She association circulars from Dunhuang

She association circulars from Dunhuang.” In Antje Richter, ed., History of Chinese Epistolary Culture. (Handbuch der Orientalistik.) Leiden: Brill, 2015: 853–877.

This is an article published in Antje Richter’s volume on the history of Chinese epistolary culture, which is a great book for anyone interested in letters. My own contribution to the volume deals with the association circulars (shesi zhuantie 社司轉帖) commonly found among the Dunhuang manuscripts. These are circulars typically sent out by the management of lay associations about upcoming meetings — they predominantly date from the 9-10th centuries. Although there have been several studies of these circulars by Chinese, Japanese and Russian scholars, little attention has been paid to the physical characteristics of these manuscripts, which is one of the aspects I address.

Shesi zhuantie - Association circular

Shesi zhuantie – Association circular (Copyright @ British Library Or.8210/S.329V)

Posted in Character variants, Codicology, Dating, Dunhuang, Mistakes, Orthography, Palaeography, Scribal habits | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Punctuation marks in medieval Chinese manuscripts

This article about punctuation marks mainly in the Dunhuang manuscripts came out recently. It is sort of an inventory of the most important types of marks used in the manuscripts, although it is certainly not complete in its scope.

Imre Galambos, “Punctuation marks in medieval Chinese manuscripts.” In Jörg Quenzer and Jan-Ulrich Sobisch, eds., Manuscript Cultures: Mapping the Field. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter: 341–357.

Repetition marks (chongwen)

Repetition marks in Dunhuang manuscripts


Posted in Codicology, Corrections, Dunhuang, Palaeography, published papers, Punctuation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tangut workshop at Cambridge

On 25 September 2014 we held a workshop at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge. The title of the workshop was “Text, Language and Script in the Tangut state” and it was a continuation of a similar event held last year at SOAS in London (A day of Tangut studies). This was a one afternoon gathering of mostly European researchers interested in the study of Tangut texts and language. The programme of the workshop is as follows:

  • Kirill Solonin (Renmin University), “Dipamkara in Tangut context” (over Skype)
  • Guillaume Jacques (CNRS, CRLAO), “Converbs and non-finite verbal forms in Tangut”
  • Lin Ying-chin (Academia Sinica), “Further exploration on Tangut personal pronominal suffixes”
  • Sam van Schaik (IDP, British Library), “Tangut translation of Tibetan Buddhist texts: An overview”
  • Romain Lefebvre (Artois University). “Introduction to new Tangut manuscripts found at the National Library of France. Approaches and difficulties.”
  • Andrew West, “Ode to the Tangut Tripitaka”
  • Imre Galambos (University of Cambridge), “What the Tanguts knew about the history of the Chinese writing”

Of these, Kirill Solonin could not be with us in person and we listened to his presentation via Skype. Non-presenting participants included Emma Goodliffe (IDP, British Library), Yang Fu (University of Cambridge) and Nathan Hill (SOAS), who had organised the last year’s Tangut workshop in London. We hope that next year we will be able to hold the third Tangut workshop in Paris, thereby officially making this an annual event.

The participants of the workshop

The participants of the workshop

Tangut workshop group photo

Workshop group photo

Lin Ying-chin writing Tangut characters

Lin Ying-chin writing Tangut characters

Guillaume Jacques presenting

Guillaume Jacques presenting

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The earliest catalogue of Dunhuang manuscripts

Modern scholars have often remarked how unfortunate it was that during Aurel Stein’s initial visit to the Mogao Caves in 1907 no attempt was made at prodicing a catalogue of the contents of the cave library. This was, of course, due to the lack of time and the abundance of manuscripts in the cave. Stein himself wrote about this in Chapter XXII of Serindia (vol. 2, p. 810) the following way:

Where the covering folds of the rolls were intact it was easy for Chiang Ssu-yeh to read off the title of the Sutra, the number of book and chapter, and anything else usually shown there. The information contained in those titles was of no guidance to me. The fact, however, that the headings of the rolls found in the first bundles were all different disposed of my apprehension that this great mass of manuscripts might be found to contain mainly an inane repetition of a few identical texts, after the fashion so widespread in modern Buddhism. At first I caused Chiang to prepare a rough list of titles; but as the Tao-shih gradually took more courage and brought out load after load of manuscript bundles for examination, all attempt even at the roughest cataloguing had to be abandoned.

It is obvious that Stein here was not describing the entire cave library but only the manuscripts brought out to him for inspection by Abbot Wang. But even these ones turned out to be too numerous to be able to catalogue. Yet when we examine the manuscripts of the Stein collection today, we can see that many manuscripts contain numbers and notes written on the verso by Stein’s secretary Chiang Ssu-yeh (aka Jiang Xiaowan 蒋孝琬). The titles are usually accompanied by strange-looking numbers. These are the so-called Suzhou numerals 蘇州碼子 or Huama 花碼, a traditional numeral system commonly used up to the Republican era in accounting and for other number-intensive tasks. Apparently, Jiang Xiaowan assigned the scrolls a number which he often augmented with the text’s title or a rough description on the outside of the scroll.

Jiang’s description sometimes consisted of only a number and the title of the work, as in S.101 which is a fragmentary copy of the Fomingjing 佛名經 (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Jiang Xiaowan's markings on manuscript S.101

We can see that the red Suzhou numbers were subsequently written out in Arabic numberals in pencil (in this case 465), possibly by Jiang for the sake of Stein, or perhaps by Stein himself. Yet the Stein number of this manuscript is S.101 which is different from the 465 assigned to it by Jiang. In other cases, the manuscript would only have been given a number, without a title or any other comment (e.g. S.112).

Apparently, Jiang did not have much time to work with the material, nor was he particularly familiar with Buddhist texts. This is why some of his descriptions are rather rudimentary, such as in the case of S.111 on which he simply wrote “no title given” 未載名字 (Fig. 2). Indeed, the text, which seems to be a dhāraṇī, bears no title.


Fig. 2. Jiang's note "No title given" on manuscript S.111

On S.114, which is a copy of the Lotus sutra with the colophon saying “copied reverently in the 3rd year of the Shangyuan reign (i.e. 676) by the lay disciple Zhang Che for the benefit of his deceased younger sister” 上元三年清信士張君徹為亡妹敬寫, Jiang copied down the title with the chapter numbers and almost the entire colophon (Fig. 3):

妙法蓮華經第七卷   自廿五品至廿八品
Miaofa lianhua jing,  juan 7; from Chapter 25 up to Chapter 28
Reverently copied in the 3rd year of the Shangyuan reign (i.e. 676) by Zhang Che for the benefit of his deceased younger sister


Fig. 3. Jiang's note on S.114

In other cases, Jiang also included a note on the condition of the manuscript. Thus on the verso of S.1286 we read the note “A worn-out piece [i.e. fragment] of the Fomingjing” 破爛佛名經一塊 (Fig. 4).



This description is obviously neither scientific nor entirely accurate but it shows on Jiang’s part an occasional effort to label the manuscripts he identified and numbered with more than just the original title.

Particularly interesting is Jiang’s description of non-Chinese manuscripts, since at the time these were beyond the general knowledge of Chinese intellectuals. Thus on the verso of manuscript IOL Khot S 1, which has the Lotus sutra on the recto and fragmentary Khotanese texts on the verso, Jiang wrote that this was a “half-Indian Miaofa lianhua jing” 半印度文妙法蓮華經. He also writes on IOL Khot S 4 that the manuscript is “half Chinese, half Indian” 半漢半印度文, showing little awareness of the language seen on the manuscript which, of course, at the time, had not been deciphered yet. Yet Jiang’s comments are perhaps the very first remarks on Khotanese texts by a Chinese intellectual.

Jiang’s numbers and notes can be seen on many manuscripts in the Stein collection. I have not counted how many manuscripts are marked this way but it must be hundreds. While this is obviously a long cry from the entire collection, it nevertheless represents an important part of it. We would have to assume that these manuscripts were those Abbot Wang brought to Stein first and which Jiang Xiaowan tried to identify before giving up the project altogether as unrealistic. Yet Jiang’s numbers and notes are certainly catalogue data and if we took the time and effort to gather them together, we would have in hand the first ever catalogue of Dunhuang manuscripts, even if it covers only a relatively small portion of the corpus.

Posted in 20th century, Aurel Stein, Dunhuang, exploration, History of scholarship | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Studies in Chinese manuscripts – A new book

My new edited volume came out recently with the title Studies in Chinese Manuscripts: From the Warring States Period to the 20th Century (Budapest: Institute of East Asian Studies, ELTE). It has twelve studies all related to Chinese manuscripts. The bulk of the material is related to the medieval period, although there is also one paper on early China and another one on the 20th century. Here is the Table of Contents:

Preface ………………………………………………………………………………………………. vii
William G. Boltz: Why So Many Laozi-s? ……………………………………………… 1
Françoise Bottéro: The Qièyùn Manuscripts from Dūnhuáng ……………………. 33
Takata Tokio: On the Emendation of the Datang Xiyuji during Gaozong’s
Reign: An Examination Based on Ancient Japanese Manuscripts ………. 49
Irina Popova: Tang Political Treatise from Dunhuang: “Heavenly
Instructions” (Tian xun) ………………………………………………………………… 59
Imre Hamar: Huayan Texts in Dunhuang ……………………………………………….. 81
Gábor Kósa: A Correction to the Chinese Manichaean Traité …………………… 103
Christoph Anderl: Was the Platform Sūtra Always a Sūtra? – Studies in the
Textual Features of the Platform Scripture Manuscripts from Dūnhuáng 121
Costantino Moretti: Visible and Invisible Codicological Elements in
Manuscript Copies of Commentaries on the Yogacārabhūmi-śāstra
from Dunhuang ……………………………………………………………………………. 177
Imre Galambos: Correction Marks in the Dunhuang Manuscripts ……………… 191
Sam van Schaik: Ruler of the East, or Eastern Capital: What Lies behind
the Name Tong Kun? ……………………………………………………………………. 211
Kōichi Kitsudō: Liao Influence on Uigur Buddhism ……………………………….. 225
Raoul David Findeisen: Towards a Critical Edition of Feng Zhi’s Last Poem:
Considerations Drawn from Three Draft Manuscripts ………………………. 249
Index …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 273

You can purchase the book here. The page is unfortunately in Hungarian but they may put up an English version sometime soon. The price is marked as EUR 40 + shipping.

Galambos, Studies in Chinese Manuscripts

Imre Galambos, ed., Studies in Chinese Manuscripts.

Posted in 20th century, archaeology, Dunhuang, Mistakes, Orthography, Palaeography, published papers, Scribal habits | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Correction marks in the Dunhuang manuscripts

With their span of six hundred some years, the Dunhuang manuscripts are
a valuable witness of the process of textual transmission in medieval China.
Beside looking at this process from the perspective of texts and their many
versions or editions, the examination of less deliberate scribal habits in
manuscripts can also be meaningful. In this paper I look at the way medieval
scribes corrected mistakes and show that although we have practically
no evidence that the notation used for this purpose would have been
part of an official teaching curriculum, it nevertheless remained surprisingly
consistent over the centuries. This diachronic stability of the notation
system reveals the direct continuity of the scribal tradition, which is at
times less evident in the transmission of texts…

Download a PDF copy of the full paper here: Correction marks in the Dunhuang manuscripts.

Bibliographic information:
Imre Galambos,  “Correction marks in the Dunhuang manuscripts,” in Imre Galambos, ed., Studies in Chinese Manuscripts: From the Warring States Period to the 20th Century, Budapest: ELTE Institute of East Asian Studies, 2013.


Posted in Chinese writing, Corrections, Dunhuang, Mistakes, Palaeography, published papers, Scribal habits | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Taboo characters in Buddhist manuscripts from Dunhuang

This is an article that came out in China so the font is a bit–but it is still readable. In the article, I examine how consistently imperial name taboos were observed in Buddhist texts from Dunhuang. Many scholars in the past have observed the inconsistent use of taboo characters and I wanted to limit my analysis to a particular type of texts so that I am not comparing apples and oranges. The result is that while the sutras (especially those commissioned by the court) do not observe the taboo, other texts related to Buddhism, such as commentaries or popular narratives tend to observe the taboo, even though they do this rather inconsistently.

Imre Galambos, “Taboo characters in Buddhist manuscripts from Dunhuang,” in Yu Xin 余欣, ed., Zhonggu shidai de liyi, zongjiao yu zhidu 中古時代的禮儀、宗教與制度, Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 109-125. (Download PDF)

Posted in Character variants, Chinese writing, Dating, Dunhuang, Orthography, Palaeography, published papers, Scribal habits | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Abbot Wang from the Mogao Caves

Abbot Wang, also known as Wang daoshi or Wang Tao-shih, is one of the most infamous figures in the history of Chinese archaeology. He was the Taoist priest (i.e. daoshi) who stayed at the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang, taking care of the Buddhist temple complex when Aurel Stein visited the site in the autumn of 1907. In 1900 Wang had found in one of the caves a hidden chamber filled to the ceiling with ancient manuscripts and silk paintings. It has become a legend how Stein convinced the priest to part with tens of thousands of scrolls in exchange for a modest donation towards the restoration of the temples. A few months after this the French sinologist Paul Pelliot appeared on the scene and was able to acquire another sizeable collection, which was, on account of his competence as a sinologist, in many ways superior to that of Stein. Next came the Japanese and later the Russian expeditions, each taking home collections of manuscripts.

Although at the time there was little animosity towards either foreign explorers or Abbot Wang, with the rise of patriotic sentiments in the late 1920s, the transactions in retrospect received an increasing amount of negative publicity. As a result, Stein was branded a thief who deprived the country of an important piece of its national heritage, whereas Abbot Wang was perceived by the public as either a traitor who sold out his country to  foreigners or simply a fool.

In a photograph taken by Stein at the Mogao Caves (Serindia, Oxford: Clarendon, 1921, vol. II, p. 804) Abbot Wang does appear in a rather unflattering way, albeit perfectly friendly. His stance, clothes and expression all suggest a simple-minded person (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Abbot Wang (Wang Tao-shih) in Serindia, vol. II.

Perhaps because this image so aptly fits the general impression about the Abbot that it became very popular and by now this is how he is remembered. Stein’s description of the Abbot also matched the photo, as in several places he wrote about him in a decidedly dismissive way. For example:

Wang Tao-shih’s ignorance of all that constitutes traditional Chinese scholarship had soon been correctly diagnosed by Chiang Ssŭ-yeh. So I knew that no useful purpose could be served by talking to him about my archaeological interests, about the  value of first-hand materials for historical and antiquarian research, and the like, however helpful I had always found such topics for securing the friendly interest and good will of educated Chinese officials. (Serindia, vol. II, pp. 804-805)

Ironically, in this passage Stein criticizes Abbot Wang for his ignorance of “traditional Chinese scholarship”, of which he himself was even more ignorant, not even being able to speak any Chinese at the time. (Learning from the experience of the brilliant French sinologist Paul Pelliot, in later years Stein grew to understand the PR value of being able to speak Chinese to local officials and has made several attempts to learn Chinese.) We can also hardly blame the Abbot for not sharing Stein’s colonial eagerness to secure these “first-hand materials for historical and antiquarian research” and move them to Europe.

In any case, rather than writing a defence for Abbot Wang, I wanted to add to the public record two portraits from among Stein’s photographs which may help to add a human dimension to the simplistic image that currently prevails. The first one is actually from the same photo shown above, only zoomed in so that we can see the priest’s facial features. The other one is more or less unknown to the general public, cropped from a larger image where the Abbot appears only on the side.

Abbot Wang in Dunhuang -- British Library: Photo 392/26(327).

Abbot Wang -- British Library: Photo 392/26(322).


Posted in 20th century, archaeology, Aurel Stein, Dunhuang, exploration, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

An English boy in Chinese Turkestan

I just received a hard copy of this paper and am putting it up a PDF so it is more accessible. The paper is about the young English boy who travelled with Tachibana Zuicho to Western China in 1910 on an archaeological expedition, and who appears in Peter Hopkirk’s book Foreign Devils on the Silk Road as “A. O. Hobbs.” Although almost nothing was known about him, I managed to dig up some additional information, including his family background and some forgotten details about the expeditions.

Here is the bibliographic information:

Imre Galambos. “An English boy in Chinese Turkestan: The story of Orlando Hobbs”. Studia Orientalia Slovaca 10/1 (2011), pp. 81-98.

Posted in 20th century, archaeology, exploration, History of scholarship, Japanese, Otani expeditions, published papers, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Consistency in Tangut translations of Chinese military texts

This is an article that came out recently:

Galambos, Imre. “Consistency in Tangut Translations of Chinese Military Texts“. In: Irina Popova ed., Tanguty v Tsentral’noj Azii: Sbornik stat’ej v chest’ 80-letija prof. E. I. Kychanova [Tanguts in Central Asia: a collection of articles marking the 80th anniversary of Prof. E. I. Kychanov]. Moscow: Oriental Literature. 84-96.

This is a paper about how consistently terms and names used in Chinese military texts (e.g. Sunzi 孫子, Litao 六韜) appeared in Tangut translations of these texts. I argue that in a specialized genre such as Chinese works on military strategy, the shared terminology and the quotes and references between the texts works as a corpus builder, creating an intertextual network. In Tangut translations, however, we find very little evidence for such intertextuality because the terminology lacks consistency and even quotations from the Sunzi are translated diffently each time they appear. The reason for this is that there was no authoritative or standard translation in existence and when the Tangut translator came across a name or quote, he just translated it as part of the rest of the text, without looking up how this has been translated by others before, thereby severing the connections that held the Chinese corpus together.

Read the full text of the article here: Consistency in Tangut Translations of Chinese Military Texts

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