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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Asia, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 50
1. The vision of Confucius

To understand China, it is essential to understand Confucianism. There are many teachings of Confucianist tradition, but before we can truly understand them, it is important to look at the vision Confucius himself had. In this excerpt below from Confucianism: A Very Short Introduction, Daniel K. Gardner discusses the future the teacher behind the ideas imagined.

Confucius imagined a future where social harmony and sage rulership would once again prevail. It was a vision of the future that looked heavily to the past. Convinced that a golden age had been fully realized in China’s known history, Confucius thought it necessary to turn to that history, to the political institutions, the social relations, the ideals of personal cultivation that he believed prevailed in the early Zhou period, in order to piece together a vision to serve for all times. Here a comparison with Plato, who lived a few decades after the death of Confucius, is instructive. Like Confucius, Plato was eager to improve on contemporary political and social life. But unlike Confucius, he did not believe that the past offered up a normative model for the present. In constructing his ideal society in the Republic, Plato resorted much less to reconstruction of the past than to philosophical reflection and intellectual dialogue with others.

This is not to say, of course, that Confucius did not engage in philosophical reflection and dialogue with others. But it was the past, and learning from it, that especially consumed him. This learning took the form of studying received texts, especially the Book of Odes and the Book of History. He explains to his disciples:

“The Odes can be a source of inspiration and a basis for evaluation; they can help you to get on with others and to give proper expression to grievances. In the home, they teach you about how to serve your father, and in public life they teach you about how to serve your lord”.

The frequent references to verses from the Odes and to stories and legends from the History indicate Confucius’s deep admiration for these texts in particular and the values, the ritual practices, the legends, and the institutions recorded in them.

But books were not the sole source of Confucius’s knowledge about the past. The oral tradition was a source of instructive ancient lore for him as well. Myths and stories about the legendary sage kings Yao, Shun, and Yu; about Kings Wen and Wu and the Duke of Zhou, who founded the Zhou and inaugurated an age of extraordinary social and political harmony; and about famous or infamous rulers and officials like Bo Yi, Duke Huan of Qi, Guan Zhong, and Liuxia Hui—all mentioned by Confucius in the Analects—would have supplemented what he learned from texts and served to provide a fuller picture of the past.

Ma Lin - Emperor Yao" by Ma Lin - National Palace Museum, Taipei. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
“Ma Lin – Emperor Yao” by Ma Lin – National Palace Museum, Taipei. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Still another source of knowledge for Confucius, interestingly, was the behavior of his contemporaries. In observing them, he would select out for praise those manners and practices that struck him as consistent with the cultural norms of the early Zhou and for condemnation those that in his view were contributing to the Zhou decline. The Analects shows him railing against clever speech, glibness, ingratiating appearances, affectation of respect, servility to authority, courage unaccompanied by a sense of right, and single-minded pursuit of worldly success—behavior he found prevalent among contemporaries and that he identified with the moral deterioration of the Zhou. To reverse such deterioration, people had to learn again to be genuinely respectful in dealing with others, slow in speech and quick in action, trustworthy and true to their word, openly but gently critical of friends, families, and rulers who strayed from the proper path, free of resentment when poor, free of arrogance when rich, and faithful to the sacred three-year mourning period for parents, which to Confucius’s great chagrin, had fallen into disuse. In sum, they had to relearn the ritual behavior that had created the harmonious society of the early Zhou.

That Confucius’s characterization of the period as a golden age may have been an idealization is irrelevant. Continuity with a “golden age” lent his vision greater authority and legitimacy, and such continuity validated the rites and practices he advocated. This desire for historical authority and legitimacy—during a period of disrupture and chaos—may help to explain Confucius’s eagerness to present himself as a mere transmitter, a lover of the ancients. Indeed, the Master’s insistence on mere transmission notwithstanding, there can be little doubt that from his study and reconstruction of the early Zhou period he forged an innovative—and enduring—sociopolitical vision. Still, in his presentation of himself as reliant on the past, nothing but a transmitter of what had been, Confucius established what would become something of a cultural template in China. Grand innovation that broke entirely with the past was not much prized in the pre-modern Chinese tradition. A Jackson Pollock who consciously and proudly rejected artistic precedent, for example, would not be acclaimed the creative genius in China that he was in the West. Great writers, great thinkers, and great artists were considered great precisely because they had mastered the tradition—the best ideas and techniques of the past. They learned to be great by linking themselves to past greats and by fully absorbing their styles and techniques. Of course, mere imitation was hardly sufficient; imitation could never be slavish. One had to add something creative, something entirely of one’s own, to mastery of the past.

Thus when you go into a museum gallery to view pre-modern Chinese landscapes, one hanging next to another, they appear at first blush to be quite similar. With closer inspection, however, you find that this artist developed a new sort of brush stroke, and that one a new use of ink-wash, and this one a new style of depicting trees and their vegetation. Now that your eye is becoming trained, more sensitive, it sees the subtle differences in the landscape paintings, with their range of masterful techniques an expression. But even as it sees the differences, it recognizes that the paintings evolved out of a common landscape tradition, in which artists built consciously on the achievements of past masters.

Featured image credit: “Altar of Confucius (7360546688)” by Francisco Anzola – Altar of Confucius. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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2. Contested sites on India’s Deccan Plateau

By Richard M. Eaton and Phillip B Wagoner

Power and memory combined to produce the Deccan Plateau’s built landscape. Beyond the region’s capital cities, such as Bijapur, Vijayanagara, or Golconda, the culture of smaller, fortified strongholds both on the plains and in the hills provides a fascinating insight into its history. These smaller centers saw very high levels of conflict between 1300 and 1600, especially during the turbulent sixteenth century when gunpowder technology had become widespread in the region. Below is a selection of images of architecture and monuments, examined through a mix of methodologies (history, art history, and archaeology), taken from our new book Power, Memory, and Architecture: Contested Sites on India’s Deccan Plateau, 1300-1600.

Richard M. Eaton is Professor of History at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Phillip B. Wagoner is Professor of Art History at Wesleyan University. They are authors of Power, Memory, Architecture: Contested Sites on India’s Deccan Plateau, 1300-1600.

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3. Akbar Jehan and the dialectic of resistance and accommodation

By Nyla Ali Khan

To analyze the personal, political, and intellectual trajectory of Akbar Jehan—the woman, the wife, the mother, and the Kashmiri nationalist, not simply an iconic and often misunderstood political figure—has been an emotionally tempestuous journey for me. The Kashmiri political and social activist is my maternal grandmother. I am so interested in studying her life and work because, to my mind, there is a historical value in challenging the historical narratives about the political actors of pre-and post-1947 Jammu and Kashmir and the movement for an autonomous and pluralistic Kashmir. I have attempted to steer clear of delimiting and constricting narratives about her life and work in my recent book. It is important to reshape the collective historical memory so that it includes the humanitarian and pluralistic endeavors of leaders of the movement at that critical time after the partition of India.

While teaching classes on Women’s and Gender Studies at the Universities of Nebraska and Oklahoma, I realized that history has done a rather inadequate job of memorializing the contributions of women political and social activists. Akbar Jehan’s work of sustaining the community, caring for the marginalized and disempowered at a turbulent time, has not been captured by professional historians, who have peripheralized the work of women in rebuilding societies following armed conflict.

With the oral and historical resources available to me, I investigated the impact of Akbar Jehan’s work on the legal, social, and economic status of women in Jammu and Kashmir. She was a passionate advocate of women’s education who sought to place girls—including those of impoverished backgrounds—in the modern and vibrant world of intellectual and scientific pursuits. Working with Lady Mountbatten, wife of the first Governor General of post-Partition India, Lord Mountbatten, Akbar Jehan advocated for repatriating young women who had been forcibly removed from their families during the partition of the country. According to my mother Suraiya and her older sister Khalida, Akbar Jehan also worked to restore the honor of those women who had borne the brunt of communal vendetta. Following the partition, she helped to form the Relief Committee and served on the chair of the Food Committee, which sought to address economic losses resulting from the collapse of the tourism sector and the subsequent rise in the cost of living. Later, Akbar Jehan founded the institute Markaz Behbudi Khawateen, still in operation today, which imparts literacy, training in arts and crafts, health care, and social security as tools of empowerment.

All of these efforts constitute a powerful rebuttal of the tendency among Western observers to conflate Islamic norms with practices. Western feminist epistemologies in particular, as I have observed in Islam, Women, and the Violence in Kashmir, can impair the research paradigms, hypotheses, and field work on women in Islamic societies. Akbar Jehan believed that women citizens should be accorded equal rights with men in all fields of national life—economic, cultural, political, and in government services. She reinforced the idea that women should have the right to work in every line of employment for terms and wages equal to those for men; women would be assured of equality with men in education, social insurance and job conditions, though she argued that the law should also give special protections to mothers and children. In contrast to many Western feminists, however, Akbar Jehan gave equal credence to the path-paving work of women within religious, familial, and communal frameworks. Moreover, she sought to motivate education within minority communities (as opposed to state-controlled education), and above all she recognized culture and history as sites of political and social struggle.

Akbar Jehan understood that reforms and consciousness-raising could occur most decisively at the grassroots level, not in the corridors of power in New Delhi, nor in the plush halls of parliament. I would venture to say that the many harangues, digressions, dogmatic statements, and red tape of parliament could not intimidate an activist who had worked in the trenches and walked shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of the anti-monarchical, anti-colonial, and Independence movements of the Indian subcontinent. Akbar Jehan was of the opinion that enfranchisement of both women and men, and assuring women of equal opportunities in education, are not empowering in themselves, but would cause a momentous shift in traditional gender relationships. To address these political obstacles, women who were active in politics in the 20th century sought not only to improve the position of their particular organizations but also to forge connections between the various women’s groups. One of their major accomplishments came in 1950, when the government of Jammu and Kashmir developed educational institutions for women on a large scale, including the first University, as well as a College for women. There remains much scholarly work to be done in exploring how women in civic associations and in government led the way toward a peaceful pluralistic democracy.

By virtue of her status among the major Kashmiri institutions, Akbar Jehan earned the authority to make major policy decisions. Thus, she enjoyed a privilege that other intelligent visionary women did not have. For example, she represented Srinagar and Anantnag constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian parliament from 1977 to 1979 and 1984 to 1989, respectively. Akbar Jehan was also the first president of the Jammu and Kashmir Red Cross Society from 1947 to 1951. She was the first lady of Jammu and Kashmir from 1948–1953 and again from 1975–1982. So, it would be difficult to deny that making one’s vision a reality, particularly for a woman in the South Asian context, is contingent, to a certain extent, on socioeconomic privilege and political clout. And though Akbar Jehan’s critics have pointed out that her elite position gave her visibility and access to the echelons of power, this by no means diminishes her legacy.

khanNyla Ali Khan is a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma and member of the Harvard-based Scholars Strategy Network. She is the author of The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, and The Life of a Kashmiri Woman. She is also the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir, a contributor to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women (2013), and a guest editor for Oxford Islamic Studies Online.

Oxford Islamic Studies Online is an authoritative, dynamic resource that brings together the best current scholarship in the field for students, scholars, government officials, community groups, and librarians to foster a more accurate and informed understanding of the Islamic world. Oxford Islamic Studies Online features reference content and commentary by renowned scholars in areas such as global Islamic history, concepts, people, practices, politics, and culture, and is regularly updated as new content is commissioned and approved under the guidance of the Editor in Chief, John L. Esposito.

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4. A Q&A with Peipei Qiu on Chinese comfort women

Issues concerning Imperial Japan’s wartime “comfort women” have ignited international debates in the past two decades, and a number of personal accounts of “comfort women” have been published in English since the 1990s. Until recently, however, there has been a notable lack of information about the women drafted from Mainland China. Chinese Comfort Women is the first book in English to record the first-hand experiences of twelve Chinese women who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese Imperial forces during the Asia-Pacific War (1931-1945). Here, author and translator Peipei Qiu (who wrote the book in collaboration with Su Zhiliang and Chen Lifei), answers some questions about her new book.

What is one of the most surprising facts about “comfort women” that you found during your research?

One of the shocking facts revealed in this book is that the scope of military sexual slavery in the war was much larger than previously known. Korean and Japanese researchers, based on the information available to them, had estimated that the Japanese military had detained between 30,000 and 200,000 women to be sex slaves during the war.  These early estimations, however, don’t accurately reflect the large number of Chinese women enslaved. Investigations conducted by Chinese researchers suggest a much higher number. My collaborating researcher Su Zhiliang, for example, estimates that between 1931 and 1945 approximately 400,000 women were forced to become military “comfort women,” and that at least half of them were drafted from Mainland China.

Although it is not possible to obtain accurate statistics on the total number of kidnappings, documented cases suggest shockingly large numbers. For instance, around the time of the Nanjing Massacre, the Japanese army abducted tens of thousands of women from Nanjing and the surrounding areas, including over 2,000 women from Suzhou, 3,000 from Wuxi, and 20,000 from Hangzhou. These blatant kidnappings continued throughout the entire war, the youngest abductee’s being only nine years old.

Chinese and Malayan girls forcibly taken from Penang by the Japanese to work as 'comfort girls' for the troops. The Allied Reoccupation of the Andaman Islands, 1945. Lemon A E (Sergeant), No 9 Army Film & Photographic Unit. War Office, Central Office of Information and American Second World War Official Collection. Imperial War Museums. IWM Non Commercial Licence.

Chinese and Malayan girls forcibly taken from Penang by the Japanese to work as ‘comfort girls’ for the troops. The Allied Reoccupation of the Andaman Islands, 1945. Lemon A E (Sergeant), No 9 Army Film & Photographic Unit. War Office, Central Office of Information and American Second World War Official Collection. IWM Non Commercial Licence. Imperial War Museums.

What impressed you most deeply when you heard the stories of these women?

What struck me most deeply were the “comfort women’s” horrendous sufferings. I felt strongly that their stories must be told to the world. Many of the women were teenagers when the Japanese Imperial Forces kidnapped them. They were given the minimum amount of food necessary to keep them alive and were subjected to multiple rapes each day. Those who resisted were beaten or killed, and those who attempted to escape would be punished with anything from torture to decapitation, and the punishment often included not only the woman but also her family members.

The brutal torture was not only physical. These women confined in the so-called “comfort stations” lived in constant fear and agony, not knowing how long they would have to endure and what would happen to them the following day, worrying what their families went through trying to save them, and witnessing other women being tortured and killed. During research and writing I often could not hold back tears, and their stories always remain heavily and vividly in my mind.

I was also deeply impressed by their resilience and faith in humanity. These women were brutally tortured and exploited by the Japanese imperial forces during the war, and when the war ended, members of their own patriarchal society discarded them as defiled and useless. Many of them were ignored, treated as collaborators with the enemy, or even persecuted. Yet what the survivors remember and recount is not only suffering and anger but also acts of humanity – no matter how little they themselves have witnessed. Wan Aihua, though gang-raped multiple times and nearly beaten to death by Japanese troops, never forgot an army interpreter who saved her from a Japanese officer’s sword. She told us, “I didn’t know if the interpreter was Japanese, but I believe there were kind people in the Japanese troops, just as there are today, when many Japanese people support our fight for justice.”

What motivated you to write this book? 

In part, I was shocked by the lack of information available. In this day and age, it feels like every fact or story to be known is easily at our fingertips. However, in this instance, it was not the case. Even after the rise of the “comfort women” redress movement, most of the focus was on the “comfort women” of Japan and its colonies, and little was known about Chinese “comfort women” outside of China. This created a serious issue in understanding the history of the Asia-Pacific war and to the study of the entire “comfort women” issue.  Without a thorough understanding of Chinese “comfort women’s” experiences, an accurate explication of the scope and nature of that system cannot be achieved.

In the past two decades, how to understand what happened to “comfort women” has become an international controversy. Some Japanese politicians and activists insist that “comfort women” were prostitutes making money at frontlines, that there was not evidence of direct involvements of Japanese military and government. And they say telling the stories of “comfort women” disgraces the Japanese people.

One of the main purposes for me to write about Chinese “comfort women” is to help achieve a transnational understanding of their sufferings.  To understand what happened to the “comfort women,” we must transcend the boundaries of nation-state. I hope to demonstrate that fundamentally confronting the tragedy of “comfort women” is not about politics, nor is it about national interests; it is about human life. Dismissing individual sufferings in the name of national honor is not only wrong but also dangerous, it is a ploy that nation-states have used, and continue to use, to drag people into war, to deprive them of their basic rights, and to abuse them.

Peipei Qiu is the author and translator of Chinese Comfort Women: Testimonies from Imperial Japan’s Sex Slaves, which she wrote in collaboration with Su Zhiliang and Chen Lifei. She is currently professor of Chinese and Japanese on the Louise Boyd Dale and Alfred Lichtenstein Chair and director of the Asian Studies Program at Vassar College.

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5. Kotodama: the multi-faced Japanese myth of the spirit of language

By Naoko Hosokawa

In Japan, there is a common myth of the spirit of language called kotodama (言霊, ことだま); a belief that some divine power resides in the Japanese language. This belief originates in ancient times as part of Shintoist ritual but the idea has survived through Japanese history and the term kotodama is still frequently mentioned in public discourse. The notion of kotodama is closely linked with Japanese linguistic identity, and the narrative of kotodama has been repeatedly reinterpreted according to non-linguistic factors surrounding Japan, as well as the changing idea of “purity” of language in Japan.

Ancient face

The term kotodama literally means “the spirit of language” (koto = language, dama (tama) = spirit or soul). It is a belief based on the idea of Shintoism, the indigenous religion of Japan which worships divinity in all natural creation and phenomena. In ancient Japan, language was believed to have a spirit, which gives positive power to positive words, negative power to negative words, and impacts a person’s life when his or her name is pronounced out loud. Wishes or curses were thus spelled out in a particular manner in order to communicate with the divine powers. According to this ancient belief, the spirit of language only resides in “pure” Japanese that is unique and free from foreign influence. Therefore, Sino-Japanese loanwords, which were numerous by then and had a great impact on the Japanese language, were eschewed in Shintoist rituals and Japanese native vocabulary, yamatokotoba, was preferred. Under the name of kotodama, this connection between spiritual power and pure language survived throughout Japanese history as a looser concept and was reinvented multiple times.

War-time face

Koku Saityou shounin, written by Emperor Saga. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Koku Saityou shounin, written by Emperor Saga. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the most significant historical moments in which the myth of kotodama was reinvented was during the Second World War. In order to strengthen national solidarity, the government reintroduced the idea of kotodama, coupling it with the idea of kokutai (国体, こくたい, koku = country or nation, tai = body), the Japanese national polity. The government promoted the idea that the use of “pure” and traditional Japanese language was at the core of the national unity and social virtue that is unique to Japan, while failing to use the right language would lead to violation of the national polity. Under the belief of kotodama, proposals to abolish or reduce the use of kanji (Chinese characters), which had been introduced since the modernization of the country in the second half of the nineteenth century, were fiercely rejected. Instead, the use of kanji as well as traditional non-vernacular orthographic style was encouraged. Furthermore, based on the kotodama myth, the use of Western loanwords was strictly banned as they belonged to the language of the enemy (tekiseigo) and those words were replaced by Sino-Japanese words. For example, the word ragubî, which is the loan from the English word “rugby,” was replaced by tôkyû, a Sino-Japanese word meaning “fight ball.” The word anaunsâ, which is the loan from the English word “announcer,” was replaced by hôsôin, a Sino-Japanese word meaning “broadcasting person.”

It is interesting to note that the kotodama myth was reinvented to encourage the use of Sino-Japanese elements, whereas in the ancient belief the myth promoted the Japanese native elements and eschewed Sino-Japanese elements. In other words, Sino-Japanese was redefined as the essential element of the “pure” and “traditional” Japanese language. Even the movements to simplify the Japanese orthographic system by abolishing the use of Chinese characters and using only kana (phonetic syllabaries) to write Japanese were considered to be violations of kotodama, despite the fact that kana was invented in Japan. This complete reversal of the position of Sino-Japanese elements can be explained by the belief that the increasing use of Western loanwords was creating a new threat to the Japanese linguistic identity. The idea of kokutai, along with other militarist propaganda, was stigmatized in post-war Japanese society and faded away. However, the idea of kotodama survived through the post-war democratization period into contemporary Japan with yet another face.

Contemporary face

You still hear the word kotodama today. A song titled “Ai no Kotodama [Kotodama of Love] – Spiritual Message” performed by a Japanese pop rock band, Southern All Stars, is a well-known hit which has sold over a million since it was recorded in 1996. Above all, one frequently sees the term kotodama used in public debates on the subject of foreign loanwords (gairaigo, which excludes Sino-Japanese loans). For example, an article from a nationwide newspaper stated that “loanwords are threatening the country of kotodama.” Thus the idea of kotodama is still linked to the purity of language in contrast to Western loanwords but, unlike the link between kotodama and political identity of the country made during World War Two, it seems that the myth is now linked to its cultural and social identity while recent waves of globalization have increased the diversity within the contemporary Japan.

The diversity of Japanese society goes hand in hand with the diversity of its vocabulary, which we can see from the rapid increase of loanwords in Japanese. However, at the same time, this increases a sense of insecurity in relation to the linguistic and cultural identity of Japan. As a result, the ancient myth of kotodama has been reinvented as a way to manifest Japanese linguistic identity through the idea of a “pure” language. Kotodama has no fixed definition, and continues to transform as Japanese society undergoes changes. It is questionable if the Japanese still really believe in the spiritual power of language — however, the myth of linguistic purity persists in the mind of the Japanese through the word kotodama.

Naoko Hosokawa is a DPhil candidate in Japanese sociolinguistics at the University of Oxford. A version of this article originally appeared on the OxfordWords blog.

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6. Chinese Fables: The Dragon Slayer and Other Timeless Tales of Wisdom | Book Review

This collection of pithy tales is multi-layered. The stories linger in the mind the way a good poem resonates. They are ancient Chinese fables Shiho S. Nunes has expanded into longer tales.

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7. My First Book of Chinese Words: An ABC Rhyming Book | Book Review

This unique and charming alphabet book uses rhymes and fact snippets to introduce Chinese words to a pre-schooler. The words are written in Pinyin, a sound system using Roman letters to write Chinese sounds. Words introduced are significant in Chinese culture, but relatable in any culture.

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8. Who signed the death warrant for the British Empire?

By W. David McIntyre

The rapid dissolution of the European colonial empires in the middle decades of the 20th century were key formative events in the background to the contemporary global scene. As the British Empire was the greatest of the imperial structures to go, it is worth considering who signed the death warrant. I suggest there are five candidates.

The first is the Earl of Balfour, Prime Minister 1902-1905, who later penned the exquisite ‘status formula’ of 1926 to describe the relations of Britain and its self-governing white settler colonies, then known as Dominions. They were ‘equal in status’ though ‘freely co-operating’ under a single Crown. The implications were that they were as independent as they wanted to be and this was marked in the preamble to the Statute of Westminster five years later. Some visionaries at this time suggested that places like India or Nigeria might be Dominions, too, suggesting that here was an agreed exist route from empire.

India, indeed, took the route in 1947 when Clement Attlee, the second candidate, announced that the Raj would end. The jewel in the imperial crown was removed when the Raj was partitioned into the Dominions of India and Pakistan. They were followed into independence a year later by Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Burma (Myanmar). With the ending of the Raj it was evident that empire’s days were numbered.

Harold Macmillan

Harold Macmillan, our third candidate, extended independence more widely to Africa. His celebrated ‘Wind of Change’ speech to the South African Parliament in 1960 marked a firm foot on the decolonization accelerator pedal. Macmillan’s conservative governments, 1957-1963, granted independence to fourteen colonies (eleven in Africa).

It looked as if the process would be completed by the fourth candidate, Harold Wilson, whose ‘Withdrawal from East of Suez’ and abolition of the Colonial Office ran in parallel to Britain’s preparations to enter the European Communities. Although the conservative government of Edward Heath, 1970-1974, delayed the withdrawal for a few years, Heath announced to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Singapore in 1971 that the empire was ‘past history’. And, as part of his application of the baleful disciplines of business management to government, he ordered a ‘Programme Analysis and Review’ of all the remaining dependent territories. This process, conducted over 1973-74, concluded that the dependencies were liabilities rather than assets and that a policy of ‘accelerated decolonization; should be adopted in many small island countries in the Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Caribbean previously deemed too small and incapable of being sovereign states.

Although the Heath government never managed to approve this policy before it was ejected from office after the miner’s strike in 1974, the second Wilson government went ahead. It was Jim Callaghan, as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs who signed the death warrant on 13 June 1975 in the form of a despatch to administrators suggesting that the dependencies had been ‘acquired for historical reasons that were no longer valid’. To avoid the charge of colonialism being made by the anti-imperialist majority in the United Nations, Britain adopted ‘accelerated decolonization’ in the Pacific Islands. During the late 1970s and the 1980s most of the remaining dependent territories moved rapidly to independence. An empire acquired over half-a-millennium was dissolved in less than half-a-century.

W. David McIntyre was educated at Peterhouse, Cambridge, the University of Washington, Seattle, and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. After teaching for the Universities of Maryland, British Columbia, and Nottingham, he became Professor of History at the University of Canterbury New Zealand between 1966 and 1997. As Honorary Special Correspondent of The New Zealand International Review he reported on Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings from 1987 to 2011. His latest book is Winding up the British Empire in the Pacific Islands.

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Image credit: Harold Macmillan. By Vivienne (Florence Mellish Entwistle) [Open Government Licence], via Wikimedia Commons

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9. Celebrating Women’s History Month


This March we celebrate Women’s History Month, commemorating the lives, legacies, and contributions of women around the world. We’ve compiled a brief reading list that demonstrates the diversity of women’s lives and achievements.

Women in Asia

Map of Asia

The Courtesan’s Arts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, Edited by Martha Feldman and Bonnie Gordon

Delve into courtesan cultures, including artistic practices and cultural production, often overlooked or diminished in relevancy.

The Power of Gender and the Gender of Power: Explorations in Early Indian History by Kumkum Roy

Discover the distinct strategies through which men and women constituted their identities in India for all their implications, tensions, and inconsistencies.

Cornelia Sorabji: India’s Pioneer Woman Lawyer: A Biography by Suparna Gooptu

Learn about Sorabji’s decisive role in opening up the legal profession to women long before they were allowed to plead before the courts of law, including her writings and personal correspondence.

Women in the Middle East

Map of Middle East

Cleopatra: A Biography by Duane W. Roller

Uncover not the figure in popular culture, arts, and literature of the last five hundred years — but the real last Greek queen of Egypt.

Conceiving Citizens: Women and the Politics of Motherhood in Iran by Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet

Place women in their proper role as mothers of a nation — central to the history of Iran during successive regimes in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire by Leslie P. Peirce

Examine the sources of royal women’s power and assess the reactions of contemporaries, which ranged from loyal devotion to armed opposition.

Women in British History

UK Map

Singled Out: How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men After the First World War by Virginia Nicholson

Try to keep up with a generation of women fated to remain unmarried in the aftermath of the Great War.

The Wealth of Wives: Women, Law, and Economy in Late Medieval London by Barbara A. Hanawalt

Consider an overlooked contribution to London’s economy—the wealth that women accumulated through inheritance, dowry, and dower.

Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts by James A. Winn

Study the life and reign of Queen Anne through literature, art, and music from Dryden, Pope, Purcell, Handel, Lely, Kneller, Wren, Vanbrugh, Addison, Swift, and many other artists.

Women in European History


Murder of a Medici Princess by Caroline P. Murphy

Illuminate the brilliant life and tragic death of Isabella de Medici, one of the brightest stars in the dazzling world of Renaissance Italy, the daughter of Duke Cosimo I, ruler of Florence and Tuscany.

Writing the Revolution: A French Women’s History in Letters by Lindsay A. Parker

Investigate nearly 1,000 familiar letters, which convey the intellectual, emotional, and familial life of a revolutionary in all of its complexity.

The Burgher and the Whore: Prostitution in Early Modern Amsterdam by Lotte van de Pol

Delve into the cultural, social, and economic conditions of the lives of poor women in a seafaring society from the perspectives of prostitutes, their bawds, their clients, and the police.

Women in American History

U.S. Map

Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy by Elizabeth R. Varon

Probe the life and work of one of the most remarkable women of the Civil War era–the leader of the North’s key spy ring in the South.

Working Women, Literary Ladies: The Industrial Revolution and Female Aspiration by Sylvia J. Cook

Trace the hopes and tensions generated by expectations of gender and class from the first New England operatives in the early 19th century to immigrant sweatshop workers in the early 20th.

Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement by Sally McMillen

Join the meeting that launched the women’s rights movement and changed American history.

I Died for Beauty: Dorothy Wrinch and the Cultures of Science by Marjorie Senechal

Enter the provocative, scintillating mind of the talented and flawed scientist.

African American Women Chemists by Jeannette Brown

Connect to the lives of African America women chemists, from the earliest pioneers through late 1960′s when the Civil Rights Acts were passed, to today.

Women in Latin American History

Map of Latin America

Power and Women’s Representation in Latin America by Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer

Look at the recent trends in women’s representation in Latin America, and the complex and often incomplete nature of women’s political representation.

Refusing the Favor: The Spanish-Mexican Women of Santa Fe, 1820-1880 by Deena J. Gonzalez

Uncover the key role “invisible” Spanish-Mexican women played in the US takeover of Mexico’s northern territory and gain a greater understanding of conquest and colonization.

Weaving the Past: A History of Latin America’s Indigenous Women from the Prehispanic Period to the Present by Susan Kellogg

Reach back through women’s long history of labor, political activism, and contributions to — or even support of — family and community well-being.

Women’s history encompasses the history of humankind, including men, but approaches it from a woman‐centered perspective. It highlights women’s activities and ideas and asserts that their problems, issues, and accomplishments are just as central to the telling of the human story as are those of their brothers, husbands, and sons. It places the sociopolitical relations between the sexes, or gender, at the center of historical inquiry and questions female subordination.

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Image Credits: (1) Physical World Map via CIA World Factbook (public domain). (2) Map of Asia by Bytebear. CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Map of Middle East by NuclearVacuum. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. (4) Map of Britain by Anonymous101. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (5) Map of Europe via CIA World Factbook (public domain). (6) Blank US Map by Theshibboleth. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (7) Map of Latin America and the Caribbean by Yug. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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10. Proving Polybius wrong about elephants

By Adam L. Brandt and Alfred L. Roca

Do conservation genetics and ancient Greek history ever cross paths? Recently, a genetic study of a remnant population of elephants in Eritrea has also addressed an ancient mystery surrounding a battle in the Hellenistic world. After Alexander the Great died unexpectedly in 323 BC, his generals divided his territory, founding several empires. Their successors ended up fighting each other during the next few centuries, often using elephants to intimidate the enemy and disrupt military formations. The Seleucids, heirs to the lands neighboring India, traded treasure and territory for access to Indian war elephants. They fought the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt, seeking control of the lands between the two empires during the Syrian Wars. The Ptolemaic pharaohs, desperate for their own pachydermal tanks, established outposts in what is today the country of Eritrea, to capture African elephants for warfare.

Elephants from the two continents were put to the test at the Battle of Raphia in 217 BC, between Antiochus III and Ptolemy IV Philopater. In The Histories, which includes the only known account of African and Asian elephants meeting in warfare, the Greek historian Polybius described the resulting fiasco:

“Most of Ptolemy’s elephants, however, declined the combat, as is the habit of African elephants; for unable to stand the smell and the trumpeting of the Indian elephants, and terrified, I suppose, also by their great size and strength, they at once turn tail and take to flight before they get near them. This is what happened on the present occasion; when Ptolemy’s elephants were thus thrown into confusion and driven back on their own lines.”

As every school child knows, Asian elephants are smaller than African elephants. So why did Polybius get this wrong?  One British writer, perhaps unconsciously affected by the corporal punishments meted out by Classics teachers to disruptive students at English schools, decided that Polybius must after all be correct. He pointed out that, although African savanna elephants are larger than Asian elephants, there is a different species of elephant that lives in the tropical forests of Africa, and which is smaller in size than the Asian elephant. Thus began the tale that the war elephants of the pharaohs were actually African forest elephants, ignoring the thousands of kilometers that separate the range of forest elephants from places where the Egyptians captured their war elephants. This tale was then perpetuated by subsequent authors, each citing authors before as definitive sources.

A savanna elephant in Kruger National Park, South Africa

In a recent conservation genetics study, we examined the elephants of Eritrea, the descendants of the population that was the source of Egyptian war elephants. Eritrea currently has the northernmost population of elephants in eastern Africa. Perhaps one or two hundred elephants persist there, in isolated and fragmented habitat. Using DNA isolated from non-invasively collected dung samples we examined three different genetic markers. First we looked at slow-evolving nuclear gene sequences in the Eritrean elephants. In every case the sites always had the same sequence found in hundreds of savanna elephants, and in no case did we ever get a match to sequences found across all forest elephants. This established that Eritrean elephants were savanna elephants.

When we then looked at very fast evolving regions of the nuclear genome, the Eritrean elephants proved to be a close match to savanna elephants in East Africa, and again were genetically unlike forest elephants. Finally, we looked at mitochondrial DNA, which often has a different pattern than other genetic markers in elephants. Mitochondrial DNA is transmitted only by females, and these females do not geographically disperse away from the natal heard. Very often, one can infer a signal of ancient genetic events that persist only in the pattern of the mitochondrial DNA. Yet in this case, the mitochondrial DNA agreed with the nuclear results: these were savanna elephants, and there was not the slightest trace of any ancient forest elephant presence in Eritrea.

Given this result, why did Polybius claim that the Asian elephants were larger than African elephants? It turns out that in the ancient world there was a legend that, due to the wet climate, animals were always larger in India than they were elsewhere. This legend was widespread among authors before and after Polybius. Go back and look at the way the translation of the Polybius text is worded. Even in translation, it is evident that Polybius has interjecting his own beliefs onto the account, and not recounting an actual observation.

Our genetic study indicated that the isolated population of elephants in Eritrea has low genetic diversity. Habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict are major concerns for conservation of this population, which luckily has not yet been impacted by China’s lust for illegal ivory. Increasing and protecting suitable habitat for their long-term survival is critical, and in the very long run it may become possible to create habitat corridors to other surviving but distant populations. Luckily, the government of Eritrea is committed to protecting the country’s natural environment, and has recently reported an increase in the range and number of elephants.

Adam L. Brandt is a PhD candidate, and Alfred L. Roca is an Assistant Professor, in the Department of Animal Sciences of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They are the authors of the paper ‘The elephants of Gash-Barka, Eritrea: Nuclear and mitochondrial genetic patterns‘ published in Journal of Heredity.

The Journal of Heredity covers organismal genetics: conservation genetics of endangered species, population structure and phylogeography, molecular evolution and speciation, molecular genetics of disease resistance in plants and animals, genetic biodiversity and relevant computer programs.

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Image credit: Savanna elephant in Kruger National Park, South Africa. By Felix Andrews (CC-BY-SA-3.0) via Wikimedia Commons.

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11. Birth of Dangun, legendary founder of Korea

This Day in World History - According to Korean tradition, Dangun, the founder of Korea’s first dynasty, was born on October 3, more than 4,000 years ago. The legend of his birth indicates why this king is so important. Hwanung, the son of the king of heaven, wanted to live among men rather than among the gods. He came down the earth with 3,000 followers and settled in what is now North Korea, ruling the humans who lived in the area.

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12. China Clipper makes first trans-Pacific flight

This Day in World History

November 22, 1935

China Clipper makes first trans-Pacific flight

Holding more than 110,000 pieces of mail, the mammoth plane that weighed more than 52,000 pounds and had a 130-foot wingspan lifted from the waters of San Francisco Bay. The plane, the China Clipper, was beginning the first flight across the Pacific Ocean on November 22, 1935—just eight years after Charles Lindbergh had flown alone across the Atlantic.

Built by the Glenn Martin Company, the China Clipper was a giant seaplane, a design well-suited to its use. The plane had to be massive to carry powerful enough engines and enough fuel to cover the vast expanse of the Pacific. The size and weight meant the plane would need a large runway, uncommon in the 1930s when aviation was just beginning. A seaplane, though, could easily land on water.

Flying across the Pacific was the brainchild of Juan Trippe, president of Pan American Airways, the leading U.S. airline at the time. Trippe knew that even the largest, most powerful plane would not be able to cross the entire Pacific in one flight. He planned to make stops at Honolulu, Midway, Guam, and Wake islands before reaching the plane’s original destination at Manila, in the Philippines. He was there—along with Postmaster General James A. Farley—to send the plane off on its initial flight. Trippe meant the name clipper to evoke the romance of the fastest merchant ships of the days of sail, the clipper ships that for decades had carried on the China trade.

Pan Am added two other planes to its trans-Pacific fleet, the Hawaii Clipper and the Philippine Clipper. Trans-Pacific passenger service was inaugurated in 1936, and that same year the first trip to China took place. Later, the Martin seaplanes were replaced by even more powerful Boeing aircraft.

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13. America’s next frontier: Burma

It all began in November of 2010 when the military regime decided to release opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi who, since 1989, had been on house arrest under charges of attempting to divide the military. A few months later in the March of 2011, former Prime Minister and military hero Thein Sein was sworn in as President of the rapidly changing government. Among the numerous bold moves President Sein has made since assuming his new role in the fragile nation, arguably the most shocking has been the discontinuation of the controversial $3.6 billion Myitsone dam, a project funded by eager Chinese investors to generate electricity for millions of Chinese. What’s more, the West, most notably the United States, has seen this move by President Sein as a clear sign that his countries relations with the Chinese are turning sour. This is one of the reasons the Americans recently sent Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the first American official to visit the country in fifty years, to speak with President Sein about a host of issues ranging from the severing of ties with North Korea to prolonged relief on economic sanctions girding the people of Burma. As America embarks on a new season of brinkmanship with the Burmese government, it is eminently important to understand the reasons why we are now so eager to embrace the new government while also studying the global implications of Burma turning a shoulder to their neighbors from the East, the Chinese.
Below is an excerpt from author David Steinberg’s book, Burma/Myanmar: What Everyone Needs to Know. Here, Steinberg details the economic and strategic interests China desires in Burma. – Nick, OUP USA

Although we can only speculate on Chinese motivation for the close relationship with the Myanmar authorities, strategic and economic issues seem paramount. Chinese influence in Myanmar is potentially helpful in any rivalry that might again develop with India, although Sino-Indian relations now are quite cordial. As China expands its regional influence and develops a blue-water navy, Myanmar provides access to the Bay of Bengal and supplements other available port facilities for the Chinese in the Indian Ocean in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka – called a “string of [Chinese] pearls.” Although the southern reaches of Myanmar are at the extreme western end of the Straits of Malacca, the free use of these straits are critical strategic concerns to China, Japan, Korea, and the United States. Some Chinese sources consider continued access to the straits to be a critical policy objective, and a close relationship with Myanmar is a potential advantage. Eighty percent of imported Chinese oil passes through these straits. To the extent that pipelines for oil and gas cross Myanmar and relieve Chinese dependence on the vulnerable Straits of Malacca, this is clearly in China’s strategic interests.

Access to energy sources is both a strategic and economic concern. Diversification of the supply of oil, natural gas, and hydroelectric power is an issue in which Myanmar looms large. The exploitation of offshore natural gas fields in Myanmar is important, as is the ability to transport that gas, as well as Middle Eastern crude oil, to China avoiding the Straits of Malacca, which is a strategic plus for China. China is helping construct some thirty dams, most of which will supply electricity to Yunnan Province as well as power and irrigation water to parts of Myanmar.

Under the SLORC/SPDC,

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14. Heart of Buddha

In Heart of Buddha, Heart of China: The Life of Tanxu, a Twentieth Century Monk, James Carter traces the life of Tanxu, an unknown but extraordinary Buddhist monk. Defined by a desire for a desire for an activist Chinese nationalism that maintained the nation’s cultural and social traditions Tanxu’s life story portrays twentieth century China from empire to republic, through war, famine, and revolution.

A century ago, Tanxu used his temples to establish physical links between Buddhism and Chinese nationalism. At the same time, though, he was guided by the belief that the physical world was illusory. The title of his memoir, “Recollections of Shadows and Dust,” uses a common Buddhist phrase meant to convey the impermanence and illusion of the material world, hardly the theological emphasis one might expect from a man who transformed cityscapes with his work in brick and mortar. I tried to understand this apparent paradox as I researched Tanxu’s career, but my connection to him remained impersonal, even distant, and strictly academic.

This all changed with the unexpected series of events that led me to the Bronx. My research turned up a commentary that Tanxu had written on the Heart Sutra (a Buddhist sutra is a sacred text, usually purporting to record the spoken teachings of the historical Buddha). This brief and very popular text includes the famous construction “form is emptiness; emptiness is form.” Tanxu’s commentary was translated into English and widely read by Western Buddhists. One morning from my office in Philadelphia I emailed the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA), in New York, to request a copy. They were happy to comply, but more interesting was this aside in their response: “By the way…[our] Master Lok To is a dharma heir disciple of Master Tanxu.”

Tanxu and Lok To worked together closely during the 1950’s and Lok To came to North America with Tanxu’s encouragement. He settled in the Bronx at the invitation of local Buddhist laity, and established the Buddhist Association of the United States there in 1964. Ten years later, he moved to his current location, on Davidson Avenue and founded the Young Men’s Buddhist Association as a center for his translation work. There he has been for nearly forty years.

Sitting with Lok To, Lu Bin (a young nun), and Hoi Sang Yu (a lay Buddhist who would become one of my most important guides through Tanxu’s world), I share my interest in Tanxu, and what I know about him. I’ve been to Harbin, and Yingkou, and Changchun, places they’ve never visited. Had I been to Qingdao, they wanted to know? Not yet. But that was the Master’s most important temple – I had to visit there: they could arrange it. They could coordinate my travels to most of the important stops on Tanxu’s itinerary, including Ningbo, where Tanxu studied to become a monk, and Tiantai Mountain, where his sect of Buddhism was established 1,100 years ago. Lok To was formally the abbot of Chamshan Temple in Hong Kong, where Tanxu’s remains were interred. I was welcome there anytime.

The moment was exciting, but also unsettling. I am by training and disposition an academic: keen to observe, less eager to participate. Journalists are warned to report, not to become, the story. Was I not risking just this by accepting invitations to temples and posing before Tanxu’s memorial shrine? And there was the question of faith. I make no claims for or against the beliefs that Tanxu, Lok To, and the other monks shared. Did I belong here?

Five months later, I stand in a mountainside clearing overlooking Clearwater Bay in Hong Kong’s New Territories. A white stupa housing Tanxu’s earthly remains gleams in the tropical sun. It is a beautiful scene of green cliffs plunging into the azure waters of the South China Sea. As I contemplate the view, a monkey em

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15. Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated

This Day in World History

January 30, 1948

Mahatma Gandhi is Assassinated

The 78-year-old man was walking to a prayer meeting with the support of two grandnieces. A man stepped out of the crowd and greeted him. The old man returned the salutation when, suddenly, the other man pulled out a pistol and shot three times. Half an hour later, Mohandas Gandhi—the leading figure of India’s independentce movement and the leading exponent of nonviolent resistance—was dead.

Born in India, Mohandas Gandhi was trained as a lawyer and first began a movement for social change in South Africa, where he had lived and worked for a time. That campaign aimed at overturning laws that limited the rights of Indians living in South Africa. The effort, based on his belief in nonviolent resistance, won some concessions from the government in 1913.

He launched his first civil disobedience movement in India in 1919, protesting a British law that required military service of all Indian men. For most of the next three decades, Gandhi was the spiritual and political leader of India, pushing for reform, boycotting British goods, protesting violence between Hindus and Muslims, and eventually pressuring Britain to grant Indian independence.

That campaign finally succeeded in 1947, though Gandhi’s hope for a united India was dashed when Britain, bowing to pressure from the Muslim League, split the area into two states—the chiefly Hindu India and the mainly Muslim Pakistan.

Religious violence followed, as members of the two faiths attacked and killed each other. Gandhi pleaded for an end to the violence and for the Hindu majority to grant tolerance to Muslims. That plea led his assassin, a Hindu fanatic, to kill the Mahatma, or “Great Soul.” A reporter who had been Gandhi’s friend wrote, “Just an old man in a loincloth in distant India: yet when he died, humanity wept.”

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16. Japanese attack Port Arthur, starting Russo-Japanese War

This Day in World History

February 8, 1904

Japanese Attack Port Arthur, Starting Russo-Japanese War

On February 8, 1904, just before midnight, Japanese destroyers entered the harbor of Port Arthur (now Lü-shun, China). Soon after, they unleashed torpedoes against Russian ships in a surprise attack that began the Russo-Japanese War.

The conflict grew over competition between Russia and Japan for territory in both Korea and Manchuria, in northern China. Japan had won Port Arthur, at the tip of the Liaotung Peninsula, from China in an 1894–1895 war. Russia joined with other European powers to force it to relinquish the port, however — and then three years later had compelled China to grant the city to it. These actions rankled Japan, as did Russia’s refusal to honor a promise to withdraw troops from Manchuria. Japan decided to go to war.

The attack on Port Arthur resumed in the late morning of February 9, when bigger Japanese ships began shelling the Russian fleet and nearby forts. The Russians put up more resistance than expected, however, and the Japanese ships withdrew.

The attack on Port Arthur was inconclusive, but the rest of the war went largely Japan’s way. The Japanese enjoyed several victories in 1904, seizing Korea in March, and defeating Russian forces twice in Manchuria during the summer. More success followed in 1905, with the surrender of Port Arthur in January, a victory over a large Russian army in Manchuria in March, and a decisive naval battle at Tsushima Strait in May that destroyed the Russian fleet. Russia’s government, facing unrest at home, was forced to seek peace.

The Russo-Japanese War marked the first victory of a non-European nation against a European one in modern times. It also contributed to unrest in Russia that would lead, more than a decade later, to the Russian Revolution.

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17. Emperor Meiji issues new constitution of Japan

This Day in World History

February 11, 1889

Emperor Meiji Issues New Constitution of Japan

On February 11, 1889, Japan’s Emperor Meiji furthered his plan to modernize and westernize his nation by promulgating a new constitution. The new plan of government created a western-style two-house parliament, called the Diet, and a constitutional monarchy — though one with a Japanese character.

When Prince Mutsuhito became emperor and took the ruling name Meiji (“enlightened ruler”) in 1867, he was determined to break with his late father’s traditionalist policies and embrace western ways. He took several steps in this direction. Along with creating a public school system and enacting land reforms, the Meiji emperor created government ministries.

The crowning governmental reform was the new constitution, which embraced the idea of citizen participation — though no plebiscite was held to give the public a voice in the document either as a whole or in detail. The emperor declared that the new constitution arose from his desire “to promote the welfare of, and to give development to the moral and intellectual faculties of Our beloved subjects.”

The constitution was modeled chiefly on the Prussian constitution, a fairly conservative document that subjected parliamentary rule to the power of the monarchy. Thus, the Meiji constitution began by declaring the emperor to be sovereign and “sacred and inviolable.” The emperor was named commander of the armed forces and given the power to declare war or make peace without needing to consult with the Diet.

The constitution was chiefly written by Itō Hirobumi, one of the elder statesmen who effectively ran the Japanese government. Itō and his colleagues assumed that they would be chiefly responsible for running the government and making policy and the emperor would not become involved except occasionally.

The Meiji constitution remained in force in Japan until after World War II, when a new constitution creating a stronger parliamentary system was adopted.

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18. Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster strike Japan

This Day in World History

March 11, 2011

Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster Strike Japan

Japan, situated on the Ring of Fire on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, has suffered some major earthquakes over the years. However, nothing before compared to the triple disaster of March 11, 2011: a massive earthquake followed by powerful tsunamis which led to a serious nuclear accident.

The horrors began shortly before three in the afternoon local time with a 9.0-magnitude earthquake. Its epicenter was nearly 20 miles below the floor of the Pacific Ocean about 80 miles east of the Japanese city of Sendai. The quake was one of the most powerful ever recorded, and the strongest to hit this region of Japan.

Map prepared by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration depicting the tsunami wave height model for the Pacific Ocean following the March 11, 2011, earthquake off Sendai, Japan. Source: NOAA Center for Tsunami Research.

The quake unleashed several tsunamis, or tidal waves, that moved as fast as 500 miles an hour in all directions — most destructively to the nearby northeastern coast of Japan’s Honshu island. Waves as high as 33 feet high crashed into towns and cities along the coast, washing away anything in their path. One wave reportedly reached as far inland as 6 miles.

Several nuclear plants are located in northern Honshu. Most shut down automatically when the quake occurred, but the powerful tsunamis damaged the backup power systems at a plant in Fukushima. As a result, cooling systems shut down, and nuclear fuel overheated and later caught fire. The fire released radiation in the air, and the use of seawater to try to cool the reactors led to radiation contaminating the sea. Japanese officials had to ban people from a zone up to 18 miles around the damaged reactors, scene of the second worst nuclear accident in history.

In the end, the triple disaster cost Japan nearly 20,000 dead — mostly from the tsunamis — more than 130,000 forced from their homes, more than $300 billion in damage, and a severe jolt to the economy.

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19. Nadir Shah enters Delhi and captures the Peacock Throne

This Day in World History

March 21, 1739

Nadir Shah enters Delhi and captures the Peacock Throne

On March 21, 1739, Nādir Shāh, leading Persian (modern Iranian) and Turkish forces, completed his conquest of the Mughal Empire by capturing Delhi, India, its capital. He seized vast stores of wealth, and among the prizes he carried away was the fabled Peacock Throne.

Nādir Shāh Afshār. Source: Victoria & Albert Museum.

Born in 1688, Nadr Qoli Beg belonged to a Turkish people loyal to the Safavid rulers of Iran. He became a military leader and helped Shah Tahmasp II regain the throne that had been lost to Afghan invaders. Soon after, however, he was angered by the Shah’s surrender to the Ottoman Turks. In response, he deposed the Shah and placed the Shah’s son on the throne, naming himself regent. That arrangement lasted only a few years; in 1736, he deposed the boy and assumed rule as Nādir Shāh.

The new ruler was bent on conquest. He built a navy and captured Bahrain and Oman before launching himself overland against the Mughals. His conquest of that empire went quickly, giving him the prized throne. Built originally by the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan, it reportedly had silver steps set on golden feet. The back showed two open peacock tails. The whole was studded with precious gems.

The throne became the symbol of the Iranian monarchy, though it only remained in Nādir Shāh’s hands for a short time. He was defeated in battle by the Kurds, who seized the throne and apparently dismantled it. A modern Peacock Throne was made in the early 1800s. That splendid but less spectacular model served as the throne of Iran’s Shahs until the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Nādir Shāh did not fare much better than his magnificent throne. He continued his warring ways, building an empire that was plagued by financial problems and frequent revolts against his cruel rule. In 1749, he was killed by members of his own army.

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20. The 3rd Asian Festival of Children’s Content takes place this week in Singapore!

PaperTigers is a proud sponsor of  the 3rd Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) which takes place this week in Singapore. From May 26 – 29, participants from around the globe will gather ” to meet, interact, network and find common ground and business opportunities with the entire community of children’s content creators.” Last year’s AFCC  was highly successful with over 600 conference participants from 23 countries. ( Read our blog posts about the 2011 AFCC by clicking here and our website focus issue on Singapore and the Asian Festival of Children’s Content by clicking here). The 2012 AFCC is bound to break  attendance records with the introduction of new awards, a country focus (Philippines), specialized language workshops and a greater reach to communities in Asia. Be sure to check the AFCC’s Facebook page for timely updates and photos from this year’s event as well as the AFCC website . If you are lucky enough to be attending this year’s conference and will be blogging, facebooking or tweeting please leave a comment below with the relevant links so we can follow along!

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21. SingTel Asian Picture Book Award~ Submission deadline is Dec. 31, 2012

Attention authors and illustrators! Have you heard about the SingTel Asian Picture Book Award? If you have written or illustrated an unpublished Asian-themed picture book (targeted at children ages 0 to six years old) the National Book Development Council of Singapore looks forward to receiving your submission for this new award! Entries are being accepted until Dec. 31, 2012 with the inaugural SingTel Asian Picture Book Award to be presented next May at the 2013 Asian Festival of Children’s Content. Submissions will be accepted from writers and/or illustrators of any nationality and from any country who are 18 years of age and above. Here’s the press release:

The National Book Development Council of Singapore is delighted to announce the inaugural SingTel Asian Picture Book Award. Beginning in 2013, the award will be presented annually for an outstanding unpublished picture book with a distinctly Asian theme.

The objectives of the SingTel Asian Picture Book Award are as follows:

a) To encourage and inspire the publications of more Asian-themed picture books

b) To stimulate public interest and support for picture books with Asian themes

c) To recognise and award a prize to an excellent picture book with Asian theme each year

The SingTel Asian Picture Book Award offers a total of S$10,000 for the First Prize consisting of S$5,000 for an author and S$5,000 for an illustrator. These will be individually known as the SingTel Asian Picture Book Award – Author, and the SingTel Asian Picture Book Award – Illustrator.

Closing date for submissions is 31 December 2012. Official rules and regulations can be found here.

For more information, please visit www.bookcouncil.sg.

PaperTigers is proud sponsor of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content and looks forward to working with the AFCC in promoting and highlighting the richnesses of Asian Children’s literature.

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22. 2013 Asian Festival of Children’s Content ~ Singapore

PaperTigers is a proud sponsor of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, an annual event held  in Singapore that brings together content creators and producers with parents, teachers, librarians and anyone interested in quality Asian content for children around the world. Dates for the 2013 AFCC have been announced – May 25th  – 30th , and festival organizer, The National Book Development Council of Singapore, is hard at work ensuring that this year’s program is equally, perhaps even more so, inspiring than previous years. The AFCC website has recently been relaunched and details for the 2013 festival are being added daily. Early bird registration has begun and the call for submissions has gone out for the Book Illustrators Gallery.

Both Marjorie and I plan on attending this year’s AFCC and will be speaking in several of the sessions. I was blessed to be able to attend the 2011 AFCC and have been counting down the months until I could return. It will be such a thrill to reconnect with old friends and make new ones all while being immersed in the world of Asian children’s literature! If you are able, do try to attend. It may take a wee bit of time to travel to Singapore but it will definitely be worth the effort!

(Read PaperTigers’ July 2011 issue to learn more about my time at the 2011 Asian Festival of Childrens Content).


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23. Ordering off the menu in China debates

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

Growing up with no special interest in China, one of the few things I associated with the country was mix and match meal creation. On airplanes and school cafeterias, you just have “chicken or beef” choices, but Chinese restaurants were “1 from Column A, 1 from Column B” domains. If only in recent China debates, a similar readiness to think beyond either/or options prevailed!

I thought of this when Reuters ran an assessment of Xi Jinping’s first weeks in power last months that in some venues carried this “chicken or beef” sort of headline: “China’s New Leader: Reformist or Conservative?” Previous Chinese leaders have often turned out to have both reformist and conservative sides. Even Deng Xiaoping, considered the quintessential reformer due to his economic policies, held the line on political liberalization and backed the brutal 1989 crackdown. Mightn’t Xi, too, end up ordering from the reformist and conservative sides of the menu?

A Valentine’s Day for the books: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with Vice President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China and members of a Chinese delegation in the Oval Office, Feb. 14, 2012, several months before Xi became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Mo Yan’s Nobel Prize win last fall, which continues to generate controversy, led some foreign commentators into a similar “chicken or beef” trap—or, rather, an “Ai Weiwei or Zhang Yimou” one. The former is an artist locked into an antagonistic relationship with the government, the latter a filmmaker who has been choreographing spectacles celebrating Communist Party rule, including both the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Games and a 2009 gala staged to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. Since they are two of the only internationally prominent Chinese creative figures, some Westerners assumed Mo must be like one or the other.

In fact, the novelist shares traits with each but isn’t all that similar to either.  Like China’s best-known artist, Mo has a penchant for mocking the powerful. And like the renowned filmmaker turned state choreographer, Mo works within the system, serving as a Vice-Chairman of the official writer’s association and recently agreeing to be a delegate to the Chinese People’s Consultative Political Conference. Unlike Ai Weiwei, though, Mo skewers only relatively safe targets, like the kinds of corrupt local officials that the central authorities don’t mind seeing satirized, and instead of railing against censorship, he has likened it to an inconvenience akin to airport security protocols. And unlike Zhang Yimou, one of whose best films was based on the novelist’s story “Red Sorghum,” Mo has consistently produced iconoclastic works.

If Column A choices signal compliance and Column B ones criticism, the artist and filmmaker now stick to opposite sides of the menu, while Mo Yan keeps choosing from both—and he’s not alone in this. Yu Hua, an author whose political choices I find more admirable, does this as well. He belongs to the official writer’s association and his novels, like Mo’s, generally satirize relatively safe targets.  But Yu also pens trenchant essays on taboo topics, including the 1989 massacre. He’s frustrated that these can only be published abroad, but glad that they end up circulating on the mainland in underground digital versions.

A third debate, centering on the competing predictions made by “When China Rules the World” author Martin Jacques and “The Coming Collapse of China” author Gordon G. Chang, makes me think not of the value of combining Column A and Column B choices but of a different feature of Chinese restaurants that I only learned about as an adult. If you don’t like the options on the English language menu in some Chinatown eateries, you can ask to see a Chinese language one that lists additional dishes the proprietor doubts will interest most customers.

My problem with the Jacques vs. Chang debate is that I find neither pundit convincing.  Jacques’ vision of China moving smoothly toward global domination glosses over the fissures within the country’s elite and the many domestic challenges its government faces. Chang continually underestimates the Communist Party’s resiliency and adaptability.  His 2001 book said it would implode by 2011. Late in 2011, he told Foreign Policy readers that he’d miscalculated and they could “bet on” his prophecy coming true in 2012.  In 2013, the Communist Party is still in control and somehow Chang’s still being invited onto news shows to make forecasts.

When asked whether Xi Jinping is a reformer or a conservative and whether Mo Yan is a collaborator or a critic, I can craft an answer that draws a bit from both Column A and Column B  Being asked whether I side with Jacques or Chang is different. I’m left feeling like a hungry vegetarian who has been given a list made up exclusively of chicken and beef dishes—and hopes desperately that there’s another menu hidden in the back with some acceptable choices.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Chancellor’s Professor of History at University of California at Irvine, is the author of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (2010), an updated edition of which will be published in June.

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24. Do people tend to live within their own ethnic groups?

By Maisy Wong

There are many policies around the world designed to encourage ethnic desegregation in housing markets. In Chicago, the Gautreaux Project (the predecessor of the Moving To Opportunity program) offered rent subsidies to African American residents of public housing who wanted to move to desegregated areas. Germany, the United Kingdom, and Netherlands, impose strict restrictions on where refugee immigrants can settle. Many countries also have “integration maintenance programs” or “neighborhood stabilization programs” to encourage desegregation. These policies are often controversial as they are alleged to favor some ethnic groups at the expense of others. Regardless of the motivation behind these policies, knowing the welfare effects is important because these desegregation policies affect the location choices of many individuals.

I am interested in one such desegregation policy in Singapore: the ethnic housing quotas. Using location choices, I analyzed how heterogeneous households sort into neighborhoods as the ethnic proportions in the neighborhood change. To do this at such a local level I had to assemble a dataset of ethnic proportions by hand-matching more than 500,000 names to ethnicities using the Singapore residential phonebook.

The ethnic housing quotas policy in Singapore is a fascinating natural experiment. It was implemented in public housing estates in 1989 to encourage residential desegregation amongst the three major ethnic groups in Singapore: Chinese (77%), Malays (14%), and Indians (8%). The quotas are upper limits on the proportions of Chinese, Malays, and Indians at a location. Locations with ethnic proportions that are at or above the quota limits are subjected to restrictions designed to prevent these locations from becoming more segregated. For example, non-Chinese sellers living in Chinese-constrained locations are not allowed to sell to Chinese buyers because this transaction increases the Chinese proportion and makes the location more segregated.

Using transactions data close to the quota limits and controlling for polynomials of ethnic proportions calculated using the phonebook, I documented price dispersion across ethnic groups that is consistent with theoretical predictions of the policy’s impact. The findings suggest a model where Chinese and non-Chinese buyers have different preferences for Chinese neighborhoods.

Indeed, my estimates show that all groups have strong preferences for living with members of their own ethnic group but the shapes of the preferences are very different across the three ethnic groups. All groups have ethnic preferences that are inverted U-shaped but with different turning points. This means that once a neighborhood has enough members of their own ethnic group, households want new neighbors from other ethnic groups. Finding tastes for diversity and differences in the shapes of ethnic preferences is consistent with previous research using data on racial attitudes from the General Social Survey in the United States and also surveys of ethnic relations in Singapore.

I used these estimates of ethnic preferences to perform welfare simulations. The seminal work by Thomas Schelling on tipping showed that externalities exist in a model with ethnic preferences because a mover affects the utility of his current and future neighbors by changing the ethnic composition of the neighborhood. Due to these externalities, Schelling showed that policies such as the ethnic quotas could potentially be used as a coordination mechanism to achieve equilibrium with integrated neighborhoods. My welfare estimates show that under the quota policy, about one-third of neighborhoods are close to the optimal allocation of Chinese, Malays, and Indians respectively.

Maisy Wong is Assistant Professor in Real Estate at Wharton, University of Pennsylvania. Her paper, ‘Estimating Ethnic Preferences Using Ethnic Housing Quotas in Singapore’ can be read in full and for free in The Review of Economic Studies.

The Review of Economic Studies aims to encourage research in theoretical and applied economics, especially by young economists. It is widely recognised as one of the core top-five economics journal, with a reputation for publishing path-breaking papers, and is essential reading for economists.

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Image credit: HDB flats at Tampines New Town. By Terence Ong. [Creative Commons], via Wikimedia Commons.

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25. North Korea and the bomb

By Joseph M. Siracusa

Any discussion of North Korea’s nuclear program should begin with an understanding of the limited information available regarding its development. North Korea has been very effective in denying external observers any significant information on its nuclear program. As a result, the outside world has had little direct evidence of the North Korean efforts and has mainly relied on indirect inferences, leaving substantial uncertainties.

Moreover, because its nuclear weapons program wasn’t self-contained, it has been especially difficult to determine how much external assistance arrived and from where, and to assess the program’s overall sophistication.

That said, what is known is that Pyongyang has tested three nuclear devices: in 2006, 2009, and, of course most recently, on 12 February 2013. They have all had varying degrees of success, and North Korea has put considerable effort into developing and testing missiles as possible delivery vehicles.

February’s detonation of a “smaller and light” nuclear device — presumably, part of the plan to build a small atomic weapon to mount on a long-range missile — was the first test carried out by Kim Jong Eun, the young, third-generation leader, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. And while it always intriguing to speculate on who is running the show in North Korea, the finger generallyseems to point to the military.

Many foreign observers have come to believe the otherwise desperate, hungry population (and failing regime?) that make up North Korea’s secretive police state is best symbolized by its nuclear and missile programs. Which gives rise to the basic question: what, then, is Pyongyang’s motivation for its nuclear and missile programs? Is it, as Victor Cha once asked, for swords, shields, or badges?

In other words, are the programs intended to provide offensive weapons, defensive weapons, or symbols of status? In spite of prolonged diplomatic negotiations with Pyongyang officials over the past two decades, the question of motivation remains elusive.

Pyongyang’s interest in obtaining nuclear weaponry, beginning around the mid-1950s, has apparently stemmed in part from what it perceived as the US’s nuclear threats and concerns about the nuclear umbrella that protects South Korea. These threats, in turn, have pervaded North Korean strategic thought and action since the Korean War.

These actions may be gauged as offensive or defensive, but Pyongyang officials were at one point fearful of South Korea’s nuclear ambitions and later uncertain about the US emphasis on tactical nuclear weapons and its nuclear “first use” policy in defense of the South. These nuclear-armed additions included 280mm artillery shells, rockets, cruise missiles, and mines.

Against this backdrop, all of North Korea’s nuclear activities tend to focus on a single goal: preservation of the regime. Possessing nuclear weapons would diminish the US’s threat to the nation’s independence, but it could also reduce Pyongyang’s dependence upon China for its security.

North Korean officials, too, may feel that a small nuclear force offers some insurance against South Korea’s dynamic economic growth and its eventual conventional military superiority.

Pyongyang undoubtedly views its burgeoning nuclear arsenal as a symbol of the regime’s legitimacy and status, which would assist in keeping the Stalinist dynasty in power. Additionally enhanced status would, of course, assist in gaining diplomatic leverage.

Although the North Koreans have boasted about their nuclear deterrent’s ability to hold the US and it allies at bay, it is fairly clear that North Korea has vastly overstated its ability to strike, in part because of the limited amount of fissile material available to Pyongyang and also because of its inability to field a credible delivery option for its nuclear weapons.

The North Koreans have launched long-range ballistic missiles in 1998, 2006, 2009, and 2012, with limited success. By comparison, the US test fires its new missiles scores of times to ensure that they are operationally effective. North Korea would need many more tests of all the systems, independently and together, at a much higher rate than one every few years, to have confidence the missile would even leave the launch pad, let alone approach a target with sufficient accuracy to destroy it.

This was dramatically demonstrated on 13 April 2012, by the failure of the much-hyped effort to employ a three-stage missile, which would send a satellite into space. If the missile was, as Washington and Tokyo believed, a disguised test of an ICBM, the fact that it crashed into the sea shortly after launch illustrated that North Korea’s development and testing of missiles as possible delivery vehicles had miles to go.

Joseph M. Siracusa is Professor in Human Security and International Diplomacy and Associate Dean of International Studies, at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia. Among his numerous books are included: Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction (2008) and A Global History of the Nuclear Arms Race: Weapons, Strategy, and Politics, 2 vols., with Richard Dean Burns (2013).

The Very Short Introductions (VSI) series combines a small format with authoritative analysis and big ideas for hundreds of topic areas. Written by our expert authors, these books can change the way you think about the things that interest you and are the perfect introduction to subjects you previously knew nothing about. Grow your knowledge with OUPblog and the VSI series every Friday!

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Image credit: North Korea Theater Missile Threats, By Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS.) Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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