During his lifetime, Mohandas Gandhi famously lived in a simple and aesthetic style. Some of his few belongings recently went up on auction in England, including his sandals and his last will and testament. Other items on offer included, creepily, a sample of his blood - thankfully, that item did not sell.
It's interesting to consider what the spiritual leader of the Indian Independence movement would think of having his shoes and other belongings sold this way. What's more, they are being auctioned off in the very country that once declared the peace-loving Mahatma a terrorist.
Photo from Hulton Archive / Getty Images.
The current Japanese Constitution, which Emperor Hirohito signed into law after World War II, was essentially imposed on Japan by the United States. As the occupying power, the US sought to demilitarize and democratize its defeated foe. One key element in that agenda was Article 9, which bars Japan from having armed forces, with the exception of a small self-defense force.
Now, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his government are pushing to amend Article 96, which requires a two-thirds majority of the Diet (Parliament) to approve constitutional amendments before a public referendum. Abe wants a simple majority to suffice. Once constitutional amendments are easier to push through, Article 9 and its limits on Japan's military power are likely to be the first provisions to get the ax.
All of this talk about reconstituting Japan's army and navy is making neighbors like South Korea and China nervous. As Japan's economy stagnates, nationalism may grow there once again - a possibility that fills the other nations in the region with anxiety and bitter memories.
Sectarian clashes between members of the Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority in western Myanmar (Burma) have claimed hundreds of lives over the past year. Yesterday, the Dalai Lama, the world's most famous Buddhist leader, spoke out against the violence - especially that perpetrated or encouraged by Buddhist monks in Myanmar.
The Dalai Lama, who lives in India since he was forced into exile from Tibet in 1959, told an audience at the University of Maryland: "I pray for (the monks) to think of the face of Buddha." The Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar makes up only about five percent of the population, and attacks on them have increased since the government began democratizing reforms in 2011.
Photo by Paula Bronstein / Getty Images.
Last Wednesday, April 24, Syrian troops reportedly fired mortar shells at the minaret of the Great Mosque in Aleppo, Syria, completely destroying the 11th century tower. The Great Mosque is a part of the Ancient City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and was built during the Umayyad Caliphate. The minaret that was destroyed last week was added during the Abbasid Caliphate's reign, c. 1090.
This senseless destruction comes less than a week after troops brought down the minaret of the 7th century Omari Mosque in Daraa, in southern Syria. Government troops appear to be targeting these historic sites because the Syrian opposition forces have used mosques as rallying points in the on-going Syrian Civil War. It's a disgrace that these monuments that have stood for so long, even surviving the Crusades, are now being blown to pieces by Bashar al-Assad's tottering regime.
Photo of the Great Mosque's minaret by Michele Falzone / Getty Images.
Violence has broken out once more in the Xinjiang region of western China, home to the Uighur ethnic minority. At least 21 people have been killed in what appears to have been a feud between a prominent Uighur family and local Han Chinese authorities.
Beijing has encouraged masses of Han Chinese to emigrate to Xinjiang, which Uighur activists call East Turkestan. Chinese in the region often get the best jobs, and so many have flooded in that the Uighurs now make up only 45% of the population in their own semi-autonomous region.
Photo by China Photos / Getty Images.
April 29 marks "Showa Day" in Japan, in memory of Emperor Hirohito. Hirohito ruled the country for an incredible 63 years, from 1926 to 1989, which included the catastrophic World War II era as well as Japan's postwar economic miracle.
The emperor was born on this date in 1901. Showa is his posthumous throne name, and his reign is called the Showa Period. Hirohito was succeeded by his son Akihito, the current emperor of Japan.
Photo of Emperor Hirohito in 1946 from Underwood Archive / Getty Images.
During the reign of the five Delhi Sultanates in northern India, the region faced three invasions from famous Central Asian warriors - warriors with intricate family connections.
The first invasion came from Genghis Khan's Mongol Empire in 1221; the Khilji Dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate fended it off. In 1398, Timur or Tamerlane invaded and sacked Delhi, but he did not stick around. Timur is rumored to be descended from Genghis Khan on his mother's side, but the rumor likely is unfounded.
The coup de main came in 1526 from Babur, who overthrew the fifth Delhi Sultanate and founded the Mughal Empire, which lasted until 1857. Babur united the blood of the other invaders in his veins - he was descended from Genghis Khan on his mother's side, and from Timur on his father's.
Miniature of the First Battle of Panipat via Wikipedia.
A few people have asked me if I have any history of Chechnya on my website, in light of the Boston Marathon bombings and the revelation that the suspects were brothers of Chechen origin.
The Chechen Republic is part of the Russian Federation, which of course covers a large portion of the Eurasian continent. Chechnya, however, is in the European part of Russia - specifically, the North Caucasus mountains of southeastern Europe, between the Black and Caspian Seas.
The Tarnaev brothers who are suspected of planting the bombs reportedly spent much of their childhoods in Kyrgyzstan and then in Boston. Another Asian History link is that the elder brother was named Tamerlan, presumably after Tamerlane or Timur, the 14th century conqueror.
Map via Wikipedia.
Their stories are among the most heart-breaking to come out of World War II; young women and girls, some not even in their teens yet, forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese armed forces in Korea, China, the Philippines and elsewhere. As time passes, however, the "comfort women" who survived their ordeal are passing away.
A Korean photojournalist living in Japan, Ahn Sehong, has traveled into China to find ethnic-Korean comfort women who wound up stranded in China when World War II ended, and who have lived out their lives there, severed from their Korean roots. His haunting photographs of these elderly survivors were featured in a recent New York Times blog. They will be on display at the Korea Press Center in Palisades Park, New Jersey through April 18, 2013.
Ahn has done his part to ensure that the world never forgets these women, and all that they endured.
Photo of surviving comfort women in South Korea by Chung Sung Jun / Getty Images.
In recent days, tensions between North Korea and its neighbors, as well as its neighbors' allies, have racheted up considerably. Nobody outside of North Korea is entirely sure why this is the case. In all likelihood, internal North Korean power jockeying has as much to do with the increased threats and sabre-rattling as do the annual joint military exercises between South Korea and the US.
From a historical perspective, however, the trouble on the Korean Peninsula begs the question: Why is Korea divided, anyway? How did this happen?
As it turns out, the 1945 separation of Korea into two rather hostile neighbors was just an afterthought. An afterthought that, unfortunately, remains one of the world's hottest hot-spots.
Photo by Jeon Heon Kyun / Getty Images.