The Empire of China, or officially the Empire of the Great Qing (Chinese: 大清帝國), or better known as Qing China or the Northern Zhili Clique (to distinguish it from the other factions in China) is a country in Eastern Asia. It is bordered to the north by Mongolia, and the Fengtian Government; to the east by Alash Autonomy, Afghanistan and Turkestan; and to the south by Delhi, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Burma, Siam, and the German Empire (German East Asia). It also surrounds the Legation Cities.
Though nominally part of the Qing Empire, the League of Eight Provinces, Yunnan Clique, Sichuan Clique, Shanxi Clique, Shandong Clique, Ma Clique, Xinjiang Clique, and Kumul Khanate are all autonomous sub-regions or client sub-national governments that act independently of Beijing with varying degrees of frequency.
The Qing Dynasty of Manchurian origin ruled the Empire of China from 1644, date of the conquest of China proper by the Manchu Aisin-Gioro clan, to 1911, year of the Republican Xinhai Revolution that deposed Emperor Pu Yi. The Qing era coincided for China with the highly-representative reigns of Kangxi (康熙) and Cixi (慈禧), but also with the increased isolation of China and the rise of European colonialism, reaching his peak with the Boxer Rebellion. After the 1911 Revolution, the Chinese Republic soon collapsed into anarchy, where power was divided between numerous warlords, until the 1926 German intervention. On February 2, 1927 (beginning of the Fire Rabbit Year), the Qing Empire was restored under the present system: a nominally constitutional monarchy under the restored Puyi. Even though the Empire of China stands as the only official power in China, it is a shadow of its former self, divided by scheming warlord cliques and under the looming gaze of an increasingly expansionist Japanese Empire.
Fall of the Early Qing Empire
On the death of the Emperor Guangxu (光緒皇帝) and his aunt Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后) on November 1908, China was already about to collapse. The despotic and corrupted rule of Empress Dowager Cixi, beginning after the bloodbaths of the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion, froze any chance of reforms and let the European powers and Japan dismembering with impunity the Middle Kingdom and intervening freely in its internal policy, as during the 1901 intervention against the Boxer Rebellion. After the death of the Emperor, his three-years-old nephew Puyi succeeded him, with the regency ensured by his father, Zaifeng, the 2nd Prince Chun. The regent tried to enhance reforms for a more modern constitutional monarchy, eventually removing the powerful general Yuan Shikai from all his positions. However, on October 10, 1911, a military uprising broke out in Wuchang, where an anti-Qing plot within army units had been unveiled: the revolt quickly began to spread throughout China. The Republican leader, Sun Yat-Sen, quickly came back from exile to lead the revolution: on December 29, 1911, the provinces which had declared their independence from the Qing Empire elected Sun as the provisional President of the Republic of China, officially proclaiming the Republic on January 1, 1912. Meanwhile, Yuan Shikai, who had been recalled by the powerless regency to lead the army, agreed to recognise the Republic and forced the Empress Dowager Longyu to sign the abdication papers on behalf of the Emperor, Puyi.
Yuan Shikai's Rule
However, the Chinese republic quickly proved to be shaky. After the fall of the Qing empire, the country was effectively cut in two, between the North controlled by Yuan Shikai's armies, in Beijing, and the South, under Sun Yat-Sen, in Nanjing. To prevent civil war and possible foreign intervention from undermining the infant republic, Sun agreed to Yuan's demand that China should be united under a Beijing government headed by Yuan, but soon the new President began to overpass his own rights and to persecute Sun's Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang. In July 1913, the revolt of seven southern provinces created the outbreak of the Second Revolution, but it was quickly quelled by Yuan and Sun and his supporters were forced to exile. Supported by monarchists and recognised internationally after making some concessions to the major powers, Yuan began to rewrite the Constitution, gradually showing his own vows of being made Emperor. When the Weltkrieg broke out in 1914, Japan seized German colonial holdings and forced the following year the Beijing government to acknowledge the so-called Twenty-One Demands, that were planned to make China a Japanese protectorate. On 12 December 1915, Yuan declared himself emperor of a new Empire of China: this immediately caused widespread rebellion in numerous provinces, known as the National Protection War. On 22 March 1916, abandoned by his generals, Yuan formally repudiated monarchy and stepped down as the first and last emperor of his dynasty. Yuan died on 6 June of that year. Yuan Shikai's imperial ambitions finally ended with the return of the republican government.
In 1927 Zhang Zuolin launched the Third Zhili-Fengtian War with the goal of capturing Nanjing and Shanghai from the Southern Zhili Clique, but was defeated by Wu Peifu of the Northern Zhili whose unexpected intervention seized Beijing and Tianjin for the Zhili and forced Zhang to abandon his advance. After a month of stalemate, the Shanhai Truce was signed.
German support had been essential for Wu Peifu's victory. This took the form of bribes paid to Yan Xishan to prevent him warning Zhang Zuolin of Wu's his advance towards Beijing and using their forces on the ground to non-violently stall the Fengtian clique's. Also promised material aid and eventual recognition as the sole government of China, Wu Peifu agreed to push the remnants of the National Assembly to restore Emperor Aisin-Gioro Puyi to the throne. Germany desired this with the belief that a Constitutional Monarch would greatly aid China's stability, as the failure of republics around the world, including China, seemingly indicated the weakness of a political system with no monarch.
Fourth Zhili-Fengtian War
Fearing German domination of China, Japan and the Fengtian clique enlisted the aid of the Shanxi clique, where Yan Xishan felt his neutrality was threatened by the growing power of the Zhili clique. In March 1928 Yan declared the restored Qing illegitimate, as part of the opening phase of a coordinated attack by Zhang Zuolin, Tang Jiyao, and his own forces against the Zhili. Thanks to Germany having breached Japan's encryption, the Zhili were able to anticipate Yan's moves and decisively defeat him, throwing the alliance's plans into jeopardy. Fearing a general collapse, Japan escalated its support for the Fengtian Clique, which was soon met by German aid for the Zhili. The stalemate at the Shanhai Pass remained unbroken, and the gradual escalation continued unabated.
The decisive moment came in in July, when bandits seized a train with foreign occupants outside Shanghai. Declaring a rescue mission, Japanese forces acting without official approval responded by occupying areas surrounding Shanghai. Chinese garrisons in the area proved unexpectedly resistant, and Germany threatened to intercede. The escalation, which had previously been gradual, accelerated rapidly and now threatened a great-power war in East Asia.
After two days during which war seemed inevitable, the United States offered to mediate. The resulting international conference did not bring an end to the conflict, but instead froze it indefinitely. But, in a key victory for the restored Qing government, the provinces of Shanxi and Yunnan were forced to recognise Qing suzerainty, bringing all of China save Manchuria under nominal Qing rule.
The Shanghai Conference transformed six cities into an International Mandate where all foreign nations could trade equally, surrounded by Neutral Zones where no armed Chinese soldier may enter.
While the Northern Zhili sought to limit German ties due to Wu Peifu fearing loss of local support, Sun Chuanfang of the Southern Zhili agreed to a series of increasingly exploitative deals with the German East Asia Society (later the AOG) to counterbalance the national government and maintain autonomy. His League of Eight Provinces ceded land in coastal ports to exclusive German economic development in return for arms and capital
Corruption in all levels of government driven by German money greatly reduced the League's popularity. In 1932 an uprising began in and around Shanghai, long a centre of leftist politics. This triggered similar risings in Nanjing, Wuhan, and several cities along the Southeastern Coast. These initially proved difficult to suppress, with the inadequate forces of the Shanghai Municipal Council failing to be aided by German and Japanese troops due the the rival nations' hostility. Eventually League of Eight Provinces forces entered the exclusion zone, permitted due to their officers being German. These succeeded in crushing the rebellion with excessive violence.
The uprising further reduced the popularity of the League by demonstrating its subservience to the AOG. It also weakened Sun Chuanfang's authority as, despite Anhui Governor Chen Tiaoyuan refusing to move against the rebels, he was not replaced for fear he would abandon the League and john the Northern Zhili.
Wu Peifu's authority was damaged in turn, as despite the uprising and weakening of the League of Eight Provinces, he was unable to gain politically. This suggested he lacked effective control outside the North China Plain.
Qing China is (theoretically) a constitutional monarchy headed by an Emperor (Puyi) and an Assembly President (Cao Kun). In reality, however, Imperial Minister and Commander and Chief of the Imperial Army Wu Peifu truly runs the show, using both men as puppets to prop up his rule over the North China Plain. Elections are held, but through manipulation and vote rigging the Harmony Association, the Zhili Clique's political front, has retained power since 1927. The last elections, however, have shown the HA's power to be somewhat lessened, and Wu and Cao have devised a strategy to begin repayment for Qing's enormous foreign debt in an effort to increase their popularity.
Imperial Council, 1936
|President of the Imperial Assembly||Cao Kun
|Minister of Foreign Affairs||(WIP)|
|Minister of Economy||(WIP)|
|Minister of Interior||(WIP)|
|Minister of Special Intelligence||(WIP)|
|Minister of War and Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Chinese Air Service||(WIP)|
|Supreme Commander of the Imperial Army and Imperial Minister Plenipotentiary||Wu Peifu
|Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Chinese Navy||(WIP)|
|Chief of the Imperial Guard||Aisin Gioro Zaitao
|Martial Arts Coach of the Imperial Forces||Tong Zhongyi
Governors (under direct jurisdiction)
- Harmony Association - Initially simply a front for Wu’s Zhili clique, the HA has evolved from a group of generals into a byzantine web of military officers, provincial governors, and bureaucrats. While Wu was renowned for keeping a painting of George Washington behind his desk, the group has little democratic support or any ideological basis whatsoever. The Association is more concerned with consolidating its power base in the Northern Basin, then reining in the more autonomous governors across the country. While willing to work with Germany when their interests line up, Wu is also wary of German influence in the region, and will not bend to German pressure for concessions.
- Zongshe Party (more commonly known as the ‘Manchu Party’) - is a group of Manchu nobles, Qing loyalists, and various Aisin Gioro princes. Opposed to Wu’s Zhili clique, they favor a return to Qing control over all of China. Unlike more radical factions, they are willing to tolerate warlords and some degree of factionalism - as long as they swear complete and utter loyalty to the Emperor. If in power, they would also allow elections, but in a German-style system where the Emperor would have ultimate say. Though their powers are currently limited by the ineffectual nature of the assembly, the old guard of ancient nobles is about to die off and retire, and the new princes set to take control of the party are not above using violence to achieve their goals.
- Prosperity League - The PL is mainly the party of the new industrialist and banker class, who are suspicious of the HA’s military nature. Germany, also wary of Wu’s ambition but not wanting to revoke its support for the only bulwark of an unpopular regime, has focused on turning this disorganized and small group into a well-funded social clique, facilitating connections between industrial-minded elites across the country through AoG organized “progress expositions” that pushed a free-trade agenda as well as modern farming techniques and the newest technology. While not overtly hostile to Wu’s ambitions, the PL mainly acts as a lobbying group, pushing for increased free trade, relaxed government regulations, and industrial stimulus - nominally for the interests of the elite - but truly for the AOG. This is also the party favored by German-trained officers in the fledgling Qing navy, whose inter-service rivalry with the Zhili-dominated military has been deliberately stoked by Germany.
- Young China Party - Inspired by the Young Turks, the YCP is a clique of officers alienated by the exclusivity and nepotism of the Zhili clique. They advocate for the elimination of China's warlords and the establishment of a strong central government, as well as a nationalist agenda which focuses on the abolition of the special privileges and extraterritoriality enjoyed by foreign powers in China. They also wish to see the end of warlords and factionalism and stress a return to a ‘legitimate’ government in China. While not necessarily in favor of Pu Yi and the Aisin Gioro clan, they also realize they are the best chance at achieving their dream.
- New Chinese Empire Reform Association - The NCERA, while using the name of a pre-Xinhai reformist group, is actually an alliance of two, more modern, reform groups. The first is the Rural Reconstruction Party (RRP), lead by Liang Shuming and the Harvard and Princeton educated J.C. “Jimmy” Yen. Favoring rebuilding China from the ground-up, this group emphasizes the value of the traditional Chinese village as the basic building block of society, rather than the warlord cliques that have dominated China for the last half-century. The second part of the coalition is a loose group of intellectuals inspired to the works of Kang Youwei, an ambitious reformer of the late Qing dynasty who advocated for a constitutional monarchy. Following the restoration of Puyi, his works have come back into prominence, and are popular among middle-class urban intellectuals. The NCERA want to see an end to warlords and foreign influence in China, and a return to a ‘traditional’ style of decentralized local rule. Currently, the Party is allowed several seats in the powerless Assembly by Wu Peifu, who sees them as a way to legitimize his unpopular regime. Yen and Liang’s rural reform and literacy programs have garnered them a large following in the countryside, worrying many warlords who fear an educated and civically involved population.
Even if the Chinese Imperial Army is the biggest in China, it is known to be largely outdated and politically divided. Still largely occupied by Zhili generals and their personal soldiers, with a deep generational divide between the senior staff and the younger, ambitious group of officers being trained at the now-reopened Baoding Military Academy. As 1936 dawns, the army is well-equipped with German arms, including tanks and airplanes, yet the continued political liabilities of remaining tied to Germany may force Wu to re-evaluate his relationships.
- In the Manchu Nobility: Pujie, Xiqia, Zaitao, Runqi.
- In the Zhili Clique: Wu Peifu, Jiang Baili, Li Bingzhi, Liu Menggeng, Wang Huaiqing, Xiao Yaonan, Zhang Qihuang, Cai Chengxun, Lu Xiangting, Li Bingzhi, Zhang Shaozeng, Wang Chengbin.
The Imperial Chinese Army is one of the biggest in the Asian continent, but remains largely outdated, as its armament comes mostly from the Weltkrieg era. Furthermore, its divisions are split among several groups: First are the "National Army" infantry and cavalry divisions. Modelled along German lines, these troops are (semi) regularly drilled by officers, mainly trained at the reopened Baoding military academy. Possessing limited indirect fire support and German weaponry, these divisions could theoretically go toe-to-toe with European divisions, but the results would probably not be pretty for the Qing troops.
Furthermore, many Zhili generals possess their own personal militias, often haphazardly organized, but still better equipped and experienced than other militia units around the world. These troops are of dubious combat ability but are adequate at maintaining order and suppressing civil unrest. In a similar vein, Manchu general Aisin-Gioro Xiqia deserted from the Fengtian clique with his "Kirin Provincial Army" after the 1927 restoration, bringing a few divisions of highly-trained cavalrymen with him. A small Imperial Guard guards the emperor, in Beijing though their role is largely ceremonial. Lastly, a small experimental division incorporating a few German tanks has just been assembled in Beijing, though its combat potential is unproven as 1936 begins.
The Qing Navy of the 1880s was known as the "8th best in the world" in these times: it was divided into two parts: the Beiyang Fleet (北洋水師) and the Nanyang Fleet (南洋水師). The first was totally destroyed during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, while the other was disbanded in 1909. The Republic of China Navy remained loyal to the Kuomintang, but most of the ships were destroyed during the German intervention. By now, the Imperial Navy is very outdated, mostly comprised of ageing battleships of Chinese conception and old pre-Weltkrieg German ships which were to be withdrawn but were instead sold to the Empire of China. As most navy personnel has defected or was sent to retirement, most of the commanding is assumed either by German military attaches or young Chinese officers who have just completed their training in German academies.
The Imperial Chinese Air Service is rather insignificant compared to European standards but is still among the best and biggest of Eastern Asia. Heavily influenced by German doctrine, nearly the entire air force is of German make and design. While still fledgling, it is still a force to be reckoned with, compared to the air arsenals of other warlords.
The Qing Empire has:
- Hostile relations with Japan and the Fengtian Government, claiming Taiwan to be an integral part of China and the Fengtian Government to be a province in rebellion.
- Tenuous relationships with the Commune of France, Union of Britain, and all other Syndicalist nations.
- Territorial claims over Mongolia and Tibet.
- Theoretical suzerainty over the League of Eight Provinces, Yunnan Clique, Sichuan Clique, Shanxi Clique, Shandong Clique, Ma Clique, Xinjiang Clique, and Kumul Khanate.
The New Culture Movement (新文化運動), disillusioned by the failure of the Chinese Republic and traditional values and trying to enhance a new Chinese culture based on western standards, and the May Fourth Movement, which was the political translation of the first and tended towards syndicalism, had permitted the continuation of a huge literary movement in China in spite of the Civil War, such as Mao Dun, Lao She, Lu Xun and Bing Xin. However, with the restoration of the Qing Empire and its alliance with Germany, time was not anymore to anti-Imperialism, political activism, and tendencies to syndicalism. Censorship and persecution have forced most of the Chinese artists to choose exile in Legation Cities, United States or even the Commune of France for the most compromised of them, or even lead revolts against the Empire. Official propaganda, approved by German advisors, tends to be a modern but integrist lecture of Confucian values, centered on the image of the Emperor: it doesn't correspond anymore to nowadays Chinese values, but still receives great support from the majority of the Chinese people...Officially.