Nearly every English-language movie has a disclaimer in the credits that says something like “This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.” Obviously this isn’t true. Historical epics, biopics, and other movies are clearly based on real people. Why does this disclaimer pretend otherwise?
The answer, it turns out, has a lot to do with Rasputin.
After successfully defeating the Ottoman-Egyptian and British forces at Khartoum, Sudan formed an independent government based around Muhammad Ahmad, the self-proclaimed Mahdi or “expected one.” Unfortunately for Sudan, though, Ahmad died of Typhus only six months after the birth of the new state, and Mahdist Sudan was almost immediately faced with a succession crisis.
It would only be the first of many trials for the new state. Regional rebellions and border skirmishes, a war with neighboring Ethiopia, and economic isolation and famine would all take their toll on Sudan, and over the lifetime of the Mahdist state, millions of Sudanese citizens would die as a result of violence and privation.
In the early 1880s Sudan suffered under the heel of the Ottoman empire. Military occupation and heavy taxes led to widespread discontent that eventually led to a religiously-infused rebellion. Muhammad Ahmad styled himself as the Mahdi or “expected one,” a prophesized Islamic figure, and drawing on discontent, Ahmad led a rebellion throughout the country.
The British officer Charles George Gordon (pictured below) was put in charge of evacuating Egyptians and other foreigners from the Sudan. But, because of his poor relations with the British and the Ottoman-Egyptian governments, Gordon ended up holed up in Khartoum, under siege by the rebel forces, and eventually dead at the hands of the Sudanese. The Mahdi had successfully defeated the foreign occupiers, and a new state formed under his religiously-inspired revolutionary power.
Hong Xiuquan and his Taiping rebels successfully founded a new kingdom in southern China. The Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace sought to overthrow the Manchurian Qing Dynasty and form a new, radically different China. Hong, the supposed younger brother of Jesus Christ, retreated to a life of luxury in an opulent palace, and the actual governance of the kingdom was carried out by his cousin Hong Rengan, who acted as essentially the Heavenly Kingdom’s prime minister. Hong sought out aide from foreign powers to assist the Taiping in their struggle against the Qing, but none came.
Instead, the Manchurian Dynasty and the United Kingdom would join forces to crush the rebels, and the supposed brother of Christ would die ingloriously while besieged in his palace. The image below is a memorial Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in Guanxi.
In the 1850s a man who styled himself as the younger brother of Jesus Christ led China into a bloody rebellion. China in the early 1800s was ravaged by famine, natural disasters, and British meddling that introduced opium (and the Opium Wars) to the population. The country was ripe for rebellion against the Qing Dynasty who, being Manchurian, were often perceived as foreigners by many of China’s Han population. Into all of this chaos and discontent came a man called Hong Xiuquan who claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ. Hong founded an organization called the God Worshipping Society, and he and his Christian rebels would attempt to destroy not only the Qing Dynasty, but also prevailing Chinese ideas of religion and civilization.
This week’s show tracks the reasons behind China’s Taiping Rebellion, and gives a bit of background about Hong himself. Next week’s show will focus on the war itself, and the eventual fall of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. The image below (made some time after the Taiping rebellion in 1886) shows Chinese Imperial soldiers retaking a provincial capital from Taiping rebels.
In the late 1600s Scotland, in an attempt to start an international trade empire, founded a small settlement in what is now modern Panama. The venture was frustrated at every turn by the English, who did not want their northern neighbor competing on the international scene, and the Panamanian jungle proved to be an inhospitable environment. The settlers were plagued by starvation and malaria, and eventually the Scots were ousted by the Spanish.
The dramatic failure of the colony led to the end of Scottish independence, and a few years later 1707 that country would permanently join with England. Had the colony succeeded, the map of Europe and Central America could look very different today, but as it is Scottish ambitions and independence vanished hundreds of years ago in the jungles of Central America.
Before and during World War II Japan (just like Britain, France, and the United States) had a considerable empire. The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere encompassed the Korean peninsula, several Pacific Islands, and holdings in China. Probably the strangest part of the Japan’s empire was Manchukuo, an artificial country in northern China that Japan made by (among other things) bombing a train and kidnapping the former Chinese emperor.