In February 2014, Y and I take the subway. When a guy in his late 20s to early 30s who is sitting right next to me hears me speak Chinese with Y, he starts chatting with me. After asking me where I’m from, where I’ve learned to speak Chinese and what my mother tongue is, he asks:
He: “Which ethnic group do you belong to? Are you Hebrew (希伯来族 Xībóláizú)?”
I: “No, I’m Germanic (日耳曼族 Rì’ěrmànzú)*.”
He: “Did Austria once belong to Germany?”
I: “I don’t think so.”
He: “Not even at the time of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire before the First World War?”
I: “No. Quite a few countries were part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but Germany was not one of them.”
He: “Does Austria still have an emperor?”
I: “No, it doesn’t.”
He: “I see. Did you know that Hungarians are descendants of the Chinese?”
I: “I thought that the Mongol Empire once stretched as far as Hungary, but Hungarians being descendants of the Chinese?”
He: “They are. They are descendants of the Xiongnu (匈奴 Xiōngnú), which came from China**.”
*After having been asked about my ethnicity various times in China, I decided to search the internet to find out which ethnicity the majority of Austrians belong to. I wouldn’t have known it was Germanic if I hadn’t looked it up.
**Xiongnu is Chinese and is often translated as Huns, but researchers do think that the English term “Huns” does not describe the same people as the Chinese term “Xiongnu”. The Xiongnu were nomads whose empire once spread from Central to East Asia, stretching from Mongolia to areas in today’s southern Siberia and the Chinese provinces of Xinjiang, Gansu and Inner Mongolia. A more accurate translation for the Huns would be 匈人 xiōngren. Except for these two peoples there is a third term in Chinese that uses the character 匈 xiōng: Hungary 匈牙利 xiōngyálì).