An idea - The Sinosphere "Scramble for China"

So it's just an idea I had and I decided to write it down here for all to see, to see if it can grow into something else.

During most of the 19th Century, almost everyone in East Asia worked and tinkered to learn and adapt from the West, we saw the Japanese samurais advocated to topple the bankufu they served for generations, to make way for a Western-style governance for a new Japanese nation; we saw the Chinese viceroys and princes hiring mercenaries, officers, officials and teachers from the "western barbaric" land they once feared and despised, then shocked and awed; we saw the Vietnamese hired European mercenaries and bought modern weaponry to expand their territories; we also saw the Korean court adapted tax reforms helped by American advisors, later began a full-fledged governmental reform as a last ditch effort to resist Japanese influence.

But out of all of them, only the Japanese reached the epitome of a fully modernised empire, which commanded a well-trained military under a centralised constitutional government, funded and supplied by an industralised and commercialised economy. Korea was turned into a puppet, then territory, of Japan; Dai Viet was included as part of the French colonial possession in Asia; China, the once-venerated Heavenly Dynasty, saw both of her tributaries lost to foreign submission, had her capital penetrated by the Western armies and her people, inspired by the Western ideals, plotted to overthrow the empire altogether and even more rebellions were instigated.

So what if not only Japan, but also Korea and Vietnam also became a modernised empire in their own right? One possibility could be a bad ending for China. Vietnam, way before the French colonisation, had foreseen the weakened Chinese might after the First Opium War; Korean independence saw its manifest in their last king once fled to the Russian embassy from Japanese invasion and had him later enthroned himself as emperor of the Empire of Korea. Both countries had a rich history of despising the Qing dynasty for her "barbarity" in pre-Qing Confucian standards for "civilisation", not even mentioning Vietnam's second to the last dynasty once fought a war against Qing and won.

Under this TL, we might see the three empires took reference from their common history of being Chinese periphery, taking actions to undermine any semblance of Chinese hegemony, both de jure and, perhaps more importantly, de facto. Dai Viet and Joseon could race to carve out their sphere of influence in China akin to OTL Meiji Japan --- Dai Viet might took Hainan as Japan took Taiwan from China while Joseon might station troops in Shandong, where trade routes and immigrations between Korea and the Chinese province existed long since the Ming dynasty. We might see a Romance of Three Kingdoms reenacted on China once again, as the former tributaries once loyal to the Empire fought wars against one another under the same banner of Confucian civilisation and Oriental might.

So what do you think? Comments and other inputs are welcome!
 
These three Asian powers should probably get into some kind of alliance so they can rip China apart in peace without getting into too much conflict with one another - like how Europe agreed to rough boundaries during the Scramble for Africa in the Berlin Conference. But that's not going to be easy. I particularly foresee conflict between the Korean and Japanese empires as they are going to want many of the same plots of land - like for instance, which one will get Manchuria? Do they share it?

Another source of conflict is from the West which are going to want in on the Chinese action. Maybe they can make arrangements with certain powers to curtail future hostility? Like as an example, Japan makes a special arrangement with Britain, Vietnam with France, and Korea with Russia? That way, all the European powers gain something but they cannot just colonize the Asian empire in question as that might result in war from the other two powers in the alliance?

Just some rambling thoughts.
 
Do the dutch get invovled (due to the dutch eas indies and since historically the kingdom in indonesia has a rivalry with china)
 
This is a fascinating one... both states certainly had the potential - and the required resources - for an early modernization.

Korea/Joseon's issue I believe was always geography - it's never been any fun to be stuck between two more powerful (and after the Russian takeover of the Maritime Province, 3 more powerful) neighbors... just ask Poland. One option would've been to pick one of the three and ally with them early. Joseon knew what centuries of being a Chinese Vassal was like, so not an option. The centre of Russian power was in far-off St Petersburg, plus more considerable cultural differences coupled with the usual Russian self-interest, so not a good choice either. An early alignment with Japan, during the early Meiji period of modernization, on the other hand might've worked out well for both. Certainly better for the Koreans than the forced incorporation of the very late 1800's and early 1900's in OTL worked out.

Vietnam/Dai Viet's situation was a little different - strategically located, yes, along the major east-west trade route, and with no truly powerful neighbor except their feudal lord China to the north, and possibly Siam (which I don't believe ever attempted to expand THAT far eastward) to the west... their best hope may have been to align with one of the western powers - possibly the English or the Dutch, who by the mid-late 1800's were more concerned with trading monopolies than extending direct rule over "unclaimed" (by the European powers) spaces on the map. (the French on the other hand were different - remembering the "glory days" of the early 1700's, they had an empire to rebuild). I don't see any reason that Vietnam/Dai Viet couldn't have maintained its independence (and thrown off the Chinese yoke) by playing off one European power against the other, rather like Thailand/Siam did.

Now, whether either or both, given early Meiji-style modernization, could've made any headway into China proper, that's an open question. China was lagging behind, definitely, but still had many men (almost an unlimited number) to call to arms, had been making slow modernizations of its own (Li-Hung Chang), and had "friends" in Europe who would prefer to see the status quo unchanged (as long as they continued to profit from it). I think the best you could hope for is some relatively minor acquisitions in the border areas in Manchuria and Kwanghsi/ Yunnan, and possibly some western-style "spheres of influence" over larger interior areas. Still though, it would've been a real game-changer for the geopolitics of East Asia going into the 20th Century...
 
The British get the Yangtze basin and Tibet, the French get the Pearl River basin and split Yunnan with Britain, the Germans the Yellow River basin, Fujian goes to someone else (Japan?), and much/all of the far north and west go to Russia.
 
Thank you all for your inputs!

These three Asian powers should probably get into some kind of alliance so they can rip China apart in peace without getting into too much conflict with one another - like how Europe agreed to rough boundaries during the Scramble for Africa in the Berlin Conference. But that's not going to be easy. I particularly foresee conflict between the Korean and Japanese empires as they are going to want many of the same plots of land - like for instance, which one will get Manchuria? Do they share it?

Another source of conflict is from the West which are going to want in on the Chinese action. Maybe they can make arrangements with certain powers to curtail future hostility? Like as an example, Japan makes a special arrangement with Britain, Vietnam with France, and Korea with Russia? That way, all the European powers gain something but they cannot just colonize the Asian empire in question as that might result in war from the other two powers in the alliance?

Just some rambling thoughts.

About the "arrangement". The three kingdoms might maintain the Qing court as a puppet after winning a few rounds together against Qing military. Much like what Japan did to Korea in OTL, they might set up a shadow agency to ensure everyone got their share of China whilst business could be going as usual --- trade, immigration, travel, even garrison. Said agency can invite delegations of Western Powers as observers and even judges if "business as usual" was really the name of the game. Before the Three Kingdoms had eventually bred their own form of popular nationalism, other than the old-fashioned imperialism that only favoured the new class of westernised elites, that was.

If this did get nationalistic, the strong Chinese lineage, as their cultural heritage and historical memories, would be a good weapon at their disposal for further integration of their Chinese territories. It might not be as prevalent as in OTL pre-1945 Japan, since as the only Asian power other than the weakening China, the "strong/weak" dichotomy was much easier for Japanese militarists to use to define Sino-Japanese relations --- anything that was Japanese were strong and civilised, while anything that was Chinese were weak and barbaric, despite the very fact that Chinese lineage was an integral part of the Japanese culture. But if Vietnam and Korea both joined alongside Japan to divide China, Japan, as was true for the other two, did not need to repress their "Chineseness" to justify their aggression upon China, instead, especially for Vietnam and Korea --- two nations bearing even heavier Chinese influence and connections than Japan, they might turn their "Chineseness" around against China for their own good, that they themselves, as stronger powers than China, expressed much better "Chineseness" than China herself, that they could prove with their might they were the "true" China other than the rump, ineffective Qing dynasty, with an non-Chinese origin (in traditional Confucian standard that is) and had records of suppressing Chinese heritage --- pigtails, literary prisons etc. For Japan, to keep up with such competition of becoming the "true" China, they might tone down their Sino-Japanese dichotomy per OTL.

This is a fascinating one... both states certainly had the potential - and the required resources - for an early modernization.

Korea/Joseon's issue I believe was always geography - it's never been any fun to be stuck between two more powerful (and after the Russian takeover of the Maritime Province, 3 more powerful) neighbors... just ask Poland. One option would've been to pick one of the three and ally with them early. Joseon knew what centuries of being a Chinese Vassal was like, so not an option. The centre of Russian power was in far-off St Petersburg, plus more considerable cultural differences coupled with the usual Russian self-interest, so not a good choice either. An early alignment with Japan, during the early Meiji period of modernization, on the other hand might've worked out well for both. Certainly better for the Koreans than the forced incorporation of the very late 1800's and early 1900's in OTL worked out.

Vietnam/Dai Viet's situation was a little different - strategically located, yes, along the major east-west trade route, and with no truly powerful neighbor except their feudal lord China to the north, and possibly Siam (which I don't believe ever attempted to expand THAT far eastward) to the west... their best hope may have been to align with one of the western powers - possibly the English or the Dutch, who by the mid-late 1800's were more concerned with trading monopolies than extending direct rule over "unclaimed" (by the European powers) spaces on the map. (the French on the other hand were different - remembering the "glory days" of the early 1700's, they had an empire to rebuild). I don't see any reason that Vietnam/Dai Viet couldn't have maintained its independence (and thrown off the Chinese yoke) by playing off one European power against the other, rather like Thailand/Siam did.

Now, whether either or both, given early Meiji-style modernization, could've made any headway into China proper, that's an open question. China was lagging behind, definitely, but still had many men (almost an unlimited number) to call to arms, had been making slow modernizations of its own (Li-Hung Chang), and had "friends" in Europe who would prefer to see the status quo unchanged (as long as they continued to profit from it). I think the best you could hope for is some relatively minor acquisitions in the border areas in Manchuria and Kwanghsi/ Yunnan, and possibly some western-style "spheres of influence" over larger interior areas. Still though, it would've been a real game-changer for the geopolitics of East Asia going into the 20th Century...

The shadow agency mentioned before could well be an instrument for all three Asian powers to play off the West against one another, they might assign a third-party figure for all the administration, possibly someone from the second-rank European powers, those whom had no stake in China at all, hell, they might eventually assign a Chinese on that position to woo the rump Qing that they were here for the common good for all in China. Under such agency, spheres of influences for all three Asian powers would be expanded towards inland China --- Korea and Japan might divide Manchuria and Liaoning as a base, then Japan could advance on Yangtze by the south, starting from Zhejiang, while Korea by the north, starting from Jiangsu (they might also divide this one as well) and/or Shandong; Vietnam went as you proposed, coming from the Southwest by herself.

These Spheres would be much more different from the Western counterparts in OTL, thanks to the Chinese lineage I mentioned earlier. Such Spheres would be created as a "righteous reclamation" for the Asian powers. Governments of Korea and Vietnam, probably following suit by Japan, could have their naturalised Chinese refugees and some few Chinese diasporas (Vietnam: Minh Hương people/Korea: Bon-gwan Clans/Japan: Thirty-six Families from Min) to "reclaim" their ancestral homelands --- now "bastardised" by the "barbaric" Qing court, through immigration and governmental/commercial takeover, if not outright military occupation --- that would be left for their nationalists/militarists once they were in power. And if that time comes, imagine three Imperial Japans vying for total control of China, it would be a massive bloodbath for all in East Asia. Nothing pretty to imagine about.
 
And if that time comes, imagine three Imperial Japans vying for total control of China, it would be a massive bloodbath for all in East Asia. Nothing pretty to imagine about.

Oh no doubt about that. Look how utterly brutal the Sino-Japanese wars were and now triple it for this TL. If these three powers are serious about this scheme of theirs, then they better hope they're successful. If they're not, a wrathful and resurgent China would utterly crush Korea and Vietnam since they don't have the luxury of being island nations.
 
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