The Last Empress: The She-Dragon of China
tolerable précis of some of the major events in the Old and New Testaments, including Noah, the Exodus, the Sermon on the Mount and the life of St Paul. He enunciates the doctrine of an omniscient and omnipotent God, who had formed the whole of material creation in six days and under whose rule all humanity, regardless of race or nation, are equal. But Liang is also a man of his time and society, and he includes elements of Daoism, Buddhism and Chinese folk-tales in his work. Nor is he averse to simply making bits up, allowing his imagination free rein and having Jesus appear in the sky in broad daylight to produce the conversion of unbelievers. In other parts of the work Jesus and St Paul attend a baptism together, where Jesus relates that ‘from ancient times there has never been anyone who has ascended to Heaven and seen heavenly things; I alone, who descend to the world from Heaven, know celestial matters, and thus I alone can talk about them’. St Paul then puts his hand on the head of the baptised man and the man ‘talks in a strange voice and is able to predict the future’. One curious innovation (presumably taken from the Confucianist past that Liang Fa affects to abhor) is the notion that Jehovah chastises his sons. God whips his son Jesus because, it is explained, this is one way in which the Deity shows his love and corrects faults. Liang’s prose is extremely repetitious and, in addition to these flights of fancy, he manages to give the impression that both God and Jesus commute between Heaven and earth on a regular basis.
    Most Chinese recipients of the book, had they read it all, would simply have rejected its theology as that of the religion of the ‘foreign devil’. A few would have embraced the new faith, and been given the disparaging title ‘secondary hairy ones’ by their non-Christian countrymen. But for one man, a schoolmaster of the south China Hakka minority named Hung Hsiu-chuan, the contents of this book became the basis, the seed-atom, of a completely new religion, a seminal text that would eventually result in the deaths of over twenty million souls. 3
    Hung first had sight of Good Works when he attended Canton for the official examinations that were the first step in his hoped-for career as a mandarin. He failed. He returned to teaching and the following year he attempted the examination again, but met with no better luck. Bitterly disappointed, he appears to have suffered a nervous breakdown, lapsing into delirium in an illness that was said to have lasted a biblically correct forty days. He was vouchsafed numerous visions during this time, in which the God of the Christians appeared and ordered him to repudiate Confucius and all the traditional rites of Chinese society. According to the official account of his followers (who knew Hung by the title ‘The True Lord’), when he was:
    ...twenty-five years of age [twenty-four by Western reckoning], on the first day of the ting-yu year [5th April1837] between 11pm and 1am, he saw numerous angels come down from Heaven to escort him aloft...On his arrival at the Gates of Heaven he was welcomed by a bevy of lovely maidens standing by the roadside...He was received by a number of people dressed in dragon-robes and wearing three-cornered hats. An order was given to cut open the True Lord’s body and to replace his old bowels with new. Books too were placed at his side for him to read. 4
    When he recovered from the worst of his delirium, Hung–complete with his new bowels, and the knowledge from the heavenly books–became convinced that he was a second saviour, a son of God, and the younger brother of Jesus Christ.
    Hung remained in his home village for the next few years, earning his living as a teacher. But his thoughts were elsewhere. The Middle Kingdom’s disastrous confrontations with the Western powers at this time convinced him that the whole of Qing China was corrupt and required ‘cleansing’. Secure in the knowledge of his

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