Matthew Galbraith Perry was born into the American ruling class in 1794. He entered the Navy in his teens and was soon a naval officer. It was as a Commodore (a rank with meaning in the American navy, not so in the Royal Navy) that Perry entered Tokyo Bay fifty-nine years later in July 1853, in command of four fighting ships, two under sail and two powered by the new steam engines. Japan had been closed to foreign conact for more than two hundred years because the Tokugawa Shogunate feared foreign trading would allow rebellious warlords to become rich, allowing them to buy foreign arms. Commodore Perry’s brief from his president had clarified that the US wanted to extend and expand her trade in the Far East, especially coal supplies from Japan for US ships trading with China. Continue reading
These provincial military self-appointed rulers were one of the collateral results of the Taipan Revolt (q.v.). Their power base was a private army, which each lord raised and maintained. Government of China (a vast and over-populated nation) was therefore partially in the armoured hands of these gentlemen from the beginning of the 20th century until the advent of Chiang Kai-shek (Jeng Jieshi) in 1928. Until Jeng imposed restraint and a semblance of disciplined unity, dozens of zones were ruled by warlords, not always kindly, not always just, though there were exceptions. Continue reading
This uprising, which started in 1850 and ended fourteen years later, was the greatest peasant rebellion in China in the 19th century. The 18th had seen a rise in China’s population from 150 to 350 million – more than double – and by 1850 the figure had risen to 450 million. This extraordinary fertility was not matched by any increase in cultivable land, so the peasants, among whom the population rise was marked, were worse off than they had ever been. The majority could not pay their bills, taxes or rents, and were therefore dispossessed and homeless. Something had to give.
What happened was a series of peasants’ revolts lasting twenty years from 1850. Part of the North China Plain, between the Huai and Yellow rivers, came under the control of the Nian rebels. In Yunnan the Chinese Muslim population rose up between 1862 – 1873, and the Miao natives revolted in the Kweichow mountains from 1854 – 72. Continue reading
Before the seventeenth century China had been almost a myth; a legendary giant land in the Far East, barely visited by Europeans, a subject for dreams. But in September, 1689, China must have woken up to her existence in the rapidly developing world, because a treaty was drawn up between her and another mysterious giant – Russia.
During previous centuries, Russia had been mentioned,if she was mentioned at all, by the Mandarins as a kind of vassal state of China, but now trouble was brewing between the two enormous countries, especially on the borders between Tsarist Russia and Quing Dynasty China (q.v.). Russia was expanding across Siberia. By 1642 Russian traders were travelling southwards into the Amur region of Northern Manchuria. Not only that, but the same traders were demanding tribute from Amurian tribes that owed allegiance to the Quing. The Russians even built a large stockade, defended by a garrison, at Albazin on the River Amur, and the ruling Chinese dynasty was perturbed enough to send a siege force there.
Extreme violence was avoided because both great nations were sensible enough to call for a peace settlement, knowing that if they made war on each other, either one side or the other would ally with neighbouring Mongol tribes in the west. This was the very last alliance both China and Russia desired.
Representatives of both nations met at Nerchinsk, a Russian-founded town, and a treaty was made whereby control of the Amur river region was awarded to the Quing Dynasty in return for which Russia would be permitted to send trading caravans to the Chinese capital at Pekin (now Beijing). Though difficult to believe, the Nerchinsk Treaty lasted until the middle of the nineteenth century, when energetic and uncaring Russian expansion in the Amur region led to further territorial concessions being forced out of a generally enfeebled Quing Dynasty.
These days the word strikes a sour note, arousing images of rough settlements, starving ‘piccaninies’, whips, shackles, thoughtless government from a distance of thousdands of miles etc. If there are any ‘colonies’ left after the post-war rush to be rid of them I think it is because the ‘colonists’ prefer it that way. 90% of colonies which achieved independence have suffered under bad or atrocious rule since being ‘freed’, with the possible exception of the United States, and even there half the settlers in the Thirteen Colonies claimed they did not wish for independence from British rule, and after 1776 sold up lock, stock and barrel and moved to Canada, where they were welcomed. Continue reading
Civilization in Europe is an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes compared with China’s. The Shang dynasty, for instance, began 1766 years before Christ, according to reliable records, and lasted until 1122 B.C – six hundred and forty-four years making some of our modern dynasties look rather short-lived. Archeological evidence suggests that the Shang monarchy emerged from an earlier, actually Neolithic culture. Shang territory stretched from the Yellow River plain to Shandong in the east. A sort of capital region was established is what is now a northern Henan province. There might have been others, but the capital that lasted was that at Yin (now Anyang). Inscriptions on the royal tombs are the oldest form of Chinese writing. Continue reading
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.
This controversial Emperor of Japan was born in the same year (1901) Queen Victoria died, and the two monarchs shared much the same mystique. The Emperor was the son of Crown Prince Yoshihito (1874-1926), who had been the first Taisho emperor (from 1912 to 1926).
Hirohito was the first member of the Imperial family to be permitted to travel abroad, visiting the United States and Europe. On his return his father had become insane and Hirohito became Regent later Emperor. He was an ascetic, austere, strict, chronic hard-worker and frugal, not all willing to spend either his own money or anyone else’s, except for reasons of war. Continue reading
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
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