China’s injustice after World War I

6 Sep

An interesting but little-known part of modern Chinese history is its connection with World War I. China didn’t participate in the fighting, though fighting took part in China. The Japanese besieged the then-German colony of Qingdao, then managed to capture and hold on to it during tense negotiations with the Allies (Britain, US, France) at the Treaty of Versailles. And this is despite China sending about 140,000 men to help the Allies (as laborers, not soldiers) in Europe during the fighting.

Here’s an interview from Beijing Cream with Paul French, an author of a new book about how China was screwed at Versailles. Among the reasons why China lost out on its valid claim over its own territory is an interesting one – the US, which China appealed to for help, refused because its president, Woodrow Wilson, had a grand project that Japan threatened not to support if they were denied to keep Qingdao. That grand project was the League of Nations, a precursor to the UN, and which Japan countered with a valid argument – how can you create a new world order of nations when you don’t even practice equality in your own society – segregation of blacks from whites. The failure to get the Allies to order Japan to return Qingdao to China led to the May 4th protest movement, which played a role in the formation of what would become the Chinese Communist Party.

Anyways, why would a book about negotiations and politicians arguing be so fascinating, especially about such an obscure (in comparison to other events in the 20th century, especially in China) event? Here’s the stage at which it took place, from the author:

You have two great debaters here, particularly Wellington Koo, the great Chinese diplomat, who was a champion debater at Columbia, very Americanized, very Anglophile. He had been Chinese ambassador to America, very young, was to become during the Second World War Chinese ambassador to Britain, was to be China’s first lead delegate at the League of Nations, and so on. He really was a great debater, and he fought this cause, and it was a passionate cause.

Baron Makino, who was lead negotiator for Japan, was a much more traditional, older character. But he was a great debater as well and a great player of go, Chinese chess. So he knew his strategy very well.

So these two come together in a clash. And of course, like any great courtroom drama, everyone is trying to make sure that the press reports it the way they want it to be reported. All the backchannel stuff is going on and everything; …. And they’re doing all this in front of a table at which is sitting Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George, and Clemenceau; the Prime Minister of Britain, the President of France, and the President of the United States. This is a pretty serious judging panel that you’ve got in front of you.

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