In game terms, the treaty of Shanghai mentioned here specified that China should keep its poor taxes at 100% until its population was reduced, either by starvation or emigration, by 150 million, thus putting it on more even terms with, say, Georgia. I find it more amusing to consider it a mistake rather than a deliberate attempt at genocide; it should anyway be clear that no such treaty could be enforced without Chinese cooperation.
The reconquests of the Norselaw and of England-south-of-Thames, accomplished behind the shield of the Navy and with Brittany fighting desperately against the Georgian armies in Egypt, has stirred patriotic fervour everywhere in Norway. Particularly in the in the Norselaw itself, but also in the industrial Northern parts of Norwegian America – the area increasingly referred to as ‘Vinland’, to distinguish it from the formerly tribal lands added to the Realm by conquest, the “Spear-won Lands” in the faux-archaic phrase of the war party – calls for expansion are increasingly heard on the radical fringe. There is no end to the possibilities for aggression, in the view of the Crown Party and their hangers-on: Retaking Skåne from Germany, Finland from the Finnish Empire, or the Gulf Coast from the Italian Confederacy are the most commonly heard.
In the mainstream of Norwegian politics, these plans are dismissed for the wild fantasies they are. Both the Peace Party that dominates the Spear-won Land and the Tingsmenn, the loose coalition of centrists that usually holds the balance of the Ting in New Bergen, are well aware that the Norselaw campaign and the guerrilla aftermath in England-south-of-Thames were blessed by special circumstances. Unkind men have been heard to use the phrase “lucky fluke”; the general opinion is a more generous “playing well with a really strong hand”; in either case, the consensus is that such a confluence of favourable events is both unlikely to be repeated and necessary for expansion. With the British Isles in Norwegian hands, there is no large, wealthy area that can be isolated from enemy troops by the Navy. As for sending the Hird – well-equipped, well-trained, but small – into a full Continental campaign against the vast armies of Europe, that is not to be contemplated. Certainly, the sober politicians will agree, Skåne might be seized and then isolated by sending the Navy into the Baltic; or Finland might be overrun. But then what? Nothing of this sort will force a Great Power to make terms, as Brittany was forced by the Georgian invasion.
In mainstream opinion, then, Norway not only remains a backwater in spite of its recent victories, but should remain one. What use is a position in the center stage of world politics? Only to excite envy and attempts to unseat one. Better, far, to grow rich on new industries, to break the still-abundant new land of the Americas to the plow, and to use the Ynglinga Hird, lightly and rarely, only as a deciding weight if evenly-balanced scales should conveniently become available.
At Dovre, the uptimers and their allies grind their teeth, but – obedient as ever to strategic reality – find themselves agreeing with the Tingsmenn. The history they have created contains no weak native powers to annex, no backwards Asian empires to dominate and colonise. Puzzle over or rage against this fact as they may, the facts remain.
The German and Polish plains – traditional battlefields for the Hird in the vanished uptime – are closed by the well-tried alliance of the Germanic peoples in the face of French pressure. A century of war across the Rhine has moved the border a paltry few tens of miles, and the War of the Baltic League has taught the Ting the limits of sea power in a fight with the heartland of Europe. Still less can a war with France, dominating all of Western Europe including the Iberian and Italian peninsulas, be contemplated. There remains the possibility of supporting one side or the other should the perennial war across the Rhine be renewed. But to attack France is a serious matter, to be undertaken only if vast rewards can be had – no piffling transfer of a few provinces, but the overturning of the entire balance of power in the North Sea and Atlantic. As for Germany, it is protected partly by the traditional patronage of the Italian Confederacy – and “peace in the Americas” has been the First Article of Faith for Norwegian (and Italian) statesmen since time immemorial – and also by its densely settled geography, inconvenient for attack from the sea.
What of the Germanic powers themselves? They ruled Scandinavia once, and found it an unrewarding pursuit; they have spent a century fighting France, for no good result, on the Rhine and the Isonzo. They might turn east into the endless Russian steppes; or south, now that the mighty Georgian empire finds itself short on the resources of modernity. Or they might prefer to stay at home, like Norway, and become rich on new industries. If so, they will find themselves with a more difficult challenge, for their borders are not protected by wide seas and powerful navies, only man-made fortifications. France has been pushing from the west for a century, and indeed, where else shall the French expand if not into the Rhineland with its rich iron and coal? And Finland, too, might look hungrily westwards. It will likely be another uneasy century for Europe.
An almighty lot of man-made fortifications, admittedly…
Further south, what of the giants, the Great Powers whose struggle has shaken the West for six centuries? Brittany and Georgia find themselves in an odd position: They are still the largest states in the world, commanding vast armies, enormous populations, uninvadeable territories… and yet they totter, for the conquerors who built their empires took no thought for the need for iron and coal. Without the mainstays of modern industry, will the Great Powers of these many centuries find themselves irrelevant, passed over by the states with luckier geographies? Worse, they might find themselves powerless, unable to resist partition or dismemberment. Many of the lesser Powers remember harsh treatment by the mighty, and are not above a little revenge. But economic shifts of power are slow, if certain; perhaps the Great Powers will abandon their long struggle, and attempt once and for all to impose their dominance on the world, while they yet can.
The world’s eyes, notwithstanding these possibilities for conflict, are on the East. After centuries of playing catch-up to the technology of the West, the Dragon Throne is stretching newly developed muscles, and its grin reveals enormous teeth. Arms dealers are having a good decade; there are rumours of enormous stockpiles being built in Chinese cities. Chinese ambassadors point out, with reason, the Unequal Treaty so recently imposed by Italian and French power; to avoid another such humiliation, they say, they will prepare for war, although they want only peace. The reports of Yngling agents in the Chinese countryside make it clear that they have every reason for preparation. For in China, the Treaty of Shanghai goes by the name of the Great Clerical Error; and the name hides horror.
The source of the error is clear enough. The negotiations for the Treaty were of necessity tri-lingual – French, Italian, and Mandarin. And at some point, an Italian envoy said ‘million’, a French clerk heard ‘milliard’, and a Chinese diplomat was too proud to protest. Clearly, he must have thought, the round-eyed devils were intent not merely on imposing a reasonable indemnity, but on grinding All Under Heaven to dust. It was, unfortunately, necessary to bow to battlefield reality for the present; but Chinese memories are long. The willow bends where the oak breaks; the foreign devils would learn the resilience of the Chinese peasant when the Middle Kingdom paid off their exorbitant demand early.
A moment’s inattention, a moment’s prideful intransigence, and tragedy unfolds over a hundred million innocents. To pay the sum written into the Treaty, the dynasty has found it necessary to raise taxes just short of the point where famine stalks the land. Every flake of silver in China has found its way to Beijing, where the treasure ships are always waiting, always hungry. Every flake? Ah, no. There is a great need for soldiers, now, and if the Chinese say “One does not use the best iron for horseshoes, or the best men for soldiers”, still, there are many now who are not too proud to consider themselves “not the best men”. The best men have starved to feed their children; or fled into the hills beyond the reach of the tax collector; or been executed for resistance. A soldier is fed regularly – thin gruel, perhaps, but fed, and paid, in good silver. There is always some sort of economy, and the Chinese willow is bending under the storm, developing new industries in a forced draft, to make goods to exchange for silver to feed the insatiable maw of the treasure ships. When the bad years end, it is whispered at Beijing, the foreign devils will be sitting on a great pile of pretty, useless metal; and China will have a vast number of factories, and workers, and soldiers well used to blood.
“The Great Clerical Error” – the one thing yet untaxed in China is a sense of irony. Even the best-educated Confucian bureaucrats have not turned a profit on that. So the peasants shiver, and starve, and sometimes in desperation try to resist; but in their blackest mood they can raise a laugh over what is killing them. A clerical error! A mere mistake! Three additional zeroes – nothings! – added to a treaty, and a hundred million innocents die! If you did not laugh, you would have to cry. And there are tears enough in China these days, enough to drown an invading army, enough to choke on. Tears, and rage. If the stiff-necked bureaucrats at Beijing are too proud to admit their mistake, still they retain the Mandate of Heaven – which has always risen from the rice paddies. The Chinese are human; faced with a foreign oppressor and an enforcer of their own race, they blame the foreigner for their suffering. There are French garrisons at Shanghai and Macau, and Italian ones in Manchuria; enforcing the Treaty terms, in the European view. At Beijing, the garrisons are welcomed for their convenient demonstration of foreign guns held to Chinese heads.
To err is human; all men make errors. But for every error, there is a reckoning.