I am increasingly drawn to the Taiping Revolution of 1850-1864, especially in light of Samir Amin’s observation: it was the ‘ancestor of the “anti-feudal, anti-imperialist popular revolution” as formulated later by Mao’. However, what no student of the revolution has yet examined is that the Taiping Revolution marks the moment when the revolutionary Christian tradition arrives in China. I will be speaking about this to some extent – as a way to deal with the question of Marxism and religion – in the Deutscher Lecture later this week. In the meantime, I have been tracking down some images, especially after visiting the Taiping museum in Nanjing last month.

This is Hong Xiuquan, the man with the vision and biblical interpretation:

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Central to Taiping practices was the weekly church service (alongside daily prayers and recitals from the Bible):

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They gave great attention to ensuring the Bible was reprinted and interpreted:


Taiping Bible 02

Interpretation of the Bible led them to a revolutionary position and to practice forms of Christian communism. Their revolutionary armies (with both women and men) numbered up to a million and the innovative tactics saw them control the cradle of Chinese civilisation in the Yangze (Chang Jiang) basin:

Taiping battle 02

Taiping battle 03

Taiping - storming a fortress

This one is a battle flag held on behalf of a general:

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Their aim: to overthrow the whole Chinese imperial system and inaugurate the ‘heavenly kingdom’ (tainguo). This was part of the widespread appeal among peasants and miners. They abolished the Confucian examination system, replacing it with one based on the Bible and open to women and men. The women had their feet unbound and young women were not permitted to bind their feet. The men grew their hair long, without the queue and the shaved front insisted by the Qing rulers.

Taiping vs queue

Among many things, I am intrigued by the character used for ‘heaven’, tian. Usually in Chinese, it is written so:

The second stoke is longer than the upper stroke. However, the Taiping wrote the character in a different way:

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In this case, the upper stroke is the longest. The reason is not quite clear, but it may have something to do with the respect shown for heaven, and indeed that it was a different heaven from Chinese mythology.

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The Taiping were on the verge of crushing the Qing dynasty, shaking it to the foundations. Were it not for foreign intervention (the British Empire had lost much of North America and they certainly weren’t going to let the Chinese market opium slip away), the Taiping may well have done so. Meanwhile, in the space of 14 years they achieved an immense amount: rebuilding Nanjing, land reform, new forms of social organisation, the publication of an extraordinary collection of texts. And they had some seriously weighty coins:

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In many respects, the Taiping Revolution was the forerunner of the Republican Revolution of 1911. Sun Yatsen was known by the nickname of ‘Hong Xiuquan’ and some of the revolutionary wore their hair in the same way as the Taiping. And when Mao writes of revolutions in which the masses rose up against the international (imperialist) and national ruling class, he speaks of three: the taping Revolution, the Republican Revolution and the communist revolution.

At the recent World Cultural Forum, held in Beijing and sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, I happened to hear a rather intriguing paper. It offered comparisons between some major European countries, the USA, Japan, South Korea and China, among others.

It turns out that of these places, China ranks highest for confidence in the government and the greatest equality of wealth. Strange how these facts fail to make it into the corporate new networks.

As part of a rather crazy rush conferences in China last week, I went from one in Nanjing celebrating 120 years since the death of Engels to the World Cultural Forum in Beijing. It was organised by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and had many Russians present – a sign of the increasingly close ties between the two countries that make up the bulk of Eurasia. However, my favourite moment was a paper by a general from the People’s Liberation Army. He saluted us before he began and delivered his paper with military overtones, as though he were giving orders. The paper concerned the role of Marxism in the culture of the PLA.

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Even better, he posed for a photo with me, since we were on the same panel:

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Apologies for the shameless self-promotion, but I have been in Auckland for a couple of days and then Beijing. Let me begin with the Beijing events, the main one of which was the preliminary ‘conference of experts’ for a funded project called ‘Chinese Marxism: On the Sinification of Marxism in Chinese Academia’. I had to front up before some senior and well-known Chinese scholars, each of whom gave a detailed response to the project. This is something of a ritual in Chinese projects, after which everyone goes to dinner and raises a toast to the project. Apart from the news item, a few photos:

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The lecture at the University of Auckland was organised by Robert Myles and Caroline Blyth and was called ‘What Has Marxism to Do with Religion?’ They even made a youtube video, which is here in all its glory:

Having completed a meeting with the Academy of Marxism here in Beijing (a subdivision of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), I am pleased to provide the following preliminary announcement. It will soon appear with more details on the University of Newcastle website.


The China Road conference focuses on China’s distinct path in the modern world. This path has also been called ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ and the ‘Beijing Consensus’. The conference will examine the meanings of these terms in the areas of Marxism, philosophy, economics, politics, society, culture, and international relations in the Asian Century. It will be undertaken in a supportive environment, seeking insight, understanding and constructive criticism. The conference is ideally placed to make a significant impact, attracting attention by the media and the wider public.


Date: 19-21 August 2016

Place: City of Newcastle, Australia (venue TBA)

Sponsors: Academy of Marxism (within Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) and the University of Newcastle, Australia


The themes of the conference are:

  1. The role of Marxism in Modern China
  2. The Chinese Road and the Asian Century
  3. Society and culture between China and Australia
  4. Australia’s engagement with the Chinese Road

In my long journey of learning Chinese, one the greatest pleasures concerns the myriad measure words. Every time you use a number with an object numbered, you need a measure word. The ones to use have an internal logic that defies me.

For example, long narrow things like rivers, snakes and trousers use:

条 tiao

‘Two snakes’ is: liang tiao she

However, when you want to speak of a section of something long, you use:

段 duan

‘The northern part of the canal’ is: yunhe de bei duan

China continues to accumulate an eye-watering sovereign fund (now over four trillion dollars), which still confounds those who work within the assumptions of neoliberal economics. Even though the situation in China today is much more developed that in the Soviet Union, an earlier experience of the profound complexities of socialism within a capitalist world may provide some insights into the reason for such a fund. In 1925, at the fourteenth congress of CPSU, Stalin argued as follows:

That is why we here must manage our economy in a planned way so that there are fewer miscalculations, so that our management of economy is conducted with supreme foresight, circumspection and accuracy. But since, comrades, we, unfortunately, do not possess exceptional foresight, exceptional circumspection, or an exceptional ability to manage our economy without error, since we are only just learning to build, we make mistakes, and will continue to do so in the future. That is why, in building, we must have reserves; we must have reserves with which to correct our blunders. Our entire work during the past two years has shown that we are not guaranteed either against fortuities or against errors. In the sphere of agriculture, very much depends in our country not only on the way we manage, but also on the forces of nature (crop failures, etc.). In the sphere of industry, very much depends not only on the way we manage, but also on the home market, which we have not yet mastered. In the sphere of foreign trade, very much depends not only on us, but also on the behaviour of the West-European capitalists; and the more our exports and imports grow, the more dependent we become upon the capitalist West, the more vulnerable we become to the blows of our enemies. To guarantee ourselves against all these fortuities and inevitable mistakes, we need to accept the idea that we must accumulate reserves (Works, volume 7, pp. 308-9).

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