Tag Archives: history

How were China’s provinces named?

18 Nov

China has 27 provinces and autonomous regions, and this great feature explains every single one of their names from Anhui to Zhejiang. It goes beyond superficial translations of their names into the history and significance. Many of them are named after geographical purposes, such as Hubei (literal translation: North of the lake), which is north of Lake Dongting, or Shandong (East of the mountains), eastwards of the Taihang mountains. A surprising number of them are named for their rivers, such as Heilongjiang (Black Dragon River), which indeed is named for the river of the same name that flows between Russia and China. Meanwhile Sichuan (Four Circuits) was named due to its being divided into four states that formed river circuits during the Song Dynasty (960-1279).


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.

Ancient texts and modern fun

19 Jul

A series of ancient texts from 300 BC was discovered recently which has a great potential to help China understand its deep past even more, seeing as most ancient texts like these were destroyed by rulers, intent on rewriting history to justify their reign and policies. As one person in the article puts it, this is like finding the “original Bible”.

Meanwhile, the Times looks at how young factory workers have fun in Zhengzhou, Henan, where inline and roller skating, dance clubs, and shows are some of the popular options (which is not dissimilar to young people all over the world). The article’s point is to show us that Chinese factory workers (at least in Zhengzhou) do have fun outside their factories, but  there’s nothing really momentous or vital about this news. It also drives home a bias about mainland China from the media, about normal things, like having fun, are new to China.

Hong Kong reality and Chinese stars against poaching

20 May

This SCMP opinion piece does a good job of describing the reality of colonial Hong Kong compared to the present. A lot of people, including a former top official, have come out strongly against the current chief executive  Leung Chun-ying and China while also expressing nostalgia for the good old days when the Union Jack flew over Hong Kong. Not so, says this columnist, who gives a bunch of reasons such as how “Britons could freely enter, live and work in Hong Kong indefinitely but Hongkongers had no reciprocal rights in Britain” and that all the top policymakers were British.

Actress Li Bingbing speaks out against poaching endangered animals like rhinos and elephants in these videos for the United Nations (UNEP actually). She joins Yao Ming, who did something similar last year and now as well.


Greater China tertiary prowess, and China-Korea history issue

16 Apr

Greater China dominates the inaugural top 100 list of Asia universities by Times Higher Education, with 38 entries,thus making up almost 40 percent. If you include Japan (the leader with 22) and South Korea (14), East Asia can be seen to be the continental academic superpower. Taiwan has an impressive 17 schools, though Hong Kong has an even better performance with 6, given that it has only has about 10 universities. I’m a little skeptical of some of the Taiwan schools, since I’ve never even heard of them such as Yuan Ze University or Nat. Central University.

This Atlantic piece describes Chinese-Korean tension over ancient history, specifically a Korean kingdom from over 1300 years ago that extended beyond the present border into a small piece of present-day China. The worry from the Korean side is that China has claimed that this kingdom was more like a vassal state, while the worry from China is that Koreans might use this piece of history to try to claim Chinese territory, which while unlikely, is still a concern a given that millions of ethnic Koreans live in China in that area.
It’s unfortunate that China should have problems with South Korea over issues like this, given that it’s one of the main neighboring countries China can have strong relations with. Also, these issues can warp nationalistic feelings and further feelings of discrimination or fear. Reading the article, I get the impression that the crux of the tension is not fuelled by aims of territorial expansion or seizing other nation’s cultures, but more to bolster domestic security.