Shining Path


Chapter 19

On 3-day 4-month Kaei 2, Matabee went to the tea-house only to discover that little Suki, no longer a young woman by the standards of the place, and suffering from disease, had been sent away; and in far-away Montreal, James Bruce, the Eighth Earl of Elgin and Governor General of Canada, signed the Rebellion Losses Bill. It proposed to pay back citizens in Lower Canada for their losses from collateral damage during the conflict over a recent failed bid for independence – possibly including some of the rebels themselves, since loyalty was nearly impossible to verify.

Members of the Upper Canadian samurai class interpreted this attempt at peacemaking as an endorsement by Lord Elgin of disloyalty to the Empress, the second-worst-possible violation of their warrior code. In the ensuing riot, they burned the Imperial Parliament to the ground. They held another riot in Bytown on 1-day 8-month of the same year, when Lord Elgin proposed moving the capital there. He delayed his plans, but Bytown did eventually get renamed to Ottawa, and it became capital of Canada in Ansei 4.

Lord Elgin finished his work in Canada and was assigned to China, where he commanded British troops against the Qing Dynasty. He wrote to his wife, in reference to the bombing of Canton, that "I never felt so ashamed of myself in my life." When the war seemed to be won, he signed the Treaties of Tianjin in Ansei 5, laying out the terms of Chinese acquiescence to the opium trade. But the Chinese continued to resist British commercial ambitions. When they captured and tortured British and French subjects, including civilian journalists, Lord Elgin had troops burn the Summer Palace to the ground – after rejecting the idea of destroying the Forbidden City as too likely to cause offense. Thoroughly demoralized, the Qing politicians were forced to agree to the Convention of Beijing in Man'en 1, reiterating the points in the earlier treaties and granting additional concessions. Between these adventures Elgin made his way to Japan to sign a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the Tokugawa Shogunate, forcing them too to allow freer trade with Britain.

Elgin's Russian counterpart at that time was one Count Nicholas Pavlovich Ignatiev. As Britain and France extracted concessions from Qing China, he took the opportunity to carve out a chunk of territory for Russia in the North – including the strategically vital sea-coast site of Vladivostok, later home of Russia's Pacific fleet. Ignatiev's great-grandson would become Prime Minister of Canada during the Heisei Era.

South and West of Canada, in the Mason Valley which would later be part of Nevada, the weather doctor Jack Wilson had a vision on 1-day 1-month Meiji 22. He saw the Moon move across the Sun's face until the Sun was almost completely obscured, plunging the world into darkness – and many thousands of others also saw that part of the vision, and it had been foretold in astronomical almanacs. During the few minutes of the eclipse, Jack Wilson was taken out of space and out of time, to stand before the One God and Jesus in Heaven. He had long been an addict of the same vice Charlie Soong peddled, and its influence on his vision cannot be denied.

The One God showed him the Kingdom – a land of plentiful food, pleasant weather, and beautiful, gentle people. The One God told him that this land was prepared for Jack Wilson and all the people, but that a great evil (and Jack Wilson did not need to be told which evil that meant) currently plagued the Earth and must be swept away. The One God said that all the people must practice loving kindness, refrain from deceit and vice, abandon war and grief, and send their children to school and otherwise cooperate with the white settlers. That great one also gave Jack Wilson a magical formula, a slight variation of the traditional round dances the people already practiced from time to time. He said that they must perform the five-day ritual in appropriate circumstances to help create the right conditions. The people could make the Kingdom imminent with appropriate rituals. Then, Jesus and the honored dead would rise as spirit warriors in their millions and cleanse the Earth, restoring purity and plenty to all the people. The meek, the One God said, would inherit the Earth.

The One God said that the Harrison Emperor would remain his emissary in the East, but that Jack Wilson himself would be the emissary here in the West, to carry the medicine of loving kindness and the dance to all people. He granted Jack Wilson power to control the weather, the better to convince skeptics of the divine mission; and before returning the prophet to the world of ordinary experience he showed him many other wonderful things, too. One in particular remained in Jack Wilson's mind for long after: far away down the river of time, where the river runs into the sea and beyond there, he saw animals like mountain lions who cried with women's voices in an unknown language. They, too, performed the sacred dance in their own distant land, and Jack Wilson knew that they were his sisters and he might almost be one of them; but that part of the medicine was for him alone and he told no one about it.

Jack Wilson went forth to preach the words of the One God to his people, and the circumstances were right for many to hear and believe. Many had lost loved ones in the typhoid epidemic that coincided with the Meiji Restoration; many more had suffered in the evil that followed. Jack Wilson gave them faith and purpose (and rain – itself a great gift), and in that way it can be said that he was a benefactor of all beings. As more and more of the people heard and believed the prophet's message, the message itself grew and changed. When Jack Wilson's disciples compared notes with Joseph Smith's, they found they had much in common and much to learn from each other. The dancers began to wear sacred shirts with embroidered symbols of special protective virtue.

Soon, the message spread from Mason Valley to the neighboring Rakota Province, where it was taken up by the samurai class. There it underwent further modification, the better to align with their political goals and warrior code. The sacred shirts, originally symbolic only, because imbued with supernatural power to stop swords, arrows, and bullets. This samurai form of the dance – no longer peacefully cooperative, but armed and militant – drew the attention of the Imperial government. It looked very much like the prelude to a rebellion.

The movement grew, and the dance rituals became larger, wilder, and more powerful, throughout Meiji 22 and into Meiji 23. Meanwhile, the Imperial administrators pressed ahead with their wise division policy, splitting up territory among local daimyo in an effort to prevent any one of those from raising enough men to stage a rebellion. The religious message of cooperation, and the mass gatherings of samurai who might easily become a disciplined army at a word from their lords, threatened the policy of division. The dances had to stop.

Not all Imperial administrators agreed. One famously commented that Jack Wilson's cult was not much different from that of, for instance, William Miller, and a certain amount of civil unrest was to be expected in occupied territory in any case. Nobody thought it necessary to call out the Imperial Army every time the Seventh-Day Adventists announced the imminence of the Eschaton, and cowardly bureaucrats who couldn't handle the heat of the Western Sun should go back to their ledger-books and leave the police action to real men. Such voices were shouted down, however, and attempts to break up the movement continued. More and more troops were brought in from neighboring provinces to keep the peace.

On 15-day 12-month Meiji 23, the Empire made its move against Tatanka Iyotake, most powerful of the Rakota daimyo and a spiritual leader in his own right. If that man were to endorse the dance religion there would be no stopping it – and many samurai following him had already converted.

They tried to be discreet about it. They sent just a few men, local residents selected for loyalty, rather than marching in with a detachment of the hated Imperial Army. The plan was to arrive at Tatanka's camp at dawn, quietly remove him, and leave before any unfortunate incidents could occur. The daimyo's wisdom and emotional stability were well known, and he would be unlikely to offer foolish resistance in the face of a superior force, if treated with respect. With him out of the picture and his followers reduced to leaderless ronin, the remaining daimyo would be much easier to keep divided and weak.

Despite the attempts at discretion, the Government party attracted enough attention for a crowd to gather, upsetting the plan for a quiet arrest. As they negotiated with the daimyo, one of his bodyguards perceived a threat and fired at the Government men. That triggered a fast but bloody melee in which eight men were killed on each side – including Tatanka Iyotake himself. Many of his samurai sought positions in the army of his brother, Shi-tanka, who two weeks later became too ill to serve as leader. On 29-day 12-month, Shi-tanka ordered his men (including those who had recently served his late brother) to surrender to the barbarians.

Fighting broke out again as the Imperial Army attempted to relieve the daimyo's men of their weapons. The details of the cause were still bitterly contentious more than a century later and will probably never be resolved. Either a deaf man was unable to hear the command to drop his weapon, and predictable but unfortunate things ensued, or else a group of samurai concealed weapons and deliberately started a fight with the Imperial men. Whether the daimyo's men were at fault or not, the Army killed them all, and their noncombatant wives and children. This happened at a place called Wounded Knee, just a few days shy of the second anniversary of Jack Wilson's vision of peace. Twenty soldiers would later receive Imperial decorations for their roles in the incident.