Friday, December 10, 2021

Welcome to the Era of the Five States and Ten Corporations


Chinese history is popularly and conveniently divided into periods defined by the ruling dynasty. In the world of Saga of the Swordbreaker, the land of Xiazhou is a hundred years into the greatest political experiment in the history of the continent. The Summer Revolution has ended the rule of immortal monarchs, bringing forth the era of the Five States and Ten Corporations.

It is an era of peace and plenty. A time of progress and prosperity. And it is also the strangest era in the history of Zhongxia.

Long united under the successive reign of immortal emperors, the land of Zhongxia is now divided into five states. Yet the states are not the sovereigns of their respective territories. One of these ‘states’ is no state at all, but simply a collection of independent cities and satellite towns that happen to share the same geographical region. From this milieu springs the Ten Corporations: the ten companies that dominate the critical high-tech industries of this brave new world. The corporations are wealthy beyond measure, they have private armies at their command, their reach spans the globe, they can dictate terms to governments—and none of them are answerable to anyone.

Though the despots and warlords have been defeated, threats still lurk in the forgotten corners of the continent. Bloodthirsty beasts prowl the wildlands: apex predators that have grown to enjoy the taste of human flesh, genetically-engineered relics of previous dynasties, monsters that have learned to harness the powers of the cosmos. In places where the law holds little sway, bandits and secret societies walk astride the land like barons. And now, there are whispers of a terrorist threat lurking in the shadows…

The jianghu has been around since the birth of the first martial immortals. Outsiders, wanderers, cultivators, the men and women of the rivers and lakes answer to no one but the code of the xia. Sworn to protect the innocent from injustice, they travel where the wind and waters take them, meting out justice at swordpoint.

Or so they are portrayed in the great romances.

The rivers and lakes of the Five States and Ten Corporations have come a long way since its noble beginnings. Today, it attempts to regulate warriors who stand as tigers and dragons, far beyond the capacity of mortal men to reach. It keeps the worst of their excesses in check, serving as a liaison between the martial cultivators and the civilian world. Through membership in the Jianghu Association, these warriors gain legitimacy, respect, and access to jobs and contracts. The jianghu, the Five States and the Ten Corporations exist in a comfortable symbiosis, each supporting the others.

Nonetheless, the jianghu remains a dog-eat-dog world. The most prestigious contracts and the best gear go to the most renowned cultivators. Thus, competition for status is fierce within the jianghu. An inhabitant of the jianghu lives and dies by his fists, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. While you can ascend the ranks through honest labor, the fastest way to climb the career ladder is to beat the person above you. It is said that in the crossing of fists, all men become brothers—yet when gold and honor is at stake, it is so tempting for a man to become a wolf.

And of course, the richest payouts come from the Ten Corporations.

Serving the Ten Corporations is a tried-and-true method to gain wealth and fame in a short time, perhaps even immortality. Patriots and idealists could join the public service instead; the Five States are eager to cultivate the talents of their most capable cultivators, and try to offer competitive packages to those who answer the call to duty. In a time when the Ten Corporations and the Five States are becoming increasingly entwined, to serve one is to serve the other.

So who will protect the people?

Who will want to protect the people?

Saga of the Swordbreaker is a futuristic cultivation series with a cyberpunk aesthetic. Beneath the veneer of high technology, you will find low life lurking in the shadows. Corporations and governments wield immense power over everyday life, and even the rivers and lakes offers no escape from their reach. Instead of geniuses hacking computer networks, cultivators hack reality itself, using reality shapers to manipulate cosmic energies for their ends.

Even the jianghu is not exempt. Immortality is no longer the result of decades of diligent practice, but a commodity to be purchased or awarded, less a spiritual goal, more a symbol of exalted status. Gongfu has become a means to an end: power, wealth, fame. The world has derived technology from mystical principles, yet shuns the wisdom traditions that gave rise to those same principles.

The world of the rivers and lakes has become a world of red dust. It is a world of attachment and delusion, a never-ending pursuit of material goods and fleeting fortunes, a shadow play of politicking and manipulation.

Today, the Five States, the Ten Corporations, even the jianghu view cultivation as a means to an end. A way to become rich, powerful and famous, no more. Modern society is engineered to uphold this fundamental heresy. The sutras and the classics have been buried under mountains of mere goods, and in the holy places the people worship only gold.

In such a setting, to cultivate is to choose. Do you choose to perpetuate the world of red dust? Or do you choose the truth? What happens if you choose to ignore the wisdom of the ancients that shaped your world? What happens if you dare to see through the red dust?

Find out in Saga of the Swordbreaker!

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