This is a seriously interesting article on real Asian history, and how awesomely it lends itself to a wide range of steampunk tropes and tales. Naturally, it’s from Tor.com.
This was an especially interesting read for me, because I haven’t stumbled across ANY Asian steampunk – the extent of my knowledge was knowing that steampunk is big in Japan (and that “Full Metal Alchemist” is very good).
The author is responding to a market he/she sees as limited to “samurai, geisha and ninja”. He/she gives numerous knowledgable and interesting examples of pirates, detectives, hard-boiled reporters and submarine captains. Here’s a delicious slice:
From the mid-17th century through the 1920s Chinese novels translated into Mongolian were in huge demand in Mongolia, and there was a flourishing trade in them. But the problem for the Mongolian bookbuyers and booksellers was not only the bidding wars which would break out with Russian, Mongolian, and Chinese buyers, but that getting the manuscripts back to Mongolia to sell was difficult because of the very real chance that those transporting the books would be attacked on the way back by bandits wanting to get the manuscripts and sell them for themselves. This resulted in decades of adventurous Mongolian book traders as skilled with sword and gun as they were at selling books.
I think the article could well have gone further – what about mad scientists, femme fatales, adventuring orphans, evil devices, and creepy clockwork (actually, I KNOW the latter existed)? I’m willing to bet Asia’s Victorian-era history is brimming with all of them.
I don’t currently have any plans to write Asian steampunk myself, but if you’re inclined that way, this article is a brilliant place to start your historical research.