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God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan Paperback – December 17, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0393315561 ISBN-10: 0393315568 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (December 17, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393315568
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393315561
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #364,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In what PW called a "masterful history," Spence recounts the mid-19th century Taiping Rebellion, in which a Chinese Christian fanatic seized Nanking and ruled his "New Jerusalem" for a decade.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

A China specialist who's had two LJ Best Books (The Search for Modern China in 1991 and The Memory Palace of Mateo Ricci in 1984) examines a bloody 19th-century uprising in China whose leader claimed to be the son of God.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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I am not sure what book Spence set out to write here.
A reader in Michigan
What we do get is a lot of details, and too much attention is paid to the gibberish at the heart of the Taiping religion.
Jiang Xueqin
So this is a good book to begin understanding a neglected, but very influential, element of Chinese history and culture.
David Marshall

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Firebrand on March 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
Professor Spence has set a high standard with exceptional and appealing English language books on Chinese history, and this volume one of his best. It is a sweeping and detailed history, a truly beautiful, handsome book full of wonderful illustrations and graphics.

But it is not the best book ever written on the Taiping movement. That title belongs to the (unfortunately long out of print) 1973 "Taiping Revolutionary Movement" by Jen Yu-Wen. Profesor Jen spent 50 years investigating the Taiping history, and had a master's command of all of the sources availalble in Chinese and English. Jen's book, which is encyclopedic, but extremely readable, was one of the sources for "God's Chinese Son". Ironically, Spence wrote the foreword for Jen's book.

Spence's perspective and treatment, along with his writing style, is detached, and from a discernible Western bias. This is typical of not only Spence's histories, but those of Fairbank, etc. Jen's book takes one much closer to the on-ground, cultural, psychological and physical realities. Jen's chronicle of the military movements is far more detailed. The general dearth of sources available in English that offer the Chinese view of Chinese history is tragic.

Nevertheless, Spence's is easily the best English language Taiping history in print, and still highly recommended.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on December 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
This story of the rebel and religious leader, Hong Xiuquan, is a weird and horrifying read. It is almost unbelievable that this one man, after having a dream of ascending to heaven, can have mustered a rebellion against the Manchu Dynasty that was stunning in its success and devasting in its failure as twenty million Chinese lay dead at the end of the almost twenty year rebellion. Jonathan D. Spence, in God's Chinese Son, covers this material with his usual combination of both writing skill and scholary research. The reader may occasionally get bogged down in the fine details, particulary with no knowledge of Chinese history from this period, but this book provides a wonderful ride through an unusual time and place in history.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 20, 1999
Format: Paperback
God's Chinese Son is a stunning work of historical scholarship -- an equal mixture of solid documentation, cogent argument and imaginative brilliance. Spence takes the historical biography form and uses it not only to illuminate a fascinating life, but also to turn that life into a window on his own rich, layered reconstruction of 19th-century China. Well worth buying, reading and re-reading; a must for the serious student and the casual reader alike.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jonathon Lever on December 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
Spence's accounts of Chinese history have always been among my favorite ever since I first read his "History of Modern China". The level of detail and the connections that he makes in his writing are usually incredible and to a large degree, God's Chinese Son is no exception to this pattern. Spence provides a very detailed account of the Taiping Rebellion, stretching from the origins of the leadership to the end result for the Heavenly Kingdom.

The level of detail that Spence provides in laying out what happened as well as why it happened is amazing. However, in some respects it's this level of detail that was also a drawback at various points too. Spence provides an excellent account of the story, but at many points I found myself losing the forest for the trees. Despite this, his thesis is well supported and overall the story is well told.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A reader in Michigan on November 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
I am not sure what book Spence set out to write here. Was he trying to write a scholarly history of the Taiping rebellion or was he writing a popular one? The level of detail in much of the book suggests the former -- using long quotes and a passion for detail that often renders the text dense and unwieldy, Spence manages to make much of this story impregnable. This would be fitting, and all too common, for an academic history, but clearly this is not his intent. Leaving out such things as the ultimate influence of the Taiping rebellion on Chinese life or the Qing perspective on the rebellion makes the story rather less than complete. But if this is a popular history, then why the long interludes about the exact details of Western missionary movements around Southwest China prior to Hong Xiuquan's conversion? I found this segment excruciating and entirely unnecessary. Perhaps there is more justification for his extended discussion of Taiping theology, but these seem unduly detailed for a popular history.
The saving grace in all this is the story. The events of the Taiping rebellion are so unlikely and remarkable that even with these textual issues, the book is difficult to put down. The fantastic, anomolous story of Hong's revolution is nail-biting stuff and certain worth trudging through the muddy prose through which it is conveyed. I am not sure I would pick up another book by Jonathan Spence, but I am glad I made it through this one.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Interloper on January 18, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is a biography of Hong Xiuquan, the leader of the Taiping movement in 19th century China. The author, a well-known expert of Chinese history, does not attempt to explain, interpret or evaluate his hero or the Taiping movement to any extent beyond describing the known facts with some historical and social background. He is content with telling a story: the story of a strange man in a strange world; a story we could hardly believe if we did not know it is true. Focusing that much on the central personality has the inevitable drawback that we learn little about the motivations behind the attitude of the rest of the world toward him and his kingdom. But the story is well told, the maps are a great help in locating the events, and the publisher deserves all praise for the tasteful presentation of the volume.
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