Before going into exile in 1847, Hong Xuiquan’s main evangelist, Feng Yunshan, had handed over control of the Guangxi God-Worshippers, to his two charismatic subordinates, Yang Xiuqing, a former charcoal salesman, and Xiao Chaogui.
In contrast to the comparatively staid Feng Yunshan, the two men would publicly to enter into trance-like states, through which they claimed to be able to communicate directly with members of the Holy Trinity.
When Xuiquan himself returned to visit their congregation later that year, he declared the men’s claims to be genuine and led the God-Worshippers in ecstatic, revival-style worship meetings, which attracted increasing numbers of followers to the anti-Confucian cult.
Cult Leader Decides He Can Write A Better Bible
Meanwhile Xuiquan had been hard at work on a brand new, Chinese scripture. Putting his years of Confucian literary training to good use, Hong Xuiquan corrected Liang Fa’s earlier texts for style and misprinted characters, while adding his own theological interpretations.
The resulting text became known as the Taiping Bible. In his scriptures Xuiquan claimed that true religion had existed in China in ancient times, before it became corrupted by Confucius, working on behalf of self-serving imperial authority.
The emerging cult leader also edited out the parts of the Bible story that he felt to be incompatible with traditional Chinese sensibilities, included passages in Genesis involving marriage between widows and their brothers-in-law.
Cult vs. Pirates
The modern-day imperial authorities in Guangxi were far from enthused by the anti-Confucian, anti-imperial sect growing in their midst, but at the time they had bigger problems to deal with than an assortment of religious lunatics, led by a bunch of impoverished, Hakka-minority scholars.
The province was overrun with bandits and pirates, who terrorized travelers and traders, making parts of the countryside completely impassable. Added to this, even the law-abiding population were always only one bad harvest away from revolt, and local uprisings had been a growing problem in recent decades.
Coming down too hard on the God-Worshippers cult would risk stirring the pot. Any possible uprising would require manpower to suppress, which was already stretched thin; with only 30,000 troops for a province literally named for its vast, mountainous expanse.
The God-Worshippers helped to drive out bandits in the regions where they held influence. For the time being at least, the authorities were willing to regard them with a grudging toleration.
From Failed Civil Servant To Heavenly King In Fourteen Years
By 1850, however, Xuiquan had amassed followers in the tens of thousands and authorities were becoming increasingly nervous.
They had good reason to be afraid. In January 1851, on his thirty-seventh birthday by the Chinese lunar calendar, Hong Xuiquan declared himself to be the Heavenly King.
This was much more than just a spiritual designation. For almost an entire year, Xuiquan had been organizing his followers into military formations, preparing to bring about a Heavenly Kingdom, and drive the demons from Guangxi.
This shift from doing spiritual battle to preparing for war in the temporal plane, had begun the previous February, when government soldiers had threatened to put to death converts in a number of God Worshipping villages.
In response, Xuiquan and his inner-circle, including Feng Yunshan, began to plot open revolt against the Qing imperial authorities in Guangxi. The imperial army in Guangxi was small and already overstretched suppressing a rebellion by another highly-secretive sect, the Tiandihui (Heaven and Earth Society), who had risen up in 1849, following a province-wide famine.
Under these conditions, Xiuquan was able to build an armed organization of between 10,000—30,000 followers without attracting the notice of government officials.
God Worshippers Cult Starts All Out Civil War
On January 11, the Heavenly King and his troops took the town of Jintian, successfully seeing off attempts by the Qing army to reclaim the stronghold over the days that followed. From there the cult’s soldiers moved southwards, joining forces with Tiandihui rebels along the way.
In the early years of what become known as the Taipeng Rebellion, Feng Yunshan acted as chief military strategist and administrator for God-Worship cult and its territories, until his death in 1852.
By [year] they had captured Nanjing the villages they captured the God-Worshippers set about establishing a Heavenly Kingdom, according to the vision of Hong Xuiquan.
Society was declared classless and all land was to be held in common, distributed by the state. Opium, gambling, tobacco, alcohol, polygamy, slavery, and prostitution were outlawed, under penalty of death. Foot-binding was outlawed and men were permitted to grow out their hair, in contravention of Qing dynasty laws mandating that all male imperial subjects shave the front of their heads into the traditional Manchurian queue hairstyle.
Most radically of all however, the God-Worshippers enforced strict separation between the sexes. In contrast to Confucian teachings, Xuiquan’s theology held that men and women were equal in every respect. But men and women were not permitted to live or associate with each other. Separate men’s and women’s quarters were established, in which men and women lived grouped according to occupation. In addition to segregated accommodation, shops and public amenities were also segregated by sex.
In 1853, the God-Worshippers took control of the major city of Nanjing, renaming it Tianjing (‘Heavenly Capital’).
In accordance with his Divine Mission to drive out the demons from heaven, Xuiquan ordered the mass killing of 40,000 ethnic Manchus.