(APOLOGIES: We earlier noted that the producer of the now widely condemned film, The Innocence of Muslims, Californian Sam Bacile is Jewish. It turns out he is Coptic Christian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. We discovered the error of our haste a few hours after our deadline. We regret the error.)
We know it in Western history books as the The Incident at Mukden. On Sept. 18, 1931, the railway station in Mukden was mysteriously bombed. The railway station was built and run by the Japanese who looked on Manchuria of the Manchus as not really an integral part of China and, like the French occupation of North and West Africa, it was open territory for Japanese migration and resource exploitation.
China’s nationalist forces were too preoccupied with internal matters that included feudalistic warlords and the emerging proletariat, and since the Great Wall literally and figuratively terminated in Hebei south of Liaoning, momentarily losing control of Manchuria to the Japanese was momentarily shelved.
At the time, Inner and Outer Manchuria were already in turmoil. Internally, the Korean peninsula, once of the proud Kogoryo that extended from what is now Heilongjiang all the way to Jeju Do, was never really pacified by neither the Hans nor the Nippons. Korea paid tribute to China but Japan was considered an occupying presence.
China’s Manchus earlier ceded outer Manchuria (Vladivostok to Siberia) to Tsarist Russia whose expansionist propensities were curtailed by its fear of British hostility after the Crimea War, resulting in the sale of sparsely populated Alaska (save for the furry animals that were harvested into extinction), and the 1904 Kamikaze naval defeat. Far East Russia was nevertheless a power to contend with, and Manchuria (now called Dong Bei, the northeast) was the prize.
Shenyang, where we currently reside, was Mukden. A prominent huge stone tablet carved with the "September 18" marks the memorial to the incident in Mukden. Post-WWII Chinese are not familiar with the name "Mukden." Known as Shenjing, the capital city, to the Han, Mukden preceded Nurhachi, the founder of the Manchu line. The Russians and the Japanese called the city by its ancient name. After WWII, the city was renamed Shenyang.
Japanese aggression, represented by Sept. 18, to the Chinese, (wu wang guo chi, "never forget the national humiliation") is in the news again with the current Japanese government’s declaration that it had bought the Senkaku (Japan)/Diaoyou (China) islands. Rightist Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara of Tokyo announced his intention to "buy" and develop the islands, and his move was preempted by the national government that "bought" the islands with the declared purpose of administering it in accordance with the U.S.-Japan treaty that included the islands. China never recognized the treaty and lodged a claim with the UN.
European colonists in the 19th century nibbled at China’s territory. Since the 1949 triumph of the CPC against the nationalists, China has asserted its historic boundaries, though willing to recognize existing legal contracts such as the lease agreements between the Qing Dynasty and Portugal on Macao (Aomen), and with England on Hong Kong (Xianggang). It foregoes as well previous areas of influence. Vietnam (occupied by the Yue people since the Han dynasty, still called Yuenan in China, until the Le revolt mid-1400 and declared its independence) but colonized by France (which then claimed patrimony over the Spratley and the Paracel Islands), and North Korea (still called Bei Han) that was heavily influenced by China until the Mongol invasion but went on to establish independence during the Joseon rule, subsequently occupied by Japan until the end of WWII, were once Chinese territories.
The history of the Nansei (Ryukyu) islands reverting back to Japan came as a result of the close ties that developed between victorious WWII America (with its guilt over Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and resurgent nationalist Japan that served the logistical needs of the U.S. forces in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Though Japan’s history traces early migration from the southern islands of Nansei in the peopling of Japan, what has now become the Ryukyu group (the name comes from the Mandarin Liuqiu used as early as the 600 AD), and popularly called Okinawa in the West, has mixed standing in socially stratified Japanese society. Okinawans often complain as being treated like second-class cousins.
A peace treaty was signed in SF ’71 between Japan and the United States ceding the previously U.S. administered Ryukyu Islands to Japan. Unfortunately, it included islands that are physically part of Taiwan rather than the Ryukyus, recorded in ancient geographical charts as part of China.
A resurgent China finally has the wherewithal to show military muscle this week in mapping out baseline data in support of its claim and is now causing political and economic ripples in China-Japan relations. Protests among local Chinese also got violent over the weekend.
Though China emphasizes that its objection is not directed against the Japanese people but to its government policy, the Sept. 18 sentiment is once again reviving anti-Japanese response among its people.
But beyond the historic animosity, the real reasons are abundant oil and minerals, with both claimants disguising the conflict as a fight over fishing rights. Duh!