Hong Xiuquan and Protestant Hymns

Hong Xiuquan (1814-1864), who thought he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ, became exposed to Protestant hymns while in Canton in 1847 seeking instruction in the Bible from I. J. Roberts (1802-1871), a Baptist minister born in Sumner County, Tennessee. Roberts began his work in China in early 1837 as a missionary under the aegis of the Roberts Fund Society.

Much of Hong’s encounters with Christian tracts came through translations of Robert Morrison. In 1866 Augutus F. Lindley wrote that after Hong and his cousin Li Jingfang familiarised themselves with translations of chapters of the Bible by Morrison, they 'administered baptism to each other' and then Hong Xiuquan composed the following ode upon repentance:

When our transgressions high as heaven rise,
How well to trust Jesus’ full atonement;
We follow not the demons, we obey
The holy precepts, worshipping alone
One God, and thus we cultivate our hearts.
The heavenly glories open to our view,
And every being ought to seek thereafter.
I much deplore the miseries of hell.
O turn ye to the fruits of true repentance!
Let not our hearts be led by worldly customs
(Lindley, 1866:41)


Hong later adopted the Protestant hymn ‘Old Hundredth’ as his own apocalyptic vision of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. A new text was written for the hymn and renamed ‘Ode Praising the Heavenly Kingdom’ (Tianchao zanmeige):

Praise the Lord
Praise Jesus, the Savior of the World
Praise the Holy Spirit
Praise the Holy Trinity.



While 'Ode to the Heavenly Kingdom was sung at all Taiping rituals and rallies, we know very little about the organisation and structure of their religious observances. In his book The Visions of Hung-siu-tshuen, and Origin of the Kwang-si Insurrection published in Hong Kong in 1854, and republished the following year in London in a slim volume titled The Chinese Rebel Chief, Hung-siu-Tsuen and the Origin of the Insurrection in China, Theodore Hamberg writes:

When the congregation in Kwang-si assembled together for religious worship, male and female worshippers had their seats separated from each other. It was customary to praise God by the singing of a hymn. An address was delivered on either 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 (1855:54).


Lindley (1866:319-321) provides one of the most detailed accounts in English of how Taiping services were conducted. Each service opened with the Doxology Ode to the Heavenly Kingdom which was followed by the hymn:

The true doctrine is different from the doctrine of the world
It saves men’s souls, and affords the enjoyment of endless bliss.
The wise receive it at once with joyful exultation.
The foolish, when awakened, understand thereby the way to heaven,
Our Heavenly Father, of His infinite and incomparable mercy,
Did not spare His own Son, but sent him down into the world,
To give His life for the redemption of all our transgressions.
When men know this, and repent of their sins, they may go to heaven.


After the singing of this hymn:


The people resume their seats and the minister reads to them a sermon, after which the paper containing it [a prayer] is burnt. During the singing of hymns, the voices are accompanied by the music of very melancholy-sounding horns and hautboys. Upon the conclusion of the sermon the people all rise to their feet and with the full accompaniment of all their plaintive and wild-sounding instruments, render with very great effect the anthem ‘May the King live ten thousand years, ten thousand times ten thousand years’...The services are concluded with a hymn of supplication, and then large quantities of incense and firecrackers are burnt.

References

Hamberg, Theodore (1855). The Chinese Rebel Chief, Hung-Siu-Tsuen and the Origin of
the Insurrection in China
, London, Walton & Maberly.

Lindley, Augustus F (1866). Ti-ping Tien-Kwoh: The History of the Ti-Ping Revolution, London: Day and Son Lithographers & Publishers.

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