TDISH: Fear Leads to Hate

On the Union Pacific Railway’s coal mine in Rock Springs, Wyoming, two groups of miners labored to provide the hungry boilers of the steam engines that criss-crossed the rails.  These groups, white miners and Chinese miners, were in the midst of a dispute over who would be responsible for mining the most productive part of the mine.  Men were paid by the ton and working the most desirable areas of the mine meant more money with less labor.  The white miners were members of the labor union, the Knights of Labor, and were working to get the mine owners to stop hiring Chinese miners and, failing in that, to relegate them to the most challenging and least rewarding areas of the mine.  When they failed to achieve their goals, some members of the Knights of Labor decided to take matters into their own hands.  During the day of September 2, 1885, several union members attacked two Chinese miners working causing the remaining miners to retreat back to the safety of the Chinatown region of Rock Springs.  That evening, more members of the Knights of Labor made their way to Chinatown and, in what would become a pattern of anti-Chinese violence around the United States, took out their aggression on their “competition.”  The white miners ransacked Chinatown, killing at least 28 Chinese miners and wounding many others.  To make matters even worse, some of the bodies were mutilated or burned after death demonstrating the depth of hatred that was felt towards these men.  Sixteen members of the Knights of Labor were arrested, but the grand jury of Rock Springs refused to bring any charges.  No one was ever prosecuted for this heinous crime.

Featured Image: “Massacre at Rocky Springs.” By Thulstrup, Thure de, 1848-1930 – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b42624. Harper’s Weekly. Volume 29.  Public Domain.
Source: ““To This We Dissented”: The Rock Springs Riot.History Matters.

TDISH: A Dangerous Precedent

On July 16, 1948, a small commercial seaplane took off from Macau for a short trip to Hong Kong.  The plane, the Miss Macao, was a modified Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina and was making what should have been a routine run, transporting wealthy passengers from the Portuguese-held Macau to the British-owned Hong Kong.  Somewhere over the Pearl River estuary, four of the 23 passengers rushed the cockpit and, in what amounted to a smash-and-grab attempt, tried to rob the wealthy passengers of their valuables.  In the struggle ensued, both pilots were shot and killed, causing the plane to nosedive into the sea below.  The impact killed 25 of the 26 people on board, with the only survivor being Wong Yu, the confessed leader of the plot.  This tragedy marked the first time a commercial plane would ever be hijacked.  Unfortunately, it would certainly not be the last.

On This Day: First Commercial Flight Hijacked.” Finding Dulcinea. 16 July 2010.
Featured Image: “PBY-5 Catalina.” By U.S. Navy – Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-K-14896 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command, Public Domain.

HSF: Port Arthur: A Tragedy of Errors

On a cold, dark night in February, 1904, Vice Admiral Oskar Victorovich Stark and the other elite members of the Russian East Asian society were gathered aboard the Admiral’s flagship to Oskar_Victorovich_Stark.jpgcelebrate the birthday of Stark’s wife.  The ship, the Petropavlovsk, was one of 16 ships that lay at anchor in the harbor of Port Arthur, Manchuria – a recently acquired naval facility acquired by the Russians from the weak Qing Dynasty of China.  Stark and his superior, viceroy of the Far East, Evgenii Alekseev, knew that there were tensions between their country and that Far Eastern island upstart, but they did not feel the need to worry.  The glorious Russian Empire controlled a full sixth of the land on Earth.  Little, resource-poor, and recently arrived on the world stage, Japan couldn’t pose a threat to Russia, could it?

True, ten years ago, Japan had defeated massive China in a war.  Quite the upset.  But China was an ossified power, stuck in the past – not a modern military force with many recent wars under its belt, like Russia.  True, Japan was still smarting from the diplomatic defeat they suffered after beating China.  The Japanese military had won control over large portions of the Korean peninsula and the Liaodong Peninsula, including Port Arthur where the Russian fleet sat.  In a master-stroke of diplomacy, the Russian government put pressure on Japan to be lenient on China – allowing Japan to maintain its unofficial sphere of influence over Korea and its territorial gains to the south, but the northern Liaodong Peninsula stayed with the Chinese.  How selfless of the Russians, right?  Helping their weak neighbors to the south to avoid losing a key piece of territory.  Well, not so much.  Just a few short years after this intervention on the side of the Middle Kingdom, Russia coerced the Qing Emperor to lease them the Port Arthur portion of the peninsula for a period of 25 years.  The Japanese were not happy with this development – clearly the Russians had kept Japan from taking control of the Liaodong because the Russians wanted it for themselves.  From their foothold in the warm water port at Port Arthur and from their Eastern headquarters in Vladivostok, the Russians extended their sphere of influence to cover much of Manchuria – a resource-rich land that the Japanese sorely coveted.  The stage was set for tension and perhaps war.

As Admiral Stark and his friends celebrated his wife’s birthday, the Russian sailors were on a slightly heightened state of alert – but they were not expecting any sort of action.  Two destroyers patrolled the surrounding sea while the remaining ships were at anchor at the entrance of the harbor.  They were assisted by the light provided from the ships at anchor and the lighthouse on the shore.  Otherwise, however, the Russians deployed no security measures.  No antitorpeo netting or any other defenses.  Admiral Stark was more concerned that his ships would collide with their neighbors in the dark sea than an attack.  Stark, however, was not playing with all in the information.  Two days earlier, Japan had recalled its ambassador to St. Petersburg an action that, given the tensions between the two countries, worried a combat commander.  Stark never received word that this had happened.

Out in the waters of the Yellow Sea between the Korean peninsula and China, two fleets of Japanese war vessels were at sea.  One of the fleets sailed into the port of Inchon, outside of Seoul to control the Korean coast. The second fleet commanded by Vice Admiral Togo Tōgō_Heihachirō.jpgHeichahiro headed for Port Arthur with the goal to damage Russian naval options in the Pacific and to limit its capability during the planned war.  The Japanese fleet was divided into three flotillas – the first sailed in close to the harbor – protected by a late-rising moon, which meant the night was very dark.  The first four Japanese ships fired six or seven torpedoes at the Russian fleet: scoring three hits.  The second two flotillas were much less successful.  They had lost the element of surprise because they were late arriving at the harbor.  They had lost contact with the first after two ships had collided causing confusion.  As they came close to Port Arthur, the Japanese ships fired their torpedoes, but doing so under duress, they were unable to hit their targets.  Despite having near-perfect sneak attack conditions – a clear, dark night with light seas and the ability to get close without being detected – the Japanese attack was of limited success.  Only three torpedoes caused any damage, but failed to sink any ships or to cause many casualties.  Two of the damaged ships were battleships, the Retvizan and the Tserarevich.  The third was a cruiser, the Pallada.  All three ships were put out of action for a few weeks.  Despite the near comedy of errors that struck the Japanese fleet as they approached Port Arthur and the meager results, the assault on Port Arthur was a clear victor for Japan.  Russian morale plummeted – the soldiers and sailors in Port Arthur were stunned.  No one had expected the attack.  This gave the Japanese the time they needed to build up the strength they would need to win the upcoming conflict with Russia over Chinese Manchuria.

The Russian army in Manchuria was led by the Minister of War, General Aleksei Nikolaevich Kuropatkin who held an outstanding reputation as a soldier and an administrator.  He was not, however, a tactical leader.  His indecisiveness was to cost the Russian army over and over again.  His counterpart on the Japanese side was Field Marshall Oyama Iwao, who demonstrated a tactical brilliance that allowed his armies to routinely out-maneuver his adversary.  Oyama had served as a military attaché to the Prussian army and he followed a distinctively Prussian mode of military operation – emphasizing superior firepower and maneuverability.

The Japanese strategy was to cut off Port Arthur from all communication and chance of relief by 800px-Assaut-Kin-Tchéou.jpgblockading it by sea and by occupying the peninsula north of the city.  As such, Japanese forces were landed on the Korean Peninsula and marched north to Yalu River which divides Korea and Machuria.  By late April the Japanese troops stared across the river, high with spring melt, at the Russian foes.  The Prussian training of the Japanese officers showed during the artillery barrage that marked the start of the battle.  Russian guns were woeful overmatched and were quickly silenced by the Japanese counterparts.  Japanese troops were then order to ford the river in close order under heavy fire from the Russian infantry.  Hundreds were wounded in the crossing, many so badly that they were swept away down river and drowned.  But, the Japanese organization unnerved the Russian troops, who were already nervous of their foe following the sneak attack at Port Arthur.  With strong artillery shelling at their backs, the Japanese forced the Russians back.  General Kuropatkin of the Russians was furious with his field commander for not withdrawing sooner in the face of superior numbers.  In a clear demonstration of his indecisiveness, Kuropatkin had also ordered his subordinates to stand firm.  With contradictory orders such as these, it’s no surprise the Russian officer corps was less than effective.

Once they crossed the river into Manchuria, Field Marshall Oyama directed his forces to cut the railway that connected Port Arthur to the rest of Russian territory far to the north.  As Oyama’s troops advanced, the Russian high command – Viceroy Alekseev and General Kuropatkin could not have been on more different pages.  Alekseev wanted to save Port Arthur at all costs from being cut off by the Japanese.  Kuropatkin was worried about the well-being of his most elite troops – the ones that would be most likely to be of great use should the tide of war be turned – his Cossack cavalry.  Neither of these stances should be surprising: the navy-man Alekseev wanted to save the port and the army-man Kuropatkin wanted to preserve his troops.  However, with no one, save the tsar thousands of miles away in St. Petersburg, over them, the two leaders entered a bickering match instead of fighting the enemy.  Taking advantage of this, the Japanese forces slowly made their way across the Liaodong until, at the end of July they had succeeded in cutting of Port Arthur entirely.

Meanwhile, the Russian naval forces bottled up in Port Arthur harbor were not sitting by waiting to be rescued.  Admiral Stepan Makarov had replaced the disgraced Admiral Stark after Макаров,_Степан_Осиповичthe sneak attack and the new commander, too, took the Petropavlovsk to be his flagship.  Makarov enjoyed an outstanding reputation for being an intelligent and energetic admiral.   Shortly after taking command, a Russian destroyer was attempting to sneak into Port Arthur harbor when it was cornered by Japanese vessels.  The cruiser dispatched to help the troubled ship only succeeded in picking up five survivors.  The rest of the destroyer’s crew was captured.  Makarov was furious and sailed out of the harbor with two battleships and three cruisers, meaning to take the fight to the Japanese.  In his haste to meet the enemy, Makarov did not take any precautionary measures to avoid traps set by the Japanese to prevent such an escape.  The Petropavlovsk struck an underwater mine which caused the magazine on the mighty ship to explode – splitting the battleship in two.  Makarov and most of his crew went down with the ship in a matter of minutes.  Moments later, the 1024px-Petropavlovsk1899Kronshtadtsecond battleship also struck a mine and started to list badly.  The accompanying cruisers thought they were under attack by submarines and started to fire indiscriminately into the water.  Now the issue is – the Japanese had no submarines in the water that spring – not just in the waters around Port Arthur but anywhere.  Their first submarines would not come online until December of that year.

The Russian admiralty was not the only one, however, to have bad luck testing the limits of these relatively new maritime warfare methods – remember we are only about 50 years removed from the American Civil War where lumbering ironclads like the Monitor and Merrimack faced off.  These battleships and cruisers had much higher capabilities than the Japanese_battleship_Hatsuse.jpgships that had come before.  On May 15, shortly after the death of Makarov, one Japanese cruiser rammed another in dense fog – sinking the latter.  This was only to be the start of Admiral Togo’s bad day.  As the day progressed, a convoy of three Japanese battleships was being delivered to Togo by Rear Admiral Nashiba, the Hatsuse struck a Japanese mine and sunk almost immediately.  Alarmed at the results of the poor visibility, the remaining ships in the fleet attempted to turn back, but another battleship, the Yashima, struck yet another mine and sank later after being towed to safety.  You’d think that losing two-thirds of his charge to friendly mines would have made Nashiba’s day bad enough, but it got worse.  Commanding his remaining battleship and accompanying vessels from a dispatch ship, Nashiba ran aground in the fog.  Despite these almost comic mishaps, the blockade held – aided hugely by the fact that the Russian battleships damaged in the sneak attack had not yet come back online.

Throughout the summer and fall of 1904, Japanese forces continued to besiege the Russian Russian_soldiers_stand_over_trench_of_dead_Japanese.jpgdefenders in Port Arthur.  The siege of the city would prove to be the greatest tragedy of the war to this point.  With around 100,000 Japanese troops surrounding some 50,000 Russians in defensive positions, the sheer size of the operation was immense.  As with any siege, the defenders must find ways to get supplies in or they weaken to a point where they are not able to stand up against the enemy any longer.  This was the fate that met many of the Russian soldiers in Port Arthur.  When they finally surrendered in January 1905, the Russians had lost some 30,000 men.   The Japanese, however, had thrown line after line of men against the Russian defenses.  Being slow to grasp the differences that machine guns made to warfare, the Japanese officers led many men to their deaths.  Some 60,000 Japanese soldiers lost their lives in the capture of Port Arthur.  The real tragedy is that, having successfully, besieged the city, the port was not a militarily significant target any longer.  Taking the city served no real purpose towards finishing the war.  It was mostly just an operation of prestige – an exercise in regaining the face lost 10 years earlier when the Russians talked the Japanese into giving up this valuable piece of land.  Finally, Japan had this foothold in Manchuria back in their hands – wrestled from a much larger enemy.

Asakawa, K. The Russo-Japanese Conflicts: Its Causes and Issues. Kennikat Press: London, 1970.
Schimmelpenninck Van Der Oye, David. Toward the Rising Sun: Russian Ideologies of Empire and Path to War with Japan. Northern Illinois Press: 2001.
Steinberg, John W. All the Tsar’s Men: Russia’s General Staff and the Fate of the Empire, 1898 – 1914. Woodrow Wilson Center: Washington, DC, 2010.
Westwood, J.N. The Illustrated History of the Russo-Japanese War. Sidgwick & Jackson: London, 1973.
Featured Image: “Map of Port Arthur.” Public Domain.
Admiral Stark.” By Автор репродукции: Здобнов Дмитрий Спиридонович –, Public Domain.
Field Marshall Togo.” By Unknown, Public Domain.
Japanese Soldiers Attack the Russians.” By loki11 – Le Patriote Illustré, Public Domain.
Admiral Makarov.” By unknown; photo retake by George Shuklin – State museum of political history of Russia, Public Domain.
Petropavlovsk.” By Неизвеитен. – Архив фотографий кораблей русского и советского ВМФ., Public Domain.
Hatsuse.” Public Domain.
Siege of Port Arthur – Japanese Casualties.” By Underwood & Underwood, Inc. – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.07944.  Public Domain.

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TDISH: Tiananmen Square

Twenty-seven years ago, on June 3, 1989, one of the harshest and most infamous crackdowns on public protest in recent memory occurred in front of the Forbidden City in Tiananmen Square, Beijing.  We have all seen the famous images of Chinese students standing in front of approaching tanks and facing live fire from their own government’s forces.  Check out this story from the 25th anniversary by NPR to learn about the Chinese government’s continued refusal to recognize this tragedy.

Featured Image: “Student Protester.” By The original uploader was Sa8 at Chinese Wikipedia;Original author was 蔡淑芳@sfchoi8964 –, CC BY 2.5.



The Emperor’s Greatest Fear

On a warm May day, a young boy of thirteen from the dry, dusty edge of the great Middle Kingdom was suddenly thrust into manhood.  The man the boy had always known as father – the boy’s parental parentage was always a bit murky – died.  While for any teenager, the death of a parent is a big deal, the dead father was none other than King Zhuangxiang of Qin.  The boy was now King Zheng of Qin.

Qin_toursThankfully, King Zheng was not left entirely alone to navigate the treacherous seas of Chinese politics.  You see, he rose to the throne in the midst of a period of Warring States.  The Zhou Dynasty, which had been in power, at least nominally, was in its death throes.  The many smaller states of China had been fighting amongst themselves for dominance.  By Zheng’s ascension, this fight had been going on for almost 250 years and had seen many small states swallowed up by more powerful neighbors.  There were still seven leading states fighting for hegemony, of which Qin was only one.  The young king and his state would almost certainly have been swallowed up by this unforgiving maelstrom had it not been for Lü Buwei, the dead king’s chancellor who would serve as regent until Zheng reached maturity.  Rumors swirled that Zheng was not really the dead King’s son at all, but rather that of the court minister, which may account for some of the loyalty shown to the young man by Lü Buwei.

Another possible explanation for this loyalty is that Lü Buwei was in the midst of a not-so-secret affair with the Queen Dowager, Zheng’s mother and wife of the dead King, Zhao Ji.  What better way to date above your station than by propping up your lover’s son?  Engaging in an illicit tryst with the Queen Dowager when the monarch is a boy is one thing, but the ever-practical Lü Buwei broke off the affair as Zheng neared maturity – best to not mix business and pleasure once the boss could do something about it!

Zhao Ji, however, was not a woman to be put aside lightly, even in a patriarchal society like Qin.  Lü Buwei had to tread lightly so as not to offend this powerful woman.  Now, Zhao Ji had a reputation around the court as a connoisseur of men – she had large appetites and knew how to sate them.  The Chancellor had not gotten into his position by accident and knew how to manipulate situations to his advantage.  He therefore arranged to have a more appealing lover than himself presented to the Dowager Queen.  Lü Buwei arranged to bring in some entertainment for Zhao Ji featuring Lao Ai, a man who was so well-endowed that he was compared to a cart axle.  Suffice it to say, Zhao Ji was intrigued by this young man and she arranged for him to enter the royal household disguised as a eunuch.  In short order, this thin ruse fell apart when the king’s mother found herself pregnant.  In short order, she and her new lover had two new sons.

As is so often the case among royal houses, multiple sons led to conflict.  Since the birth of the new princes, Zheng had grown to maturity and took control over Qin government with Lü Buwei as his chief advisor.  Lao Ai and Zhao Ji, however, decided that they wanted the power over Qin for themselves and their new sons and so they plotted against Zheng in an attempt to overthrow him.  Before the scheme could come to fruition, several loyal retainers of the king caught wind of the plot and brought word to their lord.  Zheng had the conspirators arrested and he pronounced his judgement.  Lao Ai was castrated, removing his greatest asset, and then tied to five horses which were then driven in different directions.  Lao Ai met his end being torn limb from limb in front of the Queen Dowager, his lover.  Zheng could not bring himself to kill his mother, but he had her two illegitimate sons killed and exiled her to a remote nunnery where she lived out her days.  In Zhao Ji’s unheeded pleas for the lives of her younger sons, she implicated Lü Buwei in the plot, saying that he had brought Lao Ai to the palace in the first place.  Zheng’s wrath quickly fell onto his retainer who was exiled to a remote corner of Qin.  Lü Buwei drank a poison cocktail rather than live with the shame of banishment.  This traumatic series of events made it clear to the young king that he could trust no one and that the only way to retain his power was through ruthless means.  This would serve as a lesson that Zheng would never forget.

Upon the downfall of Lü Buwei, the Chancellorship was open and Zheng would fill it with Li Si, an influential legalist writer and politician whose ideas supported the young king’s experience that power needed to be held onto with a firm grasp.  During this period, Qin military supremacy began to become apparent as Zheng’s armies defeated one enemy state after another.  As Qin armies threatened the northeastern state of Yan, Zheng once again faced betrayal.  The prince of Yan feared for his state’s safety and called forth some of his most esteemed retainers to try to find a plan to put an end to the threat.  One of Zheng’s former generals, a man named Fan Wuji who had betrayed his Qin masters and had taken up residence in the now-besieged Yan, was among the group, as was Jing Ke, a scholar from a state that had already been ravaged by Qin armies.  The group determined that the only way to effectively rid Yan of the Qin menace was to kill Zheng – but how to do it?  He trusted no one and would not countenance weapons in his presence except for those he carried.  Gaining an audience with the very cautious king would be difficult indeed.  Jing Ke opined, “If only we had something Zheng wanted.”  All eyes turned to Fan Wuji, on whose head Zheng had put a price.  The former general nodded – if by his death the world was rid of the Qin menace, his death would be a noble one, indeed.  He proceeded to slit his own throat and his co-conspirators cut off his head to deliver to Zheng.

Jing Ke was elected to deliver Fan Wuji’s head to the court of Qin, posing as a Yan turncoat.  Along with the head, the scholar carried “secret” maps showing the troop deployment and fortifications of Yan.  However these maps contained something unusual, inside the tube with the rolled documents was a small poison-tipped dagger.  Jing Ke made his way to the Qin court Assassination_attempt_on_Qin_Shi_Huangand, using the former general’s head as an entrance ticket, was allowed into Zheng’s presence to present the king with his secret maps.  The king stood by at a table waiting as the spy unrolled the maps.  As Jing Ke revealed the dagger, he reached out and grabbed the hem of Zheng’s robe with one hand and struck out at the king with the dagger in the other hand.  Zheng, who had now realized what was happening, leapt backwards so the dagger passed harmlessly through the king’s cloak.  Zheng’s ministers stood by helplessly – no one but the king was armed and his long sword was useless in such a close quarters attack.  Zheng continued to retreat from his assailant and ducked behind a pillar in the midst of the throne room.  Jing Ke stumbled as he passed the pillar which gave the king room enough to draw his sword with which he struck out at the would-be-assassin.  His first blow struck home, disarming Jing Ke, but Zheng was not done – in his fury he hacked at the scholar stabbing him eight more times before Jing Ke lay dead in the midst of the Qin court.  First a coup attempted by his mother and now an assassination attempt through treacherous means.  Zheng’s distrust of others only grew.

The plot by Jing Ke was not to be the only assassination attempt on Zheng’s life.  The next attempt came scant months after the first.  One of Jing Ke’s closest friends was a man named Gao Jinali.  He wanted to avenge his friend so he changed his name and attempted to gain access to Zheng’s court as a lute player.  His plan was foiled, however, when he was recognized as a friend of the dead would-be-assassin.  As punishment for his plot, Zheng had the musician blinded, but would not kill such a talented musician.  Zheng ordered the now blind Jinali to play for him.  The lute player would not let a little thing like blindness keep him from his goal and had a lead pipe hidden in his lute.  When the King came close, Gao Jinali attempted to strike out at him with the pipe, but the blow failed to strike home due to his blindness.  At this time, Zheng had no choice but to execute the artist.  Thus ended the assassination attempt by Gao Jinali with the lead pipe in the throne room.

Shortly after this second assassination attempt, Zheng’s armies completed their conquest of Qinshihuang.jpgthe remaining warring states and, thus, became the first power to unify China.  Upon doing so, King Zheng was no longer an august enough title for the new master of the entire Middle Kingdom.  He created a new title for himself – the name by which he would be known to history – Qin Shi Huang, the Emperor of Qin.  As Emperor, Qin Shi Huang and his legalist, strict Chancellor Li Si would rule China with an iron fist.  Offenses against society were punished harshly – with the convicts often sent away to one of the massive new building projects implemented by the new imperial house.  Some were sent to the East to dig the Lingqu Canal connecting two great Chinese rivers, the Yellow and the Pearl.  Some were sent to the North to build what would, over the centuries, become the famous Great Wall.  All were marked in some way as criminals – often involving either a shaved head as a mark of shame, or for more serious crimes, tattooing on the cheek or forehead advertising to all the individual’s guilt.

Many of these convicts were punished in a way that went over and beyond the level of the crime and, because of this, many people chaffed under Qin Shi Huang’s rule.  It was during this time that the Emperor escaped yet another assassination attempt.  Zhang Liang, who would become an important figure in the Han Dynasty that would eventually overthrow Qin, attempted to kill Qin Shi Huang by having several strongmen through a heavy metal cone at the emperor’s carriage.  The projective was true to its target and succeeded in killing a Qin statesman, but the Emperor was in the next carriage in the procession and escaped once again.  In this case, the would-be assassin eluded capture and went into exile until after Qin Shi Huang’s death.

Having escaped three assassination attempts and a coup, Qin Shi Huang was now fully Xu_Fu_expedition's_for_the_elixir_of_life.jpgsuspicious of others and became obsessed with the idea of preserving his life.  Later in his reign, he began to send expeditions out into the great seas beyond China’s eastern edge in search for the mythical Eastern Islands where the Eight Immortals were supposed to live.  These eight men were sages of great renown who had discovered the elixir of life – the procuring of which had become the Emperor’s deepest desire.  Qin Shi Huang himself travelled from his capital in the West to the Eastern edge of his realm to better oversee the efforts of obtaining this elixir.  While on the search, numerous alchemists came forward with tonics purported to extend life.  Many of these tonics contained what we now know to be poisonous ingredients – including mercury – which, it should come as no surprise hastened Qin Shi Huang’s death, rather than prolonging his life.

Qin Shi Huang died while on his eastern excursion, but his death was hidden from all but the Chancellor and a few of the closest advisors.  Upon an emperor’s death, it was imperative for claimants to the throne to return to the capital to garner support and Li Si’s favorite to replace Qin Shi Huang, second son Huhai, was with him – far away from the capital and had to get back before his older brother found out about their father’s death.  Li Si and Huhai undertook an elaborate ruse in which the corpse of the First Emperor rode through his domains hidden from view in his royal carriage.  Food was delivered to the carriage at every mealtime as were fresh clothes every day.  The journey to the capital took over two months and in the meantime the Chancellor and the Prince continued to issue proclamations using the Emperor’s seal.  As the body began to rot, as all bodies do, the smell became overbearing and would have surely given the ruse away, had Li Si not arranged for two carts of dead, rotting fish to be pulled before and after that of the Emperor to mask the smell.  Nothing suspicious here!  All Emperors like to travel surrounded by dead fish!

Upon arriving back at the capital, Qin Shi Huang’s death was made known and Huhai was named the new emperor, taking the name Qin Ershi.  Qin Shi Huang was buried in a magnificent tomb that had been built throughout his lifetime – even for one who plans to be immortal, having contingency plans like an overly elaborate tomb is a must!  The Emperor was buried with a full army – 8,000 strong of infantry, archers, and chariots fully armed and armored – all made of terracotta.  The resting place of the Emperor itself was placed in the middle of an elaborate series of subterranean rivers and lakes of liquid mercury designed to represent the realms he ruled in life.  These rivers of a highly toxic metal and the rumors of rigged crossbows and other booby traps would make even Indiana Jones think twice about venturing into this tomb.

Thus, we come to the end of the life of this truly great and truly strange figure from Chinese history – a man who at once was a great Empire builder and, yet, became so obsessed with immortality that he hastened his own death by drinking tonics of poison.


Guisso, R.W.L., Catherine Pagani, and David Miller. The First Emperor of China. Birch Lane Press: Toronto, 1989.
Wood, Frances. China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors. St. Martin’s Press: New York. 2007.
Featured Image: “Qin Shi Hunag.” By Unknown (18??–18??) – Portal, Jane (Ed.). The first emperor: China’s Terracotta Army. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007 ISBN 978-0-674-02697-7 (p.29), Public Domain.
Image 1. “Map of Qin China.” By Penarc – trabajo propio (own work), CC BY-SA 3.0.
Image 2. “Assassination Attempt.” By Unknown (18??–18??) – Portal, Jane (Ed.). The first emperor: China’s Terracotta Army. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007 ISBN 978-0-674-02697-7 (p.67), Public Domain.
Image 3. “Qin Shi Huang.” By Unknown (18??–18??) – Yuan, Zhongyi. China’s terracotta army and the First Emperor’s mausoleum: the art and culture of Qin Shihuang’s underground palace. Paramus, New Jersey: Homa & Sekey Books, 2010. ISBN 978-1-931907-68-2 (p.140), Public Domain.
Image 4. “Searching for Immortality.” By Utagawa Kuniyoshi –,%20Part%20I%20%28T47-T62%29.htm, Public Domain.

Slideshow Images:

Terracotta Army.” By Maros M r a z (Maros) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Unique Faces.” By Peter Morgan from Nomadic – Detail, Terracotta Warriors, CC BY 2.0.
Close-up of Face.” By Tor Svensson (user Kemitsv on the Swedish Wikipedia) – Originally from sv.wikipedia; description page is (was) here * 2 februari 2006 kl. 17.12 [[:sv:User:Kemitsv|Kemitsv]] 450×600 (40 729 bytes) <span class=”comment”>(Foto: [[:sv:Tor Svensson]] {{GFDL}})</span>, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Remnants of Color.” By Self-made – Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Bronze Chariot.” By Jmhullot – Own work, CC BY 3.0.
MusOpen Symphony. Edvard Grieg. “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” Public Domain.

For More Information:

Roach, John. “Terra-Cotta Army Protects First Emperor’s Tomb.National Geographic.
Lubow, Arthur. “Terra Cotta Soldiers on the March.Smithsonian. July 2009.
Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor.” UNESCO.

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For attribution:

“The Emperor’s Greatest Fear.” by Andy Smyser is licensed under CC By 4.0.


TDISH: Tiananmen Square – No, Not That One.

When Western ears hear about Tiananmen Square in Beijing, images of Chinese students protesting against the Communist government and facing down army tanks come to mind.  However, this famous square has seen many historical events, not just the infamous showdown in 1989.

On May 4, 1919, Chinese students also took to Tiananmen Square to protest.  This time, however, they were protesting not their own government, but events going on in far away Paris.  Students called for the dismissal of three Chinese officials who, they felt, had poorly represented Chinese interests in the Paris Peace Conference that was hammering out the Chinese_protestors_march_against_the_Treaty_of_Versailles_(May_4,_1919)treaties that would finalized the Armistice that had ended World War I the previous November.  In particular, they were upset about the humiliation of the Conference granting to their arch-rival Japan the Shandong Peninsula on the Chinese mainland.  The Shandong had been a German enclave in China that, as with other German territories around the globe, were being doled out among the victorious powers.

The Chinese expected to get their peninsula back.  It was theirs, after all.  They had just “lent” it the Germans – we’ll ignore the fact that the lending was forced on a weakened Chinese state.  The Japanese, however, had contributed a lot to the Allied effort in the war and had a very influential presence at the Conference and they wanted to Shandong, which was perceived as the key to China.  The Peace Conference sided with the Japanese much to the chagrin of the Chinese.  With the hindsight granted by time, we can now see that this decision played into Japanese hands who had larger designs on the rich Chinese mainland.  The Shandong was destined to play a key role in the Japanese invasion of China leading up to World War II.

Featured Image: “May 4th Demonstrations.” By Unknown (3/17), Public Domain.
Image 1. “Protesting the Treaty of Versailles.” By Unknown – May Fourth Movement: From riots to cultural revolution – See more at:, Public Domain.
Hao, Zhidong, “May 4th and June 4th Compared: A Sociological Study of Chinese Social Movements.” Journal of Contemporary China 6.14 (1997): 79-99.
 Wasserstrom, Jeffrey N., “Chinese Students and Anti-Japanese Protests, Past and Present” World Policy Journal 22.2 (2005): 59-65.




TDISH: The Forgotten Dynasty of One

On April 25, 1644, a former shepherd and blacksmith, Li Hongji, defeated the armies of the Chongzhen Emperor of the once mighty Ming Dynasty in the Battle of Beijing.  In response, the emperor cMing_Chongzhenommitted suicide by hanging himself in a tree in an imperial garden in the city after killing much of his family – effectively marking the end of the Ming Dynasty.

The shepherd, turned rebel general was named the new emperor and took the name Li Zicheng, “The Dashing King.” In so doing, he established a brand new dynasty, the Shun.  “But wait,” you say, “I’m not a specialist, but I know a good amount about China.  I’ve never heard of the Shun.”  This is because this dynasty was particularly short-lived.

Just over one year after the suicide of the Chongzgen Emperor, Li Zicheng and his Shun armies were defeated at the Battle of Shanhai Pass by a former Ming general and a Manchu army.  This effectively led to the end of the Shun Dynasty as the ethnic-Manchu Shunzhi Emperor became the first Qing Emperor of China, a dynasty that would that would last until 1912.

Shea, Merilyn. Forbidden City – History.
The Chongzhen Emperor by Unknown – He Li: Power and Glory: Court Arts of China’s Ming Dynasty, Asian Art Museum San Francisco, 2008, Public Domain.