The lore, lands, and history of Grand Cathay in Total War: WARHAMMER III

Total War: WARHAMMER III

Ben Barrett
September 21 2021

In case you haven’t heard, Grand Cathay is coming to Total War: WARHAMMER III. In the thrilling conclusion of the WARHAMMER trilogy – well, not counting the years of live support we’ll be offering – Grand Cathay joins the four Chaos Gods and the Kislevite peoples as one of our factions that will fight for the future of the world. But who, exactly, are they? Oft mentioned throughout the annals of Warhammer history, they never quite made it to the foreground until now.

Grand Cathay is a massive and incredibly powerful empire situated in the east of the Warhammer World, beyond the Dark Lands, across the Mountains of Mourn and past the Great Maw – the gaping wound in the land caused by Grand Cathay’s astromasters millennia ago. It covers a landmass larger than the Empire, Bretonnia, and many other nations combined. Vast cities pockmark the landscape, with huge populations watched over by the ruling Dragons – the Celestial Dragon Emperor, his consort the Moon Empress, and their children.

To the North lies the Great Bastion, constructed thousands of years past by the Dragon Emperor himself and imbued with much of his magic. A humongous wall that has stood for aeons against the ever-present threat of Chaos. In times gone by and for many millennia, Chaos has been the most serious threat to Grand Cathay. Had the Emperor and Moon Empress wished it, sheer force of numbers and powerful magics and artillery could have dominated much of the land to the west, but they have been content to rule and defend their already formidable nation.

Harmony is the driving force behind Cathayan society. The teachings of the Dragon Emperor are such that everyone must work in concert with themselves and the land for the betterment of all and to find their natural place. This drives everything, from their magic lores of Yin and Yang to how the Dragons govern their people. Far from tyrants or aloof aristocrats, the Dragons act as teachers and wardens for the populace. They see little point in creating an imbalance between mortals and themselves when the ever-present threat of Chaos will happily destroy them all.

Similarly, the Dragons are not treated as gods, nor do they demand worship. They are immensely powerful beings, rulers by magical and physical right rather than mysterious divinity. The iconography of the Dragons is common-place and ever-present throughout society, but because they are very real, very present, and very powerful rulers. They are treated by the people with the reverence such beings deserve and speaking ill of them, especially if you are not native to Grand Cathay, is a quick way to get yourself killed.

The Dragons often move among the people in human form. While still evidently far beyond a commoner, they only transform to their draconic selves when there is need, embracing their heritage to lay waste to a battlefield and fly far above their forces. In war, the Harmony of the Cathayan way of life is ever-present, their forces acting in concert to lay waste to enemies with devastating precision and calm.

In WARHAMMER III, our focus is on two main areas: Northern Cathay with the Storm Dragon Miao Ying and the Great Bastion, and Western Cathay with the Iron Dragon Zhao Ming and the Ivory Road. The land of the Storm Dragon includes the fortress city of Nan-Gau, never conquered or sacked, despite the many wars that have met its borders. Naturally, the Great Bastion dominates much of the landscape, with its massive gates and huge patrols of troops fending off attacks from Chaos. The Eastern Steppes make up the lands beyond, thoroughly infested with Chaos of every stripe.

Miao Ying is arguably the most powerful Dragon alive save her mother and father. Immense power and immense responsibility land on her shoulders, and she can seem cold and aloof in comparison to her siblings. The defense of the realm, the future of Grand Cathay, and much more is quite the burden to bear.

Meanwhile, the Iron Dragon must make do with a less defended, if less chaotic (and Chaotic), area of the world. The Western Provinces contain beasts and men of all sorts coming from further West, as well as the regular incursions of Skaven and Ogres from the Warpstone Desert and Mountains of Mourn. The creation of the Great Maw still hangs heavy on this area, even as an uneasy peace maintains.

Zhao Ming is a natural born warrior, though less innately skilled than his sister to the North. He is a talented alchemist and shows great preference for the art among his armies – much to the chagrin of those that find the insidious magics worrying for the Empire. His life-long station so close to the Great Maw and all that warpstone mean many fear his mind is permanently damaged from the exposure, and any eccentricities or erratic behaviour he displays is very worrying to his siblings.

Of course, stability and prosperity have not reigned forever and are unlikely to continue without a fight. The history of Grand Cathay is longer than even Chaos, originating more than 5,000 years previous, when the Celestial Dragon Emperor ruled the land before the coming of the Old Ones. He learned how to take the form of a human to gather the tribes, and when Chaos began to sweep the world he defended his burgeoning empire, eventually constructing the Great Bastion to keep the hordes at bay.

It has been attacked on innumerable occasions, damaged, and even sometimes breached, but still the Great Bastion stands as powerful a vanguard against Chaos as ever, constantly maintained and garrisoned by massive armies. Only Tzeentch, known to Grand Cathay as Chi’an Chi, has managed to significantly infiltrate the Empire, His cults being a common cause of disruption and rebellion within.

Trade is the main reason the Western factions know of Grand Cathay’s existence and its primary interaction with them. For outsiders, it is a realm of infinite riches and pleasures unknown, seemingly immune from the endless terrors that prowl the outside world. While this is far from the truth, the absolute economic power of the Ivory Road cannot be disputed, and those that make their living along it are evidence of that. For Grand Cathay, there is plenty to gain from an outside world with technology, trinkets, and beasts that are all foreign to them.

The most tumultuous time in Grand Cathay’s history came when a combination of invasions of Chaos from the North and the Monkey King from the South, alongside a four-century disappearance of the Dragon Emperor and the Moon Empress, nearly led the Empire to ruin. Then, more than any other time, the natural competition between the Emperor’s children reached its peak, and Grand Cathay was essentially divided into warring states. This allowed the Monkey King to take power and claim dominion over the Empire, an act heinous enough to galvanize the warring siblings into once again putting aside their differences to fight for their father’s throne. At the key moment, the Emperor and Empress returned and helped to defeat the Monkey King, who fled South. Little is known of him or his fate.

Perhaps yet darker days may be on the horizon. Events the world over are conspiring to require the attention of even these isolationists. Chaos amasses beyond the Great Bastion like never before. Rebellion and squabbles between local factions are reaching new heights within the Empire. Whatever machinations the Celestial Dragon Emperor has been planning continue to come to fruition – but to what end, only he knows. What are you going to do about it?