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Friday, 23 June 2017

World History: The Ming

The Forbidden City
The Ming dynasty which ruled China from 1368 until 1644, and is probably the most famous of all Chinese dynasties. Most of what we have come to associate with pre-communist China comes from the Ming dynasty. What makes the Ming so significant in Chinese history? The Ming ousted the Mongol Yuan dynasty which World History readers may remember as being founded by the famous Mongol Empire. Before we look at the Ming in specific we have to first look at how the Ming managed to oust the Mongols from China.

Yuan to Ming
As always there was not one reason for the collapse of the Yuan dynasty. People who study history will know how important strong rulers are in preserving their rule. After the death of Kublai Khan (the grandson of Genghis Khan) in 1294 the Yuan dynasty lacked any particularly strong leaders. Palace intrigues, corruption and inept rule made it difficult for many Chinese bureaucrats to serve the Mongols. It is also important to understand the significance that the Yuan were also foreigners (Mongols) ruling over ethnic Han Chinese. The Yuan favored Mongols, particularly after the death of Kublai Khan, over the Han which alienated many which grew worse and worse as corruption skyrocketed. A series of famines hit China during the early fourteenth-century and outbreaks of the bubonic plague further added to the Yuan's problems. Those who know Chinese history will know the importance of the Mandate of Heaven. For those who don't the Mandate of Heaven is a system where a ruling dynasty is believed to rule with a mandate from heaven itself. Of course this is not entirely unique to China; Europe had the 'Divine right to Rule' for example. However, in China the Mandate of Heaven was also seen as being revoked if the dynasty was seen as being inept, corrupt, or going against the social order. Famines, natural disasters, plague, foreign invasion and rebellions were seen as evidence that the mandate had been revoked. The end of the Yuan dynasty had many of these. The White Lotus Society was one example of an anti-Yuan group alongside the Red Turban movement. In order to defeat the Red Turbans in the 1350s the emperor, Toghun Temur, relied increasingly on local warlords to fight them through fear that the army might turn on him. 

In southern China a peasant who had become a Buddhist monk called Zhu Yuanzhang rose to prominence. In 1352 his monastery had been burnt down so he joined a rebel group in Haozhou where a Red Turban commander, Guo Zixing, spotted him. He rose through the ranks to become a commander in his own branch of the Red Turbans in 1360 which he called 'Ming' after he had captured the Yuan stronghold of Nanjing in 1356. By 1367 Zhu had pushed the Yuan past the Yangtze River and brought most of the warlords under his rule, (mostly by force). Thanks to this in January 1368 Zhu declared a new dynasty called the Ming and adopted 'Hongwu' (vastly martial) as his era name. Later that year the Ming captured the Yuan capital of Khanbaliq which they renamed Beijing. It would take until 1381, however, before the Ming could finally capture the last of the Yuan strongholds. The Ming victory is significant though. It was the first time in centuries that China was unified under a Han Chinese dynasty. Over the last few hundred years China had either been ruled by non-Han Chinese or had been divided. 

Ming Rule and Governance
The Hongwu Emperor
The Ming dynasty claimed to restore the governance of old Han dynasties such as the Song or the Han. However, they kept many of the systems of governance from the Yuan in place. The Yuan had retained the Song office of Chung-shu sheng which acted like a prime minister and the Hongwu emperor initially retained this position. In 1380 he decided that the position was too powerful, 'tantamount to a usurpation' according to Albert Chan, and abolished it saying 'In the future if any of my subjects dares to suggest the restoration of a prime minister, let him be punished and cut into pieces, and let his whole family also be put to death'. I should also mention that as the Hongwu emperor was the founder of the dynasty he was very paranoid about a coup or rebellion. The Six Boards which organized China (Civil Office, Revenue, War, Works, Punishments, and Rites), became subordinate to the emperor rather than the Cheng-shu sheng or other major ministers. In theory the emperor exercised complete control over China but in reality this is in an impossibility. Hongwu had to back down and create an office called the Nei-ko, Grand Secretariat, which supplied secretaries for the emperor. It was not seen as being very exalted with the Six Boards being seen as higher. The Ming also divided China into thirteen provinces, (Shantung, Shansi, Shensi, Honan, Chekiang, Kiangsi, Hukang, Szechuan, Fukien, Kuangtung, Kuangsi, Yunnan, and Kueichow). Hongwu also resurrected the Chi-shih-chung which had a various amount of roles including: advising the emperor, inspect memorials sent by officials to the throne, correct memorials, serve as librarians of the archives, examining the morals and talents of officials, and censoring books. As you can see Ming governance rested entirely on the emperor with officials working to implement the will of the emperor. How were officials chosen?

To become an official you had to obtain the jinshi which was a degree. These degrees had originated with the Qin dynasty and had evolved over time changing slightly with each dynasty. The Imperial Examinations under the Ming introduced the 'Essay' or 'Eight Legs' where the student had to write a very precise essay revolving around Confucianism and classic Chinese texts. Strangely the writer could not express any opinion of his own (only men could take the exams) and had to perfectly recite classic texts and Confucius. No new interpretations were allowed. Writing in 1914 Li Ung Bing described it as 'a form of evil which has eaten into the very heart of the nation'. This system lasted until 1905! It is quite telling that Confucian and classic Han texts were expected to be known off by heart and tells us of the obsession with the old Yuan dynasty. Rule by the Mongols made the Ming obsessed with removing old Mongol rule in any way. Anyone in theory could take the exams and during early Ming rule only 14% of students from established families. Of course in practice it was largely metropolitan wealthy families which took part. However, as the years went along and a middle class started to emerge you had to pay to get a jinshi degree which meant that only the wealthiest could hold a jinshi, and therefore a place in the palace. By the Ming's collapse in 1644 60% of degree holders came from families with a long history in holding office. Also cheating became endemic with robes that had entire excerpts written in the sleeves being worn for the exam.
An example of how cheating was done: a mini-book
Ming Society
Ming Social Structure in art
When Hongwu came to power in 1368 he promised to restore Confucianism to China which had been seen as going into decline during the Yuan. Often he said he restoring the social order of the Han (seen as being the dynasty to emulate by all other dynasties). The Ming wished to implement a strict Confucian social structure. This was not limited to China. Europe had a rigid Estates system to rule society and India had the caste system to name two examples. At the top we had the emperor and royal family, then the scholars, then the gentry, then the peasants, then the artisans, and at the bottom the merchants. The scholars represented the top 1% of society and the written sources we have from Chinese society are written by scholars. Peasants were seen as better than artisans as they were seen as the backbone of society. Until recent years China has been largely rural so peasants were seen as being very important. Zhu Yuanzhang and later Mao Zedong had heavily relied on the peasantry to establish their rule. Merchants, in contrast, were seen as parasites. Highly mobile and not creating anything especially the literati saw them as leeching off of the hard work of others. Paradoxically by the end of the Ming the merchants had started to become far wealthier than other members of society. Women, however, were oppressed. The wife was expected to remain loyal to the husband and the daughter to the father. As always peasant women gained more freedom as all sections of society were required to help on the land. Wealthy women could also have the chance to become literate with Empress Xu managing to write several books. However, literacy never exceeded 1% of the female population.

Religion was important under the Ming. Being a former monk the Honwu emperor tried to revive native Chinese Buddhist sects over Lamaist Buddhism favored by the Yuan. Taoism, or Daoism, was held in equal high regard by the Ming, and the paranoid Hongwu tried to control both. He wrote a commentary on the Tao-te ching in order to guide Taoists. In later years emperors would favor their own religion more, but they would not overly oppress the other religion. The Buddhist Chenghua emperor was a devote believer in both building hundreds of temples where a hundred thousand monks were ordained in 1476 and two hundred thousand in 1486 (although this may be an exaggeration as Chinese sources sometimes embellish statistics). The later Longqing emperor (1521-1567) was a devote Taoist and was so obsessed that he considered abdicating to devote his entire life to his religion. As he was also promised immortality he let his obsession deplete the treasury and in the end it cost him his own life.

The Ming Voyages
The route of the Voyages
In 1405 a fleet of 27,000 people under the command of the eunuch Zheng He set out on the first of seven voyages from Nanjing. The famous Ming voyages represented everything which the Ming stood for in regards to foreign policy. The Ming used a system called the tribute system, inherited from past dynasties, where it viewed China as being the most powerful state in the world (which it basically was) so other states had to give tribute to China. A big reason for the voyages was to project Chinese power. Despite carrying 30,000 soldiers on the first voyage they never conquered, (instead the Ming chose to fight the Mongols and the state of Annam in norther Vietnam), and they went on established trading routes on the Indian Ocean. Instead they carried goods and soldiers to show just how powerful China was. The Ming were not willing to emulate the Yuan's disastrous attempts to conquer Japan and Indonesia. It was also done to prop up the Yongle emperor. In 1402 he had came to power via a coup. These voyages were to be used to show his own power and as he had used eunuchs to come to power he used the eunuch Zheng He to lead his fleet. Zheng He was a Muslim whose father had been an adviser to the Yuan dynasty. Captured at age ten he was made a eunuch and became close to who would become the Yongle emperor. 

The fleet was the largest to sail until the First World War, and it turns out the sources have not been embellished. In the 1960s outside Nanjing the shipyards were discovered confirming the size of the ships. The first voyage was to the Gulf stopping off at Java, Sumatra and Calicut. In Sumatra they overthrew a 'pirate' prince. Zheng He was expected to oust rulers who would not pay tribute to China and they often did so. During the third voyage they captured a king on Sri Lanka and on the fourth they became involved in a civil war on Sumatra. A novel written about the voyages often had parts stating that they came into conflict with other peoples. The fifth is most famous with Zheng He reaching Aden, Mogadishu and Milindi where he brought a giraffe back to China. This was very important as the giraffe was seen to resemble a qilin (often called the 'Chinese unicorn') and a qilin was said to only appear during the rule of a righteous ruler. This gave Yongle his legitimacy. The last voyage arrived back in China in 1433. Julia Lovell has given two reasons why. One is that it was a political move. The voyages were done by Yongle to prop himself up which it had done. When he died his successors had no need to continue them, and the bureaucracy did not like the voyages. One source claimed that one fleet cost half the tax revenue (most likely an embellishment though). A scholar even burnt most of Zheng He's records seeing them as useless. A second reason why they ended was because they served their purpose. Stories had spread of China's power and Zheng He had brought riches back for Yongle to distribute among the elite. No one doubted his legitimacy. The legacy of the voyages are present today. In recent years China has invested heavily in Africa and have pointed towards Zheng He's non-colonial trade as a way to justify their presence in the continent.
The giraffe
Economy and Europe
A Ming vase
As we saw with the voyages international trade with the Ming was one sided. Instead the Ming had an internal trade which shattered their Confucian world system. Some have argued that under the Ming we see an emergence of a 'semicapitalist' economy. Prosperity under the early Ming allowed landlords to become absentee landlords. Landlords could afford to move closer to cities and generations were born accumulating wealth from renting land which they could invest in craft industries and commerce. These benefited artisans who produced more. Eventually we see an emergence of a quasi 'middle class' (although it is inaccurate to directly call them that) wanting luxury goods. Here the merchants came it benefiting from the investment in technologies. The printing press had been invented under the Song but under the Ming commercial printing exploded. Using xylography (woodblock printing) books became cheaper although they were still confined to the elite. Literacy never exceeded 10% of the population. Porcelain also became popular becoming the characteristic design which we know today. This elite culture allowed artisans and merchants to become wealthier than peasants which divided society. The scholar Lu Ji argued this was good as wealth would then trickle down whereas Zhang Han argued it was destabilizing society. Here Europe came onto the scene.

Europeans had known of China for many years. After all Marco Polo was supposed to have been to the court of the Yuan, although this is debatable. In the sixteenth-century Europeans had started to visit China and Asia. In 1557 the Ming leased Macau to Portugal and in 1571 Spain established itself in Manila. Gold and silver from the Americas flowed to China via Manila greatly entrenching China in a global economy. When China switched its currency to silver its worth doubled worldwide. Similarly, Europe valued what China had to offer. In 1608 Europe, through the Dutch East Indian Company, obtained 62,300 pieces of ceramics from China! Chinese ceramics and porcelain was in very high demand. We call our ceramics china today because of the value of Ming ceramics. Also China held more power at this moment in time. Views on Chinese/Western relations today are shaped by either the Opium Wars or current Chinese/Western relations. Under the Ming China viewed the west as another tribute being interested in luxury goods like clocks or metals like silver. If you look at images of Jesuit missionaries at this time they dress in Chinese clothing to honor their hosts. The Ming did value European knowledge. Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci was the first European to be invited to the Forbidden City in 1601 where he was asked by the Wanli emperor to teach his scholars European astronomy and calendar sciences. He even translated Euclid's Elements into Chinese. Europe became obsessed by China and a copy of Romance of the Three Kingdoms (one of China's most greatest novels) was sent to the library in Madrid. By the time of the French Revolution European philosophes were praising China and what it had to offer.
The Kunyu Wanguo Quantu. A world map made by Chinese scholars and Matteo Ricci
In 1644 the Ming collapsed. Why did it though? There are many reasons for the collapse of the Ming dynasty. China's population had boomed under the Ming putting pressure on land. This was made worse by something called the Little Ice Age (a topic for a future World History post). The Little Ice Age was a period of global cooling lasting from possibly the 1500s until the mid-1800s when carbon emissions from the Industrial Revolution warmed up global temperatures (and have continued to do so since). Colder temperatures destroyed crops as well as causing intense storms which in turn caused flooding. Naturally when people are starving they revolt. This became clear to many that the Mandate of Heaven had left the Ming. These issues were compounded by the fact that the government had been weakened by a series of weak emperors, court factionalism, corruption as people were buying their jinshi degrees, and eunuchs greatly influencing emperors, including Wei Zhongxian who ruled over the Tianqi emperor. Social tensions were rising thanks to the increased wealth of merchants and artisans. To make matters worse the economy was flailing thanks to Japan. Influx of silver from Japan (and America) had wrecked the economy and to make things worse Japanese pirates had been raiding coastal cities. Those that China hired to protect against Japanese pirates also became pirates and began raiding more cities. Japan had by then been reunified and the ruler of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, wanted to fulfill his predecessor's dream of conquering China. His intention was to go through Korea and into China. However, Korea was allied to China and was seen as the perfect tribute by China. Korea refused to give Japan access so Hideyoshi decided to invade Korea in 1592. China came to Korea's aid and together they pushed back Japan. However doing so destroyed the Chinese economy. Then came an enemy from the north: the Manchus.

Originally called Jurchens the Manchus came from Manchuria in modern day northern China. Under Nurhaci, who declared himself the founding emperor of a new dynasty in 1616, the Jurchen started to attack the Ming. In 1625 he built an imperial capital at Shenyang (modern Mukden) in lower Manchuria where in 1636 his son, Hung Taiji, started challenging the Ming for the Mandate. As the Manchus, (after 1635 they referred to themselves as Manchus over Jurchen), started invading several rebels started rising up against the Ming. One of the famous was a general called Li Zicheng. At Xi'an in 1644 Li declared that he now had the Mandate and founded the Da Shun dynasty. In April he captured Beijing where the last Ming emperor, Chongzhen, hung himself from a tree in the Forbidden City. Li Zicheng's dynasty was short lived. His soldiers weren't paid so they rioted and sacked Beijing. Meanwhile the invading Manchus said they would restore the Ming and many leading Ming generals allied themselves with the Manchus; it is fairly possible that they knew that the Manchus would not restore the Ming. The Manchus defeated Li Zicheng and declared that they now had the Mandate. In the same year as the overthrowing of the Ming the Manchus declared a start of the Qing dynasty. In 1662 the last Ming claimant was killed. 

The Ming dynasty shows an interesting aspect of Chinese history. The Ming were obsessed with distancing themselves from their Mongol predecessor at all costs. Instead they created an image which many associate with pre-republican China today. The Ming changed Chinese society so much that their successors, the Qing, were eager to honor the fallen dynasty. Today China has tried to emulate aspects of the Ming. As mentioned earlier the PRC has tried to link its current investment in Africa to Zheng He's voyage to Africa in the fifteenth-century. In 2009 an expensive TV drama called Zheng He Xia Xiyang was made to commemorate Zheng He. As we shall later see China under the Ming wasn't the only place affected by the Little Ice Age. Thank you for reading and next time we shall look at the so called 'Age of Discovery' where we compare and contrast several maritime explorers (including Zheng He) to see why they explored, what he explored and whether we can truly call it an 'Age of Discovery'.

The sources I have used are as follows:
-Outlines of Chinese History by Li Ung Bing
-Imperial China, 900-1800 by F.W. Mote
-The Search for Modern China by Jonathan Spence
-The Glory and Fall of the Ming Dynasty by Albert Chan
-China: A History by John Keay
-'The Ming Voyages', BBC In Our Time

For the full list of the World History posts please see here

Sunday, 18 June 2017

World History: Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Trades

Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean
One thing in history which is often overlooked is the importance of trade. Trade brought cultures together, spread ideas, and even shaped governments. Today we shall be looking at two key centers of trade: the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean. These two bodies of water are very similar but simultaneously very different. Ever since around 100 BCE these two areas have even been connected! As both these bodies of water are still major centers of trade we'll only be looking at them from a select period of time. For both we shall start just after the rise of Islam and will finish around the 'Age of Discovery'. 

What were these trading centers?
A while ago we looked at the Silk Road and how it helped create a network of trade stretching from Han China all the way to the Roman Empire. The Mediterranean trading route of the Medieval era had been born through this trade. Trade in the Mediterranean long predated the Romans but it had never been as large as the Roman scale. The Roman Empire did not collapse with a bang but a whimper so Rome's collapse did not disrupt the Mediterranean connections as badly as we often think when looking at the fall of Rome. With the rise of Islam creating a connected world stretching from Egypt to the Indus Valley this created a connection, (or preserved the connection), between the Mediterranean and the wider world. In particular the Italian city states and the Byzantines prospered most from this trade. Fernand Braudel puts geography down to this. Constantinople (modern Istanbul) was the second Rome and its location linked Anatolia, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean. This let the Byzantines prosper. Italy was also perfectly situated for taking advantage of trade. With many coastal cities, a good climate for growing luxury crops like grapes, many resources and being in peninsula in the middle of the Mediterranean this allowed Italy to prosper.

The Indian Ocean was different. For one, it is far larger than the Mediterranean. While the Mediterranean bordered only southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East the Indian Ocean bordered India, East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, and South East Asia. You would imagine that this would hinder a prosperous trading network but this was exactly the opposite. This was down to the very predictable monsoon systems. Trade is done by merchants and merchants only want to make safe investments. Any bit of uncertainty can deter trade; during the most recent election in the UK the pound briefly dropped over the uncertainty of who would be prime minister. In the Indian Ocean ships relied on oarsmen and wind to sail which is a dangerous prospect, mostly because winds could either destroy your ship or cause your ship to arrive late. The Indian Ocean had (and has today) winds called monsoons which occurred in seasons. These seasons were so regular that guide books stated the best day to leave to trade. April to September monsoon winds can take you from Africa to India, and September to February the winds could take you back to Africa. This allowed the Indian Ocean trade to possibly be even more prosperous than the Mediterranean trade. This is exemplified by the Book of Curiosities written sometime between 1020 and 1050 by an Egyptian scholar. As early as possibly 1020 a detailed map of the Indian Ocean was made. Only through a prosperous trade could this have been done.

What was traded?
A Chinese sculpture made of ivory
Both trading centers had a wide variety of goods change hands. However, actual currency was not traded as much. We shall start with the Mediterranean. Goods were swapped for either precious metals or other goods. In 1603 a Venetian merchant called Banco di Rialto said 'capital has always returned from the Levant in the form of merchandise'. Europe received 'spices' from the Middle East, (a catch all term for any exotic goods), including: sugar, dye, glue, pepper, perfumes, cloves, and nutmeg. A connection to the Black Sea via Constantinople (and later Istanbul) brought slaves, gold, silver, jewelry, gold, silver, cotton and raw silk to Europe. Africa also took part in the Mediterranean trade. Gold from Sudan made North Africa and Muslim Spain extremely wealthy, and trade through Egypt brought Sudanese gold to the Middle East and Italy. Christian merchants in the fifteenth-century settled in Oran, Tunis, Tlemcen, Tangier, Bougie, Constantine, Fez and Ceuta to take advantage of African gold. Unfortunately slavery was brought into this. Africans from modern Sudan were taken as slaves and sold across the Mediterranean, (and the Islamic world as a whole including in the Empire of Mali). In fact, the English word for Sudan comes from the Arabic bilâd as-sûdân, which means 'Land of the Blacks'. 

The Indian Ocean trade was larger than the Mediterranean trade so a wider range of goods were traded. The picture above is a Chinese sculpture (no date given of when it was made) made of elephant ivory. Elephants, however, do not live in China. Ivory was traded from either India or East Africa. China, India, South East Asia, East Africa and the Middle East traded goods with each other. Ivory came from India and Africa, gold from Africa, books from the Middle East, spices from Malaysia and Indonesia, porcelain from China, and timber from Africa just to name a few of the goods traded. The site of Great Zimbabwe in particular donated millions of pounds of gold to the trade with it being traded up to Zanzibar through Sofala and then across the Indian Ocean. Also, many spices which came to Europe via Arab and Turkish merchants originally came from the Malay peninsula and Indonesian archipelago. Although not directly connected there were connections between the two bodies of water. 

A final key point to mention is how ideas were traded. K.N. Chaudhuri talks of how many merchants engaged in both their own cultures as well as living alongside other cultures in the Indian Ocean. In specific he gives the example of an Arab merchant in Calicut carrying their own bread so they wouldn't have to eat food prepared by a non-Muslim while living in a bamboo-and-palm-leaf house. In particular Arabs and other Muslims helped spread ideas across both the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. This is what we shall discuss next.

Islamic Influence
Huaisheng Mosque in Guangzhou
Strangely we can see Muslim influence in China at the port of Guangzhou (Canton). In 920 Abu Zaid Hasan writing in the Persian port of Siraf wrote about a revolt in Guangzhou in 828 in which Muslim traders were specifically targeted:
They raised their hands to oppress the foreign merchants who had come to their country; and to these events was joined the rise of oppression and transgression in the treatment of the Arab shipmasters and captains. They imposed illegal burdens on the merchants and appropriated their wealth, and made lawful for themselves what had not been practiced formerly in any of their dealings.
I feel this quote exemplifies the influence of Arabic trade. China is not an area that comes to mind when we think of Arabic and Muslim trade. When we get onto the 'Hundred Years of Humiliation' for China you may find similarities between this incident and the reactions to the British informal empire. Anyway, the photo above shows the Huaisheng Mosque in Guangzhou built to accommodate the Muslim traders and even acted as a lighthouse for Guangzhou. Arab traders helped spread mainly Islam throughout the world. The two main areas we shall look at is East Africa and South East Asia. The great Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta visited Mogadishu, Mombasa and Kilwa in 1331 showing how entrenched Islam had gotten through trade. Ibn Battuta only visited areas where Islam had become the dominant religion. In particular Zanzibar became a key area for trade. Being a few islands off of the African coast with access to the Indian Ocean it was expected. Islam and Zoroastrianism (from Persian traders) helped establish these religions in the area, although Zoroastrianism has been eclipsed by Islam and Christianity now. An Arab population grew on Zanzibar and they eventually ruled the area all the way until 1964. The Indian Ocean trade can be best seen in East Africa today with Swahili. Swahili itself is an Arabic word and today many Swahili words are of Arabic origin. Somalia and Tanzania in particular have sizable Muslim populations today; all this from the Indian Ocean trade.

Islam was spread to Indonesia and Malaysia through the same Muslim merchants. Today Indonesia is home to 12.7% of the world's Muslims. Rich in spices the Indonesian archipelago and the Malaysian peninsula were prime areas for trade which Arabic and Muslim merchants took advantage of. Islam arrived via proselytizing merchants and missionaries in the thirteenth-century. Coming from Gujerat in 1290 merchants established themselves in Perlak on the northern tip of Sumatra. Close to the Malayan Strait this allowed merchants to control access to the Indonesian archipelago, and inevitably spread ideas. Malay was converted c.1400, Java and the Moluccas c.1430 and then the southern Philippines in the 1500s. It is noticeable that areas which were less involved in the trade like Thailand, Vietnam, and Burma remained Buddhist. However, not only did Islam get spread via trade. In 670 a kingdom called Srivijaya was founded on Sumatra whose main city was Palembang. Palembang was located 80 kilometers upstream from a river and located between the Sunda and Melaka straits giving them a monopoly of trade. Indian merchants came to Srivijaya and we see great Hindu influences in Srivijaya despite being a Buddhist power. 
Arabic merchants also affected Europe. The numbers we use are called 'Arabic numerals' as they were brought to Europe via Arab merchants, although they originated in India. The Mediterranean trade helped create a cultural blending between the Islamic and Christian worlds. At Baghdad ideas from Rome and Greece had been preserved and were spread back to Europe to be 'rediscovered'. Arabs had preserved the writings of Aristarchus and Philolaus so that later Copernicus could use their inspiration to formulate his heliocentric theory and he would cite several Islamic astronomers in De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. We even see Islamic style architecture crop up in Italy especially during the Renaissance. Trade had brought Islamic and Christian cultures together.
Palazzo Sticchi in Santa Ceserea Terme, Pugia
Italy and the Republics
Italy was unique in post-Rome Europe by being dominated by republics. Although later on many doges of the Italian republics were de facto monarchs (although some were always like that) they still had the pretense of being republics. Like the ancient Greek republics they were oligarchies but by being answerable to some their policies could be shaped by 'popular' appeal. Only the wealthy could vote and the wealthy happened to be merchants. In particular Venice stood out. As Venice was made of canals it needed resources and to get resources it needed to trade. Soon enough Venice became a maritime power in the Mediterranean similar to the Dutch and British in the seventeenth and eighteenth-centuries. Venice had the best ships and were creditors making them very powerful. As we saw with the Crusades Venice funded the Fourth Crusade which resulted in the sack of Constantinople which Venice benefited greatly from. The Byzantines had slowly been picked apart by the growing Ottoman Empire so the sack of Constantinople allowed Venice to fill the void left by the Byzantines. Venice grew so powerful that they organised convoys of 10-20 huge galleys to protect their trade. They even became wealthy for trading where others refused to do so. Egypt's connection to the Indian Ocean made it rich in goods, especially pepper which was very lucrative, but because of the Crusades and that Egypt was Muslim Egyptian merchants weren't welcome in Europe. Venice continued to do so and even took advantage of it for political reasons. St Mark was the patron saint of Venice but he was buried in Alexandria so two merchants went to Alexandria and put relics believed to be St Mark's body in crates full of pork. As it was pork the Muslim clerks could not touch it so they accidentally gave Venice the corpse. It is actually depicted in St Mark's Basilica in Venice.
The mosaic
The Italian republics became very wealthy and traded with the rest of Europe. Soon firms emerged hiring merchants to trade for them which William Brulez described as 'the new and important element in the commercial development of the sixteenth century'. Venice employed people called conduttori to move goods across Europe, mainly to Germany. After 1558 there was a huge influx of Italian merchants, mainly Venetian, into Germany which lasted until the Thirty Years' War. This European trade was geared towards the south so much that Sebastian Koch in 1559 offered to represent Danzig as well as his home city. For a select few families in mainly Germany this trade was very beneficial and they became very wealthy. 

Venice's domination of the Mediterranean was not entire. Soon Genoa emerged as another major trading power. In 1261 Genoa managed to sign the Treaty of Nymphaeum with the Byzantines which gave Genoa huge trading concessions in return for fifty Genoese vessels whenever the Byzantines wanted it. A poem was even written about the Genoese showing their prolific economic domination:

So many are the Genoese,
And so spread over the earth,
That where they go to settle,
They make another Genoa

The Italian republics also came into a rivalry/accommodation with the Ottoman Empire after it conquered Constantinople in 1453. Venice in particular would wage naval wars with the Ottomans over control of the eastern Mediterranean but in the end after Selim I conquered Syria and Egypt in the early sixteenth-century they sought to trade instead. Here we see a difference to the Indian Ocean. With the Indian Ocean we saw little to no urge to hold a monopoly over sea routes. Only in the Malayan peninsula was this evident. This may be explained by the fact that the Mediterranean states were maritime powers, (Genoa, Venice etc.), while the Indian Ocean was largely land based powers. This contrary views would come into conflict in the seventeenth and eighteenth-centuries when Europe came to the Indian Ocean.

Looking at the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean helps show an alternate side to history. Today we have focused a lot less on rulers, sultans, and monarchs instead focusing on the masses. By looking at trade and its impact we see how historical events and ideas affected the lives of ordinary people. We also see how policy could be shaped by people whose names have been forgotten by history. It also shows us how connected our world has been for centuries. Like with the Silk Road we see how globalization is not a new concept that sprung up with the internet, NAFTA and the EU. When looking at it this way present day globalization doesn't seem such a daunting prospect for present day populations. By looking how the past dealt with globalization we can better deal with modern globalization. Thank you for reading and next time we shall look at the Ming dynasty in China, possibly the most famous Chinese dynasty.

The sources I have used are as follows:
-The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. Volume One by Fernand Braudel
-Later Medieval Europe, 1250-1520 by Daniel Waley and Peter Denley
-The Indian Ocean in World History by Edward A. Alpers
-Asia before Europe: Economy and Civilisation of the Indian Ocean from the Rise of Islam to 1750 by K.N. Chaudhuri
-Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by Paul Michel Muroz
-A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani

For a full list of the World History posts please see here

Sunday, 11 June 2017

What is the Good Friday Agreement?

The Architects of the Agreement
Following the General Election a few days ago (as of writing) to bolster her minority government Theresa May has planned to enter a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The DUP is a hard-right Northern Irish party which wishes to make abortions illegal, wishes to reimpose the death penalty, is virulently homophobic, believe that evolution is not real, and are climate change deniers just to name some of their views. More importantly many people have questioned the safety of the Good Friday Agreement with their main opponents, Sinn Féin, also saying this. What is the Good Friday Agreement though? This is what we shall discuss today.

The Troubles
(For time's sake this history of the Troubles will be simplified to give a broad outline)
British soldiers looking at a burnt out building in Belfast during the Troubles
The Good Friday Agreement brought an end, or at least the beginning of the end, to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Actually defining the Troubles is quite difficult and I could write a huge post just on where we should put the origin of the Troubles. For simplicity we shall place the Troubles in the bracket of 1968 to 1998 and go over the short term origins of the Troubles. In 1922 the Irish Free State became independent (to an extent) from the United Kingdom. Like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa it still had the British monarch as Head of State. In 1949 Ireland became fully independent when it became a republic. In the run up to independence war had actually broken out over the northern provinces. Sectarianism had been a major issue in Ireland since the seventeenth century and the northern provinces were largely Protestant while the south was Catholic. Many Protestants opposed independence as they did not wished to be ruled by a Catholic majority (and if they did want independence it was to be under Protestant rule in Belfast over Catholic rule in Dublin). A compromise was made: the south would be free while the north remained part of the UK but with Home Rule. No one liked this. Southerners wanted all of the island, northerners wanted no independence (or independence under Belfast), and the British neither wanted independence or Home Rule. In 1937 Articles 2 and 3 were added to the Irish Constitution claiming sovereignty over the north (called Ulster) while in Ulster the political structure was organized to ensure that the sizable Catholic minority were kept in check. Of course, for time constraints this is a simplification. Irish politics in the early twentieth century will make the upcoming Brexit negotiations look simple.

Forwarding to 1968 an Irish civil rights movement sprang up. In the USA we had African-Americans, women, and Native Americans fighting for rights, South Africa the anti-apartheid struggle, in France the student uprisings, in Czechoslovakia the Prague Spring, in Australia the Australian Aboriginal civil rights movement as well as hundreds of other movements. In 1967 left-wing Protestants and Catholics formed the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) to end injustices in Northern Ireland. Thanks to Home Rule Northern Ireland could make its own laws so as a result it was the last place in the UK to not have universal suffrage. To vote you had to own property which adversely affected students, Catholics, and poor Protestants. Furthermore, the NICRA wished to challenge various forms of discrimination in Northern Ireland including: gerrymandering, police brutality, and no welfare. As all these issues affected Catholics the most the NICRA soon became a vehicle for Catholic civil rights. In 1968 a march in Derry, sometimes referred to as Londonderry, led to clashes between Catholics and Protestants (with the help of the Royal Ulster Constabulary) in 'the Battle of the Bogside' where a young boy was killed and a Catholic street was burned down. The British army was called in to end the violence. However, this marked a breaking point for the nationalists. The republican Irish Republic Army (IRA) fractured into the Provisional IRA, who favored direct paramilitary action to defend Catholics, and the Official IRA, who favored left-wing coalition between Protestants and Catholics. Meanwhile, Protestant paramilitary groups like Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) started to become prominent. The Troubles had begun.

I could write an entire post on the rest of the Troubles in detail but I shall give a few snapshots. From 1968 there was a three way war between republican paramilitaries, like the Provisional IRA, the unionist paramilitaries, like the UVF, and the British/Irish/Northern Irish governments. Throughout the Troubles the British sometimes aided the unionists while the Irish sometimes aided the republicans. One of the key figures who forged the opposition to the Catholic civil rights movement was Ian Paisley who in 1971 formed the DUP which became heavily associated with the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) formed in the same year. In 1970 the republican Sinn Féin split and the dominant branch (which became the main party) became associated with the Provisional IRA. In 1972 a march by the NICRA in Derry against the army's policy of internment to combat the increasing violence between the paramilitaries (which also affected Catholics more with 90% of those interned being Catholic) turned violent. The army shot 28 unarmed protesters, killing fourteen where eight were aged between 17 and 20. This became known as Bloody Sunday. In 1973 the Sunningdale Agreement tried to create a power-sharing government to bring peace to Northern Ireland but it broke down by a strike organized by Ian Paisley. After Sunningdale failed peace seemed to be a distant memory. Heavy-handed actions by the army and police, the aggressive rhetoric by politicians, and the violence between paramilitaries polarized Northern Ireland. Ireland and Britain themselves also came under fire by the paramilitaries with republicans bombing Britain (almost killing Margaret Thatcher in 1984) and unionists bombing Ireland. In 1981 ten interned republicans led by Bobby Sands went on hunger strike to protest the internment policy but were left to starve to death. There was both a domestic and international outcry following this and Sands became a martyr. 

In 1985 the Anglo-Irish Agreement was made. This gave Ireland consultative role in governing Northern Ireland. Paisley responded harshly against this and there was an increased loyalist violence as a result. One group associates with the DUP, Ulster Resistance, even imported weapons from apartheid South Africa fearing a 'sell-out'. In the late 1980s and early 1990s some of the most infamous attacks on civilians took place. Most of who died during the Troubles were civilians but by this time period the attacks became more prominent by both unionists and republicans. One famous one was the Warrington bomb attacks in Warrington, England in February and March 1993 by republicans which killed two young children. This attack was the inspiration for the hit song by The Cranberries 'Zombie'. A year later the Provisional IRA called for a ceasefire. Key figures in Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, wished for peace and so did many others in Ulster, Ireland and Britain. By calling for a ceasefire Adams and McGuinness allowed the unionist militias to also call a ceasefire. In 1996 when Sinn Féin was initially barred from negotiations before the IRA disarmed the ceasefire was almost destroyed by the IRA's bombing of Canary Warf. However, in 1997 Labour under Tony Blair won the election and the new prime minister decided to allow Sinn Féin into negotiations.

The Agreement
The talks
The Good Friday Agreement was to be formalized by the British and Irish governments as well as the key Northern Irish parties: Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Ulster Democratic Party, Labour Coalition, Alliance Party, Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, the Progressive Unionist Party, and the Ulster Unionist Party. The only one not there was the DUP who virulently opposed the entire peace talks and tried to fight it all the way. There was much backstairs debates in order to get the agreement passed. If you can I would highly recommend reading Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland by Tony Blair's Downing Street Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell who was integral for the British in forging the agreement. Although biased to himself and Blair it does give an interesting insight to some of the dealings done to bring peace; such as Powell having to meet with UDA leaders to fund community projects in their areas. 

The agreement was made of two documents: a British-Irish one and a Multi-party one. The agreement acknowledged that a majority in Northern Ireland wished to remain in the UK while also acknowledging that many wished to be united with Ireland, and both these views were seen as being legitimate by both governments. It was agreed that Northern Ireland would remain British until a majority in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland wanted unification which would then be implemented immediately. Also agreed was that all Northern Irish citizens could be Irish citizens and there was nothing to stop Irish citizens from living freely in the north. Britain agreed to repeal the 1920 Government of Ireland Act which created Northern Ireland while Ireland repealed Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution claiming sovereignty over the north. It was agreed to create the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive as well as North/South and British/Northern Irish institutions. A power-sharing initiative was to be put in place, equality and human rights were to be fully implemented and recognized (including linguistic diversity), and paramilitaries were to be decommissioned. Finally two referendums were to be held, one in the North and one in the Republic, to accept the agreement. On April 10 1998 the agreements were signed. Despite opposition from the DUP and a break away faction of the IRA calling itself the Real IRA which bombed Omagh both referendums accepted the agreement. In the Republic of Ireland 94.39% voted yes and in Northern Ireland 71.1% voted yes as well. The agreements became law in 1999 and in 2006 the St Andrews Agreement finalized the last outlying issues not settled in 1998. 

Why the DUP coalition could jeopardize the Good Friday Agreement
Brexit polarized Northern Ireland with both the DUP and Sinn Féin doing well in the most recent elections representing opposing views on Brexit (Sinn Féin opposing Brexit while the DUP was in favor of it). The DUP is still a very polarizing party in Northern Ireland. Although discussions are still going on about the coalition Theresa May's coalition could very likely throw the Good Friday Agreement into jeopardy. Although they agreed to power-sharing in the St Andrews Agreement they are still ardent unionists. Important to remember as well following the Brexit result Gerry Adams has stated a referendum on Northern Ireland's sovereignty could be in the works. By granting the DUP a chance to form a government in Westminster May has placed the unionists firmly above the nationalists in a system where you are not supposed to do that. Although bias Powell in his book goes into great detail about how the smallest of points of the Good Friday Agreement took days if not months to agree on. In her quest to cling onto power May has disregarded this entire peace agreement. Will this cause the Troubles v.2? At this moment in time I would say no but there is a chance that we may see a return of the Troubles.

Thank you for reading and the sources I have used are as follows:
-Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland by Colin Powell
-Northern Ireland's '68: Civil Rights, Global Revolt and the Origins of the Troubles by Simon Prince
-The Northern Ireland Question: The Peace Process and the Belfast Agreement edited by Brian Barton and Patrick Roche
-Ireland: 1798-1998 by Alvin Jackson
-Northern Ireland since 1945 by Sabine Wichert

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Comics Explained: Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Two (Part 3)

War with the Green Lanterns
Last time Superman's oppressive regime on Earth allied itself with Sinestro and the Sinestro Corps. The Green Lanterns in retaliation have sent a huge squadron to bring Superman to heel. Seeing this as a chance to do away with the Regime Batman and the Resistance have allied themselves with the Green Lanterns. Now Regime and Resistance wait for the arrival of the Lanterns...

Regime against Lanterns
A paralyzed Batman and Oracle give out a message to the Resistance from Green Lantern Guy Gardner to inform them of the Green Lantern Corps arriving on Earth. That message is: When the sky goes green. Oracle's insider in the Justice League has managed to get her a chance to track the League's communications which she then uses to locate the positions of each Justice League member. She also informs Batman where each of the Resistance's forces are but Batman is unhappy with Harley Quinn's presence in the Resistance; Quinn was inducted thanks to the assistance of Black Canary. Suddenly the world is shrouded in darkness: the Lanterns have arrived. The other Earth-based Lanterns, Hal Jordan and John Stewart, are bewildered that Guy Gardner has brought such a vast amount of Lanterns to Earth, including their largest member (Mogo the Living Planet). Guy happily greets his fellow Guardians but is dismayed when he sees Superman and Sinestro (with members of the Sinestro Corps) flying to him as well. Hal forms a bubble around the three Lanterns and Superman to allow for last minute diplomacy. Guy begs Superman to help the Green Lanterns to take out the Sinestro Corps, and to turn himself in saying that the Guardians of the Universe will leave his friends alone as well as giving him a fair trial. Clark retaliates by saying that if the Green Lanterns leave no one needs to die. Guy threatens that Clark cannot win against the Lanterns while Superman calls Guy an embarrassment to the Justice League and Earth. Angry Guy tries to punch Superman but his Kryptonian reflexes allows him to easily dodge the punch. Superman breaks Guy's arm and hurls him from the light bubble.
Parley failed
Concerned for his friend John goes to see to Guy as the Green Lantern Salaak orders the attack on the Sinestro Corps and Superman. Suddenly Guy yells for Hal to get out of the way. He tells John that his antagonizing of Superman was a feint: it was to get Superman and Sinestro in Mogo's line of fire. Before John can warn his friend Hal, Superman, Sinestro and several Yellow Lanterns are caught in Mogo's blast.
Mogo's Attack 
On Earth Oracle says that this is the sign which the Resistance was waiting for (with Harley saying 'Naww, pretty'). Batman communicates with Black Canary in the Batcave who is being given a custom made pistol by Alfred. This gun has kryptonite tipped bullets. Batman asks Dinah to shoot to incapacitate Clark but she says 'the guy with the best aim is dead'. Elsewhere the League find out that they have lost contact with Superman. Suddenly, in space, Superman bursts from Mogo's rays with Hal under one arm and Sinestro under the other. Hal forms a bubble around Clark so he can talk to Cyborg (after all space is a vacuum). Superman tells Cyborg that a quarter of the Sinestro Corps have been killed and that the remaining ones should go to the upper atmosphere knowing that the Lanterns won't repeat that attack with them there. Superman has now descended to using Earth as a shield. With the League distracted and Sinestro Corps scattered the Resistance decides to make its attacking the Hall of Justice. Commissioner Gordon's group gets ready to lay siege to the Hall and he warns Harley not to go off task: if she doesn't take out the Flash their operation could be done for. Harley uses a bomb strapped to herself to blow up outside the Hall next to a guard (thanks to the nanotech pills though she is unharmed). The Flash quickly goes to rescue the guard which turns out to be Catwoman in disguise who uses small device to incapacitate Flash. Suddenly, she comes under attack from Robin.
Robin attacks Catwoman
Outside Gordon leads the assault on the Hall of Justice. The GCPD quickly breaks in and Cyborg is forced to hold them off with an arm cannon. Lex Luthor orders Cyborg to take the teleporter to the Watchtower; if he gets captured the Regime would have lost their most key individual. However, when Cyborg reaches the teleporter he realizes that their communications have been hacked. Cyborg refuses to follow Lex's orders to turn off communications as he argued that it would leave the League blind. Just as Cyborg teleports away Lex is overran. We then cut to Catwoman and Robin. Selina has lost all patience with the child saying 'Your father is much better off without you. You're just this joyless, entitled, moody, whining little **** and you hurt Bruce. I'm going to punish you for that.' Luthor surrenders to Gordon (with Harley asking if she can rub his shiny bald head for luck), but Luthor tells Gordon that he knows his daughter is Oracle and he wants to talk. We find out that Luthor is Oracle's insider and that Cyborg is going to trace the hacked communications to her. Lex takes Gordon to the teleporter so he can deal with Cyborg, although Lex asks for his secret to be kept. A mole is useless if everyone knows who the mole is. Gordon asks Lex if he knows how far along his cancer is. When Lex says that he does Gordon says 'dead men don't tell secrets'.

Soon after the duo teleport away Catwoman informs Oracle that they've captured the Hall of Justice. This prompts a force under Batwoman and Huntress to attack the Ferris Airfield. This prompts Carol to get Hal to break off from the fight who is unknowingly followed by Guy and Sinestro. As Huntress tries to pilot a jet a green hand construct grabs hold of the plane. However, Guy soon arrives ordering Hal to let go of the jet. Just as a fight is about to break out between the two Lanterns (despite Guy cradling a broken arm) Guy is blasted with a yellow light construct. He is shocked. He had tried with all his might to convince the Guardians that Hal wasn't allied to Sinestro. Angry he yells 'You were supposed to be the best of us...You're not supposed to be Superman's puppet'. Just as Sinestro goes to kill Guy a green construct blocks the blast and suddenly leader of the Green Lanterns Ganthet appears...
Ganthet comes to save Guy
Sinestro starts to battle Ganthet and Guy quickly saves Carol from the flaming debris from a jet thrown by Sinestro at Ganthet. Seeing this enrages Hal who attacks Guy ignoring the safety of Carol. Ganthet sees this and declares Hal an oathbreaker stripping him of his ring. In order to save Carol, (now falling from the sky), Hal accepts a Yellow Ring from Sinestro. Hal has now become a Yellow Lantern.
Hal Jordan, Sinestro Corps member
Batman and Oracle realize that Sinestro is purposefully stretching the Green Lantern forces thin. The Yellow Lanterns are purposefully locating themselves in large cities so they can use civilians as human shields. As Batman tells Oracle to give the Lanterns new orders she finds out that someone is tracing them. On the Watchtower Cyborg hears the teleporter and assumes that it is Lex Luthor. He says that he has found out their hacker is someone called Oracle, and that he should find them soon. However, he then hears the click of a gun's safety. Gordon now is standing over the 'unconscious' body of Luthor. Cyborg calls Gordon's bluff believing that Gordon wouldn't dare shoot inside a space station only for Gordon to shoot the metallic side of his face. He threatens to shoot the human side if Cyborg doesn't end the scan. Cyborg refuses saying that Gordon would never kill in cold blood and that he just has to wait. Upon scanning Gordon's vitals he has found out that the GCPD commissioner only has moments to live. The nanotech pills have put a strain on Gordon's body. Cyborg asks if there is anything which he can do to comfort Gordon in his final moments, but is surprised when Gordon attacks him. In his final moments he renders Cyborg unconscious which ends the trace. Gordon tells Batman and Oracle how beautiful the Earth looks, and for Oracle to stay strong.
Gordon's last words
Canary v. Kryptonian
We now return to the Ferris Airfield. Upon seeing Hal as a Yellow Lantern standing next to Sinestro Ganthet declares both them a mistake. With Hal distracted Batwoman and Huntress take this as an opportunity to commandeer another jet. Black Canary, meanwhile, has gotten into the Batplane to do her part in the mission. Batman warns her though that the Batplane is lined with lead; thanks to this Superman won't be able to see her and may think that she is Batman. At the airfield Ganthet orders Guy to leave enraging Sinestro who's egomania causes him to overstate his own power. Ganthet easily kills the other Yellow Lanterns and leaves Sinestro declaring him to be insignificant. In the skies just as Superman is about to kill Salaak Ganthet creates a light construct preventing it. The Guardian renders Kal-El unconscious and he is narrowly saved by two Yellow Lanterns, (who are in turn driven off by Batwoman in a jet). As he wakes up Superman sees the Batplane and in a fit of fury destroys it with his heat vision. However, he is immediately flawed by a sonic cry. Black Canary releases another Canary Cry and the two meet one another on the ground. In the crater created by Superman's crash he tries to tell Dinah that he never meant to hurt anyone. She spits back: 'You want me to feel sorry for you? You're the most powerful thing on Earth. Stop pretending that someone else is to blame. It's pathetic. You have super-vision. You're telling me that you can't see the evil, murdering dictator that you've become? I'm just glad that Lois died before she could see you like this.' This enrages Superman who grabs her by the throat. This gives her the opportunity to shoot Superman with the kryptonite bullet. She says that the only reason why she missed vitals was because of a promise to Batman. As she comments about his reign being over Ganthet starts annihilating the Yellow Lanterns and incapacitates Shazam. Cyborg, who was teleported back to the Hall of Justice by Luthor, is also rounded up by the GCPD as Catwoman looks over a captured Robin, and Harley tries to 'reprogram' Flash with electroshock therapy,..and a Superman puppet.
Electroshock therapy and puppets
Just as Dinah calls for Guy to take Clark away a Yellow Lantern ring goes to Superman: Kal-El of the planet Krypton. You have the ability to instill Great Fear. Dinah tries to stop him from getting the ring but he shoots her through her torso with his heat vision. Superman stands over Black Canary as a member of the Sinestro Corps...
Kal-El, Yellow Lantern
End of the War
As Superman towers over her a dying Dinah reveals her last trick card: she was wearing contacts which just streamed Superman's murder of her across the world. Enraged Superman leaves her to die in a pool of blood and begins killing Green Lanterns. He confronts Ganthet demanding to know if this is what he wanted. Meanwhile, John Stewart has been trying to call for peace. Sinestro feigns concern and tries to convince John that the Guardians don't care for Earth. When he refuses to believe that Sinestro stabs John through the heart. 
Sinestro murders John
Sinestro flies a dying John to Hal who dies in his arms before he can reveal the truth. He tells Hal that Guy did this; in fact, this entire war was a plot by Guy to become the sole Lantern for the Sector. John was very close to Hal. Losing John and seeing himself betrayed by the Guardians of the Universe he stops thinking straight. Hal now only wants the blood of Guy Gardner. Hal finds Guy and attacks him, but his former friend refuses to fight back. He begs Hal saying that he could still be the greatest Lantern, but Sinestro just goads Hal further. Hal tears off Guy's ring arm letting a shocked and betrayed Guy fall to his death.
Guy's death
Upon hearing of Guy's murder Batman calls for a retreat. With Hal fully turned and Superman now a Yellow Lantern the Green Lanterns are doomed. Also, their streaming of Black Canary's death just boosted Superman's power. Sinestro Corps members utilize fear and the more fear they can instill the more powerful they become. By streaming Superman's rampage the Insurgency just made billions scared of him the fear of billions to use. Ganthet in the heat of battle decides to use his omnipotent power to personally execute Superman. However, the fear of billions allows Superman to be unscathed. Superman grabs Ganthet and throws him against Mogo forcing the Guardian to the planet's core. Declaring that the Earth doesn't need protection from the Guardians anymore he throws them into the sun.
Superman triumphant
In an epilogue Dr Fate looks over the body of Black Canary. He says two words: **** fate. Dinah soon wakes up in a cabin somewhere. Dr Fate informs her that she was destined to die but he intervened and took her to another reality with her infant son, Connor. Oliver Queen walks in and Fate tells her that the Dinah Lance of this reality died years ago. He leaves them as Oliver is introduced to his son.

That is it for Injustice: Year Two. In Year Three a new front opens in the war between the Insurgency and the Regime as both sides court the use of magic...

Sunday, 14 May 2017

History in Focus: The Black Death

The Dance of Death
In the mid-fourteenth century an epidemic spread across Eurasia. This epidemic obliterated populations and costed the lives of of between 75 and 200 million people. In Europe it is estimated that 60% of the population were wiped out by this epidemic. For this it has been remembered as the Black Death. Strangely, despite the huge ramifications of the Black Death it has often been sidelined by historians; in The Penguin History of the World John Roberts devotes less than a page to the Black Plague in a 1,188 page book. The Black Plague shaped the world and shows us how the most primitive form of life can fundamentally alter human history.

Origins and Early Plagues
Yersina pestis
The Black Death was not the first epidemic to decimate the planet's population. As we saw when we looked at the Byzantine Empire a plague outbreak in the mid-sixth century wiped out 25 million people, and was nicknamed 'Justinian's Plague' after the Byzantine emperor. Today we now know that the bacteria which caused the plague is Yersina pestis; this bacteria is named after its discoverer Alexandre Yersin. This bacteria produces three types of plague: bubonic, pneumonic and septicemic. The bubonic form causes the lymph glands to swell creating painful, pus-filled swellings called 'buboes'. Compared to pneumonic and septicemic forms it was possible to recover from this strain, and it is likely that Byzantine Emperor Justinian caught this strain over the over strains. Pneumonic forms creates an effect like pneumonia; the lungs (pneuma) fill with fluid which can be spread to healthy people via coughing and sneezing. Finally, septicaemiac causes dark discoloration of the skin caused by toxins produced by the pathogen. In a pre-antibiotic and pre-modern medicine world pneumonic and septicaemiac strains were far more fatal than the bubonic variety. Due to the dark buboes and skin caused by the disease William Chester Jordan has suggested that this is the reason for it being called 'the Black Death'; the first recorded usage of this term was in 1555 in Sweden calling it svarta doden. It is a common misconception that rats carried the plague. Instead it was the fleas living on rats which carried the disease. Fleas would jump from rat to human, and as they bit their new host they would transmit the disease. Black rats lived alongside humans so as infected rats died fleas jumped to humans.

For years it was believed that the plague originated in China. After all, in 1911 there was a small outbreak in Manchuria. However, graves dating from 1338 at Lake Issyk Kul in Kazakhstan have inscriptions saying that the dead had died of the plague. Historians now believe the steppes of Central Asia to be the origins of the Black Death outbreak. Geneticists have stated still that northern China could still be the origin. Whether it originated in China or Central Asia it was the perfect position to spread across Eurasia for two reasons: the Silk Road and the Mongols. The Silk Road created a momentous trade route which stretched from Korea to the western Mediterranean. Merchants traded goods across Eurasia and with them came rats. Merchants took rodents with their fleas through India to the Middle East where rats would hop aboard ships. There they would infect the crews as they made landfall in Europe. The Mongols also helped. Not only did they allow the Silk Road to be reborn their conquests spread the disease. Infected soldiers and horses took the plague from Central Asia and China across Eurasia. Not only that the Mongols used biological warfare. It was not uncommon for Mongol armies to catapult plague-infected corpses across city walls further spreading the disease. By 1353 the plague had infected China, Korea, India, the Middle East and Europe.

The Plague in the Middle East
The Plague spreading to the Middle East
The Black Death arrived in the Middle East through two routes: one via the Indian Ocean and one via a land route. In the fourteenth century the Middle East was one of the most prosperous regions in the entire world. Baghdad and Cairo had a population of over a million by 1300 as Aleppo, Damascus and Tunis had populations between 50 to 100,000. The cities of the Middle East attracted merchants from across India, Europe and China. However, it had started to decline. The Mongol invasions had devastated the region (although it still remained lucrative), and irrigation systems had started to fail. Traders from Constantinople inadvertently brought the plague to Alexandria and by 1347 it had spread north into Gaza, Jerusalem, Damascus and Acre to name but a few cities. In 1349 there was a huge outbreak in Mecca. This was serious as it could then spread to Muslim pilgrims. The sultan of Yemen returning from captivity in Cairo accidentally brought the plague with his party in 1351 infecting the region.

The Plague in Europe
The Plague in Europe
Traders brought the plague to Constantinople in 1347. Constantinople had one of the most lucrative markets in the world so merchants spread it to the rest of Europe. Europe had been going through crisis at the time. A generation prior to the epidemic famines had swept Europe. Thousands had died through starvation or had moved to urban areas to escape the impoverished rural areas. Paradoxically, Europe faced overpopulation. The famines were exacerbated by too many mouths working too little land. The feudal system was constricting on the rural population meaning that they could not adapt too much. Centuries later Malthus would cite this as why overpopulation could wreck society. The Black Plague hit Europe at a time of weakness. There seems to be several points of entry of the plague into Europe but one of the main ones was Sicily. Writing ten years after the outbreak a Franciscan friar wrote that twelve Genoese galleys brought the infection to Messina, possibly from Crimea. It is believed that they then took the disease to Genoa and Venice. Within a year outbreaks were recorded across Italy, France, Spain, and Greece, and had even spread to southern England. The plague devastated Europe's peasantry and even rat population. In the Burgundian village of Givry deaths per year before the plague ranged from 14 to 43; in 1348 it was at 649. On the Taunton estate of the Bishop of Winchester there were 23 deaths in 1346, 34 in 1347, and then shot up to 707 in 1349. What is important to note is how the plague infected countries at different points. For example, the plague entered England through Bristol in the south and Grimsby in the north. Only a few regions remained relatively unaffected like the Kingdom of Poland, Alpine regions and some areas in the Basque. This was due to a lack of trade which prevented the spread of the plague. By 1353 almost all of Europe was infected.

Reactions to the Plague
The Grim Reaper visits
The Black Death had a profound affect on primarily Europe and the Middle East. As we have seen entire communities were decimated by the plague. It was during this period that we see more of the icons that we associate with death appearing. The Grim Reaper is one such example. With so many people dying death became personified. Doctors across Europe and the Middle East tried to ascertain what exactly caused the plague. Here we see a divergence between religion and other aspects of society. Egyptian chronicler Maqrizi managed to identify how long it took people to die from the disease and tried to find its origin. He successfully identified that it affected the animal world as well, and even managed to say that it came from Uzbekistan. He said that onagers, boars, lions, camels, hares, and wolves 'all lay dead in fields afflicted with the boil'. In contrast, others turned to more supernatural ideas. A Flemish cleric wrote:
in the East, hard by Greater India, in a certain province, horrors and unheard of tempests overwhelmed the whole province for the space of three days. On the first day there was a rain of frogs, serpents, lizards, scorpions, and many other venemous beasts of that sort...On the third day there fell fire from the heaven and stinging smoke, which slew all that were left of men and beasts, and burned up all the cities and towns in those parts. By these tempests the whole province was infected...
Similar to how the Christian world viewed the Viking raids the plague was often seen as a punishment from God. It was widely believed that the plague was punishment for the sins of Europe. One chronicler wrote:
This plague on these accursed galleys was a punishment from God, since these same galleys helped the Turks and Saracens to take the city of Romanais which belonged to the Christians and broke down the walls and slew the Christians as though they were cattle or worse; and the Genoese wrought far more slaughter and cruelty on the Christian than even the Saracens had done.
Here it is clear that European merchants who traded with Muslim states, or acted as mercenaries for Muslims, were to blame for the plague. At a local level we see this as well. General calls of impiety and sin of the populace were blamed. Unfortunately, those rejected and marginalized by society were blamed for the plague. Romani, lepers, pilgrims, foreigners, and Jews to name a few groups were targeted by populations. Muslims and Jews were comparatively less affected by the Black Death due to the emphasis on cleanliness in their religions. This helped reduce the chance of infection. In Europe Jews were often confined to ghettos which segregated them from the rest of the population reducing their chances of infection. As a result they were accused of causing the plague (although they too were infected). Jews were wrongly accused of poisoning wells and pogroms began. In 1349 on Valentine's Day in Strasbourg 900 Jews were burnt alive despite the plague not affecting the city yet. Across Europe pogroms caused the deaths of hundreds to thousands of Jews. It was also promoted by authorities. Murdering Jews was seen as social cleansing to get rid of sin in the local community. 

Seventeenth Century Plague Doctor
The Black Death changed world history. With a maximum of 200 million people being killed by the epidemic the world's population sharply dropped. Europe's population dropped by 30-60% and a third of China's population died. Strangely, the Black Death aided in Europe's rise to power. As mentioned earlier Europe was facing a crisis with overpopulation. It is morbid but the plague fixed this issue. With labor being in shorter supply laborers became more valuable and they knew it. Italian chroniclers recorded how nurses and artisans in the cities called for higher wages, and rural laborers for better land. This helped kickstart the European economy which would later dominate the world. Specifically in western Europe feudalism and serfdom went into decline, and in England serfdom disappeared within a century. The social upheavals and shifting economy facilitated Europe's transition away from the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, in China the plague was one factor which contributed to the fall of the Yuan Dynasty. The plague reaffirmed to many people that the dynasty had lost the Mandate of Heaven. 

The Black Death was not the last plague outbreak. There were a series of outbreaks in Italy in 1361-2, 1381-4, 1400, 1422-25, 1436-9, 1447-51 and 1485-7. In England there were eleven outbreaks until the 1490s. Outbreaks would continue through the years with a major one in 1665 striking London. In Yunnan Province in 1855 there was another pandemic which spread to every continent where 12 million died in China and India. Even more frightening in 1994 a smallscale outbreak in Surat, India killed 52.

Studying the Black Death shows how not everything in history can be controlled by humans. Although we aided the spread we could do nothing to prevent it to start with. The Black Death also helps paint a light on future outbreaks. Smallpox in the Americas caused the Great Dying resulting in the deaths of 90% of the Native American population. The spread of smallpox initially started like the Black Death with it being spread by unknowing populations. It then paralleled the Black Plague again as it began being used as a way to decimate populations the same way that the Mongols used the plague. Knowing about the Black Death also helps us today. We live in an increasingly globalized world with connections everywhere. Over the last century we have faced huge epidemics including the Spanish Influenza pandemic. In recent years we have faced AIDs, SARS, bird flu, swine flu, ebola and Zika. A pandemic could potentially wipe out humanity. By looking at the past we can possibly save ourselves. Thank you for reading and, next time we shall compare and contrast the worlds of the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean to see how trade shaped the societies there.

The sources I have used are as follows:
-The Black Death by Philip Ziegler
-The Black Death Transformed: Disease and Culture in Early Renaissance Europe by Samuel Cohn Jr.
-The Penguin History of the World by John Roberts
-A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani
-Europe in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries by Denys Hay
-The Black Death and the Transformation of the West by David Herlihy
-Europe in the High Middle Ages by William Chester Jordan
-The Black Death: The Greatest Catastrophe Ever

For a full list of the World History posts please see here