IIT faculty traces the Malayali origins of Chinese Guli settlers

The carefully kept Jiaupu book has clues to the Guli origins of Chinese family.  

Frail and doddering, Ma Xunkai fights back tears on meeting Joe Thomas Karackattu, who is equally moved after tracing the descendant of a Malayali family that reportedly settled in South China some 700 years ago.

“When you meet a fellow from your home town, your eyes mist over with happiness, goes a Chinese saying,” says the old man. For Mr. Karackattu, an assistant professor of humanities at IIT Madras, it is like meeting a “fellow Malayali holding a different passport.”

The meeting is an important moment in the 43-minute documentary, Guli’s Children, made by Mr. Karackattu. It took him two years of research to locate the genealogical link between Calicut (Kozhikode), which is called Guli in Chinese, and China. The documentary premiered last April.

“We are now habituated to looking at China from the prism of security, from the geostrategic matrix alone, and the centuries-old cultural and trade relations have been forgotten. There existed a rich interaction between China and India between the 12th and 15th centuries AD, when the Chinese frequented Calicut, Cochin and Quilon,” said Mr. Karackattu after a screening of the film in Kochi on Wednesday.

A scholar on Sino-Indian affairs, Mr. Karackattu was fascinated by the historical exchange between the regions. His fascination sent him on a ‘mad journey’of 20,000 km and led him to the ‘Ma’ family in South China.

The Jiaupu, the family genealogy book with Mr. Xunkai, confirmed the finding. The Guli family is in its 20th generation now.

Little is known of the first emigrant, except that the Jiaupu records his name as ‘Ma Li Ke’, which could be Malaki or Malik. Presumably, he travelled by a returning trade vessel or as part of diplomatic representations.

No resemblance

Over the centuries, change has been inevitable and Mr. Xunkai resembles any other Chinese, with no trace of Indian features. Yet, he and his wife have a fairly good understanding of contemporary political ties between India and China.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 3:18:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/on-the-silk-road-from-kerala-to-china/article19730082.ece

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