As I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog, there is an idea that is of central importance to Vietnamese ultra-nationalists, and that is that in antiquity the Chinese migrated into the area of what is today China from the northwest, and that when they did so, they found people already living there.
These people, according to Vietnamese ultra-nationalist writers like Lý Đông A (1940s), Lương Kim Định (1950s-1990s) and Trần Ngọc Thêm (1990s-present) were the ancestors of the Việt, and they were more civilized than the Chinese, as they were the ones who created the ideas that we find in works like the Yijing.
I’ve long wondered where that idea came from, and now I realize that the main source is clearly the late-nineteenth-century writings of an Orientalist by the name of Albert Étienne Jean Baptiste Terrien de Lacouperie.
Terrien de Lacouperie was born in France in 1845, but his family was originally from England, and he published in both French and English.
He began his career as a merchant in Hong Kong where he also studied Chinese, but in 1879 he settled in London and became a member of the Royal Asiatic Society.
Terrien de Lacouperie’s main interest was the early history of China, and what he perceived as its connections to the Chaldean-Akkadian cultural world of ancient Mesopotamia.
In works like Early History of the Chinese Civilization (1880), The Languages of China Before the Chinese (1887), Western Origin of the Early Chinese Civilisation from 2,300 BC to 200 AD, or Chapters on the Elements Derived from the Old Civilisations of West Asia in the Formation of the Ancient Chinese Culture (1894), developed the idea that the Chinese descended from some tribes that migrated from the Middle East to China.
However, unlike Vietnamese ultra-nationalists who argue that these migrants were less sophisticated than the peoples who were already inhabiting the area of China, Terrien de Lacouperie felt that the Chinese migrants brought with them writing and ideas that they had already developed, and that this could be demonstrated by what he saw as similarities between Akkadian and Chinese writing, and similarities between the numerology in the Yijing with similar concepts in Chaldean-Akkandian culture.
So while there are differences in content between what Terrien de Lacouperie and Vietnamese ultra-nationalists have argued, the Vietnamese ultra-nationalist belief in an ancient Chinese migration is one which Terrien de Lacouperie established the framework for.
It is also a concept that did not enjoy much support at the time he published his ideas, and which soon fell completely out of favor.
However, these unorthodox and unprofessional ideas have lived on in Vietnamese ultra-nationalism, and I’m sure that Terrien de Lacouperie would be very pleased to know that at least some people in the world still believe him.