2013-04-30

the Khitans

The Khitans (in Chinese: Qìdān 契丹; in Korean: Georan) were a nomadic para-Mongolic people, originally from Mongolia and Manchuria, appearing in historical records well before the Táng. The original ethnic centre of the Khitans seems to have been Inner Mongolia. The Khitans were one of the foremost steppe peoples, and exerted enormous influence on northern and Inner Asia until the 13th century, yet they are very little known outside of the restricted circle of people interested in East Asian history. The current name of China in several languages stems from the name of the Khitans (e.g., Bulgarian and Russian: Китай; Kazakh: Қытай; Mongolian: Хятад), as well as the ancient name of 'Cathay' formerly used in most European languages (see my earlier post about Bento de Góis). This is testament to their importance at the time.

Under the Táng, the Khitans were vassals to either the Táng or the Türks, depending on the balance of power between the two, or to the Uyghurs when the latter replaced the Türks as the main steppe power.

After the Ān Lùshān Rebellion (755-763), the Khitans did not take advantage of the weakening of the Táng but remained peaceful vassals of the Uyghurs. In 916, in the interregnum between the Táng and Sòng dynasties, the Khitan khan Ābǎojī (阿保機) declared himself emperor; for the very first time in their history, the Khitans became a united nation. In 926, the Khitans conquered much of the northernmost part of Ancient Korea, and absorbed it into their empire. In 935, the Khitans conquered the so-called 'Sixteen Prefectures' (which correspond to the province named 'Liáo' on the map on p28 of The Celestial Empire). In 947, the Khitan Empire adopted Buddhism as its state religion and a Chinese-like strong central government, and was re-named the Liáo Dynasty (Liáo Cháo 遼朝). The Khitan script was modelled in imitation of the shape of Chinese characters. At its height, the Liáo Empire stretched from Manchuria in the east to the Tarim Basin in the west. To the people along the Silk Road, the Khitan Empire was "China", since all the Chinese goods they saw came from it — hence the naming patterns for 'China' mentioned in the introduction of this post.

Although they had become Sinicised and had adopted a Chinese-style government for their sedentary subjects, the Khitans did maintain part of their nomadic lifestyle: the court of the Liáo emperor moved between its various capitals; rather than build palaces, the nobles lived in luxurious tents. Contention over succession was resolved amongst brothers by violence, nomad-style.

the Sòng and Liáo Empires


From its very beginning, the Sòng Dynasty was hostile to the Liáo, and used military force in an attempt to recapture the Sixteen Prefectures. However, Sòng forces were repulsed by the Liáo forces who engaged in aggressive yearly campaigns into northern Sòng territory until 1005 when the signing of the Chányuān Treaty ended these northern border clashes. The Sòng were forced to provide a yearly tribute to the Khitans of 100,000 ounces of silver and 200,000 bolts of silk. These border clashes feature prominently in the Míng novel the Water Margin (chapters 83-89 of the 100-chapter version).

The Sinicised Khitan Empire of the Liáo remained a major player in north-east Asia until 1125, when it was defeated and destroyed by the Jurchens (see p30 of TCE). Most relics of the Khitan culture were destroyed when the Liáo Empire fell. Tombs were disinterred in acts of revenge by the Jurchens, which had been oppressed during the Khitan reign.

The remnants of the Liáo Dynasty escaped the area towards the Western Regions (Xīyù 西域), establishing the short-lived Kara-Khitan Khanate, which fell to the Mongols in 1218. That was the end of the Khitans. No later people has been established as their descendents, and their language also died out.

2013-04-27

[A-Z April Blogging] [Z] Zájù 雜劇

Zájù ("mixed entertainment" or "variety play") was a form of theatre extremely popular under the Yuán. Under the Mongol dynasty, Chinese culture, and especially written production of books, etc. was kept under heavy surveillance by the foreign overlords. As a result, much of Chinese culture (not only entertainment) went oral. The Yuán is the dynasty that saw the development of religious theatrical plays, which became an essential part of Chinese folk religion (see p39 of The Celestial Empire).

Zájù is one of these forms of art. It combines narrated and sung parts, with the addition of acrobatics, dance, singing, and mime. The roles are usually clearly recognisable, with recurring characters (the villain, the clown) recognisable by their flamboyant make-up.

Since the establishment of the Mongol dynasty has resulted in the abolition of the Civil Service Examination, scholars, physicians, and astrologers can be found in a zájù troupe. Unemployed scholars would write zájù librettos, known for the intricacy of their verse forms, not only to vent their frustration, but also for mere commercial reasons, as a class of nouveaux riches produced a constant demand for plays. Some literati would become fully-fledged playwrights.

Zájù declined and went out of fashion under the following dynasties; it became especially stultified under the Míng, when all zájù librettos had to pass government censorship. By the time the Míng dynasy fell in 1644, zájù was no longer performed at all and it survived only as a genre of literature, i.e., zájù plays ended up being only read, not played on stage!

A travelling zájù troupe can be the ideal adventurers' party for a TCE campaign game, giving a rationale for travelling from one town to the next and experiencing new encounters. Training for the acrobatics parts of a zájù play is a good cover for martial arts training. The sung arias of a zájù play can be used to convey secret messages to members of the crowd.

2013-04-26

[A-Z April Blogging] [Y] Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia

The Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia (Yǒnglè Dàdiǎn 永樂大典) from the early Míng is the largest non-electronic encyclopaedic work of all times.
The writers of the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia incorporated 7,000 to 8,000 earlier works, cutting them down into single-themed excerpts, and re-arranging them under single word entries, like a modern encyclopaedia. This was in complete contradiction with earlier standard Chinese practice, which was based on classifying encyclopaedia entries by broad subjects such as language, government, music, etc.
The Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia is named so because it was compiled under the express orders of the Míng Emperor Yǒnglè (永樂). His requirements were that the work should encompass all pre-existing knowledge, that its compilers should not "be afraid" of length, and that no expenses should be spared to purchase the rare Sòng and Yuán manuscripts deemed necessary for the compilation work.
Work itself started in 1403 at Nánjīng University (Nánjīng Guózǐjiàn 南京國子監), and was mostly carried out by unknown scholars with a reputation for vast knowledge, rather than by court scholars. Research work was carried out by over 2,000 literati until 1407, and the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia was finished in 1408. It consisted of 11,095 books, occupying roughly 40 cubic metres. Many of the scholars involved were eventually rewarded with high-profile offices, although some others fell into disgrace.

Because of the sheer size of the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia, it wasn't block-printed but hand-copied, with very few copies available. These hand-written copies were lost or displaced by the end of the 16th century. However, many fragments remained available throughout China, as well as many of the earlier works that had been used to compile the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia, and which had been archived in various imperial libraries. It is assumed that the equivalent of 90% of the Encyclopaedia was still extant under the Qīng, who started collecting the fragments in the Hànlín Academy in Běijīng for their own purpose of writing a Qīng-era encyclopaedia. Alas, the Hànlín Academy was destroyed by fire during the looting of Běijīng by Western troops at the end of the Boxer Uprising, and the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia was definitely lost.

Scenario seeds:
- (Míng) The PCs are paid by a scholar involved in the compilation of the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia to recover the only version left of a rare Sòng book. They must travel to a remote mansion where the eccentric owner of the manuscript lives, convince him to sell it, and then bring it to Nánjīng. On their way to Nánjīng, a band of outlaws paid by a rival scholar try to steal, or even destroy, the book.
- (Míng) Two ancient texts used to write the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia entry on a rare medicinal plant are contradictory. The PCs must travel to a forlorn place and bring back to Nánjīng, under pain of death, an old Daoist hermit believed to know the definitive answer on the subject. The problem is that the hermit is long dead...
- (Qīng) Emperor Qiánlóng wants his own encyclopaedia! The PCs must travel throughout China to find the missing fragments of the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia. This could be the MacGuffin of a larger capaign game with several unrelated episodes set in different cities.
- (Qīng) The Foreign Devils are burning the city! The PCs are a group of devout Confucians who try to save the remaining books of the Yǒnglè Encyclopaedia from the inferno of the Hànlín Academy.

2013-04-25

[A-Z April Blogging] [X] Xīyù 西域

Xīyù (西域) in Chinese is a generic term for 'the West'. Depending on the time period and the extent of Imperial China, it may have meant different things.

Under the Táng, Xīyù was everything beyond the city of Dūnhuáng (燉煌) in Gānsù and the nearby Jade Pass (Yùmén Guān 玉門關): the 'Western Regions', i.e. the oases of the Tarim Basin inhabited by non-Hàn people but under the suzerainty of China; or Central Asia in its entirety; or even anything west of the Jade Pass, and most notably India, as in the Great Táng Records on the Western Regions (Dà Táng Xīyù Jì 大唐西域記), the travelogue written by the 7th century Buddhist monk Xuánzàng (玄奘).

After the Ān Lùshān Rebellion (755-763), the Táng lost control of the 'Western Regions', which became alternatively controlled by the Tibetans, independent city-states, or controlled by local warlords (of various ethnicities).

Under the Southern Sòng, the 'Western Regions' were controlled by the Qìdān.

Under the Yuán, the 'Western Regions' were conquered by the Mongols, like almost all the other provinces covered by The Celestial Empire. The resulting 'Pax Mongolica' brought prosperity and safety of travel to the Silk Road. Xīyù became a significant cultural and trade conduit between East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Islamic world and Europe.

Under the Míng, there was an initial effort of expansion and re-conquest towards Xīyù that was halted at the disastrous Battle of Tŭmù, after which the Míng Dynasty started the isolationist politics for which it's remembered; the Great Wall of China was built under the Míng. The Silk Road was abandoned and replaced with sea trade routes. After the Battle of Tŭmù, the Western Regions became alternatively controlled by the Tibetans and various Mongol tribes. They were retaken under the Qīng.

2013-04-24

[A-Z April Blogging] [W] Welkin Lords

Mother Golden Light
The Welkin Lords (Tiānjūn 天君) are a group of ten very powerful Daoist Immortals (xiān 仙) who side with the Shāng camp in the Míng historico-mythological novel The Investiture of the Gods (Fēngshén Yǎnyì 封神演義) that narrates the war between the Shāng and the Zhōu, in the 11th century BC, which supposedly saw the involvement of mythological beings (xiān, vixen spirits, dragons, tǔxíng...) on each side of the conflict.

The Welkin Lords usually reside on Golden Turtle Island (Jīn'áo Dǎo 金鰲島). Each of them owns a magical weapon called a 'trap' that is able to dispatch whole armies. In The Investiture of the Gods, the Welkin Lords are nonetheless defeated by the Daoist Immortals who side with the Zhōu camp. For The Celestial Empire, we shall assume that, in spite of their defeat during the Shāng‒Zhōu conflict, the Welkin Lords were able to resume their place amongst the Daoist Immortals.

Here is the complete list of the ten Welkin Lords:


Qín Wán (秦完), owner of the Heavenly Destruction Trap
Mother Golden Light (Jīnguāng Shèngmǔ 金光聖母), owner of the Golden Light Trap
Dǒng Quán (董全), owner of the Roaring Typhoon Trap
Yuán Jué (袁角), owner of the Frigid Ice Trap
Zhào Jiāng (趙江), owner of the Earthly Fury Trap
Sūn Liáng (孫良), owner of the Bleeding Blood Trap
Bái Lǐ (白禮), owner of the Vehement Flame Trap
Yáo Bīn (姚賓), owner of the Soul Snatching Trap
Wáng Biàn (王變), owner of Red Water Trap
Zhāng Shào (張紹), owner of Red Sand Trap

In later times, the Welkin Lords are considered as being allied with Heterodoxy and/or with the Xié sect.

See also p98-9 of The Celestial Empire, under Xié Sect.

2013-04-23

[A-Z April Blogging] [V] Vajrayāna Buddhism

Historically, Buddhist teaching in Asia has been spread in three distinct waves, corresponding to three different ways of envisioning enlightenment.

The first wave, called Hīnayāna, corresponds to the original teachings of the Buddha (see p37 of The Celestial Empire). Game-wise, Hīnayāna Buddhism is mostly restricted to the southern provinces of the map on p28 of TCE, and in particular to the Tai-speaking peoples of the campaign (see p22 of TCE).

The second wave, called Mahāyāna, corresponds to a later stage of Buddhism that incorporates devotional practices and ideals of compassion from much later on than the original teachings of the Buddha (see p38 of TCE). Game-wise, Mahāyāna Buddhism covers the eastern half of the map on p28 of TCE, and in particular the Sinitic world, i.e., China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Most of the Buddhist sects and schools described within TCE are Mahayanic.

The third wave, called Vajrayāna, or Tantric Buddhism, corresponds to yet a later stage of development of Buddhism based on esoteric writings called tantra. This latter stage emphasises esoteric teachings, including normally frowned-upon practices such as sex, or magic, or the consumption of meat or alcohol, under the strict guidance of a teacher however, see p39 of TCE. Vajrayāna Buddhism also makes use of alchemy, yoga... the aim is to attain enlightenment more quickly. In geographic terms, Tantric Buddhism is restricted to the provinces in the centre of the map on p28 of TCE: Buryatia, Outer Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Amdo, Central Tibet, Ladakh, Sikkim, Bhutan. This does not mean, however, that Vajrayāna Buddhism didn't reach China — on the contrary: it has a rich history of presence there, even though it has always been the religion of a minority of people.

As written on p91 of TCE, Early Tantric Buddhism, known as Mìjiào (密教), was just one of the many Buddhist sects active under the Táng. Just like the Mahayanic Buddhist sects, it arrived to northern China via the Silk Road at the beginning of the Táng Dynasty. Early Tantric Buddhism received sanction from the emperors of the Táng Dynasty and was mostly popular within aristocratic circles and at the court. After the fad for Mìjiào passed, it disappeared as a stand-alone sect, but it had had time to influence the other Táng Buddhist sects, and in particular Early Chán (p90 of TCE) and Tiāntái (p92 of TCE).

A first revival of Vajrayāna took place under the Yuán, because it was the state religion of the Mongol Dynasty, see p93 of TCE. Suppressed under the xenophobic Míng, Vajrayāna resurfaces under the Qīng, again as the state religion of the Manchu Dynasty. From the Yuán onwards, however, Vajrayāna in China is felt as a foreign religion, or as the religion of ethnic minorities (e.g., the Tibetans). The only Chinese Buddhists interested in Vajrayāna are those versed in magic practices, e.g., the use of the magical Siddhaṃ alphabet.

2013-04-22

[A-Z April Blogging] [U] University

In the West, the first universities were born at the time of the emergence of urban town life, and concurrently with mediæval guilds and similar institutions. Universities started out as specialised "associations of students and teachers with collective legal rights usually guaranteed by charters issued by princes, prelates, or the towns in which they were located" (Wikipedia). It was clearly a phenomenon that was concomitant of the explosion of communal freedom and urban life, a bottom-up evolution. In the Islamic world, universities were created around famous mosques thanks to endowments by wealthy families, so it was also more of a bottom-up phenomenon.

the Běijīng Guózǐjiàn
In contrast, and since well before the Táng, universities in China had been created and controlled by the government, clearly in a top-down endeavour. These institutions of higher learning were established in the capital city (or cities) of each dynasty: in Cháng'ān and in Luòyáng under the Táng; in Dōngjīng, then Lín'ān, under the Sòng; in Běijīng under the Yuán. Under the Míng and under the Qīng, there were two universities: one in Nánjīng and one in Běijīng (Míng), one in Chángshā and one in Běijīng (Qīng). This system ended in 1898 with a reform aimed at introducing western-style education in China.

These state-sponsored universities were called Guózǐjiàn 國子監 and aimed at imparting traditional Confucian learning and knowledge to a selection of students.

The Běijīng Guózǐjiàn was first established in 1287 during the Yuán Dynasty, and subsequently enlarged several times, attaining its present dimensions during the reign of Emperor Qiánlóng of the Qīng Dynasty. One may enter the compound through the Highest Scholarship Gate. Inside this gate is a glazed tile memorial archway with bell and drum towers to the east and west. Directly in front of the gate is the famous Jade Disc Hall. The square pavilion, which stands in the centre of a circular pond, has a double-eaved roof surmounted by a gilded sphere. The pond is crossed by four marble bridges and provided on four sides with stone spouts in the shape of dragon heads. It was here that the emperor came occasionally to expound the classics to an audience composed of civil and military officials from the imperial court and students of the Guózǐjiàn.
Behind the Jade Disc Hall stands a huge library. The complex contains six other palaces with dormitories and classrooms. The complex is flanked by the Confucius Temple (Kǒngmiào 孔廟) and the Yōnghé Lamasery (Yōnghé Gōng 雍和宮).

2013-04-21

[A-Z April Blogging] [T] Túnbǎo 屯堡

Busy day today, so mostly excerpts from Wikipedia here.

Túnbǎo village
The Míng conquest of Yúnnán was the final phase in the Chinese Míng dynasty expulsion of Mongol Yuán dynasty rule from China in the 1380s. A huge force of 300,000 Hàn Chinese and Huí Muslim troops were dispatched to crush the Yuán remnants in Yúnnán in 1381. After the defeat of the Yuán loyalists (who were also mostly Huí), the Míng Huí remained in Yúnnán as hereditary military colonists. Thousands of te Hàn soldiers also decided to stay in the area. They married local women of Miáo and Yáo descent, and over time began to call themselves Túnbǎo 屯堡, "fortress Chinese", in contrast to newer Hàn Chinese colonists who moved to Yúnnán in later centuries (16th-18th).
Túnbǎo work as farmers and practise their own religion, which is an amalgam of Buddhism, Daoism, and Miáo and Yáo religion (see p30 and 32 of The Celestial Empire). They have their own temples.

2013-04-20

[A-Z April Blogging] [S] The Shàn

14th century Shàn King
The Shàn (傣 Dǎi in Chinese, see p32 of The Celestial Empire) are a Tai people originally from Yúnnán. Their first polity was a Buddhist kingdom called Jǐnghóng Golden Palace in the 12th century. The Shàn were displaced southward in the 13th century, at the time of the Mongol conquest. Their language is very closely related to Thai and Lao. They practise Hīnayāna Buddhism, and keep sacred groves next to their villages. This forest is the taboo place that the protective spirits/gods of the village inhabit.

The Shàn are traditionally wet-rice cultivators, shop keepers, and artisans. Wet-rice fields account for the vast majority of farmland in all Dǎi regions. The semi-tropical climate, rivers and fertile alluvial valleys form an ideal environment for wet-rice growing. Other local products include tea, sugar cane, tobacco, and camphor, as well as tropical fruits which are harvested in abundance. In addition, the dense forests produce large amounts of much sought-after medicinal plants.

After their migration to the south and their settlement in Upper Burma, the Shàn have founded several petty kingdoms collectively known as 'Shàn States' (see map on p28 of TCE) between the 13th and the 16th century. After the 16th century, the Shàn came under the suzerainty of the Burmese kingdoms of the lowlands.
The Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, farther east, also had a significant Shàn component.

Those Shàn who didn't migrate southward and stayed in Yúnnán after the Mongol conquest recognised the suzerainty of the Chinese Empire; much like the Tǔjiā, they were ruled by their own hereditary chieftains in exchange for providing troops and suppressing local rebellions whenever needed.

2013-04-19

[A-Z April Blogging] [R] Ryūkyū Kingdom

The Ryūkyū Archipelago is situated half way between Formosa and Japan, and is made up of several subtropical islands, the largest of which is Okinawa 沖繩.

The Ryūkyū Islands formed an independent kingdom known in Chinese since the fourteenth century as the Liúqiú Guó (琉球國). The Ryūkyū Kingdom played a central role in, and thrived from, the maritime trade networks of East and Southeast Asia: the Míng Chinese policy of hǎijìn (海禁, "Sea Bans") did not apply to the Ryūkyū Kingdom. The official language of the kingdom, as in much of East Asia, was Classical Chinese; the vernacular language was Ryukyuan, a language related to (but different from) Japanese. Although independent, the Ryūkyū Kingdom was a 'tributary state' in the Sino-centric Chinese worldview, much like Joseon Korea. Many Ryukyuan officials were descended from Míng-era Chinese immigrants.

The Ryukyuan religion was a mix of ancestor worship and shamanism. Due to the Chinese influence, Buddhism, Daoism, and Chinese folk religion came to influence Ryukyuan religious practice. Some characteristics of Ryukyuan religion that may be of interest for a Ryukyu-based game of The Celestial Empire:
1- All shamans are female, but these shamanesses are very specialised:
a- some communicate with, make offerings to, and, at times, channel ancestors, local gods and more powerful deities. They are central to any organised community. Even though they are, in game terms, shamanesses, socially speaking their role is akin to that of a priest.
b- some others communicate with the dead when in trance. They are closer to the standard Asian shaman in aspect, from a social point of view, and also in how a shamaness discovers her powers in her youth ('shamanic illness', near-death experience, visions...)
c- some others yet are fortune-tellers, or officiate at weddings or funerals, mixing Buddhist prayers with native rituals.
2- Spirits and magical creatures such as yāoguài (p112 of TCE), dragons (p120 of TCE), guardian lions (p126 of TCE), and ghosts, are very present and of paramount importance
3- An emphasis on the fabrication and the use of amulets, talismans, etc.
4- Lóngmài (ley lines) strongly influence Ryukyuan magico-religious practices.

Japanese were prohibited from visiting the Ryūkyū Islands without shogunal permission, and the Ryukyuans were forbidden from adopting Japanese names, clothes, or customs.

Under the Míng, however, the Ashikaga Shogunate sent Buddhist priests from major temples in Kyōto, and four Japanese Buddhist temples were constructed in the second half of the fifteenth century. Later, when the Ryūkyū Islands were controlled by the Satsuma domain of Japan, all forms of Buddhism other than Zen [Chán] and Shingon [Esoteric Buddhism] were proscribed by the Satsuma lord.

The nationhood status of the Ryūkyū Kingdom was totally compromised in 1609 when the Satsuma daimyō of southern Japan invaded the islands. Although in reality controlled by the Satsuma, the Ryūkyū royal government formally ruled until 1879, and the Kingdom retained its trading, religious, and cultural ties with China. In 1879, the Ryūkyū Kingdom was formally annexed by Japan; a governor was appointed to administer the islands; Japanese was introduced as the official language.

2013-04-18

[A-Z April Blogging] [Q] Qelong Valley

The imaginary Qelong Valley in Cambodia is the setting of the upcoming sandbox-like supplement The Valley of the Lost Shell, by Kenneth Hite, for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing game. If you are unfamiliar with LotFP, its supplements specialise in dark, even sinister, fantasy tales approximately set in 16th- or 17th-century Europe. The Valley of the Lost Shell is going to be LotFP's first foray into an Asian-flavoured setting.

click to enlarge


Here is a brief presentation of The Valley of the Lost Shell by Ken Hite himself:
"The Valley of the Lost Shell is a classic 'exploration' adventure, set in a wet, poisoned sandbox. [...]  I see the Qelong Valley as a land of steam, smoke, mist, fog – high grasses and low mangroves, like the Dead Marshes or Beowulf’s fen country. All of this grows not in a placid pastoral Olden Tyme, or even a gently corroded Dark Age, but in the path — or technically on the sidelines — of a great and incomprehensible war. Houses and farms are burned, villagers gaunt and feral. Dogs whine over the carcasses of their masters, then tear out the intestines to feed themselves. Men kill each other for a handful of rice, or for a woman who can be beaten into cooking it. All around, sorcerous echoes and explosions ripple the skies, but as a constant drumbeat of vile thunder, not as anything aimed at anyone in the same country. The Qelong Valley has been poisoned by accident and forgotten by its killers. Only the scavengers remain, and the worms that grow in the corpse.
Magical fallout, the elephant lich, the hundred-mile-long naga, the Lotus Monks, the insect-possessed myrmidons, and so much more... different than anything LotFP has done so far, that's for sure."


Elephant lich? Hundred-mile-long naga? Lotus Monks? Colour me interested :-)

2013-04-17

[A-Z April Blogging] [P] Pastimes

The cultivated Chinese gentleman-scholar is expected to master four pastimes:

1 — Calligraphy (書 shū)
2 — the Game of Go (圍棋 wéiqí)
3 — Painting (畫 huà)
4 — Playing the Lute (琴 qín)

Calligraphy
Calligraphy falls under the skill of Literacy (Classical Chinese), as explained on p59 of The Celestial Empire. One's calligraphy is thought to convey one's personality. As a result, an ugly writing is a social catastrophe. There are many different calligraphy styles, corresponding to different time periods and/or to different expectations (a regular style will convey mastery of the brush strokes, a cursive style manual dexterity). The brush, ink, paper, and ink stone are the essential implements of calligraphy. They are known together as 'the Four Treasures/Jewels/Friends of the Study'. The GM may want to add exceptional implements that give a bonus to the character's Literacy (Classical Chinese) skill.

Go
The relevant skill is Gaming. The game of go predates the Táng dynasty. In Imperial China, for some reason, the game of go is considered as a refined pastime, whereas chess (象棋 xiàngqí) is the game of the masses. See also the section titled 'Entertainment' on p17-8 of TCE.

Painting
The relevant skill is Art (Chinese Painting). Chinese painting is mostly an extension of calligraphy since its highest form, brush painting, uses a single brush and black ink only. Other styles add colour and usually concentrate on a recurring theme: birds and flowers, landscapes, the four seasons...

Playing the Lute
The relevant skill is Perform (Play: Lute). Contrary to other popular Chinese instruments, rumoured to be of Central Asian origin, the Chinese lute is felt as both a native instrument, and as the province of the literati. Countless books have been written by gentlemen-scholars on the art of playing the lute, and inability to play it correctly can bring social stigma. Like-minded performers gather in qín schools. The GM may develop these in a way similar to clan associations or secret societies.

The Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar (四藝 sìyì)


Success in any of the above skills can give a bonus to an Etiquette or a Status roll, if the target is a cultivated person, of course — a bandit isn't likely to be impressed by a beautiful piece of calligraphy.
Playing the Lute can also relax one's mind, and success in this skill can give a bonus to a Mental skill roll.

Obviously, failing any of the above yields a negative modifier equal to the expected bonus.

2013-04-16

[A-Z April Blogging] [O] Orang-Tionghoa

Orang-Tionghoa is the name given to ethnic Chinese in the Malay Archipelago. Tionghoa is the Malay pronunciation of Zhōnghuá (中華: 'Chinese').

Trade and military expeditions have put China and the Malay Archipelago in contact since under the Yuán. However, the first mass emigration of Chinese to the Malay Archipelago takes place under the Míng. The settlers emigrate from South China and mostly speak Cantonese, Hakka, Mǐn, and Wú (p22 of The Celestial Empire). This emigration is not sanctioned by the Míng who, on the contrary, try to restrict maritime trade as much as possible. As a result, although some of these overseas Chinese are traders and merchants, most of them actually practise agriculture or mining.


The life of the Orang-Tionghoa is based upon the importance of Clan Associations and gōngsuǒ (p101-2 of TCE), and also upon the existence of secret societies (p102 of TCE). As a result, they do not really intermingle, which explains that, many centuries after having left their homeland, they are still divided along regional lines and have kept their original dialect as their vernacular language. One exception is the overseas Chinese who settled in the area of the Strait of Malacca; some of them did intermingle with Malay women, and they speak a Mǐn-Malay creole dialect. In terms of religion, overseas Chinese have the same religious beliefs as their continental brethren, with some local peculiarities, especially in terms of folk religion, with different local deities and apotheosised heroes than on the Mainland.

The regional divisions amongst overseas Chinese lead to a complete lack of ethnic solidarity. On the contrary, there is much evidence of inter-clanic clashes, culminating in the Larut War of 1861-1874 in the centre of the Malay Peninsula. The Larut War (actually a series of four wars) is fought between two secret societies, a Hakka one and a Cantonese/Mǐn one, over the control of mining areas. The wars are only stopped by the intervention of the British.

2013-04-15

[A-Z April Blogging] [N] Neo-Confucianism

Neo-Confucianism is a Chinese intellectual movement that becomes prominent under the Sòng. It originates with both a fresh rediscovery of ancient texts, and a will to distantiate Confucianism from Daoism and Buddhism. Although it is considered as a philosophy born under the Sòng, its origins are really with Lǐ Áo (772-836 or 841), who was a nephew and a disciple of Hán Yù (768-824). Neo-Confucianists borrowed the terms of Lǐ 理 (principle) and Qì 氣 (see p4 of The Celestial Empire) from Buddhism and Daoism but re-interpreted them in a more rationalist and secular way, using metaphysics as a mere guide for developing a rationalist ethical philosophy.

Zhū Xī
The major figures of Neo-Confucianism are Zhōu Dūnyí (1017-1073), whose comments on the Yìjīng (the Book of Changes) using Daoist terms are the seminal Neo-Confucianist work, and Zhāng Zǎi (1020-1077 or 1078), who meditates on the meaning and characteristics of Qì and builds a whole new system of metaphysics based on it. Other major figures are the brothers Chéng (Chéng Hào, 1032-1085 and Chéng Yí, 1033-1107 or 1108), who profess the study of the Dào (Dàoxué) through the Investigation of Things (géwù), essentially an academic form of observational science, based on the idea that Lǐ lies within the world, and Zhū Xī (1130-1200), whose extensive commentaries on the Classics and on the 'Four Books' of Confucianism (the Analects of Confucius, the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, and the Mèngzǐ) become the basis of Neo-Confucian orthodoxy for the following eight centuries. Lù Xiàngshān (1139 or 1140-1192 or 1193), a rival of Zhū Xī's, is another Neo-Confucian thinker of note. He founded the Neo-Confucian School of Mind, the second most influential Neo-Confucian school after the School of Principle founded by Zhū Xī.

The term 'Neo-Confucianism' is of Western origin. The Chinese use Rújiā for Confucianism, and Lǐxué for Neo-Confucianism, i.e., two completely different phrases without any common term. In The Celestial Empire, despite the many differences between Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism, they will be considered as the same 'Allegiance' in gaming terms.

2013-04-14

[A-Z April Blogging] [M] Maitreya, Millenarianism & Mòfǎ

Original Buddhism (before it became corrupted by folk religion and devotional practices) did not contemplate any deities, but only enlightened beings, whose role was to lead mankind to enlightenment, and not to be worshipped. 
In Buddhism, each cosmic era is hence supposed to have its own Buddha who leads mankind to salvation. Śākyamuni is the Buddha of the present cosmic era. Maitreya (Mílè 彌勒) is the Buddha of the next era. Theoretically, people of our era should be following Śākyamuni's teachings, Maitreya's are for the future. However, Mahāyāna Buddhism has introduced the notion of mòfǎ (末法): with the passing of time, people do not understand Śākyamuni's teachings any longer and hence cannot attain enlightenment. As a result, Mahāyāna Buddhists have turned to other Buddhas for salvation: Amitābha, through devotional practices, or Maitreya, under the guise of a millenarian cult that expects the imminent advent of the future Buddha Maitreya to start a new era of universal salvation.

The cult of Maitreya starts in North India and spreads to China and Japan through Central Asia where it is extremely widespread before the rise of Islam.
In China, Maitreya's cult is popular under the Táng and the Sòng; after those dynasties, Amitābha and Avalokiteśvara (Guānyīn) become more popular, and Maitreya's millenarian influences become the sole province of syncretic sects, secret societies, and even rebellions.
Syncretic sects:
- White Lotus Society (p38 and p94 of TCE)
- other short-lived syncretic Buddhist/Manichæan sects
Secret societies:
- the various secret societies that have branched off the White Lotus Society (see p102 of TCE)
Rebellions:
- the Red Turban Rebellion under the Yuán
- the millenarian rebellion led by Pǔ Fǎ'è (普法惡) in Sìchuān, under the Míng
- the White Lotus Rebellon under the Qīng
- the Boxer Uprising under the Qīng

2013-04-12

[A-Z April Blogging] [L] The Legendary Police Woman

The Legendary Police Woman (茶母) is a 2003 Korean drama (TV series) set in Joseon Korea. The series follows the investigations and the adventures of Jang Chaeok (張彩玉), a young Damo, who tries to unravel the mysteries of a counterfeit money ring and of an outlaw-led rebellion. Her investigations are hindered by her being a member of the Nobi class, whereas the counterfeiters are from the nobility. In Neo-Confucian, patriarchal Korea, this leads to all sorts of complications.

In parallel, Chaeok falls in love with her superior, a member of the lower nobility, at a time when such a romantic relationship is simply unthinkable.

The TV series also features a host of well-developed and interesting supporting characters, and vivid detail about the operations of the police force in Joseon Korea, incl. forensics, undercover operations, combat training, etc.

Later on in the story, one of the supporting characters (a rebel leader) acquires some importance, and the TV series focuses on the story of his life as an orphan adopted by a village of lepers. This leads the viewer to a fascinating side story of people living in complete autarchy and isolation simply because of their disease.


This drama was one of the most expensive ever to be shot in Korea, and I recommend watching it, if only for the beautiful period scenes, and for the strong representation of the Joseon caste system, police methods, and overall urban and country life.

If you're interested in Joseon Korea, I also recommend the film Untold Scandal, which tells the same story as The Dangerous Liaisons, but set in Korea at the turn of the 19th century, and the period thriller Blood Rain, also set at the turn of the 19th century. Exotically enough (for East Asia!), both films feature Catholic characters.

2013-04-11

[A-Z April Blogging] [K] Korean folk religion

Korean folk religion is, similarly to Chinese folk religion, a syncretic concretion of several religions present at the same time in a given culture. However, where Chinese folk religion mostly draws its distinctive traits from Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, Korean folk religion mostly draws its characteristics from Shamanism and Buddhism; it also incorporates many concepts from Daoism (geomancy, wŭxíng, yīnyáng...), but not the Daoist deities themselves. Just like Chinese folk religion, Korean folk religion also contemplates ancestor worship, and many agrarian festivals linked to the Chinese calendar.

The most frequently-worshipped gods of Korean folk religion, for instance, Sanshin/Shānshén and Chilseongshin/Qīxīngshén, are two Shamanic deities. So are the Gashin/Jiāshén, a branch of deities believed to protect the various objects and rooms of the house.

A distinctive trait of Korean folk religion is the relative importance of animal worship, e.g., snakes might be worshipped in a village because they eat rats, which are a pest because they eat stored grain. Such animals would always be worshipped as anthropomorphic animals, tough: deities are always anthropomorphic.

A familiar sight in the vicinity of a Korean village is the series of jangseung/chángchéng (wooden totem poles) standing guard to mark the village boundaries and to frighten away evil spirits. They are also worshipped as village tutelary deities.

2013-04-10

[A-Z April Blogging] [J] Joseon Korea

NB— All Korean names below are followed by their Chinese transcription

Ancient Korea corresponds to the provinces of Inner Manchuria and Korea on the map on p28 of The Celestial Empire. However, Ancient Korea can hardly be considered as a single entity in the time period corresponding to scope of TCE. Under the Táng, Ancient Korea is divided into several warring kingdoms whose people do not even always share a common culture and a common language. This period ends with the unification of the Korean Peninsula (i.e., Korea proper) by the Goryeo/Gāolí (高麗) dynasty, whilst the northernmost part of Ancient Korea (i.e., present-day Inner Manchuria) falls to the Georan/Qìdān empire (契丹, p30-1 of TCE), forever lost to the Koreans.

The Goryeo/Gāolí dynasty, which is more or less contemporary with the Sòng, introduces a Chinese-style administrative system and Chinese customs; place-names and peoples' names are Sinicised. Hanmun/Hànwén (漢文, Classical Chinese) is the medium of choice for formal writing among members of the élite. Eonmun/Yànwén (諺文, vernacular script) is the least prestigious and the least consistent, and is the province of women. The middle classes use a mixed script consisting in Chinese phrases with Korean conjunctions linked by Eonmun/Yànwén particles [Chinese and Korean have completely different word order and grammar]. Under the Goryeo/Gāolí dynasty, Buddhism flourishes.

In 1232, Korea becomes a province of the Mongol empire, and shares the fate of Mongol-dominated Yuán China. Korean troops and ships provide the bulk of the Mongol invasion force that unsuccessfully attempts to invade Japan, in two ill-fated attempts in 1274 and again in 1281.

Under the Míng, Korea becomes independent again under the Joseon/Cháoxiān dynasty (朝鮮, 1392-1910), a long period of unification and of stability (except for the devastating Imjin/Rénchén wars with Japan, 1592-8). Even though it is a sovereign kingdom, Joseon/Cháoxiān Korea is a tributary state of Míng and then of Qīng China, always considering herself as the 'daughter' of Greater China. The Joseon/Cháoxiān period is considered the height of classical Korean culture, trade, science, literature, and technology.

Joseon police constable


I am providing a few guidelines below to play Korean characters in Joseon/Cháoxiān Korea. As a long, stable and Sinicised country, a Korean setting under the Joseon/Cháoxiān dynasty can be satisfactorily approximated with the TCE rules, as long as said guidelines are taken into account.

Status (p79 of BRP) is paramount in Joseon/Cháoxiān Korea, which is a highly stratified society, with very strictly-enforced sumptuary laws (regulating the dress of each social class):

Status — Social Class
01‒10 — Nobi/Núbì (奴婢): slave
11‒20 — Baekjeong/Báidīng (白丁) or Cheonmin/Jiànmín (賤民): "vulgar commoner"
21‒50 — Sangmin/Chángmín (常民): commoner
51‒60 — Jungin/Zhōngrén (中人): middle class
61‒100 — Yangban/Liǎngbān (兩班): nobility


Relations between men and women are also strictly controlled because of the Neo-Confucian ideals of Joseon/Cháoxiān Korea. Female characters can only join female professions. This limitation must be even more strongly enforced by the GM than in a 'standard' game of The Celestial Empire (p9-10 and p42 of TCE).

Player Character Characteristics

Please use the following:
Male characters: SIZ 2D6+6
Female characters: SIZ 2D6+5

Religion & Allegiance

Even though most Koreans are deeply Buddhist (several Joseon/Cháoxiān kings have written very beautiful Buddhist hymns), the state itself is officially and strongly Neo-Confucian. Throughout the history of Joseon/Cháoxiān Korea, Neo-Confucianism is always strongly enforced as the only state religion, and Buddhism is often suppressed. As a result, Buddhist monks reside in large monasteries far from city life to avoid involvement in politics, and to avoid harassment by the authorities. Buddhist priests are rare. Daoism is restricted to the odd hermit or alchemist.
Korean folk religion is similar to Chinese folk religion mixed with Shamanism, which is still strong in Korea, especially in the countryside. Monotheistic religions are absent until the introduction of Catholicism at the end of the 18th century.

Religion Availability Table (replaces the one on p48 of TCE)
Buddhism (common)
Confucianism (common)
Korean folk religion (common)
Daoism (uncommon)
Christianity [post-1786] (very uncommon)
Esoteric Buddhism/Tantric Buddhism (very uncommon)

List of Professions
Male characters
Assassin-retainer – identical to TCE
Buddhist Monk – identical to TCE
Constable – identical to TCE
Fortune-teller – identical to TCE, except Status: 20%
Geomancer – identical to TCE, except Status: 20%
Gukseon/Guóxiān (國仙) – a kind of mountain ascetic; use the 'Esoteric Buddhist Monk' template from TCE, except Allegiance: Korean folk religion 20 points; replace Knowledge (Religion: Esoteric Buddhism) with Knowledge (Religion: Korean folk religion); replace Perform (Sing) with Perform (Dance); replace Language (Manchu/Mongolian) with Language (Chinese); restrict magic to Battle Magic only, add the spells Dark and Farsee.
Hwarang/Huāláng – see the relevant post.
Magistrate – identical to TCE, except Status: 65%
Merchant – identical to TCE
Outlaw – identical to TCE
Scholar – identical to TCE, except Status: 60%
Slave – use the 'Slave' profession from p20 of Dragon Lines
Soldier – identical to TCE
Yangban/Liǎngbān (兩班) – use the 'Noble' profession from p18 of Dragon Lines

Female characters
Assassin-retainer – identical to TCE
Damo/Chámǔ (茶母) – Damo are female servants working for the police: only they can enter women-only residential areas for investigation and interrogation. These are strong, intelligent, and arms-trained women. In the history of Joseon/Cháoxiān Korea police investigations, it has been demonstrated that Damo often played major roles. In spite of this, they were ill-treated by their male counterparts. Use the 'Constable' template from TCE, except Wealth: Poor, and Status: 10%.
Gisaeng/Jìshēng (妓生) – Gisaeng are female entertainers very similar in role and accoutrement to Japanese Geisha. Use the 'Entertainer' profession from p15 of Dragon Lines; add Perform (Play: Instrument) and Perform (Sing) to the list of Primary skills. Status: 15%
Outlaw – identical to TCE
Shamaness – identical to TCE, except Allegiance: Korean folk religion 20 points, Status: 20%
Yangban/Liǎngbān (兩班) – use the 'Noble' profession from p18 of Dragon Lines

Skills

Etiquette – Base chance: 20%. Etiquette is paramount in Neo-Confucian Joseon/Cháoxiān Korea.
Firearm – Base chance: 20%. No Status skill penalty for using a firearm (they are slightly more common than in China).
Knowledge (Religion) – Base chance: 10% for common religions, 5% for uncommon religions, 0% for any other religion.
Language (Chinese) – All Yangban characters speak Chinese with a Base chance equal to EDU×3.

2013-04-09

[A-Z April Blogging] [I] Immortals of Kūnlún

Not only do almost all Chinese religions firmly believe in the existence of Immortals, but most of them also have provisions for becoming an Immortal (Daoism especially so): in China, emperors, peasants, merchants and soldiers share a belief in and the possibility of attaining eternal life. In Chinese Folk religion, with its many apotheosised local heroes, the distinction is very blurred between such heroes and Immortals.

So except for the heavenly members of the Celestial Bureaucracy, who are also immortal, the largest concentration of Immortals is supposed to be on top of the Kūnlún Mountains (Kūnlún Shān 崑崙山), a great mountain range spanning from Amdo to south of the Tarim Basin, Ladakh, and ending in Bactria. The Kūnlún Mountains are the paradisiacal abode of the Immortals (xiān and yǔrén), a utopian place where shamans travel to learn their rites, where Daoist hermits have retired, where fantastic creatures dwell, and where fabled plants grow. Here the Queen Mother of the West (Xī Wángmǔ) reigns supreme. Ascending this mountain is forbidden to mortals, and it is heavily guarded by many fantastic guardians. Feroucious tribes of dark-skinned barbarians live at its foot. Ancient gods and heroes retire here in mysterious cities hidden amidst the lofty mountains. Despite the forbidding altitude, the temperature is always pleasant.


The Immortals of Kūnlún are rumoured to have amassed vast quantities of esoteric tomes of knowledge, magic items, and alchemical formulae over time.

According to some sources, the Immortals do not live on the mountain, but within the mountain, because it is hollow.

The Kūnlún Mountains are situated at the extreme western end of the Chinese 'known world'; they have a counterpart at the extreme eastern end of the world: Pénglái Island (Pénglái Xiāndǎo 蓬萊仙島) in the Yellow Sea. The Immortals of Kūnlún and the Immortals of Pénglái are separated by a bitter rivalry.

In gaming terms, only characters who have reached and accepted Daoist, Heterodox or Shamanistic apotheosis (p65 of The Celestial Empire) may travel unhindered to the mountain and meet the Immortals of Kūnlún. Of course, the Immortals do sometimes invite special mortals to meet them; in this case, they usually send a crane, a bì'àn or a tianmǎ to transport the lucky mortal.

2013-04-08

[A-Z April Blogging] [H] Huāláng

Historically, the Huāláng (花郎, "Flowery Gentlemen") were a society of young and beautiful aristocrats from the Korean kingdom of Silla (Xīnluó 新羅), contemporary of Táng China. This is the only hard fact that can be historically confirmed, given the paucity of the sources. Little writing has survived from Silla Korea; anything else is pure speculation.

Later on, the term Huāláng came to mean: in the 13th century, 'travelling entertainer'; in the 16th century: 'male prostitute'; in the 19th century: 'boy dancer'. In the 20th century, a Korean martial arts known as Huālángdào developed, mostly in reaction to foreign martial arts. As a result, a whole Huāláng mythology was 'retro-developed' to be used as a historical basis and justification for the latter-day Huāláng (practitioners of Huālángdào). Little of this 20th-century Huāláng-mythmaking has any historical evidence whatsoever. However, gaming being gaming, we'll try and incorporate much of this more recent Huāláng mythology into The Celestial Empire.

The Huāláng started as a military band in the Silla era. The Huāláng were chosen from the young sons of the nobility; they entered a kind of chivalric corps whose aim was to uphold the ideals of complete loyalty to the nation, righteousness, and bravery: the five huāláng commandments were: serve the king with loyalty, serve parents with piety, be faithful to friends, never retreat in battle, preserve life when possible. The Huāláng were dressed up in black jackets and red skirts. Besides their martial training, they were trained to attack and drive out disease demons through exorcism. [Note: this latter skill may actually stem from a linguistic confusion between the terms huāláng‒ flower knight and huāláng‒ husband of a female shaman, so we'll ignore it in the description of the Huāláng profession below. Should the GM allow this ability, the Necromancy skill should be added to the roster of primary or secondary skills of the Huāláng profession]. The Huāláng carry wooden sticks representing swords. They are supposed to have a power to heal. They have a taboo concerning water.

From a religious point of view, the Huāláng were taught a strange mix of orthodox Confucianism and Esoteric Buddhism. This makes them all the more similar to the Japanese Ninja (the unavowed model of 20th century Huāláng), whose religious tenets were also based on Esoteric Buddhism.

Despite their Confucian upbringing, the Huāláng are mostly homosexual. This is not surprising;  many groups of closely-knit warriors in the past were homosexual.

The Huāláng: a new profession for Korean PCs only
Wealth: Affluent
Status: 60%
Allegiance: Confucianism 5 points, Esoteric Buddhism 15 points
Primary skills: Climb, Etiquette, Melee Weapon (any), Missile Weapon (any), Perform (Dance), Ride (Horse)
Secondary Skills: Command, Dodge, Grapple, Hide, Jump, Knowledge (Religion: Esoteric Buddhism), Martial Arts, Melee Weapon (Quarterstaff), Persuade, Spot, Stealth
Suggested Power: Battle Magic ‒ suggested spell: Heal; Buddhist Magic ‒ suggested spells: Diamond Dagger, Sword of Wisdom.
Equipment: A set of weapons corresponding to the character's combat skills. Expensive clothes. Horse. Roll-up ladder.
Miscellaneous:
 - To qualify as a Huāláng, the player character must be a member of the Korean nobility
 - SIZ is to be rolled using 2D6+6

2013-04-07

[A-Z April Blogging] [G] Girl Lovely

Girl Lovely (Nǚ Wā 女媧) is a semi-historical figure mentioned in the Classic of Mountains and Seas (Shānhǎi Jīng 山海經) as a daughter of the Flame Emperor (Yándì 炎帝). She used to live in the northern regions and died by drowning in the East Sea, after which she was apotheosised and became a water goddess, worshipped by both the ancient Chinese and the Miáo. However, in the time periods contemplated by The Celestial Empire, Girl Lovely is not worshipped as a goddess any longer; she is rather considered as a mythological creature from the ancient past, much like the Droughtghoul (Hànbá, p118 of TCE) or the Plain Girl (p121 of TCE).

Girl Lovely is also considered as the sister and wife of Fúxī (伏羲), one of the semi-mythological rulers of ancient China. As sister and wife of Fúxī, she is often depicted with him as two embracing siren-like or snake-like beings with interlocked tails.

Even though Girl Lovely wasn't a goddess any longer in historical times, she still held great power. The downfall of the Shāng dynasty, for instance, is said to have been caused by the last Shāng ruler disrespecting her statue. She then sent the evil vixen spirit Dájǐ wreak havoc at the court of King Zhòu. These events are told in the Míng dynasty novel The Investiture of the Gods.

The GM can use Girl Lovely as an actual creature, a lamia-like temptress who tries to bewitch one of the characters and set him on the others. Or, as in The Investiture of the Gods, the PCs may stumble upon an ancient temple of Girl Lovely, and unwittingly call some curse upon themselves by reading some forbidden scripture; the rest of the adventure would consist in lifting the curse by fulfilling some quest for the goddess.

2013-04-06

[April A-Z Blogging] [F] the Fǎxiàngzōng school

The following is in addition to the Buddhist sects presented in p90-4 of The Celestial Empire.

Period of time
Táng

Description
The Fǎxiàngzōng school (法相宗) is a minor Buddhist sect established by Xuánzàng (602-664), the great Táng Chinese monk, scholar, and traveller, and by his disciple Kuījī (632-682). The sect is also known as the Wéishízōng school (唯識宗). The sect is, like the Huáyán School (p93 of TCE), very much scholarly-oriented, but remains less famous than its rival. The Fǎxiàngzōng school does not survive the anti-Buddhist persecutions in the 9th century.

Members
Monks only, especially those interested in original Indian Mahāyāna texts, and in particular those of the Yogācāra tradition. Gaming-wise, it should be restricted to NPCs.

Requisites
- Knowledge (Religion: Buddhism) at 75% at least.
- Language (Sanskrit) at 50% at least.
- Literacy (South Asian alphabets) at 50% at least.
- Persuade at 50% at least.
- Willingness to travel.

Benefits
Members of this school have access to a variety of Indian manuscripts, whose perusal gives a 25% of adding +1D6% to the Knowledge (Religion: Buddhism) skill once per month of scholarly activities, e.g., translating Indian texts to Chinese.
Members of this school have access to sympathetic Buddhist organisations for food and shelter in Bactria, Sogdiana, Dzungaria, the Tarim Basin, Inner Manchuria, Korea, and Japan.

Obligations
Members of this school are dedicated to the spread of original Mahāyāna thought to East Asia, and are hence often found travelling west to India through Inner Asia (to gather new Indian texts), or east to Korea and Japan (to spread the Yogācāra tradition).
Members with a good knowledge of Sanskrit and Chinese (both above 90%) must devote at least 10% of their time translating Indian texts to Chinese.

2013-04-05

[April A-Z Blogging] [E] the Éméi Sect

As written on p103 of The Celestial Empire, fictional organisations are a staple of Chinese myth and legend. The monks of Shàolín, for instance, may have an origin in real history, but the way they've evolved in the national Chinese psyche makes them closer to superheroes than to historical figures.

Something similar has happened with the Éméi Sect (Éméi Pài 峨嵋派). Wikipedia describes it as a fictional martial arts sect from Jīn Yōng's works, whereas the web-site of the Confucius Institute describes it as a real-world sect. Given the fanciful material in the article from the latter source, I am more inclined to side with wikipedia. Anyway, this is not too important in a role-playing setting; if it's fun, it must be included.

The Éméi Sect is briefly mentioned in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: when Zhāng Zǐyí's character smashes the furniture in the inn whilst single-handedly defeating numerous opponents she says: "I am the Invincible Sword Goddess, armed with the Green Destiny that knows no equal! Be you Lǐ or Southern Crane, bow your head and ask for mercy! I am the dragon from the desert! Who comes from nowhere and leaves no trace! Today I fly over Éméi. Tomorrow... I topple Mount Wǔdāng!".

Éméi Pài 峨嵋派 ("the Éméi Sect")
The Éméi Pài is one of the leading righteous sects in the world of the Wǔlín (p9 of TCE). It is named after the place where it is based, Mount Éméi (p25 of TCE), one of the Four Great Mountains of Buddhism. Although it is a Buddhist sect, the Éméi Pài has been described as working hand in hand with Daoist righteous martial artists in Chinese fiction. Again in Chinese fiction, the Éméi Pài is said to enrol both male and female recruits. It can be used by the GM as a vessel to introduce female (N)PCs to the game, thus ignoring the usual restrictions listed on p10 of TCE.

Period of time: Yuán to Qīng
Allegiance: Buddhism
Style: external (yáng)
Powers: same as Éméiquán (p69 of TCE)
Other Powers taught: Buddhist Magic — Mantra of Bhaisajyaguru
Special: in case of dire emergency, members of the Éméi Pài in good standing within the sect, and with a Buddhism Allegiance score of 70 at the least, may request succour from the leaders of the Sect. This request needn't be carried out by a messenger: the person sending out the request may do so through a successful Meditation skill roll  — the request will then telepathically be received on Éméi Shān. The GM will have to judge whether the request is or is not justified. Should it be justified and in line with the activities of the sect, Mount Éméi will provide appropriate help in the form of a group of Éméi Pài martial artists who will travel from the nearest available location to the threat. This will require of course some wotk from the GM (size and location of the party, statting its members...)

2013-04-04

[April A-Z Blogging] [D] the Dungan Revolts

'Dungan' is the name given in Central Asia to the Huí (see p30 of The Celestial Empire), the Chinese-speaking Muslims from Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin. They call themselves Lǎo Huíhuí: Old Muslims. Two devastating Huí revolts took place in China in the second half of the 19th century, resulting in very heavy casualties, destruction, and the mass emigration of the Huí to Sogdiana and Turkestan.

The Manchu-led Qīng empire had a very aggressive policy vis-à-vis the Dungans. However, it did not provoke any major migration of Dungans out of China before the Dungan revolts. As explained on p40 of TCE, the Qīng treated Muslims as second-class subjects. At the time of the Tàipíng Rebellion (second half of the 19th century), the Qīng allowed the Hàn to form armed militias to defend themselves. The Hàn of Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin also armed themselves, even if they were thousands of km away from the Tàipíng Rebellion. The Huí felt threatened and also started arming themselves. This escalation led to a very tense situation, which only needed a spark to become something worse. A trivial incident in 1862 gave start to the rebellion, which quickly spread as far east as Gānsù, where there were many capable Sufi leaders who joined the rebellion. In 1865, the Uyghurs joined the fray on the side of the Huí under their leader Yaqub Beg (see p40 of TCE), and soon the Qīng lost control of Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin. In 1867, the Qīng General Zuǒ Zōngtáng fought back using a carrot-and-stick strategy: on the one hand, massive amounts of money were invested in the region to promote agriculture and education; on the other hand, gun-carrying forces were sent to fight against the Muslim rebels (Chinese armed forces in the 19th century were still mostly relying on cold weapons!). After the first Qīng victories in 1871-2, skilful diplomacy brought back several Huí leaders into the loyalist camp. Despite repeated offers of amnesty in 1873, the war went on with many battles (mostly sieges), thousand of victims, and ethnic cleansing on both sides until 1877. In the end, the situation became so confused that the Uyghurs and the Huí started an internecine conflict, with the Hàn Chinese still in Dzungaria and in the Tarim Basin joining forces with the Uyghurs to exterminate the Huí, whilst the Russians to the north took advantage of the chaos to annex the territory around the city of Kulja in Dzungaria.

In the end, a combined force of Hàn soldiers and Huí former rebels defeated Yaqub Beg's forces and took back all lost territories. The Huí who fled to Central Asia were those who remained on the rebel side until the very end of the (first) Dungan Revolt.

A second Dungan Revolt took place in 1895-6. This time, the fighting was mostly between rival Sufi Naqshbandi orders amongst the Huí. It was put down by loyalist Muslims.

2013-04-03

[April A-Z Blogging] [C] the Celestial Bureaucracy

The Celestial bureaucracy is the pantheon of Chinese mythology. As with many other elements of Chinese thought and religion, the idea of a Celestial Bureaucracy modelled on the Imperial Bureaucracy stems from Confucianism. Despite its scholarly roots, the Celestial Bureaucracy has been readily adopted by Daoism and Chinese Folk religion; it is also at least acknowledged by Chinese Buddhism, in particular in terms of what the afterlife looks like.
Its basic structure and some of its divine members are described on p37 of The Celestial Empire. However, just as the Imperial Bureaucracy is a vast body with innumerable members reaching down to the remotest provinces of the Empire, the Celestial Bureaucracy has many more members than the ones listed on p37 of the rule book. Actually, per Confucianism and Chinese Folk religion, the Celestial Bureaucracy oversees all gods, deities, and apotheosised heroes, and even the Daoist Immortals of Chinese mythology.

This post presents a few variations/additions to the elements provided in the rule book.

Originally, the supreme ruler wasn't called the Jade Emperor, but the Yellow Emperor (黃帝). The change occurred under the Táng.

Whatever his name, this supreme ruler is not really worshipped: he's revered throughout China's Confucian and Daoist temples, and joss houses. Once a year, on the ninth day of the first month, Daoist temples hold a Jade Emperor ritual (拜天公 bàitiāngōng, literally heaven worship) at which priests and laymen prostrate themselves, burn incense, and make food offerings.
The Jade Emperor's four assistant emperors are detailed below:

➀ Yándì (炎帝), the Flame Emperor, is much more of an historical figure than a mythological one, even though he is supposed to rule the southern cardinal direction.
➁ Shǎohào 少昊 is sometimes counted as an apotheosised emperor, sometimes as a mythologica figure. He rules the western direction.
➂ As written in the rule book, from the Míng onwards the nameless Northern Emperor (Běidì 北帝) becomes extremely popular, both in Daoism and in Chinese Folk religion. He is revered as a powerful god, able to control the elements (worshipped by those wishing to avoid fires), and capable of great magic. He is particularly revered by martial artists, and is the patron saint of Héběi, Manchuria and Mongolia ("the North").
➃ Tàihào 太昊 oversees the eastern cardinal direction. He is particularly worshipped on the sacred peaks.

A fifth assistant emperor can be added to the list: the Yellow Emperor (黃帝), who oversees the central cardinal direction. After his abdication, Zhuānxū 顓頊 becomes the fifth assistant.

In Daoism, the Jade Emperor governs all of the mortals' realm and below, but still ranks below the Three Pure Pellucid Ones (Sānqīng 三清, of which more will be revealed in another post). In Confucianism, the Jade Emperor is considered as a kind of abstract principle. In Chinese Folk Religion, on the contrary, he is really seen as the heavenly equivalent of the earthly ruler; this also explains the changes in his name— a ruler simply cannot be eternal, even if he is heavenly!

Similarly, the Celestial Bureaucracy is seen in Chinese Folk Religion as just another sprawling bureaucracy, much as a mirror of the earthly one. Each assistant had its ministries and specialised bureaucrats, with official lists being published by the government — since the Emperor of China was the only person supposed to be able to communicate with the Celestial Bureaucracy. This sprawling bureaucracy was made up of gods, goddesses, bodhisattvas, deceased emperors and empresses of the past, heavenly beings, and immortals. Each disease was also believed to be the result of the works of a particular member of the Celestial Bureaucracy. The idea was that no single activity, good or bad, was outside of the jurisdiction of the Celestial Bureaucracy. Sometimes, the Chinese government would co-opt local deities, apotheosised heroes, or even demons, lest their worship should create local, uncontrollable cults. This was actually one of the very official duties of Chinese magistrates.

Buddhism also found its way into the arcana of the Celestial Bureaucracy, which was supposed to keep rack of one's past lives and deeds. Especially virtuous deceased people would eventually join the ranks of the Celestial Bureaucracy.

2013-04-02

[April A-Z Blogging] [B] Bento de Góis

Bento de Góis was a Portuguese Jesuit missionary who was active at the turn of the 17th century, at a time when it was still unclear in the West whether "Cathay" and "China" referred to the one and same geographical entity or not. He was also fascinated by the legends of native Christian peoples living in Inner Asia (e.g., the legend of "Prester John"). He is the first Westerner to have travelled overland from India to China.

Bento de Góis led an adventurous life from early on. He was a soldier, and saw action against the Spaniards. When stationed in the Portuguese Indian city of Goa, nicknamed the "Rome of the Orient" because of its intense Catholic activity, he abandoned the secular world and entered the Society of Jesus, possibly because his fiancée back in Portugal became a nun at that time. Bento de Góis was then assigned missionary work in Mughal India for several years, which enabled him to become proficient in the Persian language and in Muslim customs, because he sometimes had to hide his true religion.

At that time, the Jesuits were busy trying to convert the Japanese to Christianity, with very little success, yet undergoing mass persecution at the end of the Sengoku period. Noticing how the Japanese were in awe of everything Chinese, the Jesuits then thought that converting the Chinese would be the key to converting all of East Asia, and hence turned their attention to China, where some Jesuits were already active at the court of the Míng. However, because of various setbacks, the sea route revealed itself to be impractical for missionary activities. As a result, it was decided to send missionaries to China through Tartary — the first European attempt ever to travel from India to China overland. The idea was also to take advantage of the inland trip to ascertain whether there were any native Christians in Tibet and/or in "Cathay" (at the time supposed to be different from "China"), even though the Jesuits in Běijīng doubted that such peoples did exist.

Bento de Góis left North India in February 1603 with the annual caravan bound for the Uyghur trading centre of Yarkand (Shāchē 莎車), situated in a fertile oasis of the Tarim Basin. The trip would last 4 years and Bento de Góis would cover 4,500km. He left Lahore disguised as an Armenian merchant intent on travelling to China on the Silk Road. The caravan went first through Bactria, experiencing the terrible cold and dangers of the Pamirs. In Bactria, Bento de Góis made the acquaintance of several Uyghurs who were returning from the pilgrimage to Mecca and who were also bound to Yarkand. At the time, the Silk Road was but a shadow of its former self, and was plagued by bandits and marauding nomads. Bento de Góis carried arms, and helped defending the Uyghur pilgrims. As a result, he was much welcome in Yarkand, especially since one of the pilgrims was the very sister of the Uyghur ruler of Yarkand.

After having rested in Yarkand, Bento de Góis travelled through the desert to the oasis city of Aqsu (Ākèsù 阿克蘇) in western Dzungaria. Despite Aqsu's ruler being related to Yarkand's, Bento de Góis was ill-treated in Aqsu and virtually kept there as a prisoner. After paying a huge ransom, however, he was allowed to leave. His next stop was the oasis city of Karasahr (Yānqí 焉耆), in eastern Dzungaria, where he could ascertain that a Nestorian community had indeed existed in the past, but that none were left in his day. There, he also met some Uyghur merchants who were travelling back from Běijīng, and who confirmed him the presence of fellow Jesuits at the court of the Míng. After some time spent preparing the last leg of the expedition by buying jade so that he could pretend being a merchant, Bento de Góis left Karasahr for China, reaching the Great Wall at the end of 1605. The Míng Empire had very restrictive rules for foreigners' entry into the country, and Bento de Góis was detained by the Chinese authorities in the city of Sùzhōu (肃州) in Gānsù. From Sùzhōu, Bento tried to send messages to the Jesuits in Běijīng, but he did not have their exact address, and he could not write Chinese. On the other end, the Běijīng Jesuits (informed about de Góis's expedition by his Goa superiors) were making enquiries about him from people coming from the west, but could not learn anything either, since they did not know his assumed 'Armenian' name. One of Bento's letters, sent in the first half of 1606, eventually found its way to the Běijīng Jesuits at the end of 1606. Matteo Ricci, the chief Jesuit in Běijīng, promptly sent a Chinese convert fetch his Portuguese colleague. The latter arrived in Sùzhōu at the beginning of 1607, only to find Bento de Góis on his deathbed.

The travels of Bento de Góis are humbling for us gamers. They make us realise how very difficult and very dangerous it was to travel, even through 'civilised' lands. In terms of using this narrative with The Celestial Empire, a GM could simply re-use it as is for a long overland campaign (a giant hexcrawl!). Alternatively, the PCs could be native Chinese in the employ of Matteo Ricci who must go to Sùzhōu and organise Bento de Góis's escape.

2013-04-01

[April A-Z Blogging] [A] the Ān Lùshān Rebellion (755-763)

I will try to do a post a day, in the alphabetical order, during this month of April. This is not to participate in a contest, but to force myself to posting more frequently.

As an introduction, let me state some facts: the eighth-century Ān Lùshān Rebellion was the single deadliest war in human history in relative value, i.e., by calculating the death toll against the global population of the time. It is assumed that 15% of the total population of the world (not of China, of the world!) died either as a direct consequence of the military actions, or as a consequence of the mass starvation and diseases caused by the upheavals brought upon central and northern China by the war. Yet this war is incredibly little-known in the West.

The Táng empire possibly represents the zenith of Imperial China. Its territorial extent was immense, more or less the same area as today at a time when transport and communications were definitely not as they are today! In terms of culture, arts, and religion, it is also widely accepted that this is the time when Imperial China reached its apogee — it is the culture of Táng China that spread on to Korea and thence to Japan.

Táng China was a centralised empire, with an embryonic civil service, yet still mostly relying upon the ancient nobiliary structure. In the 7th century, the empire embarked upon a series of wars of expansion, to the north-east (present-day Manchuria), to the west (Inner and Central Asia) and to the south (present-day Vietnam). Although China was victorious, these wars strained her economy. The huge armies that conquered these distant lands had to remain stationed there to prevent any local revolts, and, due to the economical difficulties of the central government, the funds for the upkeep of the armies and of the mercenaries, which played a growing role in the wars, came from the generals of the armies themselves. As a result, the generals of the frontier armies became the equivalent of the European feudal marquis: hereditary noblemen whose duty it was to guard the marches of the kingdom. These frontier military governors were called jiédùshǐ (節度使) in Chinese.

Ān Lùshān (安祿山)
Ān Lùshān (安祿山) was one of these jiédùshǐ. The son of a Sogdian father and a Turkic mother (rumoured to be a sorceress), he was born c. 703, and was already a successful general in his thirties, having warred against barbarians both in the north-east and in the west. Note: it was frequent under the Táng to appoint foreigners as army generals, as they were deemed to be more politically reliable than native Hàn, the latter being thought to be held sway over by the various aristocratic factions.
Ān Lùshān was a frequent visitor in the capital, where he was admitted in the inner sanctum of the emperor's palace. This prompted a rumour that he was a lover of Yáng Yùhuán's, the emperor's favourite concubine. To this day, it is unknown whether the rumour was based on anything concrete, and this love triangle has originated quite a number of films and TV dramas.


The battle of Talas, lost against the Arabs in 751, was the turning point in the Chinese wars of expansion. The people in China grew dissatisfied with these costly wars, and the emperor had to implement a series of sometimes conflicting changes of policy. These changes were accompanied by the rise and the decline of various aristocratic factions at court. In the winter of 755-756, one of these factions called in Ān Lùshān, who occupied Cháng'ān. The city was ruthlessly sacked and destroyed by the (mostly non-Hàn) armies of Ān and his allies. At this point, emperor Xuánzōng gave all power to the factions who opposed Ān Lùshān to remove this threat. Ān reacted by attacking and taking Luòyáng, the 'second' or 'eastern' capital city of the Táng. At this moment, Ān Lùshān declared himself emperor of the new Great Yān (大燕) dynasty.

The legitimate emperor had to flee south to Sìchuān. His guards, however, blamed the war on the supposed affair between Ān and Yáng, and had her put to death. In 756, the heartbroken Xuánzōng resigned in favour of his son, Sùzōng, who had remained in the north to reclaim the throne. The hard flight to Sìchuān and the death of Yáng Yùhuán have spawned a number of very famous Chinese and even Japanese works.

Sùzōng first had to battle against his brothers for pre-eminence within the loyalist camp, enlisting the aid of Uyghur barbarians. Since Sùzōng didn't have any funds to pay the Uyghurs, they were left free to pillage North China as compensation for heir help. After having defeated his brothers, Sùzōng defeated the Yān, and took back Cháng'ān and Luòyáng in 757, again with the help of his Uyghur allies.

Meanwhile, in the Yān camp, Ān Lùshān had grown complacent as emperor of the Great Yān dynasty, and he was eventually murdered by his own son, Ān Qìngxù. General Shǐ Sīmíng, a long-time ally and childhood friend of Ān Lùshān's, had Ān Qìngxù executed in 759. He took over Ān's territory and troops, and claimed for himself the title of emperor of Yān. This is why the Ān Lùshān Rebellion is also called the Ān-Shǐ Rebellion.

During all these events, most of North China remained disputed between the Táng and the Yān, depending on the outcome of various battles and sieges, and on the shifting loyalties of the various army generals. The rebel heartland lay in the north-east.

However, with the military situation coming to a stalemate between the Táng and the Yān, the latter started to experience internal dissent. Emperor Shǐ was killed by his own son in 761. Apparently, Shǐ's son was an able commander, but with the Uyghurs entering again the fray to help the Táng, he couldn't avoid defeat after defeat, and committed suicide in 763, thus ending the Ān-Shǐ Rebellion.

At this time, northern China lay in ruins, the Táng had lost all their territorial gains from before the Ān Lùshān Rebellion, and the Arabs and the Tibetans could quietly attack and plunder Chinese cities. The Uyghurs controlled the Tarim Basin. The Táng dynasty was irrevocably weakened. Despite its role in the war, the Táng were forced to keep the system of the jiédùshǐ.

On top of the immense deaths and devastation, and of the effects mentioned above, the outcome of the Ān-Shǐ Rebellion was also an economic and an intellectual decline.

Using the Ān Lùshān Rebellion with The Celestial Empire:
As explained in TCE, the game has been written with the peaceful time periods of Imperial China in mind, when travel is safe and player characters can try and work their way through the stable organisations of Imperial China: literary academies, martial arts schools, religious sects, and clan associations. However, troubled times such as the Ān-Shǐ Rebellion may also obviously present many occasions for role-playing. The player characters can be the agents (or even the cìkè) of the one or the other aristocratic faction at the court of emperor Xuánzōng. Or they can be 'secret agents' of the latter, or even accompany him through the dangers and the hardships of the flight to Sìchuān. Or they can be a general ad his retainers, trying to grab as much power as possible.