• The Xylom

Chiu-Ying Lam: In Uzbekistan, I am a Khitanese

Updated: Sep 29, 2019

Photo by Darrell Chaddock on Unsplash

English Translation of Chiu-Ying Lam’s Article on 12 May 2018. This article is first published in Traditional Chinese here.

While Mr. Chiu-ying Lam is a scientist, meteorologist, bird-watcher, and conservationist, he also enjoys travelling and experiencing foreign cultures. In this article, Mr. Lam would introduce readers to the racial diversity of Uzbekistan and explain why he was considered a “Khitanese” there.

In April 2018, I visited Uzbekistan with some young friends of mine.

Situated in Central Asia, Uzbekistan has long experienced the influx of different races and has been influenced by multiple foreign cultures. Yet, centuries of integration and fusion have shaped her in a unique way, both culturally and spiritually. Walking on the street, the sheer diversity of ethnicities would definitely amaze you. Locals are probably already accustomed to the scene of Uzbeks, Russians and Mongols strolling together, or incoming pedestrians being Han Chinese, Koreans, Turks, Persians, Tajiks, Arabs, Afghans, Pakistanis or even Indians.

In Uzbekistan, you may be surprised by how they refer to China as “Xitoy” (modern Latin spelling used in Uzbekistan), which sounds like “Khitai” (since “X” sounds like “Kh” and “o” sounds like a short “a” ) according to how locals pronounced the word. I was puzzled by this name at first but understood it better after thinking about the historical relationship between Uzbekistan and China.

Photo by Robert Freeman on Unsplash

It may be commonly known that Central Asia was once part of China’s territory during Tang Dynasty in the 8th century AD, but very few people know the Khitanese (considered as Chinese by broad definition) had also ruled over Central Asia for nearly a century. In 1125, the country Jin wiped out the Khitanese nation of Liao, forcing Khitanese nobleman Yelü Dashi, along with his army and clansmen, to migrate from Inner Mongolia to Central Asia, and establish the Western Liao kingdom. Thus, from 1128 to 1219, modern-day Uzbekistan was being ruled by Western Liao, which left Khitanese marks in this nation, despite the ancient kingdom being eliminated by Mongols later.

Although “Khitan” is the name generally used by literature in the English language, it is pronounced differently in different places: the stress is put on “k” in countries like Uzbekistan (making the Uzbek version seem more like “Kitan”), while “h” is stressed in Mongolia. 800 years have passed in Uzbekistan, but Eastern China is still considered as Khitanese territory and Chinese people is thought to be of the same ethnicity as Khitanese, with “Kitai” being the name for China and Chinese people. Therefore, walking in Uzbekistan would make me a Khitanese!

Speaking of “Kitai”, it was actually the origin for the name “Cathay”*, which was how Medieval Europeans called China. Next time when you are taking a Cathay Pacific flight, don’t forget you are actually on a Kitai-Pacific plane!

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