Category Archives: Asian History

The Two Koreas

Distracting the traffic in Pyongyang / koryogroup.com

Distracting the traffic in Pyongyang / koryogroup.com

The Korean Peninsula is divided into two, the northern part is officially called The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, while the southern part is simply The Republic of Korea. Unofficially, the world knows these two respectively as North and South Korea.

   North Korea is a ‘socialist’ state, with borders to the north with China, to the north-east with Russia; to the west is Korea Bay and the Yellow Sea; to the east is the Sea of Japan. Very asiatic. Separation from South Korea is provided by a demilitarized zone of 1,262 kilometres. Continue reading

The War in the Pacific

/ pinterest.com

/ pinterest.com

Officially, this war lasted from December 1941,

/ ww2db.com

/ ww2db.com

when the United States entered the Second World War, until 1945. But the Pacific War really started with the Sino-Japanese War which began in 1937, when Japan’s concern was to defeat China. This was to be achieved by expanding in South-East Asia, so that Japan could control the raw materials on which she so much depended – oil from Dutch East Indies and Burma (now Myanmar); and tin and rubber from Malaya. She had to cut off China’s supply routes from the south, even if this involved friction with the United States. Moving further south involved risk of conflict with Russia in Manchuria (the Russians came off best after a battle with Japan’s army in 1939 at Nomonhan. Then a non-aggression pact was signed with Russia in April, 1941: thankfully, Adolf Hitler did the double-cross and invaded the Soviet Union in June with his Operation Barbarossa (q.v.) Continue reading

The Battle of Leyte Gulf

US armada moving towards Leyte / en.wikipedia.org

US armada moving towards Leyte / en.wikipedia.org

This little-known sea battle was fought between American and Japanese fleets towards the end of October, 1944. Japanese forces were seeking to stop the US re-conquest of the Philippines, which had started on October 20 with American troops invading the island of Leyte. It was seen as obvious that American success in the Philippines would cut Japan off from her oil supplies as well as essential raw materials in South-East Asia. Though they knew they were outnumbered, the Japanese decided to send all available warships into a conflict they were by no means certain to win. Continue reading

The ‘Showa’ Restoration (Japan)

November 1930; Hamaguchi Osachi shot in the street / ndl.go.jp

November 1930; Hamaguchi Osachi shot in the street / ndl.go.jp

The Showa Restoration . The word showa means ‘Enlightened Peace’ in English. It was chosen as a ‘reign name’ by the Emperor Hirohito. It is hard not to see this as ironic. However, a reliving of the true word was attempted by several young officers during the 1930s; the intention was to restore the ‘true relationship’ between the Emperor and his people, by eliminating party politics, ridding Japan of political parties as a whole, and all democratic institutions at the same time. Continue reading

The 21 Demands (of Japan)

Yuan Shikai of China / es.wikipedia.org

Yuan Shikai of China / es.wikipedia.org

The 21 Demands (of Japan). In 1915 Japan came up with the odd idea of trying to make the whole of China a protectorate – a protectorate of Japan of course. The Great War started in 1914 and Japan promptly declared war on Germany, in order to take over that country’s leased territory in China. As a part of the so-called ‘Scramble for Possessions’ Japanese soldiers landed at Quindao Port in Shandung province, and soon controlled the important port, plus German mining and railway concessions. Having completed this with their usual efficiency, the Japanese presented China with its ‘Twenty-One Demands’, threatening total war if they were to be rejected.

The Demands included an extension of Japan’s lease of Port Arthur, and the South Manchurian Railway, and the grant of mining, commercial and residential rights in South Manchuria and parts of Mongolia; China must recognise Japan’s dominant position in Shandung province, and promise that she would not make any territorial concessions on her coasts to any other foreign power. China must also accept a huge infringement of her sovereignty, with Japanese political and military ‘advisers’, and the creation of a combined Sino-Japanese police force. The Chinese played for time, with the expectation of help to come from the United States and Britain. All these two major powers did was to protest feebly at the last demand (the mixed police force) – and Japan accepted postponement – but not for long.

In a disgraceful turn of events, both the US and Great Britain were not prepared to antagonise Japan: China was thus forced to agree to the demands, which the Prime Minister did on May 25, 1915. Chinese university students called this ‘The National Humiliation Day’, unsurprisingly, and youthful demonstrations were followed by more serious ones and a boycott of Japanese imports. The United States now showed an increasing worry about expansionism, and strongly suggested Japan should control this instinct, as America would not tolerate any infringement of China’s political and territorial integrity. Britain and France meanwhile looked through the telescope with their blind eye and approved Japanese claims in Shandong in 1917.

War in Vietnam

It is now an independent socialist/communist state bordered to the east by the South China Sea, and to the west by Laos and Cambodia. Dominated by China for many centuries, it was ‘visited’ by the Portuguese in 1535. By the 17th century visits had also been made by Dutch, French and English traders accompanied by missionaries.

In 1802 the north and south were combined as The Vietnamese Empire, which in turn was conquered by French forces towards the end of the century. The French Indo-Chinese Union with Cambodia and Laos was formed in 1887.

Inevitably, during the Second World War the country was invaded successfully by the Japanese, and there followed an occupation during which a certain amount of industrialization took place, but agriculture remained the basic staple by which the people of Vietnam were fed. Continue reading

The Japanese Peace Constitution (1947)

After the horrific end of World War II in the East, the Japanese decided to replace the draconian Meiji Constitution agreed to in 1889. But the new draft was itself not new; it was based on the draft imposed on the Japanese cabinet by the United States in 1946.

The document gave sovereignty to the people rather than the Emperor, who was now to be seen only as a symbol of state, similar therefore to the European monarchies, which are ‘constitutional’ rather than ‘absolute’. In January of 1946 the Emperor Hirohito had announced that he was no longer divine. Emperor’s divinity had not before been questioned by the Japanese people. Continue reading

The Khmer Rouge (and Pol Pot)

A great deal more is known about the Khmer Rouge than about Cambodia’s Pol Pot. To most history-subjected magazines Pol Pot was just another of those dictators who bumped off a few million of his own countrymen, and would probably have liked the opportunity to do the same to many more millions who were not his countrymen. But first we look at the unattractively-named Khmer Rouge: Continue reading

The Barbary Coast, and Wars

It is difficult to find any time since the Byzantine Empire when the North African coast from Morocco to Libya was not infamous for piracy. The worst period was the beginning of the sixteenth century to the end of the eighteenth. The Berbers, who may or may not have originally populated the Canary Islands, were piratical by nature and good navigators in the treacherous Atlantic and unpredictable Mediterranean.

Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania (Libya) take their name from the infamous pirate Barbarossa. Even the English adjective barbaric has its roots in berber, bereber or Barbarossa. Continue reading