Alternate History

Canton Madness

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A Pehtang Fort in 1860

A photograph taken in 1860 of Pehtang Fort, abandoned by Chinese Army Forces fleeing the infection nearly twenty years previously.

The Canton Madness (Chinese Viral Prefrontal Encephalopathy) is a viral disease that was first recorded in the infamous Canton Red Light Incident by occupying British soldiers in Canton, China, during the First Opium War.


The first recorded case of Canton Madness (CVPE) occurred on March 30, 1841, in the Red Light District of Canton, China. The logs of Field Marshal Hugh Gough, commander of British Forces in the area, explicitly describe this first outbreak.

"...Early in the evening of March thirtieth, I was alerted to a developing situation in one of Canton's establishments of less-than-repute... A Scottish Royal Marine reported a most gruesome scene at one of Canton's premier cathouses, a Japanese-owned establishment that my English mind cannot find a way to transcribe [later investigation would reveal the brothel to be the Aka Shinju Brothel] ... He bore descriptions of the most horrifying gore and madness. He was found with bloodstains on his boots and the hems of his breeches ... at his urgings an investigatory force was sent to the brothel, consisting of ten Marines and three local Cantonese observers. They found his report to be, indeed, understating of the carnage we discovered ... The brothel was in total ruin, by all accounts ... blood soaking the floorboards, upturned furniture, broken decorations, and scenes of human gore the likes of which I shall not put to paper. We found three traumatized prostitutes barricading themselves behind one of the upstairs doors ... at first we assumed it was they who had committed the acts of ... evil, but at further investigation and questioning we found them to be innocent. The true perpetrator seems to have been a local man, described as pale and of thin hair ... [the local man] reportedly broke into the brothel through the bolted back door, which we found to be loose on its hinges, and viciously attacked one of the Japanese proprietors, biting and gouging at the frail old woman with animal ferocity before being stabbed in the back of the head by one of the prostitutes. [The old woman] reportedly fell ill for a few hours before suddenly and violently turning on everyone around her, killing no less than seven people with her bare hands and teeth and injuring four others, who escaped into the city at large ..."

Following the Canton Incident, the disease seemed to disappear. No reports of the "Cantonese Madmen" surfaced, despite an intense investigation by both the occupying British and the local Chinese authorities; the body of the brothel's Mistress was discovered several days after the incident, partially eaten by stray dogs and rats. On April 14, 1841, the British Authorities ordered all of the dogs in Canton to be slaughtered in wake of a sudden and virulent epidemic of apparent rabies; it is now believed that the dogs were suffering from CVPE picked up from the corpse of the Aka Shinju Brothel Proprietor.

On April 16, 1841 a massive outbreak occurred among the people of Canton. British and merchant ships. as well as fleeing Cantonese refugees, carry with them both their own sick and infected, but also asymptomatic rats and mice. By April 20, the disease has appeared in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Manila, Macau, Nagasaki, Seoul, Darwin, the Sandwich Islands, and San Francisco. The Dying Time across the Pacific begins. By October of 1841, the Canton Madness has spread across the American West, western Canada, eastern China, the Inland Sea of Japan, the Philippine Islands, north and eastern Australia, Singapore, Indochina, the Dutch East Indies, Siam, Burma, and the eastern half of the British Raj in India. Sporadic reports of isolated infected crop up in London, Paris, Washington, New York, Sydney, Mombassa, and Istanbul daily.

By 1843, much of Mexico has been ravished by the sweep of the disease.

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