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Menggu mishi 蒙古秘史

Sep 14, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Yuanchao mishi 元朝秘史 "Secret history of the Yuan dynasty 元 (1206/79-1368)", in the West better known under the name of Menggu mishi 蒙古秘史 (also read Menggu bishi 蒙古祕史) "Secret history of the Mongols" is a history of the origin and the foundation of the Mongol empire. It begins with the ancestors of Čingghis Qan (r. 1206-1227), describes his life and ascension to power, the spread of the empire and the subsequent struggle for succession and continuance of the imperial expansion under Öködei Qan (r. 1229-1241).

The book was not compiled in one phase but consists of at least two parts. The date of completion is given as the "year of the rat", which can be, according to different scholarship, 1228, 1240. 1252, or 1264. The book was originally written in Mongolian language and in the Uighur-Mongolian script and bore the title of Moŋğolun Niuča Tobčaan. The text is long since lost, but is in part preserved in quotations in Lobsangdanĵin's book Altan tobči (Huangjinshi 黃金史) "The Golden History".

The version that has survived is that of the Translators Institute (siyiguan 四夷館) of the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644) which is written in Mongolian language and in Chinese characters, which serve to express the sound of Mongolian. The officials in this state agency added an interlineary text in Chinese rendering the meaning of the Mongolian words (the so-called pangzhu 傍注 "sideline comment" or pangyi 旁譯 "sideline translation"). Each paragraph is then translated into Chinese (zongyi 總譯). The Yuanchao mishi is therefore a bilingual history.

It was first printed at the beginning of the Ming period nd included 10 juan of a main collection (zhengji 正集) and 2 juan of a supplementary collection (xuji 續集). The encyclopaedia Yongle dadian 永樂大典 on its side divided the book into 15 juan. Therefore two different versions of the Yuanchao mishi are available which are, nevertheless, the same in content. The best traditional copy is that in the third series of the reprint series Sibu congkan 四部叢刊 in which 41 pages of fragments are added.

The Menggu mishi is a very important source for the study of the history of the early decades of the Mongolian empire. It is a source to be used together with the Chinese book Shengwu qinzheng lu 聖武親征錄 and the Persian book Ǧāmiʔ ut-tawārīḫ by Rašīd ad-Dīn. Inspite of its high value the reader has to be aware that it is a book written in favour of Čingghis Qan and the heritage line of Tölüi (r. 1228) and can therefore not in all cases taken at face value. The literary language of the Menggu mishi is different from Chinese and typical for the narrative stories of the steppe peoples. It can therefore be called the first literary work of the steppe.

From the viewpoint of linguistics the Menggu mishi is a valuable source for the study of old Mongolian, from both the grammatical and the phonetic viewpoint. The members of the translation group in the Hanlin Academy 翰林院 used very interesting methods to decipher the Mongolian text and to use Chinese characters to reflect Mongolian sounds. Guttural sounds marked by a small character 中 are fricative sounds: 忽 [hu], but 忽 [qu]; dental sounds marked by a small character 舌 are pronounced fricative: 列 [lə], but 列 [rə]; and other small characters indicate a consonant final of a syllable: 阿 [at], 答 [dal].

From the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) on many Chinese scholars displayed great intererest into the Menggu mishi and compiled many commentaries to events and geograph. From the 19th century on the Secret History became known in the West and in Japan where many translations have been produced, like Kahn, Paul (1984). The Secret History of the Mongols: the Origin of Čingghis Qan (r. 1206-1227), an Adaptation of the Yüan ch’ao pi shih, Based Primarily on the English Translation by Francis Woodman Cleaves. San Francisco: North Point Press. [Boston: Cheng & Tsui Co., 1998 (expanded edition).], or Igor de Rachewiltz (2004). The Secret History of the Mongols: a Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century. Leiden; Boston: Brill.

Quotation 1. Beginning of the Menggu mishi 蒙古秘史
Compound text of the Secret History (Mongolian text in Chinese script and Chinese translation)
成吉思(名)-合〈中〉(皇帝)-訥(的) 忽札兀兒(根源)
迭額列〈舌〉(上) 騰格理〈舌〉(天)額扯(處) 札牙阿禿(命有的) 脫列〈舌〉克先(生了的) 勃兒帖(蒼色)-赤那(狼) 阿主兀(有). 格兒該(妻) 亦訥(他的) 〈中〉(慘白色)馬闌〈舌〉(鹿) 阿只埃(有來). 騰汲思(水名) 客禿勒周(渡著) 亦列〈舌〉(來了). 斡難(河名) 沐漣〈舌〉-訥(河的) 帖里〈舌〉兀捏(源行) 不峏罕〈中〉〈中〉勒敦(山名)-納(行) 嫩禿(營盤) 黑剌周(做著) 脫列〈舌〉克先(生了的) 巴塔赤-罕〈中〉(人名) 阿主兀(有來)
Main text (only Mongolian, in Chinese script)
成吉思-合〈中〉罕-訥 忽札兀兒:
迭額列〈舌〉 騰格理〈舌〉-額扯 札牙阿禿 脫列〈舌〉克先 勃兒帖-赤那 阿主兀. 格兒該 亦訥 豁〈中〉埃-馬闌〈舌〉勒 阿只埃. 騰汲思 客禿勒周 亦列〈舌〉罷. 斡難 沐漣〈舌〉-訥 帖里〈舌〉兀捏 不峏罕〈中〉-合〈中〉勒敦-納 嫩禿 黑剌周 脫列〈舌〉克先 巴塔赤-罕〈中〉 阿主兀.
Transcription of Mongolian text in modern pinyin (how a modern Chinese would read the text)
Chéngjísī-Khéhǎn-nè hūzháwūér:
Diéériè ténggérǐ-échě zháyáātū tuōrièkèxiān Bóértiē-Chìnà āzhǔwū. Géérgaī yìnè Khuōaī-Mǎránlè āzhǐaī. Téngjīsī kètūlèzhoū yìrièbà. Wònán-mùrián-nè tiērǐwūniē Bùěrkhǎn khélèdūn-nà nèntū heīlàzhoū tuōrièkèxiān Bātáchì-Khǎn āzhǔwū.
Transcription in old Mongolian pronunciation
Čiŋķis-Qağan-no huĵaur:
Deere Teŋķeri-eče ĵayaatu toreksen Borte-Čino aĵuu. ķerķai ino Qoai-Maral aĵiai. Teŋķis ķetulĵu ireba. Onan-muren-no teriune Burqan-qaldun-na nuntuqlaĵu, toreksen Bata-Čiqan aĵuu.
Chinese translation of the text
成吉思皇帝的根源:
上天處命有的生了的蒼色狼有.妻他的慘白色鹿有來.騰汲思水渡著來了.斡難河的源行,不峏罕合勒敦山行,營盤做著生了的巴塔赤罕有來.
Translation into English
The Heritage and Youth of Čingghis Qan
There came into the wold a blue-green wolf whose destiny was Heaven's will. His wife was a fallow deer. They travelled together across the inland sea (the commentary says, "tengjis" is the name of a river) and when they were camped near the source of the Onan River in sight of Mount Burkhan Khaldun their first son was born, named Batachikhan.
The text gives insight into the appearance of the Secret History. The bold characters are the Mongol main text in Chinese characters, the upper case small characters is the word-by-word translation into Chinese; the lower case small characters are pronunciation signs, namely 中 "middle" for a guttural [q] (written "kh") instead of [h] or [x]; and 舌 "(tip of the) tongue" for the rolling [r] instead of [l]. Translation of Kahn 1984.
Sources:
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Gao Wende 高文德, ed. (1995). Zhongguo shaoshu minzu shi da cidian 中國少數民族史大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin jiaoyu chubanshe), 239.
Huang Ming 黃鳴, ed. (1990). Jianming minzu cidian 簡明民族詞典 (Nanning: Guangxi renmin chubanshe), 269.
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Further reading:
Atwood, Christopher P. (2007). "The Date of the 'Secret History of the Mongols' Reconsidered", , 37: 1-48.
Atwood, Christopher P. (2007). "Informants and Sources for the Secret History of the Mongols", Mongolian Studies, 29: 27-39.
Atwood, Christopher P. (2009). "The Sacrificed Brother in the Secret History of the Mongols", Mongolian Studies, 31: 190-206.
Barrett, T.H. (1992). "The Secret History of the Mongols: Some Fresh Revelations", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 55/1: 115-119.
Bese, Lajos (1978). "Some Turkic Personal Names in the Secret History of the Mongols", Acta Orientalia, 32/3: 353-369.
Bese, Lajos (1986). "The Shaman Term ǰükeli in the Secret History of the Mongols", Acta Orientalia, 40/2: 241-248.
Bese, Lajos (1989). "Some Ethnic Designations in the Secret History of the Mongols", in Walther Heissig, Klaus Sagaster, ed. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz), 28-37.
Buell, Paul D. (2007). "A Cautionary Tale: Cinggis-qan as the Third Man", Mongolian Studies, 29: 57-68.
Buell, Paul D. (2015). "Early Mongolian Geographical Conceptions", Journal of Asian History, 49/1-2: 19-29.
Buell, Paul D., Judith Kolbas (2016). "The Ethos of State and Society in the Early Mongol Empire: Chinggis Khan to Güyük", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 3rd series, 26/1-2: 43-64.
Clark, Larry V. (1978). "The Theme of Revenge in the Secret History of the Mongols", in Larry V. Clark, Paul Alexander Draghi, ed. Aspects of Altaic Civilization II: Proceedings of the XVIII PIAC, Bloomington, June 29-July 5, 1975 (Bloomington: Asian Studies Research Institute, Indiana University), 33-57.
Finch, Roger (1995). "Mythical Elements in The Secret History of the Mongols", Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, 4th series, 10: 139-176.
Gervers, Michael; Schlepp, Wayne A. (1997). "Felt and 'tent carts' in The Secret History of the Mongols", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 3rd series, 7/1: 93-116.
Gumilyov, L.N. (1974). "The Secret and the Official History of the Mongols in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries: As They Themselves Wrote it", in D. A. Olderogge et al, ed. The Countries and Peoples of the East: Selected Articles (Moscow, Nauka), 193-208.
Jagchid, Sechin (1978). "Traditional Mongolian Attitudes and Values as seen in the Secret History of the Mongols and the Altan Tobči", in Larry V. Clark, Paul Alexander Draghi, ed. Aspects of Altaic Civilization II: Proceedings of the XVIII PIAC, Bloomington, June 29-July 5, 1975 (Bloomington: Asian Studies Research Institute, Indiana University), 89-114.
Kahn, Paul (2009). "Introduction to 'The Secret History of the Mongols'", in William W. Fitzhugh, Morris Rossabi, William Honeychurch, ed. Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire (Media, PA: Dino Don, The Mongolian Preservation Foundation; Washington, DC: Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution), 117-123.
Kara, György (2011). "Alliteration in Mongol Poetry", in Jonathan Roper, ed. Alliteration in Culture (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire/New York: Palgrave Macmillan), 156-179.
Michalove, Peter A. (2006). "Vowel Harmony Contrast as a Poetic Device in the Secret History of the Mongols", Central Asiatic Journal, 50/1: 101-107.
Moses, Larry (1996). "Legends by the Numbers: The Symbolism of Numbers in the Secret History of the Mongols", Asian Folklore Studies, 55/1: 73-97.
Okada, Hidehiro (1972). "The Secret History of the Mongols, a Pseudo-Historical Novel", Journal of Asian and African Studies/Ajia Afurika gengo bunka kenkyū アジアアフリカ言語文化研究, 5: 61-67.
Okada, Hidehiro (1989). "The Chinggis Khan Shrine and the Secret History of the Mongols", in Klaus Sagaster, Helmut Eimer, ed. Religious and Lay Symbolism in the Altaic World and Other Papers: Proceedings of the 27th Meeting of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference, Walberberg, Federal Republic of Germany, June 12th to 17th, 1984 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz), 284-292.
Rachewiltz, Igor de (1997). "A Note on the Word Börte in the Secret History of the Mongols", East Asian History, 13-14: 153-155.
Reid, Robert W. (1992). "Mongolian Weaponry in The Secret History of the Mongols", Mongolian Studies, 15: 85-95.
Rybatzki, Volker (1996). "Fish in the Secret History of the Mongols", International Journal of Central Asian Studies, 1: 1-19.
Sárkőzi, Alice (1978). "Love and Friendship in the Secret History of the Mongols", in Larry V. Clark, Paul Alexander Draghi, ed. Aspects of Altaic Civilization II: Proceedings of the XVIII PIAC, Bloomington, June 29-July 5, 1975 (Bloomington: Asian Studies Research Institute, Indiana University), 145-154.
Uray-Kőhalmi, Catherine (2008). "(The Problem of) shamans in the Secret History of the Mongols", Shaman, 16/1-2: 107-114.
Yü, Da-djün, tr. by Wilhelm K. Müller (1986). "On the Dating of the Secret History of the Mongols", Monumenta Serica, 37: 277-303.
Vietze, Hans-Peter (1995). "The Title of the 'Secret History of the Mongols'", Central Asiatic Journal, 39/2: 303-309.