Worldbuilding: Who Speaks?

Interesting detail I ran into about the Ming Dynasty, researching the place and time Chae comes from. Most people who think of Chinese as a language think of Mandarin; in the 1600s it was “court speech”, mostly based on the language of the area around Beijing, and not native to most of China. Especially not to most of the coast of China. The Fujianese dialect, in particular, was considered incomprehensible. So much so that even when they’d passed imperial exams, served well in court, and earned the honor of entering the Grand Secretariat (a small group that directly advised the Emperor), the Emperor who did appoint two Fujianese in the 1430s found them so hard to understand that it was over two centuries before any Emperor would allow another person from Fujian to join the club.

I suspect this might have a great deal to do with how often the Ming court seemed to decide “shut down the coast and order people inland, and the pirate problem will go away.” There was no one from there who could advocate otherwise at the highest levels.

(In case you were wondering, no it didn’t make the pirate problem go away. If anything it magnified it, given once-honest sailors and fishermen now had no legal leg to stand on to sail. If you’re a fisherman and that’s what you know to feed your family, and some jerk of an Emperor up north and inland says what you’re doing is now illegal… well, what are you going to do?)

So. Who speaks for various parts of your world? You probably have countries, states, kingdoms; they all have varied types of terrain, and possibly different peoples living in them. Who represents the coasts, the mountains, the forests, the dry plains? All of these tend to spawn different cultural adaptations to make a living, which means they have different interests. Aaaaand that means politics, that bane of humanity and sane writers.

(Are there any sane writers? Okay, the mostly sane ones, then.)

It’s not enough to know what kind of government you have, and what powers the people in it are supposed to exercise. You have to know who’s officially allowed to be in power… and who’s unofficially not.

All of which gets even more interesting when you have two separate states (and likely cultures) colliding. The people on one side may not know or care who on the other is in power, who’s not officially in power but is really calling the shots, and who’s officially in power but in reality can’t command someone to open an umbrella in the rain. They just want to get what they want… and of such broils are massive plots made.

Who speaks for the parts of your world important to the story? And who can they speak to? Think about it.


23 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Who Speaks?

  1. Every country in history has been like this, usually divided by terrain. I mean, look at the USA and our diverse cultures, even the states can be further divided.

    Especially those along Appalachia and the South East.

    Even Rome was noted to perform better, well, as better as Rome could, when the Senate and Plebians actually butted heads with each other.

    Not that helped them after the Grachi Brothers. It was basically downhill from there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Cascade Mountains on the west coast very much divide the states; Wetside vs Dryside may as well be different states.

      (and the folks who live on dry side would REALLY REALLY LIKE for that to be the state of fact, wooo state of Jefferson!)

      Liked by 5 people

  2. Eep! And this, right here, is one of the reasons why I stay out of it. I can’t write politics. I have tried to write some.

    Can you guess what happened? My Muse died a very swift death.

    So, I have some inkling as to what the different governments in Draco are, I have some idea of how they could possibly clash. But otherwise, I’m going to stay out of that realm.

    But, yeah, that sounds like a right disaster.

    I have four governments to juggle… No, wait, make that five. But for the most part, they are going to have very little to do with the actual plot of the story.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, sometimes it does, which is why I have that much of an idea to begin with. Do I hope that’s never the case? Yes, that will always be my hope. Will that actually be the case? No, probably not.

        Especially since Noyan is supposed to be a Princess…

        Liked by 2 people

      2. ATM he seems to be coming in “undercover” as a court accountant type. (With a very, very long-suffering guard.) Everyone in the Caller leadership KNOWS who he really is, but as it’s a way to get accurate communication to the royalty around the endless rumors, everyone lets it slide.

        Though Chae has reasons to be twitchy about him. Not that he’s a bad person, but… politics.


  3. From the character’s point of view, depending on the story, it may be that the only relevant question is whether there is help from authorities and the answer is no.

    But an extremely important element is that a king dies, and his nephew, king of a neighboring country, sweeps in to deal with necromancers AFTER they do a lot of harm. Not to his original kingdom, they have sense.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I’ve long thought that the modern PRC government is very much the old Imperial Chinese central government, just with the names changed. The power structures are based more on “what everyone knows” than on the letter of the law.

    This plays into an overarching theme I personally believe, that “culture” trumps “law” — that is, you can pass whatever laws you like, but without going full North Korea Autocratic Brainwashing, that law will be ignored or only paid lip service if that law goes too directly against the societal norms.

    Then there’s the “conquer from within” thing, where China was apparently “conquered” many times by foreign invaders, but basically absorbed and “Chinese-ified” the new rulers. Ditto Russia. Or the way the Romans conquered Greece, but somehow Greek *culture* apparently took over the top tiers of the Roman Empire. Or Duv Galeni’s long-term plan in the Vorkosigan series.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. The Mongols gave it a good go at changing China, to the point that the boundaries the Khans got to are pretty much where China is today. Unfortunately they counted too much on their original “massacre everyone who looks at us funny, then rule the remnants with a small army” policy. The problem with that being you have to keep up the massacres; slack off, and suddenly that small army isn’t enough anymore….

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yikes. And this is where Cyrus of Persia and King Saladin of Eygpt stand out.

        Thet were still monarchs, but they did things different to a lot of conquerers.

        They let the people they conquer continue to live their lives as they liked. Sheesh, it’s even in The Bible that Cyrus allowed the Hebrews to go back and even helped rebuild the temple, returning artifacts that were raided by the Babylonians.

        And Maimonides was a Jewish scholar and Saladin’s personal physician. All because he was okay with other religions.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. As one historian I was reading recently put it, the Mongols slaughtered on a scale unmatched again until the 20th century. Whole cities and populations were wiped out. Just one example: the city of Merv, in present-day Turkmenistan. An oasis with thriving fields fed by (at the time) state of the art irrigation, with somewhere between 200,000 and 700,000 inhabitants. Genghis’ son Tolui surrounded the city, invited citizens to leave, murdered everyone who did, then sacked his way through the rest of the city, took notes on the irrigation system, destroyed it, waited a few days to smoke out any survivors, killed them, and moved on. Rinse and repeat; it’s estimated they wiped out millions.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Genghis always planned to be back, yes.

        …And this is why, after the initial slaughter, despite living mostly peacefully under the Yuan Empire until the 1300s, the second Korea thought they had a chance at breaking out they took it!

        Liked by 4 people

      4. Actually, that was normal. You had the “king of kings” because it wasn’t practical to depose the king you conquered, administration needed him owing to the slowness of communications. After looting, most conquerors let them go on with their lives.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I have an English translation, somewhat abridged, of La Russie en 1839 with a foreword by someone from the American embassy who talked about how the staff there agreed it was the BEST guide to the Soviet Union.


  5. Full brain washing doesn’t necessarily work well either.

    The nice thing about stuff implemented by human hands, is that if they are willing, they can fix a lot of things wrong with the origianl plan.

    Another thing about stuff implemented by human hands, is that the little imperfections and adjustments will rarely perfectly match what ever the original command set was.

    SEriosu disagreements between factions can be pretty healthy if there is a means to resolve disputes that they consider fair, and can abide by. Can result in bad ideas being weeded out.

    Factions that don’t have enough people that they need to please can easily grow quite destructive.

    Dispute resolution, etc., is pretty important, and is one of those cultural things that cannot be entirely dictated or controlled.


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