Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom

China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War
Narrated by: Angela Lin
Length: 17 hrs and 33 mins
Categories: History, Asia
4.1 out of 5 stars (127 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Stephen R. Platt is widely respected for his incisive nonfiction, particularly in regard to his knowledge and understanding of China. With Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom, Platt details the absorbing narrative of the Taiping Rebellion, which resulted in the loss of 20 million lives. Occurring in the 1850s, this is the story of a cultural movement characterized by intriguing personages such as influential military strategist Zeng Guofan and brilliant Taiping leader Hong Rengan.

©2012 Stephen R. Platt (P)2011 Recorded Books, LLC

Critic Reviews

“Stephen Platt brings to vivid life a pivotal chapter in China’s history that has been all but forgotten: the Taiping Rebellion in the mid-nineteenth century, which cost one of the greatest losses of life of any war in history. It had far-reaching consequences that still reverberate in contemporary China. Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom is a fascinating work by a first-class historian and superb writer.” (Henry Kissinger)
“China’s brutal Taiping Civil War erupted in the 1850s and raged until the fall of rebel-held Nanjing in 1864. The bloodbath paralleled our own North-South conflict, but dwarfed it in terms of casualties, geography and global fallout . . . [Platt] juxtaposes the competing ideologies and leaders of the ruling Manchu Qing dynasty and the Hunan Taiping rebels with savvy and assurance. By neatly folding in the machinations of the British, Platt paints a picture of combat dire enough to have choked the Yangtze’s flow several times with discarded victims.” (Jonathan E. Lazarus, Newark Star-Ledger)
“Splendid . . . An upheaval that led to the deaths of 20 million, dwarfing the simultaneously fought American Civil War, deserves to be better known, and Platt accomplishes this with a superb history of a 19th-century China faced with internal disorder and predatory Western intrusions.” ( Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)

What listeners say about Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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InTOLerable Reader

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

The book was fascinating. An interesting description of a little known (in the west) period of chinese history.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Angela Lin?

Almost anyone, I think. Ms. Lin puts a heavy, portentous emphasis on almost every other word. It's intolerable, and it makes the book pretty much unlistenable. The READING DESTROYS all PLEASURE in the BOOK. You get the point.

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

Yes.

11 people found this helpful

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Painful to listen

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

I could not get more than a couple of chapters into this. The narrator is truly awful, and makes the entire book unlistenable. It's a shame, because the subject is very interesting.\

7 people found this helpful

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  • DJ
  • 08-26-18

A Civil War by Any Other Name

Stephen Platt's history of the "Taiping Rebellion" captures the interplay between the slow decline of the Qing dynasty and the rapid, chaotic rise of the Taiping. He allows the reader to see the Taiping as something approaching a separate state, albeit one founded by a bizarre and perhaps psychotic leader. Platt also does a fine job presenting the rule of chance in history, particularly regarding the British efforts to intervene in the war. The book is weaker, however, in its organization. Seemingly critical events are passed over quickly, while side shows, albeit side shows involving the players on whom Platt chooses to focus, get a full narrative treatment. Also, important leaders, particularly on the Taiping side, are referred to by their proper names, their "kingly" names, and sometimes by nicknames. Further, in his efforts to correct what he sees as a historical bias viewing the Taipings as mere rebels, Platt tends to minimize the problems in areas under Taiping control, while emphasizing the (admittedly brutal) misdeeds of the Qing regime. Finally, a word on the narration, by Angela Lin. Frankly, it's not great. She reads on an odd, staccato style. Sometimes the pauses are intended to indicate quotes within the text, but at other times they are inscrutable. Also, pronunciations of the same terms, often in Chinese, but sometimes in English as well, vary throughout the book. Some ("admirality" for "admiralty") are just wrong.

2 people found this helpful

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Narrator is so bad I may not be able to finish it

What disappointed you about Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom?

The narrator is terrible. She reads with randomly placed emphasis, the way TV newscasters sometimes do. That may be OK for a 30-second report but hours of it are terrible.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

It's an important incident and little-known in the West. I had read a review of the print edition that made it sound worth reading, which it probably is.

Would you be willing to try another one of Angela Lin’s performances?

Absolutely not, even if you paid me.

Any additional comments?

Why oh why didn't I read the reviews first? I'd read a review of the print book and it sounded interesting.

2 people found this helpful

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Shocking epic retelling of bloodiest civil war in human history

18 hr retelling of taiping uprising and concurrent second opium war. Worth the time in its timeless lessons of statecraft, treachery, and neocolonial dim grey boundaries between duty, honor, and humanity of naive Western powers playing the great game in the midst of a foggy, faraway quagmire.

1 person found this helpful

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Excellently Written, Yet Over-Dramatic Narration

This deep dive into China's mid-1800s Taiping Rebellion is very instructive for our current times. Platt takes us on a well-researched deep dive into how a confused charismatic leader crafted his own pseudo-Christian cult and rallied ignorant but patriotic Chinese into a right-wing anti-foreign nationalistic uprising that left at least 10 million dead. The book is scholarly and very well written, yet the female narrator uses an over-dramatic and enthusiastic tone (sample it yourself) that seemed more appropriate for children's stories (or North Korean propaganda?) which was more distracting than helpful. For this reason I take off what could have been a 5 star audiobook.

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A dense review of the Taiping Rebellion

This book contains a great deal of information regarding the background, lead up to and the rebellion itself including vast coverage of all parties involved both internal and external. While ultimately a great deal of blame goes to the meddling of Westerners (the English), the narrative does not feel biased. Very interesting subject that receives little coverage in modern Western society (especially in the USA) due to it chronologically paralleling the US Civil War.

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Fascinating Historical Account & Great Narrator

Great account about this fascinating historical time. And I particularly liked the narrator. There were some earlier reviewers who did not seem to like the narrator- I have the opposite opinion. I think she did a wonderful job, and am particularly happy about how I think the Chinese names and words seem to be correctly pronounced.

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A real-life story of the apocalypse

What did you love best about Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom?

The humanization of the characters, the apocalyptic visions of the last days of the Chinese empire, and the feeling of immersion and immediacy.

Which scene was your favorite?

The first scene, where the British gunboats break into the Chinese river, and the Chinese peasants bow down to them and worship them. That set the tone for the whole book.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

The end of the rebellion is extremely sad.

Any additional comments?

There are a few really apocalyptic wars that humans have managed to document - the World Wars, the Thirty Years War, the Russian and Chinese Civil Wars...and the Taiping Rebellion. If you want to read about cataclysmic, world-shattering wars, include this book in your reading series.

1 person found this helpful

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Interesting and informative

This is an interesting and informative book, but no human being is able to understand how evil Lord Elgin could be by ordering the total destruction of Summer Palace.