History

12 May 1945, San Francisco — During the meeting of the UN Conference on International Organization (UNCIO), delegates of four countries who would serve and sit on the UN Security Council look over a document: (from left) British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Robert Anthony Eden, US Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius, Jr, Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Vycheslav M. Molotov and Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Soong Tzu-wen.

[Photo story] The establishment of the United Nations and its significance to China

The establishment of the United Nations was a major step towards forging a new world order after the chaos of World War II. For China, it was a chance to recover from the humiliation of the two Opium Wars, the First Sino-Japanese War and World War II, where it was forced to cede territory and submit to Western powers. Not only was China able to sign equal treaties to take back its land, it became a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and took its place on the world stage.
Uzbekistan, Central Asia, early 20th century. A Mongolian yurt stands amid the wide grasslands, as people gather in front of the yurt. A fire for cooking has gone out, and guests are getting on their horses to leave as the host family comes out to see them off. The men on horseback are wearing long robes with slits on the side, with black sheepskin hats. Nomadic men like wearing clothes that are convenient for riding and keeping warm.

[Picture story] China’s western frontier and beyond

Taiwanese historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao considers China's historical engagements with its western frontier and the lands beyond it, and takes note of what the Chinese have documented and popularised in their version of the history of cultural exchanges with civilisations across Asia and Europe. With photos and drawings by young artist Brian Hsu, he brings us through history for a peek at those times.
Jonathan Spence (1936-2021), master storyteller of Chinese history. (WeChat/玉茗堂前)

Jonathan Spence: A Western historian's search for modern China

Professor Jonathan Spence (1936-2021) was a prolific historian who deepened Western readers’ understanding of China’s history and culture through his artful mastery of narrative history grounded in rigorous research. From the inner world of Emperor Kangxi to Jesuit missionaries' voyage to China, to the plight of Chinese intellectuals and literati and the arduous mission of reform and opening up, Spence’s unique writing style brought to life the complex historical figures and events of China. Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai, one of his earliest students, and translation academic Jackie Yan pay tribute to Spence and his contribution to the study of Chinese history through this preface to a collection of Spence's translated works published by the Guangxi Normal University Press.
25 November 1943, Cairo — State leaders of the US, the UK and the Republic of China and their chiefs of staff pose for a group photo before the Mena House Hotel in Cairo. Madame Chiang Kai-shek served as the interpreter for President Chiang Kai-shek. The one standing behind US President Roosevelt is Wang Chung-hui, secretary-general of the Chinese Supreme Defence Council and a former minister of foreign affairs.

[Photo story] The Cairo Conference and Taiwan’s liberation

In 1895, Taiwan was ceded to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Fifty years later, amid World War II, Taiwan was returned to China following the Cairo Conference involving the US’s Franklin D. Roosevelt, the UK’s Winston Churchill and the Republic of China’s Chiang Kai-shek. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao gives us a glimpse into those times.
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.