Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts (A.B.)
On November 18, 1864, the death knell of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was rung. Hong Tiangui Fu had been killed. Hong, divine leader of the once nascent kingdom, was asked to confess before his execution, one of the last figures to speak directly on behalf of the Qing’s formidable opponent. The Western world listened intently to the Young Monarch’s last words, curious about the movement’s unorthodox Christianity and the destruction they had left behind. The deposition resulting from Hong’s confession fit within an established legal genre. Depositions had long been collected to indict members of oppositional movements, as well as provide officials with a more comprehensive understanding of resistance. Hong’s deposition circulated well beyond archives and into the hands of foreign publications. Commentators eagerly translated and edited the document, placing their interpretations at the core of foreign debate about the conflict’s legitimacy.
This thesis changes our understanding of the process through which Taiping depositions were created and utilized. Challenging previous assumptions that approached these documents as mere tools for factual reconstruction, this work argues that court depositions played a vital role in shaping contemporary perceptions of Qing rule and of its opposition movements. Previous discussions on Taiping depositions are frozen in colonial and Cold War narratives, as those debating their value fail to understand that depositions were products of personal and communal ambitions. Authors perceive these documents as static indicators of the movement’s character, used to legitimize or damage the narrative deployed by their respective political alignment. By analyzing the depositions written by Taiping leaders, in addition to any subsequent edits or reactions surrounding them, this thesis examines the role depositions played in determining external perceptions of the Taiping. In following the lifespan of these documents, as opposed to judging their character, a greater understanding of their impact is revealed.
Steven B. Miles
Weinstock, Jordan, "A War of Words: The Circulation and Interpretation of Taiping Depositions" (2019). Senior Honors Papers / Undergraduate Theses. 15.