Spence quickly outlines the whole Taiping story starting from the early life of Hong Xiuquan and ending with the death of his followers and the crumble of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom.
Then Spence starts to discuss the roots of the apocalyptic visions that Hong and his followers shared. Spence talks about how the ideas of the universe as a delicate balance of the good and evil and the lack of the after-death life ideas were dominant at 2000 bc times. He points out how this was especially relevant to the Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Indo-Iranian cultures referring to “The prophecies of Nefertiti” and the Sumerian “Epic of Gilgamesh”
Then Spence points out how starting from the 1500 bc a new set of beliefs begun to emerge. The Persian seer Zoroaster founded a new set of beliefs called millenarian which finally addressed the after-death life and many other things (like that the good will win over the evil in the epic battle and how everyone will end up being happy)
A similar thing occurs in China, thought, much later. As early as 1000 bc “The Book of Changes” discussed about the similar beliefs. In the eye of the chinese, yin and yang was the symbol of balance.
As the time went on new movements evolved like “Way of Great Peace”, “Taiping Tao” and “Way of Celestial Masters”. They had a common goal of finding an ultimate being that would humanity’s saviour and help them escape the misery in which they were at the times.
Now hard times went on accompanied by famine, death, war and tyrants. The movements claimed that only the chosen ones, the clean, the holy, those who achieved the medium would survive and establish a new world.
These movements with an apocalyptic vision were popular both in Europe and China. They were mostly favored by the poor and the movements were often in conflict with the state resulting in bloodspill and violence. What surprised Spence was that considering the fact that the Hong’s impression of the Bible was from the words of the Western Protestant Missionary who knew Chinese at a very low level resulting in my errors and misunderstandings, yet it was a dessisive moment for Hong and gave him allot of inspiration.
Spence says how he found an important document accounting the Hong’s vision and Spence uses it in the writing of this book. Spence also says that his book is primary based on the works of the Chinese studies of the Taiping and that the book will not cover the whole of Taiping, but will give the reader a fairly detailed picture of the whole Taiping.
chapter 1: Walls
In this chapter Spence descrabes the life of the Westerners in the closed area of Canton. The living conditions were bad, people were cramped. There were many factories and people had to live right next to them. The area was guarded by the Chinese soldiesrs, no Westerner was alloed into the main part of the city. Exchange of anything between the Chinese and the Westerners was also very limited. Woman were not allowed in the closed region and married man had to leave them in Macao 145km away from the place. The Westerners even had their own doctor.
Chapter 2: The word
To be continued…