Sunday, 17 May 2015

British Hong Kong

In July 1841, Hong Kong was ceded to the British in perpetuity (for an indefinite length of time) after the First Opium War. Following a few months of fighting between the British and the Chinese in China, the Emperor Tao Kuang was alarmed when Beijing was being threatened by soldiers. So, he sent his envoy to negotiate with the British. The envoy (Qi Shan) agreed to give up Hong Kong Island to Britain if they withdrew from Northern China. However, this proposition was accepted by neither the Chinese nor the British. So fighting continued. Until, in June 1841, the city of Nanking came under threat. The Chinese did not want to lose this strategic city, so this time they agreed to Britain’s terms in the Treaty of Nanking. This treaty ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain and exempted British nationals from all Chinese laws, among other conditions.

Then, in June 1898, following mass migration of Chinese from mainland China, the British government petitioned for a land extension for Hong Kong to support the growing population. They were given a larger area than was expected, which increased the size of the colony by 90% as part of the Convention of Peking. However, this land was on a 99 year lease which would come into effect from the 1st of July that year.

In the 99 years that followed, Hong Kong suffered turbulent and testing times. For example, Japan occupied Hong Kong in 1941 during the Second World War, causing food shortages and consequently many people fled to mainland China. After the war, the population dropped to 650,000 from 1.6million. Additionally, in 1967, Maoists rioted in Hong Kong for seven months, at the same time as the Cultural Revolution was happening in China. However, Hong Kong became an incredibly successful colony and in the 1980s, it became one of the world’s top ten economies.

In September 1984, Britain and China discussed Hong Kong’s future following the handover in 1997. An agreement was signed then following years of negotiations, outlining what would happen to the colony. This arrangement led to Hong Kong Island being handed back to the Chinese as well as the islands that were part of the original 1898 lease. The two nations also decided on a ‘one country, two systems’ idea, allowing Hong Kong to keep its capitalist system and to be self-governed for at least 50 years after the handover. Then, on the 1st of July 1997, the highly anticipated handover occurred peacefully and Tung Cheehwa was put in charge.


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Breaking History

The rise of Hitler and the Nazis made history. In a short space of time, Germany had gone from an impoverished and politically unstable nation to a great power set on the domination of Europe. The Second World War and the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust sent shockwaves across the world, while the alliances and grudges formed in this conflict set the stage for the Cold War, which brought with it a whole new manner of problems for Germans to face.
The Nazi regime set Germany on a new course: self-sufficiency increased, the economic hardship of the 1920s faded away, and new networks of schools, hospitals and roads stretched across the country. Yet a lasting image of Nazi Germany will always be the grainy, black and white footage from Berlin, May 1945. Under the cold light of a grey sky, women bestride the fallen buildings like stepping-stones, clearing away the rubble. These Trümmerfrauen (‘rubble women’) have pixelated faces, but the camera still picks up their stony expressions. When their eyes occasionally flit towards the lens, they betray nothing. Today, these women are a symbol of Germany rebuilding itself without complaint after the war, though less than 5% of the female population of Berlin actually got involved.

Trümmerfrauen in Berlin (Source: Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

 But it was not just the German cities and dreams of a thousand-year Reich that lay in ruins. The Nazis did not only make history, they brought about its destruction.

In one respect, this was definitely the fault of the Nazis themselves. Their culture of propaganda and censorship famously destroyed or otherwise did away with thousands of priceless artefacts and works of art. Also, the fire that burned down the Reichstag building in 1933 – if one accepts that the Nazis were indeed responsible for starting it – would have destroyed decades-worth of invaluable parliamentary records and archival material.

But the harm done to History runs deeper than that. It was not merely the physical evidence that was damaged, but our attitudes towards History itself. It remains a problem both in Germany and here in Britain.

Since the 18th century, much has been made by historians of the German Sonderweg (‘special path’). The premise of this idea is that Germany developed in a different way to the rest of the western world, through its placement of moral and cultural values above politics. Politics was considered a science – concerned with the outside world – while literature, art and philosophy were superior practices that concerned themselves with the soul and innermost nature of mankind. This division in society created apathy towards politics, and so this Kulturvolk (‘cultured people’) did little to either support or condemn the actions of German politicians, including the two World Wars.

The strength of the Kulturvolk - and whether or not the Sonderweg existed at all – is still up for debate, but Germany’s rich culture was no doubt impoverished by the Nazi takeover. In 1933, Germany had the greatest intelligentsia in the world. More Germans had won the Nobel Prize than the British and Americans combined, and the great age of physics was about to be ushered in by Germans: Albert Einstein and Lise Meitner, among others.

However, much of this is now forgotten. A culture of guilt and reticence still permeates German society. Even now, German flags are only ever brought out at football matches, in case an overt display of nationalism would hearken back to the days of the Third Reich. There is in Germany a perceived moral responsibility to remember the horrors of the Nazi regime. It is significant that the largest public monument in the centre of Berlin is the Holocaust memorial, made up of 2711 stone slabs resembling nameless tombstones.

The necessity for Germans to look back and learn from their Nazi pasts has cast a shadow over all that came before. The successes of the Kulturvolk seem insignificant in comparison, and aspects of it have been tainted. Let us consider the words of journalist and writer Florian Illies:

Anyone who still said that they liked Caspar David Friedrich stood accused for decades of not being sufficiently critical with regard to German history.

Caspar David Friedrich was an acclaimed landscape painter at the turn of the 19th century. He has been hailed as the greatest romanticist of his generation, and in many ways was the German equivalent of JMW Turner. His work became less popular as the 19th century drew to a close. Art had become less contemplative and more reflective of an increasingly industrialised society, a society that no longer saw green pastures and stormy skies as relevant. This was to change when the Nazis rose to prominence in the 1930s, and Friedrich’s symbolic landscapes were claimed as icons of German nationalism. From its association with the Nazis, Friedrich’s work was subsequently looked upon with distain. Only recently has he been lauded by art historians once again as one of the greats.

One is inclined to describe the Third Reich as an historical mirror: it places a barrier between the 1930s and ‘40s and the more distant past. One cannot see beyond it, and instead sees themselves reflected in it.

In Britain, too, the Nazis have overpowered all other views we hold about Germany. In 2004, when a survey asked 10-16 year olds what they associated with Germany, 78% mentioned the Second World War. Similarly, the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the Holy See sparked a media outcry in Britain on account of his Nazi past. Headlines like the Sun’s ‘From Hitler Youth to Papa Ratzi’ prompted Franz Joseph Wagner in Berlin to write angrily that ‘anyone reading your British popular newspapers must have thought Hitler had been made pope.’

Our obsession is understandable. It is not only the Germans who have sought to take moral lessons from these events, and the Third Reich therefore remains a cornerstone of the national curriculum. We also love sensationalism in history. The three most popular topics in A-level History have always been the Tudors, Stalin’s USSR and Hitler’s Germany. Whether it’s Henry VIII or Hitler, it seems our curriculum needs some sort of despot to keep people entertained.

The Second World War also forms a large part of our collective identity. For many, the efforts on the Home Front are seen as a golden age of British patriotism. A far cry from our modern society’s focus on the individual, the 1940s saw men, women and children of all backgrounds banding together to defeat the Nazi menace. One only needs to check the TV listings to find at least five documentaries per week about some aspect of the war, as well as reruns of Dad’s Army, Fawlty Towers or ‘Allo , ‘Allo. It is clear to see that the Second World War – for better or for worse - has dominated popular culture.

The world is still slowly moving on from the events of 70 years ago. Close connections between Britain and the Germany have begun to dismiss the stereotypes of the German people, so that, even if it is still often viewed as a nation of car-manufacturers and sunbed-stealers, Germany is no longer perceived as a nation of Nazis. That shadow is beginning to lift. The anniversaries of the liberation of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen have also prompted a re-evaluation of the Holocaust, bringing both sides of the war together in widely-publicised services of remembrance.

The anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, celebrated last week, has also allowed us to reflect on the damage caused by the war on both sides, and to what extent the rift has been bridged. In his address at the VE thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey on Sunday, the Archbishop of Canterbury said:

Our gratitude is not simply for victory-in-Europe, but also reconciliation-in-Europe that followed, neither obviously nor automatically. Peace is more than the end of war: reconciliation dismantles the hostilities which previously separated and alienated us from one another and from God.

These ‘hostilities’ and stereotypes might be fading, but more must still be done. Perhaps in this special anniversary year we can make an exception, but there is so much more to German history than Hitler and the Nazi Party, and we should make a more conscious effort to discover it.



Thursday, 7 May 2015

Could The Hustings Change People’s Minds?

Natalie Bennett, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood

Well, what do you know- it’s Election day and things are getting tense! All the parties are doing all they can in the final hours to persuade as many people as possible to vote for their party. You may have seen posters around Nonsuch telling you to vote for the different parties- however, were you there on Wednesday lunchtime to watch the Hustings? Nonsuch has adopted the style of the leaders’ debate (some of you may have seen this on television not too long ago.) If you missed it, here’s what happened...

Each of the Nonsuch party representatives attented this debate to give everyone an overview of their pledges and to persuade people to vote for their party. Three topics were discussed in the entire lunch hour (Education, NHS and Economy), everyone had a huge amount to say!

The first topic to be discussed was Education. Now, this election may seem irrelevant and unimportant to the younger generation (i.e: us), however, the elected party will make changes to the education system, affecting all of our lives, including yours. The Green Party, represented by Hannah in year 12, went first and wanted to “scrap tuition fees for universities” and wants all teachers hired to have qualifications. On the other hand, Lib Dem representative Kerry stated that tuition fees for universities could not be reduced as this would result in universities going into debt. Seems like she’s done her research, but has the Green Party considered the universities fund?

The Labour Party representative, Ayah in year 8 seems to have repeated the same pledges that were in fact made in 1936 by the Labour Party, but were not accomplished. This was pointed out by Sophie from the Tories. She has a point- if the Labour Party couldn’t accomplish their promise back then, should we trust them to try again? Sophie also added that “the main problem is deficit, which Labour created.”

The next topic was the NHS and the debate gradually heated up. Both the Lib Dems and the Tories want to fund £8 billion to the NHS by 2020. However, to beat them both in this political race, the Green Party has propsed to fund £12 billion to the NHS. Is this the truth or is this too good to be true? This is the amount the NHS needs to be stable financially, yet it has not been made clear where they are going to get the money from.

An interesting point that was made in this discussion by Ayah was that the NHS was first founded by Labour politician Aneurin Bevan in 1948, July 5th. Ayah repeatedly tried to put her point forward to the other parties that “the NHS was perfect, until the Tories came to power”. The Tories had apparently spent £3 billion pounds, doing nothing but wrecking the NHS, therefore bringing the NHS into this position. Yet, the Tories representative Sophie replied to Ayah saying that the NHS has many “flaws” and could not have been perfect. If it was perfect, then how did these problems arise?

Finally, the representatives came to discuss the UK’s Economy. Lib Dems said that they would borrow less money than the Labour Party and would cut less than the Tories. But is this necessarily a good thing in all cases? Does this mean that funding for the Government will be restricted to improve the country? The Lib Dems wish to re-introduce the Corporation Tax, along with the Green Party. Hannah from the Green Party stated that this was a necessity as they needed “to fund it back to the Government to give to poorer people”.  However, there were replies from other representatives saying that major banks have threatened to move abroad to avoid this Corporation tax. Sophie also pointed out that last year, HSBC, one of the world’s leading banks, had to pay £760 million for the Corportation Tax and were thinking of moving to Dubai or Hong Kong. What are the two other parties going to do about this?

Labour, on the other hand, wanted to focus on the wages of people and one of their pledges is to increase the minimum wage to £8 by 2020 for everyone. Now, this may seem like a good idea for struggling families but why is this not motivating people to vote for Labour? During this debate, Sophie revealed a letter that was sent from the Labour Party to the Chief Secretary saying: “I’m afraid there is no money.” What does this mean for Labour’s future? If Labour comes to power, then there may be no money again, putting the UK at serious financial risk!

The Hustings continued with questions from the audience, including one about the possibility of the parties having to join forces with another. Green Party representative Hannah would rather join with the Lib Dems or Labour not the Tories. Labour was very adamant that it would not join hands with the Tories (which is evident from the conflicts they had during the debate).  The Lib Dems and Tories surprisingly agreed to on a combined leadership if the situation should arise. Is this going to be the result of the Election?

The candidates concluded the Hustings by saying why they believe you should vote for them in the Mock Election. One final remark was made by the Tories when asked why they think Labour is focused on finding faults in the other parties: “The reason why they are criticising every other party is because none of their pledges are any good.”

So who are you going to vote for? Ayah’s Labour Party? Sophie’s Conservatives? Kerry’s Liberal Democrats? Or the Green Party’s representative Hannah? Don’t forget to vote on Thursday lunchtime in the hall!

By SM & TC