Wednesday, May 21, 2008

China earthquake threatens future of the Qiang

One of the many indiscriminate acts of last week's massive earthquake was the destruction of the ancestral homeland of the Qiang, one of the more mysterious of China's minorities.
Described variously as descendants of a legendary 21st century BC Chinese emperor or a lost tribe of Israelites, the Qiang number only about 300,000.

As their singular misfortune would have it, almost all lived within 100 miles of the earthquake's epicenter, mainly in Sichuan province's hardest-hit counties.

The Qiang's identity already has question marks. They have some resemblance in physical appearance and culture to Tibetans, although they practice a pre-Buddhist animism, believing everything is imbued with spirits.

Their lineage is also under debate. Qiang has various dialects and no written form. Out of 300,000 Qiang, only about 100,000 speak the language. Even many older people don't bother speaking it to their children.