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.  

Links: (Konosuke Matsushita at Wikipedia.) (Panasonic's webpage about the bullet lamp.) (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: (Very good blog post about King Naresuan and the Battle of Nong Sarai.) (Wikipedia entry on King Naresuan.) (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 well as countries just beyond its borders.

Much more about Hanyang Arsenal can be found at: (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: (Steve Levenstein's article about Tokyo's neon lights.) (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: (New York Times articles from 1911 about James C. Mars.) (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.) (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 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: (Very in-depth article about the kingdom of Gaya.) (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. (Article about Gaya and its iron trade.) (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! (Homepage for the Hsinchu Municipal Image Museum.) (Excellent article about the Hsinchu Municipal Image Museum and its history as a cinema.) (A page from the Taiwan Tourism Bureau's website about the museum.)

(Image copyright: Mmonhsi via Flickr)