Doodlings in the margins

Learning Manchu cannot always be fun and some dialogue books used by students of the language saw their margins used for doodlings. Here are some I encountered so far.

In the Booi tacikū i oyonggo jorin i bithe, kept at the Berlin Staatsbibliothek (all on page 186):

berlin 1

berlin 3

berlin 2

In a copy of the Manju gisun i oyonggo jorin i bithe kept in Waseda University Library (first volume, f°25a):

waseda 1


Chinese chan poetry in Manchu garb

Update. Many thanks to Dr. Alan Wagner, who has been kind enough to point out that I erred in attributing the poems to Yan Bing, while they are in fact the works of others and have been inserted in his text as commentary. I have modified the text below to reflect this.

The SOAS-University of London digital library recently put online a Manchu work I knew nothing about. Its title is Bolgo weilen be dasara bithe. wara be targara bithe / 浄業文 戒殺文 (1). There is no preface or publishing date, but at some point somebody twice wrote a date belonging to the year QL57 [1792] at the beginning of the book.

As the title shows, there are in fact two different works in this fascicle (with separate pagination), whose full titles are:
– the ši dz fung ba i žu žu yan bing ni araha bolgo weilen be dasara be hacihiyara bithe (f°1-16)
– the liyan cy daši i araha wara be targara ergengge be sindara be gubci tafulara bithe (f°1-4)

The first one is the work of Yan Bing (顏丙, aka ‘Layman Ruru’/如如居士, d. 1212), a ‘Chan Buddhist layman of the Southern Song’. The other is the work of Zhu Hong (祩宏/蓮池大師, 1535-1615).

This is cause enough for interest since I am not aware that many texts of this kind have been translated into Manchu. As far as I know, Manchu translations of Buddhist texts consist mainly of common sutras (that are shared with other traditions) or of texts that are specific to the Tibetan tradition. This is probably the result of translators generally devoting themselves first to the main canonical texts and of Qianlong’s personal interest in this particular branch of Buddhism, an interest which eventually led him to publish a complete Manchu Buddhist Canon modeled on the Tibetan one (2). Going against this trend, the work now online at the SOAS website shows that translation of Buddhist works belonging purely to the Chinese tradition also took place.

Another very interesting aspect of this book is that the part authored by Yan Bing features many poems by various authors, which serve as commentary. These poems are rendered in Manchu verse, characterised by initial alliteration and final rhyme, according to the following scheme:


Here is the first of the poems (together with a translation which probably does justice neither to the Manchu, nor to the Buddhist content):

siowei fung ni tukiyecun i gisun.

emteli dengjan dabufi dobori eldešembi.
ereci besergen de tafafi fomoci sabu be sumbi.
ere ilan fayangga nadan oron tolgin deri geneci.
eici cimari jidere jiderakūngge boljon akū ombi (sehebi).

A hymn of praise by Xuefeng (雪峯)

A single lamp has been lit and keeps shining in the night.
One then goes to bed and removes socks and shoes.
When these three yang-souls and seven yin-souls (3) move away from the dream,
One might become without waves, wether tomorrow comes or not .

I hope the SOAS Library will go on with their Manchu books digitalisation program, especially since they seem to have plenty of interesting material (4).

(1) It appears in T. Pang’s Descriptive Catalogue of Manchu Manuscripts and Blockprints in the St. Petersbourg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies, 2001, p. 150-151, n°355.

(2) See M. Bingenheimer’s History of the Manchu Buddhist Canon for a good history of how the Manchu Canon came into being (especially p. 207-208 for Qianlong and the Changja Khutugtu’s somewhat distrustful attitude towards aspects of the Chinese Buddhist tradition).

(3) San hun qi po, 三魂七魄.

(4) There is for instance another intriguing work which is presented as [Unidentified Manchu text]. Given the title (Dai yuwan i kooli ningguci. Sidzu) and what I have read of the content, I would be tempted to see in it the drafts of the translations of the Yuan dynastic history (Dai yuwan gurun i suduri) published in 1646. This would be a fantastic find but I cannot confirm it, not having access the the printed text of the Dai yuwan gurun i suduri.

A Manchu learner’s composition book? (3)

Another text from the Manchu manuscript BNF 270 (see here for more about this manuscript):

mini boode ilan šorho teile ujimbihe mini emu gucu jifi šorho be gaifi šaolafi(1) wacihiyan jekebi. eden daden(2) funcehengge maktafi ini indahūn ulebuhe: yala tere gucu kabula kai. jai jici mini duka fita yaksifi dosimburakū oho. akū oci mini boode bisire ele jetere hacin uthai wajimbi:

‘At home I was raising only three chicks. A friend of mine came, took one, roasted it and ate the whole thing. Moreover, he threw away what was left and fed his dog. This friend is such a glutton! If he comes back, I will lock my door tightly and he won’t come in. If I fail to do this, my food supply at home will run out.’

(1) For šolombi?
(2) For ede dade?

A Manchu learner’s composition book? (2)

This is the eigth text in the manuscript BNF Mandchou 270 (see here for a first post about this text). There are several interesting spellings in this extract, some of which may reflect actual pronunciation (getuken ni, basuraho) while others are perhaps just mistakes (girakūfi).

fonjime ainaci ojoro juwe biya funceme manju gisun tookan akū (f°6a) tacimbi tuttu bicibe ninggun nadan gisun getuken ni ejehebi. gūwa gemu fuhali onggoho. uttu oci atanggi manju gisun wacihiyame bahafi saci ombi. jabume age ere gisun be ume firgembure niyalma basuraho ayoo si damu inenggi dobori akū gūnin girakūfi daci encu hetu baita ume dara. talude niyalma be ucaraci ume nikara goidarakū tang seme manjuraci ombi. fonjime age labdu baniha sini tacibure be (f°7b) alime gaifi gingguleme dahaki sembi:

Question. What can I do? I have been learning Manchu for more than two months without interruption and, although I remember clearly six or seven words, I have forgotten everything else. If so, when will I be able to master Manchu?
Answer. Sir, do not say that! People might make fun [of you]. Just keep at it day and night and do not pay attention to what may at first be unfamiliar. If you happen to meet someone, do not speak Chinese and in no time you’ll be able to speak fluent Manchu.
Question. Sir, thank you very much! I will heed your instructions and follow them carefully.

A Manchu poem about cassowaries by the Qianlong emperor

The 2013/1 issue of Transcultural Studies (1) contains a very interesting article by Lai Yu-Chih on paintings representing cassowaries. These were produced by the imperial workshops and are significant witnesses of the flux of informations coming from western sources and finding their way to the Qing empire, as well as how they were integrated into the Qing worldview. The article focuses mostly on four pages that were added to the Niao Pu (鳥譜), Album of Birds, some fifteen years after its completion. These four pages consist in one painting of a cassowary, its description in Chinese and Manchu and a poem by the Qianlong emperor, also in Chinese and Manchu. In his discussion of the texts accompanying the picture, the author relies on the Chinese version of the text but it can be noted that the Manchu text itself is a poem following the rules of Manchu poetry (2). It also seems that it does not match exactly the Chinese text. This makes the Manchu version a work of its own, to be added to our corpus of Manchu poetry.

I give below the Manchu text and a (clumsy) translation.

han i araha e mo gasha be irgebuhe juwan mudan i irgebun:
Poem in ten rhymes on the cassowary written by the emperor.

te i ere h’alaba i gasha.
tesu bade inu tongga sabumbi.
teike mederi jahūdai deri gajifi.
terei arbun be cohome nirubuhabi:

This bird of Indonesia
is rarely seen in its native country.
Recently it has been brought from a ship
and its picture has been especially painted.

erebe foranggiya ba i niyalma de takabufi.
ere da hūng mederi tun de banjimbi sehe.
erei nirugan leolehe gisun gemu bi.
ejeme arahangge akūmbuha bime getukelehe:

It is said to have been discovered by people from France
and to live on an island of the Da hūng sea.
Here are its image and description.
Record of it has been made complete and it has been explained.

banin nomhon ofi dasihirakū.
ba i halhūn be baime beiguwen de sengguwembi.
banjiha beyei gubci funggaha fulahūri boco bime.
banitai konggolo de fulgiyan sukū tuheme banjihabi:

Quiet by nature, it is no bird of prey.
Seeking heat, it fears cold.
All feathers of its body are deep-red
and its crop is made of red skin at the bottom.

asha de dethe akū ofi deyeme muterakū.
an i arbušacibe uncehen mokto saka.
adarame bahafi ubade isinjiha ni.
aibici baime gajihangge geli waka.

Because its wings have no pinions, it cannot fly.
While it moves normally, the tail is somewhat bald.
How did it manage to come here?
Looking everywhere, no one has brought it. (3)

ume ši lo gasha seme sabi obure.
umesi julge de hafan i hergen obuhakū kai.
udu ferguwecuke gasha obume ujirakū bicibe.
ulabuha manggi inu emu tongga donjin kai:

Do not mistake it for the ši lo bird, taking it as a good omen,
It was not chosen as a rank badge for officials.
Although this marvelous bird cannot be fed,
after it has been handed down, it is indeed a rare thing to hear.

(1) Available at

(2) The poem makes use of initial alliteration and final rhymes:
Stanza 1

Stanza 2 and 5

Stanza 3 and 4

(3) I am not sure I got this verse right, especially the aibici baime part.

Behe, 18th c. author and translator

The recent batch of Manchu works put online by the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin featured the Nadan tacihiyan be urunakū hūlabure bithe, a work translated by Behe (博赫). I learnt of its existence in Puyraimond’s catalogue of the BNF Manchu collection and had long wanted to see it since Behe is an author/translator I had encountered before. A member of the Mongol Bordered Yellow banner, Behe has indeed translated/authored several Manchu books during the second half of the 18th c.:

Nadan tacihiyan be urunakū hūlabure bithe (Ch. 七訓須讀)
The preface is dated QL 29 (1764) and signed kubuhe suwayan i monggo gūsai yafahan coohai uheri da yamun i ejeku hafan behe. tušan ci aljafi nimeku ujire šolo de isamjame araha.

Manju gisun be ja i gisurere bithe (Ch. 清語易言)
The preface is dated QL 31 (1766) and gives the same information as the preceding work.

Bayan wesihun jalafun baha i bithe (Ch. 延寿格言)
On the last page is given the date QL 44 (1779), Behe is then kubuhe suwayan i monggo gūsai. da tušan g’an su goloi jyli cin jeo i jeo i saraci behe ubaliyambufi folobuha.

Among these, the Manju gisun be ja i gisurere bithe is maybe the most interesting since this short treatise about the Manchu language gives us many indications about the pronunciation of the language (among other things). Thus, we learn that hendumbi was pronounced as henumi, umesi as emeši, yali as yanli, ainci as anci, saiyūn as sanyo, and so on.

I hope that more works by Behe are known to others or will surface eventually. In addition to the intrinsic interest of his works, his activity as a translator and author of Manchu works is a good reminder of the important part members of the Mongol banners played in the literary activity in Manchu.

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 is enough to show 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 also have tried to obey some 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 (one by Jakdan, the other in a BNF manuscript), 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).

A Manchu learner’s composition book?

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France holds a copy of a Manchu work(1) in which are found several short texts which seem to have been written by a Christian learning Manchu (a missionary?). Some of them are explicitly Christian in content (the Lord’s prayer for instance), others are more mundane and some even seem to have been written in a joking tone. Two of them are concerned with the learning of Manchu, here is the first one in which the author reflects on the fact that he must be a student of no oustanding ability since his teacher comes to teach him as often as possible:

bi tuwaci manju gisun tacibure urse šabisa i sure albatu tuwambi. sure oci hacihiyame tacibumbi. albatu seci heolendeme šušuri mašari tacibumbi. bodoci sefu mimbe albatui ton de obuhabi. uttu ofi sefu daruhai jiderakū. damu šolo be tuwame mudan mudan jimbi. albatu faksi mudangga moo be tuwancihiyame muterakū: mergen faksisai gala de isinjici uthai tondo ombi:

It seems to me that Manchu teachers look upon students as intelligent or ordinary. If one is intelligent, they teach him with speed. If one is ordinary, they teach him slowly(2) and meticulously. Upon consideration, my teacher put me in the ‘ordinary’ category. Consequently, he does not come often but each time he has the opportunity he comes. An ordinary craftsman cannot straighten a curved piece of wood; if it comes into the hands of a skilled craftsman, then can it be straightened.

I will post other texts from this work since they are often light reading with a few interesting lexical items.


(1) The work is mislabeled as are many others at Gallica. It should also be noted that although the lines on each page are to be read in the normal left-to-right order, pages follow one another from right to left.

(2) heole(n)dembi appears as “to be careless, to be negligent, to be idle” in Norman’s Lexicon but I think the context here calls for something without pejorative association, like “slowly”.


Manchu-Mongolian-Chinese textbook from 1909-1910

The Manju monggo nikan ilan acangga šu i tuktan jergi den jergi ajige tacikūi tanggin / 满蒙汉合璧教科书 is a very interesting resource, highlighting the changes that were taking place at the very end of the Qing dynasty. This work, as stated in the foreword (dated 1909), was intended to become the textbook used in schools for children.

The lessons are at first very simple, being short lists of words, but they gradually increase in length and complexity. The content is resolutely modern in tone, with lessons devoted for instance to describing the five continents (1) and to the Qing empire.

Eight fascicles have been pusblished in facsimile (2), each fascicle contains sixty lessons and was intended to cover a semester. The introduction states that 18 fascicles were planned thus providing a complete course for 9 years of schooling, from 8 year old to 16 year old (3). Since the 8th fascicle is dated 1910, it may be that the publication was interrupted due to the end of the Qing dynasty.

I find this work fascinating (even if I only read a few lessons) because of its trilingual nature (4) and its status as a witness of the very last moments of the Qing dynasty and the efforts made at the time to modernize the education system. On the more practical side of things, this textbook offers a wealth of graded readings that could be very useful to modern students of Manchu.

Fascicle 1

ujui tacibure kicen. abka. na. šun. biya. alin. muke. boihon. moo.

Lesson 1. Heaven, earth, sun, moon, moutain, water, soil, tree.

jai tacibure kicen. ama. eme. jui. sargan jui. hūcin. boigon. usin. hūwa.

Lesson 2. Father, mother, son, daughter, well, household, field, yard.

Fascicle 6

susai ningguci tacibure kicen. hutu akū.

(…) seibeni yoo guwang antaha be tanggin de sarilahade. emu antaha gaitai nimekulefi bi. goidatala yebe ohakū ofi. yoo guwang fonjiha de. antaha jabume. onggolo nure buhe be alire de. hūntahan i dolo meihe bisire be sabufi. mujilen de ubiyambihe. omiha manggi. nimeku fukdereke sefi. yoo guwang fajiran i ninggude uihe i beri bisire be gūninafi. hūntahan i dolo i meihe. uthai beri i helmen kai. uthai dahūme daci ba de nure dagilafi. antaha de alame fonjime. hūntahan i dolo dahūme saburengge bio. antaha hendume. saburengge nenehe i adali sefi. uthai turgun be alaha de. antaha gaitai gūnin subufi. nimerengge aimaka ufaraha gese:

Lesson 56. No ghost.

(…) Some time ago, when Yoo Guwang was banqueting with some guests in his hall, one of the guests suddenly started to feel unwell. When, after some time, he did not get better, Yoo Guwang asked him [what had happened] and the guest answered “Earlier when taking the cup of wine you gave me, I saw a snake in it and my heart was troubled. After drinking it, I felt unwell.” Yoo Guwang, realizing that there was a horn-bow on the wall, [said] “The snake inside the cup, that was the reflection of the bow!”. Then he put wine at the same place as before and asked the guest “Do you again see [a snake] in the cup?” The guest said “I see the same thing as before.” Upon telling this, the guest suddenly felt relieved, as if his illness had ended.


(1) Named ya si ya, o lo ba, ya fei li giya, ya mei lii giya, hai yang (fasc. 6, lesson 1).

(2) Vol. 724-725 of the 故宫珍本丛刊 series published by 海南出版社.

(3) tuktan jergi ajige tacikūi tanggin ci den jergi ajige tacikūi tanggin de isitala. bodoci uyun aniyai erinde. bithe juwan jakūn debtelin be arame bahafi. erei nadan jakūn se ci tofohon juwan ninggun se de isitala baitalara de acabumbi.

(4) Fascicle 8 ends on the following words: gehungge yoso i jai aniya šanyan indahūn bolori uju biyade. abkai imiyangga goloi monggo bithei tacikūi tanggin i gebu algingga tuwame kadalara hafan. tojin i funggala meiren i janggin jergi. nenehe monggo gūsai da amban žungde gingguleme ubaliyambuha. If this is indeed the name of the translator of the entire work (and not just of the last piece in the 8th fascicle), as it seems reasonable to suppose, this would be another testimony to the large part Mongols played in the production of Manchu texts.