Ancient Black Ops: The 47 Ronin, a 2014 documentary in which I appeared discussing samurai matters, is also now available on Youtube. And if you are so inclined, you can also have the questionable pleasure of watching me dubbed in Spanish.
His grandfather was the bloodthirsty Mongol leader Genghis Khan, his mother a Christian princess. Groomed from childhood for a position of authority, Khubilai snatched the position of Great Khan, becoming the overlord of a Mongol federation that stretched from the Balkans to the Korean coastline. His armies conquered the Asian kingdom of Dali and brought down the last defenders of imperial China.
Khubilai Khan presided over an Asian renaissance, attracting emissaries from all across the continent, and opening his civil service to administrators from the far west. His life and times encompassed the legends of Prester John, the pinnacle of the samurai (and, indeed, the Mongols), and the travels of Marco Polo.
Jonathan Clements examines the life and times of this semi-legendary ruler, detailing the religious scandals and cultural clashes within his supposedly inclusive realm, and the long-running resistance to his reign in Japan and Vietnam. His short-lived “Yuan” dynasty barely lasted a century, but transformed China and the world for ever more.
Ying Zheng was born to rule the world, claiming descent from gods, crowned king while still a child. He was the product of a heartless, brutal regime devoted to domination, groomed from an early age to become the First Emperor of China after a century of scheming by his ancestors. He faked a foreign threat to justify an invasion. He ruled a nation under 24-hour surveillance. He ordered his interrogators to torture suspects. He boiled his critics alive. He buried dissenting scholars. He declared war on death itself.
Jonathan Clements uses modern archaeology and ancient texts to outline the First Emperor’s career and the grand schemes that followed unification: the Great Wall that guarded his frontiers and the famous Terracotta Army that watches over his tomb.
Published in 2015, this revised edition includes updates from a further decade of publications, archaeology and fictional adaptations, plus the author’s encounter with Yang Zhifa, the man who discovered the Terracotta Army.
The Indonesian edition of my biography of Empress Wu has just been published, with a racy new title and an even racier new cover.
“Dalam kisah nyata yang sensasional ini, Jonathan Clements menuturkan kisah kelam dan dramatis satu-satunya kaisar perempuan dalam sejarah China, Wu Zetian: selir, manipulator, politikus, pembunuh, dan titisan dewi. Inilah kisah Cleopatra dari China; kisah tentang pembunuhan, seks, cinta, kekuasaan, dan pembalasan dendam…” or “In this sensational true story, Jonathan Clements tells the dramatic tale of the dark and only female emperor in Chinese history, Wu Zetian: concubine, manipulator, politician, murderer, and incarnation of a goddess. This is the story of China’s Cleopatra — a tale of murder, sex, love, power, and revenge…” In your face, Game of Thrones. For the English original, recently reissued on paperback and the Kindle by Albert Bridge Books, see here in the UK or here in the US.
The Book of Later Han records an expedition by an emissary of Ban Chao who set out in AD 97 to assess the legendary empire in the furthest west, which the Chinese called Da Qin, ‘Great Qin.’ The name is odd, and has confused even Chinese commentators. It may be a garbled reference to a particular place in the Roman Empire, although it is not clear where. Fan Ye made the unlikely suggestion that the people of the exotic west were tall and honest, a bit like the people of the Chinese state of Qin. But the term may have carried a more ominous implication. In the days of the Warring States, before China was unified, Qin was the name of its westernmost territory – a martially-minded, hard-headed soldier state that eventually conquered all the others. In calling the Roman Empire ‘Great Qin’, Chinese chroniclers may have been alluding to a distant threat, further west even than Qin, but potentially even more powerful.
The mission was thwarted partway, probably by wily Parthians who feared that an alliance between Rome and China would crush their own state, which lay between the empires. Instead, the explorer was told that Rome lay across a great sea that would take him three months to cross if he were lucky, or two years if the winds were against him. Perhaps some Parthian merchant hoped to sell him three years of provisions for such a great undertaking, although it seems more likely that he made it to somewhere on the Indian coast, perhaps the Parthian princedoms of Sind, where he received a garbled explanation of the need to wait for the monsoon winds. Whatever the reason, he turned back, reporting that in the west there were many ‘precious and marvellous things’, but he had not seen them. To help out a little, Fan Ye offered his own list of Roman marvels, which included shaven heads, crystal tableware (glass) and ‘kings who are not permanent’ but chosen from a list of the most worthy.
If such reportage seems doubtful or outright apocryphal, we might forgive them for having no other information about particular parts of the world. Historians and novelists, for obvious reasons, are liable to get particularly animated about possible contacts between Romans and Chinese, although certain travellers claiming to have come from ‘Rome’ might have actually been chancers picking an unverifiable home address in their dealings with local potentates.
Fan Ye, for example, also recorded that an embassy had supposedly arrived from Rome itself in AD 166. But reading between the lines of his account of these visitors from the ‘King of Great Qin’, everything starts to sound very suspicious. They claimed to have come from the land ruled by a man called Andun – if they meant Antoninus Pius, he had already been dead for several years, and had been succeeded by his adopted son Marcus Aurelius. Let us give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that Andun is a garbled reference to the Antonine family. But these supposed ambassadors turned up far away from the Silk Road, on the coast of what is now Vietnam, and if they are the source of the Book of Later Han’s information on Rome, they seem to have known little more than the vaguest general facts about Syria and Egypt, and very little about Rome itself, which was apparently at the far end of a bridge that stretched for dozens of kilometres from Egypt.
They presented ‘tribute’ of ‘elephant tusks, rhinoceros horn and turtle shell.’ None of these commodities sound particularly Roman, nor did they much impress the Chinese, who regarded them as singularly undistinguished. Fan Ye gives the official line, which is that the embassy from Great Qin seemed rather shabby, and perhaps rumours of the empire’s splendour had been gross exaggerations. He even notes, with the faint signs of a disdainfully raised eyebrow, that this distant civilisation apparently makes cloth from the cocoons of ‘wild’ silkworms. He does not appear to have considered that the ‘ambassadors’ were not official diplomats at all, but a bunch of Indian sailors trying it on. Instead, he ends his section on Rome with a literary wave of the hand in exasperation, saying that he has heard of ‘many other peculiar and bizarre things that I will not record.’
After many years of waiting and wrangles, my book on the controversial medieval Chinese Empress Wu is finally re-released on Kindle and paperback from Albert Bridge Books (US/UK). As the blurb recounts:
Empress Wu Zetian (624-705 AD) was the only woman to be the sovereign ruler of imperial China. A teenage concubine of the Tang Emperor Taizong, she seduced his son while the emperor lay dying. Recalled from a nunnery as part of an intricate court power-game, she caused the deaths of two lady rivals, before securing her enthronement as the Emperor Gaozong’s consort. She ruled in the name of her husband and two eldest sons, presiding over the pinnacle of the Silk Road, before proclaiming herself the founder of a new dynasty. Worshipped as the Sage Mother of Mankind and reviled as the Treacherous Fox, she was deposed aged 79, after angry courtiers murdered her two young lovers.
The subject of countless books, plays and films, Empress Wu remains a feminist icon and a bugbear of Chinese conservatism. Jonathan Clements weighs the evidence of her life and legacy: so charismatic that she could rise from nothing to the height of medieval power, so hated that her own children left her tombstone blank.
Meanwhile, it’s a condition of my doctorate that my thesis be freely available to other researchers, but to spare you the bother of going to the Library of Wales and photocopying it, here’s a PDF. The title is A History of the Japanese Animation Industry: Developing Technologies, Changing Formats and Evolving Audiences. I’m afraid what blurb there is is couched in significantly more sesquipedalian prose:
This thesis offers a discursive genealogy of the Japanese animation, or ‘anime’ industry, outlining changes to its prevailing form caused by successive disruptions – fluctuations in economic conditions, applications of new technology, and changes in available formats. Instead of focussing on the content of the anime texts themselves, it addresses the form of the content – treating the anime texts as manufactured ‘objects’ or as performative ‘events’ that are created, refined, marketed and sold.
The approach is historiographical, favouring published testimonials and memoirs from the participants in the Japanese animation industry, and assessing them in terms of possible errors of historical practice. The participants’ activities are categorised as points on a chain from Ownership of the intellectual property to Access to the text, prompting not only consideration of changes in the processes of production, but also in the oft-neglected areas of distribution and exhibition.
Spanning the 67 years from 1945 to 2012, in overlapping periods defined by developments in formats and technology, a picture is presented not only of the anime industry, but of its participants’ changing sense of what that industry is, its traditions and potential. This will present a foundation for future research into anime’s history, not only through this narrative of events, but also through consideration of the theoretical issues deriving from the nature of the sources.
And of course, if you like what you see there, a significantly expanded version, losing a lot of the theory and introduction, but adding four extra chapters, has been published by the British Film Institute (US/UK).
From A Brief History of the Vikings, by Jonathan Clements.
The Icelanders’ own records mention around 400 original settlers, over fifty of whom had names that implied mixed Irish ancestry, or Celtic nicknames denoting considerable time spent outside Scandinavia. Their slaves and concubines (the mothers of many later generations) were also predominantly Irish, some of impressively noble birth. The Saga of the People of Laxardal mentions a haughty slave-girl with no appreciation of her duties, brought to Iceland already pregnant with the child of her Viking captor. She is eventually revealed as Melkorka (Mael-Curchaich?), the daughter of the Irish king Myrkjartan (Muircertach?), kidnapped at fifteen years of age. Faced with feuding women and clearly unable to control his Irish mistress, her owner eventually installed her in a homestead of her own across the river, recorded as the now-deserted site of Melkorkustadir.
Not all of the Irish who accompanied the first settlers were ill treated. The Norse matriarch Aud the Deep-Minded, who figures large in the Icelanders’ tales of the first settlers, brought many Irish slaves with her from Dublin where her late husband Olaf the White had been king. After unsuccessfully relocating to Caithness, where her son Thorsteinn the Red was killed, Aud and her entourage gave up on the harsh life on the Celtic fringe and set out for pastures new.
Aud would eventually free several of her slaves and set them up on their own – freedmen including Vifil, whose great-grandson would become the first European to be born in America, and Erp, a thrall whose mother was supposedly Myrgiol, an Irish princess sold into slavery in Britain. Although such tales often have the ring of truth, it is important to remember who was telling them – later generations of Icelanders hoping to put a polish on concubine ancestors by inventing noble backgrounds for them. Irish names certainly persisted among the Icelanders for many generations, including Njall, Kormakr, Brjan and Patrek.