Disputed Asian Islands Subject of New U.S Grant Play

1879 Incident with Ulysses S. Grant Dramatized in new play "Ulysses S. Grant in China".
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Oct. 10, 2012 - PRLog -- “Tension grows between China, Japan,” this week’s headlines report. “Tiny island at the heart of dispute.” China and Japan are coming dangerously close to conflict over a set of islands which lie in disputed territories between the two Asian giants. While it may seem a minor squabble to others, it is a deadly serious matter to these two rivals.

Surprisingly, an American President tried to resolve this same problem 130 years ago.

The president was Ulysses S. Grant, and in 1879 he presided over an international court to resolve a conflict over the Ryukyu (“Loochoo”) island kingdom, today known as Okinawa. Grant was on a world tour after his second term when the Chinese Viceroy Li Hong Zhang – a pivotal figure in his own right, for his progressive views on modernizing China – asked him to adjudicate the Loochoo matter. The expansionist Japanese Emperor Meiji wanted to take over Ryukyu, even though it had been a Chinese protectorate for centuries. Grant did in fact try to resolve the matter, to little avail.

This little-known incident is the subject of a new play by Tom Durwood, who teaches at the Naval Warfare Special Development Group and at Valley Forge Military College. Durwood’s play, “Ulysses S. Grant in China,” imagines the encounter between East and West from the point of view of four teenagers who are selected to play a recital for the visiting President. They become embroiled in an assassination plot and manage to prevail, but not before the audience gets a lesson in 19th century diplomacy

Grant himself is undergoing something of a revival. Laura Waugh’s 2009 book, U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth, argues that the 18th occupant of the White House deserves better treatment than he received from 20th century historians. Grant successfully overcame Southern resentment towards Reconstruction, she argues, and his reticence in explaining himself placed him at the mercy of cultural trends in which his reputation sank.

According to the British newspaper Globe and Mail, the current island dispute is “jeopardizing the political and trade relationship between the world’s second and third-largest economies, as a number of Japan’s flagship companies announced temporary closures of their China operations on Monday after being targeted by days of angry protests.” The stability of the entire Pacific Rim, which President Obama has identified as one of the world’s most critical regions, could be at risk.

“The recurrence of the islands dispute shows that nothing is really new,” says Durwood.  “All of today’s issues have roots in the recent past. American involvement in the Pacific did not start with Pearl Harbor.” Durwood is busy writing more adventure stories which take place at critical moments in history. The US Grant in China collection includes six other such stories, all of which are offered to readers for free.

The play and stories are currently available on Kindle, accompanied by 22 illustrations.


“The stories are nine parts adventure and one part history lesson,” says the author, warning that each one features treachery, fighting, poisoning, or other violence and death.

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