Rise of the White Sun - Turn Based, "Politically Incorrect" Game Of Chinese Unification

So this came out of EA today, and it’s unique in that I can’t think of any other game (released in the West, anyway) set during the Chinese Warlord period of the 1920’s.

There are two grand campaigns, encompassing the whole map of China, one starting in 1920 and the other in 1925. There are half a dozen or so smaller scenarios that are more focused. Each scenario has a turn limit (a turn is 1 week) and different victory conditions depending on what faction you are playing.

And there are dozens of them, depending on the size of the scenario. Typically you control a group of up to 3, some being more militarily focused, others concentrating on “hearts and minds”.

The gameplay loop is itself pretty simple. You control the faction leaders, a specific character with traits and a job. Each leader has his own pool of resources - Qi (action points - usually starting each turn with 4), Money, Manpower, and Face (reputation). The actions a leader can take are dependent on the leaders job and traits - a diplomatic educator can’t issue commands to an army, and a general in the field can’t order a district to increase opium production or build more schools. The key is using the right man for the right job.

Combat is hands-off, but you still need to manage your armies. They need to be fed and paid to keep their morale up, and can be trained to be more effective. An army that hasn’t been paid for a while may refuse to fight. Smaller armies or roving bandits can be bought off if your army is tired, weak or hungry. And speaking of hungry, in order to be fully supplied, an army travels with an equal number of Coolies (who can be killed in battle).

There’s a bit of a learning curve mostly due to unfamiliarity with the various factions and historic characters to be controlled. Sometimes you can’t tell the players without a scorecard.

The only issue I have so far is that it could have used another pass by an English-proficient proofreader. There are several misspellings, and sometimes menu items are indicated as being on the left when they are on the right, but given that the developer seems to be a one-man shop, and (I’m guessing) not a native English speaker, that’s not a deal breaker.

After completing the tutorial and one of the smaller scenarios, I’m liking it quite a bit.

Nice. I have been waiting for this to leave EA.

What’s “politically incorrect” about the game? That’s the part of your subject header that caught my attention, but I’m not seeing anything in what you wrote about the game being politically incorrect! Do you just mean the concept of “unifying” China? Anyway, I’m curious to read more!

Also, games are easy enough to Google, but here’s the link for people who are lazier than me:

Sadly, there does NOT seem to be a manual available from the store page. Not sure if there’s one in-game, or even whether it’s the sort of game that needs one, but as an outsider looking in, this does looks to me like it could be another one of those strategy games that doesn’t give a damn about documentation. If anyone knows otherwise, please correct me.

EDIT: I did, however, absolutely adore this comment and the attitude behind it! From the game description written by the creator:

That’s pretty awesome.

I think referencing hiring “Coolies”, which is an essential part of the game, could be considered PI. Also encouraging the cultivation of opium, which is a matter of personal choice :).

As to the need for a manual, there’s a very basic tutorial, as well as a basic wiki, but lots of tool tips.

As I said, the learning curve doesn’t come from the mechanics, it’s just being familiar with the characters and history.

I suppose I did forget the Steam link, but I already included it in the “Indie Games Worth Knowing” thread.

The interface of this game is gorgeous.

The warlord era in the early 20th century is an often overlooked time in modern Chinese history, but it’s really fascinating. I did some research about it when I was considering designing a tabletop wargame set during this period. Ended up ditching the game design, but learned lots of interesting stuff!

My favorite fact that I read was about soldiers switching sides in the middle of battles. Since most of the warlords soldiers wore standard national army uniforms, they would wear colored armbands to tell who was in which army. If a side was losing a battle, some of the soldiers would swap their armbands with dead combatants and effectively join the other army in the middle of fighting!

Oh I remember this exact thing happening in a few Hong Kong flicks I was fond of so many years ago, and wondering what it was about!

I have a boardgame called Carson City, from about 15 years ago. It’s an Old West city-builder that includes various characters you can recruit to help you, like the banker, the store owner, the saloon girl, that sort of thing. One of the characters is a coolie. When the game was reprinted, they changed “coolie” to “railroad worker”. Which I sort of understand, given that some games are meant to be widely enjoyed and there’s not much point in being historically accurate if you’re going to offend your intended audience.

But for a historical wargame? Intended to teach people about the time period? It’s a broad issue, of course, but I feel it’s the wrong choice to whitewash history if your goal is to teach. If your goal is merely to entertain, sure, knock yourself out, modernize to your heart’s content, heck, throw out your paintbrush and take a roller to the whole dang wall!

But history is not politically correct, nor should it be. So I’m not sure I agree with you that Rise of the White Sun is committing any sins by including “coolies”, and I certainly disagree that it’s being politically incorrect by acknowledging the role of opium to the Chinese economy, for better or worse. That said, the accusation can be a subjective thing, and I’ve never even played the game, so I’ll leave the subject header to you. But based on what you’ve told me, I disagree that the game should be called out for being politically incorrect.

But I am grateful to you for starting the thread, as I’m eager to give this a shot!

I agree with you, and I’m certainly not offended either, but others may be, which is why I used the term.

And you’re welcome

I don’t think this should overshadow a very interesting-looking game, but I do want to push back on this idea that using “coolie” is somehow more historically accurate. Sure, a British observer in that era would probably refer to those laborers and water-carriers as “coolies.” But as far as I can tell, the rest of the game is not written in the English vernacular of the time. And you’re not playing as a British observer.

From a quick look at the developer’s Discord, it’s clear that he didn’t intend any offense and didn’t realize that the word has negative connotations. I am mildly offended by the word itself, and wish he would change it, but I’m still glad that he made this interesting game. This is the era that my grandfather grew up in, before becoming a diplomat in the Nationalist government.

I wasn’t aware of this! So does that mean Americans wouldn’t have called Chinese railroad workers “coolies” in the Old West? Because perhaps that accounts for the change in Carson City as well. I might have been making assumptions about political correctness when it was instead a matter of historical accuracy! : )

And you certinly aren’t playing an American :)

Out of curiosity, what term would you replace it with? Tom’s example of “railroad worker” doesn’t apply here.

Support personnel? Shleppers?

Shleppers! Perfect.

Yes, they would have. But I wouldn’t include it in that game. In Carson City, you play as a 21st-century eurogamer.

Term was in use.

They also used “Chinaman” and “Celestials” like in deadwood. This was interesting trivia, they even worked in the long island railroad.

On Friday all trains on the Rockaway branch of the Long Island Railroad were suspended, and yesterday about 120 newly imported Chinamen made their appearance, and were set at work relaying the rails. The pig-tailed Celestials are housed in cars, which keep them company along the tracs [sic], and are fully satisfied with wages at seventy cents a day. The entire road is to be relaid and put in good order. (“Chinamen Working for Seventy Cents a Day,” New York Sun, June 4, 1876, 1)


This reminds me of when I went with my wife (who is Chinese) to the US to get married. We flew into Newark and, since it was her first time traveling in the US, decided to visit the Statue of Liberty. We went Ellis Island first and we discovered that they have a whole wall in the museum dedicated to the Anti-Coolie act and other anti-Chinese immigrant policies. It was presented as tastefully as this kind of racist, xenophobic historical garbage can be, but it was still pretty embarrassing for me.

It’s interesting how language works here. Englishman, Dutchman, Frenchman… totally fine.

Chinaman! Dude, not the proper nomenclature.

Hello, I created this game.

Thank you very much for discussing it!

I can provide some insight into the use of the term “coolie” and other word choices.

Firstly, English is not my native language, so I made similar choices to those a translator might make in order to align with the author’s intentions. Of course, being the author helped me stay true to these intentions.

The intention: To immerse players in 1920’s China. I aimed to make players feel and think like characters from that time and place.

Word choice: In the English translation, I used words from that era and ones commonly found in older academic works.
Hence the natural choice of the word coolie with a widespread use back then.

I didn’t attempt to replicate how Chinese people of that time would have spoken in their dialogues, as that would have required a level of understanding and knowledge beyond my reach.

As you may be aware, Chinese transliteration and translation have evolved significantly since the 20th century. Some translations may seem strange or even poor by today’s standards, but they are still widely used. For example, “running dog” is still in use instead of a more straightforward and accurate translation like “lackey.”

I stuck with “running dog” because it was a more contemporary translation, even though it is now considered less appropriate.

These are the general guidelines I used for the english localisation.

As a rule, and as an (at least formally trained) historian, I think there is a difference between documenting an era or event, and including the vocabulary and phrasing of the participants through primary sources, and commenting on or analyzing that era or event and using the same vocabulary and phrasing in a way where the reader might reasonably think you are normalizing or accepting that discourse.

For instance, in writing about the American South and the era of slavery or Jim Crow, one will of necessity have to include primary source accounts that use certain language to describe and label the Black population, enslaved or free. One does not, however, have to use that same language in the analysis and exposition parts of the work, the ones that are in the author’s own voice. Indeed, unless you are going for some pretty advanced rhetorical and compositional techniques, it’s generally a very bad idea to do so.

Games are of course not historical scholarly articles. The line between the game developer’s voice and the voice of characters or in a way the setting itself is sometimes rather blurry. One has to decide for oneself whether the act of creating a game about a subject replicates the work of the historian, where you can equate the language of characters with primary sources, and thus give them license to speak in historically appropriate if currently unacceptable ways.

Even so, using problematic language in other parts of the game, parts that might correspond with say a historians analysis of some primary sources (in this case, incidental game text, descriptions clearly not emanating from in-game characters, that sort of thing) is, well, problematic, though context is probably everything.

In general, in scholarship or other creative stuff, it comes down to what is your ultimate goal. Does what you include or omit support your conscious intent? Is it necessary for the thing you are making to do its, well, thing? If so, do it and own it, but be prepared to fight :).

It’s called historical baggage. Terms and symbols evoke history and distasteful things most people prefer to forget. Swastika is a bunch of sticks, confederate flag is a piece of cloth.