An Englishman’s rise (and fall) in Qing-dynasty China.
In February 1871, Chinese troops entered Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, at the end of an exhausting campaign. They had been fighting the Miao ethnic minority, who were in rebellion against the central government: the Chinese had battled them right across Guizhou, enduring starvation rations, infighting amongst their own commanders, long periods under siege, several disastrous ambushes, and moments of unbelievably bloody hand-to-hand fighting.
But now it was Chinese New Year, and Guiyang’s streets were packed with happy, festive throngs setting off firecrackers. Checking in to his temporary quarters at the rear of the Black Sage temple, the newly-appointed Provincial Superintendent of Foreign Arms found the halls packed to the rafters with barrels of gunpowder, took one look at the worshipers lighting sticks of incense and candles, and decided it would be safer to bunk elsewhere. Despite his Chinese robes, whose leopard rank badge and pale blue hat button identified him as a military Mandarin of the third rank, there was something decidedly unusual about this young, thickly-moustached officer: he was British, and his name was William Mesny. Continue reading