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Literature / Superpower Empire: China 1912

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The flag of Qian China.

Superpower Empire: China 1912 is a counterfactual history of China posted at, where it has earned two Turtledove Awards.

The point of divergence is February 24, 1912. On that day, provisional President Yuan Shikai dies of sudden kidney failure (a condition that actually killed him four years later) and, as a compromise between the Republican and Beiyang Army factions, Kang Youwei, former leader of the "Hundred Days" reform movement, is chosen as the new president.

Kang, with his politically savvy disciple Liang Qichao as prime minister, quickly subverts the republic's institutions and within a few months, has himself declared emperor of a new dynasty. With neither a warlord era nor a civil war to go through, China gradually begins to reverse its century-long decline, and over the course of the following decades rises again to major power status.


Much of the timeline's background is provided by spin-off stories contributed by guest writers.

Contains examples of:

  • Actually, That's My Assistant:
    George Morrison: "I came perilously close to making an embarrassing faux pas… Before being ushered in Kang’s private study, I had been told that his second daughter and his third wife would be in attendance. When I entered the room, I indeed saw him in the company of two ladies, one a self-possessed adult woman and the other a demure girl obviously still in her teens. I almost greeted the former one as Kang Tai-tai when a detail caught my eye and saved me from the blunder: she was wearing on her finger the Barnard College signet ring—which allowed me to identify her not as Kang’s wife, but as his daughter Tung-pih, an alumnus of said institution. His wife was the young girl, who coyly introduced herself as Chan-li…"
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  • Alternate History: Of the Second Sino-Japanese War. That's the point.
  • Amazon Brigade: The Thousand Iron Phoenixes.
  • Anachronic Order: After focusing on the history of aircraft until 1945, the narrative goes back to the point of divergence in 1912 to focus on political developments.
  • Bald of Evil/Awesome: Many civil servants in the early Qian Dynasty shave their heads Buddhist monk style in imitation of their Emperor Jianguo and Premier Liang Qichao. This doesn't last long in the Second World War.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti: In "Jakutija", the protagonists try to capture an Almas, the Siberian version of the Yeti. Not only do they fail, but they end up under military custody as a result.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: The Rocket of China in "The Road to Yakutia".
  • Break the Cutie: Xiao Fei in "The Thousand Iron Phoenixes".
  • Byronic Hero: Hunter S. Thompson in "Fear and Loathing in Shanghai".
  • China Takes Over the World: Subverted. While Imperial China isn't exactly poised to take over the world, they're one of the leading superpowers alongside America and the USSR.
  • Continuity Nod: The spin-off stories often reference each other.
  • Cool Plane: All over the History of Chinese aviation.
  • Cryptid Episode: One of the episodes involves chasing a bigfoot in the Mongolian steppe.
  • Doting Parent: Kang Youwei to his favorite daughter Tongbi.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Zen Master Xu Yun and Albert Einstein in "Of Dice and Dharma".
  • The Emperor: Kang Youwei and his successors.
  • Farm Boy: He Sheng grew up on a farm and became the first Chinese man to walk on the Moon (in "One Small Step").
  • For Want of a Nail: Give a man an earlier kidney failure, and the world changes.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Less than a year after the beginning of the revolution that overthrew the Qing dynasty, the Qian dynasty has taken over.
  • The Fundamentalist: Mordecai Ham in "Sodom and Gomorrah Send Their Regards".
  • The Government: Big, authoritarian and bureaucratic. It does improve with age.
  • Grim Up North: Thoroughly averted with Yakutia, which, despite being located in Eastern Siberia and having the harshest winters outside of Antarctica, is actually seen as a land of hope and opportunity.
  • Heroic BSoD: Xiao Fei in "The Thousand Iron Phoenixes".
  • Historical Domain Character
  • Hobbes Was Right: In order to pull China back together, the new regime uses authoritarian methods.
  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople): Not in a blatant way, but several places have either changed names or, on the contrary, not changed names (and retained one they lost in our timeline). Thus Urga never became Ulan-Bator, but Vladivostok became Dongwang.
  • La Résistance: The Chinese guerrilla against Japanese occupation.
  • Mad Artist: Scriabin's overriding obsession is to compose the ultimate musical piece, one whose performance will usher in a new cosmic era—and incidentally cause the extinction of mankind.
  • Mighty Whitey: The trope is used in-story as a PR ploy by the Chinese emperor, who plays up the influence his Western advisor has on him.
  • No Party Given: Averted. The political organizations are identified by name, whether it's the same as in OTL or not.
  • No Swastikas: Averted. Not only are there swastikas around, but they're a positive symbol.
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: The obliteration of Kyoto by firebombing.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Bazar Baraadin, a linguist with a passion for cryptozoology, is never able to live down his bumbling attempt to capture a bigfoot (see "Jakutija" and "The Road to Yakutia").
  • Our Presidents Are Different
  • Real-Person Fic: All the figures mentioned who were born before the point of divergence, and a few who were born after it, really existed. Their lives become fictional once the effects of the divergence have caught up with them.
  • Red Baron: Xie Bingying is known as the Iron Phoenix.
  • The Rival: Kwon Ki-ok and Park Kyong-won in "Valkyries".
  • Secret Police: The National Security Bureau (see "The Sorcerer's Apprentice").
  • Shout-Out: "Widow Kang" is a reference to The Years of Rice and Salt. And a story is titled "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", though it is entirely unrelated to either the novel or the film of the same title.
  • Shown Their Work: Fair amounts of research have gone into this, and actual academic sources are liberally quoted.
  • Space-Filling Empire: Yakutia. Then again, it could also be considered Balkanize Me, since it was the result of Eastern Siberia seceding from Russia as it was turning into the USSR.
  • Special Guest: Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein, Hunter S. Thompson, Billy Graham, and others besides.
  • Spinoff: The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is a mini-TL set in the context of the bigger one and focusing on a specific detail of it, namely the use of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion.
  • Straight Gay: Richard Halliburton in "The Road to Yakutia".
  • The Tunguska Event: The narrator of "The Road to Yakutia" gets to interview eyewitnesses to the event and fly over the blast zone.
  • War Is Hell: The Second Sino-Japanese War.
  • Weapon of Mass Destruction: The Firestorm bomb, a crude but effective early type of fuel-air ordnance used by the Chinese against Japan.
  • What If?: What if Yuan Shikai had died four years earlier?
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Sort of. While Zeppelins have been raised to the status of self-ironic cliche in an alternate history, this timeline attempts not to feature them in an implausible way.