Manchus in space…

The last (latest?) imperial dynasty that ruled what we call China today, was the Qing (清朝 1644-1911), founded by the Aisin Gioro (爱新觉罗) family of the Gioro clan. Around the time of the founding the Qing empire 1644 this clan had united several other clans and the notion of a united Manchu people (满族) became stronger. Towards the end of their reign the Manchu language was less spoken and today only few native speakers remain. However, there has been an increasing interest in recent years, and it is again being taught in some schools in northeastern China. There are also close relatives in what is now called the Sibe (Xibo 锡伯) ethnic group, living primarily in Xinjiang.

During the Qing dynasty the Manchu rulers imposed the so called queue (辫子) on the Chinese population, that is the style to shave the hair on the forehead and bind the rest into a long queue. During the Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命) in 1911 many Chinese were rather harsh on the Manchus, and one common banner during the fighting said ”promote Han, eliminate Manchu” (兴汉灭满). Negative images of Manchus also spread into Western popular culture, possibly the most bizarre example being the evil Dr. Fu Manchu (傅满洲). Several Hollywood movies were made in the 1920-30s where Fu Manchu was portrayed by the Swedish-American (!) actor Warner Oland (1879-1938), most known for his role as the Chinese American detective Charlie Chan (陈查理).


Werner Oland as Fu Manchu


After the establishment of the Republic of China, Sun Zhongshan (孙中山 Sun Yat-sen 孙逸仙) and other Han Chinese leaders often talked about ”the Chinese nation” (中华民族), meaning all major ethnic groups within the state borders, trying to create a common ground and belonging. This expression has become increasingly popular again in recent years, especially after tensions in Tibet and Xinjiang. In the eyes of the PRC party-state a well-adapted ethnic minority person should first think of him- or herself as a PRC citizen, then as belonging to his own ethnic group, and then further on the scale of various identities.

First Manchu astronaut Zhang Xiaoguang!

Manchus are not among the most prominent ethnic groups in contemporary China, although being one of the largest. They do not belong to a specific religion, and therefore usually do not get any ceremonial posts as Uyghurs or Tibetans do. They are rather invisible in contemporary society. However, 11 June 2013, the first Manchu astronaut launched into space from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Shenzhou 10, the fourth manned Chinese space expedition. The space craft will land within hours of the publication of this blog, early morning Beijing time 26 June 2013. The official biography of senior colonel (大校) Zhang Xiaoguang (张晓光, b. 1966) mentions his Manchu ethnicity, but there seems to be very little focus on this first for the Manchu people. However, in an interview with China National Radio (中央人民广播电台 ”Central People’s Radio”), one of the more typical stereotypes of ethnic minorities in China suddenly pops up. The reporter says: ”only after a few sentences, one could clearly feel the simple, unadorned and sincere character of this Manchu fellow” (短短几句话,就让人真切地感受到了这位满族汉子的质朴和真诚). Would the same have been written about the Han astronauts?