Restoration of the Great Ming: A Tianqi Timeline

I am pretty sure a sizable amount of silver coming into Ming China originate from japan? Granted the shogun currently is uh pissed asf with Ming so it’s likely the silver supply from japan is atm heavily restricted
 
Why? I don't think the Chinese would consider the Northern Yuan to be high ranking enough to receive an Imperial princess in marriage, especially the Emperor's only daughter.
The Yuan and Korea basically curved up what’s left of Manchu between themselves I am prettyyyy sure they are considering high ranking enough no? Beside is just a daughter not like a son females are meant to be married off to imperial princes, foreign tributaries or to appease neighbouring major powers.
 
The Yuan and Korea basically curved up what’s left of Manchu between themselves I am prettyyyy sure they are considering high ranking enough no? Beside is just a daughter not like a son females are meant to be married off to imperial princes, foreign tributaries or to appease neighbouring major powers.
Better Korea than Yuan but since Korea already has a Mongol princess.....

Dutch attempting at retaking Dongshan would be heck of an uphill task but if pulled off will be similar to OTL capture of Malacca.

So Di backs Zheng. And Zheng's ships meet Ainu in Karafuto( Sakhalin)?
 
So the future kings of Joseon will have Genghis Khan's blood. Please don't let them read about Balhae. :winkytongue:
You can bet certain individuals are getting big ideas. Not dangerous ideas...yet. But big ideas.

I am pretty sure a sizable amount of silver coming into Ming China originate from japan? Granted the shogun currently is uh pissed asf with Ming so it’s likely the silver supply from japan is atm heavily restricted
Japan's been closing itself off similar to how things went IOTL (except Zheng's fleet evacuated some rebels from Shimabara, who are now living on Dongshan -- and they'll be the subject of future segments, don't you worry) -- you're correct, while there's some trade through intermediaries (Joseon's in the right position geographically, the Ryukyu Kingdom has drifted closer to the Ming orbit but there might be some trade there, and of course there's always smugglers and whatnot), that's another reason why the supply of silver's getting to be a problem, which expanded gold currency (on a scale so that ordinary people might pay their taxes in it) could (maybe?) solve.

(If I ever fuck up the economics, blame it on a historical character being mistaken, or a chronicler getting the story wrong!)

Really interested in the fate of Princess Yining now. Hope she does get to become a nun.
Probably get married off to northern yuan tbh
Why? I don't think the Chinese would consider the Northern Yuan to be high ranking enough to receive an Imperial princess in marriage, especially the Emperor's only daughter.
The Yuan and Korea basically curved up what’s left of Manchu between themselves I am prettyyyy sure they are considering high ranking enough no? Beside is just a daughter not like a son females are meant to be married off to imperial princes, foreign tributaries or to appease neighbouring major powers.
Hmm. I had other plans for her, but if she's going to get married, it'd be to someone other than them. We'll see. (She's still a child, anyhow, so we'll have to wait a bit.)

Better Korea than Yuan but since Korea already has a Mongol princess.....

Dutch attempting at retaking Dongshan would be heck of an uphill task but if pulled off will be similar to OTL capture of Malacca.

So Di backs Zheng. And Zheng's ships meet Ainu in Karafuto( Sakhalin)?
Accurate summation!

Contact with the Ainu is obviously going to be tenuous for a little while, at least until they make a habit of showing up (mostly to piss off the Tokugawa regime). Meanwhile, the Dutch...well, they haven't had the best of luck so far. But while Zheng's people are fighting them, they might not be available to fight other people. Which might be an issue.
 
A Narrative Interlude [1643]
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Painting of Joseon royal palaces, c. 17th century

He coughed wetly but nothing came out this time, which was maybe good, or maybe not. His throat felt raw, scorched. It hurt like nothing he’d ever experienced but he was just glad to be alive.

“Lay back,” his wife soothed him, dabbing a damp cloth across his mouth. No blood. A good sign, hopefully.

He lay back with a sigh. “Thank you,” he whispered. Lady Erdani, his wife, just pursed her lips and kept dabbing away with the cloth.

“It was my father’s doing,” Sohyeon managed through labored breath. “I’m sure of it.”

“I know,” Erdani said. “Rest, please. You need to recover your strength.”

He flashed her a tired smile. “I can do anything, I’m sure, if you’re here.”

Maybe her cheeks flushed a little at that. She didn’t comment. She didn’t need to; it was her, he was sure, who’d saved his life.

He’d taken just a sip of the sweet gamju which had been prepared for him when she’d come in to announce that she was certainly with child. The wine had been forgotten as he ran to embrace her, dancing about the room, for how often did one receive such joyous news! And then he was vomiting hard, the sharp burn in his throat as his body expelled whatever poison he’d ingested, for he’d only drunk a very little.

If he’d had any more, he would’ve been dead.

Erdani, bless her, had taken charge. She’d summoned a physician (who hadn’t been much help) and immediately moved to relocate the family to a more secluded residence, away from the main Joseon court. Even now, her ladies stood watch outside, keeping a careful eye on all of the household’s food and drink.

“He always liked my brother better.” And there had been whispers, he’d half-expected to be removed from the succession, sent to govern some frontier outpost, but murder? “What a father he has been to me. I’m already older than he was when he was pushed to the throne.”

“Dear heart.” His wife put her hands over his. “If your father was a decent man, he would be proud to have such a crown prince. And I can tell you one thing: you’ll be a far better king than your father ever was.”

“How do you know that?” Sohyeon felt so tired. “How do you know that I’ll outlive him, even?”

Erdani’s smile had a razor edge to it. “Trust me on this one.”
 
Lovely interaction between Soheyon and Erdani! I'm getting rather attached to them. Erdani just threw her own gauntlet in the courtly intrigues.

What will be the political consequences if northern Yuan get a wind of their bro in law getting poisoned?
 
Court intrigue...
The plot thickens...
Lovely interaction between Soheyon and Erdani! I'm getting rather attached to them. Erdani just threw her own gauntlet in the courtly intrigues.

What will be the political consequences if northern Yuan get a wind of their bro in law getting poisoned?
IOTL Sohyeon died mysteriously (poisoned by his father?) and nobody with any clout cared enough to get involved. ITTL his father might be regretting pawning off his disfavored son for such a marriage -- his in-laws, no doubt, are interested in his continued survival. Erdani feels like a competent player in the deadly game.

This episode was a short one just to keep my writing-hand in practice, and to add a little flavor to some more peripheral figures. Glad you liked it!
 
I just realized that Crown Prince Sohyeon (birth name: Yi Wang) will likely take a regnal name (or more specifically, a temple name) upon assuming the throne. I think I'm going to take a very lazy shortcut in writing that particular upcoming episode.

(The fact that I've just hinted very strongly at an upcoming plot point is immaterial. Trying to build up enough stuff before I put a match to the gunpowder.)
 
The plot thickens...

IOTL Sohyeon died mysteriously (poisoned by his father?) and nobody with any clout cared enough to get involved. ITTL his father might be regretting pawning off his disfavored son for such a marriage -- his in-laws, no doubt, are interested in his continued survival. Erdani feels like a competent player in the deadly game.

This episode was a short one just to keep my writing-hand in practice, and to add a little flavor to some more peripheral figures. Glad you liked it!
What would Injo's reason be for killing his firstborn ITTL? IOTL, Injo's antipathy towards Sohyeon likely originated from what he perceived as Sohyeon's pro-Qing and anti-traditionalist sentiments. Those were, in turn, products of Sohyeon's years as a Qing hostage after the 2nd Manchu Invasion of Joseon in 1636 (he acted as a mediator and helped the Qing conquer the Mongols) and his exposure to Western medicine and Catholicism when he met a Jesuit in Qing-conquered Beijing. For Injo, a king who had been personally humiliated by the Qing and whose legitimacy was shaky due to his ascension via coup, a pro-Qing anti-traditionalist reformer who would introduce a foreign faith and disrupt the current order could not be tolerated in any position of power. Those same factors also made the court largely apathetic to what happened to Sohyeon IOTL.

Seeing as Sohyeon never goes as a hostage and doesn't meet Johann Adam Schall von Bell in Beijing since he's not part of the force conquering the city, for what reason would Injo try to kill off his firstborn and heir?
 
The temple name Hyojong can be reused here since chances are Sohyeon will succeed the throne instead of his brother who succeeded Injo IOTL.
You have correctly anticipated precisely the solution that I had adopted.

What would Injo's reason be for killing his firstborn ITTL? IOTL, Injo's antipathy towards Sohyeon likely originated from what he perceived as Sohyeon's pro-Qing and anti-traditionalist sentiments. Those were, in turn, products of Sohyeon's years as a Qing hostage after the 2nd Manchu Invasion of Joseon in 1636 (he acted as a mediator and helped the Qing conquer the Mongols) and his exposure to Western medicine and Catholicism when he met a Jesuit in Qing-conquered Beijing. For Injo, a king who had been personally humiliated by the Qing and whose legitimacy was shaky due to his ascension via coup, a pro-Qing anti-traditionalist reformer who would introduce a foreign faith and disrupt the current order could not be tolerated in any position of power. Those same factors also made the court largely apathetic to what happened to Sohyeon IOTL.

Seeing as Sohyeon never goes as a hostage and doesn't meet Johann Adam Schall von Bell in Beijing since he's not part of the force conquering the city, for what reason would Injo try to kill off his firstborn and heir?
Good question, and in the next installment (which will be ready to go a little ahead of schedule this week -- imminently, in fact), it's uncertain to historians ITTL what actually happened. Maybe these are just nobles who are paranoid about assassination and are seeing poison plots out of a more mundane illness. Maybe there was some other conflict. Maybe it wasn't Injo at all, but somebody else. (But if not him, then who? And why?)

I've got an idea or two but I shan't say just yet.
 
1644
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Shi Kefa, up-and-coming bureaucrat in the Ministry of Works

In Rome, Pope Urban VIII dies. He leaves behind him a legacy that touches most of Europe and occasionally lands farther afield -- even China. An eloquent man, the author of some decent hymns, the promulgator of papal bulls condemning such sins as slavery and the use of tobacco. He had proven himself a friend of the Jesuits (who are grateful to him), confirming the legitimacy of their missions in the New World and in China. He reigned as both vicar of Christ and as a secular prince, seizing the Duchy of Castro by force of arms. He canonized several saints and created more than seventy cardinals, including at least four of his own blood relatives.

And now he’s dead. He is succeeded by one of the cardinals he’d created, Giovanni Battista Pamphili, who takes the name Innocent X.[1]

The new pope inherits a papacy greatly depleted of funds -- wars are expensive -- which he tries to recoup in part by seizing properties owned by the late pope’s relatives. (He’s a little upset with them. You see, apart from the usual politicking, some years ago the late pope’s brother had commissioned a painting where the Archangel Michael is trampling a Satan who greatly resembles Cardinal Pamphili, an act viewed as gravely insulting and for which Innocent X has never quite forgiven them.[2])

Pope Innocent X is also a little bemused by one action recorded in the papal records -- among the many cardinals appointed by his predecessor, several had been created in pectore, which is to say secretly, in the custom of the church -- and while Urban VIII had eventually published most of their names, he died without revealing the name of the last one (although there are some reports that he attempted to do so on his deathbed). This isn’t the first time that such a thing has occurred, but it’s still odd.[3] The new pope shrugs and gets on with his work.

Now let’s swing back to our usual stomping-grounds. Injo of Joseon, who had reigned since a 1623 palace coup put him in power, dies after a sudden illness. He is succeeded by his eldest son, the Crown Prince Sohyeon.

Some whisper about skullduggery afoot. The late king had been in apparent good health right before he died, and naturally there are rumors of poison. Adding to the mystery, his heir Sohyeon had evidently been gravely ill but had recovered. Historians debate the exact sequence of events which had taken place. The consensus view, in line with that expressed by the Ming chronicler Zhong Hecao, is that both individuals fell ill in close succession due to a contagious disease or inadvertent contamination. This “official” record of events was likely adapted verbatim from the more comprehensive Annals of the Joseon Dynasty. However, revisionist historians have posited that either both men were poisoned by an outside force, or that Injo (for uncertain reasons) had attempted filicide, and was subsequently assassinated by some agent loyal to Sohyeon. These interpretations have inspired numerous fictional works but, truthfully, the full story may never be told. Maybe there was some kind of conspiracy in the Joseon court, but its participants, if any, have yet to be identified.

So who is the newest king of Joseon? He is often compared to his father, who was regarded as a reliable pro-Ming figure, although obviously the nobles of Joseon are positively inclined towards their large, powerful neighbor in general. That said, some historians criticize Injo as a vacillating, ineffective personality who “got lucky” by happening to be king at a time when first the Ming and later the Northern Yuan flexed their might in destroying his most immediate geopolitical foe, the Later Jin.[4] In contrast, his son is regarded as more thoughtful, open-minded, and decisive -- at least, that’s what his supporters hope.

The former Crown Prince assumes the temple name of Hyojong upon his accession. His foreign wife, Erdani, gives birth to the couple’s first child, Yi Seok-rin, a healthy boy who is granted the title of Crown Prince Gyeongwan.[5]

The Joseon court is very much continuing their usual polite relations with their nominal suzerain (the Empire of the Great Ming) but are also interested in cooperation with the Northern Yuan -- the king loves his wife -- so things might get interesting.

Shifting our attention to Dongshan, the island is rocked by the publication of -- no, it’s not an economics treatise from Di Yimin. It’s a rambling religious text of uncertain authorship but often attributed to Amakusa Shirō a.k.a. Geronimo (sometimes described in European sources as “Geronimo Amakusa”), the charismatic Japanese Christian and figurehead of an abortive rebellion, who has resided on Dongshan since 1638 when he and his followers were evacuated by Admiral Zheng’s fleet.[6]

The document is not a work of great literature by any standard. Sometimes called the Pearl of Great Price (after the Biblical passage which it extensively references), the book recounts a series of surreal (and sometimes erotic) images personally revealed to Geronimo over the course of his life, brought to him by an Angel of the Lord, because he has been blessed with a direct line of communication with the Christian divinity, and he’s been ordered to share his message with everyone in the empire, because the Lord has a special interest in China, obviously. The Pearl is easy enough to read, and while its authorship may be questionable it is swiftly adopted and reprinted by Geronimo’s religiously heterodox followers.

Responses are mixed. These people are a dedicated bunch who are already convinced that their leader works miracles, leading to some curiosity from their neighbors. Actual Christians in China are less curious and more dismissive -- Nicolas Trigault writes some disapproving words back to Rome reporting on the actions of “Balaam over the sea” which is probably a reference to Geronimo and the allegedly licentious ways of his followers. Obviously, there is no such thing as a (Catholic) Chinese Inquisition. Geronimo’s followers might be fined by local magistrates for disturbing the peace, but they won’t be burnt at the stake -- in China, at least. In the Philippines and Macau, the authorities there would probably disapprove. Admiral Zheng in Dongshan doesn’t care much, since Geronimo’s followers are among the foremost of the settlers willing to take up residence in the backcountry, and he needs all the people he can get -- there’s rumblings of war with the Dutch, and also he’s been having some trouble with the indigenous population. But we’ll get to that later.

Oh, yes, and Geronimo’s getting attention outside of his usual circles. The poet Wang Wei mocks him as the “leader of little fishes” which swim about in the sea, since that is where pearls can be found -- it’s an idea which swiftly finds approval among Geronimo’s actual followers, who start calling themselves the Fishermen (for Biblical reasons). Although the Fishermen by and large aren’t actually fishermen, who have more interesting gods. Still, awareness is starting to spread. The small Christian community, both foreigners like the Jesuits and local converts, think that Geronimo is one weird guy. Politically conservative members of the imperial court grumble that things weren’t like this back in the good old days.

Speaking of the imperial court, Dong Kewei, at the Ministry of Works, is reviewing a report drafted by his deputy Shi Kefa.[7] China’s canals are more or less functional, thanks to the Ministry being mostly competent (also because Minister Dong, as the emperor’s unofficial spymaster, wields a lot of soft power that’s technically outside of his legal remit, so his expenditures get approved very quickly). But canals aren’t the only waterways in China. There are rivers, some of which are quite large.

Shi Kefa writes that he had by chance heard of the Ming ancestral tombs which the Hongwu Emperor had built along the banks of the Hongze Lake. These are not technically imperial tombs -- the emperors themselves are interred elsewhere -- but the Hongwu Emperor was really big into lavish building projects to honor his ancestors.[8] The mortuary complex near Hongze Lake contains the remains of the Hongwu Emperor’s grandfather and empty tombs for more distant ancestors. It is perhaps less important than other Ming imperial mausoleums, but it’s still important.

It is also in danger. Shi Kefa warns that the tomb is built perilously close to the shores of the lake. This was done for reasons of feng shui, which is well and good, but the people who built the place didn’t take many precautions to prevent flooding. And Hongze Lake is fed by the river Huai. Now, the Huai River, like most of China’s large, silt-heavy rivers that flow from west to east, is prone to flooding. It’d only take a really bad season, or a silt clog somewhere down the line, before something catastrophic happened. So, since Shi Kefa is looking for a new project (and because he wants to make his name, since his boss is gonna retire someday and he wants to be Minister of Works when that happens), he suggests a project to either redirect the flow of the Huai or, if that is impractical, to construct large dikes or other earthworks to protect the ancestral tombs, just in case. Minister Dong is a little skeptical of his subordinate’s analysis, but he appreciates the effort, and he figures that it’ll create employment for the locals, so he signs off on the second plan to build dikes.[9]

There’s bloodletting elsewhere in the world -- the Portuguese and Spanish are still killing each other -- but for China, in the here and now, these are peaceful days.



Footnotes
[1] All this is OTL thus far. I can’t think of anything that would have changed any of this -- Ming influence has resulted in Lorenzo Ruiz and Francesc de Borja being canonized ahead of schedule but wouldn’t have shifted the balance of power in the College of Cardinals, so the 1644 conclave proceeds as normal. Pope Innocent X is probably best-known as the guy in a truly excellent painting by Diego Velasquez, and then in some more disturbing paintings by Francis Bacon.
[2] This happened IOTL.
[3] Pope Pius IV created a cardinal in pectore at the consistory of 1561 and failed to publish the name before death, the only earlier example of this kind of mishap that I can find. For more information on the practice of in pectore, I recommend Wikipedia. You can speculate as to the identity of Urban VIII’s secret cardinal -- who is not listed as one of Urban VIII’s OTL cardinals -- and why I have mentioned this seemingly minor incident in my timeline.
[4] This is pretty much the OTL consensus on Injo, except he had to submit to the Qing and also IOTL was probably successful in murdering his son. ITTL he has his detractors but Joseon did well under his reign, so he comes off a little better.
[5] The temple name is the same as the one his brother took upon ascending the throne IOTL -- and, for that matter, the name / title that he gives his son is the same as one of his OTL children. What can I say? I’m lazy.
As an aside, many East Asian royal figures of this time period are commonly described by their temple names -- some Chinese dynasties are described this way by convention, although for Ming emperors the custom is to describe them with their era names. So, for example, our guy the Tianqi Emperor is so called because his era was that of a “heavenly opening;” he was given the name Zhu Youjiao at birth and received the temple name Xizong. Don’t worry about it too much. I try to be consistent, at least, with how I refer to people, and if I make a goof then that’s on me.
[6] Remember him? The Shimabara Rebellion may have fizzled out ITTL but its legacy lives on.
[7] For a review of who’s who in the bureaucracy, refer to Dramatis Personae [1638] and the updated list of top officials in 1641.
[8] This was mentioned previously in 1634. The tombs mentioned previously in Fengyang are often called Huangling while the ones mentioned in this update near Hongze Lake are often called Zuling.
[9] Shi Kefa has good instincts. IOTL nobody paid much attention to the tombs, partly because the Ming dynasty was collapsing and the Qing dynasty was still figuring stuff out. Consequently in 1680 when the Yellow River suddenly changed course and started flowing into the Huai, massive amounts of water entered Hongze Lake and completely submerged the Zuling tombs. They were not seen again for approximately three hundred years.
 
poet Wang Wei mocks him as the “leader of little fishes” which swim about in the sea, since that is where pearls can be found -- it’s an idea which swiftly finds approval among Geronimo’s actual followers, who start calling themselves the Fishermen (for Biblical reasons).
You don't see everyday when someone takes mockery as a compliment so seriously that they name themselves after it😊. Brilliant! Reminds me of a religious order in my own TL who accepted the derogatory moniker "Al Mutwahereen " ( the pure ones, obviously mocking their Orthodox doctrine ).
The former Crown Prince assumes the temple name of Hyojong upon his accession. His foreign wife, Erdani, gives birth to the couple’s first child, Yi Seok-rin, a healthy boy who is granted the title of Crown Prince Gyeongwan.[5]
Good to see more of our Korean prince and his Mongolian Princess!
 
You don't see everyday when someone takes mockery as a compliment so seriously that they name themselves after it😊. Brilliant! Reminds me of a religious order in my own TL who accepted the derogatory moniker "Al Mutwahereen " ( the pure ones, obviously mocking their Orthodox doctrine ).
I liked the idea -- thought it wasn't a half bad name, anyhow! Thank you!
Good to see more of our Korean prince and his Mongolian Princess!
Aaand I just realized I probably need to come up with a royal title for her, too. Well, that'll keep for a little while.

This won't be the last of them, either -- the focus of the timeline is supposed to be the Ming court, and there's...interesting times ahead. Even if, by this point, they've survived OTL's final collapse.

But I'm on vacation right now so I might be a little slow in getting out the next update! Or maybe not.
 
A Narrative Interlude [1645]
An undisclosed location

There were three men. The first was probably the least important, and the most prone to bluster. His name was Wang Shaohui.[1] He was dressed in the robes of a scholar. This is not to say that his two companions were dressed altogether differently, since this was supposed to be a secret meeting, and wearing very fine clothes did not go well with sneaking around backstreets. It would only draw attention.

In fact, although Wang Shaohui was dressed in the robes of a scholar, even that was a bit of a reach. He had not, in point of fact, been anywhere near the imperial bureaucracy in at least a decade. There were many in court who would not have considered him to have been a gentleman.

This bothered him, and though he was an old man, he spoke like he had something to prove.

“I have heard that the princess,” and the way he ground his teeth made it clear that he only narrowly prevented himself from saying something treasonous, “has progressed in her adoption of that barbarian superstition. They say she has participated in the ceremony of baptism.” The foreign words like poison in his mouth.

The second man in the room just looked at him. “And?”

“And it is a disgrace!” Wang all but shouted at the man. He regretted it immediately; the second man’s smile turned to ice. This was not a man who took insults lightly.

The second man’s name was Wu Sangui.[2] He waited until Wang had settled down before he started to speak.

“The rumors that you bring to these meetings,” he said, “are not unwelcome, but I fail to see their use. The emperor, wise and stately that he might be, has allowed his daughter to be raised according to strange customs. That is unwise, perhaps, but certainly not a crime.”

Wang goggled at him. “Not a-! Sir, are you out of your-”

“Nonetheless,” Wu Sangui smoothly continued, “it is, perhaps, an indication of larger things. And I have no doubt that you, and perhaps even some more legitimate members of our empire’s bureaucratic classes, have concerns. Grave concerns, in fact.”

This man was a dangerous one. Cultured and well-educated, perhaps. But while Wang had continued his education and attained the jinshi rank way back in the twenty-sixth year of the Wanli era,[3] Wu had gone into the military service. He’d made a name for himself on the northern frontier.

“Have you made much progress with the economic analyses?” he asked. “The Ministry of Finance has come out with some more draft proposals for the ceramics business. Do the numbers add up?”

Wang huffed. “They might. But nobody will be able to extract that level of revenue for years. And that’s assuming the local bigwigs play along, which I doubt. On the whole, you’re better off relying on that pirate lord and his gold. Which is a foolish notion.”

“The admiral is not to be underestimated,” Wu warned. “But he does have a bad habit of picking fights with foreigners. Not his pet foreigners that he keeps on the island, but the others, the Dutchmen.” He couldn’t entirely disrespect a fellow fighting man. In many ways, Wu understood the admiral’s motivations. But still, he did all his fighting on the land, and he neither knew nor cared about matters outside his domain.

“To be honest,” he said to the disgraced scholar Wang, “I do not know why you put so much emphasis on useless stuff. It is money which is the meat and bones of the thing; that, and honor, to be sure. We are told the north is at peace; our foes have been subdued by our loyal brothers-in-arms. Now there is precious little to do, except to maintain the forts that have suddenly been rendered useless. Not perfectly useless, that is true. If our empire’s erstwhile tributaries were to turn on us, those northern forts would become quite useful indeed.” Wu leaned back. “But I am a man of war. I see the barbarians at peace, and I would have us press home the message that we are not a people to be forgotten, take their wealth for our own. There are those in the north, and in the west, and yet we rest on our haunches, content to raise great monuments for the future.”

“It is not proper to speak of war in such terms,” Wang muttered.

Wu didn’t pay him much attention. Wang liked to quote from the classics whenever he talked about the real business of war, but Wang was stuck with him. The alternative to allying with a soldier was with Zheng, or those of his ilk. And if there was anything that Wang hated worse than anything, it was merchants.[4]

“Who’s your new friend?” Wu gestured to the third man, who had thus far said nothing. “This isn’t the first time you brought someone here. Is he gonna wimp out like the last one?” It was not wise to bring on too many potential conspirators to meetings whose discussions sometimes veered dangerously close to treason. Wu had silenced a few reluctant souls himself.

But Wang straightened himself, and suddenly he was the one smiling like he knew something that Wu did not.

“I would like to tell you a story,” he said.

“Better watch your words among strangers,” Wu said, glancing again at the newcomer. The man looked familiar, though he couldn’t quite place him. “And mind that you don’t condemn yourself with talk of treason.”

“But there is no treason,” Wang said. “Allow me to explain. Years ago, perhaps before your time, for you are much younger than I am, our emperor -- the grandfather of the man who now sits in the imperial palace -- wished to bestow the throne upon one of his younger sons.”

“Right,” Wu said. “I’ve heard the story. Now-”

“Please do not interrupt. As I was saying, he wished to do so, but the palace bureaucrats refused to acknowledge it as legitimate. And so, when the emperor died it was his elder son who was recognized as sovereign -- the father of the man who now sits in the imperial palace -- and he lived a very short time before he was carried off by some vagary of fate. And now here we are.”

Wang cleared his throat. Even though his audience was very small, he didn’t want to yield a scrap of the attention.

“Now,” he said, “we say that the empire recognizes its emperor, and that all the nations of the world pay tribute to him. But there is much that can happen. And the minds of the common folk are easily mistaken. For example: is there anything to say that the will of the emperor -- the true emperor -- can ever be defied? Our great and noble emperor of the Wanli era named his true heir, and the mutterings of the court could never change his mind. Even if a usurper succeeded to the throne instead. I tell you, my warmongering friend, there is an opportunity to be had.”

Wu’s mind raced. He looked at the third man. “That’s where I recognized you,” he said. “You’re the Prince of Fu!”

“Correct,” Wang said. “Cousin to the man who, illegitimately, holds court in the imperial palace. Son of the prince who was favored by the Wanli Emperor. The true emperor.” He grinned. “I invited him along because he has views...favorable to our discussions. And I am fully confident-”

The Prince of Fu waved him to silence. Both the men looked at him.

“Excuse me,” he said. He leaned forward. “I know full well that this is no theoretical discussion. And even if it were, enough has been said thus far to have you both cut apart for treason.”

The silence stretched. Sepulchral.

Then the Prince of Fu gave an almost imperceptible smile. “Lucky for you,” he said, “I am not entirely opposed to...discussions. And I have my own contacts. So, this is what we must do…”



Footnotes
[1] 王绍徽. A real person, perhaps best-known IOTL for dedicating poetry to Wei Zhongxian and for helping that eunuch persecute members of the Donglin movement. As you can imagine, this has not been beneficial to his career, now that Wei Zhongxian is dead and buried. Similar things happened IOTL, except that things happened a little slower.
[2] Yes, that one. Some people are destined for infamy no matter the timeline.
[3] 1598
[4] Traditionally, merchants were not viewed favorably for a number of Confucian reasons. But also Wang is kind of an asshole.
 
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