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One hundred years ago today, far from the erupting battlefields of Europe, a small German force in the city of Tsingtau (Qingdao), Germany’s most important possession in China, was preparing for an impending siege. The small fishing village of Qingdao and the surrounding area had been reluctantly leased to the German Empire by the Chinese government for 99 years in 1898, and German colonists soon set about transforming this minor outpost into a vibrant city boasting many of the comforts of home, including the forerunner of the now-famous Tsingtao Brewery. By 1914, Qingdao had over 50,000 residents and was the primary trading port in the region. Given its further role as the base for the Far East Fleet of the Imperial German Navy, however, Qingdao was unable to avoid becoming caught up in the faraway European war.
The forces that besieged Qingdao in the autumn of 1914 were composed of troops from Britain and Japan, the latter entering the war against Germany in accord with the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. The Alliance had been agreed in 1902 amid growing anxiety in Britain regarding its interests in East Asia, and rapidly modernizing Japan was seen as a useful ally in the region. For Japanese leaders, the signing of such an agreement with the most powerful empire of the day was seen as a major diplomatic accomplishment and an acknowledgement of Japan’s arrival as one of the world’s great powers. More immediately, the Alliance effectively guaranteed the neutrality of third parties in Japan’s looming war with Russia, and Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 sent shockwaves across the globe as the first defeat of a great European empire by a non-Western country in a conventional modern war.
In Britain, Japan’s victory was celebrated as a confirmation of the strength of its Asian ally, and represented the peak of a fascination with Japan in Britain that marked the first decade of the twentieth century. This culminated in the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition in London, which saw over eight million visitors pass through during its six-month tenure. In contrast, before the 1890s, Japan had been portrayed in Britain primarily as a relatively backward yet culturally interesting nation, with artists and intellectuals displaying considerable interest in Japanese art and literature. Japan’s importance as a military force was first recognized during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, and especially from the time of the Russo-Japanese War, Japan’s military prowess was popularly attributed to a supposedly ancient warrior spirit that was embodied in ‘bushido’, or the ‘way of the samurai’.
The ‘bushido’ ideal was popularized around the world especially through the prominent Japanese educator Nitobe Inazo’s (1862-1933) book Bushido: The Soul of Japan, which was originally published in English in 1900 and achieved global bestseller status around the time of the Russo-Japanese War (a Japanese translation first appeared in 1908). The British public took a positive view towards the ‘national spirit’ of its ally, and many saw Japan as a model for curing perceived social ills. Fabian Socialists such as Beatrice Webb (1858-1943) and Oliver Lodge (1851-1940) lauded the supposed collectivism of ‘bushido’, while Alfred Stead (1877-1933) and other promoters of the Efficiency Movement celebrated Japan’s rapid modernization. For his part, H.G. Wells 1905 novel A Modern Utopia included a ‘voluntary nobility’ called ‘samurai,’ who guided society from atop a governing structure that he compared to Plato’s ideal republic. At the same time, British writers lamented the supposed decline of European chivalry from an earlier ideal, contrasting it with the Japanese who had seemingly managed to turn their ‘knightly code’ into a national ethic followed by citizens of all social classes.
The ‘bushido boom’ in Britain was not mere Orientalization of a distant society, however, but was strongly influenced by contemporary Japanese discourse on the subject. The term ‘bushido’ only came into widespread use around 1900, and even a decade earlier most Japanese would have been bemused by the notion of a national ethic based on the former samurai class. Rather than being an ancient tradition, the modern ‘way of the samurai’ developed from a search for identity among Japanese intellectuals at the end of the nineteenth century. This process saw an increasing shift away from both Chinese and European thought towards supposedly native ideals, and the former samurai class provided a useful foundation. The construction of an ethic based on the ‘feudal’ samurai was given apparent legitimacy by the popularity of idealized chivalry and knighthood in nineteenth-century Europe, with the notion that English ‘gentlemanship’ was rooted in that nation’s ‘feudal knighthood’ proving especially influential. This early ‘bushido’ discourse profited from the nationalistic fervor following Japan’s victory over China in 1895, and the concept increasingly came to be portrayed as a unique and ancient martial ethic. At the same time, those theories that had drawn inspiration from European models came to be ignored, with one prominent Japanese promoter of ‘bushido’ deriding European chivalry as ‘mere woman-worship’.
In the first years of the twentieth century, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance contributed greatly to the positive reception in Britain of theories positing a Japanese ‘martial race’, and the fate of ‘bushido’ in the UK demonstrated the effect of geopolitics on theories of ‘national characteristics’. By 1914, British attitudes had begun to change amid increasing concern regarding Japan’s growing assertiveness. Even the Anglo-Japanese operation that finally captured Qingdao in November was marked by British distrust of Japanese aims in China, a sentiment that was strengthened by Japan’s excessive demands on China the following year. Following the war, Japan’s reluctance to return the captured territory to China caused British opposition to Japan’s China policy to increase, leading to the end of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1923. The two countries subsequently drifted even further apart, and by the 1930s, ‘bushido’ was popularly described in Britain as an ethic of treachery and cruelty, only regaining its positive status after 1945 through samurai films and other popular culture as Japan and Britain again became firm allies in the Cold War.
Headline image credit: Former German Governor’s Residence in Qingdao, by Brücke-Osteuropa. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Having read the entire Hunger Games trilogy last year, I was ever so eager to see the film. It came out in Lent so we were saving it for our Bright Week treat. But when we got there, the theatre had technical difficulties, so we had to find another time in our over-full schedule to view it, and at long last we got there last night. It was everything I hoped, one of the best movie adaptations of a book I've ever seen-- and of a book that was exceptionally good to begin with.
We were discussing it around the fire afterward and enthusing about the character of Peeta.
I've written in this blog about several literary characters who are heroic and even chivalrous-- Reepicheep is perhaps the best of all-- but I am really thrilled with author Suzanne Collins for giving us Peeta, the boy with the bread as a-- dare I say it-- role model for young men today. A role model who shows us that chivalry is not dead yet.
When Katniss is suffering severe hunger, collapsed in the rain behind the bakery owned by Peeta's family, he comes out to give some burnt bread to the pigs, and seeing her there he throws one of the loaves her way. The book expands on this incident, and we know that not only did he give her the bread; in order to help Katniss, he deliberately burned the bread in the first place so his mother would make him throw it out. He did this even though he knew very well she would beat and scold him for burning the loaves.
Katniss herself is certainly no spoiled princess-- and she too shows her sterling character from the start of the story, first risking herself regularly to hunt and provide for her family, then stepping forward to take her little sister's place in the arena.
At the end of the movie, of course, the rules of the horrific Survivor-like Hunger Games are switched on them, and the promise that two might be victors together is snatched away from them. Of course Peeta instantly offers himself up so Katniss may survive. And Katniss of course finds a way out, forcing the gamemakers to to allow them both to live.
Amid all this heroism there is one small detail in the film version that to me particularly spells 'chivalry'. Peeta lies in danger of death, and starts talking to Katniss about the incident with the bread. "I should have just given it to you!" he laments. The boy with the bread took a beating to help her, but now as he looks back on what is likely his rather short life, he can only think he should have done what he did in a better way. Chivalry is never just satisfied with a right thing. It strives to do the rightest thing that can be done, in the rightest way it can find to do it.
Here on A Spell for Refreshment, I try to focus largely on the positive side of things, the side of light and refreshment, though I have talked in some posts about how this doesn't mean spiritually refreshing stories shy away from the darkness and ugliness in the world. But the cliche about lighting one candle rather than cursing the darkness certainly applies. So when I was reading some articles about how a depressing percentage of young people in our society are "more confident, assertive, entitled-- and more miserable than ever", it threw Peeta
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Now people are asking for punk-time age 16 photos. The only photo out there that I know of is the one in the back of The Kindly Ones, although my friend Geoff Notkin, who was the drummer in the band, assures me that somewhere in a storage facility far from where he lives he has all the photos taken that day, and I think I will remind him of this. (Here is his website: http://notkin.net/. Go and buy meteorites from him so that he will feel well-disposed-enough towards the world to go to another city and and rummage.)
(For the curious, you can hear me reading it at http://www.last.fm/music/Neil+Gaiman/_/Chivalry and if I could find it online I'd link to the Christina Pickles reading of it too -- although it's in the Selected Shorts: Lots of Laughs audiobook.) It's funny, hearing other people read that story, because it's the story I've read aloud the most: I know what each word does for a live audience, and so keep wishing I could direct the reader ("Use the word 'nice' like a weapon wherever it turns up. It means something different every time anyone uses it. Play Galaad utterly straight. Domestic details always trump Arthurian details...")
There's a wonderfully (unintentionally) funny (if dim) bad review of Coraline at http://christiananswers.net/spotlight/movies/2009/coraline2009.html. It's the kind of review that makes you suspect the reviewer is reviewing the inside of his own head, and not the film at all. When I linked to it on twitter several people wrote in to reassure me that this was not typical of all Christians, something I already knew: I've linked to a bunch of astonishingly sensible Christian reviews of Coraline earlier on this blog (and here's another sane one, as a makeweight: http://www.gospelandculture.org/2009/03/coraline/).
Daniel Pinkwater is one of my favourite authors. His new book, The Yggyssey, is up online, and you can read it at http://www.theyggyssey.com/ .
My apologies for the delayed round-up. As indicated in the previous post, I was crazed getting ready for the Annie Awards, the animation industry's biggest night. It was an amazing night too. The food was great, Ratatouille and Brad Bird won just about everything there was to win, one of my favorite shows El Tigre and it's creator Jorge Gutierrez won awards and I met and saw lots of interesting and fun people. I thought you'd might like to take a peek at the dress I ended up with so I'm tacking in a picture. There's this kind of weird guy in between me and my date, maybe you'll recognize him. He's a really nice guy.
I apologize if I didn't get to comment on your poems, I'll be swinging by throughout the week to do so. I did read them all and they were wonderful and I've so many new poets to add to my list.
On to the round up, I really enjoyed making these mashed up nonsensical story poems of our postings so I'm going to give it another shot.
Isn’t it fabulous that every week, close to 50 people stop whatever they’re doing in their so busy lives and think, consider, research, write, find and compile all these wonderful poems and stories?
I think it’s astounding and I think each of you amazing contributors are making the world a better place one poem at a time. I’m so thankful for you all. You’ve opened up the window on my world and made it a richer, more colorful tapestry. Here’s to you all and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season filled with joy and hope.
I thought I'd do a nonsense poem as a round-up, like I did last time I hosted, but your poems wanted their own way and it became a story of two friends who look to each other when illness strikes. It's still a little nonsensical thought.
This epistolary round-up is dedicated to a friend that is far away. I'm thinking of you and hope I can be as good a friend as Tom.