John Pershing and the Myth of Bullets Dipped in Pig’s Blood

A few days ago, Donald Trump made an incendiary comment in public about the supposed actions of an American military officer in the Philippines more than a century ago. In particular, he repeated a myth that an American officer by the name of John Pershing had ordered that Muslims be executed with bullets that had been dipped in pig’s blood.

I had never heard of this myth, and I’m not sure where it came from, but in looking at some information about John Pershing one can get a sense of how such a myth could have been created.

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Dr. Francisco Africa and the Burmese Mission in WW II Southeast Asia

I was looking at a report that the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) compiled during World War II about Filipinos who were collaborating with the Japanese. One of the people discussed was a man by the name of Dr. Francisco Africa.

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Africa had served as the dean of the Institute of Arts and Sciences at the Far Eastern University in Manila. After the Japanese occupied the Philippines, Dr. Africa was appointed to serve on a committee to select Filipinos to study in Japan.


Later, in 1944, Dr. Francisco Africa became a consultant for the Foreign Ministry. In that capacity he then took on a very interesting job.

This is what the OSS report says,

“In connection with his work as consultant, he was also appointed Chairman of the Philippines Inter-ministry Joint Committee whose chief function it has been to assist the Burmese Research Mission in its extensive study of conditions in the Philippines which began 13 July 1944.


“Of greatest use to the Burmese Commission is a 338 [or 358?] page book entitled ‘What Burma (word missing in original report) about the Wartime Philippines,’ prepared by Dr. Africa. This report which was completed in July 1944 is a compilation of answers of the different ministries and offices of the Republic of the Philippines to questions of the Burmese Commission.

“‘It is intended to serve as a guide and source of information to researchers and students of Philippine economics, finances, technical education, sociology and public administration. . . Divided into 12 chapters, it gives a general picture of the structural activities and problems of the present independent Republic.’”


The report goes on to say that,

“In addition, the volume contains the proceedings of the round-table conference held July 21 among members of the Burmese Mission and the Inter-ministry Joint Committee.

“It is conceivable that such a report would be sued for propaganda purposes to convince other governments, in this case Burma, of the success and efficiency of the Japanese administration.”


I had never heard of the Burmese Mission, nor did I know that there were people from Burma who visited the Philippines in the middle of World War II ostensibly in order to learn about how the Philippines was administered and how its society and economy functioned.

I also had no idea that there were people in the government of a Japanese-occupied country like the Philippines who put together extensive reports like the one mentioned here.

Ultimately there is a lot that we still do not know about the day-to-day activities of governments and societies in Japanese-controlled Southeast Asia during World War II. However, from the brief mention of the Burmese Mission and the report that was drafted for its visit to the Philippines by Dr. Francisco Africa’s committee, we can see that in many ways, life apparently went on as usual.

Coca-Cola by the People and for the People in the Philippines

Today I came across an educational film that the Coca-Cola Company made in 1955 about Coca-Cola in the Philippines.

The video is called “Pearl of the Orient.”


As the video starts, it looks like it is just going to be about the Philippines, but then the narration changes topic. . .


“In every city, town and barrio throughout the land, people of all ages, work, play and enjoy moments of pleasant relaxation, take time out to enjoy the pause that refreshes with Coca-Cola, a refreshing drink of highest quality.


“Here indeed is a pleasant and delightful beverage, a pure and proved pure refreshing drink of highest quality, a quality that never changes from bottle to bottle, day after month after year.


“Isn’t that delicious? Mmm, you just know it is.


“Made in the Philippines, by the people of the Philippines for the people of the Philippines. Long ago, long before the War, the taste and quality of Coca-Cola won its way into the hearts of everyone and continues today to be an accepted, desired, refreshing custom of people everywhere throughout the land. . .


“. . . in fact, throughout the world.”

From this point, the video goes on to talk about how Coca-Cola is produced in the Philippines, and this information is interspersed with repeated statements about how much Coca-Cola is appreciated.

From Luzon. . .


. . . to the Visayas. . .


. . . to Mindanao.


This is a beautiful example of neo-colonialism. Neo-colonialism describes a phenomenon whereby a formerly colonized people continue to revere the culture of the former colonizer, thereby enabling companies from the former colonizing country to continue to dominate in the former colony.


And yes, I realize that neo-colonial relationships harm local industries and make certain multinational companies filthy rich. . .


. . . but look at how much fun everyone is having!!

The video can be viewed on YouTube here (and it is also on Archive-org):

The Long History of Filipino Musicians Playing Western Music

In reading the 16 September 1904 issue of The British North Borneo Herald, I came across a reference to a band from Manila that passed through Sandakan. This is what was reported:

“A STRING BAND, comprising two violins, a clarionet, mandonline, guitar and trombone, arrived recently from Manila on their way to Singapore, and during a brief interval here fulfilled several engagements, including one at the Sandakan Club on the evening of the 6th. . . The music, besides containing elements of popularity, reached at some points a high artistic level, and such were features that combined to win for the players a verdict of emphatic approval.”


Over a century earlier, in 1788, navigator John Meares recorded similar comments about a band that he heard perform in Zamboanga, on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. To quote,

“We were equally surprised at hearing a very tolerable band of music, which was composed of natives of the country. –It consisted of four violins, two bassoons, with several flutes and mandolins. This unexpected orchestra [was] acquainted with some fo the select pieces of Handel; they knew many of our English country dances, and several of our popular and favourite tunes; but in performing the Fandango, they had attained a degree of excellence that the nicest ears of Spain would have heard with pleasure.” (page 44 of this book)


Filipino musicians can be found playing all across Asia today, and that has been the case for a long time. In the late nineteenth century there were Filipino musicians in King Norodom’s court in Cambodia and in the 1930s they played in jazz bands in Shanghai.

So while I’ve long known about this, I’ve never understood why this was the case. Not, that is, until I recently started reading D. R. M. Irving’s Colonial Counterpoint: Music in Early Modern Manila (Oxford, 2010).


What Irving demonstrates in this book is that there was a rich experience of musical contact and exchange between Spaniards and Filipinos that began not long after the Spaniards established their control over the Philippines in the sixteenth century.

Filipinos therefore learned Western musical forms long before many other peoples in Asia, and that to some extent can explain why they started to be sought after in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when aspects of Western culture started to take hold in other Asian societies.

However, this also makes me wonder about the contacts between other peoples in Southeast Asia with other Europeans like the Dutch and the Portuguese. There were people who learned about forms of Western music from them as well, like people on Java and the Malay Peninsula. Why didn’t they end up playing at the Sandakan Club in British North Borneo or in jazz bands in Shanghai?

Getting Back a Commandeered Car in the Japanese Occupied Philippines

I came across a letter that José Laurel, the president of the Philippines when it was under Japanese occupation, wrote to the Japanese consul general in Manila on February 9, 1942, not long after the Japanese invasion.

Laurel was attempting to get back a car that a Japanese officer had commandeered the previous month.


Mr. Jitaro Kihara

Japanese Consul General


My dear Mr. Kihara:

The bearer is my friend, Mr. Nicasio Yatco, whom I am introducing to you. He would like to claim his car which was commandeered in Bulacan, Bulacan, last January 1, 1942 by Colonel Yamaguchi. The make of the car is Packard “6” 5-passenger sedan, motor No. C-43780 with plate No. 1-5332 (Manila). The car is being used by the Colonel in Balintawak. Will you kindly see what you can do for him.

Thanking you for whatever attention you may give to this matter, I am

Sincerely yours,

Jose P. Laurel


A president of a country asking a consul general to get an officer to give back a car. . . that’s a crazy situation. However, when I saw what a Packard 6 looked like, I can definitely understand why Nicasio Yatco would have badly wanted it back. That is a beautiful car.

Eating and Drinking in Style in the American-Occupied Philippines

As is well known, the US military began its conquest of the Philippines in 1898. Not long after the first soldiers landed, the supplies that they needed to survive in the Philippines followed.


For instance, the S.S. Knivsberg soon arrived with a load of chicken tamales, evaporated peaches and Eagle Brand condensed milk. . .

Is that really what soldiers wanted?


Probably not. . . Instead, my guess would be that this shipment of Cyrus Noble Whiskey, Schlitz Beer, Mumm’s Champagne and James Watson’s Scotch Whiskey was more to their liking.


And that’s why Pabst Beer didn’t forget the soldiers. . . Neither did a lot of businessmen. Within months of the American occupation of Manila, soldiers could go to a wide range of establishments where they could consume Pabst Beer: The Senate, Olympia Cafe, American Bar, Baltimore Bar, Pabst Cafe, Hotel Luneta, Restaurant de Paris. . .


The American Brewing Company of St. Louis, meanwhile, produced a kind of beer that was “brewed especially for the tropics.” It was supposed to be good because it was “pure, pale and sparkling.”


Yes, apparently “purity” was of particular importance, as you didn’t want to consume some contaminated product that would make you sick. That’s why “In the tropics PURE WHISKY is indispensable.”


While that is all probably true, in the end “San Miguel Beer is the best beer.” And apparently you could find it all over Manila.


So alcohol was readily available, but man can not live on alcohol alone. Occasionally he needs to eat. And on those rare occasions when the need for something other than alcohol arose, there were Oxford, Vienna and Bologna sausages, German pickles, California prunes, clam chowder and pie fruit in tin. . . What a cosmopolitan diet!

Henry Chong – Cosmopolitan Clerk Extraordinaire

Beaufort is a nice provincial town on the western side Borneo in what is now Sabah, Malaysia. In 1912 it was part of British North Borneo, and in that year the chief police officer in Beaufort wrote a letter to the American consul in Sandakan, on the eastern side of the island to recommend his clerk, Henry Chong, for a job as a clerk at the consulate.


The police chief’s letter basically reads like a c.v. for Henry Chong, and it is a fascinating c.v. indeed. This is how the police chief described Henry’s qualifications:

Age 21 years.

Speaks Four dialects of Chinese, also speaks Sulu, Tagalog, Spanish and Malay.

An excellent Typist.


Very hard working and strictly honest.

Born in Sandakan of Chinese parentage from Honolulu.

Mother and brothers are storekeepers in Jolo.

Educated in Zamboanga.

Henry Chong

I find it amazing to see the network of places that Henry was connected to – Beaufort, Sandakan, Honolulu, Jolo and Zamboanga – and the languages that he was reportedly familiar with.

Henry Chong was a very cosmopolitan young man. I wonder what became of him.

Maps of Islands in the West Philippine Sea from the 1770s

The Philippines is one of several Southeast Asian nations that is challenging China’s claim to various islands in what Chinese call the South China Sea, but what people in the Philippines refer to as the West Philippine Sea.

I know that in Vietnam historians have tried to find evidence that the Spratley and Paracel Islands have long been part of the “sovereign territory” of Vietnam, but I’m not sure if Filipino historians have tried to do the same.


In case they haven’t, I thought I’d introduce a couple of maps from the 1770s that were created by a Spaniard (presumably connected to the Spanish colony in the Philippines at that time).

Both of these maps show a group of islands with a line around them.


What does that line mean? And what “nation” claimed these islands at that time to be its “sovereign territory”? Most likely none, since the concept of “sovereign territory” didn’t exist in the region at that time, but maps like these also certainly don’t give the sense that those islands “belonged” to China either.

These maps are held in the US Library of Congress and can be accessed here and here.

Kiều Chinh and the International Asian Film World in the 1960s-70s

I came across some articles from The Straits Times in 1975 that were talking about a movie that was being made in Singapore at the time called Full House.

Apparently the leading female role was to be played by Evelyn Ai Li, but she gave up the role when she learned that it would require that she “appear in the nude for three minutes.”

Evelyn Ai Li

Evelyn claims to have been forced to sign her contract before reading the script. However, some of the comments that she made in an interview are a bit contradictory.

At one point she said that “I accepted the part at first because I thought it was a comedy movie without any sexy bits,” whereas at another point she stated that “I strongly expected that there would be a nude scene for me to play.”

Whatever the case may have been, in the end not only did Evelyn give up the part, but she also apparently quit acting and became a bank receptionist.

Kieu Chinh

The director of the film, J. P. Tan, was sorry that Evelyn turned down the part, but he welcomed on board South Vietnamese actress Kiều Chinh. However, when Kiều Chinh arrived in Singapore and was asked if she would appear in the nude she responded with an emphatic “No!”

She then went on to say, “Nudity is an art and should not be exploited as a form of sex for entertainment,” and that “Anyway, I don’t think I am sexy enough to stand in front of a camera with no clothes on.”

martial arts

In the end, I’m not sure what was actually filmed as I can’t find evidence that this movie was ever completed. I found a March 16, 1975 article in The Straits Times which stated that the film was expected to be released in June of that year and that it would “be screened not only in Singapore but in America, Europe, Malaysia and Australia as well.”

However, I haven’t found evidence of this.

The same article reported that “The plot of the film is woven around a $250,000 diamond robbery planned by two men (played by Alan Young and martial arts expert Joey Chen Li) and a woman, Kieu Chinh.”

“The climax of the diamond heist is a thrilling car chase and a shoot-out between the police and the robbers. The law finally catches up and the crooks are killed.”

So if it is true that this movie was never shown, then that would be a shame, as it looks like it must have been really good. . .

lead role

In any case, learning about this movie made me want to know more about Kiều Chinh’s career during these years. I found mention in a few places that before 1975 she had “leading roles in 22 features films in Vietnam, India, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan.”

Her Wikipedia page lists some of these, like the 1972 film, Bão Tình (Storm of Love).


And the 1973 film, Chiếc Bóng Bên Đường (Roadside Shadow)


However, I find it particularly interesting that there was an international dimension to Kiều Chinh’s acting career at that time.

In 1964 she starred in an American movie that was filmed in South Vietnam, A Yank in Viet-Nam.


Then in 1965 she starred with Burt Reynolds in a movie called Operation C.I.A. which was supposed to take place in Saigon, but which was actually filmed in Bangkok.


Finally, in 1970 she made a film with Indian movie star Dev Anand called The Evil Within. Apparently this film was actually made in the Philippines.

evil within

While some of these movies might not have been “world-class” (although Kiều Chinh did win some acting awards during this period) they clearly were “international.” It’s amazing to see how much interaction there was at the time in the film world in Asia. It’s also nice to see that Kiều Chinh was at the center of this international cinematic world.

Good job!!

José Rizal, Hoài-Thanh and the Spectre of Comparisons

Looking through some of the newspapers that the National Library of Vietnam has digitized, I came across a weekly newspaper called Sông Hương (Perfume River). In its first issue, published on August 1st 1936, it had an essay by someone named Hoài-Thanh entitled “The Problem of Our Country’s Scholarship is Just a Problem of Mindset and Morals” (Vấn đề học thuật nước ta chỉ là một vấn đề tâm lý và luân lý).

What follows are some excerpts.


“There is perhaps no country on the face of the earth where the people who call themselves scholars are as indifferent to scholarship as in our country. We still have a reputation for being dedicated to scholarship, but we are actually just dedicated to gain and glory. When engaging in scholarship does not bring us gain and glory then there are very few people who wish to engage in it anymore. There are very few people who are fond of engaging in scholarship for the sake of scholarship.”

[Dễ thường thế giới không có nước nào mà những người tự nhận là học giả lại lạnh lung với việc học giả như ỏ nước mình. Người mình vẫn được tiếng là hiếu học nhưng đúng ra chỉ là hiếu lợi và hiếu danh. Khi sự học không đưa đến cho mình lợi và danh thì ít ai còn thèm màng đến nó nữa. Í tai biết ham học vì sự học.]

“Famous scholars like Henri Poincaré, Fr. Houssay and G. Milhaud all recognize that science only has one purpose, to search for the truth, and that it should not have any other purpose.”

[Những học giả trứ danh như Henri Poincaré, như Fr. Houssay, như G. Milhaud đều công nhận rằng khoa học chỉ có một mục đích là tìm sự thật và không nên có mục đích gì khác.]

“That we peoples of Asia have not made much progress in terms science and scholarship is perhaps in part because we are so obsessed with the benefits that we see immediately before us.”

[Các dân tộc Á-đông ta ít tiến về phương diện khoa-học và học thuật có lẽ một phần cũng vì chúng ta quá ham mê theo những cái lợi trước mắt.]

“So if we want our country to have a scholarship in the future, first and foremost we must change this mindset and resolutely follow a new set of morals.”

[Vậy ta muốn nước ta sau này cũng có một nền học thuật, trước hết cần phải đổi hẳn cái tâm lý ấy đi và quả quyết theo một nền luân lý mói.]


In reading this essay I immediately thought of the Filipino intellectual José Rizal. In his novel, Noli Me Tangere, there is a scene in which the main character returns to the Philippines from Europe and finds that he can’t look at his home the same way he used to because in the back of his head he has images of Europe that constantly lead him to make comparisons.

Rizal, who wrote his novel in Spanish, called this phenomenon “el demonio de las comparaciones,” an expression that Benedict Anderson translated as “the spectre of comparisons.”


A “spectre” is like a ghost. It is something that can be partially visible, and it can haunt a person.

Several decades after José Rizal wrote about this phenomenon, it is clear that the spectre of comparisons was haunting Hoài-Thanh, the author of this essay in Sông Hương. For Hoài-Thanh, it was impossible to see “our country’s scholarship” without also seeing “that country’s scholarship.”

To be fair, the spectre of comparisons had long existed in Vietnam. Prior to the twentieth century, Vietnamese scholars compared their land with the big empire to their north, and found things to worry about. However, a change began around the time that José Rizal wrote his novel in the 1890s, where the spectre of “the North” was replaced by the spectre of “the West.”

This is the spectre that was haunting Hoài-Thanh in 1936.