All About My Brother: A Taiping Rebellion Timeline
PRE-OBLIGATORY ADMINISTRATIVE STUFF: Please go here to discuss the timeline, comment on it, or demand a refund. I've cleaned things up a bit from the original version and there are minor retcons, but it's pretty much the same.
OBLIGATORY ADMINISTRATIVE STUFF: I’ve never written a timeline before, so please be gentle when telling me how much I suck. This timeline will describe an alternate Taiping Rebellion, that being the civil war which tore China apart in the mid-19th century. I’ve never been much for the “1899: Important Thing Happened” style of alternate history, so I’m going to take a kind of history book approach to what happened, with occasional first-person bits. Additionally, there won’t be one big point when everything changes; rather, there will be a series of small unfortunate events (unfortunate if you’re a fan of the Qing Dynasty, that is). The real exciting stuff will start around 1850, but this post will mostly be about setting the stage for what’s to come. And . . . that’s it for the obligatory administrative stuff! So we begin.
Introduction: The Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, and the Other Guy
Excerpted from “Hong Xiuquan: The Man, the King, the God,” by Honda Keisuke. People’s University of Tokyo Press, 1979.
- 洪秀全 (Hong Xiuquan) was a man who could safely be discounted. For there were millions of others exactly like him. Born in the village of 福源水(Fuyuanshui) in Guangdong on January 1st, 1814 as 洪仁坤 (Hong Renkun), his parents, 洪兢扬 (Hong Jingyang) and 王氏 (Wang Shi) were members of the semi-proletariat middle-peasant class. Hong Xiuquan thus came of age under the thumb of the imperialist exploiting classes, who for centuries had held the laboring peasant masses in a state of feudal quasi-serfdom.
Hong was by all accounts a dutiful student, although his formal education was cut short at the age of fifteen, when his parents could no longer afford tuition fees. He continued studying on his own, and in 1836 traveled to the provincial capital of 广州 (Guangzhou) to take the civil service examinations. He returned home empty-handed, as did more than 95% of all those who attempted to earn degrees. Hong’s humble class origins worked against him; although examples of poor men who earned a degree and went on to fame and fortune were heavily publicized, in reality most of the degrees went to privileged scions of the reactionary elite classes. Hong sat the exams three more times, failing on each occasion. It was after his third failure that he had his first dreams, or “revelations” as they would later be called. Although previous scholarship has placed Hong Xiuquan in the role of proto-Marxist revolutionary, I will use a post-Modernist-neo-structuralist-anti-colonialist-deconstructo-formulistic Fourth Wave Marxism-Fukuzawaism (1) approach to argue that in fact, Hong was . . .
Excerpted from “The Birth of the Red Heresy,” by Paolo Bellucci. University of Florence Press, 1950. (2)
- In 1837, after failing the civil service examinations for the third time, Hong Xiuquan slipped into a fit of delirium, probably brought on by a combination of stress and shame. In the words of the famous Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, it was “the panic attack that changed the world.” The series of dreams that Hong had in this state have been written about and dramatized a thousand times. This volume will content itself with the facts. Hong later claimed that in his dreams he saw an old man complaining that men were worshipping demons instead of him, followed by Confucius being tortured for his sins and then repenting. In his most vivid hallucination, Hong dreamt of being brought to heaven on the wings of angels and meeting a golden-bearded man who ordered him to rid the world of evil, after which he took out Hong’s organs and replaced them with new ones. Most critically, the bearded man addressed Hong as “Younger Brother.”
Hong saw no greater meaning in these dreams for six years, until in 1843 he failed the examinations for the fourth time. It was then that his cousin Li Jingfang gave him the book 劝世良言 (Quan shi liang yan, or Good Words to Exhort the World), a Christian tract by the writer Liang Afa. Thus was the Red Heresy born; Hong immediately connected the tenets of Christianity to his dreams from six years earlier. He saw himself as the adopted younger brother of Jesus Christ, who had been sent by God to rid China of Confucianism and found a new heavenly kingdom. Hong’s first converts were his cousins Feng Yunshan and Hong Rengan, who had also repeatedly failed the civil service examinations. After being forced out of their village by Confucians, the three men traveled to 广西 (Guangxi Province), where they began to preach and by 1850 had assembled a group of at least 10,000 converts, known as the 拜上帝会 (Bai Shangdi hui, or God-Worshippers Society).
Excerpted from “Bad Houseguests: The History of the Kejia People,” by Allison Seymour. New York: Goldman, Sachs and Company, 2002.
- Although much has been written about the religious dimensions of the Taiping Rebellion, relatively little mention has been given to its origins as an ethnically-based movement. In fact, Hong Xiuquan, his cousins, and the core of the Taiping army and administration were members of the 客家 (Kejia) minority. The 客家 (Kejia, or Hakka, literally meaning “guest people”) have a long and complicated history . . .
The earliest supporters of the Taiping Rebellion came not only from the Kejia, but from another prominent ethnic minority in Southern China – the 壮 (Zhuang) people. In effect the Taiping Rebellion began as an uprising by disaffected minority peasants, spurred into action by their charismatic leader.
(1) This would be 福澤諭吉 (Fukuzawa Yukichi), who in the real world was an incredibly influential Japanese philosopher, educator, and political theorist. I have plans for him.
(2) Hong’s heterodox interpretation of Christianity has been dubbed “The Red Heresy” due to a mistake made by his former teacher, American missionary Issachar Jacox Roberts. As Hong’s fame grew, so too did Roberts’, and in 1858 he published a book detailing his experiences entitled My Name is Red. This title was chosen based on Roberts’ mistaken belief – his Chinese wasn’t that great – that the “Hong” in Hong Xiuquan was written with the character 红, which means red. In fact it’s written with the character 洪, which means vast or grand. Roberts was unaware of this fact, and even if he had been, My Name is Vast just doesn’t sound as good. Like all misunderstandings it spread rapidly, unchecked by the truth, and even today Hong Christianity is commonly referred to as the “Red Heresy,” and the Great Kingdom of Heavenly Peace is often simply known as “Red China.”
*Careful readers will notice that everything so far pretty much happened in real life – there’s not too much alternate in this history yet. Sorry. I did it this way because the Taiping Rebellion isn’t as well known in the West as it might be, and thus I thought it was important to establish the context in which it occurred. Next update coming tomorrow.
Part #1: Nobody Expects the Taiping Revolution!
Excerpted from “The Beginning of the Beginning: The Taiping Rebellion, 1851-53,” by Marmaduke Tickled-Pinkington. Cambridge University Press, 1983.
- The 太平天国 (Taiping tianguo, or Great Kingdom of Heavenly Peace) was proclaimed by Hong Xiuquan in January of 1851 from his power base in eastern Guangxi Province. Hong’s army, which now numbered more than 20,000 men and women, had been allowed to flourish unmolested by local Qing bureaucrats, who were spending much of their time and energy attempting to put down another rebellion, that of the 天地会 (Tiandihui, or Heaven and Earth Society) (1). By the time they noticed the clouds gathering overhead, the storm had already begun. On January 1st, 1851, Qing troops sallied forth in an attempt to crush the rebels at Jintian Village, only to be defeated in an ambush. Thus began the opening phase of the Taiping Rebellion, often known as the 金田超义 (Jintian chaoyi, or Jintian Uprising). The two armies fought a series of engagements over the next six months, in which neither side was able to strike a decisive blow in the dense jungles of Guangxi. The Qing armies failed to destroy the rebels; likewise, the Taiping were unable to break out of Guangxi and strike north. However, the Jintian Uprising must on balance be regarded as a victory for the Taiping rebels, who merely by surviving attracted substantial popular support and gained needed materiel for the campaigns to come.
In 1852 the Taiping succeeded where they had failed the previous year and broke out of Guangxi, successfully conquering the city of 长沙 (Changsha, capital of Hunan Province) after a prolonged siege. The Army of Heavenly Peace – an oxymoron if there ever was one – continued their onslaught, taking the cities of 汉口 (Hankou) and 武昌 (Wuchang) in late 1852 and marching through the central 长江 (Chang River) valley on the way to their ultimate goal – 南京 (Nanjing), the Southern Capital (2).
Excerpted from “The Rape of Nanking,” by Rose Zhang. University of California Los Angeles Press, 1992. (3)
- One of the more overlooked atrocities in modern history happened in March of 1853, when Hong Xiuquan’s “Army of Heavenly Peace” entered and sacked the ancient city of Nanking. This enormous and disciplined band of fanatics swept aside all resistance, destroying the Qing defenders utterly and murdering at least 50,000 prisoners of war who had surrendered after the battle. The victorious legions of God’s second son then tore through the city itself, burning and killing indiscriminately as they went. One survivor later wrote: “Buckets of blood were spilled indiscriminately . . . I saw one group of them cutting [a man’s] organs out and feeding them to him . . . after three days of terror the skies roared and the rains begin to fall, as if even the gods themselves were saying ‘Enough.’ Only then was the blood and offal cleansed from the streets of Nanjing.” After the massacre was concluded, Hong Xiuquan declared Nanjing as the capital of the Great Kingdom of Heavenly Peace, renaming the city 天京 (Tianjing, or Heavenly Capital) and converting the residence of the local Qing administrator into his 天王府 (Tianwang fu, or Palace of the Heavenly King). Dark days had come to the Middle Kingdom, and even darker ones lay ahead . . .
Excerpted from “What If?: Conterfactuals That Could Have Changed the World,” edited by Scheherazade Wang and Rajiv Martinez. University of Antananarivo Press, 1966.
- In 1853 the Taiping were ascendant, having taken the city of Nanjing and extended their control over much of southern China. Their strength was mirrored by the weakness of the Qing, a dynasty in decline that was poised on the brink of disaster. What if the Taiping had taken advantage of the momentum they possessed and launched a campaign aimed at 北京 (Beijing) itself? It is highly possible – even probable – that the 清朝 (Qing Dynasty) would have crumbled before them. (4)
Hong Xiuquan chose a different approach, preferring to consolidate his gains and re-order the army and administrative structures of his fledgling kingdom. One of the greatest strengths of the rebellion lay in the Army of Heavenly Peace, which was organized, disciplined, and utterly fanatical. Known as the 长毛 (Changmao, or Long Hair) by their Qing adversaries, the army was drawn almost totally from the lower classes and even included female soldiers in combat roles, although units were strictly segregated by sex.
Naturally, the Taiping government was headed by Hong Xiuquan himself, who ruled as the Heavenly King from his palace in the newly-renamed city of 天京 (Tianjing). In a move that was little-noticed at the time, Hong chose to retire from the daily affairs of government in favor of spending more time receiving visions from God – a decision he would later live to regret. While Hong was still unquestionably the paramount leader of the kingdom, increasing amounts of power devolved upon five provincial rulers, who were themselves named as “kings” by Hong. Of these men, the first among equals was 杨秀清 (Yang Xiuqing), the 东王 (Eastern King) and de facto prime minister. Yang, a former firewood salesman, employed a vast network of spies and was known for his eagerness to amass as many titles as he could; his nemesis was 韦昌辉 (Wei Changhui), the 北王 (Northern King). The Southern and Western Kings, Feng Yunshan and Xiao Chaogui, both died in separate engagements in 1852; most of their power was taken by Yang Xiuqing, although some fell to 秦日刚 (Qin Rigang), the 燕王 (Yan wang, or Swallow King). Finally, there was 石达开 (Shi Dakai), the rebellion’s most capable general, who was given the title 翼王五千岁 (Yi wang wuqiansui, or the Wing King, Lord of Five Thousand Years). Old rivalries quickly came to the fore, and soon these men were spending as much time fighting with each other as they were with the armies of the Qing . . . (5)
Excerpted from “The Saturday Night Massacre: Inside the Taiping Coup,” by Archibald Cox. Washington: Watergate Press, 1974.
- The internecine rivalries that had plagued the Heavenly Kingdom since its inception came to a head on the night of September 1, 1854 in the famous 周六半夜大屠杀 - Zhouliu banye datusha, or Saturday Night Massacre - as it has come to be called by Western scholars; Taiping historians prefer the more anodyne 天京事件 (Tianjing Incident). Regardless of the term used to describe the events of that night, they were anything but incidental. Since the fall of Nanjing, Eastern King Yang Xiuqing had steadily amassed power to the point where had earned the enmity not only of his longtime rival, Northern King Wei Changhui, but also of Hong Xiuquan himself. Yang and Hong had fundamental disagreements regarding the scale of the reforms to be implemented in the Heavenly Kingdom; unlike Hong, Yang thought that Confucianism was compatible with the Taiping brand of heterodox Christianity. After one incident in which Yang suggested to Hong that the two of them should be regarded as equals, the Heavenly King decided that enough was enough, and ordered Wei Changhui, Qin Rigang and Shi Dakai to kill Yang Xiuqing and all of his followers. Ironically, the Saturday Night Massacre actually began on the previous day – Friday, August 31 – when Wei and Qin’s troops entered Tianjing (Shi Dakai had yet to arrive) and descended on Yang’s residence – only to discover that their arrival had been anticipated. Yang’s labyrinthine network of spies had alerted him to the coming storm, and thus the armies of Wei and Qin were greeted with organized resistance from Yang’s followers. A night of battle ensued under the red lanterns in the streets of Tianjing. Wei and Qin’s forces eventually gained the upper hand and forced the Yang loyalists into a fighting retreat to the outskirts of the city, but were unable to consummate the victory. As dawn broke they moved through the now-ruined western quarter of Tianjing, summarily executing all those sympathetic to Yang who were still left – and some others who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Shi Dakai, the Wing King, Lord of Five Thousand Years, arrived at noon the following day with his army. Though his orders stated in no uncertain terms that he was to do away with Yang Xiuqing, upon his arrival Shi attempted mediation between the two sides, hoping that a settlement could be reached. His attempts were for nought, and after receiving several increasingly irate messages from the Heavenly King telling him to get on with it, Shi prepared to complete the defeat of Yang Xiuqing. As Shi was organizing the disposition of his forces, a bedraggled servant from his household stumbled into camp and delivered the news that Shi’s entire family had been killed – executed by Wei and Qin’s forces the night before. Though revisionist historians have suggested that the servant – whose name is lost to posterity – was in fact one of Yang’s many spies, there is no evidence to support this contention, and in any case his report was indisputably correct. That evening, when Shi Dakai did make his attack, it was not against the Yang loyalists, but was rather a surprise descent on the unprepared armies of Wei and Qin. What ensued was not a battle, but a rout. Qin Rigang was killed in the engagement, while Wei Changhui was captured and executed the following day; he was strapped to the mouth of a cannon which was then fired. Chronicler 邢立臣 (Xing Lichen) later wrote, “A haze of blood filled the sky, and for three days thereafter the crows feasted on the man who had once been the King of the North.” Shi Dakai and Yang Xiuqing met in a dilapidated teahouse in the southern quarter of Tianjing at the stroke of midnight, after their shared adversaries had been crushed. No record of what was said at that meeting survives, but their actions thereafter speak for themselves. For Hong Xiuquan never again left the Palace of the Heavenly King . . . (6)
(1) The 天地会 was a secret society dedicated to overthrowing the Qing Dynasty and restoring the Ming Dynasty.
(2) So named because it was the capital of China for a few hundred years, until the 永乐 (Yongle) Emperor moved it to Beijing because . . . well, because he felt like it, and he was the emperor.
(3) This timeline’s version of the Rape of Nanjing happens a little earlier. The “author” of this “excerpt” is more than a little biased – there were only light massacres in reality, and the city was definitely not sacked or anything.
(4) This would be another great starting point for a Taiping Rebellion timeline, as there was a significant chance that had the Taiping gone for the jugular, the Qing would have collapsed. Needless to say, I’m going in a different direction.
(5) They were a fractious bunch, those Taiping.
(6) So obviously, this is the point of divergence. Originally I had planned a series of small events instead of one big thing, but I kept on landing here. Quite a bit of what I described actually happened in the real world: Hong and Yang had a falling out, and Hong ordered the others to get rid of him. Our first divergence is that in the real world, Yang was taken unawares. I have him finding out about the plot in advance due to his network of spies (which he was indeed famed for). Likewise, Shi Dakai did in fact show up late to the party, and his entire family was actually killed by Wei Changhui’s troops, and he did really turn and destroy Wei and Qin’s armies. The big difference is that in the real world, Yang was already dead, so Shi wasn’t technically disobeying Hong. In my timeline Yang is still alive, so when Shi learns of the deaths of his family and goes apeshit, he’s also aiding Yang Xiuqing and in effect pitting himself against Hong Xiuquan. Thus, he and Yang cooperate and stage a quasi-coup (it’s a bit complicated, as will be explained in the next entry) out of self-preservation as much as anything else – it was either Hong or them. Other divergences in this POD: the real Tianjing Incident took place in 1856; mine occurs in 1854. Furthermore, in real life the incident unfolded over a period of weeks. I compressed the timeline of the events, more for simplicity’s sake than anything else, as I couldn’t keep track of when everything was supposed to be happening. Hey, it’s alternate history, right?
I know that’s a rather long-winded explanation, but especially since the POD is so dramatic I feel compelled to provide some justification for it. I think I’m on reasonably solid ground here, given that a lot of what I described actually did take place, but comments, suggestions and criticism are all welcome. The next update is coming on Thursday. And thanks to everyone who's commented so far.
Part #2: The Twelve Puppeteers
Excerpted from “Governance in the Heavenly Kingdom,” by Caroline Zuma. University of Toronto Press, 1982.
- How do you solve a problem called Hong Xiuquan? This was the dilemma faced by 石达开 (Shi Dakai) and 杨秀清 (Yang Xiuqing). While it must have been tempting to make a public spectacle of his downfall, or simply to announce that the Heavenly King had suffered a fatal accident, Shi and Yang realized that without Hong’s presence the rebellion was doomed to collapse. After all, it was Hong’s charisma and leadership that had united the rebels into a cohesive force and given them strength and purpose. But the main reason why Hong could not simply be dumped in a ditch was religious in nature. The Heavenly Kingdom itself was based on the idea that Hong was the son of God and the brother of Jesus Christ – and one does not simply depose the divine. Thus, instead of tearing Hong down, Shi and Yang built him up, issuing a series of declarations that both proclaimed his divinity and announced that he was retiring from earthly affairs to commune with his father and older brother, God and Jesus Christ. While these grand proclamations were being issued, including one which stated that Hong and his scions would rule the Heavenly Kingdom for ten thousand years, Shi and Yang were creating the structures of a new government. Thus was the 使徒会 (Shitu hui, or Council of the Apostles) formed. Supposedly established to “faithfully interpret and execute the divine words of the Heavenly King (遵奉地解释，执行天王神圣之懿旨) (1),” in fact the Council of Apostles was the body through which Shi and Yang ruled the Taiping Tianguo. Most of the twelve members of the council were firmly in the pockets of Shi and Yang, although there were some members who were powerful in their own right, most notably the brilliant naval commander 唐正才 (Tang Zhengcai). Shi and Yang’s silent coup was immeasurably aided by the air of ambiguity that surrounded the entire enterprise. Most people had no idea what had actually happened, and even some members of the Council of Apostles were under the illusion that Hong was still in charge. (2) Hong had surrendered responsibility for the day-to-day affairs of the kingdom the year before of his own accord, and thus most people found it quite easy to believe that he would retire from temporal affairs completely. In any event, a great deal of the army was personally loyal to Shi Dakai . . .
Thus it was that Hong Xiuquan lived out the remainder of his days under de facto house arrest in the Palace of the Heavenly King, which he never again left. He was watched at all times by the 天王保护队 (Tianwang baohu dui, or Guardians of the Heavenly King) – more commonly known to Western readers as the Red Guards - which were an elite unit handpicked by and loyal to Yang Xiuqing, who ensured that Hong stayed right where he was. It is said that Hong’s chefs – also handpicked by Yang – put copious amounts of opium in the Heavenly King’s meals. Hong’s days were spent in a drug-addled haze; his nights were spent with one or more of his two hundred concubines. (3)
Excerpted from “Taiping Social Policy: A Study in Contradictions,” by Jehoshaphat Trumbull. University of British Columbia Press, 1922.
- The Taiping Kingdom was, on paper at least, inarguably the most progressive and egalitarian society in the world. A policy of strict equality between the sexes was declared; women were allowed to take the civil service examinations and serve in combat roles in the military. Prostitution and polygamy were banned on pain of death – although many Taiping leaders continued to keep concubines – and foot binding, slavery, opium, and gambling were also proscribed (4). The society that Hong Xiuquan created also leaned towards Marxism (although Hong wouldn’t have known Marx from a hole in the ground). Private property was abolished and society was declared to be classless. Taiping society also had a theocratic bent: the subject of the civil service examinations was changed from the Confucian classics to the Bible, and all citizens were required to undergo baptism and convert to Christianity.
In the early years of the Taiping, this society essentially existed only on paper. Civil administration ranged from shaky to nonexistent, and most of the Taiping social reforms were not implemented in the countryside. It was probably best for all concerned that the Taiping didn’t try too hard to enforce these policies, especially the more esoteric ones. For example, Hong decreed that the sexes should be strictly separated and that even married couples must not live together or . . . do other things that married couples often do (5). This policy was unceremoniously abandoned after the Silent Coup that followed the Saturday Night Massacre of 1854. Taiping internal policy changed dramatically after the fall of Hong and the rise of Yang Xiuqing and Shi Dakai to prominence. Yang, who had always been a modernizer – it was he who had previously agitated for the change to a solar instead of a lunar calendar – embraced Western ideas, calling on citizens to build a 和谐社会 (hexie shehui, or Harmonious Society) that was rooted in 科学发展 (kexue fazhan, or Scientific Development). Yet he also softened restrictions on the practice of Confucianism and property ownership. (6) Yang had long believed that Confucian morality was compatible with the Taiping brand of Christianity, and thus he allowed Confucianism to resume its role in the lives of the people. This trend culminated in 1877, when the Council of Apostles announced that they had received a “revelation” from Hong Xiuquan stating that just as he was Jesus’ younger brother, so too was Confucius God’s younger brother, who had been sent to Earth to spread morality and right thinking . . . (7).
Excerpted from “History of the Qing Dynasty, 1644-1976: The Reign of the Xianfeng Emperor,” by Maarten Maartens. University of Leiden Press, 2002.
- The 咸丰帝 (Xianfeng Emperor) was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. After all, the Dragon Throne was no place for an opium-smoking, alcoholic teenager. Yet when his father the 道光帝 (Daoguang Emperor) died in 1850, Xianfeng (then known as Prince Yizhu) came to power at the tender age of nineteen. The newly-crowned emperor, a fervent traditionalist who believed in the inherent superiority of China over the encroaching Westerners, was almost immediately confronted with a challenge of a different sort – the Taiping Rebellion. Xianfeng could only watch in horror as the Army of Heavenly Peace swept through southern China, culminating with their capture of Nanjing in March of 1853, only two years after the rebellion had begun. He responded to the Taiping threat by sending several prominent officials south with a mandate to crush the rebellion. The most notable of these officials was 曾国藩 (Zeng Guofan).
Zeng rose to prominence when he recaptured the cities of Hankou and Wuchang from the Taiping in 1852, although the Taiping quickly re-re-captured them. He was quickly noticed by the court, which appointed him to the Board of War and gave him carte blanche to take any and all measures necessary to put down the rebellion. In response to the imperial command Zeng raised a new force - 湘军 (Xiang Army) – and managed to stop the Taiping Army’s northern advance in the summer of 1853, after which they took the defensive and focused on consolidating their gains. The following year, as the factional feuding within the Taiping government worsened, Zeng’s Xiang Army attacked, pushing the Army of Heavenly Peace out of 江苏省 (Jiangsu Province). As 1855 began, it seemed that the tide had turned in favor of the Qing. It hadn’t. (8)
(1) There’s a good chance that I butchered that translation.
(2) This is going to cause some trouble later on, but at the beginning the fact that no one really knew what was happening was critical to the success of Shi and Yang’s coup, which was made even easier by the fact that Hong was such a nutter that people could easily see him leaving public life completely to hang out with God.
(3) So don’t feel too sorry for Hong. Sure, he’s not allowed to leave his home, but it is a palace. Plus he doesn’t have to do any work, he’s treated like a god, given vast amounts of drugs, and gets the run of the harem to boot. Talk about the hardest job you’ll ever love . . .
(4) The Taiping attitude towards opium is definitely going to cause some problems down the road. Bet on it.
(5) Hong actually did decree that married couples could not live together or have sex. Did I mention that he was a crazy person? In real life this “reform” was dropped in 1855, as Yang Xiuqing’s power grew. In this timeline, Yang can grant the people of the Heavenly Kingdom conjugal visits a year earlier. PARTY!
(6) This is absolutely critical for the medium to long-term survival of the Taiping state. OTL one of the main reasons why they failed was a total inability to co-opt any of the scholar-bureaucrat class, who were understandably a bit turned off by the Confucius hate as well as some of the reforms that would hit them where it hurts – the wallet. With a new regime in charge, most of Hong’s crazier ideas are thrown out, and in particular the Taiping become more congenial to Confucianism. While they’re not exactly going to win the allegiance of the Chinese elite overnight, they will be able to co-opt a solid core of scholar-bureaucrats, which will enable them to actually administer the territory that they own.
(7) Yes, the Taiping Kingdom is shaping up to be a seriously weird place: a proto-Marxist modernizing totalitarian bureaucratic oligarchy, with a theocratic element tossed in for fun. And just to make things really weird, that theocratic element is Christianity with increasing amounts of Confucianism grafted on. Call it Christianity with Chinese Characteristics.
(8) So if you’re keeping score at home, from 1851 to early 1853, the Taiping pretty much kicked the Qing around. Things started to stabilize in mid-to-late 1853, and in 1854 the Qing regained some of their lost territory.
*Again, a big thank-you to everyone who has read and commented on this timeline so far. I’m always open to any suggestions or criticism that people have. In the next entry (which will probably be finished either tomorrow or Friday) things really start to heat up . . . and the foreign devils make their first appearance. Exciting times are ahead . . .
Part #3: Frying Pans And Fires And Rocks And Hard Places
“善为士者不武，善战者不怒，善胜敌者不与，善用人者为之下。是谓不争之德，是谓用人之力，是谓 配天之极. ”
Excerpted from “The Nian Rebellion,” by Abdullah Watson. 1997.
- If the only problem faced by the Qing had been the Taiping Rebellion, things still would have been difficult for the dynasty. With the addition of another revolution to the mix, the Xianfeng Emperor could have been forgiven for considering himself cursed. Unlike the Taiping Rebellion, the 捻军起义 (Nian jun qi yi, or Nian Rebellion) was not motivated by ethnic, class or religious considerations. Instead, the revolutionaries were driven simply by anger at a government that had failed them. The 黄河 (Yellow River) had flooded in 1851, causing massive loss of life; in the wake of this disaster no help came from Beijing, which was both broke and busy. When the river flooded again in 1855 and relief was again slow to arrive, many citizens decided that enough was enough. They were led by the charismatic 张乐行 (Zhang Lexing), who organized the revolutionaries into a well-organized guerrilla force that relied on cavalry in attack and the impregnability of their fortified cities in defense. The timing of the rebellion was disastrous for the Qing, who had been making gains against the Taiping in 1854. Now the Qing armies were cut off from their supply lines, and another hostile force had suddenly emerged behind them. The Taiping seized on the opportunity presented to them by the Nian Rebellion, sending troops under the command of the general 赖文光 (Lai Wenguang) to aid Zhang Lexing and his revolutionaries.
Beijing responded, sending an army commanded by the Mongolian general 僧格林沁 (Senggelinqin) to put down the rebellion. Yet the Qing were unlucky once more; Senggelinqin’s army was ambushed by Nian rebels west of 济南 (Jinan) in October of 1855, and the general himself was killed. In a last-ditch attempt to avert total disaster, Zeng Guofan detached a portion of his army under the command of 左宗棠 (Zuo Zongtang), one of his most trusted subordinates, and sent them north to battle the Nian. Showing the skills that would later earn him a place on menus worldwide (1), Zuo’s army achieved some notable successes against the Nian, even capturing Zhang Lexing in 1856. Yet even as Zuo waged his campaign against the Nian, the decision to send him north left the Qing armies in the field against the Taiping outnumbered and undermanned. The Taiping were not in a position to take full advantage of this; after all, Shi Dakai was not present, having embarked on the famous 南伐 (Nan fa, or Southern Expedition). Yet they still held the advantage and achieved some breakthroughs, most famously in July of 1856 when the Taiping Navy, under the command of 唐正才 (Tang Zhengcai), captured the city of 上海 (Shanghai) in a daring amphibious assault.
Excerpted from “The Panthay Rebellion,” by Ono Kanji. People’s University of Sapporo Press, 1963.
- The 杜文秀起义 (Du Wenxiu qiyi, or Du Wenxiu Rebellion), also known as the Panthay Rebellion, began in 云南省 (Yunnan Province) in 1856. The revolutionaries were predominantly 回 (Hui), a Muslim minority who had been discriminated against for years by the government of the region. In 1856 local uprisings broke out across Yunnan, and rebels under the leadership of 杜文秀 (Du Wenxiu) captured the city of 大理 (Dali) and declared the establishment of a new nation, 平南国 (Pingnan guo, or the Peaceful Southern Nation). Although the rebellion was primarily a Muslim affair, it was aided by many of the minority groups that were scattered throughout Yunnan Province. It was also aided by another emerging power – the Taiping Kingdom. Troops were detached from Shi Dakai’s Southern Expedition under the command of 李世贤 (Li Shixian) to aid Du Wenxiu and his fellow revolutionaries. In contrast, the Qing Dynasty could offer no help to the officials responsible for the defense of Yunnan; there were simply too many other priorities, and Yunnan was too far away. Although the Qing troops in Yunnan were ably led by 岑毓英 (Cen Yuying) they could only be in one place at a time, and had no chance of being able to put down a province-wide rebellion, especially not once the battle-hardened Taiping Army had arrived on the scene. In Yunnan, the Chinese proverb 天高皇帝远 (Tian gao huangdi yuan, or, Heaven is high, and the emperor is far away) proved to be an all too appropriate summary of the situation for the Qing armies charged with the defense of the province. (2)
Excerpted from “The Southern Expedition,” by Zhang Xiaolong. 1912.
- In the spring of 1855, after he had firmly established his position along with Yang Xiuqing as one of the two main power brokers in the Taiping Kingdom, 石达开 (Shi Dakai) – the Wing King, Lord of Five Thousand Years – prepared for his next campaign against the forces of the Qing. Everyone – including his own staff officers – assumed that Shi would strike north, attempting to defeat the forces of Zeng Guofan and threaten Beijing itself. But Shi Dakai had never been one for conforming to the expectations of others, and decided on an alternative course of action. Instead of going north he went south, driving deep into the rich provinces of 浙江 (Zhejiang), 福建 (Fujian), and 广东 (Guangdong). The campaign itself, known to posterity as 南伐 (Nan fa), or the Southern Expedition, was conducted masterfully and took full advantage of both the weakness of Qing forces in the southeast and the near impossibility that the Qing would be able to reinforce those regions. (3)
As Shi’s armies marched south people flocked to the banner of the Wing King, further bolstering his numbers. Shi won decisive engagements at 衢州 (Quzhou) and 三明 (Sanming) in 1855, and even after detaching part of his forces under the command of 李世贤 (Li Shixian) in 1856 to aid Du Wenxiu’s rebels in 1856, his advance continued. In the fall of 1856 Shi Dakai defeated the last organized Qing resistance outside the city of 肇庆 (Zhaoqing) in Guangdong Province and began to liberate the southeastern coastal cities of 杭州 (Hangzhou), 福州 (Fuzhou), 厦门 (Xiamen), and 广州 (Guangzhou). Yet as Shi’s army took these port cities from the Qing, they also inadvertently opened an unpleasant can of worms. For several of these cities were treaty ports – home to and essentially controlled by foreign traders, who began to take a long look at the power that was rising in the South. In many cases, they didn’t like what they saw . . .
Excerpted from “Foreign Tools and Chinese Ideas: Inside the Qing Modernization Movement,” by Natasha Hu. 2004.
- In 1856 the 咸丰帝 (Xianfeng Emperor) had not yet reached the age of twenty-five – yet he was already an old man. Since assuming the throne he had watched impotently as the empire that he had inherited crumbled before his very eyes. As more and more bad news came to Beijing from the front, Xianfeng – a heavy drinker at the best of times – hit the bottle even harder, frequently disappearing from court for days at a time to drink and pursue one of his other vices, the use of opium. Both his physical and mental health began to deteriorate, and the eunuchs and courtiers of the Forbidden City started to whisper amongst themselves about the emperor’s fading grip on reality. The straw that broke the camel’s back came in February of 1856 when a seasonal flu swept through Beijing. As flu outbreaks go, it was no worse than most years; a few thousand residents of the city died, and ordinarily such an event would have gone unnoticed by the imperial court. But disease cares little for rank or title, and as it happened one of the victims of the virus was Imperial Concubine Yi, who was pregnant with what would have been the Emperor’s first child (4). The loss of his favorite concubine and his unborn child – in addition to the loss of a large chunk of his kingdom – was too much for the Xianfeng Emperor to bear. The hysterical monarch fled to his summer palace at 承德 (Chengde), where he wandered the grounds, rending his garments and tearing his hair. After several days he began to refuse nourishment, and on May 4th, the Xianfeng Emperor passed away.
Given that Xianfeng had died without issue, the throne passed to his younger half-brother 奕欣恭亲王 (Yixin, the 1st Prince Gong). After surviving an assassination attempt on his life by the traditionalist faction at court, Yixin assumed the Dragon Throne in June, taking the regnal name 永胜 (Yongsheng, or Eternal Victory) (5). The newly-crowned emperor bore almost no resemblance to his deceased half-brother; he was dynamic and vigorous. Most importantly, he had long been an advocate of modernization and was passionately interested in Western technology and ideas (6). The situation inherited by Yongsheng was dire to say the least, as the Taiping armies swept through the south with seeming impunity. Yet before he could turn his full attention to the rebellion, Yongsheng had to deal with crisis. For the foreign barbarians were knocking on China’s gates again, and everyone remembered what they had done to the Middle Kingdom only fifteen short years before . . .
(1) His name was 左宗棠, but you may know him as General Tso. I am told that his chicken is delicious.
(2) Both the Nian and the Panthay Rebellion did indeed occur in real life. IOTL they failed to really coordinate with the Taiping, and thus all three of the rebellions were eventually put down by the Qing Dynasty. In this timeline, the not-crazy Taiping regime is giving a lot of help to their revolutionary counterparts.
(3) The inspiration for the “Southern Expedition” (itself a shout-out to the Northern Expedition, which happened in 1928) comes from Shi Dakai’s Sichuan campaigns of the early 1860s, which ended in failure. Needless to say, he’s doing better this time around.
(4) This so did not happen in real life. You may know the Imperial Concubine Yi by the title she assumed later – 慈禧太后 (Dowager Empress Ci Xi). IOTL she had the baby – who became the 同治帝 (Tongzhi Emperor) – but she pretty much ruled China in her own right for almost fifty years, screwing things up royally along the way. But now she’s dead. As for Xianfeng’s demise, he really was an alcoholic opium addict with a tenuous grip on sanity, and he pretty much did go crazy and drop dead. IOTL this happened in 1860 and the event that prompted it all was China’s defeat in the Second Opium War. I figured that the combination of greater Taiping success and the death of his favorite concubine and unborn child would have the same effect.
(5) Never let it be said that the Qing Dynasty does not believe in the power of positive thinking.
(6) Prince Gong assuming the throne is the best thing that could happen to Qing China. In real life he was pretty much like I described him here – a firm believer in China’s need to modernize.
*So it’s probably becoming apparent where I’m going with all this by now, but here it is anyway. There’s going to be a Taiping China and a Qing China, and they’re both going to be industrializing as fast as they can, both due to the mentalities of their leaders and fear of each other. Basically, I see your one modernizing China and raise you another.
Part #4: How to Make Friends and Influence Foreign Devils
“弱之胜强，柔之胜刚，天下莫不知，莫能行。是以圣人云，爱国之垢，是谓社棱主，爱国不祥，是为 天下王。正 言若反.”
Excerpted from “Barbarians at the Great Wall: 19th Century Western Imperialism in China,” by X. Egbert Fappington-Twatley. University of Leeds Press, 1989.
- China had been rudely disabused of its arrogance and complacency in 1839, when the British Empire swept aside the armies of the Middle Kingdom and forced the Qing Dynasty to sign the humiliating and unequal 南京条约 (Treaty of Nanjing) in 1842. The French and Americans stuck their feet in the door as well, and the Qing granted them trade privileges and extraterritoriality as well in the Treaty of the Bogue (1843) and the Wangxia Treaty (1844). The treaties were damaging to China in many ways; they undercut the nation’s traditional sense of superiority, allowed the opium trade to continue, and gave foreigners a privileged status above Chinese in several “treaty ports.” Yet the worst part about the unequal treaties was that in each one of them, a clause was inserted allowing for renegotiation after a dozen years had passed. Thus it was that in the mid-1850s the foreigners came back for more concessions – and with China in the midst of revolution, they couldn’t have arrived at a worse time.
The British and the French attempted to begin renegotiation of the treaties in 1855, hoping to gain further concessions, but made little headway with the representatives of the Xianfeng Emperor, a hardcore traditionalist. Had their patience run out and war been declared on the Qing, it certainly would have been the end of the dynasty. But the Xianfeng Emperor died in the spring of 1856 and was replaced by his half-brother, a firm supporter of modernization. The newly-crowned 永胜帝 (Yongsheng Emperor) was such an advocate of Westernization that his nickname at court was 鬼子六 (Guizi liu, or Devil Number Six), a reference to his fondness for the foreign devils and his position as the 六王爷 (Liu wangye, or Sixth Prince) (1). Needless to say, this nickname fell out of fashion once he had been crowned emperor. Yongsheng restarted the treaty renegotiation talks in the summer of 1856, quickly earning himself the admiration of the European negotiators. James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, the lead negotiator for the British Empire, wrote of Yongsheng, “The current emperor of the Celestial Kingdom sits with us for hours and dickers over the smallest clauses, a shocking departure from the remoteness of his predecessors . . . though his amity is beyond reproach and his clear interest in the broader world unquestioned, I wonder sometimes if his true calling is that of a particularly hard-fisted merchant, for on several occasions upon the conclusion of our sessions I have felt compelled to check my purse after leaving, just so as to ensure that it is still there . . .”
The negotiations were not without difficulties. While none of the parties were especially eager to mention it, they all knew that not only did the Qing Dynasty no longer control any of the five cities that had been designated as treaty ports, but even the city in which the treaty itself had been signed was now the capital of a new nation. Yet Yongsheng, knowing that the Qing could not survive another foreign war, persevered and managed to reach an accord with the British and French. The 天津条约 (Treaty of Tianjin) was signed in June of 1857. Naturally, the British and French got pretty much what they wanted – the right to establish embassies in Beijing, the right to travel freely in the internal regions of China, the right of foreign vessels to navigate freely on China’s rivers, and the opening of eight new treaty ports in territory still under Qing control. Furthermore, the opium trade was officially legalized. (2) An additional treaty with the United States was signed a few months later, more or less with the same clauses as the British and French versions. The Yongsheng Emperor had also requested British and French aid in the struggle against the Taiping Kingdom. While neither country was prepared to commit to a full-scale war in China to support the Qing, they did sell weapons and technology and allowed some of their soldiers to “resign” and join the Qing military (3). With the treaties concluded, the Yongsheng Emperor thought that he could turn his full attention back to fighting the Taiping. But there was one foreign power that he had overlooked . . .
Excerpted from “The Second Opium War,” by Svetlana Chandrasekhar. University of Bombay Press, 1955.
- As the Army of Heavenly Peace advanced through southern China – taking control of the treaty ports of 广州 (Guangzhou), 厦门 (Xiamen), 上海 (Shanghai), 宁波 (Ningbo), and 福州 (Fuzhou) in the process – the foreign powers realized that they had no choice but to deal with the fledgling Taiping Kingdom. Britain, France and the United States hoped to force the Taiping to recognize the Treaty of Nanjing and to open more ports to trade The Taiping, on the other hand, were almost naively endearing in their hopes. They assumed that as “fellow Christians”, the Western powers would be eager to form alliances with them and aid in the overthrow of the Qing. The negotiations began in the fall of 1856, and the speed with which each side managed to offend the other was perhaps unprecedented in the annals of diplomacy. The trouble began when the Westerners, still believing that Hong Xiuquan ruled the Taiping, demanded an audience with the Heavenly King himself. Of course, Hong had been under virtual house arrest for the past two years, and the kingdom was ruled by the 使徒会 (Council of Apostles), which was firmly in the pocket of Yang Xiuqing and Shi Dakai. Yang, who did not want to advertise the fact that he had overthrown Hong, tried to delay and prevaricate, but the foreigners continued – loudly and angrily – to demand a meeting with Hong. In desperation, Yang dressed one of his household servants up as the emperor and summoned the foreigners to meet with “Hong Xiuquan” at the Palace of the Heavenly King. The servant, known to posterity only as 小王 (Little Wang), had been ordered on pain of death to commit to no agreements with the foreign dignitaries. As the following transcription of the meeting (taken by secretary to the American delegation Caleb Henry) indicates, Little Wang took his orders all too seriously:
MR. PARKES (British representative): It is our strong desire that Your Majesty’s government recognize the provisions of the Treaty of Nanjing.
EMPEROR HONG (through an interpreter): Perhaps we will do this. But perhaps we will not.
M. DESJARDINS (French representative): I beg Your Majesty’s pardon?
EMPEROR HONG: We will no doubt comply with the provisions of the treaty.
MR. PARKES: That is wonderful news, and my government will be very pleased to hear it.
EMPEROR HONG: Yes, we will naturally comply. Of course we might not comply, in which case we certainly will not have complied.
MR. WILCOX (US representative): Could Your Majesty perhaps be a little . . . clearer?
EMPEROR HONG: Maybe.
M. DESJARDINS (to Mssrs. Wilcox and Seymour): What the devil is he playing at?
MR. PARKES: Maybe it’s an issue of translation.
MR. WILCOX: He looks quite pale, doesn’t he? [to the Emperor] Your Majesty, are you quite well?
EMPEROR HONG: It is difficult to say.
Aside from that comedy of errors, there were other issues that plagued the negotiators. Great Britain demanded legalization of the opium trade, which to the Taiping was completely unacceptable. Religion was another sticking point. The French were insistent on the right of missionaries to evangelize, which offended the Taiping, who insisted that they were already a Christian nation. As Yang Xiuqing famously put it, “应该送你们的传教士到罗马去” (You might as well send them to Rome instead!) (4). Both sides were disgusted with each other, and the casus belli came in December of 1857, when French missionary Auguste Chapdelaine was beheaded by local authorities in Guangxi province for “denying the divinity of the Heavenly King” (否天王之神性), thus leading many satirists to dub the conflict “The War of Chapdelaine’s Head.”
Whether one refers to it as the War of Chapdelaine’s Head or as the Second Opium War, the outcome of the conflict was never in doubt. The Army of Heavenly Peace may have been fanatical, battle-hardened, and disciplined, but it was no match for the Royal Navy. An Anglo-French expeditionary force under the command of Admiral Sir James Hope attacked and occupied 广州 (Guangzhou), while another force led by the French general Jean-Baptiste Louis Gros took Shanghai. In the piece de resistance of the whole affair, a Royal Navy squadron sailed into the mouth of the 长江 (Chang River) basin and bombarded the Taiping capital, 天京 (Tianjing, or the City Formerly Known as Nanjing). After this last flourish the Council of Apostles concluded that they had no choice but to sue for peace, and the 天京条约 (Treaty of Tianjing) was signed on January 14, 1859. The terms of the agreement were harsh – the Taiping were forced to recognize the earlier Treaty of Nanjing, legalize the opium trade, open nine more cities as treaty ports, cede the district of 九龙 (Jiulong) to Britain, and pay an indemnity of eight million taels (5). It is interesting to ponder what would have happened had the Qing been able to apply their full attention to the Taiping during the Second Opium War. But as fate would have it, they were embroiled in a foreign crisis of their own . . .
Excerpted from “The Amur War,” by Marcos Ndebele. 2000.
- For more than a hundred years, the Empire of all the Russias had desired a warm-water port on the Pacific Ocean. Their ambitions were blocked by Qing China and by the Treaty of Nerchinsk, signed by the two nations in 1689, which assigned the land east of the Stanovoy Mountains to China. But as the power of the Middle Kingdom waned, Russia saw an opportunity to seize the moment and capitalize on the weakness of the Qing. Thus it was that after the signing of the Treaty of Tianjin, Russia began to press for territorial concessions in the Amur River valley. Nikolay Muravyov, Governor-General of Irkutsk and Yeniseyisk, pressed an aggressive policy with regard to Russia’s eastern claims, believing that the Qing would back down and agree to negotiate. He would have been right – all evidence suggests that the Yongsheng Emperor was loathe to make war over what he regarded as a frozen wasteland – but Muravyov had underestimated the power of the traditionalist faction in Beijing. This group, which fervently believed in the superiority of China over the foreign barbarians, had been appalled when Yongsheng signed the Treaty of Tianjin and began to make noises suggesting that should he grant yet more concessions to another foreign state it would be clear proof of his unfitness to rule. The only thing that Yongsheng wanted less than a war with Russia was a coup attempt at home, and so when Russian settlers continued to move into the Amur River basin in defiance of the Treaty of Nerchinsk, Yongsheng shocked everyone by declaring war in April of 1858. There were those who noticed that Yongsheng had appointed virtually all of the traditionalist faction to positions of responsibility in the army that he sent north. They were careful not to mention these observations too loudly.
Had the Taiping Rebellion not been a factor, the traditionalists – headed by the Manchu noble 肃顺 (Sushun) and Yongsheng’s younger half-brother 醇贤亲王 (the 1st Prince Chun) – might have had a point. Russian forces in the Far East were small, scattered and poorly trained. But after seven years of war with the Taiping, the Nian, and Du Wenxiu, the Qing military cupboard was more than a little bare. Sushun marched north with an army of mostly local militia, poorly-equipped and poorly-trained with no combat experience. Murayovksy sensibly avoided a general engagement – his forces were vastly outnumbered – instead making use of his Cossacks and fighting a mobile campaign. Sushun’s army blundered back and forth on the frozen plains of Outer Manchuria until Russian reinforcements finally arrived and inflicted a decisive defeat on the Qing forces outside Khabarovsk. After this reverse Yongsheng had no recourse but to sue for peace and the 瑷珲条约 (Treaty of Aihun) was signed in May of 1859. The terms imposed on the Qing by the victorious Russians were harsh; not only did Russia gain territory on the left bank of the Amur River, but they also gained the Ussuri krai, which gave them access to the Pacific Ocean (6). Additionally, the Qing were forced to pay an indemnity of five million taels to Russia (7). In the final analysis, not only did the 黑龙江战 (Amur War) cost the Qing troops and money, it also diverted their attention from the south, where the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace refused to go quietly into that good night . . .
(1) People actually did call him this IOTL, which in my opinion is yet another sign that he’s the perfect guy to be running Qing China right now.
(2) ITTL, Yongsheng does win one concession – there will be no missionaries in Qing China, as he convinces the foreign negotiators that Christianity is so closely associated with the Taiping that a missionary in a Qing village would last about as long as a snowball in hell. Plus, I just saved the 圆明园 (Yuanming yuan). You can thank me later.
(3) I promise that there will be a Frederick Townsend Ward sighting in the next post. Maybe Charles Gordon as well, although I’m not making any promises.
(4) Not an exact translation (which would be something like “You should just send your missionaries to Rome!”), but the interpreter responsible for translating the phrase had an ironic turn of mind.
(5) This is more or less what happened to the Qing after their ill-advised involvement in the Second Opium War IOTL.
(6) Again, these borders correspond to what happened IOTL, although there were two treaties and no wars instead of the sequence of events described above.
(7) Receiving this indemnity (which didn’t happen in real life, as there was no Amur War) will leave the Russians feeling a bit more flush than they did IOTL, and as a result they will not be trying to sell off Alaska.
*So the Taiping and the Qing both get involved in expensive and distracting foreign wars, and as a result kind of forget that they’re supposed to be fighting each other. This will all be detailed in the next post, which will be – drum roll – the end of part one of the timeline. There might be a map involved, although I suck at making them so don’t get your hopes up or anything. Thanks for reading, and please do let me know what you think of things so far.
Part #5: A Peace of the Pie
“以道佐人主者，不以兵强天下. 其事好还. 师之所处，荆棘生焉. 大军之后，必有凶年.”
Excerpted from “The Taiping Rebellion, 1857-60: The Final Years,” by Marmaduke Tickled-Pinkington. Cambridge University Press, 1988.
- After the debacle that was 1855 and 1856, the Qing Dynasty managed to achieve some notable successes in 1857, the last year of full-scale combat in the Taiping Rebellion. In the north, 左宗棠 (Zuo Zongtang) continued his campaign against the Nian rebels. His capture in 1856 of 张乐行 (Zhang Lexing), the charismatic leader of the rebels, proved to be the point at which momentum shifted from the revolutionaries to the Qing, and in 1857 Zuo’s forces managed to pin the Nian cavalry – which had previously been so effective – behind the walls of rebel-controlled cities in the provinces of Henan and Shandong. Thus, Qing forces were able to take the offensive for the first time, and concentrated on clearing the countryside of the Nian and besieging these fortified citadels, which proved difficult to breach due to the defensive walls that had been constructed around them over a period of decades (1). The artillery that the Qing had been able to purchase from Britain and France after the signing of the 天津条约 (Treaty of Tianjin) was a powerful equalizer to these walls, though, and by the end of 1857 the Nian Rebellion was well on its way to defeat.
The Qing also found success in the southwest, where the forces of both the Taiping and Du Wenxiu’s 平南国 (Pingnan guo, or Peaceful Southern Country) had been threatening to break into the heartland of 四川 (Sichuan) Province. In response to this threat, the Qing sent an army under the command of one of 曾国藩 (Zeng Guofan)’s subordinates, who had distinguished himself in the fighting of the previous years. His name was 李鸿章 (Li Hongzhang). Li’s Army of the Southwest was able to force the Taiping and Pingnan Guo troops back during the summer of 1857, culminating in the Battle of Leshan, which resulted in the defeat of the combined armies of the Taiping Kingdom and Pingnan Guo and their subsequent withdrawal from 四川省. Li Hongzhang continued to secure the Qing’s southwest flank throughout the fall and winter of 1857, putting down a rebellion in 重庆 (Chongqing) that threatened Qing control of eastern Sichuan late in that year. Nevertheless, the Taiping Kingdom also made gains in 1857 as well. Most notably, in September the brilliant naval strategist 唐正才 (Tang Zhengcai) masterminded the Taiping assault on the lightly defended island of 台湾 (Taiwan), which was fully controlled by the Taiping Kingdom at the end of the year (2). It was Tang’s last major victory; he was decapitated by a British cannonball the following year in the War of Chapdelaine’s Head (also known as the Second Opium War).
All of these campaigns were perceived as mere sideshows by the powers in both Beijing and Nanjing, whose attention was riveted on the Anhui-Hubei front, where the armies of Zeng Guofan and Shi Dakai continued to batter each other into increasingly smaller pieces. Neither side was able to gain much of an advantage in the clashes – Shi and Zeng were too familiar with each other at this point, and their armies were evenly matched – so the battles continued inconclusively, with no end in sight for the weary soldiers and citizens on both sides of the fight. Foreigners also began to see action in the war, as well. After the signing of the Treaty of Tianjin, Great Britain and France allowed their soldiers to “resign” and sign on with the Qing, in the hopes of bolstering their new ally without having to do any of the dirty work themselves. One of the most prominent of these volunteers was Charles George Gordon, a captain in the British Army who took service with the Qing and helped to re-organize their armies into a more cohesive force. Gordon’s career ended abruptly when he was killed in a skirmish outside the town of Lu’an in Anhui Province in the spring of 1858, but others followed in his footsteps. The Taiping had their share of 外国专家 (waiguo zhuanjia, or foreign experts) as well, chief among them being the American adventurer Frederick Townsend Ward, who is primarily remembered today for commanding the Black Flag Army during both the 1st and the 2nd Tonkin Incident . . . (3)
Excerpted from “The Phony War,” by Helen Ware. University of Auckland Press, 1951.
- In 1858, the Taiping Kingdom and the Qing Dynasty both became embroiled in foreign disputes – the War of Chapdelaine’s Head for the Taiping and the Amur War for the Qing. Had one of these powers been able to avoid foreign war, they might have gained the upper hand in the seven year war that had ravaged China. But neither of the warring states was able to resist war with the foreigners, and both suffered costly and time-consuming defeats. Thus it was that for the better part of 1858 and 1859, the Taiping Rebellion entered a strange state of stasis, with both the Qing and the Taiping as opposed to each other as ever, but neither able to muster the strength to sally forth in force and deliver a decisive blow to the opponent. Along the nearly 2,000 mile front that extened from 连云港 (Lianyungang) in the east to 成都 (Chengdu) in the west there were numerous skirmishes, but almost no general engagements between the spring of 1858 and the fall of 1859. Citizens on both sides began to call the conflict 假战 (Jia zhan, or the Phony War). Both Beijing and Tianjing issued endless proclamations declaring that victory was imminent, but to the war-weary populace on both sides of the fight it seemed as if the rebellion was destined to go on forever . . .
Excerpted from “The Tacit Peace,” by Harold Jordan. 1919.
- In retrospect, it seems insane that the Qing and Taiping would have considered any course of action other than ending the war between them in 1860. Both sides were exhausted – there had been ten solid years of war, with no end in sight. Both sides were also broke, due to the expense of equipping their armies and paying indemnities stemming from their ill-fated foreign wars. Moreover, the people on both sides had simply had enough of war, whether they lived in Qing or Taiping China. Rebellions broke out in the Qing-controlled region of Turkestan in the spring of 1860, necessitating the formation of yet another pacifying army, while in the Taiping Kingdom the merchants of Guangdong grew restless at the constant disruption of the trade that was their livelihood. Yet political considerations on both sides meant that a peace could not simply be negotiated and agreed upon in public. While the traditionalist faction in the Qing court had been weakened in the wake of the Amur War they were still powerful, and in their eyes it would be absolutely unthinkable for any emperor to sign away more than a third of Great Qing. Meanwhile in the Taiping Kingdom, the Council of Apostles had issued a decade’s worth of proclamations stating that only total victory would be acceptable; furthermore, a crisis of leadership was brewing, as the relationship between Yang Xiuqing and Shi Dakai had steadily deteriorated over the past few years (4). Neither side could talk peace, but both knew that a cessation of hostilities was of paramount importance.
In the spring of 1860 石达开 (Shi Dakai), the Wing King, Lord of Five Thousand Years and one of the two most powerful men in the Taiping Kingdom, took matters into his own hands and secretly sent emissaries to the man he had spent the better part of five years fighting, Zeng Guofan. Zeng reacted cautiously to Shi’s initial overtures – sending his own coded messages to the 永胜帝 (Yongsheng Emperor) seeking guidance – but upon receiving an enthusiastic reply from Yongsheng urging him to find any way possible to end the conflict, Zeng sent secret emissaries of his own to Shi urging a meeting between the two men. These negotiations were pursued so circumspectly that historians are still unaware of the date when an agreement was signed, or even if there was a written agreement at all. But by the summer of 1860 it became clear to observers on both sides that hostilities had ceased between Qing China and Taiping China. Thus began the Tacit Peace, or as it is known in Chinese, 默认平 (Moren ping). After ten years of war, the Taiping Rebellion had come to an end, and now there was not one China, but two . . . (5)
(1) OTL the Nian rebels were famous for making use of the defensive walls that ringed the cities of Shandong and Henan, and the rebellion was not completely crushed until 1873.
(2) If ITTL the Taiping hadn’t seized Taiwan, I imagine some enterprising foreign power would have showed up, taken advantage of the Qing weakness, and made a nice little colony for themselves.
(3) A Frederick Townsend Ward sighting (yes, I know he fought for the Qing OTL; ITTL it’s different because . . . well, because I say so)! Hooray! By the way – all that stuff about the Black Flag Army and the Tonkin Incidents? Major foreshadowing . . .
(4) OTL Yang grew more and more jealous of Shi as the latter’s reputation grew. ITTL they join forces for the Silent Coup early enough that there’s no friction, but by now it has definitely developed and will be an issue in the future.
(5) I was going to make a map but didn’t, because I remembered that I suck at cartography. I have it on good authority that a thousand words is worth a picture, so here’s the situation: at the Tacit Peace, the Taiping control OTL provinces of Guizhou, Guangxi, Hainan, Hunan, Guangdong, Jiangxi, Fujian, Zhejiang, Anhui, and Jiangsu, plus Taiwan. Yunnan is a client state of the Taiping (平南国, or the Peaceful Southern Country). The Qing control the rest of China, plus all of Mongolia, plus Korea is a tributary state of the Qing. Their suzerainty is rather theoretical in Xinjiang and Tibet, though. In real life I’m aware that things wouldn’t break down so neatly on current provincial borders, but this will make it way easier for me to calculate population and the like later on, so that’s the way it’s going to be. And if anyone wants to take it upon themselves to make a map . . . Hong Xiuquan bless you.
*And that’s the end of the first section of this timeline. Originally it was going to be the end of the whole thing, but I’ve since realized that there are a number of interesting directions that I can go with this, and will thus keep on writing for a while. The next series of posts will be about the development of both Qing and Taiping China – government, economy, society, and so forth. I’d be eager to hear people’s ideas and input about where I should go with the timeline – all of my ideas are quite unformed from here on out. And thanks for following this! I hope you’ve had as much fun reading this timeline so far as I’ve had writing it. More to come soon.
Part #6: We Don’t Need No Modernization (Actually, We Really Do)
“江海所以能为百谷王者，以期善下之。故能为百谷王。是以欲上民，必以言下之，欲先民，必以身后 之。是以圣 人，处上而民不重，处前而民不害。是以天下乐推不厌。以其不争故，天下莫能与之争.”
Excerpted from “Qing China: A New History,” by Esmeralda Ludendorff-Castro. 2006.
- With the outbreak of peace in 1860, the 永胜帝 (Yongsheng Emperor) was free to concentrate on his true passion – modernizing the structures of Qing government and opening China more fully to the West. After extensive consultation with his advisers, Yongsheng unveiled his modernization programme in a proclamation issued on January 1st, 1861. Even the date of the proclamation was a sign; Yongsheng had chosen the Western New Year’s Day rather than Chinese New Year to announce his reforms. Yongsheng called for a national “self-strengthening movement” (自强运动, or zi qiang yundong), which would merge traditional Chinese thought with Western science and technology to create a stronger, more powerful nation. Yongsheng was not merely content to talk about modernization; he demanded prompt action, and the first phase of his reforms – commonly known as 百日维新 (Bai ri weixin, or the Hundred Days Reform) – sent the remaining traditionalists at court into fits of apoplexy. With a few strokes of his red brush, Yongsheng gutted the civil service examination system that had dominated Chinese intellectual life for a thousand years, replacing it with a test that focused heavily on modern math and science (questions on the Confucian classics were relegated to a nineteen-page supplement at the end of the exam). Yongsheng also reformed the civil service itself, eliminating sinecures and elevating previously low-ranking advocates of modernization to positions of responsibility in the Qing bureaucracy. Furthermore, Yongsheng also issued decrees ordering the complete reorganization of the military and the educational system along Western lines (1). Granted, some of the decrees promulgated during the Hundred Days Reform read more like a wish list than anything else. After ten years of war, the Qing Dynasty simply did not possess the funds necessary to immediately pursue a radical military overhaul while also instituting a national system of education, for example. In an effort to speed up the pace of modernization Yongsheng also pushed for reform of the Chinese economy to encourage capitalism and private enterprise, which will be more fully discussed in later chapters of this volume . . . (2)
Throughout his campaign to reform and modernize China, Yongsheng was guided by a variety of advisers from the imperial bureaucracy. But unquestionably the most influential men during this process are known to us today simply as the 四人帮 (Si ren bang, or the Gang of Four) (3). They were 曾国藩 (Zeng Guofan), 左宗棠 (Zuo Zongtang), 李鸿章 (Li Hongzhang), and 张之洞 (Zhang Zhidong). More than anyone else save for Yongsheng himself, these four men guided China through its sometimes-tumultuous period of modernization – a period that later historians would come to refer to as 改革开放 (gaige kaifang), or “Reform and Opening.” The Yongsheng Emperor used these men almost as his personal auxiliaries, moving them from post to post wherever it seemed as though his decrees regarding reform and opening were being improperly implemented. While this has led some modern “pop historians” to label these men “the Superfriends of modernization,” we should be careful not to analogize them to some sort of mythical traditionalism-fighting superheroes. They were all flawed, and the “Gang of Four” often disagreed with themselves over the proper way to reform China, with Zhang Zhidong in particular urging caution . . .
Yongsheng’s efforts to modernize China did not end after the blizzard of proclamations and decrees that was the Hundred Days Reform. In 1861 he announced the formation of the 总理衙门 (Zongli Yamen, or Office of Foreign Affairs). 1861 also saw the formation of the Imperial Maritime Customs Service, which was originally staffed largely by men from the Qing’s new allies, Great Britain and France. The Customs Service collected tariffs and provided Yongsheng with a steady stream of revenues to continue his modernization projects. Although this proved to be invaluable, the struggle to establish a more effective system for transferring revenues from provincial to national levels of government would continue throughout the 1860’s. Many local officials – who had grown accustomed to treating the areas to which they were assigned almost as personal fiefs during the Taiping Rebellion – were skeptical of Yongsheng’s projects and loathe to hand over taxation monies to the central government. The spectre of the Taiping proved to be of great value to Yongsheng in bringing these recalcitrant local officials to heel, as he grew accustomed to frequently dispatching emissaries to one or another provincial or county-level governor warning them that if they failed to fully exercise their responsibilities to the state, then they could hardly expect the state to protect them in the next war against the Taiping, which at the time seemed inevitable (4). For a traditionalist local official, the only thing worse than being forced to modernize the nation was the thought of being overrun by the Taiping, with all that that entailed – Christianity! Gender equality! Rule by the mob! Thus, provincial units of government were gradually reintegrated into the existing state structures, and revenues began to flow into Beijing, to be used in one or another of Yongsheng’s endless projects – reorganization of the military, modernization of the education system, subsidies for private investors and money to establish state-owned enterprises . . . the list went on and on, a reflection of just how far China had to go.
Excerpted from “Night of the Long Knives,” by Angelique Lugosi. University of Bratislava Press, 2002.
- If you’ve gotten everything that you ever dreamed of, what do you do next? This was the dilemma faced by the leaders of the Taiping Kingdom after they wrested their independence away from the Qing Dynasty in 1860. In any event, rather than being able to enjoy the fruits of victory, the Taiping promptly stumbled headfirst into another crisis, this one wholly self-inflicted. It was a crisis of leadership. After the Saturday Night Massacre and subsequent Silent Coup in 1854, power had been shared between 杨秀清 (Yang Xiuqing) and 石达开 (Shi Dakai), who ruled the nation through the 使徒会 (Shitu hui, or Council of Apostles). While Yang and Shi had joined forces to overthrow Hong Xiuquan, the two men had never been close, and the Silent Coup had been launched as much out of mutual self-preservation as any other reason. As the years dragged on a rift began to develop between the two, whose cause lay in Yang’s jealousy of Shi, the rebellion’s greatest general and the man who received the lion’s share of the credit for the victories of the Taiping forces (5). After the war against the Qing ended, relations between Yang and Shi continued to deteriorate until they reached the point of barely restrained hostility. To a neutral observer, the situation must have seemed maddening; after all, Yang and Shi agreed on nearly every issue of importance – the need to modernize the fledgling Taiping Kingdom, the urgency of creating a less ad hoc system of government, and the importance of reassuring the scholar-bureaucrat and merchant elites while still retaining the affections of their base of support among the lower classes of society. Yet the same neutral observer would have to conclude that the personal issues between the two men made their continued coexistence impossible, and that one of them would have to go.
It seemed as though Shi Dakai was destined to emerge victorious from the clash of personalities he was engaged in. Shi was a brilliant general and a skilled administrator, and had many friends in the Taiping military. But Yang Xiuqing held one vital trump card – his seemingly endless network of spies and informants, which was so all-encompassing that he was popularly nicknamed 章鱼王, the Octopus King (Western readers of a certain age may remember Richard Henry’s classic 1962 film Octopussy, which brilliantly parodied this prevailing image of Yang). Yang made his move on the evening of July 6th, 1861, a date that has gone down in history as 长刀之夜 (Chang dao zhi ye, or Night of the Long Knives). On that fateful night, Yang’s operatives – disguised as bandits – broke into Shi Dakai’s residence, killing him and his entire family. The Wing King, Lord of Five Thousand Years, was no more. Other groups of Yang loyalists fanned out across 天京 (Tianjing), killing more than two dozen of those closely associated with Shi Dakai. When the sun rose the next day, Yang Xiuqing was the sole and unquestioned power in the Great Kingdom of Heavenly Peace.
Yang’s move against Shi was aided by the incredible air of opacity that surrounded the leading figures of the Taiping, and indeed, of the government itself (6). Recall that the Taiping Kingdom was a state based on a lie – that Hong Xiuquan, for six years now confined to his palace, was the omnipotent and semi-divine Heavenly King. Yang also took advantage of the people’s enduring fear of the Qing, announcing that the great leader Shi Dakai had been murdered in his home by agents of the Yongsheng Emperor, and urging eternal vigilance on the part of the populace to prevent such an incident from occurring again. A few generals close to Shi realized what had happened and decamped to the Taiping client kingdom of Pingnan Guo to seek refuge with Sultan Du Wenxiu, among them being 刘永福 (Liu Yongfu), 陈坤书 (Chen Kunshu), and 李容发 (Li Rongfa). But in general, Yang had little trouble convincing the general populace to accept his version of events, and quickly began appointing those he trusted to positions of responsibility in the army. Indeed, it was Yang’s shining moment. Not only had he managed to overthrow Hong Xiuquan, but he had also succeeded in outmaneuvering Shi Dakai and placing himself at the center of the Taiping Kingdom. Yang began to institute his own program of modernization, continuing to incorporate Confucian philosophy into Taiping Christianity so as to reassure the elites while also beginning to lay the groundwork for establishing state institutions on a provincial and local level. In retrospect, this programme seems to have been achieving success – a functioning bureaucracy was formed as well as a state education system, and some progress had been made in the Taiping’s attempts to reach out to foreign nations. Yet things were not going fast enough for Yang Xiuqing, who since reaching the pinnacle of power had become steadily more megalomaniacal and convinced that any endeavor he pursued was destined for success. In his eyes, the successful modernization of the Taiping Kingdom demanded the mass mobilization of the entire citizenry, and a truly radical course needed to be pursued. And thus it was that the Cultural Revolution began . . .
(1) Note that one part of the OTL Hundred Days Reform that isn’t being pursued is constitutionalism and democracy. Yongsheng may be a modernizer, but he’s also an absolute monarch, and he’d very much like to remain one.
(2) Meaning in a future entry, of course.
(3) And if you liked that Cultural Revolution reference, just wait until the next installment.
(4) OTL this was a huge problem – local officials had gotten so powerful during the Taiping Rebellion that they could more or less do what they wanted. In effect, the inmates were running the asylum. In this timeline, the threat of the Taiping really is the impetus for the more vigorous attempts at modernization that we’re seeing. Yongsheng isn’t above saying, “If you don’t embrace Western science and technology the Taiping will, and then they’ll invade us and eat your family and AAAAAAAAAAHHHH!”
(5) This actually happened as well OTL, which was one reason that I had Shi and Yang’s coup occur relatively early – they hadn’t had enough time to realize that they hated each other yet.
(6) I’ve alluded to this before, but Taiping China is shaping up to be a seriously wacky place. It’s going to be one of those countries where power changes hands every six months and only about twelve people are in a position to figure out what just happened. Just your average totalitarian techno-bureaucratic oligarchy with theocratic trappings, I guess.
*And that’s the first postwar installment of the timeline. The next entry is mostly going to be about the Cultural Revolution, with a brief detour to describe Qing military modernization. Then I’m going to get into economic development and social changes in both countries before talking a bit about foreign policy and yet another rebellion that the Qing have to deal with. As always I’d love to hear everyone’s input, especially on what I should be doing with countries besides China – I don’t think that anything so far would have caused much of a ripple effect anywhere else, but if you think otherwise I’d be very interested to hear it.
Part #7: You Say You Want A Revolution . . .
“其政闷闷，其民淳淳。其政察察，其民缺缺。祸兮福之所椅，福兮祸之所伏。孰知其极。其无正。正 复为奇，善 复为妖。人之迷，其日固久.”
Excerpted from “The Cultural Revolution,” by Keith Yap. 1998.
- The Cultural Revolution – or to use its full title, 现代化文化大革命 (Xiandaihua wenhua da geming, or the Great Modernizing Cultural Revolution) – began in April of 1864, and was the result of 杨秀清 (Yang Xiuqing)’s dissatisfaction with the slow progress of the modernizing initiatives that had been undertaken since his consolidation of power three years earlier. Yang feared a renewed outbreak of war with the Qing Dynasty to the north, and believed that only through wholesale adoption of Western science, technology and culture could the Taiping Kingdom prevail in what he assumed to be the inevitable conflict that lay ahead. One area in which Yang had unquestionably achieved success in the previous three years was the reorganization of the Taiping government at a national level. The Ministries of War, Trade, Finance, Education, and Foreign Affairs were all founded during between 1861 and 1864, and while finding enough qualified bureaucrats proved difficult, the officials selected to staff these offices made some headway in establishing the foundations of a functioning government (1). Yet their successes pale in comparison to the misdeeds committed by those whom Yang selected to run the other bureaucracy founded during this period – the infamous 真理部 (Zhenli bu, or the Ministry of Truth). The Ministry of Truth was the nexus of Yang Xiuqing’s secret police and propaganda operations, both of which grew steadily more extensive. Modern historians date the beginning of the Cultural Revolution to the April 16, 1864 memo sent by Yang to Minister of Truth 姚文元 (Yao Wenyuan), in which Yang ordered Yao to increase the amount of propaganda devoted to promulgating the cult of personality that was becoming a larger and larger part of Taiping life . . .
While Yang Xiuqing became increasingly megalomaniacal after becoming the sole power in the Taiping Kingdom, he had lost none of the political instincts which had elevated him to such lofty heights. Thus, Yang’s cult of personality was not centered on himself, but rather on the man whom he had deposed ten years ago – Hong Xiuquan, the Heavenly King. Yao obliged Yang, issuing what has become known to posterity as the Little Red Book. It is incumbent upon this historian to note that what Yao produced was in fact neither little, red, nor a book, but was instead a proclamation delivered to village headmen with orders to display it prominently in the public square. The proclamation, purporting to be a revelation from God to the Heavenly King, stressed the importance of building a nation united by “Confucian Christianity” and constantly modernizing and looking towards the future (2). Rallies began to spring up across the nation, as peasants waved hand-painted signs saying, “战无不胜的基督儒教，天王思想万岁!” (Zhan wu bu sheng de Jidurujiao, Tianwang sixiang wansui, or “Confucian Christianity is invincible; long live Heavenly King Thought!”)
Yang Xiuqing had succeeded in mobilizing the citizenry; now he needed to decide exactly what he wanted them to do. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire Cultural Revolution was characterized by this sort of incoherence. Yang Xiuqing knew that he wanted the nation to modernize, and he also knew that he wanted the populace as a whole to participate in these efforts. But he was never quite clear on how he wanted this to happen (3). As a result, the Cultural Revolution lurched from one idea to the next, with assorted groups of society being mobilized seemingly every other week in the name of some task or other. One week citizens would be ordered to build a factory in their town for the construction of a given “implement of modernization”; the next week new orders would come down from Tianjing, and the new priority would be study sessions on the principles of Confucian Christianity; the week after that the priority would be the re-education of those citizens deemed to harbor “unmodern thoughts”, and so on and so forth. There were some common threads running through all facets of the Cultural Revolution, though, and one of those was the relentless attempt to industrialize Taiping China (4). Another was the total revamping of the educational system. During this period, educated youth from privileged families were often “sent down” (下放) to the countryside to teach villagers about modernization, Confucian Christianity, and the social reforms that were also being implemented during this period. Other aspects of the movement were emphasized for a time and then unceremoniously abandoned, chief among them being land reform. At one point during the Cultural Revolution the state took control of all private property; later, the state divested itself of all property and granted every citizen an equal share of land by simply calculating the area of the Taiping Kingdom and dividing it by the number of citizens, only to change course once again and drop the entire idea of land reform altogether at a later date. There were also periodic purges, although despite the claims of some revisionist historians, the evidence indicates that fewer than five thousand people were executed for 反现代化之罪犯 (fan xiandaihua zhi zuifan, or “anti-modernization crimes”) during the entire Cultural Revolution. The literati came in for the harshest treatment during this period, and entire families of scholar-bureaucrats simply disappeared. Yet in an example of the contradictions of the revolution, another high-income group – the merchants and traders of the South – were held up as exemplars of modernization for their willingness to “work with foreign friends and bring new ideas to the Taiping Kingdom.” On hearing this, the merchants simply shrugged and went back to making money . . .
Foreign reactions to the Cultural Revolution were wildly mixed and ranged from enthusiastic endorsement to utter bewilderment; the latter probably being the most prevailing emotion among foreign observers of the movement. Some saw the Cultural Revolution as a necessary step that Taiping China needed to take in order to lift itself into the first rank of nations, while more were shocked at what they perceived to be China’s deliberate destruction of much of its traditional culture. Other observers were more blasé about the significance of the entire movement; the British soldier and author Henry Knollys chose to paraphrase Macbeth, writing of the Cultural Revolution, “It is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” It is interesting to wonder what might have happened had the Cultural Revolution ever taken an anti-foreign turn and threatened European interests. Would have there been a Third Opium War, and would such a conflict have resulted in the quick death of the Taiping Kingdom? In any event, foreign trade was one of the only facets of life that continued completely uninterrupted during the Cultural Revolution, and so foreigners were content to merely shake their heads and wonder what the Taiping would do next (5).
Excerpted from “The Hundred Flowers Movement,” by June Parker. 1942.
- Yang Xiuqing had survived three years of the Cultural Revolution without any threats to his power emerging, but he overreached in the spring of 1867, when he began to hint that the army would be the next institution to be “reformed and modernized.” This caused considerable consternation among the commanders of the Taiping military; although the previous three years had given absolutely no guide to what Yang meant when he said “reform and modernization,” the generals decided that enough was enough, and that they could not leave anything to chance. Contact was made with 刘永福 (Liu Yongfu), 陈坤书 (Chen Kunshu), and 李容发 (Li Rongfa) – three Shi Dakai loyalists and former generals who had fled to 平南国 (Pingnan Guo) after Yang took power. The budding plot received covert aid from Sultan Du Wenxiu himself, who knew that his kingdom would only survive as long as the Taiping did and was increasingly concerned at the events taking place in Tianjing. The plan was set into motion on June 4th, 1867, when Liu, Chen, and Li – who had sneaked into the Taiping Kingdom with a coterie of elite troops – set upon Yang Xiuqing as he left his office in the Ministry of Truth. For once, Yang’s network of spies failed him; perhaps he had simply grown so secure in his power that he had begun to think that no misfortune could befall him. This proved to be an inaccurate assumption. Like so many people who had defied him over the years, Yang Xiuqing simply disappeared. The Cultural Revolution was over after three tumultuous years, and the 百花运动 (Bai hua yundong, or Hundred Flowers Movement) had begun . . .
As Liu Yongfu said – although it was issued as a proclamation from the Heavenly King – “Let a hundred flowers bloom, and ten thousand schools of thought contend.” Despite these lofty words, the generals who took over power in the Taiping Kingdom opted for cosmetic rather than wholesale changes to the system of government originally instituted by Yang Xiuqing. “Confucian Christianity” remained the official ideology of the state; likewise, the divinity of Hong Xiuquan was not repudiated, but rather was affirmed by the new regime, who stated that Yang Xiuqing had “erred in interpreting the divinely words of the Heavenly King, and thus resigned from power.” A later statement issued by the new regime summed up Yang’s legacy rather neatly; he was adjudged to have been “seventy percent right and thirty percent wrong.” Furthermore, the Ministry of Truth was merely downsized, and was not abolished. Still, the Hundred Flowers regime brought stability to a government that had been sorely in that quality. The 使徒会 (Shitu hui, or Council of Apostles) was reorganized, and the heads of all major government ministries were guaranteed a seat, as were the commanding officers of the Taiping Army and Navy. Where the Hundred Flowers Regime was truly revolutionary was in its reformation of local government and institution of limited democracy. Citizens were required to participate in yearly elections to choose a village or town head, who would be responsible for local governance and would participate in an annual caucus of sorts with the provincial governor – who was appointed by the Council of Apostles – and other town and village heads from that province. This was initially intended merely as a way to give citizens an outlet for voicing their concerns, but these annual provincial congresses (dubbed 徒弟会, or Council of the Acolytes) steadily grew in importance as time passed (6). The reorganization of the Council of Apostles meant that for the first time, power in the Taiping Kingdom was not concentrated in the hands of one or two men. In addition to Liu Yongfu, Chen Kunshu, and Li Rongfa, the list of influential individuals in the new regime included 李世贤 (Li Shixian), 陈玉成 (Chen Yucheng), and 谭绍光 (Tan Shaoguang). With their coup complete, the Hundred Flowers Regime continued trying to modernize the Taiping Kingdom – but unlike Yang Xiuqing, they were careful to always have a plan . . .
(1) OTL the Taiping couldn’t attract any of the scholar-bureaucrat class, but ITTL Yang Xiuqing’s integration of Confucianism into the Taiping theology has helped to co-opt some members of this group.
(2) “Confucian Christianity” is the name that’s going to be used for the Taiping’s continuing mashup of Confucianism and Christianity.
(3) This sentence could alternatively be read as, “Although subversivepanda knew that he wanted to write about an alt-Cultural Revolution in the Taiping Kingdom, he had no idea exactly what this entailed.”
(4) TTL’s Cultural Revolution is different from OTL’s in several ways. First, there’s more than a bit of Great Leap Forward tossed in there. Secondly, it’s not nearly as destructive, due to the total absence of coherence from the top. If they’d pursued a policy like Yongsheng is doing, or even kept on the path that Yang Xiuqing had originally chosen, the Taiping would be farther along in their modernization attempts. But unlike OTL, this Cultural Revolution isn’t going to completely screw things up.
(5) Right now foreigners kind of view the Taiping like you would a crazy uncle – you know, the one that’s always doing things like taking up skydiving or leaving his wife for a nineteen year old yoga instructor. No one sees them as a threat and they’re not hurting business, so people just shake their heads and say, “Those crazy Taiping. What will they think of next?”
(6) Like I’ve said before, Taiping government is going to be really messed up. There are going to be a lot of coups, and the institution of limited local democracy is really going to toss a wrench in things down the road.
*The next few updates will tackle economic modernization, social changes, and foreign policy in both Chinas. I’ll also try to squeeze in an explanation of how Pingnan Guo is developing. Those updates will take me to roughly 1875, and at that point I’m planning to do kind of an “around the world” post talking briefly about non-China places and people and how things have diverged (if at all) in the twenty-five years since this timeline started. So if there’s a place or a person that you’d specifically like mentioned, just let me know and I’ll be sure to include him, her, or it. Thanks for reading, and keep on letting me know what you think of things so far.
Part #8: Money . . . It’s A Gas
“治大国，若烹小鱼。以道莅天下，其鬼不神，非其鬼不神，其神不伤人。非其神不伤人，圣人亦不伤 人。夫雨不 相伤。故德交归焉.”
Excerpted from “The Growth of Private Enterprise in Qing China,” by J.A.K. Gladney. 1985.
- As the Yongsheng Emperor’s quest to modernize China and reform its economy continued, he was forced to confront not only an inefficient and hidebound bureaucracy but also more than a millennia’s worth of cultural prejudices against merchants and wealth that did not come from the land (1). Yongsheng dealt with this problem head-on, embarking on a “Grand Tour” of his domains in 1864. This tour focused especially on the new treaty ports that had been established in the Treaty of Tianjin, which were among the most vibrant places in Qing China – in particular the “Big Four” cities of Lianyungang, Qingdao, Dalian, and Tianjin itself. During his tour Yongsheng made a special point of singling out entrepreneurs and merchants for commendation, culminating in his famous statement 发财是光荣的 (facai shi guangrong de, or “To get rich is glorious”) (2). The following year, in 1865, Yongsheng made the decision to open Qing China to foreign capital and investment completely, not only in those cities which had been previously designated as treaty ports. Lured by the cheap labor and the possibility of tapping into what seemed like a limitless market, Western industrialists began to make large-scale capital investments in Qing China during the mid-to-late 1860s. British and French concerns led the way, as relations between these two countries and Qing China grew steadily closer after the signing of the Treaty of Tianjin. The Yongsheng Emperor also sought to incentivize private enterprise – at the urging of Zhang Zhidong, Li Hongzhang, Zeng Guofan, and Zuo Zongtang, the so-called “Gang of Four” – via tax breaks and the creation of “Special Modernization Zones,” which were deliberately placed away from treaty ports so as to encourage development in the inland regions of Qing China. The process was long and slow; one does not simply change a mindset and a culture overnight. Yet gradually the Yongsheng Emperor’s efforts began to bear fruit . . .
In sectors that were deemed vital to the national interest, such as munitions and ordinance, Yongsheng’s government generally chose to develop and modernize the military through the establishment of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). These enterprises were staffed by a combination of government bureaucrats and foreign experts, and certainly for the bureaucrats – who had studied Confucius, not Adam Smith – it must have been something of a shock. As was the case with virtually every facet of Yongsheng’s modernization plan, there were significant growing pains, and the state-owned enterprises initially suffered from a combination of incompetence, inefficiency, and corruption. The highly public execution of several corrupt managers of SOEs in 1868 certainly contributed to the increased productivity of these enterprises in the following years. Naturally, all of these modernization initiatives cost money, and Yongsheng sought to defray some of the stress he was putting on the imperial treasury by auctioning off concessions – everything from mining rights in Shaanxi Province to the right to build a railroad in Hubei Province was sold, mostly to foreign investors, although the Qing government instituted a requirement that foreigners purchasing concessions outside of Special Economic Zones were required to have a Chinese partner. Some of Yongsheng’s schemes were brilliant successes; others fell flat. But as a whole, Qing China moved rapidly towards industrialization and modernization during the self-strengthening period.
Excerpted from “The Cartelization of the Taiping Economy,” by Teresa Carvalho. 1979.
- Even more than in Qing China, Taiping efforts to modernize and develop the economy were hindered by a lack of individuals with capital to invest. After all, the rebellion’s support had been drawn disproportionately from the lower classes of society, and many of the scholar-bureaucrat class were still leery of fully participating in the affairs of the new kingdom where they somewhat reluctantly lived. There was one sector of society with both capital to spare and entrepreneurial spirit: the merchants of the southern cities, especially those who lived in the old treaty ports of Xiamen, Fuzhou, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. These merchant houses were truly family businesses, consisting of lineages which had been trading for hundreds of years in some cases. The Taiping governments of both Yang Xiuqing and the Hundred Flowers Regime began to give these merchant lineages loans and tax breaks in an attempt to encourage them to invest in new sectors of the economy. Thus, the power of the southern merchant families grew, until a small number of these groups essentially dominated the Taiping economy. They were able to accomplish this in part due to the lower level of foreign investment in Taiping China as opposed to Qing China. Cool relations with Britain and France put a damper on joint ventures involving interests from those countries – though both nations, especially Britain with its Hong Kong colony, conducted large amounts of commerce and trade with the Taiping Kingdom, investment was largely restricted to treaty ports, and the warm relations between those countries and Qing China led to more British and French business moving north. While American and especially Russian investors made some inroads into the Taiping market, it made for only a moderate amount of foreign capital entering the country (3).
Thus began the 企业联合组织化 (qiye lianhe zuzhihua, or cartelization) of the Taiping economy. The 五大家庭 (wu da jiating, or Five Great Families) developed into corporate behemoths that exercised monopoly control over many sectors of the Taiping economy (4). At first the Five Families often fought each other, as in the Telegraph War of 1870, when the Chen family of Guangzhou and the Zhao family of Xiamen engaged in what amounted to a gang war for six months over who would control the telegraph system that the government was contracting to build in Jiangsu Province. As time went on the Five Great Families began to take a more conciliatory approach towards each other, choosing to allow each and every family cartel to amass monopoly power in certain sectors; for example, the Wen family of Fuzhou controlled 95% of railroad lines in the Taiping state in 1880. The government increasingly chose to cooperate with the rapidly coalescing cartels in the name of modernization, in one case moving an entire village thirty miles to the site of a new factory and informing the villagers that they were now all employees of the Wang cartel’s new smelting concern. Relatively little individual entrepreneurship occurred during the postwar period, as modernization efforts were either directed at establishing state-owned enterprises – as with the Qing – or simply granting the emerging family cartels license to develop and dominate a particular sector of the economy.
(1) China historically considered merchants pretty much lower than dirt on the social ladder; if I remember correctly even peasants were above them based on the logic that everyone produced something except merchants. So that perception is going to be tough to overcome, although not as much in the Taiping state.
(2) In OTL a Chinese political leader also made this statement, but that leader was Deng Xiaoping, and it came during his Southern Tour in the late 1980’s (at least I think that’s when it was).
(3) Russia is increasingly growing closer to the Taiping, seeing them as a counterweight to Qing China and to the British and French; remember, the Crimean War still occurred in this timeline just as it did OTL, as things had barely started to diverge then.
(4) These are going to be a lot like the 財閥 (zaibatsu) conglomerates that developed OTL in imperial Japan.
*A relatively short update today, mostly because I’m not sure how many people will find the details of mid-19th century alt-Chinese economic development and modernization all that interesting. Next post will be on social issues/policy/changes, and I’ll try to work in a description of Pingnan Guo as well. After that will be a post on the foreign policy of both Chinas in the postwar period. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #9: Freedom’s Just Another Word For Not Having To Bind Your Feet
“绝圣弃智，民利百倍。绝仁弃义，民复孝慈。绝巧弃利，盗贼无有。此三者，以为交不足。故令有所 属。见素抱 朴，少私寡欲.”
Excerpted from “The Taiping Social Revolution,” by Gloria Friedan. 1965.
- The world had never before seen a society quite like the one that gradually developed in the Taiping Kingdom. Perhaps the most startling aspect of this society to foreign visitors was the Taiping policy of complete equality between the sexes, which had been a point of emphasis since the first days of the rebellion (1). During the revolution women had served in combat roles in the Taiping military, and even after the war ended the Taiping government continued to make gender equality one of the bedrock principles of the Heavenly Kingdom. Concubinage, foot binding, and prostitution were all capital crimes – but the Taiping went further than this, allowing women to assume positions in society that even the most outspoken Western advocates of women’s rights found shocking. Women were allowed to own property (at least during those points when there was property to be owned and one of the land reform campaigns was not ongoing); they were also allowed to divorce their husbands and control money in their own right. An even more radical departure from the norm was the Taiping policy of allowing women into the political life of the kingdom. Women were allowed to take the Taiping civil service examinations, and after the Hundred Flowers Regime instituted a system of limited local democracy in the late 1860’s, women were not only allowed to vote but also allowed to stand in elections for positions in village and town leadership (2). In practice, there were some limits to gender equality; no woman held a seat on the 使徒会 (Shitu hui, or Council of Apostles) until 1891, and many of the Taiping elite continued to keep concubines in defiance of the law prohibiting it (3). And of course there was the Heavenly King, who possessed a harem containing more than two hundred concubines. Nevertheless, it is inarguable that the women’s liberation movement truly began in Taiping China; in time, it would spread across the globe.
Taiping society was also characterized by an ideology that seemed to be a contradiction in terms. Naturally, we refer to 基督儒教 (Jidurujiao, or Confucian Christianity). This belief system, part religion and part moral philosophy, was a bizarre blend of the Bible, Confucian classics, and the words of Taiping leaders themselves (usually issued in the form of a “revelation” from God to the Heavenly King, Hong Xiuquan) (4). Initially Hong Xiuquan declared that he was God’s second son and Jesus’ younger brother; after the Silent Coup of 1854, it was declared that Hong himself was a deity along with God and Jesus. Still later, after Yang Xiuqing’s efforts to lure scholar-bureaucrats into the Taiping fold by re-introducing Confucianism as an integral part of Taiping ideology, Confucius was declared to be God’s younger brother in 1873. Taiping ideology was thus a mishmash of ideas that sometimes contradicted each other or one of the regime’s signature policies; neither the Bible nor the 论语 (Lunyu, or Analects) have much to say in support of gender equality, after all. There was thus considerable internal dispute during the early years of the Taiping Kingdom (and the later ones, as well) over what exactly “Confucian Christianity” was supposed to mean. Taiping leaders chose to resolve doctrinal issues in the same way they handled other difficult questions – after deciding what course to pursue, they would simply issue a proclamation in the Heavenly King’s name declaring that God had told him that in the case of whatever happened to be in dispute at the time, Interpretation A – which always happened to be the one favored by whoever was in control of the Council of Apostles at the time – was the correct path for the Taiping Kingdom to take (5).
Although individuals in the Taiping Kingdom – especially women – possessed a great deal of personal freedom, society as a whole was tightly monitored and controlled by the central government. The 保甲 (baojia) system, in which family units were grouped together for purposes of social organization, was expanded; every ten families made up a bao, and every hundred families constituted a jia. Each bao and each jia elected a leader, whose duty it was to report to the village or town head, who was originally appointed by the central government and was later elected by residents of that village, town or city. Not only were taxes collected through the baojia system, but a host of other social functions were organized around these units as well. Child care was the responsibility of designated persons in each bao and jia, as women took advantage of gender equality policies to enter the workforce en masse during the 1860s. Furthermore, leaders of each bao and jia were required to prepare annual reports attesting to the political reliability – or lack thereof – of every member of the multi-family social group which they oversaw. The baojia system was a means of maintaining social cohesion and ensuring control of the populace by the central government . . . (6)
Excerpted from “From Farm to Factory: Social Changes in Qing China During the Reform and Opening Period,” by Ibrahim Mohammed. 1943.
- The Yongsheng Emperor’s modernization initiatives spurred a vast internal migration within Qing China, as citizens flocked from the countryside to cities in which new industries were proliferating and more lucrative employment opportunities were to be found. These migrants poured into cities like Tianjin, Qingdao, Beijing, and Xi’an, straining the local infrastructure and earning them the enmity of more established residents, who lamented the increased crowding and higher crime that inevitably came along with these migrants. Yet despite the grumbling and caviling, migrants continued to move from the country to the cities, with seemingly no end in sight. Additionally, the Yongsheng Emperor encouraged migration to the traditional peripheries of China – remote places like Qinghai, Gansu, Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet (7). This was mostly a move to strengthen Qing control in these regions; the Russian Empire had begun to make frequent incursions into these regions, seeking signs of Qing weakness and hoping to make these areas their own. The peripheral regions of China were also inhabited mostly by non-Han minorities, and whether they were Uighurs, Mongols, or Tibetans, none of them had too much love for the Qing Dynasty. Yongsheng thus chose to incentivize migration to these regions by granting those who wished to move special tax exemptions and ceding large tracts of land to emerging communities of Han migrants. Although local sensitivities were often offended (8), the peripheral regions of the Qing Dynasty gradually grew more integrated into the nation as a whole.
Excerpted from “Pingnan Guo: A New History,” by Xi Jinping. University of Kunming Press, 1991.
- 平南国 (Pingnan Guo, or the Peaceful Southern Country) had achieved its independence for two reasons. One was that Sultan Du Wenxiu had cooperated extensively with the Taiping rebels; the other was that Yunnan was so far away from Qing centers of power that it was really quite difficult for them to do much about Pingnan Guo. The new nation essentially operated as a client state of the Taiping Kingdom – although Du Wenxiu’s authority was unquestioned inside Pingnan Guo, foreign policy was made and conducted only after consultation with the Council of Apostles in Tianjing. For without the aid of the Heavenly Kingdom, Pingnan Guo was certain to be re-conquered by the Qing, with inevitably fatal results for those who had participated in the revolution that had given the country its independence. During the postwar period, the Taiping and Pingnan Guo militaries were integrated, and generals from both nations worked on developing strategies for the next war with the Qing, which they assumed was inevitable.
杜文秀 (Du Wenxiu) faced another, more pressing challenge: how to unite the people of Pingnan Guo into something even remotely resembling a nation. While the rebellion had been led by Hui Muslims, of which Du Wenxiu himself was one, the majority of Pingnan Guo citizens were not Muslim. Indeed, the new country was home to a bewildering assortment and variety of ethnic groups; everyone from the Yi to the Bai to the Tai to the Dai to the Mosuo to the Miao to the Naxi to the Yao to the Tibetans to the Zhuang to the Hani called Pingnan Guo home (9). Du Wenxiu’s primary challenge, then, was ensuring that he was not simply replacing a Manchu regime with a Hui Muslim regime; whatever government was to be established had to have the support of all major ethnic groups if the state of Pingnan Guo was to endure. He began by sending emissaries to the leaders of the major population groupings of the country, inviting them to send representatives to his capital of 昆明 (Kunming). The remoteness of Pingnan Guo is illustrated by an apocryphal story – one group of Du’s emissaries, supposedly arriving at a village deep in 西双版纳 (Xishuangbanna), were greeted by the village headman, who asked, “Tell us, who now sits on the Dragon Throne?” In any event, government in Pingnan Guo came to be explicitly organized on the basis of ethnicity; each major group selected a representative to head one of the newly-established government ministries, and a substantial degree of autonomy was devolved to local leaders (10). Thus, while Du ruled from his palace in Kunming as the “Sultan of Pingnan Guo,” the nation was by no means a purely Muslim state, although the Hui were in fact overrepresented in positions of national authority. Practical challenges abounded in modernizing Pingnan Guo, and the combination of decentralization and the country’s remoteness retarded Du’s efforts substantially. Yet slowly, Pingnan Guo began to change from a collection of ethnic groups to a nation. One overlooked step in this transformation was Du’s decision – harshly criticized at the time – to make Chinese Pingnan Guo’s national language, as it was a lingua franca of sorts. Roads were built, schools were established, and Pingnan Guo began to grow . . .
(1) I’m not just making this up; OTL the Taiping actually did establish a policy of equality between the sexes, although it was enforced less than rigorously.
(2) Recall that this system of “limited local democracy” was established after the Hundred Flowers Coup that toppled Yang Xiuqing. The initial intent was simply to give citizens an avenue to voice their concerns to the relatively-insulated national government. As time goes by, the Taiping are going to find that “limited democracy” really doesn’t work so well.
(3) This is also as per OTL. ITTL, there’s a sort of Animal Farm dynamic forming in Taiping China: “All Taiping are equals, but some Taiping are more equal than others.” So there are the beginnings of a double standard between the elite and everyone else, which might or might not result in the formation of a hereditary elite class. Not sure yet, although in some cases – like the cartels I wrote about yesterday – it will definitely happen.
(4) “Confucian Christianity” is going to be really messy. I could write an entire book about it.
(5) Remember that the Taiping Kingdom’s entire raison d’etre is based to some extent on the idea that Hong is a demi-god. So saying that something comes from him has a way of ending the argument pretty fast.
(6) OTL some form of the baojia system was used by several different dynasties.
(7) The Qing think that they own Tibet, as do the British and the Russians, so that’s good enough for me.
(8) More on this in the next entry.
(9) I could keep on going here, but I don’t think too many people would appreciate it. Anyway, there are a cubic shitload of ethnic groups that live in Yunnan/Pingnan Guo.
(10) Think OTL Lebanon, but more ethnic groups and they don’t all hate each other.
*Women’s rights! Internal migration! Pingnan Guo! The fun never stops around here. The next entry will deal with Qing and Taiping foreign policy in the post-rebellion period. Then will come the “around the world” post, in which I deign to talk about countries other than China, although they really do not deserve much notice. Damn barbarians. If there’s a place/person/thing that you’d especially like to see mentioned, just let me know and I’ll make sure to include him/her/it. And as always, thanks for reading.
Part #10: Diplomacy Is Like A Box Of Chocolates . . .
Excerpted from “Qing China and the Great Game,” by Sergei Morimoto. 1980.
- After the end of the Taiping Rebellion in 1860, one of Qing China’s most pressing priorities was consolidating their rule in the vulnerable periperhal regions of the empire, which were being eyed hungrily by the Russians. The Yongsheng Emperor incentivized colonization of the far western regions and Manchuria, hoping that an influx of Han migrants would integrate these areas more fully into the Qing state. This policy proved to be a double-edged sword; while the new arrivals did indeed boost the Qing presence, they also invariably angered locals. In some places, nothing came of this but grumbling, but in 新疆 (Xinjiang) it resulted in revolution. In 1867 Yaqub Beg declared himself king of Kashgar, and soon the entire region of Xinjiang was engulfed in rebellion. Ironically, Yaqub Beg – who just two years earlier had been forced from Tashkent by the Russians – now began to receive funding from them, as they saw an opportunity to capitalize on Qing weakness and take Xinjiang for themselves. The situation quickly worsened for the Qing, as Muslims from Gansu to Shaanxi rose in rebellion as well (1). Yongsheng quickly sent an army under the command of 李鸿章 (Li Hongzhang) to put down the rebellion. This army met with success surprisingly quickly; the Muslim rebels spent as much time fighting each other as they did fighting the Qing, with disputes constantly flaring up along ethnic lines and pitting Hui against Uyghur. Additionally, despite receiving some funding from Russia, the rebels were unable to win the full support of the Taiping Kingdom, which sent them some token support but was too preoccupied with internal matters – the end of the Cultural Revolution and the establishment of the Hundred Flowers Regime – to put much effort into aiding the rebels.
Li’s army pressed into Gansu Province, defeating the rebel leader 马化龙 (Ma Hualong) outside of 西宁 (Xining) in 1868; Ma Hualong was captured and sentenced to death by slow slicing after the battle. The following year, Li Hongzhang marched on into Xinjiang and crushed the army of Yakub Beg near Kucha, taking advantage of the Qing army’s superior training and weaponry. Active resistance ended after the Battle of Kucha, although a low-level guerilla campaign continued in Xinjiang and western Gansu until the early 1870s. Many Muslims, fearing Qing retribution after the fall of the rebellion, fled south and sneaked into Pingnan Guo via the porous border that separated the Qing province of 四川 (Sichuan) from that country (2). In the aftermath of the rebellion, relations between Qing China and Imperial Russia – which had already been cool at best – worsened further, as the Qing rightly suspected Russia of playing a role in inciting the Muslims of the West to rebel. This only pushed the Qing closer to Great Britain, with whom their relations were better in any event. A minor kerfuffle between the two nations did occur, however, in 1871, when a British surveying team was caught mapping Tibet, whose borders were closed to all outsiders; they were promptly put to death on the orders of the local Qing 大臣 (dachen, or imperial resident) (3). Both sides attempted to smooth over the unfortunate incident – the Qing apologized, sacked the offending resident, and paid an indemnity to the families of the dead surveyors, while the British apologized for illegally entering Tibet. The incident did worry the Yongsheng Emperor, who started to wonder just who, if anyone, he could really count on.
Excerpted from “Qing-Taiping Relations in the Post-Revolution Period,” by Mario Rasmussen. 2003.
- During the post-revolution period, the Qing and the Taiping were mostly content to lob verbal grenades at each other rather than the genuine article. Still, the lack of any formal peace treaty or even an armistice meant that the two nations were technically at war, and at least fifty small-scale confrontations occurred along the fifteen-hundred mile border that divided Taiping China and Qing China between 1860 and 1875 (4). Yet neither country was especially interested in war during this period; both were focused on modernization and had internal issues to worry about, specifically the fall of the Yang Xiuqing regime for the Taiping and the ethnic unrest among Muslims in the Far West for the Qing. In fact, the incident that brought the two Chinas closest to war during this period was not a border clash, but rather the 琉球危机 (Liuqiu weiji, or Ryukyu Crisis), which took place in 1875. Since the early 17th century, the Ryukyu Islands had paid tribute to both Qing China and to Japan; in the 1870s, the Taiping attempted to annex some of the southern Ryukyus near the island of 台湾 (Taiwan), which they had controlled since 1858. This prompted an immediate response from both Qing China and from Japan, who each sent a fleet to the area and warned the Taiping in no uncertain terms that any attempt to annex a portion of the Ryukyus would result in war. The Taiping backed down, and this incident is generally considered to mark the beginning of the alliance between Qing China and Japan (清日联盟, or Qing Ri lianmeng), which would play such an important role in world affairs in the years to come. For now, it was merely one more occasion in which Qing China and Taiping China came to the edge of war, but ultimately decided that peace was the better option.
Excerpted from “Taiping Foreign Policy in the Late 19th Century: The Southern Obsession,” by Jan van der Smoot. 1946.
- Since the War of Chapdelaine’s Head, relations between Taiping China and both Great Britain and France had been poor. The Taiping resented the forced legalization of the opium trade, which they even more than the Qing viewed as a social ill, and they further resented the right of Catholic missionaries to travel and proselytize, viewing it as a pronounced insult to Confucian Christianity. Britain in particular simply had too many interests in Taiping China – including the colony of Hong Kong – to walk away, as some suggested doing after the rapprochement with Qing China. Trade continued as it always had in the treaty ports, although the Taiping refused to allow much British and French investment outside these areas, instead preferring to look elsewhere – to Russia, the United States of America, and emerging powers such as Germany. Relations between Taiping China and Great Britain stabilized in the late 1860’s, but the Franco-Taiping rivalry had just begun.
France’s 1864 annexation of Cochin-China alarmed the Taiping, who had been attempting to establish influence in Southeast Asia in their own right with the help of their client state of Pingnan Guo. The further annexation by the French of Cambodia in 1869 sent Tianjing into quite a state, as the Hundred Flowers Regime feared that France and Britain would simply divide Southeast Asia between them, leaving the Taiping Kingdom entirely surrounded by unfriendly nations (5). The Taiping thus started to step up their overtures to local rulers. They were aided in this by the example of Pingnan Guo – a nation that was under the Taiping umbrella and thus free from foreign imperialism of any sort. In 1868, the Taiping, in coordination with Pingnan Guo and the Nguyen Dynasty of Vietnam, established the 黑旗军 (Heiqi jun, or Black Flag Army) (6). The Black Flag Army was supposedly a loose agglomeration of bandits; in fact, it was made up almost entirely of soldiers from the Tiaping and Pingnan Guo armies and was commanded by the American adventurer Frederick Townsend Ward, who had previously served in the Taiping military. The Black Flag Army quickly endeared itself to the Nguyen Dynasty by suppressing several hill tribes, after which they began to “extort” commerce on the Red River (in fact the monies went to the Nguyen Dynasty, which did not have the wherewithal to impose duties and fees on river trade itself). In 1873 the Black Flag Army first came to the attention of the French, after the explorer Francois Garnier, who had been sent to Hanoi to resolve a commercial dispute, decided that the time was ripe to conquer the region for France. The Nguyen Dynasty called on the Black Flags, who entered Hanoi and killed every man in Garnier’s small force, including Garnier himself (7). The incident was a great embarrassment to the French, who had not intended for Garnier to take such extreme steps, but it did not put an end to their quest for empire. Although the European defeats of the early 1870s temporarily put a damper on French ambitions with regard to Southeast Asia, their eyes were still firmly set on Annam and Tonkin (8). Meanwhile, the Taiping Kingdom attempted to deepen ties with Siam . . .
(1) This rebellion mirrors the Dungan Rebellion of 1862-77 in OTL. It’s not nearly as chaotic, though, because the Taiping aren’t prominently involved (OTL a stray Taiping army showed up and basically kicked off the action) and the Qing are much more with it.
(2) OTL they mostly fled to Russia. Fewer flee ITTL because the rebellion is less intense, but those that do mostly go to Pingnan Guo due to its status as a “Muslim country” (even though it’s really not, as discussed in the previous post).
(3) The British did this as well OTL, although they were never caught in the act.
(4) It’s kind of like the present situation between North and South Korea, except that neither Taiping China nor Qing China are run by lunatics.
(5) This fear probably wasn’t justified – the British and the French were colonial rivals, not allies – but it worried the Taiping nonetheless.
(6) OTL the Black Flag Army was mostly made up of ex-Taiping and bandits. Its leader was Liu Yongfu, who ITTL is one of the most prominent figures of the Hundred Flowers Regime.
(7) Lest I be accused of Sino-wankery, I’d like to point out that this incident happened in OTL almost exactly as I described it here.
(8) OTL the French annexed Annam in 1874; their timetable for that is slowed a bit in this timeline due to events which will be described and explained in the next post.
*A bit of foreign policy there, as you can see some alliances starting to form in East and Southeast Asia. As mentioned previously, the next entry will be the long-awaited “around the world” post, in which I talk about non-China places. I’ve so far managed to write a new entry every day, but this one will probably be a bit lengthy and require some research, so it might take a couple of days. And if there’s anything that people specifically want mentioned, just let me know. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #11: Around The World In However Long It Takes You To Read This Post
*This post covers non-China parts of the world between 1850 and 1875. Remember that things didn’t even start diverging in China from OTL until 1854, so in much of the world the changes will be minimal.
Japan – The Tokugawa Shogunate, which had ruled Japan for two and a half centuries, was shocked out of its isolation in 1854 by the arrival of American Commodore Matthew Perry’s 黒船 (kurofune, or Black Ships), which sailed into Edo Bay and demanded that Japan open to the world. The Shogunate was teetering on the brink of disaster when two events occurred in the late 1850s that changed the course of Japanese history. The first was the signing of the 安政五力国条约 (Ansei Five-Power Treaties) with the United States, Great Britain, Russia, France, and the Netherlands in 1858. These unequal treaties granted foreign nationals extraterritoriality and preferential trading rights, and sparked a furor among isolationists and traditionalists. Even worse, a succession crisis erupted that year when the 13th Shogun, 徳川家定 (Tokugawa Iesada) died suddenly without an heir later that year. This sparked a succession crisis, which looked to be resolved when 井伊直弼 (Ii Naosuke), Lord of Hikone and Tairo of the Shogunate, came out in favor of elevating twelve year old Tokugawa Yoshitomi to power. Yet things took another turn for the bizarre in October, when Ii was assassinated by a group of samurai enraged at his involvement in the signing of the Five-Power Treaties. The reformist daimyo (also known as the Hitotsubashi faction) seized the moment to press for their preferred candidate, 徳川慶喜 (Tokugawa Yoshinobu), to be the next shogun. Yoshinobu, an extraordinarily capable and disciplined administrator, took office in January of 1859, and quickly allied himself with the Imperial Court in Kyoto via a marriage between himself – Yoshinobu’s first wife had tragically died in a riding accident four years previously – and 孝明天皇 (Emperor Komei)’s younger sister, the Princess Kazunomiya. This policy of 公武合体 (kobu gattai, or Union of the Court and the Shogunate) strengthened Yoshinobu’s position and brought many of the 譜代大名 (fudai daimyo, or Inner Lords), most of whom had supported Yoshitomi, back into the fold. Yoshinobu also sought to co-opt the more troublesome 外様大名 (tozama daimyo, or Outer Lords) by appointing some of them to positions of power within the bakufu, and also spied on them constantly, just to be safe (1). The necessity of placating the virulently anti-foreigner Emperor Komei meant that Yoshinobu’s attempts at modernization were largely stymied until 1867, when the Emperor died and power passed to his fifteen year old son 睦仁 (Mutsuhito). With a more pliable presence on the throne, Yoshinobu was able to increase the pace of Japanese modernization, looking to Qing China for guidance. The two nations formalized their bond, which had been growing ever closer for several years, in the aftermath of the Ryukyu Crisis, signing the 三皇帝协约/三天皇協約 (Pact of the Three Emperors) in 1875 (2).
Korea – The Joseon Dynasty rules Korea, as they have for almost five hundred years; the current monarch is King Gojong. After the unsuccessful French intervention of 1866 (3), Korea, which had been a tributary state of China for hundreds of years, formalized its ties with the Qing Dynasty via an agreement that classified Korea as a 独立之保护国 (duli zhi baohuguo, or “independent protectorate”) of Qing China. Korea maintained its isolationism in regard to other countries, but started to slowly modernize with whatever help could be spared from the Yongsheng Emperor in Beijing. Korea signed the Pact of the Three Emperors with Qing China and Tokugawa Japan in 1875 (4).
Siam – Since 1868, Siam has been ruled by King Chulalongkorn, known to his subjects as Rama V. The cession of Cambodia to the French in 1867 caused fear among the Siamese elite, who wondered if their nation was fated to be divided between Great Britain and France. Rama V has ruled as an absolute monarch more or less since assuming power in his own right in 1873, when he reached his majority. The king has sought to implement an agenda of reform, and has increasingly turned to Taiping China for advice and help.
Dai Nam – The nation of Dai Nam, ruled by the Nguyen Dynasty since 1802, is slowly being carved to bits by France. France annexed Cochinchina in 1864, and looks to be preparing to move into central Dai Nam as of 1875. The Nguyen Dynasty, barely able to control a nation that seems to be tumbling over a cliff, has essentially tied itself to Taiping China and Pingnan Guo, whose Black Flag Army is steadily gaining influence and support along the Red River as it causes trouble for French river trade.
Russia – The Russian Empire is the largest nation in the world, stretching across three continents from St. Petersburg to Alaska. While the emancipation of Russia’s serfs in 1861 freed more than twenty million people overnight, Russia is still a nation wracked by dissent. Anarcho-Nihilism – a movement most strongly identified with Mikhail Bakunin, who escaped from a Siberian prison camp to Qing China in the 1860s – continues to gain adherents who are unsatisfied with what they see as the slow pace of reform (5). Russia is also continuing to expand, most recently annexing the Khanates of Khiva and Kokand in the early 1870s. The Russian Empire is ruled by Alexander II, a would-be liberal reformer.
Ottoman Empire – It’s still there, but nothing different to report . . . yet.
USA – The United States of America fell into civil war in 1861, when the southern states seceded after the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency. The decisive battle of the conflict was fought outside Sharpsburg, Maryland, where in the fall of 1862 the army of the northern states won a decisive and crushing victory. The American Civil War formally ended in April of 1863 and was followed by a period of “Reconstruction,” as President Lincoln attempted to reintegrate the southern states back into the nation. As of 1875, slavery is still protected by law in several of the southern states, but the effects of the “slave tax,” instituted in 1868 by Lincoln shortly before leaving office, indicate that slavery seems to be on its way to extinction. On the world stage the United States is not a major player, embracing policies that fall somewhere between neutral and isolationist.
Mexico – The Republic of Mexico survived a brief attempt by French forces to impose Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria as emperor of the nation, as all foreign forces were withdrawn from the nation in 1864 (6). Benito Juarez ruled Mexico as President until his death in 1871; he was succeeded by Porfirio Diaz, who was victorious in elections held later that year (7). Juarez’ time in office was a triumph of liberalism and federalism; since the ascent of Diaz to office, Mexico’s economy has begun to grow rapidly, although there are concerns that Diaz himself may not truly be committed to democracy.
South America – God knows something’s happening there, but I don’t really have the energy to figure out what it is.
Africa – See “South America.”
Great Britain – Unquestionably the most powerful nation on Earth, the British Empire extends from . . . uh . . . well . . . it’s really big. It’s also essentially the same as OTL – there have been no major divergences in British policy in this timeline as of yet. Stay tuned.
Spain – The immediate aftermath of the 1868 revolution that forced Queen Isabella II into exile was chaotic, and it was not until 1870 that the Cortes decided to offer the throne to Prince Amadeo of Savoy, who was crowned in that year (8). His rule was short. Amadeo abdicated the throne in 1873, and Spain was declared a republic. It is currently ruled by Francisco Serrano, although that should change in about ten minutes or so.
Italy – is now unified. I couldn’t care less about the details.
Germany – beat Denmark, beat Austria, beat France. The Franco-Prussian War took place a few years later than in OTL (1872-74), but the results were the same.
France – France’s defeat in the war with Prussia was assured after the disastrous Battle of Sedan, after which Napoleon III was forced to flee ignominiously back to Paris (9). The political situation after the signing of the Treaty of Frankfurt, which brought the war to a close, was confused – a Communist rebellion broke out in Paris, and although it was violently suppressed, an increased number of voices began to call for France to become a republic. In the end, Napoleon III abdicated – but France did not become a republic. Instead, Louis-Phillippe, Comte de Paris, was crowned King of the French (10), and the Kingdom of France was established in 1875 (11).
Austria-Hungary – exists.
(1) There’s a lot of stuff that happened there. Basically, Ii Naosuke’s assassination happened two years early, before Yoshitomi had become Shogun, thus clearing the way for Yoshinobu. Furthermore, Yoshinobu’s wife gets killed off – the Kazunomiya marriage happened as per OTL, but to a different Shogun.
(2) Really, it should be the League of Two Emperors and One Shogun – Yoshinobu is clearly in charge – but given his increased ties to the imperial family and the kobu gattai policy, Yoshinobu has been using the emperor as a sort of symbol of the state without giving him any real responsibility, especially since the death of Komei and the crowning of Mutsuhito (OTL Emperor Meiji).
(3) As per OTL.
(4) OK, so it should really just be the League of One Emperor and One Shogun, but Yoshinobu lets Yongsheng throw the Koreans a bone and make them feel special.
(5) ITTL Bakunin doesn’t go to Europe – he stays in Qing China instead - and thus isn’t influenced by Marx as much as he is by contemporary Russian thought. Thus, the fusion of Anarchism with Nihilism. You’ll be hearing more about the details later.
(6) The Mexican Intervention is shorter ITTL mostly due to the brevity of the American Civil War. Once that’s over, the Americans – who were big supporters of Juarez – start screaming bloody murder, and the French withdraw their forces three years earlier than in OTL.
(7) Juarez dies a little earlier, and the 1871 elections are won by Diaz.
(8) They don’t offer the throne to Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern, and so the French and the Prussians have to wait for a couple more years before they can fight each other.
(9) He isn’t captured; it doesn’t matter.
(10) The Legitimists and Orleanists made the same deal as in OTL, but it became something of a moot point when the Comte du Chambord was assassinated by a stray Communard
(11) I don’t think they would have called it the Third Empire. Too Napoleonic.
*Obviously, my near-total ignorance of non-Asian history kind of shows up in this post. In fairness, my internet has been on and off for the past few days, and you try going into a library in China and asking for books on the Risorgimento. So of the three major wars between 1850 and 1875, one ended earlier (American Civil War), one started later but ended as per OTL (Franco-Prussian War), and Italy was unified by magical unicorns. Please do let me know if anything I’ve written here is completely implausible – or even if you think that the events I’ve laid out would lead to things happening that I didn’t write about. Back to China for the next entry. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #12: I Avoid Being Colonized With A Little Help From My Friends
Excerpted from “The Franco-Taiping War,” by Tadeusz Ericsson. 1932.
- Although France had recently changed governments, and become a kingdom under the restored Bourbon Dynasty led by Louis-Philippe (or Philippe VII), they had lost little of their ardor for colonial expansion into Southeast Asia. They were motivated by a number of factors; the desire to bring the Mission Civilisatrice to the benighted heathens of the region; the desire to extend their footprint in an area that was dominated by their old rivals of Great Britain, and the desire to enhance their prestige and expand their empire. The French set their sights on the nation of Dai Nam, ruled by the tottering Nguyen Dynasty, which had already been forced to cede several southern provinces to France in 1864; these provinces became the French colony of Cochin-China. In the spring of 1877 an expedition under the command of Captain Henri Riviere was sent to Hanoi in northern Dai Nam to “investigate the interruption of commerce in this region and to take whatever measures appropriate to safeguard trade.” Riviere took his orders perhaps a bit more seriously than they were intended, and in effect took control of the city of Hanoi. This proved to be most unwise. The area in question was de facto controlled by the notorious 黑旗军 (Heiqi jun, or Black Flag Army), an assortment of bandits and brigands commanded by the American adventurer Frederick Townsend Ward and bankrolled by the Taiping Kingdom. Ward arrived in the area and promptly hung up a series of signs challenging Riviere to fight the Black Flags in an open battle. Determined to defend the honor of France at any cost, Riviere’s detachment of roughly five hundred men marched out of Hanoi and were summarily massacred by a force of Black Flags more than ten times their size (1). The news sparked a furor when it reached Paris, and the government of King Louis-Philippe announced that it would have no choice but to extend a protectorate over the nation of Dai Nam to prevent “such barbaric assaults from occurring in the future.” (2) But the news had reached Tianjing first, and soon the French realized that they would not simply be sweeping away the “army” of the Nguyen Dynasty and dealing with the Black Flags. They would also be fighting the Taiping Kingdom, Pingnan Guo, and Siam – and a Taiping expeditionary force of fully 90,000 soldiers had already landed in Haiphong (3). The Anti-French Imperialism League had been formed, and the Franco-Taiping War had begun.
Excerpted from “The Anti-French Imperialism League,” by Sebastian Hernandez. 1955.
- The Anti-French Imperialism League was a very unusual arrangement. Though it was announced only after the Hanoi Incident, it was the product of years of discussions between the nations of Southeast Asia, all of whom were concerned about the encroachment of Western imperialism. Siam and Dai Nam – strange bedfellows to say the least – joined forces out of nothing else so much as mutual self-preservation; parts of each nation had already been lost. Of course, the entire affair was organized by Taiping China. The Taiping were indeed worried about the seemingly ceaseless march of imperialism in their backyard, and could see a scenario unfolding in which they were entirely surrounded by Qing China, Great Britain, and France. They had another motive as well – to reassert Chinese leadership in Southeast Asia, and to bring the nations of that region together under the aegis of an organization that, while not controlled by the Taiping, was dominated by the Heavenly Kingdom. Thus was the league billed as a purely defensive alliance between sovereign equals – even though Pingnan Guo only joined because the Taiping told them too, and the Nguyen Dynasty was almost wholly propped up by money and assistance (the Black Flag Army, for example) from the Taiping. The League ran into difficulties from the start, when a row erupted over whether the alliance should be publicized or kept secret. In the end, it was decided that as the announcement of the alliance would likely not deter future colonial initiatives, it should be kept secret to preserve the element of surprise. Then when war did break out, there was the question of the name. At first, the preferred name was 反帝国主义协会 (Fan diguo zhuyi xiehui, or Anti-Imperialist League). After Sultan Du Wenxiu pointed out that this might offend Great Britain, the name was quickly changed to 反法协会 (Fan fa xiehui, or Anti-French League). This name ran into troubles as well, after 刘永福 (Liu Yongfu), one of the main powers in the Hundred Flowers Regime, complained that it was “too clunky.” Thus, an even clunkier name was settled upon: 反法帝国主义协会 (Fan fa diguo zhuyi xiehui, or Anti-French Imperialist League). But whatever it was called, the alliance was going to war.
Excerpted from “The Franco-Taiping War,” by Tadeusz Ericsson. 1932.
- There was not an assumption on either side of the Franco-Taiping War that escaped unscathed up to the signing of the Treaty of Hanoi, which ended the conflict in November of 1878. The French never imagined that they would have to go up against such an array of forces – and even if they had, it is unlikely that their strategic mindset would have been altered; upon hearing the news that the Anti-French Imperialism League had been formed, Admiral Sebastien Lespes dismissed his adversaries as, “a mob of Asiatic rabble.” On the other side, the League felt sure that their combined forces – Taiping China, Pingnan Guo, Siam, Dai Nam, and the Black Flag Army – would be more than sufficient to fling the French into the sea and strike a victory against colonialism. Even today, it is difficult to tell which side’s assumptions were more wrong.
The central dichotomy of the conflict bedeviled military planners on both sides. The French had near-total dominance of the seas; while the Taiping Navy had made considerable strides in the past twenty years, it was blown into pieces by the opponent. As the ever-quotable Admiral Lespes is said to have remarked, “We could fight them with blindfolds on, and would likely still win in time to enjoy a late lunch.” Indeed, France was able to bombard coastal cities from Da Nang to Shanghai almost without impunity (4). French forces destroyed the Naval Yard at Fuzhou shortly after the commencement of hostilities; this was followed by their destruction of the Taiping Eastern Fleet, after which the French bombarded the port of Ningbo. Yet the French naval dominance was partially undercut by the economic realities of the war; they were loathe to attempt serious bombardments of the southern port cities, as most of these cities were treaty ports, and they would be destroying not only French investments but the investments of other neutral nations – such as Great Britain and the United States of America – as well. Frustrated, the French moved to blockade the island of Taiwan, captured by the Taiping from the Qing in 1858, in the hopes of reducing the defenses there and eventually establishing control of the island. French control of the seas caused tremendous damage to the Taiping economy, but it was not enough to force the Taiping Kingdom from the war to the negotiating table.
On land, the French Army – while qualitatively superior to the forces arrayed against it – was swamped by sheer force of numbers. While the expeditionary force sent by the Taiping to Dai Nam was not as large as 100,000 soldiers – as some “historians” have suggested – there were almost 75,000 Taiping troops involved in the war (5). When combined with the 10,000-15,000 man force sent by Pingnan Guo, and taking into account the Black Flag Army, which numbered between 15,000 and 20,000 men, and the French were in trouble. We must also take into account the countless local militias and guerilla groups that proliferated “like so many accursed mosquitoes,” in the words of French General Charles-Theodore Millot. Finally, there was the Siamese Army, which launched an attack into their former province of Cambodia, which had been ceded to the French in 1867. There were simply far too many hostile forces for the outnumbered French to accomplish their objectives, and they were forced on the defensive for much of the conflict. French commanders attempted to take advantage of their naval dominance to launch amphibious attacks on coastal cities such as Da Nang, Hue, and even Haiphong, but were unable to muster the forces necessary to maintain control of these areas in the face of the mass counterattacks that followed. The land war was brutal, and combatants on both sides professed to be shocked by the savagery of their opponents.
Excerpted from “What If?: Counterfactuals That Could Have Changed the World,” edited by Scheherazade Wang and Rajiv Martinez. University of Antananarivo Press, 1966.
- In the winter of 1877 the Franco-Taiping War was at a stalemate; the Taiping had failed to throw the French into the sea, while the French had failed to add Dai Nam to their empire. What if Qing China had entered the war on the side of France? In December of that year the French sent a delegation to Beijing, seeking to consummate an alliance with the Yongsheng Emperor and bring Qing China into the war. It is uncertain what terms the French offered – some have even speculated that they were willing to renegotiate the Treaty of Tianjin and end the practice of extraterritoriality, while others have argued that France offered Yongsheng few concessions save the opportunity to avenge the partition of China and put an end to the Taiping Kingdom once and for all . . .
Excerpted from “In My Father’s House,” by Princess Shouzang. 1909.
- The French overture cleaved the Imperial Court in twain. Some of my father’s advisors – the young, the fearless, the brave – counseled war, suggesting that now was the time to reunite our land under heaven. After all, were not the Taiping distracted, their armies scattered to the four winds? Others argued that the time was not ripe, that the nation had not completed modernization, that the only ones who would gain from such a conflict were the vultures and the crows. Counselor Xu asked, “Shall we not heed the words of the sage Laozi? ‘Sharp weapons are inauspicious instruments. Everyone hates them. Therefore the man of the Dao is not comfortable with them. Victory is never sweet.’”(6)
For three days and three nights my father was sleepless and restless, agonizing every second of the day, yet unable to make a decision. On the fourth morning, my father – whom they now call a foreign devil in yellow robes – turned to the old ways. He cast the hexagrams and consulted the Book of Changes for guidance. The signs were clear. Great Qing would not go to war (7).
Excerpted from “The Franco-Taiping War,” by Tadeusz Ericsson. 1932.
- The French needed more troops to achieve a decisive victory, but there were precious few to be found. Soldiers were needed to guard the border against the suddenly ascendant and united German Empire; likewise, they were needed even in France itself to put down the low-level Communard uprisings that continued to flare up every so often. Furthermore, in the spring of 1878, the Russo-Turkish War looked as though it might ignite a general European war, as Russia moved closer to Constantinople, defying Anglo-French demands to halt. In the end they did, of course, but it meant fewer troops that could be spared for a colonial conflict five thousand miles away. So the war ground on. The French landed on Taiwan at the northern port of 基隆 (Jilong), but due to torrential rains and fanatical Taiping resistance were unable to extend their control outside of the city itself. Likewise, the land war in Dai Nam continued without a decisive breakthrough by either side for the majority of the year. In the end, it was adverse economic conditions that forced the combatants to begin peace talks in the fall of 1878. The Taiping economy was in free-fall following the French destruction of millions of taels worth of infrastructure and assets in ports across the kingdom, while the French treasury – already strained due to reparations from the Franco-Prussian War – was approaching the breaking point. Thus was the Treaty of Hanoi signed in October of 1878. The French vacated their positions on Taiwan; likewise, Siam retreated from the limited foothold that they had established in Cambodia. Dai Nam was partitioned, as the French performance at the negotiating table exceeded their performance on the battlefield. The land south of the sixteenth parallel was ceded to France and became the colony of Annam, while north of the sixteenth parallel Dai Nam remained an independent nation ruled by the Nguyen Dynasty.
As is the case with many wars that end rather indecisively, no one was overly pleased with the peace treaty. Pingnan Guo was relieved that the whole affair was over; Siam was encouraged that the alliance had held; Dai Nam grumbled at having to give up so much but realized that the alternative did not bear thinking about. But the populace in both France and Taiping China was furious. In the Heavenly Kingdom, no one could believe that they had sacrificed so much – and not only had the French not been thrown into the sea, but they had even gained land! In France, no one could believe that they had lost so much to a rabble of Asiatics – and all for a few miles of jungle that was less than half of what they had been promised! And thus, as 1878 changed to 1879, the heady brew of revolution began to ferment in Tianjing and in Paris . . .
(1)This is based on the OTL Tonkin Incident, which occurred in 1883.
(2) OTL the French swallowed central Vietnam in 1874 and finished the meal off with northern Vietnam in 1885. In this timeline, the Franco-Prussian War delayed their timetable a bit – but now they’re going for the whole thing in one bite.
(3) Think that this number is absurd? Take a number and get in line, but be warned: I will bludgeon you to death with the brute force of reason and logic.
(4) Obviously this war is based on OTL’s Sino-French War, except that the Taiping are more with it and have more help. But they’re still screwed, navally speaking.
(5) OK, so I’m hedging my bets here.
(6) I actually used this as an epigram in one of the posts, but I’m too lazy to go back and see which one.
(7) This totally did not happen. In reality, the literati were dismissive of the 易经 (Yi Jing) as a tool of divination. But our princess has a book to sell, and she knows the first rule of nonfiction: never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
* And that’s the Franco-Taiping War (or 太法战争, if you 会中文). Really not too much fun for either side, all things considered, although I hear that Vietnam is lovely in the spring. The next post should be done tomorrow, and as for the topic, need you even ask? If it’s Tuesday, then there must be a Taiping coup! As always, thanks for reading.
Part #13: The Business of Taiping China is Business
Excerpted from “The Moneybags Riot,” by Bu Yanglin. 1988.
- No one in the Taiping Kingdom was pleased at the Treaty of Hanoi, but the merchant class was especially outraged by the entire war. Their trade had been interrupted and a substantial portion of their investment had been destroyed, all in the cause of what they viewed as a pointless and silly war. While the 百花统治 (Baihua tongzhi, or Hundred Flowers Regime) promised subsidies to merchants and businesses which had been damaged by the war, these funds proved to be both slow and late in coming, as the Taiping treasury was strained due to the costs of financing the war. Thus, in February of 1879, merchants began to demonstrate in front of government buildings up and down the coast, seeking the restitution that had been promised to them. It was doubtless an odd sight – middle-aged businesspeople in fine robes and sometimes even Western suits angrily marching in the streets. One demonstration in 广州 (Guangzhou) ended in a fracas between the marchers and the police, and was quickly dubbed 大款暴乱 (dakuan baoluan, or “The Moneybags Riot”) (1). But as the disturbances continued with no end in sight, the most powerful merchants – the leaders of the cartels known as the 五大家庭 (wu da jiating, or “Five Great Families”) – decided that the time had come to take matters into their own hands (2).
The Five Great Families had become sprawling entities, controlling a majority of the Taiping economy. They had access to substantial resources – and private armies of a sort, although they were actually closer to gangs that the families used to push smaller competitors out of business. It is said that sometime in the early months of 1879, the leaders of the families – the Chen Group of Tianjing, the Zhao Group of Xiamen, the Wen Group of Fuzhou, the Xing Group of Shanghai, and the Yang Group of Guangzhou – held a secret meeting to plot a course of action. No records of this meeting survive, but on February 23, 1879, the private armies of the Five Great Families stormed the building in which the 使徒会 (Shitu hui, or Council of Apostles) were meeting, killing the entire group. At that point, the Heavenly Kingdom could easily have slipped into civil war had the army chosen to intervene. But the Five Great Families had thought ahead, and had secured the allegiance of the generals via the generous application of bribes. A new Council of Apostles was formed, in which a majority of those elected were directly tied to the Five Great Families themselves. As was the case in previous coups, the incredible opacity of Taiping government aided the plotters – by the time most ordinary people figured out that the Hundred Flowers Regime had ceased to exist, the new government had already established itself and had firmly taken control of the reins of power in the Heavenly Kingdom. A new regime had arisen in Tianjing – a regime that was wholly controlled by the Five Great Families. The era of corporatism in the Taiping Kingdom had begun (3).
Excerpted from, “The Five Great Families Regime,” by Samantha Hu. 1977.
- In terms of policy, there was surprisingly little that distinguished the 五大家庭统治 (Wu da jiating tongzhi, or “Five Great Families Regime”) from the Hundred Flowers regime that had preceded it. The immensely popular local democracy initiatives were not dismantled; on the contrary, in a bid to cement the allegiance of the common people, the new regime added an additional layer of elected officials, who would represent newly-formed county-level political units and caucus every year with elected town and village officials and provincial governors (appointed by central authorities) every year in the 徒弟会 (Tudi hui, or Council of Acolytes). Taxation levels remained largely unchanged, although they were lowered for major business entities – the Five Great Families had no great desire to take money from their own pockets, after all – and were increased on small businesses, driving even more commerce towards these already enormous conglomerates. Modernization initiatives were actually speeded up, as the new regime wanted more than anything else to increase the level of trade and commerce. A new round of treaties – the Shanghai Accords – was signed with foreign powers in December of 1879, in which the Taiping Kingdom granted Great Britain, the United States, Russia, and the German Empire unrestricted access to the interior of the nation in exchange for minor concessions mostly relating to tariffs and missionary activity (although as latecomers, the Germans were obliged to renounce extraterritoriality privileges outside of the treaty ports). France was rather conspicuously excluded from these new treaties. An economic boom began to take place in the interior of the Taiping Kingdom, which had previously been off-limits to foreign trade, mitigating many of the adverse economic effects that had been a result of the Franco-Taiping War (4). Official corruption flourished as well under the new regime, which is wholly unsurprising when one considers that the government was essentially a subsidiary of the nation’s largest corporations.
Another potential stumbling block occurred in March of 1880, when Hong Xiuquan, the Heavenly King, died after a long illness perhaps caused by the fact that he had not been permitted to leave his palace in more than twenty-five years. The new regime reacted swiftly; it was announced that the Heavenly King had ascended to Heaven to join his father and brother, and after a suitable period of mourning, his son 洪天贵福 (Hong Tianguifu) was placed on the throne as 幼天王 (you tianwang, or “Junior Heavenly King”) (5). The new monarch, who had been kept in seclusion since he was five years old, was quite mad. It is likely that the Junior Heavenly King did not know that he had been crowned, and indeed did not know who he was. But this was no large matter. He was simply moved into the Palace of the Heavenly King, guarded day and night, and zealously kept from the common people. For who knows what would have happened had they discovered the truth . . .
Excerpted from “Government in Qing China: The Yongsheng Period,” by Zhao Dan. 1952.
- As Qing China continued to modernize and industrialize, the Yongsheng Emperor undertook a comprehensive reorganization of the central government in the late 1870s. For centuries, internal matters had been handled by the Six Boards. These were the 吏部 (Libu, or Board of Appointments), the 兵部 (Bingbu, or Board of War), the 刑部 (Xingbu, or Board of Punishments), the 礼部 (Libu, or Board of Rituals), the 户部 (Hubu, or Board of Finance), and the 工部 (Gongbu, or Board of Works) (6). Yongsheng kept most of these bureaus intact, although he downsized some of them, and the Board of Rituals was renamed 教部 (Jiaobu, or Board of Education) and given control over the rapidly expanding system of primary, secondary and tertiary institutions of education that were being established in Qing China. Futhermore, the 总理衙门 (Zongli Yamen, or Office of Foreign Affairs) was renamed 外部 (Waibu), simply to denote its equality with the other departments of government. Finally, an entirely new agency was established – the 贸部 (Maobu, or Board of Trade) – which was responsible for regulating and overseeing all trade conducted with foreign nations. Qing China’s economy expanded at an astonishing rate in the generation after the end of the Taiping Rebellion in 1860. Indeed, the primary concerns facing the country in 1880 were more social than economic – there was still considerable resistance among minority populations, especially the Muslims of Xinjiang, to the migration of Han Chinese into their lands. Even ten years after the end of the Dungan Rebellion, many Muslims continued to move out of Qing China and make the long trek to 平南国 (Pingnan Guo), a seemingly mythical land, where Muslims supposedly ruled the nation free of interference from foreigners of any kind. Of course this was not at all true in practice, and the majority of Pingnan Guo residents – who were not Islamic – were more than a bit disgruntled at the sudden influx of Muslims into their country . . .
Excerpted from “Encyclopaedia Britannica, 10th Edition,” 1903.
- French Third Republic: The Third Republic was established in 1879 after a popular uprising brought down the short-lived Third Kingdom ruled by Philippe VII (or Louis-Phillippe, the former Comte de Paris). The proximate cause of the uprising was widespread dissatisfaction at the Treaty of Hanoi, which ended the Franco-Taiping War in November of 1878; France received fewer colonial concessions as a result of this treaty than many had been expecting, and the cost of the war was widely seen as disproportionate to the gains achieved. The monarchy quickly became seen as illegitimate, especially as the economic situation worsened. Between reparations from the Franco-Prussian War and costs incurred in the Franco-Taiping War, the nation’s finances were in an increasingly parlous and perilous state. Thus, after a short and relatively bloodless uprising, Philippe VII abdicated in July of 1879, and in September of that year the Third Republic was proclaimed . . . (7)
(1) “Moneybags” isn’t a great translation for 大款. It’s a colloquialism used to refer to someone who’s really rich, though, so I guess that it’s close enough.
(2) The “Five Great Families” control cartels that are reminiscent of the OTL 財閥 (zaibatsu) system that used to exist in Japan. See Part #8 if you’re interested in the details.
(3) The “gangs” that I referred to are a lot like OTL’s triads. So Taiping China is now a corporatist theocracy with elements of democracy that’s committed to modernization. I told you it was a weird place.
(4) Previously, foreign commerce had been limited to treaty ports in Taiping China. This is in contrast to Qing China, where Yongsheng has enthusiastically encouraged foreign investment in the interior for years now.
(5) I’m not making him up. Hong Tianguifu, weird name and all, was a real person.
(6) Personally, I think that “department” or “bureau” is a much better translation for 部 than “board.” But in literally everything that I’ve read, it’s always been the Board of Such-and-Such, so whatever.
(7) Just tying up some loose ends from the last post here.
*If you’re keeping score at home, here are the Taiping governments so far:
Hong Xiuquan (1850-54)
Shi Dakai/Yang Xiuqing (1854-61)
Yang Xiuqing (1861-67)
Hundred Flowers Regime (1867-79)
Five Great Families Regime (1879-present)
There might be a bit of a pause before the next post, because I really have no idea what’s going to happen in the 1880s. If you’ve got any ideas, let me know. And as always, thanks for reading.
Part #14: Who Lost China?
Excerpted from “The Yongsheng Era,” by Ariel Throckmorton. 1999.
- Qing China continued to develop and modernize throughout the 1880s, which was welcomed by the majority of the populace – for them, life had never been better. Although the existence of a factory worker in Qing China would have given Dickens material for a host of novels, the majority of people saw the situation as an improvement from the days of old, in which toiling on the farm from birth until death was simply what was to be expected. Still, there was a great sense of unease at the pace of change, especially among the educated elites. Qing China had never ceased to present itself as the one true China, in contrast to the Taiping. But as the nation changed more and more, many wondered if Qing China had simply become a hollow imitation of a Western country, with no regard for the traditions and history of Chinese culture. As educator Chen Yaobang famously wrote in 1885, “太平鬼子常说，人若赚得全世界，赔上自己的生命，有什么益处呢?” (Taiping guizi chang shuo, ren cuo zhuan de quan shijie, pei shang ziji de shengming, you shenme yichu ne, or “As the Taiping devils often say, ‘For what does it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and by doing so lose his soul?’”). A loose coterie of scholars and writers began to form, held together only by their shared view that China should not lose sight of its traditional culture; they were quickly dubbed the 保护中国文化运动 (Baohu Zhongguo wenhua yundong, or “Protect Chinese Culture Movement”) (1). Ironically, it was the Yongsheng Emperor’s belief in modernization that protected the adherents of this movement. With so many other things to worry about, the government adopted an extremely lax attitude towards dissent during the Reform and Opening period – essentially, as long as one did not express support for the Taiping (which almost no one would do in any event) or overtly insult the person of the Emperor, critical attitudes towards contemporary society or government policy could be freely expressed. The apotheosis of this movement came in 1889, with the publication of 鲁迅 (Lu Xun)’s novel 了不起的高宝玉 (Liao bu qi de Gao Baoyu, or “The Great Gao Baoyu”) (2). Lu Xun’s masterpiece – written in the vernacular style, an odd choice for a book that espoused traditional values – told the story of Gao Baoyu, a nouveau riche denizen of Qingdao, perhaps the most modern and forward-looking city in Qing China (3). The reader is ultimately led to realize the futility of the existence that Gao Baoyu – formerly a poor farmer from Sichuan – has committed himself to; an empty and materialistic life that leads one to constantly chase money and power. Traditional Chinese culture is presented as the natural alternative – that which one is inexorably drawn back towards, away from the mirage of Westernization . . .
Excerpted from “The Great Gao Baoyu,” by Lu Xun. 1889.
高宝玉信奉这盏红灯笼，这个一年年在我们眼前渐渐远去的极乐的末来。它从前逃脱了我们的追求，不过那没关系---明天我们跑得更快一点，把胳臂伸得更远一点 . . . 总有一天 . . .
“As I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gao Baoyu’s wonder when he first picked out the red lantern at the end of Liu Wen’s dock. He had come a long way to this green lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields under Heaven rolled on in the night.
Gao Baoyu believed in the red lantern, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms out farther . . . And one fine morning . . .
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (4)
Excerpted from “Social Change in the Reform and Opening Period,” by Lisa Clay. 1975.
- While there were indeed many who felt that the pace of social change in the Reform and Opening Period was too fast, there were also those who, on the contrary, felt that it was too slow. Chief among those who held this viewpoint were the women of Qing China. Many women pointed to the Taiping Kingdom and asked rhetorically, “If those barbarians can grant women equal rights, why can’t we?” Yet the women’s rights movement made little headway throughout the Yongsheng Era. Given that Qing China had proclaimed itself as the true representative of traditional Chinese culture and values, in contrast to the Taiping, it would have been awkward at best for Yongsheng and his government to follow the Taiping’s lead and dismantle the patriarchal institutions that had characterized China for thousands of years. Although careful examination of Yongsheng’s private papers – which were released to the public in 1966 – reveal that he had no great objection to granting women at least some expanded rights, the political realities of the situation made such an action virtually impossible. Other stigmatized groups, including several ethnic minorities, agitated for greater rights as well during this period, but their cries mostly went unheard (5).
Excerpted from “Developments in Confucian Christianity,” by Xavier Goldberg. 2006.
- Confucian Christianity was seemingly always in flux. Indeed, for more than fifty years after the Taiping Rebellion began, Confucian Christian theology was constantly being revised and updated (6). With the advent of the 五大家庭统治 (Wu da jiating tongzhi, or Five Great Families Regime), a radical new interpretation of accepted doctrine began to gain adherents in the early 1880s. It was called 成功神学 (chenggong shenxue, or Prosperity Gospel), and its central premise was that God, Confucius, and Hong Xiuquan all wanted you to get rich. Indeed, the Prosperity Gospel explicitly stated that those who were most wealthy and successful had been rewarded by God for their faithfulness, and argued that a life of prayer and righteousness would be rewarded with cold, hard cash. This new twist to Confucian Christianity was certainly in keeping with the spirit of the times – what better ideology for a corporatist regime than one that views wealth as a sign of favor from God? The Five Great Families quickly gave the Prosperity Gospel governmental backing, and it began to be taught in schools across the Taiping Kingdom.
Yet there were many who viewed this new dogma as contemptible blasphemy that was totally out of line with the principles that Hong Xiuquan had originally espoused. It was indisputable that Taiping society had been drifting farther and farther away from the egalitarian and classless policies that had been promulgated in the opening days and years of the movement. Originally land reform and social equality had been bedrock principles of the Taiping state; now land reform was a dead letter, and the new regime’s attitude towards social equality was summed up in a banned pamphlet by the pseudonymous dissident 操你妈 (Cao Nima) (7) entitled 动物庄园 (Dongwu Zhuangyuan, or Animal Farm), which began to circulate in the late 1880s. The pamphlet compared Taiping society to a farm, and one sentence still rings in our ears today: “所有动物一例平等，但有些动物比其他动物更加平等” (Suoyou dongwu yili pingdeng, dan youxie dongwu bi qita dongwu geng jia pingdeng, or “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”). These dissidents grumbled, but for the moment they made sure that no one else could hear them . . .
(1) OTL these people would have advocated modernization; ITTL they’re advocating traditionalism. Just contrarians, I guess.
(2) No prizes for guessing which OTL novel I’m referring to, but there is a prize for guessing which classic of Chinese literature the protagonist’s name references.
(3) This Lu Xun is obviously not the same person as the OTL writer. In fact, Lu Xun is just a pen name – the real person was Zhou Shuren – so in this timeline, there’s a completely different person who happens to hit on the same pseudonym.
(4) Obviously that whole exercise was not really necessary, but I rather enjoyed it. Plus: see if you can spot the differences between TTL’s version and OTL’s version of 了不起的盖茨比!
(5) Uighurs, Tibetans, Mongolians, etc. Uighur nationalism won’t be as big an issue as it was in real life, though, because so many of the Muslims in Qing China have left for Pingnan Guo.
(6) And since Confucian Christianity is still being revised and updated, I don’t have to sit down and figure out exactly what it is yet . . .
(7) Couldn’t resist.
*So a little more on culture and society in both of the Chinas there. This is sort of a transition post – there’s not going to be too much going on in either Taiping China or Qing China in the 1880s. Both regimes will still be around at the end of the decade, modernization will continue, etc. Thus, the next few entries will be about other countries, and hopefully I won’t totally embarrass myself in the process. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #15: Go Southeast, Young Man
Excerpted from “Pingnan Guo: The First Fifty Years,” by Ibrahim Zhang. 1955.
- After the suppression of the Dungan Rebellion, Muslims from the northwestern regions of Qing China began to decamp for friendlier nations. Previously their most likely destination would have been Imperial Russia (1), but from 1860 on Muslims gravitated south, towards 平南国 (Pingnan Guo). To these refugees, the stories about Pingnan Guo were almost too good to be true: an independent country ruled by Muslims, with no foreign interference. Tens of thousands of Muslims from Xinjiang, Gansu, Ningxia, and Shaanxi Provinces made the long trek south, across the mountains and rivers of Sichuan and across the barely defended border between Qing China and Pingnan Guo. The movement became known as 大移动 (Da yidong, or the Great Migration), and is generally considered to have lasted for about fifteen years, peaking around 1880 and ending in the middle of that decade, after more than a hundred thousand Muslims had moved to Pingnan Guo. The new arrivals swelled Pingnan Guo’s population, and many of them immediately provided tangible benefits to their new nation in the form of their entrepreneurship and mastery of skilled trades. Yet in the end, the influx of Muslims created many more problems than it solved. For contrary to the migrants’ belief, Pingnan Guo was not a Muslim nation. It was a nation home to a staggering number and variety of ethnic groups – many of whom were less than pleased to meet their new neighbors.
The situation – already tenuous at best – reached a boiling point in 1886, when Sultan Du Wenxiu, Pingnan Guo’s first and only supreme leader, died at the age of 64. The Sultan died without biological heirs, but had long intended to pass control of Pingnan Guo to his adopted son, the Prince Hassan (2). This plan was jeopardized when a delegation from the non-Muslim ethnic groups of Pingnan Guo, which will not be enumerated here out of a desire to save trees, declared that they would not accept another Muslim as the supreme ruler of the nation. It looked as though Pingnan Guo was headed for civil war, especially after the incident that has gone down in history as 流血周日 (Liuxue zhouri, or “Bloody Sunday”), when a detachment from the army that happened to be all-Muslim fired on a group of Naxi and Zhuang protestors in the city of 大理 (Dali), killing more than thirty people. As the violence worsened, representatives from each of the major ethnic groups met in the capital city of 昆明 (Kunming) in a last-ditch attempt to reach an agreement. To everyone’s surprise they succeeded, emerging after three days of nonstop negotiations to announce that a power-sharing arrangement had been reached. Under the terms of the 端午协议 (Duanwu xieyi, or Duanwu Accords, so named because the agreement was announced on the traditional holiday of Duanwu Jie), the negotiators sidestepped the touchy subject of which ethnic group would be the supreme leader of the nation by abolishing that office altogether. Pingnan Guo became a republic, with quotas of seats reserved for each ethnic group based on population; the mostly-ceremonial office of 国家领导 (Guojia lingdao, or National Leader) alternated every year between a Muslim and a non-Muslim, and leadership positions in government ministries were also doled out based on a complicated ethnic calculus (3). Pingnan Guo had avoided civil war – for the moment, anyway.
Excerpted from Rama V: Star of the Nation,” by Pongdanai Thanasukolwit. 1921.
- King Rama V, known to his people as “The Royal Buddha,” faced enormous challenges in his bid to transform Siamese society and modernize the nation. Power in Siam was decentralized to an enormous extent, with local dynasties of nobles exerting tremendous influence and control over their particular domains. Yet trapped as the country was between British colonies on one side and French colonies on the other, Rama V realized that Siam had no choice; the nation would modernize or it would perish. The monarch threw himself into the task that lay before him, advancing a vast assortment of initiatives ranging from ending slavery to reforming the law code to modernizing the military along Western lines to centralizing government administrative organs. He was helped by Siam’s great ally, the Taiping Kingdom. The relationship between the two nations, which had been cemented with the signing of the Friendship Treaty in 1865 and the creation of the Anti-French Imperialism League in 1877, continued to yield dividends.
Excerpted from “A Brief History of Dai Nam,” by Pham Thi Anh. 2001.
- Against all odds, the nation of Dai Nam had survived the Franco-Taiping War. Earmarked for colonization by the French, Dai Nam had escaped, although not entirely intact – the land south of the 16th parallel was ceded to France in the Treaty of Hanoi, which ended the war in 1878. Although Dai Nam was still technically an independent nation, in the 1880s it fell almost entirely under the aegis of the Taiping Kingdom – although at that time, perhaps Taiping, Inc. would be a better name. Taiping cash propped up the tottering Nguyen Dynasty; the only functioning army or police force in the country was the Black Flag Army, the bandit force that was also bankrolled by the Taiping. After the death from smallpox of Emperor Tu Duc in 1883, it was the Taiping who handpicked his successor, Duc Duc. Indeed, Dai Nam began to seem more and more like home to the increasing numbers of Taiping who moved there to do business and attempt to modernize the crumbling nation. Confucian Christianity proved to be popular in Dai Nam, and by 1890 an estimated 15% of the population had embraced that faith . . . (4)
Excerpted from “The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere,” by Alice Van der Land. 1980.
- The Anti-French Imperialism League may not have achieved total success in the Franco-Taiping War, but it performed well enough that the leaders of the participating nations were all rather pleased. It was the organization’s 500-pound gorilla, the Taiping Kingdom, and the Five Great Families regime that suggested expanding the pact from a purely defensive alliance to a more broad and formal arrangement. Thus, on January 1, 1882, the 大东亚共荣圈 (Da dongya gong rong quan, or Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere) was established with the signing of the Tianjing Pact. The initial signatories were Taiping China, Pingnan Guo, Siam, and Dai Nam; the Kingdom of Burma signed on as well in 1883 (5). Burma had shrunk due to persistent British colonization, and the Konbaung Dynasty signed the pact in a desperate attempt to keep their country from disappearing altogether. King Ka Naung, who had inherited the throne after the passing of his father King Mindon in 1878 (6), brought the remnants of Burma firmly into the Taiping sphere of influence, signing a treaty that allowed Confucian-Christian priests to proselytize in exchange for modernization assistance.
The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere was, more than anything else, an attempt by the Five Great Families Regime to more closely integrate the economies of the region. Trade barriers were lowered between all of the participating countries, and discussions soon began on introducing a common regional currency. Furthermore, weights and measures were standardized in all signatory nations. But there was also a political dimension to the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere as well. While all were careful not to make any overtly inflammatory statements, it was an article of faith in closed-door meetings that imperialism in the region must be discouraged by whatever means necessary. And indeed, the 1880s proved to be a difficult time to be a colonial power in Southeast Asia. From the Spanish Philippines to the Dutch East Indies, from French Indochina to British Malaya, a veritable forest of resistance groups began to spring up in the mid-1880s – many of them curiously well-supplied and well-armed. The most serious immediate challenge for the colonial powers came in French Indochina, especially the colony of Annam, which had been ceded to France after the Franco-Taiping War. A widespread insurgency broke out in 1888 in the Mekong River delta, led by elements of the Black Flag Army that had infiltrated Annam from independent Dai Nam and began to cause havoc. As Southeast Asia began to seem more and more inhospitable for imperialist powers each year, interest in the region began to wane, driven in part by the fact that there were new lands to exploit in Africa . . . and the natives there didn’t look as though they could shoot back (7).
(1) As it was after OTL’s Dungan Rebellion.
(2) He was a real person, although I can’t find too much information on him.
(3) Think OTL Lebanon for Pingnan Guo – a confessionalist republic that’s bound to blow up eventually.
(4) Dai Nam is becoming a puppet state of Taiping China; Pingnan Guo is a client state. Basically, Pingnan Guo does whatever they want except in foreign policy. Dai Nam does what the Taiping tell them to do.
(5) OTL the British annexed Upper Burma in 1884, mostly due to worries that France would take it if Britain didn’t. ITTL there’s no such fear, and the UK doesn’t really feel like starting a war with the Taiping and company over the place, even though they would win easily.
(6) In OTL, King Mindon died without specifying an heir, which led to a whole bunch of bloodletting, purges, and general unpleasantness. ITTL he’s a bit more decisive, which puts what’s left of Burma in a slightly better position.
(7) What this basically means is that the Scramble for Africa (or whatever I’m going to call it; hopefully I can think of a funny name) will be even more intense ITTL than it was in OTL. Southeast Asia is not a fun place to be right now for the casual imperialist, and so interest in the region is not as strong as it was OTL. France and Germany, in particular, will be much more assertive in this timeline’s Scramble for Africa than they were in real life, because France still feels embarrassed after the Franco-Taiping War and Germany won’t go for New Guinea ITTL, so they want to get started on building that empire.
*I never would have finished this bit today, but I ran out of cigarettes and it was too late to get more, and if I didn’t do something to distract myself I would have started smoking my shoe or something. So this post has been brought to you by nicotine. Next up is the aforementioned Scramble for Africa (or whatever I’m calling it). As always, thanks for reading.
Part #16: Would You Like Your Africa Scrambled or Fried?
Excerpted from “Colonialism in the 19th Century,” edited by August March. 1951.
- The African Question (1) only began to emerge as an issue in the mid-1870s, as Southeast Asia began to look less hospitable to imperialism and rising powers such as Imperial Germany sought to create empires of their own. As of 1875, Africa was largely uncolonized by Western nations, save for the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, French Algeria, and the Cape Colony of the United Kingdom. Twenty years later, virtually the entire continent had been carved up into so many pieces, as if it were a particularly delicious cake that no one could stand to leave uneaten. Germany’s first foray into the Dark Continent came in 1877 under rather unusual circumstances; the British explorer Henry Morton Stanley undertook an expedition to the Congo, still mostly an uncharted wilderness, under the auspices of the International African Association. Supposedly an international humanitarian society, the association was in fact the brainchild of Reichskanzler Otto von Bismarck, who hoped to uncover land that could be used to establish German colonies (2). Bismarck liked what he saw in the Congo, and after another expedition in 1879, the area was claimed as the German Congo in 1880 (3). This action, more than anything else, set off the frenzied race of claims and counter-claims that would last for twenty years; when the dust had settled, only three sovereign nations remained on the entire continent.
France was the first power to react to German colonization of the Congo. Still smarting from their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and under further pressure to erase bad memories from the Franco-Taiping War, the newly established Third Republic took vigorous measures to expand their own colonial empire in Africa during the latter part of the 19th century. Jules Ferry, first Prime Minister of the Third Republic, was an ardent supporter of colonial expansion who believed that the addition of more colonies to France’s overseas empire would not only strengthen French prestige but also provide economic benefits as well; the French treasury had been in dire straits since the end of the Franco-Prussian War, and the expenses incurred in the Franco-Taiping War hardly helped matters. France rapidly expanded into West Africa in the 1880s and 1890s, extending the area under their control deep into the Sahara. Furthermore, they purchased the colonies of Morocco and Guinea from Spain in 1896, during a particularly contentious point in the Spanish Civil Wars when the Royalist faction, who held power at that time, was in desperate need of cash (4). Germany made further colonial claims during this period as well, consolidating their hold over Southwest Africa and Cameroon, as well as into other areas of the Congo on the Atlantic coast (5). Both France and Germany attempted to organize their colonial domains on the “sphere of influence” model, popularized by American theorist Alfred Mahan, who held that an imperialist nation should strive to control the largest amount of contiguous territory possible; that is, to say that a nation’s colonies should, as much as possible, be connected by land.
The United Kingdom threw its hat in the ring as well during the 1880s, not wanting to see Africa partitioned between Germany and France – an old rival and a new one. Great Britain focused on securing the eastern portion of Africa – the “spine of the continent” – which would secure the shipping lanes to British India and link the Cape Colony in the south with Egypt (which came under British suzerainty in the 1880s) in the north. Britain moved south into Sudan and East Africa and moved north as well into Tanganyika. In the late 1870s, the British came close to war with the most advanced African kingdom – Zululand – after repeated boundary disputes between the Zulus and the Boer settlers of the Natal region. Yet the British government was profoundly disinterested in a war with the Zulus – there was a famine in India, a war in Afghanistan, and trouble in the Balkans to think about, after all. To the surprise of all concerned, Henry Herbert, Earl of Carnarvon, was able to broker an agreement with the Zulu king Cetshwayo in 1880. The disputed borders were settled, and Cetshwayo agreed to both refrain from encouraging native Africans in British-controlled regions to revolt and also not to enter into any agreements with either the French or the Germans; in return, Great Britain pledged to respect Zululand’s territorial integrity and ignored the rapidly-growing Zulu army. Other than the Zulus, there was not a single native political entity that could even protest as Africa was divided. However, as the British, French, and Germans all expanded their colonial domains, eventually the point was reached when they began to run into each other . . .
Excerpted from “The London Conference,” by A. Bartleby Swallows. 1929.
- The London Conference of 1889 was an attempt by the major colonial powers of the day – Great Britain, France, and Germany – to adjudicate their competing claims in Africa. Though a great deal of talking occurred, there were few concrete agreements that emerged from the summit. The three great powers broadly agreed not to establish any new colonies in the “sphere of influence” of any of the others. These spheres were roughly defined as Britain in the east, France in the northwest, and Germany in the southwest of the continent. Portugal was confirmed in its ownership of Angola and Mozambique, simply by virtue of having gotten there before everyone else. Abyssinia, Liberia, and Zululand were designated as independent states, although a codicil to the final “Memorandum of Understanding” that emerged from the conference noted that Great Britain claimed that Zululand was an “independent and self-governing autonomous protected entity” that fell in the United Kingdom’s sphere. Conflict also arose regarding the status of Madagascar, which was disputed between Britain and France. Things had taken a turn for the bizarre on that island in 1878, when the newly-crowned Queen Ranavalona III converted to Christianity and made it the official faith of the nation (6). The monarch confounded everyone by choosing neither Catholicism nor Protestantism; instead, she chose to convert to Confucian Christianity, inspired by news of the Franco-Taiping War and the increasing numbers of migrants from Taiping China. Madagascar’s status proved to be a stumbling block at the conference, with both Britain and France claiming that it fell into their spheres of influence. In the most farcical development of the entire charade, the Taiping Kingdom – which had not been invited to the conference, but had naturally sent a delegation anyway – offered to “extend the protection of the Junior Heavenly King to Madagascar” and suggested that it be incorporated into the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Needless to say, this particular brainstorm met with less than universal acclaim from other nations. In the end, the British and French simply agreed to disagree – and so Madagascar stayed independent, for the moment.
Excerpted from “The Balance of Power in Fin de Siecle Europe,” by Cherie Mazarin. 1921.
- As Great Britain, France, and Germany expanded their colonial footprints in Africa, other European nations tried not to get left behind. One of these unlucky latecomers to the imperial party was the Kingdom of Italy. The unification of the Italian peninsula had finally been achieved in 1869, and the nation was ruled by King Victor Emmanuel. However, a series of weak governments inhibited Italian attempts to modernize the nation and compete on equal footing with the other European powers in the late 19th century. As the British witticist Algernon Moncrieff famously wrote in 1891, “If one does not care for the government of Italy, it is advisable simply to wait for fifteen minutes, by which time the situation surely will have changed.” Italian foreign policy in the late 19th century was heavily irredentist and squarely focused on gaining territories in the hands of other powers that were thought to be “naturally Italian.” Chief among these disputed areas were Venetia, controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Savoy, which was in the possession of the Third Republic of France (7). As a result of this stance, Italy enjoyed less than friendly relations with its neighbors, and did not fit neatly into the developing system of alliances – it was angry at Austria-Hungary, and thus did not fit into the Dual Alliance between Imperial Germany and the Habsburgs, and also angry at France.
Italy failed as well to make much of a positive impression on Great Britain, a situation that was largely due to the regrettable Massawa Crisis of 1888. Attempting to establish a presence of its own in Africa, Italy annexed the Massawa region of Sudan, only to find out that the British had already claimed the area as belonging to their sphere of influence. The Italians were forced to withdraw and were generally shut out of the Africa, although they did have designs on the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan, which were becoming steadily more autonomous, especially after the British annexation of Egypt which cut off the land route between these provinces and the rest of the Ottoman Empire. But as preserving the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire was an objective of both British and French policy – formulated in order to keep Russian ambitions in check – Italy was again constrained in its efforts to establish an empire worthy of the name. A frustrated, fractious, and disunited nation, Italy stumbled into the last decade of the nineteenth century having so far failed to find “our rightful place in the sun,” in the words of the Sicilian statesman and Prime Minister Francesco Crispi.
(1) Yeah, yeah, I know that this is a pretty lame name. I couldn’t think of anything better. If you can, just let me know.
(2) OTL this particular idea belonged to King Leopold of Belgium. ITTL he’s a little slower on the draw, and Belgium winds up with nothing in Africa to speak of.
(3) Germany gets into the colonial game a little earlier and a lot more boldly than they did OTL, as you can see.
(4) I’ll get around to talking about this timeline’s Spanish Civil Wars eventually, but it might not be for a few posts.
(5) This is a reference to OTL’s Congo-Brazzaville.
(6) OTL, the previous monarch – Queen Ranavalona II – converted to Anglicanism in 1869. ITTL, she doesn’t.
(7) The Austro-Prussian War doesn’t end with Italy in possession of Venetia, contra OTL.
*And there’s some Africa and Europe, for those who were sick of all that China talk. Please don’t hesitate to correct any mistakes that I’ve made, and I’m sure that there are plenty of them. The next post will discuss the Middle East – mostly the Ottoman Empire – and Russia as well. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #17: Arabian Days and Russian Nights
Excerpted from “Ottomania! How The Sublime Porte Got Its Groove Back,” by Oprah W. Frey. 1998. (1)
- For as long as anyone could remember, the Ottoman Empire had been in a terminal state of decline; it was not for nothing that had been labeled “the sick man of Europe.” Yet from the mid-19th century on, the Ottomans undertook a wide-ranging program of reform and modernization that helped to stave off the seemingly-inevitable decline and irrelevancy of their empire. The Tanzimat reforms, which began in 1840, were the first systematic attempt to address the root causes of the Ottoman Empire’s gradual slide into obsolescence. Promulgated by reformist Sultans such as Abdulmecid and Mahmud II, the Tanzimat granted non-Muslim Ottoman citizens legal equality and also reorganized a diverse array of institutions, from the army to the legal code to the finance system (2). The Ottoman modernization campaign swung into high gear when Abdulaziz I became Sultan in 1861. Abdulaziz, a committed reformist, attempted to improve relations with both France and the United Kingdom. He also looked in more unlikely places for allies, and found a match in Qing China. Though the Ottoman Empire and Great Qing seemed to be an unlikely pair, there were sound reasons for the alliance between the two states, which was consummated in 1863. Both were anxious to check the spread of Russian power; additionally, both labored under the presumption of inferiority conferred upon them by the European states. The Yongsheng Emperor was thrilled to enter into an alliance with a nation that could be relied upon not to press for extraterritoriality, or to threaten war unless an unequal treaty was agreed to. Although the alliance hit a rough patch in the 1860s, after the violent suppression of a Muslim rebellion in Qing China, it recovered by the end of that decade.
Abdulaziz was aided in his efforts to modernize the empire by a coterie of skilled advisers, foremost among whom were Mehmet Ali Pasha and Mehmet Fuad Pasha, who both ably served the Sultan until their deaths less than two weeks apart in 1881 (3). In the later Tanzimat period, Abdulaziz expanded the Ottoman Empire’s railroad stock dramatically, as well as modernizing the Ottoman Navy to the point where it was the third largest in the world in 1875, trailing only Great Britain and France. Yet in the early and mid-1870s a series of crises arose that almost resulted in the sultan being deposed. A widespread crop failure in 1873 almost spelled disaster for the empire; luckily, this coincided with a bumper harvest in Qing China, and Abdulaziz persuaded Yongsheng to sell the Ottoman Empire large quantities of grain at low rates. Furthermore, a series of Balkan rebellions broke out in the mid-1870s, beginning with the Herzegovinian Uprising of 1875 and spreading to Bulgaria in 1876. Abdulaziz survived a coup attempt that year (4), and in a bid to increase his standing in the eyes of the common people ordered the creation of a constitution and the establishment of a Parliament, both of which came into effect in January of 1877. A bicameral parliament was created; the lower house would be selected by provincial councils, while the upper house would be selected by the sultan himself. While the new constitution appeared to represent an important milestone in the modernization of the Ottoman Empire, in fact it imposed very few restrictions on the Sultan’s power; Abdulaziz continued to rule in essence as an absolute monarch. But just as it seemed that the crisis had passed, an even greater threat to the empire arose. Russia had observed the turmoil in the Balkans, and had decided that the time was ripe to avenge the Crimean War and assert their power in Eastern Europe.
Excerpted from “The Russo-Ottoman War,” by Anna Davidovich. 1930.
- The Russo-Ottoman War began in 1877 and represented an attempt by Imperial Russia to increase their influence in the Balkans, which had been steadily moving away from the orbit of Istanbul. The entire conflict was a rather messy affair, and was neatly summed up by the British witticist Algernon Moncrieff, who wrote that it was a war “between the one-eyed and the blind.” This assessment may have been too generous to the combatants. The Russians took the initiative, crossing the Danube River with relative ease shortly after the commencement of hostilities in May. Their advance quickly bogged down, as troops under the command of Osman Nuri Pasha dug in at the town of Pleven and defied Russian efforts to push them out; a long and bloody siege soon commenced. As supplies were running low in the winter, an Ottoman offensive managed to break through Russian-Bulgarian defenses at Shipka Pass and provide relief to Osman Nuri Pasha’s beleaguered troops, who held out through the winter. On other fronts, the modernized Ottoman Navy was put to good use, as it went marauding through the Black Sea, causing serious damage along the Bulgarian and Romanian coasts and hampering Russian offensive operations. By the spring of 1878, the conflict had reached a point of stasis; although the Ottoman troops were slightly outnumbered, they occupied strong defensive positions and refused to budge (5). It was this uncertainty that led the other European powers – Great Britain, France, Germany, and Austria-Hungary – to force the combatants to the negotiating table in the summer. Great Britain and France supported the Ottomans, while Germany and Austria-Hungary were partial to Russia; neither side knew who would emerge victorious, and neither side could deal with the possibility of their favored combatant suffering a general defeat. The Treaty of Madrid, which ended hostilities, was signed in September; it certified Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro as independent states. However, Bulgaria in its entirety remained under Ottoman suzerainty, as did Macedonia (6). Furthermore, the Ottoman Empire kept control of both Bosnia and Herzegovina as a result of the treaty.
Excerpted from “History of Imperial Russia: The Alexandrine Age,” by Emilio Verbeek. 1977.
- Alexander II, as Tsar of Imperial Russia, held what was perhaps the world’s most thankless job. A committed reformer, he was nonetheless hampered by pressure from both the nobles and the common people during his almost thirty-five year reign. One of his first significant moves was the abolition of the serfs in 1861, which freed more than twenty million Russians from the state of feudal servitude under which they had labored. However, the newly freed serfs had to pay a tax to their former overlords in exchange for their freedom, which caused a substantial amount of resentment; furthermore, former serfs generally wound up with the worst portions of land, while the best land remained in the hands of the nobility. Under the rule of Alexander II, Russia continued to expand into Central Asia, annexing the Khanates of Khiva and Kokand in the 1870s and the Khanate of Bokhara in 1883. Russian foreign policy during this period was dominated by a desire to check the British Empire, whose domains bordered Russia in the south and often inhibited Russian imperial ambitions; the two empires, while never formally declaring war, engaged in a series of proxy clashes that was dubbed “the Great Game” by neutral observers of the period. Another threat was Qing China, the rapidly growing and modernizing behemoth which lay in wait, hoping for a chance to reverse the humiliation of the Amur War. Alexander’s position was weakened after the poorer than expected performance of Russian troops in the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-78, and he was forced to scale back some of his modernization initiatives in a bid to cement the allegiance of the nobility. The Tsar narrowly survived an assassination attempt by Anarcho-Nihilist radicals in 1881 (7), but it contributed to his rapidly growing sense of paranoia, which blossomed during the latter part of the 1880s. As Imperial Russia grew increasingly short of cash in the mid-1880s, some ministers suggested selling Alaska to the United States of America, which they hoped would draw America closer to Russia in addition to giving the empire a badly needed infusion of hard cash. But when the idea’s chief advocate, Chancellor Alexander Gorchakov, died in 1885, into his shoes stepped a new generation, who argued that Russia should strive to maintain a “maximum empire” at all costs. Alexander II never fully committed to either position before dying in 1889 of a stroke; the Tsardom passed to his son, the conservative and strong-willed Alexander III. It was a fraught time for the Russian Empire, not only abroad but also at home, as the Anarcho-Nihilists seemed to gain more adherents every day . . .
Excerpted from “The Development of Anarcho-Nihilism,” by Alexander Portnoy. 1966.
- In the history of humanity there has perhaps been no ideology more radical than Anarcho-Nihilism, which explicitly seeks to destroy the centralized nation-state by whatever means necessary. In the words of Mikhail Bakunin, the exiled dissident behind the movement, the centralized state “inevitably becomes nothing more than a tool of oppression. Whether that state is a monarchy, a bourgeois democracy, or even a socialist democratic dictatorship, power will necessarily devolve into the hands of a small, self-sustaining elite, who will assert their authority over the peasants and the working classes.” (8) Anarcho-Nihilist thought calls for the total destruction of all traditional forms of morality and authority on the grounds that these ideas are representative of the subjugation of the masses by the elite classes; they reject entirely the concept of the nation-state and support a system of local direct democracy, in which the autonomous commune is the highest level of government, although later thinkers have argued that these communes may unite in a voluntary federation in the event of foreign war. Anarcho-Nihilists in 19th century Russia were an odd mix of intellectuals, urban workers, and peasants; sometimes known as the Narodnik Movement, they embraced violence as a tool to prove their sincerity and force their existence into the open. Although the Narodniks failed to assassinate Alexander II in a bomb attack in 1881, they did succeed in killing several prominent officials during the 1870s and 1880s, and their numbers steadily grew throughout the latter years of the 19th century. But while Anarcho-Nihilism began and flourished in Russia, that ideology quickly found its way to other countries as well . . .
(1) Couldn’t resist.
(2) This is pretty much as per OTL.
(3) These guys both died in 1871 OTL; ITTL they live ten years longer and thus are that much more helpful to Abdulaziz in implementing his reform agenda.
(4) In real life, he was deposed. ITTL he isn’t – reforms are going a little bit more smoothly, the crop failure of 1873 isn’t as much of an issue due to Qing help, the constitution is enacted as a sop to everyone, etc.
(5) I’m not going to get into the details of what I’m doing here, because it’s complicated. Suffice it to say that the Ottomans are doing a little better, and the Russians a little worse.
(6) Not too different from the Congress of Berlin. But there was no Treaty of San Stefano initially, as the Ottomans were doing OK for themselves.
(7) OTL he kicked the bucket.
(8) See Post #11 for more details on Anarcho-Nihilism. Basically, Bakunin goes to Qing China after his escape from prison camp instead of Europe and thus isn’t influenced by Marx as much, so Anarchism doesn’t become Communism-lite; it merges with contemporary Russian thought (Nihilism as discussed by Turgenev in Fathers and Sons) instead, and becomes something completely new and weird.
*I’m sure that there are a lot of mistakes in this post. My knowledge of Ottoman history could be scribbled on a cocktail napkin, and there would still be room for a couple games of tic-tac-toe. So please don’t hesitate to correct any errors that you see. We’ll head back to East Asia in the next post for an in-depth look at Japan and Korea. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #18: Hello Modernizing Shogunate!
Excerpted from “Yoshinobu and the Kobu Gattai Policy,” by Okada Toru. 1981.
- The first years of徳川慶喜 (Tokugawa Yoshinobu)’s rule as Shogun were primarily consumed by his attempts to satisfy a diverse array of constituencies, all of whom had to be placated and castigated in equal measure. Yoshinobu sought to draw the Shogunate – whose prestige was failing in the wake of Commodore Matthew Perry’s eventful visit to Japan in 1854 – closer to the Imperial Court in Kyoto via his marriage to the Princess Kazunomiya, sister of the孝明天皇 (Komei Emperor) (1). But Yoshinobu’s relationship with the Emperor himself was often fraught and plagued with difficulties; Emperor Komei was virulently anti-foreigner and a staunch defender of the Japanese traditional order, and the need to keep the Emperor and his prestige firmly tethered to the Shogunate caused Yoshinobu to hold off on implementing many of the initiatives intended to modernize Japan. Yoshinobu felt that the only way for Japan to engage the foreign powers on equal terms was to play their game, as it were, while Emperor Komei believed that what he perceived to be the inherent superiority of the Japanese would inevitably defeat the grasping barbarians who sought to impose their will on Japan. The situation was not resolved until the death of the emperor due to illness in 1867; he was replaced by his son 睦仁 (Mutsuhito), a teenager of fifteen whom Yoshinobu found to be much more pliable and willing to lend the imperial name to the advocacy of modernization (2).
This should not be taken to mean that the first several years of Yoshinobu’s rule were idle. On the contrary, it was during this time that he attempted to break the power of the 外様大名 (tozama daimyo, or Outer Lords). The tozama daimyo – called such due to their initial reluctance to support Yoshinobu’s ancestor 徳川家康 (Tokugawa Ieyasu) more than two hundred and fifty years ago – were opposed to the continuation of the Tokugawa Shogunate and saw the present crisis as an opportunity to install a new government that would be more amenable to them. The Kazunomiya marriage made it difficult for the tozama daimyo to openly plot against Yoshinobu, as it would now also constitute a rebellion against the Emperor himself, but their animosity behind closed doors was not lessened in the slightest. Particularly troublesome were the domains of 薩摩 (Satsuma) and 長州 (Choshu), the two most powerful tozama domains. Yoshinobu attempted to co-opt some of the most powerful officials in these domains, offering high command positions in the newly formed National Army of Japan to Satsuma military leaders Okubo Toshimichi and Saigo Takamori. He also played on the age-old rivalry that existed not only between the Shogunate and the tozama domains, but also between the tozama domains themselves. In particular, Satsuma and Choshu had long been opposed to each other.
After the death of the Komei Emperor, Yoshinobu was finally able to begin his modernization programs in earnest, and for the next generation Japan grew and developed at a pace that can only be described as manic. Japan used the reforms promulgated in Qing China by the Yongsheng Emperor as a model for their own attempt to grow stronger; the phrase that became a semi-official slogan during this period was 富国強兵 (fukoku kyohei, or “rich country, strong military”). These were indeed the two major points of emphasis for Tokugawa Yoshinobu, who felt that a strong and able military was absolutely crucial to establishing Japan as an independent actor in its own right on the world stage, instead of being a plaything for richer and more powerful countries. A system of universal conscription was introduced in the 1870s, which caused a backlash among the elite samurai classes, who saw their traditional social privileges slipping away. This trend only intensified in later years, as samurai stipends were first subjected to taxation and finally converted to government bonds in 1884. Although cosmetic privileges of the samurai class remained in place – they were allowed to wear their swords, for example, as an emblem of their status – the samurai were no longer effectively above the law, as they had been for the past several hundred years (3).
Yoshinobu also sought to further centralize and reorder the government of Japan by changing the 藩 (han) system, which had divided Japan into hundreds of hereditary feudal domains. Beginning in the late 1860s, the Shogunate began to break down this system by abolishing many of the smaller domains, who were asked to turn their lands “over to His Imperial Majesty the Emperor.” The policy continued unabated, with many of the 譜代大名 (fudai daimyo, or Inner Lords, so named because of their closeness to the Tokugawa Shogunate) turning over their domains over the next fifteen years. There were fewer objections to this policy than there might have been, mostly because the stick – confiscation of feudal privileges – also came with a sizable carrot for the former daimyo. They were allowed to retain their posts as non-hereditary governors, and were also granted a generous portion of the tax revenue from the prefecture that they had formerly ruled (4). The effect of all this was to gradually centralize power around the state, which was nominally controlled by the Emperor but in fact was dominated by Yoshinobu. The 徳川維新 (Tokugawa Ishin, or Tokugawa Restoration, as this period is often referred to by contemporary historians) was a time when the shogunate, under strong and decisive leadership, regained much of the legitimacy that it had slowly squandered in decades past.
While Japan modernized at an astonishing pace during the 1870s and 1880s, steadily becoming a centralized and industrialized power, much less progress was made in granting political rights to the broader populace. Although several proposals were made by various damiyo and bakufu officials that advocated for a written constitution and some form of representative democracy, Tokugawa Yoshinobu was not well-disposed towards these requests. In his eyes, this would simply be one more interest group that he had to placate. Thus, while astonishing changes occurred with tremendous speed in Japanese society, the nation remained an oligarchic bureaucracy. Many citizens were frustrated by the refusal of the government to grant even the façade of democracy, and beginning in the late 1880s sporadic protests began to occur in urban centres across the country, driven mostly by workers in Japan’s rapidly developing industrial base. In the final analysis, the Tokugawa shogunate, resurgent though it was, systemically failed to deal with the deeper structural issues that plagued Japan – tremendous inequality, a feudal system that still persisted in almost twenty percent of the country, deep and enduring class divisions that had been merely elided and not broken down once and for all. Tokugawa Yoshinobu may have saved the Shogunate in the short run, but his shortsighted actions helped to pave the way for the October Revolution of 1912. To a casual observer, Japan in 1890 would have seemed to be a dynamic and vital society – and indeed, in many respects it was, as the events of the Triangle War would prove shortly (5). But underneath the surface, a deep and lingering rot festered in the Japanese body politic.
Excerpted from “Korea in the Nineteenth Century: A Nation Triumphant,” by Nadhezhda Park. 1967.
- Many scholars and historians are content to write that Korea continued its tributary relationship with the Qing Dynasty and its policy of isolationism in the late 19th century. While the broad outline of this argument cannot be disputed, a careful look at the facts reveals that it is not entirely true. The Joseon Dynasty did indeed hold to the tributary relationship with Qing China, but this should not be taken to mean that nothing changed. On the contrary, investment and capital began to flow from Qing China into Korea, as the Yongsheng Emperor saw the virtues of building Korean capabilities. Moreover, after the establishment of the Pact of the Three Emperors in 1875, Korea was opened to Japan as well. This decision was more than a little fraught – Koreans had still not forgiven the Japanese for the events of the Imjin War in the late 16th century – but on balance, it was an indisputably positive development for the Korean economy. For other foreigners, Korea was a much less welcoming place. Traders were only allowed in the port of Pusan; the rest of the country was strictly off-limits. This applied especially to missionaries, who would inevitably be killed in a laughably gruesome fashion were they ever to even set foot on the Korean peninsula. Most countries were content to leave Korea alone, as after a certain point, it just did not seem worth antagonizing both the Joseon Dynasty and Qing China over a place that did not have much to recommend it to the would-be imperialist in any event. One nation that was not content to abide by this approach was Russia, whose relationship with Qing China – and by extent with Korea – had always been difficult, to say the least. Both sides believed the worst about each other; the Qing believed that Russia was fomenting unrest and rebellion among minorities in the north and west, while Russia believed that the Qing were encouraging Han Chinese to move into the Russian Far East to serve as a fifth column in future conflicts. The situation was tense . . .
(1) See Part #11 for more information about Japan and the divergences that have occurred in this timeline.
(2) Mutsuhito is OTL’s Meiji Emperor. He’s not known as Emperor Meiji in this timeline, though. OTL he took a regnal name at the beginning of his reign to mark the change in government that had occurred and the assumption of authority by the monarch. ITTL that doesn’t really happen, so he’ll just be known as 今上天皇 until he kicks the bucket.
(3) This policy isn’t quite as all-encompassing as it was OTL, as Yoshinobu is trying to please everyone (everyone who’s powerful, that is) and not take a meat cleaver to society.
(4) Same as note #3 – the abolition of the han isn’t quite as dramatic as it was OTL, and some daimyo still retain their estates.
(5) Foreshadowing! Hooray!
*That was the last of the “catching up with things” posts. Now the plot starts to move forward again. In the next entry: WAR!
Part #19: War Is No Fun Unless You Win
Excerpted from “The Pact of the Three Emperors: A New History,” by John Yossarian. 1953.
- Relations between Qing China and Russia had never been good, but they deteriorated even further in the late 1880s, as each side accused the other of fomenting unrest in vulnerable regions. The Qing believed that Russia was providing aid and comfort to separatist minorities – mostly Uighurs and Mongolians – in the western regions, while Russia believed that the Qing were behind the increasing numbers of Han Chinese migrants moving into the Russian-controlled portions of Manchuria. Both sides’ accusations had some degree of validity to them, which further complicated matters. The situation only worsened with the ascension of Alexander III to the throne of Russia. Alexander distrusted the Qing even more than his father, and one of his first moves was to announce the construction of a railway across Siberia to “bring the region under the firm control of Moscow” (2). Two events in the spring of 1890 proved to be the straws that broke the camel’s back for both sides. In March, a series of riots broke out in Ulan Bator in protest against the influx of Han Chinese in Mongolia and a plan to register nomadic herdsmen in the upcoming census. Meanwhile, in April, anti-Chinese riots took place in Vladivostok and Khabarovsk after a notorious serial killer, who had been dubbed “The Siberian Tiger” by the popular press due to his habit of mauling his unfortunate victims, turned out to be an ethnic Han Chinese named Zheng Long. A plethora of official protests were lodged in both St. Petersburg and Beijing by diplomats working overtime, but the incident that finally tipped the scales in favor of war occurred at the end of April, when a Russian border patrol got lost and inadvertently entered Korean territory, only to get involved in a skirmish with Korean police. The Joseon Dynasty believed this to be the opening gambit in a Russian invasion of their country, and persuaded the Yongsheng Emperor likewise. It probably was just an accident, but things were too far gone for mediation, and in early May the Pact of the Three Emperors – Qing China, Korea, and Japan – declared war on Russia. The Triangle War had begun.
Excerpted from “What’s In A Name? Adventures in Historiography,” by M.M. Major. 1949.
- Like the very conflict itself, the designation “Triangle War” was the result of a most regrettable misunderstanding. Serious scholars and historians originally preferred to use “Russo-Sino-Japanese War” to describe the hostilities that took place. More recently, as Korean scholars have grown more vocal in complaining that this moniker slights their nation’s not insubstantial role in the war, the scholarly consensus has begun to shift in favor of the name “War of the Four Emperors.” Naturally, this refers to the three emperors of Qing China, Korea, and Japan – although Mutsuhito was little more than a figurehead – and the fourth emperor is of course Tsar Alexander III of Russia. One could perhaps take a cue from the participants in said conflict themselves. Asian historians have had no such difficulty deciding on a name; the title 大东北亚洲战争/大東北アジア戦争 (Da dongbei Yazhou zhanzheng/Dai tohoku Ajia sensou, or The Great Northeast Asian War) has been standard since the end of hostilities. But in the West, the conflict is still popularly known as the Triangle War, which is all due to the mistake of one unnamed copy editor at the New York Herald. Apparently, a telegram announcing the commencement of hostilities arrived in the newsroom stating, “QING CHINA AND JAPAN DECLARE WAR ON RUSSIA STOP.” It was late at night on the East Coast of the United States, and our unnamed copy editor must have been quite exhausted, for there is no other explanation for the Herald’s headline of the following day, which read, “WAR IN ASIA! QING CHINA DECLARES WAR ON JAPAN! JAPAN DECLARES WAR ON RUSSIA! RUSSIA DECLARES WAR ON QING CHINA!” The conflict quickly became known as the “Triangle War,” and despite the best efforts of well-meaning historians around the world, the name has stuck.
Excerpted from “The Triangle War,” by Joseph Heller. 1966.
- It quickly became clear that Russia had made at least three incorrect assumptions in the process that led to the commencement of hostilities in the Triangle War. The first was gross underestimation of the capabilities of their opponents. The relative ease with which the Qing had been defeated in the Amur War thirty years ago was still fresh in the minds of the Russian military, who failed to comprehend the vast strides that Qing China had made since then. Likewise, they completely disregarded Japan in pre-war strategic planning, again ignoring the modernization programmes that had been implemented since the death of the Komei Emperor, which had vastly improved the quality and the efficiency of the Japanese military. Russia planned to fight a horde of disorganized, poorly trained, and underequpped Orientals; instead, they were confronted with a powerful foe, and in Qing China a foe that had spent more than thirty years feverishly preparing for a war – whether it be with the Taiping or with Russia.
The second Russian failure had to do with the balance of power. Specifically, Russia believed that in any war with Qing China they would be aided by one of several potential allies. Yet as the war intensified and Russia searched ever more frantically for friends, they found that no one was willing to return their calls. Relations with both France and Germany were positive, but neither of these nations had any desire to go to war with Qing China. On the contrary, France had long enjoyed positive ties with the Qing, while Germany preferred to concentrate on building their African empire; Reichskanzler Otto von Bismarck dismissed any possibility of German intervention in the conflict by commenting of the Far East, “It is quite far away, and I hear that the weather there is intolerable.” Then there was Taiping China. Russia had never even considered the possibility that the Taiping would not join in a war against their archenemy, and in previous years this assumption might have proved correct. But they suffered from miserable timing. The Five Great Families Regime had only two goals: maintaining stability and promoting commerce. In the eyes of the Taiping cartels, there was little to be gained from a long and certainly destructive war with the Qing. As Andrei Medvedev, Russian Ambassador to Tianjing, later wrote of his meeting with Taiping Foreign Minister 陈家辉 (Chen Jiahui), “He smiled serenely and said, ‘It is our opinion that a hostile takeover of the infidel Qing is impracticable at this time. The cost-benefit ratio simply does not support such an endeavor, and thus, while we wish you the best of luck in this venture, the Council of Apostles must decline to participate.’”
The third failure on the part of Russia was a simple disregard for the dictates of geography. Vladivostok was almost ten thousand kilometers away from St. Petersburg; in contrast, it was barely more than a thousand kilometers away from Beijing. Moreover, transportation between European Russia and the Far East was almost nonexistent. Alexander III’s railroad to Siberia might have mitigated matters somewhat, but this project had only begun the year before war broke out, and was thus useless as far as military operations were concerned (3). When piled on top of each other, these three incorrect assumptions on the part of Russia made the Triangle War a very difficult proposition indeed.
Excerpted from “The Triangle War: Pacific Front,” by Katrina Clancy. 2004.
- The opening stages of the Triangle War can be summed up thusly: even today, 1890 is often referred to by historians in Qing China as “The Year of Victory.” The first major engagement of the war took place at sea, as Qing China’s 北洋舰队 (Beiyang jiandui, or North Sea Fleet) sailed out of Dalian to meet the Russian Pacific Ocean Fleet, headquartered in Vladivostok. The two forces met off the coast of Korea on May 4th, 1890, in the Battle of Sokcho, in what would go down in history as one of the most decisive naval clashes in history. For nearly a full day, the Beiyang Fleet and the Pacific Ocean Fleet beat each other senseless under a foggy sky in the Sea of Japan. As time went on, the superior numbers and gunnery of the Qing forces began to tell, and at roughly 3.30 in the afternoon Admiral Nikolai Nebogatov ordered a general withdrawal back to Vladivostok. The Russian fleet began to retreat, with the Beiyang fleet in full pursuit, when disaster struck for Admiral Nebogatov. For a task force of the Imperial Japanese Navy suddenly arrived on the scene, and the battle turned from a modest Russian defeat to a catastrophic rout. Only two destroyers limped back to Vladivostok; the rest of the Pacific Fleet was either on the bottom of the ocean or surrendered to the Pact of the Three Emperors. The news from Sokcho was greeted rapturously in Qing China, whose people believed that their nation had finally overcome the multiple humiliations of years past. Spontaneous celebrations broke out in Beijing, and the Yongsheng Emperor himself emerged from the Forbidden City to proclaim from atop the Meridian Gate, “中国人民站起来了!” (Zhongguo renmin zhan qilai le or “The Chinese people have stood up!” (4). And while the Battle of Sokcho gave the Pact dominance of the seas, Russia fared little better on land in the opening year of the war. Qing China’s 北方军队 (Beifang jundui, or Army of the North) moved decisively to take back the territory lost in the Amur War, seizing Vladivostok in June after a reduction of the city’s defenses from the sea. Recognizing the indefensibility of Vladivostok in the wake of the Battle of Sokcho, Russian forces under the command of General Aleksei Kuropatkin had essentially ceded the city to the oncoming Qing, regrouping farther inland. The two armies met outside Khabarovsk in late July, and the result was almost as disastrous for Russia as the Battle of Sokcho two months ago had been. After an inconclusive opening to the main battle, the Qing eventually managed to break through the center of the Russian defensive lines – which had been organized so as to leave almost no reserves available. The Russian Manchurian Army quickly broke, and the Qing entrapped one of the fragments of that army several weeks later outside Komsomolsk-na-Amur and destroyed it entirely. The Qing Army of the North took Khabarovsk, Blagoveshchensk, and Komsomolsk-na-Amur in the summer campaign, and only the outbreak of winter prevented the fall of Yakutsk and forestalled the planned amphibious invasion of Kamchatka. In less than a year, Russia’s hold in the Far East had been almost completely shattered, and if possible, things were going worse even farther in the east.
Alyeska was the last outpost of the Russian Empire, a vast and barren landscape of tundra and forest that no one in St. Petersburg had ever been sure quite what to do with. Russia had thought about selling the territory almost thirty-five years ago, but after the influx of cash generated from receiving an indemnity from the Qing in the wake of the Amur War, the idea was tabled. In the 1870s Alyeska was designated as a penal colony, but that idea was eventually discontinued – too expensive, and really not worth it when there was plenty of barren wasteland in Siberia where convicts could be sent. Renewed talk of selling Alyeska ended with the ascension of Alexander III to the throne. The new monarch didn’t have much idea what to do with the territory either, but was opposed to selling such a large piece of Russian real estate on principle. In any event, Russian forces defending Alyeska were underequipped to the point of absurdity, for what else would explain General Sergei Golubov’s attempt after the outbreak of war to tame the gargantuan bears of Three Saints Island (5) and train them as cavalry auxiliaries? During the summer of 1890, the Imperial Japanese Navy undertook an “island-hopping” campaign, slowly seizing the underdefended Aleutian Islands and moving into place for an attack on Alyeska itself. In October of that year, forces under the command of Admiral 東郷平八郎 (Togo Heihachiro) descended on Three Saints Bay, the center of Russian influence in Alyeska, destroying the Alyeskan Flotilla. Elements of the Imperial Japanese Army landed on Alyeska before the end of the year, and the Shogunate declared that Alyeska was now a Japanese possession and would henceforth be known as 極光地 (Kyokukouchi, or “Land of Northern Lights”). This was as much a political move as anything else – there were still elements of the Russian Army in Alyeska – and was intended to emphasize that even should Russia now attempt to sell the territory, Japan wasn’t going anywhere (6).
Excerpted from “Russian Offensive Manoeuvres in the Triangle War,” by Clarence O’Connell. 1913.
- While the Far Eastern and Pacific fronts were the source of numerous epic Russian failures in the opening year of the Triangle War, there were some successes for Russia to boast about. Most notably, an army under the command of General Boris Zasulitch was raised to attack the vulnerable western regions of Qing China. After heavy fighting along the border, Zasulitch’s troops seized Kashgar in July, and followed that up with a surprise march on Altai later in the summer. His advance was aided by support from local elements – the natives of 新疆 (Xinjiang) were mostly Turkic Muslims, and although their numbers had decreased in recent years, with many choosing to migrate to Pingnan Guo, they still made up a majority of the population and had no love for their Han Chinese overlords. Disturbances thus broke out in cities across Gansu and Xinjiang, hampering Qing attempts to bring reinforcements to the front and aiding Zasulitch’s advance. Another column of troops under the command of Zasulitch’s subordiante Yevgeny Bondarenko swung south, taking Khotan, and the several elements of Zasulitch’s Army of Liberation (as he had taken to calling it in a bid to win more support from the indigenous population) met outside of Urumqi as the year ended, entering into a siege of the city, as the beleaguered Qing defenders fought both against the Russians outside the walls and the Uighur residents of the city inside the walls. The advance into Xinjiang gave Russian strategists hope as 1890 drew to a close. Although Alyeska seemed to be a lost cause, the war in the west was going well, and perhaps in the next year, counterattacks from Yakutsk and Irkutsk could retrieve some of the territory lost in Manchuria. But before their grand plans could be set into motion, internal Russian events swept everything off course. For the Anarcho-Nihilists had decided to make their move . . .
(1) I just realized that I’ve never mentioned this before, so I’ll say it now. All of the epigrams at the beginning of entries are taken from the 道德经 (Dao De Jing, or Classic of the Way and Virtue).
(2) This is a reference to the Trans-Siberian Railway, of course, which as per OTL was started in the late 1880s. Not nearly soon enough, in other words.
(3) So there won’t be too much in the way of reinforcements for the Russians once the war breaks out.
(4) Apologies to Mao Zedong for stealing his most famous line.
(5) This is OTL Kodiak Island; as far as I can tell, during the period of Russian control over Alaska it was called “Three Saints Island.”
(6) There will be issues that stem from all this down the road. In particular, the United States will be most displeased. But for now, I have created Japanese Alaska. Bow down before me!
*I was actually going to get deeper into the war in this post, but it was already getting kind of long and I decided to save the rest for later. But that’s the opening year (1890) more or less in the Triangle War. Coming up next: things go from bad to worse in Russia. In fact, we can pretty much stop referring to it as Russia. Yeah, it’s that bad. How bad? “Wars of the Russian Dissolution” bad. You can read all about it tomorrow (actually, you can read about some of it tomorrow, since there’s no way that I’m going to finish with the whole mess in one post). And as always, thanks for reading.
Part #20: The King is Dead! Long Live The --- Oh Shit, He’s Dead Too
Excerpted from “What If?: Counterfactuals That Could Have Changed the World,” edited by Scheherazade Wang and Rajiv Martinez. University of Antananarivo Press, 1966.
- What if the Zhelyabov Plot had failed? After a pause in the Triangle War due to the onset of winter, Russia hoped that the pendulum would swing back towards it in 1891. After all, Russian troops had made significant gains in Xinjiang in the previous year, and perhaps the Pact of the Three Emperors had overextended themselves in Manchuria by gobbling up so much land so quickly. Although Russian planners conceded that Alyeska was more or less a lost cause, they planned a counterattack against Qing forces in Outer Manchuria, as well as a renewed push to take Urumqi and consolidate Russian control over Xinjiang. Had the nation not been thrown into such instability, who knows what would have happened? Would Russia have avenged the defeats of 1890? But of course, that’s not what happened, and the chaos that eventually led to Dissolution made it impossible for Russian forces to make any long-term gains, as well as essentially nullifying those short-term gains which Russian forces did make in the campaign season of 1891.
Excerpted from “The Year of the Four Tsars,” by Timothy O’Leary. 1968.
- The trouble started when Alexander III, Tsar of Imperial Russia, died in February of 1891 at the age of 45. The news came as a shock to everyone; Alexander had been a strong and vigorous man, and it was expected that his reign would last twenty years instead of two. Although revisionist historians have put forth the theory that he was poisoned by agents of the Yongsheng Emperor, this hypothesis is wholly without merit; it is clear that Alexander III died of kidney disease (1). The sudden decline and death of Alexander was especially shocking to one man – his son Nicholas, who now found himself thrust onto the throne. Neutral observers generally agreed that while Nicholas had some potential, he was almost completely unprepared to assume the duties of an absolute monarch. It was all rendered irrelevant, though. Events quickly made Nicholas’ preparation or lack thereof quite moot. It was only six weeks after Nicholas assumed the throne, in late March, when the Anarcho-Nihilists struck. As the Tsar was riding back to the Winter Palace from a meeting with a group of nobles, a bomb was thrown underneath his carriage. Ironically, had Nicholas simply stayed inside, his life would not have been in danger – the carriage was only lightly damaged. But the Tsar insisted on exiting the carriage to inspect the situation, and when he did another bomb was thrown, killing Nicholas instantly. The attack was the brainchild of Andrei Zhelyabov (2), one of the major leaders of the Anarcho-Nihilist movement, insofar as such a movement can even be said to have leaders. Zhelyabov had played a major role in pushing the movement in a more radical direction, arguing that “propaganda of the deed” – violence against those seen as a threat to the goals of Anarcho-Nihilism – was the only way for the movement to gain a broader following and convince the masses that the Anarcho-Nihilists were completely committed to destroying the existing social order. In an underground pamphlet entitled White Noise, published in 1889, Zhelyabov wrote, “All plots tend to move deathward. This is the nature of plots. Political plots, radical plots, lovers’ plots, narrative plots, plots that are part of children’s games. We must edge nearer death every time we plot.” In Zhelyabov’s view, it was necessary for Anarcho-Nihilism to embrace chaos and death – what he termed “creative destruction” – in order to demolish the Tsarist regime. In this respect, at least, his success was unquestionable.
The death of Nicholas II sparked a predictable orgy of repression and bloodletting on the part of the secret police. Meanwhile, the third Tsar in four months was crowned in April. George, Alexander III’s third son (3), rushed back from his holiday in the Alps and assumed the throne. If most scholars agree that Nicholas was generally unprepared to assume his duties as Tsar, then all of them agree that George was totally unready to perform the monumental tasks with which he was now charged. Still a teenager, George had to cope with foreign war and domestic unrest. It was the domestic unrest that pushed George into making a dramatic – and ultimately disastrous – decision. The zeal of the secret police to apprehend, torture, and eventually kill anyone involved in the assassination of Nicholas II, or anyone who might have been involved, or anyone who knew someone who might have been involved, or ultimately anyone who they didn’t like caused a backlash among the citizens of major cities, as more and more people simply disappeared in April and May. Riots began to break out, which were indeed led by the Anarcho-Nihilists, but in which the majority of participants were agitating not for the destruction of the social order, but for bread and for assurances that their loved ones would not disappear in the middle of the night. Again, the governmental response was predictably heavy-handed; the army was called out and the protestors were shot, most famously in the Thursday Massacre in Moscow, where as many as five hundred demonstrators were gunned down. But radical groups continued to grow, proliferate, and flourish at an amazing rate. While the Anarcho-Nihilists attracted the largest number of supporters, active cells of Marxists, Syndicalists, and Confucian Christians began to emerge in the cities and even the countryside (4). With unrest increasing and further bad news from the Eastern front – a combined Qing-Japanese force had taken Petropavlovsk in May – George took radical measures, announcing in early June that he would immediately seek a peace with the Pact of the Three Emperors. In even more shocking news, he promised that a Constitution would be created and a Parliament formed by the end of the year.
In announcing his proposed reforms, George erred by overestimating the legitimacy that he possessed with the nobility, the clergy, and the military. Many in these sectors of society saw him as a callow youth who was now proposing to tear down the foundations of the Russian Empire overnight. A further wave of unrest, this time concentrated among the elites, began to develop. When George presented his finalized plan to the State Council on June 24th there was vehement dissent, which the Tsar responded to by simply sacking the entire body. A further split took place in Russian society, as traditionalists united behind George’s uncle, the hardline conservative Grand Duke Sergei, and liberals supported the Tsar’s reforms. Meanwhile, the proposed constitution was greeted unenthusiastically behind radicals, who viewed it as worse than useless. Furthermore, ethnic strife started to take place on the peripheries of the Russian Empire. Clashes broke out in the Caucasus between Armenian Christians and Muslims, and nascent independence movements formed in the Ukraine and in Poland; a general strike declared by the Polish Anarcho-Nihilist Union (an oxymoron if there ever was one) sent that region into total chaos as the summer began. The situation reached a breaking point in July, when George attempted to set the secret police on the Traditionalist faction. It was his misfortune that much of the military leadership agreed with the Traditionalists, and a consensus began to form that George – the “Accidental Tsar” as he was often called – must be stopped by whatever means necessary. In late July the hurriedly slapped together plans of the Traditionalist cabal were put into motion; the Baltic Fleet, which had been directed to sail halfway around the world to participate in the Triangle War, rose up in the famous Battleship Potemkin Mutiny. Led by Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky, the fleet sailed up the Neva River, blockading St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, a column of troops commanded by Grand Duke Sergei himself marched on the Winter Palace. George, who had been alerted to the danger, fled the city with a group of loyalists and made for Moscow. The Traditionalists proclaimed Sergei Tsar and announced that George had abdicated the throne, a move which plunged the nation into total chaos. Traditionalists fought Loyalists; both groups fought the Radicals, who spent a considerable portion of their energy fighting each other; the Secessionists – notably represented by the National Socialist (5) movement of Ukraine – fought everyone. What at the time was called the Russian Civil War, but has since been dubbed the Wars of Russian Dissolution, had begun (6). And all the while, far to the east, three emperors sat back and laughed.
Excerpted from “The Triangle War,” by Joseph Heller. 1966.
- At the beginning of the campaign season of 1891, it seemed as though the trajectory of the Triangle War would mirror the course of 1890. The Pact of the Three Emperors made gains in the Far East, while the Russians continued to strike deep into the heart of Xinjiang. But by the end of the year the strategic calculus had changed completely. The question was no longer whether the Pact would emerge victorious, or even how much territory they would gain. Instead, the operative questions became how much territory they wanted – and how much the other powers would let them have. In the spring a combined Qing-Japanese force descended on Petropavlovsk, seizing the city, which had received no reinforcements and supplies; by the end of summer, the Three Emperors controlled the entire Kamchatka Peninsula. Events went equally well for the pact in Alyeska, now renamed Kyokukouchi, as the Japanese Army crushed the last pockets of Russian resistance by July when they seized the city of Sitka, the former capital of Russian America. Elsewhere in the Far East, the Qing Army of the North took Yakutsk in June and was in the process of consolidating their forces before the next push into Siberia when Russia collapsed, at which point they were free to take as much time as they pleased.
In Xinjiang, however, the Russian Army continued to gain ground throughout the spring and summer. Led by the wily general Boris Zasulitch, who has gone down in history as the “Desert Fox” due to the skill of his manoevures in the arid landscape of the Chinese West, the Russians finally took Urumqi in May, breaking the more than six-month long siege that had persisted there since the previous winter. Zasulitch proceeded to surprise everyone by splitting his army in two, as one force under the command of his redoubtable subordinate Yevgeny Bondarenko seized Korla in late May without firing a shot. The other portion of the Xinjiang Army under the command of Zasulitch himself pressed deeper into the province towards Hami, defeating a reinforcing army sent by the Qing under the command of Li Changchun in mid-July. We can only speculate on what would have happened had Zasulitch continued the offensive. But with his supply lines stretched, the prospects of reinforcement dimming, and the ever-worsening news from St. Petersburg, he made the decision in August to turn back at once and march to the aid of George, whom he – unlike the majority of his comrades in uniform, especially those of high rank – regarded as the rightful and legitimate Tsar. Thus was the last cohesive and ably led Russian force removed from any of the theaters of combat in the Triangle War, which was now simply a test of how much of Russia the Pact of the Three Emperors could gobble up before deciding that they were full.
(1) OTL Alexander III’s health rapidly declined in 1894; ITTL, the stresses brought on by the war push the timetable forward by three years.
(2) He was involved in the assassination of Alexander II IOTL. Remember that in TTL, that assassination does not take place and Alexander II lives until 1889.
(3) The second son, also named Alexander, died of haemophilia at the age of one, so he’s out of the picture.
(4) ITTL there’s not one radical movement that dominates the scene like Communism did OTL. Anarcho-Nihilism is largely an Eastern European thing, because all of Bakunin’s writing are in Russian, as are the majority of Anarcho-Nihilist thinkers. In Western Europe, Communism is still the predominant radical ideology.
(5) These are not the Nazis! TTL’s National Socialist movement will be explained in future posts, but it’s largely a straightforward fusion of nationalism and socialism that comes out of nations which have been subsumed by the Russian Empire. These guys aren’t really interested in Anarcho-Nihilism, which calls for the destruction of the centralized nation-state; rather, they want their own centralized nation-state.
(6) The Wars of Russian Dissolution will have an international aspect to them not unlike OTL’s Spanish Civil War, as nations support their preferred faction, some quietly and some more blatantly. It will be an exceedingly messy and complicated affair.
*So as you can see, Russia is really heading down the tubes. Like I said in the last post, there really won’t be a Russia when it’s all said and done – hence the “dissolution” references. This will cause all kinds of chaos on the international level, as you can imagine. Next up: the end of the Triangle War and further developments in Russia. As always, thanks for reading.
Last edited by Pancakes!; May 3rd, 2010 at 09:52 PM..
Part #21: All I Want For Christmas Is Siberia
Excerpted from “The Washington Accords,” by Simone Cameron. 1955.
- The Pact of the Three Emperors may have hoped for an overwhelming victory in the Triangle War, but they certainly did not plan for such an eventuality. Indeed, after fifty years of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers, many in Qing China, Japan, and Korea had developed something of an inferiority complex, and on the eve of war the national mood in all three countries was a mixture of nationalist flag-waving and barely concealed fear. Thus, no one was more surprised by the situation in the spring of 1892 than the Yongsheng Emperor and Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1). The Russian military had been driven out of the Far East completely; Japan had completed the conquest of Russian Alyeska in fact if not in name; the last Russian army on Qing territory – Boris Zasulitch’s Army of Xinjiang – had withdrawn from that theater of combat in the previous fall. It was clear that the Pact had won a clear, sweeping and total victory, and if that victory was more due to internal crisis in Russia – now in the midst of an utterly chaotic civil war – than anything else, it was still a tremendous boost to national pride and prestige in the nations of the Pact. In fact, one might say that national pride and prestige were boosted a bit too much in some quarters; how else to explain the 大获全胜 (da huo quan sheng, or “total victory”) faction that arose in Qing China late in 1891, advocating the continuation of war until Three Emperors troops had seized St. Petersburg itself. It is an admittedly absurd concept in hindsight, however, as far as Qing China was concerned the war was not over. There was more territory to seize in Siberia, and in the eyes of the Yongsheng Emperor it was necessary to ensure that whatever nation arose from the wreckage of Imperial Russia could never threaten Great Qing again. The shogunate in Edo viewed the situation somewhat differently. Japan had gotten everything that it could possibly have hoped for out of the war, and it was clear to any semi-intelligent observer that the Russian Empire was finished. While Yongsheng and Yoshinobu bickered over their next move, outsiders decided that enough was enough, and in the spring of 1892 Great Britain, France, Germany, and the United States made it clear that the time had come to end the war.
The intervention by the Western powers attempting to force an end to the Triangle War was the result of anything but mutual friendship and comity among the nations in question. Great Britain, France, and Germany all disliked each other in varying degrees; the three nations were colonial rivals in Africa, France still had not forgiven Germany for the Franco-Prussian War, Britain saw Germany as a potentially serious rival, and Franco-British relations, while correct, were by no means cordial. Then there was the United States of America, which had been jolted out of its isolation when Japanese troops landed in Three Saints Bay (2). While the USA enjoyed decent relations with France and Germany, the situation with Great Britain was considerably more difficult. But while these four nations may not have liked each other very much, they were united in seeing the collapse of the Russian Empire as a matter of great concern and in ensuring that Qing China would not be allowed to simply dominate all of North Asia. The Washington Conference was convened in April of 1892 in an attempt to bring a resolution to the Triangle War; the agreements that came out of those sessions have been labeled the Washington Accords by historians and scholars. The plenipotentiaries’ task was made considerably more difficult by the fact that there was no Russian government to negotiate with. At first the idea was floated to invite representatives from most of the factions contesting the Russian Civil War, but in the end that idea was dropped and only George’s faction was invited to be present (3). Qing China and Japan agreed to come to the table with varying degrees of reluctance; the Qing were unhappy at what they saw as intolerable foreign meddling, while Japanese officials – who had been looking for a way to end the war – grumbled in public but were rather pleased behind closed doors.
In one sense, the Washington Accords were very simple: Russia lost all land east of the Lena River that it had formerly held. In some of the numerous sub-sessions that characterized the conference, that land was parceled out to the members of the Pact of the Three Emperors. Qing China received almost all of the Siberian conquest, with the exception of the area around Vladivostok, which was given to Korea as a sort of reward for their role in the conflict, which was in fact minimal. Qing China also received Sakhalin Island, which had previously been contested by Russia and Japan until the 1870s, when Russia strong-armed Japan into giving up their claims to jurisdiction. Neutral observers might have expected Japan to want the island back, but in fact the Japanese were willing to give it up – after all, they did receive all of Russian Alyeska, which they renamed Kyokukouchi (4), and thus didn’t want to seem greedy or anything. Kyokukouchi’s status had been a point of contention, as both the British and the Americans were less than thrilled to see Japan assume jurisdiction over that vast territory. But the British and the USA could not agree on any other course of action, and when Japan offered Great Britain a very favorable settlement to unresolved border issues left over from the Russians (5) the British dropped their complaints, leaving only the Americans fuming. Qing China and Japan also succeeded in getting the Western powers to agree to open negotiations with a view to revising the unequal treaties of the mid-19th century. While the Washington Conference succeeded in ending the Triangle War, the participating nations could not find common ground on a course of action with regards to what remained of the Russian Empire. About the only thing they could agree on was that the situation was intolerably bad – and it was getting worse all the time.
Excerpted from “The Wars of Russian Dissolution,” by Albert van Bommel. 1974.
- The Wars of Russian Dissolution do not lend themselves neatly to scholarly and historical inquiry. One cannot, for example, draw a neat map of the situation, and note that in 1892 Faction X controlled this territory and Faction Y that one. In part this is because of the paucity of records that remain from the period, one in which the total collapse of central government and the constant instability and chaos meant that attempting to assemble a coherent record of what was happening was truly a Herculean endeavor. Thus, although the Wars of the Russian Dissolution are doubtless a fascinating period in history, they have received comparatively little academic attention, as writers are tempted to throw up their hands in defeat and move on to times that are easier to study. Consider the case of Moscow, one of Russia’s most populous and important cities. We know that during a three month period between May and August of 1892, no fewer than seven different factions – the Loyalists of Tsar George, the Anarcho-Nihilist Communal Alliance, the Patriotic Socialist Party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Moscow, the Imperial League, the Muscovite Union of Collective Autonomous Communes, and the Syndicalist Federation – controlled the city. Even here, control is something of a nebulous concept; while these groups all had “control” of the city at some point, it by no means meant that they ruled without interference, or that that rule extended beyond the urban core of central Moscow. In short, during the opening phase of the Wars of Russian Dissolution, which extended roughly from the fall of 1891 to the summer of 1893, it is essentially impossible to come to any sort of conclusion regarding who was winning, who was losing, and why.
Nevertheless, the careful scholar can discern some important trends from an examination of this turbulent and tumultuous period. For example, at the beginning of the war it seemed to many that the Loyalists, the faction that supported the erstwhile Tsar George, were in the strongest position of all. Two years later, that faction had collapsed totally. The Loyalists were plagued from the start by a divide that split their supporters almost equally in two. One group supported George simply because he was the legitimate Tsar; in their eyes, there was nothing more to discuss. The other group cared little for the imperial person of George himself, but supported him nonetheless due to his support for liberal reforms such as a consitution, an elected Parliament, and so forth. These two sub-factions of the broader Loyalist faction – the Constitutional Liberals and the Georgists, as they came to be known – had almost nothing in common, and their constant quarreling and bickering undermined the Loyalist cause considerably. The faction fell apart completely in the spring of 1893, when George died after a brief illness that may have been tuberculosis (6). The Constitutional Liberals left the Loyalist faction en masse after George’s death, forming their own group, as the remaining Georgists had united behind George’s younger brother, the fifteen year-old Grand Duke Michael, as the presumptive “legitimate heir” to the throne. Michael offered no guarantees of support for liberal reforms, and so the Loyalists split in two.
Another trend that can be observed during the opening phase of the Wars of Dissolution is the consolidation of Radical factions – and the immense divides that still remained between these groups even after that two year process. In practice, the “consolidation” of Radical factions mostly meant the destruction of groups that did not espouse Anarcho-Nihilism; while there were not insignificant numbers of Communists, National Socialists, Confucian Christians, and Syndicalists, these groups were dwarfed by the Anarcho-Nihilists, and eventually found themselves either subsumed or destroyed by one or another Anarcho-Nihilist faction. Thus, by the end of the opening phase of the Wars of Russian Dissolution, the phrase “Radicals” was more or less indistinguishable from “Anarcho-Nihilist.” But while the Anarcho-Nihilists had managed to co-opt or destroy factions promoting other radical ideologies, they had far less success in uniting their own fractured ranks. This was in large part a philosophical problem; Anarcho-Nihilism is not an ideology that lends itself neatly to group consensus, concerned as it is with destruction rather than construction. Thus, the Anarcho-Nihilist factions that emerged from the opening phase of the Wars of Dissolution, most prominently the United Anarcho-Nihilist Front (UANF), the Union of Collective Autonomous Communes (UCAC), and the Anarcho-Nihilist National Alliance (ANNA) spent as much time fighting each other as they did fighting the various tsarist factions.
(1) “Hey, wait a second. You mean to tell me that we’re actually winning the war? Whoa . . . I totally did not see that coming.”
(2) The Russian name for Kodiak Bay, which it’s still called ITTL due to continued Russian control of Alaska.
(3) Mostly because George is clearly the legitimate monarch, and no one wants to get into the business of supporting imperial pretenders, or even worse, Anarcho-Nihilists.
(4) From now on, Alaska will be referred to as Kyokukouchi, the Japanese name that I’ve picked out for it. Just a heads up.
(5) OTL the USA and Britain sorted these issues out in the Hay-Herbert Treaty. ITTL Britain gets a more favorable settlement from Japan.
(6) George had a rather weak constitution and died young in real life as well.
*The Triangle War is over, but the Wars of Russian Dissolution have just begun. The next post will mostly be about affairs in North America – a region that I’ve largely neglected – also with a bit about National Socialism. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #22: Tread Lightly on Yellow Snow(1)
Excerpted from “America in the Post-Civil War Period,” by George F. Babbitt. 1922.
- After the end of the American Civil War in the spring of 1863 (3), the first challenge faced by the victorious North was reintegrating the Southern states into the re-United States of America. Naturally, the most pressing issue was how to solve the slavery question; after all, that was the issue that had been the ultimate cause of the War Between the States in the first place. After some initial flirtation with the idea of a “slave tax” that would disincentivize that institution, President Abraham Lincoln – known to history as “the Great Liberator” – eventually settled on a program of compensated gradual emancipation. Slaveowners were given government bonds for each emancipated bonded laborer; in an attempt to ensure that the process proceeded speedily, the value of the bonds declined the longer the slaveowners kept title to their servants. By 1875 the last slave had been freed, and that most unnatural institution was no longer practiced in the United States. Still, newly freed slaves faced crippling strictures on their liberty, as most Southern states immediately passed laws – the so-called “Colored Codes” – that restricted the rights of free blacks to vote, own property, and even travel. While some free blacks remained in the South nonetheless – it was their home, after all – a migration occurred shortly after the beginning of the emancipation process to Northern industrial cities such as New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. This migration proved to be short-lived, as citizens of these cities, wary at granting equality to blacks, quickly passed their own set of Colored Codes that, while not as restrictive as the Southern versions, were nevertheless a substantial deterrent to continued migration. Many free blacks chose to move to Louisiana, where Colored Codes were never implemented and blacks were even routinely elected to Congress from the 1880s on. But in the end, the destination of choice for former slaves was the territory of Dominica (4), which was annexed by the United States in 1871, thus beginning America’s quest to achieve Manifest Destiny in the Caribbean Sea.
The foreign policy of the United States during the latter half of the nineteenth century veered between neutrality and isolationism, as had been the status quo for the larger part of American history. Insofar as the United States had a coherent foreign policy during this period, it was oriented around the idea that the Caribbean should be an “American lake,” in the words of the historian and theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan, whose 1886 book The Influence of Sea Power is generally recognized as the apotheosis of this line of thought (5). The USA continued its push into the Caribbean in 1884, when after the overthrow of the Haitian government by a military junta the United States intervened to “restore peace, order, and democracy to Haiti.” American troops never left, and in 1886 Haiti was formally annexed by the United States and incorporated into the Territory of Dominica. This did not sate the American appetite, and in 1895 the United States bought the island of Cuba from Spain during a particularly fraught juncture in the Spanish Civil Wars (6). While there were scattered calls for the Dominican Territory to be granted statehood, which was certainly justified on the basis of population, the fact that the vast majority of the territory’s citizens were black was enough to ensure that it remained in legal limbo. The USA’s vigorous pursuit of territory in the Carribean proved to be a source of tension with Great Britain, which owned most of the Caribbean islands and worried constantly that the United States would attempt to manufacture a casus belli over one or another of them. But the Caribbean aside, the United States was a relatively quiescent actor on the world stage – until the Triangle War broke out.
America was jolted rudely out of its posture of isolationism when Japanese troops landed on Three Saints Island in Alyeska and proceeded to quickly evict the Russians from that vast Arctic expanse. A wave of anti-Japanese sentiment swept across the land; as columnist William McMaster wrote in the New York World, “The Virgin North has been most abominably deflowered by the sneering Asiatic, and the unspoilt White vastness of the Arctic is now no more than a patch of Yellow Snow” (7). The United States attempted to re-open the status of Alyeska – now called Kyokukouchi – at the Washington Conference, but after Great Britain dropped their reservations to Japanese suzerainty over that region the USA was forced to concede the issue. Still, the Japanese seizure of Kyokukouchi brought America out of its long slumber in regard to affairs of the broader world. Although Kyokukouchi did not directly border United States territory, thus leaving Otto von Bismarck’s famous formulation intact (“The Americans have contrived to be surrounded on two sides by weak neighbors and on two sides by fish”), the United States began to take a more assertive stance as the nineteenth century drew to a close. Some steps they took were meaningful – the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands in 1895, for example. Others were less so, most notably the ill-fated expedition to the North Pole in 1897. Undertaken as an attempt to show that the United States still harbored Arctic ambitions of their own, the expedition was headed by the explorer and adventurer Theodore Roosevelt, a figure whose capabilities were exceeded only by his self-regard. The venture proved to be equal parts tragedy and farce; not only did the explorers never actually reach the North Pole, but they were also decimated by disease, inclement weather, and animal attacks. In fact, today it is not the expedition itself that is remembered, but playwright John R. Reuel’s 1911 satire The Lord of the Pole . . .
Excerpted from “The Lord of the Pole,” by John R. Reuel. 1911.
- [After an arduous journey, our doughty and intrepid adventurers have finally reached their destination – but only two of them remain: the leader of the fellowship, THEODORE ROOSEVELT, and his faithful manservant SAMUEL GAMMAGE]
GAMMAGE: At last, Mr. Roosevelt! Our long trek is at an end. The North Pole is in American hands!
ROOSEVELT: Yes. I have come all this way to do this thing. [dramatic pause] But I cannot do it. The North Pole is mine! My own . . . MY PRECIOUS!
[Suddenly three monstrous polar bears emerge from the fog and set upon ROOSEVELT. With a single punch to the nose ROOSEVELT vanquishes one of them, and a second ursine menace quickly falls beneath the furious blows of his mighty fists. As ROOSEVELT is grappling with the final bear, the two of them tumble off the edge of the ice floe upon which they are standing and plunge into the briny depths. A mighty whirlpool forms, and the entire North Pole itself begins to sink into the raging maelstrom]
GAMMAGE [to BEAR #2]: I’m happy to be here with you, terrifying deathbeast – here at the end of all things. (8)
Excerpted from “A History of British North America,” by Lionel Stewart. 1994.
- British North America had long been a disunited assortment of provinces – Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Rupert’s Land, the Northwest Territory, British Columbia, and Canada (9). The idea of Confederation had been floated for generations but had never been adopted, largely because there seemed to be no pressing need for it. But as the nineteenth century began to draw to a close, British North America’s situation became increasingly unstable. Relations between the United States and Great Britain had never been exactly positive, and the increased American presence in the Caribbean combined with the shift to a more assertive foreign policy by the United States was cause for concern. Additionally, the Japanese seizure of Kyokukouchi in 1891 brought a new neighbor to British North America’s doorstep – a neighbor whose ultimate intentions and goodwill were less than certain. In that light, Confederation ceased to be a fanciful idea tossed around by good-government advocates and rapidly became seen as a necessity if British North America was to survive and prosper in the years ahead. Thus, in 1893 the Constitution Act unified the provinces and territories of British North America, which were henceforth known as the Kingdom of Vesperia (10).
(1) The term “Yellow Snow” as a reference to Japanese Alaska comes from a comment by The Sandman. I liked the phrase so much that I decided that it absolutely had to be included in the timeline.
(2) Readers who can understand Classical Chinese will have realized that by now I am totally out of quotations from the Dao De Jing that are even marginally relevant to the topic of the current post.
(3) See Part #11 and the ensuing discussion for earlier references to North America in this timeline.
(4) This is OTL’s Dominican Republic, which in real life was almost annexed by the USA in 1870. In this timeline the annexation goes through.
(5) There was an earlier reference to Mahan’s works influencing the alt-Scramble for Africa; please disregard that bit.
(6) I’ll get around to explaining the Spanish Civil War eventually. For now, suffice it to say that at one point, the governing Royalist faction, desperate for cash, starts selling off the last scraps of Spain’s colonial empire to anyone willing to pay.
(7) Any and all references that could be construed as racism (white vs. yellow snow) are purely non-coincidental.
(8) Granted, this particular “excerpt” may not be strictly necessary for plot development and so forth. I hope you’ll allow me the occasional moment of silliness. It adds levity and whatnot.
(9) If said provinces and territories were in fact called by other names, just let me know and I’ll correct the record. My knowledge of North American history is a bit sketchy.
(10) Vesperia (a reference to the “evening star”) is one of the names that was kicked around OTL for Canada; I took the idea from a thread by Glen that I recently spotted on the forum. As for the “Kingdom” part, if I’ve got my facts straight OTL Canada was a Dominion and not a Kingdom mostly due to American complaints; ITTL people are less concerned about that.
*In the wake of Japanese Alaska, I thought that the time had come for a North American update. I was hoping to get into National Socialism (not the Nazis!) in this post as well, but it didn’t work out. We’ll be heading back to China in the next entry, as important events are taking place in both Qing and Taiping China. Please do let me know if I’ve made any errors or done something totally implausible with this North American bit, and as always, thanks for reading.
Part #23: End of an Era, End of an Error
Excerpted from “A History of Great Qing: The Yongsheng Years,” by Clarice Starling. 1988.
- In the wake of the Triangle War Qing China was ascendant. The nation had thrown off the decades and centuries of decay that had accumulated under an assortment of closed-minded emperors and had left the Qing vulnerable to assorted indignities. In 1860, after the Tacit Peace which marked the partition of China into two countries, it would have been difficult to find many people who thought that Qing China would even exist at the end of the century, much less prosper. The remarkable turnaround of Qing China – the modernization that enabled the nation to emerge victorious in the Triangle War – can be attributed to many factors. Nevertheless, this turnaround was the result of one man’s vision, and it was that man’s steadfast determination and resolve which created the conditions possible for reform. Of course, that man was the Yongsheng Emperor. It is thus a pity that Yongsheng was barely able to savor the victory of his policies and the revitalization of the nation which he ruled. In the winter of 1892 the elderly Emperor took ill and in a matter of weeks was at death’s door. For many Chinese, Yongsheng had been a figure that inspired both positive and negative emotions; while most people appreciated the progress that the nation had made under his rule, many had long accused him of kowtowing to foreigners and trampling on traditional Chinese culture. Yet after the Triangle War the emperor’s prestige soared among the populace, who began not only to respect him but also to revere him. Thus, when of Yongsheng’s illness leaked out an impromptu vigil began to occur, as tens of thousands clustered around the 大清门 (Da Qing men, or Great Qing Gate) outside the Forbidden City (1). For days the crowd grew, and shouts of 永胜皇帝万岁! 万岁! 万岁! 万岁! (Yongsheng huangdi wansui! Wansui! Wansui! Wansui!, or “Ten thousand years to the Yongsheng Emperor! Ten thousand years! Ten thousand years! Ten thousand years!”) reverberated throughout Beijing. But on the night of February 11, 1894, Yongsheng passed away in his sleep at the age of 71. American author and traveler Lucas George was with the crowd when the news of Yongsheng’s death broke; he wrote “A great wail broke out from the masses, and then, nothing. It was as if a million voices had cried out at once, and had suddenly been silenced.”
With the death of Yongsheng power passed to his second son 载滢 (Zaiying), who ascended to the Dragon Throne at the age of 33, taking the regnal name 弘德 (Hongde, or Great Virtue) (2). The Hongde Emperor possessed little of his father’s dynamism or vision, which has led many historians to dismiss him as an indecisive nonentity. This assessment is perhaps a bit too harsh. In fairness to Hongde, his father cast an enormous shadow, and Hongde was ever-conscious of this burden. As the historian Charles Sun has written, “The Hongde Emperor was continually reminded that his legacy would be compared to that of his father and judged accordingly, and he knew that in all likelihood he would come out inferior. Some men would have tried desperately to take great and meaninful actions to cement their own place in history, but this was not Hongde’s way. Timid as he was, he tenaciously attempted to maintain and uphold what Yongsheng had fought for – to keep things the way they were – so that if history would not say that he had added to Yongsheng’s legacy, it would at least note that he had preserved it.” This knowledge colored almost every action that the Hongde Emperor took during his reign; where his father was bold and daring, Hongde was cautious and generally opposed to change. In short, he continued to do the work that Yongsheng had started, but was averse to taking on any major projects or initiatives of his own. This would prove damaging to Qing China’s continued growth and modernization in the long term, but for now the nation was content to mourn the deceased Yongsheng and celebrate their return to prominence on the world stage.
Excerpted from “The Five Great Families Regime,” by Samantha Hu. 1977.
- For fifteen years, the 五大家庭统治 (Wu da jiating tongzhi, or Five Great Families Regime) had endured – longer than any of the Taiping governments that had preceded it (3). But in 1895 a series of crises arose that eventually toppled the Five Great Families, and sent Taiping China onto a course that was quite different from the corporatism that had been de rigeur since the fall of the Hundred Flowers Regime. In the end, it was the casual corruption of the Five Families cartels more than anything else that brought down the regime. The trouble started in November of 1894, when the Wen Group, based in Fuzhou, suddenly went bankrupt and collapsed. At the time it was uncertain what had caused the Wen cartel’s sudden downfall, but later scholars have surmised that it was the embezzlement of cartel funds on a vast scale by assorted underlings that was the problem. As the cartels grew ever larger and shoved more and more of the Taiping economy as a whole into their gaping maws, it became virtually impossible for the left hand to know what the right hand was doing. It was not until the Wen Group attempted to acquire a coal concern in Hunan Province that cartel leaders became aware that they lacked the funds to consummate the purchase. The sudden shock of this revelation caused the Wen Group to collapse into an array of factions, and the other Four Great Families – who had refrained from attacking each other’s interests in the previous years – began to fight over the still fresh corpse of the Wen cartel. As the Families deployed their gangs in a manner that had not been seen for more than twenty years, the situation worsened when the Shanghai Stock Exchange, which had been created only five years earlier, suffered a catastrophic drop in January of 1895. This sparked a run on banks nationwide, which in turn caused the collapse of the Zhao Group of Xiamen, the cartel which held a near monopoly on financial services. In retrospect, it is clear that the Shanghai Crash was caused by behind the scenes maneuvering on the part of the Chen Group, which was hoping to push the Zhao Group out of the way and expand their own interests. It turned out to be a disastrous move. As the Taiping economy backslid and the cartels slipped further into crisis, the government began to wobble. Most critically, payments to key generals – which for fifteen years had been made without fail to keep the military in line – suddenly stopped. And so, in March of 1895, a situation that had happened several times in Taiping history repeated itself. A mob stormed the Council of Apostles, taking control of Tianjing and establishing a new government. But this time, it was not the military or a faction of the bureaucracy that led the coup. On the contrary, it was the Confucian Christian clergy . . .
Excerpted from “Liberation Theology and the Great Awakening Regime,” by Marcantonio Coolidge. 2003.
- The Five Great Families Regime had wholeheartedly embraced 成功神学 (chenggong shenxue, or the Prosperity Gospel), an offshoot of Confucian-Christian doctrine which stated that the wealthy and successful had been rewarded by God for their righteousness. While this bit of theology naturally appealed to a corporatist regime, it sparked outrage among a large group of Confucian-Christian scholars and clerics, who viewed it as no more than contemptible blasphemy that went against everything that the Bible and Hong Xiuquan had said. Even in a religion such as Confucian-Christianity – which had an even higher tolerance for internal contradiction than other faiths – the Prosperity Gospel did not go down easily. While dissenters were careful not to voice their complaints too loudly for fear of attracting the attention of the infamous 真理部 (Zhenli bu, or Ministry of Truth), a grassroots opposition movement to the Prosperity Gospel in particular and to the Five Great Families Regime in general began to emerge in the mid-to-late 1880s. It quickly became known as 解放神学 (Jiefang shenxue, or Liberation Theology), and advocated 社会正义 (shehui zhengyi, or “social justice”) for the poor, which in practice meant a strong opposition to corporatism and wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. The movement took much of its inspiration from the proto-Marxism of the Taiping Rebellion’s heady early days. Advocates of Liberation Theology were particularly fond of citing one verse from the New Reformed Taiping Bible which read, “我又告诉你们，熊猫穿过针的眼，比财主进神的国还容易呢” (Wo you gaosu nimen, xiongmao chuan guo zhen de yan, bi caizhu jin shen de guo hai rongyi ne, or “And again I say unto you, it is easier for a panda to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”) (4). The movement quickly became known as 大觉醒运动 (Da juexing yundong, or “The Great Awakening Movement”), and it rapidly grew, especially in the countryside and among the lower classes of Taiping society. Although there was little in the way of formal leadership, the spiritual voice of the Great Awakening was undoubtedly the cleric 王明道 (Wang Mingdao), who had long been a proponent of the “classless society” that Hong Xiuquan had first envisioned when the Taiping Rebellion began. As the Five Great Families slipped into chaos and an economic crisis overtook Taiping China, the Great Awakening Movement developed with astonishing rapidity, taking advantage of the government’s distraction to organize themselves. In the spring of 1895, with the regime tottering, the Great Awakening made its move, as the grassroots 义和军 (Yihe jun, or Righteous and Harmonious Army) gathered in Changsha and moved towards Tianjing, in what has since been dubbed the 长征 (Changzheng, or Long March). Supporters flocked to their banner along the way, and the army chose to stand down, as the military leadership realized that the Five Great Families’ time was up. The Righteous and Harmonious Army swept into Tianjing in April of 1895, quickly deposing the Five Great Families Regime and taking control of the government. The Great Awakening Movement had become the 大觉醒统治 (Da juexing tongzhi, or Great Awakening Regime), and Taiping society was about to dramatically change once again.
(1) This was in the middle of Tiananmen Square, but at this point in time the square is much smaller. OTL the square is now of course enormous and the gate no longer exists.
(2) Zaiying is an OTL character – he was born before the POD – and from what little I can find on him seems to have been an undistinguished figure.
(3) See Parts #8, 13, and 14 for more on the cartelization of the Taiping economy, the Five Great Families Regime, and the Prosperity Gospel.
(4) It was thought that substituting “panda” for “camel” would make the metaphor more understandable for less-educated Taiping citizens. The Bible may be the word of God, but the Taiping are never afraid to make revisions.
*Changes are afoot in both Qing and Taiping China, as you can see. There will be a slight pause before the next update – I really have to figure out what’s going to happen in the Wars of Russian Dissolution, and I’d rather not just make it up as I go along, which is what I’ve been doing for most of the timeline. It will take a bit of time to work it all out, and then the next few posts will be devoted to all that. If anyone has ideas or advice, I’d love to hear it.
Also, I have to note that today is the one-month anniversary of All About My Brother. It’s been amazing to watch the timeline grow – 244 posts and almost 7,500 views in such a short time. A big thank you is in order to everyone who’s taken the time to stop and read this timeline, and even more thanks to those people who have written their comments and feedback; they’ve been tremendously helpful. I can only hope that this timeline is half as fun for you to read as it is for me to write. So stay tuned, because there’s much more ahead. And as always, thanks for reading.
Part #24: Nationalism + Socialism = NOT THE NAZIS!
Excerpted from “The Development of National Socialism,” by Robert H. Jackson. 1946.
- Although National Socialism did not truly emerge as a force to be reckoned with until the Wars of the Russian Dissolution, the seeds of that ideology had been planted almost fifteen years earlier. The father of the movement was the Ukrainian writer Mykhailo Pavlyk (1), who was initially a supporter of Anarcho-Nihilism during his student days at Lviv University. Pavlyk’s rupture with the Anarcho-Nihilists occurred in the late 1870s, when he attempted to push the Academic Circle, a group made up mostly of students who sympathized with radical ideologies, towards a more explicitly pro-Ukrainian viewpoint. This attempt came to naught, as other leaders of the society insisted that these distinctions were irrelevant and that they were part of the traditional concept of culture and society which Anarcho-Nihilism was dedicated to destroying. After this experience Pavlyk broke with Anarcho-Nihilism and sought an ideology that would dismantle capitalism and empower the proletariat, but not at the cost of subsuming Ukranian national identity. When Pavlyk found no system of thought which echoed these goals, he simply went to work creating his own ideology. After a brief sojourn to Geneva, he returned to Lviv and published the pamphlet A Ukrainian National-Socialist Statement of Principles under a pseudonym in 1881. Pavlyk’s somewhat unwieldy marriage of nationalism with socialism has led many historians to reject his name in favor of “Ethnic Socialism,” “Lingual Socialism,” or even “Ethno-Lingual Socialism.” A Ukrainian National-Socialist Statement of Principles called for the establishment of a socialist state in the Ukraine – a socialist state by the Ukrainians, for the Ukrainians, and of the Ukrainians. Pavlyk argued that it was the multiethnicity of the Russian Empire that had led it down the road to ruin; in his words, “A state comprised of more than one nation must necessarily be consigned to the dustbin of history . . .”
Excerpted from “A Ukrainian National-Socialist Statement of Principles,” by “M. Ivanov.” 1881.
- And what, then, of those peoples occupying this land that cannot be classified as Ukrainian? The answer is simple; they must be removed from the state, coerced to leave our land and return to their own nations. This must be accomplished by whatever means necessary. While the true National-Socialist abhors violence, unless it is in the service of overthrowing the exploiting classes and aiding the proletariat’s quest to acquire control of the means of production, this tool must be employed if all others fail so as to ensure the purity of the state (2). A Ukrainian state must necessarily be composed of Ukrainians alone, lest we become Russified, that is to say, encompassing so much that we lose sight of who we are. National-Socialism thus necessarily rejects imperialism and colonialism, as this would inevitably mean dilution of the Ukrainian culture and heritage and the bastardization of the populace. But if the Ukrainian people are united in their own land, then building socialism will be a task not of decades and generations, but of years and months. As we Ukrainians are all one people, with one culture, one heritage, one language, so will we achieve unity, without the interference of the exploiting imperialists and money-grubbing foreigners who suck the lifeblood from the proletariat. We reject the old ways of capitalism, of imperialism and of religiosity! We will build a new socialist utopia, where the working classes do not answer to the bourgeois running dogs of the tyrant in St. Petersburg! There are those who will ask: “Ivanov, when you say Ukrainian, what do you mean?” This question is not even worthy of a response, but I shall reply nonetheless. As to the question of who is a Ukrainian, I know one when I see one.
Excerpted from “The Growth and Spread of National Socialism,” by Melissa Defoe. 1987.
- What was most surprising about the growth of National Socialism throughout the 1880s to contemporary observers was not how quickly it spread in the Ukraine, but how quickly the ideology was disseminated and adopted by other nations in the Russian sphere. In hindsight, we can see several reasons why National Socialism was so attractive to peoples who had been subjugated by the Russian Empire over the years. It is vital to note that before the promulgation of National Socialism, the primary Radical ideology advocating the overthrow of the empire was Anarcho-Nihilism. Yet to many on the peripheries of the Russian Empire, Anarcho-Nihilism held little appeal. Mykhailo Pavlyk and his ilk did not want to destroy the very idea of the centralized nation-state; they merely wanted to destroy the centralized nation-state which currently ruled over them, which was of course the Russian Empire. The National Socialists had little use for the destruction of society as we know it, instead advocating for the construction of their own society and their own centralized nation-states, which would of course be constructed on socialist principles, since the Russian Empire was ample proof of the follies of imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, and so on and so forth. Of course, the key to understanding and comprehending National Socialism lies in realizing the extent to which National Socialists are prepared to go in order to create a state that is truly “their own.”
In this context, it is perhaps unsurprising that National Socialism spread so rapidly across the peripheral nations of the Russian Empire. Interestingly enough, National Socialism found very little traction in Russia proper, as all the air had already been sucked out of the Radical room by Anarcho-Nihilists. But it did attract numerous adherents in Finland, Poland, and the Baltic states, as well as in the Caucasus (3). As it spread, National Socialism mutated in a variety of surprising and unusual ways, which was perhaps a necessary byproduct of the question which every National Socialist had to ask him or herself: “Who is a [insert national group here], and who is not?” In Poland, for example, adherence to Christianity quickly became considered to be a vital sign of Polishness (4); thus, National Socialism in Poland became National Christian Socialism. Needless to say, hardcore Marxists were rather discomfited by the embrace of Christianity among Polish National Socialists, but this quickly was enfolded into the standard definition of what constituted a Pole. In other nations such as Finland, the approach taken was purely lingual; Finnish National Socialists came to coalesce around the idea that anyone whose first language was Finnish was a Finn, and all others were thus not Finns and could therefore not be included in a future National Socialist state in Finland. But while the definition of National Socialism varied widely depending on who you spoke to, there were two core principles that every good National Socialist clung to like a drowning man to a life preserver. From Helsinki to Baku, National Socialists all agreed that their particular nation deserved a state of its own, and that that state must be more egalitarian and dominated by the proletariat and the working classes than the state which had preceded it. So National Socialism grew, and when the Wars of the Russian Dissolution broke out, theory was finally put into practice . . .
Excerpted from “National Socialist Uprisings in the Wars of Russian Dissolution,” by Adrienne Donnatella. 1967.
- As the Russian Empire descended further and further into complete chaos, governmental control of the peripheral regions simply ceased to exist. Finland was perhaps the first of these peripheral regions that experienced a general uprising; in the spring of 1893, elements led by the Finnish National Socialist Front declared a general strike, which was quickly followed by the outbreak of revolution. The Socialist Republic of the Finns (SRF) was proclaimed in Helsinki in May 1893, but the new nation was beseiged quickly by Russian forces who in this case were loyal to the Traditionalist faction of Grand Duke Sergei. At almost the exact same time – although historians have determined beyond the shadow of a doubt that there was no coordination – the Ukrainian People’s National-Socialist Alliance, led by Mykhailo Pavlyk himself, declared that the time had come “for the Ukrainian people to arise, and retreive their birthright from the shattered corpse of the erstwhile Russian imperialists, whose demise is emblematic of the ultimate failure of capitalism!” The situation in the Ukraine turned remarkably ugly with astonishing speed, as many of those living in the Ukraine who did not consider themselves “Ukrainian” – and there were a large assortment of people who fell into this category – attempted to stage a counter-revolution, which quickly fractured into an endless number of squabbling factions. It was the National Socialist uprising in Poland, which occurred in January of 1894, which was the most significant of them all in the long run. For it was that uprising which convinced the Great Powers of Europe that the situation had deteriorated to a point where it was no longer tolerable, and that an intervention simply had to occur forthwith.
(1) Pavlyk is an OTL figure – born before the POD in the mid-1850s. Obviously, ITTL he will be quite a bit more significant.
(2) OK, so that actually does sound a little bit like the Nazis. But I promise – the National Socialists are not the Nazis! Really!
(3) I’m fairly sure that I made a reference earlier to the Anarcho-Nihilist movement in Poland. This serves as a retcon of sorts; I’ve since decided that National Socialism would be stronger in Poland than Anarcho-Nihilism was.
(4) This is getting a little ridiculous. Nevertheless, I continue to be confident that the National Socialists will do nothing overtly Nazi-esque. But if you were looking for evidence that I’m completely making everything up as I go . . . look no further.
*This post is kind of filler – I wanted to put another piece of the Wars of Russian Dissolution into play without revealing too much about said Wars themselves (because I don’t know what’s going to happen yet). So I decided to flesh out the third alt-ideology (maybe there have been more, actually) of this timeline – National Socialism! After this, it’s all Russian Dissolution for the next few entries, starting with the inevitable European response. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #25: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
Excerpted from “The Congress of Berlin,” by Richard Whitman. 1981.
- The man behind the Congress of Berlin was Kaiser Friedrich III of the German Empire, who had ascended to the throne in 1886 upon the death of his father, the venerable Kaiser Wilhelm (1). While all of the European powers were alarmed to some extent by the rapid collapse of Russia, none were more discomfited than Germany, which suddenly had to deal with the chaotic situation in Poland, where the National Socialists had explicitly stated that German-speakers had no place in the new nation they were trying to build. The safety of those Germans in the Baltic states also weighed heavily on the Kaiser’s mind, as did the Ukrainian problem to a lesser extent. Many of the other European powers were more concerned with straightforward balance of power calculations; the collapse of the Russian Empire had left a gaping vacuum in the East, and everyone was unsure exactly what approach should be taken to restore order to the situation. Thus was the Congress of Berlin convened in the spring of 1894. Germany, Great Britain, France, and Austria-Hungary were the major players at the conference, although the role of the Ottoman Empire cannot be discounted. Qing China sent representatives as well, although they participated in purely an observatory role and counseled little beyond vague nostrums of “caution” – for the Hongde Emperor, anything that left Russia weak was perfectly fine, and that outcome seemed to be likely were things simply to continue on their current course. So it was that the great statesmen of the age descended upon Berlin for weeks of meetings in rooms which became increasingly smoke-filled as the sessions wore on. There were several pressing questions at stake; the first of which was, should the European powers in concert support any one of the numerous factions that laid claim to the Russian throne? Had the Loyalists still been a coherent force at the time of the Congress of Berlin, it is possible that all concerned would have found them to be an acceptable candidate for support. But with the death of the erstwhile Tsar George himself and the split between Liberals and Georgists, that faction was simply too weak for the European powers to throw their weight behind it. At the same time, the Traditionalist faction of Grand Duke Sergei was embraced reactionism and revanchism to such an extent (2) that the delegates were wary of extending any substantial aid or support to them. But while extending aid to the Traditionalists was a deeply unpleasant prospect for most of the delegates, extending aid to their major rivals – one of the several Anarcho-Nihilist factions that had proliferated since the Wars of Dissolution began – was totally and utterly implausible. Indeed, perhaps the one thing that everyone at the Congress of Berlin agreed upon was that Anarcho-Nihilism was, in the words of British statesman and Foreign Secretary (3) Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, “the most pernicious ideology ever devised in the all the history of Mankind.”
With little agreement on a course of action to pursue in Russia proper – the most that the delegates could find consensus on was that Anarcho-Nihilism and National Socialism should be combated wherever they arose, and that any claimants to the throne would have to prove themselves “responsible” before receiving any support – the Congress began to shift its attention towards the peripheries of the former Russian Empire. Indeed, the discussions began to move towards a model not unlike that adopted at the London Conference (4) of more than ten years ago, which all of the powers were both comfortable and familiar with. That is to say, the peripheries of Russia were divided into “spheres of influence,” in which nations were granted a free hand in the name of “restoring peaceable order.” Germany was granted a sphere that comprised Poland and the Baltic states; Austria-Hungary was given leeway to intervene in the Ukrainian conflict; the Ottoman Empire was given a free hand in the volatile Caucasus region; Great Britain pushed for and received a sphere of influence that stretched over most of the former Khanates of Central Asia. This, in particular, outraged Qing China, which was also disappointed that their requests for a sphere of influence in Siberia were ignored by one and all. France essentially declined to participate; their initial requests for a sphere of influence in the Crimea were shot down by Germany and Austria-Hungary, and they received no backup from the United Kingdom, which had already agreed to concede primacy in those areas in exchange for a blank check on the steppes of Central Asia. All of the powers agreed to take a “wait and see” approach regarding the status of Russia itself; it was agreed in a supplementary protocol – the so-called Quartet Corollary -- that none of the nations present was to aid any Russian faction without the assent of the others.
The Congress of Berlin had many repercussions in both the short and the long term. Although at the time it was heralded as a success of diplomacy, in hindsight it must be viewed as a failure. Moreover, it illustrated the fragility of the general European peace that had persisted for almost a century; even confronted with a situation that cried out for concerted action on the part of all the powers, the only agreements that came out of the Congress of Berlin occurred when the narrow self-interests of individual nations happened to align. Although Great Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire had agreed on how to slice up the outermost parts of the former Russian Empire, this agreement did not herald any sort of deeper cooperation between these powers, which still distrusted and feared each other in equal measure. Ironically, the only lasting alliance that emerged from the Congress of Berlin was between the two states that failed to get what they had hoped for – France and Qing China. The Franco-Qing Alliance was signed only a few short months after the Congress of Berlin ended, and marked the first instance of an Asian power and a European one signing an alliance as equals. Notably, France and Qing China refused to sign the Quartet Corollary, which discouraged interference in the affairs of Russia proper. This amounted to little in the end – it was more a fit of pique than anything else – but is nonetheless emblematic of how the Congress of Berlin failed to achieve any truly meaningful consensus on what had come to be called the Russian Quandary. Meanwhile, the Quartet -- Germany, Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, and the Ottoman Empire -- set out to “pacify” and “restore order and legitimate government” in their newly-granted spheres of influence. These four powers took different approaches to this task; some were heavy-handed, others more subtle. But perhaps the one thing they did find in common was that all four of these nations got much, much more than they had bargained for (5).
Excerpted from “The Wars of Russian Dissolution,” by Albert van Bommel. 1974.
- As the Wars of Russian Dissolution lurched unsteadily into their third year, it was not much easier to tell who was winning and who was losing than it had been before. One thing that was clear was that the erstwhile Loyalist faction was not only losing, but it had already lost. The Georgist faction splintered further in the summer of 1894 between rival claimants to the throne, each of whom was put forth as the legitimate heir to the deceased George; by the end of the year, the Georgists were no more than a rapidly fading memory. The Liberals, meanwhile, were driven steadily further east (6), finding little support among the peasantry or the lower classes of society. The Traditionalist faction of Grand Duke Sergei coalesced in and around St. Petersburg, in the northwest of Old Russia, while Anarcho-Nihilist factions representing every possible iteration of that creed fought the Traditionalists and each other in roughly equal measure. It is possible to state with almost a fifty percent degree of certainty that by the fall of 1894, the Union of Collective Autonomous Communes (UCAC) had established a zone of control around Nizhny Novgorod, while the Anarcho-Nihilist National Alliance (ANNA) was centered roughly in and around the city of Voronezh. Further east, the cities of Yekaterinburg and Perm were the base of the United Anarcho-Nihilist Front (UANF). Of course, the idea of borders in a conflict such as the Wars of Russian Dissolution is notional at best and purely ludicrous at worst; a plethora of smaller factions operated in the countryside and no faction could be said to maintain total control over a contiguous area greater than five or six hundred square kilometers (7). Countless tragedies and atrocities both great and small occurred on almost a daily basis, as society broke down completely and lawlessness and chaos were the order of the day. Of course, some tragedies are greater than others, and in the winter of 1894 one occurred that is still remembered to this day, a truly difficult feat considering the level of casual brutality that characterized the Wars of Russian Dissolution. I refer, of course, to the Great Fire of Moscow.
Like so much of the Wars of Russian Dissolution, the exact chain of events which led to the Great Fire of Moscow is uncertain and shrouded in mystery. Nevertheless, we do know that throughout the summer of 1894, Traditionalists battled elements of several Anarcho-Nihilist factions for control of the city. By September it appears as if the Anarcho-Nihilists had pushed the Traditionalists out of Moscow, at which point they promptly turned on each other in an orgy of internecine bloodletting. With the city divided between as many as five Anarcho-Nihilist factions, winter began, and our knowledge of what definitively did and did not happen comes to an end. One thing is clear: on the night of December 12th, a fire broke out near Arbat Square. There was no central governing authority willing or able to put a stop to the blaze, and to make matters worse, much of the city’s pumping apparatus was out of order due to inclement weather and more than three years of neglect. More than anything else, the Great Fire of Moscow is an illustration of the almost-total breakdown of social order in Russia during the Wars of Dissolution. Eyewitness accounts generally agree that there was absolutely no concerted attempt to put out the fire; indeed, several splinter Anarcho-Nihilist groups simply continued fighting pitched battles in the streets, even as the conflagration overcame them. The fire raged for four days and four nights, almost completely destroying the city of Moscow. Anacho-Nihilist leader Nikolai Rysakov later wrote, “As I looked out at the charred ruins, I could not help but feel a thrill of joy deep within my breast. Surely this was a great victory for the cause of Anarcho-Nihilism. For is it not true that in order to build the new, the old must first be destroyed? I think of what happened in Moscow not as a Great Fire, as some call it, but as a Great Cleansing, in which the old and corrupt order perished in the swirling chaos of the flames. What remains is ours, to do with what we see fit.” (8)
(1) ITTL not only does Wilhelm die a couple of years earlier than he did OTL, but Friedrich III doesn’t get throat cancer.
(2) They’re for bringing back serfdom, etc. The Traditionalists are also staunchly anti-foreign, which doesn’t exactly thrill the European powers either.
(3) The Conservative/Liberal-Unionist coalition wins the 1892 British election by a narrow margin ITTL, and a minority Liberal government is not formed, as was the case OTL.
(4) See Part #16 for more information on the London Conference, which was all about colonial expansion in Africa – much like OTL’s Congress of Berlin.
(5) The National Socialists in particular will not be terribly thrilled with the idea of foreigners intervening to restore “peace and order.” Things are about to get messy . . .
(6) Spoiler: They just might wind up in Siberia, where a certain Chinese emperor may or may not cut a deal with them.
(7) Some factions control more territory than this in total, but it’s not connected – there’s a city that they own here, and then some no-man’s-land, and then another area in which they’re strong, and so on and so forth.
(8) You would not want to invite an Anarcho-Nihilist to dinner. Or to lunch, for that matter.
*As the Wars of Russian Dissolution get even uglier, the rest of Europe decides to step in. Well, kind of. And several of the intervening countries will regret their decision. But that’s for another post. The next entry will be more Russian Dissolution – I’d really like to come to some sort of resolution regarding this conflict before moving on to the new century. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #26: Monarchists and National Socialists and Imperialists, Oh My!
Excerpted from “Chaos in the Caucasus,” by Orhan Pamuk. 1993.
- After coming out of the Congress of Berlin with exactly what it wanted – a sphere of influence in the Caucasus – the Ottoman Empire moved quickly into those troubled regions of the former Russian Empire. What the Ottomans had not planned for was the upsurge in nationalism that had occurred in the previous several years, which made incorporation of even the Muslim territories in this region a much trickier proposition than the Sublime Porte had hoped for. In the former Armenian Oblast, for example, a tenuous National Socialist regime had emerged in Yerevan and was attempting to extend its influence into Kabarakh. Naturally, the Ottoman Empire focused on this nascent state first, sending a “peacekeeping mission” into the so-called Amenian National Socialist Republic in September of 1894. Although Ottoman troops had little trouble sweeping away the shreds of organized resistance that the Armenian National Socialists could offer, the intervention sparked widespread discontent among not only former Russian Armenians, but also those Armenians who had lived within the borders of the Ottoman Empire peaceably for centuries. Suddenly, Sultan Selim IV, who had assumed power only two years previously after the sudden death of the previous sultan Abdulaziz (1), had to deal with what amounted to an Armenian insurgency in both new and old territories of the Ottoman Empire. The Sultan at first opted for a conciliatory approach, issuing a proclamation that has come to be known as the “Armenian Amnesty” on February 14, 1895; it reminded “Our disgrunted Armenian subjects” of the rights and freedoms which had been guaranteed to all Ottoman citizens for centuries, and offered a full and complete amnesty to all those who laid down their arms and returned to the fold. The amnesty was a mixed success; while many Armenians, especially those in “Ottoman Armenia” did indeed cease their rebellion, a guerilla war continued at a relatively high intensity in the former Russian Armenia – an indicator, perhaps, of how rapidly the gospel of National Socialism had spread and how deeply it had affected so many people.
The unpleasant experience in Armenia would become all too familiar to the Ottomans as they continued their push deeper and deeper into the Caucasus. In Georgia, the Sublime Porte blundered into the middle of a three-way civil war between Georgian conservatives, who were seeking to restore the Bagration dynasty in the person of Prince Petre (2); Georgian radicals, who had embraced the tenets of National Socialism and thus had little use for monarchies; and ethnic Russians, who had no desire to be ruled either by a Georgian king or Georgian National Socialists, although they were rather more opposed to the latter group than to the former. After some initial floundering, the Ottoman experience in Georgia actually proved to be infinitely more pleasant than in other parts of the Caucasus, as they managed to forge an alliance with both the Georgian monarchists and the ethnic Russians. Petre was crowned as King in Tblisi in the summer of 1895 with the backing of Ottoman troops – he pledged to respect the rights of his Russian subjects and to appoint a Russian as his Grand Chamberlain without fail – and Georgia became a client state of the Ottoman Empire. But in most of the Caucasus, things did not go this smoothly. Fierce fighting broke out in Daghestan and Ingushetia, as National Socialism had taken root in these territories and the idea of independence proved hard for the Ottomans to push from the people’s minds. Even in the newly-independent client Kingdom of Georgia trouble continued to arise, as Abkhazian National Socialist elements revolted in January of 1896. But the true disasters of the Caucasian Intervention had yet to make themselves known. In March of 1896, when Ottoman troops entered the former khanates of Erivan and Nakhchivan, they found that other nations were taking an interest in the corpse of the Russian Empire as well. Persia, which had ruled those territories previously before ceding them to Russia, wanted the khanates back. The Ottoman Empire was not prepared to budge from their sphere of influence, and thus the Ottoman-Persian War began in May of 1896 (3). And we have not even begun to discuss the disputes with Austria-Hungary over control of the Crimean . . .
Excerpted from “Ukraine: Crisis, Catastrophe, and Chaos,” by Timur Bukharin. 1978.
- The Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, ruled by Emperor Franz Josef, emerged from the Congress of Berlin with a sphere of influence in the Ukraine. The Austro-Hungarians moved quickly to assert their claims; perhaps more than any other nation they were nervous of the spread of National Socialism, given the Dual Monarchy’s status as a multi-ethnic state in which more than ten languages were spoken and countless groups were represented. Realizing that a simple annexation of the Ukraine would be difficult, if not impossible, Austria-Hungary moved instead to set up a puppet kingdom in that region. Franz Josef planned to create a state not unlike Austria-Hungary itself; a “Dual Monarchy” would be established, representing both ethnic Ukrainian and ethnic Russian citizens and ruled by one of the many disposable Habsburg princes that populated Vienna. Naturally, the situation on the ground proved to be far more difficult and complicated than Austria-Hungary had imagined. Given Ukraine’s status as the very birthplace of National Socialism, it is perhaps unsurprising that that ideology had penetrated deeper into the fabric of Ukrainian society than it had anywhere else. As the Russian Empire had entered its spiral and collapse, the organized and powerful Congress of Ukrainian National Socialists had established a state in Kiev in August of 1892, with Mykhailo Pavlyk himself as the “People’s Commissioner.” However, Ukraine was far from united when Austria-Hungary intervened. In the south and southeast of the nation, which was primarily Russian, another nation styling itself the “Kingdom of Russia” had sprung up in Sevastopol. The Kingdom of Russia was staunchly conservative and perhaps closer to the Traditionalist faction of Grand Duke Sergei than anything else; the Ukrainian state and the Russian state immediately began to battle for prominence. Of course, Ukraine was not simply inhabited by only Russians and Ukrainians. In the southwest, the primarily ethnic Romanian majority (4) began to agitate for absorption into the Kingdom of Romania, which had been created only fifteen years previously in the wake of the Russo-Ottoman War. Then there was Ukraine’s large Jewish population, which did not fit neatly into any of the emerging nations. The ethnic Russians were quite clear that they wanted nothing to do with the Jews; the Ukrainian National Socialists were divided on whether Jews could or could not be classified as Ukrainians; the Jews themselves were quite unsure on whether they did or did not want to be classified as Ukrainians.
When Austro-Hungarian troops entered western Ukraine in July of 1894, the resistance that they faced from ethnic Ukrainians can be described only as fanatical in the extreme. In many cases, citizens strapped bombs to their bodies and detonated them as Austro-Hungarian troops passed by – the first known instance of human explosives in recorded history. Although the Austro-Hungarian troops were both qualitatively and quantitatively superior to their Ukrainian counterparts, the sheer ferocity of the resistance caused worries in Vienna, even as Austria-Hungary captured Kiev in October. A bloody guerilla war broke out across the countryside, and western Ukraine burst into flames (5). Meanwhile, Austria-Hungary’s campaign to bring the ethnic Russians into the fold went little better. Although the leaders of the Kingdom of Russia were more amenable to the idea of a Austro-Hungarian influenced Ukraine than the Ukrainians themselves were, the Dual Monarchy’s intrigues in Sevastopol caught the eye of the Ottoman Empire, which loudly claimed that the Crimean fell within its sphere of influence. Austria-Hungary retorted that the Crimean, being a part of the Ukraine, quite rightly belonged in the Dual Monarchy’s zone of control, which in turn infuriated the ethnic Russians, who insisted that the Crimean was in no way part of any such entity called “Ukraine.” As the Ottoman Navy hovered outside Sevastopol, Germany loudly supported their Austro-Hungarian allies, while Great Britain decided to weigh in and support the Ottoman claim. Had France not offered its services as a mediator, the Sevastopol Crisis of 1895 could easily have resulted in a general European war (6).
Excerpted from “The Baltic-Poland Dilemma,” by Marlene Gruber. 1959.
- In the aftermath of Russian Dissolution, one of Germany’s primary concerns was safeguarding the sizable population of German-speakers in the Baltic states. In the spring of 1895, a German expedition was organized to bring those states under control. This was made easier by the fact that the dominant Russian faction in the region was not Anarcho-Nihilist in orientation, but was instead the Traditionalist tsarist faction. Emissaries from Berlin were sent to meet with Grand Duke Sergei in secret, and in total violation of the Congress of Berlin – which explicitly stated that no signatory power would give “aid or comfort” to any of the factions fighting for control of Russia – a deal was brokered whereby German arms were given to Grand Duke Sergei and his men in return for promises of a free hand in the Baltic. Thus, Estonia and Latvia were quickly brought under German control, and were incorporated into the German Empire by the end of 1895 (7). The situation in Lithuania proved to be considerably more difficult, however. Many Lithuanians hoped to re-establish the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of bygone years, while others held out hope for an independent nation of their own. Incorporation into Germany, however, was one thing that all sides could agree was wholly undesirable, and after brief forays into that nation met with fierce resistance, Germany pulled back and decided that the Lithuanian Question would have to be resolved in conjunction with the Polish Question.
And if the situation in Lithuania was complicated and difficult, then the situation in Poland was ten times more byzantine and chaotic. That nation’s ethnic Polish majority was split between conservatives, who hoped to restore the old nobility (slazchta) to prominence, and radicals, who hoped to establish a unitary Polish National Socialist state. It was this, in particular, which was unacceptable to Germany; the Polish National Socialists had adopted a strict definition of what constituted “Polishness,” and the sizable ethnic German minority in the west clearly did not qualify. As was the case in the Ukraine, Poland’s sizable Jewish minority was rather caught in the middle of all the factional infighting, although unlike in the Ukraine, Polish National Socialists were quite clear that Jews could not be considered Polish citizens. Germany took a rather subtle approach to resolving the Polish Question, opting to give substantial aid and support to the conservative faction while at the same time taking more concrete measures in the west to ensure the security of German-speakers. The Germans also took measures to co-opt Poland’s Jews; the now-retired but still vigorous former Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was surely not speaking off the cuff when he famously remarked, “Surely, the Jews must be considered a Germanic people. After all, do they not speak a dialect of German? I have heard talk lately of starry-eyed idealists hoping to establish a Jewish homeland in the Holy Land, but in the end, perhaps the final solution to this question lies in Germany, where the Jews can live in peace with their fellow Germanic peoples.” Gradually, the German position evolved towards favoring a de facto partition of Poland, in which the majority of the nation would be ruled by a king chosen from the restored szlachta, while the areas populated by mostly German-speakers would fall more directly under the control of the German Empire. Naturally, the Polish National Socialists had their own ideas as to what would be more appropriate.
(1) Remember that Abdulaziz was not deposed ITTL. Given the peculiarities of Ottoman succession, I’m not exactly sure who Selim IV is. Advice, anyone?
(2) If I have my Georgian royal genealogy right – which is doubtful at best – Prince Petre is the correct OTL figure around whom Georgian royalists would coalesce at this time.
(3) The disputed territories are in OTL Azerbaijan. I’ll discuss the Ottoman-Persian War in more detail at a later time. Note that there will be a few of these subsidiary conflicts that spring up after the Russian collapse, all of which will be lumped in with the Wars of Russian Dissolution by future historians.
(4) I’m treating Moldova as a part of TTL’s Ukraine, although I’m not exactly sure what the administrative divisions were at the time.
(5) Obviously it didn’t burst into flames literally. Just a metaphor! But things are bad and getting worse all the time.
(6) I’ll talk about the Sevastopol Crisis later; for now, suffice it to say that it did not result in a general European war.
(7) Finland remains independent under a National Socialist regime for the time being, although I reserve the right to change that at any point in the future.
*That was exhausting. Please do correct the endless number of mistakes that I undoubtedly made. Why couldn’t I have just stuck to writing about China?!?!?!?? Tomorrow will be yet more Russian Dissolution – hopefully I can come to some sort of a resolution in Russia proper. Tuesday will be the long-awaited post on Swedish Zoroastrianism, and ideally I’ll have another post on Wednesday which will clear up some of the questions that remain in the peripheral states of the former Russian Empire. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #27: Dissolution + Solution = Resolution
Excerpted from “The Great Escape,” by Narcissa Odemwingie. 2000.
- After the split of the Georgist faction in 1894, the Liberals were left without a power base or much of a chance to survive in the seemingly endless Wars of Russian Dissolution. Yet while victory was implausible, the thought of being subsumed into the Traditionalist faction was appalling, and the idea of surrendering to the tender mercies of the Anarcho-Nihilists was a choice that only a fool would have made. While the Liberals were fractured and lacked cohesive leadership, they were not without resources; a decent chunk of Boris Zasulitch’s Army of Xinjiang – which had returned to aid the Georgists once the Triangle War was clearly lost – had chosen the Liberal side in the Georgist split, led by Zasulitch’s former second in command Yevgeny Bondarenko (1). Eventually, what passed for the leadership of the Liberal faction made an unconventional decision. They could not win, but they could not afford to lose; thus, they simply left. In May of 1895, many of the remaining Liberal sympathizers left the city of Vyatka (2), which was becoming increasingly untenable due to pressure from Anarcho-Nihilist elements, and began marching east into Siberia in what history has dubbed “The Great Escape” (3). A long, bedraggled line of Liberals moved steadily further into the wild, hoping to find a land where no one had heard of Anarcho-Nihilism in which they could form a nation of their own. It was a motley assortment of marchers – former nobles, academics, intellectuals, and liberal idealists of every stripe – who struggled further and further into the harsh and unforgiving terrain past the Ural Mountains. Of course, the most famous fictional representation of the Great Escape comes from one of the marchers, Dr. Yuri Zhivago, whose famous autobiographical novel Dr. Zhivago described the privations that the marchers endured and the elation they felt upon reaching their final destination – Irkutsk.
When the Great Escapees arrived, Irkutsk was in what can only be described as no-man’s land. In the wake of the Triangle War borders had been drawn with little appreciation for the objective reality on the ground; these borders left Irkutsk just outside what had become Qing Siberia and placed it into a sort of international limbo. The Liberals arrived and attempted to form some sort of government, and they were aided by a most unlikely ally – Qing China. The 外部 (Waibu, or Foreign Board) in Beijing been searching for some sort of partner who could be relied upon to both keep Siberia out of the hands of any future re-united Russian state and to add needed stability to the region. Surreptitious negotiations began shortly after the Liberals arrived in Irkutsk, and a secret treaty – necessary due to previous Qing promises that they would not interfere in the unoccupied zones of Siberia – was signed between Liberal representatives and emissaries of the 弘德帝 (Hongde Emperor) in Beijing. With the infusion of money and arms from Qing China the Liberals were able to establish a zone of control, and the Constitutional Kingdom of Siberia was proclaimed in Irkutsk on July 3, 1896; the former Grand Duchess Xenia was crowned as Xenia I, Queen of Siberia (4). The newly-formed kingdom quickly received several loans from Qing China that seemed surprisingly generous to outside observers, although the Qing merely noted that nothing in the Washington Accords prohibited them from “lending aid and assistance to our neighbors,” as Foreign Minister 高力伯 (Gao Libo) said. Meanwhile, far to the west, the Wars of Russian Dissolution continued unabated between Traditionalists and Anarcho-Nihilists, and even after more than five years of conflict there still seemed to be no end in sight.
Excerpted from “The Wars of Russian Dissolution,” by Albert van Bommel. 1974.
- After they made a secret pact with Imperial Germany, in which they relinquished any claims to the Baltic states in exchange for weapons and a badly needed infusion of cash, it seemed as though the Traditionalist tsarist faction led by the former Grand Duke Sergei – who had been crowned as Sergei I in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg – was in an enviable position. Yet the sweeping victory that they sought proved frustratingly elusive for the Traditionalists, who found it difficult to break out of their power base in northwest Russia and deal a crushing defeat to the Anarcho-Nihilist factions who controlled the interior. In the end, we can perhaps say that once the cat of revolution had been let out of the bag, it was well nigh impossible to make it return from whence it came. There were relatively few members of the general populace who had any great love for the Romanov Dynasty before it collapsed, and were thus not terribly amenable to attempts to restore that dynasty, especially with a man as rigid and doctrinaire as Sergei on the throne. Nevertheless, the Traditionalists did achieve some notable successes in 1895 and 1896, slowly grinding eastward and taking the city of Moscow in the winter of 1895 – although after the Great Fire had reduced that once proud metropolis to rubble, it is debatable as to whether this constituted much of an achievement. After the capture of the ruins of Moscow, the Traditionalist advance came to something of a halt; they were defeated outside Nizhniy Novgorod by one Anarcho-Nihilist faction, the Union of Collective Autonomous Communes, in the spring of 1896, and defeated again outside Voronezh by another Anarcho-Nihilist faction, the Anarcho-Nihilist National Alliance, later that summer. Out of all the factions fighting over the corpse of the Russian Empire, the Traditionalists were in perhaps the best shape, but that did not necessarily mean much – the assorted Anarcho-Nihilists refused to simply give up the ghost and go away, as many observers assumed that they would.
Thus, while the Traditionalists styled their sovereign as Tsar and called themselves the Empire of All the Russias, this meant very little in practice. While the so-called Empire did indeed stretch from Murmansk and Archangelsk in the north to Ryazan and Orel in the south, and from Smolensk in the west to Moscow in the east, this constituted barely a fraction of the territory that they had hoped to gain (5). The Empire, which was called “New Russia” by many due to the fact that it was the closest facsimile to the former Russian Empire, constantly struggled with the ever-present spectre of Anarcho-Nihilism; peasant revolts and other assorted civil disturbances occurred on a nearly daily basis. There were also rumblings of discontent among the nobility in St. Petersburg, and Sergei’s position was by no means secure; many wits speculated that his notably cold relationship with his wife and their lack of children bespoke some unorthodox preferences on the part of their monarch. Despite these issues, the Empire of All the Russias continued to consolidate its position in the last years of the 1890s; although notably few territorial gains were made during this period, a great deal of progress did occur in stamping out internal dissent and crushing the scattered pockets of Anarcho-Nihilist resistance that had persisted in lands controlled by the Empire. However, as more time passed it grew increasingly unlikely that the Russian Empire would ever be reunited, as many Traditionalists had hoped. By the end of the decade the European powers had had enough time to grow adjusted and acquainted to the idea of a divided Russia, and for many of them this prospect was not altogether unpleasant. So while the Empire consolidated its gains and fumed that it had not achieved even more, to the south and the east new nations began to coalesce.
Excerpted from “The Anarcho-Nihilist Schism,” by Pavel Hernandez. 1983.
- As the myriad Anarcho-Nihilist factions were slowly subsumed or destroyed, two groups established their dominance in the interior: the Union of Collective Autonomous Communes (UCAC) and the Anarcho-Nihilist National Alliance (ANNA). Yet as time passed, these two groups diverged to the point where they did not merely represent different factions professing the same ideology, but instead were emblematic of a deeper split among Anarcho-Nihilists. This split resulted from the most pressing question facing all of the Anarcho-Nihilists, namely, how could one call oneself an Anarcho-Nihilist and still hope to construct any kind of stable and lasting nation-state? The Union of Collective Autonomous Communes, also known as the Orthodox Anarcho-Nihilists, believed that any centralized government was anathema to the central tenets of Anarcho-Nihilism. Guided by the writings of Mikhail Bakunin and led by the Zhelyabov Clique, they believed that all government should be purely local and organized on the town and village level, which would be organized into autonomous communes. In times of “great and pressing peril,” whether it be war, famine or another emergency, the communes – which would be run as direct democracies in which every citizen exercised voting rights in governmental decisions – would elect delegates to the Communal Union, which would then attempt to achieve consensus on a course of action for the Union of Collective Autonomous Communes to pursue as a whole. UCAC gradually extended their control over much of eastern Russia; based in Yekaterinburg – if such a nation can be said to be “based” anywhere, given that there was no national capital per se – they consolidated their gains until by the end of the decade, UCAC stretched from the Kama River to the Ob, and was the dominant faction as far north as Nizhnevartosk and Surgut.
In the south, the United Anarcho-Nihilist Front was destroyed in internecine bloodletting, with the Anarcho-Nihilist National Alliance profiting the most from their downfall. The Anarcho-Nihilist National Alliance, or the Reformed Anarcho-Nihilists as they were often called, represented the other side of what came to be known as the Anarcho-Nihilist Schism. The Anarcho-Nihilist National Alliance gradually came to be dominated by one man, the charismatic leader and thinker V.I. Ulyanov (6). Ulyanov developed what came to be known as the “vanguard theory” of Anarcho-Nihilism, which held that a small and dedicated core of “professional revolutionaries” must exercise control over the workings of the state to prevent any backsliding into “the regressive ideologies of petty-bourgeois capitalism, religious superstitionism, or royalist imperialism.” Yet Ulyanov as well believed that the majority of governance should be conducted on the local level; the vanguard central government would generally refrain from taking any action at all. Ulyanov drew inspiration from a variety of sources, from the ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi to contemporary French radicals such as Sebastian Faure. In his famous formulation, “it is clear that any so-called “central” government must be governed by the principle of non-action, for any government is best when it governs least. The vanguard party will take as its guiding principle the promotion of personal freedom, a sort of “libertarianism,” if you will . . .” (7). The Anarcho-Nihilist National Alliance, although perhaps weaker than its two major rivals, proved stubbornly resistant, and carved out a sizable base of power in the south. Their territory was largely bounded by the Don and Volga Rivers, and stretched from Nizhniy Novgorod in the north to Astrakhan in the south; from Kazan in the east to Voronezh in the west. The Federated Communes of Russia (FCR), as their state came to be known, was formally established in 1987, with the national capital in the city of Penza. And so it was that by the end of the decade, as the 19th century gave way to the 20th, that the Wars of Russian Dissolution had reached a state of stasis after almost a decade of fighting. For the time being, Russia was divided into four parts – although it was unclear as to how long any of the new nations could be expected to endure.
(1) Zasulitch himself identified with the Georgist faction; he was killed in fighting outside Yaroslavl in 1896.
(2) Vyatka is the name of the city that is now known as Kirov, after the famous Soviet leader Sergei Kirov.
(3) I was originally going to call this migration the Long March, but then I realized that I had already used that term before in Taiping China. Curses!
(4) This was something of a compromise. The Liberals themselves would have been just as happy to dispense with a monarch altogether, but the Qing are not overly fond of republics and their support was crucial to the entire project. Nevertheless, Queen Xenia has relatively little power in her own right – she’s not exactly a figurehead, but the elected Duma will do most of the heavy lifting, as it were.
(5) The Empire of All the Russias (which will be referred to by one and all as New Russia) is irredentist in the extreme, which is one reason why they won’t be receiving much meaningful support from Europe – just dribs and drabs here and there.
(6) You may have heard of this fellow before. I’m using a rather loose interpretation of the butterfly effect in regard to births. Given that most of the initial action occurred in East and Southeast Asia, I’ve decided that no OTL person will be born in those areas after 1860, but people in other parts of the world will probably be born as per OTL until 1865 or 1870. Lenin slipped in under the wire. And although he’s still a little young at this point, the freewheeling nature of Anarcho-Nihilism makes it possible for a relatively youthful person to assume a large degree of power.
(7) Yes, that’s right. Lenin is a Daoist-Libertarian Reformed Anarcho-Nihilist. Just when you thought this timeline couldn’t possibly get any more bizarre . . .
*There’s more to say about Russia – the borders that I’ve delineated are not what you’d call exact, and there’s still a lot of low-level fighting – but that’s more or less what things look like at the turn of the century. Coming up tomorrow: a brief detour into the fascinating world of Swedish Zoroastrianism. And as always, thanks for reading.
Part #28: Make Love, Not Dynamite
Excerpted from “The Life of Alfred Nobel,” by Ingmar Ibsen. 1944.
- Alfred Nobel, the father of Localism, spent the majority of his life working on causes that were quite different from what he is today remembered for. Nobel, the son of Swedish industrialist Immanuel Nobel, was born in Stockholm on October 21, 1833. Alfred became a notable industrialist in his own right, inventing several new explosive compounds – most famously dynamite – that allowed the family business to prosper and also allowed him to amass a sizable personal fortune. But in 1888, two events occurred that altered Nobel’s view of the world and set history on a different course. In February of that year, Nobel was thrown from his horse while riding at his country estate; he suffered grievous injuries and was close to death for weeks. Later that year, a family tragedy struck that hit Alfred even harder. His beloved younger brother, Ludwig, died suddenly while on holiday in the south of France. The final blow came when a French newspaper mistook Ludwig for Alfred and published an obituary of the famous chemist and arms manufacturer; it began with the sentence “The merchant of death is dead” and went on to excoriate Nobel for the explosives that he had devised and manufactured throughout his life (1). The cumulative shock of these events drove Nobel into a deep depression from which he did not emerge for months. When he did finally shake off his torpor, it was with a renewed – some even said fanatical – idealism. Alfred Nobel was determined to change the world, to make it a better place. As he wrote in a letter to one of his mistresses, “I feel as though I must right a lifetime of wrongs. I have invented a monstrous tool; now I must atone by creating an equally powerful force for good and righteousness in the world.” In the end, Nobel decided that ideas would be the lever through which he would change the world for the better. Throughout 1890 he held a series of salons at his townhouse in Stockholm with academics, philosophers, and thinkers from around the world, seeking to synthesize their ideas and create what he referred to as “a new way to live in peace with our fellow man and with Nature.” Nobel debuted his ideas in a self-published manuscript released in 1891. I refer, of course, to A Localist’s Manifesto.
Excerpted from “A Localist’s Manifesto,” by Alfred Nobel. 1891.
- Peace, harmony, tranquility: what do these concepts have in common? While we idealize – even fetishize – them, contemporary human society has failed to achieve these elusive goals. It would be one thing if we were making progress – but I humbly submit to the reader that instead, we are regressing. One need only look at these past few years, in which we have seen a destructive war in Asia and now the collapse of the largest nation on Earth, to know that all is not well. Why has this tragedy come to pass? It is because we have forgotten what it means to live. We build great towers soaring into the sky and construct ever more powerful machines at a whim. Our capacity for artifice is unrivalled – but that is all we have created! For the true measure of a man lies not in the accumulation of his wealth, but in the accumulation of friendships and lives that have been touched. A quick glance around the world reveals that there are no extant examples of nations that can truly be said to follow the Way of harmony, righteousness, peace, and love for their fellow-men. Look at what has been wrought by this so-called Industrial Revolution; a vanishingly small portion of unscrupulous men accrue more and more wealth, while the sweating masses of humanity go unfed and unclothed, and as the thick black smoke pours from the factories, Nature, unheeded, cries out, “Enough, enough!” But it must also be agreed upon by the wise that those so-called “radicals” have no prescriptions that can cure the disease which ails our world. For whether Marxist, Anarcho-Nihilist, or National Socialist, all they can think of is destruction, of chaos and disorder and the destruction of fellow human beings. No, the seekers of peace and harmony must create a Third Way, one in which the horrors of the old system is not tolerated and yet the violence and cruelties of the new order is also abjured by all. Shall we not strive for great things? Shall we not attempt to create a world in which there is no war, no hunger, and no disease, in which mankind lives in harmony with Nature? The skeptic will ask, “But how can such a world, such a Utopia, be created by a creature as fallible as Man?” In the spirit of this question, I present you with Localism.
Excerpted from “The Early Years of the Localist Movement,” by Aeschylus Westerberg. 1958.
- Nobel proposed that Localist society should be primarily rural and agrarian in nature, hearkening back to the American statesman and writer Thomas Jefferson’s description of the “yeoman farmer” as the bedrock upon which Localism would be constructed. In his view, this would mitigate the “creeping horrors” of industrialization, which Nobel blamed for so many of the world’s ills, and provide a foundation for the kind of stable living in harmony with Nature that he believed in passionately. Yet having seen the chaos wrought by Anarcho-Nihilism, Nobel decided that Localism simply must have a stable central government so as to guard against “the passions of emotion that cause us to kill and maim one another senselessly.” He delved even deeper into antiquity in this regard, eventually proposing a system not unlike that advocated by the Greek philosopher Plato, in which the wisest citizens would be chosen as philosopher-kings of the Localist state. Nobel envisioned an elective monarchy, in which each Philosopher-King would serve for a single term of ten years and then be replaced by a democratic vote. Likewise, Town Councils would serve as a check on the Philosopher-King’s power, so as to guard against the danger of despotism. While Nobel believed that a good deal of power should be devolved – after all, his ideology was called Localism – he also firmly believed in what he called “the universal principles of mankind,” which included peace and equality. Nobel’s commitment to these “universal principles” even extended to religion; while he believed that the current crop of faiths was “spiritually bankrupt,” he also felt that some sort of belief system was necessary to instill a sense of moral virtue. Once more, he looked to antiquity for examples, eventually finding the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism’s monotheistic belief system and its active embrace of the idea that each individual must continually perform righteous deeds in order to receive eternal reward both appealed to Nobel, who incorporated that faith into Localist ideology. He even hired a team of linguists to create a wholly new language, known as Klingon (2), which he felt would serve as a unifying force for all those who embraced localism.
Nobel actively deployed his vast reserves of cash (3) to publicize and spread the word of localism, and within several years had amassed enough support to undertake what has since come to be known as “The Great Experiment.” More than 5,000 adherents of Localism set sail from Stockholm on ships hired by Nobel in 1894, eventually arriving at the archipelago of Svalbard, which was considered terra nullus at that time (4). The newly-arrived colonists set to building a life on the islands, first constructing a great temple to Ahura Mazda in what would become the capital city of the fledgling Localist nation. Alfred Nobel himself, the father of Localism, was chosen by acclamation to serve as the first Philosopher-King for a term of ten years. As the Svalbard Localists settled in to their new home, they began to develop wholly original ideas and traditions of their own. Many colonists, who felt nostalgic for Christmas during the long winter yet knew that celebrating this holiday would not quite be compatible with the tenets of Zoroastrianism, developed a new winter celebration. Called Festivus, the holiday featured an unadorned metal pole in the place of a traditional Christmas tree, and the major event was the so-called “airing of grievances,” in which family members could confront each other regarding perceived shortcomings without repercussion. It seemed as though the entire project might fall apart in 1899, after Nobel’s death at the age of 76 only halfway through his term as Philosopher-King (5). Yet the colony endured, no doubt helped along by the revelation that Nobel had donated his entire fortune to the Svalbard Localists. In his will, the man who had set the entire Localist idea in motion wrote (in Klingon, of course), “Never lose sight of our shared goals and our belief in a better world. The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” (6)
(1) The death of Nobel’s brother and the subsequent incorrect obituary actually occurred OTL; I threw in another catastrophic event so as to really make him rethink his life.
(2) Different language, same name. Pure coincidence, I assure you.
(3) Never underestimate what one filthy rich and not entirely sane idealist can accomplish.
(4) This is as per OTL; Svalbard was not formally claimed by Norway until 1920, and no one will worry too much about a group of utopians trying to settle there.
(5) ITTL Nobel dies a few years later than he did in OTL, perhaps inspired by the success of his great project.
(6) The dream might very well die. Utopian communities are not generally long-lived, although the Localists do have the advantage of Nobel’s bequest. So we’ll have to see what happens.
*Yes, it’s Philosopher-King Alfred Nobel and his merry band of Klingon-speaking, Festivus-celebrating Swedish Zoroastrian pacifist utopians. That was fun to write. Next update will be the day after tomorrow, and depending on how ambitious I am it will either be more about the peripheral action in the Wars of Russian Dissolution or a Very Special Christmas Post. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #29: A Very Taiping Christmas
*After a long hiatus, the timeline returns! I've decided to take a brief break from the history-book style that I've used so far and venture into some short fiction. Let me know what you think of it, as I've never tried writing like this before. And of course, should anyone else wish to write something set in this timeline, you're more than welcome. Apologies for the lack of posting over the past month, and as always, thanks for reading.
Wang Weihong almost tripped on the hem of his long red robe as he scurried up the broad steps leading to the Ministry of Truth. It was an unseasonably cold mid-December day in Tianjing, and even now the enemies of the state were busily occupied in patriotic re-education through snow shoveling. Wang Weihong could not be bothered with idle thoughts of the weather, though, for he was late. And the Ministry of Truth was a singularly poor place to arrive late for work. As he descended the grand spiral staircase further and further into the bowels of the grand building, Wang was consumed with worry. He felt sure that he was adequately prepared for any questions regarding the suppression of the Prosperity Heresy, but the subcommittee to which he was assigned that was meant to prepare the latest edition of the New Reformed Taiping Bible was inextricably mired in dissent. The latest disaster had come last Thursday, when Chen Boda – an irascible character at the best of times – had hurled a piping-hot bowl of soup at Jiang Qing during a particularly heated debate on the doctrine of transubstantiation. Several of Wang’s fears were allayed when he entered Subbasement Fourteen, home to the weekly meetings of the Committee on Doctrinal Issues. He didn’t appear to be late, for one thing, and the heating system was actually working. Would wonders never cease?
Wang gratefully accepted a cup of jasmine tea from Assistant Zhang as the last stragglers filed into the conference room, a bare and grim space save for the portraits of Hong Xiuquan and Hong Tianguifu that hung on the wall opposite the door. The chattering of assorted committee members quickly faded into silence as Zhao He took her place at the end of the long table and loudly cleared her throat. As all eyes turned to the Senior Inquisitor, Zhao adjusted her robes and smiled.
“Good morning, brothers and sisters,” she said. “It is with great pleasure that I open the weekly session of the Committee on Doctrinal Issues on this, the twelfth day of the twelfth month of the seventeenth year (1) of His Eternal Majesty the Hong Tianguifu’s blessed reign. We will begin the meeting by reciting the Taiping Creed.”
Twelve heads bowed in unison, twelve pairs of hands joined around the table, and twelve voices spoke: “We believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in his eldest son, the god-sage Confucius, who was given to us so that we might learn the Way of Righteousness and Virtue. We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the second-begotten Son of God, who for our salvation was crucified for us, and suffered, and was buried, and on the third day he rose again. And in the youngest son, the Heavenly King Hong Xiuquan, who was sent to lead us out of slavery and impurity so that we might found a new nation in God’s name, that shall endure until the great Judgment at the end of this world. In one holy Kingdom, we worship the Father and the Trinity of Sons and await the world to come.”Zhao He smiled seraphically once more. “We will begin,” she said, “by discussing the doctrine of transubstantiation.” Twelve folders flipped open, twelve sets of papers rustled, and Wang Weihong suppressed a deep groan.
Almost two hours after the meeting had begun, Zhao He looked up at the committee members. “Are there any other points that need to be discussed?”, she asked. At the far end of the table, Zhou Xiang, a young, rotund, and constantly sweating theologian who had been recently transferred from the Committee on the Re-Education of Dissident Elements, nervously cleared his throat. “There is one matter, Elder Sister,” he said, “pertaining to the celebration of the festival of Christ’s birth, that I believe deserves the committee’s attention.” Zhao nodded in assent. “Proceed, Younger Brother,” she said.
Zhou nervously cleared his throat once more, and Wang fancied that he could see the puddle of sweat forming beneath the younger man’s chair. “I recently received this report from the Ministry’s man in Washington. The part that I commend to the committee’s attention relates to doctrinal issues concerning Christmas. I am given to understand that a subsidiary Christmas deity is worshipped by the American Christians.”
A murmur of surprise filled the room, and Wu Aiji, the committee’s Vice-Chairwoman, spoke up. “Surely you must be mistaken, Younger Brother Zhou,” she said. “All of the semi-Christian nations confine their worship to the Father and the Second Son.”
“I was under that misapprehension as well, Elder Sister Wu,” said Zhou, who Wang observed was now visibly trembling. “But I have read the report carefully, and I see no other explanation. The deity’s name” – here he paused – “is San-ta-ke-lao-si, and on the Night of Silence, the semi-Christians hold that he travels around the world in a chariot pulled by winged deer bringing gifts to pious and deserving children –“
“A question, Younger Brother,” said Wang, interrupting out of sheer curiosity. “Is this . . . San-ta-ke-lao-si a begotten Son of the Father?”
Zhou mumbled and shifted in his seat. “It is unclear, Elder Brother Wang,” he said. “Despite my best efforts, I have been unable to determine much regarding San-ta-ke-lao-si other than his activities on and around Christmas. It does seem clear, though, that he resides not in Heaven but rather at the North Pole.”
“It is contemptible blasphemy!”, snapped Xi Changchun, the eldest member of the committee, whom Wang always tried to avoid due to the strong odor of fish that wafted around Xi like a cloud of vile perfume wherever he went. “What manner of deity lives on Earth rather than in Heaven? You would be well-advised, Younger Brother, to limit your researches into the innumerable heresies of the foreign devils.”
Just as Wang was preparing to rush to Zhou’s aid, anticipating the heart attack that the younger man looked to be having, Zhao He spoke up. “I am sure that Younger Brother Zhou has merely attempted to discharge his duty to God and Heavenly King. In his diligence he is to be commended,” she said firmly. As Xi sunk further into his seat, mumbling about schismatics and heretics, Zhao went on. “The substance of Younger Brother Zhou’s report is most edifying,” she said. “Please prepare to present your conclusions to the Heads of Committee on Wednesday. I am quite sure that they will be . . . intrigued.”
Zhou looked both pleased and horrified in equal measure, and Wang finally had an answer to the question of whether a man can smile and frown at once. The meeting concluded, as it always did, with the Lord’s Prayer, and once more twelve pairs of hands were joined and twelve heads bowed for the benediction:
“Our Father and his Sons in heaven, hallowed be your names. Your kingdom come, your will be done, in Earth as in Heaven. Give us today our daily rice, and forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And lead not the Taiping Kingdom into peril, but deliver Your most favored nation from evil. Ten thousand years to the Father and his Sons, and to Confucian Christianity. Amen.”
The meeting then broke up, and after a brief and cordial conversation with Wu Aiji on the upcoming interdepartmental chess tournament, Wang walked slowly back up the long spiral staircase. As he reached the fourth floor, Wang paused to look out at the city below. The snow had started to fall once more, and fat white flakes drifted slowly down from the sky, covering the streets, the trees, and the red banners that hung limply in the still afternoon. As he looked down the broad expanse of Shengli Lu, Wang Weihong smiled unconsciously. It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Translated and excerpted from “The Tianjing Daily Times,” Editorial Section. September 21, 1898.
. . . Yes, Wei Zhenya, there is a Shengdan Laoren (2). And he is none other than the Third Son, Hong Xiuquan himself! He exists as surely as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would the world be if in all his divine wisdom, Hong Xiuquan did not descend from Heaven on his carriage pulled by the eight winged camels every year. It would be as dreary as if there were no Wei Zhenyas. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Shengdan Laoren? You might as well not believe in Hong Xiuquan himself! You might get your father to hire men to watch all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to see Shengdan Laoren, but even if they did not see him, what would that prove? Nobody sees Shengdan Laoren, but that is no sign that there is no Shengdan Laoren. The most real things in the world are that which neither children nor men can see. Nobody can conceive of or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world . . .
No Shengdan Laoren! Thank God, and Confucius, and Jesus, and Hong Xiuquan, he lives, and will live forever. Ten thousand years from now, Wei Zhenya, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
(1) Thus making it 1897.
(2)圣诞老人, or literally “Old Man Christmas.”
Part #30: Art For Art’s Sake
Excerpted from “A Survey of Art in the Fin de Siecle Period,” by Jean-Pierre Melville. 1968.
- The final decade of the nineteenth century saw a revolution in art that many historians have compared to the Renaissance, as new modes and styles came and went with astonishing rapidity. This flowering of artistic expression is often simply referred to as the “Fin de Siecle,” denoting both the time in which it took place and the center of the artistic world at the time. After the establishment of the Third Republic, which brought some measure of stability to a nation in which that quality had been chronically lacking, France, and Paris in particular, quickly assumed a position at the very center of the cultural world. Less stodgy than London, infinitely more civilized than the rude outposts of New York and Boston, and with fewer restrictions on freedom of expression than Berlin or Vienna, Paris was indeed a natural destination for artists of all descriptions and types (1). The fin de siècle period - which in reality can be said to have begun in the mid-1880s, and did not conclude until the outbreak of hostilities in the Great War almost twenty years later - was a time in which artists grappled with the great changes that were sweeping the world in general and Europe in particular: the collapse of the Russian Empire, the rise of Asia, the continuing tension between radical ideologies such as Marxism, Anarcho-Nihilism, and National Socialism, and increased agitation on the part of disenfranchised sectors of society (namely women), to name just a few of the salient issues of the time. In these turbulent times, artists experimented with new modes of expression and representation on almost a daily basis . . .
If we are to consider new artistic modes that developed during the fin de siècle period, it is only proper that we begin with Situationalism. The movement’s origins are somewhat checkered; it is said to have begun as a bet between the displaced aristocrat Thierry Segal, whose family hailed from Alsace-Lorraine, and his lover, exiled Japanese dissident Murakami Takashi, after a night where absinthe was consumed in quantities that can only be called excessive. Murakami’s challenge to Segal was to produce a work of art that was completely ephemeral; that is to say, it would naturalistically cease to exist after it had been exhibited. Segal solved this dilemma by creating creating installations in which the only “materials” were actors recruited by the author himself, who carried out a series of instructions that alternately delighted, baffled, and horrified the viewer. Surprisingly enough, this rather abstract concept quickly caught on with many younger and radical artists, who quickly turned to creating “situations” of their own (2). Perhaps the most widely-discussed Situationalist production at the time was Englishman Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. One by one, viewers were led into a room meant to be reminiscent of a salon, where they were then engaged in a scripted discussion by actors portraying the roles of a butler and two ladies from the upper classes . . .
Excerpted from “The Diaries of Samuel Clemens,” ed. Langdon Clemens. 1914. (3)
- 15 MAY 1889. A most curious day. Went to view The Importance of Being Earnest, one of these “situations” that are all the rage among the smart set. The artist - though I shudder to bestow that title on the creator of such a . . . thing - is a rather disreputable fellow named Wilde, who is reportedly a famed practitioner of the English vice. One would suppose that the man has an excuse, given that he does hail from that isle. The “situation” took place on the second floor of a seedy tavern in Montmartre, and after standing in a queue for no less than forty-five minutes, I entered a room that was bare save for a table and three chairs, two of which were occupied by young women wearing clothing that I imagine must have them succumbing to chills left and right. The two ladies immediately engaged me in conversation concerning whether my name was or was not Earnest; even after my repeated statements that such was not the case, they continued to press the issue. All the while, a man in domestic servant’s garb hovered over my shoulder, asking me a series of increasingly bizarre questions, most having to do with the particular ways in which I had or had not been oppressing the proletariat. After ten minutes, the ladies abruptly declared that if my name was not in fact Earnest, then future conversation would be useless, at which point the butler removed his hat and defecated in it. Thus ended the “situation,” and I am forced to conclude that the reports of art’s demise have not been exaggerated by one bit . . .
Excerpted from “A Survey of Art in the Fin de Siecle Period,” by Jean-Pierre Melville. 1968.
- Other vanguard movements (4) were more explicit and blunt than the wildly theoretical approach favored by the Situationalists. Perhaps the clearest example of such a school is Deconstructionism, which was pioneered by displaced Russian émigrés fleeing the wreckage of their homeland. Artists of this school, among them being Dmitri Kirov, Pavel Klebnikov, and Natasha Golubova, were motivated by the scarring experience of watching their homeland disintegrate before their very eyes. They responded by literally deconstructing various objects, in what was meant to be a representation of the “deconstruction” of Russia and what several philosophers attached to the school felt was the inevitable breakup of civilized society in general. The movement was in vogue for several years during the mid-1890s, which saw such pieces such as Golubova’s Water Closet, in which the artist smashed a common household toilet with a sledgehammer, and Klebnikov’s Bicycle, in which he methodically disassembled a bicycle into its constituent parts and scattered them across the floor of an empty warehouse. Although Deconstructionism grew to encompass artists of non-Russian extraction - one of the works most remembered today is Fauchon’s Dinner Table in Disarray - a general crackdown occurred after the controversial exhibition in 1896 of Kirov’s Dismembered Rotting Cat, which proved to be a title that was all too apt for the Parisian public health authorities. In an influential essay that circulated not long after that debacle, the prominent philosopher and essayist Alain Reynaud accused Deconstructionists of embracing “a warped form of Anarcho-Nihilism, in which even the most commonplace of objects must be destroyed for destruction’s sake.”
The fin de siècle period also saw the first widespread acceptance of photography as a medium for art, which reached its apotheosis with the so-called “augmented reality” movement pioneered by artists as diverse as Rosa Luxemburg, Fabriccio Continetti, and Paul Cartier-Bouchard. It was the ingenious notion of these artists to first take a photograph of a given situation and then to “augment” it via the addition of elements of traditional oil painting. Artists of this school are distinguished by their adherence to Marxist principles and the themes of class conflict and exploitation that recur in their productions. Luxemburg’s series How the Other Half Lives, which was created and exhibited between 1891 and 1894, depicted the privations of Parisian industrial workers and caused quite the uproar. The movement came in from criticism from both the left and right, with rightists charging that by “augmenting” the pictures, artists such as Luxemburg were not faithfully recording the lives of the poor but rather dramatizing them for shock value. Meanwhile, critics on the left accused the augmented reality school of “fostering an attitude of anti-intervention,” in the words of Marxist leader Simon Sontag, who argued that works such as Luxemburg’s contributed to a dialectic in which spectators only seek to record the lives of the disadvantaged, rather than taking revolutionary measures to improve their situation (5). Yet not all works produced by the augmented reality school were of this nature; indeed, doubtless the most famous piece produced by their adherents remains Pablo Escobar’s magnificent 1898 work Guernica, which depicts the horrors of a small town destroyed by combat in the Spanish Civil War. Escobar’s virtuoso melding of the mediums of photography and painting serve to heighten the sense of despair and misery; neither of the mediums are allowed to overshadow the other, and the result is one of the most worthwhile and important works to emerge from the fin de siècle period - or any other, for that matter.
(1) Other historians and critics have argued for Florence as the center of the artistic flowering that occurred from roughly 1885-1904, but Melville’s origins betray his bias.
(2) The “Situationalist” school is inspired by the contemporary OTL artist Timo Sehgal, who creates “situations” a bit like those I’ve described here (although probably not quite as bizarre).
(3) ITTL, Samuel Clemens was a noted foreign correspondent for the New York Herald and the Boston Globe, among other publications. His collected dispatches from the Triangle War (Journey To A War) and the posthumous publication of his diary by his son secured him greater fame in death than he experienced in life.
(4) The phrase “vanguard movement” is used ITTL in the same sense that “avant-garde” is used OTL.
(5) The idea of “augmented reality” is my own (at least as it refers to the blending of photography and painting in one artistic work), but the objections to it ITTL are largely taken from Susan Sontag’s On Photography.
*What is any timeline without culture? Thus, we examine the wild and crazy world of art in the world of All About My Brother for today’s update. I’m planning to do a companion piece to this discussing turn-of-the-century literature as well for the next post, although that’s not exactly set in stone. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #31: Wake Up And Look Around
Excerpted from “The Great Awakening Period: Economic Policy of the Taiping State,” by Juan Carlos Navarro. 1986.
- After being swept into power on a great wave of discontent with the rapacity and corruption that had characterized the Five Great Families Regime, the reformist clerics and theologians that formed the backbone of the Great Awakening Movement undertook a total restructuring of the Taiping economy. This first took the form of punitive measures against the great cartels that had dominated commerce for the better part of the last fifteen years; the Five Great Families were totally dismantled, and many of the corporate entities that they had formerly controlled were brought under the aegis of the state, in what was originally intended to be a temporary measure. But as time passed, support for a highly centralized and statist economy increased among scholar-bureaucrats and the Council of Apostles. The most articulate proponent of this approach was Zhang Kun, whose 1895 work 通往奴役之路 (Tongwang nuyi zhi lu, or The Road to Serfdom) was widely read and discussed in the halls of power in Tianjing. Zhang argued that the free market was a creator of “misery, destruction, and greed,” and postulated that the state needed to act as a bulwark against the rapacity of corporations (1). In perhaps the book’s most famous section, he writes, “Theorists and writers in the West love nothing more than to extol the virtues of what they dub the ‘free market.’ But in fact, the free market makes slaves of us all. Only the wise and virtuous hand of the government is fit to guide the economic affairs of a truly great nation.” Zhang was quickly named to the 中央计划委员会 (Zhongyang jihua weiyuanhui, or Committee for Central Planning), a formerly moribund outpost in the Ministry of Finance which assumed greater and greater influence as time passed (2).
Instead of relinquishing control of enterprises formerly dominated by the Five Great Families, such as banking, railroads, and telegraphy, the central government instead gradually converted these sectors of the economy into state monopolies beginning in 1896. Furthermore, stringent “competitiveness regulations” were enacted that strictly prohibited any one firm from gaining more than a thirty percent share of whatever product they traded in. The Great Awakening Regime also introduced the income tax to the Great Kingdom of Heavenly Peace, promulgating an extremely progressive tax code that explicitly aimed to “bring the plutocrats down from Heaven, so that they might once again dine with their fellow men,” in the words of Wang Mingdao, that most influential of clerics (3). Yet the restructuring of the economy, which soon came to be known as the 新经济政策 (Xin jingji zhengce, or New Economic Policy), did not merely affect the upper strata of society. Perhaps the most revolutionary step came in 1899, when the Council of Apostles announced the beginning of government intervention in agriculture, introducing a complex system of price supports, controls and subsidies. Initially, the New Economic Policy actually served to nurture innovation and private enterprise, which had been almost totally stagnant during the Five Great Families era, in which cronyism and corruption had discouraged investors. Over the long run, however, its effects were much less clear . . .
Excerpted from “The Great Awakening Period: Foreign Policy of the Taiping State,” by Juan Carlos Navarro. 1989.
- It would be an exaggeration, but not by much, to say that relations with every other nation on Earth suffered during the Great Awakening Regime. While the Five Great Families had cared for little beyond lining their own pockets, the new government was fiercely anti-imperialist, hearkening back to the Hundred Flowers and Cultural Revolution Regimes. Naturally, relations with Western powers such as Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands suffered as a result. A particular worry of the colonial powers was the ardent and explicit support given by the Taiping to native independence movements in colonized nations. The Black Flag Army, which had been allowed to wither during the period following the Franco-Taiping War, was reconstituted with a mission to destabilize French Indochina. Materials of all kinds, from religious tracts to arms, were relatively easy to smuggle along the long and porous border that separated French Indochina from Dai Nam and Siam, both members of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Moreover, the population of French Indochina was discontented - even with little support from the Taiping, a widespread rebellion had broken out in the Mekong River delta in 1888, stoked by elements of the Black Flag Army that had been cashiered (4). The Great Awakening Regime viewed Western imperialism as something of a personal insult - believing that Southeast Asia was the natural backyard of their own nation, and ripe for the spreading of Confucian Christianity - and thus poured resources into bolstering insurgent movements. The European powers were understandably none too pleased at this development. Several diplomatic protests were issued by France, in particular, although Great Britain as well grew increasingly alarmed as independence movements in Malaya gained traction during the 1890s. It was during this time that the Taiping made their first contacts with fledgling Indian nationalist groups, a topic which will be discussed in future chapters of this volume (5). But the place in which the rededication of the Taiping to anti-imperialism unquestionably paid off the most was in the Philippines. As Spain, caught in the grip of civil war, grew less and less able to manage affairs in that far-off colony, the Taiping aggressively pursued links with indigenous Filipino separatist movements and stepped up efforts to proselytize the creed of Confucian Christianity in the Philippines, reasoning that as a large portion of the population already adhered to Christianity, it would be fertile ground for gaining converts. Indeed, the sea passage from Taibei to Manila became known as the 革命者路 (Gemingzhe lu, or Revolutionary Road), due to the ever-increasing numbers of Taiping citizens who made the voyage in the hopes of spreading the twin creeds of Confucian Christianity and anti-imperialism in the Philippine archipelago (6). The Royal Navy’s moves to suppress these voyages via increased “anti-piracy” patrols out of Hong Kong, which began in the late 1890s and frequently stopped Taiping-flagged ships on course for the Philippines, only served to worsen relations between the Heavenly Kingdom and Great Britain even further.
Relations between Taiping China and their vast neighbor to the north, whom they had won independence from almost forty years before, also worsened appreciably in the Great Awakening Period. The greater surprise is perhaps that Qing-Taiping relations had remained relatively amicable for so long; though this volume will not delve into the causes of that phenomenon, Natalie King Cole’s laudable work Implacable Frenemies: Taiping-Qing Relations From the Tacit Peace to the Great War is an excellent starting point for readers interested in that aspect of Taiping affairs. While statesmen on both sides of the border regularly rattled their sabres and lobbed verbal grenades at each other, the actual article was in surprisingly short supply considering the bitter war that resulted in Taiping independence. In fact, the recently-released private papers of the Yongsheng Emperor make it clear that by 1890, that statesman despaired of the possibility of achieving the long-sought goal of reunification, mostly due to the success of Confucian Christianity in the Taiping Kingdom. But the Great Awakening Regime was different than its predecessors; Yang Xiuqing thought of nothing other than modernization; the Hundred Flowers junta looked south rather than north; and the Five Great Families disdained international affairs when there was no profit to be made from it. The Great Awakening Regime, on the other hand, desired nothing more than to spread Confucian Christianity to all corners of the globe, wherever that faith could be promulgated. The concept of 无信教者的感化 (wuxinjiaozhe de ganhua, or “redemption of the infidels”) became a common trope of Taiping policymakers during the Great Awakening Regime. First coined by the theologian 周星驰 (Zhou Xingchi), it represented the idea that the return of Christ to Earth and the great Judgment at the end of the world would not come to pass unless China was united under the banner of Confucian Christianity. As this theory gained adherents, Taiping China’s policies towards their Qing neighbors became steadily more menacing and confrontational, a state of affairs which caused no small alarm in the Forbidden City far to the north. The Hongde Emperor abhorred the thought of a general war with the Taiping, which both he and his advisors felt would yield few dividends for the nation either in victory or in defeat. Yet the Qing could not afford to lose face to their southern neighbors, and thus small-scale border clashes became common for the first time since the earliest days following the Tacit Peace.
Aggressive policies nothwithstanding, the Taiping Kingdom was not totally friendless during the Great Awakening Regime. Ties between members of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere expanded and deepened, and a common currency was introduced in 1898, after nearly fifteen years of consideration. By the end of the nineteenth century, Dai Nam and the remnants of Burma were little more than vassals of the Taiping; while Pingnan Guo had more leeway with Tianjing, its relations with the Taiping were also conducted from a subservient position. Siam - increasingly prosperous and confident in its own right - was another story, and it often fell to the Thai kings to talk the Taiping down from some of their more dramatic schemes. And while most Western powers were hostile to the Taiping and their anti-imperialist agenda, others found it in their interest to make common cause with the Great Awakening Regime. Nations with no colonial interests in Southeast Asia - the German Empire and the United States in particular - deepened their ties with the Taiping in the interest of balance of power politics, in some cases even secretly encouraging them in the hopes of causing trouble for Great Britain and France . . .
(1) Even at the time, critics saw the gaping hole in this argument, which was that under the Five Great Families regime the state had effectively controlled the economy. Zhang, however, was undeterred by this line of thought.
(2) Purges in the Ministry of Finance after the Great Awakening Regime took power were even more extensive than in other government departments, but very little actual talent was removed; many ministry posts had become essentially sinecures under the Five Great Families regime.
(3) Although he has no official title or post in the government, Wang Mingdao possesses an immense amount of influence as one of the original architects of liberation theology and the Great Awakening Movement.
(4) I’ve discussed the Black Flag Army extensively in previous posts; for those who’ve forgotten, they’re essentially an anti-imperialist “fifth column” of sorts in Southeast Asia that are wholly funded by the Taiping.
(5) I’ll have more to say about India in future posts. It’s probably not going to be pretty.
(6) The Filipino Independence War will be covered very shortly, as well as the Spanish Civil War.
*It’s always fun to write about Taiping China, and it is in that spirit that I present this update on the economic and foreign policies of the Great Awakening Regime. Not quite sure what will come next - there are several directions that I could go in. So if there’s something you’d like to see discussed, just let me know. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #32: Hispania Est Omnis Divisa In Partes Quattuor
Excerpted from “The Third Carlist War,” by Antonia Navas. 1946.
- After the short reign and abdication of King Amadeo in 1873 - that monarch issued a proclamation declaring Spain ungovernable, which any semi-intelligent observer could have told him before he assumed the throne - Spain entered a period of turbulence and chaos. The nation was initially proclaimed to be a republic, which was in trouble from the start. The Republic of Spain was fractured between radicals, who favored a centralized unitarian state; and democrats, who pushed for a federal republic with large amounts of autonomy devolved on Spain’s regions, which were relabeled “cantons.” The Republic was also almost completely broke, which made the situation rather more difficult. The democrats, who held the allegiance of most of the upper classes, emerged victorious over the radicals in the internecine feuding which characterized the early days (and the middle, and the late ones as well) of the Republic. A power-sharing mechanism was arranged that allowed both Conservatives and Liberals to alternate in control of the government, yet another compromise that had to be made in order to prevent Spain from falling apart completely. But any hopes at stability were shattered in the fall of 1873, when the Infante Carlos Maria de los Dolores Juan Isidro Jose Francisco Quirin Miguel Gabriel Rafael de Bourbon y Austria-Este (1), whom we will henceforth refer to as Carlos VII, called for a general uprising, precipitating the Third Carlist War. The Carlists experienced some notable successes in the early days of the war, quickly establishing control over the Basque Country and driving west towards Gijon and Oviedo, both of which were captured in the spring of 1874. The Republic managed to achieve some stability after the initial shock, motivated by existential fear more than anything else. After the Battle of Pamplona, in which Republican General Domingo Moriones defeated a Carlist assault on the city and annihilated a fresh reinforcing force under the command of Don Alfonso de Bourbon, it seemed as though the Third Carlist War might end in the same manner as the first two had. But a new crisis struck the Republic in September of that same year, when disaffected radicals of all stripes launched a series of local uprisings known as the Cantonal Revolution (2), demanding in effect independence for regions from Catalonia to Cartagena. The bombing of the Cortes building in Madrid by Catalonian nationalists in December, which killed President Francisco Pi i Margall, sent the Republic of Spain into a tailspin from which it would never recover.
In the wake of Pi i Margall’s assassination the Republic’s leadership collapsed into factional infighting, as the unitary and federal parties aligned behind Emilio Castelar and Nicolas Salmeron respectively. The Carlists took full advantage of the Republic’s indecision and disunity, sweeping through Catalonia in the spring campaign season of 1875 and launching a drive on Madrid that summer. A last-ditch attempt to unite the feuding Republicans behind Alfonso, son of the deposed Queen Isabella II, came to nought, and Republicans and Isabellists (as Alfonso’s party came to be known) fled Madrid in July just barely ahead of the Infante Carlos, who led his army into Madrid and was crowned King Carlos VII. Low-level resistance on the part of Republican factions continued for some time after the capture of Madrid, and it was not until May of 1876 that they were driven out of their final stronghold in Granada, bringing the Third Carlist War to an end. Spain’s experiment in republicanism proved to be signally short, and the nation once more had a Bourbon monarch on the throne (3). Yet Carlos VII had little time to enjoy the spoils of victory before being confronted with the same problems that had bedeviled his republican predecessors. Whether a kingdom or a republic, Spain was still almost completely insolvent. The question of federalism also proved to be especially vexing for the newly-crowned monarch. Carlos had won the support of many radicals - who had largely greeted him as a liberator - by promising vastly expanded autonomy for regions such as Catalonia and Cartagena. He could not simply retract these promises without causing a renewed outbreak of civil war, but the autonomy that Carlos was forced to grant to Spain’s regions in effect rendered the country ungovernable. Spain muddled along for fifteen years, aided by an infusion of funds from France but cursed with a low-level insurgency on the part of Republican and Isabellist elements that was never truly wiped out. Had the situation simply remained static in the long term, it is impossible to ascertain what would have happened. But Carlos VII’s assassination by an anarchist in 1894 brought fresh chaos to Spain . . .
Excerpted from “The Spanish Civil War,” by Heinz Schroeder. 1970.
- King Carlos’ assassination plunged Spain into civil war. Even as his son Jaime hastened to Madrid from French West Africa, where he had taken a commission with the French Army (4), forces both internal and external were tearing the nation apart. Alfonso, the son of the former Queen Isabella (5), who had fled to Austria-Hungary afte r the Carlist victory more than fifteen years previously, declared that the time was ripe for an Isabellist resurrection and set sail for Spain, accompanied by his loyalists and by “mercenaries” that were in fact elements of the Austro-Hungarian military. Meanwhile, radicals and secessionists across Spain seized the opportunity presented by King Carlos’ death to press their claims for regional independence. Jaime and Alfonso arrived on Spanish shores barely a week apart - Jaime conveyed by the French Navy to Alicante, while Alfonso landed at Almeria to throngs of cheering supporters - and both immediately set about trying to bolster their respective positions. Alfonso’s force was augmented by Isabellists and even republicans who had never forgiven the Carlists for destroying the First Republic; soon, southeastern Spain from Almeria to Cadiz had fallen into the Isabellist pretender’s hands. Jaime, on the other hand, first attempted to consolidate his position in Madrid before moving to suppress the Catalonian revolt, which he judged as the most serious long-term threat to his kingdom, unwisely discounting the danger posed by the Isabellists. In a desperate attempt to raise cash needed to fight the war, Jaime began selling off the last vestiges of Spain’s once grand colonial empire. The African colonies of Morocco and Guinea were sold to France in 1895, Cuba was sold to the United States of America the following year (6), and the Spanish East Indies were sold to the United Kingdom in 1897. Jaime also attempted to sell the Philippines, entering into negotiations with powers as diverse as Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom, but was unable to conclude the transaction, as each would-be buyer came to realize that the Filipino independence movement was sufficiently well-established to make colonialism a losing proposition (7).
The Great Powers of Europe were not content to merely purchase the remnants of the Spanish Empire. On the contrary, the Spanish Civil War quickly assumed the character of a proxy conflict, as Great Britain and France backed the Carlists while Austria-Hungary and the German Empire supported Alfonso and the Isabellist faction. Although no nation was willing to commit their own troops to the conflict openly, each side supported their preferred faction both financially and by sending “mercenaries,” a tactic pioneered by Austria-Hungary which has been discussed above. Alfonso’s forces continued to make gains throughout 1895, seizing Sevilla and Cordoba in the summer and threatening Ciudad Real. Jaime, who had realized belatedly that the Isabellists posed the greater danger to his throne, did not manage to halt Alfonso’s advance north until the spring of 1896, when the Isabellist forces were checked in separate battles near Merida and Albacete. The trend proved to be short-lived; in August the Isabellists began a new push north, and their advance was not stopped until after they had captured Toledo and threatened Madrid itself. Meanwhile, Catalonian National Socialists had united that region, declaring the Socialist Republic of Catalonia in February of 1896; further to the south, the United People’s Democratic Republics of Valencia and Murcia (UPDRVM) were established with the capital at Cartagena by Marxists (8). 1897 and 1898 proved to be frustratingly inconclusive years for both royalist factions. Alfonso and Jaime’s armies hammered away at each other without making any notable progress at all; although the Isabellists now controlled more territory, the Carlists hung tenaciously on to Madrid and the north.
In 1899, with both Isabellists and Carlists exhausted and fearing further rebellion in the territories that they controlled, a truce was signed on January 29th in Aranjuez, a town situated on the front lines between Madrid and Toledo. The terms were simple; each side would keep what it currently possessed. It was agreed that the nascent Socialist Republic of Catalonia would fall into Jaime’s sphere of influence, while the UPDRVM would be Alfonso’s for the taking. In fact, this clause would prove to be unnecessary in the short term; neither the Carlists nor the Isabellists possessed the resources necessary to defeat either of the radical republics at the moment, and thus their existence would be allowed to continue for the moment, although they were not recognized by any European nations. Catalonia and the UPDRVM had taken advantage of the Carlist-Isabellist conflict to consolidate their own positions, signing a pact of alliance in 1898 and attempting to organize their respective militaries. Although, as mentioned earlier, neither of these nations received formal recognition, they did get help from unlikely sources: France supported the UPDRVM, hoping that its presence would destabilize the Isabellists, while Austria-Hungary and Germany gave aid and comfort to Catalonia in the hopes that the same would hold true for the Carlists. In any event, the Aranjuez Truce was to be short-lived, lasting only a year until the events following Alfonso’s sudden death in July of 1900. As for those events, they are more properly explained in volumes that delineate the causes of the Great War . . . (9)
(1) What is it with royalty and absurdly long names?
(2) There was a Cantonal Revolution in OTL as well that occurred at the same time as the Third Carlist War, but they weren’t quite as intertwined as they are ITTL.
(3) Obviously, in OTL the Carlists lost the Third Carlist War, just as they lost all of the other Carlist Wars. They were just losers, I guess. ITTL the Republic essentially collapses under everyone’s feet, and the Carlists more or less pick up the pieces. Right place, right time.
(4) That’s Jaime III, as he is in this timeline. OTL he served with the Russian military, which of course is entirely impossible in the world I’ve created. So he signs on with the French instead.
(5) OTL Alfonso XII died in 1885 of tuberculosis at the age of 28. ITTL he’ll hang on for a while longer (but not that much).
(6) I’m pretty sure that I gave different dates when I first alluded to the sale of the remaining Spanish colonies. Consider that retconned.
(7) It becomes clear to interested buyers of the Philippines that they would have to spend a lot of time, money, and blood to establish control of the archipelago, and under those circumstances no one is too interested. The Filipino independence movement will be discussed in the next update, BTW.
(8) The Catalonians are National Socialists, while the implausibly-named UPDRVM are just orthodox Marxists, making them the first plain old Communist country in this timeline. Congratulations!
(9) The events following the death of Alfonso XII will serve as the primary cause of the Great War, although there are a bunch of secondary issues too. It will be some time before I get to that conflict, though; there are a ton of loose ends that I need to tie up first.
*So there’s another country collapsing, and this time it’s Spain. I bet that no one saw that coming! Fine, you all saw it coming. Whatever. Next up, the Philippines get their independence. It should be exciting. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #33: A Funny Philippines-Related Title Goes Here
冈两问景曰：“曩子行，今子止，曩子坐，今子起，何其无特操与?” 景子：”吾有待而然者邪！吾待蛇蚹、蜩翼邪！惡識所以然？惡識所以不然?” (1)
Excerpted from “The Filipino Independence Movement,” by Corazon Yang. 1989.
- The first stirrings of organized resistance to Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines did not begin to emerge until the 1870s, when the Great Awakening Regime of the Taiping Kingdom began efforts to aid and abet anti-imperialist movements in Southeast Asia. Their efforts were aided unwittingly by the new Governor-General sent to the Philippines by Spain’s newly-crowned monarch Amadeo of Savoy. That Governor-General, Rafael de Izquierdo y Gutierrez, rescinded several liberal programs enacted by his predecessor, and incited resentment among the military by removing their tax exemptions and ordering them to perform manual labor. The resentment boiled over in 1873, when elements of the Engineering and Artillery Corps stationed in Cavite el Viejo mutinied, killing their Spanish officers and hoping to start a national uprising. Their hopes were in vain. The mutiny was quickly crushed, and Governor-General Izquierdo seized the opportunity to implement a general crackdown on those persons thought to harbor pro-independence sentiments. Mutineers and liberals alike were swept up in the aftermath of the mutiny, to be either executed or imprisoned. It is not without irony that the crackdown after the mutiny did more to inflame the sentiments of the general populace than the mutiny itself - which was, after all, led chiefly by soldiers who did not want to pay taxes. Indeed, the most damning action taken by the Izquierdo government in the eyes of the average Filipino was the execution of three priests - Ernesto Fuentes, Mariano Gaston, and Jose Zico - who were acclaimed as martyrs by large portions of the populace and given the collective moniker FUGAZI, a reference to the first two letters in each priest’s family name (2).
While the Cavite Mutiny and the Fugazi Incident were among the first signs of organized anti-Spanish sentiment in the Philippines, their dividends were all too small in the short term for pro-independence supporters. In the wake of the mutiny and Izquierdo’s crackdown, many liberals who were neither imprisoned nor executed fled into exile, which created a vacuum in the leadership of nascent pro-independence organizations that proved difficult to fill. Moreover, after the Five Great Families took power in Tianjing in 1879, financial assistance from the Taiping to anti-colonial movements largely dried up. Thus, the 1880s proved to be somewhat of a frustrating decade for advocates of independence for the Philippines; while anti-colonial movements did proliferate and expand during that period, they had less influence then their backers and supporters hoped for. Indeed, many of the movement’s most prominent advocates were based outside of the country, having sought exile after the crackdown that followed the Cavite Mutiny. Of these exiles, perhaps the foremost of them was the writer Jose Rizal, whose novels El Filibusterismo and Noli me Tangere were circulated widely throughout the Philippine archipelago even after that author was forced to flee to Shanghai (3). Yet if the 1880s were largely a decade of frustration for independence advocates, the 1890s were a time of optimism and victory. The progress of independence activists was aided by two factors outside their control: the first was the downfall of the Five Great Families Regime and its replacement by the ardently anti-colonialist Great Awakening Movement, which immediately began pouring funds into the coffers of anti-Spanish organizations and sending elements of the Black Flag Army to the Philippines to train and support Filipino freedom fighters in guerilla warfare against their colonial masters. The second and even more important factor that aided the cause of independence was the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1894. Not only could the Spanish government ill afford to send any aid to Manila to combat the rising influence of the independence movement, but there was also a crisis among Spanish military and administrative personnel stationed in the Philippines, some of whom backed the ruling Carlist faction while others supported the Isabellists.
In this climate of increased foreign support and uncertainty as to the situation in Spain there was much more room for independence advocates to maneuver, and they took full advantage. The Katipunan, an organization that sought to unite the manifold indigenous anti-colonial movements under one revolutionary umbrella, was founded in 1893 by Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio, among others; Rizal headed the organization’s political wing while Bonifacio commanded the military wing of the movement (4). The movement both suffered and benefited from a certain amount of ideological incoherence. Some elements wanted democracy; others were in favor of Marxism, while still others advocated for an Anarcho-Nihilist Philippines. Religion was also a sticking point; while the Marxists and Anarcho-Nihilists disdained it, the majority of the population was Catholic, and Taiping influence had introduced a not insubstantial minority of Confucian Christians to the mix (5). Rizal and his comrades in the Katipunan’s political wing thus sought to limit the movement’s stated goals to simply achieving their independence from “the Spanish colonial-imperialist yoke,” as the formulation went. While this was beneficial during the short term, allowing the many factions of the independence movement to concentrate on the proximate goal of removing the Spanish from power, in the long term many historians have speculated that this policy led to the Time of Troubles that followed independence. Sadly, that is a topic for another volume.
The Philippine Revolution truly began in March of 1895, after the Katipunan’s existence became known to the Spanish colonial authorities. The movement’s leaders, including Rizal and Bonifacio, quickly called for a general uprising in response to the crackdown that was sure to come. The revolution spread with astonishing speed; the undermanned and underequipped Spanish forces charged with defending the archipelago under the ultimate command of Governor-General Ramon Blanco were taken aback by not only the depth of support that the Katipunan boasted in the countryside but also how curiously well-armed these motley rebels were (which was thanks in large part to Taiping China). After the initial phase of the revolution, which saw mass uprising and unrest from Manila to Mindanao, the Spanish managed to right the ship somewhat during the remainder of 1895, a year that culminated in the capture and execution of Jose Rizal. After that point, although Rizal was technically succeeded by Mariano Llanera as the leader of the Katipunan’s political wing, the movement was largely controlled by Andres Bonifacio; Llanera was quietly removed from his position in 1896 in favor of Mariano Alvarez, Bonifacio’s uncle through marriage. While the loss of Rizal was arguably disastrous in the long run, in the short term it proved beneficial to the rebel cause, as Rizal was acclaimed as a martyr and even more citizens flocked to the banner of revolution. As the situation in Spain grew increasingly confused during the years of 1896 and 1897, the position of Spanish forces in the Philippines correspondingly grew increasingly untenable. Spanish troops began to desert as early as the summer of 1897, either seeking to join the Katipunan or find a way to flee the archipelago altogether. In April of 1898, the remaining Spanish presence in the Philippines fled the fortress of Corregidor under the personal command of Governor-General Blanco, who is reported to have looked back on the Philippines and said, “I will return” - a promise that was never fulfilled. The Republic of the Philippines was proclaimed in Manila in May of 1898, and the citizens of that newly-independent nation celebrated along with the foreigners who had helped to make their dream come true. One foreigner, in particular . . .
Excerpted from “A Man For All Seasons: The Life and Times of Aleister “Che” Crowley,” by Ernesto Guevara. 1998. (6)
- Long after his death, the legend of Aleister Crowley lives on. One can hardly throw a stone without hitting some idealistic youth clad in a shirt bearing Crowley’s likeness, generally the famed photograph of him wearing his trademark beret, unshaven and glaring into the camera, as if it represented the forces of imperialism and colonialism. Yet for all his popularity among would-be revolutionaries, Crowley remains a remarkably misunderstood figure. Part of this is due to the many facets of the man himself; at various points in his life, Crowley was a chess master, a poet, a mountain climber, a Satanist, an occultist, a Confucian-Christian, an Orthodox Anarcho-Nihilist, a Reformed Anarcho-Nihilist, a Marxist, a social critic, a revolutionary, a statesman, a spy, and a horticulturalist. Yet for all the many twists and turns that characterized that remarkable man’s life, the twin principles that were always foremost in Crowley’s mind and heart were anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism (7). As Crowley himself wrote, “If you tremble at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.”
Crowley’s early life was unremarkable; born into a family that possessed some wealth due to his father’s successful brewery, he was raised in a cosseted upper-class household that was devoutly Christian. The death of his father due to cancer in 1887 was a turning point in young Aleister’s life. He grew skeptical and began to pursue alternative lifestyles, culminating in his being expelled from preparatory school for “attempting to corrupt another boy.” He was able to gain admission to Cambridge nonetheless based on his family’s wealth, but his stay at that university proved to be short. While we cannot conclusively prove or disprove the apocryphal tale that he was dismissed for sacrificing his landlady’s cat in a Satanic ceremony, the more probable explanation is that his affair with mathematics professor James Stanley-Gardner was the true cause. Whatever the explanation for the severance of Crowley’s ties with Cambridge, the fallout was severe enough that he felt it prudent to leave Great Britain altogether, setting sail for Hong Kong in 1895. He quickly relocated to Shanghai, in Taiping China, and it was here that he began his flirtation with Confucian Christianity. He briefly considered seeking ordination as a Confucian-Christian cleric, but abandoned that idea after some of his more esoteric ideas - his attempted reconciliation of Confucian Christianity and Satanism foremost among these - were less than well received by Taiping clerics. After a year in Shanghai, Crowley enlisted in the Black Flag Army and was sent to the Philippines to fight in that country’s struggle for independence. The experience transformed Crowley, lending him a sense of purpose and an overriding cause in life: to defeat the powers of colonialism and imperialism. As he wrote on his arrival in the Philippines, “I knew then that the moment the great governing spirit strikes the blow to divide all humanity into just two opposing factions, I would be on the side of the common people.”
Crowley quickly gained renown in the Philippines as a ferocious guerilla fighter and as a champion of the impoverished and oppressed; Tomas Alba, a subcommandant in the detachment of guerillas that Crowley commanded, said of his superior, “Aleister was loved, in spite of being stern and demanding . . . we would give our lives for him.” He fought for almost two and a half years in the Philippine War of Independence, steadily rising in the ranks of the Black Flag Army and in the independence movement as a whole, as he cultivated numerous local contacts in the Katipunan. Crowley grew interested in the tenets of Anarcho-Nihilism during this period, at first adhering to Orthodox Pavlykian Anarcho-Nihilism before becoming more interested in Reformed Leninist Anarcho-Nihilism, which seemed to him to be a more flexible and realistic doctrine. It was his position as a relatively high-profile Anarcho-Nihilist that led to Crowley being declared persona non grata by the nascent Philippine government in the weeks after independence, when the decision had been made to make the Philippines a republic. Crowley thus left the Philippines in the summer of 1898 for his next destination - British India. As he wrote in his private journal, “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall” (8).
(1) I’ve grown bored of the 道德经 (Dao De Jing) as a source for epigrams, and will henceforth be using the 庄子 (Zhuangzi). This excerpt translates as, “The Penumbra asked the Shadow: ‘Formerly you are walking on, and now have stopped. Formerly you were sitting, and now have stood. How is it that you are without stability?’ The Shadow said: ‘I wait for the movements of something else to do what I do, and that on which I wait waits further on another to do as it does. Do I wait for the scales of a snake or the wings of a cicada? How should I know why I do one thing, or do not do another?’” Sure, it’s not very apropos to the Philippine War of Independence . . . but it’s food for thought.
(2) OTL these priests had different last names and they became collectively known as GOMBURZA. Naturally, in this timeline their collective name is the same as that of a moderately successful 90s punk band.
(3) This is largely as per OTL, except that Rizal didn’t go to Shanghai in real life. Also, the sequence of events in which he’s exiled and then returned is a bit different.
(4) ITTL Emilio Aguinaldo did not manage to get himself born. Just a heads up.
(5) Plus there are some Muslims in the south, and a whole bunch of ethnic groups in the mix, and et cetera. It’s complicated.
(6) Crowley’s famous nickname came from his time in the Philippines, during when he attempted to learn Spanish. His tutor, whose name has gone unrecorded, was originally from Argentina, and thus Crowley picked up the Argentine interjection “che,” which he used so frequently in conversation that it quickly became his nickname. His comrades in the independence movement and the Black Flag Army, who were mostly either Filipino or Chinese, had trouble pronouncing “Aleister” anyway.
(7) Yes, I know that in real life Crowley’s main preoccupations were not anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism.
(8) All of the quotations used for TTL’s Crowley are indeed from OTL’s Che Guevara.
*The Philippines are independent, and Aleister Crowley is ready to cause some havoc in India. Coincidentally, we’re headed that way in the next post, although the bulk of it will be devoted to the Third Anglo-Afghan War. Plus, I need to figure out what to do with all that empty space in Central Asia now that Russia is no more. Decisions, decisions. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #34: The East Is Red
Excerpted from “Fukuzawa Yukichi: Japan’s First Communist,” by Nakajima Hiroyuki. 1963.
- Born in 1835 to a low-ranking samurai family outside Osaka, there was nothing in 福澤諭吉 (Fukuzawa Yukichi)’s background that marked him for greatness. Yet more than anyone else, it was this unassuming scholar who laid the intellectual foundations for the Glorious October Revolution that culminated in the creation of New Japan (2). Fukuzawa’s first opportunity to make his mark came in 1860, when Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu, almost immediately after the confused events that culminated in his ascent to power, sent emissaries to the United States, the nation that had forced Japan out of its long 鎖国 (sakoku, or “locked country”) period in 1854. Already proficient in Dutch, Fukuzawa turned his attention to English during his sojourn in America, mastering it to such an extent that he was immediately appointed as a translator for the 幕府 (bakufu, or “shogunal government”) upon his return to Japan. He further capitalized on his reputation as a scholar of languages the following year to secure for himself a position in Yoshinobu’s embassy to Europe, which traveled through the Continent in 1862 engaging in negotiations with nations from Great Britain to Austria-Hungary, seeking to secure foreign advisors and to acquire valuable Western knowledge (3). It was on this trip, during the embassy’s stop in London, when Fukuzawa first learned the tenets of Marxism. As the story goes, Fukuzawa asked a casual acquaintance who the “boldest thinker in Europe” was, and received as an answer the name of Karl Marx, who had taken up residence in London in the late 1840s. The young Fukuzawa immediately sought Marx out, and after receiving an audience with the great man was so taken that he sought to extend his stay in London in order to make return visits to Marx, only catching up with the embassy again in Paris. Though we have little firsthand information relating to the content of these meetings - merely a few jottings in Marx’s journals and fragments of Fukuzawa’s correspondence, most of which did not survive his untimely death - their impact was profound, for Fukuzawa Yukichi spent the remainder of his life spreading the word of Marxism in Japan.
After the embassy returned to Japan in 1863, Fukuzawa resigned his government position and established a school of “Western studies” in Kyoto, in which the study and contemplation of Marxist works were a core component of the curriculum. For his own part, Fukuzawa published the first translations of The Communist Manifesto (共産党宣言) and Capital (資本論) in 1865 and 1867 respectively. Fukuzawa then attempted to apply the principles of Marxism to Japan more specifically, laying out a coherent framework for the development of Communism in Japan in such works as An Outline of Communism (共産主義の概略), On Leaving Feudalism (脱封建主義論), and most famously, What Is To Be Done? (何を為すべきか), all of which were published in a five year period between 1869 and 1874 (4). The crux of Fukuzawa’s argument for the adoption of Communism in Japan was that, in his words, it was “a singularly Asian ideology, so much so that it is hard to believe that it was invented by a German.” Indeed, Fukuzawa interpreted Communism as a governmental system that was oriented around the group as opposed to the individual, which he believed was a natural fit with Asian culture and its emphasis on communitarian and family-centered institutions. Later thinkers would take this kernel of an idea and refine it to produce the ideology that we now know as “East Asian Socialism” (東亜社会主義), which as many commentators have observed diverges sharply from orthodox Marxism in several key areas (5). Indeed, were either Marx or Fukuzawa to emerge from the dead and view today’s People’s Democratic Dictatorship of Japan (日本人民民主専政), they would likely scurry back to their graves in horror at the gross misinterpretations of their writings. Fukuzawa did not intend to lay the groundwork for a wholly new spin on Marxism when he introduced the idea of “Asian Socialism”; on the contrary, he merely meant to make the idea of Marxist Communism more palatable and familiar to a domestic audience. Yet this was not the only aspect in which the development of Communism in Japan progressed in ways that would have seemed alien and undesirable to the man who brought that ideology to Japanese shores in the first place.
As Fukuzawa’s works penetrated deeper into intellectual discussions and entered the public discourse, he inevitably came to the attention of the Shogunate, which was none too happy at what it saw. After the publication of What Is To Be Done?, in 1874, shogunal authorities revoked the license of Fukuzawa’s “school of Western learning”; his students were harassed by the police and Fukuzawa himself was imprisoned for nine months in 1875 on spurious charges of “disrupting the public order.” Fukuzawa was undeterred. After his release from prison, he immediately set to organizing trade unions and workers’ groups in the many nascent industrial enterprises that had sprung up all over Japan since Tokugawa Yoshinobu’s intensive modernization programme began in the mid-1860s (6). The All-Japan Federation of Trade Unions (全労働連) was formally convened for the first time in 1877 in Osaka; Fukuzawa was named the organization’s General Secretary by acclamation. Initially, the Shogunate was undecided on how to respond to the embryonic organized labour movement (7). At first, the bakufu seemed content to let the workers organize; internal documents from the Ministry of Public Security (公安部) suggest that the bakufu intended to control and placate the workers with a few carefully calibrated and ultimately meaningless concessions. The strategic calculus changed quickly in 1880, however, when a series of strikes began at several textile mills in the newly-organized Shiga Prefecture (8). Unfortunately for all concerned, the mills in question were owned by a subsidiary of the House of Mitsui (三井財閥), one of the burgeoning vertically-integrated conglomerates that dominated large sectors of the economy; the House of Mitsui, like its competitors, had its roots in merchant lineages extending back hundreds of years. Once the implications of the strike had set in, the bakufu had no choice but to respond quickly and forcefully. On August 11th, 1880, a group of “auxiliary police” - actually low-ranking samurai on the retainer of a noble with extensive ties to Mitsui - crushed the strikers, killing twenty-eight of them in the ensuing melee. Among the dead was none other than Fukuzawa Yukichi himself, who had arrived at the scene three days previously and was attempting to re-start negotiations between the strikers and management. In the wake of the Omihachiman Massacre (近江八幡殺戮), as the incident came to be known by Japanese workers, a general crackdown ensued on the budding organized labour movement. The Peace Preservation Decree (保安上意), issued in 1881, proscribed all trade unions and illegalized statements or actions that could be construed as supporting Communism. Yet these harsh measures did not destroy Japan’s Communist movement. On the contrary, they simply pushed it underground, where it festered like a sore on the Japanese body politic. Fukuzawa was acclaimed as a martyr, and the mantle of leadership passed from his hands to those of a newer generation - who were willing to take drastic steps of their own . . .
(1) Baka wa shinanakya naorenai, or, “A fool can’t be fixed until death.” It’s an old Japanese proverb, and I probably didn’t translate it quite right. But you get the gist of it.
(2) The author is more than a bit biased, as you might guess. BTW, “New Japan” is used to refer to post-Communist Revolution Japan.
(3) Up to this point, things have all proceeded as per OTL.
(4) Apologies to V.I. Lenin for stealing the title of one of his works (not TTL’s Lenin, of course).
(5) I’ll have a lot more to say about “East Asian Socialism” in due course. It is my newest alt-ideology, and I’m rather proud of it.
(6) I should have mentioned this before: for more on Japan in this timeline, see Part #11, Part #18, and Part #21. The biggest changes are that the Tokugawa Shogunate has survived and that they own Alaska.
(7) Although the Shogunate answers to no one, there are any number of interest groups that they have to placate, which makes them a little slow to react to fast-developing and unforeseen events. A good analogy is to today’s Chinese Communist Party: economic freedom without political freedom, but if the government antagonizes the elite sectors of society, things get really ugly really fast.
(8) Land reform is an issue that I’ll have a lot more to say about in the next entry.
*Well, this post was getting really long, so I decided to chop it up into four parts and present them as mini-updates in sequence. Next up is the political situation and social changes in Tokugawa Japan from 1865-1900, with special reference to how it affects the development of Japanese Communism. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #35: Don’t Know Much About Theology . . .
Excerpted from “Some Developments in the Theory and Practice of Confucian-Christianity,” by H.L. Zhao. 1920.
- The history of Confucian-Christianity is one of seemingly endless contradictions and reverses, of shifts and changes. One supposes that some degree of incoherence is permissible, even inevitable considering the bizarre circumstances in which the religion came to be. After all, it was essentially the creation of one man, Yang Xiuqing, who foisted his Frankenstein’s monster of an ideology on the Taiping Kingdom during the first heady years after the Silent Coup that deposed Hong Xiuquan (1). During the Shi-Yang regime, Confucian-Christianity was less a religion than it was a vaguely articulated idea that largely existed only in the brain of Yang Xiuqing, the Octopus King. It was only after the deposal of Shi Dakai, making Yang the sole unquestioned power in the Taiping state, and the onset of the Cultural Revolution, that Confucian-Christianity came to the fore. Furthermore, it is highly doubtful that Yang believed a word of what later came to be Church doctrine. Rather, he saw Confucian-Christianity as a way to have his cake and eat it too; he could placate elite sectors of society while still preserving the framework of Hong Xiuquan’s theory and appealing to the core supporters of the Taiping state. It was thus that Confucian-Christianity was officially launched as a government-backed religion and given the full imprimatur of the Taiping state during the Cultural Revolution era, when several mass campaigns were initiated to educate the masses in the tenets of the new faith and to win their allegiance to this wholly new constructed religion.
Of course, in order to educate the people in the tenets of Confucian-Christianity, it would first be necessary to ascertain exactly what those tenets were. Initially, the modernization-obsessed Yang wrote most of the propaganda related to Confucian-Christianity himself, which resulted in quite a few doctrinal points that undoubtedly would have had both Confucius and Jesus spinning in their graves. As more and more issues demanded Yang’s time and attention, he chose to outsource the production of Confucian-Christian dogma and doctrine to a new body, the New United Church of Confucian-Christianity (新联基督儒教堂, Xin lian Jidurujiaotang), which was established in 1864. Staffed largely by hangers-on and assorted nepotism cases, the New United Church accomplished relatively little in the first few years of its existence. In large part, they simply continued the policy of labeling Yang’s assorted “modernization initiatives” as Church doctrine. While this policy may have been promulgated out of sheer laziness as much as anything else, it turned out to have a profound effect on Confucian-Christianity in the long run, as distinctly forward-thinking ideals such as gender equality and social equality were enshrined in Confucian-Christian Church doctrine (2). After Yang’s fall from power and the entrance of the Hundred Flowers Regime in 1867, one could have been forgiven for thinking that Confucian-Christianity would be disowned by the new rulers. But on the contrary, seeing the grassroots support that the faith had garnered, the new regime - which was largely a military junta - decided to continue to emphasize Confucian-Christianity in the name of stability. The New United Church was purged of Yang loyalists and re-staffed with so-called “true believers.” From then on, the religion was here to stay.
The major achievement of the New United Church during the Hundred Flowers Regime was the creation and dissemination of the Reformed Taiping Bible (改革太平圣经, Gaige Taiping Shengjing), which was first introduced in 1871 after three years of often intense debate. Much of the debate, discussion, and negotiation centered around the need to integrate three often-contradictory ideologies - Christianity, Confucianism, and Hong Xiuquan’s particular blend of inspired lunacy - into some sort of a coherent whole. Initial drafts used the Bible as a template; sayings from the Confucian canon were added in at appropriate points and the entire text was twisted to satisfy the need for the addition of Hong as a brother of Jesus and a son of God (3). For reasons that scarcely need enumerating, these attempts met with little success, and indeed most of the early drafts were burned, perhaps by frustrated clerics . . .
Excerpted from “The Reformed Taiping Bible.” (early draft; exact date of composition unknown).
- . . . And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightaway out of the water, and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my firstborn Son, in whom I am well pleased. And he saw the Spirit of Hong Xiuquan, and another voice spake, saying: this is my eldest brother, whose guidance and example I shall follow in bringing light to the world.
There were four things from which Jesus was entirely free. He had no foregone conclusions, no arbitrary predeterminations, no obstinacy, and no egotism. All other men were bound by these vices, and thus could not see the light before them. So Jesus was wishing to go to these men, and to live among them, and Matthew said: They are rude. How can you do such a thing? And then Jesus said: If a superior man dwelt among them, what rudeness would there be?
Then was Jesus led up into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterwards hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But He answered and said, The superior man thinks of virtue; the small man thinks of comfort. The superior man thinks of the sanctions of the laws of God; the small man thinks of favors which he may receive from the Devil.
Again, the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things I will give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, The mind of the superior man is conversant with righteousness; the mind of the mean man is conversant with gain . . .
Excerpted from “Some Developments in the Theory and Practice of Confucian-Christianity,” by H.L. Zhao. 1920.
- After the initial drafts of what would become the Reformed Taiping Bible were judged by one and all to be almost completely incoherent, it was decided to step away from the original texts. Instead of putting the words of Confucius into Jesus’ mouth, all while tossing in sundry references to Hong Xiuquan, the Committee on Doctrinal Issues (教条问题委员会, jiaotiao wenti weiyuanhui) opted to construct an entirely new narrative. Modeled on the ancient Chinese epic Journey to the West, the Reformed Taiping Bible was divided into four parts, focusing on God, Jesus, Confucius, and Hong Xiuquan respectively. The first part mostly focused on the basics of the creation of the world by God, while the other three parts were structured as narratives centered on the “journeys” of Jesus, Confucius, and Hong Xiuquan. Each of these three had their story told mostly via short parables, which often incorporated Biblical imagery to illustrate a Confucian virtue, or vice versa. The larger stories of the three devotional figures were structured similarly; each one had to defeat some sort of nemesis (Satan for Jesus, the Qing Dynasty for Hong Xiuquan), while each one also received help and guidance from a “sidekick” of sorts. Jesus was guided by the Monkey King, Confucius was guided by the Twelve Apostles, who repeatedly appeared throughout the text as a kind of Greek chorus, while Hong was guided by both Jesus and Confucius (4). Interestingly enough, the Reformed Taiping Bible also ushered in a revolution in linguistics as well as in religion. The text was written entirely in the vernacular, eschewing the classical style that had been de rigeur among the literati for the better part of two thousand years. Additionally, several hundred characters were simplified, to make it easy for the uneducated to gain some basic literacy and thus be able to read the Reformed Taiping Bible.
With the production and promulgation of the Reformed Taiping Bible came the construction of an organized and centralized church. Seminaries (教校, jiaoxiao) were erected in cities and towns across the Taiping Kingdom, and a church (教堂, jiaotang) could be found in almost every village by 1875. Moreover, the church became an increasingly large and powerful arm within the state; several seats on the Council of Apostles (师徒会, shitu hui) were reserved for senior clerics - the number fluctuated depending on which regime was currently in power - and regular attendance at church was mandatory for any citizen who hoped to avoid the suspicion of the Ministry of Truth (真理部, Zhenli bu). Indeed, during the final quarter of the 19th century the importance of Confucian-Christianity and its centrality to Taiping life grew without pause. Of course, a certain amount of incoherence remained present in Confucian-Christian ideology, as is to be expected of a faith that was so devoted to the state. Every new regime sought to put their own stamp on Confucian-Christianity by stressing doctrinal points that they found compelling, while downplaying or even reversing points of doctrine that they found unpalatable. Yet after twenty-five years in which the church was increasingly a captive of the state, the reverse occurred when the Great Awakening Regime came to power. Their tenure saw a total revamping of the Reformed Taiping Bible to the point that it was even renamed the New Reformed Taiping Bible (新改革太平圣经, xin gaige taiping shengjing). The formerly dissident clerics (5) who came to power espoused a more active and muscular brand of Confucian-Christianity, and had no qualms with wrenching doctrine this way and that to meet their needs. In the Taiping Kingdom, even the word of God is subject to revision . . .
(1) Given that you may not wish to dig through 19 pages in order to figure out what I’m talking about, this is a good time to let everyone know that an almost complete version of the timeline without comments can be found HERE.
(2) “Social equality” is a very general phrase that causes quite a bit of trouble, as it’s interpreted by many as an implicit endorsement of things like land reform. Naturally, those with much to lose from land reform insisted just as loudly that “social equality” had absolutely nothing to do with such a heretical concept. Hilarity ensued.
(3) Even though Hong is only a figurehead, the idea of his divinity was preserved by the very men who overthrew him (Yang Xiuqing and Shi Dakai), as they thought that the rebellion would collapse without Hong’s implied presence at its head.
(4) Sadly, you’ll have to be content with imagining the adventures of Jesus and the Monkey King, with commentary from the Twelve Apostles.
(5) You can be a dissident if you’re a cleric; a great number of divergent views are allowed, given the frequency with which the official line changes. If you’re not a cleric, though, being a dissident is an altogether more risky proposition.
*I’m on a Christianity-in-China kick recently, so I figured that I might as well update this timeline. Not a clue what I’ll write about next, or when I’ll get around to writing about it, but there might be a bit on Central Asia in the wake of the Russian collapse in the not-too-distant future. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #36: Inquisitive Me
Excerpted from “Fire and Brimstone: The Taiping Inquisition,” by Francesca Castelmar. 1956.
- The rise to power of the Great Awakening Regime in the late 1890s produced a corresponding increase in religious fervor among the general populace of Taiping China. Stoked by the passionate sermons of populist clerics such as Wang Mingdao, Chen Baoguo, and Zhu Hongyan, among others, citizens from all across the Heavenly Kingdom began to embrace a more encompassing and fundamentalist version of Confucian-Christianity. In contrast to their predecessors in the Five Great Families Regime, who were more concerned with accumulating profit than they were with religion, the Great Awakening Regime was largely composed of young firebrand clerics, passionate believers in Confucian-Christianity whose highest goal was the spiritual health of the nation. Yet for all of this, the Taiping Inquisition had its roots in factional infighting among members of the Council of Apostles, as did so much else in the Heavenly Kingdom (1). In 1899, the twelve members of the Council included eight unambiguously pro-Great Awakening clerics, as well as four older bureaucrats and military officials who had managed to navigate the treacherous waters of Taiping power politics. With no single dominant figure on the Council, the Apostles - especially the young clerics - were engaged in constant games of coalition-building and betrayal, as each of them attempted to consolidate his or her position as the dominant figure in the Taiping government. In this sense, the Taiping Inquisition can be viewed as nothing more than a gambit on the part of Sun Dengshan that succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Yet this interpretation, long favored by historians of the Goodsonite-Constructivist school, is needlessly reductive and ignores the increasing religiosity on the part of the general populace as well as a trend in all sectors of Taiping society militating against tolerance of faiths other than Confucian-Christianity (see Foreman’s monograph on anti-Buddhist riots in Guangdong in 1898, Wang’s paper on the destruction of Daoist temples in the Jiangsu-Zhejiang region between 1897-8, and Khan’s study on the systematic marginalization of Muslims in the labor market for more details). In short, Taiping China was a powder keg of fundamentalist religiosity and increasing intolerance. All it needed was a spark to set the whole combustible mixture alight . . .
In March of 1899, the playwright Wu Han, author of the wildly popular and highly risqué drama 崔莺莺之七宗罪 (Cui Yingying zhi qi zong fei, or “The Seven Deadly Sins of Cui Yingying”) (2), was arrested at his Shanghai home on charges of “gross immorality and heretical decadence.” Wu was held incommunicado for weeks in a secret prison, where he was beaten and tortured; roughly twenty days after his imprisonment, he was paraded before a crowd of nearly ten thousand in Shanghai’s Martyrs Square, where he issued an abject self-criticism, acknowledging that he was “the worst sort of heretic, one who has no love for Jesus, nor Confucius, nor Emperor Hong in my withered heart . . . may the Father, the Son, the Sage, and the Emperor have mercy on my infidel’s soul.” Wu was then returned to prison, where our knowledge of what definitively happened ends; we do know that he was never seen alive again. Later in that same month, other members of the arts and dramatic scene in Shanghai and Guangzhou were swept up by the authorities, as well: the artist Cai Fangpei, who specialized in sensual nude portraits, the novelist Jia Ming, whose works contained numerous frank references to homosexual love, and the poet and provocateuse Xu Peng, among numerous others, were imprisoned and ultimately either executed or hounded to death. This all served as a prelude of sorts for a front-page editorial in the Tianjing Evening Star that appeared on April 4, 1899; penned by Sun Dengshan, Chairman of the Ministry of Truth (3), it was entitled “On the Handling of Schismatics and Heretics,” and agitated for a “national uprising” to root out the “traitors to Confucian-Christianity and Heavenly Kingdom,” whom Sun implied were infesting the Taiping state like a running sore and threatening the stability of the Heavenly Kingdom. Sun Dengshan essentially hoped to strengthen his position on the Council of Apostles by placing the Ministry of Truth - and therefore, himself - at the center of the Taiping government and to establish himself as the Council’s strongest defender of “Confucian-Christian moral values”; his diaries indicate that he eventually hoped to attack protégés of several of his rivals for leadership and thus weaken the position of their patrons, chiefly Archbishop Yang Xueliang and Minister of Trade Liu Xuehua. As it so happened, Sun wound up getting much more than he had bargained for.
The cause of “rooting out the heretics” was quickly taken up by what initially seemed a rather unlikely crowd: students, especially those enrolled in secondary schools and universities. A more careful analysis of the situation would reveal that youthful support for the Taiping Inquisition should, in fact, not have come as a surprise. After all, students were among the first and most ardent supporters of the Great Awakening Regime when it was still a subversive movement opposed to the Five Great Families Regime. For the young, the Great Awakening offered both a sense of spiritual purpose and a more tangible hope of advancement in society; unlike during the Five Great Families era, when social mobility stagnated and the painstaking cultivation of connections was virtually the only way through which one could hope to be upwardly mobile, the Great Awakening Regime offered anyone the chance to attain power and wealth provided that they were unambiguously observant and faithful to the tenets of Confucian-Christianity. It was thus that in mid-April, a group of students enrolled at Tianjing University formed the first chapter of the 宗卫兵 (Zong weibing, or “Defenders of the Faith”). The students pledged to “protect our Emperor the Hong Tianguifu and Confucian-Christianity and to root out the heretics wherever they may lurk.” Soon, chapters of the Defenders of the Faith began to spring up at universities across the Heavenly Kingdom, and the radical students started to attack professors who they felt were spreading heresy. Soon, “struggle sessions” became commonplace; these consisted of rallies wherein a professor was bodily seized, conveyed to a meeting place where the Defenders of the Faith had gathered, and then subjected to both verbal and physical abuse until he or she “recanted” and confessed his or her “crimes against Confucian-Christianity and the state.” Although many senior clerics and policymakers were cheered by the obvious devotion to Confucian-Christianity displayed by the Defenders of the Faith, they were even more alarmed by the breakdown of traditional authority structures that the students had triggered and feared that more widespread social unrest would develop were the radicals not contained. It seemed as though a consensus was developing in the United Church of Confucian-Christianity and on the Council of Apostles that the Defenders of the Faith should be chastised and ordered to cease and desist, perhaps even on pain of excommunication. Yet Sun Dengshan, seeing in the students a means to advance his ends, pre-empted any formal decision with his “Onward Confucian-Christian Soldiers Speech” (基督儒教兵士前进讲) at the East Gate of Shanghai Normal College, which was delivered on May 12th. Sun, speaking in front of a crowd of more than 20,000 Defenders of the Faith, praised the group as “Confucian-Christian soldiers, bravely spreading the gospel and uncovering the black elements that lurk among us,” and called for a nationwide “Anti-Heretic Movement” (反异端者运动, Fan yiduanzhe yundong) (4). A surge in support for the Defenders of the Faith came in the wake of the speech, and several previously non-aligned members of the Council of Apostles, perhaps seeing which way the wind was blowing, shifted to Sun’s faction. The Council of Apostles, backed by the United Confucian-Christian Church, published a decree giving Sun Dengshan’s Anti-Heretic Movement governmental imprimateur and marking the true beginning of the Taiping Inquisition. And after that, the Heavenly Kingdom began to burn . . . (5)
Excerpted from “The Xiamen Morning Post,” 1899. Headlines and Front-Page News.
PROFESSOR FENG LIBO OF XIAMEN TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY STRUGGLED AGAINST
In Six-Hour Rally, Schismatic Educator Finally Confesses His Perfidy
The Heretic Perished After the Conclusion of the Proceedings
TWELVE HERETICS BURNED AT STAKE IN HONG XIUQUAN SQUARE
The Nest of Deviate Artists was Rooted Out by the Staunch Efforts of the Songshan District Neighborhood Watch
ARCHBISHOP YANG XUELIANG ACCUSED OF GROSS HERESY
Satan’s Running Dog to Undergo Trial by Earth, Air, Fire and Water on Tuesday
Minister of Truth Sun Dengshan Appointed to Fill the Infidel’s Post
WARMLY CONGRATULATE YOUNGER BROTHER WANG FEI
Seven-Year Old Boy Denounces His Parents as Heretics and Traitors to the Faith
The Boy Hero Personally Awarded “Young Defender” Medal by Mayor Zhen Taotao
CHAOS IN XIAMEN!
Rival Factions of Defenders of the Faith Battle on Aimin Street
Fire Breaks Out In the Melee, At Least Three Hundred Estimated Dead
MARTIAL LAW DECLARED IN XIAMEN
Elements of the Third Army Battle Defenders of the Faith Until Sundown
General 2nd Class Li Keqiang Lashes Out Against “Black Elements” of Society
CHRISTIAN REVOLUTIONARY COMMITTEE SEIZES POWER IN XIAMEN
General 2nd Class Li Keqiang Flayed
FESTIVAL OF CHRIST’S BIRTH CELEBRATED
Traditional Mayoral Benediction in Shi Dakai Square Cancelled After Disagreement As To Who Currently Occupies the Office of Mayor; Twenty-Three Dead in Heated Disagreement
. . . . . . . .
(1) The Council of Apostles is the twelve-man (and woman) body that exercises executive power in place of the figurehead emperor Hong Tianguifu. Its membership is unelected, but is usually comprised of a mixture of clerics, civil servants, and the military. While there is no explicit mechanism for determining a leader of the Council, in practice it is usually dominated by individuals from the most powerful faction at the time. I’ve referenced the Council numerous times, but just in case you’ve forgotten . . .
(2) Basically an extremely explicit reworking of The Romance of the Western Wing. Even in non-revolutionary times, eyebrows would have been raised; in the current climate, writing the play proved to be a fatal mistake.
(3) I’ve also referenced the Ministry of Truth before, but it’s been a while since I did. The Ministry is essentially responsible for the internal security of the Taiping state. It also has religious responsibilities as well; they are responsible for suppressing heresy and “re-educating dissident elements.” Which is precisely as pleasant as it sounds.
(4) The Anti-Heretic Movement was the official name of the mass campaign; the title “Taiping Inquisition” was a purely Western construct.
(5) The Great Awakening Regime is walking a very thin line here. Previous regimes have tended to either focus on foreign or domestic affairs, essentially preserving the status quo in one realm while shaking up the other one. The Great Awakening crowd, on the other hand, is angering colonial powers left and right with their support for indigenous revolutionary movements while at the same time launching a mass campaign at home that results in widespread unrest and chaos. It’s a dangerous game they’re playing, and it could very well end in tears . . .
*Oh, Taiping China. You’re such a barrel of laughs. I just can’t quit you. And thus, I update this timeline for the first time in two months. I’d like to resume a semi-regular posting schedule, but who knows what will happen? In the unlikely event that I do post sometime soon, look for a piece on Japanese Alaska: The Early Years. As always, thanks for reading.
Part #37: Zen And The Art Of Igloo Maintenance
Excerpted from “The Last Frontier: From Russian Alyeska to Japanese Kyokukouchi,” by Chuck St. Germain.
- After the events of the Triangle War and the collapse of the Russian Empire into civil war, Japan, rather to the Shogunate’s surprise, found themselves in possession of Alyeska, a vast and partly unexplored territory that dwarfed the Home Islands. At first, the bakufu were uncertain exactly what to do with the Shogunate’s new prize, besides renaming it 極光地 (Kyokukouchi, or “Land of Northern Lights”). It was perhaps mostly the fear of losing their new territory that prompted the shogunate to launch a state-directed colonization programme, which began in 1892. Neither the British Empire nor the United States of America were wholly comfortable with Japan’s acquisition of Alyeska, and were it not for the fact that these two nations disliked each other more than they did Japan the situation might have played out much differently (1). Japan attempted to smooth over relations with the United Kingdom by concluding a treaty resolving the exact position of the border between Kyokukouchi and British Columbia; the Herbert-Yoshitaka Treaty of 1892 gave the British more or less exactly what they wanted, in return for which any reservations related to the idea of a Japanese Alyeska were dropped by Whitehall. Relations with the United States remained tenser, however, fueled by a plethora of articles in the American popular press inveighing against the “yellow peril” posed by Japanese occupation of Alyeska. In light of the uncertain situation with regard to the policies of Kyokukouchi’s neighbors, the shogunal government moved vigorously to establish a presence in their new territory. Kyokukouchi was designated as a “Special Administrative Territory” in 1892; ultimate administrative authority initially lay in the hands of a Governor-General who was appointed by the Shogun and who worked in Edo. Given the distances involved, however, a great deal of authority lay with the cadre of scholar-bureaucrats from the Ministry of Home Affairs who were posted to Kyokukouchi’s capital, formerly Novo Archangelsk (or Sitka) and now renamed Osojima (獺島, or “Otter Island” in reference to its former status as a fur trading port). Given Osojima’s proximity to the border, it was decided to construct a new capital near a defunct settlement in south-central Kyokukouchi, which would be given the rather appropriate name of Yonichi (夜日, or “Midnight Sun”) (2).
For the first few years of its existence, Kyokukouchi’s status as a rugged and harsh backwater attracted a strange mix of colonists. The shogunal government had been encouraging emigration for years as a way to alleviate population pressures, and they were hopeful that the stream of migrants could be redirected to Kyokukouchi, where Japan would still be able to benefit from them. This strategy proved to be less than a rousing success; most emigrants, doubting that they would be able to find steady employment and concerned about Kyokukouchi’s wild reputation, continued to opt to head for places like the United States and Brazil. On more than several occasions, local bakufu officials grew so frustrated that they secretly contracted with the captains of ships carrying emigrants from Japan to make for Osojima rather than San Francisco or Sao Paulo. The city most notorious for this practice was Sendai, and it is indeed from this that we derive the modern idiom “to be sendaied.”
Aside from these rather unwilling new citizens, Kyokukouchi largely drew its colonists from the ranks of the dispossessed and downtrodden. Whole communities of out-castes, including burakumin and eta, made the journey to the north, hoping to start a new life free of the discrimination that clung to them on the Home Islands (3). Kyokukouchi also drew a large number of low-ranking samurai, many of whom had been reduced to penury after the gradual elimination of their stipends and the samurai aversion to doing manual labor. These men were often employed by the territorial government, who sent them on expeditions to survey the vast mass of Kyokukouchi and to search for natural resources and native peoples (4). Even former fudai daimyo, the so-called “Inner Lords” whose domains had been abolished by the shogunate, got in on the act, as several of them were appointed as administrators of the vast districts that were rather arbitrarily drawn on the map; many of the more remote districts were administered as quasi-feudal fiefs for many years. The bakufu in Edo also viewed Kyokukouchi as a convenient dumping ground for troublemakers and dissidents, especially Communists and trade-unionists, large numbers of whom were shipped off to the new territory on mandatory ten- or twenty-year “resettlement visas.” In its early years Kyokukouchi had a rugged frontier mentality, as evidenced by the numerous brawls that broke out in the streets of major or minor settlements on a regular basis between gangs of samurai, dissidents, burakumin, Eskimos, or anyone else who felt like a fight. It was the middle of nowhere, the end of the world, with little other than fisheries and lumber yards. Then in 1894, everything changed.
It was in that year that gold was discovered in the Klondike Basin of Vesperia’s Yukon Territory (5). News of the find sparked a massive gold rush and was gleefully played up by the shogunal government, which cared not a whit that the Klondike was not in Kyokukouchi. As a motivational tool to lure immigrants the news of a gold strike in the vicinity of Kyokukouchi was simply too good to pass up, and when prospectors and surveying teams began to strike gold in Kyokukouchi itself, the shogunal government rapidly began to reassess the vast northern territory’s importance to Japan. The population of Kyokukouchi exploded during and after the Gold Rush, as, inevitably, many of the prospectors who had come to seek their fortune stayed in the Land of the Midnight Sun after coming away from the gold fields empty-handed. There was also a surge in foreign influence and presence at this time, as numerous American prospectors headed north for gold, and many of them came by boat to Kyokukouchi’s ports. After some initial hesitation, fearing that the Japanese character of Kyokukouchi would be lost were Americans to pour in by the thousands, the territorial government relented - helped along by demands from Washington - and granted entry almost without restriction to the prospectors.
At times, there were fierce clashes between the new American arrivals and the almost as newly arrived Japanese colonists; the Americans were generally reluctant to submit to Japanese authority, while the territorial government was equally determined to keep a firm lid on the cultural melting pot that the territory was rapidly becoming. Foreign prospectors especially resented the exorbitant prices that they were forced to pay for necessities, the supply of which was largely controlled by burakumin criminal syndicates operating with the tacit approval and consent of the territorial government. Especially successful in cornering the market on food products was Honda Shigeru, known to the foreign community as “Big-Eared Shiggy,” the leader of the feared Black Bear Syndicate (黒熊組, or kurokuma-gumi). Yet at the same time, friendships and partnerships were forged between American prospectors and their Japanese counterparts. One need only read the most famous piece of literature to emerge from this period, Mori Ogai’s The Cremation of Sam McGee (サムマギーの荼毘, or Samu Magii no dabi), an epic poem in which the narrator recounts the death and burial of his friend and companion, to understand the cross-cultural ties that were created during this period. Indeed, the first line of Mori’s poem perhaps sums up the state of early Kyokukouchi more neatly than any history book could do: “There are strange things done in the midnight sun, by the men who moil for gold.”
Of course, quite a few of the occupants of the Land of the Midnight Sun had been living there peacefully for generations, long before gold or Japanese or Russians, for that matter. They were, of course, the native Inuit (or Eskimo) tribal communities. The territorial government took a haphazard approach to dealing with native tribes, often preferring to delegate responsibility to local officials and surveying parties rather than formulating a general policy. There was thus a wide range of outcomes in the treatment of Inuits; some villages were given gifts and brought into the fold via carrots, while in other areas hostages were taken to force compliance. In at least several cases, the expeditionary party that made first contact with an Inuit village massacred the entire community. On balance, the large-scale colonization of Kyokukouchi by the Japanese was disastrous for Inuit culture; alcoholism in particular afflicted many natives, who sought solace at the bottom of a bottle of shouchu. Yet in Japan, the fetishization of Inuit culture was a vital component of the “Kyokukouchi Craze” that swept the nation at the turn of the century. As the perception of Kyokukouchi changed from provincial backwater to land of wealth and mystery, Japan’s elite and the country’s rapidly-growing middle class sought to bring a little bit of Kyokukouchi into their own lives. When winter came, a fashionable denizen of Edo or Osaka would as often as not don his or her mukluks and head north to Hokkaido for a week’s vacation at an “igloo community” where artisanal igloos were painstakingly crafted for the well-to-do to spend time in communing with nature and renewing their spiritual energy. Indeed, it was the country’s fascination with igloos that was the source of the brief mania for spherical architecture, a period that has been dubbed “the bubble years” by later commentators. Yet no matter how large they may become, at some point every bubble pops.
(1) The British don’t want the Americans to get their hands on Alaska, and the Americans don’t want the British to get their hands on Alaska, and so Japanese possession of the territory, initially won by conquest in the Triangle War, is certified at the Treaty of Washington in eighteen ninety-something.
(2) The site of OTL Seward, Alaska, and one that I’ve chosen more or less at random.
(3) Eta and hinin (which are lumped together with the name burakumin) were hereditary outcast groups in Japanese society. They typically handled things like tanneries, butchery, undertaking, etc. and were shunned by everyone else.
(4) No, they’re not going to find the oil. Or the zinc, for that matter. Too early, technology not nearly advanced enough, etc.
(5) I’ve moved up the date of the discovery of gold a couple of years because I imagine that there would be more activity around the border in the wake of Japan’s conquest of Alaska, and also because I just didn’t want to do it at the exact same time as OTL. And I mentioned this a while back, but “Vesperia” is Canada; in OTL, if I’m not mistaken, it was one of the candidate names and I like how it sounds.
*It’s this timeline’s one-year anniversary today (or yesterday, if you’re going by GMT), and if that’s not a good time for an update then I don’t know when is. No surge of new activity on this one in the near future, unfortunately. But every once in a while, when I have an interesting idea or want to fill in a gap that I didn’t get around to talking about, I’ll drop by and post. As always, thanks for reading.