Through the Eye of a Forgotten Minority
by Grain

In recent years the Free Tibet movement has caught public attention with the movies Seven Years In Tibet, Kundun, and the Tibet Freedom Concerts.  Students for a Free Tibet chapters have mushroomed. As a Mongolian-Chinese American, I am disturbed by some of the myths presented by the Tibet movement. In a sense, people like me are now a forgotten minority. No one seems to know we exist. I would like to tell you my personal story, and how I feel about the Tibet movement.

  How I learned of my Mongolian blood
  My Manchurian teacher 
How I grew up in Taiwan, the miniature China
  How my 26th-generation grandfather made friends
    with the Tibetans, and ruled over the Han
Multiple Culture Experience in the miniature China
  How I found out about the FreeTibet Movement
My struggle to tell the Americans the truth
  My concerns about the FreeTibet Movement

How I learned of my Mongolian blood
I was born in 1951, and raised in Taiwan. One day, when I was five years old, I was fascinated by a black goat standing in the middle of a yard. My mother told me, "The Mahs are going to have it butchered for the New Year's. It's a Manchurian custom to eat lamb for the New Year." My mother then said, "We are Mongols." That was the end of her words on the matter. The Mahs were our landlords. They owned an old house; and we lived in a detached storage room off their main house. A few days later the Mahs sent a bowl of soup over to us.  After they left, my mother took one sip, and spit it out. "Lamb is gamy! I'll never eat lamb again." She quickly dumped it. 

My Manchurian teacher 
Bits and pieces of a multiple-ethnic life came to me as I grew up in Taiwan.  When I began first grade, the teacher for my class, Mrs. Chiang, was a Manchurian. People said that her husband had been part of the Manchurian royal family. If the Qing dynasty was still in place, they gossiped, she would have been a princess, but now she had to work for a living. One neighbor said that the husband drank all day and was a bum. Mrs. Chiang lived four blocks away from us. Everyday as I walked to school, I'd see her passing me. Her slender figure was forever clad in a qipao, the formal wear for women in China since the 1930's. Qipao means "Manchurian robe". Its origin had been Manchurian. She wore the high-collared dress daily in dignity, as if to keep up with her station in life that could have been due her.

How I grew up in Taiwan, the miniature China
In the 1950's, Taiwan was a chaotic place filled with refugees from the mainland China. My parents were part of the refugees crowd. As the communists took over the mainland, people from all over China escaped to Taiwan. One of my earliest memories of the time was visiting two friends of my mom's. They were two brothers, living in an attic above a small café. I was about six or so, and remembered the experience with fascination because we had to climb up a narrow ladder to reach the attic. I sat in the attic and listened to the adults talk. Some of their words still come back to me, like whispers of memory.

     The older brother was saying to my mother: "I escaped with nothing but the clothes on me. I had to give my watch to bribe my way onto the boat." There was a thin rope stretched across the attic; and he gestured at two articles of clothing on it. "I just washed my shirt and underwear," he said. Then I realized why he was in his undershirt and pants.  He explained, "I do this everyday. Later, after you leave, I'll put my shirt and underwear on. Then wash my pants and undershirt."
     "How are you going to cope?" My mother asked him.
     "I'll have to take care of him," he tilted his chin toward his younger brother.  He looked about 20, his brother 19. "I don't think we'll ever see our parents again.  It's just going to be the two of us from now on." He sighed. "We found jobs at this café, and a place to sleep. I'm making two dollars a day, but we are getting free food. I save my first day's pay to buy a toothbrush."
     "You plan on working at this café forever?"
     "No, I'm going to start a business."
     "How are you going to do that?  It takes money to start a business."
     "I'm saving to buy wood. This wood isn't expensive." He picked up a piece of paper thin, one-foot square wood from the floor, and smiled. "I'm going to paint this wood into a sign for good fortune. When New Year comes, some people are going to want to decorate their doorways and walls. I've priced it already. It'll cost me a dollar per sign, but I'll sell each sign for two dollars.  Then I'll save the money I make and buy more wood. Before you know it, I'll have a business. You wait and see. I'll build a business."

I grew up in a strange country. All around me, refugees were saying to each other, "I don't think I'll see my family again." They all had stories to tell.  A leg-less man sat under the awning of a building begging for coins said to the passerby, "I was a soldier.  Have pity on me." A lady from Shanghai stood in front of a fabric store and frowned, "The fabrics here are ugly. Shanghai had much finer silk. Aiya, we will never get that again."

In their longing for their homelands, all of the refugees started trying to rebuild the "old days".  Shanghai people opened up restaurants named after the famous "Lao Tien Lu".  (Old Sky Prosperity.) Peking people roasted Peking ducks and sold it to all of us. In a way, growing up in Taiwan was great fun because it was like growing up in a miniature China. I could walk down the street and, in five minutes, eat foods from Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shandong.

How my 26th-generation grandfather made friends
with the Tibetans, and ruled over the Han
China is a very ancient country. If you studied the Chinese map, you will find that the central area is fertile plains. China does not have that much good land as we do here in the U.S. Much of its borders are mountainous, unsuitable for vegetation. Many centuries ago, the Han lived in central China. The neighboring ethnic groups such as the Mongolians, the Manchurians, and the Tibetans were not as lucky.They had cold, or mountainous regions. All the ethnic groups are native tribes of people in China.They were akin to the native American tribes who were all over America. Just as we call different Native American "tribes", "zu", we call the tribes in China the Han zu, Mongol zu, Tibetan zu, Manchurian zu.

Many of the indigenous tribes in America fought each other. So did the indigenous tribes in China. During the agricultural ages, it was very natural for the bordering tribes to attack the central areas for its fertile land. This is how the relationship between the various indigenous Chinese tribes began.

The early Tibetans used to attack the Han. The Tibetans were fierce warriors then. A Tang emperor sent his daughter Princess Wenzheng to marry the Tibetan King Songzan Ganbu in 641 A.D., and the princess brought Buddhism to the Tibetans. Even to this day, statues of her and her husband are in Tibet.  The Tibetans became a peaceful tribe absorbed in Buddhism. But they relied on the Han and the Mongols to fight for them when other intruders came from their south. The Mongols and Tibetans became good friends because the Mongols enjoyed Tibetan Buddhism.

My family belonged to a Mongolian family association in Taiwan, which consisted of 80 families who were descendants of a Mongolian general. The record shows that this general, my 26th generation grandfather, was a prime minister in 1295 A.D. for the grandson of Khubilai Khan during the Yuan Dynasty. A brief biography said he had grown up in a town in Shaanxi in northwest China, near a contact point between the Mongols and Han. When he was young, he won a Song Dynasty-sponsored scholastic contest in 1262 A.D.  In doing research on his life, I found an article on the scholastic test in Beijing.  The article said that, to prevent cheating, each contestant was locked up, a prisoner, in a small room of 4' x 5' for two nights, and must sleep and eat in that room.Guards were stationed outside.

My ancestor's taking the test showed me there was some amount of integration in China at that time, and that he knew enough of the Han language to win.  Upon qualifying in this test, the young Mongol was offered a court position by the Sung emperor; but he declined, and moved into a mountainous region to study Buddhism. His biography then stated that since "life was terrible for the people; food was scarce; robbers were everywhere; the country needed stability; therefore he helped establish the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty." What I find interesting in this passage of his biography, written in ancient Chinese language before the language even had punctuation marks - was a confirmation that China was seen as "the country", and Yuan and Sung Dynasties were simply dynasties.

The Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty began in 1264 A.D. The Mongols and Tibetans were allies in ruling over the Han. During the this dynasty, social class wise, the Han were the bottom rung of the ladder. The Mongols allowed the Tibetan monks to rape Han brides on their wedding nights, just as what happened in the movie Braveheart. There is a term "flower monk" in Chinese, which originated at that time because the Tibetan monks of that time was of the Flower Sect (not the current Dalai Lama sect.) Over the subsequent centuries, the term "flower monk" evolved into a much less pejorative meaning. It became applied to monks with wild manners, who did not necessarily commit bad deeds. Then "hua" (flower) eventually worked its way into other terms, such as "the hua hua shijie", which means a wild world. Or even the "hua hua gongzi", ("gongzi" means "young man") which is the title for the modern Chinese version of "Playboy" magazine. A man with a "huaxin" (flower heart) is one with a roving eye for women.

There were many Tibetans and Mongols who migrated into central China during the Yuan Dynasty. The Mongols set up a Chinese empire. The Han eventually revolted to overthrow the Mongols. But the history of Tibet joining China began then. Over the centuries, the Han culture became imbued with many neighboring tribes cultures. And many people of the Mongolian tribes, the Tibetan tribe, and the Manchurian tribes now lived in central China, the Han homeland.     
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