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Chinese in Nepal
Nepali-Speaking "Chinese Lepcha" in the Himalayas
In the streets of mountainous Kalimpong we visited many Hakka Chinese who
were born in India. In 1962, during the China-India border conflict, the
Chinese in Kalimpong and Darjeeling turned Lepcha, for fear of being
deported. Lepcha is the main ethnic group of Sikkim. Lepcha look very much
like Chinese with fair complexions.
The Chinese who adopted Lepcha, speak good Nepali, English, Mandarin and
Hakka. There used to be a Chinese school in Kalimpong. One woman said that
she had only had primary Chinese education because of financial hardship,
but said she is a very successful businesswoman today.
In recent decades, there have been fewer and fewer Chinese in Kalimpong.
Only about 7,000 Chinese-Lepcha remain. Most of them are shoe-makers. The
few Chinese restaurants in Kalimpong are influenced by Tibetan & Lepcha.
Beijing dumplings (chiau-tze), known as "mo-mo" in Lepcha, are popular in
Talking to an elderly Chinese shoe-shop owner who was born in India, I
discovered that he is very open and friendly. His children are in
Australia, Taiwan and Canada. He spoke of his loneliness in his tiny
shoe-shop. He employs an Indian domestic maid. I noticed a Christian
calendar on the wall and learned that he attends a Catholic Church. He
orders a Chinese newspaper from Calcutta and his son in Taiwan sends him
Another Chinese, a woman who was born in India, speaks very good Mandarin
and Nepali. She manages the shoe-shop which she took over from her elder
brother who emigrated to Canada. She has relatives in Hong Kong, Taiwan and
In another shoe-shop, the Chinese proprietor was also born in India. He
married a Lepcha, who graduated from a University in Taiwan. The woman
owner of yet another shoe-shop speaks Hakka and Nepali. She also sells
home-made Chinese pork sausage and seems to be doing very well.
No doubt, the next generation of Chinese will not even be able to speak
Chinese, because there is no more Chinese school in Kalimpong. Currently,
all the Chinese-Lepcha children attend English schools and speak fluent
Nepali. There are excellent traditional British schools in Kalimpong. Many
wealthy Indians send their children to the schools here or Darjeeling.
In a popular Darjeeling market place, I found Chinese proprietors of small
shoe-shops. Normally, it is a husband and wife team without any shop
assistants. Sometimes there may be an Indian assistant. These Chinese
shoe-shop owners work long hours everyday and have no time for church.
Another Chinese lady, born in India, runs a shoe-shop and a photo-copying
service. She introduced her elderly parents-in-law to us. They looked
healthy and were delighted to speak Mandarin with us.
There are only about eight Chinese families in Darjeeling - two of which
are Chinese restaurant proprietors. In one Chinese restaurant, I spoke to
the daughter of the proprietor. She is an English teacher in Darjeeling
School but admitted that she could not speak Chinese.
Why do the Chinese make shoe-shops their business? The reason is that
Nepalis, being Hindus, feel that it is too degrading to handle shoes and
slippers. They also consider cattle to be holy and refuse to handle
leather. Some Chinese in Kalimpong make furniture. which Nepalis also
avoid. The Chinese in Calcutta are doing a roaring trade in leather, for
there are more than 200 leather factories employing Muslims, who do not
mind handling cow products. Of course, the Hindus wear leather shoes.
--- Rev. Alfred Yeo
- Excerpted from Chinese Around The World, a ministry of CCCOWE.