Youth - Origins and Upbringing (Part I)

46 1 0

It would not have been fitting to discuss Alimin's lifelong fascination with Chinese learning without first discussing his youth. Though information regarding his early years was scarce, I was able to piece together a somewhat complete picture of the late Emperor's family history and upbringing, primarily through his own writings in Khi-Goan Ko-Su, interviews with Bodhi, and publicly available records as presented in his state-sanctioned biography. However, new texts and genealogical records from China, Vietnam and the Dutch colonial era had given me a more complete picture of the man and the historical circumstances that had formed him.

In the late-nineteenth century, Lý Anh Hùng (Cn. Li Yingxiong 李英雄), a Sino-Vietnamese immigrant of Taishanese extraction, immigrated to the island of Sumatra in search of trade opportunities. After some time searching for the perfect place to stay, he decided to settle in the town of Pondok on the West Coast of Sumatra, now part of Padang City. Though most Chinese immigrants to the region are of Hokkien and/or Hakka extraction, Hùng was able to eke out a living as an herbalist and restaurateur, given the fact that people from Greater Canton/Guangzhou (including Taishan) were renowned as fine cooks. As a result of his skill and ingenuity, Hùng managed to expand his operations to Medan and Palembang in the north and south, and to British-controlled Penang and Singapore, where herbs and dried foodstuffs are in high demand among the Chinese communities of the aforementioned regions. In the course of his life Hùng fathered several children, one of which was Li Chengjie (李誠傑) – Alimin's great-grandfather.

Regarding Alimin's maternal lineage from Chengjie's generation little was known, as Chinese genealogical books (Cn. Zupu 族譜) generally exclude women from lineage records. However, anecdotes from Bodhi and other surviving relatives of the late Emperor indicate Chengjie had taken several wives in his lifetime. One of them had been a woman of mixed Malay and Hadhrami Arab descent, and it was through her that Alimin's grandfather Li Dexiong (李德熊) was conceived. Though the exact identity of this female ancestor had been lost to time, her existence was indicated by the fact that pork was never offered on the family's ancestral altar starting from Dexiong – a tradition Bodhi passed down to his own children. Whatever the case, the fact that one of Alimin's maternal ancestors had been a non-Chinese of Malay and Arab background helped him in his later conversion to the Islamic faith, a decision which he had agonised over numerous times as his journal entries prove.

The Lý/Li family's fortunes ebbed and flowed in the course of Nusantaran history, through the height and fall of the Dutch East Indies, the birth and independence of the Republic, and the instances of anti-Chinese pogroms and persecutions that happened in those periods. In fact it was on the 30th of September 1965 – the date that marked the start of the bloody transition from Sukarno to Suharto's regime, where many ethnic Chinese were suspected of being Communist sympathisers – that Dexiong's fourth son Li Jinrong (李金榮) was born. Though generally safe from the state-sanctioned pogroms that followed in the aftermath of 30 September, the Li family's extensive spice business was adversely impacted by the political chaos that happened. However by the 1970s, when economic conditions began to improve under Suharto, Dexiong was able to rebuild his business network and partner with Singapore's Eu Yan Sang (Cn. 餘仁生) as a distributor of rare Chinese herbs and teas in Indonesia. It was this business that would be passed down to Jinrong, who would later go on to manage its Palembang branch.

Jinrong would go on to meet his future wife at his new location. Never much by way of numbers in Indonesia, the Taishanese were generally exogamous, marrying ethnic Chinese from outside their communities. In Jinrong's case, he happened to propose to Enmei (恩美) of the Hokkien Yeo (Cn. Yang ) family, daughter of a well-to-do freight businessman. Delighted at the prospect of expanding his logistical reach, Dexiong agreed to the proposed marriage, and in the middle of 1994 – on the twenty-fourth day of the fifth lunar month of the year of the Wood Dog – Jinrong and Enmei tied the knot in a traditional marriage ceremony at the Li clan ancestral hall in Pondok. The following year, Enmei would conceive Li Zhengyong (Cn. 李正勇) – the boy who would one day become Emperor Alimin.

You've reached the end of published parts.

⏰ Last updated: Nov 16 ⏰

Add this story to your Library to get notified about new parts!

Alimin - An Abridged Biography 李明 - 簡傳Where stories live. Discover now