From atop the porch of your keep, you survey the lands that you have claimed. The Silk Road, is indeed a dangerous place to be- Turkic raiders to the north, the settled Sogdian princes to the south, and to the east, the armies of the Heavenly Kingdom stand at the border, and you have done well to carve a small slice of it, and live to tell the tale.
Ruling is hard and age has begun to weary you- you hope that your physician’s treatments are working, and that your brother hasn’t slipped a few silvers in his purse. A cool breeze is fine weather to enjoy a much-needed rest.
The sound of heavy, rushing footsteps breaks you out of your reverie. His panting and the look on his face indicates that it is urgent, so you wake up, take a deep breath and follow your servant. At your court, which is thronged with various relations and other obsequious courtiers.
A man stands before you, in fine green, gilded silk, depicting dragons and other exotic, mysterious wonders and his hat is quite ostentatious. Behind him are men dressed in much plainer robes and donning. He bows in a way that you are not familiar with, but you let that go. One of his entourage hands him a scroll, and this emissary begins to announce extremely loudly in your mother tongue, in an accent that you find annoying, and wishing you could just put this insolent fellow to death.
“The Emperor wishes for you to come to the Capital and demonstrate your subservience under Heaven. It would be wise for you to attend, and we will give our utmost hospitality.” he announces and then bows.
You are quietly fuming, putting your mind to imaginative ways of punishing this weasel. But your right-hand man, a man of low birth but loyal and honourable, soothes your temper.
“I would advise it. From what I hear, the Emperor of that country does not hold insult lightly. Besides, I hear it is a beautiful and wondrous land.”
Ultimately you relent, and begin to think of how to enjoy a vacation to this foreign, strange land that you’ve only heard tales of, and bow to this mysterious sovereign. Ruling is hard, and perhaps you could use a good rest.
Crusader Kings 2: Jade Dragon is the latest expansion pack to the sweeping (a)historical epic that is Crusader Kings 2. The expansion adds the presence of the Heavenly Kingdom into the game and players may interact with China in many advantageous ways, or conversely China may interact with you in many disadvantageous ways should you somehow to contrive to wake the dragon.
Forging a good relationship with China is bound to bring benefits- measured by Grace, which you can acquire through the sending of gifts such as concubines, eunuchs (China’s a very good place for that annoying brother of yours who plots to take over your throne everyday) or your family’s precious heirloom handed down for seven generations. In return for such fine gifts, you can petition the Emperor for a boon, which can come in the form of weddings, or highly skilled leaders that can turn the tide of a battle, or scholars and governors that endeavour to enrich your realm for generations- or if you are feeling particularly devious, politely ask for an invasion on a nearby kingdom that’s about to gobble yours. However friendship is just an option. If so you choose, you may raid the Middle Kingdom for fun and profit, or to declare a real war against China to place one of your brothers (or other relations) on the Dragon throne, which will pit the might of your entire realm against theirs in a true clash of titans.
The addition of Jade Dragon makes playing the game outside of the bread and butter of Medieval Europe a more interesting experience, but not all realms can send letters to the Emperor. But for the meat-eaters and the bread-dipped-in-gravy types, war is a much easier affair as you no longer need to forge dubious documents to claim so-and-so’s lands; dispense the formalities and just march in with your men (historically- this is legally invoked as the ‘right of conquest’), though important people across the known world might not be so keen on adding you to the invite list for their next banquet after this- who cares about some feast when you got a nice, new tract of land?
Gameplay aside, aesthetic touches in the form of portraits to depict Chinese and Tibetan characters as well as some additional Oriental inspired musical tracks (that seems to have been inspired by wuxia epics), and the map got an overhaul, with the addition of Tibet as a playable region (I wonder what the modern Chinese would think) and the Orient being a much bigger and more dangerous playground for the budding horse lord or Silk Road prince. Jade Dragon is a wonderful addition if you’re a die-hard Crusader Kings fan (like me).
Historical Context: The Silk Road
The Silk Road has a long history that dates back for over at least a millennia. Kingdoms and empires come and go but the road keeps winding nonetheless.
The Silk Road dates back to around 317 BC, during the time of Alexander The Great’s conquests. Contact between West and East tentatively began at this point. Major expansion and boom occurred under the Han Empire in 130 BC, with routes being opened across the Tarim Basin and the Fergana Valley after defeating off barbarians in the region. With the expansion of the trade routes, merchants began to trade with the kingdoms and principalities of the area. Goods such as glass, horses were exchanged. Evidence was uncovered that Roman pottery could be found as afar as the Korean peninsula.
A second boom in trade occurred when the Roman Empire had taken over where the Greeks left off, around 30 BC, after the conquest of Egypt. Amongst the citizenry of Rome, there was high demand for Chinese goods, silk in particular (this is where the origin of the name would come from). As Rome fell, it was the Byzantines that followed. Contact between the Byzantine and Tang dynasty was common, if sporadic. The Silk Route would also come to contact with the Islamic world, exchanging cultural ideas along with coinage.
The Silk Road would reach its apogee at the height of Mongol rule (1207-1360). Safe within the largest Empire (by landmass) in the known world, trade flourished extremely as the Mongols valued the skills and arts of the settled peoples, despite being from a traditionally nomadic culture. It is around this time that Marco Polo would make his travels into China (though there is significant debate that he lied about all of this).
The decline of the Silk Road coincided with the decline of the Mongol rule, as the routes began to be separated by the warlords that the Mongols previously put down, and the powers of the area being culturally cut off from the rest of the world. Whilst the rise of the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Safavids salvaged some of its former splendor, it would never reach the heights of its past. A final death would occur in 1720 as Safavid Persia fell.
Even if the actual Silk Road as it existed died off, the cultural legacy of this long and winding route remained at large within the modern mind. The Eurasian Land Bridge- a railway that stretches from China to Russia via Kazakhstan and Mongolia is often referred to as the ‘New Silk Road’. There are currenly economic agreements between various nations to open a new overland railroad between Eastern Europe all the way to Asia. As of 2017, services are extended all the way to London, Paris and Milan.