Liqian: where statues of Buddha stand side-by-side with bronzed Roman soldier figures. Legend has it that the townspeople of Zhezhailai in Gansu province are descendants of Roman legionnaires who lived in the ancient Chinese post of Liqian, bringing hoards of tourists to the rural town.
In the 1950s, historian Homer H. Dubs proposed that Roman prisoners guarding the Parthian border were later shipped off as mercenaries to central Asia, leaving a brood of European-looking townspeople in what is now mainland China. Some residents have blonde hair and blue eyes, which many believe is proof of the town’s Roman roots. However, DNA studies done years ago were inconclusive and Dubs’ theory has basically been debunked: while many people from Zhezhailai had “Caucasian blood,” it was impossible to determine their exact lineage.
The town’s questionable ancestry is of little concern to the local government, which uses the tourist allure to “share Liqian’s culture with the world” (or maybe just make lots of money). To date, 160 million USD has been spent to romanize the town. Tourists are welcomed with Romanesque columns lining the entrance to the village. If the journey out to nowheresville, Gansu province proved too taxing, they can relax in their Roman-style hotel or rest awhile in the Roman plaza. Thrill-seekers can watch reenactments of famous battles (none of which actually took place anywhere near Zhelaizhai) that are performed by townsmen wearing capes and pompom-ed helmets. There are even talks of a replica of the colosseum!
For more about Liqian’s Roman lineage, watch this video from CRI:
By Briel Waxman