History

A colour music sheet, 19th century, titled "A Chinese Monkey Doodle".

[Photo story] A history of Western illustrations insulting the Chinese

For over 100 years, the Chinese have been the target of stereotypes and racism from Western countries. The way they look, work and talk have all been captured in images and illustrations by Western artists, and not at all in a friendly way. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao shows us some of these images.
Japanese people on a transport vessel take a last look at Manchuria, spring 1945. The Japanese government previously made many nice promises to encourage them to migrate to Manchuria, only for Japan to lose the war and dash the dream. Japan’s painful experience in Manchuria also became important material for Japanese literature and film after the war.

[Photo story] The fate of Japanese POWs and civilians in China after World War II

During the Japanese occupation of China in World War II, the Japanese government encouraged the people of Japan to migrate to China, where they were accorded many privileges as first-grade citizens. But when Japan eventually lost the war, these people found themselves cut adrift in an instant, neither belonging to China nor tied to Japan, especially the children born during the war. Many suffered and even lost their lives as the Soviet army put them into concentration camps and took retaliatory action. Some Japanese still remember the magnanimous policies of the Chiang Kai-Shek government, which arranged at the time for Japanese POWs and other Japanese to be repatriated back to Japan. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao presents photos of the period.
Tourists are seen at an entrance of the Forbidden City amid snowfall, in Beijing, China, 7 November 2021. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

Professor Wang Gungwu’s Tang Prize 2021 lecture: China’s road from wen to shi

Professor Wang Gungwu, recipient of the 2020 Tang Prize in Sinology, delivered a Tang Prize Laureate Lecture at Tang Prize 2021 on 20 November. In tracing China’s history from empire to nation, he relates in tandem his journey of becoming a historian, from being a Chinese overseas in his youth, then returning briefly to the motherland before starting a new life in a new country. “That seemed like the real meaning of my leaving China,” he says, “ requiring me to think as a huaqiao settling down as a citizen of a foreign country... But I did learn that I could leave China but China did not leave me.” Whether in his studies of the Five Dynasties period of the 10th century or Mao’s China and the struggle to find its future after throwing away its own past, he noted that wen (文)-texts supported central power and shaped the system’s collective memory, and were most useful as the shi (史) records of every dynasty. This nexus can perhaps help us understand how one Confucian past could serve to denigrate one set of leaders but provide greater legitimacy for another, and how the continuity of China’s history can be preserved in the future.
Paramilitary police officers keep watch as people climb the Great Wall of China in Beijing, China, 1 October 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Wang Gungwu: China, ASEAN and the new Maritime Silk Road

Professor Wang Gungwu was a keynote speaker at the webinar titled “The New Maritime Silk Road: China and ASEAN” organised by the Academy of Professors Malaysia. He reminds us that a sense of region was never a given for Southeast Asia; trade tied different peoples from land and sea together but it was really the former imperial masters and the US who made the region “real”. Western powers have remained interested in Southeast Asia through the years, as they had created the Southeast Asia concept and even ASEAN. On the other hand, China was never very much interested in the seas or countries to its south; this was until it realised during the Cold War that Southeast Asia and ASEAN had agency and could help China balance its needs in the maritime sphere amid the US's persistent dominance. The Belt and Road Initiative reflects China’s worldview and the way it is maintaining its global networks to survive and thrive in a new era. This is an edited transcript of Professor Wang’s speech.
On 1 October 1949, from atop the Tiananmen city wall in Beijing, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chairman Mao Zedong led the ceremony establishing the People’s Republic of China. And at the First Plenary Session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), he declared: “The Chinese people, comprising one quarter of humanity, have now stood up.”

[Photo story] The establishment of the People’s Republic of China

“The Chinese people have stood up.” These famous words uttered by Mao Zedong were a declaration to the world. But the establishment of the People’s Republic of China was by no means straightforward. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao takes us through the twists and turns of a civil war between the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Party, with their very different ideas of what China should be.
On 10 October 1945, the chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT) government Chiang Kai-shek met with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chairman Mao Zedong in Chongqing for peace negotiations. Both sides signed an agreement that brought a glimmer of peace, but it was short-lived, as armed conflicts kept breaking out between the KMT and CCP.

[Photo story] Failure of the Double Tenth Agreement and the beginning of the Chinese civil war

Just when China thought it would see peace after World War II, a civil war between the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Party soon broke out. While the Double Tenth Agreement led to an peaceful interregnum of sorts, this was short-lived, and not even US intervention resulted in a lasting peace.
A colour illustration on 8 April 1884 shows the Battle of Fuzhou, with a shower of gunfire from French vessels and the Fujian Fleet either sinking or damaged.

[Picture story] The Sino-French War of 1884 and the collapse of Western colonialism

Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao notes that the Sino-French War showed the weaknesses of Western colonial powers, particularly France. This ultimately led to the end of colonialism following World War II.
In 1842, the Chinese and British delegations consisting of the Chinese Minister of Revenue Keying, the viceroy of Liangjiang Yilibu, and the first governor of Hong Kong Henry Pottinger signed the Treaty of Nanjing — the first “unequal treaty” between China and a foreign country — on board HMS Cornwallis moored in Nanjing Harbour.

The Opium Wars: When China’s ‘century of shame’ began

Pain. Humiliation. Injustice. These are the words that Chinese generally associate with the two Opium Wars, which resulted in the infamous unequal treaties that ultimately gave Hong Kong to the British for 100 years. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao sheds light on this defining period of China’s history.
A colour supplement of Le Petit Journal from 1900 shows the Allied troops attacking Beijing.

[Picture story] The Boxer Rebellion: A wound in China’s modern history

The Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the 20th century goes down in history as proof that if the Chinese are weak, the West will take advantage and China will pay the price. It is a constant reminder to the Chinese of their past humiliations and guides their dealings with the West today. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao shares illustrations of the tumultuous times during that period.