In 1995 a joint Sino-Japanese archaeological expedition excavated a Niya burial ground and found a bowman’s armband in the tomb of a “beautifully dressed Europoid couple” (i.e., definitely not Han). Although it’s nearly two thousand years old, it’s remarkably well preserved, even in its colors.
The text (right to left) reads “wǔxīng chū dōngfāng lì Zhōngguó” (五星出東方利中國 / 五星出东方利中国 ) (“when the five planets appear in the east it is beneficial for China”).
As David W. Pankenier — the author of Popular Astrology and Border Affairs in Early China: An Archaeological Confirmation (2.3 MB PDF), the latest rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers — notes, “One could hardly ask for more eloquent testimony to the pervasiveness of astrological thinking in early China than this accessory from one of the remotest frontiers of the empire.” (See his paper for all sorts of details.)
As I suppose befits something on the subject of astrology, some superstitious people in China latched onto the phrase as a prophecy of the greatness of the People’s Republic of China (whose flag has five stars). The text, however, doesn’t refer to wǔ [kē] xīng (“five stars”) but to the wǔxīng (“the five planets”), which people these days might call the wǔ dà xīngxing (“five greater stars”). But superstitious nationalists aren’t known for letting facts get in the way of what they want to believe.
The five planets are:
火星 Huǒxīng Mars (lit. “fire star”)
水星 Shuǐxīng Mercury (“water star”)
木星 Mùxīng Jupiter (“wood star”)
金星 Jīnxīng Venus (“metal star”)
土星 Tǔxīng Saturn (“earth star”)
Those in beginning Mandarin classes are no doubt grateful that for days of the week modern standard Mandarin has adopted what is mainly a numbering system (i.e., lǐbàiyī, lǐbài’èr, lǐbàisān… — day of the week no. 1, day of the week no. 2, day of the week no. 3 …) rather than the old names, which use the names of the planets (along with the sun and moon). Students of Japanese aren’t so lucky.
Or maybe I’ve got that backward; many who study languages that use Chinese characters as a script have more than a bit of masochism.
Even if you have no particular interest in the specific works reviewed, I recommend at least browsing through this and all of the other volumes of reviews from Sino-Platonic Papers, as they often feature Victor Mair at his most direct and entertaining about a wide range of subjects.
Table of Contents:
Review Article: The Present State and Future Prospects of Pre-Han Text Studies. A review of Michael Loewe, ed., Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Reviewed by E. Bruce Brooks, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
N.B.: The following 29 reviews are by the editor of Sino-Platonic Papers.
Roger T. Ames, Chan Sin-wai, and Mau-sang Ng, eds. Interpreting Culture through Translation: A Festschrift for D. C. Lau.
Sau Y. Chan. Improvisation in a Ritual Context: The Music of Cantonese Opera.
Vitaly Shevoroshkin, ed. Nostratic, Dene-Caucasian, Austric and Amerind.
Laurence G. Thompson, comp. Studies of Chinese Religion: A Comprehensive and Classified Bibliography of Publications in English, French, and German through 1970.
Laurence G. Thompson, comp. Chinese Religion in Western Languages: A Comprehensive and Classified Bibliography of Publications in English, French, and German through 1980.
Laurence G. Thompson, comp. Chinese Religion: Publications in Western Languages, 1981 through 1990.
Aat Vervoorn. Men of the Cliffs and Caves: The Development of the Chinese Eremitic Tradition to the End of the Han Dynasty.
WANG Jiting, ZHANG Shaoting, and WANG Suorong, comp. Changjian Wenyan Shumianyu [Frequently Encountered Literary Sinitic Expressions in Written Language].
John Timothy Wixted. Japanese Scholars of China: A Bibliographical Handbook.
YÜ Lung-yü, ed. Chung-Yin wen-hsüeh kuan-hsi yüan-liu [The Origin and Development of Sino-Indian Literary Relations].
ZHANG Guangda and RONG Xinjiang. Yutian Shi Congkao [Collected Inquiries on the History of Khotan].
ZHANG Yongyan, chief ed. Shishuo Xinxu Cidian [A Dictionary of A New Account of Tales of the World].
Peter H. Rushton. The Jin Ping Mei and the Non-Linear Dimensions of the Traditional Chinese Novel.
William H. Baxter, A Handbook of Old Chinese Phonology. Reviewed by Paul Rakita Goldin, Harvard University.
JI Xianlin (aka Hiän-lin Dschi). Dunhuang Tulufan Tuhuoluoyu Yanjiu Daolun [A Guide to Tocharian Language Materials from Dunhuang and Turfan]. Reviewed by XU Wenkan, Hanyu Da Cidian editorial offices in Shanghai.
GU Zhengmei. Guishuang Fojiao Zhengzhi Chuantong yu Dasheng Fojiao [The Political Tradition of Kushan Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism]. Reviewed by XU Wenkan, Hanyu Da Cidian editorial offices in Shanghai.
W. South Coblin, University of Iowa. A Note on the Modern Readings of 土蕃.
Rejoinder by the Editor.
Announcement concerning the inauguration of a new series in Sino-Platonic Papers entitled “Bits and Pieces.”
This work also continues the discussion regarding the Chinese characters “??” and Tibet.
Recent archeological evidence excavated at Hemudu, a site in northern Zhejiang Province south of Shanghai (Zhejiang Provincial Museum 1978), suggests that were we to step back in time to the 5th millennium B.C. in southern China, we would find people cultivating wet rice, raising water buffalo and living in houses perched high on stilt posts. Culturally, these people differed radically from the millet growing pit dwellers found in the Yellow River Valley region; their discovery has raised new and important questions regarding the development of culture and civilization in southern China.
At long last Chinese archeologists have begun to reinterpret the developments of early civilization in southern China. In so doing they have emphasized the emergence of a southern cultural complex which they call “Yue” (?). The Yue culture, as defined by Chinese archeologists, spans both the Neolithic and early state period.
As more and more archeological data are retrieved from southern China, Chinese archeologists are asking the question, who were the people who created this Yue culture? Were they ethnically different from the people who lived in northern China? What language(s) did they speak? One favorite theory at the moment is that the Yue people were ancestral to the various Tai speaking populations, i.e. the Tai Lue, Tai Neu, Tong, Shui, Bu Yi and the Zhuang, living today primarily in southwestern China.
This deals with Hongshan culture (Hóngsh?n wénhuà / ???? / ????), a neolithic culture that flourished in what is now northeastern China more than 5,000 years ago.
From the introduction:
Far to the north of the Central Plain of China (the Zhongyuan), in Liaoning province and Inner Mongolia, nearly two millennia before the florescence of the Shang dynasty, a complex society known as the Hongshan culture arose, with a mixed economy of herding and agriculture. Some two dozen major sites are known, along with many smaller ones, spread over about 100,000 square km. Hongshan presents a puzzle for Chinese archaeologists because of its amalgam of non-Chinese traits (for example nude female figurines and the “Goddess Temple” featuring over-life-sized statues of women) with some early manifestations of such quintessentially Chinese characteristics as round and square outdoor platforms for altars, the use of jade for emblems of power, and possibly dragon iconography.
WARNING. The following section contains passages from the writings of Ernest Fenollosa which may be objectionable to some readers. The reproduction of these statements does not indicate endorsement or approval of their content by the author or editors, who decline all responsibility for any damages, direct or incidental, that may be attributed to the reading of them.
The author explains: “The need for such a disclaimer was brought home to me by the reactions of two sinological colleagues who refereed an earlier version of this paper.” Just in case anyone’s wondering why that might be the case, see Fennolosa, Pound and the Chinese Character, by George A. Kennedy, and The Ideographic Myth, by John DeFrancis.
Here is the introduction:
The disparagement of writing is a motif common, I suppose, to all traditions that have writing. Writing is often seen as inadequate to represent speech or thought. But another response to the inadequacy of writing has been to exalt some other kind of writing — occasionally a language reformer’s pet project, but more frequently the writing of the angels, the writing of the citizens of some utopia, of the scholars of some faraway kingdom, or of the forces of nature itself. Imagined writings of this sort telescope critique and critique’s wishful compensation. They attribute wonders — praestigia — to a medium most often noticed in its falterings.
Since Chinese writing became known in Europe, it has often been pressed into service as the model of this perfected writing. This enthusiasm must appear outlandish to those whose ‘native’ writing-system is Chinese. But it is not enough to show that the indigenous and foreign perceptions of Chinese writing are at variance, or even that the tales told of Chinese script do not stand up to linguistic scrutiny: there is an inventive element to all intercultural interpretation, a fit between its observations and the intellectual needs of its proponents, that expert testimony simply shoves aside. The proper way to analyze an intellectual tangle of this sort, it seems to me, is not to hold it to the standard of specialist univocity, but to situate it ethnographically among the conceptions it echoes or answers. Which aspects of which utopias still beckon, and which have definitely gone on to feed intellectual history, is another question deserving patient consideration.
It seems like a good time for something related to Tibet.
The newest rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers comprises 900 sample sentences in romanized Tibetan and English, the Tibetan being specifically Kham Tibetan.
From the introduction:
The reader is undoubtedly aware that written Tibetan radically differs from what is spoken and that there are also many differences in, for example, written Tibetan in Amdo regions and that of Lhasa. The value of this material is that it presents one of the most widely used Tibetan dialects as it is actually spoken.
Renchin-Jashe, a native of Yulshul (Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province where Kham is spoken, wrote these sentences using a system that he devised. I then edited the sentences…. We have tried throughout to present sentences that reflect Tibetan culture.