Nine dragons gonna twist in Mestre – Matite in Viaggio 2012

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The Scroll of the Nine Dragons - Carnet d'etudeThe Scroll of the Nine Dragons – Carnet d’etude

Last news I had from the friend Andrea Longhi was about my Carnet focused on the Scroll of the Nine Dragons, a Carnet of study consacrated to the masterpiece of 陈容 Chén Róng.

Here follow the presentation I’ve written for an eventual future edition of the Carnet.


The scroll of the nine dragons

The scroll of the nine dragons by 陈容 (traditional Chinese 陳容) Chén Róng (1210 – 1261) has to be considered as one of the most most important sample of Chinese scroll-painting and one of the masterpiece of Chinese art.
Since 1917 it is preserved at the Museum of Fine Arts, the scroll is perfectly preserved, and is painted ink on paper with some touches of deep-red pale ink.

The composition is completely overlooked by the glorious figures of the nine dragons, twisting and winding among clouds and waves. At the beginning of the scroll a dragon appears over a waterfall, a part of his body is hidden by smoky mist. The dragon size the hill by its sharp claws, facing ahead he seems chasing another dragon which it’s just throwing himself among clouds and mist, swiping the air with his tail.

The third dragon is depicted with his face in full view, is climbing over a hill.

Coming from left, the fourth dragon has just sized a pearl, is coming out from the water, provoking turbulent waves and twisting clouds.

Beside appear two other older dragons, one with horns extremely tined and the other with hoary head; they are chasing each other in a circle movement.

Most part of the seventh dragon’s body is dipped into the wiping waves.
Finally the eighth and nineth dragons appear facing each other. The former seems to leaping toward the latter two, while stepping his body on a rock-hill, while turning back the head looking for his encroacher.

Thanks to such balanced composition, the dynamic action of the dragons is taken to an end, as this masterpiece reach a pacific and quite resolution. The brushwork suggest to the viewer the idea of a dramatic beauty and a rhythmic movement on an universal scale.

Two inscriptions of the author and other sixteen calligraphies by an emperor, officials, scholars and Taoist priest are added to the panting, moreover there are many seal-stamps belonging both to the author of inscriptions and to collectors. In this copy such seals are replaced by the author’s seal-stamps, while the original are afterwards classified and studied.

Of the two inscriptions by Chen Rong, the shorter is a memorandum written at the beginning of the painting and chronologically after the scroll-painting was finished:

“The Picture of Nine Dragons was painted in the spring of Chia-ch’en (corresponding to the year 1244) . This scroll has come back into the possession of my son-in-law Hsien Li. Does not a divinely inspired thing surely find its allotted place? “

The longer inscription, in verses, is contemporary to the brushwork, and it’s made by some legends focused on dragons:

“ A real dragon stole a glance at the engraving at Ch’u;
In Chin-ling, two dragons flew away when the pupil of the eye was added.
When Chu-liang had already become an immortal, Chang followed him;
How ashamed was Liu Tung-weih when laughed at by the dragon couple!
The eight scrolls of Wu dragons were not worth hanging.
When drunk I spit the painting from within.
And the waves of Lung-men (the Dragon Gate) , or of San-hsiak (the Three Gorges) are like mountains,
Sending great roars from the depths into heaven.
The flying dragon appears from the gorge and flies toward the river of spring;
The force of Chiu-ho (the Nine Rivers) does not subdue him.
A dragon is like a Ch’ih-mum (Red-leaf) on the Tien-cheihn (Pond of Heaven) ;
The fungus aroused the land of mist and cloud.
Again, the goddess Ch’i-n has been punished by Chün-t’ien (the Lord of Heaven) ;
Lei-kung (the God of Thunder) struck mountains, and heaven and earth were black.
The glistening jade dragon rubbed scales against inaccessible cliffs;
(Dragon-like) big newt, he seems to avoid the visitor from Yang-ling.
The golden snake (lightning) flashed when the dragon awoke from his snoring;
His sharp-rising horns became Hai-men (the Gate of the Sea) .
His grinding teeth and sharp talons grasped the bright moon;
The dance of Tien-wu (the God of Sea) shook the base of heaven.
Over the thunderheads, the dragon taught his sons to make lightning;
The oldest dragon was in the fifth picture.
Two dragons relieved the people during the year of drought;
In the night the horse’s mane turned over the Tien-p’iao (the Ladle of Heaven) .
The warm waves of peach blossom time had reached the third level (of the Mount Kcun-lun) ;
Who dares to climb Yü-men, the most hazardous place?
Blue whiskers and deep red beards grew when fire was burning off their tails;
Thunder of the tenth month followed them as they fled upwards.
The Marquis of Shu slept peacefully in Nan-yang Wu-(hsiang) ;
All the figures were painted as strange and old.
They saved their superhuman strength waiting for the future;
In the world the people prayed for the heavy rain.
So-weng (Chén Róng) painted the picture of nine dragons.
His wonderful brushwork was unequalled in this world.
Looking from afar, cloud and water were like flying movement;
So that one feels it was done by the hand of a god.
Lung-kung from Hsüan-ch’eng had nine sons;
All of them entered the old man’s picture.
Who will paint two cows for me?
Do not put the golden bridle on one of them.
The colophon of the Picture of Nine Deer was written by Fu-weng; and the Picture of Nine Horses was praised by P’o-lao. Nevertheless, So-weng’s dragons are neither like deer nor horses. How could I dare to follow in the footsteps of Master Su and Master Huang ?
I simply put this down to record the year and the month.”

As according to Chinese custom about some addiction into original scroll-painting, an additional length of paper was inserted; it could be hypothesized that the painter, the owner or simply the critic evidently felt free about a certain freedom to the possibility of writing and signing by their seals-stamps directly on the painting or on any other part of the scroll.
Usually such addictions have some documentary value, as for instance they could be used to evince the relative merit, or even the authenticity of the masterpiece. The scroll is thus accompanied by six praises prayed by people of XIV century, mostly Taoist.

1. Written by Tung Ssŭ-hsüeh, contemporary to the artist. His original name was Tung Ssŭ kuo, from Chekiang province. After the destruction of Sung dynasty he converted and became Taoist monk. The eulogy was written in 1306:

“ In the year of hsin-yu (corresponding to the year 1261) , So-weng painted the Picture of a Pair of Swords for Han Hsinal of Tung shan at twilight, in the Garden of Nine
Streaked Pines; it was excellently done. In the tenth year of Ta Te (corresponding to the year 1306) I saw this scroll during a banquet at Yü-t’ien. Its brush work yields nothing
to the painting given to Han (Hsin). Written by the Mountain Man of Lao-chün, Tung Ssŭ-hsüeh.”

2. Composed by Chang Ssŭ-ch’eng, progeny of Chang Tao-ling (34 – 156 d. C.), author of painting of dragons and calligrapher, during XIV century he had become a chief Taoist priest. Eulogy is dated to 1331 year and is written in verse:

“ Hsüan-yün (Music) and Fo-mo (Painting) are called Tien-fen (the Winds of Heaven).
Thunderhead and lightning bolt drive away Lei-kung (the God of Thunder).
Yü-ssŭ (the Genius of the Rain) is busy;
Yüan-ch’i (Constitution of the Universe) is dripping.
Who would be the hero when the universe be comes transformed?
The strange lightning shines when two dragons exert their strength.
They are twisting and turning toward the west?out beyond the heavens.
Mountain rocks are destroyed when one of the dragons awakes.
The sound of his rubbing against rocks conceals the thunder.
One of the dragons does not struggle, but the others rush on.
They look for the Sui pearl and spring up on the bright moon.
The hoariest dragon is the one in the middle.
He enjoys himself leading his sons around in a circle.
One dragon comes out of the water showing his horns.
White waves, like mountains, reflect the sky.
One of the dragons flies up to the great emptiness.
Tien-p’iao (the Ladle of Heaven) has overturned to relieve the dried-up land.
The last dragon is at leisure,
Turning back his head as though he wished to return to dive into the deep sea.
Different styles have been shown by their gamboling and turning around.
Oh, he is not a dragon, how could he know the dragons so completely!
After (Liu) Tung-wei and (Chang) Seng yu had passed away,
The relations with the spirits of a thousand years have been continued by So-weng.
In appraising dragons one should not judge by details (scale and bristle).
The wonder should depend on the spirit.
The transmutations of Chiu-yang should be understood thoroughly.
How could people store them in a box?
I worry that thunder be followed by darkness.
One day they would disappear into the vast emptiness.
Written by Tien-shih (Grand Master) Tai yüan-tzŭ (the Elder Son of Heaven)
second year of Chih-Shun (corresponding to the year 1331), the first month of spring.”

3. Written by Wu Ch’üan-chieh (1269 – 13509, a powerful Taoist priest, active at the beginning of the XIV century; he was born in the district of An-jien, Jao-chou prefecture of the province of Kiangsi. The praise has not any date.

“Sky falling in thunder and rain;
Ink spilled like fire and lightning.
When the time came for untied clothes and (ink) to be spread far and wide,
The spirit had to listen to whatever he said.
Wind and cloud are made by falling snow;
In the twinkling of an eye, he flies away for a thousand Li
Ch’ien-yüan was assisted by Yung-chiu,
As the dragon studied with Lao-tzu.
Written by Hsien-hsien-tao-jen (Leisure Taoist) Wu Ch’üan-chieh.”

4. Composed by Ou-yang Yüan (1273 – 1357), Yüan dynasty scholar and official, active into the College of Han Lin, specialized in preparation of official state documents. He was dignified as Duke and canonized as Wen. His eulogy is in verse:

“Ch’ien, Yang and Liu-yao;
only Yang was solid;
The name, Six Dragons, resembled the dragon nature.
The connection between Ch’ien and Yung-chiu had been transformed by the god’s strength;
That is how in later years the Nine Dragons name appeared.
Ma-shih of Southern Lake followed this transformation;
His body, like a column, became tied by the eight dragons.
What grand and magnificent brushwork is here!
The Hall of Thunder and Wind are painted again.
(Signed) Ou-yang Yuan.”

5. Written by Chang Chu (1287 – 1368), scholar and official, author of the chronicles of Liao, Chin and Sung dynasties. As chin-shih into the Han Lin College he was holder of other high officials. As he achieved high distinctions by his poetry, he had written on this scroll a long poem in verse:

“ The Picture of Nine Dragons was shown to me by an immortal;
I understood that it belongs to the Lei-t’ien t’ang (the Hall of Thunder and Lightning) .
The Po-sang-chien paper is thirty ch’ih long;
Each dragon painted as strange and tortuous.
They turn about over gorges and broken cliffs;
The deep sea has been swallowed by the rest less waves.
They seize the Li pearl and struggle to reflect its splendor;
They stir up waterspouts when they weave in and out.
One flies to the moon (together) with his son,
With a hanging head returning to Pan-yu Cave.
Such grand brushwork, the transmutations endless;
Never before have the true bones (appearances) been realized.
Few people understand what I have seen in my lifetime;
I would not dare to be careless, because this painting is related to the spirit.
Ch’?n Jung knew how to control the dragon, even if he was not an immortal;
Who would be able to hide them in their baskets?
For the thunder would come through the walls
To tread with the bright sun and fly away with the wind.
When Kao Tang’s book was opened, hundreds of monsters escaped;
After looking carefully, mist and rain are felt.
Seng-yu did not like Tung Yü
In the late years no one could be compared with him.
At the beginning, he made rain to cover Chiu t’u
Oh, how grand a sense of duty he had!
This spirit is just what men should have in their work;
When (the dragon spirit) appears it sweeps away stupidity.
How can people constantly play with colors;
And waste away their energy painting grasses and insects?
Signed) Chin-ning (Yunnan province), Chang Chu.”

6. Written by Wang Po-i, born in Chiang-ning in the province of Kiangsu, active during the last part of the XIV century. Inscription was made at the end of 1380 year:

“ Originally the dragon was a spiritual thing,his body was pure Yang so his transmutations were limitless. The painter had to use the meaning of Ch’ien-yüan yung-chiu and the highest point of Yang to form a spiritual thing to frighten living beings. Because of the appearance and disappearance of his transformations, no one dared to steal a glance when the flying dragons were in the sky. What a
wonderful manner was used for these true spirits! That is out of the imagination. Don’t let them break through the wall and escape into the water; it does happen sometimes.
Po-i saw this scroll in the tenth moon of the year Keng-shen of Hung-Wu (corresponding to the year 1380). (Signed) Chiang-ning (Kiangsu province), Wang Po-i.”

Such six prayers, together with the two autograph calligraphy of the artist, also evince the conception of the Chinese dragon as a symbolic, glorious image, genius of force and a divinity. Moreover, in China, the dragon is a benevolent animal, not connected with bad or obscure powers. It is linked to fertility and rain, the genius of water, especially invoked during times of drought or flood. Moreover, because of its life-giving powers and benefits, it was directly linked to the good-administration activities, thus the figure of the dragon was directly elevated to symbolize imperial dignity.

Thought for our culture the dragon is considered as a purely emblematic manifestation as a product of fantasy, according to Chinese traditional culture it was absolutely considered as a real and natural being.

According to Erh-ya-yi, written by Lo Yüan (1136 – 1184), the dragon is the king of all the animals. He also quoted about Wang Fu description of the dragon as a being which have other nine animals semblances:
“the head like a camel (extended), horns like a deer (long), eyes like a hare (protruding), ears like a cow, neck like a snake, belly like a sea-serpent, scales like a carp, claws like a hawk, and feet like a tiger. It has eighty-one scales on its back, nine times nine, the largest positive (Yang) odd-numbered digit; it makes a noise like the rattle of a copper tray; it has a mustache and whiskers; it has a pearl under its chin; below the neck it has a reversed set of scales; on the head it has a protuberance called Po-shan or Ch’ih-mu; without this knob it cannot ascend the heavens. Its out-breathings form clouds which change into either water or fire.”

For many centuries, there have been reports and records which tell us that the dragon is a mythological animal, a symbolic figure and a metaphysical concept. In Chinese Art the dragon could be considered as one of the most important motif, a mystic, fantastic being, inspiration and cause of marvel and awe-fear, swift like the lighting and strong as the storm-wind. Appearing among clouds and mists, the dragon is visible just to the keen-eyed and enlightened minds opened to the widest spiritual forces of nature.

Along the top of the painting there are two inscriptions written by the Emperor Ch’ien Lung (1711 – 1799), the fourth emperor of the Ch’ing dynasty, and according to his words is possible to date the calligraphy to the year 1767:
“In the later spring of ting-hai, I, the emperor, ordered Chin T’ing-piao (ca. 1767, a court painter) to make a copy of this scroll. The spirit was more or less like the original. So I had to write at the beginning and at the end.”

Moreover, at the end of the brushwork, there are eight verses composed by an high official of the Ch’ien Long court, as he adapted in verse the inscription of his emperor, and he sealed his inscription by his seal-stamp at the end of the verses.

Yin Chi-shan (1697 – 1771) , a member of the Manchu Bordered Yellow Banner. He became a chin-shih in the year 1723 and was made a Grand Secretary in 1764. The emperor praised him not only as an able administrator but as one who was kind and broad-minded;

Liu T’ung-hsün (1700 – 1773), a native of Chu-ch’eng of Shantung province. He served twice as Chancellor of the Han Lin College and also served as Director General of both the State Historiographer’s Office and the commission to compile the catalog of the Imperial Library;

Yü Ming-chung (1714 – 1780), native of Chin-t’an in the province of Kiangsu. When he was twenty-four, he became a chin-shih with highest honors, and was made a first class compiler of the Han Lin College. He was constantly with the emperor on tour or in the capital, and many important policies of the middle Ch’ien Lung period were decided by the emperor in accordance with his advice;

Tung Pang-ta 1699 – 1769), a native of Fu-yang in the province of Chekiang. In 1747 he was appointed sub-chancellor to the Grand Secretary and later, among other positions, he was made the President of the Board of Ceremonies. As a painter he won high recognition;

Ch’iu Yüeh-hsiu (1712 – 1773), native of Hsin-chien in the province of Kiangsi. He became a chin-shih in 1739. His principal activity was the superintending of flood control in eastern Honan, western Shantung and northern Anhwei provinces;

Wang Chi-hua (1720 – 1776), a native of Ch’ien-t’ang, province of Chekiang. He became chin-shih in 1745 and later was made a Minister of Revenue, and a Chief Director General of both the State Historiographer’s Office and of
the commission to compile the catalog of the Imperial Library;

Ch’ien Wei Ch’eng (1720 – 1772), a native of Wu-chin of the province of Kiangsu. He became Chin-shih in 1745 with highest honors and then was appointed a Han Lin compiler of the first class. He was a master both of calligraphy and

Ch’en Hsiao-yung (1715 – 1779), notable critic and calligrapher. He served at Ch’ien Lung’s court and participated in the compilation of the Hsi-ch’ing ku-chien an illustrated and annotated catalog of 1,529 bronze utensils, and other objects of antiquity, preserved in the
Imperial Palaces.

We have very few information about the life of Cheng Rong. He’s registered in the work compiled in 1580 by Hsü P’u entitled “ Min-hua-chi” as disciple of Kung-ch’u Master, born in Ch’ang-lo (today Min-hou district, province of Fukien). He had passed the chin-shih exam in the second year of Tuan P’ing ( 1235 ), thus he entered in the government with a rule into the Department of Education; later he became Prefect of the district of P’u-tian in the province of Fukien. He gained a very high individual reputation for his integrity and for his abilities as scholar and painter, specialized in paintings of dragons.

His brush-works dedicated to dragons seems to represent the transformation of their spirits. He painted clouds among which the dragons flying adopting the so-called spilled ink
style and splashed ink over the area of mist and breaking waves apparently by snapping the brush so that ink-spots scattered on the paper. When he was drunk, he shouted aloud, took off his cap, dipped it into ink and then aimlessly smeared and rubbed with it, making a rough picture which he afterwards completed with the brush. Sometimes the whole figure of the dragon was shown, sometimes only a leg or a head. The dimly defined shapes were beyond description, almost inconceivable, yet truly divine and mysterious.

When he painted pine and bamboo, he adapted Liu Ch’eng-hsüan’s (Liu Kung-ch’üan, 778 – 865, an official and calligrapher of the Tang dynasty) Iron Hook Manner (brush-strokes like iron hooks). His paintings were regarded as masterpieces in the days of the reign dated Pao Yu (1253 – 1258). Toward old age, his brush manner became more and more simplified, concentrated and wonderful. His paintings which have touches of deep red color are comparable to Tung Yü’s work.

Moreover we know that Chén Róng’s famed dragon paintings were regarded as masterpieces even in his own day. We also know that his technique in the art of painting is somehow different from most of his contemporaries. If we examine this scroll carefully, we will be able to find some traces made by the impression of cloth appearing throughout the picture (mostly along the edge of the dragon figures and the clouds).
Evidently, Chén Róng used cloth as one of his instruments for pictorial representation. When he painted he made a rough sketch with some kind of cloth, or even with his own cap. Then he completed the picture with brush and dark ink
in strongly defined wrinkles for figures, clouds, water and rocks, which gives the picture its distinctive quality, modeling and texture.

The picture also shows that the master’s brush-work has a combination of rhythmic beauty and powerful strength. The motifs which appear in his picture, such as dragons, rocks, and waves, suggest a sense of life-motion.
The style-analysis of the artist’s brush-strokes evinces different type and techniques: among rocks and cliffs, the Small-axe Wrinkles or Hsiao-fu-p’i ts’un have been employed by the artist. The effect of these strokes is of faulted angular rocks. This type of ragged stroke is only produced when the brush is dragged sideways. On the chins of these dragons is found a type of sharp-headed dot or short-pointed strokes that we may call Sharp-headed Dots or Chien-fou tien also Nail Wrinkles or Ting ts’un, which are made by the tip of the brush. They can be produced by a broken or old, worn brush. The effect suggests an irregular texture suitable for the appearance of a dragon.

Among the figures also appears brushstrokes made by the dragging of an oblique-hold brush-tip, while the exit of the brushstroke is made by the side of the brush, a style named Che-tai ts’un, as especially refined and delicate are the brushstrokes which depicted the head of the hoary-dragon, within is clear the sense of variation and continuity of the movement.
The same style is adopted also in painting vortexes and waves, produced by the movement of the dragons; here ink is directly sprinkled on paper, expressing the foam of the wiping-out waves, phase of painting executed at the end of the brush-work.

According to Chen Rong words, this painting was in the hands of his son-in-law Hsien Li; unfortunately we know nothing about this possessor. According to Hsien-chi Tseng (1957) it could be supposed that, for some reason this painting passed into the possession of Taoist priests during the fourteenth century. For the names connected with the painting during this period are all, not unknown, Taoist figures. During the seventeenth
century, it became the possession of Keng Chao-chung (1644-1686), a member of the Chinese Plain Yellow Banner, who married a daughter of the prince of the imperial family of the Ch’ing dynasty. He was a notable collector of the early Ch’ing era. During the second-half of the eighteenth century, this painting was presented to the Emperor Ch’ien Lung, and he passed it on to his son Yung-yen (1760-1820), who became the fifth emperor of the Ch’ing dynasty in the year 1796, under the reign-title Chia Cheing. Before the scroll came into the possession of the Museum, it was in the collection of I-hsin (1833-1895), the first prince Kung, who was the sixth son of the Emperor Hsiian Tsung (1782-1850).

Below are studied and listed the original seals, as appearing in the following plate and according to their chronological order. The seals of the author of the copy is finally listed in the order they appear both in his painting and in the dedicated plate.

Original seal-stamps

Original Seal-stamps - 1Original Seal-stamps – 1


A. Chén Róng
1. So-weng: one of the given name of Chen Rong

B. Chang Ssu-ch’eng
2. San-shih-chiu-tai t’ien-shih: 39° generation of the Great Master
3. T’ai-hsüan-tzŭ: the elder son of the heaven.

C. Wu Ch’üan-chieh
4. Ch’üan-chieh
5. Chih-shih-yen: the words for a peaceful era.
6. Ho-hsi wu-tzŭ: one of the given name of Wu Ch’üan-chieh
7. Jao-kuo-shih-chia: an old and honorable family of Jiao-kuo.

D. Ou-yang Yüan
8. Kuei-chai shu-yin: one of the given name of Ou-yang Yüan

E. Chang Chu
9. T’ing-feng-yü chai: a Studio for Listening to wind and rain
10. Hsian-ling chang-shih: Chang family of Hsian-ling

F. Wang Po-i
11. Po-i
12. Ch’ien-ch’ing k’an-k’un wu-li: one of the seal of Wang Po-i

G. Keng Chao-chung
13. Tu-wei keng-hsin-kung shu-hua chih chang: seal for calligraphies and paintings of Tu-wei Keng Hsin-kung’s possession. Tu-wei is a title of sixth and seventh orders of nobility of the Ch’ing era. Keng Chao-chung, a notable collector and official of the early Ch’ing dynasty.
14. Hsin-kung chen-pi: very valuable article of Hsin-kung. Hsin-kung is one of Keng Chao-chung’s names.
15. P’o-hai-chu-jen chen-ts’ang (repeated 4 times): a precious possession of Master P’o-hai. P’o-hai is one of the name of Chao-chung.

E. Emperor Ch’ien Lung
16. Ch’ien-lung yü-lan chih-pao: a precious thing for His Majesty Ch’ien Lung’s inscription.
The seal often appears among paintings and specimens of calligraphy of the Imperial collection..
17. Wu-fu wu-tai t’ang ku-hsi t’ien-tzŭ pao: an emperor is seldom like antiquity and has a hall of five blessings and five generations.
18. T’ai-shang huang-ti chih-pao: a precious thing of the Super Emperor.
19. San-hsi-t’ang ching-chien hsi: an Imperial signet of essential inspection at the Hall of Three Rarities.
20. Shih-ch’ü pao-chi: a treasury book case of the Library of Stony Gutter. The name of one of two well-known catalogs of paintings and calligraphies which were preserved in the various halls of the Emperor Ch’ien Lung’s palace. The catalog, a work of 44 chüan, was commissioned in 1744, completed in 1745, and first printed in 1918.


Original Seal-stamps - 2Original Seal-stamps – 2


21. Pa-cheng-mao-nien chih-pao: precious thing of an old man who has eight evidences to remember.” Pa-cheng or Eight Evidences are Ku (reason) ; Wei (to be) ; Te (to obtain) ; Sang (to lose) ; Ai (to pity) ; Lo (joy) ; Sheng (living) ; Szu (death). The term is originally from Lieh-tzu, Chou-mu wang. The seal was made between the years 1796 and 1799.
22. I-tzu-sun: it is right that my posterity.
23. Ku-hsi t’ien-tzŭ: an emperor whose like was seldom seen since antiquity.
24. Shih-ch’ü chi-chien: second inspection by the Library of Stony Gutter. After Shih-chü pao-chi, two supplementary catalogs were written. The first supplement is entitled Shih-ch’ü pao-chi, a work of 88 chüan ordered to be compiled in 1793, but never published. The second supplement (san-pien) of 108 chüan in 1817 also has never been published.
25. Ch’ien-lung chien sang: enjoyed and appreciated by Ch’ien Lung.
26. Yü-shu-fang chien-ts’ang pao: an inspected and possessed precious thing of the Imperial library.
27. Ch’ien: Heaven. The first character of Diagrams (bagua), means, Heaven; a circle; a ruler; a father; jade, etc., also it represents what is great and originating, penetrating, advantageous, correct and firm. The first character of Hung li’s (the emperor) reign-title.
28. Lung: The character represents prosperous, generous and magnify. The second character of Hung-li’s (the emperor) reign-title.

I. Emperor Chia Ch’ing
29. Chia-ch’ing yü-lan chih-pao: a precious thing for His Majesty Chia Ch’ing’s inspection.

J. Yin Chi-shan
30. Yung-ko Sheng-shih: singing songs for the prosperous era.
31. Ch’en yin chi-shan: Your servant, Yin Chi-shan. The seal used only for addressing the throne.

K. Liu T’ung-hsün
32. Hsün: the second character of Liu T’ung-hsün’s given name.
33. T’ung: the first character of Liu T’ung-hsün’s family name.

L. Yü Ming-chung
34. Ch’en yü ming-chung: your servant, Yü Min-chung. The seal used only for addressing the throne.
35. Hua-hsuen kuei-hsin

M. Tung Pang-ta
36. Ch’en Pang-ta yin: Your servant, seal [of ] Pang-ta. The seal used only for addressing the throne.
37. Jan-han: Imbued with brush-tip

N. Ch’iu Yüeh-hsiu
38. Ch’en ch’iu yüeh-hsiu: You servant Ch’iu Yüeh-hsiu. Used for addressing the throne.
39. Ching-shu: inscribed with respect.

O. Wang Chi-hua
40. Ch’en: your servant. Formerly used by civil officials of themselves at the beginning of their given names when addressing the throne.
41. Chi-hua: the name of Wang Chi-hua.

P. Ch’ien Wei-ch’eng
42. Ch’en ch’ien-wei-ch’eng: Your servant, Ch’ien Wei-ch’eng. Used for addressing the throne.
43. Jan-han

Q. Ch’en Hsiao-yung
44. Ch’en Hsiao-yung: Your servant Hsiao-yung
45. Ching-shu: inscribed with respect.

R. I-shin, the Prince Kung
46. Kung ch’ing-wang chang: seal of the first prince Kung.

Author’s seal-stamps

Xiulong Seal-stamps - 1Xiulong Seal-stamps – 1

S. Xiu Long, author’s Chinese name
47. Xiu Long: the name written in Jiaguwen, engraved by Nicola Picchioli, November of 2006
48. Xiu Long: the Chinese name of the author written in Bronze ideograms, engraved by Nicola Picchioli, November of 2006
49. Xiu Long: the name in traditional regular ideograms, engraved in Lijiang by unknown artisan, August of 2009
50. Xiu Long: the name, written in Hanyin style, engraved in Shanghai by unknown artisan, July of 2009. The decoration I’ve taken from an imperial seal-stamps watched in Shanghai Art Muesum.

女書 Nu Shu: la scrittura intima delle donne dell’Hunan, di Francesca Rosati Freeman

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Nu Shu
Sono davvero felice di poter pubblicare su Chabuduo questo articolo stupendo.


Scritto da Francesca Rosati Freeman, autrice del libro “Benvenuti nel paese delle donne. I Moso: un viaggio ai confini del Tibet” che verrà a breve pubblicato dalla XL Edizioni.

Ho avuto la fortuna di conoscere Francesca proprio durante la stesura del suo libro, e da uno scambio accalorato di idee, ipotesi, dati storici ed antropologici, il tutto amalgamato dal collante dei sentimenti di amore per la Cina, di ammirazione verso le minoranze Moso e Naxi, ha preso vita un’amicizia profonda, che a prescindere dagli affanni quotidiani e dai risultati conseguiti nelle nostre ricerche, sono il più prezioso tesoro che sento di possedere.

Un tesoro composto da gioielli tempestati di pietre preziose che scintilano multicolori nelle proprie diversità: diversità come ricchezza, e non quali fattori discriminanti.

La stessa ricchezza è la sensazione che provo nel ripensare ai giorni passati di pratica del Wushu in determinati luoghi, con persone e sentimenti che per mille motivi sono trasformati, alcuni fortificati, altri – la maggior parte – svaniti e persi per sempre, come la sabbia passa inesorabilmente dal setaccio del cercatore d’oro per lasciarvi le pepite, assieme alle impurità.

Io, anche se in Italiano non si dovrebbe mai cominciare un periodo così, penso ed avverto che lo sguardo con cui Jiejie Francesca c’introduce ad un argomento, per me interessantissimo, quale il Nushu – “la scrittura delle donne” sia davvero coinvolgente, affascinante, e che dalle righe davvero ben scritte di questa introduzione efficace si presenti un argomento sicuramente da approfondire, così come si mostrino tematiche che suscitano idee e sentimenti da ascoltare in pirimis, rielaborare ed esprimere in parole che possano accendere un dibattito costruttivo, ricco, interdisciplinare, multicolore, pointilliste, al quale mi sento chiamato a partecipare con passione.

Grazie Jiejie Francesca, di tutto.

Tuo Didi!


Yang Huanyi (Lisa See)…vicino al villaggio cinese di Shanjianxu, nella regione meridionale dell’Hunan, il tempio della Montagna Fiorita è dedicato a due sorelle morte più di mille anni fa. Da secoli le contadine venerano i loro spiriti portando al tempio rotoli di carta di riso in cui confidano i loro segreti e formulano dei desideri; non di rado quello di suicidarsi. In questo tempio tra gli odori dell’incenso che brucia, il canto che una contadina ha lasciato su un rotolo di carta di riso si traduce così:


Sorelle defunte, ascoltate questa mia preghiera.
Questa povera ragazza vi scrive nella lingua delle donne anime sorelle
Abbiate pietà di me
Vorrei seguirvi dove siete
Se solo mi accettate
Voglio seguirvi fino alle sorgenti dell’aldilà
Di questo mondo non mi attira più niente
Vi scongiuro trasformatemi in uomo
Non voglio più avere il nome di donna



Scrivevano il nu shu anche sui ventagli oltre che sulla carta o lo ricamavano sui fazzoletti. A volte ne facevano dei motivi decorativi per le coperte




Leabhar Cheanannais decorations and Iconography

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This TEI – Xml page is dedicated to Iconography and decorations study in my work dedicated to Leabhar Cheanannais.

As first I mean to introduce some decoration motifs of Kells and its artistic background to identify patterns, motifs, styles, influences and inspiration: ornaments repertoire employed in Leabhar Cheanannais had long been in development in manuscript art and applied crafts.

Circle with decoration from folio 33 rectum

Circle decored from folio 33 rectum

discs with spiral motifs, engraved disc from Donore, Meath country

Disc with spiral motifs, engraved disc from Donore, Meath country

Leabhar Cheanannais study are going to be update often and many corrections in TEI encoding will birth as soon as I can. Next step will be encoding of a full text page with capitals miniates as experiment of complex TEI encoding implementation.

Process of capitals letters encoding with entity declaration could be as complex as Dongba pictograms encoding by entities declaration in TEI header.

Leabhar Cheanannais, the Book of Kells

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Leabhar Cheanannais, folio 34 rectum or Chi Ro page

Session dedicated to Leabhar Cheanannais, VIII century evangelarium; here to skip to Leabhar main page. My focus is study, encoding and digital facsimile reproduction of one of the most important and beauty evangelarium of the whole world. Because of complexity and dimension of Leabhar Cheanannais, work will take long long time, but…man man lai!.

Leabhar Cheanannais, best known as “Book of Kells“, name derived by Kells Abbey (Mainistir Cheanannais in Irish) where it was conserved for centuries, is an illuminated manuscript, illustred and is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and is the finest example from a group of manuscripts in what is known as the Insular style produced from the late 6th through the early 9th centuries in monasteries in Ireland, Scotland and England and in continental monasteries with Irish or English foundations.

Both because of extraordinary technique of realization and exceptional beauty could be consider as one of the most important middleage art work and it would be also widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure.

Today it is on permanent display at the library of Trinity College in Dublin, catagoed as MS A. I. 58.

Leabhar Cheanannais illustrations and decorations overcome in numbers, beauty, complexity, peculiarity and richness any other Insular Evangelarium, and Kells illustration style combines traditional Christian iconography with the ornate swirling motifs typical of Insular art. Figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts together with intricate knotwork and interlacing patterns in vibrant colours enliven the manuscript’s pages, morevoer many of these minor decorative elements are imbued with Christian symbolism and so further emphasize the themes of the major illustrations.

Book of Kells is composed by 340 vellum leaves or folios, most of them part of wider larger vellum sheets called bifolio: bifolia are bended in half to constitute 2 folios, then each bifolio are nested inside of each other (from 2 to 6 bifolia) bound sewn together constituting a quire; some folios are single sheets, as is frequently the case with the important decorated pages. The folios had lines drawn for the text, sometimes on both sides, after the bifolios were folded. Prick marks and guide lines can still be seen on some pages, and the vellum is of high quality, although the folios have an uneven thickness, with some being close to leather while others are so thin as to be almost translucent.

Codex current dimension are 330 by 250 mm., but scholars argued that originally folios were of no standard size, but they were cropped to the current size during an 18th century rebinding.

Kells manuscript is in good condition considering its great age, though many pages have suffered some damage to the delicate artwork due to rubbing. This book must have been the product of a major scriptorium over several years yet was apparently never finished, the projected decoration of some of the pages appearing only in outline.

Scholars hypothesize that some 30 folios of the original manuscript have been lost over the centuries: in exemple Ussher counted 344 folios in 1621, but several leaves had already been lost by then, while the overall estimate is based on gaps in the text and the absence of certain key illustrations.

Xiu Long seal

Writing systems in Lijiang

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Naxi ethnic people developed 2 different writing systems, Dongba pictographic and Geba Syllabic writing.

Their origins, and their chronological relationship is doubtful and much discussed by scholars which could be devided in 2 main group: one believed millenary origins of pictographic writing system (as J. Rock and some Chinese scholars), the other group supported that developing of Dongba pictographic writing system must be recent and it took its origins just since few centuries (Jackson).

Another division could be identified between scholars who believe that pictographic writing system (Dongba) must necessary older than Syllabic writing system (Geba) and other group (as Backot and Jakson) of studious supposed pictographic writing system must be younger then syllabic writing system, so they interpret Geba characters as very older then Dongba pictographs.

Naxi historical tradition attributes invention of writing both to ancestor Mou Bao Ha Cong (according to Mu Gong royal chronology and to Yuan Yi Tongzi) and to mythical Ye Ye (records of Lijiang prefecture, 1700: math n1 pg143), and in both case chronicles available however didn’t specify if writing system is Geba or Dongba.

Dongba tradition believed that Geba Syllabics system, whose name in Naxi language means “disciples” was tough from Dongba Shilo to his disciples, whilst pictographic system, whose Chinese name, traduction of Naxi, was Shijiu Lijiu, literally means “memory of wood, memory of stone”, was tough to ancient Naxi ancestors form a shaman, reincarnation of Dongba Shilo, who reside in the holy cave of Baidi; Baidi region is one of the most important for Naxi tradiction, in fact following some legends, Dongba young adepts could be officially consecrated only after a period of full initiation at the cave of Baidi, site most significant and sacred even if it’s not the only place where tradiction believes Shilo lived; (as Wenbi cave, near Lijiang).

Some Naxi culture scholars believe that pictographic writing system was developed precisely at Baidi, and from there was exported to Baisha, capital of Mu leadership of Lijiang region, which soon became the largest centre for production of manuscripts and headquarters of the most authoritative Dongba shamans, which were at the same time authors of manuscripts. (Mathieu, 2003: 144)

As in the case of Buddhism birth id India and its northern spread in China, Tibet and Japan (He Zhiwu note 2 pg 144; Mathieu, 2003: 144) Dongba pictographic system could have been originated in Baidi under particular circumstances, then from here could have been disseminated and, for various reasons, rooted in Baisha, centre of Mu administration, which had obvious interests in controlling Dongba tradiction as well as politics strategy to make their political centre such as well the centre of worship of the whole kingdom they ruled, thus Baisha become engine for dissemination of Dongba religion and manuscripts tradiction.

If this is true, then is also plausible to link if not the source, at least diffusion and spread of Dongba tradition and manuscript production to the same engine of Mu family and their capital Baisha, but such hypothesis doesn’t imply that Dongba pictographs birth was in Baisha, neither in Baidi, and it seems plausible presuppose that Pictographs corpus was just formed and structured before Mu shoving for Dongba spreading, so it seems more than likely that Mu leadership choose to re-use Dongba pictographs corpus as official religious language for their contemporaries manuscripts writing.

Following local historical chronicles (Fang Guoyu: 3, 4 pg 145) Mu Gao, sun of Mu Gong, visited Baidi sacred cave and anointed it to Shili, hermit shaman who resided there 500 years earlier, id est in 1050 about, date which coincides with Mu dynasty settling as leader of Mo So Zhao kingdom.

Some other sacred sites, associated to Shilo, but not associated to Dongba tradition, are known as “caves of tiger” whose name obviously could not have been raised to big feline presence in the region and 6 caves named “little caves of man” and “big caves of women”, actually called Guanyin caves, associated to fertility and health worship, pilgrimages destination and prayer sites. (Mathieu, 2003)

Extremely important are also “dragon pools and dragon springs”, consecrated site with its temple, whereabouts characterized by holy rocks (phallic symbols) to which people still turn prayers for longevity and fertility yet toady, while in thermal baths, ‘till 1949, women and young girls could not to dip in water (Mathieu, 2003: 145), discrimination evidently founded on so deeply rooted tradition that even today women have been reserved the farthest from source bathing area.

Chinese scholars classify this holy places and religious practises as “primitive religion” sites, Yunashi Zongjiao, and they impute their matrix and rituals complex to Bön substratum of Dongba tradition (Mathieu 5, pg 145)

Dongba manuscripts tradiction

It seems commonly accepted that Naxi manuscripts tradiction issued from Bön tradiction, as Donbga books nature is closely related to Tibetan books one: both consist of a series of pages with front and back cover, both bounded on the left side, both with text written in pictographs or Geba letters, both to be red from left to right.

Regarding contents, corpus of Dongba manuscripts known at today is entirely dedicated to religious practice, and is divided into 3 main categories:

  • Ceremonial books
  • Index books (list of manuscripts necessary to execute ceremonies, list of specify prays to execute for each specify rite, rituals modality, which rites has to be performed to solve particular problems, origins of demons and evils and practises needed to propitiate and to expel them, etc…)
  • Divination books

Manuscripts for the most part of Dongba corpus are devoted to fertility propitiation (the oldest tradition), funeral rites, expulsion of demons, devils and spirits, as well as to religious traditions of peoples close to Naxi, as Daba tradition of Mosuo and Bimo tradition of Yi, ancestral exorcism, divination, astrology, surgeon and medicine, funeral, wedding practise.

In Dongba corpus, there’s 200 about Geba manuscripts group consisting in magical formulas, and these texts are incomprehensible also to Dongba (Mathieu, 2003: 146; see notes 6 and 7) who can barely read them but not to give any interpretation.

Presence of so much magical formulas and spells in Geba corpus seems to suggest that Geba scripture couldn’t be considered as phonetic transliteration system of pictographs writing system, and it seems also plausible that Geba manuscripts could not belonged to the same tradiction which pictographs manuscripts were dedicated to, otherwise some Dongba were able to understand contents and give some interpretation.

Referring to clear Tibetan origins of Dongba tradiction, then seems so obvious to realize that handwriting corpus doesn’t include all esoteric setting of Bön tradition, and Dongba included in their practises just 2 of 9 road of Bön tradition: Shen prediction way and visual world way. (Jackson), while the other 7 ways of Bön ethic doctrine weren’t contemplate, and this missing could arise from the fact the Dongba tradiction followers system has no priest class through which to maintain and pass complete doctrine (Mathieu n. 8 pg. 147), so is therefore conceivable that Dongba tradition has limited its practises just to the 1st 2 ways of Bön tradition, also the 2 oldest (Snellgrove, footnote 9 p 147), as it seems plausible to infer that Naxi tradition derives directly from Bön, it’s Bön simplified based, and as just argued from Rock (1939) and recently reaffirmed from Mathieu (2003: 147 and footnote 9 pg. 147) that Dongba tradition must be old as Bön tradition.

Classification of Dongba corpus is difficult, because during history were written numerous copies of manuscripts equally dedicated to various ceremonies and their local regional variations; Rock tallied up about 2000 complete ceremonies, whilst Dongba Research Institute Chinese scholars have halved this high number to 1000 (Mathieu, footnote 11, pg. 147) and Jackson found that Dongba complete corpus could rationally be made up of 133 ceremonies (Mathieu footnote 10, pg. 147).

It seems more rational accept impossibility at today about exact knowledge of whole rites and ceremonies of Dongba tradition, as is impossible to hypothesize total number of manuscripts wrote, as it seems plausible to accept that today’s rich collection, owned to various institution and organization, (cite 147 pg) represent just small fraction of books and manuscripts available and produced only in Lijiang before Cultural Revolution, as cording to He Pingzheng scholar, is conceivable that in just a single Baxi village could have been 10,000 books. (Mathieu, 2003: 147; 147 note 14)

Although Dongba pictograms iconology is not so difficult to learn, and at today production of handicrafts decorated with pictographs is widespread because of ethnic tourism development, deciphering of manuscripts remain inaccessible to non-initiated to Dongba tradiction and to few scholars who spent many many times in study Dongba texts and Naxi modern-spoken language.

Dongba rituals are recited sung in rhythm and rhyme bars, and in manuscripts large speech parts are omitted, so to exact reading is possible to reach just through mnemonic reading keys, iconology-keys (pictograms) or sound-keys (succession of some sounds non directly related to significant’s meanings), homophonies, allusion and abbreviations, (Rock, A. Jackson & Pan Anshi note 15 pg 148), characteristics which could afford to assume that Dongba tradition originally was based on oral transmission (Pan Anshi; Mathieu 2003: 148) as pictographs writing system of manuscripts tradition could absolutely not to be considered primitive, in fact, although pictographs graphic structure is easy and not drafted, its “pictographicty” [I mean pictographic + capacity]” respects both 2 fundamental functions of writing which 1st Naxi linguists call “tuhua”, alias to draw (a drawing of a tree to express concept of tree) and 2nd is “linguistic-rebus phonetic function”, id est way of using pictograms, just because of their pronouncing, to build words and part of speech.

Thus, it seems plausible to say that pictograms cannot be regarded as a kind of primitive icons, but they are linguistically specified.

Another datum which seems to confirm complexity of Dongba pictographs writing system consists in number of 1.000 total different pictographs extracted from manuscripts, and they present subtle but noticeable stylistic regional-local differentiations, (Mathieu 16, pg. 148), but all this 1.000 significants appears sufficiently standardized to be regarded as a genuine and evolved writing system, as already documented Zherkhin region manuscripts, near Enya, which Rock collected and traduced discovering strong Phonetic-syllabic use of pictographs. (Rock, 1939 etc…; Mathieu, 17)

Geba writing system analysis seems to show it originated from 4 different sources:

1. Chinese characters

2. idiosyncratic graphemes and graphs

3. Yi characters

4. Dongba pictographs simplification

Whilst Dongba pictograms result spread in whole Lijiang region, Geba wrote documents result focused in the southern area of Naxi territory, in Lijiang city and in surrounding plateau zone, finally in Judian/Weixi region; both Dongba and Geba writing systems wasn’t adopted by Mosuo and Na of Yuanyaun (Mathieu, 2003: 149, and map 3)

Scholars generally agreed in hypothesizing Dongba pictographic writing system as indigenous of Lijiang region, however are divided in identifying chronological term of its “invention” and can’t reach any complete theory about to explaining its modality of development and its genesis.

There are also some interpretations and theories about Dongba – Geba relationship and about their genesis processes: debate around such issues results closely linked to understanding and studying of history of Naxi manuscripts and could be summed up in following 4 assumptions:

1. Evolutionary theory (He Limin, Chinese scholars)

It’s argued that pictographic is oldest and 1st stage-developed writing system derived from ancient rocks and animist artistic practises; Geba is 2nd stage-developed writing system derived from pictographs system in next era

2. Migratory theory (Li Lincan; Naxi scholars)

It’s argued that Naxi manuscripts distribution reflects migratory fluctuation of Mo-so tribal groups

3. Bön theory (Joseph Rock, Bacot)

According to this theory Geba system is ancient, older then pictographic system: Geba writing would have been ancient Bön tradiction writing system, known and used by Naxi before they migrated to north western Yunnan; pictographic writing system had to have developed during historic period subsequent to Yunnan allocation.

4. Matrilineal theory (Jackson)

According to Jackson theory Geba writing system was in use in Lijiang autochthonous matriarchal social system, and thus preceded pictographs writing system, which developed and spread in 1700 about, in the wake of Lijiang region annexation to Qing Empire, with imposition of patriarchal social system.

Concerning 1st hypothesis, evolutionary theory, its based on archaeological evidences discovered between 1991 and 1993 in Jinshanjian valley (He Limin), where was founded numerous sites which presented rich testimonies of rock art whose images are directly connected to Naxi pictograms iconology, therefore these findings were taken as evidences to demonstrate that pictographic writing system was autochthonous Naxi people production, originated from primitive religious practises of Naxi ancestors.

Scholars argued that complex writing system could not be very old, and following Marxist evolutionary theories claimed that Dongba pictographs should be developed and disseminated during Tang era, historic moment when Naxi society had to have reached sufficient stage of evolution-development which enabled politic and cultural emergence of Naxi tribal congregations, previously obscured and subdued from Tibetan and Nanzhao occupation; such stage of evolution was sufficiently developed to permit creation of priestly class and permitted developing of pictographic and iconic primitive writing system.

In major evolutionary phase, Naxi could switched from pictographs to phonetic writing system, more advanced system, which had to be developed during Mu Bao Ah Cong domain, during Song dynasty or during Mongolian domain, when Naxi society reached high level of civilization, which was matched to farming and irrigation techniques conquest in Lijiang region ( Mathieu, 2003: footnote 20 pg. 151)

Proponents of evolutionary theory assumed as irrefutable proofs some Geba characters iconography, clear and visible to all simplification and stylization of some Dongba pictographs, and justify the lack of Geba manuscripts diffusion because of never ended evolutionary process, a situation which made it impossible to replace all pictograms in Geba phonetic characters. (Mathieu 21)

Other evolutionary theories joined evolutionary model: one of them identify in Geba system such point of connection with Yi scripture and asserts that Geba and Yi system was both evolution from primitive common pictographic/iconic writing system, as it seems showed by some connection between Dongba tradiction of Naxi and Bimo tradiction of Yi people, as because of some similarity between some characters of both writing systems; finally, others scholars presupposed Geba as Ba writing system of Sichuan evolution.

At today it seems impossible and un-satisfied to accept any of those hypotheses, fist because they consider pictographic as just primitive and iconic writing system, at the same time ‘because these theory based on conjectures derived from Marxist evolutionary theory model not effort by any historical concrete documentation. (Mathieu, 2003: 150)

Anyway analysis of rocks paintings in Jinshanjiang region and parallels between Geba and Yi/Ba writing systems, and with ancient Chinese characters wrote on bones for oracles practises, resulted very important to consider, and it seems good dedicating a most complete and criticism analysis.

Limin work could be analyze beside Hans Janses study of Ojibwa rock paintings, another case of painting art in caves due to local priest practise who registered their rituals and annotated important events, using figures depicted as mnemonic keys.

Ojibwa priests also copied their rock paintings on tree bark, with obvious aim to create such “portable database”, so as to preserve religious rites and possibility of access during nomadic wondering and tribal fluctuations; similarity between Ojibwa and Baidi rock/tree-bark arts and Naxi name for pictographic writing system Shijiu Lijiu – Memory on wood memory on stone, should be pointed out.

Indeed many of Baidi and Lijiang region rock paintings and drawings presents similarities with Ojibwa rock art and other Yunnan artistic founds, especially in Cangyuan region, which artistic production dates from the beginning of 1st Millennium a. C. and it presents with images very close to Dongba pictographs iconography, with the muzzle of animals very realistic depicted, in contrast to stylized representation of human figures whose faces are always viewed as in front of perspective, whilst those animals are in profile perspective, then attention devoted to headgear representation, (in Dongba human pictographs corpus, headgears distinguish tribes and clans affiliation) dedication in designing hands with five fingers, order and iconography of numerals, pictograph of sun.

This artistic rock production appears so closely linked to Bönpo and Buddhist practise of hermit in caves searching for soul purification and spiritual optimization and rising, indeed Buddhism has great tradition of rock art and inscriptions on rocks, as the use mnemonic of sacred images and scrolls used as mnemonic “reminder” during recitation of oral formulas and prays.

Rock art is also closely linked to Mongols, who painted and engraved on rocks both for/about religious practices of sacrifices ceremonies to Mountain Dragon Spirit, and for civil using of scripture, as for their low promulgation.

Mongols, between XIII and XV century used to utilize as writing support for documents pieces of tree-bark or animals skins, all common aspects to the nomadic Moso tribe characteristics of Yuan age, whose we both know about sacrifice to heaven rite practice and about rocks artistic production linked to the same rite executed on the mountains top. (Mathieu, 2003: 187)

This series of cosmological, archaeological and historical data, evince close connections between rocks shamanic traditions of ancient tribes in Lijiang region, visual arts as mnemonic keys in Bön and Buddhist tradiction, in Mongols culture, all evidences common also to pastors/hunters groups Moso already in Ming period.

Regarding migration theory, according to Chinese scholar Li Lincan, distribution of Naxi manuscripts would reflect and be directly linked to Moso tribal groups migratory fluctuation, ancient ancestors of Naxi, allocated in Mu Li region (today’s Pumi and Mosuo), and subsequently migrated in today’s Lijiang area, where they produced pictographs writing system.

Following this hypothesis it could be explained why, in Mosuo territory, wouldn’t never found any manuscripts; moreover, Muli peculiar geographic position, seems to be confirmed by iconography of some pictographs, such as those indicating north and south cardinal points, then pictograms for river, mountain and home.

Li Lincan argues that the region where pictographs scripture was developed must be characterized by fluvial setting, where stream and river course run from north to south, and whose orography was typical of rounded mountains which so few suit with arrowed tops of Yu Long Shan mountain range; plus Lincan argues that Dongba pictogram for house represents absolutely unmistakable architectural type, not widespread in Lijiang, but recognizable in Enya region, again today’s Muli, area where are verified other geographical and environmental features in pictograms as just illustrated before. (Mathieu, 2003: 152 and footnote 27)

Lincan analysis results very interesting, and certainly it could be argued that part of Naxi ethnicity had to have their origins between tribal groups which from Muli region migrated and allocated in Lijiang area, but subsequent deductions seems not based on objective data (Mathieu 2003: 153; footnotes 29, 30 pg. 153), and regards architectural style and pictographs analysis for home/house Lincan neglected to mention that in Naxi or Dongba pictographic dictionary (Rock, 1962; Fang & H., 2000; Janekovic, 2003; Zamblera, 2007) is possible to count other 22 pictograms synonyms for house/home/habitation, and between them just 3 of these are ichnographically due to Lincan highlighted pictograms, moreover, considering history of Naxi architectural typology, counting Chinesization it must been affected by.

Lincan is in complete contradiction, because on one hand claims that some pictographs representing Naxi origin’s region and recognized it in Muli; simultaneously maintains that writing, as in Muli were not found any manuscripts, was “invented” after migration to Lijiang, so how could it been possible that iconography of such pictographs could be influenced by Muli’s geography? And why Naxi coined those pictograms with Muli’s geography just after allocated in Lijiang?

Question unresolved!

Of other thickness is Bön pre Buddhist theory formulated by Bacot and by Rock: in contrast with contemporary Chinese scholars they hypothesized that Naxi could have been developed Geba writing system in very ancient times and used it before pictographic system, probably they used to write in Geba already during migration process from north-eastern Tibet, and they supposed Geba to be very ancient Tibetan pre-Buddhist writing system (Mathieu, 34, 35).

Joseph Rock emphasized also the close similarity of Geba characters with some Lolo (Yi) and Chinese characters, so postulated that in religious texts writing in Geba was replaced by using pictograms, more functional to religious practices and therefore fell into disuse.

Many Geba characters seems really derive from ancient Chinese ideograms wrote on bones for divination and oracle rites, a practice well highlighted from archaeological documentation also for Qiang culture tribal groups already during Zhou period, and both historical and linguistic researches had underlined importance of relations and contribution of Qiang culture both for Tibetan and Naxi people genesis.

Other scholars have suggested for Geba birth some relationship with Ba scripture, writing system of south-western Sichuan tribes groups, bordering with Qiang tribes groups, so spread in south-western Sichuan and northern Yunnan (Mathieu, 2003: 155)

According to Rock hypothesis, pictographic system should have been developed after Geba scripture development, in situ in Lijiang region, (Rock guessed it was occupied nearby 24 a. C., during western Han dynasty, cfr Mathieu, footnote 40) that because to his scientist and botanist eyes whole vegetable and animals kingdom dedicated pictograms resulted to be local and native species, excepted 4 pictographs respectively for unicorn, rhinoceros, camel and elephant; Rock hypothesized that Naxi coined such news pictograms when and because they entered in contacts with Mongols.

Jackson matrilineal theory also according about Geba as 1st writing system for Naxi people, but contrary to Rock and Bacot point of view, Jackson hypothesized that Naxi adopted this writing system from Mongols, so he argues that pictographic system must be dated after 1723 patriarchal reform, when Naxi kingdom was annexed to Qing empire, period characterized by the highest cases of females ritual suicides ²ju ¹vu, situation which required an increment of specialist shamans necessary to execute right funeral rites, phenomena which provided incentives to Dongba for developing their shamanic tradiction and ritual practices, as it could be confirmed by numerous manuscripts devoted to suicide funeral ceremonies dating after XVIII century.

Jackson also argued that oldest manuscripts of Dongba pictographic production must be dated at 1700 – 1703, and because of stylistic analysis he refuses Rock’s dating of “Naga manuscripts” at 2nd half of XVI century, and he attributed their writing to more then one or two author (Pan Anshi & Jackson, 1998, footnote 42 pg. 156) whilst Rock assigned Naga manuscript to the hand of 2 famous Dongba the brothers Dto la).

Jackson refused XVI century dating also because of excellent preservation status of manuscripts, but this discrepancy could be explained with diffused tradition for Dongba to write multiple copies of the same manuscripts, and that these copies was integral version, which comprehended also date and title, so in Dongba literary corpus could happened that of some texts, maybe “appeared” in XVI century, was produced many many integral copies during years, and each one of the later copy had the original earlier date.

Matter of Dongba manuscript’s copies moreover evinces other inconsistency for Jackson’s theory, as in example about stylistic analysis, from which he deduced that exactly alike manuscripts could not be assigned to the same Dongba, and this is far-fetched because it is known that the same Dongba executed (and still today executes) plus copies of a single manuscript, also for sale them to common devoted people who bought Dongba books as lucky amulets, common practice also known for Buddhist and Taoist books and inscriptions. (Mathieu, 2003: 157; Zhu Baotian and He Zhiwu, Dongba Research Institute)

Dongba texts study by Jackson although suggestive, results incomplete because it analyzes only a part of literary Dongba production, the one dedicated to suicide-funerary ceremonies and for suicides death-spirits propitiation, so his work ignores other hundreds of manuscripts devoted to many ceremonies.

Finally, postquem dating of pictographs tradiction to Qing empire annexation is incongruous with very archaic Naxi language used in the same manuscripts (He Zhiwu) whose vocabulary, whose language and whose composite structure all result already uniformed and standardized. (He Pingzheng, Dongba Research Institute)

Dongba pictograms language also contains numerous foreign loans as Tibetan’s and Chinese’s archaisms (45 pg. 158), and shares many common characteristics with Daba, Dibba (Pumi), Bimo and Yi (He Zhiwu) and hence Dongba liturgy should brought to the ancient feudal centre of Lijiang region.

Regarding dating back to XVIII century of documents it must be underlined that this apparent “birth” of manuscripts production could have been in truth such proliferation due to general cultural and social rebirth happened after conclusion of terrible Muslim revolution in Yunnan, which entailed dire period of destructions, including Lamaism monasteries and temple of Yongning and Lijiang regions, so considering that manuscripts was archived and conserved in temples, they also should have been destroyed too.

Regarding Rock’s dating to Naga manuscripts corpus, we know that it derives from interpretation of magic formula reported in the same manuscripts, which it records “the 7th cycle of the year of the water cock”, nomenclature which due both from Tibetan or Mongol standard, respectively referable to 1393 year basing on Tibetan calendar, or to 1630 basing on Mongols calendar.

Rock wrote he based on Chinese calendar, but he’s certainly wrong, because in Chinese calendar the 7th imperial cycle of the year of the water cock doesn’t exist! If it would, it should corresponded to 1573 year, the year of Mu Zong emperor death, so it would have been the 1st cycle of Shen Zong emperor, thus discarding Mongols calendar adoption, it would be possible that Naga manuscripts quoted by Rock would have been integral copy (dating included) of ancient original text of XIV century, so up again 2 centuries before Mou allocation in Lijiang region, contemporaneous to Song era. (Mathieu, 2003: 162)

Though discarded Mongolian calendar reference, Mongol culture influence in Naxi/Dongba genetic matrix is clearly visible, as appears form analysis of some Dongba manuscripts dedicated to Sacrifice to Heaven ceremony, where some aspects as Mee lu ddu zi who figure, one of most important Naxi ancestors should be identified with Mongol god named Abughan (57), whose position in cosmogony was between the sky and the earth, (58), or again as the social position occupied by the Ka, the Naxi feudal lord.

Moreover Dongba corpus presents some pictographs which iconography demonstrate evident and important cultural exchange with Mongolia: in addition to pictographs for rhinoceros, unicorn and elephant, 2 other notable symbols representing respectively a gentleman/lord or imperator Ka, and the one who represent the capital Kadiu.

Ka word directly derived from Mongol word Khan, and both pictograms Ka and Kadiu used as iconographic substratum the same pictogram Gelo, which in Naxi means the man of Mongol nationality, Mongol. (59)

Mongol contact influences are clearly visible in development of those pictograms and, moreover, from reading Dongba manuscripts we have knowledge about Naxi social organization before Ming dynasty..

We know that in central Lijiang region cohabitated 4 tribes: Per tribe literally “the white”, Na tribe literally “the black”, Boa tribe or Pumi and Wu tribe or slaves, and we also know about Naxi’s 4 tribes neighbouring which was the Gelo tribes or Mongols at north, the Lebv or Bai at south, the Tibetan at west and Han at East.

Rock, basing on sentence about Gelo depicted as people of northern border, then presupposed that in the moment of “creation” of terms Ka, Kadiu and Gelo, Naxi people was allocated in such region of north-eastern Tibet bordering with Mongolia, but if it was exactly true, we couldn’t understand why Naxi bordered with Bai at south, so it seems more plausible and useful to interpreting Rock deduction with not so exactness, as if the author was telling about Naxi “more significant neighbouring”, and not about exact geographic contacts.

Closer analysis of terms dedicated to just mentioned tribes seems to suggest social stratification of Naxi society, and this impression find confirmation in feudal Lijiang documents, at least until XVI century, (Xu Xiake, footnote 64 pg. 165) in which we could deduced that in Lijiang there was a social pyramid based on 3 classes.

Thus, Naxi should have developed their pictographs writing system before social stratified system affirmation, and contacts with Mongols influenced Naxi society, phenomena mirrored by introduction of some new pictograms; thus pictographic scripture must have been developed in a period surely before XVI century, dating that rejects Jackson postquem iphotesis. (Mathieu, 2003: 165)

If Naga/Dongba Dtola brothers manuscripts corpus dating basing on Tibetan calendar would be accepted, then pictographic writing system must be already in use also in XIV century.

Geba, politics writing system

Shijiu Lijiu religious writing system

Iconographic parallel between ancient Yi writing and Geba scripture doesn’t seem to produce any certain data through which concretely relate these 2 writing systems, first of all because, although both scriptures basin on characters and symbols which seems to share commons origins with ancient oracular/bones Chinese signs, most of Geba and Yi symbols don’t correspond, mainly because Geba scripture was a syllabic system whilst Yi system was ideographic.

Such better and profitable comparison between Geba and Yi system could be done by analyzing their usage, although there isn’t any historical document wrote in Geba (in addition to some manuscripts, which we also know from Rock’s attestation, who said to have in his private collection some Geba manuscript dating back to Ming time) we have some inscription on monuments and few stele, as Lijiang stele, founded in 1934 by Fang Guoyu, which engraved triple inscription in Chinese, Tibetan and Geba languages, a memorial inscription which celebrated construction of a bridge, dated to 47th year of Wanli Ji Wei, id est in 1619 year (Mathieu 2003, pg. 166 footnote 67)

So, while Geba characters analysis let hypothesize close relationship with ancient Chinese characters, Geba did not shows any relation with Tibet, but for common aspects of Geba/Dongba manuscript and Tibetan books manufacturing: so in few words we have some documents in Geba in close and clearly visible relationship with ancient oracular Chinese writing, and with manufacturing (of manuscripts and books) of Tibetan look, thus Geba scripture system had to be developed BEFORE book/manuscript pattern, so it seems plausible argue that Geba tradition and writing system must be antecedent to Sanskrit and Tibetan languages, and had its origins in Chinese rather then Tibetan settings. (Mathieu, 2003: 168, 169)

According to Yunnan annals of Ming dynasty, Yunnan Tongzhi, the writing system in use at the time of Mai Zhong, alias Mou Bao Ah Cong was used and engraved on a stele in Baisha township, and it was called Fan Zi, and it resulted impossible to comprehend (Fang Guoyu & He Zhiwu; Mathieu, 2003: pg. 166 footnote 68); closer analysis to Fan Zi name is helpful, as with “Fan” term Chinese refer to barbarians tribes of western borders, and by “zi” term Chinese used to mean “scripture”, “writing system”, thus it could be easily hypothesized that the scripture mentioned in this register was Geba, but unfortunately from the stele, which is still present in Baisha, was completely removed any inscription; however, by “Fan Zi” it seems probable that author couldn’t refers to a pictographic system, and basing on 1619 Lijiang Stele, in Geba, it seems possible to presuppose that Baisha Stele was in Geba too, thus Geba could have been used as official court language.

If it’s true, then moreover it seems possible to consider Dongba pictographic writing system as religious sectional scripture, used for redaction of religious manuscripts (Mathieu, 2003: 166, 167)

A look to northern Yunnan writing systems during Song time depicts similar situation as just rebuild for Naxi/Geba/Dongba: for example it is well known that Dali’s politics elite used 2 different kind of writing system, Chinese and Sanskrit scriptures, respectively for politics-administrative documents redaction and for religious text production, and is also known that Chinese characters was utilized for writing and expressing Bai language, as in Mesopotamia Akkadian empire adopted Sumerian cuneiform script, or Japanese still today used Chinese ideograms by Kanji system. (Mathieu 72)

Another inscription from Dali Kingdom, dated to 971 a. C., common all the scriptures of the region, affirming that ” […] all southern tribes be in the habit to write from left to right (73) […]” thus is good for Geba but couldn’t be true for Dongba.

Following and resembling all these attestations it seems plausible assuming that, at least for Song time, Yunnan was characterized by tribal groups which possessed their own native writing systems, all associated by commons and close origins with ancient Chinese scripture adapted for expressing locals languages (Mathieu, 2003: 169), used as official court scripture, all with left-right orientation in common.

Geba would set so well and homogeneously in such mosaic, and basing on Yi and Bai scriptures similarity, that is was tribal groups of Nanzhao kingdom writing system, in which is known existence of indigenous writing system, as registered in Man Shu (the book of the southern barbarian), when is reported that ” military command of Nanzhao, that also included Lijiang region with men of Bai tribes who talk a Chinese-linked language, promulgated dispatches and orders wrote destined to locals tribe engaged for battle”. (75)

Geba manuscripts where found in “hot regions” of Nanzhao kingdom, as in the northern capital Lijiang, in the border regions of Weixi, Ludian and Jiudian, gateway between Nanzhao and Tibet.

Regarding Geba manuscript interpretation and traduction, it is impossible even for Dongba, so baggage of information that could be provided is partly accessible, but is clearly visible close link between Geba manuscripts and Shenrab worship of Bön tradiction, which in Dongba tradiction coincides with Shilo, another further testimony that lets assume that Geba writing system must be antecedent to Dongba pictographs scripture.

Assuming Geba priority to Dongba pictograms, like the other ancient languages of Yunnan, the first originated during 1st chinesization process of local tribes group, whilst Dongba pictographic/manuscripts tradiction was reprised and developed during feudal age.

Geographic distribution of Dongba manuscripts seems to be directly linked to feudal Naxi borders, as Dongba tradiction directly following expansionist policy of Mu dynasty (Naxizu Jain Shi) and Mu’s feudal control. (Mathieu, 2003: 185 – 220 and footnote 16)

Questo articolo è estratto dall’introduzione alla traduzione dei due manoscritti ²lv ²bar ²lv ¹za ³sa ²kv ³čung e ²lv ²bar ²lv ¹za ³sa ³ma ³čung dedicati alla cerimonia funebre Dongba ²Har ²la ¹lun ³kho, alias, Zamblera S., 2007 “The Romance of Kameju Miky” pgg. 6 – 14.

La maggior parte delle note sono state omesse per ragioni di spazio.

Bibliografia essenziale

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Zamblera Stefano

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Stefano Zamblera

羞龙 – Xiulong

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