7 Million Ants: Dreams Aloft an Eastern Sea

Chapter 1.3: Metal Sharpened at the Forge
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Chapter 1.3: Metal Sharpened at the Forge
三, 金就礪則利


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Burlaks of the Pearl River

Feeding into the Pearl River are a series of smaller streams and rivers, intersecting with one another in the heart of Guangdong Province to create a vast, arable lowland upon which Canton was built. Whilst the majority of these streams are too small to be navigable, the Xi River system, which passes from Brasilian Macao to the Taiping holdout of Nanning, is a notable exception. The river is wide enough, the currents calm enough, for a force of British gunboats to be towed against the current.

The modern narrative is that the British, with their superior steamboats and mighty guns, sailed against the river current and landed in Nanning after a short journey, took the city in a swift siege, and thus rewrote history. The truth is somewhat different.

Whilst it is true that British forces did have substantially superior equipment to their Chinese counterparts, only 2 steamboats were used in the 12-strong British flotilla which sailed up the Xi River; and of the 13,000 men who made their way upstream towards Nanning, only 2,200 were British or Indian. The majority of the force was Chinese in origin, recruited by predominantly Cantonese gentry-collaborators, who considered the British the new face of law and order. A fleet of 37 war junks, the remnants of Admiral Zuo’s fleet, were assembled under the authority of the Viceroy of Liangguang, and trailed behind the Anglo-Indian flotilla. Along the Xi River, thousands of Chinese burlaks were conscripted by their gentry betters to help haul the British flotilla upriver, and within the month, the British force had arrived at Nanning.

At it’s heart, the Imperialist ideology was much less racialist than it was culturalist. The native aristocracy, be it Chinese, Indian or African, was greatly preferred over the products of London's inner-city slums, or of the Welsh coal mines. British Imperialists believed the upper-middle class public school graduate was the best humanity had to offer, or as the New English scholar, William L. Langer put it,

“We (the British) are the Patricians of the human race.”

Whilst there was a racialist aspect to Imperialism, that was predominant only amongst the then-opposition Conservative Party. The British therefore, considered themselves the protectors of the Chinese gentry class, and that sentiment was reciprocated by the gentry aristocracy. The Tiengued, who sought to topple the gentry order, were the enemies of both Britain and the gentry. The Tiengued were trapped between a rock and a hard place. Both the Qing and the British sought their destruction, and so the Tiengued put up a spirited resistance. Nanning held out for a fortnight, and the Hakka rebels fought even as their walls were torn down by British cannon. Brigadier-General Gordon would even admit to pondering a retreat from Guangxi, lest the rapidly closing Li Hongzhang attempt to evict the British and spark a diplomatic incident.

Once the British took Nanning, the Tiengued disintegrated within the year, splintering into regional warlords. Yang Xiuqing, East King of the Tiengued, would at one point unite the warring factions and march on Guangzhou, but he was captured and executed by British authorities in late 1863. Smaller Tiengued’s remnants would evade capture and integrate themselves as the new ruling class of Northwest Guangxi, eventually becoming a part of the gentry class themselves and betraying the cause.

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The Tiengued Rebels

Since the Viceroyalty was still officially part of the Qing Empire, Britain had no authority to reform Liangguang’s administration. However, Liangguang was informally redrawn into 6 “administrative regions”, 2 of which were designated “homelands” for the Hakkas, 1 for the Teochew and 2 for the Cantonese. The last province, being Canton and its environs, would be for the “common and peaceful coexistence” of the peoples of Liangguang. That said, these divisions were not strict partition lines, for the time being at least.

His job concluded with quite the success, Charles Elliot would be promoted to Governor of Bengal, and left on a fast ship to Calcutta in March of 1864. His deputy, the now-famous George “Chinese” Gordon would be appointed Colonial Secretary, and in 1866, assumed the title of Lieutenant-Viceroy of Liangguang, nominally subservient to the ageing Zeng Guofan.

Gordon was the man behind the Viceroyal throne. Despite his military credentials, ostensibly the sword of Imperialism, Gordon was remarkably enlightened for his time. The Secretary learnt both Mandarin, Cantonese and Hakka during his tenure as Governor, even making a failed effort at Teochew towards the end of his tenure. This greatly impressed the Liangguang gentry, who still formed the backbone of the local bureaucracy. To formalize the influence of the gentry, Gordon established the Shenyiju, or the Gentleman's Affairs Committee, an organization which held periodic meetings with the Secretary to discuss rural and bureaucratic affairs, an organ for the native Chinese elite to express their political opinions and serve an advisory role.

Like in India, the British were careful to prevent the gentry from growing overly powerful. Playing the Hakkas, Cantonese and Teochews off each other, the Shenyiju was rarely a unified political grouping, with different groups aligned with and against the British on an issue-by-issue basis. The three major peoples of Liangguang could not even agree on a lingua franca for the colony, and were forced to continue using Mandarin, not spoken by the natives of Liangguang, as a court language.

This begs the question: how much did British rule actually change?

For one, the Qing Examinations would be continued throughout the 19th Century. A 4-tier examination, students progressed up village, county, provincial and imperial exams, with the ultimate imperial exams being supervised by the Qing Emperor in Beijing itself. This remained a highly prestigious mode of academic advancement for natives of Liangguang, though students hailing from Liangguang would be barred from taking the Imperial Examination by edict in 1877. Even before 1877, many Confucian scholars would claim to be natives of neighbouring Jiangxi province in order to avoid the stigma of being a British subject.

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A member of British Liangguang's Chinese elite

Furthermore, Chinese law still held sway across much of Liangguang. Chinese Law, ordained by the Daqing Luli, or Great Qing Legal Code remained in force across Chinese communities, who deferred to the local village elder or gentry magistrate for judgement. On the other hand, British Law governed British nationals hailing from the home country, from India, from the White colonies, or all non-Chinese foreigners, with all legal disputes being deferred to the local Justice. Deep into the age of British imperialism, serfdom remained in force across Guangxi under Chinese law, as did execution by decapitation and the taking of concubines.

The Liangguang Police Force, essentially a (somewhat) modernized Green Standard Army would be established in 1869 towards the end of Gordon’s term. The Police Force was a glorified militia, owing their loyalty not to the administration in Canton, but to the local magistrate. Most shockingly, this meant that village gentry could maintain their opposition to missionary work in rural areas of Liangguang, turning a blind eye to the lynching of Chinese Christians, especially in the Hakka highlands. The Colonial Government lacked the means to enforce its will and protect missionary work, since the gentry elites were both the sponsors of and roadblock to anti-Christian violence. The Viceroyalty was very much so the “Wild West” of the Orient, and was governed as such.

Perhaps Gordon’s greatest legacy was economic. Under his rule, commercial steamboats were popularised in Liangguang’s mercantile circles. Screw propellers had been introduced to the world in 1849, quickly launching a revolution in commercial shipping in the West. The dockyards of Bengal were quick to pick up on the new trend, and wealthy Chinese merchants followed suit in the 1860s. Steamers would pick up textiles from Calcutta, round the Malaccas to Guangzhou, whereupon the textiles would be transported legally or otherwise to Mainland China for sale. Trade beget financial, entrepot and logistical services, ultimately causing a commercial boom in Liangguang.

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Secretary Gordon

Indian aesthetics were more ostentatious than their American or European counterparts, favouring gigantic “palace-steamers”, expensive, luxurious monstrosities of little practical use beyond the prideful. A famous incident involves the teenage Diwan of Baroda, Behari Lal Gupta’s palace steamer the Lakshmi Vilas,breaking down at the Mouth of the Dongjiang River, blocking all commercial traffic for a week. The uproar it caused in Guangzhou is a testament to the rapid growth of trade in Liangguang under British rule.


Coming soon: the Great Game
 
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How much power does each side actually have in the two Guang provinces?

The edict to ban Guang province residents from signing up for the Imperial Examination seems like a really dumb move on part of the Qing Dynasty.They are cutting ties with Guang provinces residents.
 
How much power does each side actually have in the two Guang provinces?
It's a very fluid situation, but at this point in time, the British are still in the process of establishing themselves and have no real authority beyond Canton--nor do they see the need to extend their control deeper into China. Canton is sufficient as a trading post, and it fulfills the demands of a maritime empire quite well. As such, the old Qing bureaucracy still holds sway in the countryside.

The balance of power between the Qing and the British will shift due to the changing political situation in East Asia, but that will be covered in the next update.
The edict to ban Guang province residents from signing up for the Imperial Examination seems like a really dumb move on part of the Qing Dynasty.They are cutting ties with Guang provinces residents.
Indeed. This decision is also a product of political realities on the ground, but what started out as an attempt to exert diplomatic pressure on the Cantonese gentry may well backfire.
I read this on the train home and I absolutely love it and look forward to the remainder of TTL.
Thank you!
 
I wonder if the cause of Tiengued would be evangelised and crystalised as a native religion in China. Hong Rengan seemed to be doing a better job at making the Tiengued faith much more sophisticated in both the Chinese and Western contexts, while the early death of Yang Xiuqing made given the faith a strong martyr figure for its followers to commemorate, apart from forcing Tiengued to lay low as a secret church rather than taking up arms again.
 
I don't think that lack of control over the interior will be tolerated for long if White Christian Missionaries are coming under attack like that.
 
I wonder if the cause of Tiengued would be evangelised and crystalised as a native religion in China. Hong Rengan seemed to be doing a better job at making the Tiengued faith much more sophisticated in both the Chinese and Western contexts, while the early death of Yang Xiuqing made given the faith a strong martyr figure for its followers to commemorate, apart from forcing Tiengued to lay low as a secret church rather than taking up arms again.
Well you see, I hadn't planned for the Tiengued to play much of a role in shaping regional history, but the beauty of writing only about 3-4 chapters in advance is that I can yoink ideas like these.
I don't think that lack of control over the interior will be tolerated for long if White Christian Missionaries are coming under attack like that.
It's not quite the missionaries coming under attack: the Gentry understand that doing so would enrage their British masters. It's just the Chinese Christians coming under attack, due to their collaboration with the Tiengued, real or imagined. There will be other motivations for greater centralization to come later in the century.
 
Not making any promises, but would you guys like me to work on the update for India or the former United States first? Both will be rather lengthy, India especially.

Vote here
 
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I read through all the chapters during a work break, and what an interesting timeline indeed. Subscribed!

If I may, will this alternate British Liangguang see something of a Chindian community forming between the Indian traders/royals and local families? That can give the territory a super-unique identity of its own, much to Qing China's detriment.
 
There are not that many Chinese-focused TL's that I can ever remember reading on this forum. So I am looking forward to a different perspective here from the usual American/European focus.

Looking forward to more.
 
I read through all the chapters during a work break, and what an interesting timeline indeed. Subscribed!

If I may, will this alternate British Liangguang see something of a Chindian community forming between the Indian traders/royals and local families? That can give the territory a super-unique identity of its own, much to Qing China's detriment.
Oh don't worry--the upper class of British Liangguang will evolve to be an extremely complicated ethnic hodgepodge.
There are not that many Chinese-focused TL's that I can ever remember reading on this forum. So I am looking forward to a different perspective here from the usual American/European focus.

Looking forward to more.
I'm happy to provide a fresh perspective! That said, we'll be taking a short break from East Asia, and spend ~3-4 chapters abroad starting in chapter 1.5.
 
will see some sorta racial theory aka aryan concept? is Indian and European marriage happening at least more than canon timeline?

Is there any national concept formed in india? are there any sorta social or religious reformation in india?
 
Annexing northern Thailand for the Calcutta to Canton railway
iirc Thailand only stayed independent IOTL by playing Britain and France off against each other. If France never gets influence in the region, the whole of Thailand may well end up under British control.
 
Well you see, I hadn't planned for the Tiengued to play much of a role in shaping regional history, but the beauty of writing only about 3-4 chapters in advance is that I can yoink ideas like these.

It's not quite the missionaries coming under attack: the Gentry understand that doing so would enrage their British masters. It's just the Chinese Christians coming under attack, due to their collaboration with the Tiengued, real or imagined. There will be other motivations for greater centralization to come later in the century.
Even that wouldn’t be tolerated,unless they are just limited to ‘heretics’.The missionaries will probably protest if their followers are attacked,and I’d presume that it wouldn’t look good for the British government when the news make it to London based tabloids.
 
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will see some sorta racial theory aka aryan concept? is Indian and European marriage happening at least more than canon timeline?
I'm not sure I'm quite well versed in the Aryan invasion theory to answer this question--I'll get back to you on this one.

Indo-European marriages are happening a lot more without the Sepoy Rebellion.
Is there any national concept formed in india? are there any sorta social or religious reformation in india?
Indian pannationalism isn't here yet, but religious reformations...strap in for the coming India updates.
Even that wouldn’t be tolerated,unless they are just limited to ‘heretics’.The missionaries will probably protest if their followers are attacked,and I’d presume that it wouldn’t look good for the British government when the news make it to London based tabloids.
I see, alright that's fair.
 
Chapter 1.4: Chariots and Cannon
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1.4: Chariots and Cannon
四, 前車後炮


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The Great Game

The industrial revolution had brought with it a great many changes--largely beneficial changes--to society. Most notable was the emergence of a strong, educated middle class across the Western world, a middle class which was very conscious of its powerful voice in society.

Across the British Empire and the wider Anglosphere, the Reform Act of 1832 (and similar pieces of legislation in the American states and various White Dominions) guaranteed the White Middle Class of it’s right to be heard. The Middle Class’s insistence on justifying the Empire led British policymakers to frame the Imperial project as a British crusade to bring civilized society to the world, to merge the “civilized virtues” of the West with “uncivilized virtues” of the East.

British policymakers engaged in empire-building with a sense of urgency, for they were not the only great empire of the time. Russia, the autocratic, feudalistic, undemocratic evil empire of the East spread its wings over Eurasia, sparring with Brittania for dominance of the world.

Later geopolitical strategists, Foreign Secretary Halford Mackinder foremost amongst them, identified this conflict as the “Inevitable conflict of history”. These two empires engaged in the Great Game, the land-based Russian Empire dominating the Eurasian “world-island”; the maritime British Empire dominating the “Insular Cresent”. Between the two blocs lay the “Marginal Cresent”: Central Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, China...this was the chessboard of history on which Tsar and Queen-Empress duelled.

In this geopolitical context, China could be considered a relatively new front, and it was not until the Amur Crisis of 1873 that British authorities were first alerted to the threat of Russian expansionism in the Far East.

Russian settlers had long occupied much of the Amur River Basin, even extending the Trans-Siberian Railway to what was then still Chinese Outer Manchuria. The Qing Central Government, preoccupied with the growing autonomy of the Southern Viceroyalties and unrest amongst the Hans, was happy to turn a blind eye to Russian ambitions in the Manchu homeland. But by 1873, Russian authorities had begun to establish an official presence in the Amur, rebranding the area as Primorsky. Russian victory in the Russo-Chinese War of 1874 was hardly unexpected, but the scale of Chinese concessions--the independence of Outer Mongolia, the ceding of an area in Manchuria thrice the size of France--that well and truly struck fear into Western European leaders.

Speaking of France--the military gerontocracy had passed on to it’s second generation of leaders, and was currently led by the 65-year old Louis-Jules Trochu. 40 years hence, France had yet to recover from the German Wars, and even began to recede. The Marshals of Empire had allowed the Continental System to decay: Prussia was in the British orbit, Austria in the Russian orbit. The French people needed a distraction from the troubles of the continent: a colonial distraction. That, Trochu was able to provide. Forming an alliance with the increasingly autonomous King of Holland, Charles-Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the French and Dutch Empires entered a new period of imperial expansion in Africa and in Southeast Asia, with the conquest of Dutch Indonesia, French Indochina, and finally, French Korea.

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French expeditionaries take Busan

A game of geopolitical manoeuvring had begun in East Asia, and Liangguang was Britain’s man on the ground.

Viceroyal authorities began avidly building up Liangguang’s coastal defences. Liyumen (in Hong Kong), Humen, Zhanjiang, Queshi (in Shantou) and Longxue (in Guangzhou) would be the most prominent redoubts, each maintained by a strong force of Royal Artillery, and supported by several dozen minor fortresses scattered across the Viceroyalty’s coast. The British Far East Fleet, stationed periodically in Tuen Mun and Singapore, was also ready for deployment at all times.

Presiding over these changes was Colonial Secretary Arthur Kennedy. A mellow, calm man, Kennedy was described as “generally unoffensive” by his colleagues, and sought to maintain the status quo in the colony. If it worked for Charles Gordon, he reasoned, then it would work for Kennedy.

However, the Liangguang of the 1870s was an increasingly globalized land, becoming more and more so Venice or Genoa of the Orient rather than the wild, wild West. Industry had taken root on the East Bank of the Pearl River Delta, with Dongguan becoming the third most prosperous centre of industrial production in China following Shanghai and Fuzhou. British authorities, responding to calls to protect Chinese Christians in the interior, were quickly expanding their zone of control up the Pearl River.

Upon visiting Guangzhou in 1875, Virginian industrialist Andrew Carnegie would write,

“Narrow strips fronting canals are occupied by island-bound townships, each of which extends several miles. But further inland, travelling against the current of the Pearl River, is the great city of Guangzhou, where bridges tie together islands to form an endless metropolis. Public gardens have been laid out with exquisite taste and skill upon small hillsides, and excellent walks span the praya.”

Carnegie would write this about the construction of forts,

“Lei Yu Mun (Liyumen), in the merchant city of Hong Kong, lies just East of Victoria, and serves as the Eastern gateway to the Empire’s first possession in China. This quarter of the town is frequented by seamen of all nations, who bring with them wooden beams, steel and cannons forged in Dongguan. Spirits are sold along the coast, and bands of Chinamen and English sailors alike roar out some rough sea-song in drunken chorus. Coolies, hailing from the twin cities of Teochew (Chaozhou) and Swatow (Shantou), bring the materials of construction up the mountain to Lei Yu Men redoubt, where Royal Engineers of Indian descent direct the construction of the Fort. When the day’s work ends, coolies will bring cold dishes from local restaurants for sale amongst the workmen and sailors. The natives call it daa-lang”

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The Chinese Coolie

Kennedy’s governmental obstinance did not mesh well with the changing state of affairs in Liangguang which he presided over. When the Shenyiju raised the question of modernizing Chinese police from a militia into a formal military garrison, Kennedy stubbornly refused the suggestion, instead requesting further Indian reinforcements (in the form of 5 Rajput Regiments) to defend the Viceroyalty. When the Great Cantonese Rat Plague erupted in 1878, Kennedy was recalled for his failings and dispatched to a minor posting as ambassador to Guatemala.

Kennedy’s successor, the humanitarian Irishman John Pope Hennessy, was by far the more effective Colonial Secretary. Despite being born into the Anglo-Irish landlord class, Hennessy’s status as a Roman Catholic made him somewhat of an outsider, and was much more able to appreciate the plight of the Chinese natives.

With unprecedented spending inconsistent with Victorian financial prudence, Hennessy began overhauling the sewage systems of Guangzhou, even bringing in Royal Engineers to serve in the new Waterworks Department. Fearing the threat of uncontrollable fires, Hennessy tore down and relocated many coolie squatters, who had built wooden houses as temporary residences near construction sites.

But Hennessy’s passion project was education. Hennessy invited missionary schools to Liangguang both Anglican and Catholic, and even gained the full cooperation of the Jesuits and de La Salle brothers in founding 23 new Christian schools across Liangguang. 2 Government institutions of secondary education, King’s College and Queen’s College were also founded in Guangzhou and Nanning respectively for Chinese youths to learn the English curriculum.

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Saint Joseph's College, Foshan

Schools outside the English curriculum, notably the Shenyiju schools also existed across the Chinese countryside. These schools abided by the Imperial Chinese curriculum, and modernized at the pace of the Qing Government’s late 19th Century Westernizing reforms. Hennesy was happy to recognize Shenyiju academies, though he would request these schools teach the Sciences according to the English curriculum.


Coming soon: The land of Tianzhu, Part I
 
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