Perpetual Brightness: Surviving Southern Ming

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Faeelin, Apr 12, 2006.

  1. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

    Jan 4, 2004
    Once, the Confucian school outside Quanzhou had bustled with students and scholars. Some of China’s greatest administrators had come from there, and in its day the school had been a center of learning. But since the famines, and the Manchu invasion, the school had grown quiet. The buildings were dilapidated, with peeling paint and rotten timber. There was only one man there, in the dark of night, standing by a fire.

    The man watched as the flames cast a red glow over the temple, as it consumed the robes of a scholar. An Empire was collapsing outside its walls, but inside the silence was broken only by the crackle of the flame. He stood, and watched, as the yellow robes of a scholar were consumed.

    The man had once trained to be a scholar, to serve the emperor faithfully. His only ambition had been to rise through the ranks and serve his family and emperor. Now, however, he was left with nothing. He could feel the tears falling down his cheeks, as he thought about what had happened. His mother was dead, and his father was a traitor. Where did that leave him?

    The man sank to his knees before the fire, watching as the fire consumed his copy of the Book of Changes. His father, he remembered, had given it to him when he was a student. Now the man who had given those to him was his enemy.

    The man’s face was covered with dirt and soot streaked with tears. “"In the past,” the man whispered, “I was a good Confucian subject and a good son. “

    He paused, swallowing as he carefully said his next words. The hall was silent, save for the crackle of the flames. He began to weep then, a racking sound that echoed through the silent room. “Now I am an orphan without an emperor. I have no country and no home.”

    There Qing had killed his mother. They’d raped her first, he’d heard. They’d done it for hours, until they were done with her. And then they had gutted her like a fish. How could he call the house where she had been killed home?

    The man sobbed, his tears staining the silk robe he wore“I have sworn that I will fight the Qing army to the end,” said the man, “but my father has surrendered and my only choice is to be an unfilial son.”

    “Please,” he begged, “forgive me.”

    The man mourned for hours, for the death of a nation and a family. But while he mourned, he thought about what he must do. Eventually, the sobbing subsided, and was replaced by quiet weeping. At last, as the sun rose, he shakily stood up, and looked at the dying embers before him. And then Zheng Chenggong walked out, to save Perpetual Brightness [1].

    [1] The Ming dynasty
    Mohamud likes this.
  2. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

    Jan 4, 2004
    I guess I should elaborate what I'm thinking of, here.

    The rough idea, right now, is that Koxinga leads a successful Ming resistance against the Qing, retaking Nanjing in 1659 instead of failing as in OTL.


    They might not, in such a situation, end up taking Taiwan from the Dutch. What would be the point?
  3. Wendell Wendell

    Jun 8, 2005
    Lost in what might have been
    That would open a whole new can of worms...
  4. Hendryk Banned

    Aug 24, 2004
    They might still need Taiwan as a rear base. And from a patriotic perspective, if the Manchus need expelling from the Empire, then so need the red-haired barbarians*, as long as they come as conquerors and not as traders (though an arrangement could certainly be found).

    * There is to this day, in a northern suburb of Taipei, a place called 紅毛城 Hong Mao Cheng, "the fortress of the red-haired ones".
  5. Archdevil Member

    Aug 16, 2005
    The fort might be one of the Spanish forts, whom the Dutch kicked out (1640s)before being kicked out themselves. The Dutch Fort Zeelandia was not near Taipeh, so it can not be that one.
  6. Hendryk Banned

    Aug 24, 2004
    Indeed, the fort was initially built by the Spanish in 1629 and called San Domingo. It was taken over by the Dutch in 1642, and that's when it acquired its local name.
  7. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

    Jan 4, 2004
    Hmm. Remember, though, that Koxinga invaded Taiwan in OTL partly to get a supply of food for his troops.

    In the ATL, if he controls southern china, that's less pressing; if anything, he'd want to encourage the presence of foreigners, to stimulate trade (and to get some more of those neat cannons they bring).

    It depends, of course. I suspect that if the Spanish and the Dutch treat the Chinese abroad the way they did in OTL, things could get messy.
  8. Hendryk Banned

    Aug 24, 2004
    Which is why I hinted at the possibility of an arrangement. In OTL, the Dutch were more amenable than other powers to the requirements of trade with Tokugawa Japan, which shows that they can take a pragmatic approach when there is no other realistic option. The fact that, in OTL, they got their arses kicked by Zheng Chenggong's Triad forces shows that the balance of power between the pro-Ming Chinese and the Dutch was to the former's advantage, so it could be a similar situation. The quid pro quo could be: "You guys get to retain informal control of Taiwan the way the Portuguese do in Macao, but you only trade with us, and not with the Qing usurpers. You have cannons we'd like to buy, what would you like in exchange?"
  9. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

    Jan 4, 2004
    August, 1659

    It is an August evening along the Yangtze, and ordinarily it would be a pleasant scene. An artist painting the scene, under the light of a full moon, would have painted a scene for gentry to admire. If he was a romantic, he would have painted the scene from atop the Swallow Crag, giving him a bird’s eye view of the landscape around Nanjing. In an ordinary time, such a work would have shown barges traveling down the river under the light of a setting sun, and the lights from the fires and lamps of Nanjing.

    This was no ordinary time.

    Instead of merchant barges, the Yangtze was swarming with Ming warships, blockading the city. Instead of peasants in their fields, the city was surrounded by thousands of tents and tens of thousands of soldiers, their campfires like fireflies in the twilight. From the walls of the city the banners of the Qing flew, defiant of the army outside the walls. But an artist who saw the look on the Qing soldiers’ faces would have known they were afraid.

    There would be artists, of course, who would try to paint this scene. How could they not, when the siege marked the turning point for the Ming Dynasty’s fortunes?

    And yet, the battle might have gone the other way. Inside the tent of the commander, Zheng Chenggong, known to the west as Coxinga, almost lost the siege without a fight.

    Zheng paced about the room, puffing irritably on a long clay pipe. He took it out of his mouth for a moment, and looked at his officers.” The barbarian governor within the city has offered to surrender the city to us, if we only wait thirty days!” he said. Zheng glared irritably at his men. “We could take the city without a fight,” he said. “And you would have me risk this by attacking the city now?”

    One of Zheng’s highest officers and dearest comrades, Gan Hui, scowled. “It’s a trick. The commander is trying to stall for time, while reinforcements arrive from the north. He’s trying to convince you that you will give up without a fight, just as you onced tricked the Qing into believing that.” He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, and said, “I think we should take the city now, while we can.”

    Zheng fiddled with his pipe, adding another ball of tobacco. “He may very well be stalling,” replied Zheng. “But that will not win us their hearts and minds.”

    Gan Hu stood up out of his chair, and walked over to the entrance to the tent. “Look out there!” he demanded. He gestured with his arm, encompassing the camp. “Two hundred thousand men follow you. The districts south of the Yangtze are defecting to you daily. Do you truly think that you have not restored their confidence in the Ming?”

    Zheng stood outside the tent, watching the men in his army prepare for nightfall. He stood there for a while, absently puffing as he thought. At long last, he nodded. “Very well,” he declared. “We will retake Nanjing by force.” [1]

    [1] This, of course, is the POD. In OTL Zheng Chenggong was convinced to wait, hoping that the city would defect to him. He waited so long that reinforcements poured into the city, and he was defeated at its gates.
  10. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

    Jan 4, 2004
    It was a time of celebration for Zheng Chenggong’s followers. But for the man who had retaken Nanjing, it was a time of sadness. He had hoped to take the city without resistance, and now it was devastated by a sack. He surveyed the city, noting fires that had broken out across the city. They were only now being put out, and thousands had lost their homes.

    His banners floated from the city’s walls, declaring, “Kill your father, and restore your country.[2]” But the triumph seemed hollow to him.

    Zheng had taken up residence in the Imperial Palace in Nanjing, and there he receive reports from all across southern China. Messengers continued to arrive from all of southern China, pledging loyalty to the Ming and to him. [3].

    Zheng sipped a cup of tea, and looked at another report, warning him of Manchu reinforcements that were marching south. They would try to besiege Nanjing again. The city had fallen twice now, over the past two decades. Zheng scribbled a note on a piece of paper, and wondered if the city could survive a third siege.

    Zheng stretched, and stood up. He walked out of his chambers, ignoring his bodyguards, and went to walk through the palace garden.

    Zheng strolled through the garden, admiring the work that had been put into it. Yet even as he admired the way bamboo had been arranged around the lake, he couldn’t help but notice how many of the plants seemed as if they had not been tended to recently; he noticed the wilting flowers, and the overgrown bamboo. Even in the pale moonlight, the signs of decay were obvious.

    He turned to one of his aides, who had accompanied him on the walk. “Why has the gardener not been tending to the park?” he asked.

    His aide looked down at a list of papers he was carrying, and shrugged. “He was apparently killed during the siege, or when we took the city.”

    Zheng nodded. “I thought so,” he said.

    He sat down on a bench next to a pond, and thought about what to do. By the end of the night, he would have accomplished three things.

    The first thing Zheng Chenggong did was write a poem about the fall of Nanjing.

    My life has been one of great joy and melancholy,
    And I find it is not easy to gain release from melancholy.
    Appreciation of virtue has been rare since the heroes of old,
    and finding happiness is difficult for my generation.

    Aspirations dissipate as we waste ourselves in endless war,
    Hope-filled dreams waste away as we travel about.
    And when we finish, we can only get drunk together in golden pavilions,
    and look out on the desolation that surrounds us.

    If my life is a game of chess,
    my next move is a difficult one.
    But if we don’t stop playing,
    we will break the board

    The second thing that Zheng did was to write a letter to the Emperor of Eternal Experiences [5], who still ruled in distant Yunnan.

    And finally, as the sun began to rose, Zheng sent a message to Emperor of Unbroken Rule in Bejing. [6].

    The first letter was innocent enough, for Zheng merely urged the Yongli emperor to come to Nanjing, to rule his subjects “with righteousness and harmony”. The second letter, however, was equally important, and would, in many ways, have more lasting consequences.

    With an army poised to advance north of the Yangtze, with southern China falling to him, Zheng offered the Manchu a truce.

    [2] This was on his personal banner in OTL. Zheng’s father defected to the Manchu, and urged Zheng to do likewise.

    Needless to say, Zheng Chenggong had other ideas.

    [3] In OTL, Zheng Chenggong received substantial support from the populace in the areas he retook; but it dissipated after his disastrous retreat from Nanjing.

    [4] This is a combination of Coxinga’s OTL poetry and the writings of Wang Yuan.

    [5] The Yongli Emperor

    [6] The Shunzi Emperor.
  11. MerryPrankster Well-Known Member

    Jan 10, 2004 many Emperors are there right now?
  12. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

    Jan 4, 2004
    By now, two.

    The last Ming Emperor is the Yongli Emperor, whose name means "Emperor of Eternal Experiences".

    He only rules Yunnan, in southwest China at this point, but he has substantial support from the Chinese population.

    In contrast, the emperor of the Qing Dynasty, in northern China, is the Shunzi Emperor, AKA the Emperor of Unbroken Rule. (I'm using their longer names because I think it gives a better idea of what the emperors were called, in China).

    Then there's Zheng Chenggong, who is a Ming supporter, and the centerpiece of the TL. He rules the southern Chinese coast, and has retaken Nanjing.

    Zheng was also symbolically adopted by a previous Ming monarch, which means that he, technically, could claim to be a Ming heir; but since he never did so in OTL, I'm not sure he would in the ATL.

  13. The Sandman Purveyor of Sky Cake Banned

    Mar 10, 2005
    A twisty maze of passages, all alike
    If he actually is going to make a truce with the Qing, is there any chance that Zheng will press traditional Chinese claims in Tonkin and Annam?
  14. fortyseven Mastermind

    Jan 1, 2004
    Empire of the True North
    I like it. If Zheng were in a position to take the throne but wasn't accepted as a Ming then you'd have to chnage the timeline title :). Will we find out which kings, archdukes, governors supported whom or is that too detailed?

    I look forward to more and maps.
  15. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

    Jan 4, 2004
    Well, the people of Annam certainly don't view them as traditional. :)

    We'll see. Remember, that the Southern Ming are still relatively weak; the coutnry has been in disarray for decades, and it'll take time to rebuild.

    I'll go into the politics in a bit; although I suspect most readers aren't too intersted in the plans of Fu Manchu...
  16. Strategos' Risk Oriental Orientalist

    Mar 10, 2004
    Please continue! I need another gripping, [footnoted], pseudo-medieval AH to keep me interested after Doug Hoff ended Empty America.
  17. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

    Jan 4, 2004
    You got it.
  18. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

    Jan 4, 2004
    Sagaing, Burma, December 1659

    The Emperor of External Experiences paced by the window of the mansion he had been given by the Burmese king, and sniffled.

    “I hate this climate,” he whined to no one in particular. It was even worse than Southern China. The air was hot and humid, and it permeated everything. He yawned irritably. He’d had trouble sleeping ever since they had reached Burma, when he had started waking up at night short of breath. They had tried finding a treatment, but if any existed here in Burma, the few doctors that would treat him hadn’t found any yet.

    He coughed again, and looked outside at his guards that were patrolling the compound. They were so few, compared to the hundreds of thousands who served the Qing. But they followed him, although he suspected they thought that the Ming were doomed. Coughing, he sat down, and began writing a message to the king of Burma, begging for more support.

    He was still writing the message, less than an hour later, when there was a knock at his door. “Your Majesty, [7]” said a voice that cracked with excitement, “there is a messenger for you, from your followers in Nanjing.”

    The Emperor of External Experiences raised his head from what he was writing. “I never had followers in Nanjing,” he said wryly to himself. After a moment, he nodded. “Let the messenger in.”

    The Emperor of External Experiences studied the man who walked into the room. The man was clearly a soldier, comfortable in his armor, yet unsure of how to behave around the Emperor. The Emperor smiled. “I imagine,” he said, “that you never thought you would meet an emperor.”

    The man blinked, and quickly prostrated himself. “Your Majesty,” said the soldier, “I bring you a message from your loyal servant, Zheng Chenggong, the governor of the Southern Capital in your absence.” The Emperor’s mouth fell open. He knew that Zheng had been preparing an offensive against the Manchu, but he had never dreamed that he was planning something so massive.

    The messenger, still kneeling, said, “I am Gan Hui, a loyal servant of Zheng Chenggong and Your Majesty.” He handed a letter to the Emepror, who tore it open. The Emperor quickly read it, blinking to keep from crying.

    “The Imperial Namekeeper,” he said when he finished, “has served us well, and so have you, Gan Hui. Arise, Marquess of Weiyaun.”

    Gan Hui rose carefully, and looked at his emperor for the first time. He was about to thank the Emperor, when he noticed the scar on the Emperor’s Palm, still fresh and raw. “Your Majesty,” he asked, “what happened to you?”

    The Emperor smirked. “This?” he said, lifting up his hand. “When we were fleeing from Yunnan, as Wu Sangui’s army hounded us, I had to offer one of my generals titles and lands, to ensure his loyalty. I had no paper or ink with me at the time, so I tore a strip of cloth from the robe I was wearing, and wrote him a promise in my blood.”

    Gan Hui looked at the frail, emaciated man before him, who was the last of the Dynasty of Perpetual Brightness, who had written promises in his own blood. And then he began to cry.

    [7] The Chinese term has laso been translated as the Lord of Ten Thousand Years, but since the names alone give people problems, I think I’ll stick with Your Majesty.

  19. Strategos' Risk Oriental Orientalist

    Mar 10, 2004
    Wait, I don't get this. Who is the Emperor of External Experiences? Why is there a Yongli Emperor? I thought Chongzhen Emperor was the very last one...
  20. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

    Jan 4, 2004

    In short, after the Chongzhen emperor died, and the Manchu invaded, there were other members of the Ming dynasty, who carried on the resistance from the south.

    They're sometimes referred to as the southern ming; I don't personally like this term, because they were far more divided than the southern Song were, but it's still a useful description.