Author's Note: as the Cosmic Era is a work in progress, the information presented in this article supersedes previous details mentioned about Mars in previous posts. As I don't have an editor at this time, there is not much of a chance that I am going to go back through the body of work looking for those errant details. Thank you.
The Red Planet, Mars, has held a special place in the cultural imagination of mankind, from a distant past when man thought the surface was wet with oceans and jungles, to a world inhabited by exotic creatures and little green Martians with flying saucers and ray guns, to the opening of the Martian Frontier.
The surface of Huo Hsing is broken into two major regions, the northern lava flows, and the southern highlands. The weather is persistently cold, with dust storms and driving winds. This is less of a factor, as the atmosphere is thin and largely toxic to humans. Most permanent settlements on the red planet are located in the southern region, and are based around mining operations, terraforming, and construction. The settlements in the northern regions are nomadic affairs and constitute the cinematic romantic Martian frontier.
Kunlun and Hsingjing: the largest city on Huo Hsing is the Chinese/ACPS colony Hsingjing. The city is small compared to Terran cities, but it is the largest on the planet, and hosts the main space port, and is the planned location of the Wukong Space Elevator, once the technological barriers are overcome. The city is built near the shield volcano Olympus Mons, more commonly known as Kunlun. As a hub for resource collection, the current main method of export is the Kunlun mass driver, which uses the volcano as a ramp to shoot things into space. Hsingjing consists of three arcologies built on top of one supporting geofront, and has a population of 1.3 million, counting the conurbation growing around the main arcoplex. This represents a large percentage of all residents of the red planet.
The Chinese can't wait to get Wukong's Ladder into place and running. Lacking the space supremacy of the Atlantic Federation, the ACPS is largely reliant on the Federation honoring open space ports above the planet and keeping the markets open for the goods and ores being launched into space. This chafes the Chinese in New Beijing, since they are not in a position to challenge the Federation's dominance over Huo Hsing's moons, which the Federation uses as military outposts, and research centers.
Xuejing and the Sea of Ice: The largest concentrations of water on the red planet is the southern ice cap and Xuejing and other cities have been built to exploit this resource. Unlike the traditional forms of building, arcologies and geofronts, Xuejing is a domed city. It uses it's available water supplies for irrigation and growing crops, which it exports to other ACPS cities on the planet to keep them fed.
China won the war for Mars, sorry, Huo Hsing, the way they've been winning wars for the last 6000 years, through more manpower and more food production. When the wars broke out over who was going to own the planet, everyone had the carry everything they had to fight from Earth to Mars. Sorry, Huo Hsing. Everyone started off sending ammo, food, soldiers, and other supplies for the fight. The Chinese started that way, and at first no one seriously considered them in it for anything other than practice. But they were building farms, and cloning creches and light robotics factories. When the People's Liberation Army really started fighting, they started knocking the other nations and power blocs out of contention. They still relied on transported supplies, but they were importing power armor, mecha, and hover vehicles while other nations were still in the business of shipping rifles, processed food and toiletries.
Attempts were made during the end of the Petroleum Era to colonize Mars. These efforts were underfunded, underequipped and represented little more than nationalistic boasting and saber rattling. The result was several lost bases populated by the corpses of people who had willingly bought one way tickets to the red planet. When the Second Renaissance opened space up for exploration, Mars was the prize that was chased after by the leading world powers. The Moon was colonized, and while it was divided up into parts belonging to various nations, they Tycho Conventions made the entire moon a neutral location. Despite the strategic value of having military bases on the Moon, with silos and missiles and planet to planet beam weapons and all the other warmongering madness, it is one of the few tenets of the treaty that have been honored. No such treaties existed for Mars, and it was a free for all.
The Atlantic Federation and Eurasian Alliance were the primary competitors for the planet, both starting with strong colonies and military posturing. The ACPS and Pacific Rim also threw their hats into the ring, but neither was considered a serious contender. The ACPS quickly built up domed cities, agriculture, and light industry to facilitate their war effort on the planet, and started shipping heavy and cutting edge weapons to the planet. The Chinese combat walkers might have been inferior to the mecha and aerospace fighters used by the Federation and Pacific Rim, but they had more of them. The walkers were not as slow on Mars, as their mass was significantly less, and they had fewer structural issues fighting under lower gravity.
The Red Planet War: the biggest fighting on the Red Planet came down between the Eurasian Alliance and the ACPS. This quickly turned in the favor of the Chinese, as they fielded more power armor and combat walkers than the Russians, who relied on tried and true tanks. This ended up going against them as the tanks were unable to take real advantage of the lower gravity and were easy targets for the Walkers. While losses were heavy, the Chinese were able to recover quickly from them. It was later discovered that the bulk of Chinese soldiers were criminals given a ticket to the red planet and clones of said prisoners. They fought ferociously, and won, gaining their freedom from prison, but remained imprisoned on an entire world. The Red Planet War demonstrated the value of supersoldier programs, as the ACPS deployed many (stolen from other nation's programs, and through mercenary operations) and the EA did not.
The Chinese eventually accepted a peace treaty after the Federation, unable to hold the ground war, proved it could blockade the planet. The Eurasian Alliance colonies surrendered and accepted ACPS leadership and became the Harbin province of Huo Hsing. The planet, having been claimed predominantly by the Chinese was commonly renamed to what they called the planet, and the only people who refer to it as Mars are astronomers and nationalistic members of the Federation.
By existing technology and projections, it is not feasible to terraform the red planet. It's atmosphere, the sunlight it receives, and other factors combine in such a manner that Terran forests and oceans are simply not viable in terms of generation and sustainment. That being said, the hurdles to make the red planet habitable are not as difficult to overcome. The ACPS has begun construction of standard Atmospheric processing towers as well as constructing ice extraction operations and fusion pits to warm the planet. The projected climate model leaves the red planet a desert, with a cold thin atmosphere, but it isn't immediately fatal. Combined with the appropriate genetic modifications and basic issue gear, it will eventually be possible for humans to survive, exposed to the environment.
There are long-term planners in China, inside the Forbidden City Arcoplex, who have plans that run centuries in length, and one of their contingency plans revolves around transplanting the heart of China from the middle kingdom of Earth, to the high kingdom of Huo Hsing. The nation would retain it's terrestrial holdings but would concentrate its considerable economic and industrial might to turning the red planet into a one nation world.
Mars, Huo Hsing, is a world in transition and remains an expanding frontier. China and the ACPS retains control of most of the planet, and it is a strange melange of cowboy frontier life, squatting, mining, moisture farming and other desert life aspects mixed with the byzantine politics and state communism of a distant Beijing.
I did not realize it until this point, but Mars/Huo Hsing is basically Firefly 'verse, with a mixture of Chinese, Eastern European, and Russian influences (rather than Anglo-British)
The War Never Ends, the destiny of the Red Planet is still far from certain. Less than half a century ago, it was almost a forgone conclusion that Mars would become an extraplanetary territory of the Atlantic Federation, and now, that power is only represented by a small swath of settlements and bases on asteroids that conveniently orbit the planet. This presents plenty of opportunity for shadowrunning, mercenary operations, rebellions and Romance of the Three Kingdoms intrigue and violence between the various city-states and provinces.
Xenoliths, the Red Planet has a number of classified sites where things that defy explanation have been found, and concealed from public knowledge. While mining and exploration in the highlands has only netted basic ores and resources, some digs out in the lava plains and flatlands have tapped into the ruins of long dead cities and ruins that defy explanation.