1636 The China Venture – Snippet 36
Zheng Zhilong’s office, Zheng Family Compound, Anhai, China
Jim Saluzzo cleared his throat. “Admiral, one of the issues that we’ve debated a lot is how to persuade your countrymen, particular those in positions of power, that we–the residents of Grantville, that is–are from the future. As opposed to just people with some advanced technology, or magical powers.
“Now, back in Europe, anyone who wanted to could visit Grantville. They could see the Ring of Fire and how it formed a perfect circle, about six miles in diameter, in which the landscape was of a kind, but completely different from the German landscape surrounding it. For that matter, they could speak to the Germans living nearby, in Rudolstadt and Badenburg, who could confirm that the Ring of Fire had displaced the countryside that had been there before.
“And they could visit Grantville and see our mines, fields, streets and buildings, our people and our books and gadgets. Everything they saw on such a visit would have been consistent with our story.
“But you didn’t visit Grantville. Nor did any of your countrymen. Yet you were, Yan told us, persuaded that Grantville was a town of the future even before you met us. What convinced you?”
Admiral Zheng Zhilong had worn a peculiar half-smile throughout Jim’s long lead-up to this question. “Persuaded is perhaps too strong a word. I had learned enough so that I was prepared to consider the possibility. You see, I had faith that if Europeans who would have wished to believe otherwise were convinced that you were from the future, that such might indeed be the case,” he answered. His half-smile broadened to a full one.
“What do you mean?”
“I first heard of Grantville from the Portuguese in Macao. The lifeblood of Macao is its role as intermediary, trading Japanese silver for Chinese silk, taking advantage of the Chinese ban on direct trade with Japan. And Macao’s special status in China is protected by the Jesuits at the imperial court. They fear Grantville because of its promotion of religious freedom, its advanced astronomy and other technologies, and its knowledge of the future, all of which threaten to undermine the Jesuit’s present advantages.”
“The Jesuits speak openly of this to you?”
Zhilong smiled again. “I have been able to secure copies of some of their correspondence with Rome. And to obtain the services of individuals who can translate it for me. It is also of course of great interest to the Macaonese that your histories of the future say that in 1639 the Portuguese were forbidden to visit Japan, and that in 1640, the House of Braganza led the Portuguese into a rebellion against Spain.”
“I am not so sure that will still happen,” said Jim. “That is, the Spanish know about it, thanks to the same histories, and for all I know, they may have imprisoned every member of that house. And that, of course, is another complication: the very transfer of Grantville to the past changes what the future holds in store for us.”
Zheng Zhilong shrugged. “For centuries, even millennia, rulers have sought out those who claimed to be able to predict the future. The question, then, was whether a ruler could change his fate with such foreknowledge. Some thought that this could be done; I have heard that your European astrologers say, the stars dispose, they do not compel.'”
“Giving them an excuse if events don’t unfold as predicted,” Jim complained.
“I don’t doubt it. But the Spanish also accept that Grantville is from the future, albeit they think its transposition to be the work of the Devil. I have seen documents seized from the office of the governor-general of the Philippines when Manila fell. And they accept this even though the books of Grantville reveal that Spain lost the Netherlands and Portugal, and then came under Bourbon rule.
“For that matter, the Dutch also believe in the story of the Ring of Fire. But they are happy with what your history books say about them–they won independence from Spain, didn’t they, in your past?–and they will probably learn your new technology faster than anyone else. So the Portuguese, the Spanish and the Dutch have all had the opportunity to examine your town and its works, and are convinced, however reluctantly, that you are from the future.”
“This is all very gratifying,” said Jim. “But most Chinese officials aren’t going to have your understanding of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Spanish.”
“No, they haven’t lived and worked with them, as I have.”
Jim sighed. “So how do we convince those officials that we are from the future?”
“Is it really important that you do so?”
“We thought that if we were accepted as such, it would earn us special treatment.”
“It might. You hope for special diplomatic privileges, but it could just as easily be imprisonment in Fengyang, along with the inconvenient imperial relations already confined there.”
“What would you do, in our shoes?”
“Me? Claim that you have magical powers. It works for the Taoist monks and the Tibetan llamas, and you have more miracle-making ability than they do.
“In fact, you can say that back home, your people have magic mirrors that show images of the future and the past. That would be much more believable than saying that you are actually from the future; we have no legends of people traveling back in time. Just be sure to say that all of the mirrors are back home. That way, the government can’t demand you demonstrate them or turn them over as gifts for the emperor. Or you can say that you are from another world, where time passes differently than here, which is why your technology is so advanced. The Buddhists believe that there are many worlds.”
“Well… I’d rather speak the truth….”
“A propensity to tell the truth can be something of a handicap, in my experience.”
Soon thereafter, Jim took his leave; he had a date with his wife. Zheng Zhilong was left alone to muse over recent events.
The balloon flight had exceeded Zhilong’s expectations. Unknown to the up-timers, he had had his brother Yan the Swallow gather a small group of local dignitaries nearby, but where the balloon could not be seen until it was airborne. Zhilong had promised them a “surprise.”
If the balloon had never taken off, the “surprise” would have been a new “smoke-play,” a kind of daytime firework display in which the emphasis was on colored smokes rather than flashes of light.
But once Yan spotted the balloon in the sky, he had drawn attention to it, cutting short the smoke play performance at the end of an act, and led the dignitaries to the launch site to welcome Zhilong back to earth.
Now, Zheng Zhilong was the first Chinese to ascend into the sky. Well, if you excluded certain legendary sages, but since they ascended all the way to Heaven and didn’t come back, Zhilong didn’t think they should be counted. Nor did he count Mike Song, since Mike considered himself an American. Anyway, what was important was what the Chinese spectators thought, and they hadn’t seen Mike in the air.
The advantage of the public display was to increase Zheng Zhilong’s cachet. The disadvantage was that word of the flight would inevitably reach the ears of Xiong Wencan, the governor of Fujian Province. Zhilong had plans to get Wencan replaced by a more pliant individual, but in the meantime Zhilong owed him some deference. He would have to give Wencan the opportunity to meet the up-timers, but then make sure that Wencan didn’t gain control of them.