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As the British wrapped up the Opium War, and “opened” China to the outside world, a power vacuum was created. The Qing dynasty lost its ability to govern the provinces of the empire and poverty and banditry became commonplace. In this post-isolation period a failed scholar from a small town in Guangxi was able to form a secret society which soon became an army. Claiming to be God’s son and the younger brother of Jesus Christ, Hong Xiuquan commanded over a million men and turned the centre of China into a wasteland for the best part of fifteen years in a civil war which cost over 20 million lives.

In The King on the River we examine how the Opium War opened the door for the Taiping Rebellion, and how the Yangtze river, China’s central artery, became the focus of all four of the war’s factions.

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Selected Bibliography

Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom, Stephen Platt (A terrific narrative on the later stages of the Taiping Rebellion, focusing on the somewhat tragic character of Hong Rengan)

God’s Chinese Son, Jonathan D. Spence

China: A History, John Keay

Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and China’s Last Golden Age, Stephen Platt

The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making, Julia Lovell (The best all around narrative of the Opium War that I have read.)

Opium War, 1840-1842: Barbarians in the Celestial Empire in the Early Part of the Nineteenth Century and the War by Which They Forced Her Gates, Peter Ward Fay

The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914, Robert Bickers

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China, Jung Chang

Heaven’s Command, Pax Britannica and Farewell the Trumpets, Jan Morris