“Did you know that Hungarians are descendants of the Chinese?”

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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).

About

Hi, I'm Ruth, welcome to China Elevator Stories! I have been living in Kunming and Shenzhen in the past and am now staying in Northeast China with my Chinese husband and our baby and toddler son. Join us on our journey bridging worlds!

16 comments

  1. Suigetsu

    Wasn’t Austria once part of a greater German-speaking empire formed by Prussia (roughly corresponding to modern Germany) and Austria?

    • Visitor

      no mate. Kingdom of Prussia was formed by a Duchy called Brandenburg after they occupied those costal city (for example, Danzig which is now as Gdańsk today as a part of Poland) of Baltic sea. Brandenburg was part of the Holy Roman Empire same as Austria which is the only Archduchy in the Holy Roman Empire system because they the archduke of Austria is also the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Since the Holy Roman Empire’s official name is Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation which is also known as the first Deustche Empire. Therefore, Austria was a part of Germany. btw, the author should know better history of his own country. it is interesting that i know better Germanic history as a Chinese and i am not history major

  2. er… I have no idea what ethnicity I am! and no one has ever asked me!

    PS. Your updates don’t appear in my wordpress reader anymore, is that normal? because you moved to .org?

    • chinaelevatorstories
      Author

      Not even in China? People seem to ask me that question all of the time.

      That’s probably related to the blog move. You can try de-following and re-following me and see if that works. I’ll contact wordpress support to ask them about it.

  3. This theory about the connection between the Huns and the Xiongnu is interesting. I understand it was first proposed in the 18th century by a French scholar. The connection is unsubstantiated, but it seems quite possible.

    And how ironic that you might not have looked up the majority ethnicity of Austrians if you hadn’t come to China.

    By the way, my daughter and son-in-law are flying from the US to Austria for a couple of weeks this month to celebrate their anniversary. It sounds like they’re going to have a wonderful trip.

    • chinaelevatorstories
      Author

      Yes, we don’t seem to talk about people’s ethnicities much here. We usually just ask about the country somebody’s from.

      If the weather stays as sunny as it is right now, there’ll be a lot your daughter and son-in-law can do outdoors.

  4. Rather surprising that you didn’t know the ethnicity of most Austrians :p
    Anyways, long long time ago Austria was actually part of the Holy Roman Empire and it was due to the rivalry between Prussia and Austria later on that Austria didn’t become a part of the new german empire after 1871. Before that the Holy Roman Empire collapsed thanks to Napoleon. (at least this is what I remember from my extended history class in high school).

    Now to the Hungarians: they are actually related to Finnish and Estonian people in Europe and they all have a related language (honestly I don’t see any common points between Finnish and Hungarian) and they also come from Central Asia/ lower Siberia. Throughout Siberia. And even close to the Mongolian border you may similar language traits and according to some DNA research some time ago they have some common DNA there as well. This means that Hungarians, Finnish and Estonian have little to no common DNA marker with the rest of Europe.

    Enough of this now, I never got into any conversation like that in china except that anyone who actually talks to me assumes that I am from Russia “are you Russian?”‘ “How is it in Russia?” 🙂

  5. Gee, I guess I’ll have to inform my father (the son of two Hungarian immigrants) that we are in fact Chinese. It shouldn’t come as that big a surprise though, what with the pale skin and big nose that we have…oh wait.

  6. Very interesting post. Great encounter with that man on the subway, he seemed very eager to share his knowledge of Chinese people. I’ve heard that there are people of Chinese heritage who look very much Caucasian – and that they all live in a certain region of China and spoke Mandarin. Do you know how true is this?

    Love your new blog layout and design. So clean and spacious. Was wondering why I didn’t see any posts from you in my reader. I’ll just subscribe by email as I can’t see a WordPress Follow button anywhere 🙂

    • chinaelevatorstories
      Author

      I’m not sure which people that could be. Was that in the past or is this a present thing?

      Thanks! There were issues with the new posts not appearing in the reader, but it should be working now. I’ll have to check what’s going on with the WordPress follow button.

    • chinaelevatorstories
      Author

      I’ve googled it and unfortunately it seems like there’s no WordPress follow button for self-hosted sites. Subscribing by email seems to be the only way to make sure that you receive notifications of new posts.

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  8. Tony

    Austria was kind of a part of Germany. They used to be part of Holy-Roman Empire, which is considered as the first German Empire.

  9. Lily

    I am half Hungarian and have always noticed similar patterns in the embroidery and folk outfits of the Hungarians and Chinese. The carved gates and other folk items are also very similar, and the whole equestrian culture. However, when I lived in South Korea, I noticed similarities in the Korean language with the Hungarian language that were quite stunning. For instance, the Korean language is known as “hangul”, having to do with sound and is a phonetic alphabet (unlike Chinese and Japanese). In Hungarian the word “hang” means sound, and it is a very onomatopoeic language. There are many other crossovers that I found. Then too, Hungarian is Finno-Uralic, whereas Korean is Ural-Altaic. So the common ground is the Ural mountain area. For sure, there was an oriental or Asian influence on the early tribes of Hungary.

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