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This universe explores the simple possibility of a powerful Chinese empire that would head the world hegemony since the 17th century. The first POD is that the Chinese traveler and a great contributor to Chinese geography, Xu Hongzu, visited Europe when kidnapped by pirates in 1607. Xu Hongzu would eventually wander back to the Dragon Empire and become the tutor of Zhu Youjian, the future Chongzhen Emperor. The second POD is a fire which occurred in the Forbidden Palace in 1620, which enabled Zhu Youjian to meet his tutor while wandering the streets of Beijing.
The Crane's Abduction and Return (1607 - 1619)
In 1607, the nineteen-year old Xu Hongzu was captured in a pirate raid along the coast of modern Jiangsu. However, as the tiny pirate flotilla sailed back to its island base, a storm scattered the ships and destroyed the "fleet". Xu was later rescued by Spanish ships sailing nearby and he was taken as a servant by Cristobal Tellez de Almanza, the Governor-General of the Philippines. Learning to speak Spanish quickly, he was soon taken to Spain in 1608 by Almanza and was taken an interest by Philip III of Spain for his ability to create accurate maps and his natural talent for languages. Xu was eventually released and traveled to various European courts, but eventually refrained from public activities and instead, concentrated on writing in his journal at the court of Spain in 1615 due to sensing an upcoming Continental conflict which would perhaps endanger his own life. In 1618, he petitioned to Philip III to return to his home country, and soon landed in Manila, where he then headed towards Macau.
The Young Dragon's Nap (1620)
An unexpected lightning strike and an ensuing fire in the palace where Zhu Youjian was residing left the young Prince roaming the streets of Beijing. The young Prince bumped into Xu, who helped Youjian to a light meal after mistaking him for a pitiful child of a wealthy or powerful family who was running away. When Youjian, bored of his surroundings, demanded the reluctant Xu to tell him a story, he revealed that he is in fact a Prince. Xu, who has been neglected by many for his "outrageous" stories regarding the West, realized that this may be the one opportunity to not let his decade-long adventure to go to waste and so he offered to become the Prince's tutor in exchange of a story.
Meanwhile, after the fire became controlled, the Taichang Emperor, disgruntedly declared that his eldest son Zhu Youxiao was the Crown Prince and Youjian was made the Prince of Xin after his ministers pressured him into this matter for the sake of "securing the Empire's future". When the young Zhu Youjian requested an audience with the Emperor and asked if Xu could become his tutor, the bored Emperor simply said "Do whatever you want. I don't care", and left.
The Dragon Disturbed (1620-1626)
For five years, Xu carefully and detailed recounted his experiences and discoveries in Ouluoba (OTL Europe) to Youjian, from the structures of military, to court traditions, the vast riches of the New World, and even a detailed description of Catholicism and a brief overview of the rising Protestant belief. Besides this, Xu also taught the Prince the basics of Xiyi (Spanish), Fayi (French) and some Deyi (German).
In 1621, the new Tianqi Emperor (Zhu Youxiao), fearing for his beloved brother's safety after an intrusion by a mysterious armed man soon after his coronation, ordered the composition of Youjian's Imperial Guards from troops of the elite blunderbuss division, Shenji-ying. Youjian, with the help of Xu, began experimenting with Western military formations with these Guards. Xu, appalled by the inefficiencies caused by these century-old blunderbusses, secretly ordered some of the ironsmiths of the Imperial Armoury to experiment with some Western designs.
Also, while visiting Venice during his long travels, Xu had taken an interest in the "glass" produced in that city. Attracted by the beauty of these objects, Xu had recorded some of the procedures of producing the glass. After discussing in depth with Youjian, they decide to produce the "glass" in small amounts after Youjian turns 16, when by Imperial decree, Princes of the land must move to their fiefdoms.
In 1625, after the decisive defeat of the Imperial army at the hands of Nurhaci in Liaodong, the competent commander Xiong Tingbi was blamed for this defeat and was summoned back to Beijing for trial. Known for his hatred for the eunuchs led by the new court favourite Wei Zhongxian, Xiong was ordered to be executed after Wei bribed the Xingbu-shangshu (Minister of Judiciary Affairs). Xu, who had always despised the "Eunuch Clique", suggested to Youjian that he should petition for Xiong's release to the Tianqi Emperor. Though Tianqi initially agreed, Wei quickly used his influence on the Emperor to secure Xiong's execution. Youjian, agitated by this sudden turn of events, used his Imperial Guards to smuggle Xiong out and replaced him with a double. However, Wei soon found out about the switch and had Xu assassinated as a show of power.
When Emperor Tianqi heard about the assassination, he feared that his beloved brother would try to revenge his mentor by confronting Wei, so he decided to move Youjian's fiefdom to Xi-an, thus separating Wei and Youjian