Manchu poetry in the 翻譯詞聯詩賦

While reading through the Ubaliyambuha uculen juru gisun irgebun fujurun (ch. 翻譯詞聯詩賦), a bilingual Manchu-Chinese work published in the 19th c. (1), I noticed two things:
1) a lot of the pieces in this work seem to rhyme in Manchu
2) the first uculen seemed vaguely familiar.

1) The fact that they rhyme can, alone, mean that, despite their being translations from the Chinese, these translations are indeed genuine Manchu poems (in terms of language at least, rather than content). Apart from rhymes, it seems to me that the translator(s?) may have tried sometimes to obey constraints regarding verse length. For instance in the following couplet, taken from the second uculen in the first volume (f°15):

aniya aniya emu adali ningge ilha.
aniya aniya adali akūngge niyalma.

I was expecting that the parallelism begun with aniya aniya would extend to emu adali but the second verse features adali alone. Was it because less syllables were needed in the second verse for both verses of the couplet to have a matching number of syllables? I have, obviously, no competence in Manchu poetry nor in Manchu syllabification so this is just an hypothesis.

2) The first piece in the book is already known by two different recensions, as demonstrated by Brian Tawney in this post at Manjurist. The version in the Ubaliyambuha uculen juru gisun irgebun fujurun is intriguing because where the Jakdan and the BNF versions differ it offers a text that sometimes agree with the former, sometimes with the latter (2). It does also exhibit many unique features (3) which only makes the whole thing more interesting. A close comparison of the three texts seems to be in order.
The fact that this very poem was chosen to be the first one in both Jakdan’s collection and the Ubaliyambuha uculen juru gisun irgebun fujurun makes me wonder about possible links between the two works. Could Jakdan have been involved in the publication of the Ubaliyambuha uculen juru gisun irgebun fujurun?

Here is the text of the first composition as found in the Ubaliyambuha uculen juru gisun irgebun fujurun (3):

jalan de ulhibure uculen.

ai bithei urse usin i haha.
weilere faksi hūdai niyalma.
inenggidari kata fata.
niyalma banjinjifi untuhusaka.
erebe gaisu terebe gama.
hendure balama.
wesihun fusihūn de teisu bi.
jabšara ufararangge bodoro de mangga.
ai gin gu yafan i bolori edun.
u giyang birai dobori biya.
o fang gurung fulahūn.
tung kiyoo karan aba.
gemu han dan tolgin i gese tolgišaha.
yargiyan i nasacuka.
yargiyan i usacuka.
eiterecibe abka de sebjeleme hesebun be sacina.
teisu be dahame an be tuwakiya.
nenehe han amaga han sere be ai gana.
yendehe gurun gukuhe gurun sere be ai hala.
bucere hamici.
ukcara de mangga.
julgeci ebsi baturu kiyangkiyasa siran siran i ufaraha.
iletu derengge saikan ilha i dergi silenggi.
bayan wesihun orho i oilorgi gecen dabala.
jalan i baita gemu uttu oho be tuwaci.
yendere gukure be aiseme mujilen de dara.
muduri taktu garudai asari sere be joocina.
aisi jugūn gebui tangka sere be nakacina.
sula fonde ekisaka tefi.
irgebun nure i emhun sebjelecina.
emgeri gingsifi.
bedereci ai tookan.
emgeri ucun uculefi.
šanyan muke buru bara.
edun be gingsime biya be irgebume.
amtangga wangga be gaicina.
hacingga ilha ilaci alha bulha.
geren gasha guwendeci jiji jija.
eici alin i dalba.
eici mukei dalba.
bigan tala aba saha.
ere nerginde absi saišacuka.
taka emu coman i nure be wacihiya.
yasa habtašara sidende juwe ergi šulu šaraka:

(1) Based on the appearance of the work. There is no indication of a publication date anywhere in the book as far as I can see.
(2) To quote just a few instances among many: it shares garudai asari and han with Jakdan’s version but gaisu and šanyan muke with the BNF text.
(3) To quote, again, just a few: bodoro de, birai, ai hala, eiterecibe, etc.
(4) Line division simply follows the punctuation of the printed text and does not aim at representing Manchu verses (although the editors seem to have taken care that punctuation generally matches rhymes).


Jakdan, Mucihiyan and friends

Or ‘Walking the streets of Beijing with the publishers of the Manchu Liao zhai zhi yi (聊齋誌異)’.

Reading through the first part of the Xian chuang lu meng yi bian (閒窗錄夢译编) and enjoying it very much. There is something oddly satisfiying in following the everyday life of the author, Mucihiyan, as he records even the tiniest events of his life in Beijing during the late 1820s. What he ate, things he bought, friends he visited, places he went to, death of family pets, etc, nothing seems too mundane to him.

I will probably post translations of some entries later but for the moment I would like to share something that makes this reading even more interesting to me (1).

While we know the author of the diary is one ‘Mucihiyan’ (based on the name mentioned in instructions sent to him and that he quotes), it is possible to link him to the Mucihiyan Ioi Fan which features in Jakdan’s Liyoo jai jy i, the (partial) Manchu translation of the Liao zhai zhi yi.

This identification relies on the presence in the diary of (at least) three persons, close friends of Mucihiyan, who also appear among the people who had a hand in the publication of Jakdan’s translation: De Weiyi (德惟一), Qing Xichen (慶熙臣) and Chang Xiangpu (長祥圃 ). In the Liyoo jai jy i, they are listed as Deyentai (starting with vol. 13, Desin) Wei Yi, Kingsi (starting with vol. 13, Kingcang) Hi Cen and Canghing Siyang Pu (see image below).

Liyoo 1
From the 1848 edition of the Sonjofi ubaliyambuha liyoo jai jy i bithe (vol. 1)

There is also more anecdotical evidence to support the identification of Mucihiyan Ioi Fan with the author of the diary. In Jakdan’s translation Mucihiyan Ioi Fan is said to be from the Peng Lai county (蓬萊) in the Shandong province (see image above). Now, this resonates strongly with the following entry in the diary in which a letter is brought to him (8th year of Daoguang, first day of the fifth month, p. 466):

bi tuwaci dule šandung goloi peng lai hiyan i 沙住寺 juktehen ne dasatame weilere jalin fulehun baimbi. bi angga aljaha.

Looking at it, I saw it was in fact requesting donations for repair work in the 沙住 temple of Peng Lai in the Shandong province. I promised [to send some money].

闲窗录梦, p. 466

Mucihiyan did not limit his activities in the realm of Manchu literature to the writing of his diary and the publishing of the Manchu Liao zhai zhi yi. He also edited the Ubaliyambuha simnehe bodon i durun kemun i bithe, a collection of Chinese examination essays (2), translated by Io Pu Ming (abkai wehiyehe dulimbai fonde. io pu ming gung). This Io Pu Ming, aka Ming Youpu, is not a new face in the world of Manchu literature, his work being signaled by Jadkan himself as the ones that gave him the impetus to begin working on his own translation of the Liao zhai zhi yi (cf. the Manchu introduction of the work, presented and translated by Elliott and Chu at the China Heritage Quarterly).
For more on Ming Youpu (although his translations of examination essays are not mentioned), see Hoong Teik Toh and 卓鴻澤, ‘Translation, Poetry and Lute Tunes Some Manchu Writings of Mingsioi and Jakdan‘, Central Asiatic Journal Vol. 51, No. 2 (2007), pp. 223-246.

Knowing more about these men and their relations not only sheds light on the publication of Jakdan’s translation in 1848, but it also enables us to better understand the milieu in which Manchu literati in the first half of the 19th c. produced their works.


(1) Of course, this might not be news at all for everyone but since I don’t have access to a reference library I could not check if all this has already been pointed out.

(2) Incidentally, this work may also be used to support the identification of Mucihiyan Ioi Fan with the author of the diary since the main body of the Ubaliyambuha simnehe bodon i durun kemun i bithe is written in a Manchu handwriting that is nearly identical with the one used to write the introduction of the diary.


In the second chapter of the Manchu translation of the 水滸傳 (Shui hu zhuan/Water Margin), there are quite a few occurences of the word leolo. Since the word cannot be found in the lexicographical tools I consulted (Hauer, Norman, Zakharov, 新满汉大词典) nor online (in the texts at, here or elsewhere) I thought it would be nice to list these examples here for future reference.

tereci cen da ineku hanci isinjifi leolo be faidan faidanbuha manggi. (p. 44b, l. 1)

geren leolo burulaha. (p. 45b, l. 2)

yang cun alin i ing ni dolo tefi bisirede leolo alanjime jifi hendume. (p. 45b, l. 5)

gūsin yan aisin belhefi juwe leolo be takūrame. dobori biya de (1). ši jin de benebuhe. juwe leolo ši jin i gašan de isinjifi. duka de forire jakade. gašan i niyalma tucifi leolo be dosimbuha. juwe leolo dosifi aisin be alibufi hendume. (p. 47b, l. 3-6)

geli leolo be takūrame benebure jakade. (p. 47b, l. 10)

As can be seen, the word roughly means “rank and file”. So far, I have only found it used to designate outlaws but maybe it can also be applied to any kind of low rank subordinate. I guess further reading will clarify that.

(1) While inenggi šun de “in the daytime” has found its way into dictionaries, this does not seem to be the case for its counterpart dobori biya de.

“Cimari yamji” in the Manchu Gin ping mei bithe

 Following on the interesting discussion that began in the comments section of Language log about “Manchu illiteracy”. Since comments are closed there I thought I would add the following here.

The question at hand is the meaning of the sentence songkoi cimari yamji baica. Two points seem to be problematic, 1) the absence of a complement before songkoi (which is usually a postposition) and 2) the exact meaning of cimari yamji.

I have posted there examples (one at least) supporting the idea that songkoi can be used not as a postposition but as an adverb, meaning “accordingly” and refering to something said/written before.

The meaning of cimari yamji has been debated and Pamela (K. Crossley?), while not ruling out a meaning “tomorrow night”, supports a meaning “all through the day”, cimari yamji being understood as a contraction of cimari erde ci yamji de. (1)

I, on the other hand, favor a translation of cimari yamji by “tomorrow evening/night” for several reasons:

cananggi yamji et sikse yamji mean “(the day before) yesterday evening”

examples I have been able to find of cimari yamji in the Manchu Jin Ping Mei seem to unambiguously mean “tomorrow night”.

See for instance chap. 69:

lin ši minggan tumen jergi urgunjeme dahafi. cimari yamji ilaci looye boode akū amala. sarin dagilafi aliyaki. habšara baita be yandure be anagan obufi. somishūn i acaki sehe babe giyan giyan i alara jakade. si men king donjifi ambula urgunjeme. dai an be juwe suje gajibufi buhe: (f°7a-b)

Or chap. 90:

si kemuni jio ai gelere babi. mini gisun be lai joo i sargan de hendufi. sinde alabure. bi cimari yamji. ere jai dukai dorgi fu i adame araha hetu boode simbe aliyambi sefi. yasa arara jakade. lai wang gūnin be ulhifi hendume. ere jai duka be yamji yaksimbio. akūn: (f°14b)

si cimari yamji geli jio. (f°19b)

These examples support a translation of cimari yamji by “tomorrow night” but this is of course very fragmentary evidence. Only by finding more examples will it be made clearer wether cimari yamji always means “tomorrow night” or if other meanings are possible.

(1) See her comment written April 24, 2016 at 2:22 pm. I hope I’m not misrepresenting her position.


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.

A tale from the Manchu Sidi Kur

Following on last post, here is a text mentioning a tree that has leaves ‘as big as cart wheels’. As in Donjina’s story, the encounter with the tree does not end well for the hero. Maybe this is just a coincidence, maybe there is some common motive behind the two stories.

The text is the 14th tale of the Manchu Sidi Kur. The Manchu translation has been traced back by its editor to a Mongol one. The tales originally came from India and reached Mongolia through Tibet. See here for more details about the different versions of the cycle.

The lustful king (summary)
Somewhere in India, there was a mountain on top of which grew a tree with leaves as big as cart wheels. In the leaves were living 500 heavenly maidens. One day, a king saw their shadow (reflection?) in the lake below the tree and ordered his ministers to bring him the girls. He then promises to make a minister of the man who will give him what he wants.

A bird-catcher then manages to catch one maiden with his net but she is only a decoy set up by the maidens in order to make fun of the king and of the bird-catcher. The girl he has caught is made of paper and will look like a real girl for seven days only.

The king is overjoyed, he expels his 500 wifes and replaces them by the heavenly maiden. Seven days later, he finds only paper in place of the girl. Ashamed and embarrassed, he puts the bird-catcher to death.

buyen de amuran han i juwan duici julen.
tereci geli nenehe songkoi genefi enduri be unufi jidere de: enduri hendume. neneme geren julen be bi alaha: bai goro de ališambi: te si emu julen ala: akūci mimbe ala seci oncohon geheše sehe manggi: han oncohon gehešehe: enduri alame. julgei enethe gurun i bade emu amba alin bi: tere alin i ninggude. emu necin bai dulimbade emu amba moo bi: tere mooi abdaha sejen muheren i gese amban: tere abdaha de abkai sunja tanggū sargan juse. inenggi dulinde jifi sebderide eficembi: tere alin ci emu amba bira eyehebi: birai sekiyen de emu genggiyen amba omo bi: tere omoi jakade. emu buyen de amuran han bihebi: emu inenggi tere han. omoi dalirame niyehe gabtame yabure de: abkai sargan jusei helmen mukei dolo sabumbi: han tere be sabufi. ambasai baru hendume: ere gese hocikon sargan juse be minde benju: benjirakū oci geren ambasa be fafun i gamambi sehe manggi: emu amban jabume: han ere sargan juse serengge. ere alin i dele emu amba moo bi: tere mooi dele abkai sargan juse eficembi: saburengge terei helmen kai: tere be adarame jafaci ombi: han geli hendume tuttu oci. yaya emu niyalma bahafi benjihede. tere niyalma de amba hafan bure seme gisun selgiyehe: tere han i gurun de. deyere gasha be asu maktame jafara emu niyalma bihebi: tere niyalma donjifi. han i jakade jifi. tere sargan jui be bi jafafi. benjire: minde šangnara wesimbure be. han sa sefi genehe: moo de hanci isiname abkai sargan juse sabufi hendume: ai. ere jalan de niyalma dule umesi mentuhun nikai: jilgan(?) buyen de amuran han muse be sargan gaiki serede: ere sui isika niyalma muse be jafafi buki. basa gaiki seme jihebi kai: ini han be geren i juleri yertebuki: ere sui isika niyalma be ineku wakini seme. ini beyei adali hoošan i hocikon sargan jui arafi. nadan inenggi dolo ergen bisire fa maktafi: tere mooi ninggude sindafi genehe: tere gasha butara niyalma isinafi; tere hoošan: araha sargan jui be asu maktame jafafi. abkai sargan jui be jafaha seme. han de benjihe manggi: han geren ambasa ambula ferguweme: han ini sunja tanggū fujin be bošofi. tere be fujin obuha: gasha butara niyalma de ambula šangnaha: tere sargan jui nadaci inenggi fa wajimbi. han i jibehun i dolo hoošan ofi bi: tere be han sabufi ambula yertefi. ere gasha butara niyalma be waha sere jakade: elhe yabungga han hendume: ini weilehe sui de bucehe nikai sehe manggi: enduri hendume: kesi akū han: angga ci jilgan tucike sefi genehe:

Donjina on the ‘cin šu’ tree

This (very) short story is taken from Donjina’s collection (1). Donjina (敦吉纳) was a Daur Mongol who spent part of his life in Xinjiang in the second half of the 19th c. after having been sent there as a soldier. Writing in Manchu, he has left us a voluminous collection of stories, part of which only has been edited and translated (2).

For more on Donjina, read and enjoy the post written by David Porter and published on the Manchu Studies Group’s blog : The righteous elephants.

Beware of the ‘cin šu’ tree!

šajilan agu i geli alaha gisun. musei girin i ba i ningguta hoton i harangga bade emu hacin cin šu sere moo bi den ici arkan ilan cy hamišame bi. uttu bime erei ilha sejen i muheren i gese (3). ilha dobori fithembi. niyalma asuru saburakū. ishunde ulandume gisurerengge. sabuha ursei dolo bucerengge labdu sembi.

‘Another story from Mr Shajilan.
Near the town of Ningguta in our province of Girin, there is a kind of tree called ‘cin šu’. It is barely three foot high and yet, its flowers are like cart wheels. The flowers blossom during the night. Few people see them. Rumor has it that many of those who have seen them die.’

It is possible that an interesting parallel could be drawn between this story and the fourteenth tale of the Manchu Sidi kur (4), more on this in the next post!

(1) The manuscript from which this story is taken is divided into five parts. Two of them are titleless while the others bear slightly different titles (Hei lung giyang goloi cicihar hoton i donjina i ejeme araha bithe ; donjina i sarkiyaha. ini sabuha donjiha babe ejeme araha bithe ; donjina i donjime ejehe hacin be sarkiyame araha bithe).

(2) Yong Zhijian (ed.), 敦吉纳见闻录, 新疆人民出版社, 1989 ; Geister, Dämonen und Seltsame Tiere: Ein Mandschurisches Liaozhai zhiyi aus Xinjiang, trans. Giovanni Stary, Aetas Manjurica 13, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 2009. I haven’t been able to consult these books but the few available pages of Stary’s edition make clear that the 1989 edition is only a selection.

(3) Does this mean that the flowers were ‘as big as’ cart wheels or ‘looking like’ cart-wheels? As this sentence follows the comment on the rather small size of the tree and is introduced by uttu bime maybe the former is to be preferred.

(4) For an introduction to this text, see Manchu Folklore: Tales Told by a Bewitched Being by Hanung Kim on the Manchu Studies Group’s website.