Modern Exalted: Bring back the Light
Oldest and most populous of the world’s civilizations, the Greater Tengese Empire—or, as it is more commonly known, An-Teng—controls all the lands west of the Firepeaks and hundreds of Southwestern islands. It’s a land steeped in tradition and bureaucracy. But despite its affection for the past, reflected in its popular image as a place of silk-robed mandarins and many-tiered pagodas, An-Teng has chosen to join the modern age.
An-Teng’s numerous provinces encompass everything from rugged mountains and rolling hills to steppes, jungles, marshes and fertile plains, from huge modern cities on the coast to farming villages, strip mines and refineries in the hinterlands. Massive deposits of Southern oil and coal combine with cheap labor to fuel an industrial boom. Smog, polluted rivers and mountains of industrial waste are regrettable side effects the nation has yet to come to terms with.
According to legend, An-Teng was founded by the Lintha peoples of the Western ocean over five thousand years ago during the first great war against Creation’s renegade spirits. Kingdoms burgeoned and warred across the following millennia, uniting into great empires and disintegrating into squabbling successor states. With each iteration, new neighboring peoples either conquered elements of An-Teng or were themselves conquered. Those peoples were eventually incorporated into Tengese society and culture.
After An-Teng’s colonies on the Blessed Isle won their independence, the nation withdrew from the larger world for hundreds of years. But isolationism couldn’t protect against the Threshold’s imperialist powers. When trade disputes with Calin, Cherak and Meruvia escalated into war, the backward Tengese military suffered humiliating defeats. Rich coastal territories were first ceded to foreign trading companies, then annexed outright.
Only after a series of revolts expelled the foreign viceroys and put a new dynasty into power did An-Teng begin to modernize—and it did so with a vengeance. A highly trained military equipped with modern weapons and tactics spread the Empire’s grip across the southwest, annexing some states and forcing others into protectorate status. Meanwhile, increasing exports of cheap industrial goods sent ripples through the global economy.
It’s hard to ascribe a single cultural template to a nation as large as An-Teng, which has absorbed dozens of peoples over thousands of years of history. If there’s a common thread, it’s traditionalism and stubbornness. Even as foreign media and styles penetrate into Tengese urban life, most adhere to archaic fashions, rituals and leisure activities.
While Tengese culture values merit, it also places a premium on familial relationships and on personal obligations. Business and government are thus rife with nepotism and political patronage. The Tengese bemoan the consequences of corruption even as they admire the loyalties involved as traditional and virtuous.
The predominant religion, Zhenjiao, emphasizes propriety, piety and respect for social order. Worshipers revere an elaborate bureaucratic hierarchy of celestial immortals led by the Black Jade Emperor, the Empress Wàn and the Silver Dowager. Millions of Tengese hew to other creeds, from major foreign religions such as Gharaniqism and the Immaculate faith to dozens of minor sects and spiritual practices. Only those whose preaching disrupts civil order meet with governmental
An-Teng’s constitutional monarchy is as far as one can get from Meruvia’s. The legislature—its lower house elected, its upper house largely comprised of hereditary aristocrats and imperial appointees—has little power, as executive authority resides in the hands of the Jianshi Emperor and is administered by a meritocratic bureaucracy. A score of nearby nations, both among the Southwestern islands and just east of the Firepeaks, fall within the Tengese sphere of influence. Though officially independent, these minor states subordinate themselves to An-Teng’s political whims.
An-Teng’s security ministry, the Putaoshu, encompasses seven specialist branches: cryptography, censorship, counterintelligence, etc. Branch Seven, the best-known and most-feared, specializes in wetwork. The head of the Putaoshu, the anonymous S, is described as an angry, humorless figure humanized only by the mangy dog that never leaves her side.
The Tengese military is the world’s largest, its standing troop strength exceeding the populations of many smaller nations. Traditionalism and patriotism ensure sufficient recruits to maintain an all volunteer army, keeping morale high. Technologically, however, An-Teng’s military lags twenty
years behind the Meruvian state of the art. An-Teng maintains a nuclear arsenal smaller than that of the other two Great Powers. But this is relative; its ballistic missiles are sufficiently numerous to level every major city in the Threshold.
More practical for the exercise of Tengese power are the Dragon-Blooded. Citizens typically regard them with superstitious dread and awe, calling them the Wàn Xian—the Ten Thousand Immortals—and treating them as avatars of the divine, imbued with celestial power. While this makes Dragon-Bloods invaluable for propaganda purposes, ministers worry this adoration could evolve into a dangerous popular movement.