THE GENTLEMAN OF THE IMPERIAL SURNAME
Alternate history by Joseph T Major
In our world, Cheng Ch'eng-kung, the pirate and last defender of the Ming Dynasty, died of malaria in 1662 after liberating Taiwan but before conquering the Philippines. What if he hadn't?
Taiwan, Twelfth Year of Ch'eng Kung (1662):
The Gentleman of the Imperial Surname [Mandarin Kuo-hsing ye/ Guoxing ye; Cantonese Kok Seng Ya], Cheng Ch'eng-kung, Prince of Yen-Ping, shivered in his palace, high in the mountains of Taiwan, and cursed the geomancer who had persuaded him to leave Fort Zeelandia. This was just the latest in a strain of bad news. Last year, the Jurchen filth had tortured his father and brothers to death. Just recently, he had received the news that the Burmese trash had betrayed the Yung-li Emperor, the true lord of Great Ming, to the Jurchens, who had executed him. And now this infernal cold! He shivered, and all those lying servants claimed they were fine.
But it wasn't as cold as it had been yesterday.
Later that year . . .
The Gentleman of the Imperial Surname was weak, but not so weak as to be unable to visit his fleet. The displaced soldiers, interspersed with a few wandering Japanese swordsmen, and a handful of wandering ruffians from around the world, gave their paymaster a good cheer. His illness had delayed the expedition, but next year they would take the Philippines, and build that base even further.
An officer approached, and bowed respectfully.
"Esteemed Prince, there is one among the foreign soldiers who would speak with you. He begs to approach your Excellency on a matter of great desire to the Empire."
"A foreigner? Where from? I do not count Japan as foreign, and wish not to speak with the Dutch, who have betrayed me for the Jurchens, or the Spanish, who will soon feel the strength of my arms."
"No, excellency, it is a man of the English."
"English! Hm, they have been most acceptable in their trades. Let him draw hither."
The English soldier, a ragged mercenary from the garrison of Fort Zeelandia, had been instructed in respect. He threw himself at the Gentleman's feet and cried in his barbarian tongue "Gawd 'elp me, m'lud, but oi can get you fine soldiers."
"What says he?" the Gentleman asked.
"The barbarian begs to offer the services of other men of his sort," the translator said.
"I have fine men as it is," the Gentleman replied. "Moreover, I have studied the art of musketry invented in Japan and will introduce it to my armies, thanks to the many of my mother's relatives who serve me. Where can you find the like?"
"M'lud, you hain't got the Ironsides, Cromwell's crack troopers, who went through the bleedin' Royalists like crap through a goose."
"He says, your excellency, that you have no cavalry like the Men of Iron, who pierced the foreign devil king's armies as the crossbow bolt pierces the goose in flight."
"Hm. How does he intend to obtain the services of these men? Surely no ruler would dispense with such valuable soldiers?"
"Oh m'lud, now that the king's 'ome hagin, e's cuttin' back an' don't need so many sojers now, an' they'll be bunches 'f 'em ready for 'nother fight, heven hif hit's 'alfway round the bleedin' world!"
"His monarch will be willing to send soldiers to aid a friend."
The Council of State sat in, well, council. King Charles clearly had matters of Cleveland, or was it Portsmouth today? in mind. Or maybe not; the town was abuzz with stories of the strange ship that had put in two days ago. "Come, come, show the ambassadors in." his Majesty commanded.
The ambassadors of the King of Taiwan, or whatever the gentleman called himself, entered. Apparently, foremost among them was a white man! The others were of more swarthy complexion, with dark hair.
Their spokesman bowed, while behind him the others went to their knees and almost knocked their foreheads to the ground. "Bleedin' wogs," the spokesman said. "Ah . . . yer Majesty, may I 'ave the honor of presentin' the hembassadors of Lud Prince Coxinga, the ruler of Taiwan, and if my guess is right, by now the Philippines, Lud General an' Hadmiral 'f the Great Ming 'f Cathay, het cetry. His Hexcellency is hafter wishin' to henter inter better relations with yer Majesty, an' wants to talk 'bout gettin' some of the old Ironsides to train up his men."
"Oddsfish!" the King said. "Have they presents?"
"Shur they do," was the reply. The translator, or leader, turned and barked a string of staccato musical notes at his followers. A shiver of motion ran through the group, and one by one a parade of servants stepped forward to lay gifts at his Majesty's feet. Rolls of silk, great shining brass gongs, small golden statues, one by one were displayed for the King's interest.
"An' finally, 'eres summat special!"
A slight, delicate figure wrapped in cloth came at the end of the procession. It stood patiently before the King, as two women in gorgeous dresses slowly unwrapped it to reveal a third woman, in a splendid dress. She bowed low to the King, then said "Oi'm 'appy to gleet yer Majesty."
She smiled then, proud of her carefully learned speech. She had kept the foreigner busy learning his tongue, and when he was busy, practicing it on her handmaid, the recipient of his bedtime efforts (when she was not busy with him).
"She's called 'Plum Jade' in proper English," the ambassador said, "an' she kin 'elp yer Majesty . . . er, learn 'bout China in the hevenings."
"Oddsfish!" the King said, again, but far more enthusiastically.
Three months later, the strange ship was laden for the return voyage. Its principal cargo was men; soldiers of the New Model Army, offered a generous payment in return for going abroad (and no longer making trouble at home), a few savants of the new Royal Society, and traders of the newly-founded Companie and Mysterie of Traders Into the Island of Taiwan.
The Assistant Gentleman of the Royal Antechamber to the Court of Castile for Presenting Foreign Matters to the King had some news.
"Your Majesty," he said.
Felipe IV King of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Naples, Jerusalem, and the Indies [and until fairly recently, of Portugal], Archduke of Austria, etc. was snorting snot out of his nose directly into his mouth; he did not heed the call.
"Your Majesty," the A.G.R.A.C.C.P.F.M.K. said again.
"What," the King now said.
"There is news about the Philippines."
"What is news about me?"
"No, your Majesty, the Philippines, the Islands in the Pacific Sea near Asia."
"Islands? That is the business of the Council of the Indies."
In the Council of the Indies, the Third Deputy Secretary for the Islands of the Pacific received the document announcing the fall of the Philippines to Coxinga and went out to lunch. The lunch took three days, as he had to travel to his cousin's estate to eat. When he came back, he set about composing a letter to his moneylenders asking for a loan of twenty thousand ducats so he could pay the interest on his current loans.
The next day, the Third Deputy Secretary finally read the document, then initialed it to pass on to the Second Deputy Secretary for his approval. The under-clerk delivering the document passed the Second Deputy Secretary on the way there; he was leaving to fight a duel. The Second Deputy Secretary for Canal Maintenance of the Council of Flanders had stepped on his shadow, and he needed to wipe out this insult to his honor.
By the time the Second Deputy Secretary had recovered from his wounds, the court had moved, and the notice became lost in the shuffle . . .
In Manila, the Gentleman of the Imperial Surname watched as a line of Filipinos fired off a volley of shots. "Faster, faster," he said. "Is once a minute too much? The Spaniards will come to take this place back any day now, and there must be a native army ready to fight them."
He turned to address the new Governor of the Philippine Province. "You say the examinations will have to be in Spanish? There are not enough locals literate in even their own barbarous tongue? Very well, let it stand for now, but the schools must begin teaching proper Chinese.
"It will be necessary to import people to run the judiciary and tax systems. If necessary settle additional soldiers on the lands confiscated from the Spanish. Yes, I know the Jurchen filth are doing that on the Mainland, but they are confiscating lands from their own owners."
Cornet Nikklas Polzoon mopped a trail of sweat from his face. He was a sailor, a trader, what was he doing here with an arquebus in hand waiting for the Chinesers to come? The VOC had debated for days the matter of raising a militia. Meanwhile, the Chinesers had conquered Ambon, put the sultans of Borneo under their sway, and now seemed to have overrun most of Java. This was the last stand.
Governor-General Maetsuyker himself had taken the field, and stood there at the head of a gaggle of sailors pressed into service. The Indies Army was deployed east of Batavia, behind some improvised fortifications. Scouts had reported the Chineser army moving westward rapidly. For some reason they seemed to lack the great gongs and the raggle-taggle array that followed most Chineser armies. At least so said chief scout Koos van der Merwe, who had been in Peking when it had fallen to the Manchus.
Now they were deployed opposite the Indies Army. The Governor-General cried, "Remember the will that saved Holland! Remember the valor of the Sea Beggars!"
Cries of "Cock your piece! Aim your piece! Give fire!" resounded down the Dutch line. A crackle of arquebus shots ran down the line; a few of the enemy fell. Harsh cries resounded from them then. The long dark line stopped. Then it exploded in a great sheet of fire. Then a second. Then a third . .
For five long minutes the enemy line fired great crashing volleys. Then the gunfire fell silent. A bugle sounded then, high and thin. The infantry line parted, and a great formation of cavalry trotted forward. Behnd them there resounded cries of "Banzai! Banzai! Banzai!" as the infantry surged forward in its wake.
The great Ironsides split the staggering Dutch line as if it had been paper. Behind them, the officers of the infantry drew great curved swords and charged the fleeing foe. The ordinary soldiers, whether Chinese, Taiwanese, or Filipino, merely used the butts of their muskets to smash the fleeing soldiers of what had been the Indies Army.
Within the week, the Dutch flag no longer flew over Batavia. The East Indies had followed the course of Fort Zeelandia. Coxinga now ruled from the Loochoo islands to Amboyna, commanding a nation of great mineral and human wealth.
"So," he said when he received the report of his great success. "The Dutch are fighting a war with France and England. How unfortunate that they had trouble out here.
"What news from Japan?"
The Shogun Tokugawa Ietsuna had declined to send troops to join the Gentleman of the Imperial Surname in his liberation of the mainland, it seemed.
"Hm," the rejected commander said. "Still, I note that his country is surrounded by water, and contains many discontented soldiers. Soon enough I shall make him take them back."
Fuchow, Fourteenth Year of K'ang Hsi (1674)
Governor Keng Ching-chung was of two minds. To the south, Governor Wu San-kuei had raised the standards of revolt, proclaiming the founding of a new dynasty. To the east, the Gentleman of the Imperial Surname also revolted, but on behalf of the old dynasty. In between, the Manchus held the Mandate of Heaven, or so they claimed. Keng, Wu, and the Sheng heirs in Canton had hereditary governorships, granted in response to well-timed changes of side in the takeover by the Manchus. Now the Emperor had bade them lay down their offices.
Wu had proclaimed this the First Year of the Chou dynasty. Adhesion to the cause of the Ming Dynasty was out of the question for him, since he had taken and executed the Yung-li Emperor on behalf of the Manchus.
But Wu was down in Yunnan. Cheng Ch'eng-kung, styled Kok Seng Ya, "Gentleman of the Imperial Surname", was right there, indeed staring at him, and backed up by a large and victorious army. "What of the Sheng heirs, in Canton?" he asked, again.
Damned pirate! "Your excellency, they have agreed to follow in concert my recommendations. Shall we support the Chou, or the Ming?"
"The Ming, of course. His Imperial Majesty will forgive this lapse once Peking is recovered, and the Jurchens are driven forth to eat grass on the steppes."
The resulting campaign was a sign that even with the most efficient of armies, serving in a poor context, does not work. The Chou Dynasty soon governed all China south of the Yangtze. In every battle it fought, the Army of the Overseas Provinces crushed its foes with its deadly combination of volley fire and heavy cavalry charges.
Yet . . .
Wu San-kuei was suspicious of Cheng Ch'eng-kung, and not without cause. He havered and waited, while Coxinga's envoys pressed for more action, more support. The shock came in the Third Year of the Chou, or what the Manchu called the Seventeenth Year of K'ang Hsi, when Canton surrendered. The armies of Wu fell back into Yunnan, ignored for the moment. The Manchus pressed in on Fuchow, taking massive losses.
In the late fall of that year, the Gentleman came to a bitter decision. "I cannot sustain this campaign any further," he said. "My foreign allies are in yet another war. My trained men are losing ground, as I cannot recruit enough to replace losses. It will be necessary to withdraw to the sea."
"So you are abandoning us," Keng said, bitterly.
"Either that, or you must abandon the mainland. There are great empty lands to the south of Java, I have learned. Your men, their womenfolk, their children, can build new cities there. We must think in terms of generations, not years; the Jurchens will lose by winning, as they must become of China to govern China.
"This is the alternative I lay before you; rule in the new province of the Southern Land, or be beheaded by the Jurchens in Peking. The choice is obvious to me."
News of the end of the Dutch War and of the founding of the new Chinese colony in Australia arrived in the East India Company's factories in India at the same time. The agents of the ruler of Taiwan and the Spice Islands found much to do in informing one of the other.
Carlos II, King of Spain and the Indies (etc.) sat in his royal chambers. A line of drool ran from one corner of his mouth.
The Assistant Gentleman of the Royal Antechamber to the Court of Castile for Presenting Foreign Matters to the King had some news.
"Your Majesty," he said.
The king said nothing.
"Your Majesty, the decree for sending the fleet and army to the Philippines is ready for Your signature."
It had been a long and arduous journey for the decree. Twice, the decree had been almost available for the Royal Signature, having been endorsed by the Council for the Indies, the Council for Castile, the Council for War, the Council for Finance, the Council for the Inquisition, the Council for the Americas, and so on. But then, each time, an endorsing Council member had died, and the entire process of approval had had to be gone through again.
Then there was the time that the Fourth Assistant Secretary for Engrossing Parchments of the Council for Castile had demanded the right of an extra inch of lace on his cuffs. Until he got it, he said, he would not stamp a single paper. A year later, he was killed in a duel, and his replacement (confirmed in the blazingly fast time of ten months!) stamped away.
And then there was the time the Second Under-Secretary for War began saying, "I hear, but I do not obey." For two years the entire Spanish military effort had been at a standstill. Two drunken French waiters could have taken over the country, had they but known.
So now, the decree was ready to go, having passed all efforts. The A.G.R.A.C.C.P.F.M.K. stood there, waiting for the Royal Com-mand of "Yo el rey."
"Gronk," the King said.
The A.G.R.A.C.C.P.F.M.K. took that as a command to approach the Royal Presence. The demands of honor and precedence were so great. Recently, the King had not eaten for two days, because the Steward for Castile and the Steward for Aragon had been unsure which of them had the right to approach the King with the Royal Napkin, since the Steward for Castile was junior in personal rank, albeit senior in governmental rank.
The A.G.R.A.C.C.P.F.M.K. held up the decree before the King's eyes. He blinked, slowly. Rather than allow His Majesty to wear out his eyes by reading it, the A.G.R.A.C.C.P.F.M.K. summarized the decree. "The Army and Navy will take back the Philippines from the Chinese," he said.
"Gronk," the King said. He reached out a finger and touched the paper.
Much relieved, the A.G.R.A.C.C.P.F.M.K. took the decree to the Chamberlain for Engrossing the Royal Signature.
"My most humble apologies, but I cannot fulfill this decree," the Lord High Admiral of South Eastern Castile informed the Second Secretary of the Council of the Indies for War and the Second Secretary of the Council of War for the Indies. "It commands me to send ships. I do not have ships. I have galleons, fluyts, caravels, but no ships. Better get a clarification."
Captain Nikklas Polzoon of the Hong for Beverages Alcoholic and Aromatic Condiments of the Sun fretted in the English King's antechamber. Last night, at the theater, he had seen Juvrow Gwynne, reported to be the latest royal concubine, perform in a burlesque of a Noh play. Well, he had seen the real thing, so it was a burlesque, though the English did well enough. He calmed himself by thinking of the huge profits to be obtained from the Hong's factory on the Isle of Dogs, and was at peace.
"His Majesty will see you now," the Chamberlain declared.
King Charles II was as taken with the latest news of Chinoserie as everyone else in England. "Oddsfish," he commented sotto voce to Lord Rochester as the emissary approached, "If he weren't so demned fat he'd remind me of Charles FitzWang, Lady Tewkesbury's lad."
The emissary swept off his hat and bowed, his long curly black hair falling over his face. "Your Majesty."
"What news of my brother of Taiwan?"
Rochester and the other gentlemen of the court responded wittily to the emissary's odd turns of phrase, but took his news seriously. After all, English shipbuilders had studied the tricks of the Chinese ships most avidly, which was why the French fur trade was being driven out of North America. The Hudson's Bay Company was well established down the Mississippi, and before long might well reach the Gulf.
"So my brother Coxinga is safe in his dominions. Or will the Dutch endeavor to take the Spice Islands back? My naughty nevvy might be mad at you chaps."
"Never, never, a thousand times never! The profits will not justify it."
"What profits? Ever since the Spice Islands fell to the Chinesers . . ."
The annual meeting of the V.O.C. was at it again. Would they finance a fleet to take back the Spice Islands from Coxinga? No, it would cut into the profits. No, it would mean an accretion of power to the Stadtholder. No, it would hurt children and other living things. No, there was more to be made by trading with the Chinesers, as soon as they opened their ports. No, wouldn't it be possible to negotiate?
The directors finished the day's fruitless arguments, put on their battered hats and their patched coats, and left the back room of the tavern.
Willem of Orange, the Stadholder, was more concerned about the problem with his in-laws. Since they happened to be James, the Duke of York, and probable heir to the English throne, it was more serious than the usual inlaw trouble. But with England, there came the Taiwan trade . . .
The Council sat around its leader, the Gentleman of the Imperial Surname, to make its reports. First the representative of the Daimyos of Chosu and Satsuma spoke, reporting the profits of the factory at Nagasaki. The Dutch ships were long gone, and the Chinese ships were now from Taiwan. Coxinga possessed an absolute monopoly of trade with the closed Empire.
Tsunayoshi, the Shogun, was failing of mind; the building of birdhouses was more significant than the management of the Empire. A few words in the right place, and the rule of the Tokugawa well might be ended, to be replaced by the rule of the Coxinga. Was the burden of actually having to quell the furious feuds of the belligerent daimyos worth the gain that such a position would be?
At the other end of the seaborne Empire, the emissary from Governor Keng of the Southern Province had much good to report. Albeit the land was full of unnatural animals, and not overly fertile, it was broad and mostly empty, save for a few barbarians who were easily expelled, being of no civilization whatsoever.
A family that had tilled a small plot for generations now controlled a vast manor. Although many yet pined for their ancestral villages, there was a profound disinclination now to go back there while still living.
In the center, the shipping interests worked well. The Spanish colonies had run a virtually independent foreign policy; the Manila Galleon sailed every year, though it was now a Manila Junk, taking silk, spices, and increasingly manufactured goods from the Empire and bringing back silver from Mexico. Explorations were also being made to bring back furs from the north of New Spain, and to survey the islands in the North Pacific. There was for example a chain of islands, occupied only by barbarians, right in the center of the sea . . .
News of the homeland was next on the agenda. More and more Chinese were supporting the Mandate of the Great Ming. The Jurchens had not helped their cause by ordering the evacuation of the coasts of China for sixty li. Many of the people there had moved over sea, which was not to the pleasure of the Jurchens.
Finally, the foreign relations had their say. The profitable trade with India and England now stood in trouble. Reports had it that the king of England had lost the Mandate of Heaven, and that the new king was of the Dutch. This boded ill for commerce.
"His excellency, the ambassador of William III and Mary II, King and Queen of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, the Lord Marlborough," the herald said.
The ambassador was a soldier, and the Gentleman of the Royal Surname surveyed him with a practiced eye. "While I am pleased that the King sends a man of such experience to ask for recognition, I do have one or two concerns."
"Besides the fact that the VOC did absolutely nothing to help him during the late Dutch Wars, and that he is merely returning the favour?" the ambassador said.
The English ambassador seemed most interested in political affairs. "So you say that he had this Mandarin . . . Ch'uon . . . executed in a most ba er cruel fashion?"
"Yes, he was subjected to the lingering death. The Jurchen Khan K'ang-hsi was said to have been most annoyed at his proposal to have all intellectuals dispensed with. Why, we would not have the Thirteen Chapters of the Book of Ping Fa!"
"I do not know that work."
"Why, it is known throughout the civilized world! 'War is a matter of vital importance to the State. . .' Are you sure this is not familiar?"
"The idea, perhaps, the precise form, no. Would it be possible to obtain a copy of this valuable work?"
The Vice Admiral for South East Castile consulted with the Lord High Admiral for the Indies. "After you."
"No, after you."
"You are four times a hidalgo, descended from two veterans of the Battle of Navas de Tolosa, a conde of the Kingdom of Castile, with purity of blood to 1300. After you."
"You are three times a hidalgo, descended from a companion of el rey Roderigo against the Moors, and a marqués of the Kingdom of Naples, with purity of blood to 1298. After you."
Behind the two admirals, their staffs bickered over priority and place. Behind the immense gilded staffs, there lurked the sailors of the expedition, and the soldiers of the army. Most of the latter had been in cantinas even only yesterday, impressed by the urgent need of the highly gilded coroneles who would command the dozen tercios of the Expedition.
As the sun dwindled towards the horizon, the impatient captain of the Sor Ines de la Cruz y Buena Esperanza de la Ciudad de Cadiz al Castilia Nueva (called the "Big-Titted Ines" by the blasphemous crew) finally laid down an extra board to widen the gangplank. The two Admirals marched up it side by side.
At dawn the next day, the Admirals assembled the crews and soldiers and read off the Royal Message: "Conquistadores! You sail in the tradition of grand and brave Christians from Pelayo to the current day . . ." This was, of course, an interpretation and expansion of His Most Catholic Majesty's remarks upon being informed of the pending departure of the expedition, namely, "Gronk."
Pacific Ocean near the Ladrones, 1694
Captain Chang of the Manila Junk made a signal to one of his consorts: "Pass Within Hail." The lighter ship swung within earshot and the captain called out, "There is an unknown ship to the north! Investigate it at once!"
Later that day, the escort captain was on the deck of the Manila Junk with two foreigners. "Captain Watanabe reporting with two survivors from the Spanish ship."
"Send for the translator."
A stomach-turning tale of inept travel emerged, describing how matters of pundonor and dignidad had plagued the expedition. An English ship coincidentally near Ascension Island had sent men ashore to investigate a battle. The battle turned out to be the duels being fought by the various nobles of the staffs of the Admirals, the Lord Governor of the Philippines, the Captain-General of the Philippine Army, the Captain-General of the Expeditionary Force, and so on. The Englishman, coming back from India, had given the Spaniards all the water he could spare before continuing home. (He would have sold it, but there are limits.)
The expedition continued south to the Strait of Magellan, then up the coast to Peru. After recuperating, they struck out for the Ladrones, only to get lost when the Navigator, the Captain of the Fleet, the Pilot of the Fleet, and the Chief Surveyor had thrown the compass overboard in the course of an argument.
"Ask him where the other ships of the expedition are," Captain Chang said.
The response came back, "What other ships?"
The Tenno sat at the end of the great hall. The dripping of water from a leaky roof served to punctuate his words. He spoke in the dialect of the court. This needed a translator to translate to the former translator. The new tai-i shogun sat patiently, his features masklike, as the ceremonial of the Court demanded.
Did memories of the court of the Great Ming come to mind?
Events had forced his hand. The ChoSat alliance had been seduced by the prospects of glorious war and enriching trade. Streams of discontented ronin had flocked to the coast, believing that even though they could never return, serving under the great daimyo Coxinga, where pay was on time and for real, was far better than they could ever get at home. And there were campaigns against the discontented sultans of the Spice Islands and the filthy man-eating barbarians of the South Eastern Islands, the Islands of the Great Birds.
Tsunayoshi had responded to this flouting of his authority by ordering a lot of balsa wood from Peru with which to build a cage for the moa presented to him by Coxinga as a peace offering. It was too much.
The officials of his court and the greater daimyos of his hostage-entourage, met and confronted the Supreme Barbarian-Conquering Generalissimo with an ultimatum. Fortunately, the moa kicked his guts out, thus ending the problem then and there. Then, they squabbled among themselves whether to put the child heir of Tsunayoshi in charge, with a regent, or what. Someone with a memory called to mind the circumstances under which the first Shogun of this line had come to power; he had been a member of a board of regents for an infant Regent for a powerless Shogun for the Tenno. They all had a good laugh.
Restoring national harmony was essential. There was one ruler who could restore harmony. And, after all, they told themselves, he was born in Japan to a Japanese mother, so he was Japanese, neh?
The court official stumbled over the Japanese pronunciation of "Cheng Ch'eng-kung, Prince of Yen-p'ing, Kuo-hsing ye," but picked himself up and finished. The Gentleman of the Imperial Surname responded by raising both hands. "Long Live the Lord of Ten Thousand Years!" he cried.
Sometime that evening, it came to him that perhaps a tenno huang-ti, of great religious power, but no secular power, with a strong prime minister and commander in chief, might work even better. In which case, the Imperial Stipend had better be increased even more.
My thanks to Tom Billings for his suggestions and information.