Hong Rengan (Chinese: 洪仁玕; pinyin: Hóng Réngān; Wade–Giles: Hung Jen-kan; 1822 – 23 November 1864) was an important leader of the Taiping Rebellion. He was the cousin of the movement's founder and spiritual leader Hong Xiuquan. His position as the Prince Gan (干王) resembled the role of a Prime Minister. He is a noted figure in history because of the sweeping reforms attempted under his rule, and because of his popularity in the West.
In Hong Kong
During the early years of the rebellion, Hong was separated from the rebellion and had to flee to Hong Kong, where he met the Swedish missionary Theodore Hamberg and converted to Christianity. He helped with church work for the Basel Mission in Sheung Wan and learned much about Christianity. Hong provided Hamberg with important information on the Taiping rebellion, which Hamberg later used to write a book about the movement, The visions of Hung-Siu-tshuen, and origin of the Kwang-si insurrection, published in Hong Kong in 1854.
Hong also served as an assistant to James Legge, working on translations of Chinese classics into English, and on the Chinese Serial, the first Chinese language newspaper in Hong Kong. During this time he learned much about Western politics, economics, history, geography, astronomy and other sciences.
With the Taiping
When Hong Xiuquan called for his cousin Hong Rengan to come to Nanjing to help him rule, the Taiping administration was entrenched in a bitter power dispute. The powerbase of the movement had largely become split between the devout Taiping religious followers in Nanjing and the generals commanding the armies outside the city.
James Legge did not want Hong Rengan to have anything to do with the rebels because he distrusted and condemned their beliefs. When James Legge left Hong Kong for England he gave strict injunctions to Hong Rengan to remain in Hong Kong and to not join the rebel forces.
However Hong Rengan ignored his injunction and left Hong Kong in the spring of 1858, other missionaries gave him money and promised him a stipend for his family. He disguised himself as a peddler on his way to Nanjing.
Before his arrival, a previous power struggle erupted into a battle that killed over 20,000 Nanjing residents and a leader of the Taiping government. It was in this environment that Hong Rengan was given the second most important position in the Taiping movement; only Hong Xiuquan himself was more powerful.
Hong Rengan was given this position because of his education, especially his knowledge of many aspects of Western politics, art and technology, acquired during his time in Hong Kong. He also came to Nanjing with a thoroughly Protestant mindset. This was in contrast to the largely Old Testament-dominated beliefs of the Taiping founders. Hong reformed the worship and prayer services into Protestant-style ceremonies. He also discouraged the use of the word "barbarian" to describe Westerners. These were a few of his early reforms.
However, most of Hong's energy was dedicated to centralizing the authority of Taiping administration and revitalizing its military successes. He advocated building railroads, gaining the support of Western powers, and building banks in the areas under Taiping rule. Because of his beliefs, Hong is sometimes noted as the first modern Chinese nationalist, and he was mentioned in early writings by both the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China. These ideas, along with his clearly Protestant belief system, garnered the Taiping rebellion interest in Western circles. This interest would wane as Taiping troops moved closer to Shanghai and actively enforced their ban on opium within their realm.
Most of Hong Rengan's reforms were never implemented. Though he had shown strategic talent in the few campaigns he commanded, his ideas clashed with the pre-eminent military prince of the Taipings, Li Xiucheng. In a large mission to retake the upper Yangtze River, Li refused the orders of Hong and returned to Nanjing. The failure of this mission allowed Qing troops to mount a massive blockade of the Taiping area of control and eventually led to the collapse of the rebellion. Hong Rengan's rule was soon reduced to decrees endorsed by Hong Xiuquan, but they were never followed or enforced outside the city.
In 1864 Hong Xiuquan was found dead and the city of Nanjing soon fell to Qing forces. Hong Rengan and the other Taiping leaders fled the city and attempted to maintain their rule through the decrees of Hong Tianguifu, son of Hong Xiuquan. They were caught and sentenced to death. As seen in his confession before execution, Hong Rengan was the only prince of the Taiping rebellion to maintain his loyalty to the movement and never recant. He was executed in Nanchang (南昌), in Jiangxi, on 23 November 1864, shortly after the execution of the young Hong Tianguifu and Li Xiucheng.
- Issachar Jacox Roberts (1802-71), American missionary, teacher of Hong Xiuquan and adviser to Hong Rengan
- "Hung Jen-Kan" [www.dartmouth.edu/~qing/WEB/HUNG_JEN-KAN.html]
- So Kwan-wai, Eugene P. Boardman and Ch'iu P'ing. "Hung Jen-kan, Taiping Prime Minister, 1859-1864." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 20, No. 1/2. (Jun., 1957), 262-294.
- Yuan Chung Teng. "The Failure of Hung Jen-k'an's Foreign Policy." The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Nov., 1968), pp. 125–138.