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Bai Juyi and Manna

Pages 17 - 25


This article is about the ubiquitous nature of a central Asian plant, today referred to as “camel grass 駱駝草” in Xinjiang. It will be argued that the very same grass, strictly speaking a shrub named Alhagi maurorum, is identical to the heluo 紇邏 mentioned in Tang sources, with clear connections to both Iranian and Central Asian Turkic documents. Widely appreciated for growing in steppes and deserts, and for the famed honey produced from its blossoms, it forms an intriguing parallel to the Biblical “manna”.

本篇以中亞很普遍的一種草為題目,新疆人將它稱呼【駱駝草】。經過唐、晉、 宋及元朝時代的文件,有的專家認為上列的一類草就是土耳其、伊朗民族以及 漢族人所知道的【紇邏】。因為盛於沙漠以及乾燥草原上,而且因為其花所造 的蜂蜜非常有名,本篇文章的紇邏很像聖經歷史早期的【嗎哪】。


1 The author is indebted to Yukata Yoshida, Victor Mair and Étienne de la Vaissière for their precious help in the preparation of this essay.

2 Chen, 2012, Multicultural China in the Early Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), Chapter 7. I may add another intriguing piece of evidence: as revealed by a tomb inscription unearthed not long ago, a Northern Song dynasty descendent of the Bai clan voluntarily joined, in succession, two ethnic separatist leaders in southern China. See “Gu dashi Baishi mubeiming bing xu 故大師白氏墓碑銘並序”, in Wang Yun 王雲 and Fang Linggui 方 齡貴 (eds.), 1980, Dali Wuhualou xin faxian Song-Yuan beike xuanlu 大理五華樓新發現宋元 碑刻選錄 (Kunming: Kunming Normal College): pp. 15–18.

3 Bai Juyi ji 白居易集 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979): 4.81.

4 Chen Yinke, 2001, Yuan-Bai shi jianzheng gao 元白詩箋證稿 (Beijing: Sanlian shudian): pp. 262–263. A rare follow-up, Liu Wenxing 劉文性, 1994, “Mingtuo, Dilu, Heluotun shi 明駝、 的盧、紇邏敦釋”, Yuyan yu fanyi 語言與翻譯 (1994.1): pp. 42–47, reads too amateurish to be taken seriously.

5 For example, see Ciyuan 辭源 (Beijing: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1979): p. 2400.

6 Paul Pelliot was perhaps the first scholar to draw this conclusion. For a quantitative analysis of linguistic data on this subject, see Sanping Chen, 2005, “Turkic or Proto-Mongolian? – a note on the Tuoba language”, Central Asiatic Journal 49: pp. 161–174.

7 Based on searches of the database at the International Dunhuang Project site:

8 As noted by the late Denis Sinor, 1990, “The establishment and dissolution of the Türk empire”, in D. Sinor, ed. Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press): pp. 285–316. In fact, both names had Indo-Iranian origins.

9 de la Vaissière, 2010, “Oncles et Frères: Les qaghans Ashinas et le vocabulaire turc de la parenté”, Turcica, 42: pp. 267–327.

10 Chen Yinke's reading of the poem, including this very verse, contains errors which have been corrected by Guo Zaiyi 郭在貽 et al., 1990, Dunhuang bianwenji jiaoyi 敦煌變文集校議 (Changsha: Yuelu shushe): p. 81.

11 Reconstructed Chinese pronunciations cited are mostly from Edwin Pulleyblank, 1991, Lexicon of Reconstructed Pronunciation in Early Middle Chinese, Late Middle Chinese, and Early Mandarin, (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press). Bernhard Karlgren, 1957, Grammata Serica Recensa (Stockholm: The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Bulletin No. 29) is also used.

12 The Jin dynasty scholar Jin Zhuo 晉灼 stated unmistakably that 紇 was homophonous with 覈. The latter's primary rhyme group is 屑韻. See Shi ji 史記 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1964): 56.2051, and Han shu 漢書 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1962): 40.2038.

13 Luo Changpei 羅常培, 1933, Tang Wudai xibei fangyin 唐五代西北方音 (Shanghai: Academia Sinica): p. 33.

14 See, e.g., Sima Guang 司馬光 et al., Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1956), 246.7946.

15 Yiqie jing yinyi (Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō 大正新脩大藏經 T54), 10.366c and 23.455c.

16 Huang Xiling 黃錫凌, 1941, Yueyin yunhui 粵音韻彙 (Shanghai: Zhonghua shuju): p.18.

17 Indeed, many medieval cases of the character 紇 used in Buddhist transcriptions of foreign words indicate a voiceless initial. For example, Foshuo dehu zhangzhe jing 佛說德護長者經 (Taishō T14), 2.849a, a sutra translated during the Sui dynasty, transcribed the Sanskrit word rakta, “red”, to luheduo 盧紇多; Fanyu zaming 梵語雜名 (Taishō T54), 1.1225c, a Tang dynasty Sanskrit glossary, transcribed Sanskrit kshudha, “hunger” to heshutuo 紇數馱. According to Yutaka Yoshida, personal communication, similar representation of voiceless velar exists in Chinese transcription of Sogdian terms.

18 Using a character with a medial -i- to transcribe a Sanskrit syllable without the medial (bia∼ba/va, kia∼ka, etc.) is a universal pattern of medieval Chinese Buddhist texts.

19 Vladimir Minorsky, 1948, “Tamin ibn Bahr's Journey to the Uyghurs”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 12: pp. 275–305.

20 Edward William Lane, 1885, An Arabic-English Lexicon, Book 1, Part 7 (London: Williams and Norgate): p. 2624.

21 Robert Young, 1890, Analytical Concordance to the Holy Bible (London: The Religious Tract Society): p. 734; William Gesenius (Translated by Edward Robinson), 1908, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press): p. 499.

22 Christian Bartholomae, 1904, Altiranisches Wörterbuch (Strassburg: K. J. Trübner): col. 1865–1867; David N. MacKenzie, 1971, A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary (London: Oxford University Press): p. 112; D. N. MacKenzie, 1970, The ‘Sutra of the Causes and Effects of Actions’ in Sogdian (London: Oxford University Press): p. 56; Ilya Gershevitch, 1954, A Grammar of Manichean Sogdian (Oxford: B. Blackwell): pp. 73 and 115; Harold W. Bailey, 1979, Dictionary of Khotan Saka (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press): pp. 503–504. See Johnny Cheung, 2007, Etymological Dictionary of the Iranian Verb (Leiden: E. J. Brill): pp. 147–148, for more cognates.

23 Harold W. Bailey, 1949, “Irano-Indica II”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 13: pp. 121–139, 122 in particular. Another possibility is the Sogdian composite wyšγwrt “grassland”, in Badresaman Gharib, 1995, Sogdian Dictionary: Sogdian-Persian-English (Tehran: Farhangan Publications): p. 426 (no. 10501). But the terminal -t cannot be reconciled with the open syllable of heluo.

24 MacKenzie, A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary, p. 21; Mary Boyce, 1977, A Word-list of Manichaean Middle Persian and Parthian (Leiden: E. J. Brill): p. 31.

25 Sir Monier Monier-Williams, 1899, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press): p. 389.

26 Albert J. Van Winderkens, 1979, Le tokharien confronté avec les autres langues indo-européennes, Vol. 2.1 (Louvain: Université catholique néerlandaise de Louvain): p. 32.

27 Ralph Turner, 1962–1966, A Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan Languages (London: Oxford University Press): pp. 3769 and 4755.

28 R. A. Donkin, 1980, Manna, a Historical Geography (Boston: Junk): pp. 12–25.

29 James A. Murray, 1881, The Plants and Drugs of Sind (London: Richardson & Co.): p. 123.

30 Wei shu 魏書 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974): 101.2243. This particular chapter of Wei shu was recovered and reconstructed by Northern Song dynasty scholars. A nearly identical passage is found in Sui shu 隋書, compiled during the early Tang period.

31 Hūšang A'lam, 1990, “Camel Thorn”, in Encyclopædia Iranica, Vol. IV (London: Routledge): pp. 739–741; Manna, a Historical Geography: p. 15.

32 Du You 杜祐, Tongdian (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1988): 191.5204.

33 By the Tang dynasty author Chen Cangqi 陳藏器. The original work was lost, but the relevant passage has been preserved in the Song dynasty medical compendium Zhenglei bencao 證類本 草. See note 35.

34 Guo Qingtai 郭慶泰, 1989, “Mitang zhiwu shuye luotuoci 泌糖植物疏葉駱駝刺”, Zhiwu zazhi 植物雜志 1989.3: pp. 12–13; Chinese Academy of Sciences 中國科學院, 1998, Zhongguo zhiwu zhi 中國植物志, Vol. 42, Part 2 (Beijing: Kexue chubanshe): p. 163. The illustration is from the second source, plate 42.

35 Donkin, Manna, a Historical Geography: 15; A. H. Nayer-Nouri, 1969, Iran's Contribution to the World Civilization, Vol. 1 (Tehran: Ministry of Culture and Arts): p. 18; Murray, The Plants and Drugs of Sind: p. 123. See also note 36.

36 As preserved in the Song dynasty compendium Chongxiu Zhenghe jingshi zhenglei beiyong bencao 重修政和經史證類備用本草, Ming ed. (1523), book 3, 7.51b, Waseda University library, cf.

37 B. Laufer, 1919, Sino-Iranica: Chinese contributions to the History of Civilization in Ancient Iran (Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History): p. 343.

38 A. Parsa, 1948, Flore de l'Iran, Vol. II (Tehran: Museum d'Histoire Naturelle de Téhéran): pp. 431–432; Manna, a Historical Geography: p. 15.

39 By explicitly criticising geiboluo cited by another author as erroneous, Laufer implied that his unspecified Chinese source gave the correct reading jieboluo. But the two earliest sources (printed in the Ming dynasty) that I can find both wrote geiboluo. Given that most Ming dynasty medicine books “misspelt” the Iranian name tar-angubīn 達郎古賓 for manna as 達即古 賓, Laufer may still be correct.

40 Ann K. S. Lambton, 1953, Persian Vocabulary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press): p. 59.

41 GBd.16.1. See, e.g., Albert de Jong, 1997, Traditions of the Magi: Zoroastrianism in Greek and Latin Literature (Leiden: E. J. Brill): p. 181.

42 C. Salemann, 1908, Manichäische Studien I. Die mittelpersischen Texte in revidierter Transcription, mit Glossar und grammatischen Bemerkungen (Mémoires de l'Académie Impériale des Sciences de St. Pétersbourg, iii, Vol. 10): p. 91.

43 Charles Dowsett, 1997, Sayat'-Nova: An 18th-century Troubadour: a Biographical and Literary Study (Louvain: Imprimerie Orientaliste): pp. 342 and 361; Sir James W. Redhouse, 1890, A Turkish and English Lexicon (Constantinople: A. H. Boyajian): p. 546; John Kitto, 1851, A Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black): pp. 294–295.

44 Duncan Forbes, 1861, A Smaller Hindustani and English Dictionary (London: W. H. Allen & Co.): p. 240; Atlantic Staff, 1989, Atlantic's Urdu-English Dictionary: A Comprehensive Dictionary of Current Vocabulary (New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers): p. 322.

45 Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: p. 337.

46 J. D. Prince, 1907, “The English-Rommany Jargon of the American Roads”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 28: pp. 271–308.

47 Yutaka Yoshida, 2013, personal communication.

48 B. Gharib, Sogdian Dictionary: p. 354 (no. 8794).


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