Perhaps better known as Red Pine, Bill Porter lived in Taiwan for several decades where he practiced Buddhism, authored books such as Zen Baggage: A Pilgrimage to China, and famously translated Daoist and Buddhist canons into English. In Journeys, Poets and Best-Sellerdom in China, he speaks with Ian Johnson about his latest book in English, Yellow River Odyssey:
Q. [In Yellow River Odyssey] You also talk a lot about the non-Chinese people — the non-Han.
A. The reason I wanted to focus on the Yellow River is that’s where Chinese civilization began. By going up the river I’d get to its source and the source of Chinese culture. But what you see is that Chinese culture is a great mixture of peoples. Five thousand years ago, north China was not controlled by the Han Chinese. That sort of started with the Yellow Emperor defeating the Miao people at the Battle of Zhuolu. Until then, north China was up for grabs. I felt that traveling there. Even today a lot of north China isn’t entirely Chinese. There are Mongolians, Hui and others. It becomes obvious when you travel the length of the Yellow River that it was a series of accidents that led to the ascendency of the Han.