Saturday, 20 May 2017



Over several decades I've found every Asian friend and acquaintance on or off line, work mate, etc. has had a "ALL ASIANS LOOK THE SAME TO ME" moment to complain about.

As a person of European descent hence with probably a bit of Neanderthal and who knows what else mixed in and as an artist with an eye for detail it surprises me that so many people including sometimes some other Asians are so blind to visual and vocals or even clothing styles that distinguish one ethnic group from another!

Lets look at some cliches that do have a grain of truth.

Yes China has influenced surrounding cultures.

Yes a lot of Asians do look "chinese".

This is particularly annoying for Vietnamese, even those of Chinese descent whether they speak any form of Chinese, or not.

The first Viets were an Austroasiatic speaking people living literally "Beyond Yueh" the furtherest south Sinicized state, roughly where Guangdong is today. I say Sinicized as there is an ongoing debate as to whether the Yue people were Austrasiatic speakers who sinicized very early.

Genetic surveys show there has been a steady migration southward of Han Asians possibly since the Neolithic or earlier.

These migrants interacted with the Bronze Age cultures of SE Asia and the later Indicized Hindu/Buddhist realms to varying degrees. Now the earliest Viet realm covered the river valleys of  northern Vietnam and slowly south towards and across the Central Highlands and downward to the Mekong delta and areas dominated by the Khmer and Khampa.

The Khmer also spoke a non Sinitic language but their language and culture had a much stronger Indic influence.

The Kham people who were once Hindus but now largely Muslim spoke an Austronesian language.

The Viets however had intensive continuous contact with Southern China and the later Imperial dynasties from the earliest times leading to one of those love hate relationships for which the European parallel might be the attitude of a Hellenized Gaul to a Italian  who were both citizens of the Roman Empire or an educated Scots to an Englishman of Saxon or Norman descent.

Due to this north south genetic gradient ... yes a lot of Vietnamese do tend to be shorter than other Asians and Europeans however this is partly due to diet so do NOT presume a TALLER younger VIET is part French or Russian or Eurasian. They may simply be taller due to having a higher protein diet  especially if they are the children of migrants and have a mixed diet of both Asian and European foods. They may also be fed up with the EXOTIC EURASIAN stereotype!

So how else do Viets differ from Chinese yet are like Chinese?

Yes I'm not Chinese or Viet but I'm basing my observations on years of reading and research and people I have meet.

If you are familiar with Cantonese dialects you may think Vietnamese sometimes sounds like Cantonese. Vietnamese has 6 tones and a lot of loan words form Cantonese. However it also, just as English has a lot of loan words from French and Latin, has loan words from Min dialects, and Literary Chinese.

No it doesn't you say?

Here's a few common SV SinoViet words clearly derived from or corresponding to various words in Sinitic dialects if you know anything at all about historical linguistics and older forms of Chinese.

NGUYEN  spring source YUAN Archaic Chinese had many NG initial words that changed to Y

NHA tooth YA

TR = < CH  Tra Cha Tea   or Tran Chen Dust Truc Chu/Zhu Bamboo

V = W Van = WEN character literature

I can find examples on nearly every page of my copy of Nguyen Dinh Hoas dictionary and other lexicons.

Then there's religion.

Those Viets who are Buddhism, Hoa Viet or Viet,  are Mahayana Buddhists rarely Hinayana and while the statues in temples may look very similar I've noticed Vietnamese Buddhism has a larger social activist element and almost no influence from Tantric Buddhism, less from folk Taoism, and the temples compared to others I've seen, tend to have a rather ROCCO look? Rocco's not the best word perhaps but whether its French influence or a regional variation its there.

I'm open to more info about that since I can't access a lot of the FRENCH reference texts.
I'm largely AngloCelt  despite my name with a few French ancestors way up the family tree and my French fluency is limited to reading with a dictionary and tourist level for speaking.

But  the best thing to do ? Wait for family history to come up in  a conversation?!

If your Viet friend work mate or acquaintance does have recent  Chinese ancestry that is personally significant for them they may mention it but don't tell them that makes them Chinese!

They may be proud of that one or many Chinese ancestors they claim was a political refugee from the Manchus or Mongols or any other Chinese Imperial dynasty but they may be equally proud of the hard working small trader or bureaucrat or farmer who didn't speak a word of Chinese from any dialect!

And for pitys sake please please please if you can't pronounce initial or final nasals or palatal nasals like the NG and NH sounds  at least to make a palatalized sound instead and NOT change every N or NG sound to a N that sounds like a horse neighing.

For my next Swarm of Dragons I may discuss Confucianism or Japan or Ceramics.
Possibly Ceramics since that is a "cultural" marker I know something about and how various countries local pottery production tried to respond and compete with Chinese imports.