Good afternoon everyone!
I hope all is well with you good people. Today is a cool day in Yokohama, a bit cloudy but I don’t mind cloudy days so much as long as I have a good hot mug of tea and a good book to read. With the pandemic still going on, reading is a good alternative to watching tv, exercise to the imagination.
The book I’m going to review is historical fiction entitled “Empire Of Heaven” by Linda Ching Sledge. It was printed in 1990 and concerns the Tai Ping Rebellion in China. The rebellion which took place between 1850-1864 and concerned the forces of the Qing Dynasty and the Tai Ping Heavenly Kingdom. It was one of the more deadly wars fought in China.
The Emperor of China at that time was a weak man so it was his Empress Tzu Hsi, a woman who was quite skilled with the court intrigues of the Forbidden City who was running things behind the scenes. The leader of the Tai Ping Heavenly Kingdom was a man called Hong Xiuquan and he was an unusual man to say the least. Hong, a Chinese with some Christian missionary education, was a failed candidate of the Chinese civil service. All members of the Chinese civil service and those wishing to join the civil service were required to take very difficult and time consuming exams. Many candidates not passing and taking the exams for 30 years or more (in on instance, a great grandfather was given an honorary pass after trying for 50 years of trying so he could go to his grave without shaming the his family).
In the case of Hong, he had failed the initial civil service exam five times. After the last failure, he had some sort of fit (It was possible that he was an epileptic) and slipped into delirium. After a few days he awoke and very calmly recounted a dream he had. He said he had gone to heaven and that he had met with his father God and his brother Jesus Christ and that he had returned to earth with a mission, a religious mission. He began to gain a following, quite a large following and in such, there were a good number of natural generals amongst the peasant population and the rebellion against the Manchu Qing Empire had begun.
At first, the western countries were in support or at least in sympathy with the Tai Ping rebels as they believed they were spreading the word of God but it wasn’t long before it was realized that Hong was corrupt and no better than those he was fighting against. The Manchu army wasn’t very effective against the rebels and the Qing Dynasty hired foreign mercenaries (mostly Manilla men from the Philippines) which became known as “The Ever Victorious Army” and headed by an American called Frederick Townsand Ward. After he was killed, George “Chinese” Gordon, an engineer in the British Army, took command.
With that bit of background, let’s get back to our story. It concerns a young peasant girl named Rulan who is also a healer. Her father is a general in Hong’s army and Rulan comes to the attention of Hong himself, almost to the point of obsession. She serves as a spy in the house of a general and a lover of a warrior and healer.
I first read this when I was in the Navy and it really sparked my interest in the Tai Ping Rebellion and Chinese history in general. It is a good book with some strong characters, solid history and it does read quite quickly.
Well, that’s all for now. I hope you have a good afternoon and evening as well. If you have any thoughts I’d like hear what you have to say, let me know in the comments.