History of Ōuzhōu as compiled by the Imperial Archaeologists

For the education and enlightenment, we, the Council of Imperial Archaeologists, hereby present a compilation of our knowledge of history of the region of Ōuzhōu, which in ancient time lay between the Bōsī and Èluósī Empires, and the Great Western Sea.

The dates given are numbered from the birth of the exalted Kǒng Fūzǐ (AC).

0-300 AC: The Archaic, or Dayuan Dynasty Period. These are the same Dayuans who, after defeating and briefly subjugating the Bōsī, established trade relations with the Han Emperors in 420 AC, the first of the Ōuzhōu peoples to do so.

300-850 AC: The Classical, or Dàqin Dynasty Period. The Dayuans are supplanted by the Dàqins. The Dàqins spread throughout most of the southern and western Ōuzhōu, and establish trade with the Han Emperors. To the east, they border with the Bōsī. To the north of their lands lay the forests of the Dé and the steppes of the nomadic Sīlāfū people.

850-1350 AC: The East and West Dàqin Period. The Dàqin Empire splits in two. Under the pressure from the Dé peoples, the western half succumbs to a period of chaos and in-fighting between the Dé warlords, known as the Gētè-Fǎlánkè Interregnum (1100-1350). The eastern half recedes before the Sīlāfū onslaught, but retains most of its integrity. The two halves will never reunite again under one rule for the next sixteen centuries.

1350-1450 AC (West): A Dé warlord Kaliman from the Fǎlánkè Dynasty reunites most of the western Dàqin. After a hundred years, his dynasty splits into two, eternally conflicted, branches.

1350-1650 AC (East): The Post-Classical, or Fu-lin Dynasty Period. Fu-lin rulers rise to control most of the former eastern Dàqin (and occasionally parts of the west) territory. Even after the invasions of the steppe people of the late 17th c., remnants of the Fu-lins will continue to control a diminishing petty kingdom until 2000 AC.

1600-2000 AC (East): The Five Tribes, Four States Period. Waves of invading steppe people crush the hegemony of the Fu-lin. Four nomadic kingdoms fight for dominance in the region: the Tūjué in the south, the Mǎzhá in the centre, and two states of the Sīlāfū in the north: the tribal confederacy of Bōlán-Lìtáo in the north-west and a former Mongghul vassal, Èluósī, in the north-east.

1450-2460 AC (West): The Eastern and Western Dynasties. The Western Ōuzhōu is dominated for several centuries by the power play between the East and West Fǎlánkè dynasties, separated by the Láiyīn River – once the border of the Dàqin Empire. The chief of their vassals and allies are the island duchy of Yīng and the many petty kingdoms of Xībānyá and Yìdàlì peninsulas.
(According to some scholars, throughout the four centuries between the years 1950-2350, the Eastern Dynasty ruled its increasingly fragmented territory only nominally – this period is sometimes known as the Hundred Kingdoms or Hundred States).

2000-2460 AC (East): The Three Kingdoms Period. Three major players emerge from the chaos of the earlier conflicts: Tūjué, Bōlán-Lìtáo, and a West Fǎlánkè principality of Hābùsībǎo, which absorbs the remnants of the Mǎzhá people (as well as most of the petty kingdoms of Xībānyá in the west). Certain scholars propose to split the period further into Older Three Kingdoms and Younger Three Kingdoms, when, after the Warring States Period, the confederacy of Bōlán-Lìtáo is supplanted by the rising Èluósī Khanate as the northern superpower.

2100-2200 AC (mostly West): The Warring States Period. Born originally out of a philosophical dispute over the nature of Dào, the conflict quickly engulfs most of Ōuzhōu. It severely weakens the West Fǎlánkè and the confederacy of Bōlán-Lìtáo. In their place, the Yīng dukes and the Èluósī khans, who took little part in the conflict, grow to major powers in the region.

The last century of this period (after the ambitious, but ultimately disastrous West Fǎlánkè attempt at unification of all of Ōuzhōu) is sometimes called the Peace of the Eagles, after the eagle emblems of the three strongest powers in the region: the East Fǎlánkè, the Hābùsībǎo and the Èluósī. Eventually, however, this fragile balance proves untenable.

2460-2500 AC: The Warlords Era. What initially looks like another conflict between Eastern and Western Dynasties, spills out over all of Ōuzhōu. For roughly forty years, the main powers, along with their vassals and allies, fight a prolonged, bloody conflict. Ancient dynasties are overthrown, and new ones come to power. Warlord states, based on old tribal allegiances, appear and disappear, particularly in the rough Sīlāfū borderlands between East Fǎlánkè, Tūjué and Èluósī.

In the devastated west, there are no clear winners, although East Fǎlánkè is nominally defeated by the coalition of the West Fǎlánkè and the dukes of Yīng. In the east, however, the Èluósī Khanate achieves total dominance, finally victorious over its chief adversaries, the Tūjué and Hābùsībǎo, and absorbing or subduing most of their territories.

2500 AC and after: The Twelve Star Coalition, or the Unified Fǎlánkè. Weakened by the warlord strife and facing the relentless rise of the Èluósī, the two Fǎlánkè kingdoms together with their erstwhile vassals form a defensive alliance and a trade federation known as the Twelve Star Coalition. In time, the overstretched Èluósī Khanate is torn apart by internal strife and external pressures. The Unified Fǎlánkè spreads eastwards, gobbling up the Èluósī borderlands piecemeal, until eventually its territory and might surpasses even that of the ancient Dàqin.

This, for now, is as far as we have managed to compile the ancient records. We will continue in our efforts to bring you the further history of this fascinating region as soon as the next volume is ready.

Random Rambling Blog Snippets

I’ve been neglecting the blog side of this blog a lot lately. The truth is, between getting a new job, moving back to London, finishing up the book, and severe bouts of hayfever, I’ve been finding it hard to focus my thoughts enough to write an actual blog post. I tend to spend my entire mental capacity on Facebook statuses and occasional tweets, which as usual, you can follow here and here.

So instead, here are a few headlines that I would have liked to write blog posts about at some point:

1. The Great Right Lie, pt. 1: Private vs Public

Anyone (and that includes Her Majesty’s current government) who believes that private enterprise is always and inevitably more efficient than public, has to answer the following questions:

– have you ever worked in a corporate environment? If so – seriously…?
– what do you think happened in 2008? While we’re at it, what do you think happened in every financial crisis since the VOC crash in 18th century?
– “most effective” at what? Making money (not really, see above)? Or providing stable and secure jobs, or affordable services? Comparing NHS to private healthcare and declaring that the latter is better because it earns more money and has prettier hospital rooms is missing the point by a mile.

2. EU Referendum

If I had to bet at the result of upcoming Brexit referendum, I’d bet that we’ll lose, and England (NOT the UK) will vote for leaving the EU. There isn’t a single major media outlet, other than Guardian, and no political party with more than 10 MPs that is unequivocally pro-EU. The entire debate is focused on the pros and cons of membership for business and trade, as if EU was just a glorified trade treaty, and not the greatest peace-making experiment since Pax Romana.

3. World War III

World War III is here, and now. It’s just happening outside our immediate sphere of interest. There are now more refugees in the world than there have ever been since 1945. The flames of war rage from Pakistan to Mali, and from Egypt to Congo, with outcrops in Ukraine and Central America. Because it’s presented as a series of small, separate conflicts, the West can ignore all but the closest of the fighting, but look at the map above (taken from UN SRSG CAAC website) – altogether, the war already engulfs an area and population greater than that of Nazi-threatened Europe. This is their Thirty-year War, this is their World War.

And our only reaction is to discuss whether or not we can deal with the boat smugglers and bicker about distributing the pitifully small “refugee quota”.

4. The Great Right Lie, pt. 2: Freedom is No Regulations

The corporations would like to convince us that business regulations are the greatest threat to our freedom and well-being, right after terrorism. Of course, an immediate question is – freedom to do what? Freedom to be exploited at the workplace, and cheated at the marketplace. Regulations are responsible for you not having to work 12 hours a day, and for not being sold radioactive toothpaste. But naturally, there’s the other side of the coin: the only regulations that are “bad” are the ones that affect the business in what it perceives is a negative way; try to ask a tech company to get rid of patent regulations, or a media company to abandon copyright laws, and you’ll see how quick they are to abandon the “freedom” charade.

That’s all for now.

The Museum of the Lost People – mad libs.

Here we are, at the Museum of ____*. It is a stunning building, its structure cunningly reflecting the history and culture of the minority it represents. As we enter its bowels, we first read of how the _____ first appeared in our country – earlier, probably, than most of us have imagined – and how they mingled with the society they’d encountered. They came sometimes as warriors, sometimes as traders, but mostly simply as settlers, seeking a calm refuge from the storms of the land they had dwelt in before.

We witness as their culture and society grew among us. Here is their temple, reconstructed; here is the cloth their priest wore; there is a festive outfit, and a description of a holy feast. A restaurant serving their traditional cuisine. Copy of a newspaper. We read the writings of their scholars and social activists – for the first time, since back then nobody outside the _____ community cared for such things.

We see as many of them tried to integrate peacefully into our society, while others shunned or even attacked it, and we muse upon the different approaches they represented, and what may have caused them. We read pamphlets written against them, often by people we now consider wise; we are surprised at the intensity of the fear-mongering, of the lack of cooperation and communication from both sides; we hear the appeals for assimilation, for abandonment of the faith and tradition we did not, and did not want to, understand. We feel the frustration of the more enlightened ______ at their orthodox brethren, and at us, for not making an effort to differentiate between the two.

We nod, sadly, at a growing, futile hope, as we see our society become more tolerant in time of prosperity, followed closely by dread as we sense the threads of anti-_____ grow ever stronger, as the worsening economic climate brings out the worst in people. We shake our heads at the irony of those who felt that the bad times are already behind them.

The last part of the museum is sad and terrible, but it’s just as we expected. We leave the dark confines of the museum shaken, but not shocked; after all, we all know well the history of how the _______ were destroyed, their culture wiped out. In the end, nothing they did to prevent our hostility mattered. We hated them whether they tried to assimilate or stay apart, to live among us peacefully or to fight us. We hated them simply because they were not like us.

We stumble out into the bright streets that still remember their shadows, looking around in disbelief. Was there really such a people living here, not so long ago? Was there really a temple here, and the faithful coming to pray to their strange God in their strange language, eating their strange food, wearing their strange clothes – and all that treated as normal, if slightly annoying, slightly threatening, by the “native” citizens of this once-multicultural city? And was all this really wiped out so swiftly, without a trace, almost without a memory?

We shake our heads again, and we walk home, promising ourselves that this could never happen again. Not here, not now. After all, we are not barbarians.

*) insert a religious/ethnic minority of choice.


The Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Anielewicza 6, Warsaw, Open 10-6 PM/10-8 PM except Tuesdays.

2014 blog review – 明けましておめでとう!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 31,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 11 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Germany: Memories of a Nation (BBC Podcast)

germany[1]We traveled a lot through Germany lately: both its past and present borders. It is nearly impossible to travel around Europe without stumbling upon traces of Germany’s past glories and sins. From Riga to London, from a Hansa outpost on Aland to the Imperial Trieste, the German-speaking peoples have left an unforgettable imprint on the continent long before the atrocities of the 20th century; and having traveled first around the Baltic, then around Central Europe this year, I had plenty opportunity to ponder this grand nation’s history.

Brandenburger_Tor_abends[1]So the new BBC Radio 4 podcast series, Germany: Memories of a Nation, drew my attention instantly – especially since it’s headlined by none other than Neil MacGregor. A few years ago, the director of British Museum attempted to tell the story of the entire world in 100 objects. Now, he is retelling the story of Germany – in 30 objects. This new series is just as intrigWeltliche_Schatzkammer_Wien_(169)pano2[1]uing and engaging, and possibly even more eye-opening, since it brings out the little-known German art and architecture from the shadow of France and Italy. Holbein, Riemenschneider, Caspar David Friedrich are just few of the names covered, among subjects that range from Stasi to Charlemagne’s empire – with the Holocaust, naturally, underlying it all, as it forever must.

The series is half-way through now, and you can catch it on its podcast page here. Go hear it. Now.

Girls with bows.

Bookcovers_556x313[1]A wind is sweeping through British publishing world, a wind of change. The “Let Books Be Books” campaign to stop differentiating children’s books by gender is well on its way, with the likes of The Independent and Waterstones standing firmly on the side of progress.

The arguments don’t need to be repeated here: it should be plainly obvious that the gender separation is an absurd notion, to anyone concerned with reading and writing books. I’m sure every one of us can name a book or a movie they enjoyed in childhood that they weren’t “supposed to”. For what it’s worth, I used to devour “Anne of Green Gables” just as eagerly as I had the Cowboy & Indian-type adventure books at the same time.


So this post would have been a very short one, if it wasn’t for a remark from Michael O’Mara, of Buster Books (one of the chief offenders – they produced the colouring books in the picture), quoted by the Independent in the piece linked above:

“Our Boys’ Book covers things like how to make a bow and arrow. 20131004050534!Katniss_Everdeen[1]

And it made me wonder. How did we get to this point, as mankind? How did things get so bad that even bow and arrow is not a girls’ thing anymore?

marion01[1]Merida and Katniss are just the latest in the long run of women archers in popular fiction. Thirty years ago, I watched, fascinated, as the feisty Judi Trott drew her bow along with the rest of the Merry Men in the iconic Robin of Sherwood series. At roughly the same time, I was reading C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles for the first time, where Susan Pevensie is the archetypal bad-ass with a bow, outshooting the master dwarf bowman Trumpkin. Susan[1]

marsprofile[1]In the 90s we discovered anime, and with it came a whole army of female archers: from the “Flame Sniper” Rei Hino in Sailor Moon, to Kagome and Kikyou from Inuyasha.

Ten years ago, Keira Knightley stormed onto our screens as another bow-wielding lass, first in the little known straight-to-video “Princess of Thieves“, as no less than Robin Hood’s daughter, and then as Guinevere in “King Arthur“.  That opened the flood-gates: Mulan, Abigail Whistler, Nefriti… even Padme with her blaster, all the way back to Merida and Katniss.  p2[1]

K6.1Artemis[1]The association of women with bows and arrows is very much an archetypal thing. It’s at least as old as the image of Artemis the Huntress. It’s got its own TV Tropes page. In fact, it could be argued that the association itself is a sexist cultural stereotype: it was supposed to be the boys’ role to fight with swords in the melee – girls were at the back, with bows and guns.

bronies2[1]If for men like Mr O’Mara even that much involvement with power and violence is too much for girls, it is really a time to despair. The goalposts have been moved – back. That is a dreadful and woeful state of affairs, my friends. In 2014, we really shouldn’t have to tell girls that they, too, can play with bows and arrows. Just as we don’t have to tell boys that they, too, can play with My Little Ponies.

Europe by Google

These two maps were based on results of Google’s auto-complete feature, on Google.co.uk, in incognito mode.

The first one answers the question “Why are such-and-such so…” ? Not all nations came up with the result (mostly because of people unable to spell the nationalities properly), so sometimes I had to tweak the question a little, but not enough to change the spirit of the investigation.

Why are... ?

As you can see, there’s quite a lot of diversity here. The Nordic countries are generally perceived positively, while the Central-Eastern Europe is a dark hole of despair. The former Yugoslavians are, weirdly, all Tall, whereas Hispanics are Short. There aren’t that many racists in Europe as you’d think, and Rudeness seems mostly contained to the former Carolingian Empire.

This one is result of “such-and-such are” query, and it’s far more straightforward: most of Europeans are either Racist or Rude.


This time, the former Yugoslavian nations come out far worse: Evil Stupid Nazi Serbs, the lot (that’s Google saying that, not me!). There is some weird debate between Italians, Greeks and Albanians going on around their racial identity, and Belarusians and Austrians are apparently confused. Also, you’ll notice that the Welsh and Estonians remain firmly Racist on both maps, while Bulgarians, Latvians and the Franco-German alliance keep being Rude.

(PS: incidentally, if you count Google results for “… are rude” and “… are racist”, Europe’s nations are far more often perceived as rude than racist. I guess that’s… positive? At least we discriminate equally against everyone 🙂

(PPS: although, “Europeans are racist” is three times more popular than “Europeans are rude”)

The mystery of Japanese Tiled Houses

I’m aware that this is a very niche post. Treat it as a little, disturbing glimpse into what I sometimes find interesting 😉

As I’ve mentioned before, the outsides of many buildings in Japan’s cities resemble the insides of bathrooms: the walls are covered by thousands of tiny, shiny ceramic tiles. I had noticed this phenomenon before, but always dismissed it as one of the many quirks of Japan’s modern architecture – like putting conspicuous Mickey Mouse ears wherever possible, or ending even the most perpendicular, simplistic tower blocks with oddly decorative finials. This year, however, I began to notice it more, and suddenly it was everywhere: if a building is not made of wood, it’s almost bound to be tiled. So I simply had to research it.

Turns out, this is not just a strange aesthetic choice, but a practical solution to a double problem that plagues Japanese cities: earthquake and harsh climate.

Earthquakes render brick buildings mostly unusable. In an earthquake, a brick house falls apart like a house of cards, burying everyone inside under a pile of clay cubes. Most of the existing brick buildings in Kyoto are listed municipal features, like the City Museum.

This gives you a choice of two other building materials: wood and concrete. Wood is expensive in maintenance, and doesn’t allow to build high, so unless you’re well-to-do townsperson wanting to have a villa, you’re left with concrete. Also, concrete trade is subsidized by the government, which makes the choice even more obvious.

However, raw concrete has two important disadvantages: one, unless you’re going for raw brutalism deliberately, it’s a damn ugly material: grey, drab, featureless. More importantly, it is not well suitable for Japan’s difficult climate. The immense humidity of the rainy season and the extreme heat of the late summer quickly erode raw concrete, eating through it like so much butter. Any un-clad concrete house in Kyoto is covered in vast damp patches and scars of acid erosion. This situation called for a drastic, innovative solution.

The Japanese realized that the conditions outside in the rainy months resemble closely those inside a used bathroom (as anyone who’s spent a summer in the semi-tropics can confirm). And what best protects the bathroom walls from erosion? Ceramic tiles!

Tiles, tiles everywhere
Tiles, tiles everywhere

And that’s the reason. Tiles protect concrete from the dampness. Concrete protects inhabitants from earthquakes. Both problems are endemic to Japan, and the solution is fairly ingenious; unfortunately for a place like Kyoto, the result is only minimally better, aesthetically, than leaving the raw concrete out (and often worse) – a price of compromise, I suppose.