Manchurian “History”

So when Manchurian people took over China, they actually assimilated to Mandarin culture and language, which is why there isn’t a lot of genuine Manchurian folklore around. And it’s weird because usually when you take over a country, those people become your people but they instead chose to assimilate themselves to the Mandarin identity. They really connected themselves to “Old China”—that’s what my mom said, anyway.

So she told me a little bit about the Qing dynasty in general, and she told me a little bit about Tsu Tsi (I don’t know her name in English), and she was like the woman behind everything, the controlling power behind her son, the emperor. And she died, not too long before the Qing dynasty was over and she had a really bad reputation in China. The communist party hated her, and the Chinese people kind of hated her too because they thought that the country needed someone else to lead it (this is in the transition from the dynasties to Communism, so like the 1940s-60s)…

During her time, she kind of sold out the country to the West, like eight countries invaded China, and we know like Hong Kong was ceded to the British people and China was just generally defeated. So that’s kind of the general historical context of what was going on.

So my great-grandfather (on my paternal side so my dad’s grandfather), fled from Korea because of the Japanese invasion in a war (possibly World War I) and he went to Manchuria, where he married a princess, well not quite a princess, but an aristocrat/elite. And when he moved to China, that was the first time that China really started having Koreans living in the country.

And then the Cultural Revolution started happening in the ‘60s and the ‘70s, so that was when the communists started taking over. And a lot of people were mistreated by the government for their origins. So my grandparents never really ever wanted to even talk about the family history—we don’t have any other stories about it aside from this because it was/is dangerous (rich families and powerful families can get into a lot of trouble). And they had to invent a whole new family history. So my mom only really heard about it from her aunt, and when I asked her about the family, she said my dad’s grandma is the one who’s half-Manchurian and half-Korean.

Her Korean dad actually served the Chinese government after he came from Korea because he went to military school and was kind of in charge of the railroad, so he was pretty high up there, and my Manchurian great-grandma had already in the ‘50s started creating this new family history, and she had to make up stuff because Manchurian ethnicity is supposed to be from your mom’s side? so that’s why they had to hide it because she and my dad are the Manchurian ones, it was especially dangerous for them. And my mom’s side is just “regular” Chinese. So what happened was he was really high up in the military and he was supposed to be killed, because they had a gardener who was secretly Communist and reported him or something, but because they had treated him well, the communists actually spared his life.

And my great-great-grandpa also served the government before the Communists took over, spared later because he was a doctor, and worked burning coal for a public bath, and so they had to create entire new lives for themselves because they were serving the old government. They just lied, basically. You just don’t tell people your actual origins. Like my mom said that my dad, when he’s filling out forms, he just says that he’s Chinese, even though he’s technically Manchurian. The new government was so bad, people were fleeing to Taiwan, and more were getting killed, families were broken in half because half would flee and the rest would be executed. It’s sad because a lot of the family history is lost because no one will talk about it and now all these relatives are dead.


How did you come across this folklore: “this is what my parents told me when I asked them about Manchurian folklore. Nobody really talked about the Manchurian stuff my whole life, I don’t even know when/why I was told that it was there at all.”

It’s just one family’s story, but there are a lot of other stories like this, where people have lied about their origins and as part of the aforementioned lie, created entirely new life stories for themselves that over time, basically become the truth. After a few generations, details get really difficult to sort out, which this story shows, and it’s even more difficult to discern the true parts from the fictive ones. What happened to the Manchurian histories is also an example of what happens in the construction of identity on our nationalist basis; because Manchuria isn’t an independent country (anymore), it’s hard to acknowledge, recognize, or respect the Manchurian identity. But generations and their stories are lost in the nation-state homogenization, in the need to belong to this concept of a nationality.