East-West Shuffle

parents with pope paulVI

George Why Chen and Pearl L. Chen in Rome with an audience with Pope Paul VI, 1970.


The Lost Roman Legion

This research essay is dedicated to Elena Kovalenko.

As we know, many Chinese herbs have multiple names.  Every acupuncture point has several names.  Classical Chinese medicine has standardized the names for each acupuncture point.  But instead of standardizing Chinese herbal names, a more common practice was adopted.  Modern Chinese herbal dictionaries list all the different names of each medicinal herb.  A medicinal plant may be known by different names in different dialects.  The closer the province is to Peking or Beijing, the more similar the provincial dialect is to Pekinese, and thus, the more similar the names of herbs are.  The farther away a province is from Peking, the more dissimilar the provincial dialect is, and thus the herbs are known by more widely different names.

To resolve such differences, the Chinese developed several academic disciplines which became major fields of scholarly pursuits.  They are Chinese etymology, Chinese nomenclature and zheng ming, the rectification and justification of names.

In my treatise on Chinese Etymology (March, 2007), I included a section on name justification and illustrated it with historical research published originally in Chinese.

In 20 B.C., Caesar Augustus negotiated a peace with Phraates of Parthia and persuaded him to return the standards captured at Carrhae.  But when the remaining Roman captives were counted, there were only several hundred of them, not the one fourth as claimed.  Rumors had it that in fact there were many Roman Legion soldiers who did not die in battle.  Later research indicated that over 1,000 Roman Legion soldiers did break out of the encirclement by the Parthian cavalry at Carrhae.  In order to survive, they avoided the Parthian forces and escaped to the east.  Finally, remnant Roman Legion soldiers left Parthia and entered the Middle Eastern basin of Yue Zhi or Rou Zhi where the kingdoms of Da Yue Shi, Xiao Yue Shi, and Kang Ju were.

We know from Chinese etymology that “yue” is a phonetic approximation of the “r” sound in southern Chinese dialects which do not have the “r” sound as in the northern  dialects of Pekinese Mandarin and Fuchownese.  The character “rou” is a genuine phonetic rendition of the “r” sound.  And “kang” is the phonetic rendition of the “k” sound.

Accordingly, the Han dynasty records would indicate the existence of various small kingdoms between the present day northern Iranian Plateau and western Xinjiang in the southern Mongolian steppes.  The character “zhi” is a phonetic representation of China as in Indo-China (ying du zhi na), designating the region or territory.  Ancient Yue Zhi or Rou Zhi would be today’s Registan in Afghanistan.  Kang Ju, another small kingdom according to the Han records, was 12,000 li [one li is 500 meters or 0.3107 miles] from the capital city of Chang’an.  The Roman Legion soldiers became mercenaries for these small kingdoms.  In 40 B.C., one of the five co-rulers of the Kingdom of Registan revolted and proclaimed himself king.  This would be the basis for the references to Registan as Da Yue Shi or Big Registan and Xiao Yue Shi or Small Registan and ancient Registan would have been known as Rou Zhi or Registan of the region of Zhi Na (the region of China).  The defeated four co-rulers fled eastward with their own armies, families, loyal citizens and some Roman mercenary soldiers and reached the He Xi Corridor inside Western Han territory.  They were resettled there.  The mercenary Roman Legion soldiers who stayed in the Kingdom of Kang Ju, 3,728.4 miles west of Chang’an, did not have it that easy.

There is a town called Kangavar in western Iran, about 40 miles southwest of Hamadan.  Kangavar’s population circa 1966 was 9414.  It is on a main highway in a fertile region at an altitude of 6000 feet.  Kangavar, Iran, is 3715.99 miles west of present day Xi’an city, China, the original city of Chang’an, the capital city of the Han dynasty, and the eastern end of the Silk Road.  Kangavar is thus a good candidate for Kang Ju, since the distances differ by only 12.4 miles.  The Chinese name Kang Ju thus may very well refer to a small kingdom that may have existed during that period in the fertile region of Kangavar at an altitude of 6000 feet above sea level.

The remnant Roman Legion soldiers who stayed in Kang Ju got involved in the war between the Northern Huns and the armies of the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C. – 24 A.D.)  In 57 B.C., five chiefs of the Huns rose to oppose each other.  In 53 B.C., one of the five Hun chiefs named Hu Han Xie declared allegiance to the imperial court of Western Han, and moved his men south to the area near Yingshan.  The Hun chief Zhi Zhi who opposed the Western Han imperial court feared Hu Han Xie might join forces with the Western Han Chinese army to attack him so he led his men westward into Asia Minor.  In 40 B.C., when Hun chief Zhi Zhi and his men reached the Kingdom of Kang Ju, he had only some 3000 men left.  But he received immediate help from the King of Kang Ju who stationed Hun chief Zhi Zhi and his men on the eastern border of the kingdom.  The King of Kang Ju also assigned the mercenary Roman Legion soldiers to support the Hun chief. In this way, the Roman Legion soldiers became the mercenaries of the Northern Hun army.

With the help of the King of Kang Ju, Hun chief Zhi Zhi was able to strengthen his forces.  He overran smaller neighboring kingdoms, built Zhi Zhi City and prepared to fight the Han army.  Since the activities of the Hun chief Zhi Zhi seriously threatened the various kingdoms in the western regions of the Han dynasty, in 36 B.C., the court of Western Han launched an attack on the Hun chief Zhi Zhi.  After the Han Chinese army under the Chinese general Chen Tang surrounded Zhi Zhi City, they found some odd looking soldiers among the Hun soldiers.  According to Chinese historical records, Zhi Zhi City “was fortified by an inner earthen wall and an outer protective wooden wall” and there were also “a hundred and some infantry soldiers guarding the narrow gate in a fish scale formation.”  The Han Chinese had always believed that the nomadic Huns would not have been able to use such tactics.  More surprisingly was that when in combat, these soldiers would hold a huge shield equal to a man’s height, and they would form a square battle formation and use their shields to form an impenetrable outer perimeter.  Then, they would march forward in unison, shouting as they advanced.  When they were at a distance from the enemy, they would bring out their long lance and throw their lance at the enemy.  When in close combat, they would take out their daggers and fight hand to hand.

The Han Chinese used heavy cavalry and overwhelmed the Roman soldiers’ square battle formation and was able to overrun Zhi Zhi City.  By that time, only 100 Roman Legion soldiers were still alive and they became prisoners of war of the Han Chinese army.

The Chinese army brought these Roman Legion soldiers back to China.  Han Yuan Di (Emperor Yuan of Han who reigned for 16 years from 48 B.C. to 33 B.C.) decreed that a county in the He Xi Corridor region be established to resettle these captive Roman Legion soldiers.  The decree established Li (black horse) Xuan (ancient cart) county, today’s Yongchang County in Gansu province.  According to records of the Chronicles of the Late Han:  “At the beginning of the Han dynasty, the county of Li Xuan was established.  The country name was used as the county name.”  Some modern scholars believe that the name Li Xuan was what the Han dynasty Chinese called the Roman Empire.  The offspring of the captured Roman Legion prospered here.  In 592 A.D., Emperor Sui Wen Di who reigned for 26 years from 589 A.D. to 616 A.D. ordered that Li Xuan County become part of Fan (foreign) He (plant stalk) County.  From then on, Chinese historical records no longer mentioned the Roman Legion soldiers again.

The He Xi Corridor refers to the corridor west of the river.  The river refers to the Yellow River.  The corridor refers to a road or a passageway.  The He Xi Corridor is the original official name of the ancient Silk Road.

On November 28, 2010, Xinhua News published this article:


The DNA of the villagers of Li Xuan of Gansu province was tested to be Caucasian, and they are thought to be descendants of  ancient Romans

Xinhua, November 28, 2010 – The eyes are green, the hair color is the color of flax, and for many years, the residents of Li Xuan Village in Gansu province always felt that they were different.  Their unique Western features finally attracted the interest of the British media and the Italian Culture Research Center of Lanzhou University.

The DNA of the Li Xuan villagers tested to be of European blood lines.  In 53 A.D., a Roman Legion went to war against Parthia but was defeated and surrounded.  The Legion broke away from the encirclement and instead of returning to Rome, it mysteriously disappeared.  For over 2000 years, the Lost Roman Legion has remained a mystery.

Thirty-eight-year-old Li Xuan villager Cai Junnian has a pair of green eyes, and his friends would always tease him and call him Roman Cai.  Recently, his DNA was tested in Shanghai.  The results showed that 56% was of European blood.

The DNA test results also showed that two thirds of the Li Xuan villagers are of Caucasian ancestry.

In the Western Han Tomb in Yongchang County near the village of Li Xuan were found corpses of very tall men with protruding brow bones and square lower jaws.  It is believed that Roman soldiers were buried here.

DNA tests however could not establish without a doubt that the villagers were in fact the direct descendants of the Roman Legion soldiers since ethnic mingling, cross breeding, sexual liaison and mixed marriages were very common all along the Silk Road.

According to Western research, the Roman soldiers captured by the Chinese were settled in Li Xuan Village in 36 B.C. There are some records indicating that Li Xuan village was established in 104 B.C.

The Chinese name of Li Xuan consists of two characters.  The character Li consists of the radical for horse (ma), and the ideograph of li, meaning beautiful in modern Chinese, black in ancient Chinese, is a pictograph of a woman sitting with heavy eye makeup and long hair.  The etymological origin of li (beautiful) comes from the black color of long black hair of Oriental women.  Xuan is an ancient cart.  The character consists of the ideographic radical for a wheeled vehicle (che) and an ideograph (gan) which depicts a pole with two cross bars of unequal length.  The entire character depicts an image of an ancient chariot.

Woolworth, 1949-1950, San Luis Obispo, California

This photo was taken by Stella Young Luis of San Luis Obispo, CA.

Young Luis, aka Uncle Pop, and Thomas Chan both were graduates of the first graduating class of California Polytechnic.  Uncle Pop operated a photo studio with Aunty Stella and Thomas Chan operated the first movie house in San Luis Obispo.  The Ah Louie General Store in San Luis Obispo is a California Historical Landmark.

Between Two Worlds: Chinese of Marshfield, Oregon

This book tells the story of the Gow Why family. It is available from the Coos Bay-North Bend Historical and Maritime Museum. US$25 by mail.

Coos Historical and Maritime Museum, 1220 Sherman Ave. North Bend, Oregon 97459

The Gow Why Store, Marshfield (Coos Bay, North Bend), Oregon, circa 1910-1928

Gow Why Chan circa 1920

Mary Yee Chan circa 1930-1940

Gow Why and Mary Yee Chan had four sons and two daughters.  One of the sons, Roy Chan, moved from Marshfield, Oregon, to Vallejo, California, and worked at Mare Island and Travis AB.  Another son, George W. Chen, was born on March 23, 1904, in North Bend (Coos Bay, Marshfield), Oregon, graduated from Stanford University in business economics, left Marshfield in 1928, went to San Francisco, and then onto Shanghai, China, in 1933.  He stayed and worked in China from 1933 to 1948, and then in Taiwan from 1951 to 1993.  He became Grand Master of the Masonic Temple of the Republic of China in 1966-67.   In 1994, he settled in San Luis Obispo, California, and stayed until his death on February 16, 1997 in San Luis Obispo, Ca.  He married Pearl L. Chen in 1940.  Pearl L. Chen, born in on April 7, 1907, in Napa County, California, graduated as an English major from the University of California, Berkeley in 1929.  In 1933, she became the English secretary to Madame Mei-ling Soong Chiang (Madame Chiang Kai-shek) for 60 years (1933-1993) until her death on November 26, 1993.

Burma: The Untold Story by Colonel Won Loy Chan of Marshfield, Oregon
(Novato, California, Presidio Press, 1986)

Another Chinese family in North Bend, Oregon, was that of Jing Hing Chan. The family began its stay in Coos County in Marshfield. Jing Hing Chan and his brother came to America from Sam Shui, near Canton, the same home village as Gow Why Chan, and entered San Francisco in 1891, stayed in San Francisco until the 1906 Earthquake, went to Watsonville where Jing Hing Chan met and married Ling May (Mae Lee), then the Jing Hing Chan family moved to Marshfield and then to North Bend and opened a general merchandise store. Jing Hing and Ling May Chan had six children, four boys, Shee Loy, Won Loy, Quon Loy and Sun Loy, and two daughters, Ling Gee and Foo Gee. Shee Loy Chan was born in about 1912 (perhaps in Marshfield), graduated from North Bend High School in 1930, as verified in the 1930 North Bend High School yearbook Hesperia. When Shee Loy was born, his mother was about 17 years old. Mrs. Jing Hing Chan and her first born baby Shee Loy sat with Mary Why Chan for a photo taken by the Marshfield portrait photographer Stadden Studios in about 1913. By 1914, Jing Hing Chan with his wife and baby son Shee Loy were living in North Bend. The first two sons, Shee Loy and Won Loy completed grammar school in North Bend. Shee Loy’s birth year and the mother’s age were based on calculations from the age of their mother who was reported at 25 years old in the 1920 federal census. Both boys went to junior high in San Francisco but completed high school in North Bend. Shee Loy entered North Bend High School from San Francisco in 1928. Won Loy went to North Bend High School from San Francisco in the same year. Both boys studied the classical Chinese text San Zi Jing (Three Character Classic). Won Loy Chan graduated from North Bend High School in 1931, went to Stanford University and got a degree in economics in 1936. Won Loy took ROTC at Stanford and received commission in the US Army Field Artillery Reserve. His brother Shee Loy died in 1937. Won Loy was called to duty in the US Army immediately following Pearl Harbor and was assigned to Army Intelligence. He took language training in Mandarin and Japanese and was nicknamed Charlie Chan. He joined the Burma campaigns and had a career in Army Intelligence until he retired in 1968 with a rank of Colonel. Won Loy Chan died in San Mateo, California in 1999. [Postscript to the book Between Two Worlds: Chinese of Marshfield, Oregon]

Recommended reading:  Indochina in the Year of the Dragon – 1964, RADIX PRESS, The editor, 11715 Bandlon Drive, Houston, Texas 77072 or email at sherman1@flash.net, or  at http://www.specialforcesbooks.com.





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