31 January 2005

A Chinese Lotus in an Indian Swamp

My name is Laileen. It means "beautiful lotus." I was born in Jamshedpur, a steel city with a population of two million, in the state of Bihar, not too far from Calcutta. Both my grandfathers came to India around 1911 from Guangdong Province.

My paternal grandfather was from Shunde. He first worked on the railroads allover Northern India. While there, he was introduced to a Chinese family in the Nainital area, and a marriage was arranged with my grandmother around 1925. She was born in India. Her father, my great-grandfather, was one of about ten Chinese tea experts that the British brought to India around 1890 to grow tea. We still have a picture of him in his pigtail. He went to different parts of India before he found the perfect soil for the Dumlot tea in the Kumaon region in the foothills of the Himalayas. He settled near Nainital, and owned some tea estates, walnut groves, and farms. His wife, my great-grandmother, was from the nomadic tribal people along the India-China border. We were told that she wore a long dress in the Tibetan style. Although not a Han, she was Chinese because her daughter, my grandmother, used kinship terms according to the Chinese custom....

India and China had been bickering over the border for some time and they actually went to war in 1962.... The war and the restrictions really affected me. I was a lost soul at that time. I think as a young person I hated that I was Chinese. I was the minority; I stood out. I could not speak, read, or write Hindi as well as I thought I should. The Indian girls could talk about Hinduism and living in India generations upon generations, but for me only my parents were born in India. Even though it was a private school, kids still picked on you if they did not like you. It was bad enough being teased about your flat nose or slant eyes, but being considered the enemy was very scary. When the war came along, I wished I could just blend in with the majority. I wanted to disown my background....

There was something, thank goodness, that kept us reasonably sane. I remember one incident when I was in grade seven or eight.. I could write an essay in Hindi but did not have the floral characteristics of someone who was conversant with Indian literature. I wrote an essay on Prem Chand. He was an Indian who wrote about Hindu and Muslim conflicts. I guess he hit a nerve, and I took to his books. I sort of purged myself of all the hurt by focusing on the issue and relating to it on a personal level. When I wrote, something simply flowed through me. My essay was so good that the teacher read it to the class. My classmates were incredulous that I, a "foreigner," a "pugnose," and a "nobody," could write so well in Hindi. The teacher, Miss Lily--I'll never forget her--told the whole class: "I know you are all amazed that a student can write Hindi this well even though it may not be her first language. You may think that this person's background is not like yours. But sometimes the most beautiful thing is found in the most unexpected place. If this surprises you, just remember that you can find a lotus flower even in a swamp."
"Lotus in the Swamp," by Laileen Springgay, in Being Chinese: Voices from the Diaspora, by Wei Djao (U. Arizona Press, 2003), pp. 83-88

Coming Out Gay and Asian in Vancouver

Being gay and an Asian, I am very blessed. There is certainly a discussion among the gay Asians about not fitting into the Asian communities, nor into the gay communities. The gay male culture is built around the "buffed" Caucasian male: pumped biceps, beautiful body and appearance. If you don't look like the ads in the magazines, you are marginalized. You are not seen as desirable as others. This is something that some support and discussion groups want to deal with.

When we came out, Mama was teaching in Women's Studies at SFU [Simon Fraser U.]. This is not a place for the timid of heart because there are women who either have been involved in feminism, are lesbians and out of hiding, or militant! Father is a notary public and has an office in downtown Vancouver. He had been notarizing domestic partnership agreements for a long time. I was twenty-six, and Andy, my little brother, was nineteen. He was attending Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. He had heard that people in Vancouver were spreading word about him being gay. He decided that Mom and Dad would hear about his being gay from him first instead of someone else. He wrote to them saying that he had something important to share with them the next week. And they said, "O god, he is going to quit school and become a poet!" In a separate note to me, Andy gave me warning that he couldn't keep it a secret any longer and he would have to tell them.

We don't necessarily consider siblings as sexual beings. He guessed it about me, but I hadn't a clue about him! We weren't as close as we are now. I called him saying, "I know I cannot tell you not to write the letter. But you realize that it is going to be a package deal." He replied that he knew but he had to tell them. He wrote his letter and it arrived. I knew it was coming, and I just stayed out late that evening with some friends. Went home and it was there. I penned my own letter and left it. The next day, my parents went out, so we didn't talk about it until much later in the day. They said, "Well, we sort of guessed about you, but we never guessed about him. Perhaps a little bit about him."

It was tough for my parents, harder than they let on. But they have been supportive always.
SOURCE: "Pomelo," by Walter Keoki Quan, in Being Chinese: Voices from the Diaspora, by Wei Djao (U. Arizona Press, 2003), pp. 92-93

30 January 2005

In the Gulag on the Day Stalin Died

Anne Applebaum's Gulag: A History (Anchor Books, 2003) describes what happened in the camps on the day Stalin finally died.
Throughout the last years of his life, political prisoners hoped and prayed for Stalin's demise, discussing his death constantly, if subtly, so as not to attract the attention of informers. People would sigh and say, "Ah, Georgians live a long time," which managed to convey a wish for his death without actually committing treason. Even when he grew sick, they were still cautious. Maya Ulyanovskaya heard the news of what was to be his final illness from a woman she knew to be an informer. She responded carefully: "So? Anyone can get sick. His doctors are good, they will cure him."

When his death was finally announced, on March 5, 1953, some maintained their caution. In Mordovia, the politicals studiously hid their excitement, which they feared might earn them a second sentence. In Kolyma, women "diligently wailed for the deceased." In one Vorkuta lagpunkt, Pavel Negretov heard the announcement read aloud in the camp dining hall. Neither the commander who read out the notice of death, nor any of the prisoners, said a word. "The news was greeted with a tomb-like silence. Nobody said a thing."

In a Norilsk lagpunkt, prisoners assembled in the courtyard, and solemnly heard the news of the death of the "great leader of the Soviet people and of free human beings everywhere." A long pause followed. Then a prisoner raised his hand: "Citizen Commander, my wife sent me some money, it's in my account. I have no use for it here, so I would like to spend it on a bouquet for our beloved leader. Can I do that?"

But others openly rejoiced. In Steplag, there were wild cries and yells of celebration. In Vyatlag, prisoners threw their caps in the air and shouted "Hurrah!" On the streets of Magadan, one prisoner greeted another: "I wish you great joy on this day of resurrection!" He was not the only one overwhelmed by religious sentiment: "There was a light frost, and it was very, very quiet. Soon the sky would be turning blue. Yuri Nikolaevich held up his arms and with passion declared, 'To Holy Russia let the cocks crow! Soon it will be daylight in Holy Russia!'"

Whatever they felt, and whether they dared to show their feelings or not, most prisoners and exiles were immediately convinced that things would change. In exile in Karaganda, Olga Adamova-Sliozberg heard the news, began to tremble, and put her hands over her face so that her suspicious workmates could not see her joy. "It's now or never. Everything's got to change. Now or never."

28 January 2005

When Germans Threatened the Soviet Gulag

Anne Applebaum's Gulag: A History (Anchor Books, 2003) describes what happened when the German Army's Operation Barbarossa in 1941 threatened camps full of Soviet prisoners.
The experience of being on a prisoner train during an air raid was relatively unusual, however--if only because prisoners were rarely allowed on the evacuation train at all. On the train leaving one camp, the families and the baggage of camp guards and administrators took up so much space that there was no room for any prisoners. Elsewhere, industrial equipment took priority over people, both for practical and propaganda reasons. Crushed in the West, the Soviet leadership promised to rebuild itself east of the Urals. As a result, that "significant proportion" of prisoners--in fact, the overwhelming majority--who [former Gulag system chief administrator Victor] Nasedkin had said were "evacuated on foot," endured long forced marches, descriptions of which sound hauntingly similar to the marches undertaken by the prisoners of the Nazi concentration camps four years later: "We have no transport," one guard told an echelon of prisoners, as bombs fell around them. "Those who can walk will walk. Protest or not--all will walk. Those who can't walk--we will shoot. We will leave no one for the Germans ... you decide your own fate."

Walk they did--although the journeys of many were cut short. The rapid advance of the Germans made the NKVD nervous, and when they became nervous, they started shooting. On July 2, the 954 prisoners of the Czortkow jail in western Ukraine began their march to the east. Along the way, the officer who wrote the subsequent report identified 123 of them as Ukrainian nationalists and shot them for "attempted rebellion and escape." After walking for more than two weeks, with the German army within 10 to 20 miles, he shot all those still alive.

Evacuees not killed were sometimes hardly better off. Nasedkin wrote that "the apparat of the Gulag in the frontline regions was mobilized to ensure that evacuating echelons and transports of prisoners had medical-sanitary services and nourishment." Alternatively, here is how M. Shteinberg, a political prisoner arrested for the second time in 1941, described her evacuation from Kirovograd prison:
Everything was bathed in blinding sunlight. At midday, it became unbearable. This was Ukraine, in the month of August. It was about 95 degrees [Fahrenheit] every day. An enormous quantity of people were walking, and on top of this crowd hung a hazy cloud of dust. There was nothing to breathe, it was impossible to breathe ...

Everyone had a bundle in their arms. I had one too. I had even brought a coat with me, since without a coat it is hard to survive imprisonment. It's a pillow, a blanket, a cover--everything. In most prisons, there are no beds, no mattresses, no linen. But after we had traversed 20 miles in that heat, I quietly left my bundle by the side of the road. I knew that I would not be able to carry it. The vast majority of the women did the same. Those who didn't leave their bundles after the first 20 miles left them after 130. No one carried them to the end. When we had gone another 10 miles, I took off my shoes and left them too ...

When we passed Adzhamka I dragged behind me my cell mate, Sokolovskaya, for 20 miles. She was an old woman, more than seventy years old, completely gray-haired ... it was very difficult for her to walk. She clung to me, and kept talking about her fifteen-year-old grandson, with whom she had lived. The last terror in Sokolovskaya's life was the terror that he would be arrested too. It was difficult for me to drag her, and I began to falter myself. She told me to "rest a while, I'll go alone." And she immediately fell back by 1 mile. We were the last in the convoy. When I felt that she had fallen behind, I turned back, wanting to get her--and I saw them kill her. They stabbed her with a bayonet. In the back. She didn't even see it happen. Clearly, they knew how to stab. She didn't even move. Later, I realized that hers had been an easy death, easier than that of others. She didn't see that bayonet. She didn't have time to be afraid.
In all, the NKVD evacuated 750,000 prisoners from 27 camps and 210 labor colonies. Another 40,000 were evacuated from 272 prisons, and sent to new prisons in the east. A significant proportion of them--though we still do not know the real numbers--never arrived.

Rainy Day Diaries from World War II

Eamonn Fitzgerald's Rainy Day blog, whose diary entries were among my first inspirations to start my own blog, has been commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz (by the Soviet Army) by posting diary entries from that era. Who wrote the following entries? Rainy Day has the answers. Just scroll down.
  • 4 December 1940 "Watch the newsreel with the Führer, who is very pleased with it. The shots of London burning make a particularly profound impression on him. He also takes careful note of the pessimistic opinions from the USA.

    Nevertheless, he does not expect the immediate collapse of England and probably rightly. The ruling class there has now lost so much that it is bringing up its last reserves. By which he means not so much the City of London as the Jews who if we win will be hurled out of Europe, and Churchill, Eden, etc., who see their personal existences as dependent on the outcome of the war. Perhaps they will end up on the scaffold. We can expect little resistance to them from the masses at the moment. The English proletariat lives under such wretched conditions that a few extra privations will not cause it much discomfort. There will be no revolution, anyway, because the opportunity is lacking. England will thus survive through the winter. The Führer does not intend to mount any air-raids at Christmas. Churchill, in his madness, will do so, and then the English will be treated to revenge raids that will make their eyes pop."

  • 21 May 1941 "Sonnenstein has long ceased to be the regional mental asylum. The SS is in charge. They have built a special crematorium. Those who are not wanted are taken up in a kind of police van. People here all call it 'the whispering coach'. Afterward the relatives receive the urn. Recently one family here received two urns at once. We now have pure Communism. But Communism murders more honestly."

  • 1 July 1942 [Holland] "New measures again. Not only are we not allowed to cycle any more, we are not allowed to ride the trams either. We have to be off the streets by eight, and we are not allowed inside non-Jewish homes. Shopping is restricted for us to the hours between three and five p.m. It's a mess. I've moved back home. I couldn't stay with the Fernandes' [non-Jewish friends] any more. I did have a wonderful time there. At my last meal with them last night, I read them a poem of thanks I had written. We were all so moved and depressed because of the new measures, and crying so hard about everything, that we ended up sobbing with laughter. It was a comical tragedy, really."

  • 22 March 1945 [Bergen-Belsen] "The weather affects the mood of the camp most profoundly. Had it not been such a gloriously fine spring day today, we would all be feeling as dejected as on our worst days.

    Last night a transport of two thousand people arrived from Buchenwald concentration camp. The shouting, abusing, crying, taunting, groaning, cracking of the whips and thuds of the beatings could be heard throughout the night.

    This morning behind Hut 16 we saw hundreds of corpses being dragged onto a heap and stripped of their clothing. They also removed the gold teeth from their mouths. Never has it been as bad as this. All day, the heap of emaciated, naked bodies was left lying in the sun. Their facial expressions are frightening. They seem to know what is being done to them."

  • 6 May 1945 "Last week I would not go to see the Belsen horror-camp pictures. I felt the ones in paper quite dreadful enough. They were shown again tonight, as requested by someone. I looked in such pity, marvelling how human beings could have clung to life: the poor survivors must have had both a good constitution and a great will to live. What kept them alive so long before they dropped as pitiful skeletons? Did their minds go first, I wonder, their reasoning leaving nothing but the shell to perish slowly, like a house left untenanted? Did their pitiful cries and prayers rise into the night to a God who seemed deaf and pitiless as their cruel jailers?"
And Siberian Light cites a memoir in the Guardian by Yakov Vinnichenko, one of the first Russian soldiers to enter Auschwitz.
Just five survivors remain today from the three Soviet divisions which liberated Auschwitz concentration camp in January 1945. I am the youngest - I was only 19 when the war ended. But the events of 60 years ago are as fresh in my memory as if they happened yesterday.

I come from Vinnitsa in Ukraine. But my mother took me to Moscow in 1934 because of famine. In the summer of 1941 I went to help my grandad in Ukraine with his vegetable garden. I arrived on Saturday June 21, and the next day we took his cow to the market. At noon, we heard on the loudspeaker that war had begun. Money became worthless immediately. We could have got twice as much for the cow, but it was too late.

Although I was just 15 years old, I was immediately conscripted. We were kept in reserve, but when I turned 17 I was sent to the front. I had my baptism of fire in January 1943, when we kicked the Germans out of Voronezh. The following month, we liberated Kursk. It was a bloodbath: a whole regiment was killed in three hours. Later, I was badly wounded in the chest in the battle of Kursk. On recovery, I caught up with my regiment, under the command of General Vasily Petrenko, who died not long ago. He was a great commander. Under him we liberated Lvov in the summer of 1944, and on January 19 1945 we freed Krakow, a beautiful ancient city

At about 4am on January 27 we approached Oswiecim (Auschwitz). It is a small town on the Sola river. We didn't even know there was a concentration camp there.

27 January 2005

Orange County Values

"Where's the power?" was the question John Gunther always asked in his travelogue of mid-twentieth-century America, Inside U.S.A. In the late 1940s, the answer was often the local party machine. Power now was here, in this restaurant [Bistango, next to a Japanese bank], dispersed among many more people and much less accountable, for the issue was simply profit, disconnected from political promises or even geography. Orange County's global corporations were merely home bases--which could be removed in an instant in response, for example, to tax increases.

"What kind of business is being transacted?" I asked. "Biomedical, pharmaceutical, genetic engineering, chips for fax machines, and all kinds of software-multimedia," [Orange County Business Journal editor Rick] Reiff told me. "Then there are firms, big firms, that specialize in teaching English to Vietnamese, Chinese, and other Asians and Latinos. Global trade and workforces are everything for us. Orange County is roughly one percent of the U.S. population, but it has three percent of Fortune 500 companies. Every time there is a conflation of the publishing and multimedia industries, power shifts slightly to California from New York, because the future will favor multimedia over mere books."

Later, back at Reiff's office, I leafed through more than a hundred editions of the Business Journal and found stories about this group of Iranians or that group of Taiwanese or Pakistanis or Mexicans from Sonora buying this or that technology company. Ethnic Indians and Chinese predominated. Seeing Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, and Mexican faces in an Orange County computer factory owned by a Pakistani and two Chinese some years ago, Polish journalist Ryzsard Kapuscinski noted that the culture of the new workforce here "Hispanic-Catholic family values and Asian-Confucian group loyalty," with hiring done through family networks....

"Will this place fight for its country? Are these people loyal to anything except themselves?" I asked.

"Loyalty is a problem," Reiff said. "Only about half the baseball fans in Orange County root for the California Angels [whose stadium is in Anaheim, a county municipality]. I root for the Chicago White Sox. So many people here are from somewhere else, whether from the U.S. or the world. People came here to make money. In the future, patriotism will be more purely and transparently economic. Perhaps patriotism will survive in the form of prestige, if America remains the world economic leader."

Rather than citizens, the inhabitants of these prosperous pods are, in truth, resident expatriates, even if they were born in America, with their foreign cuisines, eclectic tastes, exposure to foreign languages, and friends throughout the world.
SOURCE: An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America's Future, by Robert D. Kaplan (Vintage, 1998), pp. 99-101

Faith and the Art of Hotel Maintenance

The Plaza Hotel in Nogales, Sonora, and the Americana Hotel in Nogales, Arizona, both charged $50 for a single room. But while the Mexican hotel was only two years old, it was already falling apart: the doors did not close properly, the paint was cracking, the walls were beginning to stain. The Americana Hotel in Nogales, Arizona, was a quarter century old and in excellent condition, from the fresh paint to the latest fixtures. The air-conditioning in the Americana Hotel was quiet, unlike the loud clanking across the border. There was no mold or peeling paint in the swimming pool outside my window. Here there was potable tap water. Was the developed world, I wondered, defined not by its riches or a lighter skin color but by maintenance? Maintenance indicates settlement rather than nomadism; faith in--and thus planning for--the future, rather than the expectation that what is here today might be gone tomorrow. Maintenance indicates organization, frugality, and responsibility: you don't build what you lack the money, the time, and the determination to maintain. Maintenance manifests a community and a system of obligation, without which substantial development is unlikely. Maintenance reflects the prudent use of capital.
SOURCE: An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America's Future, by Robert D. Kaplan (Vintage, 1998), pp. 139-140

26 January 2005

Chinese Fighting for Education in Rhodesia

IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE to grow up in colonial Rhodesia without becoming aware from the earliest age of the deep hostility between the races. The land issue was the main bone of contention. At the age of four I would listen to my (maternal) grandfather talking about the land issue with his old friend, a Somali who owned a butchery near my grandparents' cafe. My grandfather, Yee Wo Lee, had come to Rhodesia in 1904 as a youth of seventeen, the fifth son in a large Chinese peasant family. As the fifth son, he did not inherit any land in China. Instead he was given an education. He had gained initiation into politics as a schoolboy follower of Sun Yat-Sen, and as a result was very sensitive to the colonial situation. He was one of the first people to provide financial support for black nationalists, and his bakery, Five Roses Bakery, situated very centrally in the middle of Charter Road, and near the Railway Station (in the capital city Salisbury, now renamed Harare), soon became the meeting place for many nationalist leaders. He was later to pay the rent for ZANU....

My mother died when I was three years old, leaving my father with three young children. My father was busy running his business, and we were left in the charge of our nanny the whole day long. It was in that situation that we soon picked up a working knowledge of Shona, one of the main African languages in the country. We also came to understand our nanny, her views, her character, and background quite well as we followed her around. We knew her friends and what they talked about. It was in those early and impressionable days that I came to understand the situation in the country....

Education, or rather the lack of it, was an area that caused bitter resentment. Children were separated by race. White children attended "European" schools. Black children attended "African" schools. There was a third category of schools known as "Coloured and Asian" schools that we attended.

I attended a primary school for Asians. It was called Louis Mountbatten School, named after the British Viceroy for India, as most of the pupils were Indians. Our headmaster, Mr. V.S. Naidoo, a South African Indian from Durban, drummed into our heads from the earliest grades that since we were not whites, we would only make our way in the world through education. This message obviously fell on fertile ground, as both the teachers and pupils were exceptionally dedicated to learning. It was many years later that I learnt that it was not very usual for primary school children to be conversant with Shakespeare and Jane Austen. By the time I went to secondary school I had already covered quite a lot of the secondary school mathematics syllabus....

I was fortunate that by the time I completed primary school, the first secondary school for Coloureds and Asians, Founders' High School, was opened in Bulawayo. Our primary school head, Mr. Naidoo, a dedicated educationalist, spent a whole day persuading my father to allow me to attend this school as a boarder as the school was in a different city, Bulawayo, four hundred miles away. My father, a conservative and traditionalist, did not really believe in educating girls, particularly in a boarding school far away from home. But Mr. Naidoo was persistent and persuasive, and my father finally relented....

At the end of my second year at Founders', St. John's School, a well-known Roman Catholic school for Coloureds, established a secondary section. My parents decided to transfer me to St. John's immediately so that I would be nearer home. Moreover my father had great faith in the nuns, and believed they had special powers to improve people's character and morality, and as he placed great value on character and morality, I had to leave the Government school for a Roman Catholic school. He was not very confident that a Government school like Founders' would provide the right moral background.

It was at St. John's that I came to understand the colonial set-up more intimately. St. John's was also an "orphanage," but the "orphans" were not really orphans. Many of them were the offspring of white men with their black mistresses. The children of such unions were usually rejected by their fathers, and sometimes also by their mothers. The totally abandoned children were raised by the Dominican sisters. They were easily identifiable as they were invariably given the names of Catholic saints such as Francis Xavier or Martin de Porres. They had developed a hard exterior, often persecuting children like myself from more privileged backgrounds. They did this by stealing our panties and our soap. Actually they were deeply sad children who knew no home other than the school, and no other family than the nuns and priests. I spent two years at that school, and it made me appreciate the privilege I enjoyed of being a spoilt child from a middle class family.

Such was the racialist consciousness that some of these children of mixed races would themselves despise and reject their black mothers. One of my most vivid childhood memories was of a black mother coming to visit her ten-year old daughter at St. John's. As the school had very few visitors, crowds of children would usually gather round to stare at every visitor. So it was that when Hilda's mother arrived to see her, I was one of the crowd of children who had turned out to stare at her. Ten-year old Hilda was mortified that her black mother had come to the school. This incident made me think. Hilda constantly talked of her father, a white farmer in Sinoia. She was very proud of her father who had rejected her, but she did not want to know her own mother who had come to see her. I was amazed. As a child who had grown up without a mother I found it appalling that someone would reject her own mother because of race.

I learnt at St. John's that Coloured children placed a premium on white skin and straight hair. Many Coloured children were indistinguishable from whites, and they were envied. Many others were indistinguishable from blacks, and they were either despised or pitied. Teenage girls spent an inordinate amount of time trying to make their skins whiter and their hair straighter. Chinese girls like myself, in contrast, spent our time trying to make our hair curlier. We all had the image of the perfect beauty, who was Caucasian....
SOURCE: "Fighting for Education," by Fay Chung, in Being Chinese: Voices from the Diaspora, by Wei Djao (U. Arizona Press, 2003), pp. 70-75

I remember wishing, as a hakujin kid in Japan, for straighter hair--and later, in a high school dorm named for the Duke of Gloucester, for more tannable skin.

Biography of a Chairman Mao Badge

The Spring 2004 issue of China Review International contains a review article by Ronald C. Keith entitled "History, Contradiction, and the Apotheosis of Mao Zedong" that includes the following fascinating summary of a book, Biography of a Chairman Mao Badge: The Creation and Mass Consumption of a Personality Cult, by Melissa Schrift (Rutgers U. Press, 2001).
In the Yan'an [or Yenan] period there were perhaps only ten badge designs, and the handmade badges of that time used Mao's photograph and commemorative slogans. Initially badges were commemorative, celebrating the establishment of the PRC. In 1949, Mao supported a Party resolution that forbade the naming of streets, cities, or places after heroic comrades. Mao's own portrait, however, soon reappeared on commemorative badges as early as 1951. The modest beginnings of such badges could not have prepared even the most astute observer for the spectacular production of approximately three to five billion badges during the Cultural Revolution. The badges became compulsory wear for anyone who desperately needed to authenticate his or her redness in an era of wild and arbitrary political denunciation.

Schrift tells us that along with this unprecedented volume of production there was incredible diversity of iconographic design as well [as] assertive statement of political ideals. Chen Boda's "Four Greats" was, for example, extremely popular. Lin Biao struggled to keep his own imagery off these badges for fear that he be accused of competing with Chairman Mao, whose left profile was almost always featured on the Cultural Revolution badges. As Schrift indicates, there was a "riot of consumption" as the badges became a new form of political currency: "It was no longer enough to simply acquire and wear a badge. One's redness depended instead on the novelty with which one could design and/or consume a badge" (Schrift, p. 111). Moreover, while badge exchanges rarely involved money, they became units of black-market barter facilitating the acquisition of goods and services.

With Mao's attack on Lin Biao, the Party moved away from the excesses of personality cult. Badges no longer represented solid political capital. They offended a "revolutionary economism" that militated against such a tremendous waste of resources. More importantly, they could be associated with a resurgent "feudalism" within China's supposedly revolutionary society. Even so, there were subsequent rashes of production at the time of Mao's death and again on the centenary of his birth. In the contemporary era of market reform, pro-democracy protesters will wear Mao's image in order to resist the current government, and this image has become "remystified" as a hot consumer item for which there is both a domestic and an international collector's market (Schrift, p. 165).
Cool. Leftist consumerism. Or is this dialectical materialism?

25 January 2005

On the Legacies of Zhao Ziyang vs. Deng Xiaoping

Those of us who form our opinions of international leaders from the sound bites and video clips of the international media are likely to have a much higher opinion of Zhao Ziyang than of his longtime boss and mentor, Deng Xiaoping. After all, Zhao came out to sympathize with the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square shortly before Deng ordered the People's Liberation Army to "liberate" it from them on 4 June 1989.

As a result, western media tend to give Zhao most of the credit for implementing the reforms that have now made China's economy one of the most dynamic on earth, while downplaying the role of the now tarnished Deng. Witness the obituary headline "The death of the man who reformed China and changed the world" in the 18 January Times (of London). Wikipedia, by contrast, offers much more balanced and comprehensive portraits of Zhao and Deng.

To get another perspective on Zhao's legacy, I called up a Chinese friend who emigrated to the U.S. in 1990, bringing his wife out the following year. He, his wife, and his U.S.-born daughter are now U.S. citizens. His father was not only a member of the CCP, but a party historian, and my friend pursued an M.A. in history at an American university after he emigrated, doing archival research on the Jiangxi Soviet of the early 1930s. He and his wife, both from intellectual families, were sent down to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.

My opening question was phrased in the familiar formula many Chinese citizens used to adopt in assessing Mao's legacy after his death: Was Zhao's legacy 51% positive, 49% positive, or some other balance between positive and negative? My friend suggested it was 75% positive, one major black mark being Zhao's role in persecuting intellectuals in the wake of the Hundred Flowers Campaign (1956-57) and the ensuing disaster of the Great Leap Forward (1958-60).

Then what about Deng, I asked. Maybe 90% positive, he replied. As we talked, he even upped it to 95%. But why so much better than Zhao? Well, Deng was the emperor; Zhao only a talented court eunuch. Deng was ultimately more responsible for the economic reforms than his underling was.

But what about the Tiananmen Incident? Looking back from 15 years later, he said, the demonstrations seem to have been less about democracy and more about frustration with corruption and with the slow pace of reform in the cities as opposed to the countryside. If that was the case, then Deng can be credited with addressing one of the principal goals of the demonstrators by extending reforms into the urban sectors. During the 1990s the cities experienced an economic boom like that the countryside had experienced during the 1980s. Now the countryside is lagging again and desperately needs a fresh infusion of infrastructure and capital.

What was Zhao trying to accomplish when he came out to meet the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square? Looking to his legacy. Like Clinton trying to secure a peace deal in the Middle East before he left office? Exactly.

P.S. Zhao's predecessor as Deng the Reformer's right hand was Hu Yaobang, who was perhaps even more popular with the students than Zhao was. Hu had been forced to step down in 1987, after failing to control student demonstrations in 1986. Hu's death on 15 April 1989 helped spark the Tiananmen Square protests in May of that fateful year.

STUDY QUESTION: What proportion of the legacy of each of the following U.S. presidents was positive: Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton? All had major blots on their records. Effective leadership, unlike sainthood, is about trade-offs and all-too-human failings, not perfection and personal piety.

23 January 2005

Asashoryu Pulls Farther Ahead

The Japan Times reports the final results of sumo's first tournament of the year.
Grand champion Asashoryu overpowered Chiyotaikai on Sunday to close out the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo with a perfect 15-0 record.

Asashoryu, who wrapped up his 10th Emperor's Cup on Friday, knocked Chiyotaikai off balance shortly after the faceoff and then waltzed the veteran wrestler out from behind to remain undefeated. Chiyotaikai finished with an 8-7 record, good enough to hold on to his ozeki status.

With his 10th career title, Mongolian Asashoryu joined sumo greats Kitanoumi, Chiyonofuji and Taiho as the only wrestlers to win the New Year meet for three straight years since the establishment of the six-tournament system in 1958.

It was also the second straight year that Asashoryu has gone undefeated in the New Year tourney.

Asashoryu won five of six tournaments last year and looks poised for another impressive run this season. He is the lone yokozuna currently competing in sumo.

In other major bouts, Mongolian Hakuho, who won the tournament's Outstanding Technique Award, made short work of fan favorite Takamisakari to improve to 11-4....

Sekiwake Tochiazuma further solidified his ozeki promotion chances when he slapped down fellow-sekiwake Miyabiyama to improve to 11-4....

Bulgarian Kotooshu, a No. 4 maegashira, finished with an impressive 9-6 record after throwing down 11th-ranked maegashira Jumonji, who also closed out at 9-6.

22 January 2005

China's Balancing Act in Africa

Passion of the Present cites a long opinion piece by Paul Mooney entitled "Beijing's delicate balancing act in Africa" that appeared in the 17 January edition of International Herald Tribune. Here's a short snip.
Many African nations are pleased that no political strings are attached to China's friendship, with the obvious exception that they must not recognize Taiwan and must affirm the "one China" policy.

He Wenping, director of the African Studies Section at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, says that China and Africa share the view that countries should not meddle in each other's affairs. "We don't believe that human rights should stand above sovereignty," He says. "We have a different view on this, and African countries share our view."

Stadtluft macht frei

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution notes a followup to a Nick Kristof article a while back.
Nicholas Kristof updates his story on the sex slaves that he bought (and freed) in Cambodia. For the main story read the whole thing but the following anecdote caught my eye as saying a lot about problems of development that are not much discussed in the literature: short-time horizons, envy, the dragging down of the ambitious and the almost inherent lack of property rights in small communities.

[See Marginal Revolution for the anecdote]...

Eventually, and with help, Srey Neth moves to the city, in the process recapitulating an important aspect of Western economic development best encapsulated by the German phrase Stadtluft macht frei, city air makes one free (PDF).
Migration also seems to be a key factor!

BTW, Alex omits the parenthesized conditional: "Stadtluft macht frei (nach Ablaufe von Jahr und Tag)" 'City air makes one free (after the lapse of a year and a day)'. And sometimes it takes much, much longer--more than a generation.

19 January 2005

Blessed Are the Risk-takers, For They Shall Inherit LA

For ten days I drove throughout greater Los Angeles, stopping every fifteen minutes or so to walk in a different neighborhood. The media image of the L.A. riots and the O.J. Simpson trial had prepared me for a city as divided as Washington, D.C. But in LA., where eighty-one languages are spoken, that's not what I found.

TAKE ZAHEER VIRJI (an alias), a twenty-seven-year-old ethnic Indian immigrant from the East African nation of Tanzania. Zaheer wore a blue velvet baseball cap, a white T-shirt, jeans, and running shoes when I met him and his American wife, Heather, in a Santa Monica hotel lobby. Zaheer's family, which imports goods from Hong Kong to Tanzania, is part of a merchant community from the Indian subcontinent that forms the middle class in Tanzania and several other African countries. Zaheer remembers police thugs of the former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere harassing his relatives and arresting his parents. He told me that race relations are "so much better" in southern California than in Africa, where Indians and Africans completely stereotype each other. "I came here to escape not just Africans but Indians, too." He went first to England, then to Canada, where there are large Indian communities. But he didn't feel free. "In those places, the community is what is happening. Here in the U.S., it's you that is happening. There is less of system here, fewer laws to restrict you."

Zaheer came to the United States six years ago and has no college degree or green card yet. In the previous six months he had earned more investing in the stock market than his wife had made at her job, a reflection not only of his skill but of an economy where the prices of stocks and other assets have risen but wages have not. With this money, along with funds from his family in Tanzania, he was looking to a buy a business: a flower shop, a gas station, whatever he can get the best deal on. He is using a broker. If he buys a gas station, he told me, he needs to know about the underground tanks and the environmental regulations. He wants to be partners with the current owner for a three-year transition period; that way he will still keep some of his money even if the business does not turn out as advertised. Ten years from now, he explained, he wants to be the owner of a small business with good employees so he can spend his time investing the profits in the stock market. "Everything is a risk. A few years ago, to make some money, I bought a hundred and fifty tons of rice in Tanzania and sold it in Zaire. That was more risky than buying a business in Los Angeles, I can tell you."
SOURCE: An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America's Future, by Robert D. Kaplan (Vintage, 1998), pp. 82-83

18 January 2005

Foreign Policy in Omaha

If St. Louis typifies urban America statistically, Omaha is typical in a more elusive and anecdotal sense. Its history reveals the crass commercialism, the blunt meat-and-potatoes aggressiveness and masculinity, as well as the military power that helped define twentieth-century America. Swanson Foods invented the TV dinner in downtown Omaha. A few blocks away, in the kitchen of the World War I-era Blackstone Hotel, the Reuben sandwich was invented. In Omaha a Russian-Jewish immigrant family founded Omaha Steaks. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) with its underground nuclear nerve center is based here. SAC's vast telephone linkage fans out throughout the country, providing the infrastructure for the nation's telemarketing and credit card authorization industries, both born in Omaha in the 1980s. Many of the unsolicited and obnoxious calls that Americans get at dinnertime come from Omaha, and almost every time a credit card is swiped through a machine for authorization, that machine is communicating with a computer in Omaha. (There are other reasons why Omaha is the nation's telemarketing center: midwestern accents are considered neutral and therefore not offensive to anyone-- unlike a New York or southern accent, for example. And because of its Central Time Zone location, Omaha-based telemarketers can start calling the East Coast in the morning, work their way across the country, and dial the West Coast in the late afternoon.) Johnny Carson got his start in Omaha on WOW-TV in 1949. Henry Fonda and Marlon Brando began their careers here. Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in west Omaha. Warren Buffett, the second richest man in America after Bill Gates, still lives and works in Omaha. The college baseball world series is held every year in Omaha. Omaha could hardly be more American.

But the Omaha I visited in 1996 had a distinctly international flavor. At breakfast I read in the Omaha World-Herald that area farmers had imported llamas from South America to protect their calves from coyotes. The lead editorial was about how high death rates in eastern Europe had influenced the downward trend in the rate of world population growth. The first person I met in Omaha was Susan Leonovicz, who worked in a nondescript suburban office and handed me a business card with English on one side and Chinese on the other.

Leonovicz is a vice president of Mangelsen's, an Omaha firm that imports thread, feathers, porcelain eggs, dolls, and other items from China and other Pacific Rim countries, in addition to wedding ornaments from South Korea, for resale throughout America and Canada. I had wanted to see several other Omaha businesspeople involved in international trade, but they were out of town: in St. Petersburg, Tokyo, and other foreign cities negotiating deals. "Can't some of these items be made in America?" I asked. "Sure," Leonovicz answered, "but Americans won't pay more than, say, $1.99 for a feather, so we import feathers and many other things from places where wages are much lower."

She told me that the Japanese and South Koreans were opening maquilladora factories in China, much like ours in Mexico, using cheap labor to make products for re-export back home, which is partly why Mangelsen's and other businesses with factories in Asia were lobbying for permanent "most favored nation" trade status for China. A foreign policy dominated by human rights would mean job cuts in Omaha, she told me emphatically. What struck me about this discussion was its ordinariness. Foreign trade is a normal subject for the business elite not only in Omaha and St. Louis but, as I would later learn, in Wichita, Tulsa, Des Moines, and other heartland cities, too, all of which had formed their own "foreign policy committees." Intermediaries in New York and Washington were no longer necessary. The foreign policies pursued by these heartland cities were, ironically, more like those of European countries than of the East and West Coast elites, dominated by the concerns of trade and realpolitik rather than by human rights and spreading democracy.
SOURCE: An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America's Future, by Robert D. Kaplan (Vintage, 1998), pp. 59-60

The Sheila Variations has more excerpts from this book (and is an ardent fan of Kaplan's work).

UPDATE: Geitner Simmons at Regions of Mind posts reactions from Omaha.

17 January 2005

The Great Hanshin Earthquake, Ten Years After

White Peril reminds us that today is the 10th anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which destroyed many of my favorite haunts from high school days (and a few not quite so fondly remembered). At the time of the earthquake, I was auditing a class in Japanese newspaper reading. It was a bit over my head, since I had to learn new vocabulary and grammar as well as how to read new kanji and parse newspaper style. I ended up dropping out.

When I was an elementary school kid living in Kyoto, my mother would take me to Kobe to an orthodontist who had foreigners in his clientele. After every visit, mom would take me to the Texas Tavern down toward the Kobe docks near Sannomiya station, where we invariably ordered hamburgers and root beer. Perhaps for that reason, I've never had any particular fear of dentists.

During high school I spent many a weekend hour at the Alps curry shop near Sannomiya Station, where you could get curry rice for ¥80 (¥100 with raw egg) and a gin fizz for ¥120 (if I remember correctly). Another favorite hangout in Nada-ku closer to Canadian Academy (which has since moved) was the Gomo theater, where you could see a triple feature for ¥90. These were all good ways to stretch a weekly allowance of only ¥600 (about US$1.70 at the time). There was also an okonomiyaki shop near the bottom of Nagamine-dai where you didn't have to pay more than ¥70-¥90 for a filling treat.

Harlem's Ups and Downs

Harlem, founded in 1657, is probably the oldest true suburb of New York City. Only eight miles from City Hall, it first held the country homes of the gentry, and their horse races were held along Harlem Lane, later St. Nicholas Avenue. When elevated tracks reached the area in 1878-1881, it became accessible to downtowners fleeing Italian and Jewish immigrants. As a result, a building boom soon changed the bucolic face of Harlem into posh elegance. The area was now symbolized by the magnificent rows of townhouses commissioned by David King in 1891 and designed by architects like James Lord, Price and Luce, and McKim, Mead and White. The Irish populated the streets west of Eighth Avenue; a "little Italy" was growing east of Third Avenue; and a "little Russia" could be found below 125th Street between Fifth and Seventh Avenues; but Harlem proper remained the home of the elite.

Then in 1904/5, there occurred the inevitable bust after a speculative boom, and Harlem suddenly had a glut of housing that had to be let. Until this time, the black presence in Harlem had been restricted to the role of menials. But the riot of 1900, the massive dislocations caused by the construction of Pennsylvania Station, and the completion of the Lenox Avenue subway line suddenly coincided with the availability of uptown housing. The Afro-American Realty Company was organized to place blacks into the vacant apartments, and it mattered little how many tenants combined to pay a single rent. Within a decade, fifty thousand blacks had come to Harlem, and their downtown churches soon followed the northward exodus. Harlem, a black community with good housing, community churches, and a sense of growth became the natural mecca for migrating blacks.

By 1920, when more than 109,000 blacks lived in Manhattan, it was clear that the continuing influx of newcomers was overwhelming Harlem's resources. Real estate ownership remained in white hands, but repairs were inadequate and the area was already becoming a slum. High rents remained the rule, but the low-income jobs available to blacks made it impossible for all but a few to avoid overcrowding. With the increasing density of population, the pathology of ghetto life took hold. Vice and policy gambling, narcotics addiction, and juvenile delinquency were, in the 1920s, recognized as community issues. Harlem also had the worst rates of infant mortality and incidence of tuberculosis in New York.

Harlem had no effective political voice to plead its cause; its nominal representatives were white and uncaring. Flamboyant leaders such as Father Divine, Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), and Sufi Abdul Hamid offered charisma rather than reform proposals, and even they still had to compete with more traditional political types such as Charles Anderson (1866-1938) for the allegiance of a community in chaos. Ultimately no one spoke effectively for Harlem. By 1930, more than 200,000 of the 327,706 blacks in New York City were packed into the two square miles of Harlem, but their potential power was dissipated by ignorance, lack of leadership, and poverty; half of Harlem's population was on relief as the Depression began.

Amazingly, out of the decay of the 1920s came the discovery of hope and pride through the discovery of the black past. The Harlem Renaissance set a literary standard of excellence. The white theater at least recognized blacks in plays such as Green Pastures, The Emperor Jones, and Porgy and Bess, and jazz and the blues were centered in Harlem. White visitors from downtown, led by Jimmy Walker himself, made certain cabarets nationally prominent. In 1934, two white businessmen purchased a failed burlesque house, refurbished it, booked Bessie Smith (1845-1937), and opened the Apollo Theater on 125th Street. Could La Guardia, who came from Italian East Harlem, relate to a community without leaders?

La Guardia almost immediately made a symbolic administrative gesture of great importance to blacks: he created the New York Housing Authority in 1934. Black areas had the fewest social services, the least amount of parkland, and the greatest concentration of crime and illiteracy in the city. Beyond this, a majority of New York's working blacks in the 1930s earned less than $1,000 yearly. If the city made it a policy to provide the most deprived with better housing, it would show a concern that not even the black elite of 139th Street's "Striver's Row" felt for the residents of Harlem. La Guardia tried but failed.
SOURCE: New York City: A Short History, by George J. Lankevich (NYU Press, 2002), pp. 170-171

New Amsterdam Ascendant

On June 3, 1621, a twenty-four-year charter was awarded to the Dutch West India Company, a corporation modeled on its great East India predecessor. These two Dutch companies were the world's largest corporations, possessing at least ten times the capital of Britain's Virginia Company. The primary purpose of the new enterprise was to expand trade for the Netherlands throughout the vast area between West Africa and Newfoundland. The company decided that a permanent settlement in the area visited by Hudson would help achieve that goal. Rules for the new colony, an Artikelbrief, were drawn up in March 1623, and a group of Walloon families led by Cornelius May was sent out in 1624 on the Nieu Nederlandt. The settlers were given strict instructions not to trade with foreigners and were scattered from Fort Orange (Albany), to Fort Nassau (Gloucester, New Jersey), to Nut Island in New York Bay. More settlers arrived in August 1624, and soon huts were located at Wallabout Bay on the Brooklyn shore and on the fringes of Manhattan. From these varied sites, furs valued at 27,000 guilders were exported to Holland in that year. By April 22, 1625, a settlement known as New Amsterdam had been established on the southern tip of Manhattan Island. Dutch New York was being created.

Although it was not the first settlement created by the Dutch, New Amsterdam rapidly became the focus of Holland's presence in the New World. Cattle, farm equipment, and additional settlers came from across the ocean, and the company also dispatched a rather inept leader named William Verhulst, who, initiating a grand tradition, diverted fur revenues to his private account. Kryn Fredericks, an engineer dispatched from Amsterdam in 1625, designed a fort with star-shaped bastions and also selected the site for the State Street windmill, the town's most distinctive early structure. Land for farms and roadways was surveyed, and both the governor's house and the company office were placed inside the fort. Bouweries, or farms, soon appeared as the employees of the Dutch West India Company settled in for what all hoped would be a self-sustaining and prosperous colonial venture. Although the English Crown also claimed the area, the Dutch had the advantage of occupancy. For the next forty years, a rhetorical game of imperial and commercial bluff between New Amsterdam and New England continued, but in practice, the Dutch settlement on Manhattan had established its primacy.

The West India Company sought profits for Amsterdam by imposing commercial order on New Amsterdam and the New Netherlands. Its directors quickly realized that Verhulst was a bungler, and on May 4, 1626, Peter Minuit (1580-1638) arrived as the new steward of corporate interests. Minuit brought with him two hundred more settlers as well as instructions to strengthen the company's corporate position by purchasing Manna-hatin from the Indians. Within three weeks, Minuit had made a deal with the Canarsie Indians, giving the Dutch title to Manhattan's twenty-two square miles. The price, sixty guilders, or $23.70, certainly marks Minuit as one of the shrewdest real estate operators of all time, for the land is today valued in excess of $60 billion. In fact, however, Manna-hatin was not really "owned" by any tribe, and on top of that, the Indian negotiators gave Minuit a worthless deed. The Canarsie lived primarily on Long Island and used the island between the rivers only as a hunting and trading site. Later, the settlers had to negotiate additional purchases with Indian tribes living near the Washington Heights area, Indians whose claim to the land was at least equally questionable. In any case, Native Americans played little role in the development of New York.
SOURCE: New York City: A Short History, by George J. Lankevich (NYU Press, 2002), pp. 4-5

What about all those Mohawk ironworkers and skywalkers?

16 January 2005

Court Sumo: From Martial Art to Spectator Sport

In the early years of court sumo, wrestlers were recruited from the peasantry and selected more for their physical strength than for their technical skill. In all likelihood, there was no specifically developed technique for sumo as a combat sport and there was little or no sense of the wrestlers as professionals for whom the sport was a way of life rather than an occasional event. Around the twelfth century, however, the status of the wrestlers who appeared at the court tournaments seems to have become fixed, and certain provincial families regularly sent their sons to the court tournaments. (This gave them a connection to the central government through which they obtained posts such as provincial governor.) In this development we can see the beginning of the role specialization that is characteristic of modern sports.

Benefit sumo also seems to have contributed importantly to the specialization of the sport. The temples and shrines employed the services of professional or semi-professional groups of wrestlers which, if they had not existed already, were formed in conjunction with this new demand.

Eventually, some of these professional wrestlers began to hold performances of sumo for their own profit. In other words, they continued down the path that led to sumo as a more or less modern spectator sport. As in most modern spectator sports, economics rather than religion or politics was the driving force. It is also important to note that the origins of modern sumo were urban. The sport took shape in the three major cities of Edo (the former name of Tokyo), Osaka, and Kyoto. The promoters of sumo were not the wrestlers themselves, or even former wrestlers, but townsmen--the Japanese mercantile equivalent of the European bourgeoisie whose role in the modernization of Western sports can hardly be overstated. Thus began a differentiation of functions that, as often happens in the history of sport, eventually gave rise to what are now two distinct sports. As sumo became primarily a spectator sport, it began to lose its value as a practical, combat-oriented skill. The martial function of barehanded combat was emphasized by other activities. The Takeuchi school of unarmed combat, for example, emerged in the middle of the sixteenth century. The martial arts techniques taught in this and other schools were called totte ['grip'?], koshimawari ['round the waist'?]--or in the Edo period (1600-1868)--jûhô or jûjutsu ['soft arts']. The last term is, of course, more familiar today.
SOURCE: Japanese Sports: A History, by Allen Guttmann and Lee Thompson (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2001), pp. 20-21

After Day 8 in the January basho, Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu remains in sole possession of the lead at 8-0, with four rikishi trailing at 6-2.

15 January 2005

Lessons from the 1960 Tsunami in Chile, Hawai‘i, and Japan

In 1999, the U.S. Geological Survey published Circular 1187, entitled Surviving a Tsunami--Lessons from Chile, Hawaii, and Japan. It opens with a warning to people living in Cascadia.
Some areas around the margin of the Pacific Ocean are located near subduction zones similar to the one that produced the 1960 Chile earthquake and its tsunami. One of these areas is Cascadia--southern British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and northern California.

Recently, it has been discovered that the Cascadia Subduction Zone, like the subduction zone off Chile, has a history of producing earthquakes that triggered tsunamis. The most recent of these earthquakes, in 1700, set off a tsunami that struck Japan with waves about as big as those of the 1960 Chilean tsunami in Japan. However, modern Cascadia has had little experience with tsunamis and almost no experience with tsunamis generated close to home. Because of this, people in Cascadia need to look elsewhere for guidance about tsunami survival.

Perhaps the most basic guidance for people in Cascadia comes from the account on the following page. Many people in Cascadia may think that "The Big One"--an earthquake of magnitude 9--will kill them before its tsunami rolls in. So, why bother to prepare for such a tsunami? In the account, all the people in and near the town of Maullín, Chile, survived the biggest earthquake ever measured. The deaths in the area came later, during the tsunami that followed the quake.
Testimony from survivors of the 1960 tsunami in Hilo also demonstrate that survival depends at least as much on public education as it does on mechanical warning devices.
There was plenty of time for evacuation in Hilo, Hawaii, as the Chilean tsunami raced across the Pacific Ocean on May 22, 1960. At 6:47 p.m. Hawaiian time, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey issued an official warning that waves were expected to reach Hilo at about midnight. Around 8:30 p.m., coastal sirens in Hilo sounded and continued to sound intermittently for 20 minutes.

When the first wave, only a few feet high, arrived just after midnight, hundreds of people were still at home on low ground in Hilo. Others, thinking that the danger had passed, returned to Hilo before the highest wave of the tsunami struck at 1:04 a.m. on May 23. One of those who came back too soon was 16-year-old Carol Brown.

Carol was at her family's house on low ground in Hilo when the warning sirens sounded. Carol's parents took valuables to a relative's house in Papa‘ikou, a few miles northwest of Hilo, while Carol and her brother Ernest checked on a niece who was babysitting outside of town.

Later, Carol and Ernest returned to Hilo after hearing on the radio that tsunami waves had already come into town and were only 7 feet high. On the way back, they met a police officer who told them that the danger had passed. Carol and Ernest went to a sister's house in a low part of town. Around 1:00 a.m., they began to hear a low rumbling noise that soon became louder and was accompanied by sounds of crashing and crunching. Moments later, a wall of water hit the house, floating it off its foundation. When the house came to rest, Hilo was dark because the powerplant had been knocked out by the same wave.

Carol and her family survived the 1960 Chilean tsunami without serious injury. However, 61 other people in Hilo died and another 282 were badly hurt. These losses occurred, in part, because the warning sirens in Hilo on the evening of May 22, 1960, were interpreted differently by different people. Although nearly everyone heard the sirens, only about a third of them thought it was a signal to evacuate without further notice. Most thought it was only a preliminary warning to be followed later by an evacuation signal. Others in Hilo were unsure of how seriously to take the warnings, because several previous alerts had been followed by tsunamis that did little damage.
Read the whole thing. It's well written and chock full of informative graphs, maps, photos, and testimony from survivors in Chile, Hawai‘i, and Japan. It also includes a long list of survival tips.

14 January 2005

Lesser-known Tsunamis

On 30 December, the Far Outlier family had dinner in Vienna, Va., with a Sri Lankan family whose mother had been our daughter's first babysitter while her husband was in graduate school studying pineapple viruses at the University of Hawai‘i. The two families had not seen each other in 16 years. Our daughter is now a college sophomore and our hosts' two daughters had recently graduated from college. The younger daughter, a Virginia Tech graduate now doing a masters degree in microbiology, was there with her boyfriend, another Sri Lankan Hokie who had majored in computer science and now works for Nextel.

Our small reunion was frequently interrupted by incoming cellphone calls: from family, friends, and colleagues in Sri Lanka as well as in the U.S. Nearly everyone they had heard from in Sri Lanka knew someone who had gone missing in the tsunami.

The following Sunday found us at my sister's Baptist church in Annapolis, where the most memorable part of the pastor's sermon was his repeated exhortations to pray for the tsunami victims and to contribute to a special offering for relief efforts in Sri Lanka.

After returning home, I began looking for more background information on tsunamis in history. One useful resource is Imaginova's new site LiveScience.com, which offers a special report on tsunamis with an image gallery, news of plans for tsunami warning systems in the Caribbean as well as in the Indian Ocean, and a list of major tsunamis in recent history. Some of the lesser-known tsunamis follow.
  • Nov. 1, 1755: After a colossal earthquake destroyed Lisbon, Portugal and rocked much of Europe, people took refuge by boat. A tsunami ensued, as did great fires. Altogether, the event killed more than 60,000 people.

  • Aug. 27, 1883: Eruptions from the Krakatoa volcano fueled a tsunami that drowned 36,000 people in the Indonesian Islands of western Java and southern Sumatra. The strength of the waves pushed coral blocks as large as 600 tons onto the shore.

  • June 15, 1896: Waves as high as 100 feet (30 meters), spawned by an earthquake, swept the east coast of Japan. Some 27,000 people died.

  • July 9, 1958: Regarded as the largest recorded in modern times, the tsunami in Lituya Bay, Alaska was caused by a landslide triggered by an 8.3 magnitude earthquake. Waves reached a height of 1,720 feet (576 meters) in the bay, but because the area is relatively isolated and in a unique geologic setting the tsunami did not cause much damage elsewhere. It sank a single boat, killing two fishermen.
UPDATE: Nathanael of Rhine River adds mention of an extraordinarily deadly earthquake-tsunami in Sicily in 1908, described as follows by mega-tsunami.com.
The highest toll for an earthquake-tsunami combination since 1900 took place on December 28, 1908, when a 7.2 magnitude quake struck Messina, Italy, killing an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people.

13 January 2005

NYC Mayor Fernando Wood

Fernando Wood was one of the most charming rogues ever to serve as mayor of New York. In his later years, he adopted a debonair and elegant bearing, but that pose was far removed from his origins and character. The son of a cigar maker, Wood successively owned a cigar shop, ran a dockside tavern, and operated a fleet of sailing vessels, managing to amass a fortune before the age of forty. He served a term in Congress as a loyal follower of Tammany, and in 1850, as an adventurer just back from San Francisco and the gold rush, he ran for mayor, only to lose to the Whig coalition. His already rather unsavory reputation did not help his cause, and diarist Philip Hone noted that "the incumbent of this office should be at least an honest man. Fernando Wood, instead of occupying the mayor's seat, ought to be on the rolls of the State prison."

By 1854, however, Wood had somewhat overcome his past reputation and was acting as conciliator to bring together all the diverse groups within the Democratic spectrum. Although his loyalty to Tammany was certain, Wood tapped into voters' anger at the Forty Thieves and spoke the language of reform. Historically, it was one of Tammany Hall's most endearing traits that it periodically demanded a purging of the system, a cleansing that only it could administer. In 1854, Wood's campaign promised to restore lost honor to city politics. He promised also to obtain from Albany greater home rule for the city, to limit both prostitution and gambling, and get animals off the city streets. On November 7, he was elected because the Irish Sixth Ward cast four hundred more votes for him than it had registered voters. The first of New York's modern bosses came to power in a fashion soon to become familiar....

During the presidential race of 1860, both Wood and the Tammany organization agreed that abolitionism rather than slavery was the cause of America's difficulties. In good demagogic fashion, Wood denounced the Republican Party as a "fiend which stalks within the narrow barrier of its Northern cage" and contrasted this with the nationwide support enjoyed by Democratic candidates. Both Wood and Tammany did their best to elect Stephen A. Douglas in 1860, and the "Little Giant" received twice as many votes in Manhattan as did Lincoln, although the Republicans carried New York State. Wood sincerely believed that much of New York's prosperity depended on its Southern connections and that an accommodation with the planter aristocracy was in the city's best interest.

After Lincoln's election--indeed after South Carolina had seceded--this belief led to an extraordinary mayoral message to the Common Council on January 7, 1861. Wood suggested that Manhattan, in combination with Staten Island and Long Island, secede from the United States and become an independent city-state. The financial basis of this new entity would be secure because of its trade dominance and the enormous tariffs it was certain to collect. Although most people ridiculed the idea, it did not become "outrageous" until war erupted in the spring and buried the plan.

When the South fired on Fort Sumter, Wood proved capable of reversing himself. He ordered Mozart Hall [his own creation in opposition to Tammany Hall after the latter disowned him] to organize a volunteer regiment and waved the flag of patriotism as fervently as anyone else did. But he never really seemed to favor active prosecution of the war, and the conflict marked the end of his career as Manhattan's leading political figure. His ambivalence toward the Union tinged Mozart Hall with treason, and when the mayor sought reelection in December 1861, he finished third. His only accomplishment was to cost Tammany Hall the election by splitting the Democratic vote. In time-honored fashion, Wood now made a deal with the organization he had so long fought. Tammany Hall agreed to pay Wood's campaign debts and to nominate him to Congress in 1862 if he removed himself from city politics. Duly elected to Congress, Wood became a leader of the nation's "Peace Democrats" for the duration of the war. He ultimately served eight terms in Congress and became influential in currency and tariff policy.
SOURCE: New York City: A Short History, by George J. Lankevich (NYU Press, 2002), pp. 94-95, 99-100

11 January 2005

The Japanese Republic of Ezo, 1868-69

The Republic of Ezo (蝦夷共和国 Ezo Kyowakoku) was a short-lived breakaway state of Japan on the island now known as Hokkaido.

After the defeat of the forces of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the Boshin War (1868–1869), a part of the Shogun's navy led by Admiral Enomoto Takeaki fled to the northern island of Ezo, together with several thousand soldiers and a handful of French military advisors and their leader, Jules Brunet.

On December 25, 1868, they set up an independent Ezo Republic on the American model, and elected Enomoto as its president. These were the first elections ever held in Japan. They tried, in vain, to obtain international recognition for the new republic.
SOURCE: Wikipedia, 25 December 2004 (via my librarian brother Ken).

Street-corner Sumo in Tokugawa Times

Here's another bit of historical background to mark the start of the January basho in Tokyo, where fellow Mongolians Asashoryu ('Morning Green Dragon') and Asasekiryu ('Morning Red Dragon') currently share the lead at 4-0. This basho may set the record for the number of foreign rikishi in the top (makuuchi) division: 10 out of 40 active in the current tournament--6 Mongolians, 3 Europeans, and 1 Korean. (There are actually 42 rikishi on the makuuchi roster for each tournament, but one or two are usually on the disabled list.)
Legitimization of Edo-period sumo was a long and slow process. Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-1651), the third Tokugawa shogun, banned sumo from Edo in 1648. The reason for the ban was the shogunate's characteristic concern for public order, which was often disrupted by tsuji-zumo (street-corner sumo). "Unemployed warriors and rough townsmen came into violent contact in these street-corner contests fought for small amounts of money tossed down by the onlookers who gathered around the impromptu wrestlers. Clashes between hot-tempered masterless samurai and commoners were incessant; drawn swords and the untimely death of a combatant or spectator were not unheard of." Bans on sumo were issued periodically throughout the Edo period--at least fifteen by the mid-nineteenth century--which testifies to the helplessness of the authorities in the face of the populace's determination not to be deprived of one of its principal pleasures. Eventually the outright bans were directed only at street-corner sumo. The authorities were content to regulate rather than to forbid benefit matches held at shrines and temples. These efforts to diminish the sport's level of random expressive violence exemplify what Norbert Elias has called "the civilizing process."

Promoters promised to control the incipient sport better and to donate a share of the profits to public works. Accordingly, benefit sumo was permitted in Edo in 1684, in Osaka in 1691, and in Kyoto in 1699. The authorities granted permits to hold benefit sumo almost every year after that.

From around 1750, the yearly calendar of meets settled into a pattern: spring and fall in Edo, summer in Kyoto, fall in Osaka. This did not mean, however, that stable sumo organizations existed in each of the three cities. The cities were merely centers where sumo groups gathered for major performances. Many of the wrestlers, especially those retained by a daimyo (lord of a domain), resided in their own regions. For these seasonal tournaments, wooden stands holding several thousand spectators were erected on temple grounds. Then, as now, wrestlers were ranked for each new event, but the ranks were not determined as they are now by performance in a previous meet. Rankings had to be rough and ready because the participants varied from meet to meet as promoters negotiated with various groups of wrestlers for each meet. With the passage of time, however, there was a degree of rationalization. Promoters identified the more capable wrestlers, invited them back for each performance, and ranked them less arbitrarily.

In some ways, however, Tokugawa sumo as a spectator sport still resembled the simulated mayhem of modem "professional" wrestling. At meets held in Osaka, for example, wrestlers who lived and practiced in the city and its surrounding region played the role of the good guys while wrestlers from elsewhere were the "heavies." It was the same in Edo and Kyoto. It was good business to let the hometown heroes win. Like the enthusiasts studied by Roland Barthes in Mythologies (1957) , the fans were enthralled by the allegorical drama enacted in the ring and seemed not to mind the fact that fixed matches were hardly unknown. The prestige of a retained wrestler's lord sometimes influenced the outcome of a match. Comparing records from the Edo period (1600-1868) is like taking at face value the results of modern "professional" wrestling.

Another uncanny resemblance to modern "professional" wrestling can be seen in onna-zumo (women 's wrestling), performed mostly, it seems, for men 's titillation. The names assumed by the women (or given to them by promoters) suggest the debased nature of the attraction: "Big Boobs," "Deep Crevice," "Holder of the Balls."

Another characteristic of modem sports is a tendency toward national and international bureaucratic organization. The predecessor of today's Japan Sumo Association can be traced back to an organization established early in the eighteenth century when the men who ran the centers where sumo wrestlers lived and trained formed a loose organization called the sumo kaisho. This organization achieved a stable form in 1751--the year that the English established their first national sports organization, the Jockey Club.
SOURCE: Japanese Sports: A History, by Allen Guttmann and Lee Thompson (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2001), pp. 22-23