Daily Archives: 21 July 2014

July 21, 1553

Warrior-Monks and Dwarf Pirates

Shaolin monk in contemplation.

On today’s date, 120 Buddhist temple monks met an approximately equal number of “Japanese pirates” in battle.

The so-called Japanese pirates, wakou or woku, were actually a confederation of Japanese, Chinese, and even some Portuguese citizens who banded together. (The pejorative term wakou literally means “dwarf pirates.”) They raided China during the Ming Dynasty for silks and metal goods, which could be sold in Japan for up to ten times their value in China.

By 1550, the Shaolin Temple had been in existence for approximately 1,000 years. The resident monks were famous throughout Ming China for their specialized and highly effective form of kung fu (gong fu).

Thus, when ordinary Chinese imperial army and navy troops proved unable to eliminate the pirate menace, Nanjing’s Vice-Commissioner-in-Chief, Wan Biao, decided to deploy monastic fighters. He called upon the warrior-monks of three temples: Wutaishan in Shanxi Province, Funiu in Henan Province, and Shaolin.

According to contemporary chronicler Zheng Ruoceng, some of the other monks challenged the leader of the Shaolin contingent, Tianyuan, who sought leadership of the entire monastic force. In a scene reminiscent of countless Hong Kong films, the eighteen challengers chose eight from among themselves to attack Tianyuan.

First, the eight men came at the Shaolin monk with bare hands, but he fended them all off. They then grabbed swords; Tianyuan responded by seizing the long iron bar that was used to lock the gate. Wielding the bar as a staff, he defeated all eight of the other monks simultaneously. They were forced to bow to Tianyuan, and acknowledge him as the proper leader of the monastic forces. Zheng narrates these events in his account (written around 1568):

Tianyuan said: “I am real Shaolin. Is there any martial art in which you are good enough to justify your claim for superiority over me?” The eighteen [Hangzhou] monks chose from amongst them eight men to challenge him. The eight immediately attacked Tianyuan using their hand combat techniques. Tianyuan was standing at that moment atop the open terrace in front of the hall. His eight assailants tried to climb the stairs leading to it from the courtyard underneath. However, he saw them coming, and struck with his fists, blocking them from climbing.

A Shaolin monk soars through the air in a kung fu stance.

The eight monks ran around to the hall’s back entrance. Then, armed with swords, they charged through the hall to the terrace in front. They slashed their weapons at Tianyuan who, hurriedly grabbing the long bar that fastened the hall’s gate, struck horizontally. Try as they did, they could not get into the terrace. They were, on the contrary, overcome by Tianyuan.Yuekong (the challengers’ leader) surrendered and begged forgiveness. Then, the eighteen monks prostrated themselves in front of Tianyuan, and offered their submission.

The monks fought the pirates in at least four battles. The second battle was the monks’ greatest victory: the Battle of Wengjiagang, fought in the Huangpu River delta in July, 1553. They chased the remnants of the pirate band twenty miles southward for ten days, killing every last pirate. Monastic forces suffered only four casualties in the fighting.

During the battle and mop-up operation, the Shaolin monks were noted for their ruthlessness. One monk used an iron staff to kill the wife of one of the pirates as she tried to escape the slaughter.

Although it seems quite odd that Buddhist monks from Shaolin and other temples would not only practice martial arts, but actually march into battle and kill people, perhaps they felt the need to maintain their fierce reputation.  After all, Shaolin was a very wealthy place. In the lawless atmosphere of late Ming China, it must have been very useful for the monks to be renowned as a deadly fighting force.

References:

  • Meir Shahar, The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 2008) pp. 69-70.
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July 21, 365 C.E.

The Hellenic arc.

Greece is one of the world’s most seismically active countries. The ancient Greeks attributed earthquakes to the God of the Sea, Poseidon, perhaps because so many of them were centered under the waters. On today’s date at about sunrise, the “Cretan earthquake of 365”, an undersea earthquake with an assumed epicenter near Crete and estimated to have been higher than 8.0 on the present-day Richter Scale, occurred. It caused widespread destruction in central and southern Greece, northern Libya, Egypt, Cyprus, and Sicily. In Crete, nearly all towns were destroyed.

Of course, today we know that earthquakes are due to the movement of huge tectonic plates on the Earth’s surface. The Africa plate subducts beneath the Aegean Sea plate along the Hellenic arc (aka Hellenic trench or subduction zone), from the western Peloponnesus through Crete and Rhodes to western Turkey, at a rate of almost 40 mm/year. As a result, shallow-focus earthquakes (focal depths less than 50 km) occur on faults in the boundary-region of the two plates. In the twentieth century, the largest shallow-focus earthquakes to have occurred near the Hellenic-arc plate boundary had magnitudes of about 7.2, but the earthquake centered near Crete in 365 CE was much larger than any Hellenic arc earthquake of the twentieth century. In other parts of the world, convergent-plate tectonic environments similar to that of the Hellenic arc have produced earthquakes of magnitude 8 and larger.

The Crete earthquake was followed by a tsunami which devastated the southern and eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, particularly Libya, Alexandria, and the Nile Delta, killing thousands and hurling ships nearly two miles inland. The quake left a deep impression on the late antique mind, and numerous writers of the time referred in their works to the event.

The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus described in detail the tsunami hitting Alexandria and other places in the early hours of 21 July AD 365. His account is particularly noteworthy for clearly distinguishing the three main phases of a tsunami, namely an initial earthquake, the sudden retreat of the sea and an ensuing gigantic wave rolling inland:

Slightly after daybreak, and heralded by a thick succession of fiercely shaken thunderbolts, the solidity of the whole earth was made to shake and shudder, and the sea was driven away, its waves were rolled back, and it disappeared, so that the abyss of the depths was uncovered and many-shaped varieties of sea-creatures were seen stuck in the slime; the great wastes of those valleys and mountains, which the very creation had dismissed beneath the vast whirlpools, at that moment, as it was given to be believed, looked up at the sun’s rays. Many ships, then, were stranded as if on dry land, and people wandered at will about the paltry remains of the waters to collect fish and the like in their hands; then the roaring sea as if insulted by its repulse rises back in turn, and through the teeming shoals dashed itself violently on islands and extensive tracts of the mainland, and flattened innumerable buildings in towns or wherever they were found. Thus in the raging conflict of the elements, the face of the earth was changed to reveal wondrous sights. For the mass of waters returning when least expected killed many thousands by drowning, and with the tides whipped up to a height as they rushed back, some ships, after the anger of the watery element had grown old, were seen to have sunk, and the bodies of people killed in shipwrecks lay there, faces up or down. Other huge ships, thrust out by the mad blasts, perched on the roofs of houses, as happened at Alexandria, and others were hurled nearly two miles from the shore, like the Laconian vessel near the town of Methone which I saw when I passed by, yawning apart from long decay.

July 21, 1645

The non-Chinese Manchurian queue.

The non-Chinese Manchurian queue.

On 7 June 1644, a day after entering Peking, the Manchu (Qing) prince Dorgon, regent for the Manchu child emperor Shunzhi, issued a decree stating that, henceforth, all Chinese (Han) men should shave their foreheads and have their hair braided in back in the Manchu-style queue.

A storm of protest forced Dorgon to cancel his decree, but the following June another order was issued that Chinese military men must adopt the queue; this was to make it easier for the Manchus to identify their enemies in battle, and assure them that those who had surrendered would remain loyal to them in the future. But senior advisers of Dorgon felt that this did not go far enough, and so on today’s date, Dorgon reissued the decree that every Chinese man must shave his forehead and begin to grow the queue within ten days or face execution. This order was popularly summarized as “Keep your hair and lose your head, or lose your hair and keep your head.”

For Han officials and literati, the new hairstyle was a humiliating act of degradation because it breached a common Confucian directive to preserve one’s body intact, whereas for common folk cutting their hair was tantamount to the loss of their manhood. Because it united Chinese of all social backgrounds into resistance against Qing rule, the haircutting command broke the momentum of the Qing conquest. The defiant population of Jiading and Songjiang was massacred by former Ming general Li Chengdong, respectively on August 24 and September 22. Jiangyin also held out against about 10,000 Qing troops for 83 days. When the city wall was finally breached on 9 October 1645, the Qing army led by Ming defector Liu Liangzuo, who had been ordered to “fill the city with corpses before you sheathe your swords,” massacred the entire population, killing between 74,000 and 100,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed before all of China was brought into compliance.

Almost 270 years later, after the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, Sun Yat-sen in the capacity of Provisional President of the newly founded Republic of China promulgated an order requiring all soldiers and civilian men to cut their queues. “Queue cutting rallies” were held where men had their hair cut together with thousands of compatriots. In the early Republican period, queue cutting became an expression of support for the revolution.

References:

  • Frederic Wakeman, “Localism and Loyalism During the Ch’ing Conquest of Kiangnan: The Tragedy of Chiang-yin”, in Frederic Wakeman, Jr., and Carolyn Grant (eds.), Conflict and Control in Late Imperial China (Berkeley: Center of Chinese Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 1975), pp. 43–85
  • Frederic Wakeman, The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in Seventeenth-Century China (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1985). In two volumes.

July 21, 1925 (a Tuesday)

Darrow addressing the jury and courtroom spectators.

On this date, the eighth day of the Scopes Monkey Trial began. Before the jury was called to the courtroom, Darrow addressed Judge Raulston, “I think to save time, we will ask the court to bring in the jury and instruct the jury to find the defendant guilty.” This ensured that the defense could appeal the case to a higher court, which might rule the Butler Act unconstitutional. The defense also waived its right to a final address, which, under Tennessee law, deprived the prosecution of a closing statement. This greatly disappointed Bryan, who was unable to deliver a grandiloquent closing speech he had labored over for weeks [archived here].

John Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution and sentenced to a fine of $100.  After the verdict was read, Scopes delivered his only statement of the trial, declaring his intent “to oppose this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation of my ideal of academic freedom — that is, to teach the truth as guaranteed in our constitution, of personal and religious freedom.”  The trial came to an anticlimactic end.

References:

  • John Thomas Scopes, William Jennings Bryan, and Rhea County Court. The world’s most famous court trial: Tennessee evolution case (Cincinnati: National Book Co., 1925).