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All things having to do with writing and researching history for the purpose of writing historical fantasy.

The Nine Unknown Men Who Control India
Statue of Shiva in Karnataka

The Nine Unknown Men Who Control India

This is a curious story which dates back more than 2,000 years. The great king of India, Ashoka (ruled 268 to 232 B.C.) expanded the empire left to him by his father Bindusara and his grandfather, Chandragupta. By 260, Ashoka ruled over most of modern India and Pakistan - but not including the southern quarter. He famously converted to Buddhism and his court became, in the eyes of later Buddhist priests, the most perfect realm in the history of the world. Like most other Buddhist kings, Ashoka's realm disintegrated soon after his death as Buddhist kings are rarely effective at real state-craft. Another example would include Xiao Yan, King Wu of Liang. However, during Ashoka's thirty years of peace and relative harmony, he became famous for his wisdom, and the…

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Reforming the USA #2 – Land Ownership
US Federal Land Ownership

Reforming the USA #2 – Land Ownership

#2 in my series on needed reforms to the USA. (last updated 10/1/2020) The USA is deeply and unfairly divided by the federal government's ownership and control over land. In the states east of the Rocky Mountains, the federal government owns and controls less than 5% of the land; in the original 13 states, the federal government owns little more than 1% of the land. But, in the lands north and west of Texas, the federal government owns and controls more than 50% of the total land area. In some states, like Nevada, the federal government owns 80% of the total land area. See an example of the data here. The map above was created by the American Lands Council. They have been advocating for this change for nearly a…

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The Great Tea Trade – China to England in the 1800s
Cutty Sark under sail

The Great Tea Trade – China to England in the 1800s

For a brief period of time, the fastest sailing ships in the world sailed from the coast of China to London - racing to arrive with the fresh crop of tea for British tea drinkers. The British East India Company held a near monopoly on trade with India and China for more than 100 years. But in 1834, the East India company surrendered its monopoly on Asian trade, and so, a competition developed as a number of merchant companies decided they could make money by shipping goods from China to Europe. After the first Anglo-Qing war (somewhat misleadingly called the 1st Opium War), five Treaty Ports were opened to British trade. The most important ports were Canton, and Shanghai. After 1840, the British also took possession of Hong Kong which…

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The Pros and Cons of Buddhist Officials running your Government
Gyeongcheonsa Marble Pagoda

The Pros and Cons of Buddhist Officials running your Government

Gyeongcheonsa Marble Pagoda The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book The Fireflies of Muju - Ten Weeks in Korea - 2011. The Benefits and Costs of Adopting Buddhism as a State Religion The rulers of Silla and the rulers of Vietnam both officially adopted Buddhism as their state religion. Silla did this in 528 and Vietnam did this around 1020 when Ly Thai To took the throne with the backing of several powerful Buddhist monastic leaders. Later, both countries rejected Buddhism as a state religion. Korea‚Äôs government turned away from Buddhism when the Mongols took power in 1260 and the Joseon Dynasty was explicitly anti-Buddhist when they took power in 1392. In Vietnam, when Ho Quy Le took power in 1400, he removed the Buddhists from government and…

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Reforming the USA – #1 – Fewer States
USA Population Map

Reforming the USA – #1 – Fewer States

I am writing a set of posts which describes my proposal for reforming the USA. I start with: Reducing the Number of States. Reduce the number of states - 50 is too many. (Last update: September 9, 2020) Background: When the USA started we had 13 states. Even in 1790, Rhode Island was not close in size or population to the other states, and there were real plans to create the USA by excluding Rhode Island. As it happened, they joined but 13 was a manageable number. By contrast, 50 is too many. There are such wide disparities between the 50 states in terms of population and land area that in no sense are the states even approximately equal. I will use Wyoming as an example. I have traveled across…

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Statues in Ancient Greece
Statues in AC - Odyssey

Statues in Ancient Greece

Statues in AC - Odyssey I've been playing the computer game Assassin's Creed - Odyssey for the last week. What a wonderful game this is! For two years I studied ancient Greece in college. My main focus was the wars of the Diadochi, the successors to Alexander the Great but I spent a great deal of time reading the history of the Greek city states from 500 B.C. to 200 B.C. Odyssey puts you in Ancient Greece during the golden age of Athens. Your character meets with a host of famous historical figures from Socrates to Herodotus. The wildly unreliable but brilliant general Alcibiades is shown in his youth among many, many more. You see potters making the clay pots which now fill the British Museum, you see Zoroastrians throwing…

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Feng Menlong – The Story of the Pearl Shirt
Inlay pearl dish

Feng Menlong – The Story of the Pearl Shirt

Feng Menglong starts his first collection of stories (from the collection Stories Old and New) with an entertaining story about coincidences, an unfaithful wife, and how to get into a married woman's bed chamber. Inlay pearl dish The story is titled Jiang Xingge Reencounters His Pearl Shirt. It is about several families of the merchant class of China, and it takes place in the mid-Ming dynasty. What we learn from this story: Merchants routinely made journeys of a year, or more. This shows up in other stories as well. Why Chinese merchants would takes such long trips seems odd to me. I believe there is nothing like this in European stories, not until the age of exploration. European merchants traveled, but they were never gone for more than nine months.Men…

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The Taiping Rebellion – Part II
Zhen Guofan

The Taiping Rebellion – Part II

The Taiping Rebellion should have ended the Manchu rule over China in 1860. But it didn't. The Qing Dynasty held on to power, through no effort on its part. Instead, the Qing retained power because other people helped it, specifically a Chinese official Zhen Goufan and the British government. Zhen Guofan In my previous post I talked about the battle of Battle of Palikao, in which an Anglo-French military expedition annihilated the elite Manchu-Mongol cavalry army just outside the walls of Beijing, killing 10,000 while losing less than 10 men. Following the battle, the Manchu Emperor, Xiangfeng, fled the capital secretly and holed up in an old hunting lodge 150 miles northeast of Beijing. He did nothing more for the rest of his short, miserable life. At this point, the…

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The Taiping Rebellion – Part 1
Beijing City Wall 1870

The Taiping Rebellion – Part 1

Recently, I have been reading about the civil war in China which lasted from 1850 till 1864. Professor Stephen R. Platt has written an important and very readable history of the later stages of the rebellion called Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom. The Taiping Rebellion plays an important role in the story of Qiao's Grand Courtyard and is one of the most important events in modern Chinese history. Beijing City Wall 1870 (close to what Nanjing looked like in 1860) In short, the Taiping rebellion started in the far south of China, fairly close to Hong Kong by a man named Hong Xiuquan, who, while he showed great promise as a scholar, failed to pass the Imperial exam after numerous attempts and despite his decades making a modest living as…

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Qiao’s Grand Courtyard – A Detailed Review
Qiao Grand Courtyard

Qiao’s Grand Courtyard – A Detailed Review

Chinese TV series, 2006 - Highly Recommended. 45 Episodes (about 34 hours total viewing time). Qiao's Grand Courtyard is a TV series broadcast on Chinese state TV in 2006. Americans can watch it using Amazon.com's Prime TV service (yes, it has subtitles in English). Like most Chinese stories, the TV series is based on a real person and real events, though some creative changes were made by the writer and director to make the story more entertaining.  Qiao Grand Courtyard, as it looks today Qiao Zhiyong, our hero, is the second son of a wealthy Chinese businessman from Shanxi Province. He lived in one of the largest family compounds near Pingyao (now called the Pingyao Ancient City). Qiao Zhiyong was born in 1818 and died in 1907. For much of…

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