Foreign Devils - Part Two: Western Europeans

The first Europeans in Imperial China were missionaries in the 13th century, followed by merchants. They were not exactly welcomed (Marco Polo under the Yuán being the obvious exception — but then the Yuán did favour foreigners over native Chinese). There are many tales of Portuguese travellers in China who were gaoled or kept in custody for quite a long time before being allowed to go on with their business; some of them were expelled when the officials they met deemed them too uncouth to remain.

Despite these problems, trade went on: Chinese silk, tea, and porcelain were too much in demand in Western Europe, and Western European merchants were determined to take any necessary risks to ply their trade.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Canton [廣州 Guǎngzhōu] by sea in 1514, establishing a monopoly on the external trade out of its harbour by 1517. They were later expelled from their settlements in Canton, but instead granted use of Macau [澳門 Àomén] as a trade base with the city in 1557. They would keep a near monopoly on foreign trade in the region until the arrival of the Dutch in the early 17th century.

In 1757, the Qīng government restricted Western European trade to the port of Canton only. The British were the ones who tried most forcefully to lift this limitation. In 1792-93, they sent an embassy to China to try and establish a permanent British presence in Běijīng and open up trade relations. However, Lord Amherst refused to kowtow to the Emperor of China and was thus expelled from Běijīng. The rebuff was justified as follows:

The Celestial Empire, ruling all within the four seas, simply concentrates on carrying out the affairs of Government properly... We have never valued ingenious articles, nor do we have the slightest need of your country's manufactures, therefore O King, as regards to your request to send someone to remain at the capital, which it is not in harmony with the regulations of the Celestial Empire — we also feel very much that it is of no advantage to your country.

Another area of heavy Chinese-European interaction was the island of Formosa [臺灣 Táiwān]. In the 17th century, it was colonised by the Dutch in the south, and by the Spanish in the north. The Spaniards were driven out by the Dutch in 1642. In 1662, Koxinga (Zhèng Chénggōng), a loyalist of the Míng Dynasty, which had lost control of mainland China in 1644, defeated the Dutch, ending 38 years of European colonial rule on Táiwān. Zhèng Chénggōng established a base of operations on the island, but his forces were later defeated by the Qīng in 1683.

At the beginning of the 19th century, a new element put its weight into the complex balance of European-Chinese relationships: opium. The Dutch were probably the first to have traded it with China through Formosa in the 17th century. In 1729, its trade was forbidden by the Emperor of China. This restriction was ignored by and large. This trade became so important that it negatively tilted the Chinese trade balance with Western European countries and the US. In 1838, the Emperor of China demanded the trade be stopped. The British refused, and a small incident in 1839 brought upon Imperial China the Opium Wars, which themselves resulted in the Unequal Treaties. The Opium Wars and the Unequal Treaties deserve their own post, but it suffices to say that the former brought about great destruction and the downfall of the Qīng dynasty, and that the latter imprinted a sense of revenge upon the Westerners that can still be very strongly felt today...


Foreign Devils - Part One: Russians

When one thinks about 'Foreign Devils' in the context of The Celestial Empire, those who readily come to mind are the Englishmen and Frenchmen of the 19th century who burnt down the Emperor's garden estates and who ransacked the Summer Palace.

But amongst the most active Foreign Devils that the Manchu dynasty had had to face, let us not forget the Russians.

By the mid-17th century, Western Siberia, Buryatia, and Central Siberia had become Russian provinces. This eastward Russian expansion was followed by many conflicts between Tsarist Russia and Qīng China to control the forested territories washed by the river Amur (Hēilóng Jiāng), over which the Manchu dynasty claimed suzerainty. These conflicts were mostly carried out, on the Russian side, by Cossack units, and their benefits were reaped by Russian trappers and fur traders.
The Treaty of Nerčinsk (1689) established the border between Russia and China along the rivers Argun and Gorbitsa and along the Stanovoy Range. This treaty remained valid until 1858.

In the 1850s, Russia took advantage of the Qīng's woes with the many Chinese rebellions and the many Western European invasions to wrest very interesting 'unequal treaties' from China:
  • in 1858 by the Treaty of Àihún, China lost the left bank of the Amur to Russia — over 600,000 square kilometres!
  • in 1860 by the Treaty of Běijīng, China ceded parts of Outer Manchuria to the Russian Empire (the territory extending from the confluence of the River Amur with the River Ussuri to Sakhalin Island).

Further west, Central Asia became the focus of Russian interest in the second half of the 19th century. Despite the harsh climate and difficult terrain of the region, Russian troops easily conquered the khanates of Kokand, of Bukhara, and of Khiva [this corresponds to Sogdiana and to Transoxiana on the map on p28 of The Celestial Empire]. This expansion was more like the colonial expansion of the other European powers: Russia would use Central Asian cotton for its manufactures, and local goods would resent from the competition of cheaper Russian imports.

The two empires' areas of control met in Turkestan. The 1851 Treaty of Kulja [伊寧 Yíníng] legalised trade between the two empires in this region.
The Russians took advantage of the chaos brought about by Yakub Beg's rebellion (see p40 of The Celestial Empire) to occupy the city of Kulja in Dzungaria. After General Zuǒ Zōngtáng and his Xiāng Army crushed the rebels, they demanded Russia return the occupied regions. Zuǒ massed Chinese troops toward Russian-occupied Kulja. After a few skirmishes and much diplomatic pressure, Russia retreated from the area in 1881 (Treaty of Saint Petersburg).


The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu

I have just finished reading this novel, and it has given me a nice idea for a scenario, or even for a fully-fledged campaign set under the Qīng. The book is set circa 1910, but by moving the action a few years back into the past, it can remain within the time frame of The Celestial Empire.

The idea is to play the plot of The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu the other way round: the player characters are agents of Dr. Fu-Manchu who want to give the Foreign Devils a taste of their own medicine. They are smuggled to London, where they must murder evil Foreign Devils or abduct brilliant Western chemists or engineers and coerce them into working for Dr. Fu-Manchu, typically by kidnapping and threatening the relatives of the unwilling scientist.

Typical player characters would be: assassin-retainers, as the Doctor's personal retainers; former magistrates, who have witnessed the crimes of the Foreign Devils and who have not been allowed to try them because of extraterritoriality; martial artists opposing foreign imperialism and Christianity; defrauded comprador merchants seeking compensation through revenge; outlaws, such as members of xenophobic secret societies; scholars spurred by patriotism to helping Dr. Fu-Manchu; humiliated soldiers with an old score to settle.

Special challenges for Chinese characters in a Western land include: inferior armament, the language barrier, the impossibility of blending into the local populace, lack of access to supernatural aid...

Just like in the novel, the characters in the employ of Dr. Fu-Manchu would be well-advised to base their operations in the East End of London, which at the turn of the century was a poorly policed area with labyrinthine alleys and a large immigrant population.


The Cloudsoul (hún 魂)

It is believed in Traditional Chinese Medicine that the cloudsoul (hún) has an influence on all nocturnal activities, and more peculiarly upon sleep and dreaming. According to the wǔxíng system of correspondences, each phase has a complex series of associations with different aspects of nature; in particular, the cloudsoul is associated with liver-yīn. As a consequence, if liver-yīn is deficient, the hún is deprived of its residence and wanders off at night, causing a restless sleep with many tiring dreams. If liver-yīn is severely depleted, the cloudsoul may even leave the body temporarily at night during or just before sleep.

This brings forth an opportunity for a Celestial Empire/Cthulhu Dreamlands crossover where the player characters are somehow depleted of their liver-yīn (through a yīn-sucking creature?) and find themselves in (possibly a Chinese version of) the Dreamlands. Then they might either stay there and have further adventures in the Dreamlands, or try and find a means to return to the Waking World.


Tea Bricks

Tea bricks were the sole form of tea produced and used in Imperial China prior to the Míng dynasty. Each brick weighed about 100g~400g and was thus easily transported, sold or traded. Many such bricks were carried along the Silk Road, or across the Indian Ocean.

In isolated places within Imperial China, as well as in Inner Asia and in Siberia, tea bricks were used as currency.

The various steps in the preparation of tea bricks were all under the control of various guilds who had a monopoly.

Because of the toughness of the bricks, they have to be ground into fine powder before tea can be consumed. Also these bricks are often toasted over a fire to kill insects and moulds. As a result, the taste of tea before the Míng must have been completely different from what we know today.