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July 17th, 2007

Well, first of all, I translate too slowly. Something to do with my lack of character knowledge and reading skills.

I’ve been translating that article lzh sent me on the Great Scholar Tree of Guangji Temple in Hongdong County, Linfen, Shanxi. I’m only about halfway through. It’s not even that long an article, but it’s just taking me ages to slog through it. Well, one problem is holes in my dictionary. It’s hard to patch the holes in my knowledge when there’s holes in the dictionary identical to the holes in my knowledge.

But one thing that has struck me as I’ve been reading about Yanqing and Shanxi the last couple of weeks is the constant movement in Chinese history. I mean, people, far from doing the stereotypical thing and staying very close to home and family, have been almost constantly packing up and moving far away. Well, not constantly, but the view of Chinese history I’ve gotten the last couple of weeks has involved a whole lot of mass movements of people, not too dissimilar to the Spring Festival rush, but more permanent. For example, Hongdong’s Great Scholar Tree is so important because it marks the jumping off point for the huge number of people the government moved out of southern Shanxi in the early years of the Ming dynasty. But not long before then, towards the end of the Yuan dynasty, vast hordes of people moved in to southern Shanxi to escape the floods, famines and wars plaguing Yellow and Huai valleys in Henan, Hebei, Shandong and parts of Anhui. And then, of course, the southern Xiongnu settled in the Linfen area during the Eastern Han. And fast forward to the early twentieth century and lzh’s great grandfather put his two kids in a bucket each, slung them on a carrying pole, and hiked over to Yanqing. Mass migration and refugees and generally movement of people seems to be as much a part of Chinese history as settlement.

Well, that’s the impression I’ve been getting recently, anyway.

And another question all this study has raised is: What the hell is ethnicity, anyway?

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