Anna-Marya Tompa, Global Citizen

What's Chinese about me

In the late autumn of a year around 900 (by the Christian calendar) a Mongol tribesman and his followers were sitting in an alpine meadow in the foothills of what is now Romantsch Switzerland. Their sturdy warhorses were grazing, battle scarred, glad of the rest after many skirmishes with Helvetic tribes. The little group of warriors were well pleased their booty. They had strayed from the main body of Ghengis Khan's army, intent not on conquering land but rather enriching themselves with easy pickings in outlying alpine settlements. Now they were checking harnesses and making sure their pillage was well secured to the horses.

They were mountain people themselves so they knew the language of the sky and the metallic taste of winter on the air. It was time to rejoin their comrades. As they stamped out the last embers of their fire it began to snow. Flakes settled on the padded silk of their coat sleeves, it pockmarked the saddle leather of their horses. Slowly snow lilted down in a gentle rhythm. The warriors stood watching. It reminded them of home.

They led their animals single file towards the pass that had led them into their profitable valley. Quite soon they had to walk with heads well down against the slicing snow, the animals began to stumble. With resignation they realised they could not continue the way they had come. They did not know what lay to the north or south or whether the mountains were passable in any direction at all. They knew that below them was a fertile valley where animals had good grazing and where there was wood to build a shelter until the weather cleared. They could wait for fair weather, survive even by trading back their loot.

They were pragmatic soldiers, self-sufficient. They turned around, going down faster than they had gone upward, they and their horses sliding on wet rock until they reached grass meadows. They could only tell it was grass because the ground levelled off and it felt softer underfoot. The landscape was completely white. Winter had come to stay and so had the Mongol warriors.

In 1995 I was in a shop with my baby daughter on my back. The lady shop assistant volunteered the opinion that my girl looked like a "funny little Chinese boy". I was annoyed . but actually (racial stereotyping apart) she was right. I am a white Caucasian woman but my baby girl looked oriental. When she was born I had a moment's trepidation, thinking that she was an undiagnosed Down's Syndrome child (previously called 'Mongolism'). My daughter had jet black hair and dropped eyelids. She looks nothing like that now.

My family is Swiss on my mother's side. My grandmother, my mother's twin sister and her son all were oriental in appearance with long slanting eyes. In Switzerland, especially in the Eastern part, there are a lot of people with an oriental aspect to their faces. I've always wondered why this is so. It may be that alpine conditions bred a certain physical type, with characteristic eyes and flat faces against harsh mountain conditions that are similar to people from much further East.

Or is there a genetic strain left behind by Mongol invaders over a thousand years ago?


It doesn't really matter whether there is any truth to any of this. And I realise that Mongol people are not Chinese. The fact is that human beings, people, have mingled racially and culturally through the centuries far more than our political leaders would like to admit. The boundaries set by the twentieth century idea of the nation state are quite inadequate to define what people are. The moves to encourage so-called diversity serve exactly the opposite purpose: they encourage divisionism amongst all of us as we are asked to define ourselves by nationality and religion.

The internet, if used for good, is a great leveller.


Through my father I am Hungarian. There is no certainty where the magyar or hongvar people came from but they, too, probably came from the far East. Linguistically the Hungarian language has an affinity with Japanese - so: another oriental connection but not Chinese.

That's right: there is nothing Chinese about me.

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last changed: 26. 03. 2021