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Chinese Republic Begins and National Bloody Mary Day

Well, happy 2018 to my faithful readers (all five of you), and welcome to a new year of exciting yet well-written tidbits that you need to proceed with your day…or not.

The first of January became a holiday of sorts only in recent years, so a lot of things happened before the 20th century on the first day of the year, which was first observed in 45 BC in Rome. The last gladiator exposition was in Rome on this day in 404 AD, somewhat later than some fiction writers have it.  Muhammad traditionally set out from Mecca to Medina on this day in 630. Nagahito, who would become the 111th, or Go-Sai Emperor of Japan, was born on this day in 1638. In 1660 Samuel Pepys (pronounced “peeps”) began his brief career as a diarist, the most important entry being his description of the Great Fire of London in 1666. Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar on this day in 1893, at least starting to join the rest of the world in timekeeping.  The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics began on this day in 1923–and broke up on the same day in 1992. The Showa Emperor Hirohito renounced his divinity on this day in 1946–a pragmatic undertaking much less momentous than most Western observers want to think. And finally, on this day in 2000, the world didn’t end: Y2K that many of us remember wasn’t the computer apocalypse that many thought would befall us. It’s also National Thank God It’s Monday Day, and National Hangover Day.  But, today, we talk about the first Chinese Republic, and about Bloody Marys.

This first war with Japan was a disaster for China, which lost control not only of its old satrap in Korea but both the Shantung and the Liaotung Peninsulas. 

The Manchu (Qing) dynasty of China was no better than any other dynasty at addressing its two perennial problems: protecting its long and remote borders, and feeding its ever-growing population that had quadrupled in four centuries. Its chronic institutional weakness made the incursion of European powers easy and profitable, establishing policies of “extraterritoriality” in their enclaves that immunized them from Chinese law.  In 1894 Japan went to war with China over Korea and the two peninsulas edging the Bohai and Yellow Seas to the east of the Korean Peninsula. This first war with Japan was a disaster for China, which lost control not only of its old satrap in Korea but both the Shantung and the Liaotung Peninsulas.

When the old emperor and empress died within hours of each other in November 1908, they left a not-quite-three-year old Puyi on the throne.

By 1899 this defeat and the abuse by Europeans gave rise to a series of anti-Western and anti-Christian riots called the Boxer Rebellion (less a “rebellion” than it was an attempt to oust the foreign powers and influences).  The insurgency against outside influence in China, supported by the Manchus, was put down by a coalition of European, American and Japanese forces in 1900, and new demands made on China as reparations. These reparations broke the back of the Manchu treasury, but worse, practically destroyed public confidence in Chinese government institutions. It was a signal for sweeping reforms, including the abolition of imperial examinations for civil service and the replacement of nearly all civil governors.  When the old emperor and empress died within hours of each other in November 1908, they left a not-quite-three-year old Puyi on the throne and his father, Prince Chun, as regent.

On 1 January 1912 the Tongmenghui announced the formation of the Republic of China, with Sun Yat-sen (his best known name) at its head.

As is always the case, might is right, and power is self-justifying. The Wuchang Uprising on 10 October 1911, which later became known as the beginning of the Xinhai Revolution (known in the West as the Gearwheel Revolution), was the first victory of the Hubei-based New Army.  On 1 January 1912, as a result of their signal victory, the Tongmenghui (variously known as the Chinese Alliance, the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance, the Chinese United League, the United League, and the United Allegiance Society) announced the formation of the Republic of China, with Sun Yat-sen (his best known name) at its head. On 12 February, the boy emperor was abdicated, and the “republic” in the heart of China had only a dozen or so warlords to defeat before it became a sovereign fact.


Today is also National Bloody Mary Day, for reasons both obvious and not. The first “Bloody Mary” was Mary I of England, the first child of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Raised largely by her mother’s priests and nuns, Mary was more devout than most Catholics of the time, and had hundreds of Protestants (including those sanctioned by her father) burned, beheaded or tortured to death.

Other Bloody Marys have been engendered in folklore, bearing the old name that Mary I earned. The best known involves young women invoking Bloody Mary spirits to see the face of her future husband–or a skull if she were to die a spinster. Since some of these rituals involved walking up stairs backwards in a darkened house wearing floor-length skirts with a candle in one hand and a mirror in the other…yeah, hardly surprising they should die alone, and young.

But the best known Bloody Mary to modern audiences is the concoction of vodka, tomato juice and various spices and flavorings often used to chase away evil spirits that were imbibed on The Morning After The Day Before–a hangover treatment if not cure. The earliest claimant to this invention is barkeep Fernand Petiot at Harry’s New York Bar (or the Ritz, depending on source) in Paris in 1921. Henry Zbikiewicz was charged with making one at Club 21 in New York during Prohibition. George Jessel was also said to have invented the concoction, also at 21.  Whoever and wherever the thing was first made, I prefer the Virgin Mary, which has everything but the booze. Since I don’t drink booze enough to get blasted anymore (and vodka ain’t on my list), I don’t need the spicy concoction it for its supposed therapeutic qualities (which, according to authorities, provides salt and hydration to the system, and according to legend is just the Hair of the Dog that Bit You).

Given a choice between all the options, I think the national day probably relates more to the beverage, though no one seems quite sure where or when the name originates or when the day tradition was begun (Nationaldaycalendar.com will “register and proclaim” any “national” or other day you should want).  Vodka makers are more than happy to proclaim the day, and one source states (without foundation) that the drink is named for Mary I.  Recipes abound, these from last year.

Ah, well.  Yet another of those unprovables that dot the annals of history.

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USS Cairo, USS Panay, SS Normandie, Hovercraft and Keeping Friends after the Election

So today we’re at sea…or at least on the water.  Yes, we know all about Washington DC being established as the US capitol  on 12 December 1800, and the donation of so much swampland in Manhattan for the UN in 1946, even the birth of Stand Watie in 1806 and the Maastricht Treaty in 1991.  Today, we’re afloat.

In June, at Memphis,  Cairo was a part of the largest naval battle fought on the Mississippi.

The lead vessel in the City class ironclad gunboats built on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the Civil War, USS Cairo was built by the Eads firm in Mound City, Illinois. Cairo displaced about 512 tons and was armed with 3 8-inch Dahlgren guns throughout her service, with a number of different rifled smoothbore guns (13 when she was commissioned in January 1862; 12 in November).  Cairo participated in the occupation of Clarksville, Tennessee on the Tennessee river in February 1962, in the occupation of Nashville later in the month, and was on the Mississippi by April, escorting mortar rafts at Fort Pillow. In June, at Memphis,  Cairo was a part of the largest naval battle fought on the Mississippi. In November, Cairo became a part of the Yazoo Pass expedition, an ill-fated attempt to outflank Vicksburg.  On 12 December, 1862, Cairo was sunk by a command-detonated mine, the first warship to ever be sunk by such a device.  Rediscovered in 1956, Cairo was raised in 1965 and is on display at Vicksburg.

In 1937, after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Panay was increasingly called on to evacuate Americans in the path of the oncoming Japanese.

Built on the other side of the world for the US Navy, USS Panay (PR-5) was built at the Kiangnan Dockyard and Engineering Works, Shanghai for Yangtze River service and launched in November 1927.  Panay (named for an island in the Philippines) was armed with a single 3-in main gun and a number of small arms: her only mission was the protection of American citizens, missions and property along the river against the lawless elements that roamed China during her civil war. In 1937, after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Panay was increasingly called on to evacuate Americans in the path of the oncoming Japanese. On 12 December 1937, Panay and a number of other non-Chinese vessels carrying evacuees were attacked by Japanese aircraft above Nanking. Unknown to the Japanese at the time, a number of newsreel photographers on Panay shot the entire incident, right up until the little gunboat sank. The “Panay Incident” became an international sensation, and an embarrassment to the Japanese. Though reparations were paid in the amount of $2.2 million, relations between the US and Japan deteriorated.

A very fast ship that could cross the Atlantic in less than four days carrying more than 1,400 passengers, neither the French nor anyone else wanted Normandie to fall into German hands: the threat of surface raiders alone was compelling enough.

Before 1941, many of the largest European ocean liners had docked in neutral countries.  SS Normandie, an 86,000 ton French liner belonging to the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique out of Le Havre, had been interned in New York on 3 September 1939. A very fast ship that could cross the Atlantic in less than four days carrying more than 1,400 passengers, neither the French nor anyone else wanted Normandie to fall into German hands: the threat of surface raiders alone was compelling enough.  Though her crew stayed aboard and her captain still commanded, she was going nowhere.  On 12 December 1941, five days after Pearl Harbor, the US Navy seized Normandie.  Conversion into a troopship named USS Lafayette commenced almost immediately, but a fire gutted and capsized her at the dockyard.  She was raised and scrapped in 1946.

Though they are considered aircraft by some, the first successful hovercraft (able to travel on water or land) prototype was demonstrated on 12 December 1955 by Christopher Cockerell.

The use of air cushions to make vehicles “float” had its origins in the 1870s, but powerplants were lacking for construction. An “air cushion boat” was built and demonstrated in Austria during WWI, but it died of lack of interest. Though they are considered aircraft by some, the first successful hovercraft (able to travel on water or land) prototype was demonstrated on 12 December 1955 by Christopher Cockerell. At the time the entire concept of a vehicle that traveled on a cushion of air was deemed classified in Britain, so funding had to come from either the Ministry of Defense or nowhere else. But the RAF called it a boat, and the RN called it an airplane, and the British Army simply wasn’t interested.  The idea languished for a short time until MoD realized that if no one in the defense establishment was interested, then it could hardly be a secret.

…there is still reason to find common ground in mutual disgust of the bobbleheads that the political establishment–even those beyond the usual Ds and Rs–seem to be putting up for the sake of friendship.

I have had exchanges with some of my oldest friends (some going back to the days of Nixon) over the consequences of the November election. Though I realize that our politics don’t always align, that doesn’t mean that we can’t find common ground somewhere, at least in shared experience over a lifetime. In all these cases when my interlocutor expresses anguish or anger over the defeat of Clinton,  I found myself condemning all the candidates at being unworthy of our votes as a means of keeping peace: the exercise of a franchise that the world envies, and all too many people either ignore or find to be too tedious to be used.  Putting a pox on all their houses in this way has been surprisingly effective.  None of my more left-leaning friends or even relatives have found any reason to defend either the Greens or the Democrats, other than that, well, they didn’t have Trump on the ticket.  Similarly, no one has any great love for the Republicans, or have considered the Libertarians anything more than a distraction. As much as I believe the American electoral system has been corrupted by both money, favoritism and blatant media biases among other abuses, there is still reason to find common ground in mutual disgust of the bobbleheads that the political establishment–even those beyond the usual Ds and Rs–seem to be putting up for the sake of friendship. Then again, the minute media scrutiny that anyone in the spotlight is subject to is not for everyone.  I do wish that the major media would pay more attention to policy statements than to sound bites; past sins of word, thought and deed; recent gaffes and irrelevant current peccadilloes. Maybe someone, somewhere in some position of influence has never had a speeding ticket, never said anything that would potentially offend a future audience, or changed their minds on any issue, ever. Maybe, but not likely.

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12 November: Sun Yat-sen and Akihito

For Asia, 12 November has been an auspicious day.  In China, a future leading reformer was born; in Japan, an emperor was installed.  Ironically, the first had a role in ensuring the second.

In 1866, Sun Yat-sen was born during what was then the Qing (in the West, the Manchu) dynasty of China.  As a young man Yat-sen (of his many names, this one will be used) was educated first in Hawaii, then in Hong Kong under missionary hospital doctors, picking up fluent English.  Soon after he was licensed to practice medicine and was baptized a Christian, he fell into revolutionary movements and was exiled in 1895.  While living in Japan he was active in arming the Philippine nationalists against the Americans.  Traveling extensively in Europe, Asia and the Americas to raise money for one failed revolt after another from 1900 to 1907, another failed revolt had him exiled to Japan once again.  The successful 1911 Wuchang uprising caught him by surprise and still in America.  He had returned to China by the end of the year.  Elected the provisional president of a Chinese republic, he took office 1 January 1912.  But he was not president of a great country, but a lot of territory with an economy in a shambles, a government without any enforcement power, and several splintered factions.  While he was popular enough to stay in power, stepping down and up again several times, his influence over most of China’s affairs was limited to the power of the warlords who backed him, and they changed with the seasons.  At his death in 1925 China had got rid of the empire, but not of its internal issues.

On 12 November 1990, Japan’s Emperor Akihito was enthroned.  As the 125th (traditionally) emperor, he succeeded when his father the Showa emperor Hirohito died in 1989.  As a teenager in 1945, Akihito received a much-ignored letter from his father, which explained why the emperor issued his Imperial Rescript withdrawing his support for the war.  The reasons the Showa cited were that they dynasty had to survive even if he did not, and the soul of Japan, then embodied in the Imperial Objects, could not fall into non-Japanese hands. Though likely too young to understand the implications, it would appear to Japan watchers that Akihito took his father’s implied admonition to heart: the first duty of the emperor is to serve the throne and the dynasty.  As the first emperor in a dynasty over two millennium old who did not accept living divine status, his service, indeed his life, is as the symbol of modern Japan and little else.

While Sun Yat-sen died years before Akihito was born, the chaos that China’s civil wars fueled from 1911 onward made China a tempting target for Japan.  While the United States always had a soft spot for China, its sympathies for Japan have waxed and waned over the past century.  When Japan went to war with China starting in 1932 (technically with Manchuria, which was legally separate at the time) it was because Yat-sen’s constant revolution weakened China so severely that Japan merely took the opportunity for expansion.  After a generation of war, America and China stood over the wreckage of Japan, yet preserved the monarchy.