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. (
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: (Excellent site about Masakado.) (A very good article about Masakado's shrine and tomb.) (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). (
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:
- (Ti-ping Tien-kwoh, Vol. I. This is the first book of A.F. Lindley's autobigraphy.)
- (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.)
- (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: (A very interesting interview with one of China's "veteran" archaeologists about ancient Beijing.) (Details about the Yanjing archaeological dig and a little history of the ancient Yan capital.)

(Map copyright: Philg88/Wikimedia Commons)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ji State and the Beginnings of Beijing

Over the next several days I'm going to write a series of blog posts about one of the great capital cities of our time: Beijing. In these posts we'll explore the history of Beijing and how it went from being a tiny city-state to the massive city it gradually became over the past millinea.

Beijing is a city that is both the capital of China and a major technological and industrial hub. But many people in the West are not aware that many centuries ago on the site of one of modern-day Beijing's residential districts, a whole different city-state once existed! In its time this city-state - and the capital city it remained for many centuries after the fall of the state - was also regarded as a major metropolitan area and a military power to be reckoned with. It was also the city where Beijing itself has its roots.

Along Liulichang Street in what is now the Xicheng district of Beijing once stood the city of Ji. Ji City was the capital of Ji State (11th century-7th century BCE), which was essentially the city itself. Ji was a walled city which was inhabited by people said to be descendants of the Yellow Emperor. It was one of eight states which were the vassal states that founded the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE).

For some three hundred years during the Spring and Autumn period of the Zhou Dynasty (771-476 BCE), Ji remained a powerhouse in the region. It was certainly a tiny city-state compared to the neighboring states, but it had a powerful army. The city-state depended on Lotus Pond, which is now located in Beijing, for its water supply. This gave the city a huge natural advantage that lasted well beyond the demise of Ji.

During the 7th century BCE (approx.), the more powerful neighboring state of Yan (11th century-222 BCE) defeated Ji in a war and absorbed it into Yan. Soon afterwards, it became the capital of Yan State and was known alternately as Yanjing or Ji. 

Ji State might have fallen, but Ji City itself remained as strong as ever.

If you want to read more about the state of Ji and the discovery by Chinese archaeologists of the ancient sites of Ji City and the Yan capital it became, be sure to have a look at the following article:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Im Kkeok-jeong: The Real-Life Korean Robin Hood

One of Korea's most legendary real-life "outlaw heroes" was the Joseon-era outlaw Im Kkeok-jeong (Kr. name 임꺽정; 林巪. Born ?-1562). While very little is known of him in the English language, his story was made into the 1996-97 TV drama  from South Korean broadcaster SBS that shares his name. Also, Im Kkeok-jeong is supposedly an inspiration for Heo Gyun's classic novel The Tale of Hong Gil Dong, which is Korea's equivalent of Robin Hood. The only difference is that Hong Gil Dong is a work of fiction. Im Kkeok-jeong isn't.

 In 16th century Joseon dynasty-era Korea, the yangban aristrocracy who governed the countryside were imposing a multitude of taxes on the ordinary peasants. They were having to pay land taxes, military taxes, corvee taxes, and tribute taxes, which were the hardest-hitting. In addition, the land allotments of the yangban were growing ever-larger and the peasants were losing land. They were growing more and more desperate by the hour.

During the mid-16th century, one man decided to rise up and challenge the status quo. That man was Im Kkeok-jeong. He organized a large group of peasants and together they became a major thorn in the side of the yangban in Gyeonggi and Hwanghae (located in modern-day South and North Korea respectively) provinces. They robbed the wealth of the yangban officials and redistributed their booty to the poor, suffering peasants. They raided the government granaries and distributed the plundered food to the peasants, many of whom were starving.

In 1562, Im Kkeok-jeong was captured by Joseon officials and beheaded. However, they were not able to stamp out the legend surrounding him and he remained an inspiration to the Korean people for generations to come.

In modern-day South Korea, the cave where Im hid with some of his men has been turned into a tourist attraction at the Chiljangsa Temple, which is located in Anseong, Gyeonggi province.

Im Kkeok-jeong is a true hero to the people of Korea. He defended them from a corrupt system of government and, ultimately, gave his life so the Korean peasants could keep on living and have a better future.

*Portions of this blog entry were referenced from "A Handbook of Korea" (Seoul: Korean Overseas Information Service, 1980).

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Back from the Dead

As you may have noticed, it's been a few months since I last posted on this blog. I am terribly sorry for not having posted here in such a long time. If you've been following my work on Hubpages, you can probably guess my hubs there have kept me very busy this year!

Now that I've turned my full attention to my blogs, I have some new and exciting plans for new entries here and in my other blogs. So please, stay tuned over the coming days and weeks! Hopefully you'll find the upcoming posts on this blog to be interesting, informative, and entertaining! And again, all apologies for having let this blog go over the past six months or so!