Liqian (village)

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Not to be confused with Li County (礼县, Lixian) in Gansu, the site of the ancient Chinese state of Qin.
Liqian is located in China
Location in China
Coordinates: 38°15′00″N 101°58′11″E / 38.25000°N 101.96972°E / 38.25000; 101.96972Coordinates: 38°15′00″N 101°58′11″E / 38.25000°N 101.96972°E / 38.25000; 101.96972
Time zone China standard time (UTC+8)

Liqian (Chinese: 骊靬; pinyin: Líqián)[note 1] is a defunct county in today's northern province of Gansu in China. Today, the ancient Liqian city is situated in a village called Zhelaizhai.[1][2]

Theory of Roman descendance[edit]

The area of the former Liqian city is known for its inhabitants. Some people there have Caucasian-like physical traits, such as Aquiline noses, blond or light-colored hair, blue or green eyes, and fairer skin tone. In the 20th century, theories have developed suggesting some inhabitants may be descended from Roman legionaries.

In the 1940s, Homer H. Dubs, a professor of Chinese history at the University of Oxford, made a connection between Liqian and ancient Rome. He suggested the inhabitants were descendants from Roman prisoners of war from the Battle of Carrhae. These troops were resettled by the victorious Parthians on their eastern border and, according to Dubs, may have become mercenaries who took part in the Battle of Zhizhi between the Chinese and the Xiongnu in 36 B.C.[3] Records by Chinese chroniclers mention the capture of a "fish-scale formation" of soldiers, which Dubs believed referred to the testudo formation, a Roman phalanx surrounded by shields on all sides.[4]

Several investigations have been conducted since.[2] Rob Gifford commented on the theory and described it as one of many "rural myths."[5] One DNA study found that "a Roman mercenary origin could not be accepted as true according to paternal genetic variation, and the current Liqian population is more likely to be a subgroup of the Chinese majority Han."[6] Genetic testing in 2005 revealed that 56% of the DNA of some Zhelaizhai residents was Caucasian in origin but the testing did not determine whether they were descended from Romans, Tocharians or Iranian peoples.[7] People with Caucasian-like traits existed in central Asia centuries before the Romans; Tarim mummies and some south Siberian populations included light-haired individuals.[8] To date, no artifacts which might confirm a Roman presence, such as coins or weaponry, have been discovered in Zhelaizhai.[4]


Liqian is in the northern region of China, on the eastern edge of the Gobi Desert.[2][9] It is rural, with the nearest city being 300 kilometres (190 mi) distant.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The place name has also been romanized variously as Li-Jian,[10] Li-ch'ien, Li-chien, Li County, etc.


  1. ^ 王萌鲜 宋国荣 (18 November 2006). "古罗马人在中国河西的来龙去脉" [Romans in China, the circumstances surrounding the Hexi]. Retrieved 25 November 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d Spencer, Richard (3 February 2007). "DNA tests for China's legionary lore". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 February 2007. 
  3. ^ Dubs, Homer H (1941). "An Ancient Military Contact between Romans and Chinese". American Journal of Philology (Johns Hopkins University Press) 62 (3): pp. 322–330. JSTOR 291665. 
  4. ^ a b Squires, Nick (23 November 2010). "Chinese villagers 'descended from Roman soldiers'". Retrieved 25 November 2010. 
  5. ^ Gifford, Rob (29 May 2007). "We Want to Live!". China Road: A Journey Into the Future of a Rising Power. New York: Random House. p. 185. ISBN 1400064678. 
  6. ^ Zhou, Ruixia; An, Lizhe; Wang, Xunling et al. (June 2007). "Testing the hypothesis of an ancient Roman soldier origin of the Liqian people in northwest China: a Y-chromosome perspective". Journal of Human Genetics 52 (7): pp. 584–591. doi:10.1007/s10038-007-0155-0. PMID 17579807. 
  7. ^ "Hunt for Roman Legion Reaches China". China Daily. 20 November 2010. Retrieved 4 June 2012. 
  8. ^ Keyser, Christine; Bouakaze, Caroline; Crubézy, Eric et al. (September 2009). "Ancient DNA provides new insights into the history of south Siberian Kurgan people". Human Genetics 126 (3): pp. 395–410. doi:10.1007/s00439-009-0683-0. PMID 19449030. 
  9. ^ "Scientists Take DNA from Chinese Villagers in Hopes of Solving Roman Mystery". 5 February 2007. Retrieved 5 February 2007. 
  10. ^ Chu, Henry (24 August 2000). "Digging for Romans in China". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 March 2012. 

Further reading[edit]