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The youth of Hong Xiu-quan (first part)
The youth of Hong Xiu-quan (first part)
Hong Xiu-quan, a Hakka, was the founder of the
Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (1851AD to 1864AD) with the
capital in present day city of Nanjing, Jiangsu province.
There were only about four hundred people, who were all Hakka, in the
village of Huaxian which was about thirty kilometers north of the city of
Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong province. Majority of the
residents in this village were with the surname Hong. There were only six
houses in the front, but behind were two other rows of houses with narrow
lanes leading to them, and in the third row on the west side was the
humble dwelling which belonged to the of parents of Hong Xiu-quan.
Before the village and in front of the houses was a large pool of muddy
water, where all the dirt and refuse of the village was carried down by
the rain which formed a rich supply of water for manuring purposes. The
smell from the water was awful to those people who were unaccoustomed to
Chinese agricultural economy. The village school was situated on the left
hand side from the village near the side of this stinky pool. Boys from
the village studied their Chinese classic in this school, with the hope
ultimately of rising from their present humble status to the highest
dignities in the Empire.
In the twelve moon of the 17th year of Emperor Jiaqing (1812) Hong
Xiu-quan was born in this village. He was named Guang Yan "Brilliant fire"
after his birth. When he had reached the age of manhood, he was given him
another name, marking his relation to the Hong family Later when he went
to school he adopted Xiu-quan, "Elegant and Perfect', as his literay name.
The two elder brothers of Hong Xiu-quan laboured with their father in
cultivating their paddy-fields. Besides the rice fields the Hong family
also planted vegetables in a patch bordering the rice fields. The Hongs
was a self sustaining family, possessing two buffaloes, besides some pigs,
dogs, and poultry, which were generally included in a Chinese farming
establishment. The young Hong Xiu-quan soon developed an extraordinary
capacity for study and was sent to school when he was seven years of old.
For five or six years he attended the village school where he studied the
Four Books, the Five Classics and the Thirteen Classics. Later he read for
himself the History of China, and the more extraordinary books of Chinese
literature, all of which he very easily understood at the first perusal.
He soon gained the favour of his teacher as well as of his own family
members who felt proud of his talents, and surely hoped that he would in
course of time attain the degree of Jin-shi (Graduate), or even become a
member of the Han-lin academy, from which the highest officers were
selected by the Emperor, and thus by his high status reflect a lustre upon
his whole family. Several of his teachers gave him free tutions. Although
some of the schools he visited were at a great distance, and the financial
position of his family was unsound, yet, in order that he might continue
his studies, they rejoiced to bring him provisions. Several of his
relatives even shared their clothing with him. His old father loved to
talk with his friends about the talents of his youngest son. His face
brightened whenever he heard any one singing his son's praises. He would
invite the speaker to his house for a cup of tea, or even a bowl of rice.
He would continue his favourite topic of discourse with the friend.
When Hong Xiu-quan was about sixteen years of age, due to the poverty of
his family he discontinued his studies. He assisted in the field labour,
or led the buffaloes to graze upon the mountains. It was regretted by all
that Hong Xiu-quan's studies should thus be discontinued.
In the following year a friend, same age as Hong Ziu-quan, invited him
to study with him as a fellow-student for one year. This friend of Hong
Xiu-quan hoped to procured some benefits from being associated with such a
talent, like him. After this period was over the relatives and friends of
Hong Xiu-quan regretted that his talents should be wasted in manual labour
in the fields. They therefore engaged him as a teacher in their own
village. Thus an opportunity was given to him to contiune his literary
The yearly income of a village schoolmaster depend upon the number of
boys who attended his school. The usual number was between ten and twenty.
With a smaller number of less than ten it would be insufficient to support
himself. On the other hand if he had more than twenty students he could
not give proper attention to them, as he had to teach every boy
separately. They had to hear from him and repeat after him and later
memorize their lessons by heart.
Every boy had to supply his teacher with the following articles
annually: rice 50lb., for extra provision 300 cash, one kilo of lamp-oil,
one kilo of lard, one kilo of salt, one kilo of tea and besides these a
sum of one dollar and fifty cents. The school studies continued throughout
the whole year, with about one month's intermission at the New Year. At
this time the teacher's engagement terminated and a new engagement must be
made. If that teacher resigned a new one had to be sought.
The name of Hong Xiu-quan was always among the first upon the board at
the District Examinations, yet he never succeeded in attaining the degree
of Xiucai ( a graduate). In the year of 1836 when he was twenty-three
years old, Hong Xiu-quan again went to Guangzhou to sit for the public
examination. Near the examination hall he saw a man dressed in the custom
of the Ming dynasty without a pigtail, but tied his hair in a knot upon
his head. It seemed that the man could not understand or speak Cantonese
because he employed a Chinese as his interpreter. The stranger was
surrounded by group of people of people. Hong Xiu-quan heard him telling
the people through the interpreter about the fulfilment of their wishes.
Hong xiu-quan approached the stranger and asked him through the
interpreter if he could attain a literary degree. The stranger told him
that "You will attain the highest rank, but do not be grieved, for grief
will make you sick. I congratulate your virtuous father." Hong Xiu-quan
thought it was stranged to hear that.
The next day Hong Xiu-quan again met these two men in the street. One of
them had in his possession a parcel of books consisting of nine small
volumes which were a complete set of work entitled "Good words for
extorting the age". When Hong Xiu-quan came out from the examination hall
the man gave him the whole set. Hong Xiu-quan took them home and after
glancing through their contents he placed them in his book-case thinking
that they were unimportance.
The following year in 1837 Hong Xiu-quan again attended the public
examination at the provincial city Guangzhou. When the results were out
Hong Xiu-quan saw his name placed high upon the board, but afterwards it
was lowered to the bottom. Deeply grieved, disappointed and discontented,
Hong Xiu-quan had to go home with his ambition dashed. Shortly afterwards
he felt very ill, he engaged a sedan-chair with two stout men, who carried
him back to his village. That day was the first day of the third moon in
the 17th year of Emperor Daoguang. He confined himself to bed. During
this period he had a succession of dreams or visions. He first saw a great
number of people welcoming him to an unknown place. When he woke up he
thought it was a strange dream. He presumed that the place arrived at was
the palace of Yan Luo Wang (the king of Hades) and he was going to die
soon. So he called his parents and other relatives to assemble at his
bedside. He told them in the following terms:
"My days are counted, and my life will soon be closed. O my parents!
How badly have I returned the favour of your love to me! I shall
never attain a name that may reflect its lustre upon you."
After saying this Hong Xiu-quan closed his eyes and was in coma.
Those, standing next to his bed, thought he was going to die, but as
soon as Hong Xiu-quan closed his eyes he saw a dragon, a tiger and a cock
entering his room. Soon after he observed a great number of people playing
musical instruments. They approached with a beautiful sedan chair inviting
him to be seated. Once he was seated on the sedan chair they carried him
away. He was astonished at the honour and distinction bestowed upon him.
He did not know what to do. They soon arrived at a beautiful and luminous
place, where on both sides were assembled a multitude of fine men and
women who saluted him with expressions of great joy. As he left the sedan
chair, an old woman took him down to the river and said,
"Thou dirty man, why hast kept company with yonder people, and defiled
thyself? I must now wash thee clean."
After the washing ceremony, Hong Xiu-quan, in company with a great
number of old virtuous and venerable men, among whom he remarked many of
the ancient sages, entered a large building where they opened his body
with a knife, took out his heart and other parts, and put in their place
others new and of a red colour. Instantly when this was done, the wound
closed, and he could see no trace of the incision which had been made.
Upon the walls surrounding this place, Hong Xiuquan remarked a number of
Tablets with inscriptions exhorting to virtue, which he one by one
examined. Afterwards they entered another large hall the beauty and
splendour of which were beyond description. A man........
.................to be continued.................................
Source: Theodore Hamberg (Hong Kong 1854)
CHUNG Yoon-Ngan. email@example.com