Double Tenth – Taiwan/ROC

October 10

Double Tenth (10/10) celebrates the anniversary of the Wuchang Uprising which brought down a centuries-old dynasty in 1911.

Dozens of uprisings against the Qing Dynasty had failed between 1895 to 1911, most the work of small secret societies. What separated the Wuchang Uprising was that it originated from inside the Empire’s “New Army.”

The New Army had been created by the Emperor and his Manchu cabinet with the intention of putting down the many rebellions across China and protecting the country from foreign powers after the Boxer Rebellion.

The Army’s 8th Division, stationed in Hubei differed from other divisions throughout the country for several reasons:

First, the 8th Division was perhaps the most highly organized and cohesive.

Second, it was stationed in a port city and major transportation hub, Wuhan, on the Yangtze. Wuhan had been a cosmopolitan port. Thus, its members had access to foreign ideas and influence.

Third, its officers were highly literate. Many had studied abroad or graduated from military university.

Many in the New Army’s 8th Division were also members of secret societies, the two biggest being the Literary Society and the Society for Common Advancement. The two underground organizations merged in September 1911, united by their opposition to the Manchu government. (Most of the Hubei army and the members of the secret societies were Han Chinese, who considered the Manchu as foreign as if they’d been European.)

Viceroy administrative office after 1911 Wuchang Uprising
Viceroy administrative office after 1911 Wuchang Uprising

Ultimately, the military that was supposed to strengthen the Empire against foreign powers and subversive ideas was the cause of its downfall. On October 10, two-thousand New Army troops revolted. The governor fled Hubei, and within two days the Division occupied Hanyang and Hankou. As word of the rebellion spread, other provinces followed suit. By January 1, 1912, the revolutionaries had declared the new Republic of China, and the nearly three-century-old Qing Dynasty was no more.

Sun Yat-sen Memorial, Taipei
Sun Yat-sen Memorial, Taipei

Future President Sun Yat-Sen has often been called instrumental in the Wuchang rebellion, but he was in fact in the United States at the time, garnering support for the cause. The story is he was somewhere between Denver and Missouri and learned about the revolution from a newspaper in the hotel. He spent the next two months convincing the Western Powers not to support the Qing government, and he returned to China on December 29, 1911.

Double Tenth is the national holiday of Taiwan, aka the Republic of China, although recently some Taiwanese have questioned why this is Taiwan’s national day, since Taiwan was not a part of China at the time of the rebellion and hadn’t been since 1895.

Independence Day – Democratic Republic of the Congo

June 30

I ask you to make this June 30, 1960, an illustrious date that you will keep indelibly engraved in your hearts, a date of significance of which you will teach to your children, so that they will make known to their sons and to their grandchildren the glorious history of our fight for liberty.

Patrice Lumumba, first Prime Minister of the Congo, Independence Speech

The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) respect Lumumba’s wishes on June 30, the anniversary of the country’s independence from Belgium, but it’s a day tinged with sadness, as they also remember the death of the man who guided them to independence.

Lumumba also holds the distinction of being the only world leader we know of to have nearly been killed by toothpaste.

President Eisenhower was not a huge fan of Lumumba back in 1960. Despite being democratically elected, Lumumba had Soviet leanings, and the Congo held resources vital to the West, uranium being chief among them.

The Belgian government had issues with Lumumba as well. His independence speech, at which the Belgian king was present, made it clear that Lumumba would be no puppet ruler, and the Congo would be no colony.

The CIA installed an operative (Larry Devlin) to be prepared to assassinate Lumumba at a moment’s notice. The weapon of choice: a tube of poisonous toothpaste to be planted among the Prime Minister’s toiletries. For whatever reason, the CIA never gave Devlin the order.

Instead, in September 1960, the charismatic Lumumba was deposed in a CIA-supported coup d’état by his former aide, Colonel Joseph Mobutu, and was executed the following January under mysterious circumstances. Mobutu went on to control the country for over 30 years, renamed it Zaire, and embezzled over $5 billion from the nation’s purse. Mobutu lost power in 1997, and the country became the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Patrice Lumumba, USSR stamp, 1961
Patrice Lumumba, USSR stamp, 1961

The battle for power in the DRC since 1997—also known as the African World War—has been cited as the deadliest conflict since World War II.

Ullortuneq – Greenland’s National Day

June 21

Greenland. Photo by Jens Buurgaard Nielsen

“Our country, who’s become so old your head all covered with white hair.
Always held us, your children, in your bosom providing the riches of your coasts.”

— from Greenland’s National Anthem

“And you: friendless, brainless, helpless, hopeless! Do you want me to send you back to where you were? Unemployed in Greenland!”

—Vizzini, The Princess Bride

Contrary to what Vizzini would have you believe, Greenland is not entirely a world devoid of life and hope. Although it does have a reputation as Iceland’s “redheaded Viking step-cousin, relatively ignored in a frozen wasteland far away from the rest of the world.” (Branding Greenland)

Greenland, long ruled by the Kingdom of Denmark, has been moving (at a glacier’s pace) toward independent nationhood since 1953. In 1979 and again in 2009 it gained greater autonomy from Denmark, which still exercises responsibility for Greenland’s foreign affairs. (CIA World Factbook)

Greenland adopted it’s own national flag on June 21, 1985. The red and white flag symbolizes the midnight sun and white the snow that covers much of the island. According to, about 10% of fresh water on earth is frozen in Greenland’s ice sheet.

“If the Greenland Ice Sheet melted, scientists estimate that sea level would rise about 6 meters (20 feet).” — National Snow & Ice Data Center

In terms of area, Greenland is the 13th largest country in the world. In terms of popuation though, it’s only 205th, with about 60,000 people.

June 21, the longest day of the year, is Greenland’s National Day as well as its Flag Day. It’s known as “Ullortuneq”, or “Longest Day.”

Happy National Day, Greenland. Enjoy the longest day!

Ittoqqortoormiit. Photo by Hannes Grobe

Iceland National Day

June 17

“So weareth summer: Uspak rideth to the Leet and halloweth it; and when harvest comes, he fares to the fells when men go after their wethers, and they were brought in well, for the searching was careful, and no sheep were missing, either of Odd’s or any other man’s.” — The Story of the Banded Men, ancient Islandic saga

Summer is here, and few appreciate that fact more than the Icelanders. On June 17, one of the longest days of the year, Iceland celebrates its independence from Denmark in 1944.

That’s right, the Icelanders left Denmark during its darkest hour, when the mother country was on its knees, occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II.* That just shows how sneaky Icelanders are.

In fact Iceland was founded on sneakiness. It was named “Iceland” despite its volcanos and steaming geysers to convince tourists to try someplace “sunnier.” Like Greenland.

And the ploy worked. Today Iceland has a population of only 320,000. Meaning if Iceland were a U.S. city, it would be vying with Riverside, California for the coveted “60th biggest city in the nation” spot.

Despite its diminutive size, Iceland is was an economic powerhouse. It ranked #1 in the UN Human Development Index in 2007/2008, and is consistently one of the wealthiest countries in the world, per capita. Or at least it was until 2008 when the global financial crisis decimated the Icelandic economy. When the smoke cleared, it turned out the three largest banks in the country had nursed a combined debt equal to six times Iceland’s annual GDP.

The crisis hasn’t put a damper on this year’s celebrations though, which are set to include parades, dancing, singing and merry-making as usual.

June 17 was chosen as the day to officially break away from Denmark back in 1944 because it was the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, the leading proponent for Icelandic independence back in the 19th century.

“He who lives without discipline dies without honor.” — Icelandic proverb

“Two men need one money, but one money needs no man. One is on one’s knees, loses one’s head, except maybe a delicious demon. Hee how!” — Bjork

*At the time of its independence, Iceland was occupied by the Allies. British troops landed in 1941; U.S. troops took over soon after. And left in 2006.

Pakistan Day

March 23

You know you’re in trouble when your last best hope for justice are lawyers.

But thousands of lawyers and judges in Pakistan put their careers, their reputations, and possibly their lives on the line in the nearly two-year struggle to pressure the government to reinstate a judge.

That judge was Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, whom then-President Pervez Musharraf removed from office in 2007.

As the head of the Pakistan Army, Musharraf came to power in 1999 after a coup against the sitting Prime Minister. He became President of the country in 2001, and held a referendum the following year in which he was officially elected to a five-year term.

Despite his military dictatorship, Musharraf received U.S. support for his commitment against terrorism after the 9/11 attacks. In 2007, as Musharraf’s term came to an end, he declared martial law and suspended dozens of prominent judges whom he feared would oppose the Constitutionality of his running for re-election, as both President and Army Chief.

Among the judges sacked and placed under house arrest was Chaudhry, the nation’s most powerful judge.

Thousands of lawyers across the country have boycotted court proceedings, staged hunger strikes and organized protests.

International Herald Tribune, March 15, 2007

Former Prime Minister Benezir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October 2007, after a self-imposed exile, to run against Musharraf, partly on the platform of reinstating the Chief Justice to his post. She was assassinated while campaigning in Rawalpindi in December of 2007.

Musharraf was re-elected, according to the election commission he helped put in power. However, unrelenting protests from judges and lawyers regarding the legality of Musharraf’s actions contributed to his forced resignation in August 2008.

Benezir Bhutto’s widow, Asif Ali Zardari, was elected President the following month. Even so, lawyers and judges had to fight for another six months to pressure the new government to reinstate Chaudhry.

Chaundry was officially reinstated as Chief Justice in a ceremony on March 22, 2009, the day before Pakistan’s national holiday, Pakistan Day.

Pakistan Day celebrates the anniversary of the 1940 Lahore Resolution, in which the Muslim League declared the necessity for a Muslim state in what was then British India. After eight-years of struggle and determination, the resolution became reality on August 14, 1948 when the state of Pakistan was established. (August 14 is Pakistan’s Independence Day.)

Pakistan Day also celebrates March 23, 1956, the day Pakistan became the first modern Islamic Republic.

All India Muslim League Working Committee, Lahore, March 1940
All India Muslim League Working Committee, Lahore, March 1940

In 2009, in honor of Pakistan Day, President Zardari proclaimed:

“When our founding fathers resolved to carve out an independent state, they had in mind a state where constitutionalism and rule of law would reign supreme. For a long time and at intervals the rule of law and constitutionalism has been trampled by dictators, sometimes under the doctrine of necessity and sometimes under the theory of successful revolution. This cycle must come to an end. It will…

“…On this day, let us all resolve that we shall endeavour to uphold the constitution, rule of law and work for the emancipation of the people. I hope that towards this end all institutions of the state will work in harmony.”

BBC – Benezir Bhutto killed in attack

St. Patrick’s Day – “Green Is Good”

March 17
Everyone knows where the world-famous Saint Patrick is from. Scotland.

That’s right. Patrick was a wee lad by the name of Succat living in Scotland when he was kidnapped by Irish pirates at the age of 16 [“Kidnapped by pirates is good!” – Fred Savage, The Princess Bride] and sold as a slave.
In Ireland he herded a Celtic chieftain’s sheep for six years, until one day he ran away and traveled 200 miles across Ireland to escaped to France on a ship.

In France, he studied under the Bishop Germanus at the Auxerre monastery in Gaul. Patrick returned to Britain a priest, but heard the land of his captivity calling, and returned to Ireland in 430 A.D.

St Patrick
St. Patrick and snakes

Patrick’s experience living in Eire gave him an advantage over previous missionaries.

During the Druidic festival of Beltraine, which celebrated the coming of spring, the King Laoghaire lit the annual bonfires. The law of the land said no other fires could be lit that night under penalty of death. Patrick defied the law by lighting a flame in clear view of the capital, to remember the resurrection we know as Easter.

Patrick was ordered before the King to explain himself. Legend says this was the first of many times Patrick picked up three-leaf clover and used it to illustrate the Holy Trinity. The number 3 was particularly revered by the Gaelic people, so Patrick often emphasized the Trinity in his teachings. King Laoghaire was surprisingly receptive to Patrick, the former slave, and later asked him to codify Irish law.

St Patrick and King Laoghaire
King Laoghaire (left) and Saint Patrick (dramatization)

Saint Patrick feat is remarkable in that he converted an entire people to Christianity without bloodshed. He didn’t have to die a martyr’s death for his beliefs, nor did he execute or threaten to execute anyone who did not share them.

But his most famous conquest was as the “Samuel L. Jackson” of the Emerald Isle. According to legend, Saint Patrick cured the Irish plains of their snake infestation. And to this day there are no snakes in Ireland, iron-clad proof of the great Saint’s miracle!

I have had it with these @#$%&! snakes on these @#$%&! Irish plains!

Saint Patrick, Snakes on a Plain, 433 A.D.

Fanciful Irish History

St. Patrick: Enlightener of Ireland

Beware the Ides of Hungarian National Day

March 15


March 15 is synonymous with betrayal, treachery, back-stabbing and front-stabbing. It’s the anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar by Brutus and the Roman Senate in 44 B.C.

But in Hungary, March 15 is synonymous with freedom and independence, so whip out your cockades and join the Hungarians as they sing their National Song today.

Turns out the Hungarians celebrate March 15, 1848, not 44 BC.

In 1848, as the fervor of revolution swept through Europe…

Nowhere else did the crowd assume such an emblematic character as in Hungary. The Chartists crowds of London might have been larger, the fighting on the barricades of Paris, Prague, Vienna and Dresden more intense, but Budapest instigated the only total revolution in 1848-1849, and Hungary’s crowds were the last holdouts.

Alice Freifeld, Crowd Politics in the Hungarian Revolution

March 15 marked the day that news reached rebellious students and intellectuals in Budapest that revolution had broken out in Vienna, the center of the Hapsburg’s empire. The rebel movement’s leaders had planned a protest march to take place on March 19, but when news hit Budapest, they spontaneously decided to demonstrate in celebration.

And it’s a good thing. The government had gotten wind of the demonstration, and had planned to arrest the movement’s leaders on March 18.

Students marched from Pest to Buda—the two cities that make up the aptly named Budapest—to protest the Hapsburg-dominated monarchy in Austria. Along the way, massive crowds joined the demonstration, spurred on by news from Vienna and the songs of a 25 year-old poet named Sandor Petofi.

Petofi recites National Song, March 15, 1848; by Mihaly Zicky
Petofi recites National Song, March 15, 1848; by Mihaly Zicky

Petofi had been chosen to put the movement’s demands to paper. Deemed the “Twelve Points,” they were:

1. Freedom of the press, the abolition of censorship.
2. A responsible Ministry in Buda and Pest.
3. An annual parliamentary session in Pest.
4. Civil and religious equality before the law.
5. A National Guard.
6. A joint sharing of tax burdens.
7. The cessation of socage.
8. Juries and representation on an equal basis.
9. A national bank
10. The army to swear to support the constitution, our soldiers not be dispatched abroad, and foreign soldiers removed from our soil.
11.The freeing of political prisoners.
12. Reunion with Transylvania.

On the steps of the National Library Petofi led the crowds in the singing of his famous poem “Nemzeti Dal”, which to this day symbolizes Hungarian self-determination and freedom:

Rise up, Magyar, the country calls!
It’s ‘now or never’ what fate befalls…
Shall we live as slaves or free men?
That’s the question – choose your `Amen’!
God of Hungarians,
we swear unto Thee,
We swear unto Thee – that slaves we shall
no longer be!

from “Nemzeti Dal” (National Song)

Unprepared for the rebellions of March 13 in Vienna and March 15 in Budapest, the court was forced to acquiesce to the demands of the Hungarian National Assembly. Hungary became the first (and only) country during the revolutions of 1848 to undergo a peaceful transition.

+  +  +

Peace was temporary phenomenon. Later that year the Austrian empire recovered from the shock and set about to reconquer Hungary. With the Russian Czar’s help, the Hungarian army was decimated. The Austrian army executed 14 Hungarian leaders, including the new Prime Minister.

Petofi is believed to have been killed at the Battle of Segesvar in Transylvania on July 31, 1849. He was 26 years old. By that time, the soldier-writer-revolutionary had written 10 volumes of Hungarian poems.

Throughout the past century and a half, March 15 has remained a symbol of the Hungarian struggle for liberty and self-determination.

Kuwait – National Day

February 25

This week Kuwait celebrates two national holidays: Independence Day and Liberation Day.

Though Kuwait officially became independent on June 19, 1961, National Day is celebrated in February in honor of Sheikh Abdullah Al Salim Al Sabah (1895-1965) who came to power in February 1950. [And possibly because it’s too hot to go outdoors in June.] The Emir guided Kuwait during its transformation to modern statehood and earned the moniker “Father of the Constitution.”

On this day teens and adolescents celebrate by spraying untold volumes of silly string on passing motorists on the Gulf Road. What the connection is, no one knows, but as one motorist writes:

“…despite our best efforts to avoid gulf road, there is no getting away w/ these foamy sprays. They will run after you. Chase you down the road. They will even open your door, because having white foams sprayed on your car interior is even funnier than the outside.”

Although archeologists have found indications of settlements as far back as 4500 BC, the area that is now Kuwait was largely uninhabited up until the 18th century.

The same family of Sheiks has ruled Kuwait since the 1750s, when Kuwait’s location on the Persian Gulf made it a thriving port.

The sovereignty of Kuwait gets shady in the late 19th century due to conflicting claims by the Ottoman and British Empires and by Kuwait itself.

Old Kuwaiti Gate

Kuwait enjoyed the ambiguous status of a caza, an autonomous city by the Ottoman Empire, but in 1899 it began a fungible relationship with Britain, sacrificing some autonomy in return for British naval protection. Britain wanted to secure access through the Gulf—a major transit point between England and India—and block Germany and its Ottoman allies.

In the 1930s the discovery of oil changed the fate of the country overnight. At that time pearl-diving was a leading occupation for Kuwaitis; two decades later the small nation would be one of the world’s leading oil exporters.

Kuwait gained independence from Britain on June 19, 1961, and the following year Kuwait became the first country in the Gulf region to adopt a Constitution and parliament.

In 1974 Kuwait nationalized the Kuwait Oil Company, created by British Petroleum and Gulf Oil in 1934.

Other facts about Kuwait:

The population skyrocketed from 200,000 to 3 million over the past 50 years. An estimated 2 million are non-nationals. Residents must have lived in the country for 20 years to vote. And women weren’t granted suffrage until 2005.

Despite being the first democracy in the region, political parties are not allowed. A group of activists defied the ban in 2005, creating their own party, and were arrested for plotting to overthrow the government.

Kuwaiti kids in the days before silly foam
Kuwaiti kids in the days before silly foam