A century on from the tyrant Tsao Ch’un’s death on Iron Mountain, the great-great grandson of one of those who deposed him, Li Shai Tung, is in his orbital palace high above Chung Kuo, considering the great problem of the Middle Kingdom – the fact that, with 40 billion citizens, Chung Kuo is dangerously overcrowded. It is that very evening that his darling wife, Lin Yua, gives birth to their second son – and dies in doing so. It is that motherless child, li Yuan, who will be at the heart of this future history. Yet he was never born to rule.
The great epoch of Change begins with the assassination of Li Shai T’ung’s Minister, Lwo K’ang in 2196, the poor man blown into the next world in the imperial solarium. The Seven – the great lords and rulers of Chung Kuo – hit back at once, arresting Edmund Wyatt, one of the leading figures of the Dispersionist faction responsible for Lwo K’ang’s death. But it was not to end there. Within days of the public execution of Wyatt in 2198, the Dispersionists – a coalition of high-powered merchants and politicians – struck another deadly blow, killing Li Han Ch’in, first son of the T’ang, Li Shai Tung, and heir to City Europe, on the day of his wedding to the beautiful Fei Yen.
It might have ended there, with the decision of the Seven to take no action in reprisal for Prince Han’s death – to adopt a policy of peaceful non-action, wuwei – but for one man such a course of action cannot be borne. Taking matters into his own hands, the T’ang’s general, Knut Tolonen, marches into the House of Representatives in Weimar and kills the leader of the Dispersionists, Under Secretary Lehmann. It is an act almost guaranteed to tumble Chung Kuo into war.