In 1638, the ruler of Japan ordered a crusade against his own subjects, a holocaust upon the men, women and children of a doomsday cult.
The sect was said to harbour dark designs to overthrow the government. Its teachers used a dead language that was impenetrable to all but the innermost circle of believers. Its priests preached love and kindness, but helped local warlords acquire firearms. They encouraged believers to cast aside their earthly allegiances and swear loyalty to a foreign god-emperor, before seeking paradise in terrible martyrdoms.
The cult was in open revolt, led, it was said, by a boy sorcerer. Farmers claiming to have the blessing of an alien god had bested trained samurai in combat and proclaimed that fires in the sky would soon bring about the end of the world. The Shogun called old soldiers out of retirement for one last battle before peace could be declared in Japan. For there to be an end to war, he said, the Christians would have to die.
This is a true story.
Dr Jonathan Clements is a historian and TV presenter specialising in East Asia. He was visiting professor at Xi'an Jiaotong University in China from 2013 to 2019 and is the author of several books on the history of China, including A Brief History of China, The Art of War: A New Translation, and Confucius: A Biography. His history of the Silk Road and his lives of the First Emperor, Empress Wu and Wellington Koo have all been translated into Chinese.
Dr Clements has presented several seasons of Route Awakening (National Geographic), an award-winning television series about icons of Chinese culture. In the course of his travels, he has harvested rice with Hani tribeswomen, cooked a Kam curry using a cow's intestinal juices and picked tea in Fujian.