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The Sleeping Giant Awakes, 1793–1841
In 1793, the British Empire's emissary Lord Macartney arrives in Beijing, presenting Britain's newest technological achievements. Macartney himself should achieve a trading agreement with China - and he convinced the Chinese. Unlike OTL's Emperor Qianlong, the Son of Heaven agreed, but also demanded the British to support China with the most modern technologies, for the Emperor was not yet corrupted by Heshan and lacked imperial arrogance. The trade relations between Britain and China improved, though China was rather interested in technology than commerce, and Chinese scholars should travel abroad and study the ways of the West, despite the protests of the old Confucian gentry. On the other hand, the spreading of Christianity was prohibited. By the 6th year of Jiajing (Qianlong's successor), most of these scholars returned - indeed, their mission was a success. The Chinese still regarded the British as an inferior, barbaric race, but their technological advance was held in high esteem, yet Western political thought was confronted with mistrust by Confucian scholars and officials. Army and navy were thoroughly reformed and (given that corruption would have been not that widespread) the administration's efficiency increased. Further delegations were sent to the West, especially after the Napoleonic Wars. Now other countries than Britain were interested in the Chinese market, and the technological transfer went on. By the late 1820s, the Chinese government exploited Manchuria's hills, rich in iron ore and coal. A rail road network was introduced, and the army further modernised (due to China's exports, there were enough funds to do so), but the old division in Eight Banners and Green Standard Army remained. Ironclads, heavy artillery, et cetera, were now no longer imported but produced by China herself, while military experts from Britain, France and the German states were invited to improve the army's military strength. Imposing the reform of the Qing military system proved to be a strenuous struggle; finally a few Elite Troops, modeled after the Prussian Army, were established. They were directly under the command of the Xin Da Jiang Jun, a new military rank. The Western-style Chinese units thus formed a separate part of the Army; of course, concurrence with the Eight Banners and the Green Standard Army were to be expected. Although China's economic policy was very tolerant (compared to OTL), the British income was still too low - too many shillings ended up in the Imperial coffers! China was still the world's most prosperous Empire and endowed with a considerable military power, but foreign traders and missionaries were still harshly treated- at least from the Westerners' view. Finally, the smuggling of opium, unofficially backed by British traders, formed a reason for Chinese intervention: in 1840, the new Governor of Guangzhou, Lin Zexu ordered the destruction of large opium amounts.
The Anglo-Chinese War: The First Clash of Civilizations
China later westernised fast. For 101 years, the Chinese seized the Middle East, Asia, Pacific lands, Russia, Eastern Europe and the Balkan States. The Chinese later invaded the eastern half of the Mediterranean islands. The British wanted to stop the expansion, so they both went to war. With China extremely filled with technology, they defeated the British.
1845: Daoguang, a Warlike Emperor
Alarmed about what happened in Burma, the plans of the Chinese Court shifted to expansion. While war would remain a tedious issue in Southeast Asia (due to the climate), China's forces were superior to the hopelessly outdated Vietnamese, Khmer and Siamese armies (though still somewhat behind the European ones). During the Southern Campaign, plans already made by the Wanli Emperor of the Ming dynasty were finally implemented. The obvious outcome of the war was swift, and while the rulers of the defeated countries actually had to do nothing more then reaffirming their tributary relationship to the Qing Empire, the Chinese command did everything to fortify tactically important places in the new protectorates (e.g. by building coastal fortresses along the shorelines of Vietnam). Similarly, the Himalayan regions controlled by the Qing government faced large troop movements towards the Southern borders (actually the border to British India).
1848 and Its Consequences
China's victory (at least from the Chinese viewpoint) in the Anglo-Chinese ("Opium") War sparked a new wave of nationalism among the intellectuals, especially those who already had contact with Western culture. This however, was not beneficial to the monarchy, as a new class of Western-educated, reformist students and officials was growing in power. In fact, it was European tactics and technology, employed by more "modern" Han Chinese military functionaries, not the Manchu military aristocracy that "won" the war. Though still believing in the superiority of their Confucian culture, these young Chinese were convinced that they could use the Western methods to overthrow the loathed Manchu, who have displayed their weakness in leadership. A new dynasty was in the making. The Daoguang Emperor lost most of his support by the progressive officials, who already formed a very powerful clique. Meanwhile, the failed revolutions of 1848 left a strong impression for many diplomatic delegations. Despite the fact that these revolutions were all more or less brutally suppressed or even betrayed, many educated Chinese (who did not belong to the gentry) became supporters of European "democracy". To some, a violent revolution was the only way to replace the eroding Qing tyranny with Chinese self-rule. Then the aforementioned progressive officials - military and civilian alike - plotted against the Qing. The ensuing Civil War split the Middle Kingdom, since two parties were struggling for power: the more conservative but pragmatic gentry and bureaucratic nobility, and the modernist forces, adherents of a constitutional monarchy. The former, loyal to the Qing (but only for the sake of their own interests) rescued the dynasty from being overthrown in the North. Prosperous Southern China became a modern, "constitutional" but nonetheless authoritarian monarchy, governed by a self-proclaimed heir of the Ming Imperial family. This civil War that swept the land was hard to bear for the populace, yet finally the Qing government was powerful enough to destroy the short-lived (later) Ming Empire. In 1852, (with a death toll of over 5 millions), the so-called uprising was crushed; the Southern governors formerly loyal to the rebels quickly became turncoats. Meanwhile, the Imperial court realised that internal reforms were indispensable if the power of the Qing dynasty should be upheld. In the 1850s, laws became more restrictive (as the lands had to be purged of rebels), but the more liberal monarchist officials did everything to improve the relationship of the Chinese towards an otherwise alien government. A simple parliament was introduced, with political parties (whose members still had to pass Imperial Examinations), and the wearing of the pigtail became facultative. The new Xianfeng Emperor, merely a puppet, agreed. The following emperors exerted no longer heavy influence on politics, with some exceptions.
Soon, its empire lived to the present day.