Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lao American Steampunk: Geopolitics of 1764

A big thanks to Silver Goggles for pointing out a new example of Filipino Steampunk, High Society, and its write-up at Tinamats.

So, their framing setup is a big what-if regarding the Spanish being repelled from the walled city of Manila in 1764. It's not a bad proposal, and I find myself wondering what a Lao experience and perspective would be in 1764. Would it be an interesting year to start from?

For the Lao, historically, this is the year 2307. (But for simplicity sake, we'll use the Western calendar for the rest of this post.) What is the world like for them?

It has been 123 years since the Dutch first came to visit Laos in 1641, but they have never really had much contact with Europe since. It is approaching 60 years since Lan Xang splintered into three kingdoms. Ong Long is nearing the end of his reign in Vientiane, which is a vassal state to Burma, and will be succeeded by Ong Bun. In Champassak, Sayakumane is in the middle of his reign (1737-1791). In Luang Prabang, Sotika-Kuomane is the ruler, and also approaching the end of his 19-year reign (1749-1768) but by 1765 they will also be a vassal state to Burma.

Because of this, we should make note of Hsinbyushin, the Burmese monarch, who has just started his reign in 1763. He will go on to be recognized as the most militaristic king of his dynasty, and will successfully repel 4 Chinese invasions and end the Ayutthaya Dynasty, at the time led by Somdet Phra Chao Ekkathat, who would die in 1767.

With the end of the Ayutthaya Dynasty, their kingdom descends into chaos as provinces proclaimed independence under generals, rogue monks, and various members of the royal family. King Taksin would eventually rise from this to try and reunite the kingdom.

Cambodia is in the middle of its Dark Ages, while the Nguyen Lords are in charge of what we would today consider South Vietnam, notably Nguyen Phuc Koat, who is approaching the last year of his reign, and will be succeeded by Nguyen Phuc Thuan VERY briefly. Trinh Doanh of the Trinh Lords is nearing the end of his reign (1767).

Malacca, or what we know as Malaysia, is under Dutch control, with a recent transition in power from David Boelen to Thomas Schippers. The Dutch have ruled for 123 years now, after ousting the Portuguese in 1641.

To the north, in China, we see the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, Hongli, who ruled between 1735–1796, during the height of the Qing Dynasty's power as they ruled over 13 million square kilometers of territory. In 1755, or nine years earlier, the tallest wodden Bodhisattva statue in the world has been erected at the Puning Temple in Chengde.

Historically, in 1764, the new Ottoman Sultan Mustafa III has just risen to power. Over the course of his reign he would not be considered very good at selecting his councilors and commanders. History regarded him as a headstrong and hasty man, which further compounded the effects of his poor decisions. However, historians consider him very industrious and talented, and that he was dedicated to promoting the interests of the Ottoman Empire. Recognizing he was not very good at war, he did what he could to avoid it.

Catherine the II of Russia has been on the throne just 2 years, and will eventually annex the Crimea from the Ottoman Empire. Interestingly, in 1765, she will also authorize a new way to prepare vodka. Notably, in 1766, Ivan Polzunov will invent a two-cylinder engine. Might an earlier version emerge elsewhere in Asia?

In Japan, the 117th emperor is the Empress Go-Sakuramachi. She is two years into her reign as regent after her brother, the Emperor Momozono abdicated in 1762 and died later that year at the age of 21. 

Korea is known at the time as Joseon and, the ruler of this era is Jeongjo of Joseon who will become widely regarded as one of the most visionary of the rulers of Joseon.

Meanwhile in 1764, historically, we see the Battle of Buxar, where the British East India Company defeats the combined armies of Mir Kasim, the Nawab of Bengal, the Nawab of Awadh, and Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II. King George the III rules Britain and is dealing with some rascal colonists abroad talking about liberty and other notions. Among European nations, muzzle-loaded flintlock muskets are the primary firearms used in conflicts at this time (and will be until approximately 1840.) 

Louis XV is the king of France and currently paving the road to the French Revolution with awful financial policies, unpopular wars and disgraceful debauchery.

Clement XIII has been the pope for 6 years at the Vatican, notably getting embroiled in issues with the Jesuits.

I would also take into account that the Spanish, under the rule of Charles III, have just ended the 7 Years War that resulted in them losing significant territory. 

If steampunk technologies and social philosophies were prominent in this era, what would be the technologies people want, and what about the lives of the regular people living within each of these nations? Some very interesting questions indeed, and I can see why one might opt for 1764 as an interesting start off point for an alternate history story.

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