From the Jin ping mei to the school book

That the Jin ping mei (金瓶梅/Gin ping mei bithe) could have been translated in Manchu and published in 1708, not so long after the book had been banned, is remarkable. The reputation of the novel was such that the circumstances leading to the production of a Manchu translation, apparently done in circles close to the court, remain to this day something of an enigma.

Given these facts, you would not expect the Jin ping mei to be used as reading material for learners of Manchu in the 18th and 19th c. This is why it is funny to note that at least one sentence of the Manchu translation of the novel found its way into the classic Manchu primer Cing wen ki meng (清文启蒙, published in 1730), where it illustrates the use of the construction bihe seme.

Gin ping mei bithe (1708, chap. 1, f°15b)

damu meni geren niyalma uthai singgeri uncehen de yoo banjiha adali. niyaki bihe seme giyanakū udu:

“But we are like ulcers on a rat’s tail, there’s not much pus in them.”, i. e. “we don’t have much money”.

Cing wen ki meng (1730, ilaci debtelin, f°11b)

singgeri i uncehen de yoo banjiha i adali niyaki bihe seme giyanakū udu

And this is not the whole story. The same sentence can also be found in the Muwa gisun, i. e. the school book of Leping, an 11-year old boy learning Manchu, possibly in the late 18th c. There, the sentence is used as part of a dialogue.

Muwa gisun (late 18th c.?, f° 23b)

bi uthai singgeri i uncehen de nišargan banjiha adali. niyaki bihe seme giyanakū udu.

Despite minor differences in detail (genitives overtly marked or not, use of nišargan instead of the chinese loanword yoo, adaptation to the context by changing meni geren niyalma to bi), the filiation seems clear enough.

Of course the sentence may have traveled indirectly from the Jin ping mei to the Cing wen king to the Muwa gisun. Still, it shows that despite its ambiguous status the Manchu Jin ping mei could have acted as a source for Manchu idioms, to be passed on to learners of the language. Maybe a more extensive reading of three works mentioned above would reveal other similar cases.

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