Monday, October 29, 2012

False Historical Narratives Perpetuated in Academic and Popular Circles

Yet another of a long slew of books and academic works has gotten things completely wrong. In this case, the title itself spreads a historically inaccurate myth. China's Last Empire by William T. Rowe actually should be titled, The Manchu's First and Last Empire. This is one of the reasons the Chinese overthrew their Manchurian overlords. This is why the Japanese felt justified in setting up a puppet kingdom with the Manchu emperor in Manchuria when the Japanese invaded.

If Rowe had wanted to write a book on China's Last Empire, he should have written it on the Ming Dynasty. The Ming Dynasty did have an impact on Taiwan. It's corrupt and brutal monetary, trade and agricultural policies towards its subjects in Fujian were one of the reasons the Fujianese took to smuggling and piracy, spreading out all over southeast Asia, even trading in Manila. When the Ming Empire fell, the power vacuum was filled by the ruler of a trade empire centered initially in Amoy (Xiamen) who eventually expelled the Dutch from Taiwan and set up Taiwan's first kingdom on the west coast centered in Tainan. Had this king, more commonly known as Koxinga, not died soon after his conquest of Dutch territory in Taiwan, he might have been able to extend his kingdom all of the way to the Philippines. World history would have looked quite different indeed. Taiwan and the Philippines might to this day be united under a kingdom that speaks Hokkien.

Perhaps William T. Rowe's choice of a book title was out of ignorance of history, or simply mercenary -- since the world is more likely to buy a book on "China" than on the "Manchurian Empire."

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