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

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

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

How the UK Shaped Hong Kong’s Unique Democratic Sensitivity

Many look at Hong Kong’s politics now and wonder how Hong Kong got into such a mess. As some may know, in addition to it being a shopping and cuisine paradise, Hong Kong is a has a special political and legal status . Alongside Macau, Hong Kong is run under the principles of ‘one country, two systems’. In other words, though Hong Kong is a part of socialist China, it operates under a capitalist system. This is a compromise agreed between the British Colonial Government and China in 1997 when the British control of Hong Kong ended. Whether the Chinese government is maintaining the principle well is not the question to be discussed here). Instead, this article will  explore the British Colonial government’s impact on shaping Hong Kong people’s unique democratic sensitivity, which has certainly contributed to the recent clash between the Hong Kong government and its people. 

The impact of shaping Hong Kong people’s democratic sensitivity can first be explored by the British Colonial government’s localisation policies. In 1967, there was a very serious riot throughout Hong Kong. This was a wake-up call to the British Colonial government that they had to change their way of administration by catering to the local people’s needs better. The British Colonial government thus started to implement a series of socio-economic policies, such as providing affordable housing and free and compulsory education. With a better living environment, Hong Kong people were able to spend more on learning instead of merely focusing on escaping poverty. Generations of improvement in education led to a Hong Kong population with a very high level of education. As a result, more locals were capable and eligible to work in the government. There was rapid localisation of governmental personnel including an increase of over 50% of Hong Kong civil servants from 1980 to 1990. There was an increased number of Hong Kong Administrative Officers. Similarly, more Hong Kong people were promoted to senior and even top governmental positions. For example, Anson Chan Fang On Sang became the first Chinese Chief Secretary and Donald Tsang Yam Kuen became the first Chinese Financial Secretary in the 1980s and 90s. Over the years towards the transfer of Hong Kong, more Chinese ‘secretaries’ emerged. More Hong Kong people learned the British democratic way of governance and were trained in this way. 

The Pro-Beijing government forces facing protestors, 1967. (Credit: Hong Kong Free Press)

As the transfer approached , the British Colonial government implemented an even more significant attempt at ‘localisation’: increasing  Hong Kong people’s democratic sensitivity. Towards the second half of the twentieth century, China had emerged as a stronger nation running under a socialist system. The British Colonial government feared that Hong Kong would become a socialist city under the CCP. As a result, in the 1990s, it greatly localised the government by promoting more locals into the administration. The British colonial government hoped that by doing so, these Hong Kong people would already be trained to manage their government in a democratic way when the transfer happens. Also, the fact that these capable Hong Kong people are already occupying government positions means that there would not be many vacancies when the British Colonial government was ‘out’ in 1997. The Chinese government would not, the thought went, send their own personnel (who are trained and worked under a socialist system) to manage the government. 

The impacts of the localisation measures had been effective in realising the British Colonial government’s democratic intentions. For example, in the early years of the twenty-first century, many Hong Kong people trained under the British democratic system still occupied most government positions. They pushed for further democratic reform after the transfer to ensure  democratic education to the new generations. The creation of the secondary school subject ‘Liberal Studies’, which educated youngsters on the ‘one country, two systems’ and one’s political rights, is a clear illustration of these efforts. These in turn trained a new generation of millennials who had lived and known democracy their whole life. These generations of youngsters clearly know what their political rights are and are willing to participate in defending their rights or pushing for democratic reforms. Under the education of liberal ideas, they are also capable of critically challenging government actions. Thus, it is not hard to understand why these democratically sensitive generations of youngsters felt threatened and protested when more pro-China politicians are taking up government positions and more pro-China policies are implemented in recent years. 

Hong Kong people’s unique democratic sensitivity can also be explored by another policy of the British Colonial government: the creation of representative governance. The China government’s autocratic rule during the Cultural Revolution really ‘freaked out’ the British Colonial government. It was determined to build Hong Kong a steadfast democratic foundation through increasing the electoral elements in Hong Kong’s political structure. In the Legislative Council, the first indirect election in 1985 marked the start of a gradual change, and was soon followed by the first direct election for 18 seats by the method of ‘one person, one vote’ in 1991 and the abolition of all official seats in 1995 by Governor Chris Patten. At last, the president of the Legislative council was no longer the Governor but elected among the Legislative council’s elected counsellors. In the District Council, the first direct election was held in 1982 and all official seats were abolished in 1985. All appointed seats were abolished in 1994 and the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 years old. More people were eligible to participate in voicing their opinions by being able to vote for politicians that represent their views. In the Urban and Regional Councils, there were gradual elections and the abolishment of appointed seats. More people could vote and more were eligible to stand in elections. 

As Hong Kong moved into the twenty-first century, these elections were already present. The current  generations are used to having their say and participating in politics by voting and choosing their representatives. On the other side, more young people choose to participate in community affairs by standing in District Councilors’ elections, which are open to voting to everyone aged above 18. Some other young people choose to become a Legislative Councilor to have their opinions regarding the future development of Hong Kong valued. Thus, it is not hard to understand why youngsters are willing to protest, even resolve to radical actions, in face of the narrowing of electoral choices and rights in recent years. 

Chan Stephanie Sheena

Let the Games Begin: Olympics, Sports and Supremacy in the Prewar World

This summer’s Olympic Games were for many a much-needed respite from a pandemic of which we have  all grown weary. Tuning in to watch our athletes fighting it out has for many revived the sense of national pride  that had taken something of a battering from the political whirlwind of the last few years. For most of us, this is harmless fun, but it can be all too easy to forget that beneath the cultural posturing and showmanship that Ben Carter has explored in the article he has written for this blog, there lies the prerequisite competitive nationalism that inspired the fascist preoccupation with the Olympics throughout the 1930s and ‘40s. As David Goldblatt, author of The Games: A Global History of the Olympics, has pointed out, the very spectacle of the Olympic Games as we know them today has its roots in Leni Riefenstahl’s, a German film producer active in the production of Nazi propaganda, Olympia. This film featured now outdated anthropological concepts about race as central themes. It is a heritage that can be hard for us to reconcile, and which is often hidden from view as a result.

(Credit: France 1976, via Creative Commons)

Demonstratively, Hitler’s 1936 Games began a new phase in Olympic history, one stemmed only by the outbreak of the Second World War and the aversion to nationalism that arose from it. A phase in which the gentlemanly, largely aristocratic sporting values envisaged by the modern Games’ founder, Baron de Coubertin, were replaced by the nationalist application of social Darwinism that so characterised early twentieth century thought. The school of thought which bred, and was intensified by, the worldwide rise of fascism; most notably in Germany, Spain, Italy and Japan. It is no coincidence that the ‘Phantom Olympics’ of 1940 were due to be held in Tokyo, capital of the increasingly authoritarian and supremacist Japanese Empire, or that their fellow fascists, the Italians, had a gentleman’s agreement with the Japanese to refrain from proposing Rome as a host – Mussolini was subsequently thanked by the Japanese for the ‘generous understanding’ he had shown them. Rome was in fact later put forward as a candidate for the 1944 Games which again never went ahead – losing out in the end to, somewhat prophetically, London.

Contemporaries were well aware of the potential the Olympics held as a political battleground. Barcelona’s Popular Olympics of 1936 were set up in direct opposition to the Berlin Olympics, the rejection of fascism its founding purpose. This wasn’t a fringe movement either – over 20,000 fans and athletes attended the Games. Funding came in from all over Europe, from as far afield as Scandinavia – they were funded by idealogues, not bureaucrats. The Popular Games were ended before they ever began by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil ar, but their anti-fascist legacy didn’t peter out with them. Two hundred of the athletes would later fight alongside the Popular Front against Franco’s government during the Civil War. The Games were ideologically charged at their birth and remained so after their death. These Games were more than a protest. They were a response to the allegations of impotence and antiquity levelled by the fascists against the forces of democracy. They were a demonstration of the virility and youth of the anti-fascist movement. In the 1930s, physical force and political power were inseparable – the Popular Olympians were fighting fire with fire.

Samuel Lake

Politics meets religion: The Ayodhya dispute

Religious violence and contention is by no means unfamiliar to India. Conflicting religious beliefs have been rife for centuries, with historians tracing problematic relations between Hindus and Muslims in the country as far back as the thirteenth century, the time in which the formation of Islamic communities in India began. There is equally a consensus, however, that significant Hindu-Islamic tension is a more recent by-product of Partition in 1947, an event in itself driven by contemporary religious disputes. Nevertheless, conflict between the two religions in India is not confined to history, as recent controversies make it more pertinent than ever in the twenty-first century.

A specific conflict over land, known as the Ayodhya dispute, serves to prove this. A dispute prolific for causing riots and political tension over the last century or so in India, it has arguably caused the most political rupture within the past three decades. This one hundred and fifty year old debate between Hindus and Muslims across India concerns a disputed sacred area of land in Ayodhya, a city in Uttar Pradesh, the northern region of the country. The debate involved a supreme court case in which members of the two religions were both fighting for control and authority over this same plot of land. Indian Muslims are of the belief that a mosque was built on the site by a commander of Babur in the sixteenth century, and thus the site is sacred to them. However, the site is equally sacred to Hindus, as they believe the same site was the birthplace of Lord Ram, a sacred Hindu deity and reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu.

Not unlike other examples of Hindu-Islamic contention across India’s history, violence has been central to this specific dispute from the very beginning. Fears of an outbreak over the case were evident in 1949 when the Indian government made orders denying permission for Muslims to be within two-hundred yards of the site. Concern over potential outbreak turned to violence in 1992, when unrest over the lack of progress in the case broke, and the sacred Ayodhya mosque was torn down and destroyed by the Vishva Hindu Parishad, a right-wing Hindu activist group, acting under the belief that the site was rightfully theirs. This event had national repercussions, triggering a mass of communal riots which left over 2000 dead, most of them Muslims. The Indian government even detained crowds of citizens in Ayodhya amid fears of violence following the final court ruling in 2019.

Hanuman Garhi, a major Hindu temple in Ayodhya close to the site mentioned in this article. Credit

The official end to this case shows the deeply political roots of Hindu-Islamic antagonism. The dispute came to an end in the eyes of the government in 2019, when India’s supreme court finally ruled in favour of the Hindus. This result was no surprise, however, considering the lack of independence of the Indian judiciary – former chief justice Ranjan Gogoi having been appointed by Modi – coupled with the aims of India’s ruling right-wing political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, to define a national doctrine characterised by Hindu nationalism. Thus, it can be argued that this lengthy dispute illustrates a deep modern politicisation of India’s religious conflict, and furthermore, it has infiltrated the heart of the nation’s identity politics. Following the 2019 ruling, Modi, the Prime Minister of India, tweeted that the verdict “shouldn’t be seen as a win or loss for anybody”. Considering this concerns a debate that has severely exemplified the continuation of the polarisation of the country’s two dominating religions in the modern day, this statement blatantly implies sympathies towards Hindu nationalism, particularly as social and religious divisions have only deepened nationally since the BJP came into power in 2014.

Therefore, tensions between the two religions in India are undoubtedly far from over, and mosque-temple disputes are still central to Indian Hindu supremacist politics. Since 2019, other examples of similarly structured temple disputes have risen over similar issues, such as recent court orders in Varanasi this year to investigate whether there is any structural overlapping between Gyanvapi mosque which is adjacent to a Hindu temple. This particular example has unsurprisingly been a decision made by the court following petitions from Hindu nationalist groups, claiming a Muslim emperor demolished part of the Hindu temple in the seventeenth century to build a mosque.

Although antagonism between the two religions is clearly historically rooted in India, right-wing Hindu nationalism is what is continuing to fuel this conflict in the modern day. Thus, until crucial notions of right-wing Hindu nationalism cease to dominate the political landscape of India, further antagonism between the two religions will only continue. 

By Miriam Shelley, Summer Writer

Sport as Conflict

Sport fulfils a number of roles in society: it unifies people and nations behind a team, it provides children with role models, and often brings the international community together through tournaments. It could be said that it has another role— a less violent alternative to war. Nuclear deterrents, increased globalisation, effective international organisations, and a desire not repeat the horrors of the World Wars have made nations unprecedentedly reluctant to engage in warfare. So much so that a border skirmish or an invasion of national airspace causes anxiety. And so, nations have to find a new way to obtain the ends traditionally achieved by large scale war. Proxy wars, economic sanctions, and cyberwarfare do generally fill this void, but a more peaceful alternative is sport. Usually, international competitions are played in good spirit between friendly nations, but often they are politicised by nations seeking to dominate or get back at their rivals, demonstrate supposed superiority, or boost national pride. Ends traditionally achieved by warfare.

The Olympics have repeatedly been used as an outlet for nations to demonstrate supposed superiority. Infamously, Nazi Germany tried and failed to use the 1936 Munich Olympics to showcase ‘Aryan dominance’ only for African American Jesse Owens to win four gold medals. More recently, Communist China has seemingly viewed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as an outlet to demonstrate national and ideological superiority. The ideological aspect was plain to see in the furore caused by two Chinese cyclists wearing pins of Mao Zedong after winning gold. In wearing those pins, the cyclists made clear for what and for whom they were winning their medals.

The Olympics have also been used by major powers in conflict. During the Cold War, the US and its allies famously boycotted Moscow 1980, to which the USSR and its allies retaliated by not attending Los Angeles 1984. In organising boycotts, the two superpowers both voiced their opposition to their rival and also showcased their global influence through the amount of countries they got on board with the boycott. With the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics approaching, worsening relations between China and the West have led to some figures in the US, UK, and Australia to call for a boycott of those games. Once again, conflict between major powers is accompanied by Olympic boycotts.

The 1980 Moscow Olympics. (Credit)

Fortunes on the battlefield were historically tied to national pride. Trafalgar made Nelson a national hero in Britain; Ataturk’s victories mean he is still revered in Turkey. Nowadays, sport has a similar, if not quite as strong, link. Italy’s Euro increases perceptions of 2021 being a good year for them. They have also won Eurovision and are having a political and economic turnaround under new Prime Minister Mario Draghi. Likewise, England reaching the Euros final for the first time coincided with the end of lockdown. The UK was seen as being on an uptick— a reversal of fortunes after a devastating pandemic and sporting failure for the last few decades. The unifying effect the football tournament had, and how many commentators argued that the England team came to ‘embody Englishness’, is testimony to the powerful effect of sport. England’s national pride was inexorably tied to football.

On the flip side, losing competitions to major rivals can wound national pride. The Tokyo Olympics once again provide an example of this when the Taiwanese badminton team beat the reigning Chinese champions. This provoked outrage among Chinese nationalists at the thought of being beaten by a country which they perceive as a breakaway province.

On that note, sporting competitions provide an opportunity for revanchism and to ‘get back’ at countries which players’ nations have been in conflict with. Famously this occurred in the 1956 Olympics during a water polo match between Hungary and the USSR. Hungary had recently been invaded by Soviet forces, something the Hungarian water polo team witnessed. When the competition went ahead, the match turned violent and a Hungarian player left with a bloody gash on his head, leading to it being dubbed the ‘Blood in the Water’ match. Recent controversy was abound in the Euros when Serbian-Austrian striker Marko Arnautovic made derogatory comments to the North Macedonian football team. The Balkan country has recently had tense relations with Serbia over its decision to support Kosovo.

And so, there are clearly ways in which nations use sport to fulfil the traditional role of conflict. Sports allow nations to best their rivals in a way that they cannot with other alternatives to conflict (such as proxy wars, cyberwarfare or sanctions). Likewise, sporting dominance is an alternate way to boost national pride in a similar way that military dominance did so in previous centuries. Nonetheless, sports between actual rival nations does not negate conflict, but rather creates another outlet for it. Taiwan may have beaten the PRC in a badminton match, but this does not mean actual war between the two countries may not break out. The US and USSR did boycott each other’s Olympics, but this did not negate that they were always at the brink of war. International tournaments, in many scenarios, are simply the modern, peaceful rendition of the age-old desire for nations to best each other.

Jonas Balkus, Summer Writer

Hong Kong issues: Brief summary of how the UK ruled Hong Kong during the early 20th century


Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 to 1997. How it was actually run is rarely discussed, especially nowadays. Let’s look at four main features of the British administration in the early 20th century (1900 – 1941). 

The view from Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. (Credit: China Highlights)

Executive-led government 

During the period, the whole government was mainly led by the executive branch, i.e. the Governor. The Governor was the president of councils and had the right to appoint and dismiss members of the legislative and executive council. Governor-led government secretaries make and propose all bills and policies. The councils played merely consultative and not binding roles. Ultimately, legislation was proposed, approved and passed by the executive branch. Then it was ‘rubber-stamped’ by the legislative council.

The executive branch also had enormous power spanning a vast range of areas. The Governor exercised tremendous judicial powers by having the power to dismiss and appoint judges and grant amnesty to prisoners. Being the Commander-in-chief of the British force in Hong Kong, the Governor was also in charge of military and foreign affairs. There was no separation of powers for smooth administration. It is fair to say that the government was led by the executive and was a ‘one branch band’.

Lacked legitimacy 

The legitimacy of a government refers to the approval by a majority of the population. During the period, the nature of the British colonial government led to its low legitimacy. At that time, 98% of the population were Chinese and only 2% were foreigners. Also, it was the early years of the British government officially taking over the whole administration. It is expected that local Chinese did not trust the British colonial government. What is more, the reason the British government occupied Hong Kong is that China lost a war against the British. In the minds of the Chinese in Hong Kong, the British were enemies that invaded their motherland; some Chinese in Hong Kong hated the British administration. 

The local Chinese did not feel that the Governor cared about them. The Letters patent, Royal instructions and Colonial Regulations guaranteed the Governor’s ruling power. This means that he was not empowered by the general public. The Governor was also nominated by, thus answerable to, the British Prime Minister, and not the people. It was simply impossible for a local Chinese to relate to or feel represented by the government. 

Nor were British administration willing to let locals participate in the governance in any meaningful sense. Elections were only held in one council, the Urban Council, and only for 2 of the 13 seats. It was also hard for local Chinese to actually be inside the administration, as shown by the lack of Chinese personnel. Local Chinese had no representation in the government who could voice their demands. Officials were usually British merchants. The civil service was also monopolised by British people with key positions all occupied by British people. 

Indirect rule featuring control and conciliation 

The low legitimacy of the British colonial administration led to riots and strikes in the early years. For example, there was the Seamen’s Strike in 1922 and the Guangdong Hong Kong General Strike in 1925. The British administration also suffered ineffective implementation of policies as the local Chinese simply did not support the policies. For instance, the local inhabitants in the New Territories firmly resisted the UK’s Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory. In 1923, they strongly resisted the policy regulating the building of houses. All these incidents forced the British administration to come up with new measures to maintain peace and order. 

The first measure was indirect ruling featuring control. Western education was carried out and local Chinese had to learn English. The second measure was indirect ruling featuring conciliation. Small groups of influential Chinese elites and businessmen were allowed to participate in politics to smooth tensions regarding the lack of Chinese representatives. For instance, Mr Chow Shouson, an influential Chinese man, was a consultant and mediator for the government. The government also placed heavy emphasis on these people’s opinions as they understand the local culture better. The local Chinese’s resentment towards western officials was mitigated in this way. The government also set up channels to listen to the needs of the local Chinese. For example, in 1926, Heung Yee Kuk was set up to deal with affairs in the New Territories. The British colonial government hoped that the local Chinese would feel valued and their disobedience would reduce. Other conciliatory measures were implemented, with permission given for firecrackers to be set off in the New Territories during the Lunar New Year as one illustration of how the British administration would avoid meddling in the Chinese traditional lifestyle. In addition, all male indigenous residents were allowed to own a piece of land in the New Territories, another measure by the British administration to please the local Chinese. 

Discrimination against Chinese 

The last feature of the early British colonial administration is that most measures discriminated against local Chinese. Discrimination was serious within the government. As mentioned above, local Chinese had no representation in the government as officials were usually foreigners. In the civil service, British civil servants had higher salaries and better benefits compared to Chinese civil servants of the same rank. 

In socio-economic policies, discrimination was equally clear. For example, the Peak District Reservation Ordinance restricted local Chinese from living in the Peak District which had a cooler temperature and excellent views of the city. Clubs such as The Hong Kong Club and Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club only served whites. Perhaps most strikingly, English was the only official language and the legal system was all in English. As a result, local Chinese would be greatly disadvantaged in trials as they could not even understand the language. It is shown that most policies were highly discriminating against local Chinese. 

Chan Stephanie Sheena

NATO summit: How to Avoid a New Cold War?

The 28th NATO summit on Monday, 14 June 2021, saw the members of the Organization step up their tone regarding China and Russia. Both powers have demonstrated a certain aggressiveness in their foreign policies while also forming alliances that pose threats to the international alliance of 30 European and North American nations.  

The summit could certainly be deemed successful from a diplomatic point of view: the essential task of agreeing a common strategy until 2030 between the Allies was completed. NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg noted that “[t]o do more, Allies agreed that we need to invest more together in NATO”. This investment is to be made in the military, civil and infrastructural sectors of the alliance to ensure it is ready to “face the challenges of today and tomorrow”. 

NATO summit in Brussels, 14 June 2021. (Credit: CSactu)

Among these challenges feature cybersecurity, terrorism and the rise of authoritarianism. The summit centered on the imminent problems relating to Russia and China in particular. Notable among these is their aggressiveness on the international scene and the threat they pose to European and American security. The Allies however reaffirmed the importance of defending “our values and interests”, especially “at a time when authoritarian regimes like Russia and China challenge the rules-based order”. This strong separation between Russia and China on one side and NATO countries on the other hand is polarising; the words “Cold War” do not seem that far out of reach. 

When looking back at history, we can notice an astounding number of parallels, but also of differences, with the political tensions of today. The Cold War was born out ofof the most horrifying conflict of the twentieth century and left the world barely a minute of peace before the separation into Eastern and Western blocs began. Yet as in the twentieth century, political powers find themselves in similar camps: the influence of the US under Biden has grown, and its alliance with Europe is thus stable; Russia, successor to the Soviet Union, stands again in defiance of the traditionally “Western” nations, and large parts of Africa and South America function once more as zones of influence and battlefields of obscure conflicts between the two traditional opponents. Of course, there are differences between the civil war in Syria, which sees Russia aiding the regime and Western powers indirectly supporting rebel forces, and the Vietnam War; yet they both fall into the category of proxy wars, which, ultimately, are a sign of continuing tensions between Western and Eastern powers through their relations to respective opponents in such national conflicts. One difference that must be noted however, is the threat of nuclear war so directly associated with the Cold War. While this threat has, in relative terms, not at all diminished today, nuclear armament became a symbol of the period between 1950 and 1970, when notably the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation.

With these events still very much present in the political and military memory, communication from NATO during the 2021 Summit has thus been very specific: a new Cold War is to be avoided at all costs. Ideally, this would best work through cooperation with respective opposing powers to ensure global peace as effectively as possible. Cooperation is however not always a given, especially with regards to China and Russia. NATO thus faces a difficult balancing act between marking its territory on the international scene and de-escalating potential conflicts with aggressive counterparts. 

Concerning Russia, NATO is trying to follow a dual approach of diplomatic dialogue and defence. The effectiveness of this approach has however been less than satisfactory until now; it has neither deterred Russia from attacking Georgia in 2008, nor annexing Crimea and supporting separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine in 2014. While NATO troops are present in the Baltic states and Poland to defend Europe’s borders, this has not kept Moscow from conducting menacing military manoeuvres on its side of the frontier.

China on the other hand is a relatively new and different threat, as its power has considerably increased over the last few decades in comparison to its role in the Cold War. In stark contrast to the 1970s, China is now being considered an actual enemy by the US and Europe, whereas it was once seen as a possible ally against the Soviet Republic. Nowadays, China does not share a direct border with NATO members, unlike Russia; yet this does not mean that it has not become a military threat. While it does not have the traditional status like Russia of being the “West’s” – and especially America’s – enemy, it has shown the same expansionary ambitions and defiance as Moscow. The situation today is thus different from the second half of the twentieth century; China has taken over Russia’s role as the communist power defying the US, yet has to co-exist with Moscow, which has only stepped up its expansionary attempts. In a bid to compete, Chinese aggressions reach from territorial threats towards Taiwan and Hongkong to oppressing the Uyghur minority; China thus makes clear that the world is no longer led by a “small group of countries”, as Chinese officials said following criticism from the G7.

There lies perhaps another problem. Even though NATO is formed of nations with similar interests and sometimes long-standing histories of alliance, it is far from unified. Its individual member states still have differing objectives and approaches to foreign policy and matters of defence. This makes a globalised approach to security concerns difficult. The agreement on the 2030 Agenda suggests however a willingness for more cooperation and more specific goals for the alliance. It is to be hoped that nobody outside NATO seeks military escalation; after all, a new Cold War would be in nobody’s interest. Not even Russia and China, ostensibly aggressive, would wish for a global conflict on that scale, contrary to the escalations between 1950 and 1960, when the threat of war became once again very real for the world. However, it will take a joint effort from NATO and those outside of the alliance to ensure global peace as it is now.

Cristina Coellen, History in Politics Contributor