Heavenly King

Last updated
A historical marker at the Nanjing Presidential Palace mentioning the term "Heavenly King" in its title (Chinese:
Tian Wang Fu Yi Zhi ; lit.: 'Heavenly King Seat of Government Relics') Nanjing Presidential Palace 2010.JPG
A historical marker at the Nanjing Presidential Palace mentioning the term "Heavenly King" in its title (Chinese :天王府遗址; lit. : 'Heavenly King Seat of Government Relics')

Heavenly King or Tian Wang (Chinese :天王; pinyin :Tiān Wáng; Wade–Giles :Tien1-wang2) is a Chinese title for various religious deities and divine leaders throughout history, as well as an alternate form of the term Son of Heaven , referring to the emperor. [1] The Chinese term for Heavenly King consists of two Chinese characters meaning "heaven/sky" and "king". The term was most notably used in its most recent sense as the title of the kings of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, but is also used in religious (particularly Buddhist) contexts as well.


Historical uses

Spring and Autumn period

In the Spring and Autumn period, the term Heavenly King was used to at least some extent to refer to the kings of the various Chinese states of the time. On the second page of the first text of the Spring and Autumn Annals, the term Heavenly King is used in the description of how the King of Lu helped pay for the funeral expenses of a duke's son who had died:


In autumn, during the 7th month, the Heavenly King was brought to tears and bestowed a contribution to the funerary expenses of Duke Zhong's son.

—Line 7, Book 1 of the Spring and Autumn Annals [2]

The use of Heavenly King in this text is analogous to the term Son of Heaven. The use of this term reflects the idea that the King of Lu was not put into power directly by heaven's will (as Hong Xiuquan used the term), but instead that the King of Lu was of a heavenly nature by his respect of divine forces. [3]

Sixteen Kingdoms period

During the period of the Sixteen Kingdoms, the term Heavenly King was especially common to refer to the leaders of Chinese states. Some notable examples states whose kings used this term include:

Southern Song Dynasty

During the Southern Song Dynasty, the title of Heavenly King was claimed by Yang Yao (simplified Chinese :杨幺; traditional Chinese :楊幺; pinyin :Yáng Yāo), a rebel leader in fighting against the Song government in Hunan. Yang's career as an anti-government leader began during Zhong Xiang's Revolt in 1130, where he served as a peasant soldier under the leadership of Zhong Xiang. Yang helped occupy the Dongting Lake area in the modern-day Hunan Province with some 80,000 other soldiers before Song forces arrived. After four successive attacks by the Song against opposition forces in 1132, Yao was appointed as chief leader of the opposition while the former leader Zhong Xiang retained power in a lesser role. As leader of opposition forces, Yang proclaimed himself the "Great Sage Heavenly King" (simplified Chinese :大圣天王; traditional Chinese :大聖天王; pinyin :dàshèng tiānwáng). Yang's tenure as the Great Sage Heavenly King was short lived however, lasting only three years. Following the seventh Song offensive in 1135, rebel defenses around Dongting Lake were broken, leading to the destruction of Yang Yao's "kingdom" and his own death. [12]

Hong Xiuquan, 1st Heavenly King of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Hong Xiuquan.jpg
Hong Xiuquan, 1st Heavenly King of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom

Taiping Heavenly Kingdom

The most recent historical, as well as most well known use of the title Heavenly King is from the rule of Hong Xiuquan during the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. Unlike previous leaders such as those during the Sixteen Kingdoms period, the rationale behind proclaiming himself a "heavenly" king is quite different. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom's origins were deeply rooted in quasi-nationalism and religious zeal, with Hong having stated that he had received direct orders from God to become king. This reasoning behind becoming king led to Hong believing that he had been appointed to become a heavenly king, that is, a king appointed directly by heaven inside a directly appointed heavenly kingdom. [13]

Though the title of Heavenly King in the scope of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom would be passed down to Hong Xiuquan's son, Hong Tianguifu upon his death; Hong Tianguifu was executed shortly after becoming king as a teenager, spelling an end to the use of the title in the scope of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. [14]

Religious uses

The term Heavenly King is used even today in a limited scope within Chinese Buddhism, with a much more religious meaning than most of its uses as a title. An example of its use is within the Four Heavenly Kings. The Four Heavenly Kings are four Buddhist gods, each of whom represents one cardinal direction. They are Vaiśravaṇa (Chinese :多闻天王; pinyin :Duōwén Tiānwáng), Virūḍhaka (Chinese :增長天王; pinyin :Zēngcháng Tiānwáng), Dhṛtarāṣṭra (Chinese :持国天王; pinyin :Chíguó Tiānwáng), and Virūpākṣa (Chinese :广目天王; pinyin :Guǎngmù Tiānwáng). [15]

Guardian of the North, Vaisravana 4 Guardian Kings murals 02, Samten Choling (Tsakaling).jpg
Guardian of the North, Vaiśravaṇa
4 Guardian Kings murals 03, Samten Choling (Tsakaling).jpg 4 Guardian Kings murals 04, Samten Choling (Tsakaling).jpg 4 Guardian Kings murals 01, Samten Choling (Tsakaling).jpg
Guardian of the North, Vaiśravaṇa Guardian of the East, Dhṛtarāṣṭra Guardian of the South, Virūḍhaka Guardian of the West, Virūpākṣa

Uses in other countries

Outside China, the term Heavenly King has been sometimes used as a title to refer to a ruling king or divine entity. Two countries which have done this include Korea and Vietnam, both of which are in the Chinese cultural sphere of influence, especially historically. In Korea the term is used as a title for Hwanung, the legendary founder of Gojoseon, [16] while in Vietnam it is used to refer to the mythical folk hero Thánh Gióng. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

Taiping Rebellion Rebellion in Qing dynasty China

The Taiping Rebellion, which is also known as the Taiping Civil War or the Taiping Revolution, was a massive rebellion or civil war that was waged in China from 1850 to 1864 between the established Qing dynasty and the theocratic Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. In one of the bloodiest civil wars in world history, the established Qing government won decisively, although it was weakened.

Hong Xiuquan Leader of the Taiping Rebellion

Hong Xiuquan, born Hong Huoxiu and with the courtesy name Renkun, was a Hakka Chinese revolutionary who was the leader of the Taiping Rebellion against the Qing Dynasty. He established the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom over varying portions of southern China, with himself as the "Heavenly King" and self-proclaimed younger brother of Jesus Christ.

Hong Tianguifu was the second and last king of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. He is popularly referred to as the Junior Lord (幼主). Officially, like his father Hong Xiuquan, he was the King of Heaven (天王). To differentiate, he is also called the Junior King of Heaven (幼天王).

Emperor Xuanzong of Tang 7th emperor of the Tang Dynasty

Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, also commonly known as Emperor Ming of Tang or Illustrious August, personal name Li Longji, was the seventh emperor of the Tang dynasty in China, reigning from 713 to 756 CE. His reign of 43 years was the longest during the Tang dynasty. In the early half of his reign he was a diligent and astute ruler. Ably assisted by capable chancellors like Yao Chong, Song Jing and Zhang Yue, he was credited with bringing Tang China to a pinnacle of culture and power. Emperor Xuanzong, however, was blamed for over-trusting Li Linfu, Yang Guozhong and An Lushan during his late reign, with Tang's golden age ending in the An Lushan Rebellion.

Princess Taiping was a royal princess during the Tang dynasty and her mother Wu Zetian's Zhou dynasty. She was the youngest daughter of Wu Zetian and Emperor Gaozong and was powerful during the reigns of her mother and her elder brothers Emperor Zhongzong and Emperor Ruizong, particularly during Emperor Ruizong's second reign, when for three years until her death, she was the real power behind the throne.

Hong Rengan was an important leader of the Taiping Rebellion. He was a distant cousin of the movement's founder and spiritual leader Hong Xiuquan. His position as the Prince Gan 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.

Yang Xiuqing, was an organizer and commander-in-chief of the Taiping Rebellion.

The Jintian Uprising was an armed revolt formally declared by Hong Xiuquan on 11 January 1851 during the late Qing Dynasty. The uprising was named after the rebel base in Jintian, a town in Guangxi within present-day Guiping. It marked the beginning of the Taiping Rebellion.

Taiping Heavenly Kingdom History Museum

The Taiping Kingdom History Museum is a museum dedicated to artifacts from the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864). It is located on the grounds of the Zhan Yuan Garden, a historical garden in Nanjing, China.

Shi Dakai Wing King (翼王)

Shi Dakai, born in Guigang, Guangxi, also known as Wing King or phonetically translated as Yi-Wang, was one of the most highly acclaimed leaders in the Taiping Rebellion and a poet.

Taiping Tianguo or Tai Ping Tian Guo may refer to:

Xiao Chaogui West King (西王)

Xiao Chaogui was an important leader during the early years of the Taiping Rebellion against the Qing dynasty of China. He was a sworn brother to Hong Xiuquan, the leader of the Taipings, and claimed to serve as a mouthpiece for Jesus Christ. Because of his importance to the rebellion, he was awarded the title of the "West King."

Feng Yunshan was the South King of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, a distant cousin and early accomplice of Hong Xiuquan, and an important leader during the Taiping Rebellion against the Qing government. He was one of the first Taipings to be baptized and established the first group of God Worshippers during the 1840s. He was killed during the initial stages of the rebellion, prior to the establishment of the Taiping's capital of Tianjing at Nanjing.

Yang Pu (楊溥), formally Emperor Rui of Wu (吳睿帝), known as Emperor Gaoshang Sixuan Honggu Rang or, in short, Emperor Rang, while still living during the initial months of succeeding Southern Tang, was the last ruler of the Chinese Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period state Wu, and the only one that claimed the title of emperor. During his reign, the state was in effective control of the regents Xu Wen and Xu Wen's adoptive son and successor Xu Zhigao. In 938, Xu Zhigao forced Yang Pu to yield the throne to him, who then established Southern Tang.

The Tianjing Incident occurred during the late Qing Dynasty from September 2 to October 1856. This was a major political internal conflict within the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom which took place in its capital city Tianjing. A few key leaders of the Taiping Rebellion were killed; the East King Yang Xiuqing, the North King Wei Changhui and the Yan King Qin Rigang. More than 27,000 other opposition rivals including soldiers perished in the conflict as well. The Tianjing Incident was said to be one of the factors which led to the eventual failure of the Taiping Rebellion, as well as the turning point in its fate.

The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom developed a complicated peerage system for noble ranks.

Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Chinese oppositional state existing from 1851 to 1864

The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, later shortened to Heavenly Kingdom or Heavenly Dynasty, was an unrecognized oppositional state in China and Christian-Shenic theocratic absolute monarchy from 1851 to 1864, supporting the overthrow of the Qing dynasty by Hong Xiuquan and his followers. The unsuccessful war it waged against the Qing is known as the Taiping Rebellion. Its capital was at Tianjing.

<i>The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom</i> (TV series) Chinese television series about the Taiping rebellion

The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom is a Chinese television series based on the events of the Taiping Rebellion and the rise and fall of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in the late Qing dynasty. The 48-episode series was first broadcast on CCTV in China in 2000. The series was also broadcast on STAR Chinese Channel in Taiwan and on ATV in Hong Kong.

Fu Shanxiang

Fu Shanxiang was a Chinese scholar from Nanjing who became Chancellor under the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, which was nearly successful in its attempts to overthrow the Qing dynasty in the 1850s. Fu is known as the first female Zhuangyuan in Chinese history.

Hong Daquan or Tian De was a possibly mythical leader of the early Taiping Rebellion connected to the triads. His identity and even his existence have been a matter of dispute, and the title "Tian De" may refer to multiple people. Modern research suggests that Hong was a triad leader from Hunan Province named Jiao Liang who collaborated with the Taiping rebels but held the title "Tian De" independently of the movement.


  1. "天王" [Heavenly King]. Online Complete Xinhua Dictionary. Retrieved 5 Oct 2019.
  2. "隱公元年" [First Year of Yin Gong]. (in Middle Chinese). Spring and Autumn Annals. Retrieved 5 Oct 2019.
  3. Confucius (1872) [5th century BC]. The Ch'un Ts'ew. Translated by Legge, James.
  4. Liu, Bingguang (16 Sep 2009). "匈奴人刘渊为何自称汉皇帝?" [Why did the Xiongnu Liu Yuan claim to be the Han emperor?]. Sina Blog (in Chinese).
  5. Fang, Xuanling. "晋书". Wikisource. (in Middle Chinese). Retrieved 5 Oct 2019.
  6. Zizhi Tongjian , vol. 99.
  7. Grousset, Rene (1970). The Empire of the Steppes. Rutgers University Press. pp.  59. ISBN   0-8135-1304-9.
  8. Zizhi Tongjian , vol. 111.
  9. Zizhi Tongjian , vol. 117.
  10. Zizhi Tongjian , vol. 105.
  11. Zizhi Tongjian , vol. 115.
  12. Cheng, Wanjun (2017). 长进:中外史上的30条血训 [Progress: 30 Bloody Tales in Historical Sino-Foreign Relations] (in Chinese). Beijing, China: Tsinghua University Press. pp. 145–147. ISBN   9787302461807.
  13. Feuerwerker, Albert (1975). Rebellion in Nineteenth-Century China. University of Michigan. p. 20.
  14. "洪秀全的儿子洪天贵福,在被清军抓捕之后表现如何?" [How did Hong Xiufu’s son, Hong Tiangui Fu, perform after being arrested by the Qing army?]. Sohu (in Chinese). 27 Oct 2010. Retrieved 5 Oct 2019.
  15. Schumacher, Mark. "Shitenno - Four Heavenly Kings (Deva) of Buddhism, Guarding Four Cardinal Directions". Digital Dictionary of Buddhism in Japan.
  16. "환웅(桓雄)" [Hwanung (桓雄)]. Encyclopedia of Korean Culture (in Korean). Retrieved 6 Oct 2019.
  17. Đinh, Hồng Hải. "BIỂU TƯỢNG THÁNH GIÓNG: TỪ HUYỀN THOẠI ĐẾN LỊCH SỬ THÀNH VĂN" [The Symbol of St. Giong: From Myth to Historical Text in Vietnam]. Academia (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 6 Oct 2019.