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Friday, 30 June 2017

The Lantern Corps

Eight of the Lantern Corps
The Lantern Corps are some of my favorite aspect of the DC universe after the entire mythos surrounding Gotham. The Blackest Night story arc is one of my favorite non-Batman stories to come out of DC comics. In recent years the popularity of the Lantern Corps have been growing and new comic fans, or non-fans who enjoyed Injustice 2, may wonder who exactly the Lantern Corps are. The Lantern Corps harness one emotion to give them powers through a power ring and each emotion manifests itself as a color on the color spectrum; hence it is referred to as the Emotional Spectrum. With the basics covered let's look at each Corps.

Red Lanterns
Red Lantern Logo
The Red Lanterns utilize rage to create their powers; their own rage and the rage of others. Unlike other power rings the rings of a Red Lantern turns the blood of the user into highly corrosive flames which the user spits out instead of constructing light constructs. This blood is highly corrosive and can even burn through the light constructs of other Lanterns. When someone becomes a Red Lantern they become filled with so much rage that they start a murderous rampage and will kill any who crosses their path until they are forcibly bathed in the Blood Lake of Ysmault. With other Lantern Corps they can simply remove their ring but the Red Lantern ring is connected to the wielder's heart so it will kill the wielder when removed. The ring provides the circulation of the wielder so if the heart is removed as long as the ring is intact the wielder can survive. However, the Red Lanterns have a weakness. The combined power of a green and blue ring can destroy a red ring. Also, if the wielder's heart fills with love over rage this will cancel out the effects of the red ring (as love is on the opposite end of the Emotional Spectrum to rage) but a Blue Lantern is still required to properly 'cleanse' the wielder. This happened to Mera during the Blackest Night event and currently she is the only Red Lantern to be cured this way. The Red Lanterns were founded by a former psychologist called Atrocitus on Ryut whose rage against the Manhunters, who massacred his planet and family, and the Guardians of the Universe, who didn't stop it, caused the creation of the Red Lanterns after mixing his rage with blood magic. Their oath is:
With blood and rage of crimson red, Ripped from a corpse so freshly dead, Together with our hellish hate, We'll burn you all- that is your fate!

Agent Orange
Orange Lantern Logo
Other than being named after a chemical weapon the Orange Lanterns are unique with it being the only Lantern Corps to have only one member for most of its history. Agent Orange, Larfleeze, was a member of a thieves guild who discovered the Orange Power Battery in a temple on the planet Okaara. The Guardians of the Universe made a deal with Larfleeze and his companion: one of them could keep the Battery if it never left the system. Larfleeze killed his companion and he took the power of the Orange Power Battery. The Orange Ring is powered by avarice. This explains why there is only one Orange Lantern at once. Larfleeze's greed is so great thanks to the Orange Ring so much that he cannot let the power be shared with others. During the Blackest Night story the Guardian Ganthet copied each of the rings making another member of each corps (Mera became a Red Lantern), and Lex Luthor became an Orange Lantern. During the event Luthor tried to take another person's ring and when the event ended Larfleeze stripped him of his ring and handed him to the heroes (commenting it was the only time he ever gave someone something). Larfleeze can absorb the energy of other rings with the exception of Blue and Violet Lanterns. Their oath is:
What's mine is mine and mine is mine. And mine and mine and mine! Not Yours!
Sinestro Corps
Sinestro Corps Logo
The Sinestro Corps, or Yellow Lanterns, are likely the most famous Lantern Corps after the Green Lanterns. Yellow Lanterns use fear for power but not their own fear. Instead they inspire fear in others which powers them. They are named after their founder: Sinestro. Sinestro was a Green Lantern who became a tyrant over his homeworld of Korugar. The Guardians of the Universe banished him to the antimatter universe where he returned wielding yellow energy unlocking the ability to use fear. Here it is time to introduce the entities. Each emotion is represented by an entity and for fear this is Parallax. Sinestro with Parallax brought down Hal Jordan and the Green Lanterns. It's a bit confusing but Parallax was Hal Jordan's evil alter-ego but that has been retconned so Parallax is the entity of fear. During the Blackest Night event the Batman villain Scarecrow, (who uses a toxin to make people see their darkest fears), was briefly made a Yellow Lantern. Batman at one time was even offered the chance to become a Sinestro Corps member. Like many totalitarian regimes the Sinestro Corps do not see themselves as being evil. Instead they see themselves as bringing order to the universe where the Green Lanterns have failed to do so. Their oath is:
In blackest day, in brightest night! Beware your fears turned into light, Let those who try to stop what's right, Burn like his power...Sinestro's might!
Green Lanterns
Green Lantern logo
The Green Lantern Corps is by far the most famous of the Lantern Corps. The Green Lanterns were founded by the Guardians of the Universe from the planet Maltus. As one of the first intelligent species in existence the Maltusians disagreed about how they should interact with the universe, and those who believed that they should contain evil moved to the planet Oa. At first they created a group of androids called the Manhunters (they originally tried to recruit the Martians but they refused). However, the Manhunters were seen as flawed as they could not recognize emotion and they themselves went full Skynet and rebelled against the Guardians. Later, when the Guardians had exiled the Manhunters the androids massacred Ryut leading to Atrocitus' rage which formed the Red Lanterns. The Guardians instead resorted to using biological lifeforms using power rings powered by the use of willpower (albeit it is not an emotion). It instead involves controlling ones emotions. A Green Lantern can create energy and light constructs of anything, and is only limited by their will and imagination. The Green Lanterns act as intergalactic police fighting evil, bringing peace etc. throughout the DC universe. The Guardians divided the area of the universe which they patrolled into 7200 sectors where two Green Lanterns patrol each sector with the exception of Sector-2814. Sector-2814 is home to Earth and usually have around for Lanterns. However, one is usually on Earth while the other three are on Oa or somewhere across the universe. As of writing the Green Lanterns from Earth have included: Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, John Stewart (my personal favorite), Simon Baz, Jade, and Jessica Cruz. A good way to describe the Green Lanterns is that they are DC's jedi which use willpower instead of the Force. During the Blackest Night event Guardian of the Universe Ganthet was made a Green Lantern. Their oath is:
Inn brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight, Let those who worship evil's might, Beware my power, Green Lantern's Light!
Blue Lanterns
Blue Lantern Logo
The Blue Lanterns use hope to create their light constructs. Those who have much hope, or inspire hope in others, are chosen to become Blue Lanterns on the same basis as the other Lantern Corps. Two Guardians of the Universe founded the Blue Lanterns, Ganthet and Sayd. In the Book of Oa there is a prediction of the Blackest Night (more on that later) and these two Guardians were the only ones to acknowledge that the prophecy was coming to pass. Thanks to this, and their willingness to show emotion, led to their exile from Oa. In exile they formed the Blue Lanterns where Saint Walker of the planet Astonia becomes the first Blue Lantern. The sun which Astonia orbited was dying and Saint Walker offered a beacon of hope for the doomed people of Astonia; hence he was chosen to wield the first blue power ring. Blue power rings are simultaneously weak and powerful. They can only perform the basic ring functions when they are not near a Green Lantern but become very powerful when they are near, or working with, a Green Lantern. Without willpower hope is nothing. A blue ring can negate the effects of a red ring, drain the power of a yellow ring, block orange rings, and charge any ring (although it works best on green rings). It can power a green ring so much that a blue power battery can accidentally overcharge a green ring making it explode. Blue rings can heal wounds, regenerate lost limbs and even reduce the age of Astonia's sun. During Blackest Night Barry Allen, the Flash, was made a Blue Lantern. Their oath is:
In fearful day, in raging night, With strong hearts full, our souls ignite, When all seems lost in the War of Light, Look to the stars-For Hope burns bright!
Indigo Tribe
Indigo Tribe Logo
The Indigo Tribe uses compassion to power themselves. However, despite this they have a sinister side to them with them forcibly recruiting people and appearing to be ready to replace the Green Lanterns. Hal Jordan's predecessor, Abin Sur, helped found the Indigo Tribe after he helped slaves overthrow their captors on the planet Nok. Their he and the leader of the resistance, Natromo, bring an enemy of Abin Sur called Iroque (who murdered his daughter) to Nok where she becomes filled with compassion. Iroque, now called Indigo-1, became the first Indigo Tribe member. Now the Indigo Tribe collects the worst murderers, sadists and monsters filling them with compassion to induct them into the Indigo Tribe. Instead of using a power battery to charge the ring Indigo Tribe members use a staff. If forced to wear an indigo ring, (so most members), a wielder cannot feel any emotion other than compassion but this allows Indigo Tribe members to channel emotions of others. When this is done to other Lantern Corps members this can allow the Indigo Tribe to use their light constructs. For example, when channeling a Red Lantern they can spit the fire-blood. If the ring is removed from a wielder who does not willingly wear it they resort to their original passionless self. During Blackest Night Atom became a member. The Indigo Tribe's oath has no direct English translation with an alien language being used instead:
Tor lorek san, bor nakka mur, Natromo faan tornek wot ur. Ter Lantern ker lo Abin Sur, Taan lek lek nok- Formorrow Sur!
Star Sapphires
Star Sapphire Logo
The Star Sapphires use love to power their rings. This group had their origin in the founding of the Guardians of the Universe. A group of female Guardians disagreed with their fellows that they should live life without emotion so left. There on the planet Zamaron they discovered the parasitic Star Sapphire which attached onto them and give them the power to revenge themselves. Knowing the Star Sapphire would get too powerful they constructed a Power Battery to control them. The love which powers Star Sapphires is not as clear cut as one would imagine. It is powered mainly by lost love: either through a spurned love where the power is used to revenge the lost love, or through the love for someone they've lost in order to fight against fear and hate. Star Sapphires can convert other Lantern Corps member through conversion crystals. On Zamaron someone can be encased in a conversion crystal which fills them with love over other emotions; later on we find out that this actually forces the person to feel love rather than awakening the love in someone's heart Kingdom Hearts style. Curiously the Star Sapphires only accept females although occasionally males have been members. Guy Gardner briefly wielded a violet ring, Superman-Prime was made a member during Blackest Night, and Sinestro himself was placed in a conversion crystal but it failed to convert him. Wonder Woman was made a Star Sapphire during Blackest Night as well. Their oath is:
For hearts long lost and full of fright, For those alone in blackest night, Accept our ring and join our fight, Love conquers all-with violet light!
Black Lanterns
Black Lantern Logo
The Black Lanterns do not use emotion. Instead they are the dead resurrected. In the beginning of the DC universe it lost the fight against the white light of creation but the fighting caused the white light to splinter into the Emotional Spectrum. The Guardians created a prophecy that the Black Light would return one day bringing the Blackest Night but only one Green Lantern took it seriously: Abin Sur. After he discovered that the Blackest Night would come only Ganthet, Sayd and the Zamarons believed him. During the War of Light the Anti-Monitor was thrown onto a planet disturbing the Black Power Battery. A Guardian called Scar is corrupted by the battery and she convinces the villain Black Hand to kill his family before committing suicide. Scar then resurrected Hand with the first Black Lantern Ring where she informed him that he was the embodiment of Death in the same way that Parallax embodied fear. Hand then uses the skull of Bruce Wayne to release thousands of black rings from Sector 666 which head towards Earth and Oa resurrecting dead heroes, villains, and Lanterns. We later find out that a being called Nekron created the black rings in order to kill the Entity, the embodiment of Life. The Black Lanterns gain power through killing people but at even minimal power they can fly, create energy constructs etc. The ring grants them invulnerability with normally fatal injuries and magic being useless on them. Other than resurrecting the dead the rings can kill those who have died and come back to life. Only the original Dove, Don Hall, managed to resist the black ring which continued to say 'Don Hall of Earth at Peace'. Black Lanterns do have weaknesses. They are made redundant by White Lanterns as well as white light. If all seven Lantern Corps shoot a Black Lantern it can destroy them. Also, people who can wield white light, like Doctor Light, can destroy them and Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth works against them. The Flash even stopped him and Hal Jordan from becoming Black Lanterns by running them two seconds into the future. After the Blackest Night they have virtually gone out of existence. Their oath is:
The Blackest Night falls from the skies, The darkness grows as all light dies, We crave your hearts and your demise, By my black hand, the dead shall Rise!
White Lanterns
White Lantern Logo
While the Black Lanterns are death the White Lanterns are life. Earth was the source of all life in the universe in the form of the embodiment of Life called the Entity. Nekron hoped to destroy the Entity during the Blackest Night but failed when Hal Jordan bonded with the Entity (although Sinestro briefly bonded with it first). Jordan used the Entity to resurrect the already resurrected heroes who Nekron killed to become Black Lanterns as well as the Anti-Monitor who acted as the Black Lantern Power Battery. He then used the Entity to sever Nekron's tie to Black Hand and release twelve White Lantern rings to resurrect a further twelve heroes and villains. Following the defeat of the Black Lanterns all the White Lanterns, with the exception of Deadman, return to normal. Since then Kyle Rayner has mastered all seven emotions that comprise the Emotional Spectrum becoming a White Lantern. White Lanterns when possessed by the Entity have the ability to resurrect the dead (including dead plants) as well as being able to wipe out Black Lanterns. Kyle Rayner while possessing a white ring can use powers from each of the Lantern Corps with the exception of the Black Lanterns. Currently we don't know the White Lantern oath unless if they don't have one at all.

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.


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