The Master said, "He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it."
- The Analects of Confucius, 2-1
The best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects;
The next best are loved and praised;
The next are feared;
The next despised:
They have no faith in their people,
And their people become unfaithful to them.
When the best rulers achieve their purpose
Their subjects claim the achievement as their own.
- Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Penglai was colonized by a joint effort of the Peoples Republic of China, Ethnic Chinese Orbitals and other Chinese nationals. It was a major international colonization project begun before the Nanottech War with enormous support. It was a mission to Sigma Draconis - a K0 star 5.61 parsecs distant, which had been shown to have at least one reasonably Earth-type planet.
The surface is 70% water with several fragmented continents. It is dominated by low mountain ranges. The largest continent is Hanxiang in the northern hemisphere (with the Lao plateau) and Three Mountains peninsula.
The southern hemisphere has the major continent Dengidan, with its coastal plains. The three remaining continents (Lienru, Tienhu and Goufanglei) and major islands are largely uninhabited.
Weather tends to be cool, with large polar ice caps and few truly warm seasons, even at the equator.
Penglai has a single moon, Yue. It is just 584 km in diameter, orbiting 600-900,000 km away in a rather eccentric orbit.
The other notable planets of the system are the trio of gas giants – Carp, Turtle and Dragon, all of which with numerous moons. Dragon has two large ones that are considered for terraforming.
Long-range, and then wormhole, observations showed Sigma Draconis I had a reducing atmosphere not unlike that of Archaean (early Precambrian) Earth. Sample analysis and return missions indicated a rich anaerobic eco-system, which caused some protest over the project. In any case, spectroscopic evidence and computer simulation indicated that the world could be terraformed given enough time and sufficient biotechnology and nanotechnology; in fact terraforming would probably go faster than Mars. This was the decision behind the choice of the world. The planet was named Penglai after the paradise island of the immortals.
Penglai proved proved harder to adapt to than anticipated. The day was too long, the gravity high, the air allergenic (due to immune system responses to local micro-organisms), and the indigenous bio-chemistry incompatible with terrestrial life. Still, terraforming it was feasible.
Adapting to humans to Penglai was tricky. The day was too long, the gravity high, the air sometimes allergenic. This was solved by various medical treatments and some limited genetic modifications of children; the Penglaiese today tend to be short, stout, have a longer diurnal cycle and are highly resistant against many allergens. However, these measures were less implemented in certain districts, and other solutions such as exoskeletons are also in use. The neo-Taoist purity ideals contradict the adaptation ideas; there have been fierce debates on whether the modifications are a dangerous pollution of the bodies of the citizenry. In the end, the neo-Taoists split into a spectrum ranging from the small "School of Inner Alchemy" (named after the Taoist movement) which thinks that all the changes are negative and should not be given to children, and the more liberal "School of Outer Alchemy" which claims these changes really are part of the Way. An even more extreme group, the Hsien, claim further enhancements are the Way, but this view is disliked by most of the population. Overall, the Penglaiese value purity and perfection highly. A spotless design, a clean room, an illustrious career are regarded as ideals to strive for.
In the relative isolation of Penglai, new ideas emerged. One of the most important was neo-Taoism, the synthesis of Taoism, the synergetics of Buckminster Fuller and complexity theory. It was developed by a researcher-artist named Yuan Guen and his students, and emerged to become an important influence in Penglaiese society, art and technology. While some offshoots resisted the Penglai Colonial Authority (PCA, later “The Authority” or Quan Wei) terraforming and megascale engineering projects, the mainstream neo-Taoists embraced them wholeheartedly, developing better ways of using a minimal amount of matter and energy to change the planet.
Neotaoism sees reality as a complex system of systems, interlocking processes that create new forms according to certain emergent rules. These processes can be described using complexity theory and synergetics, but their applicability was universal, not just to physics and biology but also to ethics, society, design and engineering. The philosophy that emerged had many similarities with classical taoist thinking in emphasizing self-organization and creating harmony, but it also had views on how to engineer it; it was in many ways a form of constructivist Taoism: the world is perfect in itself, but it can be perfected further.
The theory of self-organization and harmony eventually lead to rebellions against the PCA. As neotaoism grew more widespread through Penglai, resentment against the PCA and its authoritarian and bureaucratic tendencies grew. When the Jian family (traditionally high ranking bureaucrats and politicians in the authority) declared it a hereditary dynasty, the Jian Dynasty, it was doomed. The Jian Dynasty only lasted a bare century before it collapsed under a combination of planetary revolution and its own inefficiencies.
Since the collapse, Penglai has governed itself through a form of collective democratic virtual government. After the collapse, its never had a physical capital, since the widespread settlements and outposts were tightly connected through the net. Decisions are made through an invisible virtual bureaucracy (nicknamed the Celestial Bureaucracy) where the bonsai AI and human bureaucrats are widely dispersed but connected. This gives Penglai a very flexible government allowing it to continue terraforming and maintaining the planet.
As a form of republican democracy, it is recognizable, but with some interesting twists. First, there is the right of recall for executives and legislative representatives. Then there is the separate court for constitutional matters with the power to enforce fines on the legislators that drafted unconstitutional laws. Another item is the distributed auditing of state activities and finances by the citizens (they can volunteer and if there are not enough, a random draft among the qualified is instituted). Jury trials are common, but with much larger juries seventy five people (which is much easier to institute with their distributed government.
The core of Penglaiese politics are the guanxis. A guanxi is a personal network, a bit like old school ties but with stronger Confucian and hierarchical implications. A subordinate friend is obliged to help his superior in all things, and can expect the help and protection from the superior. Certain guanxis become extremely powerful, ranging over the whole civilization and enabling the leading members to influence just about everything through their widely distributed net of obligations
Penglai is terraformed to perfection today. It is a premiere tourism destination with its rich and diverse culture, exciting night life and beautiful scenery. Beyond tourism, Penglai is also home to advanced cognitech, nanotech and biotech industries and the expertise of its citizens is in demand elsewhere.
Hung-Ching is the major city on the planet, with the premier universities, largest corporations and the Electric City, an area where many of the rich and famous have congregated. The Electric City got its name from a popular song; it is a park-like area where unassuming but very, very expensive buildings overlook the canyon of the Ao river. Many people have flocked to there from the other regions and form important subcultures; in addition the inhabitants are known to be less rigid and traditional and take a pride in inventing new outrageous styles.
In architecture, organization and planning Penglai tends towards the huge and monumental. Everything is built to last, with big safety margins and heavy foundations. At the same time the ideas of neo-Taoism are prevalent: the immense should be built as elegantly and lightly as possible, often exploiting unusual symmetries and interlocking parts. Combined with a resurgence of traditional Chinese baroque (dragons, ornamental lattices, bodhisattvas etc), the result is a very unique style mixing old and new, robust with elegant, heavy with light. Also, due to the high gravity rain falls heavier, making people loath to go outside without protection. Most cities have at least covered walkways and streets with glass ceilings.
Personal clothing tends towards the warm and practical. Coats are cylindrical affairs with thick arms, not unlike Old Earth Russian bojar coats.
Common Name: Penglaiese
Emblem: A black dragon against a red circle.
Inspector Status: Equivalent to FBI, Customs Inspectors or RCMP.
Benefit: Penglaiese receive an extra twist at the beginning of each session, which they may only spend through Comprehension or Intrigue. They also receive dermal microbots.
Core Values: Neotaoism and Guanxi
Neotaoism sees reality as a complex system of systems, interlocking processes that create new forms according to certain emergent rules, emphasizing self-organization and creating harmony. It also has views on how to engineer it; it is a form of constructivist Taoism: the world is perfect in itself, but it can be perfected further.
Guanxi is a personal network with stronger Confucian and hierarchical implications. A subordinate friend is obliged to help his superior in all things, and can expect the help and protection from the superior. Guanxi can give a bonus to group actions, but only with Guanxi members. It also gives a bonus to receive help from Guanxi members.