Good News in History, January 5

436 years ago today, the great Chinese geographer and explorer, Xu Xiake, was born. Traveling over ten thousand miles through his native Ming Dynasty China, Xiake documented an extraordinary number of natural and cultural features, compiling them into The Travel Diaries Xu Xiake, written in 404,000 Chinese characters. READ more… (1587)

Xu Xiake tomb – CC 3.0 Zhang Zhugang

Xiake traveled on foot, arriving as far north as Beijing and the Wutai Mountains, as far south as Guangzhou, and as far west as Dali—virtually all of the Chinese heartland. He was a scholar at heart, and often relied on the generosity of scholars to finance his travels. He climbed 14 mountains, and often recorded the histories of Buddhist monasteries in exchange for food and shelter.

A 18th century translation of his book reads more like a scientific field survey that that of a historian or documentarian, and contains detailed accounts of geography, topography, mineralogy, botany, meteorology, and hydrology in addition to local history. Xiake often ran into trouble, getting robbed more than once, and perseverance in China today is rewarded with the praise of having “the spirit of Xiake.”

MORE Good News on this Date:

The discovery of a type of radiation, later known as X-rays, was first reported (1896)
Nellie Tayloe Ross in Wyoming succeeded her late husband becoming the first female governor in the US (1925)
The FCC heard the first transmission of FM radio—invented by Edwin H. Armstrong to be a clear, static-free signal—broadcasted in a long-distance relay network, via five stations in five states before it was assigned its own spectrum later that year (1940)
The Daily Mail became the first transoceanic newspaper (1944)
Pope Paul VI met the Greek Orthodox leader, the first time since 1439 the two sides had talked (1964)
Creedence Clearwater Revival released their second album, Bayou Country, featuring the singles Good Golly, Miss Molly and Proud Mary (1969)
Bruce Springsteen’s debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., was released, but sold just 25,000 copies in its first year (1973)
The Wiz opened at the Majestic Theatre in New York City—the musical adaption of The Wizard of Oz by Charlie Smalls that ran for 1,672 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Musical (1975)
A 15-year-old Mumbai, Indian schoolboy, Pranav Dhanawade, became the first batsman to ever score more than 1000 runs (1009) in a cricket single innings in an officially recognized match (2016)

81 years ago today, Hayao Miyazaki, one of the most beloved Japanese filmmakers was born in Tokyo. in 1985, Miyazaki co-founded Studio Ghibli, an animated movie juggernaut that would produce films which enjoyed success on both sides of the Pacific such as Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery, and The Wind Rises. In 2012 he was honored by the Japanese government as a “Person of Cultural Merit.”

Hayao Miyazaki for his 2012 Person of Cultural Merit Award, by 大臣官房人事課, CC license 4.0.

His flagship production, Princess Mononoke, was the first-ever animated film to win Japan’s Academy Prize for Picture of the Year, and briefly became the highest-grossing film in Japan. The subsequently-released Spirited Away, won Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards making it the first, and to date only hand-drawn and non-English-language animated film to win the award. LEARN more… (1941)

Spirited Away, and his next film Howl’s Moving Castle remain two of the highest-grossing films ever in Japan, with the latter receiving an Academy Award Nomination, and the former generating $400 million worldwide.

A notable pacifist and critic of Japanese and American militarism, he refused to attend and to collect his honor at the 75th Academy Awards in 2003 in protest of the Iraq War, which shortly after was revealed to have been based on a deliberate lie. He is also an avid environmentalist, and his films try to capture the beauty and fragility of nature.

He is considered one of the finest animated filmmakers in history, and is singled out as an inspiration by such illustrious company as Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson, Guillermo Del Toro, James Cameron, and Walt Disney Studios, as well as by Pixar Animation who allegedly refer to him as “Miyazaki-san”.

On this day 18 years ago, Eris, the largest known dwarf planet in the solar system, was discovered by Michael E. Brown, Chad Trujillo, and David L. Rabinowitz at the Palomar Observatory. A minor-planet named after the Greek goddess of strife and discord, Eris is the most massive and second-largest known dwarf planet and the ninth-most massive object directly orbiting the Sun. With a diameter 0.27% as large as the Earth, it is also the largest object in our solar system that has not been visited by a spacecraft. (2005)

2010 Photo by David Shankbone, CC license

And, Happy Birthday to actor and filmmaker Robert Duvall who turns 92 today. Born in San Diego, the star of stage and screen has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won for his 1983 performance in Tender Mercies. But it was his was role in one of the greatest films ever made, The Godfather—and its sequel The Godfather Part II, that made him a household name. Other important films or roles included The Conversation, Network, Apocalypse Now, The Great Santini, The Natural, and The Apostle. At age 84, Duvall became the oldest actor at that point ever to be nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role opposite Robert Downey Jr. in The Judge. (1931)

2013 photo by jdeeringdavis, CC

Also, sending birthday wishes to Philadelphia native Bradley Cooper, who turns 48 years old today. Before pursuing drama, the multiple Academy-award nominated actor earned an honors degree in English from Georgetown University. (1975)

And, 55 years ago today, the Prague Spring began after a true reformer, Alexander Dubcek, was elected within the Communist party of Czechoslovakia. The liberal-minded leader started to grant additional rights to citizens—loosening restrictions on the media, speech and travel.

The Soviet Union finally brought down its iron hammer to halt the democratization eight months later, invading the country with a half a million heavily-armed troops. But it wasn’t enough to stop a spirited non-violent resistance mounted throughout the country. While the Soviet military had predicted that it would take four days to subdue the country the resistance held out for eight months, and was only circumvented by diplomatic strategies. Although a new Soviet-controlled government reversed almost all of Dubček’s reforms, the Prague Spring inspired iconic civil disobedience, music and literature such as the work of Václav Havel, Karel Husa, Karel Kryl, and Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being. 20 years later, freedoms were finally restored when the Velvet Revolution ended pro-Soviet rule peacefully. (1968)

118 years ago today, the National Association of Audubon Society, the nonprofit dedicated to wildlife conservation, was incorporated—and not a minute too soon. Americans were using bird feathers in their fashionable hats at a rapid rate.

White egrets, in particular, were so highly prized that “their feathers were worth twice their weight in gold.” These magnificent creatures and many more were saved by a grassroots movement of men and women who each rallied Americans in their own way to pledge that they would not harm bird species. It was first named the Audubon Society for the Protection of Birds, to honor of the famed wildlife and bird artist, John James Audubon.

Harriet Hemenway used her home in Boston as the gathering spot for local friends who started the Massachusetts Audubon Society. From there, Audubon Societies sprang up across the country and, finally, in New York City, leaders from 31 state organizations formed the national group, later renamed the National Audubon Society. At nearly the same time federal legislation was brewing that supported the group’s goals: the Migratory Bird Treaty Act protected migratory species of birds, and the Lacey Bird and Game Act banned trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that were illegally taken, transported, or sold.

John James Audubon next to his painting of gyrfalcons.

The society is still a leading force for conservation in the bird world. They played a major role in helping secure 240,000 acres of Tejon Ranch, the largest conservation land area ever created in California, and Audubon’s Greater Sage Grouse Initiative is one of the most important forces keeping tens of millions of acres of the bird’s habitat protected.

Today, the Audubon Society has concluded their 122nd annual Christmas Bird Count, the longest-running bird census in the world, during which tens of thousands of bird-loving volunteers participate in collecting species data across the Western Hemisphere from mid-December to early January. (1905)

Also, Happy 77th Birthday to the Oscar-winning actress Diane Keaton, who is also a producer, photographer, writer, and fabulous fashionista.

Her acclaimed 1972 breakout performance came in The Godfather, playing Michael Corleone’s wife throughout the trilogy. But, perhaps she’s best known for her starring roles in Woody Allen comedies, including her fourth, Annie Hall, which won her the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Her heart is just as special—and she was spotted a week before her last birthday dropping off a $25,000 donation at a Los Angeles food bank. She joined several reunion streaming specials during the 2020 pandemic to benefit World Central Kitchen with the casts from The Parent Trap and Father of the Bride.

Keaton is active in campaigns to save and restore historic buildings in L.A., and has been passionately buying, renovating and decorating, then reselling, mansions in the area.

She wrote her family memoir, Then, Again, in 2011, and a tell-all autobiography in 2014 about her life in a beauty-fixated industry, Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty—which detailed which leading men she was most attracted to. (Al Pacino was one whom she regrets breaking up with.) In her new memoir, Brother and Sister, she opens up about her brother’s mental illness… (1946)

SHARE the Memories, Milestones, and Music…