Chinese history

Chinese history

Why Beijing constantly talks about China’s ‘century of humiliation’
Every Tuesday and Thursday, Inkstone Explains unravels the ideas and context behind the headlines to help you understand news about China. In Europe, the years from 1839 to 1949 are often seen as a period of mass destruction and triumphant progress, world wars and technological revolutions. In China today, the 110-year period is often summarized in one word: humiliation. Once an unrivaled regional hegemon, China was beleaguered by endemic corruption, internal rebellion and ailing economy while being subjected to bullying by foreign powers and forced to cede territories to countries including the British Empire. But this painful chapter of history is not relegated to the history book.  Calli
How an American officer helped modernize China’s Navy
The modernization of China’s military is widely perceived as a threat in the United States today. Yet some 135 years ago, one US naval officer traveled to the Middle Kingdom to help the country develop its prowess at sea – and it did not end well. Philo Norton McGiffin left the US in 1885 as a naive but determined 24-year-old to serve the Imperial Chinese Navy and was wounded in action. After eight years of intensive officer training, McGiffin failed to obtain a commission in the US Navy because of the lack of available ships in its tiny fleet. So instead, he traveled to China to seek employment fighting for the country in the Sino-French War (1884-85). “McGiffin is an important figure in t
Historical hat trick teaches kids about social distancing
An ancient Chinese hat has become the latest weapon in the fight against coronavirus after an elementary school in eastern China used them to teach its children about social distancing.  State news agency Xinhua reported that the school in Hangzhou got the children to make their own versions of the headgear worn by officials in the era of the Song dynasty, which ruled China between 960 and 1279.  The hats are distinctive because of the long wings that stick out from each side, forcing the wearers to have a 3ft bubble around themselves.  One legend says that the first Song emperor ordered his ministers to wear hats with two long wings on the sides so that they could not talk among themselves
Was Japan behind a mysterious bid to buy Macau outright?
In the 1930s, Western newspapers were in the habit of portraying Macau as a haven of pirates, scoundrels and ne’er-do-wells, gambling the days away and smoking opium by night. Maurice Dekobra, a bestselling French writer of the inter­war years, had a hit with his 1938 novel, Macao, enfer du jeu (Macao, Gambling Hell), which became an equally sensationalist film. Lacking Peking’s bohemianism, Shanghai’s modernity or Hong Kong’s dynamism, Macau sat in the South China Sea, fanning itself in the heat, a decaying relic of the diminished Portuguese empire. The economy was hurting thanks to the British Royal Navy’s suppression of piracy and smuggling. Officially, it was good news, but not for Maca
How lions became an important symbol in Chinese culture
On New Year’s Day, two bronze lions in front of HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong were sprayed with red paint and set ablaze by anti-government protesters furious at the bank for closing the Spark Alliance account, which reportedly raised funds for the protests.  The lions, which have guarded HSBC for almost 85 years, are currently covered as restoration takes place. Perhaps the European managers of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation took a leaf from Chinese architectural tradition when they commissioned the guardian lions in the early 20th century.  Many Chinese-owned buildings, modern and classical, feature stylized lions, one male and one female, at their main entrances. But how d
To win over Hong Kong and Taiwan, Xi Jinping must break a 2,000-year tradition
China’s “one country, two systems” formula in Hong Kong is failing miserably. After more than six months of large-scale pro-democracy protests – including violent clashes with police – the city’s voters dealt a powerful blow in November to pro-mainland parties, which lost 87% of seats to pro-democracy rivals in district council elections.  The significance of that election should not be underestimated. While district councils have little power, they select some of the 1,200 electors who choose Hong Kong’s chief executive. In the next election, pro-democracy parties will fill nearly 10% of those seats. The election also had important symbolic implications. District councils are elected in a
Tracking down my secret grandmother in a Chinese city with a Russian past
Harbin, in China’s far northeast, owes its modern beginnings entirely to a railway. For the first three decades of the 20th century, it was effectively a Russian city. It is a place that has sparked my curiosity ever since I came across a 1927 ship’s passenger list that revealed the name of my grandfather Frank Newman’s “second wife”: Nina Kovaleva, 25, born in Sevastopol, Russia. He would leave his Shanghai-based family with her in the early 1930s. The list also named a daughter, Kyra, aged five, born in Harbin. It was a stunning revela­tion. It implied that my grandfather, an inspector for the Harbin postal sub­district from about 1912, had led a double life for at least a decade. I conta
How Nepalese Gurkhas helped put down the 1960s riots in Hong Kong
This article is an edited excerpt from the book Gurkha Oddysey: Campaigning for the Crown by Peter Duffell. We had our first taste of impending troubles in Hong Kong caused by the Cultural Revolution during the Easter holiday of 1966.  On April 6 in the late afternoon, we had returned to Queen’s Hill [a barracks located in the northern part of Hong Kong] from a battalion-command-post exercise testing our vehicle-mounted radio systems. We were looking forward to the Easter break. We picked up some news of rioting in Kowloon and decided that we would leave the radios mounted in the vehicles in case a call came. At 1am that call did indeed come.  Without warning, we were rudely awakened by the
Casino king returns looted bronze horse head to China
The Chinese internet is celebrating the return of another bronze animal head looted from Beijing by French and British troops nearly 160 years ago.  The horse head, one of a 12-piece set of bronze animal heads representing the Chinese zodiac, was stolen from the Old Summer Palace in 1860, when Anglo-French troops invaded China.  On Wednesday, the sculpture was donated to the Chinese government by Macau’s casino king Stanley Ho, who bought the artifact for $8.9 million in 2007.  The Communist Party has portrayed the stolen animal heads as symbols of the nation’s “century of humiliation,” which began in the mid-19th century and ended with the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. During