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

Religion and Decline of the Absolutism – The Stuarts

1625 doesn’t sound like a significant year in history, but in fact it is the start of a century of rebellions and revolutions that shaped the political system we have in Britain today.

This is because in1625 Charles I married a Catholic, kicking off a fight against absolutism in Britain.

Religion wasn’t of course the only reason but a key and perhaps the most important reason the country transitioned from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.

The Stuart dynasty had always been Catholic – but it was something somewhat set aside when Elisabeth I, a devout Protestant, made James I and IV her heir. Scotland adopted Protestantism as its main religion in 1560 so there didn’t seem to be a problem.

But then his son married a Catholic, Henrietta Maria, remained friendly with the Catholic nations such as Spain and became increasingly autocratic in his religious policies, using the Star Chamber to harshly punish religious dissidents.

Moreover, he strongly believed in the Catholic doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. For Charles, he was only answerable to God, as God appoints the monarch.

Unfortunately for Charles, everyone in the Kingdom, particularly parliament and many nobles, expected to hold the King to account, as they had done with his predecessors.

The idea of a monarch who not only had questionable loyalties but refused to be held accountable politically and religiously is a worrisome one.

The English Civil war was sparked due to Charles’s heavy-handed religious policies. First the Scottish in 1639 rebelled after Archbishop Laud attempted to impose the Anglican book of prayer, followed by the Irish two years later. The English lastly took up arms against their King, led by the Puritans.

When the monarchy was restored in 1660, the Stuarts hadn’t learned from their father’s mistakes. Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, a Catholic which served to stir up theories amongst disgruntled protestants such as the ‘Popish plot’ – that she had been employed by the Pope to poison Charles so that his Catholic brother James could take the throne.

Moreover, his popularity quickly faded due to his extravagant lifestyle. Many of Charles’ favourites at court were Catholics, who were all expelled after a Test Act passed in 1673 banning Catholics from taking public office. He didn’t produce any legitimate heirs, meaning the throne would fall to his brother.

John Morrill, a historian who has extensively studied religious absolutism as cause for decline of the monarchy, views Charles as a ‘Secret Catholic’, a theory stemming from his close diplomacy with France, a very Catholic nation, and the fact when he died, he was received back into the Catholic Church.

Image credit: Coventry City Council via Creative Commons. 

James II’s reign was the final nail in the coffin for religious absolutism. A militant Roman Catholic, according to Morrill, advocating to repeal penal laws asserting Anglicanism was superior to Catholicism, appointed Catholics to public office and allowed the Papal Legate to visit for the first time since Henry VIII’s reign.

All of this culminated in the Bill of Rights of 1689, effectively banned Catholics from taking the throne, as it served to criticise the former King’s religious policies, stating he, “ … did endeavour to subvert and extirpate the Protestant religion and the laws and liberties of this kingdom”, whilst “By assuming and exercising a power of dispensing with and suspending of laws and the execution of laws without the consent of Parliament”. It is this Bill of Rights that began our transition to a constitutional monarchy.

The focus on Stuart Dynasty isn’t their Catholicism, more their wilful ignorance of and their desire for absolute power. Catholicism at the time was very much associated with absolute power and the unwillingness to govern fairly and properly.

Their marriages to non-Anglicans as shown with Charles I and both of his sons further increased distrust by MPs who assumed these Catholic spouses would endeavour to continue a Catholic dynasty in which the country was ruled by the Divine Right of the monarch.

Every generation seemed to look back and assume they could achieve what the one before could not – absolute control over the Kingdom using a Catholic doctrine in a Protestant nation.

Their inability to evolve strategically or religiously meant the ultimate decline of absolutism. 

Michaela Makusha


Sources

Morrill, John, The Nature of the English Revolution: Studies in Religion and Politics, 1603-42 (1992)

John Morrill, The Sensible Revolution (1991) https://www.historytoday.com/archive/civil-wars The Civil Wars by Sarah Mortimer

China: an Old Giant Trapped in a Loop

China is familiar to westerners , but also unknown— the sleeping giant has awoken and has been appearing in thousands of headlines. Some say that it is the enemy of the western world, some say that its rise benefits the global economy—despite what has been said about it, the public may generally gain an impression that it is a historical powerbase. Nevertheless, half of its history reads like a stuck record—there is no substantial changes throughout centuries. More precisely China is indeed a country which has a rich history and extraordinary culture, but its impressive intellectual evolution all but came to an abrupt halt two thousand years ago, and only started to develop again in the 19th century. To examine how it all began, we have to go back to 4000 years ago—the emergence of the Xia dynasty (the first dynasty in China). 

Since the Xia dynasty, China has experienced the rise and fall of several dynasties, including the Shang and the Zhou. The Zhou dynasty established a system where the King divided the land between his relatives, namely zhuhou, then these relatives passed on their fiefs to their descendants. Within their own fiefs, these zhuhou were able to take control over military power, governmental power and legislative power. Nevertheless, the King still had power over them. After centuries of prosperity, this great empire suffered from turmoil in which the King (You of Zhou) was killed. Consequently, the rest of the Zhou nobles withdrew from the original capital to the east—the old capital of Chengzhou. Starting from this point, the Zhou dynasty entered the start of the Eastern Zhou period (770 -256 BC), leading to the Spring and Summer Period and the Warring States Period—centuries of chaos and casualties, but also the greatest and brightest period of Chinese Philosophy.

Ever since the Zhou nobles moved to the East, the King no longer had power over those regional rulers. As a result, those regional rules started to disobey the orders from the central government and attack each other. The period from then on can be further divided into the Spring and Summer period (722 -481 BC), and the Warring States period (475-221 BC). Noticeably, the last King of Zhou Dynasty was killed amidst the Warring States Period, which is the end of the Zhou Dynasty.More broadly, during the Warring States Period, the conflicts between states reached their peak, with only around 7 states left, compared to hundreds of states during the Spring and Summer Period.  ultimately led to the rise of Qin Dynasty (221-206BC) who conquered the rest of its competitors. 

King Wen of Zhou, painted during the Ming Dynasty. (Credit)

It is doubtless true  that these periods were dark ages—millions were killed, and the collapse of states becamea  daily occurrence. Nevertheless, the greatest intellectual movement occurred  asa wide range of Chinese schools of thoughts emerged. It is these ideologies which shaped the core values of the Chinese, it is the greatest leap of Chinese philosophy, it is, you might say, the enlightenment age of China—without these ideologies, China would be longer be China. It is so unique due to the diversity of the different schools of thought, such as Taoism, Confucianism, Legalism, Mohism, Yangism, etc. Though they all differ, they are the reflection of humanity of the world, and through learning from each other, new ideologies arise and bring out a better interpretation of the world. Unfortunately, there was a great leap and then nothing — for  the next two thousand years, Chinese adapted the same ideology, which shaped the historical cycle of China, molded the values of Chinese—but no significant breakthroughs came about since then. 

To clarify, I am not suggesting that ever since so no changes in China have taken place, many have: the improvement in technology, the emergence of different types of poems, the new scholars in Confucianism are several examples. I am trying to justify is that in the root of Chinese core values, the same ideology has dominated the whole country, it controls their minds and their wills which bind them into a united collective, which is why the following history of China is merely a cycle until the Opium War. As such, there are no leaps in terms of intellectual movement on a large scale—it is trapped at that point. 

It all began after the downfall of the Qin dynasty where the Han dynasty took over. Emperor Wu of Han, one of the greatest Emperors in Chinese history, decided to enact the ideas  of Dong Zhong Shu on Confucianism as the basis of the state’s political philosophy. The ideas of Confucianism are rtoo sophisticated to be examined in this essay, but in general, it rests on the basis that humans are fundamentally good, and individuals should aim to become “jun zi”, a respectable gentleman who acts according to proper conduct. To achieve this, there are multiple concepts that have been discussed, in particular, the five Constants “Wuchang”, including humaneness “ren”, justice “yi”, propriety” li”, wisdom “zhi” and trustworthiness “xin”. Through practicing these values, Confucianism believes that individuals will be able to become better people—children will treat their parents well, neighbors helping others, and people respecting elders. These morality and ethics then build up from the individual level to the relationship with other individuals, ultimately forming a peaceful society, and then finally, it is applied in political aspect—in the blueprint of Confucianism, the Emperor himself must be a “jun zi” who is a morally respectable person first, ensuring that the one who has power also conforms to this set of ethics value. Then, he will rule its people in a humane way, creating a benevolent utopia. Yet, if the Emperor was found to be morally unworthy, the people should subvert him and bring peace to the collective. From one perspective, it can be argued that what Confucianism tried to do is to establish a certain set of values among all individuals. If they successfully make the individuals treat it as their core values, it shapes their actions and thoughts which will ideally lead to a peaceful society as all individuals believe the same set of rules, even the rulers conform to them, thereby creating a humane world. What is so special about it is that Confucianism despises using strict law but instead, using “li” to promote and implement their ideas across the country. “Li’ itself is but a set of actions, it is only vital if other values are moderated into it such as ren”. While practicing these actions, these regulated norms will always remind people about its core and why they are doing what they are doing, hencereinforcing the idea of “ren” in their mind and strengthening the control over the people. To do so, they always promote it through education and music. After generations, they will ideally develop a mainstream ideology where all people conform to it.

Whether we agree with it or not, it is no doubt a challenge to create a peaceful society. However, Dong Zhon Shu ended up turning these ideals to his own ends, becoming a tyrant. He added the idea of divine rights of Kings to Confucianism, suggesting that the emperor appears to rule due to the order of God, it was his rightful place which significantly strengthened monarchical power—but remember that this idea does not come from  Confucianism, according to which people can always overthrow an emperor if he is morally underqualified. Furthermore, he suggested that no other ideologies should be promoted but his Confucianism; for example, one must study Confucianism in order to be a civil officer. Yet, the price was that this ideology would remain dominant as other ideologies would be marginalsied, hindering the intellectual development of China. The emperor was obviously pleased with this outcome in which his people remained gentle and respectful to each other whilestrengthening his power and maintaining his dictatorship. He even further introduced the idea of legalism into it—  for those who failed to conform, strict punishment and laws would be used. Hitherto, a distorted political philosophy emerged which only served the goal of the emperor,, and with it brought about the demise of other ideologies. In the following years, the worship and fear of the emperor have become the greatest goals of the people. A subject follows the emperor till the very end, even if he is obviously a terrible ruler who would but destroy the country. The result was a dearth of  intellectual development as the general public became lambs who only learned to fear and worship their emperor. 

After the fall of the Han dynasty, we can see lots of dynasties—Jin dynasty, Tang dynasty, Ming dynasty—all of them rise at the very beginning, then fall after hundreds of years when the people can no longer withstand the emperors. Since the King has all the power, so long as the King lacks intelligence, the situation rapidly deteriorates. And yet, no one would have ever thought of ending this loop—all of the people would only fight against these tyrants when they could not stand the mess caused by the rulers, then return the power to the new King and start a new cycle, but no individuals will come up with a new intellectual movement, suggesting we may have to forfeit monarchy, or at least weaken the power of the emperor. This only starts to change with the outbreak of the Opium War, where the modern western society defeats the aging Chinese Monarchy, indicating that China needs to awake from its own prison.

Tsz Hin Lok (Marco)

Belated Black History Month: a Black conquistador and a Black Samurai

When we think about conquistadors, the first thought we would have is probably of a typical Spanish man with spikes daring to enter the new world. And when we imagine a samurai, we would imagine a Japanese man with his katana. While these general concepts would be the majority, even in such unexpected places we could find footsteps of Africans.

Samurai in Armour, hand-coloured albumen silver print by Kusakabe Kimbei, c. 1870s–90s; in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. There are few depictions of either the Black conquistador or Black Samurai. (Credit: J. Paul Getty Museum (object no. 84.XA.700.4.58), digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program)

Juan Garrido (1487~ 1547) was a member of the Hernan Cortes Conquistador expedition, Famous for causing the downfall of the Aztec empire. While records are scarce about his origins, he is said to have originated from the Kingdom of Congo or one of the southern Sahara’s Berber tribes. It is said he moved in his youth to Lisbon. Considering slavery was still active at the time, Historian Ricardo Alegira suspects Juan came from a powerful African Tribal leader or king whom the Portuguese have traded with. Other historians such as Peter Gerhard suspect he was a freedman ergo a former slave who has earned his freedom. This suspicion is due to one of the other Conquistadors, Pedro Garrido. 

In 1508 Garrido joined in his first expedition with Ponse de Leon and his conquest of Puerto Rico, making him the officially first African ever to fight a native of the new world. It is said he fought against the native revolt in 1511 and in 1513 after Ponce de Leon had been forced to step down in place of Diego Columbus.They even visited and found Florida despite being ill-prepared to conquer the land. By the time Cortes came into the picture Garrido was a veteran conquistador and one of the few that survived the Law Noche Triste (The Night of sorrows where Cortes had lost 2/3 of his army) and Battle of Otumba. (1) He was honoured as a veteran and given land by Cortes. He became wealthy as many did at the time in the New World through a use of slave labour. However, he was always looking for new adventures and participated in the expeditions to the North of Mexico and California where he spent an exorbitant amount of wealth leaving him destitute. In 1547 the man who saw the rise of the Spanish colonial empire in Americans had passed away after a lifetime of expeditions.

Yasuke (?~?) was a samurai during the Sengoku Jidai (Warring states period). It is unknown which part of African he had come from, but most agree he was probably from Mozambique. It is unclear if Missionary Alessandro Valiganano has bought him as a slave in Mozambique or in India. In 1581 when Valiganano met with Oda Nobunaga who took an interest in him. (2) Not believing there can be a black-skinned person Nobunaga is said to have ordered him washed but after seeing the skin colour hadn’t changed, intrigued Nobunaga requested to have him as one of his vassals in court and advanced Yasuke from a humble servant to a Samurai and bestowing the name Yasuke. Yasuke learned Japanese and the culture in just a short 2 years and impressed Nobunaga further through the fact he was recorded to be 188cm tall, making him a massive giant for the time period.. He served under Nobunaga until June 1582 when the infamous Honoji incident occurred where Mitsuhide betrayed Nobunaga. In some literary sources it is said before committing seppuku (Ritual suicide) Nobunaga asked Yasuke to kill him for him. After Nobunaga’s death, Yasuke joined Oda Nobutada as he rallied all his fathers’ men and fought to avenge Nobunaga, but he lost and was imprisoned for his efforts. But being foreign he was banished away instead of being killed. Some sources claim he was sent away back to the Christian church and afterwards this unlikely story end.However, some sources indicate he became a Ronin (A samurai without a master) and a record of a black gunman who fought for the Arima clan suggests perhaps it was the same Yasuke that did so. Considering gunman is a lower position in the feudal hierarchy and the fact Yasuke was recorded as having met many influential men during his stay with Nobunaga yet this man is only of a passing mention, it is unlikely this was the same African who ended up becoming a samurai. This wasn’t the end of Japanese interaction with Africans as during the Imjin War (Japanese invasion of Korea 1592~1598) when the Chinese reinforcement entered Korea there were 4 Africans who was introduced as Sea Ghosts (海鬼), that was set as a form of a special force that could hide under the sea at night time and attack the vessels effectively. While unfortunately there are no records of these 4 men being effective, there are records of the Japanese fearing the news of the fact Africans showed up on the other side which might indicate memory of Yasuke the giant who served under Nobunaga was still fresh in the minds of some Japanese.

Justin Kim, History in Politics Contributor


(1) As a side note at the same period a female conquistadora by the name of Maria de Estrada was also present for both battles being referred to by Bernal Diaz del Castillo who recorded the battles as the sole female combatant. And as part of the 23 cavalry that was instrumental in turning the battle in the Spanish favour. She like Garrido was recognized by Cortes for her valour and given land and lived a wealthy life before her death in 1537

(2) Oda Nobunaga was one of the Three leaders (三英傑) who is set to represent the Sengoku Jidai period. To understand each character’s significance, the poem at the time illustrates each individual beautifully.

Nobunaga prepared the rice,

Hideyoshi made the rice cake called Japan,

and Ieyasu sat and ate the rice cake.

織田がつき

羽柴がこねし天下餅

すわりしままに食うは徳川

Acknowledging the Armenian Genocide: the Potential Impact of Brexit and Anglo-Turkish relations.  

Only 33 countries worldwide (and the European Parliament) have formally acknowledged the Armenian Genocide despite the consensus among historians and other academics outside Turkey being that the actions of the Ottoman Empire (now the Republic of Turkey) were genocidal. The UN defined genocide in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” Article II also includes a list of actions committed against a group that would be considered genocidal: “killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately infliction on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Based on this, there should be no doubt that the massacres should be considered a genocide as approximately 1.5 Armenians were killed by the Ottomans between 1915 and 1917, many of them killed on the death marches or as a result of deportation. It has been over a century since the Armenian Genocide, so why is the UK government still so hesitant to acknowledge it as such?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Credit: Reuters)

The Republic of Turkey acknowledge that a significant number of Armenians were massacred, but they do not accept that a genocide occurred and have adopted a policy of genocide denial, with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, claiming that there is no ‘stain or a shadow like genocide’ in Turkey’s past. In April this year Joe Biden became the first US president to formally acknowledge the Armenian genocide even though there had been warnings from the Turkish foreign minister that this would further damage the relationship between the two countries. The relationship between Turkey and the US is very different to the relationship between Turkey and the UK, and this may explain why one leader has been able to recognise the genocide for what it is while one of them has not yet acknowledged it. Turkey and the UK generally have a good trading relationship, with 6% of exports from Turkey going to the UK. According to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UK’s direct investment in Turkey in 2011 reached $917 million (c. £679 million) and there are 2,362 companies with UK capital operating in Turkey. This means that potentially ruining the relationship between the UK and Turkey could have a significant economic impact on the UK.

In the context of a post-Brexit United Kingdom where Turkey is a potentially very important ally economically, this gives Turkey significant power over the UK in terms of dictating whether the Armenian Genocide can be officially recognised. The UK government has struggled somewhat when it comes to trade agreements post-Brexit with most of the current agreements just rolled over agreements with countries that had trade agreements with the EU that now apply to the UK individually as well. However, Turkey is one of the few countries that has negotiated a trade deal with the UK that does not just have the same terms as their agreement with the EU. It is evident that the current UK government has placed a great deal of value on this deal, not least because Boris Johnson, who previously championed the Turkish attempts to join the EU, now believes that it would be best for Turkey to remain outside of the EU. Given that the EU negotiates trade deals for all member states, if Turkey were to join the EU it would render the new trade deal with the UK void and the UK would lose an important trading partner that, based on the actions of the government, it cannot afford to lose.

Earlier this year the Armenian Genocide (Recognition) Bill was introduced to parliament and, if successful, would require that the UK government formally acknowledge the massacres of Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917 as a genocide. However, this is not the first time that a Bill like this has been introduced to parliament, there have been 17 previous attempts since 1995 to force the UK government to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, none of which were successful. If the UK government was not confident enough that they could acknowledge the massacres as a genocide without there being significant economic consequences while a part of the largest trading bloc in the world at the time, it is not likely that the new Bill will be successful now that the UK has left the security of that trading bloc.

Lauren Gannon

Could the North of England Become an Independent Country?

Much attention surrounding devolution and independence within the United Kingdom is focused on Scotland – the 2014 referendum combined with the growing support for the Scottish National Party in the country has established a resentment towards England due to its disregard for other countries within the Union. Northern Ireland and Wales have growing independence movements, with Cornwall adding to this, and surprisingly for some– the north of England.

For many, the physical divide between north and south is hard to discern. Some say it is just above Watford, others exclude counties such as Lancashire and Lincolnshire in favour of Tyne and Wear and Yorkshire, whilst others believe the Midlands are in the region. 

The recently formed Northern Independence Party defines the north as the ancient region of Northumbria. A leading voice for northern independence, this seems to be the clear definition of the ‘north’; they gained 50,000 members in less than a year and even ran for office in the Hartlepool by-election. But, what is it that unites these counties under this umbrella term?

Historians argue that two key periods have helped shape the northern identity: the Industrial Revolution and the economic struggle of the 1980s, creating an identity remarkably separate from the rest of England. 

The north of England has been historically oppressed since 1069 under William the Conqueror, with the ‘harrying of the north’ in which he brutally suppressed northern rebellions against his rule, and systematically destroyed northern towns. The region experienced famine with much of the areas deserted. 

More rebellions followed throughout the next 1000 years, and to this day socio-economic disparities are still evident. Mortality rates are higher in the north than in the south– 15% higher. Education and transport standards are majorly different to the south.

The Coronavirus pandemic is one of the many pressures adding to the calls for independence. Manchester seemed to be the centre of this, with Andy Burnham’s anger towards the government for their lack of funding given to the city. This lack of COVID-19 relief– in comparison to southern cities– added to the growing concerns over the survival of the northern industries, after it was placed under Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions against the advice of scientific advisors.

Gordon Brown, Former Prime Minister, remarked that in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the psychological glue holding the country together has come unstuck. ‘Not only do you have the Scottish minister but you’ve got regional ministers saying they are not consulted or listened to… you’ve got no mechanism or forum for co-ordinating the regions and nations’. Not only is the Scottish-English divide strong, but the north-south divide is growing stronger– and it’s not just due to decades of Tory rule but perhaps, the political system. Could independence or devolution be the answer?

Under Tony Blair, arguments and motions for devolution were brought forward. Devolved assemblies were created in Scotland and Wales. However, the 2004 referendum on northern devolution failed– with 78% voting against it. 

To gain power in the north, Northumberland-born Alex Niven, author of ‘New Model Island: How to Build a Radical Culture Beyond the Idea of England’ argues that it will take a radical left-wing government to bring about devolution for the north. But rather than a completely autonomous and independent north, Niven argues for constitutional changes to challenge the ‘imperialistic’ Britain. Devolution is the answer, not total independence. A centralised approach to policy and politics in Westminster only ruins the local communities and creates a greater distrust in the government.

However, the Northern Independence Party’s manifesto states that it is London that ‘gobbles up’ the industry. They declare that London-based journalists ‘pick out the worst of us’ by perpetuating stereotypes of the north that adds to its general oppression. With independence, they claim they will join with an independent Scotland in alliances. 

It poses many questions. Is Derby included? What will be the capital? The historic capital of England was York and, as Yorkshire is the biggest county in Northumbria, could it be York– or will the economic powerhouses of Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool become the capital due to their resources? If so, will a feeling of resentment grow in certain regions, with perhaps a divide in opinion much like the north-south divide already prevalent? Also, structural inequality– if the capital does become one of these powerhouses, will employment be focused here rather than across the region?

Big questions include economic stability and the presence of an army. Decades of structural inequalities have led to the wish for an independent north due to the neglect of Westminster. But, this structural inequality creates a complex issue: with no real employment available already, how will jobs be created in a new country? 

I believe that for now, devolution is the answer to the crises in the north. Whilst the 2004 referendum did not show much support for this, in recent years and especially with the coronavirus pandemic and the rise of the northern independence party– the time is ripe. Could independence happen? Possibly, with the aid of Scotland. But for a truly Free North to fruition, for now, devolution will aid the cause to true independence. It’s been a long time coming and whilst under Tory, Westminster rule, the north will continue to perish.

Aoifke Madeleine, History in Politics Summer Writer

Boris Lloyd George?

The nation was in a state of crisis. Entering through the door of 10 Downing Street as the new Prime Minister was one of the most charismatic politicians Britain had seen for decades. This man was David Lloyd George. A leading Liberal politician, he replaced his party leader Asquith as Prime Minister in December 1916 at the height of the First World War. The government then being fiercely divided in the wake of the continued stalemate and the threat of the breakup of the cross-party wartime coalition.

The same description could almost as easily be applied to Boris Johnson’s entry into office as Prime Minister in July 2019. During his time in British politics, he has come to develop his own idiosyncratic brand, which has made him instantly recognisable to the average voter. He too entered Downing Street at a time of nationwide political crisis after Theresa May and Parliament failed to pass a deal for leaving the European Union.

Johnson has made no secret of his penchant for Winston Churchill, even authoring a biography of his political hero, but perhaps his parallels to Churchill’s one time political ally and friend, Lloyd George, are even more striking.

Instantly on a personal level, the similarity is evident. Both men share colourful private lives, with the continued mystery surrounding the number of Johnson’s children and Lloyd George’s affairs with numerous women, most notably his long-time mistress and secretary, Frances Stevenson. A relationship which resulted in two abortions and the birth of an illegitimate daughter. Equally, both during their time in office have faced accusations of ‘sleaze’ from Johnson’s awarding of Covid contracts and life peerages to Lloyd George’s ‘Cash for Honours’ scandal in the 1920s, where knighthoods, baronetcies and peerages were sold for the appropriate contribution to Lloyd George’s personal political fund.

Furthermore, perhaps most potently for us in the aftermath of Covid-19, both served as Prime Minister during the time of a global pandemic. As the First World War neared its close in 1918, Spanish Flu began to rage across Europe. Lloyd George caught the virus in September 1918 in the early stages of the pandemic, at the age of fifty-five. He experienced a weeklong fever, requiring a respirator for breathing. His condition was later described by his valet as ‘touch and go’. Lloyd George would go on to make a full recovery, but the pandemic would cost 228,000 lives in Britain alone. Johnson similarly caught Covid-19 in the pandemic’s early stages , coincidentally also at the age of fifty-five. Requiring treatment in a hospital intensive care unit, he then spent two weeks recuperating at the prime ministerial country retreat, Chequers.

Image: Robert Cutts via Flickr

In political terms, the comparisons also are striking. Both men have changed their political ideologies to suit their agendas. Once seen as a small state liberal, Johnson is now pursuing a policy of state expansion in everything from the NHS and social care to education and other public services, as outlined in the government’s most recent Budget. Taxes, moreover, are set to reach their highest level since the Second World War. It is with this agenda he hopes to continue to hold the support of Red Wall voters in the North. Lloyd George, equally, in the later stages of his political career shifted his views in the hopes of reviving the Liberal Party. Originally as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Asquith’s government, he spearheaded the introduction of a series of ad hoc social policies, including the establishment of labour exchanges, old age pensions and National Insurance, to help deal with the problems of poverty and unemployment. Yet by the 1929 general election, with the Liberal Party’s fortunes fading, Lloyd George put forward a new, radical campaign, ‘We Can Conquer Unemployment’, in a shift towards the left. In the hope of attracting new voters, he promised to return unemployment to normal levels within one year through a programme of public works using the unemployed to build houses, construct new roads and extend telephone lines.

However, perhaps the most interesting parallel between Johnson and Lloyd George is the latter’s  role in the foundation of the welfare state to tackle poverty and Johnson’s stated aim to raise living standards. Lloyd George was a committed ‘New Liberal’, who led his party to ‘wage implacable warfare on poverty and squalidness’, most notably through his 1909 ‘People’s Budget’. Johnson, equally, is claiming to pursue a similar vision to ‘level up’ standards across the United Kingdom and now after the pandemic to ‘Build Back Better’, a slogan which echoes the spirit of Lloyd George’s 1918 election promise to build ‘Homes Fit for Heroes’ at the end of the First World War. Citing in recent speeches the need to tackle regional differences in key issues like life expectancy, Johnson’s aim is beginning to emerge through his plans for greater investment in local communities, the creation of a ‘National Skills Fund’, the introduction of Free Ports and support for major infrastructure projects like HS2. Though yet to be seen in practice, it is in this stated ambition to ‘level up’ and ‘Build Back Better’ that the parallel between Boris Johnson and Lloyd George’s government policies  are perhaps most interesting and unusual.

Thomas Hewitt