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A Chinese Tract in Tangut Translation (Or.12380/2579)

Pages 71 - 83


This paper introduced the two surviving pages of a Tangut manuscript from the Stein collection of the British Library. Merely a fragment of an original booklet, the manuscript is in good condition and all of the characters are legible on it. The text itself seems to be in the form of questions and answers between a ruler and his minister, and the questioner is unambiguously identified as Emperor Taizong. This format aligns the text with several other Tang works that consist of a dialogue between Taizong and his wise ministers, even though the Tangut text seems to be directed towards a more popular audience. This is also exemplified by the fact that the surviving text also includes four stories from early China and these suggest that this text was a moral tract featuring many similar types of stories that most commonly occur in contemporary primers. The Tangut text is evidently a translation from the Chinese, yet so far my efforts to identify its source have failed. Hopefully, this will be possible in the future.

高奕睿﹕英藏西夏文殘片Or.12380/2579 初探


University of Cambridge

1 I would like to thank the participants of the “Tangut day” held at SOAS on 25 April 2013, who offered comments and suggestions following my presentation. I also thank the International Dunhuang Project (IDP) at the British Library, in particular to Susan Whitfield and Sam van Schaik, for helping me with examining the manuscript in person. In addition, I am grateful to Fu Yang, Gábor Kósa and especially Prof. David McMullen who gave generous advice on draft versions of this paper.

2 The British Library was established as a national library of Great Britain in 1973, separating it from the British Museum. While the artefacts from Stein's expeditions were left at the Museum, most of the textual material were transferred to the Library where they remain to this day.

3 A catalogue of the Russian collection was published as Zoya I. Gorbacheva and Evgeny I. Kychanov, Tangutskie Rukopisi i Ksilografy: Spisok Otozhdestvlennykh i Opredelennykh Tangutskikh Rukopisey i Ksilografov Kollektsii Instituta Narodov Azii AN SSSR (Moscow: Oriental Literature, 1963).

4 For a brief overview of Chinese military texts in Tangut translation, see Imre Galambos, “Consistency in Tangut translations of Chinese military texts”, in Irina Popova, (ed.), Tanguty v Tsentral'noy Azii: Sbornik stat'ey v chest' 80-letiya prof. E. I. Kychanova (Moscow: Oriental Literature, 2012), pp. 84–96. Some of these, such as the Sunzi or the Liutao, are mere fragments; see Eric Grinstead, “Tangut Fragments in the British Museum”, The British Museum Quarterly (1961), vol. 24, nos 3/4, pp. 82–87.

5 British Library 英國國家圖書館, Shanghai guji chubanshe 上海古籍出版社 and Xibei di'er minzu xueyuan 西北第二民族學院 (eds), Ying cang Heishuicheng wenxian 英藏黑水城文獻 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2005), vol. 3, p. 156.

6 M. Aurel Stein, Innermost Asia: Detailed Report of Explorations in Central Asia, Kan-su and Eastern Iran (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1928), vol. 1, p. 480.

7 At the same time, there are also many Tangut manuscripts that are ruled and the text is positioned between the vertical gridlines. The ruling, along with other aspects of manuscript culture (e.g. punctuation marks, notations for correction) is obviously taken over from the Chinese tradition.

8 In Chinese manuscripts we sometimes see that an erroneous character is painted over with a yellow dye, referred to in comtemporary literature as cihuang 雌黃 (orpiment). While examples of this survive in medieval manuscripts, there were probably many more instances which wore off with time and are no longer visible. For correction marks in medieval Chinese manuscripts, including the use of cihuang, see Imre Galambos, “Correction marks in the Dunhuang manuscripts”, in Imre Galambos, (ed.), Studies in Chinese Manuscripts: From the Warring States Period to the 20th Century (Budapest: ELTE Institute of East Asian Studies, 2013), pp. 191–210.

9 Tangut pronunciation is given according to Sofronov's system as presented in Evgeny I. Kychanov, Tangut Dictionary: Tangut-Russian-English-Chinese Dictionary (Kyoto: Faculty of Letters, Kyoto University), 2006. Compiled in collaboration with Arakawa Shintarō.

10 It is perhaps worth noting that in Chinese texts the number of birds is usually not three hundred but three hundred sixty. For example, the Taiping yulan 太平御覽 quotes the Dadai Liji 大戴禮記 writing “of the three hundred and sixty feathered animals, the phoenix is the foremost” 羽蟲三百六十,而鳳皇為之長. The theme of the phoenix only perching on the wutong tree (fei wutong bu zhi 非梧桐不止 or fei wutong bu qi 非梧桐不棲) is already found in the Zhuangzi 莊子 (“Qiushui” 秋水) but it becomes relatively common during the dynastic period.

11 For the text of the Forest of Categories, including a translation into Russian, see Ksenia B. Keping, Les Kategoriy: Utrachennaya Kitayskaya Leyshu v Tangutskom Perevode (Moscow: Nauka, 1983). For a Chinese translation and study of the same work, see Shi Jinbo 史金波, Huang Zhenhua 黃振華 and Nie Hongyin 聶鴻音, Leilin yanjiu 類林研究 (Yinchuan: Ningxia renmin chubanshe, 1993).

12 This has been suggested to me by Guillaume Jacques, for which I am grateful.

13 The first of our stories about Bao Jiao starts at the third character of page B.

14 For a variorum edition of the Zhenguan zhengyao based on its Japanese manuscripts, see Harada Taneshige 原田種成, Jōgan seiyō teihon 貞観政要定本 (Tokyo: Tōkyō bunka kenkyūjo, 1962). For an overview of how the Zhenguan zhengyao was used in the Liao, Xixia, Jin and Yuan states, see Zhou Feng 周峰, “Zhenguan zhengyao zai Liao, Xixia, Jin, Yuan sichao” 《貞觀政要》在遼、西夏、金、元四朝, Beifang wenwu 北方文物 (2009), vol. 1, pp. 75–78.

15 For the St. Petersburg fragments, see Evgeny I. Kychanov, “Fragmenty perevoda na tangutskiy (Si Sya) yazyk sochineniya U Tszina Chzhen'guan' chzhen yao”, Istoriografiya i Istochnikovedenie Istorii Stran Azii i Afriki (2004), vol. 22, pp. 75–83; Nie Hongyin, “Zhenguan zhengyao de Xixiawen yiben” 《貞觀政要》 的西夏文譯本, Guyuan shizhuan xuebao 固原師專學報, 1997, no. 1, pp. 63–65; Nie Hongyin, “Xixiaben Zhenguan zhengyao yizheng” 西夏本《貞觀政要》譯證, Wenjin xuezhi 文津學誌, 2003, no. 1, pp. 116–124. For those at the British Library, see Wang Rongfei 王榮飛 “Ying cang Xixiawen yi Zhenguan zhengyao chutan” 英藏西夏文譯《貞觀政要》初探, Xixia yanjiu 西夏研究, 2012, no. 3, pp. 10–17.

16 Wang Rongfei and Jing Yongshi 景永時, “E, Ying cang Xixiawen yi Zhenguan zhengyao de banben guanxi” 俄、英藏西夏文譯《貞觀政要》的版本關係, Ningxia shehui kexue 寧夏社會科學, 2012, no. 4, pp. 86–90.

17 This story is translated with the English title “T'ai Tsung in Hell” in Arthur Waley, Ballads and Stories from Tun-huang (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1960), pp. 165–174.

18 Among the rare cases where Yan Shuzi appears as Yan Shu is the Jiao shi Yilin 焦氏易林 which is in many ways similar to the Mengqiu, including its structure which retells moral anecdotes in four-character units. Another example of the two-character form Yan Shu is on an Eastern Han pictorial stone from the Wu 武 family's tomb (Jijing 濟寧, Shandong province) where the image of the night scene is complemented with a caption saying “Yan Shu holds the fire” 顏淑握火, writing the character 淑 instead of 叔. See Gao Wen 高文, Hanbei jishi 漢碑集釋 (Kaifeng: Henan daxue chubanshe, 1985), pp. 149–150. I am grateful to Gábor Kósa for pointing out this example to me.

19 These have been published in facsimile copies in four volumes in Ikeda Toshio 池田利夫, Mōgyū kochū shūsei 蒙求古注集成 (Tokyo: Kyūko shoin, 1988–1990). Burton Watson published a partial English translation based on the surviving Japanese versions of the text; see Li Han and Hsü Tzu-kuang, Meng-ch'iu: Famous Episodes from Chinese History and Legend, transl. Burton Watson (Tokyo, New York and San Francisco: Kodansha International, 1979).

20 On the manuscript in the collection of the Dunhuang Academy and its comparison with the manuscript copies kept in Japan, see Zhang Nali 張娜麗, “Dunhuang Yanjiuyuan cang Li Han Mengqiu shijie: Yu Ri cang guchaoben zhi bijiao” 敦煌研究院藏李翰《蒙求》試解——與日藏古抄本之比較, Dunhuang yanjiu 敦煌研究, 2002, no. 5, pp. 81–94.

21 The modern shelfmark for this text at the British Library is Or.8212/1344. A transcription of the text appears in Guo Feng 郭峰, Sitanyin disanci Zhongya tanxian suohuo Gansu Xinjiang chutu Hanwen wenshu 斯坦因第三次中亞探險所獲甘肅新疆出土漢文文書 (Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe, 1993), pp. 26–27, 160–161.

22 The shelfmark of this manuscript is Inv. No. 5875 and it consists of five pages bound in a butterfly format. For a study of this manuscript, see Nie Hongyin, “Xixiaben Taizong zeyao chutan” 西夏本《太宗擇要》初探, Ningxia shifan xueyuan xuebao (Shehui kexue) 寧夏師範學院學報(社會科學), 2012, no. 4, pp. 55–59.

23 Nie Hongyin (ibid., p. 59) suggested that the name Taizong in the title was simply there for the sake of authority because of the overall positive image of the emperor in popular lore.


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