the dynasties' founders had benevolent hearts and benevolent reputations, giving the people confidence and comforting the people in their hopes. But finally, when their kalpa was exhausted, in the end they were exterminated, leaving behind a legacy of eternal ill.[33]

What I see in Bao’s statement is a premillennial view of the Buddhist Eschaton. Even though character is indeed destiny, one can always be deceived by semblances of virtue. Although there is a strict determinism in karmic action, only a true Buddha would know the karmic mortgage of any one particular person. Because people are ignorant and unmindful, Bao warned his followers that they cannot even be sure if their parents are saved. The contrast with some postmillennial views is instructive: here Hong and his contemporary American counterparts are sure that they are charged with bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth. They are, as the New England Puritans phrased it, the “visible saints.” American Dominion theologians ridicule those who believe in the premillennial Rapture. There is an important difference here between passive and active apocalypticism, with Bao representing the first and Hong leading the second.  Finally, there are two things that the humble Bao knows for sure: (1) that “the rise of a true ruler (zhenzhu) must be preceded by a time of troubles;” and (2) that this ruler “subscribes not to violence but to benevolence.”[34]  Cole, 67: Lisheng.  People cannot use the kalpa as an excuse for violence.

Whatever the merits of Bao’s views, the historical fact remains that there would have been no Righteous Army of the Dongan if the Taipings had not invaded Bao’s territory.  Bao had no messianic designs of his own and would not have acted militarily on his own religious convictions.  As Cole explains: “[Lisheng] was reacting against a threat from outside his locale. Without the Taiping invasion, Lisheng's Righteous Army is inconceivable. Nor, a fortiori, did Lisheng promise to lead his followers into a new millennium. His ambition was less grandiose.”[35]


During his visit to Christian Heaven, Hong divided this time between killing demons and reading the Chinese Classics with the women in Heaven.  In fact, one of Hong’s poems indicates that Jesus studied the classics before coming down to earth as the world’s savior.[36]  Early on, as Cole explains, Hong tried to find “common ground between Confucian and Christian principles, the most notable product being daliang, which Hong defined as a kind of universal brotherly love transcending racial prejudice or petty loyalty to family, village, or even nation.”[37]

Among the Taiping edicts of 1852 there is a remarkable poem that is left out in later editions.  Its title is “Ode of One Hundred Correct Things” and it is beautiful example of Confucian virtue ethics.  There are only a few changes involving Christian terminology, particularly condemnation to Hell for those who are incorrect.  The ode emphasizes the standard correlation between the virtue of correctness (cheng) and successful ruling. Yao, Shun, and the Zhou kings are praised for their virtue just as they are in Classical Confucianism, and Confucius’ success as a teacher is linked to his virtue, not to his worship of God.  Typical for Taiping ideology is a focus on sexual immorality as the cause for cultural and political decline.[38] Completely consistent with Confucian humanism is the text’s implication that people can develop virtue and avoid vice without divine assistance.  Referring to this ode, Fairbank maintains that in the mid-1840s Hong embraced a Christian Confucianism that “was little more than worship of Jehovah, abandonment of idolatry, and clean living.”[39]

It is also significant that the Taipings decided to delete two paragraphs in The Book of Heavenly Precepts, which argue that the ancient kings worshipped Shangdi, and that this religion was open to the barbarians as well.  The text declares that it is an “absurd statement. . . that to worship the August God (shangdi) is to follow the barbarian,”[40] a clear rebuke to missionaries who wished to stress that Christianity had no links to Chinese culture or religion.  The Confucian philosopher Mencius is used as an authority to support the thesis that ancient Chinese religion and Christianity are the same.  One is also reminded of Confucius’ claim the barbarians, with good role models, can become just as virtuous as anyone else.[41]

As early as 1847 Hong added anti-Confucian elements to his original account of his 1837 visit to Heaven.  Confucius is brought before God and Christ to answer charges that he confused and misled the Chinese people.  Confucius struggles to defend himself but then decides to flee.  Hong and a host of angels are deputized to bring Confucius back whereupon he is flogged.  God shows mercy on the poor sage by judging that his virtues outweighed his vices.  Confucius was allowed to stay in Heaven but banned from ever again descending to earth.

A compromise was also reached on the status of Chinese classics. In 18?? a commission was appointed to “obliterate all the passages in the classics relating to idolatry or superstitious practices and to prefix the word Huang to Shangdi at every occurrence.”[42] The punishment for reading the unedited texts was harsh: "Anyone who dares read, study, or teach any kind of imp book [i.e. the Confucian classics] shall be beheaded. You must wait patiently for the revision, printing, and publication of these books; then you will be allowed to read and study them."[43]

There were power struggles in the Taiping leadership and it was the Eastern King Yang Xiuqing who caused the most conflict, one instance being the status of Confucius.  Hong found it difficult to criticize Yang, because he frequently fell into trances and spoke directly as God. (God was described as having come down in Yang’s presence.) Hong’s high respect for (or fear of) of his Eastern King led to his being declared the earthly incarnation of the Holy Spirit, which theoretically made him higher in the divine hierarchy than Hong himself. (This is undoubtedly the most bizarre expression of the Trinity in the history of Christian theology.) The Western King Xiao Chaogui, until his untimely death in 1852, possessed an equivalent power to channel for Christ. 

While Christ’s messages through Xiao continued the condemnation of Confucius, implying that even censored editions of the classics would not be allowed, God’s messages through Yang struck a fall more conciliatory tone.  Yang’s pronouncements came in 1854, when his power was at its strongest, and at a time when the Taipings were trying to reassure the Confucian literati that they meant no harm to them or their traditions as long as they accepted Shangdi as their deity.  Here is what God advised through Yang on March 2, 1854:

You should ask Fourth Brother [Yang] to notify your Heavenly King [Hong] that among the ancient books which were condemned as demonic are Four Books and Thirteen Classics which advocate Heavenly feeling and truth. These books exhort people to be filial and loyal to their country.  For this reason, East King requested me to order the preservation of these books.[44]

God also advised Yang to restore the traditional guardian dragons with five paws, because the people have confused these auspicious spirit beings with Hong’s Satan, Yan Luo, a four-paw serpent from the eastern seas. That also meant that all traditional dragon accessories, especially vessels and robes, were now allowed.  After all, when Hong visited God in Heaven in 1837, God was dressed in a dragon robe.


          In this section I will discuss three aspects of Taiping theology: its view of Satan, its materialistic concept of God, and its doctrine of Trinity. Hong’s relationship with the Devil is a fascinating example of religious syncretism.  Yan Luo is the Buddhist King of Hades, the Chinese equivalent of Vedic Yama, the king of the underworld.  Hong’s diagnosis of the problems of Chinese society rested on the belief that the gods of popular religion were all demons and that their statues had to be destroyed.  Hong conducted some of these iconoclastic attacks personally and the fact that there was no demonic retribution offered additional proof of his divine calling.[45] 

Further confirmation of the impotence of the traditional deities was the fact that although Hong himself had sacrificed to the gods of the scholars he had failed every single civil service exam.[46] Hong’s Christian motto could be summarized as “Slay the demons and their followers and worship the one true God.”  Once Hong had identified the Qing emperor as the one who “led the people to behave like imps, worships demons and disobey the true God,”[47] the stage was set for a total religious war against any all forces who would dispute God’s will.

One of the criteria by which I determine religiously motivated violence is the destruction of temples, statues, and religious images.  The Taiping record in this regard has been described as “unsparing.” Not long after two months of intense Bible study under the Rev. I. J. Roberts in Canton, Hong entered a temple in Xiangzhou and destroyed its main idol.  Reilly describes the event as follows: “[Hong] beat it, referring to it as a demon, and ordered his followers to ‘dig out the eyes of the demon, cut off his beard, trample its hat, tear its embroidered dragon robe to shreds, turn its body upside down, and break off its arms.'”[48] The Rev. Josiah Cox describes Taiping iconoclasm as follows:

In the temples we entered, the destruction of idols has been unsparing.  The god of war and his satellites lay in scattered fragments about their formers shrines; here lay a dishonored image prostrate on its nose.  Another lost its head.  Others stood with bruised eyes and mouths, and ears and noses missing.  Some lay about in dismembered heaps.[49]

I would hazard a guess that more temples and religious artifacts were destroyed on a per capita basis than all the years of Muslim conquest in India, where alternate years of religiously tolerate rule and failure to execute imperial orders in intolerant times led to relatively little temple destruction.  Eventually, Mughal authorities realized that there was to gain economically by allowing the temple to stand and collect the huge revenues from the Hindu pilgrims.[50]

Hong’s first encounter with Yan Luo and his demons was during his visit to Heaven in 1837. After being given a sacred sword and seal, Hong receives God’s permission to slay demons, and he is joined by a host of angels in his great battle.  (It is significant to note that the Hebrew word translated as “host” in the Hebrew Bible means “army.”) With Christ himself holding Hong’s seal, which both bedazzles and blinds, Hong kills demons and drives those remaining out of heaven’s 33rd level down to earth.  Yan Lou, very much like the buffalo demon in the myths of the Hindu Goddess Durga, is able to transform himself and take on many disguises, but Hong finally traps him and has a chance to finish him off.  God stays Hong’s sword, giving an excuse that Hong’s obviously does not comprehend.  I am indebted to Spence for this incredible account, so I will let him finish the story: “Protesting but obedient, Hong spares the devil king. As to Yan Lou’s minions, all those that Hong can find in the world below, his father lets him slay.”[51]

While Reilly is definitely correct that Hong’s theology is “uniquely Christian,” it is certainly not orthodox. In the exchange of views between the British and Yang the Eastern King asked his fellow Christians how tall God is, how big his belly is, the color of his beard, the type of clothes he wears, and 26 other questions about Jesus’ physical qualities, God’s abilities, his extended family, the number of heavens and their dimensions. The British are completely baffled by these strange interrogatories, and after forming what they called a “synod,” they answered Yang: God is a spiritual being with no physical qualities; Christ is the Son of God only spiritual sense; and God definitely has no family.  With regard to many of the questions, the British humbly replied that they had no answer because the Bible could provide none.  They summarized their response politely but tersely: “We place no faith in any one of your dogmas [Hong’s unique claims]. . . and can subscribe to none of them.”[52] They go on to essentially state the Apostle’s Creed as the summation of orthodox Christianity.  Hong of course repeatedly defended the doctrine of God’s physical nature because he actually walked and talked with him in heaven.  The concept of a divine family is obviously a projection of a deeply rooted family centered culture.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity has been stumbling block not only for Euro-Americans, but most especially for Asians.  Under the influence of Mohist logic and a very concrete sense of reality, Chinese philosophy has always been strongly nominalistic.  The rectification of names is perfect example of philosophical nominalism: to wit, for every name there is a corresponding individual and respecting this correlation is essential for a harmonious world.  Medieval Christian nominalists such as Roscelin got into immediate trouble when they concluded that the three names—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—must represent three separate gods. 

Rejecting polytheism and affirming monotheism, Hong, even though his language is not always clear, maintains that it is only God the Father who is divine. In his commentary on the Mark 2:1, Hong begins with what appears to be an orthodox formulation of the Trinity, noting that “the Holy Ghost is [also] God” and that “the Holy Ghost completes the Trinity.”[53] The most striking claim is that Yang the Eastern King is the incarnation of the Holy Spirit.  In his campaign to portray the Qing emperor as a blasphemer, Hong states that not even Jesus himself can claim the divine name di, and “who is greater than Jesus?”[54] 

Speaking a good Chinese nominalist, Hong rectifies the divine names in a thoroughly Confucian manner: “For the Father is the Father, a son is a son, the Elder Brother is the Elder Brother, and a younger brother [Hong] is a younger brother.”[55]  Commenting on Mark 12:29, Hong argues as follows: “The Great Elder Brother stated quite clearly that there was only one Great Lord.  Why did the disciples later suppose that Christ was God?  If he was, there would be two Gods.”[56]  In this passage, Hong’s nominalistic rectification of names is clearest: “Immediately upon their descent the titles and ranks have been fixed. If you should suppose that Christ is God, there would be another God.”[57]

Jen Juwen offers yet another good Chinese reason why Hong could not accept orthodox formulations of the Trinity: “The fundamental Chinese ethical principle of the relative status of the superior and the inferior--that a father could be more honorable than a son--would never allow an equal footing of the two persons, to say nothing of the merger of the two persons into one identity.”[58]  Jen further explains that this divine hierarchy was graphically portrayed in Taiping documents in which the characters for God, Christ, Hong were written, respectively, four spaces, three spaces, and two spaces above the line. Furthermore, in every passage indicating the singularity of Jesus’ sonship, Hong changes the filial relation of Jesus to “First Son of God,” in order to leave a place for himself as the Second Son of God. Finally, in a comment on 1 John 5: 7-8 Hong makes it clear that Jesus, Yang, and he were all born of the same mother, or as he says later in his commentary on Revelation, “out of the womb of God’s consort, heavenly mother.”[59]


We will now look at Hong’s commentary on some biblical passages as well as actual changes that he made to the text.  With regard to biblical authority, the Taipings believe in biblical errancy, not inerrancy. In his commentary on 1 John, Hong states that “the Father knows there are some mistakes in records of the New Testament,” and then makes an allusion to Yang, the Eastern King.  This is most likely a reference to a remarkable event on July 7, 1854, when God, speaking through Yang, made the following proclamation:

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament, which have been preserved in foreign lands, contain numerous falsehoods . . . . [These] books are neither polished in literary terms nor are they fully complete.  You must consult together, and correct them so that they become both polished and complete.[60]

The force of Yang’s authority is so great that the Taipings cease printing the Bible until proper corrections could be made. Taiping scriptures are made complete by the addition of the True Testament, an authorized collection of Taiping religious documents.  I will summarize some of the most important corrections below, especially as they have to do with Hong’s status and authority. In order to avoid excessive endnotes, I will let the biblical references act as citations to J. C. Cheng’ chapter entitled “The Taiping Bible.”  I have also changed what I judge to be unnecessary capitalization in Cheng’s translations.

As a prelude to the Book of Genesis, Hong declares: “The Father is Light; the Brother is Light; and the Lord [Hong] is Light.” Hong’s claim to divine light also expressed in the striking claim, oddly attached to the appearance of the rainbow in the story of Noah, that he is the sun.  In a comment on Matthew 27:40, Hong plays with the dots in his name to predict that he as the sun will rebuild Jewish temple that was destroyed in 70 CE. Hong also explains the parable in Matthew 24:27-29 as follows: “I myself was the sun. After my descent upon earth as a man it thus became darkened.  My wife was the moon.  After her descent upon earth as a woman it would thus not give light.” This cryptic statement is most likely a reference to Hong and his wife’s role in coming apocalypse described in the Book of Revelation.

Ever vigilant on moral matters, Hong eliminates all references to Noah’s drunkenness and nakedness, deletes the story of Lot’s daughters making him drunk and seducing him, and censors Judah’s incestuous relationship with Tamar.  The story of Jacob represents a double offense to Hong’s Chinese sensibilities, not only because of Jacob’s deceit but because of improper filial relations.  Therefore, Hong has to scrap the original story and rewrite it completely.  As Spence explains: “Speaking as a respectful younger brother, Jacob gives Esau a brief lecture on the need to respect his birthright, and then agrees to ‘divide’ it with him in exchange for the pottage that Esau craves.”[61]

In a commentary on Genesis 14:18-20, Hong claims to have been the mysterious priest Melchizedek. He declares that he became incarnate as this high priest to bless and to save Abraham, so as the secure the way for Jesus to come as savior.  He repeats this identification with Melchizedek in his commentary on the Book of Hebrews where this priest has a prominent role.  There Hong describes himself as the “Grain King” (ho wang), who “shall be the Lord to save virtuous men.”  Interestingly enough, Hong ignores the fact that Melchizedek is described as “without father, without mother, [and] without descent . . . "(Heb. 7:3).

          In his reading of 1 Corithians 15:45, Hong is perceptive enough to note something that most readers miss.  Paul appears to be adopting Philo of Alexander’s two-stage doctrine of human creation, thereby explaining the two different accounts given in Genesis 1:26 and 2.  Hong’s own version is that God created all human souls as pure spirits, which are then joined with the bodies produced by earthly fathers.  Hong then extends this dual theory of human origins to a corresponding Great Paradise, a spiritual kingdom in heaven with the Small Paradise, the earthly kingdom that he has built in China. “The Great Paradise in heaven is where souls give glory to God . . . .The Small Paradise on earth is where the bodies give glory to God.” Breaking with his usual literalism, Hong’s view of the new Temple of God is, however, not an actual temple, but, at least in his reading of Revelation 3:12, the entire heavenly dynasty that Hong has established, which, as we seen, would eventually extend throughout the world.

 In his commentary on the Book of Revelation, Hong is prepared to fully appropriate his claim to be the sun and his wife the moon. Commenting on chapter 6:12-15, Hong states: “I myself was the sun; my wife, the moon.  The record that they became as dark as blood is a parable to prophecy that we shall descend to become human beings.  Our heavenly generals and heavenly soldiers are those stars in heaven which fell to earth, and sent down by parabolic edict into the world to exterminate demons.”  Hong also declares that “the Universal Peace [will] be consolidated, and the geography remodeled.” 

The dramatic image of “a woman clothed with the sun” in Revelation 12:1-5 allows Hong once again to play solar deity.  This woman is of course his earthly mother and in her womb God “clothed [his] body in sunlight to show that the embryo inside was the sun.”  The serpent devil Yan Luo, dramatically portrayed as “a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.”  Yan Luo threatens to destroy Hong in the womb, but he is protected by his omnipotent heavenly father. Not surprisingly Hong has a very Chinese reading of Revelation’s Bride of the Lamb: “The wife of the Divine Lamb is the heavenly Sister-in-Law, who I saw many times in heaven.  The heavenly Sister-in-Law also descends to earth [with God and Christ], and calls me ‘Younger Brother.’”

In Hong’s reading of Revelation, God and Christ will descend to earth and help both Hong and his son, “the Junior Lord,” govern all the nations of the earth.  As the Eschaton unfolds, Hong destroys the devil Yan Luo and establishes “Universal Peace under Heaven.” As Hong has previously identified divine fire as the sun, he fully implicates himself in this most essential deed: “Today the serpent and the beast are destroyed by heavenly fire.”  Hong very last comment indicates some resentment towards “holy disciples [who] are not happy.” Could these be the American and British visitors who have politely rejected Hong’s very personal reinterpretation of the Bible?


As I thought about my book on the origins of religious violence, I developed about a dozen hypotheses about why the Abrahamic religions produced more religiously motivated violence than the Asian religions.  Seven of these theses now appear to be relevant to Taiping Christianity and its success in motivating hundreds of thousands of Chinese to join the largest and most violent rebellion in human history.  The first hypothesis is as follows:

1.     Abrahamic prophets claimed to have had direct com­munication with God and were very much concerned with following his com­mands, while Asian devotees rarely spoke about what God actually said for us to do.

Taiping Christianity was unique in Chinese religion in having three persons who claimed to have direct contact with God: Hong, visiting God and his family in heaven; Yang, the Eastern King, speaking for God on earth; and Xiao, the Western King, channeling for Christ until his untimely death. Hong stated that “I have received the immediate command of God in his presence; the will of Heaven rests with me.”[62]  We have already seen how powerful Yang was in establishing his role as the human form of the Holy Spirit and declaring that the Bible was not inerrant.

          Chinese rulers claimed their authority as mandate from Heaven, not as a personal command of God.  We have seen that this mandate is often subtle and inexplicable as the Delphic Oracle.  In the case of Bao Lisheng it led to a humility and agnosticism, and even allegedly blasphemous Qing Emperor Xianfeng, as we shall see, was humble and apologetic before an inscrutable Heaven. In stark contrast, the instructions that Hong, Yang, and Xaio received were unequivocal and instilled a confidence and militancy that obviously motivated their troops to a high degree.  Furthermore, the practice of congregational worship, virtually unknown in Asian religion, was just as effective in the discipline and motivation of Taiping troops as it was for Islamic soldiers in their battles throughout Asia and Africa.

2.     The Abrahamic religions emphasize the authority of written scripture much more than Asian religions.

Reilly confirms this point in his claim that “the Bible . . . was to propel Hong [’s] . . . transformation of his Society of God Worshippers from a religious movement with political overtones into a full-fledged political rebellion.”[63]  The other revolutionary Chinese religious sects did not have any direct link to scripture in this way. Before Hong visited the Baptist mission in Canton in 1840, the only biblical verses he knew were the scattered references, mainly from the New Testament, from Liang Afa’s Good Words.  From his Canton visit Hong most likely obtained his own copy of Gutzlaff’s translation of the Bible.

Hong’s literalism Finger of God a

3.     Abrahamic religions are primarily religions of obedience, while the Asian religions are either religions of knowledge (Jainism and some schools of Buddhism and Hinduism) or religions of praxis (Confucianism, Daoism, and Zen).

A central feature of Taiping Christianity was obedience to God primarily through strict adherence to Hong’s version of the Ten Commandments.  As far as I have been able to determine, this legalistic view of religion is not found in the other Chinese sects that fomented rebellion.     

4.     The Abrahamic religions have also been more concerned with main­taining the purity of divine revelation, while the Asian­ religions have gen­erally allowed, even wel­comed, other religious influences.

We have seen that early Taiping religion was heavily influenced by Confucianism, but direct links and validation from the Chinese Classics were explicitly eliminated.  General influences of Chinese culture, especially the central idea of hierarchical family relationships, remained.         

5.     The Abrahamic religions have viewed the origin of evil as located in the will or even body and matter, but the Asian thought, particularly the Chinese, see evil as a matter of imbalance and disharmony.

The presence of Manicheanism in the White Lotus School and Yellow Turban Sect, and its tendency to demonize entire groups of people, may have been a motivating factor in their violent political rebellion. There is certainly sufficient evidence to prove that Hong was captured by a Manichean worldview that allowed him to brand all of his opponents as evil.

This radical dualism of good and evil, the creation of a Persian prophet Mani, was contrary to the traditional Chinese view of evil as imbalance and disharmony, not the result of a separate evil power or the human will.  Contrary to some Euro-American misconceptions, Yang, for example, is not good and Yin evil; rather it is the imbalance between them that brings discord to human beings and their world.  There is, however, one important mitigating factor in Christian and Buddhist views of Satan, namely, the fact that the forces of evil are not separate, as in Mani’s original view or later Gnostic religions; rather, the Buddhist and Christian Satan is under the power of God.  Interestingly enough, Yan Lou was demoted to fifth place in Hell because he had been too compassionate and lenient to some sinners.  In Judeo-Christianity theology, Satan was originally one of the subordinate deities in heaven and still appears to be so in the Book of Job.

6.     Abrahamic monotheism, while theologically and conceptually appealing, may create more religious intolerance than the Asian religions that tend to recognize many deities and spiritual powers.

7.     Religions with a future messianic ruler and strong apocalyptic visions will cause more violence. Premillennial views may also be less violent than postmillennial theories.

We have seen that Chinese sects that worshipped Maitreya Buddha and borrowed Manichean dualism did indeed cause religiously motivated violence.  Even with his claim that Hong was claiming a Confucian Mandate of Heaven, Reilly also states that Hong’s apocalypticism is just as much Buddhism. No Confucian could conceive of “Shangdi as a Holy Warrior leading his armies to victory,” or “a great apocalyptic battle led by a conquering king,”[64] certainly not at the direct command of Heaven.  This vision is thoroughly biblical not Confucian.  It is not even Buddhist, because Maitreya is never portrayed as a violent, conquering king.  Maitreya iconography gives symbols of Buddhist political and religious power, but Maitreya does not carry a sword or any other weapons.  Even the sword of Manjushri is used for slaying ignorance and killing spiritual demons, not for political rebellion and slaying imperial “imps,” as Hong calls his enemies.

          As a corollary, I believe that premillennial views may be less violent, at least on the human side, than postmillennial eschatologies. In the third section I contrasted Bao Lisheng’s passive premillennialism with Hong’s active postmillennialism. Reilly suggests a similar difference between Liang Afa’s tradition view of the Last Judgment in which the sheep will stand on the right hand of God and receive their eternal reward while the goats on God’s left will burn in Hell.  Only then would the Kingdom of God begin, and it would not be of this world, because it would be consumed in fire.

          Liang Afa was following the eschatology that the Cantonese missionaries had taught him, and these Christians were not pleased with Hong’s postmillennial views and especially the potential threat they posed to imperial prerogatives. Reilly recognizes the postmillennial character of Hong’s eschatology very well: “Hong[‘s] . . . conception of the millennial kingdom was more earthly, present, and dynamic than that presented in Liang’s tract. He believed in a kingdom that was coing, even now, through the instrumentality of the Taiping host.”[65] problems that posedyoffers the views of the apocalypse may be preferred over activist postmillennial doctrines that are expressed in Hong’s theology and American Domionists.  Liang Afa”s premillennialism Reilly, 111.     

8.     Whenever religious and national identities are fused, one will find religiously motivated violence.

This is certainly the case in Buddhist and Hindu fundamentalism, as well as Tibetan and Japanese nationalism and militarism, and of course Hong’s attempts to restore the Chinese nation under the rule of Shangdi.

          Reilly makes much of Hong’s charge that the Qing Emperor was a blasphemer, but Reilly, for some reason, accepts this accusation uncritically.  Reilly also implies that Hong is therefore justified in overthrowing the emperor because of this religious crime.  Reilly accepts without comment the parallel between the worshipping the Roman emperor as a divine being. himself is the one who offers a emp

,Chinese Emperor makes sacrifices to other deities, even Confucius, whom Chinese philosopher never deified.  Xianfeng that, even though he had done the Great Sacrifice nine times, had not given his troops a victory over the Taipings.[66]  (It is significant that Xianfeng is referring to Tian not Shangdi.) 


Democratic worship of God, class hierarchy.  Economic Communism.  Universal love extends to all countries.  We are not to hate the barbarians just because they are outsiders.   We are one family under Heaven with one Heavenly ordained ruler. All are equal except the elite leadership who can have wealth as as many wives as it wants. Titus 1:6: God gives permission to have plural wives.




[1]Reilly, p. 77.


[2]Quoted in Philip L. Wickeri, “Christianity and the Origins of the Taiping Movement: A Study in the Function of the Social Function of Religious Symbols,” Ching Feng 19:1 (1976), p. 13.


[3]Spence, p. 176.


[4]Curwen, p. 11.


[5]Reilly, p. 11.


[6]Ibid., p. 51, 55.  It is revealing that Reilly uses violent phrases such as these, in addition to the Taipings “crushing,” “destroying,” and “smashing.”


[7]Ibid., p. 154.


[8]Shih, p. 356.


[9]Cambridge, 136-137


[10]Shih, p. 357.


[11]Fairbank, p. 137.


[12]Shih, p. 340.


[13]Reilly, p. 114


[14]George Grant, The Changing of the Guard (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), pp. 50-51. 


[15]Quoted in Shih, p. 89.  The British were particularly put off by such grandiose claims and some British envoys refused to meet with Hong because he required that they kowtow to him and recognize him as their Lord.  Hong’s claims to universal rule extended to the practice of reserving sections of his harem for women from various foreign lands.  The right of Taiping officials to take many wives contrasted hypocritically with a strict separation of women and men, even those married, which was not lifted until late in Taiping history.


[16]Wickeri, p. 30.


[17]Book of Poetry, Shih, 2:5, 4, quoted in Chieu, The Tao of Chinese Religion (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1984), p. 28.

[18]Shih, p. 358.


[19]Y. P. Mei, "The Basis of Social, Ethical, and Spiritual Val­ues in Chinese Philosophy" in The Chinese Mind, p. 324.

[20]See N. F. Gier, Spiritual Titanism: Indian, Chinese and Western Perspectives (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2000), esp. chaps. 9, 10, and 11.


[21]See my article “On the Deification of Confucius,” Asian Philosophy 1:3 (1993), pp. 43-54.


[22]Spence, p. 345fn24


[23]Spence, p. 32.


[24]Shih, p. 132.


[25]Shih, p. 466.


[26]Curwen, p. 222.


[27]Curwen, p. 222 note 58.


[28]James H. Cole, The People Versus the Taipings: Bao Lisheng's "Righteous Army of Dongan" (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, 1981), pp. 24, 1.  I am indebted to Cole for all information about Bao.


[29]Ibid., p. 45.


[30]Ibid., p. 46.


[31]Ibid., p. 33.


[32]N. F. Gier, “Toward a Hindu Virtue Ethics” in


[33]Quoted in Cole, p. 53. Cole suggests that the first response was composed by his Confucian advisors, but this second reply evidently comes from his own hand.


[34]Ibid., p. 56.


[35]Ibid., p. 33.


[36]“God is therefore displeased, and has sent his Son with orders to come down into the world, having first studied the classics” (cited in William J. Hail, Tsen Kuo-Fan and the Taiping Rebellion (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2nd ed, 1964), p. 98.


[37]Jen, p. 163.


[38]Cheng, pp. 74-75.


[39]Fairbank, p. 269.


[40]Cheng, p. 77.


[41]Analects 9.6??


[42]Jen, p. 128


[43]Jen, p. 128.


[44]Quoted in Spence, p. 225.


[45]Perhaps the most famous iconoclastic event was the destruction of the idol of Kan Wang Yeh in Xiang Zhou on October 26, 1844.  This deed was memorialized in The Taiping Heavenly Chronicle as an exemplary act of God’s will being actualized in Hong’s actions.


[46]Philip L. Wickeri notes that the first Christian document that Hong read, Liang Afa’s Good Words for Exhorting the Age, made this same point about the impotence of the scholars’ gods Wen Ch’ang and K’uei Hsing (op. cit., p. 12).  Hong believed that Good Words had not only confirmed his 1837 vision but it has explained everything that had happened in his adult life.


[47]Quoted in Wickeri, p. 26. 


[48]Reilly, p. 95.


[49]Quoted in Reilly, p. 96.


[50]See my essay “From Mongols to Mughals: Religious Violence in India from the 9th-18th Centuries” at


[51]Spence, p. 48.


[52]Spence, p. 232.


[53]Cheng, p. 85.


[54]Quoted in Reilly, p. 94.


[55]Quoted in Spence, p. 292.  At first I was confused by what I thought were arbitrary capitals and indefinite pronouns, but I finally realized that a good Chinese translator can be certain of capitalizing in English when the Chinese character is a proper name or title.


[56]Cheng, p. 85.


[57]Cheng, p. 89.


[58]Jen, p. 160.


[59]Cheng, p. 90.  I have changed what I judged unnecessary capitalization in Cheng’s translations.  RIGHT PLACE FOR THIS?


[60]Quoted in Spence, p. 233.  I have deleted a debate that broke out in the Taiping court after God, according to Yang, said “that it is no longer useful to propagate” the Bible. God quickly corrects himself by clarifying his position in the last portion I quote in the text.


[61]Spence, p. 257.

[62]Quoted in Philip L. Wickeri, “Christianity and the Origins of the Taiping Movement: A Study in the Function of the Social Function of Religious Symbols,” Ching Feng 19:1 (1976), p. 13.


[63]Reilly, p. 77.


[64]Reilly, p. 114.


[65]Reilly, p. 111.


[66]Reilly, pp. 108-9