It was one of the largest uprisings in human history. You’ve likely never heard of it. It is the story of the introduction of Christianity to a foreign people and what can go wrong. It created a movement that lasted 20 years. By the end of the conflict some 20 million people were dead.
God’s Chinese Son is the story of Christian missionaries in China in the early 1800s. Not understanding the language, and not given access to the native population, they still do their best by trying to create tracts, or pamphlets, describing some of the things they believe in. These tracts were widely distributed.
At the same time, a man named Hong Xiuquan has failed his exams yet again and is looking for answers. Picking up one of the tracts he was given years ago, he decides Christianity is the answer. Not having a bible or formal religious education, he nonetheless makes his way to a missionary where he receives a bit, but he is refused baptism.
Going back to his village, he has a dream. In the dream he becomes convinced that he is Jesus’s younger brother, that he was sent to the Chinese to bring them to heavenly peace. Thus begins an incredible journey involving international politics, land battles and sieges, naval warfare, diplomacy, and more.
I was amazed that such an important story existed from the 1800s that most westerners didn’t even know about. I found the book a great overview into the social and cultural character of China in the 19th century. I also found it a study in how important the various pieces of Christianity are — and how easily any movement can destroy itself.
If I had any nits with the book, it’s that Spence spends a bit too much time describing the religious beliefs of both the Chinese and the Christians. It was a little heavy on the theology, although this is a history book, not a religious one. Spence just wants to make sure the reader has a firm foundation on the culture Hong came from, how he changes it, and how he adapts and changes Christianity to serve his own vision.
It is a good book. Anybody interested in history, exploration, Chinese culture, or how systems of people work with one another and a bit of patience for detail would really enjoy it. Highly recommended.