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Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War Audible – Unabridged

4.5 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Audible Audio Edition
  • Listening Length: 17 hours and 32 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Recorded Books
  • Audible.com Release Date: March 15, 2012
  • Whispersync for Voice: Ready
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007KGFXRC
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank:

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom is a fast paced, tightly focused and compelling history of the civil war that tore China apart in the mid 19th century, at the same time America was enduring its own Civil War. It is one of the best written histories involving China I have come across, indeed one of the best on any topic.

The author is able to rein in the far reaching complex story by focusing on two characters, Zeng Guofan, a scholar and later reluctant soldier who became the most important general defending the Manchu empire and Hong Rengan, the Taiping prime minister who brought word of the rebellion to the West, particularly Christian missionaires who he expected to work with "God worshippers" among the rebels, many of whom had adopted some aspects of Christian belief.

In my view this book is superior to God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquanby veteran China scholar Jonathan Spence, which covers the same territory, but less effectively. Spence's book focused on the actual leader of the rebellion, Hong Ziuquan, and his increasingly delusional world view impacted the book.

But Platt, who I presume was a student of Spence's while at Yale, has outdone the teacher here. Autumn is much easier to follow, in part because of a generous supply of maps, a comprehensive who's who of characters and a timeline clarifying the chronology of events.

The book also gains from Platt's decision to basically pick up the story at midpoint, focusing on the concluding half of the war. The book has been critized for this, but we have a full, busy narrative as it is.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A rebellious king in the heart of imperial China finds a missionary tract, decides he is the younger son of God the Father (Jesus Christ being the elder son) and a crucial third of the Trinity (the Holy Spirit ultimately being demoted....), and then manages to establish hegemony over the southern China for more than a dozen years--all simultaneous with the American Civil War--does that sound incredible? And if you are somewhat familiar with 19th century, are you somewhat surprised (as I was) to learn this happened? And that this entire rebellion ultimately attracted the attention of the British empire, which found its very foundation of trade threatened by these events?

It did and Stephen Platt has written an interesting book about the rebellion (which he terms a civil war.) The strengths of the book are many--Platt is an excellent stylist and he has an interesting subject. He follows largely a few crucial figures in the war, both Chinese and English, and paints a convincing picture of their doings. The book is a good old fashioned narrative yarn.

Yet it left me dissatisfied. Although Platt admits that HE, a scholar of China, has never heard of this rebellion until he had studied Chinese history for several years at the graduate level, and had spent a year in China, he blithely ignores much of the Chinese origins of the rebellion and its early years. In the introduction, he says several good books have been written on the subject--this may be true, but I for one do not want to read another book on this rebellion and would have appreciated at least a better summary of the early years of the war.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are few books which cover the Taiping Rebellion adequately, and this book also fails to do so. The title itself is a warning; although the book is subtitled China, the West and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War, it really only covers the last nine years of a civil war, and glosses over the first six years. In addition, it has a Western perspective which dominates the narrative. It would be like a book on the American Civil War which begins with the aftermath of Gettysburg and concentrates on the British perspective.

While the prose is readable, there are omissions which are substantive. When the author relates the experience of Yung Wing who initially sided with the rebels and later switched to the Qing dynasty, there are three hundred pages between his appearances and nowhere does the author tell what happened to him. It might have been helpful to note that Yung Wing had become an American citizen as early as 1852 and that he later returned to the United States, where he died in 1912.

Also, the prologue notes the chronology of the ciivl war, but the text does not really follow it to a conclusion. For example, the text ends with the capture of Hong Rengan (the Shield King), while only the chronology notes his later execution for treason.

Perhaps the most egregious omission is the failure to note anything about the motivations and actions of Hong Xiuquan (the founder of the Heavenly Kingdom). The principles of his polity, what he stood for and how his kingdom developed are omitted almost in their entirety.
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