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Friday, December 24, 2004

Hainan Adventure to begin tonight!

Dear All,

 

In less than 24 hours, I will be flying to Hainan Island, ChinaÂ’s southernmost province.  This is going to be an exciting week for me, not lest because I would be visiting the place where my father was born but also an island that is now the chief domestic beach holiday destination for the Noveau Riche of China (thus the nickname “Hawaii of China” for Hainan) and a land of ethnic-linguistic diversity.

 

As I have noted in my last posting, I have recently found out that, in 1242 during the Song Dynasty, an ancestor by the name of Chen Gong-chen moved to Hainan from Fujian Province on the Chinese Mainland when he was appointed Chief Magistrate and county head of Wenchang County in Hainan.   I have also said that he later surrendered this last outpost of Song power to the invading Mongols after the death of the last Song child-emperor.  

 

Further research in the last week have revealed that it was actually Chen Gong-chenÂ’s son, Chen Zhong-da, who as supreme military governor of Hainan, gave up what could have been a vain attempt at resisting what was then the worldÂ’s most powerful forces. (Chen Gong-chen had died in 1856).  I have also found out that a distant cousin of Chen Zhong-da, Chen Wen-long, as commander of Guangdong and Fujian provinces, was executed by the Mongols for resisting Mongol invasion.    Chen Wen-long was proclaimed a national hero and martyr by the family ancestral book which was the source of these discoveries. 

 

Chen Zhong-da, who retained his power as Hainan governor under Mongol sovereignty, later successfully invaded the ancient Hindu kingdom of Champa in what is today central Vietnam.  The Chams (people of Champa), who were an Indonesian-related people who later converted to Islam, had built a great Hindu civilization whose monumental temples I visited in 2002 (http://weecheng.com/2002/eurasia/vietnam4/ulthm1.htm and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/twc-nomad/message/192 ).  Their empire was eventually vanquished by the Vietnamese who went on to take over the Mekong Delta from the Cambodians.  A small community of Chams live in southern Hainan today, one of their members emigrated to Penang, Malaysia in early 20th century and whose grandson is today MalaysiaÂ’s Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.  I wonder if Chen Zhong-da had anything to do with the Chams in Hainan?  Did he bring them across to Hainan after his invasion of Champa?

 

I will be spending a few days in the family home in Taijia Village where an ancestor moved to in the 16th century during the Ming Dynasty, and where my father was born but left for Singapore when he was two years old.  I also intend to visit nearby Wenchang City, Boau (site of the now important Asian Forum & Summit) well as Sanya, ChinaÂ’s premier winter beach resort. 

 

Near Taijia Village is the family home of the Soong Sisters, the three famous women who married three eminent Chinese leaders of the 20th century – the patriotic Soong Ching-ling who married Sun Yat-sen, Chinese republican revolutionary leader and “Father of Modern China”; Soong Ai-ling who married H.H. Kung, finance minister under the Kuomintang regime of pre-communist China, one of ChinaÂ’s wealthiest men at that time and direct descendant of Confucius; and  Soong May-ling who married Chiang Kai-shek, Generalissimo and Kuomintang leader who ruled China for many years before fleeing to Taiwan after the Communist Revolution.

 

I will take local buses to Wuzhishan in the central highlands of Hainan, where 1 million members of the Li tribe live today.  Chen Zhong-daÂ’s son, Chen Qian-ting, who succeeded as Hainan Governor, had a memorial carving made on Mt Wuzhi to commemorate Chen Zhong-daÂ’s successful crushing of a major rebellion of the LiÂ’s, one of the three dozen rebellions the LiÂ’s had staged against the Chinese state in the last two thousand years.  Alas – is my ancestor also an oppressor of indigenous peoples?

 

Apart from trying to gather more information about my ancestors and various aspects of HainanÂ’s diverse ethnic groups, I also look forward to try the famous Wenchang Chicken Rice of Hainan and see how different is it from SingaporeÂ’s unofficial national dish, the Hainanese Chicken Rice, which was adapted from Wenchang Chicken Rice to suit Southeast Asian taste by Hainanese immigrants in Singapore during early 20th century.

 

So, thatÂ’s my exciting plans for the next one week - with Christmas in Hainan, and New Year count-down in the air over the disputed Spratley Islands in the South China Sea while on my way back to Singapore. 

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

 

Best regards,

 

Wee Cheng

 

 

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