Monday, 18 June 2018

Rags to Riches: The Beggar who Became an Emperor

I remember a family Christmas dinner that we once had, about four years ago, where one family member argued that no successful rebellion or revolution could take place unless the revolutionaries themselves were near the top - in other words, forget the romantic image of the 'people' overthrowing the 'elite.'

Me at the Emperor Hongwu's Mausoleum
Tuesday a week ago.
Yet one week ago, I took a visit to somewhere I was always meaning to see - the mausoleum of a man born Zhu Yuanzhang but now known by the named he earned through his successful revolution - Emperor Hongwu.  

Emperor Hongwu - the man who, throw his rise to power, expelled the Mongol invaders, and established his new dynasty - the Ming dynasty, was no doubt one of China's greatest emperors.  And for me personally, him making Nanjing the capital of his new China adds a further feather to his cap.

But what was particularly jaw-dropping about him was his background.  He was no aristrocrat and that is an understatement.  On the contrary he was from a peasant family that was so impoverished that everyone, save for him and one brother, starved to death during a drought, leaving the 16 year old Zhu Yuanzhang completely destitute.

So how did this orphaned teenage peasant, starving and uneducated, rise from the rags of near starvation to the riches of being Emperor?

Accepting his brother's advice, he trained as a monk in a local Buddhist Monastery where he learned to read and write but even this couldn't last long, as in the impoverished circumstances of the day even  the monastery was forced to close.  He thus was a wandering beggar for three years before the Monastery was able to open again.

Then, four years later, disaster struck again when the monastery was destroyed by an army that was there supressing a rebellion.  Thus, in 1352, Zhu joined one of the many rebel groups that was rising against the Mongol Yuan Dynasty.

It was then that Zhu showed his capabilities as he rose up the ranks and became a commander, and eventually a key rebel leader, and was seen as a leading defender of Han Chinese Confucian values against the Mongol overlords.

In 1356, he and the forces of his rebellion conquered Nanjing, making this ancient city his new base of operations.  The Mongols however, still held the north and their capital at Beijing but they made little effort to retake the Yangtze - under these circumstances Nanjing became famous for Zhu's good governance, and in a decade the city's population grew 10 fold.

At first, Zhu's forces's mainly fought other rebel groups rather than the Yuan up north, however these victories led to Zhu proclaming himself Emperor in 1368 and it was in that year that he finally gained control of Beijing and the North - the last province to be conquered by him wasn't taken until 1381.

There is no doubt that the hardships of his youth affected his world-view and his policies - as you can imagine, he never forgot what it was like to be poor.

He introduced government records of land and property to ensure that peasants would not loose their lands to abusive officials, he expanded irrigation systems and dikes specifically to help peasant farmers, and abolished all tax on the cultivation of  previously fallow land - something which in percentage terms increased the amount of land under the plow more than under any other dynasty.

He was also, one could argue, environmentally very forward thinking too - he had some 50 million trees planted in and around Nanjing - perhaps foreshadowing the current project, that of the green wall of China.

But talking of foreshadowing, it was his rise to power that foreshadowed the end of his Ming Dynasty, when in 1644, another peasant rebel, Li Zicheng (known by his nickname as Dashing King) rose up and seized Beijing, although unlike Emperor Hongwu, Li Zicheng's dynasty Shun dynasty lasted only a year when the Manchus invaded and established China's last Imperial Dynasty, the Qing.  But I digress.

Either way, if you ever want to find an example of a true rags to riches story, and of a succesful revolutionary from a real peasant background, you would do well to look to Zhu Yuanzhang - Emperor Hongwu, the founder of the Ming dynasty.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

No, Welsh is Not Dead. Here are some Stats to Prove it.

How many times have you heard people saying that Welsh was a dead language? Probably quite a lot.  I certainly have.

The reality though is that Welsh is absolutely not dead.  Here are some statistics from some Welsh-speaking communities in North West Wales (the Fro Gymraeg) to prove it:

  • In the town of Caernarfon, the percentage of primary school children who spoke Welsh at home went up from 75.6% in 2013 to 78.7% in 2017. 
  • In the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, the figures increased from 73.3 to 77.0% during those same years, and in both towns – this had nothing to do with English-speakers moving out – rather the number of Welsh-speaking households increased.
  • Also, in Gwynedd, there were a number of smaller villages which saw similar stories – in Waunfawr, on the edge of Snowdonia, the number of pupils speaking Welsh at home increased from 66 out of 98 in 2010 to 78 out of 100 in 2017.
  • On Anglesey - the county town, Llangefni, saw its number of primary school pupils from Welsh-Speaking homes jump from 309 in 2013 to 337 in 2017,  an increase from 72.0%  to 72.2%.
  • Also, on Anglesey, 15 of the 25 Welsh-at-home majority PSs saw an increase in the percentage of pupils speaking Welsh at home during those four years.
  • In 2011, in 9/14 of Gwynedd’s secondary schools, Welsh was more widely used than English in the playground.
  • Even some weaker areas had some good news – in the town of Dolgellau, the percentage of primary school children speaking Welsh at home went up from 27% in 2010 to 30% in 2013 to 32% in 2017.
Not bad for a language that is supposed to be dying.  

So why is Welsh doing so badly in other areas?

Why is the news of Welsh dying out in other areas, often just up the road, equally true?
  • Why in the seaside resort of Criccieth, did the percentage of children from Welsh-Speaking homes fall from 64% to 42% from 2004 to 2017?
  • Why in the ‘honey pot village’ of Beddgelert, just west of Snowdon, did it fall from 50% in 2005 to 10% a decade later?
  • Why in the lakeside town of Bala, did it fall from 60% to 49% between 2013 and 2017?
  • Why, in Llanberis, the base for Snowdon, did it fall from 69% to 51% during those four years?
  • Why, in Dolbenmaen, did it fall from 77.5% to 52.3%, again, during those four years?
  • Why, in the same time period, did Bethesda’s infant school see the same figure drop from 70.6% to 55.7% during that same time period?
  • Why, in Tregarth, did it fall from 50% to 26.8% in just 10 years?
Why is Welsh dying out so rapidly in Bala, Llanberis and Dolbenmaen when it’s been holding out so well in places like Caernarfon, Llanelli and Blaenau Ffestiniog?

It’s clearly not the Internet, Facebook, or TV programmes, since Welsh-Speaking teenagers in Caernarfon have Facebook just as much as non-Welsh-speaking kids from Bangor do.  Same with smartphones and TV programmes.

And it’s certainly not a natural death that’s been going on in places like Bala and Llanberis – how on earth could such rapid falls just happen like that?

The role of in-migration – can we talk about it?

When, on New Year’s Eve 2016, I happened to be discussing this issue (and practicing my Welsh) with a local whilst admiring Cwm Idwal, he made it clear to me what he thought was killing the Welsh language.

When I asked him if it was Television, the Internet and smartphones, he said that no, the biggest killer was English-Speakers moving in and not learning Welsh.

And I, as an Englishman then studying at Aberystwyth, was not the least bit offended by that idea.

And for the simple reason that it’s not racist to talk about the effect that tourism or move-to-scenic-countryside migration is having on local communities - just as it is not racist to talk about the effect that over-tourism had on, say, Amsterdam, Barcelona, or Venice. 

Just as it is also not racist to talk about the possibility that an expanding Brussels commuter belt could kill of Flemish in the surrounding countryside, given that Brussels is a French-Speaking city.

And so I believe that the people of Wales absolutely have a right to ask why on earth, in places such as Bala and Beddgelert, Welsh is dying such a sudden and unnatural death, when up the road, Caernarfon and Blaenau Ffestiniog prove that this need not be the case.

In-migration and Language Collapse – Some Stats

The link between in-migration and the decline of Welsh is particularly striking in Gwynedd, where there appears to be a striking correlation between the percentage of people born outside Wales, and the percentage of school children from non-Welsh-speaking homes.

Here is an example of three communities in Meirionydd (Southern Snowdonia for any non-Welsh readers) that show this correlation so strikingly:

Town / Village name
% of people born outside Wales in 2011
% of Primary School Children from non-Welsh speaking homes in 2013

And you only need to say the words ‘Bangor’, ‘Abersoch’, ‘Beddgelert’ and ‘Betws Y Coed’ – chose your pick, to further prove the point.

But Let’s not be Ageist about it.

When we so often talk about retiree in-migration being the death of the Welsh Language, is that fair?  No, I think it’s both ageist, and well, plain wrong. 

Think about it, if retiree in-migration were the leading cause of falling percentages of Welsh-Speakers, you'd expect the non-Welsh-speakers to be the retirees, ie the over-65s, and not the young, wouldn't you?

Is that what has happened? 

There are indeed a handful of communities, where the non-Welsh-speakers really are the old and not the young:

Take the village of Tudweiliog, on the Llyn Peninsular, where some 94.3% of children in the primary school were from Welsh-Speaking homes in 2013, even though at the 2011 Census some 26.1% of village residents were unable to speak Welsh, and 31.3% of residents were born outside of Wales. 

In that coastal village, it really was the retirees who were the non-Welsh-speakers since  the children and their parents nearly all spoke Welsh at home.  

But is Tudweiliog the norm?

No, unfortunately – and the handful of other communities that fit that same pattern, of the young being nearly all Welsh-mother-tongue but the old not so much, are all rural communities that are not typical.

On the contrary, when in-migration leads to a drop in Welsh, it is much more likely to be school children, and not the old, who stop speaking it first.  Retiree migration is, if anything, the least damaging form of in-migration when it comes to the language.

So yes, let’s talk about the effect of in-migration – it doesn't make you racist, but at the same time, we shouldn't resort to ageist stereotypes either.  And that, if anything, is what you should take away from this blog article.

Image result for tudweiliogSee the source image
Tudweiliog on the end of the Llyn Peninsular, one of the few communities which follows the pattern of Welsh being near universal amongst the young, but less widespread among the old, and due to retiree in-migration.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

What's a Language and What's a Dialect? A Chinese Example and a Whole Lot More.

In the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, there exists a population of Chinese Muslim descent who have lived there for up to 150 years.  They are called the Dungans, and they speak a language called… well, Dungan.

Yet should Dungan be considered a seperate language, or just a dialect of Chinese?  You see, a speaker of Mandarin from Beijing can understand Dungan, but would never be able to understand Cantonese or Shanghainese.  

Yet, Cantonese is considered a mere dialect of Chinese, whereas Dungan is considered a separate language.  So, why is that?  And to ask the obvious question, how did this community of Chinese descent end up in Central Asia in the first place?

Some History
It’s the year 1862, and Imperial China, ruled by the Qing Dynasty, is facing apocalyptic levels of violence.  The Taiping rebellion (1850-1864) , a civil war possibly deadlier than even World War Two, is not yet over, when an entirely separate civil war breaks out in the north western provinces of the country. 

This new rebellion (1862-1877) has been given many names, such as the Dungan Revolt, the Tonzhi Hui revolt and the Hui (Muslim) Minorities War and is widely believed to have been, in itself, the 7th deadliest war man has fought in the post-medieval era. 

While historians have differed on what to call it, what they do mostly agree on is that this war started off as a pricing dispute between two merchants but became a separatist war by Chinese Muslims based in the Shaanxi, Gansu and Ningxia provinces of North-Western China. 

Here in China, Muslims mainly belong to two main ethnic groups.  The most well known are the Turkic Uyghurs, who are the people of Xinjiang, (previously known as Chinese Turkestan) and are, if you like, China’s equivalent of Catalonia or the Basque Country, since they have their own language, their own historically defined territory, and their own separatist movement.

However, the other group, whom this blog article is about, are the Hui people, who are primarily descended from both Han Chinese converts to Islam, and from Silk Road Traders who arrived in China from the Muslim World.

Being largely of Han Chinese descent, the Hui people, unlike China’s other minorities, traditionally spoke Mandarin rather than any non-Sinitic language, and like the Han themselves, can be found across China rather than having their own historic Homeland.  However, due to North West China being closest to the Silk Road and the influence of Islam generally, it is there, in the provinces of Ningxia and Gansu, that the Hui are most prominent.

And it was there, in the 1860s and 70s, that the local Hui staged their rebellion and appear to have attempted to establish a separate Chinese Muslim state in the region.

Unfortunately for the rebels, they were defeated by the central government, and the reprisals were harsh – rebel leaders were executed, and their corpses were burnt, and their associates and relatives were castrated.

And that's not to mention the fact that population of Gansu and Shaanxi provinces fell by some 20 million, due to both death from the conflict itself, the subsequent famine, and due to Hui refugees fleeing the area.  

 But it’s those refugees that I want to talk about, since they were the people who upped sticks and moved across the border into then Russian controlled Central Asia, with a further group of Hui moving over in the 1880s. 

These groups thus created their own communities in what are now the ‘-Stan’ countries of Central Asia, and continued to speak their native dialects of Mandarin down the generation, but adopting the Cyrillic script and a number of loan words from Russian, Arabic, and the languages of Central Asia.  

And that is how the Dungan people and their seperate language were born, and overall, the Dungan people today number around 110,000. 

So why is Dungan considered a separate language?
Well, the separate writing system, is in my opinion, the killer factor - after all, Serbian and Croatian are almost the same language, but with the separate alphabets being what decides them apart.  

The fact that Dungan uses Cyrillic and not Chinese Characters means that whereas a Cantonese and a Mandarin speaker can communicate by writing but not by speaking, with a Dungan speaker and a Mandarin speaker, it is precisely the other way round - it seems that the inability able to communicate through writing is more important than the inability to communicate using the spoken word when deciding what is and what isn't a separate language.

But then of course there is the importance of ethnic identity.  Certainly the Dungans are registered as a separate ethnic group from modern day Chinese nationals living in the Central Asian countries however among themselves, the Dungans apparently consider themselves at one with the Hui in China, after a century and a half of separation.

Either way, Dugan is an interesting example of what’s a language and what’s a dialect.

The Dungans Today
Although the Dungans have developed their own identity outside of China, they still consider themselves people Hui people at heart and in no way have lost contact with their brothers back in China.

Under the Soviet Union, the Dungan people were much more successful at maintaining their heritage than other ethnic groups than other ethnic groups in Central Asia, with 94% of Dungans speaking Dungan as their first language in 1989.   However, this has changed since the fall of the Soviet Union, and Census figures show that by 2001 that figure was around 40%. 

The Hui People in China Today
As for the Dungans’ cousins back home, the Hui people in China today are doing rather well.  As an ethnic minority, the Hui were exempt from the one child policy, and their population is now more than 10 million.

Although, as discussed, Hui people can be from anywhere in China, Ningxia, where some 20% of Hui people live, was declared an autonomous region for the Hui people in 1958.  There, the Hui form 38% of the resident population, with Han Chinese making up 62%. 

Famous Hui communities outside of Ningxia include that of Xian, with its 15th Century Great Mosque, while in Nanjing I am very happy that I happen to live right next to a Hui restaurant, and within close walking distance of another.

Map showing the location of theNingxia Hui Autonomous Region
The Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region today, located in red. 
Ningxia  and neighboring Gansu (bordering it to the south west)
were centers of the Great Hui Revolt of the 1860s and 70s. 

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Punishing Welsh-Speakers for Speaking Good English

Before I moved to Wales, back in 2014, I was once told that on no account should I, or other incomers to Wales, waste their time learning Welsh, because even if we were to meet Welsh-Speakers, it would be useless since ‘everyone can speak English.’ 

That everyone speaks English is of course true, but it was no deterrence to me I, and when Welsh Duolinguo came out about two years later, I started at it the very next day, and haven’t looked back.
My view, of course, was contrary to the one I had encountered back in 2014 – I believe that when in Rome you should do as the Romans. 

But let’s take that argument, for one moment, that which says that Welsh is useless because everyone speaks English.   Well, what it’s saying seems to be this: 

‘Thank you, Welsh-Speakers, for learning our language, English.  We are very grateful for that, and so your reward from us is that we’re not going to bother to learn a word of your language when we choose to come and live amongst you and if it makes the future of your language, culture and very identity less safe, then so be it.  If it makes you feel like you’re the foreigner in your own country, then so be it.’

Not much of a reward is it? Unfortunately though, this attitude is all too common - and what is the result of this?

Well, in many of the Welsh-Speaking communities that are still left, you have shops and restaurants where English-speaking incomer staff haven’t learnt a word of Welsh, meaning that the locals have to use their second language in order to survive in their own country, as if the locals were the foreigners, and not the incomers themselves!

In London, my local baker happened to be Romanian, but that did not mean that I had to speak Romanian if I wanted to buy something from her!

But, of course, the much bigger result of English-Speaking incomers not being assimilated by the locals in the Fro Gymraeg has been the disappearance of most of the Fro Gymraeg altogether! 

Not only has the non-assimilation of incomers led to the collapse of the Welsh Language, it has also, quite understandably, resulted in segregation, parallel communities, and social tensions. 

The 1989 A Study of Language Contact And Social Networks in Ynys Môn, by Delyth Morris, proved exactly this, which looked specifically at the village of Bryngwran, on Anglesey.  If there’s one corner of the British Isles where multiculturalism has failed, it’s with the non-assimilation of English-speaking incomers in the Fro Gymraeg. 

All this is not a reward – it’s a punishment – punishment for speaking somebody else’s language so well. 

And Welsh-speakers did not suffer this fate when they were still majority monoglot.  Indeed, when you had English-speaking incomers moving to majority Welsh monoglot communities in the 19th and early 20th centuries, like Bethesda in 1911, the newcomers duly learned Welsh and were assimilated without any problems.

But, of course, in the 21st century, it’s not just the Welsh who speak good English.  It’s the Germans, the Dutch, the Scandinavians, the South Koreans - you get the picture.  Now, this in itself is no bad thing, and I myself am an English teacher here in China.

But what is outrageous is that, like the Welsh, these countries are increasingly being punished for being good at English, as English-speakers who go and live in those countries feel increasingly tempted to take advantage of the locals' prowess in English and not bother learning the local language.
In Berlin, you now have bars staffed by English-speakers who don’t speak a word of German, something which has quite rightly caused outrage, while in Iceland, another article from the guardian, remarked that “in the bars, restaurants and shops of downtown Reykjavik, it can be a struggle for locals to get served in their native language.

Again, this was not something that happened in these countries before the locals learned good English, and thus in cities like Berlin, Amsterdam and Reykjavik, like in the Fro Gymraeg, the locals are being punished, being made to feel like foreigners on their own home turf, merely  because they are good at somebody else's language - they are being punished for being well educated.

That is something that I find plain wrong, and is why I felt compelled to learn Welsh when in Wales, and Chinese before I came to China, and why I have always felt compelled to learn the local language wherever I plan to move to.  
I also thus feel that there needs to be a fundamental change in attitude among English-Speakers who move abroad.  That was something I felt in 2014, and its something I feel even more now. 

Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don't, but either way, feel free to subscribe to my Facebook Page at for more content.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

The Rise of China is a Wonderful Thing

As an Englishman living in Nanjing, it was a week ago that I traveled to the Memorial To The Victims Of The Nanjing Massacre By Japanese Invaders, commemorating an event in which an estimated 300,000 of the cities inhabitants were murdered by the Japanese in December 1937, during the Sino-Japanese War. 

The Sino-Japanese War was nothing more than a war of one-sided murderous aggression by the Empire of Japan against China – Japan wanted to have more of China for itself, while China wasn't trying to invade Japan. 

During that war, and most famously during the massacre in Nanjing, Japanese forces would often murder any civilians within sight – adults, the elderly, children and babies.  They would also knock on doors, then immediately murder the person who answered the door, and then proceed with murdering their way through the whole household. 

About a week or so before I visited the memorial, I watched two survivor’s testimonies on youtube, and it was the first time in god knows how long that I needed to wipe a tissue below my eyes – the Nanjing Massacre was among the worst war crimes of the 20th Century. 

The period of Chinese history during the nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth centuries were not a good time for the country at all – China was increasingly carved up into spheres of influence by outside aggressors, starting with the Opium Wars in which Britain, trying to turn the Chinese Nation into Opium drug addicts to fill their own pockets, used gun boat diplomacy when the Qing government objected. 
A French Political Cartoon from the height of
Imperialism, when the Japanese and European
Aggressors regarded China as a cake to share 
among themselves regardless of whether the Chin-
ese wanted this or not.                                             

During the century after that point, both the European and Japanese aggressors viewed China as a cake for themselves to feast on, a treasure chest for them to loot, and the aggressor nations viewed the Chinese as an inferior people, just as they viewed all of their captive peoples across the world.  

This is a tad ironic given that the Chinese had invented so much, and had been building grand temples, cities and palaces when we Europeans were living in the dark ages, but I digress.
A Liberal Party Election Poster from the
British General Election of 1906,  criticizing
their Tory opponents for allowing Chinese
people to move to South Africa, arguing that
SA should be for white Brits to move to instead.

Back to the Point
A century ago, China was a country that was treated as inferior and as fair game by the imperialist powers, both European and Japanese.  Likewise, the USA had banned Chinese immigration to their country – they only wanted whites.

Even though the days of Japanese and Western colonialism are long gone, for many decades afterwards, it was pretty much only the West and Japan that were the industrialized and developed nations. 

Then, they were joined by the Four Asian Tigers (including Taiwan, the Republic of China) and now by Mainland China, the People’s Republic of China. 

So when I look around me in 21st Century China, I just feel so thrilled that a country that was in such a bad way a century ago is now excelling to such a degree, and without having to steal from other countries in the form of colonies or overseas coups.  And that is the way that we in the west should view China’s rise, regardless of our many political and ideological differences.

I also hope that other countries that fell victim to colonialist aggression will likewise follow China's lead, and end the economic divide between the formerly colonised and the former colonisers.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Why do So Many People Want to Abolish the Welsh Assembly?

Whilst I was on Wales Online's Facebook Page and reading the comments on the article The Likely Contenders to the Wales's Next First Minister, the first thing that I noticed flying in my face was the sheer number of people calling for the Welsh Assembly to be scrapped.

For example, out of the first ten that appeared, some four were calling for the devolved legislature to be scrapped, including the top two screenshot on the right.

In March 2014, some 23% of respondents in a BBC Wales poll called for the institution to be scrapped, while in the Assembly elections of 2014, 4.4% of voters chose to cast their ballots for the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party.  

So the obvious question is why - why do so many people in Wales want to abolish Wales's own government? 

Trying to Explain the Unexplainable
Let's be clear, these people are not anarchists - they're not calling for the Welsh Assembly to be abolished because they want all government to be abolished, on the contrary, none of them seems to want to abolish Westminster - it seems to be only the Welsh Assembly that they have it in for.  

Which is odd isn't it? Because one of their main arguments every time, is that the Welsh Assembly is a waste of money.  But is it?

In August last year, there was controversy over the fact that the Welsh Assembly needed a £1.8 million refurbishment programme.  Yet, in January this year, it was announced that in Westminster, the British Houses of Parliament needed £3.5bn for restoration!  Which is more... do the maths.

The Welsh Assembly is also very cheap to run in terms of staffing costs for the simple reason that it only has 60 members.  Yes, 60.  Compare that to Westminster, which as 1435 members, of whom nearly 800 are unelected.

Yes, not only is the Welsh Assembly so much cheaper than Westminster, it is also much more democratic, with it's proportional representation and lack of hereditary and appointed peers.  Yet still, it's the Welsh Assembly, not Westminster, that those people want to be scrapped.

And then they will argue that the Welsh Assembly has run Wales badly ever since it's creation in 1999.  And yes, that may be true, but nobody in England has ever said that Westminster should be abolished whenever it cocks up.  

Likewise, you don't have Germans calling for the abolition of the Bundestag whenever they don't like Merkel, do you?  Wanting to actually abolish your country's system of government is just not the normal thing to do when you merely disagree with the party that happens to be in power.

The Real Reason
Now, I don't claim the know every single one of those people who want to abolish the Welsh Assembly, most of them, of course, I have not met personally.

But for those who I have met, or have come across either on line or on Television, I can say this.  They all seemed to have several things in common:
  • They were against promoting the Welsh Language and believed that the Welsh Language, along with Devolution were the two reasons behind all of Wales ills
  • They hated anything that made Wales too culturally different from England and seemed to have a naturally condescending view of the country and its potential.
  • They had the tendency to think that Welsh Nationalism was uniquely evil.
Make no mistake - those people were against the Welsh Assembly not because they were anti-government, but rather because they were anti-Welshness.

This is despite the fact that many of them are people who have chosen to live in Wales.

That all pretty much sums up Jacques Protiques, and his Glasnost UK, pretty well, and it certainly sums up pretty much every other Assembly-Abolitionist that I've ever met.  

Now I don't know to what extent this is also true of the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party, but they certainly seem to be only keen on abolishing the Welsh Assembly and not the British Parliament, for example.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Why not Rename the Bridge after Dafydd ap Gwilym?

So, the Westminster Government, with the permission of her Majesty the Queen, have chosen to rename the Severn Bridge, linking Wales and England, after the Prince Charles, by naming it the ‘Prince of Wales Bridge.’ 

This decision is not one I see as a stand-alone decision, but rather as part of a trend of naming landmark after landmark in Wales after the Prince of Wales.  It was only two years back that the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was renamed Principality Stadium. 

Now, in an article in Nation Cymru, I, Abraham, argued that Plaid Cymru should be less republican, and more like the SNP.  But the renaming of landmark after landmark in Wales after Wales’s Principality status, particularly when, this time, the Welsh people have not been asked, is something I oppose as much as any Republican does. 

This is no doubt an act that is designed to be provocative.  Alun Cairns himself admitted that he knew Welsh Republicans would not like it, and I believe he sees it as a win-win situation where he can anger the Welsh Nationalists up the wall and hope that latter in turn alienate the electorate through their angry republicanism. 

How Plaid Cymru responds is absolutely critical.  The argument they should be making is that Wales’s landmarks should be used to commemorate the people that Wales produced – and that the people of Wales should decide, in a poll, perhaps. 

And there are a great number of famous Welsh people to choose from – David Lloyd George, Owain Glyndwr, Dic Penderyn, Iolo Morgannwg, Llywelyn Fawr, and many more. 

But I would choose Dafydd ap Gwilym, and here’s why.  Dafydd ap Gwilym was perhaps one of Europe’s greatest poets in the fourteenth century – some of his most notable works include Merched Llanbadarn,   Trafferth mewn tafarn and Cywydd Y Gal, among many others, although the last one mentioned is considered very naughty.

He is arguably the Chaucer, if not the Shakespeare, of Welsh literature.  Yet unlike those two men, how many Europeans today will have even heard of him?  How many Welshmen even will have heard of him?  Not very many. 

I once read an anti-Welsh Language article by a Monmouthshire man, who seemed to believe that Welsh did not even have any historic literature at all – and I am sure many people in Wales, if not the majority, have that idea.

Chaucer and Shakespeare however, are names that are known throughout the world.  The only reason why Dafydd ap Gwilym isn’t a tenth of a hundredth as widely known as Shakespeare, even in Wales itself it seems, is not because Dafydd ap Gwilym was a bad poet – far from it – but because his language was not one that would be spread and glorified by Empire – but rather one that fell victim to it. 

Naming Wales’s greatest entry point after one of Wales’s greatest writers wouldn’t make Dafydd as widely known as Shakespeare on the global stage – but at least it will make his name more widely known amongst his own countrymen. 

It would also be sufficiently apolitical, and so could unite both nationalists and unionists, although the anti-Welsh Language brigade would probably scream and shout – and that, of course, would be no bad thing.