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Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the…
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Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the… (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Stephen R. Platt

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885137,094 (3.96)3
Stbalbach's review
The 'Taiping Rebellion' (1850-64) was the largest Civil War in human history and the deadliest conflict of the 19th century. Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom focuses on events through the eyes of individual characters in an attempt at narrative history of this massive conflict. The first third is fantastic, I was totally hooked and drawn into an exotic world. Later parts become a long Gibbon-style series of contingent battles and people with hard to remember names that blend together and bog the narrative. But it gives a good sense of the course of the war, it was complicated and brutal, political machinations and atrocities happen frequently, there were many epic events. Platt makes the case that British intervention backed the wrong side - thus messing up the natural order of Chinese rebellion that frequently replaced aging dynasties - resulting in even worse bloodshed in the 20th century. I think this is a great introduction to the Taiping Rebellion with a global perspective showing it was more than just an internal civil war but part of a global series of events. It received an unfair negative review in the NYT, the complaints are somewhat true but overblown, and the reviewer totally missed the main thesis of western power intervention, it is the first book to integrate this view. ( )
  Stbalbach | Jun 27, 2012 |
All member reviews
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Excellent book.A history book that reads like a novel. Describes an area of Chinese history that though known about is rarely placed in its world context. ( )
  stanleykaye | Sep 4, 2014 |
The Taiping Rebellion (or war as Platt describes it, with good reason) was one of the most destructive conflicts in China and indeed the world. The Qing government faced a popular heterodox Christian revolt that spread across several provinces, and was only substantially solved after foreign involvement.

Platt's book details the history of the war, its principle figures, and the differing responses the world had to it, ranging from initial support to condemnation as crossed wires and miscommunication shifted global opinion against the Taiping.

Extremely well-researched and well written, this book is a fascinating insight into a key part of China's early modern history, the impact of which is still present in Chinese society today. ( )
  xuebi | May 30, 2014 |
This is an excellent narrative history of a war which has the contradiction of being the second-bloodiest war in history (some 20 MILLION dead), and yet being almost wholly forgotten to Western audiences. The Chinese remember it, though. THeir history tells stories of the Yangtse overflowing and choked with the swollen corpses of the dead.

In narrative history style, Platt focuses on several of the major characters - a Confucian scholar-general who is the Qing Empire's last hope, British diplomats and mercenaries, American observers and missionaries, and the Shield-King, cousin to the Taiping ruler himself, who had visions of Christianity and modernizing China, at the point of a sword and God's blessing.

Although the Western nomenclature has this as a 'Rebellion', Platt characterizes this conflict as a Civil War - contemporary with the American one about to boil over. He posits that the two sides were so evenly matched that it was foreign intervention which tipped the balance to the Qing. They did so primarily for trade reasons, despite the fevered diplomacy of the Taiping, and the appeal to 'their fellow Christians'.

It is unknown what might have happened of the 'Younger Brother of Jesus Christ' took over China, and the Qing fell then instead of hanging on until 1911. If his plans of forced modernization had gone through some years earlier than planned, who knows what the course of Asian history would be instead. China is a colossus with feet of clay, and even now, her destiny is uncertain. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
The 'Taiping Rebellion' (1850-64) was the largest Civil War in human history and the deadliest conflict of the 19th century. Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom focuses on events through the eyes of individual characters in an attempt at narrative history of this massive conflict. The first third is fantastic, I was totally hooked and drawn into an exotic world. Later parts become a long Gibbon-style series of contingent battles and people with hard to remember names that blend together and bog the narrative. But it gives a good sense of the course of the war, it was complicated and brutal, political machinations and atrocities happen frequently, there were many epic events. Platt makes the case that British intervention backed the wrong side - thus messing up the natural order of Chinese rebellion that frequently replaced aging dynasties - resulting in even worse bloodshed in the 20th century. I think this is a great introduction to the Taiping Rebellion with a global perspective showing it was more than just an internal civil war but part of a global series of events. It received an unfair negative review in the NYT, the complaints are somewhat true but overblown, and the reviewer totally missed the main thesis of western power intervention, it is the first book to integrate this view. ( )
  Stbalbach | Jun 27, 2012 |
The Taiping Rebellion took place between 1850 and 1864. During that time the Second Opium War was fought and there were several regional rebellions. These events were part of the decline of the Manchu dynasty caused by the clash with the West and internal factors that mimicked the pattern of decline referred to as the dynastic cycle. This book tells the story of these events on a grand scale filled with the stories of powerful and fascinating men.
Hong Xiquan was the founder of the Taiping movement. After failing the examinations to become a member of the official class several times he experienced a series of hallucinogenic trances. He then proclaimed himself the fourth member of the Christian Trinity and began preaching his own version of Christianity. The times in China were ripe for revolt. The Manchus who ruled China were foreign conquerors whose defeat by Western powers had lessened their hold over the Chinese people. The author places great emphasis on the foreign status of the Manchus.
The Second Opium War was fought from 1856 to 1860 ending with another series of unequal treaties between China and the Western powers. Part of England's crusade to make the world safe to sell opium to the heathen Chinese. The Western countries refrained from involvement in the Taiping Rebellion despite urging from different religious groups. Small Western mercenary armies did fight for the Manchus against the Taiping.
The leader of the Chinese armies fighting the Taiping was Zeng Guofan. The author uses extensive quotations from his diaries and letters to help tell the story of the long struggle that led to the defeat of the Taiping. Zeng had recruited the Hunan army from the same area that many of the Taiping came from. The Taiping capitol was located in Nanjing and much of the fighting took place along the banks of the Yangtze River in Eastern China. After the Taiping were defeated Zeng was urged by many to throw out the Manchus and found a new dynasty. Instead he gave up all of his military power and ended his life as a provincial governor.
10,000,000 to 20,000,000 people died as a result of the Taiping rebellion. Most of the deaths were attributable to famine and disease. This era was very destructive to China in their competition with the West and Japan. This book was very informative and entertaining. It reminded me of why I developed such an interest in Chinese history. As the Chinese grow into a world power they maintain the differences between their culture and the West. ( )
  wildbill | May 6, 2012 |
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