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  Early Life of Hong Xiuquan



Hong Xiuquan ( 洪秀全 ) was born in Guangdong Province in Huaxian county, Fuyuanshui Village ( (福源水村) Guangdong , 30 miles north of Guangzhou  ( Canton ) and later moved to  Guanlubu Village ( 官祿村), Guangdong in what is now the Huadu district in close to Guangzhou (Canton)  to a farming family, on January 1, 1814 . ( some early sources have his birth year listed as 1813, but this has been proven to be incorrect )  On the bicentenary of Hong's birthday in 2014 , a new Hong Xiuquan Memorial museum was opened at Hong Xiuquan's former residence, for more information, click here .


A reconstructed residence of Hong Xiuquan

at Guanlu village, Guangdong . The original was destroyed by the Qing as was the village .


 Hong Xiuquan Memorial Museum 2005

Guangdong Huadu 廣州花都

He had two elder brothers and two sisters . Hong Xiuquan was born Hong Renkun (洪仁坤), courtesy name Huoxiu, 火秀 Brilliant Fire) Hong Xiuquan was his literary name, chosen by himself in his mid-teens, meaning elegant and perfect. He was called Phu at birth by his father .


Observing his scholarly inclination, ( It is said he memorized and could recite  the Four Books 四書 sishu The Five Classics 五經 wujing by age 5 or 6  .)  The Four Books are :  Daxue 大學 (Great Learning), Zhongyong 中 庸 (Doctrine of the Mean), Lunyu 論語 (Analects or Analects of Confucius), and Menzi 孟子 (Mencius) . The Five Classics are  are ancient Chinese books used by Confucianism as the basis of studies. These books were compiled or edited by Confucius or Kong Zi (孔子, 551- 479 BC) himself. They are Shijing 詩經; (Classic of Songs), Shujing 書經; (Classic of History), Liji 禮記 (Classic of Rites), Yijing 易經 (I Ching or Classic of Changes), and Chunqiu 春秋 (Spring and Autumn Annals). 


His father sent him to school at seven were he was taught by a low level literati named Ting-jin who had not succeeded in passing the civil exams . Here he learning Chinese characters and memorized the Chinese classics by chanting. During the war with the Taipings, the Manchus exterminated about 20,000 of the Hong clan in the area and raised the Hua village.


The Hong family were part of an cultural  group called the Hakkas in Cantonese and Ke-jia ( 客家 'guest people' or outsiders as opposed to the 本地, bendi, inhabitants of Guangdong whose ancestors had lived in Guangdong for generations)  in Mandarin . The Hakkas migrated from central China , speak their own dialect and built walled cities for protection . The Hakkas regard their language as the purest form of ancient Chinese. Unlike the Han Chinese women of the time, Hakka women did not practice footbinding. After the Manchus conquered China, most of the Hakkas remained unsurrendered for more than twenty years. They had a strong feeling against the Manchus and an equally strong feeling for restoring China to the Chinese. They were full of nationalistic sentiment and revolutionary spirit .


 The Hakkas are descendants of the Han nationality migrating southward from Central China in ancient times. In their long southward migration, the Hakka people have formed their own & unique customs and habits. These retain the heritage of the Central China culture as well as those formed gradually in the course of their southbound migration.


 Early Schooling and the Exam System

Studying the classics under Master Ting

From: Life of Tai-ping-wang, chief of the Chinese insurrection

by Milton Makie  1857


At 15, he left school, due to his father's deteriorating financial condition and worked on the family farm, but continued to study on his own . He was heartened by stories of poor boys who had passed the imperial exams by hard study, such as Sung-king, who tied his queue to a beam to keep from nodding while studying all night .The relatives of Hong Xiuquan, noticing his diligence, scrapped some money together so he could devote himself to study again with a local master. Members of Hongs family passed the prestigious imperial examinations in the distant past, but no one had done so in recent times. There were four literary degrees in China at the time. The first was the xiu-cai (秀才 ' Flowering Talent'), the second was the Ku-jin or promoted man, the third was the Tsin-szu or 'Earned doctors' and the highest was Han-lin " Forest of Pencils.'


 China's Examination Hell: Video Lecture

Video lecture on China's Imperial Civil Service Examination System. Established in 605 during the Sui dynasty, the imperial examination (Chinese: 科舉; pinyin: Kējiu) was system designed to select the best potential candidates to serve as administrative officials, for the purpose of recruiting them for the state's bureaucracy. During its long history, it exerted tremendous influence on Chinese state and society.


To pass the imperial examination  (kejiu 科举 ) was the most prestigious pathway to power, success in imperial China. In theory, any adult male in China, except for groups such as actors, could take the exam and become a high ranking imperial official .In reality, since studying for the exams was all time consuming, usually only those families of means could support such an activity, but there were cases of brilliant students of poor families passing the exams .Only about 5% of those who took the exam passed, some spent their wholes lives studying for the exam, and never passed .The exams took for 24 to 72 hours in small cubicals, some wore ingenious 'cheat shirts' to try and get an edge


Submitting a trial essay to the examiners

From: Life of Tai-ping-wang, chief of the Chinese insurrection

by Milton Makie  1857

Before going to Guangdong ( Canton ) and becoming a candidate for the degree of siu-tsai, Xiuquan was obliged first to submit to a trial of his qualifications in the chief town of the district in which he resided. On arriving, he presented himself before the chi- hien, who sat in robes of state in examination hall, assisted by the Hoh-ching, or " corrector of learning." At the desk of the clerk Xiuquan gave in his name, his father's, his grandfather's, and his great grandfather's, as well as that of his place of residence, and was thereupon allowed to take his position among the crowd of expectants, who sat upon long benches in face of the imposing officials.

After the essays had been finished and laid before the board of examiners, only about a dozen out of four or five hundred were accepted as satisfactory, one of which was Xiuquan. His name was duly posted up on the wall, with the title" teacher of commands" with the honors of  Hien ming which signifies " having a name in the village." Next came his department level exam, which he also passed, his name was once more posted up on the wall ; and he was clothed with the honors of the fu ming, which signifies "having a name in the department.

And now came the third great trial, that for the degree of siu-tsai, or bachelor of arts, at the provincial capital of Canton. Should Xiuquan succeed in getting this, he might become a mandarin, with a button in his cap.

The exam hall in Canton where Hong Qiuquan failed many times.

The hall had 7,500 cells. Photo from 1873


Hong went to Guangzhou in 1836 at the age of 22 to take the Confucian state examinations ( the juren exam 舉人, held every 3 years) after passing the qualifying exam in his county . Before the exam, was subjected to the usual preliminary search, the object of which is to prevent any writings from being smuggled into the room in aid of the tyro put upon his trial. His pockets were duly searched for scraps of learning ; his finger-nails were inspected to see if there were nothing written on them from Confucius ; his queue was overhauled, lest there should be tied up in it extracts the classics; and even his shoes were taken off and examined .



Returns Home, Tries, Tries again


The early dream of Hong Xiuquan to pass the civil exams and be able to wear a Mandarin's hat with a peacock feather was not to be, either due to lack of bribe money ,poor exams,Han Chinese prejudice against Hakka people or the extremely low pass rate of 1 % .


The Elegant and Perfect did his best that day, but, alas ! whether from having too few ideas or too many, whether from his style or his handwriting not possessing the requisite finish, or from some other cause impossible to be conjectured, his essay was thrown out. It could have been for not having enough money for a bribe .Therefore, there was nothing left for him but to return, crest-fallen, to his father's house, " having a name in the village," and having a name in the department," but none in Canton.. He returned home, determined to try again in three years .With his new titles, he was able to become a schoolmaster .In the intervening years he married and began to have doubts about the Chinese gods and superstitions, such as Dragon of the Eastern Sea, which would not produce rain during the drought of 1832.


The Fateful Tract from Liang Fa


A rare copy of Good words for exhorting the age 1836

 by Liang Fa .  He used the pen name

Xueshanzhe 學善者, which can be seen on the left .


In 1833, he went again to Canton to try to pass the exams again, and again failed . During this time he met Liang Fa (1789 - 1855 )( Liang Fa  religious background was in Confucianism and Buddhism, but when he met Protestant missionary Robert Morrison 1782 - 1834 , he converted to Christianity , one of the first Protestant converts in China. ) , a native Evangelist, employed by the London Bible Society to distribute religious books among the young men who came up to Canton to attend the examinations, who gave Hong such religious tracts as Good words for exhorting the age. ( Quanshi liangyan 勸世良言 ) . According to The visions of Hung-Siu-tshuen, and origin of the Kwang-si insurrection  1854 by the Rev. Theodore Hamberg , this is how the meeting between Hong Xiuquan and Liang Fa transpired :


In the year 1836, when he was twenty-three years of age, he ( Hong ) again visited Canton, to be present at the public examination. Just before the office of the Superintendant of Finances, he found a ( Some sources say a Western man, possibly the missionary Edwin Stevens 1802-1837 ) man dressed according to the custom of the Ming dynasty, in a coat with wide sleeves, and his hair tied in a knot upon his head. The man was unacquainted with the Chinese vernacular tongue, and employed a native as interpreter. A number of people kept gathering round the stranger, who used to tell them the fulfilments of their wishes, even without waiting for a question from their side. ( Hong ) Siu-tshuen approached the man, intending to ask if he should attain a literary degree, but the man prevented him by saying,—"You will attain the highest rank, but do not be grieved, for grief will made you sick. I congratulate your virtuous father." On the following day he again met with two men in the Liung-tsang street, One of these men had in his possession a parcel of books consisting of nine small volumes, being a complete set of a work entitled "Keuen shi leang yen," or " Good words for exhorting the age ;" the whole of which he gave Hung-Siu-tshuen, who, on his return from the examination .


The tracts of Liang Faing were to have immense consequences .


Even though hundreds of copies of  Good words for exhorting the age were distributed in the early 19th century, only four survived the destruction which followed the failure of the Taiping Movement . Liang wrote many tracts such as this  explaining his understanding of Christianity to fellow Chinese. The Quanshi liangyan introduces such biblical themes as redemption by Christ,the Sermon on the Mount, Noah and the flood,  and teachings of St. Paul. Liang carefully explains heaven, hell, the Final Judgment, the Ten Commandments, the observation of the Sabbath, and the importance of filial piety for Christians. He strongly condemns the use of opium and wine, witchcraft, greed, adultery, and stealing. The Quanshi liangyan not only condemns the Qing dynasty’s secular and religious culture, but also offers a path for the redemption of both Chinese society and the individual through Christianity.


Hong took these home with him ; read them ; but, not fully comprehending the new ideas, illustrated as they were by many theological terms and phrases hard to be understood, he laid them up on his shelf. There they remained for about ten years, undisturbed. In the meantime his wife Lai-shi (賴氏), a Hakka girl gave birth to two daughters , unfortunately, during the birth of a son both mother and infant died . Afterwards he married another Lai-shi (賴氏) from the same Lai clan, who gave him a son .This son, Hong Tiangui (洪天貴), later known as  as Hong

Tianguifu (洪天貴福), would become the last heavenly king was born in 1849 .


After failing his third examination in 1837, he became ill. While he moved in and out of consciousness Hong had a strange dream which he could not understand.  In 1843, after failing his fourth examination, a cousin, Li Jingfang (李敬芳), told Hong that Liang Fa‘s tracts were extraordinary and differed greatly from other religious books. Hong began to read them closely and carefully.





  Early Causes for

the Rebellion


 The Visions of

Hong Xiuquan