"But I Read it In a book"

Creighton, GordonCreighton, Gordon: FSR vol. 19, n° 1, pp. 24-27, January 1973

After racking their brains for two decades in attempts to decipher the mystery writing, the Chinese scientist Tsum Um Nui n1As it stands, this name is corrupt and quite unidentifiable. Neither Tsum, Um, nor Nui are monosyllables used in the transliteration of standard Chinese (Mandarin) of Peking, though they might perhaps be understandable in one of the more outlandish minor dialects and four colleagues had finally been successful, but the results which they came up with were "so shattering that the Peking Academy of Prehistory banned publication.'' Later, however, the ban was relaxed and the story was finally published in 1963...

Since much of my work involves the part of the world in question and seeing that the story was one in which considerable linguistic investigation might be required... I decided that I would put some effort into following it up to its source, and see where it led me...

My inquiries started with a letter in February, 1968, to the Soviet engineer in Moscow who is my regular correspondent and who, being the unofficial secretary of the Russian group of UFO investigators, performs the function of serving as the link with some of us in the West. I asked him for any information that he could supply about this story. He replied in due course that, although the two English-language Soviet publications where I had seen it were not available to the Russian public, he had been able to ascertain that Vyacheslav Zaitsev had done no original investigation of his own and had simply taken the story as it had appeared in the the German publication Das Vegetarische Universum (no date given) and in the German publication UFO-Nachrichten, Number 95 (of 1964). He also said that he thought that it had appeared in a "French'' [sic] UFO journal described by him as "BUFOI'' journal Number 4, of March-April, 1965). My Soviet correspondent confirmed that, according to the original German version, the discovery of the discs had been in 1938, the finder being "the Chinese archaeologist Chi-Pu-Tei.'' n2As it stands, this name is also corrupt and unidentifiable. Tei is not one of the standard Chinese monosyllables.

The next step, in November, 1969, was to make inquiries in Germany about Das Vegetarische Universum, and in due course I was informed that it was an obscure vegetarian affair produced by a firm known as the Vegeta-Verlag (in English "Vegeta Press'') of 7291 Grünthal Freudenstadt. So, hopefully, I wrote off to them too, saying how anxious we were to learn more about the marvelous stone discs. The date of my letter was November 21, 1969, and the result was precisely nil. Evidently the Vegeta Press was unwilling to divulge its secrets.

I wrote next to the Soviet Novosti News Agency's London office, and asked to be put in touch with the editor, in Moscow, of Sputnik. They replied that the editor was Mr. Oleg Feofanov and that his office was in the headquarters of the Novosti News Agency of Pushkin Square, Moscow.

So I wrote off to Comrade Feofanov, asking for details as to the authenticity of the wonderful tale.

Result: again nil.

My next letters went to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Peking (Red China) and to the Chinese Academy of Sciences at T'ai-Pei, in T'aiwan (Free China). I also buttonholed several visiting Chinese professors and academic types, and received some more than usually astonished glances when I whispered the tale of the spindly-legged spacemen who had dropped in on China all that long time ago.

Results: nil again all round. No reply from either Peking or T'aiwan.

It did not look as though the story enjoyed too much credit anywhere.

Meanwhile the years were passing, and we have been favored with a fantastic spate of books by Messrs. von Däniken, Peter Kolosimo, and a shoal of imitators...

One of the most enthusiastic propagators of the New Evangelium is of course Herr von Däniken, who tells us in one of his books that in May, 1968, he went to Moscow specially to hear all about the stone discs and the Hams and Dropas from another Russian popular-science and space-science writer, Aleksandr Kazantsev.

Kazantsev told von Däniken that the plates and all the documentation about the whole story were "preserved'' in the Peking Academy and the historical archives of Taipeh in Formosa.'' (Vyacheslav Zaitsev, in his original article, had said, however, that the discs "had been sent to Moscow for study.'')

It seems improbable that Comrade Kazantsev knows any more about the matter than does his colleague Zaitsev.

Let us now return to our granite discs and, since we can find nobody anywhere who will vouch for them or show us a photograph or drawing of one of them or of one of the famous spacemen's skeletons, let us examine some of the features of the well-loved, well-parroted tale.

According to Vyacheslav Zaitsev, there was even in existence an age-old Chinese legend to the effect that, thousands of years ago, a horde of "small, gaunt, yellow-faced men came down from the clouds.'' The locals (presumably the ancestors of the Chinese or of the Tibetans or of the Mongols in the area) took a dislike to the ugly gentry with their huge heads and thin, weak bodies and spindly legs, and there was soon conflict. Evidently the struggle did not end in the total liquidation of the aliens, for, while the graves in the Bayan-Khara Uula contain their skeletons, Zaitsev goes on to tell us that the present inhabitants of precisely that very area of China, who are known as the Ham or Dropa peoples, evidently contain much of the alien blood still, for they are "frail, stunted men, averaging four feet, two inches in height,', who "so far have defied ethnic classification.'' Well, of course, it is undeniably a humdinger of a story, and how lovely it would be if it were true. Because my own work involves this precise area of Central Asia, I have, most of the time, on my desk in the House of the Royal Geographical Society in London, the maps showing the journey of all the foreign travellers (including Russians) who have ever been in any part of Tibet or Ch'ing-Hai in general or near the Bayan-Khara Uula in particular, and I am familiar with, and have read, the official accounts of most of them. Not one of them, and not a single Chinese writer of whom I have heard, had a word about any "small, stunted, big-headed, spindly-legged''' race or people or tribe known as either Hams or Dropas and who "defy ethnic classification.''

The sad facts of the matter are rather more prosaic and here they are...

Let us take first the word Ham. This is obviously a garbled rendering of a perfectly ordinary Tibetan word which the Tibetans write Khams and pronounce Kham. And this word is in fact nothing more than the normal, indeed the only, Tibetan name for the eastern portion of their country. So everybody living there is a Khams-Pa (pronounced Khamba), meaning "a man of Khams.''

The Bayan-Khara Uula (Mountains) lie in what is today the Chinese province of Ch'ing-Hai, or, if one prefers its Mongolian name, Kokonor. Both names mean "blue lake'' and derive from a large lake there. The population of the area in past centuries included a few Chinese (it is today being flooded with them), and sparse tribes of Tibetans and Mongols. The region is not nowadays counted as part of Khams or of Tibet at all, since Tibetan influence is now in retreat there. But the region does lie on the the immediate northern side of Khams, and in past times was usually considered by the Tibetans to be part of their country. The whole area is a melting-pot of Chinese, Mongols and Tibetans, plus a few tiny minority peoples like the Muslim Salars. Since the region adjoins Khams on the north, it is not surprising that many of the ordinary Tibetans found today in Ch'ing-Hai are identical with those of Khams. They are all Khams-Pas (Khambas).

Then what about the Ham and Dropa runts, frail, stunted creatures averaging four feet two inches in height, who so far have defied ethnic classification? (To quote Zaitsev.)

The people of eastern Tibet, Khams, far from being miserable spindly-legged little folk, are great strapping robust fellows, who make marvelous soldiers. They have long been dreaded by all their neighbours, Chinese, Mongols, and western Tibetans alike, for their martial prowess, particularly displayed as marauding bandits, robbers, and highwaymen lying in ambush on the mountain passes...

There remain now the Dropas. "Well, at least they must have been spacemen!'' someone will perhaps hopefully argue.

I am sorry to have to be a wet blanket again, or to disappoint anybody, but, once more, the sad fact is that, just as the word Ham or Kham does not signify any species or tribe or kind of men but simply a whole vast area of Central Asia, so the Tibetan word Dropa (correctly rendered into English under the Gould-Parkinson system of transliteration for Tibetan as Drok-Pa means simply an inhabitant of the high pasture lands or high solitudes of Tibet. In other words, what we might call, in Scotland, a "highland herdsman,'' or a crofter. The primary meaning of the word is solitude.

Again, should anyone suffer from the misapprehension that perhaps these Drok-Pas may be more promising candidates than the Khambas for the description of "stunted,'' "frail,'' "spindly-legged'' and so on, I hasten to add that not one of the European travellers (often terrified) who have encountered these upland nomads, in their black tents, guarded by their fierce and positively gigantic mastiffs, has ever described them, so far as I know, in such terms. They are, in fact, like their southeastern neighbours the Khambas, some of the most impressive and robust-looking ruffians and robbers on our planet...

It looks, alas, as though our spindly-legged 'Ham' and 'Dropa. "spacemen'' of the Bayan-Khara Uula are beginning to recede into the murky realms of speculation and fantasy where they were now doubt begotten. It has been undeniably most enjoyable to hear all about them and their cobalt discs inscribed in a language from out of this world, and I have no doubt that their saga will go on being repeated parrot-fashion, without checking, and without the least comprehension, by "ufologist'' after "ufologist'' for many years to come, and will feature in book after book...