Well-Known Facts: On This Day…

This is what tighty whiteys looked like back then. They called them union suits. 

It’s been a while since I did a Well-Known Facts post. I’m sorry that I’ve been slacking on your education. We’re going to start a new feature on Well-Known Facts called On This Day In History.

According to Wikipedia, on June 17th, this happened:

1900 – Boxer Rebellion: Allied naval forces captured the Taku Forts after a brief but bloody battle.

Today, we’re going to talk about the Boxer Rebellion, a.k.a. The Boxer Uprising a.k.a. Yihetuan Movement. The Boxer Rebellion was a violent movement which took place in China towards the end of the Qing dynasty between 1898 and 1900. It was initiated by the Militia United in Righteousness (Yihetuan).

Throughout history, the English have been pretty well known for colonialism. That’s where they “discover” a piece of land, plant a flag, call it theirs and start pillaging and plundering the natural resources they find to send back to England. They either kill all the people already living there or try to “civilise” them.

Back in the late 1800’s, England discovered China and brought their English ways to the lowly Chinese heathens. Among the civilized ways they brought to China were Christianity, slavery, taxes and tighty whiteys, which they called “union suits.”

This is what tighty whiteys looked like back then. They called them union suits.  (www.underwearexpert.com)
This is what tighty whiteys looked like back then.

The Chinese have been around forever. They’re one of the oldest extant cultures on the planet. They didn’t take kindly to the English telling them to use forks and wear tight underwear.

Yuxian, a Manchu who was then prefect of Caozhou and would later become provincial governor, is attributed as saying, “White is an incredibly impractical underwear color.”  Also, “my junk is all bunched up.” The Chinese were quite comfortable with their baggier undies that they called boxers.

As a result of this underwear colonialism, several secret societies formed, including The Big Swords Society and the Righteous and Harmonious Fists or “Boxers United in Righteousness” (Yihequan/I-ho-chuan) in the inland sections of northern coastal province of Shandong.

In 1895, Yuxian officially used The Big Swords to fight bandits. The Big Swords, emboldened by this official support, also attacked their local Catholic rivals and tighty whitey aficionados, who turned to the Church for protection.

The Big Swords responded by attacking Catholic churches and burning them. They saw the church as a source of the oppressive undergarments. As a result of diplomatic pressure in the capital, Yuxian executed several Big Sword leaders, but did not punish anyone else. More secret boxer societies started emerging after this.

Boxer rebeller (wikipedia)
Boxer rebeller wearing boxers

Yuxian’s boxer loyalists gained strength when, in January 1900, the Empress Dowager Cixi, a powerful and charismatic woman who unofficially but effectively controlled the Qing dynasty for 47 years, changed her long policy of suppressing boxers, and issued edicts in their defense, causing protests from foreign powers. “I just don’t like the look of those whiteys.”

Eventually, almost the entire Chinese male population was part of at least one secret boxer society. They weren’t really a secret anymore to anyone but the English. Yuxian arranged a secret boxer meeting in Shandong and leaders from all the secret societies attended.

In Spring 1900, the boxer movement spread rapidly north from Shandong into the countryside near Beijing. On 30 May, British Minister Claude Maxwell MacDonald requested that foreign soldiers come to Beijing to defend, as he called them, the union suit loyalists. “The English are not the only ones who wear tighty whiteys.”

The next day, an international force of 435 navy troops from eight countries (75 French, 75 Russian, 75 British, 60 U.S., 50 German, 40 Italian, 30 Japanese, 30 Austrian) called the Eight-Nation Alliance, disembarked from warships and traveled by train from Dagu (Taku) to Beijing. They set up defensive perimeters around their respective union suit camps.

Troops of the Eight-nation alliance, 1900. (wikipedia)
Troops of the Eight-Nation Alliance, 1900.

On 5 June, the railroad line to Tianjin was cut by the boxer loyalists in the countryside and Beijing was isolated. 11 June, the secretary of the Japanese legation, Sugiyama Akira, was attacked and killed by soldiers of General Dong Fuxiang, who were guarding the southern part of the Beijing walled city.

Things didn’t look good for union loyalists and it only got worse when, on the same day, the German Minister, Clemens von Ketteler, and German soldiers captured a boy wearing boxers and inexplicably executed him. In response, thousands of boxer loyalist burst into the walled city of Beijing and burned many of the churches and cathedrals in the city.

The soldiers at the British Embassy and German Legations shot and killed several boxer loyalist, alienating the Chinese population of the city and nudging the Qing government toward support of boxers.

In Beijing, on 16 June, the Empress Dowager summoned the court for a mass audience and addressed the choices between boxers or seeking a diplomatic solution. In response to a high official who doubted the comfort of boxers, the Empress replied:

Perhaps their magic is not to be relied upon; but can we not rely on the hearts and minds of the people? Today China is extremely weak. We have only the people’s hearts and minds to depend upon. If we cast them aside and lose the people’s hearts, what can we use to sustain the country?

Both sides of the debate at court realized that popular support for boxers in the countryside was almost universal and that suppression would be both difficult and unpopular, especially when foreign troops were on the march.

The event that tilted the Imperial Government irrevocably toward support of boxers and war with the foreign powers was the Eight-Nation Alliance’s attack on the Dagu Forts near Tianjin, on 17 June 1900. They took the Dagu Forts commanding the approaches to Tianjin, and from there brought increasing numbers of troops on shore.

When the Empress Dowager received an ultimatum demanding that China surrender total control over all its military, underwear choices and financial affairs to foreigners, she defiantly stated before the entire Grand Council:

“Now they [the Powers] have started the aggression, and the extinction of our nation is imminent. If we just fold our arms and yield to them, I would have no face to see our ancestors after death. If we must perish, why not fight to the death?”

So, they fought… to the death. In October 1900, after a long war of attrition, a diplomatic solution was sought. Empress Dowager Cixi reluctantly started some reformations despite her previous view on boxers. Both boxers and union suits would be allowed in China. She put her foot down on slavery, taxes and Christianity though.

The Eight-Nation Alliance agreed to the demands of the Empress Dowager, knowing that they would not obey the treaty. They would spread tighty whiteys, slavery and Christianity wherever they damn well pleased. And that’s exactly what they did, which led to the Brassiere Revolution in the 1960s, but that’s a story for another time.

The end.

More Well-Known Facts

Apologies to Wikipedia for severely slaughtering their Boxer Rebellion page.

Well-Known Facts: Healthy Edition

Try not to dream of Ho-Hos.

A lot of you are fat lazy slobs. That’s okay! You’re probably American. It’s tough staying motivated in a country where you can buy 5,000 different kinds of chocolate 24/7. I’m here to help. Today, we’re going to explore some things you can do to lose weight and stay healthy without ruining your lifestyle! Here are 20 low impact things you can do now that will help you lose weight and be healthier:

1. Fart.

Farting uses a lot of energy. If you farted consistently for 6 years and 9 months, you would produce enough gas to create the energy of an atomic bomb.

2. Blink.

Blinking is an exercise. For every blink, you burn 2 calories.

3. Bang your head against a wall.

Banging your head against a wall uses 150 calories an hour.

4. Think really hard.

Thinking doesn’t use as many calories as blinking or banging your head, but it does preoccupy your brain from wanting to eat delicious things.

5. Yell.

If you yelled for 8 years, 7 months and 6 days, you would have produced enough sound energy to heat one cup of coffee.

6. Fidget with your sexy parts.

Everyone knows that sex burns calories. I recommend lots of it. Also, fidgeting can burn 350 calories an hour, so why not burn two birds with one bush and fidget with your sexy parts? Even self-satisfying is self-satisfying.

7. Look from side to side with your eyes.

Especially, while driving. You’re just sitting there anyway, why not exercise your eyes?

8. Lift your eyebrows.

While you’re driving and moving your eyes from side to side, why not raise your eyebrows, too?

9. Hang around larger people.

Weight loss is a psychological battle. Nothing makes you feel thinner than someone who is bigger than you. Ditch all your skinny friends and hang out with the big ones. You’ll feel better in no time.

10. Walk to your car instead of taking a cab.

I know this one might be hard for people who have to park a half block away or less, but try starting small. Instead of taking a cab to your car five times a week, try walking a half block once a week.

11. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Unless you’re on the second floor or higher. We don’t want to put you in danger. Again, start small. Try one step at a time and work your way up. If you don’t have any steps, (hire a contractor to) build some like this guy:

He's taking a well deserved break after walking up 5 whole steps! Image from woodwork343.blog.fc2.com.
He’s taking a break after walking up 5 whole steps!
Image from tedswoodworking.com

12. Be right-handed.

Right-handed people live, on average, nine years longer than left-handed people do. Us lefties are already at a disadvantage. Try being right-handed.

13. Sleep.

A good weight loss regimen should include at least 12-18 hours of sleep a day. The more you sleep, the less you are awake to eat Ho-Hos.

Try not to dream of Ho-Hos.
Try not to dream of Ho-Hos.

14. Drink lots of beverages.

The more you drink, the more you pee. The more you pee, the more you have to get up and walk to the bathroom. And if you’re a female, you do one squat every time you go! If you go to the bathroom 30 times a day, that’s 30 squats. Men, try to do some squats while standing and peeing or something (I’m really not sure what you do in there).

15. Drink coffee.

Studies have found that caffeine increases the rate at which you burn calories. Also, it’s a diuretic, so it will make you have to pee more. Every trip to the bathroom counts! Feel the burn.

16. Listen to really fast heavy metal.

Thrash or speed metal will make you fidget faster, thereby burning more calories!

17. Laugh.

This one sounds obvious, but laughing really is good for you. A good snort can burn up to 100 calories.

18. Do your own chores.

Instead of having your mom bring you dinner in the basement, go up and get it yourself. That trip up and down the stairs will burn a few calories.

19. Fill up on fiber.

Low-carb, high-fiber foods take more time to digest than other foods, leaving you feeling fuller longer and less likely to snack. Go ahead and have that second vest or sofa:

Pretend it's cotton candy.
Pretend it’s cotton candy.

20. Make exaggerated motions.

When you walk, make incredibly exaggerated motions. Swing your arms and take long strides. Try to ignore the looks you will get. No matter what they tell you, you don’t look like a Nazi. This is for your health!

Image of healthy people from Guardian.uk.
Image of healthy people from Guardian.uk.

Guest Post – Well-Known Facts International Edition

1500s world map

As the tied-for-second-place winner of Goldfish’s Mad Libs Spectacular, I thought I’d contribute a leaf to one of her ongoing series and write a little quasi-nonfiction. So, without further ado, let’s spin up that globe and discuss some well-known facts about countries most Westerners would be hard-pressed to pronounce, much less find on a globe.

FACT: Italy leads the world in toilet oppression.

We from North America have been spoiled, in many senses, by the voluminous number of public toilets. Anywhere you go in the States, and to a lesser extent USA Jr. and South of the Border, there are public toilets. You can’t even go to a dumpy public park in Ditchwaterville, Nowherebraska without finding a free pissery.

In Italy, that freedom does not exist.

Ancient Roman toilets in Ostia
Not quite this bad, but close.

Oh, sure, the restrooms are supposedly free. But every single one is overseen by a matronly woman built like a linebacker, who sits at the entrance and shakes would-be excreters down for “tips” (and with a minimum tip often advertised, it’s suspiciously like a cover fee. For the bathroom). Heaven help you if you try to go in without tipping or sneak past while the bathroom centurion is away, for you will unleash a torrent of verbal abuse that will leave you stumbling, ears bleeding, away to quietly pee your pants in shame.

This is why I laugh long and hard when peeps describe Europe as a glorious socialized paradise. It’s all moot if you can’t pee for free!

FACT: Italy is terrible at Italian food.

When I was in Italy, I was salivating at the prospect of some Italian pizza. You could follow the trail of drool through the Rome airport and onto the pickpocket-infested bus line that tourists know as The Wallet Eater. I am a bit of a pizza fanatic; I’ve eaten the dish on four continents and in more countries than most people have ever been to. So even though the Italian pizza I ordered was like 50 euros, I was still giddy with anticipation.

A pizza with pepperoni, onions, and green peppers
Hey, what are those healthful toppings doing on my pizza! I want bread, sauce, mozzarella, and pepperoni, none of that hippie green pepper or purple space onion crap.

What did I get? Basically an ultra-thin flatbread with tomato sauce and a little cheese. It was like someone had unrolled a pizza roll or some devilish Noid had stomped the pie flat. It was un-thick, un-filling, un-sliced, and un-slicable. Compared to the fine pizzas of New York, Chicago, or even Vietnam, it was trash. The one and only exception was the Vatican, whose holy pizza was wholly pizza.

Pope John Paul II speaking ino microphone, 2004
The pope mumbles through a pizza blessing. This was 2 popes ago, but JP the Deuce was in charge of pizza-blessing when I was there.

And that’s the dirty little secret of Italian food: most of it was invented in America. Oh sure, the inventors were first-generation Italian immigrants and used traditional ingredients and even some traditional names. But pizza as we know it was still invented in the Bronx, with the stuff back in Italy a mere back-formation. The same is true of a lot of other dishes. Just like you can’t get a decent fortune cookie in China, because they were invented in San Francisco

FACT: Vietnam is not a communist country.

Yep. Despite the ego-bruising loss of the war to the Communists, who came in red flags a-wavin’, contemporary Vietnam is not-communist enough to make old Uncle Ho spin in his mausoleum. In fact, Vietnam is, bar none, the most capitalist country I’ve ever visited.

The Vietnamese coat of arms, red with gears and wheat ears
I mean, come on. Is this not the most communist coat of arms ever?

Every home has a shop out front selling something. Every. Single. One. You can buy home-cooked food, spare motorbike tires, water bottles full of gasoline, and even ice-cold bottles of Pepsi out of just about anyone’s front porch, especially if said porch opens up onto a road. Fun fact: Vietnam is also the only country in the world where Pepsi reigns supreme and has fully made Coke its bitch. That’s what you get for being nimble and quick when a country opens up to the world after decades of isolation and reeducation, I tell you what.

The entrepreneurial spirit is not limited to people turning their homes into shops, naturally. Vietnamese rivers are filled with fishermen busily hauling their catch to market. Granted, it’s electro-fishing which uses a metal wand hooked up to a car battery to zap fish senseless (cover your eyes, Goldfish!). It’s not green, but it brings in the green. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fine Chinese-style pirate marts, which cultivate vast fields of illegal DVDs and CDs fresh for the harvesting. And that’s not even getting into the combination KFC/bowling alley in Saigon (certified bird-flu free!).

Modern Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) at night
This view of Saigon looks slightly less communist. And yes, even the most diehard communist still calls it Saigon instead of Ho Chi Minh City.

Of course, the government is still highly authoritarian. But if you’re making money and they get their cut, they are happy to let you be as capitalist as you want under the red banner of Uncle Ho. Just don’t be pushing for democracy or anything like that–do things the American way and get rich to bribe officials. That’s change we can believe in.

FACT: Zimbabwe has the most hosed-up money in the world right now.

Huh? What’s that, you say? What’s a Zimbabwe? Is it some kind of fish? Tsk tsk. Zimbabwe is a country in southern Africa with a troubled past. It had its own brand of apartheid going on back in the 60s and 70s, with white folks in charge of everything, but after a rather nasty civil war, things seemed on the upswing. When I visited, the races were living in relative harmony and the country was flush with tourist dollars from people seeing Victoria Falls and giant stone birds. Alas, things started to go south when the prez decided that things like “term limits” and “democracy” were for people without toothbrush mustaches.

So there was a nasty period of the gummint grabbing up everything they wanted and redistributing it to supporters to shore up their base. The only problem was those supporters had no idea of how to run their shiny new misappropriated farms and factories. Oops. So as the only way to get anything was by buying it on the black market or getting it smuggled in, the Zim dollar started going all hyperinflatey.

Invader Zim action figures
Admit it, this is what you thought of when I said “Zim Dollar.”

Hyperinflation isn’t filling your balloon with too much helium; rather, it means the currency falls in value at a stunning rate. For example, when I went to Zimbabwe in the 90s, the exchange rate was 7-8 Zim dollars to 1 US dollar and the inflation rate was 20%. High, but pretty good for Africa. By 2008, the inflation rate was 89,700,000,000,000,000,000,000%. That’s 6.5 sextillion percent, which means the exchange rate was 2,621,984,228 Zim dollars to 1 US dollar. Two trillion, six hundred twenty-one billion, nine-hundred eighty-four thousand, two hundred twenty-eight to one.

Zimbabwe dollar bills from $10 to $100,000,000,000.
These bills were all printed within a year of each other, from $10 to $100,000,000,000. By the end, the top bill was worth 3 US cents.

Yeah. They got rid of their currency after that, meaning that as of today Zimbabwe has no money of its own and uses foreign money (US dollars, etc.) for everything…which people were pretty much doing anyway, considering that toilet paper cost so much that it was cheaper to wipe your bum with trillion-dollar bills. Sadly, the country’s still in an economic hole and the same president presides over it, Adolf-stache and all. Maybe they should try communism–it worked for Vietnam!

The Voyage of the Royal Pudding Cup & HMS Sheepskin Flask

Drawing by Thomas Parker.
Daily post prompt: Read the story of Richard Parker and Tom Dudley. Is what Dudley did defensible? What would you have done?

OK, let’s read the wiki, shall we?

On July 4, 1776, Richard Parker and Tom Dudley set sail from England as part of a fleet of twenty-seven long ships in the name of her majesty Queen Clancy II.[1] Their mission was to search for treasure to fund the August War as the June War against Finlandia[2] had depleted the royal coffers. Parker was captain of HMS Royal Pudding Cup and Dudley captained the HMS Sheepskin Flask.[3]

A sketch of the HMS Sheepskin Flask by Tom Dudley.

The fleet intended to raid the Spanish galleons at the Isthmus of Panama[4] and steal their gold. In early September, over halfway through the voyage, the fleet was ravaged by a superstorm,[5] sinking most of the long ships and tossing the rest hither and yon. When the storm cleared, Parker and Dudley found that they were the only two vessels in the vicinity. They had been blown off course by roughly 17,000 miles and presently found themselves near what is now known as Australia.[6]

A–starting point. B–intended destinationC–approximate route and end point
A–starting point. B–intended destination. C–approximate route and end point.

Parker and Dudley thought they had fallen off the edge of the earth since no one, besides the native inhabitants, had ever been to Australia. The two Englishmen named it Parkdudland.[7] Fortunately, the name did not stick. After many years exploring the continent of Parkdudland, planting flags and naming flowers, the two decided to return to England, navigating by the stars.[8]


Parker and Dudley followed the stars and sailed north for England. After 4,597 days at sea, roughly off the foot of Africa,[9] the two ships encountered a Kraken.[10]

Image from Clash of the Kraken: The Voyage of The Royal Pudding Cup & The HMS Sheepskin Flask, Universal Studios (1981).

The Kraken gave them tea and biscuits. Mr. Kraken was tired of being misunderstood as a horrible sea monster. He had feelings, too. Unfortunately, for the Kraken, Dudley and Parker never made it back to England to tell tale of what a lovely host he was.

In 1980, the Royal Pudding Cup was discovered by divers off of the coast of Belize.[11] In it, were Parker’s meticulous records of the journey and detailed drawings of the Kraken.[12] The HMS Sheepskin Flask’s final resting place still has not been found.

Drawing by Thomas Parker.
Drawing by Richard Parker.

In 1981, Parker and Dudley’s voyage was made into a major Hollywood motion picture called Clash of the Kraken: The Voyage of The Royal Pudding Cup & The HMS Sheepskin Flask[13] (1981) from Universal Studios.[14] It won the Academy Award[15] for Best Special Effects.[16]

I think, if I were in Parker or Dudley’s shoes, I might not have attempted to sail back to England. I probably would have stayed in Parkdudland forever. Then again, had I done that, I never would have met the delightful Kraken nor had an Academy Award winning Hollywood motion picture made of me either, so who knows.