Saturday, July 4, 2009

White Mountain, Black River: A Consideration of Yanzhou Province

More wushu campaign background-- cribbed heavily from the WoTG Companion city and modified to fit the campaign setting.

A CONSIDERATION OF YANZHOU PROVINCE

Part Three: The City of Yanshan, Waiting Sage's City

Travelers reaching Yanzhou from the South often finds themselves surprised by the prosperity and development of the region. To reach Yanzhou they must pass through several provinces of less fertile land, rugged terrain, and difficult climate. There, civilization stays close to the river and ekes out a living. Those of the South and Middle lands who assume the north to be barren and wild will find those ideas tested by Yanzhou.

It is important to remember as well that before the Jiang Dynasty in the time of the Twin Kingdoms, the Shuan Dynasty held its court here. Destroyed by the Jiang, the line of Yan took over rule, becoming a vassal state to the Jiang. It remained, as it does today, a valuable, region for the Empire. The decimation of the Yan family eventually led to further conflicts and decline. During the last days of the Jiang, the last of the Yan line died off, leaving the region in the hands of a succession of petty rulers. The situation became complicated from there-- when four decades ago, Weizhe Cheng took over administration of the area-- though not declaring himself King. Instead he considered his role one of trusteeship. He managed to balance competing interests in and around the area. In this he was assisted by turmoil within the Cang family who might otherwise have taken advantage and claimed control. Some objected when Weizhe's son, Qui Cheng took over from his father-- but his skillful maneuvering to bring Yanzhou into the Empire of the Tian Dynasty quelled those fears or at least put them on hold for a time.

Qui Cheng's bargaining demonstrated great clarity of vision-- Yanzhou exists neither wholly as an Imperial Province nor as a Vassal Kingdom. He gained great freedom of action while at the same time securing trade rights and support from the Empire. Many resent his skill with this and there are some, myself included who consider him more dangerous than established client kings or your average brutal warlord. He understands how the Empire works and has allies and friends among the Imperial Bureaucracy. At the same time he's demonstrated no further ambition beyond the maintenance of his province and the continuation of his authority as Governor.

Governor Qui Cheng carries himself in a cautious and careful manner. He maintains a large administration of bureaucrats to handle affairs within both Yanshan and Yanzhou as a whole. In this he's blended a local administration with appointees from the Empire-- making it difficult to say where one side begins or ends. While Cheng himself is not of the Wulin world, his children have been trained in those arts. His eldest son, Wuzhou Cheng, also called Young Phoenix, is dashing and handsome and commands the cavalry of the region. He's said to be potent and skilled-- but trained with masters outside Jianghau, so as to avoid the tensions between the Holy Sect and the Righteous Party. His brother, Tai Cheng, called Younger Phoenix, also has potent martial skills but has not taken on a role in the military. Their sister Xueman Cheng is also said to be fierce, and convinced her father to allow her to study among the martial nuns of the Winter's Soul Sect.

Governor Qui Cheng rules from Yanshan, also known as Waiting Sage's City. The city itself surrounds the former Yan Royal Palace, which the Governor occupies. That and the administrative offices form the Hidden City at the heart of Yanshan. Beyond this, Yanshan possesses ten carefully managed districts within the city walls, as well as the port facilities which lie outside.

West and East Willow Districts: The most common path for entry into the city for traders and visitors leads through these districts. Feng Shui rules dictate that entry through the northern gate is the most auspicious. This means that some dedicated traders actually haul their goods from the southern port district completely around the city wall before entering through the Gate of Supreme Fortune. Both areas house the many warehouses and storage silos for the city. It is mostly populated by commoners and workers. The presence of the execution grounds rather than a traditional square for entertainment here also gives sign to those who enter the city that it takes laws and punishments seriously. It should be noted that the Willows of the district's name refers to prostitutes and not trees.

The Walled City: The worst part of Waiting Sage's City. The oldest portion of the city, it fell into decay when the new palace and city walls were built. Now it is a lawless place. Rumor has it that the constables do not even operate there-- preferring to keep it contained, rather than patrolled. Untouchables, rogues, and the lost make their home here. Gangs are said to operate fighting pits for sport and challenge. The one exception to this place is the Lustrous Jade Brothel, at the fringes of the district. The courtesans there have apparently trained in the wulin way, gaining a measure of independence from the controlling gangs.

Phoenix Nest: The most prosperous district in the city, and the one containing the greatest number of multi-story homes. While merchants are traditionally lower on the social order, the traders here have garnered exceptional wealth and vie with one another for lavish and ostentatious displays. The district has a reputation for decadence arising from that. The district holds the Labyrinthine Market, a multi-story open air location filled with shops and stalls. Legend has it that the place was built according to delicate calculations of proper feng shui and no one has dared make changes to the complex arrangement. Those constables who patrol this district are said to have grown fat on the bribes they take to ensure safety and peace.

Peaceful Residence: This district holds the ancient residences of the city's noble families. Those clans, small and large, which have served the province and the former kingdom with distinction make sure to keep houses here. As well those who have made a name for themselves in scholarship and courtly affairs have a place here. As elsewhere, the nobles of the province stand far above the reproach of the lower classes, despite a degree of decadence. Depending on the family, they still rely on favor from the Governor and the Empire, especially in lean times. Nobles spend a good deal of their time making petitions and attempting to have the various ministries approve proposals. The market here, while smaller than others, does have the most ample supply of stages and venues for public entertainments.

Jade Garden: Most of the city's valuable and skilled artisans and craftspersons live here. They rely on support from patrons, of course, but can also sell their goods in the various markets. The district takes its name from the sculpture gardens in the center of the district. These are tended by an order of Daoist monks from one of the nearby temples. Goods sold in the market here tend to be of the highest quality. It is also worth noting that the Falling-Wren Society, a secret group devoted to bringing down the established order, is said to have a foothold here.

Civic Harmony and Applied Righteousness: These similar districts grew up around the homes of the city's bureaucrats, and both remain focused on those bureaucrat's needs and homes. Most city employees, including city officials, scholars, record keepers, constables, and the wealthier station guard men have homes here. Applied Righteousness has the homes of the wealthier ministers and officials. Many schools have been established here-- providing aid and training for those wishing to undertake the state examinations. There is rumor of a protection gang operating here on businesses. It is said they are largely ignored by the constables as they extort but actually do provide protection.

Green District: While imports are readily available from the rich north, the city also has its own farmers who work farms in the areas surrounding the city. They provide a rich and fresh food supply for the city's elite and provision against future problems. These hard-working people generally have a decent life here, but are said to have a particular weakness for gambling. The people of Yanshan as a whole have a particular reliance on and belief in the power of luck and good fortune. They carry talismans and try to emulate the actions of those they consider lucky. In the Green District, the farmers continually test their luck at gambling, hoping to receive a sign that they've been given a particular blessing. The Righteous Party is said to have deep roots here, recruiting from the most able and talented.

Wolf District: This houses the military for the city and the surrounding region. In general, only the military have reason to enter this area. Caution should be taken when going there. The city constables generally leave military affairs alone.

Green Waters District: Lying a few hundred yards south of the city walls is the port district of Yanzhou, in a sense, a small city of its own. Ships traveling up and downriver stop here. It also serves as a central portage point and many caravans start and end here. The Station Men who keep the gates and check the records and goods of merchants have a strong presence here, vying with the constables for legal authority. Travelers with any money make their way out of Green Waters and into the city proper. It is said that Holy Sect has a strong influence on affairs here.

The Hidden City: The former royal palace of the Yan, now converted into the palace for the Governor. Imperial Offices exist here alongside local ones. The Governor also keeps a set of rooms aside for Guan Cang and his family, honoring them for their service to the Empire. The Palace possesses a magnificent garden, and Governor Cheng is said to be an ardent botanist, with several Scholar-sages who serve him for just that purpose. One can also find the Library of Literary Spendolar here as well as the magnificent Hall of Military Eminence. Rumor suggests that hidden among the weapons there exists at least one Divine Weapon.

Most people who come to the accessible portion of the Hidden City and the Palace come to deal with the various Magistrates and city officials-- who share a single enormous hall with desks that seem to span from horizon to horizon. Hopefully you will be able to avoid the pitfalls of that system, which relies on patronage, petitions and politely worded invitations. The difficulty, of course, lies in the fact that it is easier to create a ministry than to dissolve one. Perhaps most notable for your purposes will be the Minster of Shouting Heroes, Wei Bang. He deals with the hot-headed wulin heroes-- particularly through the issuing of Heaven-Earth Celestial Warrants to keep them in check by minor appeasements.