I would have to say the movement of the “Han people” is very complex. Most casual observers would think that the Mandarin version of Chinese language is the most “proper” version. In fact, it is the most modern version with the Beijing dialect heavily influenced by the Man language. Both the Minanese and Cantonese would claim their “version” as the most original Chinese. Scholars are still debating whether Minanese or Cantonese are the older form of Chinese or which is the Shang or Zhou version.
I think even most Chinese would be unfamiliar with the term Hoklo. In Taiwan the majority Miananese speakers consider themsleves Hoklo. The term actually comes from the the Minanese pronunciation of Heluo, wrongly translated as 福佬 but actually means 河洛. It is actually a reminder that the Miananese’s ancestors originated from Henan Luoyang which lies in the central plain. The Cantonese also originated from central plains years ago, and that is why educated Minanese and Cantonese have such pride in their dialects. They would tell you that Tang poetry rhyme betters in those old Chinese than the modern ones.
On the surface the differences seems to create division but it actually reinforced the strength of the Chinese people, as all groups seems to claim the same lineage. The last major Han Chinese group to move out en masse was the Hakka, they also claimed ancestry and cultural continuity from the central plain. So who exactly has the most pure Chinese language? The fact is, there are none, the various Chinese languages simply evolved over time and still survive and coexist. The only other country that I think of that has a more complex language history is India. To be honest, I am glad Qing Shihuang unified the written script, if not China would have one extra problem to face.
There are some inexperienced commentator who would like to equate Chinese as Han people only. However, is it fair that the group of so-called Han people get to monopolize the usage? I commonly read articles that like to insinuate that, and hinted that in China it is the Han vs the rest. Contrary to most popular belief, a lot of so-called Chinese cultural object are not necessary of old Han origin but rather incorporated into Chinese culture over time. I will point out a few Chinese items we are familiar with but come from foreign land that eventually assimilated in Chinese lives and become known worldwide as Chinese.
The Chinese teapot originated from the Middle East initially as an oil lamp. Ancient Chinese find it convenient for brewing tea thus it gradually got transformed into the teapot we know today. The abacus also has a similar origin but has become Chinese.
I recently posted a video of a Chinese flute (Dizi). A friend commented that more Chinese instruments should be used in modern song. His comment got me thinking. During the Han dynasty period, instrument like Erhu, Yangqing, Pipa etc are not considered Han instruments! At that time only nomadic tribes used them, the Han mostly used drum and gong as music instrument. These instruments became popular only after the Five Hu Sixteen Kingdom period and today are as Chinese as it can be.
And of course there are the people. At that time the common Chinese people don’t have a sense of modern nation state, they either called themselves Han people or the minorities as Hu people/ren. Gradually, the country got united again under the short lived Sui dynasty. The subsequent Tang dynasty was to be known as another Chinese golden age. However, how are people being classified during this period?
The Tang does not have a rigid system at all. Basically if you dressed like a Han ren you are considered a Han ren and vice versa. The Tang court does not discriminate between the various ethnics groups. By most count easily one fifth of Tang China population are the Hu people who speak a myrid of languages and practiced different cultural belief, just like the various Han groups. At that time people with last names such as Dugu, Muyong, Zhangsun, Yiuchi, Yuwen, Linghu are considered Hu ren. For example many of the famous generals of Li Shimin are of Hu origin.
Li Shimin grandmother is a sister of Empress Dugu Qieluo, so he is also from mixed origin like the Sui Yang emperors. Today, if you meet any Chinese with last names of Dugu, Muyong, Zhangsun, Yiuchi, Yuwen, Linghu they will tell you they are Han Chinese and are classified as Han people in modern day China; but thirteen hundred years ago they are Hu Chinese whose ancestors come from areas as far as Kazakhstan or India. And many of these nomadic groups who settled among the Han eventually become sinicized not just by adopting Chinese names and customs but also bringing their languages and culture into the Han family. Variation of this story is to repeat over time.
The culture and language of modern Chinese people are a accumulation of centuries of migration and integration. The modern Chinese people are thus descendents of many varied ancestors. So whenever I see some uninformed commentators like to portray the minorities as non-Chinese they obviously don’t know much about China.
It is not a propaganda that all Chinese people belonged to one family of mixed ethnic origin the 中华民族. The term is neither Han centric nor excluding of the current minorities. It is actually a fair and unbiased naming of a country that has such a long and illustrious history.
I believe ethnic and race is a Western concept, therefore I think “all Chinese people belonged to one family of mixed ethnic origin the 中华民族” is something the Chinese learn from the West to legitimate the New China under one 中华民族, I thought both Sun Zhongshan KMT and Mao Zedung CCP did the same?
Since you are new here (and I am old), I will push you a bit.
How does this idea of unity apply to the 56 modern ethnicities categorized today? More specifically, if the notion of 中华民族 is based on the written language, how does it apply to the ethnicities who have their own script?
I ask because sometimes I wonder if we should keep the social, cultural, linguistic, and political notions of 中华民族 separate.
I think it’s right to emphasize that 中华民族 is a melting pot that comes from many branches of people and cultures and traditions. But by that same term, we also seem to focus on one particular branch – the people and cultures of a specific area of the central plain.
And not to meddle things further, when China does become an international destination of immigration, how should 中华民族 be defined to include these new branches of people that will be adding to 中华民族?
//In fact, it is the most modern version with the Beijing dialect heavily influenced by the Man language. //
Where is the evidence to show that Mandarin is heavily influenced by the Manchu language. The ‘Man’ in Mandarin and Manchu is just a coincidence.
Etymology according to Wiktionary:
From Dutch mandorijn or Portuguese mandarim, mandarij, from Malay menteri, manteri, from Hindi mantri, from Sanskrit मन्त्रिन् (mantrin, “minister, councillor”), from मन्त्र (mantra, “counsel, maxim, mantra”) + -इन् (-in, “an agent suffix”).
Mandarin essentially means the language of the bureaucrat/ minister. The name have nothing to do with the Manchus. (Whose name probably stems from renaming themselves from their native name Jurchen to the Chinese words 滿清 – Man Qing, appropriately named with water theme to quench the fire of the 明 Ming Dynasty).
As a Southern Chinese with Teochew and Hokkien background, my perception is that Mandarin is much purer as a language than Hokkien (even if Hokkien is derived from an older Tang variant of Chinese). Even basic vocabularies from Hokkien have non-Chinese/Han origins that does not correspond logically to any Chinese characters. That said, most vocabularies in Hokkien can be traced to the same Chinese origin as Mandarin.
I sort of agree. Before the world became so ethnic conscious, the unity of China arose from the sovereign. The different ethnicities existed but were accepted as merely fact. The sovereign accepted the ethnicity diversity; it did not derive power from the different ethnicities. But with the collapse of the Qing and in a colonial, ethnically hyper-conscious world, China appealed to its ethnicities to draw its legitimacy in the modern world. Thus the modern notion of 中華民族 is based on the equality of the races / ethnicities within the borders of Imperial China.
The difference in the modern context is not the identification of ethnic groups. Every group that shared common language and culture did create a natural community. That always was there. What is different is the building of a polity that appealed to these groups.
I don’t have time to dig up linguistic resources for now. But I know Taiwanese (minanyu) has much more tones than Mandarin. I did learn somewhere that the predecessor Mandarin used to have as complex a sound as minanyu or Cantonese, but was lost as a result of use by (then) foreigners such as the Manchurians.
The loss of complex tones and sounds might be a natural evolution of the language as oppose to foreigners mangling up the language. How much impact does white and non-Han people in the PRC today have on the use of Mandarin today? Frankly I find this argument unconvincing, and suggest that the alternative explanation for simpler pronunciation of Mandarin is due to the fact that Mandarin and its variant dialects is widely used on the northern plains of China, far far more than the Hokkien which is only used in the isolated mountains terrains of Fujian. (Similarly Guangdong was also previously a backwater of the empire) Hence there is a selection pressure on the language towards a simpler and easier pronunciation of the same words. Within Fujian, and other southern provinces, these linguistic shifts don’t occur as much due to less number of speakers, and hence more archaic pronunciation is retained.
Further more with regards to tones and the number there of, if we consider the theory that Tibetan had the same root origin as Chinese, we should also note that Tibetan language only have two tones, as oppose to four. There are also language like the Vietnamese which have the same origin as the non-tonal Khmer (Cambodian language) but are now tonal (up to 8 tones) and monosyllabic due to centuries of Chinese influence. Similarly there was also another theory that the Tai languages (Thai/Lao/Zhuang) shared the same root as non tonal Austronesian languages, but have likewise become tonal and reduced syllables due to close interaction with Chinese languages.
@Nihc: I’m not sure anyone is claiming the connection between Manchurian and Mandarin is because of the “Man” prefix in English. However, from what I understand Beijing dialect is heavily influenced by Manchurian, and since that has become the standard for Chinese today, you can see some of that influence in Putonghua. Here’s an article about it:
So I would say that Mandarin has been as influenced by other tongues as has Hokkien (with the caveat that I don’t know Hokkien, but the history of a language/dialect is quite distinct from knowledge of it).
@Allen: “I did learn somewhere that the predecessor Mandarin used to have as complex a sound as minanyu or Cantonese, but was lost as a result of use by (then) foreigners such as the Manchurians.”
Interesting, I didn’t know that. If it was because of mixing with foreign tongues, the changes must have come much earlier than the Manchurians, though. Southern dialects in general (and the whole Min family in particular) tend to have more complex tonal and consonantal patterns than their Northern brethren. The Jin dialect in northwestern areas have even fewer tones than Mandarin but more complex tonal sandhi.
@Nihc: “Further more with regards to tones and the number there of, if we consider the theory that Tibetan had the same root origin as Chinese, we should also note that Tibetan language only have two tones, as oppose to four.”
I even think the development into two tones is a recent one. In several monosyllabic languages in the area, if voiced consonants are lost tones will be developed instead. 2000 years ago Chinese might very well have been atonal, but since most of the initial consonant clusters and endings have been replaced by various tones.
That reminds me of some guy who insisted on Chow Yuen-fat only speaking classical Chinese in the movie about Confucius, as if classical Chinese was just the old works read in modern pronunciation. If it had been read out the way Confucius really pronounced it (and that’s impossible to know) I’m sure it would sound more like Cambodian than Chinese. 🙂
Charles Liu says
There are scholars in China that believe classic poems read more fluidly in Cantonese, which has 7 tones.
I would even say they do read more fluently and rhyme better in Cantonese. 🙂 So if Cantonese and Hokkien are closer to Classical Chinese, it fits in with what I’m saying – but the changes have probably been much earlier than Manchurian. Languages change slowly.
“There are scholars in China that believe classic poems read more fluidly in Cantonese, which has 7 tones.”
Some say 8 tones and some even say 9 tones. The reason why some claim that classic poems read more fluidly in Cantonese is because of 入声. The classical Hanyu lost the入声 during Qing while many dialects preserved it. I am not sure if it is true, I read that Manchu have problem to pronounce Hanyu, Han people under the govermed of Manchu have no choice but to go along with Manchu pronunciation and hence the modern Hanyu is without 入声. I think Hong Kong is the only place left whereby Cantonese is used as medium of education, and I also heard from Cantonese people from Guangzhou saying that HK Cantonese has too much 懒音.
Interesting article! I also find it strange when the Western Corporate Media uses the term “Han Chinese” all the time because it’s such an antiquated term.
I’ve personally never used it to describe myself. Neither have my parents, my relatives, and even my Chinese friends who grew up in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, etc…
In fact the only time I ever hear it spoken by a Chinese person is when they’re acting in wuxia series set in ancient times 🙂
While I’m not commenting on the validity of this, I found this article to be interesting.
And I’m not saying what he wrote is proven, but the points he brings up are interesting. Of course my reading ability in Chinese is somewhat limited so I might have read it wrong but I’m pretty sure I got most of it 🙂
Ha! I’ve heard the same thing but it was in regards to Tang poems sounding better in Taiwanese (that’s Hokkien right?).
One of my uncles sent me an article in Chinese that talks about this and if anyone is interested I can post it. But I don’t think there’s solid proof either way. And since Cantonese and Taiwanese have a lot of similarities we might never know.
“How does this idea of unity apply to the 56 modern ethnicities categorized today? More specifically, if the notion of 中华民族 is based on the written language, how does it apply to the ethnicities who have their own script?”
As myself and some others already point out, it is not the script that defined a people or country. Countries like Australia, Canada, USA, NZ etc all promote themselves (after civil rights movement of course) as model of multi-culturalism. What I am trying to emphasize is China is simply just one of the earliest country to accept multi-culturism. For example, in the former Yugoslavia, the Slavic people has the same ethnic origin but being ruled by three different powers forced them to be separated politically, linguisticly and religiously. And we all know what sad ending they have.
As I have pointed out, people moved around constantly, China has been absorbing and exporting people all along. There are just certain time when it is more drastic then others. For example, Sixteen Kingdoms being a major one, Five Dynasties period, Mongol, Jurgen etc are just the more important ones. Regarding the emphasis on the central plain culture, it is unavoidable because it is the most important social political arena of Chinese politics for a few thousand years. The Han Chinese are not only the direct descendents of this civilization but also from the other minorities that moved into central plains.
If one is to go back to prehistoric times, Huang Ti and Yan Ti defeated their opponents and combined them under the Chinese dragon (long) totem.
Well, it is the conclusion one would get if you traced Chinese history back five thousand years. I will write more on the origin of the Chinese Dragon.
I didn’t say the Mandarin Chinese is heavily influened by the Manchu language. I said the “Beijing” and Northeastern dialects are. It is mostly in the tonation. Don’t you noticed that only in those area are Mandarin being spoken with the slurring of the tongue. Mandarin Chinese predomiantly is a central plain language spoken in different dialects from Hunan, Hubei, Henan, Hebai etc.
Mandarin Chinese is simply a term coined by foreigners. As you have pointed out, there is no Chinese equivalent of Mandarin Chinese, closes being official language. 官话
Well, that is what I thought initialy. You need to get a Minanese or Cantonese dictionary to find those missing characters. Those are either old language that has been replaced by modern version in Manadarin or simply a slang that comes about. They exist and have been published. Do you know that man, nanren is spoken and written as 大夫 in Minanese? How old Chinese can you get?
For example, in Minanese or Cantonese (anybody know of more dialects?), the word for cockroach is kazuo/kazat, those characters are missing in modern Chinese dictionary. That’s why I can’t type it but I fequently see it in HK movies subtitle.
Good point. Let just conclude that the language evolved, it just happened.
It wasn’t implied here, but I have seen people making that connection. In fact, my Manchu friend from China (the first Manchu I ever met), thought that people now speak the Manchu language, talk about getting confused. I even read in a Thai travel book of a convoluted explanation for the English term “Mandarin” as somehow related to the Chinese words 滿大人 (Manchu lords). So it seems there is just too much speculation going around.
I would read your article, but am unable to do so, having insufficient learning of Chinese. I am a third generation overseas Chinese, with Malaysian and Thai background, currently residing in Australia.
This is a very good discussion. I am also of Minan background, luckily I grow up with it as my mother tongue, it is the language I speak with my parents, brothers, relatives etc. The overseas Chinese, especially in Malaysia, has a very comprehensive Chinese schooling system but the official language that has been taught has been Mandarin since early 1900s. I can still remember my great grandmother who is unable to converse in any language except Minanese. So I must admit with no official schooling on Minanese my Mandarin is better. The same also apply to those in Taiwan, it is very common for those grass root politicians to speak in Minanese but when they need to express a more sophisticated concept or modern scenario, they would have to resort to Mandarin again because Minanese is somewhat stucked in time with many modern words unavailable. Another reason is that, throughout the last few centuries the Minan areas are rather “less developed” compared to the central plain or greater Shanghai region.
As to your point that whether those special Cantonese or Minanese characters are Chinese. I must remind you that they are over ten thousands characters in the Chinese language and a few thousands are no longer in common usage and has been taken out from modern dictionary or the software we now use. Like I have said the Cantonese or Minanese are much older forms of Chinese. There are some books published on these subjects (mostly in Chinese though) that the researchers find those special characters exist earlier than the modern version. And most of those characters exists in older classical Chinese text. I will give one simple example, in Cantonese or Minanese, the character for walking is xing 行, and running is zou走. In modern Mandarin, the charater xing is now rarely used to describe walking, zou is used to describe walking while a modern word pao跑 is used for running. However, why is zougou translated as running dog? Because in olden days zou is run. In present day Cantonese/Minanese still use the olden form although paopu (jogging) is a phrase in Cantonese but zou is still the de facto character for run. Again if you check the old classic the character pao didn’t exist until much later. Basically, you don’t have to take my words for it just try to find those books and they would give you a good idea.
Most other Chinese speaker when first encountered the Minanese language, they need to get used to the characters for man and woman. As you have pointed out 男人，女人exists but is rarely use in spoken form. Written form exist for cha-bo (woman) it is something like this 女托母(Take away the hand side to get the special text). Anyway, my Cantonese speaking friends will always laugh senseless when ever cha-bo is mentioned. And even in Mandarin, it is considered rude to address a lady as niren, a common phrase is 姑娘 which interestingly translates as aunt mother. Don’t you find it odd to address a young lady as aunt mother? However, in old China it is considered respectful hence it is the legacy, and from the books I have read the Minanese spoken version of man and woman are the oldest. However, I must point out again, language evolved over time, 大夫 used to mean a title in the earlier Shang/Zhou. When the title ceased to exist as an official postion it is used as a generic term to describe doctor. Of course大夫has evolve into the modern form先生 which is gender neutral.
Here are some common Miananese phrases off hand that I can think of that showed the old character of the language while the modern Mandarin version is incompatible in many ways:
新妇 (new lady = daughter in law which becomes媳妇)
师公 (shaman which becomes道士)
火头 (fire head =chef)
调羹 (mixed soup =spoon)
水鸡 (water chicken =frog)
神虫 (magical insect =gecko)
I read that article on Beijing dialect. For example胡同didn’t exist in Cantonese, Minanese. And it point out a lot of slangs in Beijing Mandarin that are Mongol or Manchu in origin. A very interesting read.
This I agree. Han Chinese is an antiquated political term – but it is a notion of inclusiveness not divisiveness as currently used in the West. My concern is that I still think there is a cultural and a political notion of Chineseness that needs to be distinguished.
For example, even if most Han Chinese would identify “culturally” as “descendents of the dragon,” many Chinese – ethnic minorities – may not. While Han Chinese was a notion of inclusiveness, should it be continually redefined – or should the modern notion of Chinese be built on other notions besides Han?
Good point. I see what you are getting at. You are worried that some of the more mainstream Chinese culture, languages might alienate some of the minorities.
As JJ has pointed out his first encountered with the term Han people is watching wuxia movies.(as for me it is in history book and of course wuxia movies too) The reason, the definition of Han people still exist is that this is how the minorities view the mainstream central plain Chinese. In Han people circles the term is almost non-existence except in a historical context.
The message I am trying to convey is that the term Chinese is inclusive rather than exclusive. Like I have pointed out in Xia, Shang, Zhou, string musical instrument are not considered Chinese. However, today erhu, huqin (note the word hu) is considered Chinese after Sixteen Kingdom period. Today, they are the epitome of traditional Chinese music. The Hu people of that time are now Han Chinese. Taoism, Confuciusm didn’t exist in Shang dynasty, does this mean Shang is less Chinese.
What it meant to be a Chinese changes with time. Are Islam and Buddhism part of modern Chinese religion? They are, being a Buddhist, Muslim or Christian doesn’t mean you are less of a Chinese. Not writing in Han script does not mean you are less of a Chinese either. The founders of modern China realized the delicacy of this issue too, so instead of being called the national language, Mandarin is called common language.
And how exactly did the Chinese dragon come about? It came about after the assimilation of many tribal groups, it is the combination of many animal totems that represent the many tribal groups. For example, the dragon has the body of a snake, beak of a crocodile, horns of a deer, mane of a lion, claws of tiger, scale of fish and head of a boar. It became the symbol of the ancient Chinese people, hence the common phrase descendents of YanHuang, 炎黄子孙. And this alone include pretty much all the other minorities too. The ancient sage Yan Ti and Huang Ti instead of vanquishing the other tribes are merely leaders of many tribal groups, at that time many languages and cultures already exist under a common banner. Btw, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese all adopt this dragon as a symbol with certain variation. Should Chinese American take offence that the bald eagle is a symbol of modern USA? Or should a British Muslim take offence with the lion being used on British government crest. The Chinese dragon actually has excellent quality to serve as symbol of unification and simply far ahead of time.
If we want to go into the minute detail, the various minorities except those that migrated from far away land probably exist side by side with the Yan Huang group, think of them as the tiger, lion and crocodiles etc. Basically, some of their kinsmen became Han Chinese but some remain distinct because Yan and Huang didn’t use force to convert them. And if you go back in time, one will discover that many cultural norms that still are part of the minorities like Zhuang, Miao (Hmong) are also a cultural norm of ancient Chinese. One of my biggest shock of reading ancient Chinese history is that Chinese society started out as matriarchial. At that time the children use the surname 姓(pay attention to the make up of this character) of the mother and only women can inherit the property, men married into women’s family and take this, women can have multiple husbands. If you go to Yunan today, you can still see certain tribal groups that practices this custom. Of course it is no longer the norm today for mainstream Chinese but ancient Chinese did it. Check out the family name of the Xia 姒, Shang 妣, Zhou姬, Qin 嬴dynasties all are matriarchial surname.
My conclusion is that all the minorities are Chinese too. The reason mainstream Han Chinese are such a big and diverse groups is because of lots of infusion from minorities throughout history. The so called Han Chinese incorporated cultural, languages norm from all of them and are actually related to them at some point at some time in history. And then there are the relative late comers such as the Uighur, Russian or Korean. In PRC’s definition, they are Uighur Chinese, Russian Chinese, Korean Chinese etc. A bunch of Muslim minorities even moved to Taiwan with the nationalist in 1949. Again it is all part of the international norm as this is what globalization is about. At one time only Southerners would called the Northerners as Yankees but today all US citizens regardless of background got called that, there is nothing wrong with it. The PRC has always consider all people of China as Chinese. It is those who has ulterior motive that kept fermenting the notion that only the Han is Chinese. My point is, China since time immemorial has never been a single ethnic state but rather a very diverse multi-cultural country.
This excellent comment could be a post in itself!
Otto Kerner says
“Han Chinese” is a politically correct term used to avoid offending Chinese people. The natural thing to say in English would be just “Chinese”, but this can be offensive in contexts where it seems to exclude Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongols, etc., so newsmedia, government, and other sources writing formally substitute “Han Chinese”. They’re trying to be nice.
Otto Kerner says
This rhetorical question assumes that people want to be Chinese. However, in general, I think that most Chinese people like being Chinese but most non-Chinese people are happy being non-Chinese (i.e., most people feel loyal to whatever they see as their own identity). So, Han people shouldn’t monopolize the term “Chinese” by preventing minority citizens who see themselves as Chinese from being called “Chinese”, and they also should not insist on minority citizens who don’t see themselves as Chinese being called “Chinese” anyway.
Nobody who understands history would dispute that non-Chinese people can and have and assimilated into and influenced Chinese culture in the past, and that process continues today. However, the fact that some people have assimilated in the past hardly proves that everybody within the PRC’s borders today has assimilated already. What if there are groups of people who don’t really think of themselves as “Chinese” and are not really interested in being incorporated into Chinese society?
I see, so, if I make a point that you think is contrary to China’s geopolitical interests, then I have an ulterior motive. But, if you make a point that is favorable to China’s geopolitical interests, then you are being neutral. Is that it?
I say again, China since time immemorial has never been a single ethnic state but rather a very diverse multi-cultural country. The term Chinese in today’s context is the same as Australian, Canadian, American etc, it has no racial connotation. Why do you insist that it does?
Again, did you noticed that even the so-called Chinese has such diversity that the notion of assimilation by western European standard never happened. For example, the French or German couldn’t even tolerate a minor differences in their languages, as soon as modern technology is available, regional dialects are wiped out by force or coercion. In contrast, using the Zhuang as a glaring example. They probably practiced one of the oldest Chinese custom, language for over five thousand years and have significant differences among tribal groups similar to the differences among the Han groups. Can you imagine that happening in a liberal and enlightened country like Germany today?
This is the diversity of China that transcend the narrow ethno-centric view of those racists and bigots. When I hear a certain group espousing a certain racial purity agenda, or they as a group has a special rights over others over a certain areas and want to practice an exclusive policy, any person with sane mind should be alarmed and not encourage it. The recent killing in Oslo is but just an example.
Interesting comment. I recalled there is similar discussion in FM. However I think you let pass of a very crucial feature if we really want to go back to 5000 years of history, the 天下观. The Chinese have little understanding (or ignore) of the modern concept of nation state, in my opinion, the inclusiveness as mention by you is contradict with what our ancestor label others as 蛮夷之邦. What is your take on this?
You are right in that the term of Chinese didn’t really exist among the Chinese themselves. I didn’t want to go back so far because the Chinese of then is not the same as Chinese of Zhou, Tang, Song, Qing or even modern day but the latter day Chinese language, culture etc would not be what they are without input from those ancient time.
I will take the Xia dynasty http://baike.baidu.com/view/23706.htm (it is just a summary but give an idea of the complexity of Chinese history) as a focus point because the modern Chinese language didn’t exist 5000 yrs ago. By Xia time a primitive form has appear and the concept of 华，夷，戎、狄，蛮 first appeared. Interestingly, the Zhou founders considered themselves as the 夷 showing that although there are tribal distinction, all eventually coexist under heaven. And sometimes, a certain tribe would joined or rebelled or usurped the throne.
The concept of nation has not appear, the character guo 国 at that time would mean feudal state commanded by a local leader. By Zhou time a guo would be divided into zia 家 governed by a 大夫 (this is necessitaed by the growth of the size of guo). This is how the character 国家 first appeared, it has a totally different meaning from modern Chinese usage. Also the area ruled directly by the Zhou king would also be called Zhongguo 中国, the first time the phrase appeared.
If you go onto the classical history of these period you will see that those different tribal groups already exist, they would be known under different names and would become ancestors of modern Miao, Zhuang, Mongols, Manchu even Han etc.
Otto Kerner says
I agree completely that China is not a single ethnic state. I would describe it as a culture. Of course, that culture has tended to be associated with certain biological descent lineages, but it would be hopeless to try to define “Chinese” primarily in terms of genes.
I certainly did not. I’m insisting that it denotes a person who sees him or herself as being Chinese (it’s actually slightly more complicated than that, but not much). Some people participate in Chinese culture and other people don’t. Some people feel at home in it and other people don’t. Some people feel loyal to it and other people don’t. I, of course, can’t look into other people’s hearts and see who does and who doesn’t, but I think it makes quite a bit of difference how they feel about it.
I noticed that you think that, but I doubt that it’s true. I’m afraid I also doubt that either of us really has the level of expertise in Chinese social history to argue about it in detail.
That’s a really strange example, since I happen to have close friend who is half-Zhuang and has Zhuang relatives, and I can tell you that a lot of Zhuang people in today’s China are abandoning the use of Zhuang language rapidly. The government is officially in favor of preserving Zhuang, but the effect is the same at the end of the day.
Yes, I can imagine the government choosing to preserve minority languages in Western countries today, although that is a fairly recent development. For instance, the use of the Welsh language in the UK is increasing.
This is strange because the theory of justice that I often see presented on blogs like this is that the Chinese people (however you want to define it) as a group own the rights to territories such as Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, and these rights must not be interfered with either by outside interests or by the will of the people who live in those places (since the rights are owned not by the locals but by all Chinese people), i.e. it is an exclusive right. Chinese immigration policy is much more restrictive than that of any Western country. Apparently, this is supposed to be okay because you have chosen to define “Chinese people” not as a racial group (and it just happens to be the case that the vast majority are from the same mínzú) but as a vague something else, but I fail to see why it really matters what kind of group is demanding exclusive rights.
Pete North says
Excellent last point Otto. Also, and coming from spending years living in a minority area of China, the people I find most often make the association Chinese=Han, Han=Chinese, are the PRC Han themselves.
The vast majority of Uyghur I know certainly do not consider themselves “Chinese”, though they of course know the reality is that they live within the current borders of the PRC. And no matter how much you ram down their throats that they are, the reality on the ground makes them believe otherwise…
It’s still strange because the term “Han” Chinese is rarely used by Chinese folks today and so when the corporate media insists on using it you have to wonder what their agenda is.
Pete North says
JJ, you say it’s rarely used by Chinese people, but i ask you, which Chinese people? Where I live I hear it used by Chinese people multiple times on a daily basis. What may be rarely spoken in Shanghai or BJ or by Chinese overseas, can be very different that in say Urumqi or Kashgar.
“They’re trying to be nice.”
Nice to who? I also find it strange.
Pete, I think it is commonly use when there is non-Han Chinese around.
Let me put it this way, I’ve gone through my entire life so far and have not heard a single Chinese person say it. And I’ve traveled a lot throughout China, Hong Kong, and I’m currently living in Taiwan and I’ve still not heard it.
I have Chinese friends from all over China and even when we talk about the many cultural groups in China I have never heard them refer to themselves as “Han Chinese.”
Now I’m not denying that it’s never used, but that if you heard it, then it’s most likely a term that’s only used by a specific group of people in a specific region. And because of that, it doesn’t make sense to use that term when the vast majority of Chinese (at least from my experience) do not use it.
Pete North says
Then i welcome you to Xinjiang….land of grapes, melons, and rarely used politically incorrect expressions.
When people here are referring to “Han Chinese” in China, is that simply referring to 汉族? The latter word is heard every now and then, but then mostly in cases where there are also other people present. I believe it would be more common in Xinjiang, for example.
Pete North says
“When people here are referring to “Han Chinese” in China, is that simply referring to 汉族? ”
In Xinjiang that is the case. Doesnt it say the “zu” on PRC Citizens I.D cards? If i wasnt so lazy I’d go and check. I know other minorities have their “ethnicity” on their ID, and just assumed Han did too.
Agree with you WKL. During a dinner in Dalian, my colleague, a Han Chinese introduce me to another colleague who is ethnic Mongols, jokingly – though you are a Malaysian, but me and you are Han Chinese, he is different from us, he is a Mongols.
I guess they only said this when “foreigner” like me is around.
Btw, i notice most celebrities profile did mention ethnic. My point is i don’t understand why foreign (Western) media use “Han Chinese”, perhaps they thought all Chinese are Han?
Ray, thanks, similar to the West, China also made some silly and immoral mistake in the past, I hope we should acknowledge both the good and bad of history and work on it.
I guess you had read 葛剑雄：昔日的天下观, below is the link to those that are interested.
I actually have not read that article but my conclusion is base on studying the history of three Huang five Ti, Xia, Shang, Zhou etc.
@Pete North, Otto Kerner
As long as those groups keep espousing that narrowed minded racist view, they would have no support from people outside their respective ethnicity. And even those bigots are nothing but a minute minority much like Anders Breivik.
Just imagine what the US govn’t would do to its citizens who do not consider themselves citizens and want to run an ethnic cleansing program of uprooting others they considered not one of their own? To top it off, these groups only raison d’etre seems to come from foreign funding. When those funding are gone, so would they.
“In Xinjiang that is the case. Doesnt it say the “zu” on PRC Citizens I.D cards? If i wasnt so lazy I’d go and check. I know other minorities have their “ethnicity” on their ID, and just assumed Han did too.”
On SOME official documents, yes. (NOT on the PRC passport).
But people in China do not walk around and identify themselves as “Han Chinese” to each other. And they don’t walk around asking people to identify their ethnicity.
Great post, Ray. I’ve finally caught up with this post+thread. I’ve added it into Featured Posts section.
Pete North says
“On SOME official documents, yes. (NOT on the PRC passport).”
Including, and most importantly on every citizens ID card, right? The reason it’s not on the passport is that it is used for external travel, and no other government really cares.
“But people in China do not walk around and identify themselves as “Han Chinese” to each other. And they don’t walk around asking people to identify their ethnicity.”
Wrong again Raven. Like I’ve already said, this is a question I hear on a daily basis here in Urumqi. I also heard it a lot in Dali, Yunnan where I lived before. Is this not part of China?
“Including, and most importantly on every citizens ID card. The reason it’s not on the passport is that it is used for external travel, and no other government really cares.”
Irrelevant, people don’t flash around their ID cards while walking on streets.
“Wrong again Raven. Like I’ve already said, this is a question I hear on a daily basis here in Urumqi. I also heard it a lot in Dali, Yunnan where I lived before. Is this not part of China?”
I don’t think so, I have an uncle who lives in Urumqi. People might be curious about ethnicities of people they meet, but they don’t go up and ask strangers on streets. That’s just plainly a waste of time. Seriously, who has the energy and time? I certainly never asked people’s ethnicity when I was in China. I don’t know any one who did.
Pete North says
Who said they go up and ask strangers on the street? If it was me, please quote where I did. i said it was a question I heard every day, in relation to JJ saying that it was “rarely used” and that he’d never heard it.
If you are unable to admit you are wrong, then at least stop trying to put words into my mouth.
And what the hell does you Uncle have to do with this?
“i said it was a question I heard every day, in relation to JJ saying that it was “rarely used” and that he’d never heard it.”
Then I don’t see who is wrong. If you heard it every day, that’s your personal experience. It hardly means anything to JJ.
“If you are unable to admit you are wrong, then at least stop trying to put words into my mouth.
And what the hell does you Uncle have to do with this?”
You said, “I also heard it a lot in Dali”.
What’s a lot?
You are just embellishing.
Pete North says
YOU are wrong Raven if you think its a question that is not commonly asked. It may be my personal experience because I hear it, but it’s also an objective fact that it happens. . Clearly, it is not rarely used here in Urumqi which as we all know is part of China, because I have have heard the question asked 100’s of times in the nearly ten years I have lived here.
Even JJ said “Now I’m not denying that it’s never used, but that if you heard it, then it’s most likely a term that’s only used by a specific group of people in a specific region.”
And since it seems you have never even set foot in Xinjiang and have no evidence to the contrary, who are you to assume it’s not true?
Do you just like being contrary for the point of arguing?
You said, “I also heard it a lot”.
If you are going to use a generalization like “a lot”, expect to be contradicted. My personal experiences are also objective facts that don’t agree with your “a LOT” generalization.
What’s “a Lot”?
“100’s of times in the nearly 10 years”???!!
In what context? Who did the asking? You? “Han Chinese”?
100’s of times in 10 years is hardly “a lot”, considering how many people one meets in Chinese cities every day!
If you think “100’s of times in nearly 10 years” is “a lot”, you are embellishing.
Pete North says
The reason you appear to be having difficulty accepting reality is probably due to the following:
1) you have yet to grasp that different people have different personal experiences
2) You are in a different place, not in Xinjiang, and probably not even in China
3) You are on mind- altering substances, or arn’t but should be
4) You only think that something only actually happens if it happens to you personally.
5) You have a different interpretation of certain English words than most people.
I pick all of the above in greater or lesser amounts.
Get relevant, stop your rambling/spamming,
If you think “100′s of times in nearly 10 years” is “a lot”, you are embellishing.
Pete North says
I’ll let people judge for themselves whether they think 100’s of times is closer to “Never”, “rarely”, or “a lot”.
“I’ll let people judge for themselves whether they think 100’s of times is closer to “Never”, “rarely”, or “a lot”.”
YES, You should, instead of making generalizations without giving the accurate details!
AND CORRECTION, you stated, “100’s of times in nearly 10 years“!!
Why do you keep leaving out the details??!
Do you how many times I was asked if I was Chinese, in the last 10 years I lived in US?? Or how many times, I heard other people discuss their ethnicities in US in the last 10 years??
Well, more than your “a lot”!! LOL!!
Pete North says
Accurate details? Did you expect me to report and document every instance in case I had an argument with a half-wit on a Nationalist blog at some stage in the future?
And what does your experience in America have to do with any of this? No one made any claim on the frequency with which people talked about ethnicity in the States so why did you bring it up?
I get your point, you think that hundreds of times in ten years counts as “never” or “rarely”. Good for you, though many would disagree. Maybe you consider the number of people killed in the Urumqi riot to be “not many”, or “just a few”. The odd thing is why you don’t want to believe what I’m saying as its not like Im trying to make any political point, merely relating what I have experienced. This site is supposed to help bridge the gap between people like me in China, and you in America, or did I read wrong?
“Accurate details? Did you expect me to report and document every instance in case I had an argument with a half-wit on a Nationalist blog at some stage in the future? ”
If you want to make assertions about what your experiences, you should provide the details to back up your claims.
Otherwise, why DO YOU bother? Who knows what your “objective facts” are, when you just say “a lot”?
It is a good discussion.
* According to my poet friend, Cantonese is far better for Chinese poems. Cantonese has so many unofficial words (some cannot be written down or cannot be easily translated into Mandarin) and very expressive literally.
* Mandarin sounds better than Cantonese. Try 10 ladies argue with each other. You can see the big difference in the two dialects.
* The reason Cantonese survived in Qin’s language unification could be it was so far away.
* Mao said all Tibetans, Mongolians, Manchurians… belonged to same nation. From the last 3 dynasties, two are the minorities. It just changed history from foreign invasions/foreign rules to civil wars.
* The following has been circulated more than one time in my inbox. It argues the traditional Chinese is more meaningful than the simplified Chinese. It is, but simplified Chinese is easier to write on paper and enter into the computer.
“Maybe you consider the number of people killed in the Urumqi riot to be “not many”, or “just a few”.”
That’s a ridiculous comparison. Whether “100’s” is “a lot”, obviously depends on the context of WHAT you are talking about.
“100’s” of people die in a riot (which is a SHORT duration), that’s obviously RELATIVELY “a lot”, considering riots don’t happen often.
“100’s of times in nearly 10 years” is relatively smaller number stretched over a LONG duration, on questions of ethnicity.
“Mao said all Tibetans, Mongolians, Manchurians… belonged to same nation. From the last 3 dynasties, two are the minorities. It just changed history from foreign invasions/foreign rules to civil wars.”
Sun Yatsen, Father of ROC, said pretty much the same thing. Indeed, the ROC Constitution also list these minority groups within the Chinese citizenry.
It’s not so much that I don’t believe what you’re saying, but I’m skeptical because it’s completely different from my own experiences. Granted, I haven’t been to Xingjiang yet, but I have friends that have and they’ve never heard that term used either.
At the most, they’ll be asked where they’re from, e.g. Beijing, Hunan, Taiwan, etc. but they never met other folks in Xingjiang who would say, “Yeah, we’re all Han Chinese and they’re not.”
And let’s be honest here, you come across as confrontational and it feels like you have an agenda. Now you might say some people here have one as well, but at least their observations are more similar to what I’ve experienced.
So while I might take your perceptions into consideration, I’ll remain cautious until I see/hear it myself.
The identification of ethnicity on on official document is not used for discrimination purpose, rather it is to provide them with special privilages. Every year you will see scores of students caught with falsifying their ethnicity to gain extra admission points to universities. ALL mosques in China are supported by the govn’t and salary of the workers paid for, would that ever happen in the US, Australia etc? Let’s face it China is way ahead of them in multi-culturism.
Those unofficial words are either old Chinese or slangs. Miananese has some phrases that are inter-changable with Cantonese.
Yes, I was with a bunch of female Cantonese classmates (from HK and Macau) in the US, they were talking merrily in the cafeteria and an American come over and said “Why are they arguing?” I told him they were just talking. He commented that they sure sound like fighting.
The deep south of China like Guangdong and Fujian are pretty far away from the central plain where most of the action take place hence the languages pretty much survive with less infusion. Teocheow people 潮州 are just Minanese who moved to Guangdong. The nomadic invasion rarely reached this far south. Guangxi, Yunnan on the other hand are the sanctuary of the various minorities.
I agree simplified Chinese is easier to write but the article did point out the flaw in some of the simplification process, namely characters shouldn’t be made inter-changeble. And some characters lost some parts that are considered vital. Maybe a revision should be made in the future. Actually, even the so called traditional Chinese contains character that has been simplified. I have seen the real complicated written form of 吃 and 才.
* Mandarin is the language spoken in imperial courts and Beijing dialect is a version of Common Language. Would some one correct me if I’m wrong.
* Hong Kongers must be wealthy enough to have time to ‘enhance’ the language with phases.
The lower class speak foul languages all day long hoping to take out some hot air from their tougher life.
The upper class mix Cantonese with English to show their higher social standing. Their words have different meanings from the west such as ‘feel’, ‘man’, ‘likeky’, ‘out’ (it is used far more often in HK though its meaning is similar).
* Language is fascinating. However, I do not enjoy its changes in my generation as I’ve to skip about half of the Chinese books in our local library. Call me selfish.
* The head of Macau gave a laughable speech in front of the head of China. It is better to speak in Cantonese and use a translator or let some one who can speak Mandarin.
@Pete North #44
It’s become increasingly difficult to believe that you have actual real connection to China. Looks like you are spouting secondhand myths you read on the Internet.
As @JJ noted in #60,
Spending 5 days with Tibetan families while trekking through monasteries, I was repeatedly introduced to them not as a Han – or Chinese Han – only 台湾同胞 (their term not mine) – referring to the place I am from, not my “ethnicity” (I’d be Han Chinese to them).
And Pete, it also looks like you are more an impostor than anything else. And I am speaking from first-hand experience. I know you’ve been trying to impersonate some of us here on the blog, writing racist epithet, divulging graphic details of your private parts, and the likes. Glad our spam filter caught those before they were published.
Whether “Pete North” is a real porn star or simply a porn star worshiper, I ask people to ignore his comments. Ignore him because at the time of my choosing, I may start deleting all his comments – all the way back or as much as I so choose.
TonyP4, “The reason Cantonese survived in Qin’s language unification could be it was so far away.”
A school of thought is that Cantonese is closest to what was spoken in Qin (秦音). Qin sent a large army to the area around modern-day Guangzhou. It’s believed that the army settled in and shaped the local spoken 汉语. Due to the poor transportation to the Cantonese-speaking area, it had had less influence by outside forces.
Beijing Hua (北京话) is closest to what is spoken in Liaoning, not Hebei. Liaoning was where the Manchu rulers learned to speak Hanyu, and where the initial Han soldiers fighting for Qing were raised. In Northern China, you can typically from a city center go 100 km any direction and the local dialect barely changes; but not so in Beijing (and Tianjin for that matter, which is another story).
The official language in Beijing spoken in Ming, on the other hand, was most likely closest to what was spoken in Nanjing. When Qing came, the inner Beijing residents were mostly replaced with a new batch.
Otto, ““Han Chinese” is a politically correct term used to avoid offending Chinese people. The natural thing to say in English would be just “Chinese”, but this can be offensive in contexts where it seems to exclude Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongols, etc., so newsmedia, government, and other sources writing formally substitute “Han Chinese”. They’re trying to be nice. ”
Then what do you call Li Ning (Zhuang) or Cui Jian (Korean)? Han Chinese means 汉人, Chinese means 中国人. This can’t be clearer. I rather think ofuscating the differences between the two is you being political correct, avoiding to offend your Tibetan friends.
Otto Kerner says
This is a very strange comment. As with many responses to me on this site, it seems to assume that I’ve said certain things that I did not say. Li Ning can certainly be referred to as “Chinese” or as “Zhuang”, since both are accurate, assuming that Li Ning herself and people generally would consider her to be “Chinese”; and likewise Cui Jian, is both “ethnic Korean” and “Chinese” on the same assumption; and likewise Barack Obama is both a “black person” and an “American”.
I think the real problem we’re getting toward here is the lack of a clear term to refer to people who are likely to be self-identified or identified by others as “Chinese” in the cultural sense, i.e. people whose cultural life is strongly Han-centric, which is approximately the set of Han people + minkaohan. I like to refer to these people as “Chinese”, but a lot of other people object to this since it doesn’t match the political category of people with PRC citizenship, or the official “ethnic” concept of Zhōnghuá mínzú, so the result can often be ambiguity or offense or both.
Otto Kerner says
I’m curious, how did they refer to you in Tibetan?
@Otto Kerner #68
Unfortunately I don’t know. They did teach me several words in Tibetan during the trip – the equivalents of “hello” “good morning” “thank you” – and some words for common foods. They also taught me that the word for Tibet in Tibetan is “bod” and China proper (i.e. not including Tibet) is gyana. Before you go – ah ha – we have already covered these in other threads (see, e.g., raventhorn2000’s excellent post). Tibet used to be made up of many local communities – just as the rest of China was. Many of these groups spoke mutually incomprehensible dialects – just as the rest of the China did.
The Tibetans we met definitely had an affinity for each other. They hugged and laughed as if they were long time friends (some of them were). When I was introduced, they smiled warmly and welcomed me – treating me as a dear guest.
Now all of this – to me – is quite natural. Of course I should be treated as a guest when I was from a far away land, did not understand the local custom, and did not speak the local language. In Taiwan, we had the term 本省人 vs 外省人. 本省人 usually treat each other more warmly than 外省人. There is also the term 南部人 vs 北部人, with 南部人 treating each other more warmly than 北部人. During my visit, I also observed when people from same region met. Tibetans treated Tibetans with extra warmth. Those Tibetans from the same locale (speaking same local dialects) seem to shower each other with even more warmth than other Tibetans – not unlike what we see in Taiwanese 南部人 vs 北部人. (I learned this from my guide, when I asked, are they friends, to which he responded no, but they are from the same valley, and spoke a dialect that he didn’t understand 100%). Localism is normal – and is not per se any “evidence” – or proof of right – for political separation.
Going back to the Tibetan language as a whole – topic of you question, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that it belongs to the greater sino-tibetan language family. Despite their separate writing system, the sino tibetan languages belong to the same family; they are closer to each other than “Han Chinese” is to Korean or Vietnamese (which used to be written with Chinese characters) and Japanese (which still incorporates Chinese characters). I have friends who have learned Tibetan. It definitely came much easier than English to them…
Map of extent of the spread of sino-tibetan familiy language.
(src: wiki file)
Otto Kerner says
By the way, what did they teach you for “hello”? I have gotten unclear info about this in the past … one book I had even claimed that Tibetans don’t have a word for hello … they just walk up to each other and start talking, which I found very hard to believe!
I agree that localism is not per se evidence in favor of separatism. Actually, I would say that super-local identity, viz the fact that Tibetan people over wide area who can’t understand each other’s native dialects still have a sense of common identity, is supplemental (certainly not dispositive) evidence in favor of Tibetan self-determination.
There is apparently still some degree of controversy around the existence of a Sino-Tibetan family, although I don’t really understand how that’s possible, since the similarity of written Tibetan number words to Old Chinese number words seems like the smoking gun. Of course, this makes Chinese equally as close to Tibetan as to Burmese or Nepal Bhasa, which is to say that the political and social implications are very limited.
I don’t think they say “hello” everyday to each other. They don’t even say that to me when we wake up – they go directly asking me how my sleep was – no “good morning” or things like that.
Going back to my journal, I think they taught me “tashi delek” to mean “hello.” They told me to use that when I see other local Tibetans – which seemed to work. But when I see Tibetan people meet, they don’t necessarily say that. For example, when we were going over a pass, and our guide asked a yak man coming down how the weather was, they simply asked without going through the pleasantries…
This is actually an aspect of culture that is common throughout China, including Taiwan. The culture is definitely more “direct” than Western ones I know.
As for your talk about “sense of common identity” as support for ethnic-based self-determination – I have nothing to offer you besides what I have already offered you, many, many times here. The trip did not give me any more information one way or another. I continue to strongly believe in my views.
As for all your last paragraph about politically uniting all people of sino-tibetan language – well I don’t know. I suppose I won’t be opposed to it. But I don’t think I’ve ever advocated it.
Just so we are clear – I don’ think the existence of the sino-tibetan language family is in doubt.
See P. K. Benedict, Sino-Tibetan: A Conspectus (Princeton-Cambridge Studies in Chinese Linguistics Ser., No. 2; 1972); R. Shafer, Introduction to Sino-Tibetan (1966–73); H. Jaschke, Tibetan Grammar (1989).
And I do not intend this to be the basis for claiming the Tibetan plateau being part of China. That rests on Chinese history, the existence of the Chinese polity, not linguistics. There are many minorities who use languages that are not part of the sino-tibetan group whose homes lie within what all would agree to be heart of China. They are part of China nevertheless… China has never defined itself to be mono cultural, mono lingual.
Otto Kerner says
I don’t think you’re being dishonest about your experiences there, and I agree that it isn’t new evidence one way or the other. I would guess that Tibetans have gotten very well accustomed to self-censoring their political speech and generally coming across in a politically correct way in public, especially when speaking Chinese. When meeting Chinese people, they probably begin with the assumption that that person is a Chinese nationalist (naturally, since the vast majority of mainland Han people and no small number of overseas Chinese are nationalists) and would careful to avoid saying anything to offend that person, not only to avoid political problems but also to avoid an uncomfortable argument with the offended person. Since you are a Taiwan tongbao, I’d imagine it would be possible for you to convince them that they can speak a bit more freely around you, but in your case you are a Chinese nationalist so they had the right idea (even if you personally have too much integrity to react with anger or try to cause legal problems if someone says something you disagree with, I wouldn’t take a chance on it if I were them and you were a stranger). Now, what I just wrote is a conjecture about the absence of evidence, so I’m not claiming that your experiences confirm it. It’s intended as a plausible explanation of why the reported experiences of Chinese and Western tourists in Tibet are so different.
It’s interesting that you confirm what the book said that Tibetans don’t usually say “hello”, and also indirectly that “tashi delek” is something tourists and exiles say.
Otto Kerner says
I’m also curious if you remember how they described “China proper” to you when they were defining “gyanak”. I don’t imagine they would would say “Zhongguo benbu” or “dalu” in that context. Maybe “neidi”? Or maybe they would just use a descriptive phrase, like “Hanzu zhu de difang”?
@Otto Kerner #73,
No, we did not talk about “gyanak.” But 内地 was the term people today in Tibet use to refer to “China proper.”
@Otto Kerner #72,
This is not true. Over two nights – talking well into the night – my guide and I talked hours about the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exile. He told me so much of his activities in the exiles that he swore I could get his entire family in trouble if I report him to the gov’t. He divulged those even after I told me that I did not like the Dalai Lama.
I think he told me all this as a fellow Buddhist opening his heart to another fellow Buddhist, and I let him. In a way, he was almost desperate that I learn to like the Dalai Lama (in some personal ways, I did). I think he became even more open after he found out about my political persuasions…
We are as far apart politically as we can be, but we traveled like brothers those 5 days. He took me to see the holiest sky burial site in the area. We visited a locally revered lama. We were also “fortunate enough” that a beloved senior lama passed away while we were in the area, allowing us to pay him respects while he was placed in a sitting meditating position. I was not fortunate enough to see him buried at the site (they planned to burn him when he fell over – which can take as long as 10 days!), but was able to pay him respects.
And don’t worry, I won’t report him. We made a personal bond that trip.
Otto Kerner says
Ah, well, shows what I know. He did decide to take a chance on you, and, as I suspected, you proved to have enough integrity to merit his trust.
I’m curious as to the inferences you draw from your conversation with the guard. It implies to me (along with a lot of other cirumstantial evidence) that Chinese government policies in Tibet are highly unpopular among Tibetans. Perhaps you agree with that conclusion, but in your political thought it not very relevant? To me, it seems very important.
@Otto Kerner #76
I assume you mean “guide” not “guard”?
I did talk to some “guards” at the Jokhang Temple while they were on break. I did so because I had read that these were all “Han” guards. To my surprise, a group of them was talking what I thought was Tibetan – so I approached them and asked whether they were Tibetan. It turned out they were. The people I talked to happen to be from the Shigatse area. I asked them whether they liked their job (you can interpret it as casual banter or a deeply weighed political question), they said they did. They told me things have calmed since 2008 and that they really didn’t need to be there; one person thought they probably scare the tourists more than anyone else. We laughed. You can make whatever conclusion you like. But from a first person perspective, these people did seem happy to me.
Now in the various houses we stayed, one had Mao’s picture, and another had a Chinese flag posted on one corner of the room. I wouldn’t be surprised if most Tibetans still revered Mao. The flag was put there, as it turned out, by a child after taking it home from school. He spoke ok mandarin and was very inquisitive.
I asked some of these families about the riots, they seem to tell me that it was a big disaster – for Han Chinese as well as Tibetans. One person told me that even though Han Chinese might have suffered more that day, the distrust engendered will have to be paid by Tibetans for years to come. They told me the real issue is that many Tibetans feel marginalized. While there are Tibetan business owners who are very wealthy, most Tibetans don’t own businesses. They either work in the mountains or work as laborers. And when they don’t speak pu tong hua well, they have trouble getting the jobs.
I asked whether they want to go back to the past. None said yes. They told me that while Tibetans have a well deserved reputation for being spiritual, they also want to move forward with the rest of the country. This is the reason why most Tibetan parents today want their children to learn pu tong hua – to ensure they have a better future. One person wants her children to move east in the future to Sichuan, or at least go to school there, to get better education and move up economically.
My guide is the only person who was openly critical of the gov’t – even when we spoke in a group. He believed Tibet has been changing too fast and that while he doesn’t dislike Han Chinese (he is not against marrying one), he thought that Tibetans shouldn’t have to learn any pu tong hua to succeed economically in Tibet.
So I met some people who have an optimistic attitude of the future – and also people – like my guide – who are more pessimistic. But overall, I think people are optimistic. We didn’t talk about the Dalai Lama openly in groups. But my guide insists that most Tibetans loves him. I won’t dispute that per se – though I want to note that many people in Nazi Germany also sincerely loved Hitler. Love per se does not prove anything.
“It implies to me (along with a lot of other cirumstantial evidence) that Chinese government policies in Tibet are highly unpopular among Tibetans.”
On the reverse, perhaps the highly “popular” DL’s TGIE/TCA haven’t done much for the Tibetans.
Perhaps government policies, like taxes, are not supposed to be “popular”, but merely EFFECTIVE and BENEFICIAL.
“To my surprise, a group of them was talking what I thought was Tibetan – so I approached them and asked whether they were Tibetan. It turned out they were.”
I’m not surprised. It was well documented by even some Tibetans who escaped/ran to Exile, that the many accused “Prison Guards” were actually Tibetans.
I suspect your “guide” was more brash talk than action. He probably has some personal connections with some Tibetans in Exile, but I doubt he would ever dare to cross the line, (he probably knows the line quite well).
There is always 1 out of a few people who brags of tall tales of intrigue and adventure, Tibetans are no different than other people.
I don’t know. I took him at his words….
He also said his brother who already was a monk “disappeared” years ago. He was sure the gov’t took him. In any case, that stopped him (my guide) from following his brother’s footstep to become a monk, even though he had always wanted to be a monk since he was a small child.
My guide’s experience is only his experience. My experience is only my experience. I am not there to seek political truths, and hence I do not intend this to settle any “political disputes” based on my experience. People know where I come from, and all I am saying here is that I have visited Tibet, and feel very enriched by it. That’s it.
Interesting conversations, how much do Tibetans in Tibet keep in touch with the exiles people anyway? Can they get in touch with friends and families who left? Do they normally speak in English with the Dalai Lama’s accents? I believe during the 2008 riots, many Tibetans speak to the reporters/tourists about oppression with the Indian accent. (Indicating that they might have live and come back as an exile). I wonder if the Chinese government just solved this problem through sealing the borders.
I’ve always understood the border between India and China to be porous (see e.g. this article). According to the guide, the border is relatively open. Sure, if you want to pass a checkpoint without showing any id, you will be detained. But according to my guide, there are many ways around the check stations (partly depends on the season also). The hard part is not crossing the border, but making the trek across Nepal and then India to finally get to Dharamsala (or vice versa). That’s the dangerous part. It’s a long trek. If you do it alone – without help – you end up starving…
My guide spoke poor English and Mandarin. I assume his Lhasa Tibetan was good. When my guide was “in exile,” in the 1990’s, he did not have contact with his family except through occasional letters. Now I think people use phones to call Dharamsala without any problems. If you want me to speculate whether the gov’t wiretaps those calls, I don’t know. How would I know? I don’t even know if my calls to Taiwan is tapped by the U.S. gov’t.
// Now I think people use phones to call Dharamsala without any problems.//
I just wanted to confirm that his brother was taken by the government, not hanging out with the exiles without being able to contact his family. I read the other story where the parents didn’t even realize their son went over to Dharmasala until the police show up to tell them that their son is a traitor.
Your tour guide remind me of my Singaporean friend who went trekking in Tibet. His guide who could write Chinese and scribbled “Independence” on the floor in chalk somewhere during their journey.
I don’t know what happened to the brother. He could be in a jail in China. He could be killed in India (by criminals, in an accident, by a zealous lover). He could be planning the next terrorist plot against China. He could be married to a rich wife in Europe or America enjoying life. He may have been selected to be a sex toy to the Dalai Lama.
I don’t know…
//China proper (i.e. not including Tibet) is gyana//
Is that a historical word? Or is it new. The Europeans had numerous names for China, but Gyana seems to be a match for China.
For the Thais they called Chinese/China “Jeen”.
I never found out the etymology of the word. But Qin dynasty doesn’t seem likely since the empire only lasted 14 years before it collapse into another round of warfare. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jin_Dynasty_(265%E2%80%93420)
Perhaps they refer to this dynasty.
However, Han people do not call themselves “Jin” as far as I am aware of. My Teochew grandmother will say “Tng Nang” 唐人 where as my Hokkien relatives would say “Tng Lang” (also 唐人). (The lang/nang are probably written with a different character proper). And China the country would be called “tionggok” 中國 . Which was also the name used by Indonesians..
“China Proper” is a word I have used in this blog to facilitate discussion amongst people with vastly different political, historical, cultural, normative views.
I remember some guest (someone from Hong Kong) who did a post here explaining the different etymology the Qing dynasty used to describe / administer the various parts of China. To make things simple (if this topic is really interesting, I’ll spend the time to do a post some time, but it’s not a super high priority for me at this time), you might think of China Proper as the regions of China that were administered as “provinces.” As for which dynasty to pick to define “China Proper,” for political discussion today, I’d use the Qing dynasty – since the PRC (or ROC, I am rooting for you!) considers it to be the successor of the Qing. If you don’t like Qing, I don’t see any point in going further back. I think it then becomes a question either you accept the PRC or you don’t.
It’s like the U.S. Is there a U.S. proper vs. a U.S. improper? We can go through history ad nausea which part of U.S. is legitimately and which is not legitimately incorporated (maybe no part is). But in the end, it’s really a matter of do you accept the existence of the U.S. or not.
I use the word “China Proper” here because I don’t want to keep on getting bogged down discussing / arguing what is China. Much of our conversations above would be cut short if we insist on defining the precise scope of what is “China” …
Well, I think you are using common sense to interpret history in some ways, however hostorical events are usually illogical. It is most likely that the anceint Greek identified the Qin state as Chin, as it is Kina in the old Greek language. Although the Qin dynasty lasted only 15 years after unification, it has existed for 500 years before that. I would like to point out that in Eastern Slavic language like Russian, China is known as Kitai, which is in reference to the Khitan state (Liao dynasty). At it its peak Liao only controlled a small part of northern China. The Eastern Slav name for China (Kitai) give rise to the English version, Cathay.
You are right that in Minanese, the character 人 is almost never use. The common phrase for calling a person is 郎 (lang). I learned something interesting while in HK. The Teochew (Minanese who live in Guangdong) are a significant minority in HK. In the olden days, Teochew food sellers would sell their food walking around using carrying basket, and people who live in 2nd storeys would throw a stick at them to get their attention. This action is called 打郎(hit lang) or commonly pronounced in Minanese as “pak lang”. Today, the slang to eat Teochew food in HK is Cantonese “ta lang” or Minanese “pak lang”.
I am curious when did the Thai word for China come into existance. If we can trace the time of origin, we can probably get a better idea.
//I am curious when did the Thai word for China come into existance. If we can trace the time of origin, we can probably get a better idea.//
No idea, I have yet to come across a Thai dictionary with etymologies. The best I have seen only have indicators that the word comes from Sanskrit, Pali and the like.
What I find quite interesting is that although the Thai language is significantly different from Chinese. (Different vocabularies, and different grammar (reversed order of adjective – noun), although unlike English, it lacks complicated inflections and tenses). There are some interesting corresponding words however. When I discover what the title Dalai Lama meant for the first time “Great Ocean of Wisdom”. I noticed that Dalai pretty much meant 大海 Dahai in Chinese. What is even more interesting is that the Thai word for the sea is ‘talae’. I don’t think that is a coincidence.
Other interesting words that matched are numbers. (Although that might effectively be a linguistic import).
The Sipsongpanna (Xishuangbanna) city in Yunnan where the Tai ethnic group lives effectively mean: Twelve thousand paddies. Notice that for the numbers there is a loose correspondence: Sip = 十 (shi) , Song = 雙 (Shuang) Pan = 千 (Qian). While na is a Tai word meaning paddies (田) but doesn’t seem to have any relation with the chinese word.
Further more, the capital of Sipsongpanna is “Jinghong”, in Thai this would correspond to Chiang Rung – City of Dawn. The Chiang correspond to Chiangmai in Northern Thailand, and Vientiane (Wiang Jan) in Laos. What is interesting ofcourse, is there is one such word in Chinese with the same meaning: 城 cheng – city.
Another interesting word which have a match with Chinese is 象 xiang – elephant. In Thai elephants are called ‘Chang’, and in Laos its pronounced ‘saang/xang’.
//You are right that in Minanese, the character 人 is almost never use. The common phrase for calling a person is 郎 (lang). //
As you can see, even the character 郎 doesn’t seem to make sense from a character composition standpoint. It doesn’t make sense the way 人 is a natural ideograph for man.
Here’s the kicker though, the Malay and Indonesian word for person is ‘orang’, (as in orangutan – forest man) do you think there is a relationship with the word ‘lang’? It is a fact that Chinese imported many words from the “Yue people” (general term for non-Han South Chinese people).
Otto Kerner says
Gyanak is definitely an old word. Certainly, in the PRC period, there would be no reason to create a new word for “China-excluding-Tibet”. Instead, “Trunggo” (Tibetanized version of “Zhōngguó”) was coined as a new word for “China-including-Tibet”.
Otto Kerner says
There’s a lot of disagreement about the origin of words for China with the same etymology as “China”. They seem to go back to a Sanskrit word, but there’s no clear idea what the source of that word is. People have often linked it to the Qin dynasty, but it’s interesting to note that 秦 apparently was pronounced with a voiced initial in the Chinese language of the time, while the Sanskrit word and all of its descendants have always had a voiceless initial. It’s entirely possible that the Sanskrit word began as the name of some other, now-forgotten tribal group that was subsequently confused with China (much as the Russian name for China began through confusion with the Khitans).
As for Dalai and dàhǎi, as you probably know, dalai is originally Mongolian (Далай in modern Khalkha). The resemblance is almost certainly coincidental unless any explanation can be given as to why the “h” in Chinese would become “l” in Mongolian. Also, you would have to demonstrate a resemblance in the relevant medieval Mongolian and Chinese dialects, not in modern Mandarin and a 16th century Tibetan loan from Mongolian.
I’ve noticed the resemblance between Thai and Chinese numerals before. It’s worth noting that Thai people moved to Thailand very recently by historical standards: within the last 1,000 years. They moved there from southern China, roughly the places where all the Tai languages such as Bulang and Zhuang are still spoken today. So, Thai probably got those words from Chinese the same way that Japanese and Korean did: from massive cultural influence from a nearby literate society.
I think I’ve seen 象 cited previously as an example of an early loan to Chinese from the non-Sinitic southern tribal languages.
Otto Kerner says
I think that logic makes sense when we’re talking about small and mid-scale policy issues like taxation or spending policy, and I agree with you at that level. However, when you get to high-level issues like the fate of a nation or a region, it becomes increasingly impossible to distinguish between what people want and what’s good for them. At the highest level, no one can decide for you what your deepest aspirations should be. When Taiwan was conquered by the Japanese, was Japanese rule effective or beneficial for the Taiwanese? They built a lot of railroads there, after all.
This is why I make a general distinction between unpopular governments and extremely unpopular governments. The former are not really a problem, but the latter are a big problem.
“However, when you get to high-level issues like the fate of a nation or a region, it becomes increasingly impossible to distinguish between what people want and what’s good for them. At the highest level, no one can decide for you what your deepest aspirations should be. When Taiwan was conquered by the Japanese, was Japanese rule effective or beneficial for the Taiwanese? They built a lot of railroads there, after all.”
I think you should distinguish between “aspiration” and what “people want” and “what’s good for them”.
Furthermore, I think we should distinguish what Media say they are and what they are in reality.
I have seen enough business and policy mistakes to know that “People” rarely know what they really want, and what’s good for them.
On either count, I would say, your 1st hurdle is the evolution of dummification of the “People”.
Otto Kerner says
Does the Dalai Lama speak English with an Indian accent? He has such a thick Tibetan accent, I’m not sure how you would distinguish an Indian accent under there. To be honest, I don’t remember ever hearing a Tibetan speak with an Indian accent. I’m fairly familiar with hearing the Tibetan accent. I’ve heard rumours of Tibetans in interviews supposedly speaking with Indian accents, but I’ve always doubted the listener’s ear for accents.
The Minanese uses of “lang” comes from 郎君. I don’t think it has anything to do with the Malay/Indonesian word “orang”. However, Malay/Indonesian does incorporate a few Minanese phrases such as : kuih (cake), teh, (tea), tehkoh (tea port), tauke (boss), sabun (soap), sampan (small boat). Nevertheless, Malay got most of its words from sanskrit. The Malay/Indonesian kingdoms are mostly influenced by Hindu/Buddhist before changing to Islam 500 yrs ago.
As for elephant both Cantonese and Minanese pronunciation is closest to “Chang” as they start with “Ch” as well.
Also Minanese pronunciation is very close to Korean pronunciation. You can probably do a study on that too. For example, Samsung (Samseng), Hyundai (Hiandai).
//Does the Dalai Lama speak English with an Indian accent? He has such a thick Tibetan accent, I’m not sure how you would distinguish an Indian accent under there. To be honest, I don’t remember ever hearing a Tibetan speak with an Indian accent. I’m fairly familiar with hearing the Tibetan accent. I’ve heard rumours of Tibetans in interviews supposedly speaking with Indian accents, but I’ve always doubted the listener’s ear for accents.//
Ok, I wouldn’t say he speaks the way an Indian from Calcutta or New Delhi would. But the first impression when I heard him spoke years ago was, this guy sounds really Indian-ish. The accent was unfamiliar to me at that time, but it seems closest to Indian from my perspective. I don’t think his accent could simply be described as ‘Tibetan’ because I suspect the English spoken by Tibetan who is brought up in Tibet would be more similar to the Chinese accent than anything else. (I have no proof or personal experience of this however). However, when my Inner Mongol tour guide tried to speak English, she spoke with the Chinese accent. Frankly borders and education systems seems to have a great impact on accents. Because Hong Kongers for example have a completely different accent to Chinese people from the mainland. And I believe this is the case even for Cantonese in Mainland China. I have friends from across Mainland China from various dialectical background and they all sound like the typical ‘Chinese accent’ when they speak. Like wise Malaysian Chinese have a completely different accent which can be rather similar to the way Malay speak English. Singaporean accent is similar to Malaysian accent but much much heavier. On the other hand, Chinese Indonesians’ accent is very distinctive and is not similar to Malaysian or Singaporean accent. And likewise, Thai Chinese people basically speak English in the Thai accent.
Sabun is not from Chinese, it is from Arabic and ultimately Latin according to Wiktionary. The fact is the Hokkien spoken in Malaysia is a Creole with many Malay words. My maternal grandma would say ‘suka’ to mean ‘like’.
More over there are words in Chinese with Chinese characters like 艋舺 (which I learned from the movie Monga) and is pronounced Mengjia in Mandarin according to Wiktionary, but is actually pronounced Bangkah in Hokkien, which is from the Austronesian word bangka (Filipino and Indonesian) for outrigger canoe.
I would like to point out that as you can see in this documentary, Tibetans in China speaking English do have a ‘Chinese accent’.
I know Sabun is not an original Chinese character but it is the term used in Minanese be it the overseas one like you and me but also those on the mainland and Taiwan. As soap is a Roman invention, it is probably apt that the original term is used before the official Mandarin version 肥皂 come into use. Do note that Cantonese use another term.
Some aborigin people are Austronesian so their word for canoe was simply used in Taiwan. I used to thought the term “sampan” was Malay but it appear that it was borrowed from Chinese. I do agree that all Chinese dialect have foreign words or concept added, this is simply unavoidable. The ones in Southeast Asia would have local respective language added. Like I have mentioned before the Beijing dialect has lots of Manchu words in it. Even modern Mandarin has English term added. For example, tank, hysterical and humour ect. And the Taiwanese version of Minanese would have Japanese words added.
However, my point all along is that Minanese is one of the older form of Chinese. Here’s the brakdown of English. I think to use the term Creole would be a bit too harsh on Minanese.
30% of English words come from French.