Hong Xiuquan

This is a Chinese name; the family name is Hong.
Hong Xiuquan
Taiping Heavenly King (太平天王)
Reign 11 January 1851 – 1 June 1864
Predecessor (none)
Successor Hong Tianguifu
Born (1814-01-01)1 January 1814
Hua County, Guangdong, Qing China
Died 1 June 1864(1864-06-01) (aged 50)
Tianjing, Taiping Heavenly Kingdom
Issue Hong Tianguifu, Heavenly King of Great Peace
Hong Tianming, Ming King
Hong Tianguang, Guang King
Full name
Hong Xiuquan
Era name and dates
太平天囯: 11 January 1851 – 1 June 1864
House House of Hong
Father Hong Jingyang
Mother Madam Wang
Religion Hong's own interpretation of Evangelicalism
Hong Xiuquan
Hong Renkun

Hong Xiuquan[n 1] (1 January 1814 1 June 1864),[2] born Hong Renkun and with the courtesy name Huoxiu, was a Hakka Chinese leader of 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.[3] 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 for him, in the hope that he could one day complete all of the civil service examinations.[3] 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.

Visions and iconoclasm

He took the local preliminary civil service examinations and came first; so, at the age of 22, in 1836, he decided to take the provincial examinations in the nearby city of Guangzhou. While in Guangzhou, Hong heard an Evangelical Christian missionary preaching about his religion. From him Hong received translations and summaries of the Bible that were written by the Christian missionaries Edwin Stevens and Liang Fa, Stevens' assistant (ordained by Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China). Hong supposedly only briefly looked over these pamphlets, but did not pay much attention to them at the time.[3] Unsurprisingly, he failed the imperial examinations, which had a pass rate of less than one percent.[4]

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.[3] 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 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.[5] In order to complete his mission of ridding the world of demons, the elder brother-figure changed Hong's name to "Hong Xiuquan".[3] His friends and family said that after this episode he became authoritative, solemn and taller in height. After failing the imperial examinations for the fourth time 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.[3]

Hong began by burning all Confucian and Buddhist statues and books in his house, and began 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 holy statues 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.[5] 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 4.5 kg), called the "demon-slaying swords" (斬妖劍), to be forged.[6]

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.[7] 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.[5]

Hong stayed at the Yuan Floral Hall (袁氏花廳) in Shiling, Guangzhou (c. 1845–1847) where he studied, preached, developed his revolutionary theory and wrote many of his famous works.[8]

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.[5] 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.[9]

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 in fact both baptized according to the way prescribed in the pamphlet "Good words to admonish the age").[10]

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

Main article: Taiping Rebellion

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 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.[3] Hong ruled by making frequent proclamations from his Heavenly Palace, demanding strict compliance with various moral and religious rules. Most trade was suppressed, and some communal land ownership was introduced. 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 and others in the Taiping élite had Yang and his family murdered in a purge that spiralled out of control, resulting in the further purge of its main perpetrator Wei Changhui.[11]

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 50 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 body in the palace of Nanjing.[12]

Hong was succeeded by his teenage son, Hong Tianguifu. The Taiping Rebellion was suppressed by Qing forces later in 1864 and his body was dug out and burnt.



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.


Poem on Executing the Evil and Preserving the Righteous


In my hand I wield the Universe and the power to attack and kill,


I slay the evil, preserve the righteous, and relieve the people's suffering.


My eyes see through beyond the west, the north, the rivers, and the mountains,


My voice shakes the east, the south, the Sun, and the Moon.


The glorious sword of authority was given by the Lord,


Poems and books are evidences that praise Yahweh in front of Him.


Taiping [Perfect Peace] unifies the World of Light,


The domineering air will be joyous for myriads of millennia.


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.[13] Sun Yat-sen came from the same area as Hong and was said to have identified with Hong since his childhood days.[13]

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 (18921978). The residence and Book Chamber Building were renovated in 1961.

There has been active academic debate on the degree to which Hong is similar or dissimilar to Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi. Scholars that promote the opinion that a strong similarity exists between Li and Hong note that both rallied a large number of people behind a religious or spiritual cause in order to challenge the status quo. Scholars disputing a close relationship note that Li's political intentions are debatable.[14]


  1. In addition to the formal romanizations given above, he was also known in the 19th century by the irregular romanization Hung Sew-Tseuen.[1]



  1. Hunter, William (1885), Bits of Old China, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co., p. 176
  2. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/276586/Hong-Xiuquan
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 China at War 165
  4. Gray (1990), p. 55
  5. 1 2 3 4 De Bary, Wm. Theodore; Lufrano, Richard (2000). Sources of Chinese Tradition. 2. Columbia University Press. pp. 213–215. ISBN 978-0-231-11271-0.
  6. Spence (1996), p. 67. "The two men discuss Hong's dream, and feel that some of it, at least, can be understood literally. So together they ordered a local craftsman to forge two double-edged swords--each sword nine pounds in weight, and three feet in length--with three characters carved upon each blade, 'Sword for exterminating demons'."
  7. Franz Michael The Taiping Rebellion History and Documents pg. 47, pg. 68
  8. http://www.2hd.cn/dahuadu/zhenjiesudi/shilingzhen/shilingzhen/200810/30-24856.html
  9. Spence (1996)
  10. The Taiping rebellion History and Documents Volume 1 p. 25
  11. Philip A. Kuhn, "The Taiping Rebellion." Late Ch'ing 1800–1911, Part I. Ed. John K. Fairbank. (Cambridge University Press, 1978). Cambridge Histories Online. Cambridge University Press.
  12. Spence, Jonathan D. (1996). God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan. WW Norton and Company. p. 31.
  13. 1 2 Cohen, Paul A. (2003). China Unbound: Evolving Perspectives on the Chinese Past, p. 212.
  14. Porter, Noah. Falun Gong in the United States: An Ethnographic Study. USA: Noah Porter. 2003. ISBN 1-58112-190-3. pp.89-92


Further reading

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Regnal titles
Preceded by
Heavenly King of Taiping
Succeeded by
Hong Tianguifu
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