Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Idea of kooli in Old Manchu

In the Autumn of 1612, rumors came to Nurhaci’s ears that a daughter of his, Lady Onje, had been shot with bone-tipped arrows by a man named Bujantai, to whom she had been given in marriage. Bone-tipped arrows make a whistling noise when they fly, and to shoot someone with a bone-tipped arrow was a fairly dramatic form of public punishment.

According to the Manchu account, Lady Onje had committed no crime to deserve this punishment. Instead, rumor had it that Bujantai wanted to marry the daughter of Bujai of Yehe, so shooting Onje was apparently a part of dissolving his alliance with Nurhaci and re-establishing old ties with Yehe. This calculus was no doubt informed by the fact that Nurhaci lived beyond Yehe to the south, making former seem a less dangerous enemy than the latter.

The shooting of Lady Onje provoked Nurhaci’s anger not only because it was a direct attack on his flesh and blood, but also because he had spared Bujantai’s life in battle and felt he deserved his loyalty. Nurhaci gathered his troops and rode for the Amur river, on the far banks of which Bujantai’s walled city of Ula stood.

When they reached Ula, Nurhaci’s soldiers captured five or six towns on the south side of the river and burned their granaries, cutting off supplies to Ula in an effort to draw Bujantai out. Bujantai knew he was in trouble and delayed as long as he could (maybe hoping for reinforcements from Yehe), but eventually he saw no option other than to come out and face Nurhaci. He came in a boat to the middle of the river, and Nurhaci rode out into the water to meet him.

Bujantai groveled and begged Nurhaci to leave, but Nurhaci challenged him to explain his actions, saying:
mini jui ehe weile araci minde alanjicina. abka ci wasika aisin gioro halai niyalma de gala isika kooli be si tucibu. tanggū jalan be sarkū dere, juwan jalan ci ebsi si sarkū bio. mini aisin gioro halangga niyalma de gala isika kooli bici, bujantai si uru okini mini cooha jihengge waka mujangga.
If my child committed a crime, then I hope you will tell me. If there is a kooli for acting against a person of the Heaven Descended Aisin Gioro clan, then produce it! You may not know a hundred generations, but do you not know the last ten generations? If there is a kooli for acting against a person of my Aisin Gioro clan, then let you be found to be in the right, Bujantai, and my coming here with my soldiers will be deemed wrong indeed.
Here, Nurhaci is laying out two possible justifications for Bujantai’s shooting of Lady Onje, and challenging him to prove either one. In the first case, if Lady Onje had committed a crime, Bujantai could justify his actions by simply saying what the crime was. In the second case, if there were a kooli that would allow him to do something like this to a person of Nurhaci’s clan, he could produce it.

In later Manchu we find kooli equated to the Chinese term meaning  例, meaning “rule, norm, precedent, case.” This was not an especially important concept in Chinese law, but referred to a substatute that provided a very specific example of the implementation of a punishment for a crime, or else a previous decision by the Board of Punishments that could be used as a precedent for a later decision if there was no applicable law.

Among the Jurchens, however, there was no written code of law and no Board of Punishments, so kooli meant something very different to them than what it meant to later Manchus. Several clues to its original meaning can be seen in the event described above. While the existence of a mere crime would have allowed Bujantai to take action against Onje as an individual, it is implied that a kooli would have allowed him to take action against her as a member of her clan, putting him in the right (uru) and Nurhaci in the wrong (waka.) In order to produce the kooli, however, Bujantai would have had to call on a knowledge of history that might go back long before he, Nurhaci or Lady Onje were even born.

From this example, it seems that kooli was a concept that governed the idea of justice between clans and across generations. This would have made a knowledge of history important to the Jurchens, because the leader with the better knowledge of history would be better able to justify his actions against another clan.

However, since Jurchen histories would have been primarily oral, they would have been at a disadvantage when interacting with the Chinese, whose long written traditions would have given them more material to draw on. Nurhaci himself felt the bite of this in 1614 when the Wanli emperor sent a military official to him named Xiao Bozhi, bearing a letter to which he demanded that Nurhaci bow down. The exact content of the letter is not recorded in the Manchu history, except to say that:
hacin hacin i ehe gisun, julgei ufaraha jabšaha kooli be feteme hendume bithe arafi
A letter had been written, full of all kinds of wicked talk, and dredging up ancient kooli of success and failure.
In this incident we see kooli associated with the ideas of success and failure, but this is not unrelated to its association with justice. In the Jurchen view, Heaven would reward those whom it deemed to be right with success, and punish those whom it deemed to be wrong with failure. For this reason, while a knowledge of history was important for justifying action against another clan, it was also critical for determining who would have the favor of Heaven in any resulting conflict.

The important connections between kooli and the study of history persisted after Nurhaci’s death. When a translation of the Jurchen Jīn history was undertaken in 1636, the office in charge of the project was called Kooli selgiyere yamun, the “Office for the Promulgation of Kooli.” In his preface to the Jīn history, the Grand Secretary of that office, a man named Hife, explained the importance of the study of history and kooli as follows:
julgei kooli suduri be tuwaci, jabšara ufarara weile asuru narhūn, taifin facuhūn i forgon ambula somishūn. damu enduringge niyalmai dabala, gūwa sarkū. tuttu ofi han niyalmai dasan yabun jabšaha ufaraha babe bithei niyalma yooni arahangge, ne be olhome ginggulekini. amaga be olhome alhūdakini sehengge kai.
When one looks at kooli and history, acts of success and failure are very subtle, and periods of peace and turmoil are quite obscure. Aside from divine people, others would not know of it. Therefore, literary people record all of the rules and deeds, successes and failures of kings and people, in order that those at the time should fearfully respect them, and those who come later should fearfully imitate them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Go and Water the Horses Again

A while back I posted about a song in Grebenshchikov 45 about going to water the horses. I have now found a second, longer version of it in Grebenshchikov 45, and I have also determined that this is yet another extract from Jakdan’s translation of the Liáozhài. This makes the third work from G45 that is traceable to a Chinese original, and strengthens my feeling that this manuscript is composed largely of selections of other authors’ translations from Chinese.

It will be interesting to see if G45 contains any copies of Jakdan’s translations of classical Chinese poetry from Jabduha ucuri amtanggai baita, or Jakdan’s own compositions.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Monastery behind Pò Shān Temple

This poem is kind of like my experience this morning. I got up early and worked on Manchu poetry, with early morning sun shining through the windows, and a clear blue sky outside. Then my kids came downstairs and started playing video games.

破山寺後禪院 (常健)


Po šaṇ juktehen-i amargi samadi hūwa   The Monastery behind Pò Shān Temple
erde julgei juktehen de dosikade,   When I entered the ancient temple early in the morning,
mukdeke šun-i fosoko bujan-i sihin,   the canopy of the woods was lit up by the rising sun.
mudanggai doko daniyan-i ici hafungga,   A winding path went through toward the refuge,
samadi hūwa-i ilha moo fisin.   and thick were the flowers and trees of the monastery.
alin eldepi cecikei banin selacuka,   Birds rejoiced that the mountain was illuminated,
juce helmešehei niyalmai mujilen kenggehun,   as the pond reflected it, the human mind became empty.
eiten asuki nerginde [e]lenggei ekisakai,   For a moment, as all the fainter sounds became quiet,
donjihangge damu jungken kingken-i urkin.   all I heard was the clamor of bells and chime stones.

You might notice in my transliteration of the title, I used a dot under the n of šaṇ instead of šan. This is to reflect the fact that the n has a dot on it in Manchu, as you can see in the image below.

The general rule is that syllable-final n does not have a dot. One of the Jesuits (probably either Verbiest or Amyot, I don’t remember) tells us that the n without a dot indicates nasalization of the previous vowel. In this case, Jakdan adds the dot because the Chinese word shān 山 ends in a consonant n, not a nasalized vowel. This is something that is easily overlooked, but can sometimes help you tell the difference between a reference to the khan (han) and the Hàn (haṇ).

What is the genitive marker on ekisakai doing? Normally it would make an adverb, like “quietly,” but there’s no verb here for it to modify. From the context here, I think maybe this structure is comparable to the converb -hAi, which conveys that as one action proceeds, a second action proceeds along with it. This form appears in Jakdan’s translation of Lǐ Bái’s “Sitting Alone on Jìngtíng Mountain,” where he says geren cecike deken-i deyehei wajiha, “as the birds flew higher, they disappeared.”

In this case, since we have an adjective, I think Jakdan’s use of this form means that as the fainter sounds (of birds) became quiet, all the poet could hear was the ringing of bells and chime stones. He reinforces this idea by using the noisy word urkin to contrast with the fainter asuki of the previous line.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

G45.50 Something from the Liáozhài

Like much of the rest of the world, I’m stuck inside because of COVID-19, so I decided to use some of that time to skim through Grebenshchikov 45 and see what interesting bits I could spot.

Today I spotted the following passage:

giogiyan bethei weihuken-i toksifi besergen de nikeme uculerengge,

This is what she sang as she leaned against the bed, softly tapping with her bound feet:

moo-i ninggude bisire u gio gasha mimbe  hoššome dobori dulin de fakcabumbi,

“The black drongo bird atop the tree tricks me into leaving in the middle of the night.

siolehe sabu usihibuhe seme gasara ba akū, damu agu de simen ararangge akū ayoo sembi,

I have no reason to cry about having gotten my embroidered shoes wet, but I regret there will be no one to cavort with you.”

seme mudan jilgan narhūn ohongge sirgei gese arkan ilgame faksalaci ojoro adali, cibseme donjici šurdeme forgošoro getuken tomorhon-i šan jakade dosifi ele mujilen ašša[m]bi sehebi.As she sang, her singing voice became as thin as a thread, so that he could barely pick it out, but when he listened quietly it fell on his ears, encircling and surrounding, distinct and clear, and his heart was all the more moved.

This passage, it turns out, is from the Liáozhāi zhìyì, from a story called “The Girl in Green” (綠衣女). The Chinese runs as follows:

Then she tapped the bed with her feet, with her lotus crescents,
and sang: 
「樹上烏臼鳥,賺奴中夜散。“The black drongo bird atop the tree /
tricks me into leaving in the middle of the night.
不怨繡鞋溼,祗恐郎無伴。」I don’t complain that my embroidered shoes are wet /
but respectfully fear my lord will have no partner.”
聲細如蠅,裁可辨認。Her voice was thin, like that of a fly, scarcely recognizable.
But he quietly listened to it,
and it moved about sinuously, slippery and ardent,
touching his ears and moving his heart.

When we see “Manchu” and “Liáozhài” in the same sentence, we immediately think of Jakdan, but I can’t find this particular story in my copy of Jakdan’s translation of the Liáozhài.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

More Handwriting

This morning I looked through 20 manuscripts that are part of the Staatsbibliothek digital Mandschurica collection, with the hopes of finding another manuscript in the same hand as SB 34981.

In my last post, I noted that the syllable be in SB 34981 usually has a small right-pointing tooth, and I believe that is a fairly distinctive feature. In all of the manuscripts I looked at this morning, I found that the left-pointing tooth is by far the most common way to write the syllables be and ba, as can be seen in these examples:

I only found one other manuscript in which the writer generally used the right-pointing tooth. The manuscript is titled Bithe hūlara doro, “The Way of Reading,” and the writer often (though not always) produces a be that is similar to the ones in SB 34981.

The similarity here is very striking, but there are other ways in which the script in “The Way of Reading” differs from that in SB 34981, so I don’t think they are by the same hand. A distinctive and consistent difference is the appearance of the syllable he in the word bithe:

In “The Way of Reading” there is a little right-pointing tooth that starts the left tail in the syllable he, but that tooth is entirely missing in SB 34981.

There are many more digitized manuscripts available through the Staatsbibliothek site, and perhaps one of them will match the SB 34981 handwriting and give us a fragment more of information about the author of that text.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Manchu Handwriting

The Staatsbibliothek manuscript is written in at least three distinctive but related styles. By comparing these with the handwriting of known authors, perhaps we could eventually make a guess at who the author(s) of the Staatsbibliothek manuscript might have been.

But what features can we reliably compare between different writers?

One that leaps out when looking at a page of Manchu text is the shape of the left and right tails in words like be and de. These can be written in quite different ways, as can be seen in these examples drawn from Jakdan and Mucihiyan:

Jakdan’s left tail usually goes out in a long, relatively straight line with a small hook at the end. His right tail is usually shaped like a fishhook. Mucihiyan, in contrast, makes his left and right tails quite short, and his right tail is consistently thick while his left tail is consistently thin.

In both Jakdan and Mucihiyan’s handwriting, the be has a small left-pointing tooth before the tail. Contrast that with the handwriting in the Staatsbibliothek, where there is usually a small right-pointing tooth before the tail in be:

Based on these examples, as well as my general feeling from spending many hours reading these texts, it seems unlikely that the Staatsbibliothek manuscript was written by either Jakdan or Mucihiyan. It is unclear, though, whether the SB was written by one hand or by three. Is the thick right tail of SB-B a stylistic flourish, or the work of a different writer? Is the flatter right tail of SB-C just a way to conserve space on the page?

Friday, February 21, 2020

Topic versus Subject

Cén Shēn [岑參] wrote the following lines to Dù Fǔ [杜甫] when the two of them were serving together in different departments of the imperial government:


The meaning of these lines seems relatively clear in the original Chinese:
The white-haired one grieves that flowers fall,
the dark clouds envy that birds fly.
Knowing that Cén Shēn addressed these lines to his respected elder Dù Fǔ, we can assume that the “white-haired one” must be Dù Fǔ, and the “dark clouds” would refer to the dark-haired younger man Cén Shēn. The couplet contrasts the older man’s sadness over what has passed away with the younger man’s envies and aspirations.

While the original lines seem relatively clear, what Jakdan did with them is not straightforward. Here are his lines:
funiyehe šarapi sihaha ilhai okto,
yacin tugingge deyenere gashai hihan,
The first line begins with a perfect converb phrase, funiyehe šarapi, “hair having turned white,” followed by a noun phrase, sihaha ilhai okto, “the medicine of falling flowers.” I have not found many clear cases of enjambment in Manchu poetry, so we should assume that this line contains a complete idea, and therefore that the medicine is a predicate. Somehow, we also need to square it with the meaning of the original.

A noun phrase can definitely be a predicate in Manchu poetry, and we often see this in poems with N-rhymes, because no Manchu verb form ends in -n. When we find the syntax NP1 NP2, we can usually insert a copula, reading it as “NP1 is/are NP2.” If that is what is going on here, and we take the medicine to be NP2, then we need to look back and find NP1, and the only previous explicit noun phrase in this line is “hair.” That would suggest a reading like:
The hair, having turned white, is the medicine of falling flowers
With a little imagination you could see how that line might mean something, but not necessarily the same kind of thing as the original Chinese line. The strangeness of this reading begs a closer examination of the line.

As we know, the hair in question belongs to Dù Fǔ, to whom the poem is addressed. If we take the topic of the line to be an unspoken “you,” then a different reading could be possible because the relationship between a topic and a noun predicate is looser than that between a subject and noun predicate. An example of this is the type of structure you might use when ordering a beer in Japanese:


In this line, the topic is “I” [私] and the comment is “[it] is a beer” [ビールです]. The meaning is not “I am a beer,” but rather “As for me, it will be a beer.” Applying this structure to the first line, we get a more sensible reading:
Your hair has turned white, and for you there is the medicine of fallen flowers
The word “medicine” doesn’t really capture the meaning of okto, which can also mean “poison,” so a slightly better reading could be:
Your hair has turned white, and for you there is the potency of fallen flowers
The topic+comment structure also works well for the second line, where the poet identifies himself as yacin tugingge, “the one with the dark clouds.” Treating that as the topic, we get:
For me, the dark-clouded one, there is the preciousness of flying birds
As a minor note, Jakdan’s birds are “flying away” (deye-ne-re), not just “flying”  (deye-re).