30 June 2011
The Religious Aspect of the Taeping Rebellion.
February 2, 1863.
We were all startled when, some years since, we heard that those who had risen against the Tartar dynasty and government in China made profession of the Christian faith and hailed the English and other christian as brethren. Little was however known respecting either the origin or the character of the Christianity, which the rebellious party had adopted as their faith and used as a mark of distinction and instrument of opposition to the state religion. This want has now been supplied. Commander Lindsay Brine, R.N., in a work publish last year, entitled “ the Rise
and Progress of the Taeping Rebellion,” gives an account of the reception of Christianity by the chief of this movement, which threatens the overthrow of the Chinese government. This work was reviewed in the October No. of the quarterly Review; and from that work we propose to glean such particulars as may enable our readers, who have not consulted the work or the review themselves, to form some correct idea of the religious aspect of this formidable rebellion. To arrive at this it will be necessary, first, to give some account of the conversion of the chief of the rebel movement.
Hung-siu-tsuen, the rebel chief, is the son of a poor but upright man, who was headman or elder of a village about thirty miles from Canton. The boy early envinced more than average abilities, and made rapid progress in his studies. All his efforts, however, failed to obtain for him his bachelor’s degree. This was, however, partly owing to the poverty of his parents, which prevented him from devoting himself to his studies under proper instructors. It was on the occasion of his unsuccessful attempt to obtain his degree that an incident took place that led to his adopting Christianity; and we may give the particulars in Commander Brine’s own words:
“About the year 1883, he visited Canton, in order to be present at the public competition trial. Here he met with a man who, from the description must have been a Protestant missionary. On the following day he met two men, one of whom had in his possession a parcel of books, the whole of which he gave to Hung-siu-tsuen. The work consisted of nine volumes and was entitled ‘Good Words Exhorting the age,’ the donor proved in distributing tracts. The author of these was a man named Leang-Afah, a convert of Br. Milne’s at the college of Malacca. Leang subsequently return to China, (his native country), and there Dr. Morrison, finding that he was anxious to become a distributor of the Gospel, ordained him for that purpose. Dr. Morrison states that in 1832 Leang-Afah had printed nine tracts, of about fifty pages each, composed by himself, and interspersed with passages of Sacred Scripture. The title of the whole was ‘Good Words,’ &c. these books contain a good number of whole chapters of the bible, according to the translation of Dr. Morrison; many essays on important subject from single texts; and sundry miscellaneous statement, founded on Scripture.”
It appears that Dr. Morrision’s translation of the bible, though most creditable to him at the time it was executed, has been found by modern scholars to abound in grave errors and that the author of “Good Words” was very incompetent as a commentator. These were the materials from which the future leader of the Chinese rebellion acquired his knowledge of Christianity. “Hung-siu-tsuen on his return home took these tracts with him and not deeming them of much importance, he simply, as he has since asserted, glanced at their contents and put them aside. It is plain, however, that he had done something more. In 1837 he again went up for examination at canton and again failed. Broken down in health and spirits, he return home to his village and was through home to his village and was through illness confined for some time in his bed. At this time he was 23 years of age. Strange visions appear to have now filled his mind. “In one of his visions,” says Commander Brime, “he imagined himself to be carried away in a sedan-chair by a number of men playing on musical instrument, and after visiting bright and luminous places and having all his impurities washed away, he entered, in company with a number of virtuous, aged, and venerable men, into a large hall, the beauty and splendor of which were beyond description. A man, venerable from years and dressed in a black robe, was sitting in an imposing attitude in the highest place. As soon as he observed Siu-tsuen he began to shed tears and said—‘All human beings in this world are produced and sustained by me; they eat my food and wear my clothing, but not a single one among them has a heart to remember and venerate me; what is, however, still worse, take my gifts and therewith worship demons.’ Thereupon he gave Siu-tsuen a sword, commanding him to exterminate the demons, but to spare his brothers and sisters; a seal, by which he would overcome evil spirits; and a yellow fruit, which Siu-tsuen found sweet to the taste. He then gives him a charge to do the work of bringing round the perverse; and, taking him out told him to look and behold the perverseness of the people upon earth. The sickness and visions of Siu-tsuen continued about forty days and in these vision he often saw a man of middle age, whom he called his elder Brother, who instructed him how to act, accompanied him in his wanderings to the uttermost regions in search of evil spirits, and assisted him in slaying and exterminating them.”
After his recovery, he returned to the occupation of schoolmaster, in which he had been engaged before his illness. “One day the bundle of tracts which he had brought from Canton excited the attention of a brother schoolmaster, named Li, who, after perusing them, told him they were extraordinary written, and differed considerably from the Chinese books. Hung-siu-tsuen, for the first time, carefully read them and was astonished to find that they supplied a key to his own visions.” The venerable old man whom he had seen seated on high, he understood to be God, the Heavenly father, and the middle-aged man, whom he called his Elder Brother, and who had assisted him to exterminate the demons, he understood to be Jesus, the Saviour of the world. Learning from the books the necessity of being baptized, Li and he administered the rite to each other. After this they discarded their idols and removed the tablet of Confucius that was placed in the schoolroom. For this act Siu-tsuen lost his place as a teacher. He, in company was a few converts, went to the neighbouring province of Kwang-si, where the party remained some months and made above a hundred converts. The number was greatly increased by the labours of one who remained behind; and the converts soon began to meet for worshipping, and became known as “the congregation of the worshippers of God.”
Some time after his return home, Siu-tsuen repaired to Canton to seek instruction in the Christian religion from the American Baptist Missionary, the Rev. Mr. Roberts. He remained at the mission house about two mounts: during which time,” according to Mr. Roberts, “he studied the Scriptures and received instruction, whilst he maintained a blameless deportment. He requested to be baptised, but he left Kwang-si before we were fully satisfied of his fitness.”
When he quitted canton, he joined the society of God-worshippers, who adopt him as their leader; and their number rapidly increased. Their forms of worship were vague Above all thins they insisted on the destruction of idols. When they met for worship it was customary to praise God by the singing of a hymn; an address was delivered either on the mercy of God or the merits of Christ and the people were exhorted to repent of their sins, to abstain from idolatry and to serve God with sincerity of heart. When convert were baptised they were required to promise ‘not to worship evil spirit, nor to practise evil things, but to keep the heavenly commandments.’ After this confession and promise they knelt down and from a large basin of clear water, a cupful was poured over the head of every one, with the words—“Purification from all former sins, putting off the old and regeneration.” Several singular rites followed and appear to have entered into their forms of worship, among which was the sacrifice of animals at festivals, marriages, and burials and at the New Year.
The God-worshippers, from destroying their idols, began to interfere with the worship of their neighbours, but seem to have been restrained by the authorities, which led to Siu-tsuen returning and remaining some time at home. During his absence, the congregation ran into some religious extravagances, some of them having had ecstatic fits, in which they professed to have revelations. Soon after Siu-tsuen joined them, he became austere and severe in his manners, strict in his moral behaviour and severe upon the shortcomings of his followers, who submitted implicitly to his dictates, although he had been absent when the society of God-worshippers was formed and also when the extasies or revivals first took place among them.
“Up to this point,” says the reviewer, “however we may lament the ignorance and mistakes of these people, the general tendency of the movement seems to have been good and the object of Hung-siu-tsuen laudable. To awaken the people from the miserable torpid idolatry of Buddhism and to show to them even a glimpse of the Divine nature and of Christian morality, was surely a great noble design, however blind the leader may have been to the cardinal truths of Christianity which he desired, but was never permitted to know. But the God-worshippers, as we have seen, soon became suspected by the authorities, and in the end became identified with local parties. It may almost be said the ‘rebellion lay in the way and they found it.’ ”
It is not our purpose to follow these God-worshipers through their career of revolutionary warfare and can only notice it so far, as is necessary to trace the religious element. The war is considered to have grown out of their operations as religious reformers. “The immediate cause of the outbreak is stated in several different ways. It is said that a young believer and iconoclast, being thrown into prison at the instance of a certain graduate, who was a determined enemy of the God-worshippers, perished through want and evil treatment. Some disturbances having arisen, the magistrates attempted to seize Hung-siu-tsuen and another of the leaders. Their own people came to their rescue and the rebellion commenced. He summoned the God-worshippers now increased by the wholesale conversion of the Puntis, to unite together. They had begun to convert their property into money and to deliver the proceeds into the common treasury, a principle that has been adhered to throughout. Old and young, rich and poor, all the members of the congregation came with their families to join his banner, which soon attracted to it, in addition, such people as those who were fain of old to resort to the cave of Adullam.”
The rebellion, which commenced about the end of 1850, has gone on increasing until the present time. In November 1851, the new potentate, who had already assumed the title of Heavenly King, and was proclaimed the first emperor of the new dynasty of Taeping, or Great Peace, issued a proclamation in which he required all his officers and soldiers to follow his doctrine, which he proceeds to lay down:---“Our Heavenly Father the Great God and Supreme Lord is one True Spirit (God): besides our heavenly father, the Great God and supreme Lord, there is no Spirit (God). Besides our Heavenly Father, the great god and Supreme Lord, is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent---the Supreme over all, there is not an individual who is not produced and nourished by Him. He is Shang (Supreme); He is the Te (Ruler). Besides the great God, our heavenly father and Supreme Lord, there is no one who can be called Shang, and no one who can be called Te.
“Therefore, from henceforth all you soldiers and officers may designate us as your lord and that is all. You must not call me supreme, lest you should encroach upon the designation of our Heavenly Father, Our Heavenly Father id our Holy Father and our Celestial Elder Brother is our Holy Lord, the Saviour of the world. Hence, our Heavenly Father and Celestial Elder brother alone are holy; and from henceforth all you solders and officers may designate us as your lord and that is all. But you must not call me holy, less you encroach upon designation of our Heavenly Father and celestial Elder Brother.”
The Taepings, during the progress of the rebellion, have proceeded steadily northward; by fearful carnage and sometimes by utter exterminations; and they remind us of the Jews, in their wars with the nations of Canaan. Horrible as this mode of warfare is, we must yet remember that they are Chinese and that—according to the testimony of Mr. Forest, a gentleman belonging to our consular establishment—“on the score of cruelty, the case must be about even between the two contending parties, inclining to the imperial side, if we may judge on the principle that the more cowardly the more cruel.”
The reviewer concludes his account by saying—“We have now endeavoured to give our reader a notion of what the Taepings really are; and. Situated as we are, it becomes necessary to dismiss on the one hand the fancy that they are Christians, and, on the other hand, to recognise the fact that they and the Imperialists are equally cruel.” On the first these points, we may observe, that although the conduct of the rebels, in the war, is as remote as can well be conceived from the principles and precepts of pure Christianity, yet we are to reflect that they belong to a nation that has very little regard for human life, and that the little knowledge they possess of Christianity has been derived from books which are acknowledged to contain many grave errors, even by those who profess a faith far removed from that revealed in the Gospels. We are inclined to think it is possible that the seed, not very good ground, may contain germs that may survive the present time and rise out of the corruption, which surrounds it, and, like the mustard seed, grow up and become a goodly tree. The Taeping are said to maintain an army of 400,000 men, and to have dominion over an area of 30,000 square miles. It is at least devoutly to be wished that providence may bring some ultimate spiritual good out of this singular religious, as well as political warfare.
The heathen restiveness under Christian impact remains and is beginning to be widely perceived, and to excite ecclesiastical comment. Japan furnishes an illustration. In The mission field for June 1891,p, 211, quoting from Mr. Onishi in the Japan mail, Dec. 5, 1890, we have the following: “Anybody who proposes to take a new departure in religious matters naturally thinks of adopting a line suited to the genius of his nation; and when a man desires to adopt such a course, he become inevitably dissatisfied with the orthodox theology brought from the Occident, and wishes to strike out an independent part of progress….It is evident that the new school maintains on several points opinions which are at variance with the creed of ordinary orthodox believers. In the doctrines of the Trinity, for instance, of Redemption, and of Inspiration, there is an undisguisable difference of opinion between the parties….In short, men of the new school make it their object to do away with the antiquated theology, and at the same time to preserve the vital force of religious belief. How to solve this difficult problem is the point engaging the supernatural elements of Christianity—miracles for example, neither do they attach paramount importance to the belief in such elements as articles of faith. They give greater weight to good conduct in practice that to belief in theological dogmas.”
To this the Bishop (of Japan?) adds: “Such extracts might easily be multiplied. Notwithstanding the attendant dangers, it cannot be doubted that the result of this stir and ferment of opinion will intimately be favourable to catholic truth. It has tried the faith of some and shaken that of a few, but on the other hand it has driven many, who had only feebly apprehended the first truths of the Gospel, to face them more fully, and to understand them more truly. ”The first truths of the Gospel,—are they the utterances of the Lord Himself? Or are they the dogmatic decrees of councils? Catholic truth, the radiance that will enlighten all nations on the earth, so that there shall be one fold under one shepherd, is the true perception of the Lord Word, simple for the simple.
The Missionary, be he White or Black, who does not adopt Mr. Onishi’s ways, will find himself arrested before rocks of temperament creation-high, and often heaven-high, which no alien dogma can scale. He will have to the adjacent trader’s factory, and concern himself there. The race he addresses vomits him forth. Two races have rejected Christianism as dogmatically presented to them—the Jews, and more especially the Mahometans. Doubtless the hardness of their hearts is in fault; but the dogmas lend them excuse. They both believe in one God. They reject the idea of three persons; and the more, considering what the three persons do in the conduct of God’s moral and spiritual universe: for they act, as good and just men ought not to do, and are bad examples for human conduct. These are cardinal examples of the waste of missionary work. We do not say that any adaptation of truth will convert Jews or Mahometans to Christ; but that the dogmas of the Trinity and Atonement are not apposite to win any monotheist who believes in God, and that faults of conduct can only be atoned for by repentance—by shunning the faults as sins henceforth, and leading a New Life. The payment of the ransom for the sins of the world by an infinite being as Christ is still preached to be, is incommensurate with the occasion. Our naughtiness, bad as it is, requires our own finite personal self-sacrifice, and no other—our ceasing to do evil and learning to do well.
If Jews, Mahometan, and African reject our Christian meat, and there is a large outlying world besides in the East, will there not be a reaction on the centre from the refusal of religious sympathy by the circumferences? We may be certain that we are playing a double game in the world, and that the Missionary Societies and the Bible Society carry with them two different ends and causes. Also that Dr. Blyden’s remark, that the Negro in the United States for the most part simply succumbs to the white man’s learned dogmas without heeding them, applies more forcibly to the various peoples among whom isolated missionaries live. It is absurd to think that credal catechisms are of weight with them. Ritual they can comprehend, especially if music and costume, paintings and statures, are added. And the Word of God in their own languages tells its Divine narratives, and children of all colours—black, red, yellow, olive, and white—can feel interest in them, and ask questions, wonder, and weep. A basis is laid there, and there is no dogma near it as yet. And to this, some ritual as a symbol of a higher than everyday order is helpful.
But the indifference of the Negro to dogmas may be extended into the formula. That the simple everywhere, in England for instance, are outside of care about them. They do not deny them, especially if the clergy set them forth; but they read their Bibles mainly, uninfluenced by clerical Theology. They are at the end of the process of which the converted heathen are in the beginning. And theses two ends of the world will have an important part to play in the new Christian Church. Can it be that two such simples, by a mysterious agency working upon them, and edifying, are themselves its New Hope?
Possibly ritualism itself is quitting Theosophical dogmas, such as Trirtheism and the Atonement, in the pressing interest of ecclesiastical order, in which case ceremonies with their presumed holy internals become of first importance in the Church. Such ceremonial worship is not unsuited to the last stages of the Christian Church, and to the earliest stage of heathens converts. It is the panis et circenses of Theosophy. It is not however, adapted to intelligent heathens. The area of it is worship, and its claim obedience; and thinking races cannot yield the obedience without private convincing reason independent of Rites.
We are compelled to say that all the Christian dogmas without exception—what Mr. Onishi calls “antiquated theology”—are tenets or opinions valid only on the authority of the Church. They do not seek attestation, but claim to be mysteries of which faith is the organ. You can enter into them no further than by professing to believe them. When you performed this homage you have done with them, except that you must periodically in public and private restate your profession. But they have no interest for the mind, and they would shut it to all the highest, not question, but insights. Far different is it with true doctrines. These have no mysteries excepting the incapacites of the understanding and aversion of the will and affections in different persons. Every question that can be asked, if you are on the road of truth, with intent of good, and devotion to use, can be answered. And at the beginning of education in such doctrines there are childlike perceptions, seeming to be voices of common sense, which formulate the first reception of the greatest truths. Take the truth that God is a man, in the Form of a Man. It is the beginning of all Theology. Any child, any simple man, any savage, can receive the impression of it, and learn it in a moment, and then ruminate about it. No idol or fetish gainsays it or obstructs it. The rudest block can be made into a word that illustrates and expresses it. The idolater should be taught not to throw his image-god away until he has done with it. He should be taught that it is his first lesson in the truth. What is it but some sort of image more or less remote of creator or creative power, or something that power has touched and endowed with awful privileges. If even it be evil power, it is not unmanlike on that account. It is supernatural and to be feared. It can excite all the affections and dreads, hope and fears, of the mind. It deepens the man merely to look at it and converse with its mysterious nature. And when the savage man learns that God Himself is a Man, and that all forms, power, places are exhibitions of Him, a step is gained which need not be cast away. The missionary, even perhaps a Livingstone, would teach the untutored African that his idolatry is sin, and the cause of all his woes. Sin there was at first when the children of Jehovah preferred an Egyptian image to Him who was not visible to their sensuality; but present idolatry is no sin: it goes against no Divine commandment know to the Gentiles, and departs from nothing. It retains enough of humanity to exclude Pantheism: to be syllabic of a human god; and to be a medium of the doctrine of the Word, that God is a man.
Dogma is a high as ecclesiastical power. Doctrine is as high as God’s Heaven, and when the mind is open to him, His light touches us through it, and we see His Face. For this reason it is that such truth is like Jacob’s ladder. You may, if a child, a simple good man not apparently yet open far or gifted, or a savage,---you may sit on the lowest and first step of it. The place is a good and sure one. If it makes your head giddy to mount, you need not lift your feet from the ground, or have the ladder believed for your basis. Believe in your ground and your first position. If is a chair, and will not alarm you. But the ladder, being of doctrinal perceptions, statements, and elevations, with real altitudes for the mind,—altitudes which no mind can safely climb of itself,--opens up views as is ascended, and each view is clearer and wider than the last. The faculties in their several distinct planes of power and perception come into their own vision at their various orderly heights. The initial doctrine, for instances, that God is a man, because transfigured into thoughts of goodness and power or truth that fill the human idea of Divine form, and justify the creature who is a man in so imagining the creator. On every step of the ladder of orderly Divine thoughts has the Angels of God ascending—first ascending—and descending upon it, and their presence is so much divinely apportioned light and strength. . . . .