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Cultural relics of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom on display (with photos)

     More than 50 sets of artefacts and cultural relics telling the story of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in modern Chinese history will be on display at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence from tomorrow (May 20) to November 16 to mark the 160th anniversary of the uprising launched by the kingdom in Jintian.

     The exhibition, entitled "Cultural Relics of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom", is presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Historical Museum of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, Nanjing. Featuring valuable relics on loan from the Historical Museum of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, the exhibition offers important insights into the rise of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom after the establishment of the Society of God Worshippers and the uprising in Jintian village, Guangxi province, and eventually its fall. The exhibition also highlights the relationship between the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and Hong Kong.

     The exhibition was opened today (May 19) by the Assistant Director (Heritage and Museums) of Leisure and Cultural Services, Dr Louis Ng; the Director of the Historical Museum of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, Nanjing, Professor Yi Jiasheng; the Chairman of the Modern Chinese History Society of Hong Kong, Dr Joseph Ting; and the Chief Curator of the Hong Kong Museum of History, Ms Esa Leung.

     Speaking at the opening ceremony, Dr Ng noted that the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom had a close relationship with Hong Kong. He said, "Hong Ren'gan, later the Shield King, stayed in Hong Kong for several years, where he learnt English from missionaries and got to understand Western culture and systems. He wrote 'The New Essay on Economics and Politics', which considered forward-thinking reforms to tackle the political and social problems at the time in China.

     "The cultural relics of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom are very rare. More than 50 sets of cultural relics featured at the exhibition include a number of First Class National Relics. The exhibits were all selected from the Historical Museum of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, and have never been on loan for exhibition outside the museum," Dr Ng said.

     Hong Xiuquan found Christianity after his failure in the civil service examinations. In 1844, he began his journey with Feng Yunshan and organised the Society of God Worshippers.  The Opium War not only exposed the weaknesses of the Qing court, but also seriously drained the local economies. Feng successfully preached atop Zijing Mountain in Guiping county, Guangxi province, where he attracted more than 2 000 followers.  On January 11, 1851, Hong announced the launch of an uprising in Jintian village, proclaimed himself the Heavenly King and officially named his kingdom the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. In March 1853, the Taiping army captured Nanjing and renamed it the Heavenly Capital.  

     During the uprising in Jintian village taking place between 1851 and 1856, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom fought its way across more than half of China by organising strong military forces to launch northern and western expeditions. Despite the victories, internal conflict within the kingdom was intensifying. After settling in Nanjing, the Heavenly King Hong Xiuquan stayed within the palace while Yang Xiuqing became the actual leader and even called on the people to honour him as the "Lord of Ten Thousand Years". Later, on Hong's decree, the North King Wei Changhui killed some 20 000 of Yang's people and followers. Since Wei killed many innocents, Hong issued an edict for the execution of Wei. Afterwards, Shi Dakai returned to the capital to take on an administration role, and the situation became slightly stabilised. Yet after this internal dissent, Hong could no longer trust Shi.  Realising the Heavenly King's suspicion, Shi left the kingdom with 100 000 elite soldiers in 1857. At that point, the kingdom was far from recovery and on its road to collapse.

     Foreign powers generally adopted a neutral stance toward the Taipings at the beginning, and some even showed their support to the kingdom. By the Convention of Peking in 1860, however, they changed their mind so as to protect their own interests in China. When the Taiping army approached Shanghai, which had become an important port for foreign trade, the local officials and gentry funded a rifle troop led by the American Frederick Townsend Ward to fight against the Taiping army. In 1862, the troop was renamed "Ever Victorious Army" by the Qing court and allied with the Huai army of Li Hongzhang to suppress the Taiping army in Shanghai and Ningbo.

     In 1861, the Xiang army captured Anqing, the important stronghold upstream of the Heavenly Capital, and the army advanced to besiege the capital. In December 1863, the fall of Suzhou, the southeast outpost of the capital, pushed the kingdom into an adverse situation. In 1864, the garrisons at Tianbao and Dibao castles at the Purple Mountain fell. On June 1, Hong Xiuquan died, and the young Heavenly King, Hong Tianguifu, succeeded the throne. On July 19, the city wall at the Taiping Gate was destroyed, and the Xiang army swarmed into the inner city. With the protection of Li Xiucheng, the Loyal King¡¦s troops, the young King followed the Shield King and escaped to Jiangxi, but was eventually captured and escorted for execution in Nanchang. The Xiang army ransacked and burned the Heavenly Capital to ashes, bringing an end to the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom.

     When the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom had engulfed the south of China, the British government directed the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Samuel Bonham (in office 1848-54), to get the measure of the Taipings. The Taiping uprising was widely supported by community groups and underground societies. On the other hand, many Guangdong residents flocked to Hong Kong to escape the unrest. Some were rich merchants who brought in new capital to enhance the development of trade and commerce in the territory. At that time, Hong Ren'gan, later Shield King, stayed in Hong Kong for several years after the uprising in Jintian until 1858. During his stay in Hong Kong, he learnt English from missionaries and got to understand Western culture. He consolidated his knowledge and experience in Hong Kong and Shanghai over many years, and expounded on his ideas of governance in "The New Essay on Economics and Politics", which considered forward-thinking reforms to tackle the problems in China at that time.

     The 50 sets of artefacts featured at the current exhibition include a number of valuable relics, such as a jacket with an embroidered dragon design of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, a bronze seal used by the Shi Dakai administration, a travel permit issued to a foreigner issued by the Shield King Hong Ren'gan, a levy notice issued by the Board of Revenue of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, a wooden waist tag of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, yuanyang swords of the Taiping army and treasury coins of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom.

     The Museum of Coastal Defence is located at 175 Tung Hei Road, Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong. It is open from 10am to 5pm and is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $10 and half-price concessions are applicable to full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

     For details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum of Coastal Defence's website at or call 2569 1500.

Ends/Thursday, May 19, 2011
Issued at HKT 17:26


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