The black death seems to be one of the most important events in Earth’s history; its impact has been seen now on a dozen worlds. On this world, it eliminated some 95% of Europe’s population, just in time for China, enthralled by the tales of Marco Polo, to decide to head West. The broken, war-ravaged population of what was left of Europe and eastern Russia welcomed the disciplined, technically advanced, Chinese, seeing them as bringers of desperately needed order. (And those inclined to resist were pretty much unable to do so effectively.)
It is the year 1561 by the European calendar, but hardly anyone uses that anymore. The far flung Chinese Empire rules from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and the slow pace of trade by land from one end of the Empire to the other is prompting many to talk about finding a westward sea route. Architecture and language are blending influences, as is the population — despite efforts to keep the ruling Chinese class distinct from the locals, there simply aren’t enough non-natives to marry, and interbreeding, both legitimate and non, is common. Mandarin is the language of the upper class, with various pigdins of French, English, German, and so on being the languages of trade, and only the uneducated and lower classes still speak only the original European tongues. The lowered population in Europe has spurred efforts to get more work done with fewer people, and technology has progressed rapidly over the past century or so, with guns, printing presses, and gear technologies all equal to that of Earth in the late 1700s. The bureaucracy is beginning to become much more entrenched, and the “best and brightest” find their prospects are better with government work and record keeping than with industrial invention, so there is the beginning of what might be a long stagnation. On the other hand, the need for better and faster record keeping might just spark someone to look at the existing punch-card driven looms and get a particularly useful idea.