Thursday November 28, 2013
I have to say, I don't envy either the First Emperor or the Last Emperor of China. First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi united the country for the first time in 246 BCE through military skill and ruthlessness, only to have it fall apart again soon after his death. A death that came from lead poisoning, ironically, caused by his search for the Elixir of Life.
On the other hand, the Last Emperor Puyi of the Qing Dynasty nominally ruled China as a small child in the early 20th century, but then spent the rest of his life as either a puppet or a prisoner. As emperors go, he definitely was dealt a terrible hand. In fact, I'm not sure which of them had it worse... but on the whole, I'm inclined to think it was Puyi. He didn't even get any terracotta warriors - just a simple cremation.
Saturday November 23, 2013
The Crimean Tatars have a long history in Eastern Europe, reaching back to the Mongols' Golden Horde. However, Joseph Stalin accused them as an entire people of collaborating with the Nazis, and deported them en masse to Uzbekistan in 1944.
In the decades since the Soviet Union fell, Crimean Tatars have been making their way back to the Crimean Peninsula. Today, slightly less than half of the total Tatar population lives there, in what is now Ukraine. They make up just 15% of the population of the Crimea region, though.
In the last week, delegates to the World Congress of Crimean Tatars met at Simferopol to draw up a political agenda. Their issues range from provision of water and electricity to Tatar settlements, to the use of Tatar as an official language.
Photo by timurberk on Flickr.com.
Wednesday November 20, 2013
This year's Commonwealth summit in Colombo, Sri Lanka, has been dominated by the question of whether the host government has been guilty of war crimes. Both Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, and Stephen Harper of Canada boycotted the summit. British Prime Minister David Cameron attended, but called for "proper inquiries" into the final phase of the Sri Lankan Civil War (1983 - 2009), in which as many as 40,000 civilians may have died, mostly from government shelling of Tamil Tiger strongholds in the north of the island.
Over the decades of the conflict, the Sri Lankan government allegedly used torture, rape, disappearances, and massacres of civilians in its fight against the Tamil Tigers. The guerrillas used car bombings, assassinations, and massacres as well. In fact, war crimes investigations would have a lot of ground to cover on both sides of the conflict.
Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images.
Monday November 11, 2013
In 1727, the Russian Empire and the Qing Dynasty, rulers of China, decided to clarify the border between their empires. The line was supposed to run between Siberia and Mongolia, which was under Chinese rule at the time.
Diplomacy was complicated, however, by the fact that the negotiators had no languages in common. The Qing negotiators spoke Manchu and some Mongol, but they also had brought along a couple of Jesuit missionaries. The Russian negotiators spoke Russian, Latin, and a bit of Mongol.
Oddly enough, as a result, the Treaty of Kyakhta was negotiated and drafted in Latin, with the Jesuits acting as interpreters for the Qing diplomats. Unofficial communications were carried out in Mongol. The completed treaty was published in Latin, Manchu, and Russian - but not in Chinese.
Photo of northern Mongolia by John Lind.