Name of Book: Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom
Author: Katherine Paterson
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Audience: Ages 9 – 12
Summary: Fifteen-year-old Wang Lee is abducted from his home by bandits and rescued by Mei Lin who is a member of the Taiping, a 19th century Chinese secret society dedicated to the establishment of the Heavenly Kingdom of Peace. The Taiping, whose beliefs are based in part on Christian principles, provides the background for these two young people struggling to find a new life for themselves and their country. Their struggle leads to armed revolution and eventual understanding of the true meaning of the Heavenly Kingdom.
Literary elements at work in the story: Filled with historical background and well rounded characters, this book is an epic tale of a time and place many young people do not know much about. Yet Ms Paterson’s masterful storytelling brings the unknown to life in a passionate but unsentimental way.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story: Stereotyping is a trap many authors fall into especially when writing about the history of another culture. Ms Paterson deftly avoids that trap. Her characters and events are culturally and historically accurate. In Mei Lin, she shows yet again a strong female character and in Wang Lee, the wandering Aramean, another recurring Paterson theme.
Scripture: Zechariah 14:4-9
Theology: Zechariah speaks of a day when the Lord will come to make all things perfect. A day when the “Lord will become king over all the earth.” Many have tried to make that day come in their own time and on their own terms. In Zechariah’s time it was thought that this time would be brought about by a messianic king. The Taiping thought they could bring it about by revolution. Years after the Taiping Revolution, Wang and Mei realize this. They come to understand that by choosing revolution with earthly armor rather than the armor of light, they have brought about their own destruction.
“We knew the Heavenly Precepts, but we chose a different path; so the Mandate of Heaven was taken from us.” The ancient Israelites, who at times in their history, chose a different path by relying on the armor of man, were also defeated. And so it will be to all who choose the way of man over the way of the Lord.
Faith Talk Questions:
- What is the Heavenly Kingdom as the Taiping understood it?
- How is it different from the Heavenly Kingdom of God that Christ tell us about?
- Can we bring about the Heavenly Kingdom here on earth? If so, how?
- Where did the Israelites and the Taiping go wrong?
- Both the Israelites and the Taiping thought they were on the right path, but were not. How can we know we are following Christ and not a misunderstanding of Christ?
Review prepared by regular contributor Janet Lloyd