Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Here's wishing all of you out there a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May 2013 be a happy and prosperous year for each and every one of you and may all of your New Year resolutions come true.

Also, thank you so much for your visits to this blog since I started it earlier this year and I do apologise for not having posted anything new over the past month. I've started some new blogs here as of late and have been busy getting those set up. I plan on making some new posts sometime soon now that I've got a little more time, so stay tuned!

Anyway, enjoy the rest of your 2012 and thanks again for dropping in.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Konosuke Matsushita and the "Bullet Lamp"

A Japanese motorcycle policeman with a "bullet lamp" circa 1925. (Wikimedia Commons)
Konosuke Matsushita was a man of many talents who truly changed the world around him with his ideas. He was a man who started a little company out of nothing that became a major international corporation. He made a number of inventions that were highly innovative during the early 20th century, such as two-way socket light bulbs, light sockets that could charge any electrical appliance, and electrical plugs and sockets that were more efficient than any others available at the time.

However, Matsushita's one invention that propelled Matsushita Industrial Electric, Co. (now better known to the world as Panasonic) into the national - and eventually the international spotlight (no pun intended) - was the battery-powered bicycle lamp, or the "bullet lamp" as it was nicknamed.

In 1923, bicycle lamps were a necessity in Japan. Many people used bikes as their primary mode of transportation everyday and needed a guiding light when riding at night or during bad weather. Bicycle lamps were very much a necessity. However, the bicycle lamps of the time were very inefficient. Battery-operated bicycle lamps were available during this time, but could only provide about several hour's worth of light before the batteries ran down. Candle or oil lamps would flop around a lot and were not very useful at all during a wind or rain storm!

Matsushita, who was himself an avid bike rider, also saw a need for a better light and invented a far more superior bicycle lamp for the market. Matsushita's lamp was a battery-powered lamp that was oval, or bullet-shaped, and was powered by dry-cell batteries and lighbulbs. The light casings were proudly manufactured by his company. Most importantly of all, the bullet lamp could provide light for 40 hours compared to a paltry 3 hours for other bicycle lamps!

At first, the bullet lamp was a hard sell. Retailers weren't convinced that the technology behind a battery-powered bicycle lamp would appeal to the average Japanese consumer. After being rejected by the mainstream market, Matsushita took his invention to a place he knew well and a place which would happily try to sell it: the local bicycle shops. He provided display models to the bicycle shops to use to demonstrate the lamp and, of course, the lamps themselves to sell to the public. Over time, the public saw how these lamps worked and they gradually became hot-sellers across Japan.

Statue of Konosuke Matsushita in Japan.
Matsushita capitalized on the success of the bullet lamp. This little lamp not only turned the fortunes of his company around (which had been faltering prior to this point in time), but expanded it! As the bullet lamp's popularity grew, he rebranded his company National, lowered the price of the lamps, started an advertising campaign in the national newspapers, and watched the success of the bullet lamp grow beyond his wildest dreams.

Over the course of the 20th century, National would manufacture new and improved bicycle/home lamps known as National Lamps as well as other light products such as flashlights. They continue to manufacture these products today.

The bullet lamp found another important use among the Japanese public besides its primary purpose. Many Japanese found the bullet lamp useful inside the home! Since these were battery-powered and had a long life,  many people replaced the traditional kerosene lamps with bullet lamps. This, in turn, led to the creation of the National Lamp, which could be used on a bicycle or in a home. Also, bullet lamps were no doubt a safer alternative to kerosene and oil lamps, which can be a fire hazard.

Another group of people who found good use for the bullet lamp were police officers, such as the one in the above picture. At the time the bullet lamp was invented, Japanese police officers patrolling on bicycle were - and are still today - common sights on city streets. The motorcycle police force, or Aka-bai Taiin (赤バイ隊員, or 'red bike personnel'. They were renamed shirobai, or 'white bike force' during the 1930s.) was becoming a mainstay of the Japanese police force. The bullet lamp was no doubt useful for these police officers navigating the streets of Japan's cities at night or through stormy weather. Also, as the country experienced a number of natural disasters during the 1920s and 30s such as the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 (which devastated cities such as Tokyo and Yokohama) and Typhoon Muroto of 1934, these lamps were no doubt essential to police and rescue personnel as they rescued victims trapped by the disasters or navigated their way through debris.

Matsushita's bullet lamp was a highly innovative invention that turned Panasonic into the multi-national corporation we all know today. However, it was also an invention that made life a lot easier for a lot of people and most likely saved lives as well.  

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konosuke_Matsushita (Konosuke Matsushita at Wikipedia.)
http://panasonic.net/history/founder/chapter2/story2-02.html (Panasonic's webpage about the bullet lamp.)
http://www.quoteswise.com/konosuke-matsushita-quotes-2.html (Quotes from Konosuke Matsushita about his bullet lamp.)

Image Copyright:
*Statue of Konosuke Matsushita: Rsa via Japanese Wikimedia.

*This blog entry references information from the following:
-布卢姆斯伯里出版公司, Business: 英文. Beijing: Citic Publishing House, 200?, pg. 1114.
-Kamioka, Kazuyoshi, Japanese Business Pioneers. Tokyo: Heian Press, 1988, pg. 65
-Alexander, Jeffrey W. Japan's Motorcycle Wars. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009, pg. 46

*This blog post is not endorsed by, affiliated with, nor advertising products manufactured by the Panasonic Corporation.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

King Naresuan and the Wild Tiger Corps

Statue of King Naresuan at Naresuan University, Pitsanulok, Thailand. 
One of Thailand's most famous national heroes is King Naresuan. Naresuan was the king of the Ayutthaya kingdom who, in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, drove the Burmese who occupied a large part Siam (Thailand) out of the kingdom and basically crushed their empire, returning Siam to its full glory. In essence, he is much like America's first president and military commander George Washington and the American Revolutionary War guerrilla leader "Swamp Fox" Francis Marion rolled into one.

In the year 1600, the Ayutthaya kingdom (Siam) had been at war against the Burmese for over three decades. Most of the kingdom had been invaded and occupied by the Burmese in 1567. However, that changed in 1583 when Naresuan, who was then the king of Sukothai (a kingdom that consisted of what is now northern Thailand), led a war of independence from Burma. After driving Burmese forces out of Ayutthaya proper several times (which culminated in a historical duel with his childhood nemesis, the Burmese prince Mingyi Swa, on the backs of elephants), he followed up with an invasion of Burma and its Mon allies in modern-day Cambodia.

As part of his campaign against the Burmese, Naresuan created the Wild Tiger Corps (กองเสือป่า) to harass and observe the enemy armies. They were an early example of a guerrilla army.

Naresuan wanted all of his men in the corps to be experts in Muay Thai kickboxing, weapons, and jungle warfare. During the 16th century, Siam and its neighbors were constantly at war with each other and it was not hard to find men who were good at martial arts. Many young men in Siam learned Muay Thai and swordfighting from a very young age. Some became elite martial artists thanks to training in sword and pole fighting at the nationally-renowned Phudaisawan Sword Training Center in Bangkok. These were exactly the men who would come in useful for King Naresuan. Most importantly of all, men in the Wild Tiger Corps were men who had lost their homes and families since the beginning of the Burmese invasion in 1563 and had a burning desire to see their country become a strong, independent nation once again.

Mural at Wat Suvandaram in Ayutthaya depicting Siamese and Burmese forces in battle.
During this period of time, the Wild Tiger Corps were a thorn in the side of the Burmese. Scouts from the corps lurked in the jungles, observed, and reported Burmese troop positions, strengths, and numbers to the Siamese commanders. They also launched ambushes on enemy soldiers, putting their jungle fighting and Muay Thai skills to good use. They were instrumental in the ultimate Siamese victory over the Burmese.

In 1911, the Wild Tiger Corps would be resurrected in name by King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) on the day he ascended to the throne. However, unlike their namesake, this corps wasn't exactly a guerrilla army. This one was a paramilitary corps created by the King to provide military training to those civil servants who were exempt from national military service a chance to receive training. The Wild Tigers, which were based on the pre-World War I volunteer service in the UK, were initially created as a ceremonial guard. However, over time their ranks and duties grew. In the event of war, the Wild Tigers would act as both a police force and army reserve and observe the enemy's positions. In addition, they also acted as bodyguards to the King and were expected to be fiercely nationalistic. All mid-to high level civil servants were required to join the Wild Tiger Corps. Throughout the course of 1911, the Wild Tigers became just as powerful as the army itself and some of its officers became high-ranking army officers and right-hand advisers to the King!

The King could often be seen socializing with and lecturing the Wild Tigers. He invested a lot of time creating this organization and they had his implicit trust.

A year later, the Wild Tigers were disbanded by the King after the failed Palace Revolt, which was carried out by a group of army officers. However, the youth wing of the Wild Tigers, the Tiger Cubs, would set the foundations for the Thai Boy Scouts, which still exists today.

Over the centuries, the legend of King Naresuan has never been forgotten by the Thai people. Nor has the legend of the famous guerrilla army he created. Their stories have been told and retold in the Thai imagination  for four hundred years and in recent years, have been introduced to Westerners thanks to the series of King Naresuan movies!

If you're interested in learning a little more about King Naresuan or the Wild Tiger Corps (both the 17th and 20th century versions), here are some sites for you:

http://www.ajarn.com/blogs/john-quinn/the-battle-of-nong-sarai/ (Very good blog post about King Naresuan and the Battle of Nong Sarai.)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naresuan (Wikipedia entry on King Naresuan.)
http://histclo.com/youth/youth/org/nat/tha/nattha.htm (Webpage about King Rama VI's Wild Tiger Scouts.)

Image copyrights:
King Naresuan picture: Mixvasuvadh
Wat Suvandaram picture: Toutou

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hanyang Arsenal and Its Place in Chinese History

Hanyang Arsenal. (Wikimedia Commons)

One of China's largest and most famous weapons manufacturers of the 20th century was the Hanyang Arsenal. Located in the city of Hanyang, Wuhan province, Hanyang Arsenal not only supplied the various armies of China with weapons, but also to several Cold War hotspots...long after the arsenal itself  ceased to exist.

The Hanyang Arsenal was founded in 1891 by Zhang Zhidong, a prominent Qing official and governor of Hubei province who advocated modernizing China's military by strenghtening its iron and steel-producing capabilities. At the time it opened, Qing rule was under serious threat from Western imperialism and home-grown revolutionary movements.

Along with the historic Hanyang Steel Mill (now Chongqing Iron and Steel), Hanyang Arsenal opened its doors in 1894. Despite a fire that took out much of the machinery of the plant a year later, Hanyang manufactured and supplied the Qing military with a huge portion of its weaponry, particularly rifles and rifle ammunition. When it first opened, Hanyang Arsenal hired German managers to run the plant. It mainly manufactured German rifles such as the Type 88 Mauser rifle as well as other German weapons such as Krupp artillery pieces. During this time, German arms were some of the most sophisticated in the world and these were the arms the Qing wanted for their military. Also manufactured at Hanyang was smokeless powder ammunition. Smokeless guns (i.e. bolt-action rifles) were gradually introduced to Western countries such as the US and Great Britain during the 1890s-1900s and during this time, Hanyang had an upper-hand on this new technology in Asia.

Not long after it first opened,  Hanyang Arsenal would play a vital role in one of the nation's conflicts: the Boxer Rebellion. In 1900-01, over three thousand Mauser rifles and ammunition were supplied to Boxer fighters fighting the armies of the Eight-Nation Alliance. The Qing and the Righteous Harmony Society lost this conflict, but the arsenal would keep producing arms for the Qing military for another decade to come.

In 1911, Qing rule was crumbling and anti-Qing fervor was spreading across the nation. In October, the first major uprising against Qing rule, or the Xinhai Revolution, broke out near the Hanyang Arsenal in Wuchang. During this incident, revolutionaries stormed the arsenal and took a number of rifles and other arms. When all was said and done, Hubei province fell to the revolutionaries and the officials at Hanyang Arsenal actively supported the revolutionaries, supplying them with much-needed guns and ammunition and helping to deliver a major blow to the Qing authorities.

After the Qing Dynasty collapsed in 1912, Hanyang Arsenal would produce weapons for the new Republic of China. Under the Kuomintang, Hanyang Arsenal would expand and in 1917 a ordinance and weapons-manufacturing school opened at the arsenal. It continued to produce mainly German weapons, such the Type 88 and the Gewehr 98, which was the standard rifle of the German Army during World War I. Also during this time, Hanyang began manufacturing German and American machine guns, such as the Browning M1917 heavy machine gun. Many of these guns were used in the First Northern Expedition of 1926-28 against Communist forces.

Hanyang was also a site where a number of modified Western weapons and innovative arms were created. Modified versions of some of the latest Western arms such as the British Maxim machine gun (the Type 24 HMG) and the Type 88 (also called the "Chiang Kai-Shek" or "Chungcheng" rifle) were created at Hanyang during the late 1910s-1920s. These versions were distributed to the Nationalist army and later on, would be used by the Communists as well. Hanyang was also the birthplace of the famous - and extremely rare - General Liu rifle. This rifle, developed in 1916 by the commander of Hanyang Arsenal Gen. Liu Qing-En, was one of the world's first semi-automatic rifles. Only a dozen or less were ever manufactured and they were all made at Hanyang.

Nationalist, or KMT soldiers, during WWII. (Wikimedia Commons)
In 1933, China found itself at war with Japan and Hanyang Arsenal manufactured a great deal of the weapons used at the front. In 1937, the Chinese government ordered the arsenal to be dismantled and relocated to several locations in Hunan province before the Hanyang area fell to advancing Japanese forces. The facilities kept manufacturing Mausers throughout the anti-Japanese war and World War II.

Hanyang-manufactured guns were used not only by KMT forces, but by the Red Army as well. Even though much of their arms were Soviet or captured Japanese weapons, Communist guerrillas fighting the Japanese - and the KMT itself after WWII - took pride in their Hanyang guns and stockpiled them. Many captured and defecting KMT soldiers brought their Hanyang guns with them, leading Mao Zedong to claim that the CPC "had a claim on the output of the arsenals of London as well as Hanyang"! (Griffith, 49)

After World War II, production of Mausers resumed at Hanyang. But not for long. At that point, more advanced arms such as semi-automatic rifles were becoming the norm worldwide and bolt-action rifles such as Mausers were becoming increasingly obsolete. In 1947, Hanyang Arsenal was ordered closed by the KMT government and the site was eventually razed to the ground.

However, the Hanyang story does not end there. Many of the weapons manufactured at Hanyang were still in the hands of Mao Zedong's forces, who were growing by the number. In 1949, mainland China came under Communist control and with it much of what remained of Hanyang Arsenal and its guns.

Many of these guns were used several years later during the Korean War. Mausers and other weaponry manufactured at Hanyang were used by Chinese volunteers who fought in Korea against US and UN forces. Likewise, a few Hanyang guns such as Chinese K-98s even made their way to Indochina where they were used by Viet Minh forces against the French and, another decade later, by the Viet Cong during America's war in Vietnam!

The Hanyang legacy also made its way to Taiwan with the Nationalists who fled there in 1949. Many of Hanyang's senior staff went there with the KMT government and military and helped lay the foundations for Taiwan's own military arsenals during the Cold War.

Hanyang Arsenal only existed for over half a century, but during this period of time it supplied weapons for numerous conflicts ranging from the Boxer Rebellion to the Cold War. It was a very advanced arsenal for its time and it certainly left its mark on the history of China...as well as countries just beyond its borders.

Much more about Hanyang Arsenal can be found at:
http://www.cloudaqua.com:8080/showItem/showDetail/12820793.html (Blog post from Chinese blogger roomx. Includes info about her visit to the old Hanyang Arsenal site.)

*This blog post references information from:
-Sun Tzu and Griffith, Samuel B. The Art of War. London: Oxford Press, 1971: pg. 49.
-Waldron, Arthur. From War to Nationalism: China's Turning Point, 1924-1925. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003: pgs. 66-67.
-MacKinnon, Stephen B. Wuhan, 1938: War, Refugees, and the Making of Modern China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008: pg. 9

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A History of Asia's Neon Signs

One of the most profound features of almost any of the major urban landscapes in Asia are the neon signs that illuminate the city. Over store entrances, on the sides of buildings, and elsewhere, neon signs and billboards light up the night sky in many an Asian city. They have made the atmosphere of countless movies (both in Asia and abroad) a little more saultry and made travel ads for these countries much more appealing. Tourists make special trips to cities such as Tokyo just to see the neon lights at night!

In Asia there are three cities where neon signs are particularly famous: Tokyo and Osaka in Japan, and Hong Kong. In each city these signs have their own history and their own special meanings. Let's learn a little more about the  neon signs of these cities!
Neon signs in Kabuchiko, Tokyo.

One of the world's "neon capitals" is without a doubt Tokyo. The very first neon sign in Japan was set up in 1926 by Tokyo Pan Bakery in Shinjuku district to advertise their business. During and after World War II, neon signs gradually became a popular form of advertising in the country and at the very end of 1957, the Totsuko company erected a huge neon billboard modeled after New York City's famous billboards in Sukiyabashi, which is located in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district. The switching-on of the lights on this billboard was a nationally-televised event, and when the lights came on, the new name of Totsuko was revealed to the world: Sony.

After this sign became an instant Tokyo landmark, more and more businesses in the city saw the value of having their own neon signs. Throughout the 1960s, Tokyo's shopping districts were plastered with neon signs ranging from giant billboards to tiny window signs, trying to outdo all the other nearby businesses and make their brand a popular one. Over the past few decades, entire streets blanketed in neon lights have become a trademark image in Tokyo. Also, other cities in Japan have followed suit and erected neon signs over their own businesses and shopping districts.

The neon lights of Dōtonbori, Osaka, Japan. Notice the Glico Man in the foreground.

One of these is Osaka - and in particular the part of town known as Dōtonbori. At night, Dōtonbori turns into an amazing paradise of bright lights and gigantic mechanical crabs advertising the many restaurants and stores up and down the street, as well as Japan's (and other countries') famous corporations. Dōtonbori can also lay claim to one of the oldest neon sign in Japan: The running man advertising the Japanese Glico candy brand! This sign, which has been around since 1935 (with some sources saying it was erected in 1919!), has become a city icon and has been used to advertise other sporting events and welcome international visitors to the city for venues such as the 2002 World Cup.

The 1960s saw neon signs start popping up in another major urban area of Asia: Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, neon signs can be found almost everywhere. As is the case with Tokyo, images of young couples walking underneath massive neon signs or lights of every color bouncing off a rain-soaked Nathan Road have become a trademark.

Portland Street in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Note the lucky bat in the top sign.

As was the case for Tokyo, the neon signs of Hong Kong were erected by shop owners to advertise their businesses and compete against "the other guys". The bigger and flashier the sign, the more business they could rake in. Over time these signs became a trademark of the territory that could be found everywhere from postcards to HK blockbuster movies of the 1980s and 90s. And of course, any person who has ever lived in or visited Hong Kong are all too familiar with the city's nighttime lights! Areas of Hong Kong such as Nathan Road and Portland street (see above) are particularly famous for their neon signs that turn the night into a dazzling landscape of colors.

As Christopher DeWolf discusses in his excellent article about the neon lights of Hong Kong, many of these signs use traditional Chinese symbolism to advertise their business. For instance, bats carrying coins are very common on pawn shop signs. In traditional Chinese beliefs, bats descending from the sky are a sign of happiness, as are bats featured on "eye coin" amulets. Naturally, coins themselves are also a sign of wealth! DeWolf also points out that many of these signs use traditional Chinese colors that were used to paint the signs of old. Red (traditionally a lucky color), white, and green were the most common colors.

Hong Kong is also famous for being the inspiration for the city scenes in director Ridley Scott's 1982 film Blade Runner. With all of its amazing neon signs illuminating the night streets in a blanket of light, Ridley couldn't have picked a better inspiration for a futuristic Los Angeles than Hong Kong on a rainy day!

Over the course of the mid to late-20th century, neon lights became as much a part of many Asian city landscapes as their temples, parks, restaurants, and other buildings. To some they may be an annoyance, but to others they are valuable pieces of the cities themselves that are more than just an advertising medium. They light up the city at night and create a beautiful nighttime atmosphere for everyone to enjoy.

For more about the neon signs, here are a couple of sites for you:
http://www.darkroastedblend.com/2007/09/japans-neon-vision-lights-up-night.html (Steve Levenstein's article about Tokyo's neon lights.)
http://randomwire.com/hong-kong-nights (A blog post from Random Wire about Hong Kong's neon signs.)

Image Copyrights:
Tokyo: Puffyjet 
Dōtonbori: JoopDooresteijn
Portland St.: UCLARodent
All images used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, November 5, 2012

James C. Mars and Thomas Scott Baldwin: Early Aviation Pioneers in Asia

During the early years of flight, a number of young men learned how to fly the new "flying machines" and became daredevil aviators. These aviators are the men and women who not only set the first world records for flight, but also paved the way for air travel as we know it.

Thomas Scott Baldwin's plane, the Red Devil. (Mark Pellegrini/Wikimedia Commons)
Two of these men were the Americans James C. "Bud" Mars (1876-1944) and US Army Capt. Thomas Scott Baldwin (1854-1923). Just a few years after Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic first flight in Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903, Bud Mars was one of the first daredevil pilots. He became America's eleventh licensed pilot and the first aviator to fly over a number of American states, including Arkansas and Hawaii. Thanks to these historic firsts and his death-defying flying exploits (which included a crash into the Atlantic Ocean where he nearly drowned, as well as a near-crash into the Rocky Mountains), he became a celebrity in the US during the late 1900s. Cpt. Baldwin was one of America's first balloonists who made history in 1885 when he jumped out of a balloon in mid-air with a parachute. He also made a number of circus performances involving a hot-air balloon and a trapeze. After the Wright Brothers made their flight, Baldwin mastered the biplane as well.

Sometime at the end of 1910, Capt. Baldwin organized an exhibition for the Asia-Pacific region to demonstrate the airplane. He managed to get Mars and fellow "aeronaut" Tod Shriver on board. Throughout 1911, the three put on performances in countries which included Hawaii, Japan, Russia, Indonesia, India, Thailand, China, the Philippines, and Korea. Mars performed breath-taking stunts for the amazed (or terrified) crowds with his plane while Baldwin performed stunts with his own plane, the Red Devil.

During their exhibition, they reportedly had 750,000 people show up in Osaka to watch their flights. At the time, this was the largest crowd ever to show up for an air show. In Manila, a crowd almost as large showed up to watch the two fly at the 1911 Manila Carnival. During the Manila performance, Bud Mars became the first person to fly in the skies over the Philippines when he orbited the Manila Carnival Tower.

Throughout their Asian journey , the exhibition experienced a number of "interesting incidents." While performing in Japan, Mars claimed to have almost been killed by a mob of villagers in one Japanese village who were fearful of the new contraption. He also claimed to have had constant protection from the Japanese authorities during their stay in Korea due to the possibility of having more "unfriendly" run-ins from fearful villagers. Also, Baldwin and Mars unintentionally caused panic in many of the areas of Asia they visited among people who were unfamiliar with airplanes and saw these alien contraptions flying in the skies over their cities.

Also in this exhibition, the trio made aviation history. Bud Mars made aviation history yet again when he made the first flights over the Philippines and, quite possibly, Korea as well. While not being the first aviators to fly over the skies of most of the countries they visited, he and Baldwin were the first to fly over a number of regions in these countries. Also while in Siam (Thailand), HRH King Rama VI became one of the first - if not the first - Thai king to fly in an airplane when he went for a short 12 mile (19 km)  flight in Mars's airplane.

Two countries Mars and Baldwin left very profound impacts on during their visits were Japan and the Philippines. In Japan, they aroused much interest in the "flying machines" and donated an airplane, helping spark Japan's own breed of aviators and airplane industry. In the Philippines (which was also the first stop of their Asian exhibition), they sold planes to one of the country's first flight schools. These planes - and Mars's first flight over Manila - helped set the stage for air travel in the Philippines.

All in all, Capt. Baldwin and Bud Mars's exhibition helped change history in Asia. They introduced the airplane to parts of the world which were still largely unaware of its existence and helped pave the way for these countries to enter the world of aviation themselves.

For more information about James C. Mars and the 1911 exhibition, here are some webpages for you:
http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F40610F73F5517738DDDAC0994DF405B818DF1D3 (New York Times articles from 1911 about James C. Mars.)
http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_print.asp?menu=A11100&no=351687&rel_no=1&isPrint=print (Article about Mars and Baldwin's visit to Korea, James C. Mars's account of the visit, and the continuing dispute over whether or not they were the first pilots to fly over Korea.)
http://roynagl.50megs.com/manila.htm (Pictures and info about Baldwin and Mars's Manila visit and their performances there.)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Gaya: The "Iron Kingdom" of the Korean Peninsula

A suit of armor from the Gaya kingdom in Korea. (Good friend 100/Wikimedia Commons)
Have you seen the Korean drama series from 2010 titled Kim Su-Ro: The Iron King? If you have, you are probably familiar with the ancient Korean kingdom of Gaya (가야). While not as well-known as the larger Korean kingdoms of Gorguyeo, Baekje, and Silla, Gaya was a very small but important kingdom in not just ancient Korea, but in northeast Asia as a whole.

Gaya was a confederacy of city-states that existed from around AD 42-532. It was situated in extreme south-central Korea on an abundant natural supply of soil and minerals, including iron. These natural resources helped it develop an earthenware trade and, most importantly of all, an iron trade. This abundance of iron - and Gaya's advanced smelting and iron-making techniques - helped Gaya gain its reuptation as the "Iron Kingdom." Over time it developed extensive trading networks with the neighboring kingdoms of Baekje and Silla...as well as China and Wa, or Kofun-period Japan!

Iron-manufacturing technology most likely spread into Korea from Yan state in China, which was located around the modern-day Beijing area. Yan existed from the 9th century BC-222 BC, when it was conquered and absorbed by Qin state.

A map of different locations in Korea where Gaya helmets have been found. (Azukiajuma/Wikimedia Commons)
Gaya made and exported a wide variety of iron objects, including farming implements such as sickles and axes, weaponry such as iron arrowheads, swords, and knives, and armor. Gaya's reputation for high-quality iron products was well-known throughout the region. In the map above, we can see that iron helmets from Gaya (blue) have been found at a number of Baekje (red) and Silla (yellow and green) sites. These helmets were no doubt worn by soldiers who fought their nations' inter-kingdom wars. And of course, the soldiers of the Gaya kingdom made use of this armor as well. Gaya's city-states had armies that kept the tiny kingdom alive for nearly 500 years.

A Gaya warrior.
Gaya had extensive trading networks inside the Korean peninsula. In Korea, it traded with its neighboring kingdoms of Silla and Baekje. Gaya weapons and armor helped Baekje become a major military power on the Korean peninsula. Its main trading partners outside the Korean peninsula were the Chinese commandery of Lelang (Located in present-day North Korea; conquered and annexed by the neighboring Korean state of Goguryeo in AD 313.) and the Japanese states in Kyushu, but Gaya armor has been found elsewhere in China as well. At the time, Japan had no iron-making skills of its own and made much use of Gaya's iron products.

Over time, Gaya taught the techniques and technology for smelting earthenware and iron. Also, people from Gaya began to emigrate to Kyushu and set up earthenware kilns. By the end of the 5th century AD, Japan began producing its own iron and earthenware products (including Sue ware) thanks to the contributions of these immigrants and the Gaya kingdom. These developments would change Japan forever and have an impact on Japanese civilization and culture long after Gaya ceased to exist.

Armor, helmets, jewelry, trinkets, tools, and more that can be traced back to Gaya have been found at a number of Kofun-period burial sites in Japan.

In the 4th and 5th centuries AD, much of Gaya gradually disintegrated due to pressure from the much more powerful Goguryeo kingdom. In the 6th century, Silla declared war on Gaya as a punishment for aiding Baekje during a war between the two kingdoms. Gaya - or what remained of it - lost this war and was absorbed into Silla.

The ancient kingdom of Gaya may be a relatively obscure kingdom and it may have disappeared into history, but it played a crucial role in the histories of Korea and Japan (and would continue to play an instrumental role in Silla after it annexed Gaya) through its iron-making technology. It also left behind remains of a civilization that have fascinated arachaeologists and historians for decades.

For more information about Gaya, check out the following:
http://www.hongik.ac.kr/~kayakim/openlec/Gaya_foreign/Gaya%20in%20English.htm (Very in-depth article about the kingdom of Gaya.)
http://kyb0417.blogspot.com/ (Post from Mugap's Korean Armour about Gaya armor. Includes other lesser-known armor from the region (Korean peninsula/China/Manchuria/Siberian Russia) as well.
http://kimhaekims.net/cultural_foundations_of_gaya.htm (Article about Gaya and its iron trade.)
http://gimhae.museum.go.kr/html/en/exh/exh_01.html (Website about Gaya from the Gimhae National Museum in Gimhae, South Korea. Includes pictures of Gaya artifacts.)

*This blog post has referenced information from the following book:
Barnes, Gina L. China, Korea, and Japan: The Rise of Civilization in East Asia. London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd, 1993: pgs. 208, 232, 244.

(Gaya warrior image copyright: Dentarg. Used via Wikimedia Commons.)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hsinchu's Historic Movie Theater

The Hsinchu Municipal Image Museum.
One of Taiwan's oldest and most historic movie theaters is the Hsinchu Municipal Image Museum, which is located in the northern city of Hsinchu. In the nearly eight decades since it first opened, this theater has shown a number of movie classics and has not only survived, but taken part in a number of tumultuous events in the region's history.

When it initially opened, the theater was known as the Yu Le Hall. It was built in 1933 when Taiwan was under Japanese occupation. When it first opened, it was the first modern air-conditioned and indoor theater on the island. The interior design is a combination of Roman and Arabesque designs that were intended to magnify the "splendor" of the Japanese Empire. The theater showed the most popular Chinese and Japanese movies of the day.

To the people living in Taiwan at the time, Yu Le Hall was a place of grandeur filled with bright lights and flickering film images during a time when most people were poor and could only dream of watching a movie in this cinema.

In 1941, Yu Le Hall played a role in one pivotal moment in history. On December 7th, Japanese Air Force pilots stationed at nearby air bases watched their last movie in this theater before embarking on bombing missions over Allied targets in southeast Asia.

Despite suffering heavy damage from an Allied bombing raid during the war, Yu Le Hall stayed open after the Japanese departure at the end of World War II. After the war, the theater was renamed the Kuo Min (National) Theater and became Taiwan's most modern movie theater. It didn't take long for Kuo Min to become a hotspot as Taiwan started to modernize and become a much more urbanized society!

Throughout its life as an ordinary theater, the Kuo Min Theater showed not only movies, but operas, concerts, musicals, and plays as well. It was also used for ROC military recruiting throughout the Cold War period.  US military servicemen stationed nearby who were part of the MAAG advisory group in Taiwan during the 1950s-1970s often frequented the theater as well. The Kuo Min Theater showed all the latest Taiwan blockbusters, as well as hits from the West and elsewhere, and it usually stayed very packed during its heyday!

In the 1980s, its status as a hotspot started to change. Video and other entertainment industries started to take off. More people were renting and buying movies instead of going to the theater to see them on the big screen. This took its toll on the cinema's profits. Also, Kuo Min Theater was involved in some local disputes with the local Hsinchu governments. These factors led to the closure of Kuo Min Theater in 1991.

For the next few years (except for a brief period in 1996 when the cinema was temporarily re-opened to host the city's local events during Taiwan's national arts festival that year), Kuo Min Theater was abandoned. However, all of that changed in 2000, when the local city government in conjunction with The Chinese Taipei Film Archive re-opened the cinema as the Hsinchu Municipal Image Museum. This museum is dedicated to Taiwanese cinema from its beginnings up to the modern day.

On display at the new museum is old film and movie theater equipment from the 20th century, exhibits of movie stills, and other pictures from Taiwan's movie history. Also, the museum shows themed film festivals and various other movies from around the world. In short, there's plenty here for the film buff - and the Taiwanese film buff in particular - to see and enjoy!

When it was built, the Yu Le Hall was a place that was intended to be majestic and cosmopolitan. Today, almost eighty years later, it is still a hotspot for movie lovers and Taiwan cinema!

http://www.hcccb.gov.tw/english/04museum/1mus_a01.asp?cate_id=56 (Homepage for the Hsinchu Municipal Image Museum.)
http://taiwantoday.tw/ct.asp?xItem=19803&CtNode=122 (Excellent article about the Hsinchu Municipal Image Museum and its history as a cinema.)
http://eng.taiwan.net.tw/pda/m1.aspx?sNo=0002109&id=6882 (A page from the Taiwan Tourism Bureau's website about the museum.)

(Image copyright: Mmonhsi via Flickr)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Samurai Ghosts and Warrior Spirits in Japan

Print by Utagawa Yoshitaki (1841-1899) of a boy showing his mother a samurai ghost. (Visipix.com)
Since today is Halloween, I thought I'd make today's post a spooky one (or at least as spooky as possible!) for you guys!

Japan is a country haunted by many ghosts. Ghosts of warriors and shogunates past. Ghosts of soldiers who died far too young in the nation's wars. Ghosts of young lovers whose romances ended tragically. Many of these ghosts have become the subjects of legends and kabuki theatre over the centuries. Many still roam the Japanese countryside today, making their presence known to whole new generations, seeking release from their purgatorial state, or safeguarding the country as they have for centuries.

Some of the most famous ghosts in Japan are the ghosts of samurai warriors. Many of these ghosts are the spirits of some of Japan's most famous warriors who have sworn to protect the nation in life and in death. Others are vengeful spirits out to seek revenge on those who defeated them and/or their clan.

"The Ghost of Taira no Tomomori" by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892). (Library of Congress)

One real-life warrior who became a ghost of legend was Taira no Tomomori (1152-1185). Tomomori was one of the Taira clan's commanders at the end of the Genpei War, which was a war waged between the Taira and Minamoto clans during Japan's Heian period (794-1185).

Tomomori fought in a number of battles with the Minamoto clan, including the famous naval battle of Mizushima where Taira forces defeated a Minamoto invasion force by tying their ships together and creating a huge fighting platform which enabled them to fight a land battle in the middle of the ocean!

In 1185, the Taira clan was finally defeated at the Battle of Dan-no-ura, which was the battle that determined which family would rule Japan. Rather than face the humiliation of defeat, Taira no Tomomori and his warriors committed hara-kiri by jumping overboard into the ocean. According to many legends, Tomomori tied a gigantic anchor around himself before hurling himself into the water. To this day many Japanese believe the spirits of the Taira warriors inhabit the Heike crabs that live on the ocean floor in the Shimonoseki Strait (which was the location of the battle) between the islands of Kyushu and Honshu.

In the case of Taira no Tomomori's spirit, his has become the subject of many legends. Some say his ghost rose from the depths of the ocean and wanders the earth, waiting for the chance to take his revenge on the Minamoto clan. Over the centuries, his ghost has been depicted in paintings, manga, and ukiyo-e prints such as the one above by Yoshitoshi. It was a character in various Noh plays such as Ikarikazuchi and  Funa benkei (1885), which was about Tomomori's ghost unleashing his vengeance on the famous warrior monk Benkei, who served the Minamoto clan.

In modern times, Taira no Tomomori has made the occasional appearance (in both ghostly and human form) in anime, in movies such as the 1964 film Kwaidan, and in games such as the 2000 video game Harukanaru Toki No Naka De (Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time). Also, his ghost has been a popular tattoo for members of the Japanese underworld.

Taira no Masakado. (Wikimedia Commons)
One warrior who has become a real-life "warrior spirit" is Tomomori's relative Taira no Masakado (?-940). Masakado's ghost has not only become the subject of legend, but a real-life deity residing in a shrine in the middle of downtown Tokyo's business district!

Masakado was a member of the Taira clan who was a powerful landowner in the Kanto area (the area surrounding modern-day Tokyo). In the the mid-930s, he was involved in a number of disputes with the Minamoto clan, as well as members of his own family. This culminated in a rebellion against the Imperial court in Kyoto. He set up his own kingdom in all eight provinces of eastern Japan and proclaimed himself Emperor. The rebellion lasted throughout 939-940 until Imperial forces retook the region, captured Masakado, and beheaded him.

However, Masakado was not going to disappear from the land of the living so easily. Most legends state that his head, which was on display in Kyoto, flew through the air and landed in the tiny fishing village of Shibasaki, which was located near where the shrine is located in Tokyo's banking district of Otemachi. His head was buried at the site and over time, Masakado became the protector of Tokyo.

A shrine was built to Masakado at the site in 940, but was later moved to another site nearby during the 17th century. Over the centuries, Masakado's spirit has stayed relatively quiet....unless his shrine falls into disrepair or attempts are made to raze it. Plague fell on that part of Edo (Tokyo) when his shrine was neglected in the early 14th century and a Buddhist temple was built next door. After the great Kanto earthquake of 1923, his shrine was nearly forgotten in the midst of the chaos. As a result, some of Tokyo's most well-known corporate presidents mysteriously committed suicide. After World War II, an attempt was made by American occupation forces to raze the shrine and turn it into a motorpool. The bulldozer used for its demolition mysteriously overturned and the driver was killed. There have also been a few other calamities that have fallen on that particular area when Masakado's shrine fell into disrepair. Those calamaties have been enough to convince the public to leave his tomb where it has been for over a thousand years.

However, Masakado has been regarded as a protector of Tokyo. Many people pray and leave offerings at his tomb. The Imperial Palace - and the Tokugawa castle before it - were located near his shrine, no doubt taking advantage of his protection.
If you want to see Masakado's tomb up close, check out this video from YouTube of one Japanese family's visit to the site!

Ghosts and spirits have been a part of Japan throughout its existence, and no doubt will be for the rest of time.

Have a happy Halloween folks and stay safe tonight!   

For more about Taira no Tomomori, Taira no Masakado, and other "bewitching" places in Japan, here are some links for you:
http://www.mackinnon.org/masakado-home.html (Excellent site about Masakado.)
http://www.northernearth.co.uk/inttairo.htm (A very good article about Masakado's shrine and tomb.)
http://www.hauntedamericatours.com/ghosthunting/JAPAN.php (Webpage from Haunted Tours America about haunted places in Japan.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Telescopes in Edo-Period Japan

"Young Woman Looking Through a Telescope" by Edo artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). (Visipix.com)
During the Edo period in Japan (1603-1868), a device came from Europe to Japan that revolutionized science and astronomy, helped change the calendar, and became a hot novelty item among the public. That device was the telescope.

The first refracting telescope (which was the type of telescope most widely used by the public before the reflecting telescope started becoming more popular over the past century) was brought to Japan in 1614 during a mission to open trade between England and Japan. That telescope was presented as a gift to the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu from the English captain John Saris and one of his sailors,William Adams.

A few years later, the first homemade telescope was made by Tohichi Ikushima. Unfortunately, this milestone also led to telescope manufacturing being initially banned in Japan by the Tokugawa shogunate due to its dual purpose as a military application.

In 1659, telescopes received their first major military usage when they were used at three different observation towers set up along Japan's coast for observing foreign ships arriving in Japanese waters.

According to Peter Abrahams's in-depth history of the Japanese telescope, it was used throughout the course of the 17th and early 18th centuries mainly for terrestrial purposes, such as measuring angles and military observation. Over the course of the 18th century, more and more of the general Japanese public, including astronomers, would use the telescope for observing the nighttime skies. The telescope was used by Edo astronomer and government official Harumi Shibukawa when, in the early 18th century, he discovered a series of new stars and added them to the traditional Chinese celestial map, which had been used for centuries. This new celestial map, named the "Tenmon Seisho-zu", became the foundation of modern Japanese astronomy.

After the creation of the new map, new advances were made in Japanese astronomy, such as a new set of celestial globes by Shibukawa and the creation of a new "lunisolar" calendar. Astronomy became a popular subject of study for the country's intelligentsia. All of these advances were helped in 1720 by the Tokugawa lifting their ban on scientific research from the West that had no religious implications. However, the Tokugawa shogunate made the priority of the nation's new science not of mapping the galaxies, but for making new calendars to justify its own power and prestige.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the Japanese learned about the art of the telescope from the Dutch, who also imported their own telescopes and telescope parts such as lenses. Also during the 1700s, a number of Japanese astronomers and artisans started making their own telescopes. By the end of the century, homemade telescopes and lenses were very commonplace.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the telescopes made in Japan started catching up to the Western models that were imported to Japan. The famed telescope-maker Zenbei Iwahashi's (1756-1811) refracting telescope from the late 1700s was equal - and possibly superior to - the Western telescopes which were the standard of the time! Also during the early 19th century, the Asada school, founded by astronomer Asada Goryu (1734-1799), created modern astronomy instruments and used Iwahashi's telescopes for their observations. These and other developments set the basis for the optical industry in Japan - a tradition that continues today with Japan's leading camera and optical equipment manufacturers.

Kunitomo Ikkansai's telescope, c. 1832. (Wikimedia Commons)
In 1833, after spending a little time in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) learning about telescopes from the Dutch, the ex-gunsmith Kunitomo Ikkansai created Japan's first Gregorian reflecting lens telescope. This telescope allowed him to make some very detailed observations of sun spots and the surface of the moon.

After the Tokugawa shogunate became a little less paranoid about the usage of telescopes, they became a popular novelty item among the public. Telescopes made their way into Japanese fiction such as kibyōshi (黄表紙). They were used by ordinary people for observing nature, nearby cities, and so on. Many ukiyo-e prints from the time depict ordinary people watching birds or observing ships at sea with telescopes. During the 19th century, crowds gathered at observation points to look out over mountains or the ocean.

Telescopes also became popular during the Edo period for gossip and voyeuristic purposes! As a matter of fact, some of the "pleasure districts" in Japanese cities offered telescopes for this very purpose.

In 1854, the Tokugawa shogunate opened Japan's borders to foreign trade. In 1868, the Tokugawa shogunate's rule came to an end and the Meiji Restoration began. During the Meiji period, Japan opened its doors to the outside world. The Meiji government formally adopted the solar calendar used by the West and Japanese astronomers were finally able to study the science of astronomy in full.

The telescope is an instrument that has become a part of our everyday lives, but in Edo-period Japan, it was instrumental in changing science and society.

For more about Japanese astronomy in the Edo period, here's another site you might want to visit:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Sambyeolcho: Military Rule and Rebellion in Ancient Korea

One of the earliest-known examples of a state security agency or police force in Asia is that of the Sambyeolcho, which was responsible for both military and police functions during the final decades of the Goryeo Dynasty in Korea when the powerful Choe family ascended to power and used it to extend military rule across the peninsula.

In 1196, Korea had been in the throes of a military dictatorship for 26 years. During this time, the country had been ruled by four different military rulers. Three of these rulers had been assassinated. Two ruled with an iron fist and murdered a number of political opponents, including the former Emperor Uijong and many of his officials. The tyrannical military ruler of the time, Yi Ui-min (who personally murdered Emperor Uijong), was assassinated by Choe Chung-heon and his brother Choe Chung-soo, who had launched a coup d'etat with various allies in the military government.

After ascending to power, Choe Chung-heon established a new order in Korea. He removed Emperor Myeongjong from power, replaced him with Emperor Sinjong, and reversed many of the policies of the previous military rulers. However, he also paved the way for 61 years of rule over Korea by the Choe family.

During their time in power, the Choe family established the Yabyeolcho (야별초meaning "Special Night Unit" in Korean) as a special army unit. The Yabyeolcho was a type of police force composed of elite soldiers who kept law and order at night in the streets of the Goryeo capital Kaesong and prevented burglaries. They were composed of two initial units: the Jwabyeolcho, or "Special Left Unit", and the Ubyeolchol, or "Special Right Unit".

In 1232, one year after the first invasion of Korea by the Mongols under Ögedei Khan, the Goryeo royal court was moved to Ganghwa Island, which is a large island located in Gyeonggi Bay near the present-day Korean DMZ. This island was inaccessible to the Mongols, who at the time were limited to land-based horse and cavalry attacks.

In 1255, under a decree from Choe Hang, the Yabyeolcho received an extra unit for escaping Goryeo POWs and former Goryeo defectors and collaborators who had a change of heart. This unit was known as the Shin-euigun ("Divine Righteous Troops") and the Yabyeolcho was officially renamed the Sambyeolcho (삼별초; Hanja 三別抄; "three special units").

Throughout its history, the Yabyeolcho/Sambyeolcho was the Choe family's private army. They were a combination of police and army and eventually superceded the army itself. The Sambyeolcho worked in conjunction with the Tobang, which was a separate elite army unit responsible for safeguarding the military leader(s).

During the Mongol invasions, the Shin-euigun was particularly useful to the Goryeo leadership on Ganghwa Island. They were used as frontline soldiers and as diplomats to the Mongols. Rather than executing traitors, the Goryeo and Sambyeolcho generals used them for military intelligence, psychological operations, and diplomatic purposes. In fact, some Shin-euigun soldiers learned and practiced the art of diplomacy!

After almost thirty years of war, the Korean countryside was in ruins and scores of Koreans, both military and civilians, were killed. A growing number of leading Goryeo scholars just wanted peace with the Mongols and for Goryeo to become one of Khubilai Khan's vassal states. The Sambyeolcho were used in a number of plots by these scholars to overthrow or murder the leaders in power. In 1258, they were used to overthrow Choe Ui and bring the Choe dynasty's hold on Korea to an end, bringing to power the pro-Mongol faction with Kim Jun as military leader. Ten years later, Kim was assassinated by the Sambyeolcho acting under orders from Im Yeong. In 1270, they were used again to assassinate Im Yumu, who would be Goryeo's final military leader. 

That same year, the military's hold on power in Goryeo was abolished with Mongol help. King Wonjong complied with Mongol demands that the Goryeo capital be relocated back to Kaesong and the Sambyeolcho be disbanded. Wonjong complied, but the Sambyeolcho would not fade away so easily....

A group of military officials led by the general in charge of the Sambyeolcho, Bae Jungson, refused to submit to Mongol authority over Goryeo. They declared a revolt against the Goryeo Dynasty. The Sambyeolcho seized control of Ganghwa Island, some other islands lying off the shores of Korea, and a few coastal regions of the Korean mainland. They appointed a member of the royal family, Wang On, king of this dominion.

Not long afterwards, the Sambyeolcho retreated from Ganghwa to Jindo Island and established their headquarters there. They managed to hold out on Jindo for a few months in the winter of 1270-71 and coordinated raids on Mongol and Goryeo targets along the Jeolla coastline of southwest Korea. 

The Sambyeolcho proved to be a serious thorn in the side of the Mongol overlords. He demaded their immediate and unconditional surrender. Bae Jungson appealed directly to Khubilai Khan to be recognized as an autonomous region, but he refused. Instead, he ordered the Sambyeolcho to be annihilated and in April of that year, a combined force of Mongol and Goryeo soldiers stormed Jindo Island. The island capitulated in a month and the king was killed in battle.

The Sambyeolcho fled to Jeju Island, which was an autonomous kingdom at the time. They overthrew the Tamna (Jeju) king, took control of the island, and set up a fortress. Throughout 1271, they laid low, regrouped, and launched sporadic raids on the Korean mainland. In February of 1272, an Mongol-Goryeo invasion force invaded Jeju Island. The island fell two months later and the Sambyeolcho was no more.

Today the Sambyeolcho are honored as heroes in Korea who stood up to the mighty Mongol hordes and bravely defended their country, even after defeat. A statue dedicated to them stands at the site of their fortress on Jeju Island. They may have started out as an organ of the military dictatorship which ruled over Goryeo-era Korea, but they ended up becoming defenders of the nation.

If you want to see the homepage of the Hangpaduri Earthen Fortress the Sambyeolcho constructed and used on Jeju Island, you can find that here:

For more information about the Shin-euigun, check out these articles:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A.F. Lindley: The Englishman who Became a Taiping Rebel

One of the longest and bloodiest civil wars ever waged in history was China's Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864). The Taiping rebellion was launched by the "Heavenly King" (天王) Hong Xiuquan and his followers. Hong claimed to be a brother to Jesus Christ who aimed to end Qing rule and establish a "Heavenly Kingdom" in China with Christianity as its official religion. The rebellion claimed at least thirty million lives and caused massive destruction across the country in a war of attrition waged by both sides. Throughout the course of the conflict, a number of Westerners came to the aid of the Qing (or Manchu) Dynasty as it attempted to crush the rebellion. Many of these were mercenaries or officers dispatched by Western countries such as the US and UK. The most famous of the pro-Qing mercenaries were the Shanghai Foreign Arms Corps, later rechristened the Ever Victorious Army, which was created and organized in 1860 by the American Frederick Townsend Ward. However, there were a smaller number of Western mercenaries who joined the Taiping rebels as well.

Bust of Li Xiucheng (1823-1864). (John Smith/Wikimedia Commons)

The most prominent Western Taiping rebel was the Englishman Augustus F. Lindley. Lindley was a British soldier who was dispatched to Hong Kong in 1859 to serve aboard a steamer. The following year, while delivering a load of silk into Taiping territory in and around Suzhou (which had been the scene of fighting and had just fallen to the rebels) for a private company, Lindley got to see the Taipings up close. He had heard much about their "savagery" from others who supported the Qing, but he was shocked at the beauty and humility of the people and countryside of the Heavenly Kingdom that he personally saw. In Lindley's autobiography Ti-ping Tien-kwoh (Taiping Tianguo, or "Taiping Heavenly Kingdom"), he discusses how mesmerized he was by the "kindness, hospitality, and earnest friendship" he received from the people living in the Taiping-controlled areas. Also during his trek, he met and interviewed the Chung Wang (忠王, or 'devoted king') Li Xiucheng. Li was one of Hong Xiuquan's military commanders. During this interview, Lindley learned more about the Taiping Rebellion and how the West was aiding and arming a corrupt and highly unpopular Qing government while claiming to be Christian nations.

Lindley grew so enamored with the Taiping cause that he decided to join the rebels. Like many other Westerners who joined their ranks, the rebels' cause appealed to his Christian beliefs and his love of the Chinese people and culture. He resigned from his commission and was granted a commission as a Taiping officer from the Chung Wang. After departing his steamer at Hangzhou, Lindley and two pro-Taiping European friends proceeded to the Heavenly Capital Nanjing, where they became artillery instructors to the rebels. Lindley also became an English "voice of the rebels" who regularly courted the Westerners in Taiping territory for the Taiping cause, as well as weaponry and supplies for the rebels. He also wrote a number of letters to English-language newspapers in China criticizing the Western stance toward the rebels.

An illustration of Qing forces occupying Suzhou in 1863. (Wikimedia Commons)

Over time, Lindley grew increasingly involved in the armed conflict. He grew very close to Hong's inner circle during his time in the Heavenly Kingdom. He served in combat and was wounded on more than one occasion (including one ambush in which his wife Maria was killed). In response to the creation and success of the Ever Victorious Army, Lindley and his friends attempted to set up the Loyal and Faithful Auxillary Legion, which served very much the same purposes as the Ever Victorious Army, which was now under the command of the British officer Charles "Chinese" Gordon. This legion would be under the command of his fellow European officers and all the soldiers in it would be trained in Western weaponry and combat tactics. Unfortunately for Lindley (and for Hong Xiuquan), the vast majority of European officers - including Lindley's two friends - were killed in action when the Qing retook Suzhou in 1863.

Also during this time, Lindley and a group of mercenaries carried out a secret mission: To steal the Imperial steamship 'Firefly'. Their mission was accomplished and they were paid $20,000 - a princely sum at the time. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of rebel fighters and mercenaries were paid nothing! The 'Firefly' would be used in action against regular Qing forces - as well as Gordon and his Ever Victorious Army.

Lindley remained in the Heavenly Kingdom and stayed close to his comrades and the Taiping leadership until the death of Hong Xiuquan and the fall of the Kingdom in 1864. After the end of the rebellion, A.F. Lindley returned to Britiain and continued to act as the rebels' "spokesman." In 1866, he published his two-volume autobiography, in which he details his experiences in the rebellion and offers a scathing criticism of the Qings and the British government in its support for the Qing Dynasty. To this day this autobiography is the only detailed look the West has had at the Taiping Rebellion from the rebels' point of view. For the British public, there was plenty of food for thought about British foreign policy in the pages of these books as the government of the time was growing increasingly involved in China. Unfortunately, just three decades later, Britain and the West would find themselves at war with the Qing Dynasty itself during the Boxer Rebellion.

It's hard to say what A.F. Lindley saw - or believed he saw - during that first trip into the Heavenly Kingdom. He may have wandered into one of history's greatest bloodbaths, but one thing is for sure: Lindley gained much greater insight into the Chinese people and culture that many other Westerners living in the time could ever have hoped to gain.

For more about A.F. Lindley and the Taiping Rebellion, please see:
-http://books.google.com/books?id=zMwNAAAAIAAJ (Ti-ping Tien-kwoh, Vol. I. This is the first book of A.F. Lindley's autobigraphy.)
-http://books.google.com/books?id=jI4xAQAAMAAJ (Ti-ping Tien-kwoh, Vol. II. This includes not only his account of the rebellion, but Taiping documents, texts, and prayers as well. If you're studying the Taiping Rebellion, you might want to give this a look.)
-http://history.emory.edu/home/assets/documents/endeavors/volume2/AlexanderGouzoules.pdf (A paper about the usage of foreign mercenaries and soldiers in the Taiping Rebellion.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

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The End of Ji and the Birth of Beijing

Today's blog entry is the final entry in my series of blog posts about Ji City and the birth of modern Beijing.

A Qing-era illustration depicting Gongsun Zan and the famed general Zhao Yun. (Wikimedia Commons)

In 193, the Han Dynasty was dying and various warlords were vying for power across China. Ji City - or Fanyang as it was still officially known - was the scene of a dramatic showdown between Yizhou commander Liu Yu and one of his officers, Gongsun Zan, who accused him of trying to seize power in China. Gongsun Zan murdered Liu Yu on this pretext and took command of Fanyang, making it the center of his own power until he was killed six years later.

After the end of the Han Dynasty, Ji changed hands a number of times under a number of different dynasties and regimes.

During the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316 AD), Ji lost its status as a capital city and was simply a county seat. When the Northern Wei (386-535 AD) came to power, Ji was restored as the capital of Youzhou. However, the Chinese city of Tianjin was renamed Ji and the authorities established a Ji County in the vicinity of Tianjin. That county still bears the name Ji to this very day!

Ji remained an important military and commercial hub throughout the rule of the Sui (589-618 AD) and Tang Dynasties (618-907 AD). It was an important military garrison and launchpoint for military operations against the neighboring Korean superpower of Goguryeo. In the 8th century AD, it was made the headquarters for the Fanyang Jiedushi (节度使), which was a military governor appointed by the Tang authorities to defend the country's regions against external threats. The Jiedushi were given a massive amount of power and their authority eventually superceded Imperial rule.

This set the stage for the rebellion of the Fanyang jiedushi An Lushan against the Tang Dynasty. In 755, An Lushan proclaimed himself Emperor of a rival Yan Dynasty, which was based in the former state of Yan. He launched his rebellion from Fanyang and swept southward throughout China. The rebellion - which is one of the bloodiest events ever recorded in world history - officially ended in 763, but the jiedushi system which spawned An Lushan's rebellion remained intact. The Tang Dynasty collapsed in 907, largely as a result from this.

The former city of Ji became a capital once more when in 936 the former Tang governor Shi Jingtang ceded the region to the Khitans from the north in exchange for support for the relatively weak and short-lived Later Jin Dynasty (936-947 AD). The Khitans made it one of the capitals of the Liao Dynasty (907-1125 AD). During Khitan rule, the city was named Yanjing once again, as well as Nanjing. It was the southernmost capital of Liao during this time.

After the rise of the Jin, or Jurchen Dynasty (1115-1234), Yanjing was rechristened Zhongdu and made Jin's central capital. When it was the city of Zhongdu, the Jin rebuilt the city on a grandiose scale. They built a number of palaces and other ambitious urban projects such as a watercourse.

The siege of Zhongdu, 1213-14 as depicted by Persian historian Rashad al-Din. (Wikimedia Commons)

However, all of these projects were soon to become history when the Mongol hordes under the leadership of Genghis Khan invaded and conquered northern China. In 1213, Genghis Khan laid siege to Zhongdu and after two bloody sieges, Zhongdu capitulated in 1215. Genghis and his hordes pillaged and burned the city to the ground after its fall. Afterwards, they renamed the city Yanjing and it laid in ruins until 1264, when Khubilai Khan ordered a new capital named Dadu, or Khanbaliq, to be created adjacent to what was Ji. This new capital city soon incorporated the old Ji city within its limits. Dadu would be a center of culture and authority, and one of the greatest cosmopolitan cities the world at that time had ever known. Some of Beijing's great landmarks such as the Drum Tower, the Beijing Ancient Observatory, the Miaoying, or White Stupa Temple, and many of the city's lakes and old neighborhoods (or 'hutong') were built by the Mongols during this period.

Over the centuries, this enormous new city became the city of Beijing we all know today. The ancient city of Ji may only be a small part of the city now, but it is forever etched into the history of China and is still very much an integral part of 21st century Beijing!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ji and the Qin and Han Dynasties

If you've been following the past two blog posts, you've read about the beginnings of today's city of Beijing through its foundation as Ji state and its rise as the capital of Yan after Ji was crushed and annexed by Yan state. If you've been following these posts, let's continue on with the history of Ji during the Qin and Han Dynasties!

After the state of Yan was defeated by Qin in 222 BCE, it ceased to exist. As a result Ji lost its status as a capital city. However, it remained the most powerful city in northeast China. It was a city of strategic importance and the regional hub for transportation.

A statue of Qin Shi Huang. (Prosopee/Wikimedia Commons)
During Qin rule, Emperor Qin Huangdi (Qin Shi Huang) implemented a commandery system (郡, or 'jun') on the former Zhou vassal states as part of the military occupation. This divided each county in a state into a special adminstrative zone that made the county system of ancient China essentially irrelevant. The 36 commanderies he established (in addition to 12 others in the Qin territories that were created during the Warring States period) each carried their own weight militarily. Ji became the capital of the Guangyang commandery.

After the fall of Qin, the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 AD) took possession of Ji, officially renamed the city Fanyang and made it the administrative capital of Youzhou prefecture, which encompassed much of the area around today's Beijing, Hebei province, and Tianjin. Also during this time Ji was transferred to Yuyang commandery and made its capital.

During Han rule, the old states were transformed into "regional kingdoms" by Han Emperor Liu Bang and given a little more autonomy than they had under the Qin. Also, a system of prefectures was also established. Ji was made the capital of Youzhou prefecture.

Ji was involved in a number of conflicts with the surrounding regional powers both inside and outside of China. When the Yellow Turban Revolt broke out in AD 184, Ji came under assault from the revolting peasants who were led by Zhang Jue, leader of the secretive Taoist societies which organized and instigated the revolt.

According to the classical Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, in AD 189, Yuyang Commandery was the scene of a dramatic rebellion staged by the rebels Zhang Ju and Zhang Chun. The two launched a rebellion against Liu Yu (governor of Youzhou) and the Ten Eunuchs, took control of Yuyang, and organized an army. After Zhang Chun started becoming tyrannical toward his own soldiers, he was murdered by one of his own officers. The rebel army surrendered to Han forces afterwards. Zhang Ju, who at that time was isolated and desperate, commmitted suicide.

After the collapse of the Han Dynasty in the year 220, the ancient city of Ji would undergo keep changing hands and undergo many changes for centuries to come.......

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The City of Ji and Yan State

Yesterday I talked a little about the state of Ji and how the city of Beijing has its roots in that ancient city-state. Today we'll take a look at Ji during its time as capital of the state which conquered and annexed Ji, Yan.

Soon after its conquest by Yan, Ji became the capital of Yan State and was known alternately as Ji or Yanjing (燕京, meaning "Yan capital") - a name for Beijing which has persisted well into the modern age. It remained northern China's regional powerhouse for many more centuries to come. As the authority of the King of Zhou waned, Yan emerged as one of China's most powerful states. Throughout the period of the Warring States (475-221 BCE), Yan remained at war with Zhao and Qi states, as well as the nomadic peoples to the north. It was invaded a number of times by all three.

For the next several hundred years, Ji remained the most powerful city in the region. It was naturally one of Yan's fortified cities. In fact, the walls that surrounded Ji and other regions of Yan state predate the Great Wall by some 1,500 years! The Lotus Pond and its location along the major north-south trade route where traders from the central states and the steppes of northern Asia stopped made Ji a strategically valuable city. Throughout most of Yan's existence during this time, Ji was not only the main capital (Yan had one other city - Xiadu - which occasionally served as Yan's capital city) of Yan, but was also a military base and the economic and political center of the state.

In 227 BC, most of the neighboring states had fallen to and were absorbed by the powerful Qin state (778-07 BCE). They started massing troops on Yan's borders to prepare for its eventual conquest. Prince Dan of Yan sent the assassin Jing Ke to assassinate the Qin king Qin Shi Huang, aka the "tiger of Qin ". His attempt failed and the king, who personally killed Jing Ke, was enraged. He ordered his army to crush Yan and make it part of Qin. A year later, Ji fell to the Qin armies after the defeat of the vast majority of the Yan army on the banks of the Yishui River. Three years later, the rest of Yan state fell to the Qin and King Xi was captured.

In recent years, remnants of the old Yan capital have been found some 30 miles (48 km) southwest of what is now downtown Beijing. At one site which was discovered near the Liuli River in Fangshan district in recent decades, remnants of the city walls, moats, Yan palaces, and various artifacts were unearthed by archaeologists. This was the location of the ancient capital of Yanjing, which had expanded well beyond the borders of the old city-state of Ji.

For more about Yanjing, check out the following link:
http://www.archaeology.org/beijing/songnian.html (A very interesting interview with one of China's "veteran" archaeologists about ancient Beijing.)
http://www.bjchinese.bjedu.cn/englishHome.do?method=article&&articleId=221 (Details about the Yanjing archaeological dig and a little history of the ancient Yan capital.)

(Map copyright: Philg88/Wikimedia Commons)