16th Century Italian Engravings of Chinese People

From Cesare Vecellio's Habiti antichi et moderni di tutto il mondo, Venice, 1590

A Chinese Man [of "mediocre condition"]

A Chinese Woman

A Chinese Nobleman [a mandarin?]

A Chinese Noblewoman [the wife of a mandarin?]


The Grand Heist

In Joseon Korea, ice was a very valuable commodity, and its trade was a state monopoly. In the 2012 Korean film The Grand Heist, a gang of con artists and thieves decide to steal a large amount of ice. Here is the Korean trailer:

And here's the European trailer, which really looks like they're presenting a party of adventurers!


Wind of the Steppe Will Blow You Away!

In several instances, the text of The Celestial Empire makes passing references to “a future extension dedicated to the nomad peoples of Inner Asia”. TCE was published in 2010 and, at the time, this supplement was really in its infancy. Well, four years on, I am thrilled to announce that Wind of the Steppe should be available through Alephtar Games at the end of this year, or at the beginning of the next at the very latest.

Much more than a mere extension, Wind of the Steppe will actually be a fully-fledged, stand-alone role-playing game (still based on the Basic Role-Playing System by the Chaosium) that will enable you to adventure into the harsh world of the steppe nomads. The game will still be compatible with TCE, and retain some of the mechanisms at its core, such as the Allegiance rules. But let me pass on the virtual pen to Olivier Dubreuil, the main author of WoS:

How To Be a Good Nomad:

  • Demonstrate blind loyalty to the leader you believe deserves it. You can die for him. When called by your khan for war, do not ask for any compensation, even as a noyan, but follow his orders without hesitation.
  • Be efficient: you learnt that all that you do is dictated by the best efficiency. “Chivalrous” does not belong to your vocabulary. If you have to flee, flee and come back later. If you have to die, die. If slaughtering people yields any benefit, do it. If skills from other people can be useful, use them. Exploits are made for duty, vengeance, ambition, to gain the favour of your fellow clansmen or of the spirits, or for any other benefits, not for sport.
  • Be patient, wait for the optimal conditions whenever possible.
  • Life is valuable when useful. Spare your fellow tribesmen but don’t be overburdened with unnecessary prisoners: slaughter them in cold blood when asked to or whenever it is useful.
  • Be open to other religions, philosophies and knowledge: foreign wise men and craftsmen can bring you what you’re missing. Despise other settled people.
  • Use slaves and despise them.
  • Help your clan.
  • Be fair to your anda [blood brother], even if you’re fighting on opposite sides.
  • Fear the spirits, avoid making them angry. Some words may attract them.
  • Do not boast about your own exploits; you have to thank the spirits, who may become upset or jealous.
  • Be thankful to the good spirits.
  • Observe the taboos.
  • Don’t fear enemies. Don’t fear death either: it is a shame not to die on horseback and you’ll join your ancestors. But die usefully.
  • Avenge your clansmen and tribesmen.
  • Be proud of your clan.
  • Travel with several horses.
  • Be frugal, but get completely drunk on occasions. Eat whatever meat is edible. Eyes are delicious.
  • Be welcoming to the friendly traveller. Don’t hesitate to ask for shelter from friendly or neutral nomads encountered whilst travelling.
  • Share your hunt with anybody coming until you have attached it to your saddle.
  • Ask the shamans for advice. Shamans are not holy but have scary powers and knowledge beyond your understanding: fear them.
  • Take care of your mount: you can’t survive without it.
  • Don’t bathe in a river or a lake. In your country, this often means don’t bathe at all.
  • Keep your bows dry.
  • Be disciplined in battle; do not plunder until the enemy is utterly destroyed.
  • Plan your actions as you would prepare a hunt.
  • Scout an unknown land instead of blindly getting there.

Inner Asian Nomads are Tengriist animists. They believe in spirits and in the powers of nature, first and foremost the sky god Tengri, the celestial deity who created the world and rules over it.

Numerous deities or spirits live under Tengri’s authority: superior spirits (fertility, thunder…), natural spirits (wood, sources, fire…) or evil spirits –the üör– (disease, insanity…). Some tribes worship Tengri in a quasi-monotheistic way, but even these never completely forget the spirits. They are very respectful of nature spirits.

The world is split into three planes: the lower plane where malevolent spirits dwell, the middle plane where humans and natural spirits live, and the upper plane where the celestial spirits reign. Every event is reputedly caused by spirits: a good hunt, disease, the rain… The Nomad fears them. It is necessary to please them and to make them friendly: this is the duty of the shamans.

Additionally, legends talk about a subterranean world where supernatural telluric magical creatures live, like giants or ogres. This world is not to be confused with the lower plane where spirits live. It is separated from the surface world, but some gateways between the two worlds do exist in deep chasms or unfathomable caverns.

There is no organised clergy and church, but instead a class of more or less hereditary wise men or women: the shamans. Shamans are the mediators between humans and supernatural beings, and hold a special place in the social order. They have no specific hierarchy beyond the authority bestowed by power, reputation or social status. Their function is more practical than priestly, since they do not necessarily lead worship ceremonies. They are however central in the animist belief.

“In the Steppe, a man without friends is thinner than a finger; a man with friends is bigger than the Steppe itself”

Tentative Table of Contents of Wind of the Steppe:
  Daily Life
  Character Creation
  Peoples and Tribes
  The Silk Road
  Cities of the Nomads
  When the Wolves Wake Up


Copper vs Silver Standard in Qīng China

NOT a government official
I am currently reading an interesting French book titled Bâtisseurs d'empires, Russie, Chine et Inde à la croisée des mondes, XVe-XIXe siècle, that compares the way the three major Eurasian empires of the modern age: Mughal, Russian, Qīng, were created and run.

With regards to the way the Qīng empire managed the problems related with the (bi)metallic currency standard that had plagued the Míng, the author explains that, basically, the Qīng had privatised the management of the silver currency but kept as a public monopoly the minting and issuing of the copper currency.

Hence the influx of the various New World silver dollars (see my earlier blog entry) under the Qīng; this also explains why such a bewildering array of different coins were allowed to circulate: they were mostly used amongst merchants and traders, who were responsible to each other for the value attached to these coins.

Another interesting fact from the book is that copper strings ended up being the backbone of an integrated, centralised, should we say public, internal market, whereas the silver dollars ended up being used in various regional trading centres whose main trading partners were overseas.