Xibe group re- en­acts their an­ces­tors’ jour­ney to the west

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - NATION - By CUI JIA in Shenyang cui­jia@chi­nadaily.com.cn

As their an­ces­tors did 249 years ago, eight Xibe peo­ple knelt be­fore a me­mo­rial tablet at a fam­ily tem­ple in Shenyang, Liaon­ing prov­ince, on Wed­nes­day in prepa­ra­tion for a long jour­ney west to Xin­jiang.

The route will not be as ar­du­ous as cen­turies past, but it will take them from Shenyang to Xin­jiang via Mon­go­lia.

Four among the group were born in the Qapqal Xibe au­ton­o­mous county in north­ern Xin­jiang, the only Xibe au­ton­o­mous county in China. Each of the four said they are des­per­ate to dis­cover more about their roots.

The other four Xibe peo­ple are from Kaiyuan, Liaon­ing prov­ince, and are go­ing on the jour­ney to find out how peo­ple live in Xin­jiang.

In 1764, more than 1,000 Xibe soldiers trained in archery were dis­patched to Xin­jiang from North­west China by Em­peror Qian­long of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644- 1911) to guard the na­tion’s bor­ders.

The soldiers’ fam­ily mem­bers about 3,000 of them

ac­com­pa­nied them to form a mas­sive car­a­van.

Af­ter 16 months on horse­back, the Xibe car­a­van ar­rived at Qapqal in the Ili Kazak au­ton­o­mous pre­fec­ture, where they found the liv­ing con­di­tions ex­tremely harsh.

But they soon adapted to the en­vi­ron­ment and built re­la­tion­ships with other eth­nic groups in the re­gion, such as the Kazaks and Uygurs, by teach­ing them how to farm. Af­ter years of guard­ing the re­gion, the Xibe clan de­cided to re­lo­cate to Qapqal per­ma­nently.

To­day, the num­ber of Xibe peo­ple in Xin­jiang is only about 20,000, mak­ing up only 12 per­cent of the Xibe pop­u­la­tion in China. Still, they have pre­served their cul­ture and lan­guage be­cause they are rel­a­tively iso­lated.

The same can­not be said for some of the Xibe trav­el­ers. They ad­mit­ted that they could barely speak and write the lan­guage.

Zha Jing­hai, 46 and one of the four born in Qapqal, was emo­tional dur­ing the cer­e­mony at the fam­ily tem­ple.

“My an­ces­tors left home here and never came back. Fol­low­ing the ex­act route of mi­gra­tion is not only about trav­el­ing but to re­con­nect his­tory. My an­ces­tors’ blood or sweat might just be on the stones along the road.”

On Tues­day, Zha vis­ited Lao­hutou, near Kaiyuan, a vil­lage that sent many peo­ple to Xin­jiang dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty.

“My fam­ily might have come from this vil­lage. The land­scape of the farm­land and the dec­o­ra­tion in the house im­me­di­ately brings me back to Qapqal. It’s the first time I have come to this vil­lage, but ev­ery­thing just feels so fa­mil­iar.”

Guan Dazhi, a Xibe vil­lager in Lao­hutou, said Zha is his brother re­gard­less of whether they are blood rel­a­tives. Two of Guan’s an­ces­tors were sent to Xin­jiang dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty. “I feel ashamed not be­ing able to speak the lan­guage. Un­like Zha, we have no idea how to shoot an ar­row, but we keep the drink­ing tra­di­tion,” Guan said.

Lao­hutou has 1,816 vil­lagers and 1,642 of them are of the Xibe eth­nic group. The vil­lage cus­toms are highly in­flu­enced by Han cul­ture and lit­tle of the Xibe tra­di­tion has been kept.

To re­vive the Xibe tra­di­tions, the vil­lage hired Xiao Chang, a Xibe ex­pert from Xin­jiang, to teach the Xibe lan­guage at the lo­cal pri­mary school.

“My grand­fa­ther told me that my fam­ily mi­grated from Lao­hutou, so I will teach the chil­dren ev­ery­thing I know about Xibe,” the 60-year-old ex­pert said. “But it’s re­ally dif­fi­cult for them to mas­ter the lan­guage and cul­ture when no one around them un­der­stands it.”

CUI MENG / CHINA DAILY

Guan Dazhi, of the Xibe eth­nic group in Lao­hutou vil­lage in Kaiyuan, Liaon­ing prov­ince, shows his fam­ily tree on Tues­day. Some vil­lagers em­barked on a jour­ney to pay trib­ute to their an­ces­tors.

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