After the embarrassing loss of the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 in which China was soundly defeated by the “inferior” Japanese in less than a year, the nation was obviously in need of change. Idealist philosopher Kang Youwei approached the Emperor Guangxu with a series of suggestions to improve his state. Beginning June 11, 1898, institutional reforms such as modernization of education and the military, support of capitalism, and industrialization were put into place. These progressive aspects came too quickly for the like of many conservative Chinese, particularly leaders in the Grand Council and the Empress Dowager Cixi. Plans were put into place for a coup against the Guangxu.
Noting the spirit of his country, the Emperor slowed his radical advances and impressed upon his people the importance of taking from the outside world what they could get. Education was modified after the Japanese model while the military was bolstered with a great deal of German Imperial influence. Throughout the country, spirited “Boxers” called for violent reform, but the Emperor was able to focus their energy into positive effort constructing railroads and setting up factories near mines and forests. “Support the Qing, overcome the Foreign!” became a rallying cry.
By 1904, China was a changed land and ever-growing in political influence. The Russo-Japanese War broke out with the Japanese as quick victors, but the sudden inclusion of China due to border disputes (arguably Shikai's meddling) tipped the balance. American President Theodore Roosevelt managed to mediate a peace that set Japan back, protecting Korea as a neutral position between Russia, China, and Japan. This peace would be fragile, and in 1927, militaristic Japan would launch invasions of Korea as well as raids from their long-held colony of Taiwan. The Second Sino-Japanese War would rage until 1937, when China finally beat back the Japanese invaders. The German Hitler reportedly watched the war with great interest, and, when China became the seeming victors, he offered them an alliance.
When the West began their Second World War, China and Japan launched into one another again. China had joined the Axis, helping to bring about the downfall of Russia with attacks through Manchuria and Mongolia opposite Hitler's Operation Barbarossa, while Japan kept to their old defense agreements with the British. Superior Japanese aircraft kept Chinese armies from exploiting their full advantages, but it would be the defense in the Invasion of the Home Islands that proved their merit. With Americans joining on the side of the Japanese after the bombing of the USS Oklahoma, Operation Coyote would begin the amphibious counter-invasion.
By the end of the war, China was a spent and broken land, much like their German allies. British and American forces tried to keep Japan from imperialistic occupation behind what Churchill referred to as a “Silken Curtain”, but the East had suddenly been given a power vacuum into which Japan spread. A revolution against Japanese control of the Emperor broke out in 1947, led in a large part by the communist Mao Zedong. The West would leave the war to itself, resulting in the overthrow of the Japanese-backed puppet government and a new communist power in 1951, seemingly to replace the shattered Soviet Union.
After violent purges and years of gradual reform, China remains communist but with great experimentation of Western values of capitalism, just as it had taken up one hundred years before. Japan, meanwhile, rests as an aged kingdom taking up many social services to emulate its neighbor. Korea, which had been spared much of the carnage of the wars and served as bases for American troops, remains the dominant economic power in the region.
In reality, the Empress Dowager's coup succeeded. Guangxu would be put into seclusion while Cixi ruled. The invasion in reaction to the Boxer Rebellion would bring massive international influence into China, further weakening it in preparation for the Chinese Revolution of 1911, where Yuan Shikai would play politically, eventually attempting to set himself up as emperor. Guangxu had died in 1908, just one day before Cixi, with two thousand times the common amount of arsenic in his system.