From Japan’s urban colonial past to sending children through the mail, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Global Urban History
In January of this year, Miura Hideyuki, a journalist for the Asahi shinbun, was awarded the Kaikō Ken Memorial Nonfiction Prize for his work of reportage, Five-Colored Rainbow (Goshiki no niji, Shūeisha, 2015). In it, Miura traces the postwar lives of graduates of Manchukuo’s Kenkoku Daigaku, a university established in 1938 to train future generations of leaders capable of providing a front of sovereignty and authenticity to the Japanese Imperial Army’s bold new project of state-building. The five colors of the rainbow refer to the nationalities of Japan, China, Korea, Mongolia, and Manchuria, representatives of which comprised the university’s first cohort of 141 students. The students’ collective union in classrooms and on training fields at the university in the capital city of Shinkyō (now, Changchun in the People’s Republic of China) was intended as a microcosm of the harmony trumpeted by the new state’s many propaganda outlets.
The five-member Kaikō Ken prize jury roundly praised Miura for compiling brief life histories of some 1,500 of the “super elite” who had graduated from the university in the seven years of its existence, as well as for his doggedness in tracking down several dozen of them—scattered across the Asian continent as far as Kazhakstan—for interviews. It was “most fitting” in the seventieth year after war’s end, jurors agreed, that Miura’s “masterpiece” be recognized for its contribution to salvaging the graduates’ stories from the dustbin of history. [continue reading]
Saeed Kaman Dengnan and David Smith
Iranian leaders have reacted with fury to reports that newly declassified US diplomatic cables revealed extensive contacts between Ayatollah Khomeini and the Carter administration just weeks ahead of Iran’s Islamic revolution. It was previously known that Ruhollah Khomeini, the charismatic leader of the Iranian revolution, had exchanged some messages with the US through an intermediary while living in exile in Paris. But new documents seen by the BBC’s Persian service show he went to a great lengths to ensure the Americans would not jeopardise his plans to return to Iran – and even personally wrote to US officials.
The BBC’s reporting suggests that the Carter administration took heed of Khomeini’s pledges, and in effect paved the way for his return by holding the Iranian army back from launching a military coup. The BBC Persian service obtained a draft message Washington had prepared as a response to Khomeini, which welcomed the ayatollah’s direct communications, but was never sent. [continue reading]
“Do you know who Wu Chuanyu is?” Mao Zedong asked a group of swimmers from Wuhan in 1958. “Is there anyone now who can do better than him? You should learn from Wu Chuanyu and surpass him!”
Last month, Greenpeace released documents from a secretive and controversial free trade deal currently being negotiated by the EU and US government. The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would reduce restrictions on EU-US trade but critics argue that the deal would encourage privatisation of public services and make it easier for multinational corporations to circumvent regulation.President Barack Obama’s references to the TTIP also provoked ire in April as he commented on the implications of Britain leaving the EU.
The President argued that, following Brexit, a US-UK trade deal would be placed ‘at the back of the queue’ as Washington would continue to prioritise ‘negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done’. Some interpreted these comments as an implied threat and, indeed, Obama would not be the first US President to pressure the British government into supporting US trade policy. [continue reading]
One of the most overlooked, yet most significant innovations of the early 20th century might be the Post Office’s decision to start shipping large parcels and packages through the mail. While private delivery companies flourished during the 19th century, the Parcel Post dramatically expanded the reach of mail-order companies to America’s many rural communities, as well as the demand for their products. When the Post Office’s Parcel Post officially began on January 1, 1913, the new service suddenly allowed millions of Americans great access to all kinds of goods and services. But almost immediately, it had some unintended consequences as some parents tried to send their children through the mail.
“It got some headlines when it happened, probably because it was so cute,” United States Postal Service historian Jenny Lynch tells Smithsonian.com. Just a few weeks after Parcel Post began, an Ohio couple named Jesse and Mathilda Beagle “mailed” their 8-month-old son James to his grandmother, who lived just a few miles away in Batavia. According to Lynch, Baby James was just shy of the 11-pound weight limit for packages sent via Parcel Post, and his “delivery” cost his parents only 15 cents in postage (although they did insure him for $50). The quirky story soon made newspapers, and for the next several years, similar stories would occasionally surface as other parents followed suit. [continue reading]