On the other side of the world from Wounded Knee, the solar eclipse at sunset on 22-day 1-month Meiji 31 presaged the end of the Qing Dynasty. The path of totality passed just a little North of Beijing, and died in Manchu territory. The Moon took away the Sun; and the Heavens took away the Qing mandate to rule. The next solar eclipse visible from Beijing would cast its shadow on a very different kind of empire, almost four years later.
Back on Earth, it was the Hundred Days' Reform that brought matters to a head. Stinging from the recent defeat in Korea, the Guangxu Emperor sought to learn from that failure and imitate the Japanese success. On 11-day 6-month Meiji 31 he began a program of weeding out government corruption – and restructuring the Empire along more Westernized lines. He modernized the ancient civil service examination system, and made mathematics, the sciences, and engineering higher educational priorities. He began to build up the military in a more systematic way. He even sought to introduce (within reasonable limits, of course) a form of representational democracy.
These measures were hardly popular in the provinces. The strong young men of rural China longed for a return to the good old days – as every man young enough to have missed out on the good old days will someday do. They objected to the spread of barbarian ideas that tended to destroy traditional Chinese values. They objected to the opium pushers, who preyed on the weak with empty dreams and promises of freedom from pain. They objected to Christian missionaries, the likes of Charlie Soong, who dealt in empty promises of eternity. Although it could be argued that government corruption was itself a Chinese tradition of long standing, they objected to that, too.
The Meiji Era was an era of secret societies. The Americans founded the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks in Keiou 4, with the Restoration in progress; the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine in Meiji 3 (though their miniature automobiles would not come until somewhat later); the Knights of Columbus in Meiji 15; the Loyal Order of Moose in Meiji 21; and the Rotary Club in Meiji 38, to name only a few. In Shandong Province, too, men joined lodges, benevolent societies, and fraternal orders too numerous to name. As the Emperor's reforms filtered out of Beijing, the level of grumbling at lodge meetings steadily increased. In the gymnasiums and training grounds, where young men built up their bodies to impress young women and each other, the sound of complaints became louder. Even in the missionary churches and the places where opium was consumed, where no pure-living strong and free peasant would be seen, there was a tinge of dissatisfaction in the poisoned air. Then they had a flood in Shandong, and a series of droughts – both caused by missionary interference with the local feng shui.
The Fists of Righteous Harmony grew rapidly in Meiji 31, and soon all the other lodges threw in their lot with that one. The Fists virtuously abstained from alcohol, opium, and Christianity. They were also nearly vegetarian, though that only because they were poor. In accordance with the Confucian view of the body as a sacred gift from one's parents, they trained and improved their bodies with exercises, pure diet, and martial arts – possibly including the alchemical arts described by Bodhidharma in his famous Classics. They were the friends of traditional native religion and the enemies of the missionaries. To all those Han Chinese insulted and degraded by the corrupt empires of the West and by the Manchu officials, they offered a return to the good old days, the days of Chinese military strength, when those of true merit were allowed to expect the status they deserved.
In Meiji 32, the Fists of Righteous Harmony grew even bigger and stronger. Their influence spread from Shandong to every part of the Empire, but especially in the North: everywhere that young men hated the foreigners, and the corrupt Qing government that had sold China's young men out to the foreigners. The claims of the Fists of Righteous Harmony regarding their special combat training became greater and more elaborate. Their bodies became imbued with supernatural power to stop swords, arrows, and bullets. They gained the ability to fly. These powers were often demonstrated at public gatherings. They said that if they could create the proper conditions, the honored dead would rise as spirit warriors in their millions and cleanse the Earth, restoring purity and plenty to all the people. The virtuous would inherit the Earth.
Grumbling turned into action. Organized death squads replaced isolated harassment. The Fists of Righteous Harmony killed missionaries and their families, raping the women and girls first. The Fists tortured and killed those locals who had succumbed to the addiction of Christianity. They seized and destroyed stocks of opium, leaving the addicts of that vice to suffer the effects of deprivation, or be killed, or both. All foreigners, and the local officials who supported them, lived in fear or died. The governments of Britain, France, Russia, and several other barbarian nations issued complaints in the strongest possible terms to the Imperial government.
The Empress Dowager Cixi had attempted to put an end to her young nephew's foolishness on 21-day 9-month of Meiji 31, by relieving him of his duties as Emperor. She placed him under house arrest, announced that his mental disability had rendered him unfit to rule, and as Regent she began working to undo the damage – but the cats were out of the bag.
The Qing government answered foreign diplomatic complaints with assurances that the rebellion would soon be put down. Meanwhile, the Regent (herself as anti-Western as any member of the Fists) made a token crackdown, and when it failed she adopted an "if you can't beat 'em" policy. Yuan Shikai, the Governor of Shandong, already supported the Fists of Righteous Harmony. He had directed his subordinates to ignore any complaints from missionaries. In 1-month Meiji 33, the Empress Dowager joined him, and neutralized the anti-Imperial aspect of the Fists' campaign, by issuing edicts in their favor. The foreign diplomats, no strangers to feng shui themselves, saw which way the qi was flowing in Beijing. British, Italian, and American warships were anchored off the Taku Forts near Tianjin, the nearest naval approach to the capital, by the end of 4-month. Armies from Germany, France, Russia, Austria, and Japan (for Japan was now taken seriously as a world power too) mustered for action against the Chinese.
Bloody fighting continued throughout the Summer among the Fists of Righteous Harmony with conservative Imperial support; other fragments of the Imperial Army loyal to the liberal faction instead of to the Regent; regional lords in the Southern provinces attempting to distance themselves from both Imperial factions; and the Alliance of Eight Nations. In 7-month, the Fists took some time out for an especially horrific massacre of Christians in Taiyuan.
The Fists of Righteous Harmony might have been efficient at slaughtering unarmed missionaries, but even their magical powers and spirit warriors were no match for the superior technology and military discipline of the Eight Nations Alliance. By the start of 8-month they were clearly losing the war; and when the Alliance occupied Beijing on 14-day, ending the two-month siege of the Legation Quarter, it was clear the Fists had been defeated.
The war still smouldered for some time afterward, but in 9-month it was time to fight the peace – and time for reparations. On 7-day the Qing officials were forced to sign a "Final Protocol for the Settlement of the Disturbances." The protocol, followed soon after by the partial eclipse at sunset on 11-day 11-month, marked the real end of the Qing Dynasty, even though they remained nominally in office until the start of the Taishou Era.
Sun Yat-Sen had documents to prove he was born in Hawaii on 2-day 10-leap-month Meiji 3, so never mind that other records claimed he was born in Guangdong Province twelve days earlier, he could have become the President of the United States. He settled for China. His own coup against the Qing Dynasty failed in Meiji 28, just at the end of the war with Japan, and he went into exile for sixteen years. That kept him out of trouble while the Fists of Righteous Harmony made their own attempt at guiding China back to the Shining Path.
Once the colonial powers took over, several other revolutionary attempts followed. Secret societies continued to operate, including Sun's own Revive China Society and Three Harmonies Society. The word "triad" descends from the latter. The Journal of Current Pictorial and other underground comic books critical of the administration flourished and were suppressed and flourished again.
The rebellion called Xinhai (which means Yin Metal Pig, referring to the year in which it occurred) was the one that finally succeeded. Yuan Shikai negotiated a deal allowing most of the highest-ranked officials to keep their lives, but the revolutionaries forced the Empress Dowager Longyu in her capacity as Regent to sign an instrument of abdication on behalf of the six-year-old Xuantong Emperor. Manchu pigtails went out of style overnight.
With the Qing Dynasty finally removed from power, the conservative and liberal factions of the revolution compromised between themselves in naming Sun Yat-Sen, recently returned from his exile, as President of the new Republic. He was respected for being a revolutionary sort of person, but as a non-participant in the current revolution, he had made few recent enemies. He also had a unique talent: everyone from Libertarians to Communists thought he was one of their own and only humoring the others for sensible political reasons.
That was in Meiji 45. It was a short year, because the Meiji Emperor died near the end of 7-month and the Japanese government proclaimed the Taishou Era with 30-day 7-month being the first day of Taishou 1. They were forming a Republic of their own out there in the islands. They did not eliminate the Emperor – it would have been as unthinkable as Ezra Buckley's attempt to eliminate the One God – but they shifted much political power to an elected body of advisors. It was a model something like that of their ally, the most admirable British Empire.
The Far East was not quite ready for Western-style democracy yet, and both attempts failed. In China, Sun had made a political compromise of his own by offering the Presidency of the Republic to Yuan Shikai. Yuan's need to solidify his own power led him to ban Sun's Nationalist Party, allegedly order assassinations of rivals, and dismantle democratic institutions just as quickly as the revolutionaries had set them up. The chaos was observed with warm interest from Tokyo, where democratic reforms actually seemed to be functioning well for the moment. The Taishou Empire, through a well-organized parliamentary process, drafted a document kindly offering to annex China.
The offer proved unpopular in Beijing. Yuan Shikai talked the Japanese out of the eight most upsetting of their twenty-one recommendations, and then applied to the European governments who had themselves staked out similar claims in China during the decline and fall of the Qing. Surely, the Europeans would not allow the Japanese to usurp what they themselves had rightfully stolen?
But the Europeans were too busy killing each other in the Great War to take an interest. Yuan was forced to declare military rule to preserve the integrity of the Chinese nation; he made himself Hongxian Emperor effective the first day of Taishou 5, leaving the Chinese population to wonder what, exactly, they had gained from the violent end of the Qing Dynasty. The Hongxian Emperor was dead less than six months later, leaving the empire in fragments under control of regional warlords.
Sun Yat-Sen had in the meantime fled to Japan, where he made contact with yet another secret society – the local branch of the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance – and married the lovely and talented Soong Ching-Ling. Chinese custom frowned upon divorcing his other wife first, but his Christian faith would not allow taking a concubine, so he just had to apply his notable diplomatic skills to satisfying two full wives at once. Soong was less than half Sun's age, passionate in her commitment to the revolution, and had spectacular and anachronistic taste in undergarments when she wore them at all. That last personal detail, however, came straight out of Her Holiness Odaka Mio's revised shooting script, probably had no basis in fact, and should be disregarded.
The Japanese experiment in Western democracy got off to a rocky start in the first years of Taishou. After that, matters proceeded harmoniously. Trade with Britain and the other world powers was profitable, and Japan soon became a world power too, with its own territorial claims in China and its own stake in such adventures as the Great War and the League of Nations. Most of the left-right conflicts were settled through peaceful discussion; industry prospered; and by the middle of the Era, Japan was the envy of East Asia.
But government overspending led to inflation, which drove up the price of consumer goods to the point of food riots in Taishou 7. In Taishou 10 they stabbed the Prime Minister and introduced sailor suit school uniforms for girls, and it all went downhill from there. The Communists, who were starting to gain the upper hand in China, acquired enough power in Japan that the government had to crack down on them with ruthless force, which merely had the effect of driving them into underground secret societies for a few years. Disarmament treaties emasculated the Empire's colonial ambitions in years 11 and 12, and then Christian sorcery triggered a massive earthquake that leveled much of Tokyo in the Fall of Taishou 12.
The Government was forced to take ever-stronger steps against the threat of Communist subversion, culminating in the Peace Preservation Law of Taishou 14, expanding the powers of the Tokubetsu Koutou Keisatsu ("Special Higher Police"), who were also aptly called the Shisou Keisatsu ("Thought Police"). In the same year, they introduced universal suffrage; so when the Emperor died in Taishou 15, marking the start of the Shouwa Era, everything was almost as completely fubaru in Japan as in China.
With the noble experiment of parliamentary democracy in ruins, public opinion swung the other way. The young men of the early Shouwa Era faced a long grim future of leftist repression, under a government that would ensure equality by grinding everybody down to the same level. This generation had just missed the good old days when the Empire made its gains in China and Korea, and this generation as children had watched those territories eroded by obligations to the foreign diplomatic system. They couldn't personally remember the end of the Edo period, but they remembered it in history, and they'd just missed those good old days as well – the time of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the time of the samurai, when the military leadership offered honor and standing to those, and only those, who really deserved it.
Now, domestic politics had been reduced to an arbitrary popularity contest, and the nation's formerly glorious foreign policy watered down to diplomatic placation. Japanese music and art were dying, and young girls went to school and learned foreign ideas in foreign uniforms that showed their ankles; in Edo-period woodblock illustrations, even the prostitutes seemed modest by comparison. Young men could see what the old men couldn't: that the Japanese race would destroy itself if it remained on this dark road. They cried out for a return to the Shining Path, a return to the good old days they had just missed, and no more of the filthy foreign ideas that had failed them so badly.
Japan was not the only place in the world where such sentiments were gaining strength at about this time. They had the same idea in Italy, where the socialists had ruined everything. Angry young men took a faggot as their emblem – hence the name of the movement – and marched on the capital. The King adopted an "if you can't beat 'em" policy and put Benito Mussolini in power in Taishou 12. They had the same idea in Germany, where the reparations for losing the Great War had ruined everything. It was said that in Germany in Taishou 12, you could take a wheelbarrow full of banknotes to the bakery where they would dump out the worthless money and swap you the empty wheelbarrow for a loaf of bread. Of course, that was only a metaphor. Nobody really had bread. So in Taishou 13 the angry young men attempted a similar march in Berlin. That march failed, but the voice of the people would not be suppressed much longer.