Our Own COINTELPRO: The Black Britons under surveillance by the Black Power Desk

The Black Power Symbol (P.C. Wikimedia)

On the 8th of March 1971, a small group from the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI – an American political organisation – raided the FBI’s office in Media, Pennsylvania. During the raid, they burgled over 1,000 documents about Operation COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO was a series of illegal and covert projects conducted by the FBI against American citizens after 1955, on the grounds that those civilians were seen as “politically subversive”.

The American state’s fight against “political subversiveness” is well known, yet its British counterpart, now known as the Black Power Desk of the 1960s and 70s, has little notoriety. Founded in 1967 by Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, its composition and formation are still debated. On the one hand, some historians have suggested that the Desk was part of MI5. On the other hand, however, the more popular – yet hardly uncontested view – is that the Desk was part of the former Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism unit, Special Branch. The Desk’s recent discovery in the 2010s by Robin Bunce and Paul Field, and via the Special Branch Files Project led by Eveline Lubbers, has enabled us to finally see some of the Black Power Desk’s intel, operations and implications. 

The most extensive information currently available about those under surveillance by the Desk pertains to people identified as prominent members of the British Black Panthers (BBPM) and the Racial Adjustment Action Society (RAAS). Trinidadian-born Michael de Freitas, known under the aliases Michael Abdul Malik and “Michael X”, is the most frequently mentioned Black Power activist. Abdul Malik’s foundation of the RAAS in 1967 and his North-London-based community centre Black House, made him a key person of interest because of his status as the first non-white person to be charged under the Race Relations Act of 1965 in November 1967. 

Indeed, Abdul Malik’s charge and his supposed tendency for criminality underpin the Desk’s surveillance reports. This characterisation of a British Black Power leader as criminal, orator of hatred towards the white British population and insurgent against the state, embodied the general pattern of reports by the Desk. In December 1968, Obi Egbuna, a co-founder of the Universal Coloured People’s Association (UPCA) and later a member of the BBPM, was arrested and tried alongside fellow members Peter Martin and Gideon Dolo for threatening to murder a police officer. According to reports collated by the Special Branch from their surveillance of the BBPM, informants acquired ‘reliable information’ about plans to destroy police boxes and government buildings in conjunction with the Branch supposedly finding evidence of formulas for explosives written by the BBPM. Of course, the group rebuked these claims, and historians have questioned the “reliability” of such intelligence since the arrest came shortly after Egbuna’s speech on resisting police brutality and injustice that same year. Yet, it is clear that the themes underpinning reports into Malik were along very similar lines to the report into Egbuna.

Finally, the protest on the 9th of August 1970 in support of the Mangrove Restaurant and the emergence of the Mangrove Nine were intricately documented by the Metropolitan Police and sent to the Desk. Three of the nine: Barbara Beese, Darcus Howe and Althea Jones-LeCointe, were leading figures in the Black Power movement and BBPM. Likewise, they had the most detailed and least redacted surveillance files relating to their involvement in the movement, the protest, and personal relationships, including mention of Beese’s absent father. The fact that the three most investigated individuals were three leaders of the Black Power movement cannot be ignored, as it suggests surveillance into them predated the Mangrove Nine and instead was part of the Black Power Desk’s investigation into supposed “subversion”.

It is unlikely the arguments will ever be conclusively proved, as we will likely never know the full extent of the Black Power Desk and its activities. Compared to what we know about COINTELPRO and its campaigns against civil rights groups and the Black Power movement, our knowledge of the full extent of the Black Power Desk’s activities is minute. The struggle Lubbers and her team initially endured gaining access to documents relevant to the Desk and Special Branch reveals the British Government’s reluctance to allow anyone to view them. Additionally, the legacy of the Black Power Desk appears to have outlived its dissolution. According to whistle-blower and former Special Demonstration Squad officer Peter Francis, covert surveillance was in place for the Stephen Lawrence justice campaign during the 1990s. Therefore, it is likely the Black Power Desk engaged in far more surveillance than we know of, yet the likelihood of this being revealed any time soon is minimal.

Stephanie Ormond, Summer Writer

Ruth Handler: Remoulding the Legacy of Barbie’s Creator

A barbie doll from 1959 (P.C. Flickr)

In 1959, Ruth Handler debuted the Barbie fashion doll. Named after her daughter Barbara, Barbie was an instant success and became an iconic figure in popular culture. Despite having long been vilified by feminists such as Gloria Steinem, the doll is currently undergoing something of a revival. Barbie’s sales surged during the COVID lockdown, and she is the star of Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated upcoming film. An exploration of Ruth Handler’s life and career reveals the significance of Barbie’s inception, but also shows that it was just one of the legacies she had left behind. 

The tenth child of Polish Jewish immigrants, Ruth Mosko was born in 1916. She moved to Hollywood and married Elliot Handler in 1938. They later founded Mattel together alongside Harold Matson. Ruth was inspired to create Barbie after noticing that her daughter preferred to play with paper models of adult women over baby dolls. For male executives at Mattel, it was unthinkable for parents to buy dolls with breasts for their daughters. In response, Handler advertised Barbie directly to children and not their parents, and. Barbie became hugely successful. As the first mass-produced doll in the U.S to have adult features and breasts, Barbie was a pioneer – and so was the woman who created her. 

Barbie changed the way girls interacted with dolls. While realistic baby dolls popular at the time were made for girls to nurture and care for, Barbie was a glamorised adult doll they could play with. In fact, Barbie was inspired by the sexualised Lilli dolls, which were given as joke gifts at bachelor parties and certainly not designed for children to play with. Barbie showed young girls that their lives didn’t have to revolve around motherhood, allowing them to explore different versions of their future selves. 

Barbie’s unrealistic figure and dimensions were quickly met with criticism, and outrage at Barbie’s lack of diversity is still prominent today. Barbie is undeniably problematic in these respects, and studies have shown the doll can have a detrimental impact on girls’ body image. Although Mattel has introduced more lines to make Barbie more inclusive, she remains a controversial figure.

Despite the controversies, however, Handler remained a staunch defender of her creation during her lifetime. She emphasised that it showed little girls a variety of career options available to them, such as the introduction of astronaut Barbie in 1965.

After a breast cancer diagnosis in 1970, Handler underwent a mastectomy. Unable to fully focus on business, she lost control of Mattel and resigned. Struggling to find a realistic breast prosthesis, she was again inspired to create a solution herself. She manufactured ‘Nearly Me’, a successful line of prosthetic breasts designed to  enhance comfort and confidence amongst breast cancer survivors. Sales exceeded $1 million by 1980. Regarding her motivations, Handler thought “it was important to a little girl’s self-esteem to play with a doll that has breasts. Now I find it even more important to return that self-esteem to women who have lost theirs.” Handler had once again used unusual marketing tactics when promoting her prosthetics line, as she would ask reporters to feel her chest and try to identify which one of her breasts was real.

First lady Betty Ford was fitted for a prosthetic from Handler’s line after she had a mastectomy in 1974. At a time when there was little awareness on breast cancer, Ford’s openness about her diagnosis was unprecedented and inspired further discussion, a ripple effect of Handler’s influence. 

Handler died following surgery for colon cancer in 2002, aged 85. While Barbie has been continually and justifiably criticised, Handler’s legacy ultimately helped empower the girls who played with the doll. The drive to lift up other women also fuelled the development of her prosthetics line. Despite the warranted controversies surrounding Barbie, Handler’s resilience, determination, and business savvy deserve to be remembered. 

Emily Cull, Summer Writer

Quote from: 

Spindler, Amy M. “Bless Her Pointy Little Feet”, The New York Times, 5 February 1995. https://www.nytimes.com/1995/02/05/books/bless-her-pointy-little-feet.html 

‘Creating Awe and Fear in other Men’: King Henry V and the Gendered Legacies of Late Medieval Monarchs

King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt on 25th October 1415 in the Hundred Years War: picture by Harry Payne
‘King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt on 25th October 1415 in the Hundred Years War’ Painting by Harry Paine (P.C. World History Encyclopaedia)

This article examines Henry V’s reputation of exceptional masculinity, and how this has influenced his historical evaluation as a ruler. He is often portrayed as the archetypical medieval king, embodying the ideals of both the warrior and saintly monarch. These narratives often portray him as a successful king, through highlighting his military achievements and popularity. Henry V, therefore, is a figure who demonstrates the critical importance of gender to the perception of a monarch’s success. 

The authority of medieval English kings was inherently masculine. The power and respect such rulers could command depended upon how well they performed their masculinities, and how such masculinites were more widely represented. As the person of the late medieval king was an inherently political entity, the quality of the political regime was itself determined by masculine ideals. In terms of these ideals themselves, men were expected to demonstrate twelve masculine virtues, with particular emphasis placed on the Aristotelian cardinal virtues of fortitude, prudence, justice, and temperance. Contemporaries regarded Kings who displayed these virtues as more successful, tying their legacy to the performance of gender. 

Integral to Henry V’s masculine reputation, and consequently to the legacy of his reign, is the notion of Henry V as a warrior king. Medieval kings are often conceptualised as soldiers and commanders, and military success was central to the performance of royal masculinity. Henry’s active participation in the Hundred Years War was no exception. He fashioned himself as a king willing to defend and fight for his kingdom, highlighting his virtuous character and prowess as a warrior. He proved his devotion to his kingdom and subjects, which consolidated his authority. This strategy was effective and led to Henry’s status as a warrior king being mythologised in literature, particularly through Shakespeare’s eponymous play. Though some portrayals of him in this work are dramatised, its narratives are grounded in the reality of Henry’s military successes, and the reputation that this gained him have endured through to the Elizabethan age, and far beyond. The Bbattle of Agincourt, for instance, is often highlighted in these interpretations. Henry’s masculine reputation was therefore informed both by the militaristic expectations of late medieval monarchies, and by Henry’s ultimate success on the battlefield. 

Henry V’s masculine reputation is also tied to his representation as a highly religious figure. Narratives that highlight his piety also imply another form of virtuous masculinity, and therefore present him as a good, Christian king. One common portrayal of with Henry V is of a wild, rebellious young prince reformed into a pious and loyal king, a highly Christian concept. This transformative process has often been over-exaggerated; Prince Henry’s arguably reluctant submission to his father’s will was self-interested, and enabled him to create a reputation of filial devotion. Rumours of his rebellious nature were likely intended to discredit him as a potential ruler, and by subverting these, Henry affirmed the quality of his masculinity. While kings such as Richard III have been criticised for their personal excesses and ambitions, Henry has been cast as a selflessly devoted king and prince. His self-control and restraint have been highlighted in both contemporary sources and in later accounts. His personal reputation was crafted by deft political decisions during his reign, decisions which successfuly culminated in a strong and enduring legacy. 

As King, Henry’s personality embodied the state of the country. His example of masculinity implied to contemporaries that England under his rule was similarly virtuous. As such, his authority was reinforced. His character also provided an example for his subjects and notables to follow, which was beneficial in maintaining order in the kingdom. His virtuous masculinity, although less discussed than his military prowess, promoted his reputation as the right kind of man to be King.

The long-standing view of Henry’s exemplary masculinity meant that there were attempts to recreate his success. The most famous example of this was Henry VIII’s attempt to emulate Henry V by invading France, aiming to and conquerterritory and present himself as a warrior king. Like Henry V, he also made a claim to the French throne through Edward III, cementing his legitimacy as Edward’s successor after the turmoil of Wars Of The Roses. Although this attempt by Henry VIII was unsuccessful and ill advised, culminating in the loss of Calais it demonstrated the potency of masculine reputations as a political force. Henry VIII sought to liken himself to Henry V by emulating his successes. Henry V’s successful masculinity formed a significant part of his political legacy as it continued to have influence years after his death. 

Henry V therefore demonstrates the critical importance of masculine performances for English kings of the 15th and 16th centuries. Being perceived as masculine was essential, because it allowed for greater authority, and helped to ensure the perception of a successful reign. Henry V is an example of a king able to perform masculinity incredibly effectively, and as such he provides an example of what his successors were attempting to achieve by performing both militaristic and pious forms of masculinity. 

Amy Raven, Summer Writer

Henry VI and the decline of Royal Authority

Portrait of Henry VI, King of England 1422-1461 and 1470-1471 (P.C. World History Encyclopaedia)

Henry V was an immensely successful king. He was instrumental in English victories on the continent, as exemplified by his campaigns through northern France between 1415 and 1422. The success of Henry V’s French wars had consolidated his rule, and his depiction as a semi-legendary king by later Tudor historiography, whilst likely exaggerated, will have had its foundation during his and his son’s lifetime. His son, Henry VI, grew up in the shadow of his father’s achievements. Henry was only eight months old when his father Henry V died on the 31st of August 1422, and for the next 16 years there was a Regency Council led nominally by John, Duke of Bedford and in practice by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester that oversaw state affairs. Once Henry began ruling in his own right, it became crushingly clear that firstly he would not be able to live up to the reign of his father, and secondly that his very ability to rule was considerably lacking. 

Henry was the first English king to not fight in battle. Although he was an avid hunter, Hugh Bicheno argues that his minority and protection from dangers by the Regency Council made Henry ‘regard warfare with distaste’. Whilst this negatively impacted his military prowess, as shall be seen, it also resulted in magnates trying to exert increasing influence on the monarch’s actions. The medieval period was one where a magnate could not possibly risk proclaiming his right to the throne, as that would be going against the will of God, for monarchs were anointed by God. As such, Richard of York, who through the matrilineal line had a claim to the throne, sought to discredit those around the King for his own gain. One such individual who received York’s displeasure was William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, a close confidante and advisor to the King. Henry VI had gone into secret negotiations with Charles VII of France on the 22nd of December 1445, when he wrote to Charles seeking peace in the form of the surrender of Maine and Anjou. This would have almost certainly been unknown to Suffolk, but nevertheless he had to take the blame when news of the negotiations reached the ears of the Body Politic. This, coupled with the mysterious death of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in Bury St Edmunds five days after being arrested by Suffolk’s retainers in February 1447, meant that from that point onwards Suffolk was viewed with ever-increasing suspicion. 

After two years of impatiently waiting for Henry to hand over Maine and Anjou, Charles VII of France gained the upper hand. On a personal request by Henry, one of his Knights of the Garter, François de Surienne took the Breton border fortress of Fougères with the aim of forcing the Duke of Brittany to release a childhood friend of Henry’s, Gilles of Brittany. This escapade into Brittany who, whilst not allied with France, were certainly less appreciative of Henry’s rule, gave Charles the justification to acquire an anti-English alliance with Brittany and declare war on the English. The capitulation that followed was not simply an embarrassment to an England that only thirty years had routed the French so convincingly at Agincourt but was also a reflection of the vastly insufficient political and military expertise of Henry. Within a year and a day of the declaration of war on the 31st of July 1449, the entirety of Normandy, Maine and Anjou had fallen to the French. In 1445 Henry had spontaneously and unexplainedly removed the astute and experienced Richard Duke of York from the post of Captain General of France. For the following two years York was not replaced in the role, and thus it would be understandable that when Charles VII invaded in 1449-50, he was welcomed with open arms by many who viewed the English as having neglected them in that period. When Henry did eventually choose an appointment for the role in 1447, it was salt in the wound for York, who had in the meantime been sent to govern Ireland, for his replacement was Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

Compared to later events of Henry’s reign, such as his catatonic state in 1453 or the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, the events of the 1440s may seem insignificant. Yet, in reality, they represent the beginnings of the decline of royal authority. Henry’s undermining of his own authority by secretly giving Charles VII English lands in France whilst simultaneously failing to inform the body politic that he had done so eventually resulted in the demise of his key advisor, the Duke of Suffolk, when it was discovered. Simultaneously, appointing Edmund Beaufort as Captain General of France only served to alienate the influential Duke of York. In summation, Henry’s deficient political acumen resulted, at least in the short term, in the collapse of English governance in France.

Henry Carless, Summer Writer

The national governments of the 1930s: short term success but long term failure 

Stanley Baldwin, leader of the Third National Government, by John Boyd jnr (P.C. flickr)

The first National Government of the 1930s was formed on the 24th of August 1931 by Ramsay Macdonald, under the backdrop of the Wall Street Crash in 1929, which led to the contraction of the global economy. As a result, Macdonald’s government immediately had to deal with severe economic difficulties such as rising unemployment, slowing international trade, and rapidly declining domestic production. What the National Governments achieved in the short term was remarkable, as they helped mitigate the effects of the Great Depression while holding off the tide of extremism that swept across Europe during the 1930s. The National Governments failed, however, in dealing with the regional disparities that came with the depression. This lack of policy to combat regional disparity led to unequal growth, and the beginning of generational depression in some areas of the UK. 

The immediate problems that faced the National Governments of the 1930s were vast, yet were largely dealt with in the short term. For example, the National Governments faced a large decrease in shipbuilding due to the decline in international trade. State intervention helped mitigate this through funding ships such as the HMS Queen Mary, which reduced the impact of the depression on the Clydeside shipbuilding industry. The National Governments also pushed to amalgamate unsuccessful mines in order to increase the coal industry’s efficiency. This was successful, as there was a 34 million tonne increase in coal production between 1933 and 1937. Even unemployment dropped in the mid-1930s from 22% to 10%; although this may not have been because of the direct actions of the National Governments, but instead the consequence of the rearmament process that was being pushed as a result of tensions in Europe. Thus, the National Governments were at least partially successful. They held extremism at bay and remained moderately popular through a period when extremist politics became the norm in many European countries. 

Yet, despite their short-term successes, the National Governments had significant failures which condemn them in my eyes. There was, for instance, a complete and utter failure to recognise the regional disparity in unemployment during the Great Depression, causing systematic depression in regions of Britain. Although it is statistically correct that overall unemployment dropped throughout the mid-1930s, that isn’t the entire picture. Unemployment remained high in areas that relied almost completely on the traditional industries, such as coal and textiles. This unemployment was especially high in the North East and areas of Wales. The National Governments did not mitigate this, even when people were starving on the streets. The conditions became so dire that the MP for Jarrow, Ellen Wilkinson, led a ‘hunger march’ to London with 200 shipyard workers behind her. This blatant ignorance of the regional disparity in employment, wealth and opportunities, marks one of the first times that the North East was pushed to the side in policy making, and it was certainly not the last. Its painful miasma haunted the region long into the post-war era, exemplified by Thatcher’s cruel policies. Fundamentally, the generational depression seen in the North East and other deprived areas began because of the National Governments and their negligence.

It is important to be thankful that the National Governments allowed the government in the country to continue – preventing the country from being taken over by extremists like Oswald Mosley – while helping the UK prepare for the Second World War. However, we must not forget the conditions that persisted in the most deprived areas of the UK due to the lack of effective policy designed to mitigate the regional disparity in unemployment. 

Matthew Cook, Summer Writer

How remnants of the imperial system in the Occupation era founded modern Japan’s repudiation of World War II atrocities

Emperor Hirohito with General Douglas MacArthur in the US Embassy in Tokyo, September 1945 (Credit: flickr)

The shocking assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo drew renewed attention to his actions and ambitions regarding Japanese diplomacy and defence. He was credited with the creation of the Quad, a quasi-alliance designed to limit the threat of China’s influence to the ‘free and open’ status of the Indo-Pacific. Furthermore, Abe also pushed to revise Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution in 2015, a drastic reinterpretation that permitted the Self-Defence Forces to fight overseas under certain circumstances. 

While most governments praised him for safeguarding peace and stability in the region, critics have accused Abe of reviving Japan’s World War II (WWII) militarism with his hawkish foreign policy. They point to the tributes he has paid to the Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines Class-A war criminals sentenced in the ‘Tokyo Trial’. Both domestic and foreign figures have also criticised Abe and successive conservative Japanese administrations for ‘whitewashing’ the war crimes of Imperial Japan in WWII by denying state involvement in forced prostitution and revising history textbooks, amongst other examples. Indeed, historians describe the Japanese consensus as a historical ‘amnesia’, preventing the nation from adequately reflecting on its belligerent past. This article seeks to trace the origin of this amnesia by looking at the Allied Occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1952.  

The treatment of Emperor Hirohito and the Japanese imperial institution were contested issues during the planning and initial stages of the Occupation. While some insisted that abolishing the imperial system was necessary to eradicate militarism and establish democracy, American advisors highlighted the Japanese people’s reverence for the Emperor and believed recognising his position would encourage domestic stability conducive to America’s ‘general purposes in Japan’. Pratt, Ballantine and Grew (1944) justified this by emphasising the neutrality of the imperial system, and a previously suppressed homegrown liberal force that could catalyse democratisation under the auspices of the Emperor. Furthermore, in response to investigations into Hirohito’s possible war crimes, General MacArthur concluded in 1946 that there was insufficient evidence for criminal charges and estimated that forced abdication would require ‘a minimal of a million troops’, an impossible demand for the U.S. military. 

Although the Emperor’s divinity was challenged, the continuation of the imperial institution with Hirohito as a figurehead compromised the U.S.’s democratisation ambitions, and it had ultimately hindered the Japanese people’s acknowledgement of their nation’s war crimes. The imperial system was not the only post-war continuity of the Occupation. While the Supreme Command of the Allied Occupation (SCAP) did replace the militarist faction with officials dismissed by the wartime government, many civil servants retained their positions to ensure a steady process of post-war recovery. The economic ministries came out especially unscathed and with even greater authority. As demonstrated by economist Noguchi Yukio in his book 戦後経済史(Postwar Economic History), Japan’s subsequent economic miracle was rooted in the actions of the the militarist governments prior to the Occupation. When purged officials returned to the government with the resurfaced zaibatsus (business conglomerates), it became politically inexpedient to criticise their wartime atrocities, given their profound contribution to the economy. Civil servants also survived in the education sector, where traditional structures and practices were preserved, and, despite SCAP’s involvement in liberalisation, continuation of the old system increased the difficulty for Japanese schools to confront militarist curriculum.  

Finally, the rise of the Asian Iron Curtain prompted the ‘reverse course’ in 1947. In addition to censoring Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bombs, the ‘red purge’ that drove many leftists away from influential positions in politics and universities further hindered the SCAP’s supposed objective of democratisation and social pluralism. Furthermore, this purge also reinstalled previously dismissed militarists such as Class-A war criminals to positions of power. The U.S. went as far as pressuring Japan into remilitarisation leading up to the Korean War, albeit unsuccessfully. This, nevertheless, contributed to Japan’s incomplete demilitarisation and repatriation. Despite SCAP’s conspicuous successes in reforming Japanese society, the survival of imperial institutions, the latter appointment of prominent politicians from ‘old’ Japan, and the purge of left-wing forced far-right ultra-nationalism. These socio-political circumstances hampered the  nation’s ability to grapple with the past and properly reconcile with their neighbours who fell victim to imperial Japan.

Sheng Yu Huang

Tracing the Origins of Uighur Oppression in Xinjiang

It is only in recent years that the headlines of the most prominent Western media publications have fully communicated the extent of China’s human rights violations in the region of Xinjiang. To be sure, the damning charges that have been brought against China reflect the increasingly authoritarian edge of Xi Jinping’s regime. However, (without being too teleological) the roots of cultural genocide and oppression in Xinjiang can be traced deep into China’s past. A brief synopsis of Xinjiang’s history is integral to gaining a firm understanding of the current political situation in the region.

The region, located in the Northwest of China, has long been demarcated as an autonomous zone. However, the situation on the ground scarcely aligns with the purported theoretical framework of a self-sufficient region. Indeed, the Chinese central government have long kept close de facto control of Xinjiang through what can only be described as brazenly intrusive measures.

In more recent years, Xi Jinping’s CCP has inflicted a series of ethnoreligious and political clampdowns on the Uighur population. The catalogue of abuses levelled at the Chinese government makes for bleak reading. Namely, the authorities are reported to have detained large swathes of Uighurs in ‘re-education’ camps under strict surveillance. Reasons for detention are as trivial as attending services at Mosques, sending texts with Quranic verses, and having contact with Afghanistan and Turkey. Large numbers of detainees are said to have been left with no legal avenues to challenge their detention. Shockingly, in December 2020 the BBC reported that up to half a million people were forcefully being made to pick cotton in the region which bears a repugnant reminiscence to slavery. Reports of forced sterilisation and abortion are also abhorrent. Furthermore, population figures suggest the occurrence of a state-sanctioned mass migration of the Han Chinese population into the region that had thinned the indigenous Uighur population. China’s policy in the region appears to be nothing short of cultural genocide.

This unforgiving and frankly brutal policy of ‘Sinicization’ underscores the CCP’s ambition of securing Han political and cultural hegemony in the nation. We can trace back similar policies initiated by central governments in China that have culminated in the current situation today. Xinjiang was first conquered by forces belonging to the Qing Dynasty in 1759 but officials initially adopted a hands-off non-integrationist approach that respected cultural plurality. Yet, the ascription of provincehood to the region in 1884, after the Qing regained control of the area, marked the first didactic attempt to assimilate the region into Han society. Nonetheless, when the new Republic of China inherited the region in 1911 it remained nothing more than a distant colonial appendage. This relationship was to change drastically when the Chinese Communist Party took the reins of power.

Mao Zedong proclaimed a ‘new China’ which was to be defined by the relationship between ‘China proper’ and outer lying areas such as Tibet, Xinjiang, and Mongolia. To mimic Soviet ‘ethnofederalism’, Xinjiang was designated as an autonomous region in 1955. Yet, this categorisation scarcely devolved power to the indigenous population of Xinjiang. The region could not secede from China and very few indigenous populations were able to secure authority through political office as the Han maintained their position as the ruling class. Population demographics from the 1950s to the 1970s are particularly telling. Somewhere between 60,000 and 200,000 Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities fled the country as a direct result of the Great Leap Forward. Conversely, the state exacerbated ethnic tensions by encouraging the movement of Han into the region with the proportion steeply rising from 7% to 40%.

Reforms in the 1970s and 1980s brought a period of short-lived promise for the Uighur population. Between 1982 and 1987, the general secretary under Deng Xiaoping’s government, Hu Yaobang, spearheaded liberalising reforms that respected ethnic self-determinism and local culture. However, conservatives in the party were to eventually oust Hu and blame his policies for stoking agitation in the region. Troubles in the 1990s were partially driven by the collapse of the Soviet Union which was misleadingly interpreted by those in authority as engendered by ethnic self-determinism. Thus, China begun the uncompromising ‘Strike Hard’ campaign in 1996, which saw mass arrests, executions, and human rights violations against protest groups. Whilst the Uighur population did use violence as a vehicle for change throughout the 1990s, such as the Ürümqi bus bombings, this was a reaction to the execution of 30 suspected separatists in 1997 following what was described as a peaceful protest by Western media organisations. After Washington called for a ‘war on terror’ in the early 2000s, Chinese authorities pounced on the opportunity to reframe their oppression of the Uighur populations as an act to suppress terrorism rather than ethnic self-determinism.

A brief synopsis of Xinjiang’s association with China that stretches back into the nation’s dynastic past reveals that its relationship has been long and complex. Levels of oppression and intrusion into the region have ebbed and flowed. The true picture of the repulsive violation of human rights that the Chinese government are presently carrying out is still emerging. Nonetheless, what is certain is that is has roots deeper into the past than most are aware of.

Ben Carter, History in Politics Summer Writer

Does Tudor historical fiction handle the theme of politics well?

Enter any historical fiction section of a bookshop, and the Tudors are bound to pop out at you. They are a persistent part of the fabric of England’s past and are one of the public’s entry points to the past. As such, Tudor England is a traditional source of inspiration for historical fiction.

However, once that book jumped out at you, is it likely to consider the theme of politics? Well, probably not. This article will explore the landscape of historical fiction, to ultimately find that Tudor historical fiction does not handle the theme of politics well.

Firstly, Tudor historical fiction does not handle the theme of politics well because it is dominated by tropes. Your classic Tudor historical fiction novel is either a corset-ripper – picture Philippa Gregory – or a murder mystery. The mainstays of this genre are dominated by these themes rather than necessarily using the vessel of historical fiction to examine, for example, the machinations of the court around the time of Henry VIII’s death. Or to explore the perspectives of the rebels during Kett’s rebellion. It seems that this lens has been underutilised.

However, is this argument derogatory towards the fact that the majority of Tudor historical fiction novels are centred around women? Does it ignore that women could be involved in politics? Well, potentially. For example, the Six Wives Series by Alison Weir has tried to encourage readers to understand the political manoeuvres the queens of Henry VIII made themselves. The first novel in the series focused on Katherine of Aragon, goes into detail about the mechanics of the divorce of Katherine and Henry, whilst simultaneously exploring the personal impact which it had on her. So, it is important to weigh up that whilst historical fiction is full of tropes within the bestseller section, this is also because our understanding of ‘politics’ may be narrowed by how traditionally politics is discussed in the historical context.

Secondly, it is an all or nothing with Tudor historical fiction themed around politics. Either it is a Man Booker Prize winner or a self-published piece on Amazon. There does not seem to be much of a rich middle ground for eager readers to sink their teeth into. Particularly, as the pinnacle of the Tudor political historical fiction is the Wolf Hall trilogy. Hilary Mantel’s trilogy is the yardstick from which not only Tudor historical fiction is judged but also historical fiction more generally. Mantel’s writing not only opens up the world of the Tudor court, but the tool of historical fiction enables the reader to get into the mindset of this crucial Tudor politician and to ponder on how he may have made such decisions.

Yet, whilst there is no denying the strength of Mantel’s series, once a reader has made their way through it, there is little to feed that hunger for good Tudor historical fiction which focuses on politics. Instead, they would be forced back into the world of non-fiction, which for a reader beginning their journey in Tudor history, can be a minefield of inaccessibility. As such, this all or nothing landscape within Tudor historical fiction themed on politics demonstrates that the genre does not handle the theme well because ultimately more quality work is needed within this area.

Thirdly, if works in this genre do make that novel break into politics, they are often criticised for being dry. This may partially be because politics attracts heavy-handed penmanship. But this could also be because traditionally the people in politics were often forgotten about. The centrality of people within politics has only really become something that has developed over the last few decades. But equally, it is also because the source material of politics within the Tudor period does not always have the literal ‘sex’ appeal which the subjects of love and marriage within the period have. As such, this dryness, which has multiple sources, demonstrates further why Tudor historical fiction does not handle the theme of politics particularly well.

What this piece has uncovered is that Tudor historical fiction does not currently handle the theme of politics well, from the genre’s hyper-focus on corset ripping or murder-mysteries, to its all or nothing quality and the dryness sometimes of what is available. Clearly more is needed to truly say that Tudor historical fiction has got a grip on the theme of politics.

Zoe Adlam

Port Hamilton: the story of a Korean port

When thinking about the Great Game between Russia and Britain major events such as the Durand Line, the Anglo-Afghan War, or the Russo-Turkish War may come to mind. However, away from the limelight of central Asia there was a small incident that occurred in the Far East that might have had more consequences than were immediately clear. These events took place in Joseon, modern-day Korea. 

거문도 (Geomundo) is a small island south of Korea situated between the mainland and Jeju island. Before delving into the history of the occupation, in order to understand why it occurred, a brief description of the background of the events is needed.

Britain, before the occupation, was more focused on India and Qing China, such that Korea was only an afterthought. The only real interaction between the two nations was in 1883 when an official treaty was signed. This apathetic attitude changed when Joseon started showing signs of aligning itself with Russia. Korea had signed a treaty with the US and Britain, with only Qing China as the mediator, because the Qing saw Joseon as a protectorate of its own.

The Gapsin Coup (1884) was a coup d’etat within Joseon stopped by Qing Chinese troops. With a foreign army within the border, Joseon felt threatened of its domestic independence hence its willingness to ally itself with Russia. Joseon wanted to distance itself from the Qing due to China’s significant influence in Joseon at the time. Among other requests, Joseon had asked Russia to patrol the territorial waters. This information had fallen into Japanese hands, and it is speculated that Britain received the news of possible Russian expansion into the Pacific through Japan. So, on 1885 April 27th Britain landed on the island and declared it Port Hamilton to prevent this expansion. 

Ironically, the records suggest that local citizens remembered the occupation in a positive light. Foreign sailors visiting the island were nothing new to the locals, and the occupation was not met with much fear or confusion. Russian sailors are remembered poorly as they are recorded to be constantly drunk and caused problems with the locals. French sailors are recorded as constantly going atop houses to survey the island thus being a nuisance, while the Dutch sailors are remembered for having impressive hats and always waving flags all around the place.  British soldiers, when commandeering locals for work to build the fort or houses, were met with locals who were amazed by a government that actually paid the citizenry when they were hired. Joseon had plenty of corrupt officials, especially in the countryside, who did not pay the locals when they were commandeered for work and, since the British knew pound sterling was worthless to the locals, they paid in practical items like  canned food, alcohol, and salted meat. The British occupation force also had strict rules in place to not disturb the locals, which is why a rather amicable relationship was formed. 

There is a story of a British sailor who is said to have drowned while swimming to a widow’s house, but there are no records of a sailor who died of drowning. Some historians assume this story originated from a sailor who was indeed caught visiting a widow’s house and was punished publicly in front of the locals by constantly being thrown overboard, and then made to swim back to the ship only to be thrown overboard again. There was also a story from the locals that said after the British left one of the widows bore a child with blue eyes and yellow hair and the child and the mother was sent to the capital. However, there are no official records of anyone with such a trait making this story probably another of the fanciful tales from the time.  

Another story is of how the British, who brought in cows as a food source, found the cows to be missing as time passed. They later found out an old local man was the culprit but, when confronted, he denied stealing the cows. The British then showed a photo of the man taking the cows and only then did the local confess and return the cow. This makes the locals one of the first Koreans ever to witness photographic technology. 

On the birthday of Queen Victoria, the locals were told by the British not to be alarmed when they hear cannon fire. The locals apparently decided to view this foreign behaviour and gathered at the port where the event was said to have taken place. When the shots were fired, the dogs on the island were startled and ran into the mountains, and the British sailors helped the locals find the dogs. When the British finally decided to leave the island, the locals were disappointed at the departure which is understandable considering that apparently the first thing the governor of the province did when the island was back in control was demand 2 years’ worth of taxes that went missive during the occupation. 

From the government side of things, Joseon was the last to find out about this occupation because there was no direct line between Britain and Joseon. While a telegram was sent the day after the occupation on April 28th, it was only received on May 16th

However, the entire withdrawal had nothing to do with the wishes of Joseon, as it only became a proxy war for the major powers. The Qing did not want Russian influence over the Korean Peninsula, and instead wanted to cement its lordship over Korea.

With these two conflicting interests the Qing decided to help the Joseon cause and protested. Japan, due to its future ambitions over the local area, also joined in the protest, while making sure they would have the role of stopping Russian ambitions in the far East. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance was signed not long after the incident, in 1902. Although the USA showed sympathy, it sided with Britain against this Russian expansion. Russia, on the other hand, briefly conquered part of Jeju island to stop the British having its hands on the territorial waters around the Korean peninsula. This Mexican standoff situation was resolved in 1866, when Russia agreed not to put Joseon under its protectorate status while the Qing and Britain also agreed not to intervene in Korean affairs. In 1887, after 2 years of occupation, the British left Fort Hamilton. Just as Joseon was last to hear of the occupation, the news of the withdrawal also came last for the actual party of interest. 

This left one power to take advantage of the situation: Japan, a country which later defeated Qing China and Russia, and colonised Korea with British and American support. Considering that the rise of Japan was signified by its alliance with Britain, it can be said that the rise of Japan as a major power on the world stage had begun with this minor sideshow during the Great Game. All because Britain wanted to stop Russian expansion.

Justin Kim

Image Credit: Gupdaal

History in Politics: The Russia-Ukraine Conflict

In the early hours of Thursday morning, Vladimir Putin announced in a televised broadcast that Russia would launch a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Addressing his nation, Putin said that his aim was to “demilitarise” the country.

Soon after Putin’s speech, explosions were reported on the outskirts of Ukrainian cities, as well as in the country’s capital, Kyiv. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry then announced that Russian troops were crossing the border. “The invasion has begun”, the Ministry said in a statement.

Since then, Ukraine has lost control of the Chernobyl nuclear site, and sustained attacks have been carried out on the eastern city of Kharkiv.

History In Politics Society asked members for their thoughts on the crisis.

I do think we should really focus on the citizens in all of this. For the leaders – Putin, Biden, Johnson – it’s all one chess game, reminiscent of a Cold War proxy and the losers are the citizens of Ukraine who have little idea of what is going to happen next.

Michaela Makusha

Such a shame only voices of reasons come from places unrelated to the whole mess. One thing that is not being is discussed is that Putin explicitly said all former Soviet states leaving was a ‘mistake’. That includes not just Ukrine but Baltic states and the Caucasus. This is a huge concern.

Justin Kim

The Russia-Ukraine crisis highlights the power of history and how it can be used as an insidious political weapon to attack the sovereignty of other nations. Furthermore, I personally am very doubtful about the effectiveness of imposing sanctions – in a video posted by the BBC on their website yesterday [Wednesday], it was announced that Russia exports 70% of its goods to China. This means that even if Russia is closed off to Western markets, it will not be as impactful as one might think, since Russia has a keen business partner in China. European sanctions will probably draw Russia and China closer together, based upon both economic interests as well as a mutual antipathy for the West. So long as these two countries are in accord, which I think is fair to say has been consummated by a 30 year gas and oil deal, they will fiercely protect and support each other. 

Emily Worlock

Image Credit: Pilgrim Whynot