Geopolitical Cartoons: Depictions of Imperial Germany (World War I)

This week’s geopolitical cartoons comes from World War I, or The Great War as its sometimes known. I stumbled on the first picture while looking for an explanation of Germany’s animal symbol from a few weeks back. I thought it was a vulture, and I ended up finding the image below, turns out the avian symbol of Prussia and Imperial Germany is an eagle.

France taunting Imperial Germany, World War I (via eBay)

The postcard above shows the personification of France, Marianne, preparing to stab the German eagle. Its most certainly from World War I because of the German pickelhaube lying in the foreground. Pictures of from the period (such as the one found on that wikipedia page) often show Otto von Bismarck or Kaiser Wilhelm II wearing the helmet, doubtless a symbol of German military might (and as it turns out, aggression). The pickelhaube itself was a symbol of the German empire during the war, as shown in the enlistment poster below. Another piece of evidence are the word “pro patria” located in the bottom right of the foreground. World War I is generally recognized as the first major conflict motivated by “nationalism”. While choosing individuals choose to participate in a conflict for a variety of reasons these days, World War I was characterized by widespread conscription and levée en masse, specifically in Europe. I deliberately used the last term because of its links to Napleonic France, that revolutionary place where nationalism was first introduced as a guiding principle in a state in the late 18th century. The inscription on the top reads: “Infamous and barbaric monster back! I curse you! Our dead will be avenged, your crimes will be punished!”

Imperial Germany to invade the U.S.?, World War I (via wikipedia)

The propaganda poster deserves some explanation as well. It depicts the German Empire (actually Kaiser Wilhelm II) as a slobbering, “crazy”, “brute”. Probably issued during the war (rather than before), the story line is that after the German Empire lays waste to Europe (as it has in the background), it will come to the United States, as its shown coming up from the water to the shores of “America”. The brutish gorilla is Kaiser Wilhelm II, as it bears that ruler’s characteristic mustache (see below reference material). Interestingly, the pickelhaube bears the inscription “militarism”. In other words, coming to the shores of the U.S. with “militarism” on his mind. He bears the club of “Kultur.” I ended up doing some digging on this (these posts really take on a life of their own) and found a digital copy of a book written in 1917 title “Conquest and kultur: aims of the Germans in their own words”. How awesome is that?

Kaiser Wilhelm II (looking not so brutish), 1902 (via wikipedia)

At any rate, if you check out that link go to page 17 (on the web, page 13 of the report) there’s a quote relevant to “Kultur” (German for culture): “The more it [German kultur] remains faithful to itself, the better will it be able to enlighten the understanding of foreign races absorbed or incorporated into the Empire, and to make them see that only from German kultur can they derive those treasures which they need for the fertilizing of their own particular life…” That quote comes from Otto von Geirke a “most distinguished professor law in Berlin” in 1914. In other words, some in Imperial Germany saw the war as bring “German culture” to the rest of Europe, something like a modified “white man’s burden,” where that phrase was used to justify colonial and imperial policies in Africa, Asia, and the “New World” where Europeans were bring “civilization” to an “uncivilized” landscape. I suppose this can be considered the logical conclusion of that logic, the German Empire formed as a coherent state five decades prior to World War I found itself one of the most populous, industrialized powers in Europe. Why not bring the successes of Germany to the rest of Europe, under German supervision of course.

The rest of Europe, of course, didn’t quite see it that way, as the French postcard, American enlistment poster, and French-Italian geopolitical cartoon below show. In this last cartoon, Kaiser Wilhelm II (Imperial Germany) is taking a bite out of the world but finding it a tough nut to crack. The inscription reads “L’ingordo” (“the Glutton”) “trop dur” (“too hard”). Apparently, it is French and Italian symbolizing half of the Entente powers (Great Britain, France, Italy, and Russia) with Italy entering the on the side of Great Britain, France, and Russia in 1915.

“The Glutton” finding the world “too hard” to eat, World War I (via wikipedia)

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Geopolitical Cartoons: China under Imperialism (early 1900s)

A couple of weeks ago I discussed a geopolitical cartoon of Korea under imperial control of Japan, this week I return to the theme of imperialism with a pair of cartoons (via imperialism-by-brady) on the imperial domination of China in the closing years of the 19th century, that is the late 1800s.

Imperial powers ready to fight a sleeping China, ca. 1900 (via imperialism-by-brady)

The cartoon above is my favorite of the two, in it the imperial powers are represented by common animals associated with the country. We have the American eagle, German vulture, British lion, Austro-Hungarian double-headed eagle, Italian wolf, Japanese leopard, French rooster, and Russian bear. Each is armed, or ready to fight with tooth or claw, and ready to attack a sleeping dragon, representing China. The use of the queue hairstyle on the Chinese dragon is telling for the time period of the cartoon. According to wikipedia, the queue came to predominantly Han (an ethnic group) China via the Qing dynasty of the Jurchen/Manchus in the mid-1600s. Although resisted by most Han the queue, later became a symbol of the Qing dynasty until 1911. It is likely that this cartoon was made around the time of the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), as the imperial powers are getting ready to disturb and tussle with the Chinese dragon. Below is a photograph of the troops from most of the states (Russia isn’t shown) that took part in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion:

Alliance troops during Boxer Rebellion, ca. 1900 (via wikipedia)

Imperial powers divide China, ca. 1900 (via imperialism-by-brady)

The second cartoon shows the European and Japanese imperialists literally carving up a king cake representing China. The cartoon is from France, hence China is “Chine”. Rather than using animals commonly associated with the powers, the artist utilized current (at the time) rulers and human symbols. The United Kingdom is represented by Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm II represents Germany, Czar Nicholas II represents Russia, “Marianne” is the emblem of France, and a samurai represents Japan. In the background a Qing official futilely tries to get their attention. One wonders if “Marianne” is actively participating in the division of China in the artist’s eyes. According to the wikipedia article, “Marianne” is an allegory for liberty and reason; while, the French government could certainly make a “reasonable” explanation for its imperial activities at the time (safeguarding French economic interests), but the lack of liberty enjoyed by the Chinese would be harder to explain (unless they thought they were saving the Chinese from themselves).

These geopolitical cartoons capture the breadth of foreign involvement in China’s internal affairs at the beginning of last century. The major powers from Europe, the United States, and Japan all sent troops to suppress the Boxer Rebellion and to safeguard their interests in China. What the second cartoon really shows is the inability of the Qing dynasty to protect its own territory and the power of the imperialists to enforce their will, despite Qing protestations. A potent symbol of the imperial era, the second cartoon hints at the eventual collapse of the Qing dynasty and the creation of the Republic of China. The fall of the Qing signified the end of dynastic rule in China, a system of government that had been established with the Xia dynasty around 2,000 BCE.