The world is a big place and there is nothing strange. In Yongchang County, Gansu Province, there is a "Zerai Village", which is alias "Ancient Roman Village", because its inhabitants have high noses and blue eyes, resembling Europeans.
Yet strangely enough, they are classified as Han Chinese, still speak the most authentic Chinese language, and usually follow the traditional Chinese way of life that has stretched here for a thousand years.
Such a village is the only one of its kind in China.
Why did this happen? Where did the ancestors of these residents really come from? Many people have traveled thousands of miles to unravel this mystery.
I. The origin of "Zerai Zhai
Speaking of Gansu Province, we generally think of the Hexi Corridor, Dunhuang Mogao Caves, endless desert, etc., but in addition to these famous attractions, there is a small local "Zerai Zhai".
The "Zerai Village" is located at the foot of the Qilian Mountains, which has a typical temperate continental climate with little rainfall and drought all year round. The local houses are mostly clay-based, with only a yellow color as far as the eye can see, and there is nothing different from the ordinary rural areas in western China.
But it is under such an unusual appearance that a small lost country is concealed.
Life in Shilai Village has always been quiet, and the local villagers, like all simple Chinese farmers, live a hard-working life, but because of their peculiar appearance, they were once regarded as "foreigners".
This difference gradually became known to the outside world, attracting numerous curious experts and scholars who tried to solve the mystery of the villagers' appearance.
Because the technical means were backward back then, the first research method was field survey. Scholars wanted to clarify the origins of these villagers by studying the historical development of the area.
This way is like the hot "root culture" nowadays, we finally return to our roots after a lot of searching, and know where we come from.
Among the field surveys are textual surveys, custom surveys and archaeological surveys.
The textual investigation generally refers to the local county records, but the Zuilai Village is located in Gansu, far from the cultural center, so the relevant records are not rich, and the existing records are not much different from the format of ordinary county records, but only administrative divisions, mountains, rivers, local sages and so on.
The customs of a place are often living history, carrying the colorful culture of the area. After living for a period of time in the Zelaya, the scholar discovered that the local villagers enjoy eating pizza and bullfighting.
Cows are a special presence in the Zerai Zhai. During the New Year holidays, the local people will kill the cattle, and also like to let the cattle smell the blood to stimulate their fighting nature, so that the original perhaps tame cattle become violent.
They also make a special steamed bun with a date on the top, and the villagers use the date to make a shape of a bull's nose, hence the name "bull's nose".
"Niubizi" is not for human consumption, but for ancestor worship. This unique ritual is obviously different from that of the Han Chinese, and it seems that the "bull" is not a totem, but more like an essential component of life. However, this is only an inference and difficult to prove.
Compared with the first two, the results of archaeological investigation are more bright, after all, there are actual materials to support them, and their credibility is higher.
The first result is the burial. By studying local burials from 2,000 years ago, archaeologists found that the physique and bones of the burial owners were more European than Asian.
The proportion of the whole skeleton of Chinese people is mostly seven and a half skulls, but the people in the burial reached eight. Some of the burials still have remnants of unweathered hair, brownish-red in color, which is extremely consistent with the features of ancient Romans.
In addition, scholars also found a red button, which is very different from the traditional Chinese dress top and bottom, and curiously, regardless of the terrain in which the tomb was located, the tomb owner always took the head to the west placement.
Experts compared the physiognomy of the tomb owners with that of the local inhabitants and found a very high degree of similarity between the two. This forced experts to make a conjecture that perhaps the ancestors of the inhabitants of the Zhelaizhai came from the West and settled in Yongchang County for some reason.
This speculation is very tenable, after all, during the Han Dynasty sent Zhang Qian to the Western Regions, traffic to and from the Western countries, opened up the famous Silk Road.
The route started in Chang'an, today's Xi'an, and passed through Gansu and Xinjiang, reaching Central and West Asia and even connecting to the Mediterranean countries.
The location of the Zilai fortress happens to be along the Silk Road, so it is very possible that if a caravan had passed through here and had to stay due to bad weather or other reasons.
To corroborate this hypothesis, archaeologists have expanded the search field.
The second result is local architecture, such as castles. Scholars have found that the Zerai fortress was once a very exotic earthen castle, but with the erosion of the years and the sand, the castle has long since ceased to be intact, but the only remaining structures still offer a glimpse of the distant past.
In addition to the castle, archaeologist Guan Yiquan and his son Guan Heng also discovered the ruins of an ancient city. Because of the long absence of human activity, this site has long been destroyed and has almost zero archaeological value.
However, based on the only remaining section of the wall of about three hundred meters, experts have estimated the size of the site and found it to be of a certain scale.
This phenomenon has to provoke experts to think deeply, whether in the past or now, the location of the Zerai Zhai is not conspicuous, why there is an ancient city of such a scale here?
As the excavation progressed, archaeologists discovered the "heavy wooden city" used by the ancient Romans and the tops of Han Dynasty military caps with the word "recruiting".
The so-called "heavy timber city" is a unique Roman way of building a city, in which the earthen city is reinforced again with heavy, long timbers.
Not far from the villagers of the apricot tree village from the village have dug out a thick round wood more than ten feet long, the round wood is also inlaid with several one-foot-long wooden poles, the height of the suspected "heavy wood city" building materials.
As for the word "invocation", because there is no other unearthed documents to support, so it will involve a third way of research, which the author will specify in the next section.
So what is the second type of research? The answer is gene sequencing.
With the development of technology, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences collected blood samples from the villagers of Zerai Zhai, and through DNA testing, found that their genes were indeed very highly related to the European race.
Unfortunately, because the genetic composition of the villagers is more complex, there is no way to tell specifically which ethnic group they actually belong to. Although the genetic study could not move forward, the result has confirmed the scholars' initial assumptions.
Second, the first legion of ancient Rome
The emergence of the word "inviting" broke the previous speculation of "merchants stopping by", and experts and scholars turned their attention to the military war.
However, due to the long age and the really limited excavated materials, in the absence of more physical evidence, the experts adopted a third way of research - documentary examination.
Literature study is actually the most convenient and widely used research method, especially with the rapid development of modern book industry, convenient logistics, and abundant electronic resources in major libraries.
Because of the obvious "ancient Roman" elements in the fortress, coupled with its location, some scholars speculate that the ancient city site is the historical "ancient city of Lixia".
In 53 B.C., the ancient Roman Empire, which was expanding outward to fight for sovereignty and hegemony over the world, the consul Crassus himself led the Roman Crassus legion of about 45,000 men across the Euphrates River to attack the ancient kingdom of Parthia.
The two countries were therefore constantly at war with each other, entangled in fierce battles, until the battle of Calais, only to completely change the war situation. In this battle, a third force emerged - the Sabbath.
The Anzac dynasty was one of the most powerful empires at that time, and the Anzac army was so brave and warlike that it set up a trap, feigning defeat to bring the army led by Crassus deep into the desert, and joining with the ancient Parthian kingdom to surround the Roman army.
The battle was a great defeat for Rome and the leader Crassus perished in the desert, half of his 20,000 men were killed and half were captured. However, Crassus' eldest son Publius survived.
He led his men with more than 6,000 soldiers to protrude from the siege and flee to the east.
Thirty-three years later, the two countries renewed their friendship and they agreed to send each other prisoners of war back to their countries. But a surprising thing appeared, the ancient kingdom of Parthia did not know the whereabouts of Publius and the six thousand soldiers.
In other words, these six thousand people did succeed in escaping from the tight defense laid by the ancient Parthian kingdom.
Some scholars, comparing the world map of that time, speculate on the route of Publius' march and think that they may have reached the region of present-day Kazakhstan and integrated into the life of the Huns.
Since Xiongnu was at war with Han Dynasty, this army probably participated in the war against Han Dynasty and then was defeated and captured by Chen Tang, the general of Han Dynasty at that time, and the name of this particular battle is "Battle of Zhi Zhi City".
In order to resettle these captives, Chen Tang brought them to Yongchang County in Gansu and established the "Lixia County."
The above speculation is mainly based on a passage from the "Book of Han - Chen Tang biography": "Tomorrow, the former to Zhi Zhi Cheng Du Lai water, three miles from the city, stop camp Fu Chen ...... and out of more than 100 horses to and from the city, more than 100 infantry clip door fish scale Chen ... ...outside the earthen city there are heavy wooden city."
The "Fish Scales at the Gate" in this passage is a special formation between two armies, also known as the "Tortoise Armor Formation", which describes a scene in which soldiers hold their shields above their heads to avoid stray bullets, and is so named because it looks like a tortoise shrinking in its shell from a distance.
This formation is mostly found in the ancient Roman legions. As explained in the previous article, the "heavy wooden city" is also common in ancient Rome, not the Han way of building a city.
Nowadays, the villagers of Zhilai Village will dance a special dance called "Jiezi Dance", also known as "King Dance", which is a group dance, so it will be extra lively when dancing.
The dance is simple, each dancer prepares a two-foot-four-inch wooden stick, or "knuckle", which rises and falls with the rhythm. But the most important thing about the group dance is the neatness and harmony, so it is difficult to dance.
The origin of this dance is most likely the Fish Scale Formation, as the two have something in common: varied and majestic. If the speculation is true, then the history of transportation between the East and the West will add another colorful chapter to it.
The reason for choosing two feet four inches is that this number symbolizes the twenty-four solar terms, while the two ends of the knot must also have three small rectangular holes, each small hole pierced with four square-hole copper coins, signifying the four seasons and twelve months.
The festival is red, sending people's aspirations for a red-hot life. At the same time the two ends are tied with red silk and green silk respectively, representing the sun and the moon. The wishes of the Chinese people have always been so simple.
Whenever there is a festival or a temple fair, you can see villagers fighting and killing cows in Zerai village, men will show the charm of the festival dance with their strong and powerful dance, and women will prepare all kinds of noodles in the kitchen early, just waiting for the time to come to worship the ancestors.
The whole village is buzzing with activity, breathing life into the land.
In 2015, because the famous Chinese action actor Jackie Chan was very interested in the subject of "the lost Western civilization in the East".
He collaborated with the famous Hong Kong director Li Rengang to make the movie "The Lion in the Sky", which promoted the ancient city of Lixia with light, sound and image.
Although there are still people questioning the origins of the Zerai Zhai, after all, all the proof may still depend on time, perhaps the future can "dig" to more empirical evidence, when we will be able to glimpse the truth of this mystery passed down for a thousand years.
But the people who live here have long been living history, and their unique looks and interesting customs bring a distinctive landscape to the world.
- Cao Yuping. The "European" villagers in the Zilai Village[J]. China Ethnicity, 2007(05):52-53.
- New Evidence of Ancient Roman Legions in Exile in China to be Solved (Group Photo)", The News Morning Post
- (Han) Ban Gu. The Book of Han [M]. Beijing: China Book Bureau, 1962