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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Asia, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 45
1. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. Celebrating Women’s History Month

world

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

europe

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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. The long, strange journey

From the Long March to the massive, glittering spectacle of the Beijing Summer Olympics’ opening ceremony in 2008, what a long, strange journey it has been for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). On July 1, the party celebrated its 90th birthday, marking the occasion with everything from a splashy, star-studded cinematic tribute to the party’s early years to a “praise concert” staged by two of the country’s officially sanctioned Christian groups.

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom


The party’s nine-decade existence has provided plenty of grist for both critics and apologists to debate its legacy. On the one hand, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s sensationalistic bestseller Mao: The Unknown Story, paints the party’s founding father as a demonic figure whose rule was brutal and disastrous for China. In the words of the authors, Mao’s sole accomplishment was bringing “unprecedented misery” to “the whole of China.”

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

On the opposite extreme, the self-aggrandizing accounts of the party’s history that are being promulgated in China right now portray its leaders as unstinting paragons of virtue. This is the impression given not only by the CCP’s commemorative film — which presents Mao as an idealistic young patriot in love — but also by the hagiographic accounts offered in the country’s newspapers. These articles refer to the party as a “powerful spiritual force” that has never stopped “achieving new victories” for the nation.

The truth is somewhere between Chang and Halliday’s spine-tingling horror story and the fairy tale endorsed by the party. With that in mind, what follows are five pairs of the Chinese Communist Party’s interrelated triumphs and tragedies. This list is not intended to deliver a final verdict on the party’s 90 years of existence, but to remind us that, while its failures have been very bad indeed, its accomplishments illustrate why some in China will sincerely wish the party a happy birthday.

Early in its history, the CCP played an important role in anti-imperialist mass struggles that galvanized the Chinese population. During the May 30 Movement of 1925, for example, it helped to bring thousands of protesters to the streets to decry the mistreatment of Chinese workers in Japanese mills, and it spearheaded major boycotts of Japanese goods when that country began making military incursions into north China in the 1930s.

Later, the Red Army contributed greatly to the 1945 rout of Japanese invaders, earning a reputation as determined and selfless guerrilla fighters and beginning the process of finally ending what the party refers to as China’s “century of humiliation.”

The CCP sometimes exaggerates its role in defeating imperialism and downplays the complementary activities of other groups, but it still has a patriotic and nationalistic record that is a source of pride for many Chinese.

But don’t forget: The CCP’s fear-mongering over foreign threats.

Time and time again, the party has used the bogeymen of international conspiracies and foreign influence to justify harsh acts of repression. In the 1950s and 1960s, people were persecuted as “capitalist roaders” due to having relatives in the West. When CCP leader Deng Xiaoping tried to defend China’s violent crackdown that curtailed the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest

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16. Dancing in shackles

China has long been criticized for its limits on press freedom; one journalist, He Qinglian, has even described Chinese journalists as “dancing in shackles.” In the collection of essays, Changing Media, Changing China, China experts weigh in on the state of Chinese journalism today and discuss the transformation it has undergone in recent years. In this excerpt from the book, editor Susan L. Shirk sheds some light on the factors that have brought about these changes.

Beginning in the early 1980s, the structure of Chinese media changed. Newspapers, magazines, and television stations received cuts in their government subsidies and were driven to enter the market and to earn revenue. In 1979 they were permitted to sell advertising, and in 1983 they were allowed to retain the profits from the sale of ads. Because people were eager for information and businesses wanted to advertise their products, profits were good and the number of publications grew rapidly. As Qian Gang and David Bandurski note in chapter 2, the commercialization of the media accelerated after 2000 as the government sought to strengthen Chinese media organizations to withstand competition from foreign media companies.

By 2005, China published more than two thousand newspapers and nine thousand magazines. In 2003, the CCP eliminated mandatory subscriptions to official newspapers and ended subsidies to all but a few such papers in every province. Even nationally circulated, official papers like People’s Daily, Guangming Daily, and Economics Daily are now sold at retail stalls and compete for audiences. According to their editors, Guangming Daily sells itself as “a spiritual homeland for intellectuals”; Economics Daily markets its timely economic reports; and the People’s Daily promotes its authoritativeness.

About a dozen commercial newspapers with national circulations of over 1 million readers are printed in multiple locations throughout the country. The southern province Guangdong is the headquarters of the cutting-edge commercial media, with three newspaper groups fiercely competing for audiences. Nanjing now has five newspapers competing for the evening readership. People buy the new tabloids and magazines on the newsstands and read them at home in the evening.

Though almost all of these commercial publications are part of media groups led by party or government newspapers, they look and sound completely different. In contrast to the stilted and formulaic language of official publications, the language of the commercial press is lively and colloquial. Because of this difference in style, people are more apt to believe that the content of commercial media is true. Daniela Stockmann’s research shows that consumers seek out commercial publications because they consider them more credible than their counterparts from the official media. According to her research, even in Beijing, which has a particularly large proportion of government employees, only about 36 percent of residents read official papers such as the People’s Daily; the rest read only semiofficial or commercialized papers.

Advertisers and many of the commercial media groups target young and middle-aged urbanites who are well-educated, affluent consumers. But publications also seek to differentiate themselves and appeal to specific audiences. The Guangdong-based publications use domestic muckraking to attract a business-oriented, cosmopolitan audience. Because they push the

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17. “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom As my friends know, it doesn’t take much to make me think of Mark Twain. And even people I’ve never met who have followed my writings on China know about my obsession with Twain, since I’ve managed to bring him into discussions of a wide range of China-related topics, from Shanghai history (he never went

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18. Scholastic Asian Book Award 2012 – Submissions deadline 17 October

The deadline for submissions to the 2012 Scholastic Asian Book Award is just under a month away, on 17 October 2011 – 5.00p.m. Singapore time.

The National Book Development Council of Singapore and Scholastic Asia have jointly launched the 2012 Scholastic Asian Book Award (SABA). The award will recognise Asians and writers in Asia who are taking the experiences of life, spirit and thinking in different parts of Asia to the world at large. SABA is awarded to an unpublished manuscript (original or translation) targeted at children of ages 6 to 12 years.

This year’s inaugural award was won by Uma Krishnaswami and we can’t wait to see the book. Former Managing Editor of PaperTigers Aline Pereira was one of the judges: read about her Personal View about the Award and the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, where the Award Announcement was made.

For more information, visit the SABA website.

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19. Chinese philosopher Kongfuzi born

This Day in World History - Few people in history can justly claim the impact of Kongfuzi (often called Confucius), whose teachings have influenced hundreds of millions of people across Asia. Like so many important figures in the world of ideas, the historical Kongfuzi is an elusive figure. While precise date of the sage’s birth is unknown, the Chinese have long celebrated September 28, and to this day, members of the Kong family still live in the family compound in Qufu, China.

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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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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25. 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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