The leader of the Taiping Rebellion in mid-19th century China was Hong Xiuquan, a Hakka Chinese Christian convert who followed a religious vision he believed was inspired by God. He founded the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and declared himself its ruler and spiritual leader. He inspired a large-scale rebellion against the Qing Dynasty and proclaimed himself the heavenly king of the Great Peace (Taiping Tianguo).
Born into a Hakka family in 1814, Hong Xiuquan became a teacher and studied for the imperial civil service examinations. After repeatedly failing the exams, he experienced a mental breakdown and underwent a religious awakening. Convinced that he had received a revelation from God, Hong Xiuquan declared himself the younger brother of Jesus and created a new sect of Christianity.
In 1851, Hong Xiuquan led an uprising against the local government in his hometown of Jintian, Guangxi, marking the beginning of the Taiping Rebellion. The rebels quickly gained control of neighboring areas, and within a few years had established a large state encompassing much of southern China. Under Hong, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom went through a period of social and religious transformation, introducing laws and policies which gave women more rights and abolished certain Confucian practices such as foot-binding and concubinage. The Taiping forces also imposed their own version of Christianity throughout the kingdom.
At its peak, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom had a population of over 30 million people and controlled a territory larger than France. However, the Taiping forces could not gain a decisive victory and were eventually defeated by the Qing army. Hong Xiuquan died in March 1864, and the Taiping Rebellion ended soon after.
The Taiping Rebellion was one of the bloodiest conflicts in Chinese history, claiming an estimated 20 to 30 million lives. Although the rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful, it left a lasting legacy as a pivotal moment in Chinese history, and Hong Xiuquan remains an important figure in Chinese mythology.