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This alternative history explores the possibilites of China rapidly industrializing, modernizing, and militarizing in the beginning of the 19th century as the Japanese had done during the Meiji Restoration.
The result, as presented in this alternate history universe, would have been a radically different world order during the 20th century.
The History of China
Same as Old Time Line. The Point of Divergence is around 1830, and assumes a group of progressive-minded Chinese government officials had toured Europe, and among them was a particularly vocal individual named Wang Yiwei.
The Late Qing Era
See Transition Period (1830-1850) for more information.
In the first few years during the reign of Emperor Daoguang (1820-1850) several governmental officials were sent overseas to observe how the Europeans were doing in affairs concerning war. The most influential military observer was Wang Yiwei, who was sent to tour England and France. When he returned in 1836, the Emperor reluctantly agreed to his request to start and train a Western-styled army using hired military advisors from Europe, known as the “Experimental Army,” albeit with very limited funds and hardly any support from the ruling class. Wang went back to Europe and tour Germany, Russia, Netherlands, and Italy to study their battle strategy.
Meanwhile the Emperor appointed governmental official Lin Zexu to try to solve the vexing issue of the British opium trade. When rioting British seamen murdered a Chinese man in July 1839, the ensuing debate over extraterritoriality escalated tensions and eventually erupted into to the Opium War. During the beginning phases of the war, the traditional Qing military were repeatedly defeated by the superior British troops. A turning point occurred when Emperor Daoguang decided to mobilize the yet-untested Experimental Army. Though not fully completed and lacking a competent officer corps, the Experimental Army won two Pyrrhic victories and forced the British into a stalemate. By the Treaty of Peking, the British recognized Chinese jurisdiction and agreed to respect the ban on opium, and in exchange, the Chinese greatly modified the Canton trading system to make it less restrictive, allowing trading in nearly all major port cities.
The Chinese experience with the war led them to be disillusioned with the traditional, hereditary Qing military. The Experimental Army proved far more effective in battle than the Bannermen and Green Standards, but it had been destroyed during the course of the fighting. Wang Yiwei and military officials quickly set about restructuring the Chinese military, making drastic reforms such as non-ethnically segregated conscript army under direct control of the Board of War, Western-style academies in which to train officers for the army, abolishing the Bannermen, and hiring military advisors from Europe.
Growing Anti-Manchu sentiment had led to the 1848 Revolution in China, inspired by the ones happening all over Europe and led by Zhang Luoxing. The movement quickly gained momentum all over the countryside, and deposed the Qing government. The rebels had rallied behind Zhu Chongqing who claimed descent from of the Ming Dynasty rulers, and installed him as the new Yonghe Emperor of the Second Ming Dynasty. The new national government was a constitutional monarchy.
The Yonghe Era
See Second Ming Expansion and Imperialism (1850-1914) for more information.
Yonghe China was ruled by a small cadre of top ministers who had a far-reaching program to modernize the country. European nations greatly benefited from the less restrictive trade provisions in the 1841 Treaty of Peking, and the volume of trade between China and the West increased dramatically. Throughout this period the Ming government tried to maintain fair relations with European nations and the United States.
In 1854, China declared war on Russia and joined the Allied side of the Crimean War. In China, the war was called the “Walk-in War” because the Chinese armies basically “walked in” and did very little fighting. By the Treaty of Paris, signed on March 12, 1856, Russia recognized the validity of the Treaty of Nerchinsk, while China agreed to return all territories north of the Outer Xing'an (Stanovoy) Mountains to Russia, although the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky would remain as a major WW2 naval base to Japan.
In 1861, Japanese lords overthrew the Tokugawa Shogunate and the emerging Empire of Japan maintained close ties with China, partially due to the cotton trade. The economic relationship was formalized by the 1875 Oriental System, and a political alliance was achieved in 1889. Another nation that shared a close relationship with China was Britain which formed a mutual defense treaty against Russia in 1894.
Domestically, internal unrest, government focus on domestic development, and the people’s generally anti-imperialistic outlook prevented China from vigorously pursuing a global empire. Throughout the Yonghe period, however, China did on several occasions exert its influence locally. The 1881 Treaty of Hanoi signed with France in the aftermath of the Nam Đình Incident granted China a sphere of influence in northern Vietnam (Tonkin). In 1893, China leased from Siam a section of the Ithmus of Kra and completed the Malay Canal there in 1907after Britain got control of Thailand, with the exclusive control of shipping through it. The nations of China, Japan, and Britain controlled the canal.
The Great War
See The Great War for more information.
A complex web of alliances, colonial competition, and ethnic and nationalistic rivalries are all contributing causes to the Great War. When the global conflict erupted in August 1914, it pitted the Central Powers against the Oriental Alliance, Entente Powers and the United States. Paris fell in a matter of weeks and France surrendered to Germany. Italy, though originally a member of the Triple Alliance, remained neutral until Germany’s spectacular victory over France convinced it to join the Entente Powers.
After France’s defeat, the European theater shifted to Africa, where the Germans and the British poured in armies to fight over the colonies, and where the Free French forces of the exiled French government rallied troops in defiance of Metropolitan France’s surrender to continue fighting the Germans.
Russia, the Oriental Alliance, Britain and the USA continued to fight on. In February 1918, Germany signed a separate peace with Britain and the United States, which the Chinese viewed as peace.
In January 1921, the hawkish government in China fell, and the replacement National Republican government, which adopted a more conciliatory tone to its enemies, agreed to an armistice and a peace based on Wilson’s Sixteen Points. In the negotiations at London, diplomats from Europe and the United States redrew the world.
National Republican Era
See National Republican China (1921-1931) for more information.
When China stabilized, the National Republican party held dominance in the government for a decade. During this period, China experienced social unrest, runaway inflation, economic depression, and massive corruption.
Military dictatorship (1931-1953)
‘’See Military dictatorship (1931-1953) for more information’’
In April 1931, General Chiang Kai-shek, buoyed by mass public support, led a bloody coup d’état against the National Republican government. In a matter of weeks, he eliminated opposition and consolidated his power. The military dictatorship he established promised to restore China’s greatness and redeem its image in the world.
Chiang made recovery from China’s economic downturn a top national priority. Two months after taking power, he implemented currency reform and overhauled the national banking system. The government financed large public works projects which mainly focused on improving infrastructure.
Remilitarization and Reoccupation Expeditions
In February 1935, China renounced the terms of the Treaty of Thames that placed limitations on the standing army size, naval size, and armament stockpiles. As China remilitarized and rearmed itself, the rest of the world did little other than ban China from the League of Nations. Robert Goddard was offered a teaching position at Tsinghua University which he accepted. During his stay at the university, his throat cancer was detected and successfully treated. The position of Goddard at the university helped Sino-American relations to the extent that Smedley D Butler was considering a trade agreement.
Chiang's agenda was shifted to the defense of China Proper or the lackthereof. Without the buffer territories of Mongolia's and Sinkiang's desert, and the Tibetan plateau, the Chinese heartland vulnerable to invasion. So Chiang devised plans to bring all three frontiers back under Chinese control without arousing conflict with greater powers.
Reoccupation of Tibet
It is widely-known that Tibet would not be able to defend itself and relied on international pressure and good neighbours to keep China out. Chiang exploited this to his advantage. Tibet's short-lived independence was ended when the Chinese Army marched uncontested into Lhasa in May 1935. War-weary Britain does not want to confront China, but asks Turkestan and Mongolia to "persuade" China to withdraw from Tibet.
Reoccupation of Uyghuristan
China's reclaiming of Tibet was seen as an invasion by Turkestan, which immediately mobilized to strike at China. But China beat them to it, launching a massive pre-emptive strike capturing Urumuqi. Chiang's defensive strategy was to stay on the offensive and use natural barriers for holding off the enemy, in this case the Taklamakan Desert. Elsewhere in the Yunnan frontier province, Chiang has setup defenses against possible British and French incursions through the dense jungles.
The young Turkestan Federation, rife with internal conflict and without an integrated and experienced army, was no match for the Chinese Army and a ceasefire was soon agreed to demarcate a new border between China, where Turkestan cedes the entire Taklamakan and its fringe oasis towns to the Chinese.
Reoccupation of Mongolia
Landlocked between the Russians and the Chinese, Mongolia was forced to be economically dependent on both, yet the war had devastated both countries' economies, profoundly affecting Mongolia. However, the Chinese economy had been recovering much quicker than Russia due to its remilitarization policies and large workforce population; while neighbouring China grew economically stronger everyday, the Russian Far East remained a desolate undeveloped territory. The Mongolian economy became intrinsically tied to China.
The invasion of Tibet and skirmish with Turkestan greatly alarmed the Mongolian leadership. They knew they were next. In order to extract the best terms, Mongolia suggested a union between China and Mongolia for greater social, economic, and political integration. But Chiang wanted outright annexation, and because of China's superior position on the bargaining table, Mongolia was annexed into the Chinese state. Chiang however gave good terms, elevating Mongol leadership to high positions of government, to the envy of other minorities.
Seizing the Kra Canal
The reoccupation of China's lost territories was so swift and sudden that it surprised the world and even Chiang Kai-Shek was surprised himself. With the western and northern frontiers pacified, with increased confidence, Chiang turned his attention to the south, where it had lost influence over Annam to French Indochina but more importantly, control over the Malay Canal to Britain and France.
Sino-Russian Far East War
The new Russian fascist government's anxiety over Chinese influence in the Russian Far East and the desire for a Pacific ice-free port lead to a full-blown conflict along their common border from the Outer Xing'an (Stanovoy) Mountains in the east all the way to Tannu Uriankhai in the west. The Russian objective was to capture the city of Haishenwei. The Russian secret service also tried to stimulate rebellions in China's Manchurian, Mongolian, and Muslim dominions with little success.
Second Republic (1953-present)
As an aging Chiang Kai-Shek retired from public life, China exploded in a frenzy of democratization and liberalization. An aging Goddard resigned from his post and wrote his memoirs, A Rocket to China, detailing his life in China before he returned to the United States.
Alliance with the USA
Eisenhower famously went to Nanjing to discuss with President Bai Chongxi a trade agreement in 1954. They both agreed to the treaty. They were also afraid of Communism (now taking root in Latin America and India, as well as Africa) spreading, so Secretary of State Richard Nixon established the policy of "containment," which meant isolating the Communist countries, as well as giving aid to the non-communist countries that feel under threat from Communism. A third faction began to rise in this Cold War, with Fascist Italy (Mussolini still gets in power ATL) and DNVP Germany founding the "European Community".