The twentieth of January has seen some “move-ins” as a new crew entered to try to control an established place. Remember back in 1997 when Great Britain returned Hong Kong to China after their 99-year lease expired? As it happens, there’s a bit more to the Hong Kong story.
The English originally occupied the Hong Kong area (I’ll explain the “area” part in a bit) during the First Opium War from 1839 to 1941. Opium was being shipped out of ports like Hong Kong and supplied to, among other places, Europe. But you’ll never guess who was on which side in the Opium War. One side was trying to stop the opium trade, seizing shipments and prosecuting drug dealers pretty harshly. The other side wanted the trade to continue, because after all, business is business, right? The side trying to ban the drug trade was…China. The British were in favor of it, and in many cases they were the drug dealers.
The thing was, some of the opium was getting to Europe, sure, but most of it was winding up much closer, in China. There was so much of it, promoted by the British, that the Chinese government (a dynasty, in those days) was worried about the growing number of addicts and the amount of money flowing out of the country. To England. The war was fought by the British navy, on behalf of British drug dealers…er, I mean merchants. And the British navy had far superior ships and weaponry compared to the Chinese. Thus on January 20, 1841, the British occupied Hong Kong Island, and in 1842 it was ceded permanently (or so they thought) to the UK.
Hong Kong island is not the same as what most people think of as “Hong Kong.” It’s not the same as the Hong Kong that was leased to the British; that’s the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. And although Hong Kong island is the largest, there are in fact several islands in the Hong Kong general area. In any case, when the British left Hong Kong (the city) in 1997 when their lease expired, the transaction didn’t include Hong Kong island.
So now you’re thinking “well of course not, the city was leased, but Hong Kong island was ceded permanently, so the British must still be there, right?” Wrong. Hong Kong island was ceded to the British, but they lost it. During World War II Hong Kong was surrendered to Japan. So when the British returned Hong Kong (the city) to China, they didn’t have to do anything about Hong Kong (the island) because they’d already lost it.
But speaking of World War II, and the Asia/Pacific part of the world, there’s another January 20 event worth a look. That was in 1887, the day the US Senate granted the US Navy a lease on a new place for a naval base: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. They didn’t actually build a base there until more than a decade later, but it eventually became a main US Navy base in the Pacific (the other one is in San Diego, California). And of course Pearl Harbor is remembered because of World War II — the same war that affected Hong Kong Island, and at about the same time. Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, on December 7. The Battle of Hong Kong began the very next day, and it was surrendered to Japan on December 25.
Pearl Harbor, circa 1885
If you were to look down on the earth as if you were on the moon — or actually look from the moon, as Buzz Aldrin did (but he wasn’t there on January 20, which is his birthday) — you could imagine focusing on a particular region for a particular time and investigating just what might have been happening. If you focused on Asia and the Pacific Ocean for almost exactly a century, from 1841 to 1941, you’d find the Hong Kong and Pearl Harbor stories. But if you spun the globe to look at northern (or nordic) Europe centuries earlier, you might find the story of Lalli. He was a peasant in Finland around 1156 when a British missionary, Bishop Henry, came to his house to ask for food and hay for their horses. Lalli wasn’t home, but his wife was, and she said no. So the bishop and his crew took what they wanted anyway. In some versions of the story they left payment; in others they didn’t. When Lalli got home he lost his temper, chased the bishop, and killed him. And it all happened on January 20.
The murder of St. Henry by Lalli, painting by C. A. Ekman (1854)
The folktale goes on to detail the magical punishments that befell Lalli for his misdeeds, but there may have been a real-life event that was the basis of the legend. “Bishop Henry” might have been German, and named Heinrich. Or maybe not. The records from that part of the world during that part of history aren’t very detailed.
But we do know that on January 20, not too far away in distance but nearly four centuries later, Christian II, King of Denmark and Norway, was forced to step down by the nobility when he tried to grant those annoying commoners more rights. There was probably more to it than that, given the complicated lives monarchs led back then, but that seems to have been the crux of it. The nordic countries are, to this day, bastions of equality, after all. Maybe it started all the way back then. Christian II himself lived the rest of his life under a sort of house arrest. I think in the 1500s that meant you still lived a life of luxury and privilege but you didn’t get your own army. Anyway, it must have agreed with him to some degree; he lived another 36 years.
Don’t let the dates back in the sixteenth century make you think that it was a completely different world, though. The New World was already being invaded by Europeans, and on January 20, 1567 during the Battle of Rio de Janeiro, the Portuguese drove the French out. Not only were the Europeans already swiping the land; they were hauling all their war equipment halfway around the world to beat on each other about it. And for that matter, farther north but not too much later, the city of León, Mexico was founded by one of the Europeans of the Spanish persuasion, Don Martin Enriquez de Almanza. They were even calling the place “New Spain” in those days. And Don Martin may very well have been born on January 20, too. I mean, nobody actually knows, but anything can happen!
Among the anythings that happen on January 20 is the inauguration of the US President and Vice President, once every four years. But it didn’t happen that way for George Washington, or Abraham Lincoln, or in fact any US President until Franklin Roosevelt — and then not until his second term. What happened was the 20th Amendment to the US Constitution was adopted in 1933. It’s not one of the Amendments that gets a lot of press, like the First or the Fifth, but what it did was change the inauguration dates. Inaugurations originally took place in March, but that created a four-month “lame duck” period where the previous President had lost the election but was still in office — and able to do all sorts of mischief. Once electronic communication and nationwide travel came along, it seemed like a good idea to make things move along at a more up-to-date pace. And for that matter, maybe it’s time to cut the time lag down again. Get voted in early in November, take office a couple days later? Who’s with me on this?
But maybe I’m going too far into fantasy land here; thinking about immediate results from voting and choosing global zones of historical events from the moon. I mean, this is just a newsletter. It’s not a Fellini movie, or a David Lynch film. We shouldn’t count on weird, inexplicable coincidences, should we? Like today being Frederico Fellini’s and David Lynch’s birthday. Nobody would believe it.