In the years 184-205 AD, a massive peasant revolt motivated by Taoism, known as the Yellow Turban Rebellion, ravaged the country of China, an event which marked the beginning of the end for the Han Dynasty. The rebellion itself was established by three brothers from oldest to youngest: Zhang Jue, Zhang Bao and Zhang Liang. In our timeline, the rebels were successfully put down by a volunteer army lead by generals who would eventually establish The Wei, Wu and Shu Kingdoms. After the Han's turbulent collapse, the Three Generals and their Kingdoms fight each other for supremacy in the Chinese Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280).
Point of Divergence
In 184 AD, the last surviving Zhang brother, Bao managed to slay Imperial General Huangfu Song rather than our timeline's vice versa event. Huangfu's death greatly demoralizes the Han's army and fear is installed into Imperial court upon underestimating such a menace to their power.
As time passes, due to their formidable reputation, millions throughout China decide to let themselves become Yellow Turban recruits when their hearts and minds were captivated by the rebel's goal. The rebellion even finds new members in the form of former Han military men of all ranks who decided to go with the winning team. This alone is enough to give the rebels the advantage they need to push forward with vigor. Later, other famed would-be Three Kingdoms persona such as Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Cao Cao and countless others met an untimely fate at rebel hands. Because of this, the course of Chinese history, along with the rest of East Asia was changed forever.
Zhang Dynasty (AD 189-463)
After several years of grueling struggle, Bao and his fellow rebels managed to finally put and end to the remaining Han Dynasty loyalists and emerge triumphant. Immediately afterwards, The Yellow Turban leader seizes the Chinese throne for himself and establishes his own dynasty, The Zhang Dynasty lasting a total of 274 years (189-463 AD).
Since Zhang Bao and rest of the Yellow Turbans were once peasants themselves, they were able to more easily relate to the lower class's ordeals and therefore under the new Dynasty they established, numerous acts were performed which led to their immense popularity, support and success. Land reforms were instituted to address the inequalities among Chinese people everywhere, that had grown over the decades and centuries previously. This act, known as The Act of Zhang Bao made the economy of China much more equitable as a result.
The Ten Eunuchs, who formed the power behind the Han Dynasty at the time, were also deposed of and a new administration was established. These included schools of learning in all sciences being instituted and the economic reforms led to immense agricultural growths. Many of the barbarian tribes of the west were approached for diplomatic and economic ties, while the ambassadors acted as spies to investigate if the Zhang Dynasty was safe.
All of these actions alone were very primitive, yet crucial first steps away from feudalism and closer to a more modern and industrialized society for China. Institutions included massive work campaigns such as cleaning out the grand canals among others. In the long term, The Zhang Dynasty with the strengthened new economy continued to improve business on the silk road, which led to even more trade with The Middle East and Rome. Thanks to all the Zhang Dynasty's great efforts of benefit, China's populace began to boom over a course of decades.
Due to the Yellow Turbans being devotedly Taoist, they believed that Taoism was the force that helped them win their struggle and liberate the people. So the Yellow Turbans believed that a Chinese being anything other than Taoist will be disrespectful. So, the faith of Taoism was enforced everywhere throughout China and all other faiths including Buddhism and Confucianism were made illegal. Even though the one faith-only policy while extremely brutal, it did manage to create a strong centralization throughout China as a whole and millions accepted Taoism because they saw it as a way to divining the precarious future, receiving good fortune and as a patriotic statement towards the Emperor. Others who refused were at best, exiled.
This act proved to be a major setback on the Buddhist faith in general. It never becomes as much of a major cultural aspect and driving force in the rest East Asia, including Korea and Japan, with Taoism taking its place. Today, The Buddhism itself is smaller in its influence, being mostly confined to India and Southeast Asia.
In addition, The Three Kingdoms Period of China never occurs. Rather then the famed events of the said period of our timeline, The Zhang Dynasty faced many fierce and highly documented struggles with entrenched feudal landlords objecting land reforms and violent revolts from those who refused to convert to Taoism.
The economic reforms instituted by the Zhang Dynasty lead to a total revolution of the Chinese economy and industry over the course of a millennium, even after The Zhang Dynasty's final years. Complex banking systems were invented which in the long term, paved way for an early rise of printed money. This alone was helpful beyond words in China's growth of economic sophistication.
Without the Three Kingdoms period to put a setback on China's growth and influence, its territories were expanded even farther under the Zhang. Korea as a whole was conquered, many central Asian Turkic peoples bordering Afghanistan, along with roughly all of present day Laos and Vietnam.
After the Zhang Dynasty's fall, an inevitable Three-Kingdoms-type period occurred of which was only postponed by the Yellow Turban's success took place. These were Heavenly Mandate Wars, that lasted 43 years (AD 463-506) and even though it was not as severe for China as the Three Kingdoms era, it was still among the bloodiest within all Chinese history. Among the chief factors that unleashed this gruesome conflict was pent up from economic mismanagement from corrupt ministers abusing the conditions of the economic reforms for their own advantages as The Zhang's influence decayed.
Feng Dynasty (AD 506-842)
Following the Zhang Dynasty's demise and the Mandate Wars, most if not all post-Han Chinese Dynasties never occurred. In 505 AD, The Zhang's immediate successor, The Feng Dynasty emerged on the scene and lasted until 841. After China lost much western territory in the Mandate Wars, The Feng decided they should conquer land southwards and eastwards instead. While not quite as radically progressive as its predecessor, The Feng did manage to retain enough effective and fair policies left behind from the previous dynasty.
AD 842-Present day
Eventually in the 14th Century, rather than writing " Romance of the Three Kingdoms" historical novel, author Luo Guanzhong writes "Legend of the Yellow Turbans". The novel tells the tales of The Yellow Turbans' accomplishments in highly romanticized fashion such as overthrowing the Han, the establishment of the Zheng Dynasty and their countless other heroic struggles.
Unlike our timeline with the many many nations and cultures of Central Asia being geared towards Arab/Islamic influence, they are all more tightly gripped within the Chinese/East Asian sphere of influence along with Korea and Japan due to their relationship with the Zhang Dynasty. As a result, Islam itself does not spread much farther east than present-day Iran's borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Because of this, the Ottoman Turks, who in our timeline were Muslims/Arabic influenced, became much more Sinosized and of mostly Taoist, Buddhist majority. Rather than putting energy into conquering fellow Muslim territory such as Arabia and North Africa, they spread further into Europe.
Also because of the more sinospheric Central Asia, the country of Afghanistan was no exception of sharing a very different course with its neighbours than our timeline. The lack of Islamic dominance of the land meant that the Taliban are Taoist instead of Muslim. Therefore, they would not give aid to or shelter Osama Bin Laden with his Al Qaeda terrorist group, who instead to set their eyes on the African country of Somalia, being Islamic to seek refuge and make their base of operations.
In the present day of this alternate history, Taoism is a much larger faith in the global field. It remains a giant among world religions, right next to Christendom and Islam.
In the end, China's eventual exit from feudalism finally occurred over a century sooner than in our timeline, around the same time Europe did in The Industrial Revolution. This eliminates China's hardships such as being bullied by Western colonial powers in the 19th century, along with the Communists taking control in the mid-20th century.
In the end, China's eventual exit from feudalism finally occurred several centuries sooner than in our timeline, around the same time Europe did in The Industrial Revolution. This eliminates events in history such as China's hardships such as bullying from Western colonial powers in the 18th and 19th centuries, along with the Communists taking control in the mid-20th century.