Chinese Philology and the Scripts of Central Asia

Sino-Platonic Papers has rereleased for free issue no. 30 from October 1991: Chinese Philology and the Scripts of Central Asia (740 KB PDF), by M.V. Sofronov of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Academy of Sciences, Moscow.

It begins:

[quote]The period of the tenth to fourteenth centuries was a time when the peoples who conquered Northern China established their own states and proceeded to create their own written culture. They rightly saw the basis of a new state culture in their own script. The Kidan state of Liao was established in 916 in the northeastern part of China. It was conquered by the Jucen state Jin in 1126. The Tangut state of Hsi Hsia was established on the northwestern frontiers of China in 1032. All of these states created their cultures in accordance with historical circumstances and taking into consideration the achievements of older cultural centers of East and South Asia.

The oldest and most powerful philological tradition which exerted an influence on the scripts of Central Asia was that of the Chinese. This tradition developed under the specific conditions of the Chinese character script. Primarily, it elaborated the problem of the explanation of the meanings of the characters and the establishment of their correct readings.

One of the important achievements of the traditional Chinese philology was the method of fanqie (“cut and splice”) according to which the unknown reading of a character is described by means of two other characters with known readings. Originally fanqie was designed, presumably under the tutelage of Indian phoneticians, to indicate the readings of characters in the philological works. With the development of Tantric Buddhism in China it was extended to the transcription of Sanskrit dharanis and related texts. In these transcriptions, Sanskrit syllables with phonemic components distributively incompatible in Chinese were constructed. In these cases the Sanskrit syllable was rendered by two Chinese ones. This pair of Chinese syllables formed the fanqie binom provided with appropriate diacritics. For rendering initial consonant clusters, two or three Chinese syllables were used respectively for clusters of two or three Sanskrit consonants. These binoms or trinoms were provided with diacritics, respectively erhe (“two together”) or sanhe (“three together”). This method of transcription constituted the counterpart to the orthographic techniques of the rendering of consonant clusters in Sanskrit and Tibetan syllabic scripts…[/quote]

Just out of curiosity, do you have some special connection with Victor Mair and / or the Sino-Platonic Papers? It’s a good series, I’m just curious why you’re always posting these. I mean, it’s not like anybody around here is going to study Tangut or Jurchen. (But God bless the Soviets.)

I can probably answer that for Cranky: because there are others who enjoy reading them, like me. :idunno: I doubt many of us will study Tangut, but it’s of intellectual interest to know how the various scripts came about, and how they differ.

Victor Mair and I have been friends for years. As a favor, and because I like the journal myself, I volunteer as webmaster for Sino-Platonic Papers, which explains why I always know when something new comes out.

I generally follow the notion that if I’m interested in the topic, at least a few other Forumosans might be too. Anyway, it’s not like the Culture & History forum is awash in new posts; so when I have the opportunity to add something on topic here I often do so.

But of course some of the journal issues are going to be more broadly popular than others. I’m open to suggestions for issues to release sooner rather than later. Those interested can check the SPP catalog and post requests here. I’ll probably put up most of the first 70 issues before turning to anything more recent than those, so anybody hoping for a free issue of, say, Conversion Tables for the Three-Volume Edition of the Hanyu Da Cidian, will have a wait of years and years.

Wow, that’s pretty cool, cranky.

It would be really interesting to meet you and DB sometime. Reminds me of my sophomore summer when the GSI/TA asked me if I wanted to join in on his Manchu class that summer.

I used to like Mair. I’m still waiting for someone else capable of evaluating his idea for a Mesopotamian origin of Chinese characters. And his Zhuangzi translation was really good.

But now I regard him–and everybody else who participated in Livia Kohn’s two volume “Taoist Handbook”–as a sycophant who kisses the Chinese government’s ass, unless I hear that editor Livia Kohn arranged its contents without their knowledge. (No one seems to have objected.) The handbook, you’ll recall, covered almost every aspect of Taoism pretty well…except Taiwan, which was wedged into the survey of contemporary China. Japan and Korea got full articles, but Taiwanese Taoism is just a bunch of magazines…! I know why they did it (too chickenshit to risk their future Chinese visas) but that’s the problem with Chinese studies today. The scholars are increasingly part of the problem.

yes, thank you for posting these and other links. always nice reading such. there are just so many common links of the eurasian scripts that daydreams start running easy, ala “-stan” as in pakistan, the cyriilic sh character and the chinese character for mountain. i love speculating where it all began or never even met.

Mair rules. Please inform us if and when the Columbia Hist. Of Chinese Lit. is available as an e-book. it’s too damn heavy to import.

I think you’re being unrealistic. The academic community outside China has to play ball with the Chinese if they want access to the materials, and sites, etc.

Unless you have an alternative, this, right or wrong, is the only practical solution. (and I don’t mean kissing CPC ass, but cooperating with CASS for example)

Go on, blame China again. I mean, we all do and it’s lots of fun, apart from being true…

Bloody sinocrats.

I know what you mean. I don’t even have a copy of that one myself. Questia does have an online copy of the Columbia History of Chinese Literature; but I don’t know how much money or trouble is required to gain access.

A couple of years ago Mair edited a related tome, the Hawai’i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture, the introduction to which is online, as is a chapter comprising a substantial work by Lu Xun, An Outsider’s Chats about Written Language, translated and annotated (great notes!) by Mair himself.

christ, that link is delicious. now all i gotta do is read 1342 pages, one click at a time. it’s still better than importing. merci.

At the end of the Prolegomenon, Mair signs off in “Peking”. I just found it odd that he hasn’t yet switched over to Beijing.

EDIT: OK, he explains it in the preface that the romanization being used is a modified Wade-Giles. Although not explicitly stated, it appears place names have retained their Postal romanization spellings as well.

Just read the intro to the “Hawai’i” book. Nothing to do with “Hawai’i” really–they just publish it–it’s really just an intro to Chinese culture. Anyway, the following stuck out:

By calling Tibet an occupied nation, Mair has in fact placed himself in opposition to Chinese policy and ideology. He seems confused about Qinghai, though–most of it was always Tibetan (and called Amdo), along with the Labrang area of Gansu.

Anyway, perhaps I was too hasty in labelling him a collaborator.

I am frustrated because the “The Taoist Handbook” includes just about every big-league Taoism researcher–but has two major lacunae:

(1) Taoism as a living tradition of Taiwan (not just a Chinese offshoot–and in fact a major research area), free of government control (not like China, not sure about Southeast Asia), and mixed with the folk religion (which the government of China doesn’t recognize); and

(2) China’s persecution of Taoism in modern times.

So, did Livia Kohn betray the trust of Mair et. al, or did they tacitly agree with her sense of priorities? Is it impossible to do scholarship on China anymore, due to Chinese influence?

well, when you have state sponsored scholars doing the work you are gonna get state approved results.

I’m reading Rene Grousset’s Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia.

Perhaps it could use an updated version, but I’m really liking it.