This timeline will deal with an alternate Rebellion of the Three Feudatories (三藩之亂, san fan zhi luan). This period is not very well-studied or chronicled: there is exactly one full-length English work on the rebellion. So in this post and the next one I’ll basically just introduce the setting, characters, context, and the point of divergence before getting into the meat of the timeline.
I am interested. Tell me more.
OK. In the mid-17th century, the Manchus overthrew the Ming Dynasty. They were able to do this in part because a lot of key generals and bureaucrats defected to their side. Now it is 1673. The Ming Dynasty is dead. The Manchu Qing Dynasty controls all of China. But not really. Three military leaders who had previously defected have, over time, come to exert total control over four southern provinces. They have absolute civil and military authority in their fiefs, and the cost of maintaining their armies is almost half the yearly national revenue. The Qing have heretofore tolerated this state of affairs because the south was the last stronghold of the Ming Dynasty. But by 1673, the Ming Dynasty is clearly dead, and the Qing court can’t really live with the fact that they have no control over south China. There are a bunch of boring shenanigans involving insincere promises to retire by the three feudatories which I won’t bother explaining, and at the end of the year war breaks out.
There are too many words. I want a picture.
OK. Here’s a map. It's at the bottom of the post because I can't figure out how to post attachments inline.
The solid black line represents the territory controlled by the three feudatories at the beginning of the war. The dotted line shows the territory controlled by the rebels at the height of their success. It is half of China, more or less. For the first two and a half years of the war, the rebels enjoyed a more or less uninterrupted run of success. They won battles, secured defections from important generals, and pushed the Qing near their breaking point. Two things that the map doesn’t show but that deserve explanation:
1) Tibet is not really shown on the map, but the Dalai Lama vaguely supported the rebels. This is not terribly important.
2) Taiwan is shown on the map, and it was controlled by Ming restorationists, to the extent that there was any functioning government on the island at all. This is very important.
Anyway, though the rebels were very successful in the initial part of the war, they lost. The tide started to turn against them in 1676, and the rebellion was totally defeated by 1681.
Good question. There are a bunch of reasons. The most important is disunity - several of the rebel armies spent about as much time fighting each other as they did fighting the Qing. Another reason why they failed was their lack of decisiveness. In the early portion of the war, the rebels experienced almost uninterrupted success, yet were reluctant to really push their advantage. Further, while a bunch of people defected to the three feudatories, there was never the kind of mass change of allegiance among rank-and-file members of the gentry that they needed. I can explain this in greater detail if you’d like it.
What will be different in this timeline?
The three feudatories will experience greater success, but there won’t be a straightforward dynastic transition. That would be both boring and not terribly realistic. Instead, the better performance of the rebels relative to real life will lead to a more exciting outcome, that being total fucking chaos and a generation of civil war. There will be lots of warlords. There will also be lots of Dzungars. There will be some sort of Manchu-Korean thing and the Zheng family will retain control of Taiwan in the short and medium-term. There will be millenarian religious lunacy in some form. There will be European intervention in some very limited form. We will also discuss Japan.
I think there’s a lot of room to mess around here. China will ultimately be re-united, but not before experiencing a generation of internal conflict. Whatever polity emerges will be poorer, less populated, and much more miserable than the Qing Dynasty was at the same time in real life.
I would like to know more about this fascinating period in Chinese history.
OK. The Great Enterprise, by Frederic Wakeman, can be read in its entirety for free on Google Books. Go to page 1099, where the section on the Rebellion of the Three Feudatories starts. Volume 9 of The Cambridge History of China has a good chapter on the rebellion as well. If you have JSTOR access, Kai-Fu Tsao’s article “Kang-Hsi and the San-Fan 三藩 War” is great (if you don’t have JSTOR access, ask nicely and I will send you a copy). If you search for “three feudatories” on Google Books, you can find some nice short synopses of the conflict as it occurred in real life.
What will happen next?
I’m going to post the next part tomorrow evening. This post has been really broad and hopefully I’ve adequately explained the cause of the war and what basically happened. The next post will introduce the actual people who you need to know about (Wu Sangui, the Kangxi Emperor, Zheng Jing, Wang Fuchen, and so on). It will also describe the beginning part of the war as it occurred in real life and in this timeline up until the point of divergence, which will be revealed.
If you have any questions or comments or whatever just post them and I will try not to be condescending and obnoxious even though you probably deserve it. Also, let’s talk about the Euros. The English had a factory on Taiwan! The Portuguese are right there on Macau and the Dutch and Spanish are kicking around too. What will they do? Probably not much.