29 September 2010

"Shin" Village revisited


Yeye's birthplace

According to one oft-told story, the Shins 單(Mandarin: shàn; Cantonese: sin4) of Guangdong 廣東 are all descendants of a certain Shan Tongzhen 通真, who apparently traveled from Shandong 山東 (in northeast China) to the famous Luofu Mountain 羅浮山 some time in the ninth century. Tongzhen would eventually settle in the village of Gangbei 崗貝 in present-day Zengcheng 增城; from there, it is said, the Shans would multiply and spread throughout Guangdong and beyond.

Whether the Shans of Shijie 石碣 (adjacent to Shilong 石龍), Dongguan 東莞, are in fact descendants of Tongzhen it is perhaps impossible to say. But since the local lineage hall (where ancestors are worshipped) was originally constructed in 1513, it seems likely that the Shans have settled in Shijie--especially within the Shan villages (Shan wu cun 單屋村)--since at least the Ming dynasty.

But the purpose of our visit on this September day was not to explore this broader history. For Yeye, who was born in the village of Tianxia 田廈 (in the house in the photo) and who spent some of his early years in Shijie/Shilong, it was a chance to retrace his steps and to reconnect with the past (we met some elderly ladies who claimed to know Yeye’s sister); for N, who had never visited China, it was an opportunity to experience and to imagine.

Most of the Shans, we were told, have moved out of the Shan villages (the other three villages are Dawei 大圍, Sanzuolou 三座樓, and Shiditang 石地塘). Nevertheless, it is interesting to imagine that, at some point, in this one area, the Shans (ranked 183 in terms of size among China’s surname groups) actually comprised the majority of the population.