Letter on the Lee's Origins
Su Wu 蘇五
July 8, 2009
Dear DD, LL: I have reconstructed the first part of a planned family chronicle. The original draft was permanently lost during what I can now jokingly call "Sahib's Downfall", actually, a disaster of large proportions (大灾难), of some years ago.
The stories, whether fact of fiction, originated mostly from oral histories of Father (1985-87), Uncle (幺爷 1981), and fragments contributed by Mother from 1989 to1996.
Great-grand-father came from LongXi¶
Our great-grand-father (GGF) was born in the city of LongXi (陇西市) in Gansu province (甘肅省). Since Qing dynasty, LongXi is the administrative seat of the county of the same name. The city is 140 km southwest of LanZhou (兰州市). Born in an affluent farming family and being independent minded, he married a beautiful girl with round eyes and big feet (an Uighur) from the family of Wu (仵氏) at a very young age.
Heeding his restless spirit and entrepreneurial nature, GGF traveled with his wife down Wei River (渭河) by boat and arrived at XianYang (咸阳) , which was the old capital of Emperor Qin (秦始皇). XianYang is 400 km due east of LongXi and downstream of the WeiHe.
Migration to Hubei¶
It's not clear how long they sojourned at 咸阳, but eventually they traveled south, most likely by boat, and went downstream of QianYou River (乾佑河) to XunYang (旬阳). The city is located on the banks of HanShui (汉水), which is a major river that flows southeast into Hubei province and merges into ChangJiang (长江). So, again by boat, they traveled on HanShui downstream to XiangFan (襄樊市) in Hubei.
Great-grand-mother's was footy¶
For a while, they settled down in XiangFan to trade and prosper. After he made enough money, he traveled further down by boat, searched around extensively for a nice big piece of property near rivers and lakes, and ultimately decided to domicile in PuQi (蒲圻; since 1998, ChiBi 赤壁). Great-grand-mother's big feet came in handy (or 'footy'). Otherwise the major migration and all that heavy traveling around would have been quite difficult.
To go home, tow a river boat¶
LongXi, GGF's ancestral home, was never far from his mind. As GGF always liked to live near water, and favored traveling by boat, so originated our family phrase: 起旱还乡, which meant 'to return home by a towed river boat'. (Of course, in case of failure and impoverishment, this homecoming phrase is preceded by ). In fact, in the saying 'walking a boat upstream' 逆水行舟, notice the appropriate use of the word "行", which literally means that the boat was propelled by humans, walking along the banks with boat in tow. The rudder-man kept the boat straight, but the boatmen labored along the shores. For stretches of river that flow rapidly, and for heavily laden boats (without powerful motors) that want to go upstream, this practice was commonplace everywhere, e.g., consider the Russian Volga Barge Haulers (see famous painting of Ilya Repin).
The practice (逆水行舟) is still very much alive in today's China (the picture of boatsmen hauling along rough terrain on the banks of Yangtse river (or ChangJiang) was taken in 2005).
Great-grand-father?s last act¶
Great-grand-father was a diligent and shrewd businessman, for he eventually acquired a jute farm, a burlap factory (that manufactured gunny sacks 麻布袋), a fishery, and a coal mine.
At six years of age (1907), our Father knelt at GGF's deathbed and witnessed GGF summon his son (our GF) to bring him a box of IOU notes, which he had GF burn in front of his eyes. Thus GGF forgave all his creditors debts before he closed his eyes. This act of kindness and generosity was to later save our Uncle's life during the 1950's when the practice of 'liquidation of landlords' (清算地主) was rampant in rural, liberated China.
LongXi, land of emperors and bandits¶
LongXi is historically a very interesting place. For it is the birthplace of kings and brigands, mostly the latter. But that is a slightly different LongXi as I shall clarify.
The founding father of Tang Dynasty was from LongXi (唐高祖李淵, 566-635在世, 618-626在位, 祖籍隴西成紀, 今甘肅省秦安縣). There is another 'celebrity' who hailed originally from old 隴西 (i.e., today's 秦安); he is the famous 李自成, a notorious bandit who almost became king (according to the nationalists), and heroic peasant revolutionary who almost overthrew the thoroughly corrupt Ming dynasty (according to the communists).
However, Tang dynasty’s LongXi, modern QinAn (甘肅 秦安), is 100 km east of our GGF's (i.e., Qing dynasty's) 甘肅; 秦安 is on dry land and not on the banks of WeiHe river (渭河). And thus, we are cleared of any suspicion, or absolved of any guilt by association, with either royalty or banditry.
If you have ever wondered why Dad was so handsome, or perhaps narcissistically admired your own good looks in the mirror, then you need to thank Great-grand-mother for her lovely Uighur genes. Dad was one quarter Uighur, and we are 12.5% Uighur.
Also, from GGF's lifelong fondness of water, you know why Dad's favorite food is fresh fish.
Now, if we include Mother's side, then our genes become further complicated with Manchurian (满) contributions. But that is another story.
July 8, 2009
© Su Wu 2010