I don’t do these every day. Frankly, even with 5000 years of history, not much has happened on some days…or at least not enough for me to break from my sloth and write about it. August 15…well, this is one of those days when you’ve got TOO much good stuff to pass up.
In 978, Li Yu (李煜 b. 936), the last emperor of the Southern Tang Dynasty (935-975) was poisoned, allegedly on the orders of Zhao Kuangying (Song Taizong r. 939-997). Li Yu lost his throne following the final defeat of the Southern Tang by the Song in 976, and for two years lived in relative captivity at the Song capital of Kaifeng. Famous for his talents in poetry and music, Li Yu’s hobby may have been his downfall when he composed a poem with references some interpreted as a pining for his old kingdom and accusations against the Song emperor of wanton behavior.
On this date in 1878, the Qing Empire issued its first set of postage stamps under the name of China. Up to that point, the different foreign powers had their own postage services and stamps which were used by both foreigners and Chinese in sending correspondence among the treaty ports and overseas. (My textbook bristles with outrage at this trampling on China’s sovereignty.) Nevertheless, in the spirit of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ the Qing government authorized the issuance of stamps in three denominations: 1 piece, 3 piece, or 5 pieces of silver.
On this date in 1900, The Empress Dowager Cixi with the Guangxu Emperor, a retinue of Manchu princes, and her favorite eunuch Li Lianying in tow, fled the Forbidden City. The motley escape party got out one step ahead of the Allied Expeditionary Force sent to relieve the siege of the foreign legation quarters by the Boxers. Having failed in her gambit of encouraging the boxers to drive out the foreigners, Cixi was so heartbroken at news of the imminent sack of Beijing, that she had to be physically prevented from jumping in a lake. (One wonders, given her narcissism, how hard she tried.) Forced into temporary exile, according to some accounts “without even a hairpin in her hair,” Cixi did find the time (if Backhouse is to be believed, and is he ever?), to have Guangxu’s beloved Concubine Zhen tossed down a well. (There’s several versions of this story floating around, including one where Zhen Ji did it herself, fearful that she would be left behind to be raped by the barbarian invaders.)
In July, 1911, aware of the imminent collapse of the Qing Empire, supporters of Bogdo Gegeen Jebzundamba Hutuhtu VIII (1870-1924) announced their decision to puruse independent statehood for Mongolia, sparking a summer of turmoil as different forces vied for the future of the region. On August 15, 1911, Russia–following a play they would call a few Augusts later–decided to stick a fork in an old foe by supporting the separatist tendencies of a breakaway region, and declared their support for an independent Mongolian state.
On August 15, 1913, Chen Huanzhang and Liang Qichao proposed a plan to make Confucianism a state religion. Liang Qichao followed this up two years later by encouraging his pal Cai E, then military governor of Yunnan, to rebel against the government of Yuan Shikai. Space does not permit trying to parse the complicated tangle that was the mind of Liang Qichao, better historians than I have tried and only partially succeeded. Truly one of the fascinating characters in China’s recent past.
A couple of other noteworthy Asian history events from outside the Middle Kingdom:
Today is the 63rd anniversary of VJ day marking the date of Japan’s unconditional surrender and the end of World War II.
On August 15, 1947, India declares its independence from Great Britain. Jawarhalal Nehru becomes India’s first Prime Minister.
Also on this date in 1950, the Republic of Korea is founded with the 38th Parallel marking its northern border.
Finally, for you literary types:
On this date in 1040, King Duncan I of Scotland is killed in battle against his cousin Macbeth who then takes the throne. Ironically, today also marks the death of the latter, as Macbeth himself was killed on August 15, 1057 at the Battle of Lumphanan.