• Al Johnson

No One Expects US Park Service Propaganda

There is a famous skit in Monty Python where characters at the most Random moments and unlikely places will jump out and yell "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!" . It is humorous in its non sequitur context.

Yet there is nothing funny in the recent National Park Service article, which appears just as random as the Monty Python sketch. "Ulysses S Grant International Arbitrator." by an anonymous author.

Aside from the final paragraph that briefly mentions planting three memorial trees (not in US National Parks), nothing can be found to connect the article to the US Parks Service, except perhaps if it was the Communist Chinese National Parks Service. Such is the degree of inaccuracies, misleading by omission, and politicization inherent in the article.

However, failures often provide an excellent opportunity for a "teaching moment," and the National Park Service (NPS) article's failure gives us that chance. The lackluster NPS article allows us a "teaching moment" due to it's failings on three major topics:

1. Lack of historical knowledge of Asia, China, and Japan in the US.

2. Lack of historical knowledge of Ulysses S. Grant.

3. Lack of historical reference to the US Government's own source documents on the topic.

An in-depth CASE FILE is here, highlighting the information available on Grant and his interaction with Prince Kung and Minister Li in the Manchu Empire ("China"), and with Emperor Meiji as well as a multitude of ministers and Generals in Japan. The material is from the excellent compilation of source documents on Ulysses S. Grant (1) and it is a source that everyone interested should own, or have access to. Previous Historical Detective Agency blogs were posted utilizing this material (Here and Here)

The article is notable for it's omissions and after reading the CASE FILE one can clearly see that either the author was rather amateurish in their research. There is also the possibility that the article was intentionally written to obscure an accurate accounting of history in order to take sides in a current geopolitical dispute between US ally Japan and the militaristic expanding China, which is advancing claims in Okinawa using material similar to the US National Park Service article. This makes it ironic considering Japan is a Democratic ally of the US while CCP China is a militaristic neo-Nazi adversary. However, this article's possible intent will not be discussed here as it is off-topic for the Historical Detective Agency.

So please enjoy the CASE FILE on Ulysses S. Grant's visit to the Manchu Empire ("China") and Japan and an accurate conceptualization based off source documents of his involvement in the dispute over the island chain. Then go back and read the NPS article and see how many more errors you can uncover.

An earlier blog article on Grants visit to the Manchurian Empire and his conversation with Minister Li is here (

1. Use of the more accurate "Manchu" or "Manchurian Empire" instead of "China."

The Historical Detective Agency strives for positivism within its approach. Much like good Detectives or Private Investigators will use accurate descriptors for the evidence, so as not to cloud the conclusions, the HDA applies this ethic to historical research as well.

For example: Modern-day Turkey is not the Ottoman Empire, and conversely, describing the Ottoman Empire as "Turkey" is equally incorrect. Yet fashion today sees usage of "China" for political constructs where it didn't exist.

During Grant's visit in 1879, the land known as "China" was a foreign-occupied empire. The Manchurian kingdom had conquered and occupied multiple kingdoms and peoples in Northeast Asia. The "Qing Dynasty" was largely developed by the ignorant West, but subsequently promoted by political jingoists on the Asian mainland. The "Dynasty" label carried with it the implication of an implication of an unbroken government from time immemorial.

However, during the period of Grant's visit and for decades afterward many mainland Asians and Chinese nationalists such as Sun Yat-Sen saw what the West called "China" through the lens of the historical "Chinese" people; the Han. The nationalist Han saw the "Qing Dynasty" for it's accurate historical structure; an occupying foreign government. In other words a "Manchurian Empire" and not "China" nor "Chinese".

The relation between the traditional Han and other ethnic groupings, Manchus and Manchurian Empire, and the West's dual standards regarding naming geopolitical organizations in Asia is a topic for future CASE FILES and blog posts.

For further reading on the imaginary construct of "China" in historical writing, please see the following books:

Lee, Gregory B. China Imagined From European Fantasy to Spectacular Power. London: C Hurst & Co., 2018.

Shieh, Milton J.T. The Kuomingtang: Selected Historical Documents 1894-1969. Yangmingshan: St. John's University Press, 1970.

Li, Huaiyin. Reinventing Modern China Imagination and Authenticity in Chinese Historical Writing. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 2013.

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