Once the the garden of a renowned Ming Dynasty general, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom History Museum (Tàipíng Tiānguó Lìshǐbówùguǎn, 太平天国历史博物馆) is two attractions in one. During the day, the museum displays the history of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, a pseudo-Christian movement who established the capital of their short-lived country in Nanjing before being wiped out by combined Qing and Western forces. After 5pm when the museum closes, the guide-led tour focuses on the history of the building while touring the traditional Chinese gardens
The story goes that the Hakka minority parents of Hong Xiuquan worked hard to get him the education he needed to be able to take the Imperial exams that could get him ahead in life. After failing to pass the exams three times, Hong had a strange vision of a bearded blond man who gave him a sword and another younger man, whom he called “elder brother,” who instructed him how to slay demons. After a fourth failure, he read Protestant religious tracts that had been given to him before his third failure and decided the two men were God and Jesus, making Hong the younger brother of Christ.
Taking his message to the people, he began actively recruiting converts in his rural Guangdong village. After some setbacks, he succeeded in tapping the simmering hatred of the ruling Manchu and built an army he led in a successful campaign to Nanjing, where he established the capital of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. Though the Qing had been unsuccessful in stopping the movement, it began to fracture from within. Finally, with foreign assistance, Imperial forces retook Taiping territory, resulting in great destruction.
During the Qing siege of Nanjing, the Taiping’s palace, along with many other parts of the city, was destroyed. The current Taiping Heavenly Kingdom History Museum is based in the gardens of a Ming prince that were given to a famous Ming Dynasty general and later occupied by Taiping officials. Though expensive, the tour of the gardens in the evening includes a guided tour (English-speaking guides are available). Ignore the repeated sales pitches and enjoy the tour, the history and the free tea and Chinese language performance at the end of the tour.
A guide is available for a daytime museum tour as well with an RMB 50 ticket.
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