On January 10th, 1795, a very tired caravan arrives in Beijing. The travelers have journeyed from Canton on an accelerated schedule through harsh terrain in order to make it to the capital in time for the Qianlong Emperor’s sixtieth anniversary of his reign. The group is led by two Dutchmen: Isaac Titsingh and Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest, who are there to represent the interests of the Dutch Republic at the imperial court. It’s a momentous occasion, especially after the disastrous British Embassy from George Macartney two years earlier.
Borders are “important”: they define, in legal terms, who we are, our identity, and our rights. Except borders are rarely imposed with any thought to the people actually living there. And once a border is imposed, it can radically change the lives of those who live alongside it, dividing communities forever more.
Most of our understanding of the Mongol Empire begins and ends with Chinggis Khan and his sweep across Asia. His name is now included among conquerors whose efforts burn bright and burn out quick: Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and so on.
It can be easy to forget amongst the glistening skyscrapers, bustling streets and neon lights, but the Pearl River Delta used to be a haven for banditry and piracy. As the authority of Imperial China waned, pirate fleets based out of Guangdong Province roamed the waves, raiding traders and taking captives.
We can sometimes forget that “India”—or the idea of a single unified entity—is not a very old concept. Indian history is complicated and convoluted: different societies, polities and cultures rise and fall, ebb and flow, as the political makeup of South Asia changes.
Isabel Rosario Cooper, if mentioned at all by mainstream history books, is often a salacious footnote: the young Filipino mistress of General Douglas MacArthur, hidden away at the Charleston Hotel in DC.
A young man who turns his desire to join the army into a long stint as a volunteer ambulance driver. A teacher living in an old slum who is the only one brave—or foolish—enough to confront the gangs. A refugee who becomes a community organizer. A woman in a traditional village looking at the new development quickly encroaching on their land. A bored engineer who finds his calling as a crime reporter.