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Interpreters in Early Imperial China
 9027224447, 9789027224446

Table of contents :
Interpreters in Early Imperial China
Editorial page
Title page
LCC data
Table of contents
1. Perceptions of translating / interpreting in first-century China
Earliest records of labels for interpreters
Frontier stories of China: Han and non-Han Chinese
Southwestern barbarians in Latter Han China
Interpreting encounters with frontier tribes
Presentation of the three sung poems
Zhu Fu’s perception of Yi
Tian Gong’s perception of Yi
The emperor’s perception of Yi
2. Bridging language barriers in encounters with China in sixth-century Asia
Commercial interests in tribute journeys
The Hephthalites
The Tuyuhun: “Interpreters” on the Silk Road
Homogeneous translators or foreign translators?
Chinese learning sphere
Scripting of state letters for China: Stakes and strategies
3. Türkish diplomatic correspondence to Sui China (581-618): Was it translated?
Studies on ancient diplomatic correspondence
The Türk and its relations with Sui China
The linguistic argument
The historical argument
4. Translation officials in Tang China (618-907)
Foreign relations and translation officials in Tang China
Foreigners in Tang China
Central government offices dealing with foreigners
Duties of the Court translators
Duties of translators in the Secretariat
Distinctions between the two kinds of translation officials
Contingency measures
5. Interpreters and archival records of foreign contacts of imperial China
History of interpreting from national archives
Pioneers in the early documentation of interpreters
Interpreters as historians
Interpreting events and their records in history
6. Interpreters and the writing of histories about interlingual encounters
Links between interview reports and historical records
7. Interpreters as consultants in historiography in eighth-century China
Historical dimension of Translation Studies
Historical interpreting: Real or fictitious
Ancient China’s initiatives to explore exotic places
Ge Jiayun
Jia Dan
8. Interpreters and the making of the Kirghiz Memoir and Kirghiz accounts
Interpreters and historiography
Historiography and the archives on foreign countries and peoples
Interpreters and the making of the Kirghiz Memoir: Circumstantial evidence
Interpreting traces in the archived Kirghiz accounts
9. Oral translators in outbound diplomatic correspondence
Diplomatic interaction and interpreting
An envoy-cum-interpreter tradition in imperial China
The survey
Outbound correspondence
Identity of Shi Jiezhi
Identity of Liu Mian
The exceptions
Comprehension problems in reading Chinese letters
10. Sogdian interpreters in Tang China: An issue of loyalty
Cosmopolitan mindsets of Tang China and the recruitment of Sogdian translators
Evidence 1: Deploying a Chinese envoy of Sogdian ethnicity
China’s dilemma in the deployment of a Sogdian envoy
Evidence 2: Soliciting Türkic-speaking translators not affiliated to the Uighürs
From the archived to the non-archived
On interpreters
Appendix: The thirteen letters and the two exceptions

Citation preview

Interpreters in Early Imperial China

Benjamins Translation Library (BTL) The BTL aims to stimulate research and training in translation and interpreting studies. The Library provides a forum for a variety of approaches (which may sometimes be conflicting) in a socio-cultural, historical, theoretical, applied and pedagogical context. The Library includes scholarly works, reference books, postgraduate text books and readers in the English language. For an overview of all books published in this series, please see

EST Subseries The European Society for Translation Studies (EST) Subseries is a publication channel within the Library to optimize EST’s function as a forum for the translation and interpreting research community. It promotes new trends in research, gives more visibility to young scholars’ work, publicizes new research methods, makes available documents from EST, and reissues classical works in translation studies which do not exist in English or which are now out of print.

General Editor

Associate Editor

Honorary Editor

Yves Gambier

Miriam Shlesinger

Gideon Toury

Rosemary Arrojo

Zuzana Jettmarová

Sherry Simon

Michael Cronin

John Milton

Şehnaz Tahir Gürçaglar

Dirk Delabastita

Franz Pöchhacker

Maria Tymoczko

Daniel Gile

Anthony Pym

University of Turku

Bar-Ilan University Israel

Tel Aviv University

Advisory Board Binghamton University Dublin City University FUNDP (University of Namur) Université Paris 3 - Sorbonne Nouvelle

Amparo Hurtado Albir

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Charles University of Prague University of São Paulo University of Vienna Universitat Rovira i Virgili

Rosa Rabadán

University of León

Volume 96 Interpreters in Early Imperial China by Rachel Lung

Concordia University Bogaziçi University

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Lawrence Venuti

Temple University

Michaela Wolf

University of Graz

Interpreters in Early Imperial China Rachel Lung Lingnan University

John Benjamins Publishing Company Amsterdam / Philadelphia



The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences – Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ansi z39.48-1984.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Lung, Rachel. Interpreters in early imperial China / Rachel Lung. p. cm. (Benjamins Translation Library, issn 0929-7316 ; v. 96) Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Translators--China. 2. Translating and interpreting. I. Title. P306.8.C6L86   2011 418’.020951--dc23 isbn 978 90 272 2444 6 (Hb ; alk. paper) isbn 978 90 272 8418 1 (Eb)


© 2011 – John Benjamins B.V. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, by print, photoprint, microfilm, or any other means, without written permission from the publisher. John Benjamins Publishing Co. · P.O. Box 36224 · 1020 me Amsterdam · The Netherlands John Benjamins North America · P.O. Box 27519 · Philadelphia pa 19118-0519 · usa

Table of contents

Preface Introduction Acknowledgments Chronology chapter 1 Perceptions of translating / interpreting in first-century China Earliest records of labels for interpreters  2 Frontier stories of China: Han and non-Han Chinese  5 Southwestern barbarians in Latter Han China  6 Interpreting encounters with frontier tribes  8 Presentation of the three sung poems  11 Zhu Fu’s perception of Yi   14 Tian Gong’s perception of Yi   15 The emperor’s perception of Yi   16 Implications  17

ix xi xv xvii 1

chapter 2 Bridging language barriers in encounters with China in sixth-century Asia 21 Commercial interests in tribute journeys  23 The Hephthalites  25 The Tuyuhun: “Interpreters” on the Silk Road  31 Silla  34 Homogeneous translators or foreign translators?  36 Chinese learning sphere  37 Scripting of state letters for China: Stakes and strategies  38 Implications   40


Interpreters in Early Imperial China

chapter 3 Türkish diplomatic correspondence to Sui China (581–618): Was it translated? Studies on ancient diplomatic correspondence  45 The Türk and its relations with Sui China  48 The linguistic argument  51 The historical argument  52 Implications  57 chapter 4 Translation officials in Tang China (618–907) Foreign relations and translation officials in Tang China  60 Foreigners in Tang China  61 Central government offices dealing with foreigners  63 Duties of the Court translators   64 Duties of translators in the Secretariat   69 Distinctions between the two kinds of translation officials  70 Contingency measures  72 Implications  74 chapter 5 Interpreters and archival records of foreign contacts of imperial China History of interpreting from national archives  77 Pioneers in the early documentation of interpreters  79 Interpreters as historians  80 Interpreting events and their records in history  82 Implications  88 chapter 6 Interpreters and the writing of histories about interlingual encounters Links between interview reports and historical records  97 Implications  102 chapter 7 Interpreters as consultants in historiography in eighth-century China Historical dimension of Translation Studies  104 Historical interpreting: Real or fictitious  104 Ancient China’s initiatives to explore exotic places  105 Ge Jiayun   107 Jia Dan  109 Implications  113






Table of contents vii

chapter 8 Interpreters and the making of the Kirghiz Memoir and Kirghiz accounts  117 Interpreters and historiography  118 Historiography and the archives on foreign countries and peoples   121 Interpreters and the making of the Kirghiz Memoir   121 Interpreting traces in the archived Kirghiz accounts  124 Implications   132 chapter 9 Oral translators in outbound diplomatic correspondence  Diplomatic interaction and interpreting  136 An envoy-cum-interpreter tradition in imperial China  137 The survey  139 Outbound correspondence   140 Identity of Shi Jiezhi  141 Identity of Liu Mian  144 The exceptions  144 Comprehension problems in reading Chinese letters   146 Implications   147 chapter 10 Sogdian interpreters in Tang China: An issue of loyalty Cosmopolitan mindsets of Tang China and the recruitment of Sogdian translators  151 Evidence 1: Deploying a Chinese envoy of Sogdian ethnicity  153 China’s dilemma in the deployment of a Sogdian envoy  153 Evidence 2: Soliciting Türkic-speaking translators not affiliated to the Uighürs  155 Implications   156 Conclusion From the archived to the non-archived  159 On interpreters  161




appendix The thirteen letters and the two exceptions 


Bibliographies Index

167 177


This monograph presents the results of three projects I conducted between 2005 and 2009, funded by Lingnan University, Hong Kong, concerning interpreters archived in early imperial China and their possible roles in the making and writing of histories about foreign peoples at the time. The ten chapters demonstrate original discussions and analyses on archived interpreters and translators, as well as on translation and historiography as reflected from the Chinese archival records. They were generated based on critical readings of primary and secondary sources, rarely utilized and analyzed in depth even in translation research published in Chinese. Regarding language usage, I use ‘translators’ or ‘translation’ in a broad sense to make references to either translators or interpreters, and translation or interpreting, for that matter. Also, the words ‘interpreters’ and ‘interpreting’ should be taken to mean intermediaries and acts of language mediation, not translators, or translation. For the purposes of clearer literary distinction, I use the full name of scholars from mainland China in my documentation, as there is a higher frequency of identical surnames. Chinese names in pinyin format are italicized, except for names of persons and dynasties. The Chinese archival texts cited were all translated into English by me unless otherwise stated.


The historical study of translation did not become a prominent research topic until the turn of the twenty-first century. It was Lefevere (1993) who first identified a certain inadequacy in this area of research and held that this could, in part at least, be responsible for the discipline’s stunted growth. Clearly there was as little interest at this time, in the history of the development of Translation Studies, as there had been in focused scholarly inquiry regarding the historical translation traditions of specific individual countries (Hung and Wakabayashi 2005a). That this was indeed considered to be the case is confirmed by Snell-Hornby (2006) in her critical evaluation of the various turns in Translation Studies since the 1960's. Likewise, the realization of this can also be seen in the work of Delisle and Woodsworth (1995) whose publication documents the roles of notable interpreters in the histories of European civilizations. Above all, this defining work of the mid1990s drew the attention of the research community to the seminal article of Bowen et al. (1995) in which interpreters’ plausible roles in the making of history was examined across pre-modern and modern periods in various language cultures. In many ways, my research interests in the history of interpreting and interpreters’ roles in the writing of diplomatic histories were inspired, if not shaped, by these pioneers. However, working in the ancient Chinese tradition has given me the distinct opportunity of engaging with a specialized kind of data. This research monograph has two focuses: first, interpreters or interpreting events documented in standard archives in early imperial China; and second, interpreters’ roles in the making of written archival records about foreign countries and peoples in this time frame. . The absence of any discussions on Xuanzang (602–664) warrants a note of explanation. The iconic translation achievement of this Chinese Buddhist pilgrim – who spent sixteen years (629–645) in Central Asia and India in search of authentic sutras and spent the last two decades of his life on a large-scale Chinese translation of Sanskrit sutras – is excluded because its nature is incongruent with this monograph. Xuanzang’s pilgrimage was not commissioned by imperial China, and his intercultural experience outside China could not be examined the same way I did with the other interpreting archives presented here. More importantly, the impact of ­Xuanzang hugely transformed the political and cultural environment of both China and Asia in the first millennium, and to cram his landmark achievements into a single chapter is not only at odds with the rest of the book, but would not do him justice either.

xii Interpreters in Early Imperial China

The first focus (Chapters 1 to 4 and 9 to 10) is representative of the initial years I spent on the historical research of interpreting in ancient China during which I was more concerned about locating traces of interpreters and their activities in the archives. Interpreters were never the main players in diplomatic exchanges in China, and their imprints in archival records were quite minimal. Yet, for the sake of research as much as for my own personal curiosity, I have considered interpreters to be too important to be made textually obsolete in historiography in these cross-linguistic and cross-cultural exchanges. The second focus (Chapters 5 to 8) demonstrates my further thoughts regarding the archived traces of interpreters. Of particular interest to me have been interpreters’ roles in the making of archival records documenting China’s interlingual and intercultural exchanges. More specifically, I would like to present some thoughts over the possible relationship between interpreters and the writing of archives in the documentation of such exchanges. These two perspectives are rarely documented at length in the literature of either Translation or History Studies. Intended as a contribution to these missing pieces of knowledge in both disciplines, this book attempts to uncover the subtle presence of interpreters in China’s archived diplomatic encounters, and forge the probable link between interpreters and the writing of diplomatic histories in China in antiquity. Based on a detailed examination of selective archival records of China, spanning almost a thousand years from the first through the ninth centuries, this monograph provides snapshots of translation and interpreting activities between imperial China and its neighbors in Asia at large. It displays a range of archived information about interpreters’ identities, mediating and non-mediating­ tasks, status, accomplishments, and relations with their patrons and other people they worked with in early imperial China. It also provides a perspective in which translators and interpreters might have made an impact on how certain diplomatic events were recorded in history, hence revealing the unspoken link, so often neglected, between translators or interpreters and the subsequent recording of history. The chapters are arranged chronologically so that the readers may better appreciate, in a more systematic way, the issues pertinent to translation and historiography throughout the first millennium in China. These issues document the identities of interpreters, the visiting envoys’ use of hired interpreters, the probable use of Chinese scribes to facilitate communication with dynastic China, and interpreters’ link to the historiography of foreign peoples. It seems that the provision of Chinese translators was not much of a concern for pre-Tang (618–907) imperial China, during which Asian states resorted to their own means to overcome language barriers, in writing and in speech. From the seventh through the

Introduction xiii

ninth centuries, however, the employment of Sogdian translators in the government during the Tang times suggests that the system of translation official was not only better institutionalized, but also presented a very different picture from other Chinese dynasties. These unique features in the use of translators and interpreters in diplomatic exchanges crisscrossing various dynasties in early imperial China give rise to many other questions regarding the historical development of translators and interpreters. For example, why were translators not provided in Liang China (502–557) for diplomatic exchanges in the host country? Was the use of hired translators of non-Chinese ethnicities to provide Chinese translation a mundane practice in diplomatic interpreting in those days for the foreign envoys visiting China? Who were the Sogdian translators and how did the Tang court settle within itself their loyalty issue? Chinese evidence about interpreters in antiquity comes from more systematically collected records in standard historical sources across centuries and dynasties. However, the fortunate retention and use of these standard archives is not always a straightforward matter. China’s meticulous compilation of histories from various sources in its historiography tradition, has, of course, served to provide relatively complete accounts of people and events throughout the years, starting as early as 3000 BC. The limitation of these official histories has, nevertheless, been that they were largely commissioned by the ruling dynasties and therefore could be taken to be suspect in their descriptive honesty. How much of these is a ‘true’ portrayal of the ‘actual events’ and whether the speeches of foreign envoys were ‘embellished’ to satisfy the egocentric mindset of imperial China in its archival record is, understandably, open to debate. Furthermore, the imperial Chinese histories were never written about or centered upon translators, considering their inferior rank in the government hierarchy. The culling of archival records about translation or translators, therefore, requires an extensive search of records and an intensive examination of records pertinent to foreign contacts. It also goes without saying that researchers must demonstrate an awareness of such potential pitfalls when working with material from historical archives. That being the case, China’s voluminous written archival tradition still continues to remain unparalleled compared to its other global counterparts. One reason that explains the relative lack of interest in the historical pursuit of translation is the general (mis)conception that the historic approach has little to do with the discipline’s theoretical development. But in fact, the theoretical study of translation is best grounded in translation practice through which the nuances, features, and limitations of interlingual exchanges can be analyzed, specified, and explained. It warrants the investigation of, ideally, authentic translation

xiv Interpreters in Early Imperial China

­ ractices – not just of modern times, but throughout histories, not just in the p Western setting, but applied in non-Western settings as well – ever since translation started to play a part in rudimentary human interaction. The growth of Translation Studies in these directions can be testified to by the recent calls to focus scholarly inquiries on both the non-Western traditions and historical studies of translation (Hung and Wakabayashi 2005b; Tymoczko 2006). The study of translation activities in non-Western settings, blossoming as it has in recent years, focuses precisely on the historical translation traditions of individual countries (Hung 2005a; Trivedi 2006). The obvious value of the historical approach to the theoretical pursuit of translation is the documentation and analysis of archived translation practice with authentic, rather than contrived, configurations surrounding the events. Some of these cited translation events may lend support to, or challenge, the pre-existing notions, or better still, initiate new avenues for further discussions in the discipline. Whatever form they take in stirring up debates on the nature, perceptions, and definitions of translation, the input from translation historians indisputably serves to advance and push ­boundaries for Translation Studies as a whole (Kothari and Wakabayashi 2009). The most rewarding scenario, of course, would be to know that this publication had inspired its readers to undertake research into their own historical language traditions. Suffice to say, in the discussions presented in the ten chapters, I hope to offer readers a platform to start pondering these, and further subsequent questions in relation to the study of interpreters in early imperial China.


This research monograph is the result of research work conducted from 2005 through 2009 in relation to three grants (DA04A7, DR06B3, and DA08C1) generously funded by Lingnan University, Hong Kong, China. I would like to express my genuine gratitude to the three anonymous reviewers and Professor Yves Gambier for their elaborate feedback and constructive suggestions on the ways to improve the manuscript. Some materials covered were first published in TTR, META, and INTERPRETING over the past six years. I am grateful to the editors and anonymous reviewers of these journals for their inspiring comments on my contributions; these invisible professors have all taught me tremendously and given me specific guidance to produce quality research. My sincere gratitude goes to Professor Leo Tak-hung Chan, my lecturer, then my colleague, and crucially, my mentor, from Lingnan University. At the initial stages of my academic career, Professor Chan kindly offered to read my article manuscripts; he did so meticulously, line by line, and gave me close assistance with language and style for academic writing. Most importantly, he showed me what good research was like. My heartfelt thanks go to Dr. John Wong, a learned friend who bought me a copy of Li Nanqiu’s History of Interpreting in China in 2002. That was how I got inspired to do research on this topic. I am thankful also for years of professional assistance from and useful exchanges with Dr. Canpeng Zhao, a Chinese historian, of Jinan University, Guangzhou, China. I would like to thank my mentors, Dr. KK Sin, Professor CC Liu, and Professor Eugene Eoyang, for all of their encouragement and support. The staff in ORSD at Lingnan have been extremely helpful in giving me research assistance. A heartfelt appreciation goes to the support of my in-laws, Roger and Jeanne, my siblings, and the dear friendship from Constance, Grace, and Gloria. Also, I am grateful for the stylistic assistance of Mali Kleidon and the clerical assistance of Willie Chan and Cherry So. I want to acknowledge my debt to Isja Conen, who has been most patient, helpful, and supportive in the process of publication of this book. A special note of gratitude is owed to my husband, Brad Foreman, for his affection and for insisting that I read The Elements of Style often to enhance my writing skills. Finally, I owe a huge debt to my parents for raising, loving, and educating me. 衷心感謝父母(活深、鳳心)養育關愛及栽培之恩!


Dynasties of Early Imperial China (from Western Han to Song China) Dynasty Han Dynasty (漢朝)

Three Kingdoms (三國)

Jin Dynasty (晉朝) Southern Dynasty (南朝)

Northern Dynasty (北朝)

Sui Dynasty (隋朝) Tang Dynasty (唐朝) Five Dynasties (五代)

Song Dynasty (宋朝)

Duration Western [or Former] Han (西漢) Xin Dynasty (新朝) Eastern [or Latter] Han (東漢) Wei (魏) Shu (蜀漢) Wu (吳) Western Jin (西晉) Eastern Jin (東晉) Liu Song (劉宋) Southern Qi (南齊) Liang (梁朝) Chen (陳朝) Northern Wei (北魏) Eastern Wei (東魏) Western Wei (西魏) Northern Qi (北齊) Northern Zhou (北周)

Later Liang (後梁) Later Tang (後唐) Later Jin (後晉) Later Han (後漢) Later Zhou (後周) Liao (遼) Northern Song (北宋) Western Xia (西夏) Jin (金) Southern Song (南宋)

206 BC–AD 8 9–23 25–220 220–266 221–263 229–280 266–316 317–420 420–479 479–502 502–557 557–589 386–534 534–550 535–557 550–577 557–581 581–618 618–907 907–923 923–936 936–947 947–950 951–960 916–1125 960–1127 1038–1227 1115–1234 1127–1279

chapter 1

Perceptions of translating / interpreting in first-century China

The absence of a lexical term in English to refer to both translation and interpreting has been taken to be a linguistic inadequacy in the general discussion of language mediation (Pöchhacker 2004a). Paradoxically, another problem of linguistic inadequacy is present in classical Chinese for exactly the opposite reason: the term yi (譯) is capable of denoting, at once, translation, interpreting, translators, and interpreters. In fact, concepts of translation (written) and interpreting (oral) were not meticulously distinguished until the modern coinage of biyi (筆譯) (literally, pen translation) and kouyi (口譯) (literally, oral translation) in Modern Standard Chinese, deriving from the root of yi. However, there was indeed a reason why concepts relating to language mediation were blended, in antiquity, into the umbrella term of yi. The inquiry as to how and why such a process of language change took place is beyond the scope of this chapter. In fact when one goes back far enough in histories to examine language mediation, one finds interpreting somehow intertwined with translating activities. In other words, the historical study of interpreting is inseparable from the historical study of translation. Etymologically, before the term yi dominated the semantic field of language mediation in classical Chinese, it was merely one of the four designations, of equal standing, used to refer to language mediators in early imperial China. Cheung . Unlike the specific referents in the English lexicon for each of these corresponding concepts, yi is capable of referring to all or some of the four meanings in classical Chinese. Where meanings are loosely defined, yi is used in this chapter; where meanings are clear from contexts, specific English equivalents are used instead. . A program for unifying the national language, which is based on Mandarin, was launched in the early 20th century and it resulted in the development of Modern Standard Chinese. In 1956 a new system of Romanization called Pinyin, based on the pronunciation of the characters in the Beijing dialect, was adopted as the standard of Chinese language (Ramsey 1989). . An earlier version of part of this chapter first appeared in my article published in Interpreting 11(2): 119–136, 2009. I presented part of this chapter at a translation conference (Des Faux Amis: Tracing Translation(s) Across Disciplines) at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, 5–8 April, 2007.

Interpreters in Early Imperial China

(2005), for example, analyses the meanings of these four earliest designations for interpreters or translators in China (to be discussed further below) and attempts to draw links between their epistemology and their potential relevance to translation theories. Likewise, in attempting to extrapolate Asian translation traditions, Hung and Wakabayashi (2005b) emphasize the significance of tracing the etymological definitions of translation in different Asian contexts and maintain that The very terminology used in relation to translational activities today can be better understood by tracing its etymology and how these terms have changed over time and accumulated an encrustation of meanings – meanings that do not always map one-to-one onto their English “equivalents”…Although we need to be aware of placing too much credence in etymological explanations, the original concepts underpinning such terms – and how they might differ from the concept underlying the term “translation” – merit consideration.  (Hung and Wakabayashi 2005b: 2)

In this chapter, the same explorative motif motivated my investigation of, first, albeit briefly, names attached to interpreters or translators in antiquity in Europe and in China; and second, synchronic perceptions of yi in first-century China, drawing on specific interpreting and translating events recorded in its standard history.

Earliest records of labels for interpreters Unlike the umbrella term yi in classical Chinese which may loosely refer to both the act of translating or interpreting and the person who translates or interprets, the European referents for translating and interpreting are often discretely defined. As Pöchhacker (2004b: 9) puts it, “the concept of interpreting is expressed by words whose etymology is largely autonomous from that of (written) translation” in many European languages. In Germanic, Scandinavian, and Slavic languages, expressions denoting a person who interprets can be traced to the term targumanu as far back as 1900 BC. This is also the origin of the Arabic term tarjumān ϥΎϤΟήΗ or the Turkish Turcüman. The borrowing of terms that refer to translators across different language cultures seems to be quite common in ancient languages (Behr 2004: 192), although the direction of borrowing is not always clear from existing evidence. A clear case of such borrowed words was put forward by Rezhake (1994: 9), who noticed that tərjimə, kilmak, and tərjiman are words borrowed from the Arabic with reference to translators in the Uighür lexicon. However, apart from the designation itself, the available records had little to say about the interpreter’s personal experience, whether mundane or dramatic,

Chapter 1.  Perceptions of translating / interpreting in first-century China

until the ­documentation of illustrious 16th- and 17th-century interpreters, such as Doňa Marina and Étienne Brûlé (Bowen et al. 1995). Similarly, dragoman was used in the English-speaking world to refer to interpreters. In ancient Egypt, foreigners were considered ‘wretched barbarians’, and interpreters were somewhat disparagingly labeled as ‘speakers of strange tongues’ (Hermann 1956/2002: 15). The other title for interpreter – as well as translator – was the Latin ‘interpres’, which stands for middleman, intermediary, commercial go-between and expounder (ibid.: 18). To be sure, the earliest records of interpreters in China do not date as far back as those of Europe, but its elaborate records about interpreting and interpreters go beyond the mere documentation of designations. In fact, more concrete information about interpreters in ancient China can be located in its historical sources, thanks to its time-honored tradition of meticulous historiography. One widely quoted reference that survives as China’s earliest trace of discourse on translation, written around 1000 BC, is the following: 五方之民,言語不通,嗜欲不同。達其志,通其欲,東方曰寄,南方曰 象,西方曰狄鞮,北方曰譯。(禮記.王制; 禮記注疏) …The people of the five regions differ in words and languages, as well as in their predilections and desires. Trusted to make accessible their will and communicate their desires, those mediating in the east are called ji, in the south, xiang, in the west, Didi, [and] in the north, yi… .  (Royal Institutions of the Book of Rites,  [in the Liji Zhushu, commentaries and subcommentaries to the Book of Rites]) . Ellis’s work (1989) touches on similar issues about meanings of translation as exemplified in translations of various classical texts in the western world in medieval times. But since our concern in this chapter is a first-century evidence, Ellis’s work will not be discussed here. . Translations of Behr (2004: 187) and Cheung (2005: 29) were consulted before coming up with my own translation of this text. Behr’s translation is discreet in not specifying whether the four terms denote translation officials, which has been a moot point in the literature on historical studies of translation in China. As Behr points out, Didi (狄鞮) “looks like a transcription of an underlying non-Chinese word”, and it might have been borrowed from a foreign language as a word for “to translate or to interpret” (Behr 2004: 192). However, his rendition of Didi (literally Di [狄] refers to the name of a tribe, and di [鞮] means know, or having a knowledge of) as a verb is problematic linguistically, since this term had only been used as a noun in all the contexts in which it appeared in the Chinese archives. Cheung approached the translation of this text quite differently; most notably, Cheung asserted that the four designations were translation officials, which explains her insertion of the wording “there were functionaries for the job” and “Those in charge of,” although such expressions are nowhere to be found, implicitly or explicitly, in the original.

Interpreters in Early Imperial China

Of these four designations [ji (寄), xiang (象), Didi (狄鞮), and yi (譯)] to denote translators or interpreters in ancient China, only yi survives to modern times in the contemporary lexicon, while the other three remain historical and classical references to inter(or intra)lingual mediators, such as 象寄之才, literally ‘talent [in the discipline] of xiang and ji’. The exact time when yi first replaced the other labels and became the exclusive way of referring to translating (translators) or interpreting (interpreters) cannot be confirmed in existing evidence, but must have been sometime around 220 BC during the Qin (221–207 BC) and the Former Han (206 BC–9 AD) dynasties because those three designations were by then obsolete in references to translation officials. It was never clear, however, why there were no separate lexical items for interpreting and translating in classical Chinese. It can be argued that yi, as a profession, was then not so systematically understood or analyzed because of its association with the ‘wretched barbarians’ and its inherent inferior official ranking (usually the 7th to the 9th rank in a 9-tier system). Its peripheral nature in both their scope of duties (dealing with frontier foreign peoples) and official ranking might explain why no distinction was made between written and oral translation activities as was done in western civilization. Besides, no available evidence has suggested that typical translation officials in early imperial China actually performed both written and oral translation duties. Information about their job specifications remains extremely limited to date. Nonetheless, one can also legitimately argue that the indistinctive nature of yi as a term in classical Chinese, in fact, aptly reflects people’s vague understanding of its nature as an activity in ancient China. Indisputably, the quotation above is an anonymous but valuable description of interpreters and interpreting in the remote past. What it lacks, however, is a personal perspective against specific timeframes. This makes a synchronic analysis of the perceptions of yi to be presented in this beginning chapter all the more important to the current literature on the historical study of translation, since it informs us about the way in which people involved in interpreting events in first-century China perceived yi, both as the act and as the agent of language mediation. The following discussion is structured in three parts: first, an introduction to the historical and political backgrounds leading to the aforementioned interpreting and translating events; second, descriptions of the interpreting and ­translation . An overtly simplistic worldview of the Sino-centric sentiment whereby China inhabiting the Central Plain (zhongyuan [中原]) considered its state the central place, surrounded by regions from the four directions. . Both Zan Ning 贊寧 (1987) and Fa Yun 法雲 (1999), Buddhist monks around the 11th century, conjecture that the term yi gained currency because of “serious troubles up in the north” (Cheung’s translation, 2005: 30).

Chapter 1.  Perceptions of translating / interpreting in first-century China

activities surrounding a first-century tributary event; and finally, discussion of the meanings of yi as perceived by three principal participants in the interlingual encounters, namely, a frontier inspector, his clerk cum interpreter, and the emperor.

Frontier stories of China: Han and non-Han Chinese Multi-ethnicity has long been a feature in Chinese life since the earliest records of its activities along the Yellow River. The Central Plain, to which China confines its activities, has been home to peoples of different ethnic backgrounds. The Huaxia (華夏) (widely known, after the establishment of the Former Han dynasty [206 BC–9 AD], as Han [漢]) people created the Xia (夏) dynasty (2100–1600 BC), the earliest political entity in ancient China, and considered the Yellow River Basin their base. They were further stabilized, as a prominent ethnic group, during the Qin (秦) dynasty (221–207 BC). By the Former Han dynasty, the Huaxia people gradually became a leading ethnic group among many others in China and were labeled as ethnic Han because of their predominance in organizing the Han government. According to Zhang Xiaosong (2006: 41), “…the landlord economy of the Han people came to replace the feudal lordship economy on the core of the Central Plain while the frontier (non-Han) ethnic groups still remained quite rudimentary in their mode of survival”. On the rest of the Central Plain lived a large number of minority groups, whose material culture and social development were, unequivocally, far less sophisticated than those of the Han people. As such, the Yixia (夷夏) (literally, foreign people, [unlike] the Han) worldview took shape. In this case, the ethnic Han Chinese claimed to be superior in their material and spiritual cultures, and the Yi people may roughly, but not exclusively, refer to the non-Han Chinese people, who were linguistically and conceptually associated with beasts and lowly animals in the Chinese term of reference (Fu and Zhou 2000; Drompp 2005). A case in point was the Sino-centric ideology as seen in the various labels given to minority groups surrounding the Central Plain: most notably, Hu (胡) for China’s northern neighbors, Yi (夷) for the uncivilized people from the southwestern border, and Man (蠻) for non-Han peoples from the southern frontier. But in fact, the co-existence with minority groups was a constant reality in the Chinese empire. Even the Qin kingdom that created the first dynastic empire in China in 221 BC was itself multi-ethnic, and the unified empire practically drew together a number of aboriginal populations on the

. These minority groups were generally labeled as Yi (夷) (pictographically, a person carrying a bow; literally, barbarian, or less offensively, foreign people).

Interpreters in Early Imperial China

­ entral Plain. The inter-ethnic mixing through the time-honored history of ChiC na has, however, gradually blurred the distinction between Han and Yi peoples.

Southwestern barbarians in Latter Han China Ethnic boundaries and identities were, nevertheless, a lot more pronounced in ancient China. In pre-historic China, the southwestern region was conventionally divided into the Ba (巴) and Shu (蜀) areas (present-day Sichuan (四川) basin and its surroundings) in the east and the southwestern barbarian area in the west. Our concern here is the southwestern barbarian area, which includes, approximately, the south and west of the Sichuan basin as well as a large part of modern Yunnan (雲南) and Guizhou (貴州). The southwestern barbarians generally refer to over a hundred smaller aboriginal tribes distributed around these areas as early as the Qin dynasty (Fu 1991; Luo 2000). In the southwestern barbarian region lived non-Han tribal groups of different ethnicities, such as Qiang (羌), Di (氐), Yi (彝), and Miao (苗). The account of the ‘Southwestern Barbarians’ in the Houhanshu (History of the Latter Han) was brief. Specific monographs on the southwestern barbarians in standard histories preceding the Houhanshu all note that the area was a highly complex region interlaced with tribes of primarily Qiang and Di ethnic origin, some economically and politically more sophisticated than others. Even the larger tribes in the region, such as Baima (白馬), Yelang (夜郎), Ranmang (冉駹), Qiongdu (邛 都), and Zuodu (筰都), were often referred to by name only, not to mention the other smaller tribes, of which we know next to nothing, clustered on the southwestern frontier. Not much was said in histories about their linguistic situation either, except that the languages spoken there were incomprehensible to outsiders, and little trace of a written language was located in historical records. These facts about their linguistic reality were relevant to the interpreting and translating events to be discussed later on in this chapter. More recent studies (Luo 2000; Zhang 2004) of this region unveil that the tribute-paying tribes in the mid-first century,10 such as Bailang (白狼), Panmu . See Zhou Jucheng (1992: 143–7) for details about various ethnic tribes in this region. 10. Tribal chieftains or rulers were expected to send tributary delegates periodically to the Chinese emperor. When the delegates reached the capital, Chinese officials immediately took charge and coached them on the proper etiquette for their appearance in court. After they had been properly trained, they had an audience with the emperor. Then the rituals had to be performed by the tribal delegates. They had to kowtow to the throne, symbolically acknowledge that their subordinate status as tribes. Their conduct implied that their rulers were subordinate

Chapter 1.  Perceptions of translating / interpreting in first-century China

(槃木), and Tangzou (唐菆), were of ancient Qiang ethnicity. They dwelt on the western side of the Ba and Shu area and “practiced wheat farming, hunting, and lead a semi-nomadic life” (Zhang Zengqi 2004: 326–7). These descriptions fit in quite well with those in the tribal poems composed for the throne, as we shall see presented and textually analyzed below. In terms of linguistic development, there was no evidence indicating the existence of a written language in the southwestern region of China. In reviewing the Yelang tribe of this region, Wang Yanyu says, “the dialects of the minority tribes in this region had no written language and were often casually translated into the Han Chinese (classical) language without a strict standard” (Wang 1986: 114). The best preserved record of what comes closest to a language is the ‘Dongba (東巴) language’ used in the region, but “it should be labeled as a set of pictographic symbols” (Ou 1998: 162–3). However, two Chinese linguists on minority languages, Fang Guoyu and He Zhiwu, studied the three dedicated poems, which were more widely known as ‘the Songs of Bailang’, and concluded that Bailang of the ethnic group Qiang, used a language similar to that of the present-day Naxi (納西) tribe of Yunnan.11 Since the physical landscape of this huge region ranged from high mountains to plateaus, various economic activities were practiced by different tribes and various challenges could be faced, depending on the character of their environments.12 Structurally, the tribal peoples in this area had not yet developed into states of their own during the Han dynasties, and were often, but not entirely, headed by tribal chieftains. The situation was such that, in this region, people of the same ethnicity could be ruled by different chieftains and were scattered in the region and lived as tribes of various sizes. Zhou Weizhou (1996: 2) points out that “these frontier minority peoples were largely grouped under the Han Chinese administration, in different forms of regional governance, such as commanderies, protectorates, or submitted territories (shuguo 屬國)”. Although the Latter Han government did not use force with these tribes, its ultimate goal was to assume authority over all the peoples in the empire. In fact, the classic strategy the Latter Han government employed along the frontier was the loose

to the emperor. Once they concluded this ritual, the emperor summoned them closer to the throne for a brief conversation. They then offered their tribute of local products to him, and he, in return, bestowed valuable gifts upon them and their ruler (Rossabi 1983: 2). 11. In examining the 44 lines of these three poems, which consist of 176 words, the two linguists pondered the annotated sound and meaning documented in the Houhanshu thoroughly and claimed that over 90 words were identical or similar to the Naxi language (Zhang 2004: 327). 12. The distinct character in the landscapes of various parts of the southwestern region explains why the contents of the three poems may appear to be contradictory.

Interpreters in Early Imperial China

rein (Jimi 羈糜) ­policy,13 which empowered the tribal chieftains to govern their peoples directly, with the eventual goal of integrating and assimilating the tribesmen into an expanded Chinese empire. Under the Jimi strategy, which emphasized non-intervention and respect for the native customs and living styles of the indigenous people, these minority peoples were, at some stages, probably loosely placed under the Latter Han government’s jurisdiction and could not yet be integrated into the provincial administration structure, as in the case of the other parts of China, without upsetting the internal order.14

Interpreting encounters with frontier tribes In order to fully integrate these indigenous peoples into Chinese civilization and eventually into the Han Chinese Empire, the Latter Han government encouraged them to develop a sedentary lifestyle. Notably, benevolent officials were often assigned to assist their social and economic development, with the ultimate goal of assimilating and civilizing them. Zhu Fu (朱輔), who was keen to publicize the Han governance among frontier tribes, was then the inspector (or cishi 刺史) of the Yi Province (益州),15 where the non-Han Southwestern tribes in question resided. As the quoted passage below indicates, Zhu Fu, a forward-looking inspector with great zest in his frontier governance, was distinguished by his achievements in assimilating the tribal peoples in China. With no knowledge of the tribal vernacular, however, Zhu 13. Conferring titles to these tribal chieftains was one of the primary strategies of the Han dynasties to lure these minority groups into submission to the Han rule. Luo Erhu (2000: 89) comes up with three categories whereby the non-Han tribal groups were assigned titles. The first category was for kings and dukes of tribes (such as Yelang and Dian 滇) whose sphere of influence could be as sizable as several prefectures (comparable to English counties in size). The second category was tribal chieftains (such as Bailang, Panmu, and Tangzou) whose area of control was much smaller than those of kings or dukes. The third category was for tribal elderly who were in charge of yet smaller population and area. 14. It seems that, as a practice, whenever the tribesmen became the newly integrated subjects, they surrendered to China, not as individuals, but as tribal groups, together with their land. The chieftains of the surrendered tribes would report to the Han government the exact number of their people, household, and the size of their territory, at the time of their integration. 15. Administratively, the Latter Han Chinese empire was divided into thirteen Provinces (州) – further divided into commanderies, prefectures, districts, and wards – each headed by an inspector, assigned by the central government. A Province is a series of contiguous commanderies and kingdoms which are commonly supervised by an inspector (Beck 1990: 192).

Chapter 1.  Perceptions of translating / interpreting in first-century China

Fu relied on his senior clerk, Tian Gong (田恭), to communicate with and ­collect information from the tribesmen. After a few years of effort, Zhu Fu had been able to integrate many of these tribes into the mainstream administration. Their gestures of submission to the Latter Han government and their wish to become Chinese subjects were documented in the Houhanshu as follows: (後漢明帝)永平中,益州刺史梁國朱輔,好立功名,慷慨有大略。在州 數歲,宣示漢德,威懷遠夷。……白狼、槃木、唐菆等百餘國,戶百三 十餘萬,口六百萬以上,舉種奉貢,稱為臣僕。輔上疏曰: “……今白狼 王唐菆等慕化歸義,作詩三章……繈負老幼,若歸慈母。遠夷之語,辭 意難正。草木異種,鳥獸殊類。有犍為郡掾田恭與之習狎,頗曉其言, 臣輒令訊其風俗,譯其辭語。今遣從事史李陵與恭護送詣闕,並上其樂 詩。……”帝嘉之,事下史官,錄其歌焉,並載夷人本語為注。16 In the Yongping reign period (of emperor Ming of the Latter Han), the inspector of the Yi Province, Zhu Fu, aspired to be commended in his career and was known to be a broad-minded person with ambitious vision. During the several years he was posted in the Province, he preached the mercy and benevolence of the [Latter] Han [dynasty]. He overpowered the distant barbarians, while conciliating them with financial subsidies. Over a hundred tribes, Bailang, Panmu, and Tangzou included, amounting to more than 1.3 million households and six million people, paid tribute as a [non-Han ethnic] group and called themselves subjects and servants. In Zhu Fu’s memorial to the throne, it is said that: “…Now, the chieftain of Bailang, Tangzou, and other tribes composed three poems out of their utmost admiration and respect for Chinese civilization and righteousness. …The babies and the elderly rode piggyback on [the young and strong on their capital-bound trip] – a trip, which was likened to a homeward-bound journey to greet their loving mothers. The language of the distant barbarians was incomprehensible, and their vegetation, birds, and animals were equally exotic. A senior clerk in the Qianwei commandery, called Tian Gong, was familiar with them and therefore mastered their language quite well. Your servant (I) often had him investigate their customs and interpret their language. Now, [I] ask my general staff, Li Ling,

16. Neither the last sentence of this passage nor the bracketed indigenous Qiang transcriptions in the three poems were originally found in the Houhanshu, compiled by Fan Ye (范曄) in the fifth century. They were only inserted by Li Xian (李賢, 653–684), a crown prince in the Tang dynasty (618–907), in his annotation to the Houhanshu. His annotation was based on materials collated in the Dongguan Hanji, the first official dynastic history of the Latter Han dynasty, which was compiled around the second century. Although the Dongguan Hanji has been reconstructed numerous times over several centuries and is fragmented, its inclusion of contemporary first-hand sources makes it a valuable piece of historiography.


Interpreters in Early Imperial China

and Tian Gong to chaperone them so they can come [to the imperial court] and dedicate their music and poems.” The emperor commended Zhu Fu and asked the history officer to make a record of the sung poems, with annotations on barbarian pronunciation. (Houhanshu 86: 2854–2855)17

Indisputably, this informative historical account was a rare treasure for interpreting historians, but the way it was constructed, I believe, appears to be somewhat at odds with the conventional practices of Chinese historiography. Three points, in particular, in which this account diverges from the historiography on interpreting activities in China, demand attention. First, interpreting records in dynastic histories of China were hardly ever elaborate as such, since, presumably, neither the nature of the interpreting activity in diplomatic encounters nor the interpreter(s) involved mattered, conceptually, in Chinese historiography. Second, the names and background of interpreters were rarely mentioned in regular historical records of interpreting events, unless they were state martyrs. In fact, numerous textual accounts of interpreting in dynastic China indicate that references to interpreters consist of no more than the sheer use of the word yi, a generic and anonymous reference to interpreters or translators, as in “Yi said…” and “Yi replied…”, if the presence of interpreters was not otherwise understood contextually (Lung and Li 2005: 1002). Third, tribal submission was not uncommon during the first few decades of Latter Han, but it was rarely recorded in such detail. For example, in 69, the Ailao (哀牢) chief submitted to emperor Ming with a tribal population of over 550,000. In 100, another Bailang tribe from a different region of the southwestern frontier and the Loubao (樓薄) tribe both submitted to emperor He (和) (r. 89–105) with a combined population size of 170,000. These cases of submission, although of a smaller scale as far as the population size is concerned, were not nearly as elaborate as the one written down in the memorial of Zhu Fu, nor were they deliberately memorialized by the inspectors of their respective provinces. These three points, considered as a whole, legitimately suggest that Zhu Fu did make a conscious attempt to make his case known to the throne. Thanks to the emperor’s prompt instruction to keep a Chinese rendition of the sung poems and of the subsequent record kept in the Houhanshu,18 we are better informed of interpreting and translation activities in first-century China.

17. It is a standard practice that when authoritative Chinese classics or dynastic histories are mentioned in academic writings, only the names of the publications are documented, not the authors or the year of publication. 18. Songs and dances were popular entertainments in early imperial Chinese courts. These sung poems were often written to be sung in dance performance, not simply for reading pleasure (Zhao 2002: 99–116).

Chapter 1.  Perceptions of translating / interpreting in first-century China

Presentation of the three sung poems Folk songs and ballads in the Han tradition usually “express the hopes and dreams of ordinary people, their routine lives, the tragedies which beset them, their brief moments of happiness, the values and beliefs they cling to…” (Birrell 1988: 1).19 Nevertheless, judging by the political nature of the tribal submission and the possibility that the content or style of the tribal poems might have been tampered with in the process of translation or interpreting, the poems should be appreciated with reasonable caution, unlike other folk songs of the time. Even so, the Chinese translation of the tribal poems did sum up briefly the lives, good and bad, of the tribesmen in question. My English rendition, in the form of a relay translation, of these poems is intended to capture only the literal meaning and makes no literary attempt to retain their poetic form. 其一曰遠夷樂德歌詩, 曰: 大漢是治(堤官槐搆),與天合意(魏冒踰糟)。吏譯平端(罔驛劉 脾),不從我來(旁莫支留)。聞風向化(徵衣隨旅),所見奇異(知 唐桑艾)。多賜繒布(邪毗 ),甘美酒食(推潭僕遠)。昌樂肉飛 (拓拒蘇便),屈申悉備(局後仍離)。蠻夷貧薄(僂讓龍洞),無所 報嗣(莫支度由)。願主長壽(陽雒僧鱗),子孫昌熾(莫穉角存)。 The first poem: Ode on our joy for the blessings of the Han The great Han governs well by Heaven’s will. The official(s) and interpreter(s) were fair and proper, and never causally intervened in our lives. [We] heard of the superior [Han] civilization and were pleasantly surprised by what we saw. Bestowed [on us] were bundles of cloth, delicious wine, and food. The marvelous music and dance, which showcase [the dancers’] contracted and relaxed body movements, are dedicated to your Highness. Being poor and lacking resources, [we] barbarians do not have presentable gifts to repay your grand favors. [We only] pray for your Highness’s longevity and your offspring’s prosperity.  (Houhanshu 86: 2856)

Stylistically, the Chinese characters represent the translation of the poems; those in brackets represent the original sounds of the tribal poems.20 This format was adopted directly from the standard historical records and it survived as the solid 19. See Zhao Minli (2002) for more recent studies on sung poems in the Han dynasty. 20. Regarding the linguistic record of these poems, it is safe to assume that the interpreter must also have actively participated in assisting the written record of both the meaning and the sound of the aborigines’ literary production (Ma Zuyi 1999: 275). It is not the focus of this chapter to pursue the essence of historical and comparative linguistics here (ibid.: 277), but there is no denial that the interpreter’s effort, in putting down the meanings and sounds of the tribal poems into Chinese, would make further linguistic enquiries as such possible.



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

proof of the delicate effort, quite possibly of the interpreter, alongside the history officer, in rendering the meanings and sounds of the indigenous poems. From the first poem, we know that the tribes were under the rule of Han Chinese, but they seemed to get on well with the officials and interpreters, who were complimented as “fair and proper”. Besides, the tribesmen were particularly delighted with the non-intervening style of governance. As a move to pacify the tribal peoples, imperial favors, in the form of material provisions, such as food, wine, and cloth were bestowed on them. In return, the tribal peoples presented three poems to the throne, by way of song and dance performances. Some critics say the greed for material gain easily explains the tribesmen’s readiness to submit to the throne (An 1979; Li Dalong 1996). Space will not permit a detailed discussion on whether the submission is faked or genuine here, but apparently, these material provisions were valuable to them since they were lack of resources. In fact, the motifs dealing with their physical hardship were echoed in the third poem as well. 其二曰遠夷慕德歌詩, 曰: 蠻夷所處(僂讓皮尼),日入之部(且交陵悟)。慕義向化(繩動隨 旅),歸日出主(路旦揀雒)。聖德深恩(聖德渡諾),與人富厚(魏 菌度洗)。冬多霜雪(綜邪流藩),夏多和雨(莋邪尋螺)。寒溫時適 (藐潯瀘灕),部人多有(菌補邪推)。涉危歷險(辟危歸險),不遠 萬里(莫受萬柳)。去俗歸德(術疊附德),心歸慈母(仍路孳摸)。 The second poem: Ode on our admiration for the grace of the Han [We] distant barbarians dwell in places where the sun sets. [We] admire [the Han] civilization and submit to your Highness, who resides where the sun rises. The emperor showers us with immense kindness and generous gifts. [The southwestern region of the Central Plain] snows in winter and rains in summer – the perfect climate for the [southwestern] indigenous people to prosper. [We] made a harsh long trip [to come to the capital]. We have changed [our] customs and conform to [your] virtues in a homeward-bound journey to greet [our] loving mothers.  (Houhanshu 86: 2856)

The second poem depicts the geographical orientation of the southwestern region and the Han Chinese imperial court: the former is in the west and the latter, in the east. It points out that the southwestern region is blessed with distinct seasonal climate that is conducive to farming. The poem also mentions the emperor’s generosity in rewarding them and improving their material culture. The fact that these tribes vow to change their customs and conform to the Han civilization suggests, most likely, the superiority of Han material culture and governance over those of the tribal communities. Besides, the allusion to the homeward bound mentality of a child points perhaps to the tribesmen’s readiness to submit to the Han rule.

Chapter 1.  Perceptions of translating / interpreting in first-century China

其三曰遠夷懷德歌, 曰: 荒服之外(荒服之儀),土地墝埆(犁籍憐憐)。食肉衣皮(阻蘇邪 犁),不見鹽榖(莫碭麤沐)。吏譯傳風(罔譯傳微),大漢安樂(是 漢夜拒)。攜負歸仁(蹤優路仁),觸冒險陜(雷折險龍)。高山岐峻 (倫狼藏幢),緣崖磻石(扶路側祿)。木薄發家(息落服淫),百宿 到洛(理歷髭雒)。父子同賜(捕茝菌毗),懷抱匹帛(懷稾匹漏)。 傳告種人(傳室呼敕),長願臣僕(陵陽臣僕)。 The third poem: Ode on our submission to the grace of the Han rule [Our] distant land is extremely barren and dry. [We] feed ourselves with the flesh of wild animals and wear animal fur [for warmth] since we have hardly any salt, or grow any wheat. The officials and interpreters preached [to us] the peace and prosperity of the great Han. The babies and the elderly rode piggyback on [us] and [we] weathered rugged mountains and steep cliffs on the way. [We] set out in late autumn and reached Luoyang in a hundred days. [We] were all showered with gifts and bundles of cloth. The words got around in our tribes and [we] all yearn to serve [your Highness] forever.21  (Houhanshu 86: 2856–7)

The contrasts between the physical conditions of the two peoples are more pronounced in the third poem. The poem reiterates that some of the tribal land was barren and not favorable for farming. Thus they mostly relied on hunting to feed and warm themselves. As opposed to their primitive lifestyles, the Han Chinese was a lot more developed. The tribesmen learnt of the culture, wealth, and peace of Han China through the active publicity of the official(s) and interpreter(s). Taking into account Zhu Fu’s zeal to integrate minority tribes into the mainstream Chinese administration, one will be more inclined to consider the tribute mission not simply a plain ‘initiation’ of the southwestern minority tribes, but rather a project chiefly and deliberately masterminded by Zhu Fu. It should be noted that Zhu Fu was known to “aspire to be commended in his career” and “he preached the mercy and benevolence” of the Latter Han government in the frontier. If Zhu Fu was indeed the director of this tribute saga, it would be significant to examine his understanding of and attitudes towards yi (interpreting or interpreters) – a pivotal factor in his scheme.

21. What intrigues me, at this point, is the possible time sequence of this poem’s composition and the tribute-paying event. The part about receiving generous gifts in China suggests that, apparently, these few lines were, probably, newly added (by the interpreter or the history officer?) contents after their arrival at the capital and were not written up before the trip. In the end of the poem, the tribes expressed, yet again, their intention to be ruled by the Han emperor as subjects of China. This indicates that the frontier tribes were not yet officially integrated as Chinese subjects at the time of the tribute event.



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

Zhu Fu’s perception of Yi Zhu Fu was the patron of interpreting services provided by his senior clerk, Tian Gong. He regularly asked Tian Gong to mediate his exchanges with the tribal communities on the basis of Tian Gong’s knowledge of their language and customs. To the inspector, yi is not only a language mediator, but also a cultural go-between. In his memorial to the emperor, he wrote, “Your servant (I) often had him investigate their customs and interpret their language.” (臣輒令詳其風俗,譯其辭語。) This is of interest to historians and theoreticians of translation in two regards. First, it was an interpreting event in which cultural consideration was documented – not theoretically, but contextually – as a concern in interlingual encounters as early as first-century China. Second, cross-cultural knowledge was considered a quality of the interpreter, apart from his bilingual skills. In line with the Latter Han’s non-intervening governance in managing minority peoples, Zhu Fu might have opted for a solidarity approach to lure the tribesmen, possibly by means of material favors, into accepting the mainstream administration patterns of provinces (jun 郡) or counties (xian 縣) in their areas of inhabitation (one means by which Han China expanded its empire). In addition, Zhu Fu’s memorial suggested that he had laid the necessary groundwork to impress the tribesmen with both his governing style and his overt interest in their tribal customs. As shown in “The officials and interpreters preached [to us] the peace and prosperity of the great Han.” (吏譯傳風,大漢安樂), he had also preached the merits of the Han government to the tribal peoples via the ad-hoc interpreter. One can, of course, reasonably argue that Zhu Fu’s interest in the exotic culture might simply have been a diplomatic gesture to pacify the tribesmen. We cannot, therefore, say with absolute certainty that enhancing Zhu Fu’s cultural understanding was the ultimate goal of deploying Tian Gong’s interpreting service.22 As we shall see below, the role of yi in the tributary event was indisputably political, considering Tian Gong’s other (and original) capacity as Zhu Fu’s clerical subordinate. Zhu Fu’s trust of Tian Gong, based on the clerk’s interpreting record, motivated him to assign Tian Gong a business trip, entailing a three-month walk to the capital, with the tribal delegates. In this regard, yi (understood either as an interpreter or as an interpreting act) serves not only as an indispensable ‘tool’ to

22. Cheung (2006: 46) suggests, based on her analyses of ancient references to and discourses on translation, that “translation and/or interpretation in the periods before the Qin dynasty was essentially functional in nature rather than an activity inspired by a genuine intellectual curiosity about other languages and cultures”. How much of it was still valid for Latter Han times, a lapse of four centuries, has yet to be confirmed.

Chapter 1.  Perceptions of translating / interpreting in first-century China

bridge communication between the inspector and the tribal peoples, but also as propaganda to trumpet the Han governance among the indigenous population. The argument that yi was a political instrument for Zhu Fu can be extrapolated further on the basis of the Chinese translation of the sung poems. The ­Houhanshu record quoted above indicates that, sequentially, the Chinese translation was rendered after the tribal event, at the emperor’s instruction, but I suspect that an oral summary or a gist translation of these poems must have been produced for Zhu Fu, behind the scene, presumably by Tian Gong, well before the actual tribute event. In fact, Zhu Fu’s memorial, supposedly composed before the tribute event, presents itself as a script of the intent of the tribute mission and the poems. My conjecture is that Zhu Fu must have acquainted himself with these poems through Tian Gong’s explanation or partial translation when the tribute idea was first formulated. As discussed in Lung (2008b), for some peculiar and yet unknown reasons, the wording of Zhu Fu’s memorial somewhat resembled part of the Chinese rendition of the poems in which Tian Gong may have played a major part. After all, it was in this memorial that the background of the tribute event was reported to the emperor. And as a material return of favor to the interpreter, it was also in this memorial that Tian Gong, as a humble clerk and interpreter on the frontier, was unusually mentioned, not once, but twice. Therefore, in this historical event, yi was highly instrumental and also served a political purpose for the inspector, apart from being, simply, a linguistic and cultural go-between.

Tian Gong’s perception of Yi To Tian Gong, the mechanical definition of yi, as an act of interpreting, was more than a straightforward activity of language mediation. He knew all along that his identity as yi was political in nature, given his official position as a senior clerk of the inspector and the power differential existing between the Han officials and the tribal communities. Tian Gong was well aware that his ultimate patron was Zhu Fu; he had been rendering interpreting services and discharged his duties to Zhu Fu’s satisfaction. Zhu Fu’s memorial indicated that Tian Gong learnt the tribal vernacular through mingling with the tribesmen. For Tian Gong, mingling with the tribal groups was the way to learn the tribal vernacular, but it was also crucial to winning their trust and blending into the tribal community. Tian Gong’s ­interpreting competence and in-group identity naturally positioned him as the chaperone of the tribal delegation in its tribute journey, despite the fact that his unique background, understandably, might have compromised his absolute neutrality on interpreting or translation tasks assigned to him.



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

Nevertheless, Tian Gong’s ‘in-group’ status among the tribesmen, attained via social networking, made him the ‘entrusted transmitter’ (Cheung 2005: 29) between Zhu Fu and the tribal groups. As a junior subordinate of Zhu Fu, he furnished the inspector’s understanding of the customs and livelihood of the indigenous tribes. As far as interlingual and intercultural encounters are concerned, Tian Gong, as the interpreter, was a crucial figure. However, unlike the inspector or the emperor, Tian Gong was literally a passive figure in this historical episode because there was no explicit textual trace of him writing, speaking, interpreting, or translating. In fact, he was very much a figure in the background in the tribal interaction with the Chinese officials both on the frontier and in the imperial court. His presence in these scenes was only deduced through Zhu Fu’s indirect descriptions. I mentioned earlier that Tian Gong’s interpreting identity was political since he was also a frontier clerk in the administration by profession. Through his publicity in the tribal region, “The officials and interpreters preached [to us] the peace and prosperity of the great Han.” (吏譯傳風,大漢安樂) as depicted in the third poem, the minority tribes were informed of the culture, prosperity, and peace in China. While his publicity role as an interpreter may seem incongruous in terms of the modern code of neutrality in the interpreting profession, he may simply have been ‘transferring’ Zhu Fu’s propagandistic messages to the tribesmen. In the eyes of the tribesmen, however, the impression was probably that the interpreter, who talked (and therefore preached) to them directly too was promoting Han China. Admittedly, the extent to which this ‘projection’ argument is valid cannot easily be verified, but the pacifying policy of the time was conducive to situations in which officials cum interpreters, such as Tian Gong, played the role of ‘cultural ambassadors’ to trumpet Chinese culture and administration on the frontier. Tian Gong’s interpreting role, examined in this light, might have been inadvertently tainted by politics.

The emperor’s perception of Yi Emperor Ming (r. 58–75) was in fact the centre of the tribute event since the sung poems and indigenous dance were dedicated to and performed for him. The presence of the emperor in this historical episode was only noted after the documentation of Zhu Fu’s memorial, as in “The emperor commended Zhu Fu and asked the history officer to make a record of the sung poems, with annotations on barbarian pronunciation.” (帝嘉之,事下史官,錄其歌焉,並載 夷人本語為注。) Now, no textual reference to translation or interpreting was found in the emperor’s instructions. It is even questionable if the emperor had

Chapter 1.  Perceptions of translating / interpreting in first-century China

any concrete ideas about translation or interpreting at the time. Conceptually, it did not seem to worry him if the history officer was sufficiently competent to carry out his instructions, which involved working with at least two language varieties. Here, the emperor was primarily concerned with an annotated documentation of the sounds and meanings of the vernacular poems (originally sung in the Qiang dialect) in history so as to celebrate his reign. Emperor Ming’s specific instructions for a written record of the poems and their verbatim transcriptions in Chinese might have been motivated by his literary interest,23 if not his vanity. Either way, he only thought of the history officer, not the translator, in his instructions about what to do with the sung poems. If the emperor indeed knew very little about the amount of translation entailed by his instructions, he probably would not have known how to distinguish between translating and interpreting either. Nevertheless, he was very specific about what he wanted from the history officer; namely, to make a written record of the poems presented to him. He wanted the meanings of the poems in Chinese as well as an annotated record of the vernacular pronunciation of each word in the poems. We may therefore suggest that the emperor, as the patron of the translation, had the product, but not the process nor the producer, of translation in mind. Notwithstanding the absence of the word ‘translation’ in the emperor’s command, the recording of the poems in Chinese would require translation, from oral form in the Qiang dialect to written Chinese, while the recording of indigenous pronunciation would in fact have called for transliteration, using Chinese characters to approximate vernacular sounds of the Qiang poems.

Implications 1.

The interpreter as a linguistic and social go-between

Textual analyses of the three sung poems suggest that the duties of Chinese interpreters on the frontier were not entirely confined to linguistic mediation between officials and tribesmen, but possibly also included the promotion of Chinese culture and governance in tribal communities. These combined duties, however, were not mutually exclusive at the time, given the dual identity, for instance, of Tian Gong. Such a ‘dual-role interpreter’, in the words of Angelelli, 23. On hearing his brother’s [Liu Cang (劉蒼, 39–83)] composition of an ode in 72, emperor Ming was “at a loss for words with which to praise the ode” and ordered Jia Kui (賈逵, 30–101), a scholar with a profound literary talent, to write a commentary for it (Houhanshu 1533, in Beck 1990: 21).



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

has no other choice but to bring the whole self to the interaction, which in turn plays out during the interaction rather than being artificially blocked by some standard that may require that he or she merely interpret the words being uttered.  (Angelelli 2004: 2)

Serving as a senior clerk in a border province, Tian Gong also interpreted for the inspector in his interaction with the tribesmen. It was the kind of interaction in which Tian Gong was in fact involved not merely as the language mediator, but as a facilitator whose ultimate loyalty rested, unquestionably, with the inspector. Undeniably, Tian Gong was instrumental in allowing speakers of the tribal tongue to be heard. His role as interpreter was indispensable in facilitating the tribute mission and ensuring that protocols were observed on the part of the tribesmen in their imperial audiences. To Tian Gong, chaperoning the tribal delegates to the capital was certainly a landmark in his life and career. In the three-month journey to the capital, he would be expected to encounter as much hardship as the indigenous delegates did. But, to an official having been posted to a remote border, such as Tian Gong, the chance to chaperone a tributary delegation to an imperial audience could be a rare opportunity and was considered a personal honor. This personal honor was granted because of his knowledge of the tribal dialect, familiarity with the tribal customs, and admirable interpreting performance for his superior. The fact that both the first and the third poems mentioned interpreters in the life of the minority tribes speaks of their contact with interpreters and attests “the existence of interpreting activities in tribal communities” (Ma Zuyi 1999: 275). Besides, the nature of interpreters’ interaction with the tribesmen seems to be regular and ongoing, and social rather than purely professional. Since Tian Gong actually acquired the tribal vernacular through socializing, he must have established sufficient personal rapport with the tribes for him to blend into their communities. Furthermore, Tian Gong’s ‘insider’ identity was apparently demonstrated in his knowledge of their indigenous customs, which seemed to have impressed his superior. In fact, as indicated in Zhu Fu’s memorial, this particular interpreter was named and complimented for the service he had rendered in and for the indigenous communities. From the specific case of Tian Gong, at least, we may deduce that the interpreter might have been an insider of the tribal communities before he was summoned to interpret for Zhu Fu. Besides, this interpreting account suggests that cultural variation might have been registered as an important consideration in interpreting activities in firstcentury China, although a more systematic study of the relevance of culture to Translation Studies did not commence until almost nineteen centuries later in the west. In particular, as exemplified in Zhu Fu’s memorial, expressions, such as 草木異種,鳥獸殊類…與之習押…令詳其風俗 (…[their] vegetation, birds,

Chapter 1.  Perceptions of translating / interpreting in first-century China

and animals were exotic…was familiar with them and therefore have him investigate their customs) all point to the inspector’s awareness of the pronounced differences between the tribes and his own cultural features and practices as a Han Chinese. In this connection, the cultural sensitivity displayed by this frontier official in his interaction, via an interpreter, with the non-Han people may well place him as a pioneer in the theoretical study of translation in first-century China. Moreover, Tian Gong’s initial mingling with the tribes in his attempts to learn the vernacular and to understand the indigenous culture reflects an ethnographic method in which he was a participant in the target group, apart from being an observer. This groundwork and background research conducted to enhance his understanding of a target speech-community, either to execute Zhu Fu’s instruction to inquire into tribal customs or as a self-initiated move, somehow mirror the pre-interpreting preparation often carried out by professional interpreters. 2.

The interpreter as the link to historical records

Several written records pertinent to discourses of translation in China date back to as early as the second half of the second century when the Chinese translation of Buddhist sutras gathered momentum in the country (Hung 2005d; Cheung 2006). In fact, information about translating and interpreting activities before the second century hardly came to the attention of modern scholarship apart from the nominal references for interpreters in the four directions. Hence, this evidence represents an important archive, extrapolating what ancient people actually wrote, said, or did, in the documentation of how first-century figures in China perceived yi. This original archive is instrumental in capturing the perceptions of interpreting, interpreters, translating, or translators at the time. Since Zhu Fu’s memorial indicated that Tian Gong was the mediator, familiar with the language and customs of the tribes, Tian Gong might also have been the one who actually assisted the history officer in rendering and recording the meanings and the sounds of the three poems. If this speculation holds true, then the records of the sung poems and their corresponding sounds and meanings, as annotated in the standard history, the Houhanshu, might well be taken as translation traces left behind by the interpreter. Apparently, without the interpreter, it might have been difficult, if not impossible, to carry out the emperor’s command for an annotated Chinese rendition of the poems. If Tian Gong was indeed the only one who could interpret the tribal tongue and translate the vernacular poems in the imperial court at the time, he was practically the only viable link between the indigenous poems and the historical records we hold today.


20 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

Zhu Fu’s decision to assign Tian Gong as the chaperone of the tribute delegation then turned out to be highly constructive. As I conjectured earlier, Zhu Fu might have masterminded the tribute idea to please the throne, but this idea was then not just realized, but also taken further in such a way that the tribute and translation events were archived as a first-century interpreting record in China. Without Tian Gong, it may have been difficult to find anyone in the imperial court sufficiently competent to comply with the emperor’s instructions to annotate the poems. Before the tribute mission reached Luoyang, the capital, Zhu Fu probably had no idea that the emperor would take the art performance so seriously as to request a verbatim written record of the poems. In this light, Zhu Fu’s idea to have the interpreter travel to the capital did not simply facilitate the ultimate record of the poems, but more importantly preserved the interpreter’s translation records in history. Although the Chinese translation of the Bailang sung poems managed to excite a small number of linguists etymologically, not much work was carried out on their significance in the history of interpreting and translation in China. This archive, compiled in the ‘memoir of the Southwestern barbarians’ in the Latter Han history, is of interest to historians of interpreting and translation because it began with the interpreting activities that Tian Gong carried out for Zhu Fu and ended in the translation of the poems as archived in standard histories. Its limitation, as a primary record pertinent to ancient interpreting and translating activities, however, is that the record was politically embedded and embellished purely from the perspective of the ruling clique. As such, it is inevitable that the interpreting events and what people surrounding these events said and did might very well have been blemished, distorted, or largely ignored, one way or another. With this possible limitation considered, this chapter has examined interpreting events and their subsequent translation records in the Latter Han dynasty during the first century. This study not only presents historical records of interpreting activities in antiquity collected in standard archives, but also informs us of the various perspectives of yi, as perceived by Zhu Fu, the inspector, Tian Gong, the senior clerk cum interpreter, and the emperor, based on primary data. These parties played different roles in the interpreting and tributary events, and in the process, expressed their tacit understanding, some more directly than others, of interpreting and translating. Such first-hand information about perceptions of interpreting and translation in first-century China is a treasure in the historical study of language mediation. In the reinvention of history, much has yet to be explored in relation to the primary form of interpreting and translating activities in each culture in antiquity. If we take a historical perspective in our review of what it meant to interpret or translate by examining the earliest written records in national archives, we may better understand the nature of these interlingual activities unique to specific language-cultures.

chapter 2

Bridging language barriers in encounters with China in sixth-century Asia

In archival records of imperial China’s diplomatic contacts, relay translation was often mentioned in the description of foreign envoys’ tributary journeys to China, in connection with the language barriers they often encountered. The translating or interpreting act was significant rhetorically because imperial China typically considered the number of interpreters or the levels of interpreting employed for foreign envoys to communicate with its officials symbolically indicative of how keen these states were to establish ties with China. Relay translation might have been ubiquitous in diplomatic scenes of first-millennium Asia as it was nominally reiterated in the Chinese chronicles to the extent of becoming, in effect, a stock rhetoric. Yet, few concrete examples are archived or discussed at length to specify the level and the nature of indirectness in the linguistic exchanges involved. However, on close examination of some such archived diplomatic encounters, I located, instead, an array of language mediating strategies at work, besides relay translation. This chapter aims to identify the Asian practice of relay translation and oral translation in the early sixth century by approaching neighbor states and hiring ‘foreign interpreters’ to resolve communication problems in diplomatic encounters with China. It also examines peculiarities in the ways in which China-bound diplomatic letters were prepared by states with no written languages. Specifically, the cases of the Hephthalites (468–567 AD) and Silla (57 BC–668 AD), documented in the Liangshu (History of Liang Dynasty [502–557]), are extrapolated here in order to illustrate the various strategies through which these two Asian . Cronin (2006: 115) makes a distinction between homogeneous translators and heterogeneous translators in his account of language mediation in colonial settings. A homogeneous translator refers to the use of translator chosen from the people of the colonial power, whereas a heterogeneous translator from the people of the colonized. Notwithstanding his acute observation of the distinctions, Cronin’s categorization fails to include ‘middle-zone’ interpreters widely deployed in first-millennium Asia. Here, I use ‘foreign interpreter’ to refer to the use of interpreter whose ethnicity or national affiliation belongs to that of neither language A nor language B speakers. . In this monograph, ‘the Hephthalites’ is used to refer to this nomadic horde, and ‘the Heph­ thalite’ is used as an adjective to refer to things relating to this tribe.


Interpreters in Early Imperial China

states confronted linguistic challenges during their visits to sixth-century China. In this chapter, I argue that these two examples might have indicated that ‘relay translation’ as used in China’s archival records was often a loose and generic term to refer to all possible language mediating measures, and it should not be taken literally in all contexts. I also argue that imperial China’s documentation of foreign envoys’ reliance on relay interpreting and oral translation, as well as their use of foreign interpreters, was not simply due to China’s egocentric mindset, but was perhaps a true portrayal of a fact of diplomatic and commercial life in their China visits at the time. This chapter discusses two archived but independent translation events involving the Hephthalites in 520 and Silla in 521 whereby their envoys embarked on the arduous journey to foster links with China. It aims at documenting the numerous mediating strategies, such as relay translation, interpreting, oral translation, and letter scripting, inferred from these archived interlingual events in sixth-century Asia. It also aims at identifying two major contingency means through which the foregoing strategies could be applied, namely, approaching adjacent states of more advanced civilizations and hiring foreign interpreters for interpreting and scripting assistance. These two examples are chosen for three reasons. First, they represent translation events that took place around the same time in the early sixth-century. This temporal homogeneity would facilitate some sort of generalization about interlingual exchanges of the time. Second, these two cases testify the use of a range of translating strategies against a context in which the visiting states neither spoke nor wrote Chinese. Third, these two examples highlight the China-bound traveling experience from the East (sea route) and the West (land route) of China and document the distinct linguistic resources for these states to resolve their communication problems. I should mention that, technically, the language mediation strategies and the two contingency approaches in question, in fact, straddle across the two examples – a testimony to the multiplicity of translation resources across sixth-century Asia. Given this constraint, this chapter is structured as follows: first, an introduction to the commercial interest beyond the political coating of the tribute journeys; second, the tribute journey of the Hephthalites, followed by a discussion of their translation resources: neighbor states with scripts developed and the enterprising Tuyuhun interpreters; third, the case of Silla is presented in connection with the discussions of the Chinese learning sphere and the prestige of written Chinese as a language for diplomatic communication in first-millennium Asia.

Chapter 2.  Bridging language barriers in encounters with China in sixth-century Asia

Commercial interests in tribute journeys Tributary trips were originally conducted to forge ties between countries in ancient diplomacy in Asia, either to lobby for military support for troubled home front, or to gain recognition for newly-found nations or regimes from states with greater prowess. When imperial China was strong, annual tributary visits initiated by its vassal states, or sometimes, its rival states, were considered a sign of respect and, perhaps, a bribe for military protection. As the system evolved, it was significantly blended with commercial interests (Lewis 2008). In other words, tributary states would present regional products or rare items unique to their countries to curry China’s favor. In return, these countries would expect to bring home precious gifts, items unique to China, such as silk, porcelain displays or the like. In practice, staff in the Court of diplomatic receptions (honglusi 鴻臚寺, thereafter, ‘the Court’) would estimate and record the value of these tributary gifts for the government’s tacit consideration regarding the appropriate presents to ‘bestow’ on the envoys’ departure (Pan 1997; Li Hu 1998). In short, China’s bestowal of gifts to visiting envoys was in principle a barter trade (Lattimore 1940), although, not infrequently, envoys from strategically important states would be interviewed in the Court (Lung 2008a), and possibly given an imperial audience for purposes that went beyond commercial concerns. However, these tribute journeys were not purely diplomatic in nature in imperial China (Li Dalong 2001; Shi 2007). Actually, in these delegations, partly backed, possibly by the ruling cliques on both sides, merchants vastly outnumbered envoys in wanting to push their commercial agenda (Li Hu 1998). In the . The name of the office, ‘Honglu 鴻臚’ (literally, to loudly announce [the presentation of somebody] and guide), ‘the Grand Honglu’, or ‘the Court’, was first found in historical records as early as 104 BC during the early Han dynasty, in the reign of emperor Wu (140 BC–87 BC). Such offices set up to handle foreign relations lasted in China until the late Qing dynasty (1644–1911). . Di Cosmo (2002: 285) states that such gifts exchange between China and the foreign peoples existed as early as fourth-century BC China, as verified by a passage in Mu Tianzi zhuan (穆天子傳 Biography of King Mu of Zhou) composed around this time. It reads, “…the Chief of Western Mo (a tribe in the northwest of China) gave Prince Mu (of Western Zhou China) 300 fine horses, 10000 cattle and sheep, and 1000 cartloads of millet. In exchange, Prince Mu gave him 29 golden necklaces, 30 belts of shells, 300 pouches of pearls, and 100 plants of cinnamon and ginger”. . Merchants were believed to make profit through exploiting others and were thus viewed with contempt in early imperial China. They were placed last after intellectuals, peasants, and laborers among the four major categorizations of civilians, a fact which may explain why the commercial nature of tributary events was disguised.



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

end, the exchange of gifts, whose value had been assessed, between two countries, would have, in reality, amounted to a proper trade activity. Indeed, monetary gains generated from the subsequent trading of these ‘gifts’ from China must have been quite attractive to have enticed so many merchants to embark on such distant journeys in their disguise as, or in the company of, envoys, their motive ostensibly being simply for official protection at the time. Crucially, the upside of blending into tributary delegations was to avoid the risks of being robbed or killed en route to China. With this concern in mind, it is understandable why most tributary delegations numbered up to several thousand people in one single visit. Even when China was divided, as in the North and South dynasties (196–581), visiting envoys came in hordes to trade their ‘tributes’ all the same. After all, there was business to be done in the exchange of marketable goods, in times of either strength or weakness in imperial China. This suggests that the ultimate agenda of these tributary visits was not altogether driven by political considerations. Numerous archival records of China on foreign contacts in antiquity survive as vivid testimony to the common practice of relay interpreting. This linguistic reality is reiterated in China’s archival records of earlier contacts with foreigners. Typically, the word yi was often found in the historic description of foreign envoys’ journeys to China (Li Hu 1998; Li Nanqiu 2002). This reflects the common use of translators in China-bound embassy missions at the time. China might have been condescending towards the ‘uncreative’ skills and profession of translators in the olden days, but the level of indirectness of translation required during the foreign envoys’ journeys to the country was taken seriously. This introduces the concept of relay interpreting, which refers to the use of two or more interpreters, each with distinct language-pair responsibilities, in foreigners’ journeys to China. Relay interpreting was frequently emphasized in ancient Chinese chronicles because the number of interpreters required for the China visit, according to the imperial Chinese rhetoric, was indicative of the other states’ eagerness to forge ties with it. Their need to employ several interpreters, in relays, to make the China visit, thus became a subject matter that warranted recurrent and emphatic references in its archives. Naturally, self-important and self-absorbed statements about . Marinus from the country of Tyre in Rome, who specializes in the study of ancient Roman geography, reported that a group of Roman merchants had disguised themselves as “a Roman embassy” to visit Latter Han China in 100–101 (Yu 2005: 237). . See Li Mingwei (1994: 26) for a discussion of “the Tuyuhun’s commercial role in protecting traveling envoys and merchants”, and the typical scale of these tributary visits. . The Court normally recruited twenty translators (Yuan and Pan 1997: 42), who ranked no higher than the seventh tier in the traditional nine-tier hierarchy (with the first being the superior one).

Chapter 2.  Bridging language barriers in encounters with China in sixth-century Asia

celebrating­ ­diplomatic encounters with countries afar were often archived, possibly out of sheer ethno-centrism of imperial China (Hung 2005a). China was entitled to be boastful of the visiting envoys’ use of multiple interpreters in its own archive. But exactly how much one can read into these archived encounters is another matter, considering that the standard archives, commissioned by the imperial families, were often polished to serve the interest of the ruling clique (Hung 2005b). Despite this possible limitation, such archival records do verify that relay translation represented one of the contingency measures in interlingual communication in first-millennium Asia. Yet, other mediating measures, set against the political context of the times, and easily overshadowed by the nominal and generic reference to relay translation, should nonetheless not be dismissed too lightly. This chapter aims to achieve exactly that: to identify other linguistic mediating strategies, besides relay translation, as practiced, but not often sufficiently documented, during this period.

The Hephthalites The Hephthalites (468–567) was referred to as Hua state (滑國) in the Liangshu or Yada (嚈噠) in the subsequent Chinese historical records. The Hephthalites, known also as the Ephthal (乙坲), the Nephthal, or the White Huns in European historiography, was a menacing state in Central Asia that was in existence for a century. The Hephthalite Huns were a Mongol-Turko tribe which originated in the Altai Mountain and had expanded into the present-day Russian Turkestan (Walford 1970). A nomadic horde, initially submitted to the Avars (Juan-juan, or Rouran [柔然] in Chinese), the Hephthalites rapidly expanded to the west to acquire, through military coercion, the Tokharian regions, which refers to autonomous states, such as Sogdiana, Balkh, Bactria, and Tokharistan, by about 440. A piece of first-hand information about this empire comes from Song Yun (宋雲), a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, who had an audience with the Hephthalite khan in 520 during his summer residence at Badakhshan. In Song Yun’s account, (t)hey do not live in towns; their seat of government is a moving camp. Their dwellings are of felt. They move in search of water and pasture, journeying in summer to cool places and in winter to warmer ones. …they serve a great number of divinities…kill living creatures and are eaters of bloody meat.  (Walford’s translation, 1970: 70)

. ‘Hua 滑’ was pronounced as ‘gu’ in ancient Chinese vernacular, a short form for Oγuz, a steppe people from Mongolia. See Cen (2004b: 202–7) for its history.


26 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

Song Yun’s writing of this empire dated in 520, a prime time in its glory, indicates that its mode of living was still nomadic. The people of this tribe were infamously known to be cruel and tyrannical, massacring two-thirds of citizens before taking over Kandahar. In its heydays during the early sixth century, its sphere of influence once spanned from Lake Balkhash and the Aral Sea right to the heart of Afghanistan and the Punjab. Western sources documenting the Huns focus largely on their participation in the Roman warfare as hired soldiers in the fourth through fifth centuries. In the words of Hildinger (1997), from his research on the military history of Central Asia, the Huns were nomadic, ferocious, and illiterate. It was only in the Chinese historical record that we came to know more nonmilitary facet of this horde. Events took a turn for the worse against this ominous horde when the rise of the Turks (552–742) and its alliance with Sassanid Persia (226–651) eventually crushed the Hephthalite empire in 567. Since the empire, a brutal invader of neighboring states, had never created a script, regrettably, not much is left behind regarding its culture in its century-long existence in the Central Asian history. This is also characteristic of early states in central Eurasia, during the first half of the first millennium, as well in Christopher Beckwith’s observation, Before the Early Middle Ages most of Eurasia, including nearly all of Central Eurasia, was essentially a blank. The languages spoken in most of its subregions before that time are unknown, and in many places not even a foreign literary language was written, so there is no local history, literature, or other record of the cultures there.  (Beckwith 2009: 155)

In this regard, China’s meticulous historiography of its contact with numerous foreign peoples, although a ‘one-sided’ account, helps to retain histories for peoples or states without their own written records of events. In fact, many of the Central Asian states conquered by the Hephthalites were of more advanced civilizations with developed scripts. The Tokharian region that came under the control of the Hephthalites in the fifth and sixth centuries, for instance, was “Bactrian-speaking and used a Bactrian script, which was linguistically affiliated to the ancient Iranian language” (Ma Xiaohe 2005: 18). How did a military empire with no written language extend its rule over numerous states in Central Asia of more sophisticated development than their own social structure? In analyzing the language situation in Central Asia in the first millennium, Pulleyblank (1966: 16) observes that, “nomadic conquerors occupying a populous settled land are quite likely to adopt the language of their more civilized subjects.” Apparently, the Hephthalites had not yet evolved that far though. Yu Taishan (1986) and, at a later time, Ma Xiaohe (2005) conjecture that the Hephthalites might have transformed a conquered state in the Tokharian region into their puppet government to govern a

Chapter 2.  Bridging language barriers in encounters with China in sixth-century Asia

swath of ­sedentary states there, using, probably, Bactrian as the language of administration. This observation is in line with the initially ambiguous description of this empire in the Liangshu: “使旁國胡為胡書,[the Hephthalites] asked their neighbor state for scripting assistance, using the language of the adjacent state, for written correspondence” (Liangshu 54: 812). This description was perplexing precisely because it was an understatement of the power hierarchy between the Hephthalites and their adjacent states (discussed further below). With the scripting assistance (or service) of, probably, their puppet state, the Hephthalites’ lack of a script, therefore, did not hinder their attempt to trade with China and enrich their material culture. The Hephthalites paid a total of five visits to Liang China despite their superior national strength over Liang China. In fact, Liang China was only a weak regime in the south of China proper that co-existed with a competing northern regime [Northern Wei (420–534)], both claiming mandates to rule the whole of China. Moreover, no historical record speaks of any of their political dealings, so the visits might have been mostly commercial in nature. This assumption is supported by their discrepancy in national strengths. By 520 the Hephthalites had already conquered Sogdiana, Sassanid Persia, Kandahar, and Kabul. They certainly did not need Liang China’s military protection or political favor. It must have been something of a material nature that triggered the Hephthalites’ recurrent visits. Having been so engrossed in their territorial conquests and massive empire-building projects, the Hephthalites had not developed a written language to match their military prowess. The Hephthalite passage: 無文字,以木為契。與旁國通,則使旁國胡為胡書,……其言語待河南 (Liangshu 54: 812) 人譯然後通。 [The Hephthalites] had not [developed their] written language, and [therefore] contracts [in the form of tallies] were carved on wood. Having been in communication with an adjacent state, [the Hephthalites] asked their neighbor state for scripting assistance, using the language of the adjacent state, for written correspondence […] their spoken language was only communicated through the interpreting of people from Henan (Tuyuhun).10

10. The Tuyuhun people were referred to as the Henan people (河南人) in Chinese sources because its leader was bestowed with the title of “king of Henan” by various regimes from the fourth through the sixth centuries (Shi 2007). Its people lived in “the south of the [Yellow] River” (the literal meaning of “Henan”), and that was another reason why they were known as the Henan people.



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

This passage contained in the Liangshu is incredibly succinct, and inevitably, a lot of information, essential to a thorough interpretation, might have been insufficiently stated. Nevertheless, it is in fact an extremely informative text regarding the history of translation in first-millennium Asia.11 The understated message of this passage, most crucially, is that the Hephthalites had no written language, and that would be problematic in the control and governing of conquered states of more advanced civilizations. As discussed earlier, in order to better govern their expanded empire, the Hephthalites transformed one state in the Tokharian region into a puppet government to administer the Hephthalite rule over the newly submitted states, which most likely also shared the same script as the puppet state. A logical deduction for our purpose is that similarly, the Hephthalites might have asked, if not instructed, their conquered state to ghostwrite letters to China, in a language that was not necessarily Chinese, to facilitate their China visits. Admittedly, the Hephthalites were probably interested exclusively in the commercial gains out of their China visit, but as a matter of diplomatic etiquette and protocol, they had to present, alongside their imperial visit, a decent state letter.12 Coming from a formidable empire, the request for the scripting of state letters must have been readily obliged by their adjacent, if not the puppet, state, whichever that was.13 According to the Liangshu (54: 812), envoys of three small states 11. Unfortunately when this passage was first discussed in Lung (2008b), the Tuyuhun’s mediating impact and the Hephthalites’ reliance on the scripting assistance of their conquered state was not duly analyzed. 12. According to He Fangchuan (2003: 68), state letter, also known as “biao 表” in China’s archives, was the letter visiting envoys presented to the Chinese emperor on behalf of their rulers. Proper diplomatic etiquette required the superiority of the Chinese emperor to be clearly recognized and stated in the letter. Foreign envoys would probably not be received by the emperor if this rule was not adhered to. For example, in 607 during the Sui dynasty, envoys from Yamato (倭國 Waguo, known as Japan after 700) were denied an audience with the emperor simply because Yamato presented itself as an equal to the Chinese empire, in its use of ‘unacceptable’ terms of address in its state letter, which reads, “The Son of Heaven in the land of the rising sun [referring to Yamato] sends this letter to the Son of Heaven of the land where the sun sets [referring to China]”. Emperor Yang read the letter with great displeasure and instructed the chamberlain of the Court to stop presenting to him letters from the “yi 夷” (literally, foreign people) who had no sense of proper etiquette (Suishu 81: 1872). In the history of imperial China, meanings of “yi 夷” carry the more neutral connotations of “foreign” or “strange” as well. See the various uses of this term as discussed at length in Liu (2004). 13. Ma Xiaohe (2005: 20–21) examined some Bactrian manuscripts unearthed in northern Afghanistan about two decades ago and noted some written records relating to the Tokharian civilians’ tax payment to the Hephthalite king. Based on the recurrent use of the word “λαβίρό”, a

Chapter 2.  Bridging language barriers in encounters with China in sixth-century Asia

geographically next to the Hephthalites,14 namely, Karghalik (周古柯) (Yarkand), Kabadiyan (柯跋檀), and Kumedhan (胡蜜丹) (regions closed to the frontier between northern Afghanistan and southern most Russia) (Cen 1961/1981; Kaneko 2006),15 tagged along with the Hephthalites heading to China in 520. The fact that these three states asked to travel with the Hephthalite envoys may suggest that they all faced, in different degrees, a language problem, although this could also simply be due to a sense of reassured security being in the company of envoys from a military empire.16 My conjecture is that Kumedhan might have been the state that ghostwrote the quasi state letter for the Hephthalites. First, Kumedhan, also known as Dharmasthiti in Tang times in the seventh century, was in fact located in the Tokharian region in which a number of Bactrian-speaking states thrived under the Heph­ thalite influence (Xuanzang 646). We cannot of course claim, with the existing evidence, that Kumedhan was Hephthalites’ puppet state. But against this unique political background and considering the geographical and linguistic affiliations of Kumedhan, it is quite possible that Kumedhan might have been the state that offered the scripting, if not the oral translation, of the Hephthalite letter to facilitate their China visit. Second, in the Zhigongtu (職貢圖) produced in Liang

loan word from a western Iranian language that literally means “a writing clerk”, Ma conjectures that the Hephthalites might have actively relied on the scripting services of their adjacent state to administer their rule over other submitted regions of more advanced civilizations. 14. Cen (1961/1981: 481) examined the description of the Liangshu and identified its errors regarding the claimed geographical locations of the three small states. Cen says the impression that these three states were next to the Hephthalites might have been generated through the mistaken translation of the interpreters that these foreign states brought along. In fact, the Heph­thalites were situated on the west of the Pamir Mountains, while Karghalik was on the East and Kumedhan was on the south of the Pamirs. 15. Each of the three states presented a horse, silver or glassware to the Liang emperor. The Hephthalites presented a lion, an ermine fur coat, and a Persian rug (Liangshu 54: 812). 16. Foltz (1999: 9) says, “if one needed or wanted to travel from one place to another in premodern Asia, the most prudent way (indeed, virtually the only way) of ensuring one would survive the trip was to join up with a caravan heading in the direction one wished to go…Inner Asia contains vast tracts of inhospitable land, often with little water and sparse human settlements frequently separated by great distances…The most physically challenging regions also tended to be those farthest from the reach of governmental administrations, making them prime grounds for banditry…There is safety in numbers, and caravans could be made up of anywhere from several dozen to several thousand travelers at a time…Occasionally caravans would receive military escorts through particularly dangerous or unruly areas.”



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

China,17 letters from these three small states were actually inserted, at least in part, in the vertically-written accounts placed next to their envoys’ portraits, as shown here in Figure 1.

Figure 1.  Part of the Zhigongtu displaying the envoy portraits and accounts of Karghalik, Kabadiyan, and Kumedhan (from right to left), courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia. org/wiki/File:Zhigongtu_full.

However, rather awkwardly, it is only in Kumedhan’s letter that the Hephthalite visit to China was documented. The letter reads, close to the end of the second line of this account, “…今滑使到聖國‚用附函啟…” (…Now, the Hephthalite embassy came and visited this consecrated country, and their letter was attached here with utmost respect”). This letter, of course, makes no mention of ­Kumedhan having scripted the Hephthalite letter, yet the delivering of that letter as an attachment in Kumedhan’s letter to China is quite bizarre when obviously the Heph­thalite envoys were present there. I guess the Chinese translator of their letters, having learned of their ghostwriting arrangement, might have taken the liberty of drawing the imperial court’s attention to this measured effort. Indeed,

17. Literally a painting of [twenty-five] tribute bearers (only twelve portraits still extant), each followed by a written account about its respective country, apparently completed by emperor Yuan of Liang China in 539. One existing Zhigongtu, displayed in the National Museum of History in Beijing, China, was said to be an imitation produced in the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127). The original was believed to have been destroyed during the Anlushan Rebellion (755–763) in the mid-eighth century. See Zhao Canpeng (2011) for the analysis of three existing versions of the Zhigongtu and its written accounts.

Chapter 2.  Bridging language barriers in encounters with China in sixth-century Asia

the Liang Chinese court must have been somehow informed of their scripting arrangement, otherwise this practice would not be markedly documented in the account of the Hephthalites in the Liangshu. Unfortunately, the Hephthalite letter was not documented either in the Liangshu or the Zhigongtu to throw further light on this subtle (oral) translation event which is known to have been conducted then. The coverage and the sequence of the textual accounts in the Zhigongtu were particularly suggestive of the strength and importance of each state in the eyes of Liang China. The power discrepancy between the Hephthalites and the three states, for instance, was most explicit in the length of their textual accounts in the Zhigongtu. Whereas the Hephthalite account, placed first among the twenty-five states, contains three hundred words, each of those by the three states includes no more than a hundred, as shown in Figure 1.18 The discrepancy in this regard is even more alarming in the Liangshu in which the accounts of these small states were trimmed to around twenty words each. For instance, it was not mentioned in the Liangshu if the three “adjacent” states had any communication problems in their journey to China. It might not be so mistaken to assume that these states might also have required language mediation, since the Hephthalite letter scripted, possibly, by a Kumedhan scribe, was in Bactrian, an Indo-European script, not Chinese. We can safely deduce that none of these three states would have had any knowledge of written Chinese. However, their linguistic needs obviously did not capture the attention of the Liang chroniclers, because, quite frankly, in Liang China’s diplomatic taxonomy and ideology, the rhetorical significance of the use of oral translation and interpreters in communicating with China would have been more note-worthy with major states, such as the Hephthalites.

The Tuyuhun: “Interpreters” on the Silk Road Besides relying, presumably, on Kumedhan for the scripting of a letter for their China visit, the Hephthalites also solicited the interpreting assistance of the

18. The sequence of the twelve existing portraits for visiting envoys in the Zhigongtu carries a subtle political message of Liang China in which the Hephthalite envoy is the first on the list, while those of the three small states are positioned eighth through to the tenth. This deliberate sequence is suggestive of their relative significance to China. The countries documented in this painting, in sequence, are: the Hephthalites, Persia, Paekche (North Korea), Guizi, Yamato (Japan), Dangchang (Gansu, China), Langyaxiu (Central Malaysia), Dengzhi (Sichuan, China), Karghalik, Kabadiyan, Kumedhan, Baiti, and Mo.



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

­ uyuhun people.19 The Liangshu description of “其言語待河南人譯然後通” T (their spoken language was only communicated through the interpreting of people from Henan [Tuyuhun]) seems to be in line with Liang China’s testimony that the Hephthalite vernacular was only understood via the Tuyuhun interpreters. Yu Taishan claims that, “the Hephthalites originated from a tribe called Ephthal who resided in the northern part of the Mongolian steppes where, typically, the Xianbei (*Särbi 鮮卑) people lived” (2001: 189–190). Yu suggests that the spoken language of the Hephthalites was unique and might have been a mixed variety of the Xianbei language and the Koguryǒ (高句麗) vernacular, considering their close proximity. Why would the Tuyuhun people be able to understand such a lesser known vernacular? In fact, historically, the Tuyuhun (329–663), originating from the Mongolic-Xianbei people in the Inner Mongolia, were a nomadic tribe having lived in the northwestern part of China. So, the Tuyuhun’s original affiliation to Xianbei and their possible exposure to the Koguryǒ vernacular might have explained their comprehension of the Hephthalite vernacular. The multilingual ability of the Tuyuhun people was inseparable from their expansion history. Ever since the fourth century, the Tuyuhun had moved towards the south and the west in order to exercise control over a swath of areas around Gansu (甘肅), Sichuan, and Qinghai (青海), and in the process, naturally absorbed a considerable proportion of the ethnic population of Di and Qiang origins in these regions. After the downfall of Western Qin (秦) (351–420) and Xia (夏) (413–428) Chinese regimes, the Tuyuhun integrated most of their territories alongside their peoples and properties. This explains the Tuyuhun’s rapid rise as a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual state in the fifth and sixth centuries in a critical landmass encompassing the key juncture of China and Central Asia. Therefore, the Tuyuhun people customarily, over centuries, served as guides and intermediaries for generations of merchants or envoys coming along the Silk Road in the first millennium. The Xianbei people were the majority in the Tuyuhun population mix, while the other peoples under the Tuyuhun rule were the Di, Turks, Highcarts, Huns, Qiang (Sino-Tibetan speaking), Sogdians (Indo-European speaking, of ancient Iranian ethnicity),20 and Chinese. The ruling language was the Xianbei language 19. The Tuyuhun state, understood both as the name of the state and of its people, was established in 329 by Sun Yeyan (孫葉延), and was named after his grandfather. 20. In the Tuyuhun’s territorial expansion, regions, such as Khotan (于闐), Lop Nor (鄯善) and Chemo (且末) in which a considerable number of Sogdians lived were thus incorporated into the Tuyuhun population. Interestingly, although the Tuyuhun were crushed by Tibet in 663, their heritage in being guides and translators for peoples traveling in the region, was, in fact, primarily perpetuated by the Sogdians until the tenth century (Foltz 1999). The Sogdians’ roles

Chapter 2.  Bridging language barriers in encounters with China in sixth-century Asia

(Altaic-Mongolian speaking, not existing), but the Chinese language was also widely used there. One source of their Chinese exposure was the migration of Chinese people from the Yi Province (益州) to the Tuyuhun. According to the Liangshu, 其地與益州隣,常通商賈,民慕其利,多往從之,教其書記,為之辭譯。  (Liangshu 54: 810) [The Tuyuhun] was situated right next to the Yi Province with which regular trading relation was developed. The people [in the Yi Province] were drawn by the profits generated from such trades and would travel to the Tuyuhun to teach them the way to write and make records [in Chinese], apart from translating for them.

These migrants turned out to be the carriers of the Chinese culture when in fact their ultimate goal of moving to the Tuyuhun was to benefit from transactions with peoples from the Western Regions, relying on their pivotal geographical position on the Silk Road. Besides being a multilingual state, the Tuyuhun also had an edge as the hub of inland transport in the middle period of the first millennium. Qinghai, where the majority of the Tuyuhun people resided, had a reputation for breeding superior horses, and this feature of their survival mode might have had important bearings on their classic role as mediators for remote travelers. Horses could be purchased, either as tributes or commodities, to trade with the southern dynasties, so the Tuyuhun’s provision of superb horses certainly consolidated their transport and mediating businesses with distant travelers. Moreover, the Tuyuhun’s dynamic mercantile experience with surrounding regions also empowered their position as guides to international merchants. For instance, the Tuyuhun had commercial links with peoples from the Mongolian steppes in the north, Central Asia in the west, the Tibetan plateau and India in the south, and of course, south and north dynastic Chinese regimes in the east.21 For example in 553, the Tuyuhun guided 240 non-Chinese merchants with a total of 600 camels and donkeys, as well as tens of thousand rolls of silky fabric to the northern regime. Let us now go back to the discussion of the linguistic mediation of the Tuyuhun people as recorded in the Liangshu. The tasks as linguistic and transport guides for travelers bypassing the Tuyuhun state were ways of making a living for the Tuyuhun people. Of interest to historians of translation is that the Tuyuhun­ as trading and linguistic agents were so widely recognized among peoples crisscrossing Central Asia and China that the Sogdian language practically became the commercial lingua franca in Central Asia and western China at the time. 21. The Tuyuhun were astute in maintaining ties with both regimes. According to the Beiqishu (北齊書), the Tuyuhun had sent envoys or trading missions to Northern Wei (北魏) (420–534) China alone for sixty-one times.



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

interpreters as ‘foreign interpreters’ were distinct because they were affiliated to neither the Hephthalites nor China. They were not, as the Liangshu implies, “homogenous interpreters” brought along from the Hephthalite empire. Notably, their language mediation role was purely a commercial dealing. It must be emphasized that the Kumedhan’s supposedly scripting assistance to the Hephthalites in churning out a state letter to China was likely the best it could do as far as linguistic mediation goes. Kumedhan’s lack of Chinese knowledge was reflected in its use of Bactrian, not Chinese, in its letter to China. Therefore, the Hephthalites’ use of Tuyuhun interpreters instead of the Kumedhan’s scribe in their China visit was not unreasonable. If the Hephthalites and the three small states did indeed hire the Tuyuhun interpreters to help them out with spoken communication, among other forms of assistance, with China by accompanying them to the capital, these interpreters might also have assisted them with the Chinese translation of their state letters. Now, with reference to Cen Zhongmian’s remark in footnote 14 that the translators these foreign states brought along might have been confused with their geographical position, it is possible that the mistakes were probably made by the Tuyuhun interpreters to begin with, not the Chinese interpreters, if any, from the Liang court.

Silla After examining how states from Central Asia paid visits to Liang China in 520, we now turn to the scenario of China-bound visits from East Asia around the same time frame. We observe in the foregoing discussion that some states chose to make their China trips together. Apparently, as the archival records unveil, it was not unusual for envoys from adjacent states to travel to China as a group, although how the joint-trip was negotiated remains unclear. According to the Liangshu, envoys of Silla tagged along with the diplomatic delegation of Paekche (both of them then kingdoms in Korea) to China in 521.22 One of the motives of these two vassal states to travel to China jointly may have been related to language barriers faced by Silla – a state “too small to pay tribute on its own” (Liangshu 54) and not as advanced as Paekche in the acculturation of

22. Although it was the first Sillan visit to Liang China, it was not the first time Silla joined Paekche’s tributary trip. In 367, Silla asked to join Paekche in the latter’s official visit to Yamato. However, it was never clear whether Silla’s participation was motivated by linguistic needs or political considerations. After all, Paekche was a pioneer, among the Korean kingdoms, in its diplomatic ties with China and its Chinese learning.

Chapter 2.  Bridging language barriers in encounters with China in sixth-century Asia

Chinese learning.23 This is understandable because in 521, Silla’s exposure to the Chinese civilization was mostly filtered through Paekche, since Silla was located on the southeast of the Korean peninsula, while Paekche was on the southwest. Besides, Paekche obtained its vassal status much earlier partly because of its proximity to China as compared to Silla.24 Its third-place position in the Zhigongtu, immediately after the Hephthalites and Persia, most prominently, speaks of Paekche’s importance to Liang China. In three out of the five Paekche visits to Liang China (512, 521, 534, 541, and 549), the Paekche king was bestowed imperial titles, and that was highly suggestive of their bonding. During this time, Silla (placed eighth in the Zhigongtu), a small vassal state not having created their own script, solicited linguistic assistance from Paekche to communicate with China. The Silla passage: 無文字,刻木為信。語言待百濟而後通焉。

(Liangshu 54: 806)

[Silla] had not [developed their] written language, and [therefore] contracts [in the form of tallies] were carved on wood. [Their] spoken language was only communicated through the mediation of Paekche.  (Lung’s translation, 2008a: 189)

When this passage was translated in Lung (2008a), the use of yuyan (語言, literally, language) here as opposed to the use of yanyu (言語, literally, spoken language) in the Hephthalite passage, unfortunately, was not thoroughly analyzed and communicated in the translation. The meticulous reversal of the Chinese character in these two terms, probably chronicled around the same time, suggests a major, and yet easily overlooked, difference in their meanings. Specifically, 言語 (yanyu) refers to the spoken discourse or spoken language, and 語言 (yuyan) is a more generic term that denotes the sounds, words, grammar, and structure of a language. In short, yanyu suggests the spoken mode of a language, and yuyan, both the spoken and written modes. As such, the use of “spoken language” in the

23. Paekche showed an early interest in the learning of Chinese culture, institutions, and language. For numerous times since the fourth century, Paekche approached various Chinese regimes for Chinese classics, Buddhist sutras, and Chinese masters to advance its understanding of both the Chinese culture and language. 24. Koguryǒ’s (37 BC–668 AD) territory was connected with that of Northeastern China and had had the privilege of early Buddhist influence from Western Qin China as early as 372. Advanced colleges of Chinese studies that taught the Five Classics were set up around that time (Zhou 1997: 552). The Five Classics are: Classic of Changes, Classic of History, Classic of Poetry, the Collection of Rituals, and the Spring and Autumn Annals. Proficiency in these texts was required for any scholar applying for a post in the vast government bureaucracy in imperial China.



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

translation of Silla’s case in Lung (2008a), in hindsight, was incorrect. Silla must have relied on the Paekche translators to handle both their spoken and written communication (possibly the oral translation, if not the writing, of a state letter in Chinese) with China in 521.

Homogeneous translators or foreign translators? As a short section to draw to a close the discussions of the Hephthalites and Silla, I would like to shift the focus to a wider issue relating to the use of translators in sixth-century China. Was there a pattern we can generalize from these interlingual exchanges? Were translators provided in the imperial Chinese court? Or did the visiting envoys simply bring along their own translators to serve their communication needs in the China visit? These questions pertinent to the identity of diplomatic translators have always been a moot point in the historical study of China’s foreign diplomacy. But the parallel discourse structure in these two passages, shown below, has in fact left us with sufficient hints as to the probable answer. 其言語待河南人譯然後通。 …their spoken language was only communicated through the interpreting of people from Henan [Tuyuhun];  (Liangshu 54: 812) and 語言待百濟而後通焉。 …their language was only communicated through the mediation of Paekche.  (Liangshu 54: 806)

These two passages, taken from the Liangshu, should be read from the perspective of Liang China. In this connection, the gloss of the Hephthalite passage would be: the [Liang Chinese court] came to understand the [Hephthalite] vernacular thanks to the interpreting of the Tuyuhun people. It is very likely that the Liang historian intended to relate that the language mediation with the Hephthalite delegates was facilitated by the Tuyuhun interpreter(s) who they hired to accompany them to China. Likewise, the meaning of the second passage would be: [Silla’s] language was communicated [to the Liang Chinese court] through [the translation of] Paekche [people]. Again, we can safely assume that Silla did not rely on any translators from the Chinese court, but solicited, instead, the translation assistance of someone from Paekche, possibly a delegate in the Paekche embassy. Incidentally, there is no trace of any translators from the Chinese court in the archive concerning the foregoing diplomatic encounters. My conjecture is that, at least, in early sixth-century China, there seemed to be a tacit understanding

Chapter 2.  Bridging language barriers in encounters with China in sixth-century Asia

among visiting states that they were expected to arrange translators or interpreters on their own to facilitate their China visit (Cen 1961/1981). It was possible that very limited interpreting support, if any, would be initiated from Liang China, considering the flimsy archived evidence pertinent to its translation officials (Li Hu 1998). If this was indeed the scenario at this period, the way in which the Hephthalites and Silla resolved their communication problems might have been typical cases of this specific historical practice. In other words, the visiting envoys would consciously approach or hire ‘foreign interpreters’ during their China-bound journeys when they could not afford any homogenous interpreters competent in Chinese in their home countries.

Chinese learning sphere In first-millennium Asia, literacy in written Chinese and, ideally, the attainment of high style classical Chinese writing were yardsticks by which to measure the level of Chinese learning of the Asian states. The scale of Chinese learning during this period could best be understood in the context of the ‘Chinese learning sphere’. Taking shape in the early centuries of the first millennium, the Chinese learning sphere centered around China and stretched to include the three Korean states, Yamato, and Vietnam. Known also as the Chinese cultural sphere, it featured the use of written Chinese as their common medium of diplomatic missives, the adoption of the Chinese rituals and legal institutions, and the promotion of Confucianism as their cultural essence. Paekche, as reiterated earlier, was most enthusiastic in learning from China; the account of Paekche in the Liangshu reads, 累遣使獻方物;並請涅盤等經義、毛詩博士,並工匠、畫師等。  (Liangshu 54: 805) [Paekche] kept coming to present regional produce [in 534 and 541], and requested imperial masters for the teaching of Nibbāna (or, Nirvāna) and other Buddhist sutras, the interpretation of the Classic of Poetry, as well as official sculpture masters and painters to be dispatched to Paekche for cultural exchanges.

It was widely acknowledged that written Chinese was commonly used in diplomatic communication across countries in East Asia (Wright 1978; Feng 2004b; Kaneko 2006) and Eastern Central Asia (Frye 1996) during the first millennium. Such a linguistic choice in favor of the Chinese language, in fact, was inseparable from the concept of Chinese cultural sphere.25 Besides requesting Chinese 25. See Lung (2009b: 165–166) for further features and examples of Chinese learning among the Asian states at the time.



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

t­ ranslation of Buddhist sutras as a way of learning from China, Paekche also improved its Chinese literacy through the cultural dissemination of the early Chinese immigrants and their descendants from north-eastern China in the early fifth-century (Beckwith 2009: 104–5). By the sixth-century, not surprisingly, the indigenous Paekche people, primarily the ruling clique and the nobles, had already mastered the classical Chinese language quite well.26 Apart from the practical needs to compose and read Chinese missives at a time when classical Chinese was the language of prestige (Ma Yihong 2005), learning the Chinese writing and language was crucial to the East Asian countries in their centuries’ pursuit of learning from China. Paekche, as an active member of the Chinese learning sphere, assisted in mediating culture between China and other East Asian states.27 It came as no surprise then that, in our early example, the Paekche translators (envoys?) were approached for intermediary assistance to facilitate Silla’s written and spoken communication with China in 521.

Scripting of state letters for China: Stakes and strategies The examples of the Hephthalites and Silla are indicative of the norm at the time that paying visits to China without state letters from their rulers was simply not an option. What these foreign states did was to observe the imperial protocol and approach their ‘literate’ tributary companions to compose, if not translate, letters to serve the purpose, lest their trading, among other, interests be put at risk. Although these letters were not necessarily written in Chinese, as in the case of the Hephthalites for which, in all probability, a Bactrian script was used, their symbolic significance in terms of being seen as respectful of China, was crucial. Ultimately, if the letter – to be submitted to the Court and eventually to be presented to the emperor – was not properly prepared with the appropriate rhetoric to reflect China’s superiority, imperial audience would be denied, and trading opportunities, of major concern to the tributary representatives, would be jeopardized. The failure to adhere to the imperial protocol regarding state letters to China was stigmatic and would indeed be ‘penalized’. In its first full embassy visit to Sui China (581–618) in 607, Yamato suffered a diplomatic setback not because of its 26. The Paekche state letters to Song [Songshu 97] and Qi [Nanqishu 58] China displayed an ornate and rhythmic classical style typical of writings in Southern dynastic China from the fourth through sixth centuries. 27. See Lung (2009a: 165–166) for Yamato’s absorption of Chinese culture and learning through the teaching of Buddhist monks from Paekche.

Chapter 2.  Bridging language barriers in encounters with China in sixth-century Asia

inadequate Chinese writing,28 but rather its failure to assert China’s superiority in its letter (to be explained in Chapter 3), which was then frowned upon as a blatant attempt to claim equal status with China (Lung 2009a: 167). The Yamato envoys were thus denied any imperial audience. Knowing how much China valued propriety, even visiting states with challenged literacy, as in the examples of the Hephthalites and Silla, would exhaust their means to come up with ‘presentable’ letters to China in order to conform to the expected etiquette. The scripting of Chinese letters for tributary visits was less of a challenge for states within the Chinese learning sphere, but it was certainly a difficult, if not an insurmountable task for countries outside the sphere. How did these states with limited exposure to Chinese learning observe this expected norm in those days? In his study on the peculiar similarities found in various state letters addressed to first-millennium China, Kaneko (2006) examines numerous diplomatic letters from Asian states and comes up with a cross-referencing theory. Kaneko finds that Ceylon’s (Srilanka) letter written for Liang China in 527 bears surprisingly close resemblance to the one having been presented to Song China (420–477) in 428 (Kawakami 2006: 43–45), a lapse of a century. Does this mean that such state letters were substantially ‘recycled’? Striking similarities were also noted between a letter presented by an Indian state to Song China in 428 and a letter addressed to Liang China by another Indian state in 502 (Kaneko 2006: 314–315). Kaneko argues, with good reasons, that copies of century-old China-bound letters must have been preserved by some Asian states for writing reference, although, I admit, the awkward usage displayed in some of these letters was never consciously revised by scribes over the century. One other possible scenario, rarely proposed, is that, perhaps, copies of state letters to China might have been retained by enterprising translators around the middle period of the first millennium for future reference. In fact, considering the commercial nature of the Tuyuhun’s mediating role in east-west communication on the Silk Road, it is not impossible that when requested by envoys passing-by to compose a letter to China, the Tuyuhun mediators might have taken one out from their ‘archive’ and scripted one accordingly, customized to fit the needs of the clients. With this in view, it is entirely conceivable why some states could generate letters with considerable resemblance to those submitted by other states decades ago. This conjectural scenario is plausible given the Tuyuhun’s typical role as the intermediary in East-West communication during this period 28. Quite on the contrary, “Yamato displayed immaculate Chinese writing, both in language and rhetorical style” thanks to its extended period of Chinese learning from early centuries in the first millennium and “its active learning from the Chinese masters from Paekche” (Wu 1998: 149; Abramson 2008: 10).


40 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

and its possible archive of letter drafts for future scripting references in written communication with China at the time. Moreover, diplomatic letters delivered to Liang China were often inflated with Buddhist sentiment as a way to pander to the liking of the Liang emperor, since Buddhism was then prized as the state religion. Of note, is that most people in the Tuyuhun were Buddhist, and their envoys had also, on numerous tributary occasions in China, requested copies of Chinese sutras. In principle, the Tuyuhun translators would have been quite capable of writing or translating letters embellished with Buddhist rhetorical style. Circumstantial factors being considered, the possibility of the Tuyuhun translators having produced Chinese letters or the Chinese translation of foreign letters cannot be flatly ruled out. I am inclined to favor this idea because, strangely enough, there is no archival evidence pointing to the provision of scripting or translation services for visiting envoys in China at the time. It is true that the Court of diplomatic receptions was still in existence nominally in Liang China; however, its translation officials, having been made obsolete since Latter Han (25–220) times (Li Hu 1998), were never thoroughly re-installed until Sui China in the late-sixth century. Therefore, as suggested earlier, historical accounts about translation officials during the ­Liang times are minimal. Unlike Tang China during which a premium was placed on the Court’s sophisticated structure and streamlining of duties whereby its ad-hoc scripting mechanism could be neatly configured (Lung 2008a), I found no trace of any such scripting mechanism in Liang China to serve the foreign envoys with limited knowledge of written Chinese.

Implications This chapter has evolved from the ruminations concerning two archived passages in the sixth-century contexts of Asian political dynamics, the commercial incentives of diplomatic visits, the mediating enterprise of the Tuyuhun state, and the prestige of written Chinese in the Chinese cultural sphere at the time. Apart from analyzing translation and interpreting events practiced in relays, this chapter also extrapolated possible oral translation activities in harness with letter scripting strategies adopted by visiting envoys to approach China. Admittedly, the meager information about Liang China’s translation officials has left some questions unanswered. As in the Hephthalite example, their envoys must have been given certain input as to what their potential state letter should contain, verbally, presumably, to the Kumedhan scribe, who might have scripted the letter and attached it to its own to present to China together. Did the two countries share the same or similar spoken language, or the Kumedhan scribe simply happen to understand the

Chapter 2.  Bridging language barriers in encounters with China in sixth-century Asia

Hephthalites’ vernacular? If so, the Hephthalites’ spoken language must not have been understood exclusively by the Tuyuhun, but by the Kumedhan scribe as well. Notably though, the Liangshu is overly specific about the Tuyuhun people’s competence in understanding the Hephthalite vernacular, I suspect, in all likelihood, that the Tuyuhun people (translators) are the ones the Hephthalites brought along to mediate verbal exchanges between the Hephthalites and the Chinese officials in the Liang court. Fortunately, the Chinese translation of Kumedhan’s letter is partly inserted in Liang’s Zhigongtu, and that verifies the fact that its letter was indeed somehow translated, by a third party, into Chinese. We cannot confirm if this letter, written originally in a foreign script, was translated into Chinese by the Tuyuhun translators, or the Chinese translation officials as it would have been in Tang times (Lung 2008a), but this is not important here. The point of interest here is that we can equally assume, then, that the Hephthalites’ letter, too, must have been translated into Chinese at some point, although no trace of such a translation is extant. Nevertheless, the picture of the relay translation scenario regarding the Hephthalites’ tributary visit to China is complete – from the oral translation of the Hephthalite vernacular to Kumedhan’s written language, which was finally translated into Chinese by yet another party. In this regard, this study has enhanced our understanding of the sixth-century translation scenario in Asia by verifying the actual, rather than the nominal, existence of relay translation, besides approximating a solution to the mystery as to which of the three states might have probably scripted the Hephthalites’ letter. The historical context in which relay translation became prevalent in firstmillennium Asia is rarely broached, in theory or in practice, in Translation Studies. And yet, it did exist, in both the spoken and written modes, in antiquity recurrently over an extended period of time during the initial contacts of different language cultures. It existed as a widespread mediating strategy at a time when language prestige was not necessarily proportional to or associated with national strengths (as in the case of the Hephthalites and Liang China), at a time when few predominant languages for wider communication prevailed, and at a time when written languages were not widely developed in Asia. The passages about the Hephthalites and Silla in the Liangshu succinctly outline their strategies of linguistic mediation in the process of making diplomatic contacts with China in the sixth century. Notwithstanding their brief references, subtle and yet valuable details pertinent to the understanding of translation activities in Asia at the time, so easily missed, are further unveiled in this study. These two cases of linguistic mediation document the practice of relay and oral translation as well as the classic mediating role of the Tuyuhun people on the Silk Road that ranged from translators, scribes, travel guides, and providers of



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

­ aterial and transport logistic in the middle centuries of the first millennium. m What struck me initially as peculiar intermediary strategies in our cited examples turns out to be, probably, common practices in the written and spoken communication between Asian states and China at the time. This observation, having been placed in proper historical perspective, is all the more credible considering the language mediating functions and competence of the Tuyuhun and Paekche peoples, which has regrettably captured no more than a passing mention in standard archival records.

chapter 3

Türkish diplomatic correspondence to Sui China (581–618) Was it translated?

Ancient diplomatic correspondence to China from East Asian states has been a subject of research interest in Sinology, especially with respect to its relevance to historical politics and ideology in Asia. References to its implications to Translation Studies, if any, were, however, quite minimal. It is not my intention here to impose a modern disciplinary paradigm to the existing archives. What I hope to present, given the occasional ‘detective’ nature of research into ancient histories dating back to early imperial China, is the possibility of locating translation traces and the socio-political and linguistic contexts through which Turkic-Chinese translation or interpreting activities were viable. Some may wonder: does it really matter whether the letters were translated into or composed in Chinese? However, considering the flimsy records of such activities in ancient time in human histories, even subtle evidence deserves to be examined and analyzed, although no definite conclusions can necessarily be drawn. This chapter represents an initial attempt to examine China-bound diplomatic correspondence from the concern of translation history. Diplomatic letters sent to China during the early centuries in the first millennium by Yamato and the three Korean states (namely, Paekche, Silla, and Koguryǒ) were generally confirmed to be written in Chinese, not translated. However, the case for China-bound diplomatic missives from the Türk (突厥) (on Mongolian steppes) – previously a rival state to China, and later on a vassal state – is still

. An earlier form of this chapter first appeared in TTR 21(2): 163–190. . The Suishu (81: 1820) mentions that “the written language of Silla was the same as that of China” and provides a proof for the use of Chinese language in Silla in the mid-sixth century. . For consistency of usage, I will follow Clauson (2002) in using the term ‘Türk’ to refer to the Türkish nation. This term was widely known to mean “strength and energy” in the French and Chinese historical sources, but Clauson (ibid.: 87) has shown that the correct meaning should be “ripeness (of fruit), or maturity (of a man)”. The name ‘Türk’ was often Anglicize, later on, as Turk, or Sinicize as Tujue (突厥) in the literature.

44 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

c­ ontroversial. In this chapter, examples are chosen from two letters presented by the Türkish qaqhans to China during the Sui dynasty, to approach the question if these letters might have been translated from the Türkic language into Chinese. Evidence from standard histories of Northern dynasty China (the Zhoushu 周書 and the Beishi 北史, among others) suggests the existence and use of a written Türkic language by the mid-sixth century. This written language, borrowing some Sogdian (ancient Iranian, located in present-day Uzbek) words, was said to be similar to the other written languages on the steppes, and was found to have been used in diplomatic and religious contexts, as early as the mid-sixth century. In this chapter, I argue that if there was a written language in the Türk at the time, it is reasonable to assume that the Türkish state letters presented to China might possibly have been written in the Türkic language first, before being translated into Chinese. The unification of China under the Sui dynasty ended three centuries of disunion in China and started the prime era of Sui and Tang (618–907) in the Chinese history. It was a time when most neighboring states in Central and East Asia were keen to forge diplomatic and trading ties with China. In line with the Chinese political ideology of its emperor’s mandate, as the Son of Heaven, to rule all people under Heaven, China considered states, such as Paekche, Silla, Koguryǒ, Türk, and Vietnam, its vassal states and expected them to pay tribute, as parts of their obligations, regularly to symbolize their subordination to and respect for the Chinese emperor. Countries not bestowed the vassal status in the Chinese political framework, such as Yamato and Sri Lanka, were considered ‘remote foreigners’ (yuanyi 遠夷) in ‘remote territories’ (jueyu 絕域). Nevertheless, these countries also came to China to pay tribute, sometimes, with either the agenda of gaining recognition for newly established sovereigns, or a pure desire to learn the language, literature, culture, and institutions of law and politics of China (Gao 2003). Besides sending tribute, vassal states often performed the proper etiquette of presenting diplomatic letters regularly to China to sustain ties with it. As documented in specific accounts of foreign peoples in standard histories, which sometimes incorporate the complete letters from certain foreign states, these diplomatic missives to China seemed to be mostly in Chinese (Cefuyuangui), despite the fact that these countries did not usually speak or write Chinese in their home . The word Türk is used as a political designation to refer to the period of Göktürk imperial hegemony from the sixth through the eighth centuries on the Altaic mountains and Mongolian steppes. This spelling is used to distinguish the Türk during the middle period of the first millennium from the Ottoman Turkish people.

Chapter 3.  Türkish diplomatic correspondence to Sui China (581–618)

countries at all. Were these state letters actually composed in Chinese, or were they translated into Chinese? To undertake such analyses for all Asian states who had presented letters to first-millennium China would be a task far beyond the scope here. I shall, in fact, confine myself largely to the letters presented by two Türkish qaqhans around the sixth and early seventh centuries. Sui and Tang historical sources also suggest that the Chinese language was actually used, quite widely, for official correspondence to and from China at the time (Feng 2004a). Of interest to the history of translation or interpreting, then, is whether the letters to China, from various neighboring states, were drafted in Chinese, or were they simply translated into Chinese, before being presented to China? This question has neither, understandably, yielded a definite answer nor has it been discussed at length because of the paucity of evidence. In fact, unless it was positively identified in standard histories, one can never say with any certainty if a state letter sent to China, at the time, was translated into, or composed in Chinese. A more constructive approach, given the uncertainties in historical facts, I believe, is to organize relevant evidence and conjecture the possibility of specific correspondence having been translated based on the available evidence. The focus of my inquiry is whether the two letters presented to Sui China in 584 and 607 were translated into Chinese, or composed in Chinese. We will begin with a brief discussion of the way in which Asian historians dealt with diplomatic correspondence, to or from China, in the literature. This will be followed by a consideration of the Türkish relation with China and a general view of the Türkic language of the time. The two Türkish letters will be analyzed, before linguistic and historical arguments are presented in support of my suggestion that they might well have been Chinese translation.

Studies on ancient diplomatic correspondence Diplomatic correspondence has always captured the interest of scholars in historical studies of China and its neighbors. Kaneko (金子修一) (1988) identifies three typical opening phrases of outbound Tang diplomatic letters and concludes that these three types of opening correspond to the recipient countries’ political status with Tang China. Kaneko also figures that such a categorization would enhance our understanding of the complication in Tang international relations. State letters presented to early imperial China from Asian states were also common topic of inquiry along Kaneko’s argument. For instance, in the first full embassy to Sui China in 607, the Yamato envoy, Ono no Imoko (小野妹子, or Su Yingao 蘇因高),


46 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

produced a written communication from the monarch, Suiko Tenno (推古天王) (r. 592–628), which began: 日出處天子致書日沒處天子無恙: The Son of Heaven, in the land of the rising sun, sends this letter to the Son of Heaven of the land, where the sun sets, and wishes him well.  (Bielenstein’s translation, 2005: 102)

This instance was most widely studied in Japan with respect to its subtle quest for an equal status with Sui China (Han and Liu 2002). According to Hori (1999, in Han and Liu 2002), Japanese historians generally confirm that this letter was written, at the behest of Regent Shotoku, in Chinese. In fact, letters from Yamato addressed to China in the early centuries during the first millennium, display a fine classical Chinese style, with rhetorical devices, such as rhymes, antithesis, and parallelism, widely practiced in the higher and learned society in sixth-century China. Considering the East Asian states’ active learning from China – in language and literature, over the preceding centuries – and crucially, the absence of a written language in pre-eighth century Yamato, the observation that these diplomatic missives were not translated, but were written in Chinese, could hardly be challenged otherwise. Sharing a similar interest in the subject, Hori (ibid.) gives in-depth analyses of state correspondence to China from various East Asian countries and identifies some common textual patterns in these letters. He suspects that these identical features suggest either, that certain phrases and syntactic sequences were parts of the norms in diplomatic writing in China at the time, or the states might have actively referred to earlier letters from other countries, while composing their own. Taking on a larger-scale study of diplomatic correspondence in East Asia, Drompp (2005) approaches the Tang political history with the Uighürs through examining Li Deyu’s (李德裕) writings – many of which were letters, drafted on behalf of the throne, ultimately delivered to the steppe countries – in his capacity as the Tang chief minister in the early ninth century. . Hori Toshikazu (堀敏一) (in Han and Liu 2002: 66) rightly points out that the style and rhetoric of this letter, in the opening phrase, bear much resemblance to the China-bound letters from Xiongnu (匈奴) and Türk during the Han (206 BC–6) and Sui dynasties respectively. He therefore concludes that Regent Shotoku (聖德太子) or his courtiers must have consulted previous diplomatic missives of this nature while drafting this letter to China. Hori suspects that the information might have been obtained through the help of Paekche and Koguryǒ, if not precisely from the Koguryǒ Buddhist monks or Chinese immigrants residing in Yamato at the time (ibid.:  67). . Bielenstein (2005: 102) also says that the letter in 607 was “originals, composed at the Japanese court, and not translated and suitably rephrased at the Chinese court.”

Chapter 3.  Türkish diplomatic correspondence to Sui China (581–618)

In reviewing the language situation of sixth-century China before the Sui unification, Wright (1978) points out the eminence of written Chinese in the China proper despite the extended period of regional disunion. He made overt references to the instrumental value of written Chinese, which was likened to Esperanto in diplomatic exchanges with China at the time. Wright says: The most obvious element in this common substratum is a written language that permitted communication across all manner of political and cultural barriers. A letter, a poem, a pronunciamento could be written in one corner of the Chinese subcontinent and be read and understood in the opposite corner. Written Chinese, thus described, would seem to resemble Esperanto – a language which indeed makes possible communication between men separated by distance and by culture. But the Chinese written by men of the sixth century communicated much, much more than the bare content of the message. By that time it had been continuously used and developed over a period of two millennia. And, as a result, almost every word and certainly every phrase carried with it from repeated historic use a rich freight of allusive meaning: echoes of men and events, references to places and times, to archetypal situations and much else. In all formal writing, specific historical allusions were omnipresent – used as argument to drive home a point or to refute one. Thus, tribal chiefs fresh from the steppe – once they had Chinese scribes to write communications for them – began to imbibe little by little the whole historic culture of China; and when their sons began to learn Chinese for themselves, the learning process was accelerated, and the moral and aesthetic appeal of the Chinese written heritage began to work upon them.  (Wright 1978: 43–4)

There are three points to take note of in Wright’s foregoing observations about written Chinese as a language of power and prestige in the first millennium. First, Wright acknowledged the complication of written Chinese in the political register, which might contain loaded literary allusions and metaphors and would probably defy comprehension for foreign readership. Second, in pursuing on-going communication with imperial China, foreign tribal chieftains often had “Chinese scribes” to compose (or translate?) letters for them to facilitate communication. Third, as a measure to maintain communication with China, sometimes, sons of these tribal chieftains, in the traditional format of ‘hostage princes’ (zhizi 質子), would be arranged to learn Chinese, among other knowledge, in China and therefore provide another source of Chinese experts for diplomatic function involving China in their home countries. It is possible that the Türks, who were, in theory, outside the East Asian cultural sphere, might have taken similar steps at the time, to master the Chinese language and culture, just like other members inside the sphere, who had been engaging in learning from China centuries earlier.


48 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

The Türk and its relations with Sui China Türk, or Türküt, refers to a state of Ašina clan (of Tiele [鐵勒] tribe by ancestral lineage) who broke away from the control of the Rouran, another Türkishspeaking­ nomadic state, in 552. The Türk emerged as the dominant power on the northern steppes for almost two hundred years until it was defeated by the Uighürs in 745 during mid-Tang China, and its history, thus, drawn to an end. The Türks, under the leadership of Bumïn (土門), who named himself Yili ­qaqhan, rapidly established control over a vast territory “stretching from Manchuria west to the Aral Sea and from Lake Baikal south to the Chinese frontier” (Graff 2002: 142). Rising in the northern steppes, during a period of disunion in China, the Türk played along and strengthened itself from the enmity and suspicion of the different co-existing regimes, such as Zhou (周) (557–585) and Qi (齊) (550–577) in Northern dynastic (420–589) China. The Türks were the nomadic tribes (conglomerates) living on the steppes between the sixth and the eighth centuries, and the Türkic language they used was of the Ural Altaic origin. Unlike Chinese, the Türkic language was not a tonal language. Its word formation was facilitated by adding suffixes or affixes to the stem words. Its basic grammar followed that of the Subject-Object-Verb principle (Yu Taishan 1995). But it must be noted that the Türkic language was not exclusively used by the Türks. As Clauson (2002) points out, the steppes were once occupied by small and disorganized tribes between the third and the sixth centuries when the region was “a milieu exclusively Turkish-speaking” (ibid.: 25). In terms of the Türkic writing, the Uighürs and the Kirghiz had, at some points in their histories, used the Türkic script as well, on top of employing other scripts or alphabets in their written languages. Since the Türkic script shaped like the Runic script developed by the Aramaic people, it was also labeled as the Türkic-Runic script. The close relation between the two scripts was documented by Clauson’s (ibid.: 101) observations that, “the Runic alphabet was commonly used for writing Türkish” and was “the official alphabet of the Türkish empire”. The Türks were primarily a pastoral people with some forms of agriculture. Besides practicing a half-nomadic lifestyle of hunting and being herdsmen, the Türks were also skillful in making ironware, such as farming tools and weapons. With these handcrafts, they started to “engage themselves in trading activities with China along their northwestern frontier” (Wu Jingshan 1994: 47–8). The . The Mongolian and Manchurian languages are also branches from the Altaic language family. . See Clauson (2002: 33–54) for a detailed discussion of various scripts and alphabets used in the historical development of the Turkic language varieties.

Chapter 3.  Türkish diplomatic correspondence to Sui China (581–618)

commercial and diplomatic instincts of the Türks distinguish themselves from the other steppe peoples and explain their phenomenal presence in the East and the West within their short history in the first millennium. While actively engaging themselves in intermediary trade between China and the Eastern Roman Empire, the Türks eventually managed to build a steppe empire extending westward into Central Asia and establish commercial contacts with the Hephthalites, Byzantium, and Persia. But it was also the nomadic Türks which posed the most formidable challenge to newly unified China under Sui. The Türkish qaqhan, then, Їšhbara (沙鉢略) (r. 581–587), wished to impede the consolidation of the Sui regime, lest the balance of power in East Asia should soon tip, decisively, in favor of a united China. He thus launched several attacks against China, but to no avail. Ultimately, Sui China successfully made the Eastern Türk, then, ruled by Їšhbara, a vassal state by manipulating the tribal divisions of the Türkish polity. Not used to the transformed status of his tribal state, from a ‘rival state’ (diguo 敵國) position to a vassal (father-son) relation with China, Їšhbara still hoped to retain his grace and quest for an equal status with the Sui emperor. His agenda was echoed in the following letter he presented to emperor Wen (r. 581–604) in 584. Example 1.  Їšhbara’s letter 從天生大突厥天下賢聖天子、伊利俱盧設莫何始波羅可汗致書大隋皇帝: 皇帝是婦父,即是翁,此是女夫,即是兒例。兩境雖殊,情義是一。此國 所有羊馬,都是皇帝畜牲,彼有繪綵,都是此物,彼此有何異也!  (Suishu 84: 1868) As the Sage under Heaven and the great Türkish Son of Heaven, born from Heaven, Il-Kül-šad-baraišbara-qaγan addressed this letter to the Great Sui emperor: The emperor is the father of his wife, and that makes him [the emperor] his ­father-in-law. He is the husband of [the emperor’s] daughter, and that makes him the [emperor’s] son. Although the physical situation of the [two] countries is different, [they are] tied by relation [with] and feelings [for each other]. The sheep and horses in his country are the emperor’s domestic livestock; [Sui China’s] silk products are properties of his country. There is, indeed, no difference between his country and [the emperor’s] country.

After Їšhbara’s death in 587, the new qaqhan, Chuluohou (處羅侯) (r. 587–588) was also showered with favors from the Sui court. About a decade later, another Türkish qaqhan, Qimin (啟民) (r. 599–611) – a Sui protégé – was not only backed by Sui militarily and financially, but also constantly received favors from the two Sui emperors. For instance, Qimin qaqhan was married subsequently to two Sui Chinese princesses, and he consistently relied on the Sui court to consolidate his rule over the Türkish tribes. In 607, he memorialized (suggesting his status as a



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

vassal subject to China) emperor Yang (r. 605–618) and requested Sinicization of his tribes through the adoption of Chinese costumes. Example 2.  Qimin’s letter 啟民可汗上表:已前聖人先帝存在之日,憐臣,賜臣安義公主,種種無少 短。臣種末為聖人先帝憐養,臣兄弟妒惡,相共殺臣,臣當時無處去, 向上看只有天,下看只見地,實憶聖人先帝言語,投命去來。聖人先帝 見臣,大憐臣,死命養活,勝於往前,遣臣作大可汗坐著也。還養活臣 及突厥百姓,實無少短。臣今憶想聖人及至尊養活事,具奏不盡,並至 尊聖心裏在。臣今非是舊日邊地突厥可汗,臣即是聖尊臣民,至尊憐臣 時,乞依大國服飾法用,一同華夏,臣今率部落,敢以上聞,伏願天慈 (Suishu 84: 1874) 不遺所請。 Qaqhan Qimin memorialized: During the time when the previous sage emperor [Wen] was alive, his majesty pitied your subject (me) and gave the hand of Princess Anyi to your subject (me). Your subject is [thus] not short of [supplies]. Your subject’s people were indeed raised at the mercy of the sage emperor. [Yet] your subject’s jealous and vicious brothers conspired to have your subject killed, leaving your subject nowhere to go at the time. [I] looked up and could only see the sky; while [I] looked down, [I] could only see the earth. In recalling the previous emperor’s kind words, [your subject] came [to China] for protection. The sage emperor met your subject and overwhelmingly felt for your subject, while insisting that your subject went on living and dwelled even better than before. The wise emperor made sure that your subject sat tight with the position of prime qaqhanate and raised your subject and the Türkish people without any shortage of [supplies]. [Therefore] in reminiscence of the sage emperor and his supreme grace to raise [my people], [his grace] could never be adequately described and is always in my heart. Now, your subject is not a Türkish qaqhan of the previous frontier region, but a subject and citizen of your sage majesty. [Your subject here] begs for [your kindness] to allow [me and my people] to adopt [Chinese] clothing of your great nation and to be assimilated to the Hua-xia [culture]. Now, your subject and the tribe [he] leads humbly ask for your kind permission and modestly ask your heavenly kindness not to turn down [our] request.

. Bielenstein (2005: 378–9) was particularly critical about the overt “sinocentric window dressing” of the record and interpretation of the Chinese historical sources about the event. Bielenstein argues that Qimin was not really submissive to the Sui court, but he gives no evidence against the validity of the Chinese memorial Qimin submitted to the throne.

Chapter 3.  Türkish diplomatic correspondence to Sui China (581–618)

The linguistic argument Whether these awkwardly-phrased letters should be considered, originally, pieces of Chinese writing, or translation, from the Türkic language, is still inconclusive. These two state letters were delivered from the Türk to Sui China in 584 and 607 respectively. In a lapse of 23 years, what changes can be detected from the language styles of the two letters? Would these stylistic changes, in fact, tell us anything about the degree of Sinicization in the Türk, and therefore, the impact of Chinese writing style in this steppe state? These questions are, of course, worthwhile paths for in-depth linguistic inquiry, but would be tasks way beyond the focus of the present chapter. Within the boundary of this chapter, I could only remark that these two letters both display features of unidiomatic Chinese usage and syntactic structure. But beyond these common features, there were some stylistic differences we should take note of. Linguistically, the third person narration style, such as, “his wife”, “his fatherin-law”, and “his country”, as found in Їšhbara’s letter, was typical of the Türkic scripts written around the eighth century (Pan 1997; Xiong 2006). Besides, the clumsy expressions in this letter about the relation of the emperor and Їšhbara, evidently, gave away the limited competence of the Türkish translator or writer in classical Chinese. Such eminent Türkic stylistic presence and the ineffective Chinese usage, considered as a whole, could be taken to argue that the letter might have been translated into Chinese. As compared to Їšhbara’s letter, Qimin’s letter displays a prominent first-person writing style, exemplified by the frequent use of first-person pronouns, as in “I”, “me”, and “your subject” (which was the humble variant of “I”), and distances itself from the typical usage of third person narration commonly found in the Türkic writing (Yuan 2001). This could be explained, partially, by “the effect of growing Sinicization and the increasing influence of Chinese writing on the Türkic correspondence over the past decades” (Wu Jingshan 1994: 125). It is equally possible that the overt affiliation displayed by Qimin to China – represented by the frequent use of the submissive term, “chen” (臣, literally, “subject [to a throne]”) – can be more conveniently and effectively conveyed in the first-person, rather than the third-person, writing style. In connection to Wright’s foregoing observation about the technicalities of the sixth-century classical Chinese, Qimin’s letter to emperor Yang appears to be a layman’s work – either as a piece of Chinese writing or a Chinese translation – and this layman, not being competent in the Chinese rhetoric in the political discourse, transfers “no more than the bare content of the message” (Wright 1978: 43). Yuan Gang (2001: 482) points out that “the descriptive language style of ­Qimin’s letter bears much resemblance to the eighth-century Türkic script”, and



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

he “feels that [Qimin’s] letter was translated from the Türkic language”.10 Both Hu Ji (1995) and Li Nanqiu (2002) share a similar view, based on the same linguistic argument. Nevertheless, without any concrete trace of the word ‘translation’ in historical texts, we could just assume, at best, that the Türkic syntactic style may be injected by the Türkish scribe, who was not entirely familiar with the Chinese rhetoric. The letter is comprehensible, but definitely remains far from the high style of official correspondence in sixth-century China. Its language style is of a plain and vernacular Chinese writing, as in “臣當時無處去,向上看只有天,下 看只見地”, (…leaving your subject nowhere to go at the time. [I] looked up and could only see the sky; while [I] looked down, [I] could only see the earth.), with quite a number of redundant and ineffective usage, such as “無少短” (is [thus] not short of [supplies] and without any shortage of [supplies]). Syntactically, the exotic sentence pattern in “並至尊聖心裏在” (the sage emperor… is always in my heart), whereby the predicate “在” (equivalent to the preposition “in”) was placed at the end,11 reveals that either the writer of the letter was not proficient in Chinese, or the letter was “originally written in the Türkic language” before being paraphrased or translated into Chinese (Li 2002: 22). Evidently, the linguistic features displayed in these two letters do throw some light on their possible ‘origins’, but nothing definite is confirmed yet at this stage. If the linguistic argument alone does not bring us directly to the probable answer, will the historical evidence of the linguistic situation of the Türk offer any insights to the unresolved mysteries?

The historical argument As mentioned before, Wright (1978) believes that Chinese scribes were often used by the non-Chinese tribal chiefs in the first millennium, to help “compose” Chinese diplomatic letters, as a way to resolve the communication problem with China. Wright, however, did not dwell on the implications of the term, “compose” – either as a straightforward composition process, or as a translation process, in which ‘putting down in Chinese’ was a part. Again, similar confusion was found at the end of the historical visit of a Buddhist monk, Xuanzang (602–664), to the tent of the Türkish Jabahu (葉護) qaqhan in 630. On hearing that Xuanzang was about to go on a pilgrimage to India,

10. This refers to passages of Türkish stone scriptures, made in the eighth century, and unearthed, in the late 19th century, in Mongolia. 11. See Lin (1988: 117) for typical predicate-final syntax in the Türkic language.

Chapter 3.  Türkish diplomatic correspondence to Sui China (581–618)

可汗乃令軍中訪解漢語及諸國音者,遂得年少,曾到長安數年,通解漢 語,即封為摩咄達官。作諸國書,令摩咄送法師到迦畢試國。  (Xuanzang 646, in Cen 2004b: 7) …the qaqhan asked his military unit to locate someone with knowledge of the Chinese language and the vernacular of other states (in Central Asia). A young man was identified to have lived in Chang’an (the capital of Tang China) for several years, and was able to understand Chinese. [He was thus] immediately bestowed an official title. [He was asked] to come up with letters for various states and was instructed to chaperone the Buddhist master to Kapisi (or Kapisa, present-day Afghanistan).

Apparently, this young man, who not only understood Chinese, but was also able to write, was deployed as a scribe. The phrase “作諸國書” in the foregoing quotation was translated as “to come up with letters for various states”,12 but the ambiguity between writing in a language and translating into a target language is still there. In short, there is an inherent ambiguity in the actual duties of scribes in the Türkish camp: did they write in Chinese, or did they translate into Chinese from a Türkic speech or script? Or did they do both? I conjecture that this particular scribe was more likely a translator, primarily because his young age would hardly make him a competent and professional writer for state correspondence. But again, this conjecture was merely confined to this very young scribe whom we are fortunate to know something about, and it should not be unduly extended to the case of other Türkish scribes, obviously. Nevertheless, theoretically, it is possible that the two Türkish letters might have been translated into Chinese by such Türkish scribes, who happened to acquire Chinese one way or the other. Regarding the earliest record of written language of the Türk in the early seventh century, the Chinese source in the Suishu (84: 1864) provides only minimal information with a passing mention of “突厥無文字,刻 木為契” (Türk did not have a written language, and [therefore,] contracts were carved on wood).13 If there is no source [written] language to begin with, these 12. A total of twenty-four letters (for various Central Asian states) were prepared for Xuanzang to facilitate his pilgrimage in Central Asia (Cen 2004b: 8). 13. In the early centuries of the first millennium, many countries survived without any written languages. Both the Beishi (history of the North dynasty, compiled in 659) and the Suishu (compiled in 636) claim that “the Türk did not have a written language”, but the statement contradicts with the Zhoushu’s (history of the Zhou [557–581] dynasty, compiled also in 636) claim that “the Türk did have a written language, which was similar to that of the Hu” (literally means foreigners on the northwestern part of China; a term often referred to Sogdians in the first millennium). Similarly, the Greek and Roman authorities used the name ‘Scyth’ for a number of foreign tribes although these tribes were not even Iranian, and the Byzantine authority used the name ‘Turk’ to refer to foreign tribes generally at some points in its history (Clauson 2002: 6).



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

state letters can only be said to have been drafted in, if not orally translated into, Chinese, and theoretically not possible to have been translated into Chinese from a written source language. The moot point, crucially, lies in the existence, if at all, of a written Türkic language by the end of the sixth century.14 In a biography of emperor Yang, Liu (2005: 68) analyzes Їšhbara’s letter and conjectures, rather impressionistically, that “the state letter must have been written in Chinese”. However, Liu (ibid.: 60) went on making quite an incongruent point, saying that “originally the Türks only knew the way to carve numbers on wood. It was not until Ašina Tümen took up qaqhanate that the Türks began to have their own [written] language, their country, and the freedom from the slavery of Rouran”. Following the argument of Liu, the Türk must have begun to have their written language as early as the mid-sixth century, since Ašina Tümen took up qaqhanate in 552. If the Türk did indeed have a written language by the midsixth century, as mildly claimed by Liu, Liu’s conjecture “that Їšhbara’s letter must have been written in Chinese” might be mistaken, theoretically. In short, one cannot entirely rule out the possibility that Їšhbara’s letter might have been translated, from the written Türkic language, into Chinese, since, according to Liu, the Türk had already had their language then. As to the question if the Türk already had their own written language by the sixth century, Xiong (2006) located more incongruent evidence from different historical sources of China: As a people of the steppes, the Turks had unique customs that distinguished them from neighboring ethnic groups……History has conflicting records about their written language at this early stage. While both the Suishu and Beishi claim they did not have their own written language, the Zhoushu refers to a Turkish script, akin to the Sogdian script. Epigraphical evidence suggests that early Turkish records were written in the Sogdian language. Their own Runic script, in which such famous epigraphs as the Kul Tegin Monument and the Bilga Qaqhan Monument were inscribed, was invented later under the Eastern Turks.  (Xiong 2006: 208)

The exact entry of the Zhoushu, on which Xiong based his argument, is as follows:

14. Most historians of Central Asia would be reluctant to make claims about any possible existence of a written Türkic language before the eighth century since the earliest continuous Türkic texts unearthed, so far, was dated around this period. From then on, “the [Türkic] language was fully developed and capable of expressing anything that its speakers wished to express. It had an elaborate grammar with a well-developed accidence and syntax.” (Clauson 2002: 106).

Chapter 3.  Türkish diplomatic correspondence to Sui China (581–618)

突厥……輒刻木為數,并一金鏃箭,蠟封印之,以為信契……其文字類 (Zhoushu 50: 910) 胡。 The Türks carve numbers on a piece of wood, which, together with an arrow tipped with gold, is sealed with wax and serves as a contract… Their written language is similar to that of Hu.  (Xiong’s translation, 2006: 298)

Xiong claims that in the historical sources of China, “Hu” was often used as a generic term for non-Chinese ethnic groups in the North and the Northwest. In Sui-Tang times, it increasingly referred to foreign peoples west of China, especially the Sogdians. In this connection, we have reasons to believe that, as early as the mid-sixth century, a written language, which displayed a strong Sogdian influence, might have been in use as the initial form of the Türkic language among the Türks. This observation seems to be consistent with our foregoing analysis of Liu’s claim about the existence of a Türkic language around the mid-sixth century. It is, therefore, possible that Їšhbara’s letter might have been translated, from the Türkic language, into Chinese. Although we could not rule out the possibility that the letter might have been orally translated from the Turkic vernacular to written Chinese, our concern here is to examine the likelihood of the letter having been translated from one written language to another. After all, if there was a written Türkic language at the time, a state letter would be more likely drafted and carefully prepared, not causally verbalized or recounted orally for a Chinese scribe to put down. In fact, a diplomatic letter, with the [loan] “use of some Sogdian [also known as Scythe] words” (Chavannes 1903, in Feng 2004a: 210; Barthold and Pelliot 1922, in Geng 2005: 7), was presented to the Eastern Roman Empire in 567. At that time, emperor Justin of the Empire actually asked someone to translate this Türkish letter for him. Subsequent to several diplomatic visits of envoys from both countries, apparently “a treaty was signed in 568 between the Roman ambassador, Zémarque, and Їštami qaquan” (Cen 2004a: 35; Feng 2004b: 214). The Eastern Roman Empire even requested that the treaty be reinstated in 576 when emperor Tibérius succeeded emperor Justin in the same year. One of the terms in the treaty was to “jointly attack Persia” (Wu Jingshan 1994: 60), who was actively hindering silk transaction between the Türk and the Eastern Roman Empire by poisoning several Roman-bound Türkish envoys. Apparently, if a Türkish diplomatic letter (probably written in the Türkic language, since a translation service was required by the Roman emperor) was presented in 567, it is not unreasonable to assume that other of their diplomatic letters, such as the ones presented to China in 584 and 607, might well have been first drafted in the Türkic language, before a Chinese translation was rendered.



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

Both the Türkish state letter presented to the Eastern Roman Empire and its act of entering into treaties suggest that the Türk was probably already using a written language, which consists of some loan words from the Sogdian language as early as 567 – 17 years before Їšhbara’s letter was presented to the Sui emperor. Paul Pelliot, an exceptional Central Asian historian, believes that Їšhbara’s letter was a translation. Segalen and Pelliot (1913, in Feng 2004b: 114) went further to claim that the Sogdian words in the Türkish state letter, presented in Constantinople, were “borrowed from an Iranian language”. Pelliot’s view is not groundless since it is generally recognized that the Türkic language, along with the other languages then spoken on the steppes, “belongs to the Ural Altaic language family” (Yu Taishan­ 1995: 112–4), and it is only possible that there would be mutual linguistic influence as a result of language contact in the region (Feng 2004b: 112–3). Similarly, Lin Enxian (1988: 113) also surmises that “Їšhbara’s letter was first drafted in the Türkic language before being translated into Chinese”. In his anthropological study of the Türk, Lin (ibid.) – recapping the view of Pelliot – explained that it was possible that the language contact situation in the Mongolian steppes actually facilitated mutual linguistic influence among languages of the Rouran, the Türk, the Uighürs, and the Mongols. Lin also observes that these steppe languages did indeed share similar sounds for common cultural terms on the steppes, such as “qaqhan”, “wife of qaqhan”, “sun”, and “officials”.15 The existence of a written Türkic language by the mid-sixth century was further testified by a Türkic translation work of a Chinese, called Liu Shiqing (劉世清), during the North dynasty (Cen 2004a: 36). Being well-versed in the Türkic language, Liu was asked by the emperor of Northern Qi to translate a Chinese Buddhist sutra, Nibbāna (or Nirvāna 涅槃經), into the Türkic language, in 572,16 so that the translation could be presented, as a tribute, to Taspar (佗鉢) qaqhan.17 In relation to this translation project, the emperor even asked Li Delin­ (李德林), the secretariat receptionist (中書侍郎), to write a preface for the translation.18 The act of producing a preface for the translation, again, suggests that the Türkic translation of the Buddhist sūtra was indeed completed. 15. See Lin (1988: 111) for more examples and the similarities in spelling among different languages on the steppes. 16. See Beiqishu 北齊書 20: 12. 17. The translation, regrettably, is not extant, but this tributary event suggests that a written Türkic language did indeed exist by the mid-sixth century. The Türk was then such a powerful menace in Central Asia that the Northern regimes, such as Zhou and Qi, had to pay tribute to the Türk to buy peace. 18. It is not clear, however, if the preface was written in Chinese or in the Türkic language.

Chapter 3.  Türkish diplomatic correspondence to Sui China (581–618)

According to Clauson (2002: 108), translation into the Türkic language at this early period should “presumably be written in the Runic script.” If such a translation direction was possible in the mid-sixth century, the probability that the two Türkish letters presented to China, during the late sixth and the early seventh centuries, might be Chinese translation cannot be ruled out entirely.

Implications In the absence of any positive identification of the ‘real identities’ of the two letters, I would merely suggest the possibility that they could be Chinese translation, primarily based on the available linguistic and historical evidence. Contents of two China-bound letters from the Türk, presented in 584 and 607 during the Sui dynasty, were analyzed to examine the possibility that they might have been translated into Chinese from the Türkic language. The preliminary textual analyses carried out, separately, by Yuan Gang (2001), Li Nanqiu (2002), and I, did come to a general consensus that these letters might be translation. Wright usefully points out the instrumental presence of Chinese scribes and the returned “hostage princes” in the tribal camps to ‘produce’ written material in Chinese for diplomatic purposes at the time. Although linguistic analyses alone are unable to confirm if these letters were translation, the discussion of their linguistic features, on which some historians have made claims about the letters’ ‘identity’ as translation, remains highly relevant to the present research question. On top of the linguistic argument, historical evidence from the Zhoushu and the Beishi suggest the existence of a written Türkic language by the mid-sixth century. This written Türkic language, having absorbed some Sogdian words, was said to be similar to the other written languages then practiced on the steppes and was found to have been used in diplomatic contexts, when a letter from the Türk was presented to the Eastern Roman Empire in 567, long before the two letters in question were presented to Sui China. It is noteworthy that the Türkish letter presented, and later being translated, to the Roman emperor was written in a language with some Sogdian loan words. If a Türkish state letter was written, not translated (by the Türks), in 567, it would only be natural to assume that the Türkish state letters presented several decades later might also have been written (in a Türkic language, probably) first, before respective Chinese translation was solicited in the Türkish tribal camps. More importantly, for the present inquiry, Liu Shiqing’s translation of the Buddhist Nibbāna sutra from Chinese into the Türkic language, although no longer extant, was apparently completed in 572, and the presentation of this Buddhist translation to the Türkish qaqhan, as a gift, does, in fact, lend support to



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

the claim that a written Türkic language was already in use by the mid-sixth century. If there was indeed such a written language in the Türk at the time, it is reasonable to assume that their state letters, presented to Sui China, might have been first written in the Türkic language, before being translated into Chinese. Notwithstanding the distance of the events in history and the paucity of positive information in hand, this chapter has presented adequate justifications to argue in support for the claim that these letters are quite likely Chinese translation from the Türkic language.

chapter 4

Translation officials in Tang China (618–907)

Researchers in Translation Studies show an increasing awareness of the relevance and yet, ironically, the under-representation of interpreting research in the discipline. Tymoczko (1990), for instance, laments that the wider neglect of oral tradition in literary translation decidedly limits the scope and horizon of Translation Studies. Lefevere (1988) insightfully reiterates that both the Western and the Chinese translation traditions are rooted in the mediation of spoken languages, but have ended up heading for opposed tracks; the Chinese tradition chose to stay close to orality – as exemplified by Lin Shu’s reliance on the oral translation of interpreters in his translation of Western literature – and, to a certain extent, compromised faithfulness, a crucial yardstick in the Western translation tradition for a very long time. The lack of ‘communication’ between interpreting and translation research is reflected in the historical study of interpreting and translation as well. In fact, this should not be the case, since the history of interpreting informs and complements the historical study of translation in many ways. Notably, the study of the history of interpreting in antiquity inadvertently echoes an intriguing link with translation. At certain points in ancient times, the two activities were intertwined. For example, in Chapter 2, I document that the Hephthalites in Central Asia would solicit assistance from their literate neighbor state to compile a letter to China, using, contingently, the language of the neighbor state. Similar idiosyncratic practices continue to unveil themselves in our examination of translation histories. Traces of the earliest interpreting activities can no doubt best be culled from archival records. It is only natural that the primary method for researching the history of interpreting is to study the raw data in histories (Hung 2005c). This chapter represents an attempt to capitalize on the extensive collection of Chinese history and to try grounding the core data – some related directly to interlingual discourses, some not – in these historical sources, supplemented by textual analyses. Although the principal concern here is to differentiate two translation titles – the Court translators and Secretariat’s translators – in Tang China, many subsequent observations, to be discussed ­ below,

. Materials in this chapter first appeared in Interpreting 10(2): 175–196.

60 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

relate quite significantly to the historical study of translation in general. Of interest to translation historians of other language cultures is the way in which textual archive was analyzed from different perspectives to identify the job nature of our translation ancestors in olden days. This chapter documents and differentiates two kinds of translation officials in the central government of the Tang dynasty in China: translators in the Court (yiyu 譯語, hereafter shortened as the Court translator) and translators in the Secretariat (fanshu yiyu 蕃書譯語). The distinction between them is essential because they are often mentioned in the scholarly literature indiscriminately. Given the scarcity of historical records and the absence of focused discussions about translators in Tang times, their differences were usually either toned down as minimal or misinterpreted by modern scholarship over the past decade. Although some researchers have recently made reference to the two translator titles and agreed that their translation and interpreting duties were somewhat different, the nature of these differences has not been clearly established. Analysis of standard historical records suggests that, in fact, these two types of translators had distinct job duties. The Court translators interpreted primarily for foreign envoys, while the Secretariat’s translators chiefly translated state letters from foreign envoys. I will present evidence to substantiate this observation and explain why such an apparently straightforward categorization has not been put forward thus far. This chapter comprises three main parts: first, an introduction to foreign relations in Tang China and to the core framework of the Tang central government offices in which translators were incorporated; second, a discussion of the duties of these two types of translation officials in the central government; and finally, presentation of evidence of their fundamental differences, which modern scholarship often neglects.

Foreign relations and translation officials in Tang China The early seventh century witnessed the collapse of the Sui dynasty and the succession of the Tang dynasty in China. Militarily, the rise of Tang resulted in the subjugation of the Eastern Turks (present-day Manchuria and Korea) and the Western Turks (Chinese Turkestan) in China’s attempt to pacify the northwestern frontier. Chinese garrisons subsequently established in these frontier regions made possible the exchange of population and goods with neighboring states.

. Interestingly, yiyu (譯語) is now used to refer to ‘target language’ exclusively in the modern Chinese lexicon.

Chapter 4.  Translation officials in Tang China (618–907)

Ever since the establishment of the Tang empire, China increasingly saw itself as the epitome of civilization. This Sino-centric sense of superiority was sustained by China’s remarkable military conquests in Central Asia and East Asia and its unprecedented territorial expansion, which pushed beyond the traditional confines of China proper. Contrary to China’s time-honored dynastic perception of foreigners as uncivilized ‘barbarians’, emperor Taizong (r. 627–649) actively promoted his view of the world being a family and commanded his government to protect and, possibly, acculturate tributary or satellite states in a Confucian fatherly or brotherly manner. This idealistic and yet Sino-centric worldview of a divine universal ruler continued throughout the history of imperial China, and may even be considered justifiable when China was strong politically, economically, and militarily, as in the seventh century when extensive conquests took place. During its three-century rule, Tang China was active in improving relations with neighboring states or tribes, sometimes by force, but mostly by generous gifts, without compromising its national dignity. Diplomatic ties were then established with around eighty states in Africa, Inner Asia, and East Asia. Due to the nationwide dissemination of such ‘liberal’ diplomatic ideals towards foreign nationals, there were unprecedented integration and contacts with foreigners at all levels. In line with emperor Taizong’s policy of peaceful co-existence with foreigners, an elaborate central administrative framework was put in place, catering to the crucial need, among other things, to deal with the phenomenal presence of foreigners in China. With millions of foreign visitors in the country, the workload of the central administration was understandably enormous.

Foreigners in Tang China The unprecedented prosperity and glory during Tang times attracted millions of non-Chinese to either trade or actually settle down in China. Yangzhou and Canton, for instance, were then booming commercial centers with sizeable ­non-

. The Sino-centric mentality was also referred to by many authors as ‘culturalism’, a unifying force in Chinese history distinct from what would become ‘nationalism’ in post-Westphalian­ Euro-American political thought, which would later be imposed on modern and contemporary China. . Since emperor Taizong was commonly honored by many Central Asian states as the ‘Heavenly qaghan’, the Tang empire had since adopted a patrimonial approach in dealing with them. In principle, these states were not regarded as uncivilized or inadequate; they were like members of a family in the Chinese empire, and love and mutual support were the central themes in this ideal world order in Asia.



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

Chinese­ populations. The capital city of Chang’an長安 (near the present-day city of Xi’an 西安) was reported to have almost two million taxable residents who primarily came from the Northern and Western tribes. Sources suggest that there were around 200,000 foreigners in Canton alone, mainly from Japan, the Korean peninsula, Java, and Malaysia (Schafer 1963; Adshead 2004). Three predominant types of visitors to China in Tang times were the envoys, the clergy, and the merchants, reflecting the foreigners’ interests in diplomatic ties, religion, and commerce, respectively. One can only imagine that the frequent influx of foreigners, especially those coming to fulfill diplomatic missions, into China naturally posed huge language and communication problems for the Chinese government. Of course, it was possible that envoys paying tribute to China may have brought along translators, but in Tang times, the Chinese government was already equipped with translation officials to serve communication needs, both spoken and written, with foreign envoys. In fact, the presence of sizeable numbers of foreigners in Tang times, many of them already settled for generations and probably Sinicized to various extents, no doubt provided a stable pool of translators for the government, if not for the visiting envoys. Therefore, a typical feature of Tang government translators was that they were mostly non-Chinese in ethnicity, but displayed a good command of spoken Chinese. In support of the prominent presence of such multilingual speakers in Central Asia at the time, Mair (1986: 41) points to the presence of a polyglot community that “existed all along the Silk Road (starting even in Chang’an)”. Mair suspects that many of its members “would have been conversant with one or more of such languages as Khotanese, Sogdian, Uighür (Türkic), Tibetan, Chinese, and Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrits or Prakrits” (ibid.). Besides, Ma Guorong (1999) suggests that government translators in Tang China were mostly foreigners of Inner Asian ethnic origin who had long been staying in China and were quite familiar with the Chinese culture. Their linguistic and cultural knowledge naturally enhanced their competitive edge for translation positions, official or civilian.

. Tributary groups from some states, such as Japan and Tibet, could number between 200 and 600 people. . Almost all translators working in the Secretariat mentioned in Tang standard histories had exotic names, which were likely Chinese transliterations. These foreign-sounding names indicated that they were probably all non-Chinese by ethnicity.

Chapter 4.  Translation officials in Tang China (618–907)

Central government offices dealing with foreigners The central government model adopted by Tang China was tried and developed for almost a century, having been passed on from the Northern and Southern dynasties (420–589). It was well defined in its power hierarchy and functions, which were based on the core values of cooperation and coordination across departments. Typically, a tripartite ministerial framework operated under the emperor, namely, the Secretariat (zhongshu sheng 中書省, for making and drafting ordinances), the department of chancellery (menxia sheng 門下省, for assessing and discussing ordinances), and the department of state affairs (shangshu sheng 尚書省, for executing ordinances). Together with the emperor, they functioned as the core group of decision makers and coordinated the administration of all aspects of state affairs. The most prominent government office for handling foreigners in China was the Court of diplomatic receptions, a part of the reception bureau (zhukesi 主客司, literally, the reception of foreign dignitaries) under the ministry of rites (libu 禮部) in the department of state affairs. The Court was the first point of contact with foreign envoys on their arrival at the capital. Its duties were to welcome and receive tributary envoys and to take care of, and provide for, their stay in China. The Court, headed by the chamberlain (qing 卿), coordinated all foreign activities with relevant branches in the central government, with the help of around “two hundred assistants of various ranks” (Yuan and Pan 1997: 506). The position of the chamberlain, as a third-rank official, was usually filled by someone, often of non-Chinese ethnicity with a naturalized Chinese background, with experience in handling foreigners and frontier military activities. His major duties were to coordinate activities of the visiting envoys as well as making diplomatic visits in order to maintain ties and collect strategic information for China. The Court normally recruited twenty translators, who ranked “no higher than the seventh tier” in the traditional nine-tier hierarchy (Yuan and Pan 1997: 42). The fact that translators accounted for almost ten percent of the Court staff is

. There were a total of six ministries in the department: Rites, Justice, Arms, Revenue, Civil Service, and Public Works. . Many of the Court’s chamberlains archived in Tang histories “appear to be Chinesesounding­ names” (Li Hu 1998: 362), but that gave little information about their ethnicity, since it is not unusual for foreigners having settled for generations in China to adopt Chinese surnames in Tang times.


64 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

suggestive of their importance to its operation. In spite of their minor rank, these translators’ actual contributions to the workings of the Court must have been rather indispensable.

Duties of the Court translators The twenty translators in the Court primarily interpreted for the central government officials and foreign guests. According to Li Hu (1998: 323), a prominent historian specializing in Han and Tang China, officials in the Court were “to receive foreign envoys and their state letters on behalf of the throne”. Li (ibid.: 336) assumes that the Court translators may have translated these letters into Chinese. Nevertheless, there was no concrete evidence to suggest that the Court, assisted by its translators, did anything more than receiving and submitting these letters to the Secretariat. Li Hu’s conjecture, therefore, cannot be validated. Li Fang (1994) rightly points out that the Court translators were assigned to mediate language barriers in its dealings with visiting envoys subsequent to increased diplomatic contact with states in Central Asia. Since the primary duty of the Court was to receive tribute-paying envoys from all directions, the Court translators were actively involved in receiving these foreign guests. Li Hu believes that the Court translators worked primarily as interpreters and mediated for foreign envoys in their dealings around the capital. In this sense, their duties were, indeed, comparable to those of official escorts conversant in languages other than Chinese. Some other historical evidence, in fact, furthers our understanding of the interpreting function of the Court translators, who worked both inside and outside the Court, their permanent office. Specific interpreting duties, to be performed outside the Court included interpreting for foreign envoys in and around the capital. 鴻臚當司官吏以下,各施問籍出入,其譯語掌客出入客館者,於長官下 狀牒館門,然後與監門相兼出入。  (Tanghuiyao 66, 606: 849) Officials below the supervisory ranks in the Court of diplomatic receptions were given entry permits [to accede to the Court guest house in which visiting envoys stayed]. The Court translators and concierges were required to obtain certifying documents issued by their superiors and have them presented to the reception at the guest house before they could enter and leave the premises, chaperoned by the entrance guards. . Little has been said in the literature about the linguistic competence of the Court staff. I suspect that not all of them were competent in foreign languages, since only ten percent were translators. Besides, the chamberlain was usually appointed on the basis of his achievements in military ventures, not his linguistic competence.

Chapter 4.  Translation officials in Tang China (618–907)

This quotation suggests that translators may have made frequent visits to the Court guest house, where foreign envoys resided during their visits in China (Han 2003). It is possible that the translators’ trips to and from the guest house were made to chaperone the envoys on their visits outside the Court. This measure must have been in place partly because of the language barriers the envoys were likely to face in the city. Actually, the Court translators, in principle, chaperoned the envoys wherever they went in the capital and took care of their well-being by resolving their language problems. This does not, however, mean that foreign envoys could go anywhere they liked in the capital. Their access to certain premises of importance, in fact, required special permission. For instance, when Japanese envoys were authorized to visit the Confucian temple in 717, official guards were dispatched to chaperone the visit (Cefuyuangui 974: 11445). Although it was not stated in this text, the Court translators must also have come along to mediate between the guards and the envoys. When it came to formal occasions, such as imperial audiences, the Court translators probably acted not only as interpreters, but also as those charged with ushering the guests in and coaching them in proper etiquette (to be further discussed below). Wuyun (2001) believes that interpreting duties of the Court translators were mostly about general subject matter, but further evidence shows that the scope of their interpreting duties went beyond this. One of the less documented functions of the Court translators, even in modern scholarship, was mediation in the interviews with foreign envoys in the Court. As a required practice during Tang times, whenever foreign envoys arrived at the capital, it was customary that they be interviewed in the Court. In such situations, the Court translators must have been pivotal in conducting and coordinating the interviews. Besides, the Court was obliged to incorporate accounts of foreign states, from interviews with the envoys, into reports, and to have them submitted each month to the history bureau, under the Secretariat, with copies retained and filed in the Court. It is noteworthy that although these document submissions did not seem to have involved translation, information collected from these interviews was probably solicited with the active assistance of the Court translators. The need for linguistic mediators was particularly acute, considering the participation of various government officials in the interviews. In fact, following the reorganization of the history bureau in Tang China (see Xie 1995: 70), various government agencies and ministries were required to submit specific information about foreign states regularly for historical documentation (Twitchett 1992). In this regard, the Court was no doubt the most direct channel for soliciting such information. The Tanghuiyao [Collections of Important Documents of the Tang] notes that


66 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

諸司應送史館事例:蕃國朝貢(每正遇,臚勘問土地風俗衣服貢獻,使 道里遠近,並其主名字報),有即勘報使館,修入國史。如史官訪,知 事有堪入史者,雖不與前件色同,亦任直牒索承牒之處,即依狀勘,並 (Tanghuiyao 63, 606: 802) 限一月內報。 Departments are required to report the following to the history bureau: (Appearance at Court of tribute-bearing missions from foreign countries. Whenever such a foreign mission arrives, the Court of diplomatic receptions should examine them on the natural conditions and customs of their country, on their dress, and the products brought as tribute, and on the distance and route by which they have come. These facts are to be reported together with the names of their leaders.) All the above matters should be investigated and reported to the history bureau as they occur by the responsible authority specified in the appropriate section within a month.  (Twitchett’s translation, 1992: 27, 29)

This passage provides clear evidence that the Court was sanctioned to interview visiting envoys and to submit relevant reports on the countries concerned to the history bureau. It seems that the interview was typically structured around a series of standard questions about the landscape, customs, dress codes, and incumbent rulers of the foreign countries concerned. Such information about a country’s geographical landscape and customs certainly falls under the category of technical discourse, at least more so than quotidian matters. Wuyun’s (2001) assumption that the Court translators only handled general and simple conversational exchanges in everyday-life contexts for visiting envoys was therefore an understatement, if not a misrepresentation of their work. Evidently, the Court translators did cope with technical contents of various kinds in such interviews. However, since the above passage made no reference to translators at all, we cannot rule out the possibility of multilingual officials in the Court who may have coordinated the interviews quite independently without the presence of translators. Nonetheless, given the fact that a Court of two hundred staff requires twenty translators, which is an extremely high ratio, the logical conclusions would be that the number of multilingual officials in the Court may have been quite limited, and that these interviews were most likely conducted in the presence of translators. In the discussion that follows, we will see that officials from other departments also attended these interviews. Either way, translators were deemed indispensable in these contexts in order for everyone present to be informed about and be understood in the exchanges with foreign envoys. Since the interview reports were presumably compiled on the basis of notes (jotted down by either translators or other officials in the Court) taken during the translators’ mediation in the interviews, these reports may have been the only first-hand information about alien countries available in the capital. The duty to interview or assist in interviewing foreign envoys was therefore unique to the

Chapter 4.  Translation officials in Tang China (618–907)

Court translators, and undoubtedly called for interpreting skills and competence in technical as well as general subject matters. In Tang practice, officials from other departments would be deliberately dispatched to these interviews to collect intelligence relevant to their specific operations. The opportunity to interview envoys from foreign countries enabled the Chinese government to collect much-coveted geographical and strategic information. In addition to written accounts about these countries, maps and drawings of foreign peoples were also essential records to be archived. The operations division in the department of arms, for example, was chiefly responsible for making maps of foreign countries, attending in particular to their surrounding landscapes.10 Sinologist Edward Schafer remarks that This important office [Honglu 鴻臚], quite aside from its basic responsibilities, served also as a clearinghouse of information about foreign countries, which was of great value to the nation, especially to the strategists of the army. A special agent of the department of arms was sent to interview the envoy immediately upon his arrival. He was interrogated about the geography and customs of his native country, and a map was constructed from the information supplied.  (Schafer 1963: 26)

The interview mentioned above may well refer to the one conducted in the Court, in which case it can safely be assumed that the interview panel also included officials from outside the Court. We do not know, however, if the special agent from the department of arms was an active interviewer or a passive participant in the interview. But his presence certainly called for interpreting services in the Court’s interviews with foreign envoys. The interpreting function of the Court translators was further verified in the historical account of the Kirghiz (present-day Kirghizstan or Kyrgyzstan) in the Xintangshu,11 the new history of the Tang dynasty. When the Kirghiz envoys arrived at the Tang court in 843, emperor Wuzong (r. 841–847) asked the Court translator to interview them about their geography and customs. Afterwards, a painting of these envoys was drawn, and an account of the Kirghiz was compiled (not extant). The crucial document that points to the presence and work of a translator in this particular interview with the Kirghiz envoys was documented.

10. The Court had a detailed record of foreign states along the Chinese frontier. While interviewing foreign envoys about the topography of their places of origin, Jia Dan (賈耽) (730– 805), a Court chamberlain and, later on, a chief minister, compiled a book charting the routes between Tang China and these foreign countries. (Xintangshu 43, monograph of geography). 11. See Bielenstein (2005: 469–471) for a brief contact history of the Kirghiz with China.


68 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

會昌中,阿熱以使者見殺,無以通于朝,復遣注吾合素上書言狀。…… 行三歲至京師,武宗大悅,班渤海使者上,以其處窮遠,能脩職 貢,……詔宰相即鴻臚寺見使者,使譯官考山川國風。……有詔以鴻臚所 (Xintangshu 217: 6150) 得繢著之。 Considering that a Kirghiz envoy was killed [on his way to paying tribute to China by a Uighür fugitive] during the Huichang reign period, and communication with the [Tang] court was interrupted, the Kirghiz ruler, Az, dispatched yet again [another envoy], Zhu-wu Alp Sol, to submit a letter [to the Tang emperor] to explain the mishap. … It took [Zhu-wu Alp Sol] three years on the road before he arrived at the [Tang] capital. Emperor Wuzong was delighted that the Kirghiz envoys came a long way from their remote country to pay tribute to him and had [Zhu-wu Alp Sol] placed in front of the envoy from Parhae [in the imperial audience].12 …[He then] asked the chief minister to meet the envoys in [the Court of] Honglu and instructed the translation official to inquire about [their] geography and customs. … The emperor thus instructed that an illustrated publication should be produced based on the information collected by [the Court of] Honglu.  (shortened by author)

The above evidence confirms that a translator was indeed assigned to inquire about the landscapes and customs of the Kirghiz people in the Court interview. It also ascertains that the presence of the translator and his questioning of foreign envoys in the interview seemed to be a regular practice. It is not entirely certain if the translator would be making written records while he questioned the envoys and mediated exchanges for Chinese officials attending the interview. It is possible that someone else from the Court took down the mediated account during the interview. What interests us here is that the Court translators, with their knowledge in foreign languages, were actually entrusted by the emperor with the task of collecting foreign information by direct enquiry, not just as passive mediators of interpreting events. To sum up, the Court translators were primarily interpreters for visiting envoys. They worked both inside and outside the Court in mediating exchanges for the envoys to the capital. Most importantly, they mediated and coordinated interviews with foreign envoys in the Court, and facilitated the compilation of written accounts about foreign countries. The nature of their interpreting duties, therefore, ranged from quotidian exchanges to technical topics involving geography, culture, and politics.

12. Known as Bohai in Chinese, Parhae was a state in eastern Manchuria.

Chapter 4.  Translation officials in Tang China (618–907)

Duties of translators in the Secretariat Coordination and cooperation were key features of the hierarchy of the Tang central government. While the Court facilitated the work of other departments, these departments in turn supported the Court’s work in foreign affairs. In principle, the Court was a designated (zhuanzhi 專職) office to handle foreign envoys, while the Secretariat was a related (guanshe 關涉) office in matters involving foreign relations (Li 1998). What then did the translators in the Secretariat do to lend support to the Court’s work in handling foreign envoys? There were a total of ten translators, or fanshu yiyu (literally, foreign letters / writings translators), in the Secretariat. Apparently, their duties were quite distinct from those of the Court translators. As the title suggests, these translators were responsible for translating state letters or diplomatic writings from visiting envoys which were to be verbally presented to the emperor during imperial audiences. 中書掌受四方朝貢及通表疏,故有譯語人。 

(Zizhitongjian 199: 1337)

The Secretariat was responsible for the reception of tributary gifts and the translation of state letters or petitions from the four directions. It was therefore necessary to have translators in the establishment.

These state letters were usually submitted by the Court on the envoys’ arrival at the capital. The time lapse between their arrival and the scheduled imperial audiences for the envoys would then allow the Secretariat’s translators to complete the Chinese translations of these letters. Some of them may have been written in Chinese, but some were not, given the lack of Chinese scribes for some visiting states. Naturally, for state letters not written in, nor translated into, Chinese, the Secretariat’s translators were required to provide relevant Chinese translations before oral reports of these state letters to the emperor could be prepared. According to imperial Chinese etiquette, imperial audiences with foreign envoys were arranged and scheduled in advance, as was the envoys’ formal presentation of their state letters. The day before the imperial audience with foreign envoys, the envoys were assigned their positions. Specific protocol for the presentation of state letters was stipulated as well. 前一日, 有司於殿中設位。其日,儀仗齊備,有司引客立於閣外西廂。 皇帝出即御座,客入內,立定。中書侍郎率持案者至客前,受書,置於 案,回奏於皇帝。 (Ren 1995: 68) The day before [the presentation of state letters], the responsible official assigns a position [for the envoy concerned] in the imperial court. On the day [of presentation], officials attire properly and line up neatly. The envoy will be ushered in by the responsible official to stand at the west chamber outside the court. As


70 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

soon as the emperor takes his seat, the envoy will be [ushered] inside the court and be required to stand still. The vice-director of the Secretariat, followed by an attendant official holding a tray, approaches the envoy, receives the state letter, and places it on the tray. [The letter is] then read to the throne.

The responsible official mentioned above was most likely a translator or an etiquette official from the Court. He was there to usher the envoy to the proper position to stand, and to advise him of the sequence of events in the imperial audience. The formulaic transfer of the letter from the envoy to the vice-director of the Secretariat in the imperial court was apparently a routine procedure to highlight the formal reception of letters. We do not know if the letter formally transferred in the imperial audience would be the original or a Chinese translation. It is quite likely that the emperor would be listening to a verbal report of the letter, read in Chinese by the vice-director of the Secretariat. If this was the case, it is probable that the translation had been completed well before the imperial audiences. Unlike the Court translators, there was far less information about the Secretariat’s translators. The discrepancies in archival coverage may be a reflection of their distinct functions. The Court translators often participated in interpreting jobs that involved officials from other divisions, and were thus more often recorded in various connections. As such, we noticed references to the Court translators scattered in biographies on foreign countries, court diaries of emperors, and accounts of other departmental officials coming in contact with foreign envoys. However, since the duties of the Secretariat’s translators were, primarily, to provide Chinese translations of state letters or diplomatic writings, which were considered less dynamic, with limited interaction with other departments, their desk-bound work was understandably less often documented.

Distinctions between the two kinds of translation officials Recapping from a Japanese article, Wuyun (2001: 166) noted that the term “yiyu” (譯語), as documented in East Asian historical archives, may have three meanings: interpreters, a translating event, or the act of translating between languages. Since the term itself can refer to any of these three meanings in interpreting as well as translating events, it makes the immediate distinction between the Court translators (yiyu) and the Secretariat’s translators (fanshu yiyu) even more difficult. One confusing area related to their duties is that both received state letters on behalf of the throne. In particular, it was hardly ever clarified that the Court translators were among the first few officials to have been in contact with foreign

Chapter 4.  Translation officials in Tang China (618–907)

envoys, and they, most likely, were the first to receive letters from these envoys. These letters would then be submitted to the Secretariat in preparation for a verbal report to the emperor during imperial audiences with the envoys. It was but a generic statement, if not a procedural measure, to suggest that both categories of translators received letters from visiting envoys; in fact, the Court translators would receive the letters earlier and more directly than the Secretariat’s translators did. However, the Court translators did not translate these letters; they merely received them and transferred them to the Secretariat for further action, which may also have involved the provision of Chinese translations for subsequent verbal reports to the throne. The other confusion regarding their job specification is whether the Secretariat’s translators were required to interpret for foreign envoys, as were the Court translators. Li Hu (1998) believes that the Secretariat’s translators had to interpret and translate in the office. Wuyun (2001: 171) concurs, and concludes that both must have been “required to interpret on their jobs”. It seems that both Li Hu and Wuyun agree that the two translators did not differ in any material respect, but neither of them, unfortunately, offers any evidence to justify or substantiate their statements. One cannot help wondering, however, if this was really the case, why both types of translators were needed in the central government in Tang times? In this context, the views of Li and Wuyun seem refutable. One may legitimately argue that both types were needed simply because these translators worked in separate divisions in the administration. However, one of the overwhelming features of the Tang government structure was that duties were clearly defined and divided. It would have been quite perplexing if the Secretariat’s translators were also responsible for interpreting duties, which indeed was the designated duty of the Court translators. This duplication in interpreting duties, if it occurred at all, would indeed run counter to the operational philosophy of the Tang central government: clear division of labor and specific lines of authority. Li Hu, as mentioned above, did not put forward any concrete evidence in support of his claim that the Secretariat’s translators provided interpreting services. Wuyun, however, gives a more elaborate account of her conjectures on this matter. She assumes that since the Court translators were involved in quotidian interpreting for foreign envoys, they could easily cope without knowledge of any written languages. What mattered in performing their duties was the ability to mediate effectively between speakers of spoken Chinese and of other languages. Her view is insightful since few of her predecessors, except Sinor (1982), had made any distinctions between the written and spoken competencies of these translators in Tang times. In this regard, she has taken Li Hu’s view about the duties of the two types of translators a step further.



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

When Wuyun talks about the possible interpreting function of the Secretariat’s translators, we must note that she postulates a scenario wherein certain visiting envoys came from countries that had not yet developed a written language, and therefore could not produce any letters to present to the Chinese emperor, as in the case of the Hephthalites in 520. In this situation, according to Wuyun, the Secretariat’s translators “had to provide simultaneous interpreting when the envoy was delivering his oral message” (Wuyun 2001: 171). At the same time, Wuyun assumes, “there must have been someone around to put down the interpreted speech of the envoy into written Chinese” (ibid.), which would be a quasi state letter to be submitted and reported to the throne in the imperial audience. It is in this connection that Wuyun concludes that the Secretariat’s translators only needed to be competent in spoken Chinese and other languages, but did not require any knowledge of written languages. This argument is problematic, in fact, since the Secretariat’s translators were primarily responsible for translating letters from incoming envoys. It is inconceivable that they would have no knowledge of Chinese, at least in its written form. The other baffling issue worth considering here is this: if a Chinese transcription of the interpreted record of the envoy’s oral message was required at all, why not approach the Court translators to mediate and interpret on the envoy’s arrival? Why wait until the envoy had come to the Secretariat, when the Court translators and other officials in the Court were quite capable of managing the interpreting and writing tasks effectively? Wuyun did not address these questions, however. She certainly has a good understanding of the language situation in firstmillennium­ Asia when she points out that some states had yet to develop their written languages and may have had to deliver their state messages to the Chinese officials orally during their tributary visits. Unfortunately, her proposals, interesting though they are, are not grounded in historical evidence, and do not take into account all of the evidence or all possible interpretations. I shall deal with this point more fully below. Contingency measures The examples of the Hephthalites and Silla we discussed in earlier chapter indicate that during the first millennium, states that had not yet developed their own written languages did not simply pay diplomatic visits to China without state letters. In order to appear respectful, these foreign states would actively approach their ‘literate’ neighbors to compose letters to China on their behalf. Even in the desperate situation of the absence of written languages of their own, these foreign states would scrupulously come up with letters to China in order to conform to

Chapter 4.  Translation officials in Tang China (618–907)

the required diplomatic etiquette. In this connection, Wuyun’s conjecture about the oral translation scenario for the Secretariat’s translators may still be possible, but was probably not a regular practice at the time. If indeed such an oral translation service was called for back in early imperial China, why did the envoys not make these oral translation requests at the Court, where they were first received and accommodated in the capital? After all, the Court, equipped with twenty translators, was the first point of official contact with envoys visiting the capital, and this office was supposed to receive state letters from visiting envoys first, before submitting them to the Secretariat for further action, such as translation. Was it really necessary to delay these oral translation requests until they came to the Secretariat? My conjecture is that the Secretariat’s translators routinely received such letters from the Court and provided Chinese translation accordingly, where necessary, in preparation for verbal reports in imperial audiences with relevant envoys. What the Secretariat’s translators provided, as far as translation was concerned, was written translation into Chinese alone. Judging by the available evidence, no interpreting service seems to have been provided by the Secretariat. In fact, since the Court was supposed to submit letters presented by foreign envoys to the Secretariat, the absence of such letters from states that had not developed their own written languages would certainly have been the Court’s prime concern. It is quite possible, then, that the translators and other officials in the Court would volunteer to address these problems by transcribing the oral messages of these envoys into written Chinese. If oral translation were required at all, the mediating event would most likely take place, in the Court, with the presence and active assistance of the Court translators and other relevant officials. It is not easy to find clear and positive indications that this was indeed the sequence of events. But one further piece of evidence, which seems to support my conjecture, may be noted – an ad-hoc mechanism in the Court, which may easily have gone unnoticed. Without any state letters to submit and without any neighboring states to seek help from, some foreign states may have relied on their envoys to pass on verbal messages to China on behalf of their state rulers. Notably, when foreign envoys arrived at the Court, its officers were entrusted with drawing up reports on their behalf if they had any matters to present to the emperor. 蕃客奏事‚具至日月及所奏之宜,方別為狀。

(Xintangshu 48: 1258)

If foreign guests have something to report to the throne, [officers in the Court] should write it down in detail, with dates specified, in the form of a memorial.

This specific duty is open to interpretation of course, but it certainly has an important bearing on the subject of our inquiry here. For one thing, some envoys may suddenly have come up with something to report to the throne beyond what



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

was already mentioned in their state letters, but this would presumably not be the primary motivation for the ad-hoc scripting mechanism. The other thing to consider, in relation to this mechanism, is that this particular task of the Court seems to fit well with the situation in which envoys came from countries without written languages and had no way of resolving the communication problem on their own. These envoys therefore relied on the Court translators, directly or indirectly, on their arrival to provide written Chinese accounts of their spoken messages in the form of letters to be presented to the Chinese throne during the imperial audience. There is, of course, no way of settling this question with absolute certainty, but since the relevant instruction was so specific about the writing task of the Court, I am more inclined to believe that it had something to do with envoys who had problems producing state letters for their tributary visits. Alternatively, if we borrow Wuyun’s assumption that the Court translators may not have been well-versed in written Chinese because of their non-Chinese ethnic background (Sinor 1982),13 given that the gap between vernacular Chinese and classical written Chinese is as large as that between two different languages, they may have acted simply as verbal mediators between visiting envoys and the Court officials. This way, the Court officials could, as the previous quotation specifies, write up the envoys’ messages in Chinese, possibly based on the translator’s mediation, in the form of letters, for presentation to the Secretariat. Unfortunately, I can find no further information about this specific duty of the Court and have no means of verifying either scenario.14 Still, I have yet to discover any evidence conflicting with my conjecture.

Implications Discussions of the Court translators and the Secretariat’s translators in Tang China did not receive much attention until the last decade, and differences between them have not been of much interest to modern scholarship. In the absence of extensive coverage about translators in Tang times in historical records, there are 13. It must be admitted, however, that the names of the Secretariat‘s translators, documented in the Tanghuiyao and the Cefuyuangui, also suggest their non-Chinese ethnicity. To estimate one‘s Chinese written literacy – based on one‘s ethnicity as reflected in his family name is not entirely reliable” (see Li Hu 1998: 362). 14. Pan (1997: 76) claims that one of the duties of the office of reception (diankeshu 典客署) and the ceremonial office (siyishu 司儀署) was “to write up reports on behalf of visiting envoys if the envoys have matters to present to the emperor”, but I can find no supporting evidence, from her quoted sources, to validate her claim.

Chapter 4.  Translation officials in Tang China (618–907)

still numerous blind spots in our understanding of their exact tasks. Thanks to insights and research efforts, mainly by Li Hu and Wuyun, regarding these two types of government translators, we are in a better position to enhance our understanding of these topics. Building on their studies, this chapter has presented essential differences in the nature of the work of these two types of translation officials in Tang times. Regarding the interpreting function of the Court translators, I have pointed out that the subject matter of their interpreting tasks may have been quite technical, considering their regular roles in conducting, coordinating, and mediating interviews with foreign envoys in the Court. On the moot question of the interpreting function, if any, of the Secretariat’s translators, I have presented evidence against such a proposal by specifying the Court’s duty as drawing up reports for foreign envoys who came to China to pay tribute without the linguistic means to produce state letters on their own. We still have rather limited knowledge of the nature of these two types of translators. Further efforts are needed to review their exact job profiles, through critical exploration and examination of more historical evidence, not only from China, but from historical archives of other East Asian countries as well.


chapter 5

Interpreters and archival records of foreign contacts of imperial China

As a response to the Western effort in researching the history of interpreting, Chinese scholars also started to show interest in this subject, with regard to their own native tradition. Since China has always valued the recording of history starting from early imperial era, most naturally, historical resources would offer the data required for such an investigation. Interestingly, some Chinese archival data relating to interpreting events seem to display a regular linguistic device: the use of dialogues, to document exchanges between the imperial government and foreign envoys. Chinese historian Li Nanqiu (2002) first spotted this discourse feature, and he suggested that interpreters’ words were probably put down in writing as part of the historical records of imperial China. Inspiring as it is, Li’s claim requires further refining. Fundamentally, who put down interpreters’ words in writing and when was the rendition being put down, during or after the interlingual exchange? Who was the gatekeeper to ensure that the written record was properly and accurately kept? Attending to these unresolved issues relating to interpreters and the writing of histories of foreign contact, this chapter will analyze texts drawn from primary historical records. Specifically, I will analyze discourse features of archival records of interpreting events, and show the possible role of interpreters as historians, or consultants, in the recording of history in the early diplomatic history of China.

History of interpreting from national archives Unlike translation, which bears a written record, interpreting is relatively intangible. Research on interpreting and its history is therefore rare. This is somewhat ironic, since interpreters are always connected to history, politics, and crosscultural­ communication, and traces of interpreters or interpreting are constantly

. An earlier form of this chapter first appeared in Lung and Li (2005) in META 50(3): 997– 1009.


Interpreters in Early Imperial China

found in historical records of a nation. Interpreters may be anonymous in history; but their presence as witnesses of history is sometimes documented. The primary method for researching into the history of interpreting is to explore national historical data. Whereas Western, and sometimes Asian, documentation of the history of interpreting relates much to citing interpreters’ participation in diplomatic activities, evidence located in Chinese history often offers the ‘exact’ token of exchanges seemingly rendered by interpreters. Such Chinese archival records are frequently found in the form of direct quotes or dialogues, which were possibly the results of interpreters’ mediating contribution. This could then provide some basis for assuming that interpreters were present in and contributed to not just historical events that require interlingual exchanges, but also the archive of such records as well. Although these are worthwhile observations, the use of direct quotes, however, is not found exclusively in historical records involving interpreting events. Such a style is also found frequently in general historical records. Qian Zhongshu (1986) and Wu Huihua (1994) assert, for instance, that dialogues in Chinese archival records are sometimes the creative work of historians. They both agree that the style of inserting dialogues in historical records is to enhance the readability and authenticity of the text. Even so, it must be noted that the recording of words is in fact a typical feature of Chinese historiography in imperial time. According to the Book of Rites, in China, two historians would chaperon the emperor in public situations, one for recording his activities and the other, his words. The Zuo Zhuan was the first historical record, which pioneered the extensive recording of speech in Chinese history. It is known to have exhibited historic narration through poetic and literary techniques (Li Zhouliang 2001). Another prominent Chinese historian, Sima Qian, was also well-known for his ‘creativity’ in writing authentic and lively dialogues for historical figures with reference to their personalities, identities, and contexts. Despite the possible ‘literary intervention’ of some historians in the Chinese tradition, the examination of historical texts of interpreting events with interlingual exchanges does suggest the presence of interpreters in the diplomatic exchanges, the possible use of interpreters’ notes as a version of history, and possibly the role of interpreters as consultants to Chinese historians. Such a textual analysis will give us new perspectives to analyze the history of interpreting in China, and the results might be highly illuminating to a comparative examination of interpreting as developed in other language cultures.

Chapter 5.  Interpreters and archival records of foreign contacts of imperial China

Pioneers in the early documentation of interpreters Edmond Cary pioneers in studying the history of interpreting in the mid-1950s (in Pöchhacker 2004b), paying special attention to official translation and interpreting activities. Along similar line of historical approach, Hermann (1956/2002) traces interpreting events in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome in the areas of internal central administration, military expeditions, religion, and external diplomacy. Hermann gathered rather fragmented documentation of interpreters’ presence in ancient histories of these countries, noting their inferior social status. What he says about the ancient Egyptian’s view of foreign races as “wretched barbarians” and “inferior people” (2002: 15) is particularly noteworthy. He says, The inscriptions, which record the speeches delivered when foreigners were received at court, are not their actual words, translated from their own languages. Rather, words were literally put in the mouths of the foreigners, words of entreaty for mercy, as thought out and put into stereotypical forms by the Egyptians. Thus, basically, any expression was always that of the Egyptians themselves.  (Hermann 2002: 15–6)

Such a condescending attitude towards an alien race is similar to that of China in ancient times. The way in which alien speech was distorted in conformance to the superiority complex of the host culture, incidentally, also finds expression in the record of interpreting events in Chinese history. More recent pioneers include Kurz (1985), who documents traces of interpreters in historical and classical texts. Similarly, Bowen and colleagues (1995) examine historical documents in different Western countries to locate the presence and influence of interpreters. Most crucially, they document the development of interpreting from piecemeal records in ancient Greece and Egypt to the sophisticated profession of today from diplomatic archives, with special reference to a few prominent interpreters in Western history. Not any less significant is the publication of Roland (1982/1999), a political analyst by training, who adopts an interdisciplinary approach to explore diplomatic roles of interpreters in both the East and West. Roland is one of the first western researchers to have shown interest in documenting Chinese and Japanese interpreting histories. Much evidence she put forward consists of personal diaries and anecdotes in histories, and was not easily located or organized. Although information presented in the aforementioned literature is somewhat fragmented and scattered, it does reflect the increasingly focused efforts of researchers. The

. Because both the borderline of China and the status of non-Chinese peoples have undergone changes over dynasties, the notion of ‘foreign’ in this monograph is used to encompass both ‘non-Han Chinese minorities’ and foreigners in the modern sense.


80 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

interest generated amid hard work speaks of the allure and, at the same time, obstacles in researching into the history of Interpreting Studies. The history of interpreting in China started to receive attention about a decade ago, with the publication of Ma Zuyi’s (1998; 1999) works on Chinese translation history. Inevitably, interpreting, as the more primitive form of communication between speakers of different languages along the Chinese border, is an important chapter in his works. Ma’s inclusion of the history of interpreting was followed by Li Nanqiu’s (2002) monograph on China’s interpreting history. Li being a historian explains why his monograph is arranged chronologically. Li structures his book into themes, such as interpreting in relation to diplomacy, commerce, military, science-technology translation, literary translation, and Buddhist sutra translation. The materials are then profiled chronologically within each category. In fact, its presentation is similar to a history textbook, and the way the author handles materials is also history-based, rather than interpreting-study based. That is, its materials are not analyzed from the perspective of Interpreting Studies. Most typically, Li Nanqiu claims that dialogues were typically used in historical records involving interpreters, and therefore he maintains that it is quite likely that the recording of such histories might have adopted the interpreted texts directly in consultation with the interpreters concerned. His claim is supported by ample historical excerpts, though, unfortunately, most of them are not provided with historical context, linguistic analysis, or cited sources. In order to verify his claim, we need to examine more archival texts pertinent to interlingual exchanges and document the possible roles of interpreters in recording Chinese history, in relation to interactions with foreign envoys.

Interpreters as historians In ancient China, many minority tribes and foreign states lived along its frontiers. As a practice, these states, surviving as either satellite or tributary states to imperial China, would send official delegations to pay tribute and present gifts to the Chinese emperor from time to time. In Tang times, these foreign representatives were normally chaperoned by translation officials throughout their visit to ensure that Chinese etiquette was observed, apart from bridging language barrier. In the Chinese historiography tradition, the standard histories for each dynasty contain specific chapters to devote to biographies of both prominent Chinese and foreign peoples of each age. This is also the part of archive in which exotic tribes and foreign states adjacent to China will be profiled accordingly. In terms of documenting activities between China and foreign states, due to communication barriers between language groups, interpreters were often deployed

Chapter 5.  Interpreters and archival records of foreign contacts of imperial China

to further understanding. Interestingly, exchanges between the imperial Chinese court and foreign envoys were often recorded in the form of quotes and dialogues. Li Nanqiu reiterates that the use of dialogues to capture exchanges involving interpreters suggests the reference to interpreters’ notes in making historical records. Li (2002: 29) asserts, after presenting a dialogic text regarding an interpreting event, “there must have been an interpreter around in the exchange between the emperor and the Türkish envoy. The foregoing dialogue must have been the written record of the interpreting event.” In many parts of his book, Li (2002: 17–18, 20, 22–23) reiterates, “… the dialogues here are obviously written records of interpreters’ words.” Regrettably though, Li did not pursue this claim further by exploring how and when the interpreters’ notes were incorporated into historical records. Furthermore, who recorded the interpreters’ words or the exchange? It might have been the interpreter himself, or official historians accompanying the emperor. By the nature of interpreting, it is likely that most interpreters dealing with foreign envoys would have to interpret on the spot, with or without notes. Back in ancient times, the writing instruments for Chinese people were mainly ink, brushes, and paper or silk scrolls. The process of grinding ink stick and using a writing brush were perhaps too much of a chore for taking notes during interpreting, in the present-day sense of the word. In addition, the so called ‘left (speech) and right (event) historians’ were most likely not able to understand foreign languages. So it left them no choice but to record the renditions from interpreters, taking their words for it with no way of verifying their accuracy. It would be reasonable to assume, therefore, that relevant historical records were made with the help of interpreters through various possible means at the time. To take this assumption further, four scenarios can be postulated. First, interpreters were consulted for pinning down details shortly after interlingual exchanges. Second, interpreters made a record of their work after interpreting events; these could also be regarded as interpreters’ notes, of course. Third, though a remote possibility, interpreters made the historical records themselves, as part of their duties. In Tang times, though, this is totally conceivable. With the stipulation of the Court of diplomatic receptions, translation officials were required to submit written accounts of interviews with foreign envoys to the history bureau within a month. Fourthly, since the Chinese emperor was habitually chaperoned in public situations by the left and right historians who were responsible for recording the emperor’s speech and activities, respectively, these officials could have made reference to interpreters’ renditions on the spot, or consulted interpreters . The same can, of course, be said about the Romans’ use of wax tablets and a stylus in similar context in their earlier histories.



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

while compiling and finalizing their records afterwards in their court diaries or veritable records, which served as raw material for the standard histories written perhaps in the following dynasty. After all, these officials were witnesses of bilingual and multilingual exchanges and would be quite capable of making an accurate rendition of historical records. Whatever the case, the interpreters’ edge is their knowledge of foreign languages, and only interpreters could give an exact and accurate rendition of these exchanges. In this sense, the interpreters’ role is very much like that of a historian, regarding the documentation of exchanges with foreign envoys.

Interpreting events and their records in history There are various kinds of historical records which contain traces of interpreting events and interpreters in China. While most diplomatic exchanges were recorded as if interpreters were invisible or left out, we can safely assume that interpreters must have been present to mediate between Chinese and foreign peoples. Notably, interpreting events were sometimes featured in the form of dialogues or interpreters’ quotes in historical records. As shown in Example 1, the dialogic nature of interpreting events indicates that the exchange would most naturally, if not faithfully, be recorded in dialogues or direct speech. In the first year of the reign period of Qianyuan of emperor Suzong (758), a dynastic marriage was arranged for his younger daughter, Princess Ningguo, to marry Bilgä qaghan of the Uighürs. The emperor felt it wise to appease the Uighürs and sign a peace treaty through this marriage alliance at the time. An imperial official escort, led by emperor Suzong’s nephew, Ju, accompanied the princess to Bilgä’s camp. When the emperor’s envoy arrived at the military tent of Bilgä, Bilgä received him while seated in bed, imposing and dignified, wearing­ . In the interaction between China and its southeastern satellite state Yuechang (present-day Vietnam), the Yuechang envoy spoke to the emperor, reiterating his reliance on relay interpreters in the tribute journey to China. “越裳以三象重譯而獻白雉,曰: “道路悠遠,山川阻 深,音使不通,故重譯而朝。 ”(Literally, “the Yuechang [envoy] came [to the Zhou Chinese court], through [the assistance of] several relay interpreters, to present a white bird. [The envoy] said, “the journey [to China from our country] is long and strenuous, which was made more difficult by the barriers of mountains and rivers. [The distant travel implies also the inevitable] language barriers encountered [on the way], and we only managed to pay tribute [to China] through numerous relay interpreters.) (Houhanshu 86: 2835). . During the few decades under the reign of Suzong’s father, emperor Xuanzong, the Uighürs remained friendly with the Tang. The Uighürs established regular tribute relations with China, and their envoys traveled to the Tang court often.

Chapter 5.  Interpreters and archival records of foreign contacts of imperial China

his robe and head gown. The conversation, which took place between Ju and Bilgä, most likely mediated by Bilgä’s interpreter (see below for further linguistic evidence), were recorded as follows: Example 1 ……, 引瑀立於帳外,謂瑀曰:「王是天可汗何親?」瑀曰:「是唐天子 堂弟。」又問:「於王上立者為誰?」瑀曰:「中使雷盧俊。」可汗又 報曰:「中使是奴,何得向郎君上立?」雷盧俊竦懼,跳身向下立定。 瑀不拜而立,可汗報曰:「兩國主君臣有禮,何得不拜?」瑀曰:「唐 天子以可汗有功,故將女嫁與可汗結姻好。比者中國與外蕃親,皆宗室 子女,名為公主。今寧國公主,天子真女,又有才貌,萬里嫁與可汗。 可汗是唐家天子女婿,合有禮數,豈得坐於榻上受詔命耶!」  (Jiutangshu 195: 5200–1) ……, [the interpreter] ushered Ju to step outside of the tent and inquired: “May I ask what your relationship is to the Tang Khan?” Ju answered: “[I] am the nephew of the Son of Heaven.” Then [the interpreter] asked again: “Who is the one standing above you over there?” Ju replied: “Assistant Commissioner Lei Lujun.” Bilgä bellowed with discontent: “The Assistant Commissioner is your subordinate. How dare [he] position himself higher than you?” Trembling with fear, Lei Lujun swiftly came down and stood in a lower position. Seeing Ju standing there and not bowing in obeisance to him, Bilgä snapped: “In our countries, there are codes of customary obeisance for subjects. How could you not pay your respect to me?” Ju replied: “The Son of Heaven arranged a dynastic marriage for his daughter to you because of your merit and achievements. Usually in such cases in the past, the title of princess was only conferred on daughters from imperial relatives. Princess Ningguo, however, is the real daughter of the Tang emperor. Beautiful and talented, she traveled thousands of miles to marry you. Qaghan is now the son-in-law of the Tang’s imperial family; [you] should know the appropriate etiquette. How dare you sit in bed while receiving imperial edicts?”

There is no mention of the presence of interpreter(s) in this passage. We could, however, deduce that the one interrupting Ju’s entrance to the tent must either be an associate of Bilgä, or an interpreter of Bilgä. The act of interrupting Ju’s movement suggests that the interpreter, or an associate of Bilgä speaking through the interpreter, was not affiliated with the Chinese court. The interpreter was more likely to have been working for Bilgä. Notwithstanding the inclusive identity of the interpreter, linguistic evidence in the exchange did indicate that an interpreter from Bilgä’s side was used. The use of the two distinct terms for the Tang emperor, namely, “Tang emperor” or “Son of the Heaven” and “Tang Khan” in the source text, suggests that there were probably two interpreters in the exchange, one from the Bilgä camp, and the other from the Chinese court. As a diplomatic etiquette, only foreign tributary or satellite states would address the Tang emperor as “Tang



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

Khan”, as in “May I ask what your relationship is to the Tang Khan?” The interpreter from the Chinese court would have to observe the conventional norm of address term for the ruler of Tang as the “Son of Heaven”, as seen in Example 1. The different speech styles also indicate the presence of two interpreters in the interpreting event. The fact that the exchange was recorded in direct speech may be related to the way the Chinese interpreter reconstructed the event, either in his mind, or in his notes. Apparently, these records denote the presence of interpreters in diplomatic exchanges, and the likelihood of using interpreters’ notes as a version of the history. Textual references in Chinese historical records may reflect how an interpreting exchange was documented. Example 2 reveals a unique situation in which the foreign tongue was recorded in direct speech, whereas the Chinese tongue was recorded as either paraphrasing, or summary, or just a plain description. From the perspective of the Chinese court, since the foreign language could only be accessed through interpreting, it was important to keep the content recorded as closely and faithfully as possible to the original. This may well explain why words of foreign envoys were recorded in direct quotes in Example 2. Example 2 吐蕃遣使論彌薩等入朝請求和,則天宴之於麟德殿,奏百戲於殿庭。論 彌薩曰:「臣生於邊荒,由來不識中國音樂,乞放臣親觀。」則天許 之。於是論彌薩等相視笑忭拜謝曰:「臣自歸投聖朝,前後禮數優渥, 又得親觀奇樂,一生所未見。自顧微瑣,何以仰答天恩,區區褊心,唯 願大家萬歲。」明年,又遣使獻馬千匹、金二千兩以求婚,則天許之。  (Jiutangshu 196a: 5226) Lun Misa, an envoy from Tubo (present-day Tibet), paid a visit to the Tang court with his retinue to sue for peace in 702. Empress Wu had a banquet arranged for them in the Linde Hall where a live variety show was to be performed on stage. Lun Misa said to the empress: “Your servant [I] was born in a remote and uncultivated land, and have never known anything about Chinese music. May I have your permission to watch the show?” The empress yielded to his plea. Lun Misa and his retinue were pleased. Delighted by the show, Lun Misa respectfully thanked the empress: “Ever after tendering allegiance to grand Tang [China], your servant [we] have been treated with great kindness. [We] have now even had the chance to watch an extraordinary music show, the likes of which [we] have never seen before. As insignificant individuals, how could [we] ever express our gratitude to the Imperial heavenly grace? From the bottom of my humble and petty-spirited heart, [I] wish the empress a long life of ten thousand years.” In the following year, a Tubo envoy visited Tang China to propose a marriage alliance to the imperial family, with gifts including one thousand horses and 62.5 pounds of gold. Empress Wu granted their wish.

Chapter 5.  Interpreters and archival records of foreign contacts of imperial China

In Example 2, Lun Misa’s words were put down quite precisely twice, both times in direct quotes, whereas the empress’s responses were recorded in a straightforward summary on three different occasions in the source text. This contrast is worth noting. Crucially, it would have made more sense that Chinese official historical records would have given more space to elaborately record the empress’s words, rather than the other way around, especially to the Tibetan envoy. For Tibet had not only always been regarded as ‘barbarian’ throughout the Chinese imperial histories, but also had just been defeated in battles with Tang China (Jiutangshu 196a: 5225–6). Although there is no textual evidence documenting the involvement and identity of interpreters, it is, nonetheless, only logical that the interpreter’s rendition – attending to representing, if not inflating, the submissive stance of the envoys, during the bilingual exchange – would have to serve as the source of this part of the archival record. The example again strongly supports my argument that the interpreter’s role in the mediation is inseparable from the historical record. Example 3 至道元年,其王龍漢穘遣其使龍光進率西南牂牁諸蠻來貢方物。太宗召 見其使,詢以地理風俗,譯對曰:「地去宜州陸行四十五日。土宜五 穀,多種坈稻,以木弩射麓鹿充食。每三二百戶為一州,州有長。殺人 者不償死,出家財以贖。國王居有城郭,無壁壘,官府惟短垣。」  (Songshi 496: 14225) In the first year of the reign period of Zhidao (995) under emperor Taizong, instructed by his king Long Hanxiao, the envoy Long Guangjin led the tribal people in the Zangge region of the southwestern Chinese border to offer their local products as tribute to the Song court. Emperor Taizong summoned to see the envoys and asked them about geographical and cultural features of their country. In reply, the interpreter said, “It would take forty-five days if one travels there by land from the Yi prefecture. The soil is suitable for growing all sorts of grains. Mainly non-glutinous rice is planted there. Deer and river deer are hunted with wooden arrows for food. Each prefecture consists of two to three hundred families, governed by a prefect. There is no death penalty for murder. The release of a monk or nun to the laity can be arranged by a ransom. The king lives in a place protected by inner and outer walls, but there are no ramparts for military defense. And, there are only low walls for officials’ residences.”

Example 3 is an encounter between the Song emperor and a tributary envoy from the southwestern borderlands. It is significant because the text provides specific references to the presence and identity of the interpreter. As in Example 2, the words . The Zangge region comprises part of modern Guizhou and adjacent provinces in southwestern China.


86 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

of the Chinese court in Example 3 were recorded in summary as well, while the interpreter’s words were recorded as direct quotes in detail. Besides, the fact that the emperor summoned the envoy (who is obviously not the interpreter) and that the reply was given by way of an interpreter is explicitly stated in the record below: 太宗召見其使,詢以地理風俗,譯對曰…… 

(Songshi 496: 14225)

Emperor Taizong summoned to see the envoys and asked them about geographical and cultural features of his country. In reply, the interpreter said…

As to the identity of the interpreter, the mere reference of “In reply, the interpreter said” does not really give us any clues. The content of his interpreting, however, suggests that the translation is placed in the context in comparison with Chinese customs of the time. This suggests that the interpreter must have been familiar with Chinese customs. However, he used an incorrect term for a geographical division in his translation. For example: prefecture (zhou) (around 2500 households per prefecture in ancient China) is used to refer to a much smaller residential unit consisting of 200 to 300 households. If the interpreter were a native Chinese, he would have rendered the term “zhou” as county [xian] instead. Therefore, it is most likely that the interpreter was with the foreign envoy, not with the Chinese court. Example 4 四年,遣部領阿辛上表稱「于闐國僂儸有福力量知文法黑汗王,書與東 方日出處大世界田地主漢家阿舅大官家」,大略云路遠傾心相向,前三 遣使入貢未回,重複數百言。董氈使導至熙州,譯其辭以聞。詔前三 輩使人皆已朝見,錫賚遣發,賜敕書諭之。神宗嘗問其使去國歲月,所 經何國及有無鈔略。對曰:「去國四年,道塗居其半,歷黃頭回紇、青 唐,惟懼契丹鈔略耳。」  (Songshi 490: 14109) In the fourth year of the reign period of Yuanfeng under emperor Shenzong (1081), General Ah Xin from Khotan presented its state letter to the Song emperor, which was entitled “From the Heihan [Chinese transliteration of qaghan] King of Khotan who is inferior, fortunate, powerful, and knowledgeable in languages, to the great official and maternal uncle of the Han (Chinese) family who is from the big world in the East where the sun rises.” Basically, the letter said that, although there was a great distance between the two countries, they greatly admired Song China; and that three times in the past they had sent envoys to pay tribute to the emperor, and they still had not returned. The letter went on from there for hundreds of words regarding this matter. . When emperor Taizong asked about Tibetan customs, the documented interpreter’s words specifically focused on the differences between Chinese customs and those of Tibet, such as the law for the murder case, the rules for the release of a monk or nun to the laity, and the architectural characteristics of the ruler’s and his officials’ residences.

Chapter 5.  Interpreters and archival records of foreign contacts of imperial China

[Chinese official] Dong Zhan had General Ah Xin and his retinue guided to the Xi prefecture and had the letter translated into Chinese so that it could be understood. The emperor issued an edict to summon the three Khotan envoys to the imperial audience, and bestowed upon them generous gifts to bring home. They were then sent back to Khotan. [In addition], the emperor proclaimed that they were appointed with Chinese official titles. [During the meeting], emperor Shenzong had enquired how long they had been away; which kingdoms they had been through; and whether they had been attacked or robbed in their journey. They replied: “[We] have been away from Khotan for four years, and [we] are halfway through our journey. [We] have been through the lands of the Uighürs and the Qingtang city. It was in Khitan’s region that [we] were worried that [we] might be attacked and robbed.”

Example 4 highlights the Chinese official procedures in which foreign envoys were summoned to meet the emperor. Before being summoned, the envoy’s state letter would first have to be translated by the Chinese court and presented to the emperor. Also, quite consistently in the record of interpreting events in Chinese history, the emperor’s enquiries to the envoys were all documented in summaries or indirect speech. It was only the replies from the envoys (through an interpreter) that were documented in direct quotes. I suspect that the poor translation of the letter heading might have been the work of either the Khotan translator or the King himself (a relatively remote possibility, though). The poor Chinese translation was exemplified by the improper use of the address term for the Chinese emperor, and the awkward juxtaposition of strings of words which makes no grammatical sense at all. Not being presentable to the Chinese throne, the Khotan letter was translated again by Chinese translators.  In line with the linguistic pattern displayed in Examples 2 and 3, Example 4 again shows the use of direct quotes for foreign envoys, whereas a brief description was often reserved for words from the Chinese court. Such consistency itself may carry a message, and one cannot help but ponder who would be behind this rhetorical convention. If interpreters’ notes were referred to in the process of compiling relevant historical records, it seems that some editorial decisions must have been made to incorporate interpreters’ notes in the standard histories of China.

. According to the Songshi (History of Song Dynasty [960–1279]), the Qingtang city should be the modern Xining city in the Qinghai province (Songshi 2168).



Interpreters in Early Imperial China

Implications Li Nanqiu’s work is the impetus for this study. His claim that interpreters’ words were put down in writing as part of historical records was both stimulating and intriguing. The process of exploring and testing Li’s claim by textual and linguistic analyses gives rise to even more exciting observations regarding historical texts about interpreting events. The examination of these historical texts certainly suggests the presence of interpreters in diplomatic exchanges. However, it must be noted that the ‘linguistic’ presence of interpreters is not consistent across all texts; it is more obvious in some than in others. Linguistic analysis proves to be a useful tool in identifying interpreters’ presence in archival texts. Some examples analyzed in this chapter even provide linguistic clues pertaining to certain identity traces and affiliations of interpreters. Li Nanqiu is probably right in claiming that interpreters’ words might well have been used as part of historical records. His claim, however, could be taken further by identifying possible ways in which interpreters’ words relate to the recording of history about interlingual encounters. In this chapter, different scenarios were put forward whereby interpreters contributed to the making of these historical records. These include interpreters being consulted for details after interlingual exchanges, interpreters’ notes being used as a reference, and historians’ reference to interpreters’ renditions on the spot. Whatever the case, interpreters were closely associated with the making of these historical records. They were either approached for details of the exchange, or quoted by historians directly for more accurate documentation of China’s encounters with foreign envoys. No doubt, interpreters either actively or passively provided linguistic information to refer to in recording these historical encounters. It is therefore plausible that interpreters’ notes might have been used as a version of history, and interpreters acted as consultants to Chinese historians at some points. Most importantly, textual and linguistic analyses of the four archived texts drawn from different periods also confirm that the interpreted speech of foreign envoys were elaborately put down in direct quotes, while words from the Chinese court were often summarized in indirect descriptions. It seems apparent that interpreters’ words were indeed selectively used as part of the historical record. From the viewpoint of a host culture, a detailed record of words of foreign envoys seems more important since interpreters were the only ones who could understand the foreign tongue. The more elaborate quotes from foreign envoys may also be the way interpreters or historians reconstructed the exchange in mind or in notes, given that greater caution would be taken in recording utterances formed in foreign and unfamiliar tongues. The present attempt to research into China’s

Chapter 5.  Interpreters and archival records of foreign contacts of imperial China

interpreting history has taken Li Nanqiu’s claim further and has trod on a different path from those taken in the West (Roland 1982/1999; Bowen et al. 1995). The availability of textual records of interpreting events in ancient China makes textual analyses a worthwhile research instrument in exploring interpreting history of China. The observations made in this project also point to the need for research on power asymmetry among different participants in interpreted events, which has yet to be studied. It is clear from this study that such an endeavor holds much promise.


chapter 6

Interpreters and the writing of histories about interlingual encounters

In this chapter, I intend to put forward the idea that interpreters are crucial figures in the recording of history in relation to imperial China’s diplomatic encounters. I would continue to argue that interpreters are closely connected to the writing of histories about interlingual encounters in early imperial China. Evidence taken from historical texts in ancient China is again used to verify the claim that interpreters’ notes might have been used as a reference in composing historical records. In particular, evidence is drawn from the history of the Sui dynasty, whereby an interpreter’s mediated account of the emperor’s conversation with a Yamato envoy was directly adapted. Most interestingly, pictorial and written documents of foreign peoples made in the mid-sixth century during the Liang dynasty were found to be surprisingly similar to the written accounts about these foreign peoples in the Liangshu, completed in the early seventh century. It seems apparent that there is a solid link between the interview accounts and historical accounts about foreign peoples in China at the time. In Chapter 5, I discussed possible ways in which interpreters’ words can be traced in the historical record of interlingual encounters. Different theoretical scenarios are put forward concerning how interpreters possibly contributed to the making of historical records. In line with these arguments, no doubt, interpreters can be seen as being closely linked to the creation of historical records about diplomatic exchanges. In view of this, and as a continuous effort to document the importance of interpreters in the making and recording of history about China’s foreign contact, I locate further evidence from historical texts in early imperial China to verify one claim made in the last chapter. Evidence will be put forward to substantiate my claim that interpreter’s notes might have been used as references in the composition of historical records pertinent to interlingual exchanges. Also, in Chapter 4, I have given an elaborate account of background information about the imperial Chinese world-view, the Tang central government framework, and translation officials’ duties, which have a direct bearing on the compilation of historical records. Building on this backdrop, I will present ­archived examples of the . Some materials in this chapter first appeared in META 54(2): 201–217.


Interpreters in Early Imperial China

probable use of interpreters’ notes in compiling historical records of the Liang, the Liangshu, and Sui dynasties, the Suishu, (both completed in 636) commissioned by Tang China. Since the Court was the only major department which dealt with foreign envoys in China, the office became an essential point of contact for foreign countries. With its direct access to the envoys through interpreters, the office was the best platform to collect and accumulate information about foreign countries. According to Li Hu […] the Court not only has to report information about foreign countries to the central government, but also has to accumulate the collected information for history compilation and consultation.  (Li 1998: 337)

Li Hu’s claim that the Court had a part to play in “history compilation” is not without ground. After the Western Regions were brought under the control of Tang China in the reign of emperor Gaozong (650–684), the imperial court sent special missions (possibly with interpreters included) to these regions to collect information on local customs and products, which eventually found its way into the Xiyü Guozhi (西域國志) [Accounts of the States of the Western Regions], with maps and other illustrations compiled by the history bureau. However, Liu Boqi notes that “illustrated publications of foreign countries, such as the Xiyü Guozhi, compiled by the Court’s chamberlain, mostly focus on the foreign peoples, their features, dress codes, and customs” (Liu 1974: 272). The fact that both the history bureau and the Court’s chamberlain were mentioned in standard histories as the compiler of the book suggests that they could have worked closely in publications about foreign countries. Besides, Jia Dan (賈耽), once the Court’s chamberlain, published several geographical works about China’s neighbors. According to his biography, his experience as the chamberlain gave him direct access to information from both the China-bound envoys and the returning Chinese envoys. Sinologist Edward ­Schafer even asserts that Jia Dan’s remarkable knowledge of world geography was derived “from personal interviews with the visiting envoys” (1963: 27). Information from foreign envoys may not have been directly useful for political decisions, but it was certainly given great importance by the Chinese court. For example, mediated exchanges between the emperor and foreign envoys were directly adapted in the ­Suishu. Since terms such as “the Court of diplomatic receptions” and its “chamberlain” were mentioned several times in the Suishu 81 (p. 1827, p. 1876), it is likely . Liu Boqi’s observation was based on the Tanghuiyao and the Yuhai, the latter, an ancient book published in the Qing era. These cannot be quoted in detail because of the limited space here. . Jiutangshu 138: 3782–3787.

Chapter 6.  Interpreters and the writing of histories about interlingual encounters

that the Court, in operation during Sui China, would also be equipped with interpreters. For example, Mohe (靺鞨) (a state settled in the northern Korean peninsula) envoys were sent to pay tribute to emperor Wen of Sui around 583. 高祖詔其使曰:「朕聞彼土人庶多能勇捷,今來相見,實副朕懷。朕視 爾等如子,爾等宜敬朕如父。」對曰:「臣等僻處一方,道路悠遠,聞 內國有聖人,故來朝拜。既蒙勞賜,親奉聖顏,下情不勝歡喜,願得長 (Suishu 81: 1822) 為奴僕也。」 Emperor Gaozu (Wen) told the envoys [of Mohe], “I heard that people in your country are mostly brave and quick. I am so glad that you came to pay tribute. You are like my sons and you should just respect me as if I were your father.” [One of the envoys then] replied, “Your servants [We] are from a remote area of a distant land. Since we heard that there is a sage person in this country, we decided to pay our tribute. Your servants [We] were so overwhelmed in seeing your sagely face and in receiving generous gifts from you that [we] are willing to be your servants forever.”

The discourse feature of the Suishu is mostly descriptive paragraphs with occasional insertion of memorials from major officials. Unlike the Shiji (史記, Records of the Grand Historians), dialogues are not often found in the Suishu. Since this part of the Sui history was in the form of dialogues, which involve the Mohe envoys, the most likely scenario is that the interpreter’s mediated accounts on the occasion might have been simply recorded and found their ways directly into the Suishu. The interpreter’s role, as suggested in this example, is again inseparable from the recording of history of foreign contact in China. In a different example, when the Yamato envoy arrived at the Sui court in 600, emperor Wen asked the official-in-charge to inquire after its customs, and the envoy’s detailed answers were again incorporated into the Suishu. 上令所司訪其風俗。使者言倭王以天為兄,以日為弟,天未明時出聽 (Suishu 81: 1826) 政,跏趺坐,日出便停理務。 The emperor asked the official-in-charge to inquire about the customs [of Yamato]. The envoy said, “our sovereign (Suiko Tenno, the first female emperor in the Japanese history) regarded Heaven as her elder brother and the sun as her younger brother. She would sit with legs crossed while listening to the government affairs before dawn and stop working once the sun rises”. . The Shiji is the name given to an enormous history of China's dynastic empires, written between the end of the second century and the beginning of the first century BC by Sima Tan and his son, Sima Qian (145–86 BC). Also known as the Records of the Grand Historian, the Shiji recounts all of Chinese history up to that time. It is the first universal history of early China and the first of the official dynastic histories of imperial China.


94 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

The official-in-charge, here referred to, was most likely an official or interpreter in the Court, which was known as the grand Honglu office (Da Honglu) in the Sui dynasty (Li 1998). Whereas the question put to the envoy was an indirect description, the envoy’s answer was recorded quite elaborately in the Suishu, as extensively pointed out in the last chapter. Like previous dynasties, the Sui emperors were keen on receiving foreign envoys in China. Emperor Yang, in particular, considered it a sign of political stability and prestige, and he actively asked his court officials to visit foreign countries to promote their tribute-paying missions to China. Pei Ju (裴矩) (547–627), a prominent figure in emperor Yang’s reign, for example, was frequently sent to the western frontier to develop diplomatic ties and collect information about the Western Regions for the emperor. In the biography of Pei Ju in the Suishu, the way he came up with the publication of the Xiyu Tuji 西域圖記 [An Illustrated Account of the Western Regions] was documented. 尋討書傳,訪採胡人,或有所疑,即詳眾口。依其本國服飾儀形,王及 (Suishu 67: 1579) 庶人,各顯容止,即丹青模寫。 [He] located books, accounts, and interviewed foreigners in the border markets. When he came to confusing matters, he would ask for details from other [foreigners]. He would draw pictures immediately to make records of the dress codes, demeanor, and features of their kings and civilians.

Although we do not have any detailed accounts of Sui China’s policy with regard to the interviewing of foreign envoys and drawing their pictures as part of the government archives, the biography of Pei Ju did prove the existence of similar practice in the Sui dynasty. As a measure to secure stable political transition, it was common for imperial China to continue good practices of the previous dynasties. During the Tang era, continuing a tradition that must have gone back to much earlier times, various government agencies that dealt with foreign envoys were required to make regular reports to the history bureau. The Court, for instance, regularly questioned foreign envoys about their countries. Sometimes at an imperial audience, the emperor himself would put questions to envoys, as seen in examples from Chapter 5, following, again, the checklist of questions along the lines of local customs, products, geography, and the like. It is not entirely clear how binding the rules for reporting information were, but the accounts of foreign states and peoples in the standard histories, presumably partly based on such information, show that there were indeed such reports produced for – and used, perhaps selectively, by – the historiographers (Pan 1997). In Chapter 4, I examined a passage, about the Kirghiz’s visit to Tang China in 843, taken from the Xintangshu (217: 6150) to illustrate the obligatory presence of Tang interpreters to mediate exchanges in the Court’s interview. Notwithstanding the location of such archives regarding the official procedures of interviewing

Chapter 6.  Interpreters and the writing of histories about interlingual encounters

f­ oreign envoys at the Court, there had been little discussion about the exact nature of these interviews. It was not until I located a memorial from chief minister Li Deyu of emperor Wuzong and a relevant document from the Tanghuiyao that these interviews can be better understood. When the Kirghiz dispatched their second batch of envoys (the first being sent in 842) to China around 843, an interview, as a rule, was conducted with the Kirghiz envoys and a portrait of the envoys drawn. Afterwards, Li Deyu submitted a memorial to the emperor. This document disclosed crucial details as to the way in which the interview with the envoys was carried out. 進紇戛斯朝貢圖傳狀 臣二十一日於延英面奏,呂述等准 訪紇戛斯國邑風俗,編為一傳。今修 撰已成,稍似詳備。臣伏見貞觀初,因四夷來朝,太宗令閻立本各寫其 衣服形貌,為職貢圖。臣謹令畫工注寫注吾合素等形狀,列於傳前。兼 臣不揆淺陋,軏撰傳序。 (Fu and Zhou 2000: 347) A memorial offering an account and a painting of the Kirghiz tribute mission On the twenty-first day, I memorialized in person in the Yanying Hall that Lü Shu and others had been imperially authorized to inquire about the Kirghiz customs and to compile this [information] into one zhuan [memoir]. Now it has been completed; it seems to have been prepared carefully. I humbly observed that at the beginning of the Zhenguan reign period, because foreigners from the four [directions] came to court, [emperor] Taizong ordered Yan Liben to sketch the clothing and appearance of each of them, making a painting of them offering tribute. [Thus,] I respectfully ordered a painter to make a sketch of the appearance of Zhu-wu Alp Sol and the others, to be placed at the beginning of the zhuan. At the same time Your servant, not considering his inferior ability, wrote a preface to the account. (Translated in Suprunenko 1963, in Drompp [2005: 293])

Basically, the memorial was submitted alongside the Kirghiz Memoir and the accompanying painting. The purpose of this memorial was to inform the emperor of the completion of the account and the painting. It also made a pointed reference to emperor Taizong’s diplomatic success in drawing foreign tribute-bearers to his court in the past. Besides, Li Deyu had also written a preface to the Kirghiz Memoir to commemorate the historical visit. Obviously, the systematic collection of information about foreign envoys and the paintings of these foreigners and their geographical landscapes continued, perhaps more vigorously, in the late Tang dynasty. According to the Tanghuiyao, Zhu-wu Alp Sol and six fellow envoys from the Kirghiz brought two horses for the Chinese emperor and hoped that the Tang emperor could award the Kirghiz king a title in recognition of their continuous contribution in the military campaigns against the Uighürs (Tanghuiyao 100: 1785).


96 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

As instructed by emperor Wuzong, the envoys were interviewed at the Court about the geography and customs of their nation. It seemed that a group of seven Kirghiz officials was interviewed by a number of Chinese officials, some from the Court, with at least an interpreter and a painter from the Tang court for the event, while others from the department of arms must have been present at the interview as well. Lü Shu, a fourth-ranking official mentioned in the above passage, was then the sub-director of the department of the Imperial Library, who “wrote books for the imperial court” (Xie 1995: 211; Fu and Zhou 2000: 384). Interestingly, an examination of Li Deyu’s preface to the Kirghiz Memoir reveals more about this particular interview. He wrote 黠戛斯朝貢圖傳序 ……由是龍荒君長黠戛斯遣注吾合素等上表,獻良馬二匹……謹按故相 魏國公賈耽所撰«古今四夷述»,紇戛斯者,本堅昆國也……其所述作, 該明古今,乃詔太子詹事韋宗卿、秘書少監呂述,往蒞賓館,以展私 覿,稽合異同,覼縷闕遺。傳胡貊兜離之音,載山川曲折之狀……臣輒 因韋宗卿、呂述所紀異聞,繢飾以事。敢敘率服,以冠篇首。  (Fu and Zhou 2000: 20–22) Preface to the Kirghiz Memoir …[T]herefore, the king of Kirghiz entrusted Zhu-wu Alp Sol to present a letter and two fine horses [to the Tang emperor]. The Gujin Junguo Xiandao Siyi Shu [Discussion of Foreign peoples from the Four Directions, Past and Present], written by the ex-Chief-Minister, Jia Dan, has actually informed us that the Kirghiz was originally called the state of Jiankun. Jia Dan’s works have been useful references for the past and present. Thus, the emperor ordered Wei Zongqing, an advisor to a prince, and Lü Shu, the sub-director of the department of the Imperial Library, to visit the Court [where the Kirghiz envoys were] and try to give an authentic and detailed account of the differences and similarities between the Kirghiz people and the Chinese. Hopefully, we would then get a better understanding of the Kirghiz people and their geographical conditions. Finally, I took the liberty of writing a preface to the exotic account of the Kirghiz as recorded by Wei Zongqing and Lü Shu to accompany the painting of the envoys. . Twitchett remarks: “this office had an ancient and intimate connection with the work of the historians and continued to provide a variety of information for the historical record throughout the Tang period” (1992: 12). . According to Yuan and Pan, the functions of the Imperial Library were “to manage classics and illustrated works, to catalogue the imperial collections, to collate and to go through the mechanical procedures of publishing books” (1997: 305).

Chapter 6.  Interpreters and the writing of histories about interlingual encounters

From the preface of Li Deyu, we know that Wei Zongqing was also asked to attend the interview with the Kirghiz envoys. But it seems that the role of both Wei Zongqing and Lü Shu served more as observer or note-taker (through the interpreter’s mediation) than active interviewers on the occasion, since these two officials belonged to neither the Court nor the department of arms. In this connection, it is reasonable to assume that, for some interviews with foreign envoys at least, officials from other departments were present in different capacities as well. It is also possible that some interviews might have been more elaborate than others, depending on the agenda behind the interview, which reflected diplomatic, strategic, and documentary needs. In this particular example, the two officials were summoned by the chief minister, on the emperor’s instruction, to gather information from the interview with the Kirghiz envoys to compile a memoir, which appears to be a task of some priority for the imperial court. Although this memoir is no longer extant, its title, (紇戛斯朝貢圖傳), literally, [An Illustrated Transmittal on the Tribute Offered at the Levee by the Kirghiz], was documented in other books (Schafer 1963: 273; Xie 1995: 211). Apparently this memoir had ten chapters, and Li Deyu’s preface to it was noted as a single chapter (Light 2001: 495). It seems apparent that Lü Shu’s publication was a product of the interview with the Kirghiz envoys. Presumably, notes or reports of the (interpreter-mediated) Kirghiz interview as compiled provided highly relevant information in the writing of this book. Considering the fact that interpreters mediating in the interview with envoys were affiliated to the Court, and that they were required to collect information about foreign countries for the history bureau, it seems logical to assume that, at the time, as a common practice, they might also have coordinated those interviews. The Court’s interpreters participated in the actual interpreting by probably putting down relevant information in a written report, which was then submitted along with the painting to the history bureau. In this light, interpreters’ notes were probably essential sources for the compilation of certain historical records concerning foreigners in China.

Links between interview reports and historical records Pictorial collection of visiting envoys and written accounts of their countries appear to be a common theme for paintings commissioned by the imperial court in China. Paintings titled the Zhigongtu (Tribute-paying Picture), for instance, were found in different reigns of both the Liang and Tang dynasties.


98 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

Figure 2.  Part of the Zhigongtu (Tribute-paying Picture)

Figure 2, painted in the mid-sixth century, is part of the entire Zhigongtu, which contains the portraits of two foreign envoys (the left one from Dengzhi [鄧至], the right from Langyaxiu [狼牙修]), with a written account about each of their countries. The painting, widely believed to be an imitation made in the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127), was originally made by Liang emperor Yuan (Xiao Yi 蕭繹, [r. 552–555]) when he was still a prince (Jin 2004: 217). Assuming that these portraits and associated accounts were produced during or after interviews with the foreign envoys in the Court, this textual and pictorial evidence could be related to the use of the interview data and the report submitted afterwards. While we do not have extensive historical record about portraits drawing during interviews with foreign envoys in the Liang dynasty, there is evidence from the Liangshu which points to the similar practice of envoys being interviewed in the Court,

. The Liang dynasty (502–557) was one of the many dynasties found during a divided and chaotic period in China preceding the Sui dynasty. . Terms such as “Honglu” (Court of diplomatic receptions) and “Honglu qing” (Chamberlain of the Court) are regularly found in the Liangshu 54 on p. 689 and p. 718. The Court must have carried out similar diplomatic function as in any other dynasties with the same establishment. . One of the compilers of the Liangshu, Yao Cha, was a historiographer of the Liang dynasty. The existence of such an official post suggests the possible establishment of a historiography office in the imperial court during Liang times.

Chapter 6.  Interpreters and the writing of histories about interlingual encounters

……莫不編名屬國,歸質鴻臚,荒服來賓,遐邇同福。 (Liangshu 5: 130) [These foreign countries] are all listed as our tributary states. Tribute-paying foreign envoys, dressed in alien and unfamiliar clothes, gathered at the Court to be questioned. It is a blessing for countries close by and faraway.

Figure 2 provides solid evidence of the practice during the Liang dynasty whereby portraits of foreign envoys were drawn and information about their landscapes and customs recorded next to their portraits. As touched on briefly in Chapter 2, these written records might have been made during their interviews at the Court as suggested by the above passage from the Liangshu. As to the entire Zhigongtu, there are still controversies over the actual number of envoys drawn in the original work (Zhao 2011). Although there are twelve full-size portraits of foreign envoys in the existing exhibit in the National Museum of China, I located texts about thirteen countries (not twelve) in this painting, with an account of about 60 to 250 words describing each of the countries, placed against the portrait of the envoy concerned.10 This suggests that at least one portrait is missing in the existing painting. The countries documented in this painting, in sequence, are: the Hephthalites, Persia (present-day Iran), Paekche (North Korea), Guizi, Yamato, Dangchang (present-day Gansu, China), Langyaxiu, Dengzhi (presentday ­ Sichuan, China), Karghalik (present-day Yarkand), Kabadiyan, Kumedhan (­present-day northern Afghanistan), Baiti and Mo. Three important observations should be noted in connection with this painting. First, the content and profile of the written accounts, short and long alike, interestingly, tally with the standard lists of questions asked during interviews with foreign envoys in the Court during the Tang dynasty. The textual information consists of the name of the country, its geographical location in relation to China, its climate, products, customs, its history and political ties with China, its present king, and the tributes being brought along. It is quite possible that the “report” submitted to the history bureau (or its counterpart during the Liang dynasty) actually used a similar format to the one shown in Figure 2.11 If this is really the case, it can be deducted that Tang China must have inherited the practice and tradition

10. The tricky part is the two broken paragraphs following the portrait of the Yamato envoy, which causes people to believe that the painting is an account of twelve countries. In fact, the two paragraphs document Yamato and Dangchang respectively. The pitiful fact is that the portrait of the Dangchang envoy is missing. 11. The Liangshu, completed in 636 and composed of six Annals and fifty Biographies, was compiled during the Zhenguan reign period of emperor Taizong by Yao Cha, one of the officials in the history bureau during the Liang dynasty, and his son, Yao Silian.


100 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

regarding the collection of information about foreign countries from previous dynasties. Ironically though, it is the detailed records in the Liangshu composed in Tang times that give us hints about what the background of this painting, made at the time of Liang China, is all about. Second, since the portrait was drawn by Xiao Yi around 520 to 530 (the Zhigongtu having been completed in 539) well before he became the emperor, there must have been interaction between him as a prince and selected envoys. Just as the accounts of these thirteen countries vary in length, the Chinese court might have valued some countries more than the others with due consideration of their strength and strategic importance in the region. However, we do not know how involved the prince was in questioning the envoys. But the written accounts in the painting were likely to have been provided by the interpreter(s) or associated official(s) who mediated in the interlingual encounter and then wrote the accounts. Third, the written accounts in the painting (made in mid-sixth century) were found to be quite identical to the ones found in the account of foreign peoples in the Liangshu (completed in the early seventh century). For instance, the longer account in the middle of the painting is a description of the country called Langyaxiu. This account was found almost verbatim in the account of Langyaxiu in the Liangshu (54: 795). The text in the Liangshu, however, was punctuated and fine-tuned stylistically, perhaps by the compilers, for better readability. Besides the addition of the full text of the letter from Langyaxiu at the end of the account, textual changes introduced, as can be seen when compared to the account on the painting, were minimal. As to the shorter account (on the left of the painting) of the country called Dengzhi, it was largely used in the account of Dengzhi in the Liangshu (54: 815–6), with a short insertion of an update on historical events. The insertion and stylistic enhancement in the historical account, again, are likely to be the work of the compilers of the Liangshu. The incomplete text to the right of the Langyaxiu envoy can be traced as making up part of the textual account of Dangchang in the Liangshu (54: 815), with a high level of similarity towards the end of the text in question. Notwithstanding the incomplete state of the painting, its textual records must have once facilitated the successful compilation of the Liangshu in 636 before it was damaged probably in a later time during the Tang dynasty. In a way, reference to the Liangshu is able to complement our understanding of the incomplete written records on the painting, although ironically, the compilation of the part on foreign peoples in the Liangshu, was probably based on interpreters’ reports of interviews with these envoys. In order to conclude the degree of resemblance between the thirteen texts on the painting and the corresponding accounts in the Liangshu, I conducted a tentative textual analysis and come up with the following statistics.

Chapter 6.  Interpreters and the writing of histories about interlingual encounters 101

Table 1.  Degree of resemblance between the Zhigongtu and the accounts of foreign peoples in the Liangshu Resemblance

Areas of discrepancies

1 The Hephthalites 滑



Paragraphs rearranged in the Liangshu;

2 Persia 波斯


Contents and wordings largely identical, with some parts on the painting vaguely legible;

3 Paekche 百濟


Incomplete beginning and ending on the painting;

4 Guizi 龜茲


One-quarter not legible on painting;

5 Yamato 倭


Incomplete, but wordings highly identical;

6 Dangchang 宕昌


Incomplete, but wordings highly identical;

7 Langyaxiu 狼牙修


Content and wordings highly similar, with stylistic changes introduced in the Liangshu, state letter included in the Liangshu;

8 Dengzhi 鄧至


Content and wordings highly similar, with stylistic changes introduced in the Liangshu;

9 Karghalik 周古柯


Shortened text in the Liangshu;

10 Kabadiyan 柯跋檀


Shortened text in the Liangshu;

11 Kumedhan 胡蜜丹


Shortened text in the Liangshu;

12 Baiti 白題


Two typo errors in the Liangshu;

13 Mo 末


The other 25% missing on the painting;

Inevitably, the degree of resemblance in terms of percentage, as presented here, is basically impressionistic rather than totally scientific. It should be noted also that the intention of the above table is not to quantify typo errors and missing text, but to highlight the high degree of similarity between the two sources of archives. These rudimentary statistics, however, do serve to reflect that there is a significant link between the textual information on the Zhigongtu and the corresponding historical texts found in the accounts of foreign peoples in the Liangshu. Since Yao Cha (533– 606), one of the compilers of the Liangshu, served as the official historiographer in the Liang dynasty, he certainly was involved in the collection of useful information for potential history compilation. It is not surprising that the Zhigongtu turned out to be an indispensable source for Tang China’s knowledge of foreign states that sent envoys to Liang China. Eventually, when Yao Cha and his son, Yao Silian, were asked to compile the Liang history in 636, the Zhigongtu, which contains sophisticated information of dozens of foreign states, was then still intact and became an important source of reference. It is essential to note that the reasons for the existing discrepancies between the two texts are mostly due to missing information resulting from the damage on the painting and stylistic changes introduced possibly in the process of editing and history compilation. Besides these differences, the two texts are mostly intrinsically identical in terms of contents and wordings. These similarities could

102 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

not have been accidental; they are borne out of the fact that interpreters’ reports of the interviews with these foreign envoys were taken as essential references in history compilation about these foreign states. In short, the painting and its textual account completed (probably with the help of interpreters) did provide the direct source materials for compiling the history of the Liang. In this regard, inarguably, there seems to be a direct and solid link between the accounts of the interviews and the historical account about foreign peoples in China. Notwithstanding the scanty evidence found so far, the possibility that interpreters’ notes, in the form of reports sent to the history bureau, provided important, if not primary, source materials for history compilation in early imperial China, cannot be ruled out. Implications The cosmopolitanism of Tang China attracted an unprecedented mix of foreigner to China, and they had each their own political, commercial, or religious agenda. Cross-cultural and cross-linguistic interaction thus gave rise to greater use of interpreting services in ancient China. For interpreting historians, the Tang Chinese archives surely provide an ideal platform to study the roles of interpreters in imperial China’s foreign exchanges. Most naturally, therefore, it is within this historical time frame that valuable information about Chinese interpreting can be located. By revealing the Tang practice to interview foreign envoys in the Court, locating textual and pictorial evidence about these envoys and their countries, and verifying the actual adoption of some materials (collected based on interviews) in its archival accounts of foreign peoples, I draw logical links between the interpreters’ written accounts as derived from the interviews and the production of various official documents on foreign peoples. Besides, I also draw the connection between these accounts and the compilation of accounts of foreign countries. The process whereby interpreters’ notes might have served as important references in the archives of cultural and political exchanges for imperial China, as well as the nature of interviews with foreign envoys, were also analyzed through a close study of the texts. Admittedly, this chapter only manages to explore an extremely limited area on interpreting history in China. However, the experience of researching on this specific issue of interpreting history reveals to me the astonishing potential of using historical records and documents in expanding our knowledge in this under-explored area. Historical documents such as memoirs, paintings, memorials, imperial edicts, standard histories, and time-honored publications of various sorts, when examined thoroughly, are highly inspiring. The unknown elements in interpreting history will be further unveiled to us this way. These textual records will surely continue to have a lot to offer to the historians of interpreting.

chapter 7

Interpreters as consultants in historiography in eighth-century China

During the time-honored interaction with foreign states in the history of Tang China, language mediators, official or amateur, were certainly indispensable. This chapter analyzes archived evidence about interpreters’ consulting roles in the writing of historical accounts about foreign peoples and places, independently and privately compiled by Tang Chinese officials out of their personal ethnographic interest. One of the primary goals for the Chinese officials in approaching amateur foreign interpreters was to collect, out of curiosity, ethnographic intelligence about alien places for the unknown territories. However, what has gone largely unnoticed in the literature is that the impact of these language mediators did not necessarily just stop at the moment when the relevant intralingual or interlingual exchanges ended. The impact of their assistance, in the capacity of linguistic or cultural consultants, is still traceable in, and has been extended to, the subsequent process of history compilation on relevant bilingual exchanges. Tang Chinese frontier general Ge Jiayun (蓋嘉運) and chief minister Jia Dan both made investigative trips to places outside China and talked to different peoples before writing their accounts of alien places and peoples in the eighth-century. A study of their possible contact with and reliance on interpreters in the process of completing their ethnographic accounts gives us insights into interpreters’ crucial and yet subtle presence in and contribution to the construction of archives that dealt with exchanges across the cultural and linguistic barriers. The documentation of these archaic and authentic interpreting events will enable us to reflect on our understanding of the current definitions and features of translation and translators. The presentation of these archived exchanges will also highlight the way in which these ad hoc interpreters, in the forms of local guides, foreign sellers, or indigenous elderly, were described in the historical accounts. These observations about the backgrounds of amateur or volunteered interpreters, who casually offered linguistic and cultural assistance to strangers on their territories, present lively interlingual exchanges unique to such ethnographical settings. These idiosyncrasies necessarily pose questions as to how well the documented intermediating activities across cultures can be comfortably generalized using existing notions of translation.

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Historical dimension of Translation Studies A historical dimension in Translation Studies has been emerging over the last decade, with researchers calling for attention to the implications of historical translation episodes to the discipline as a whole and the worth of pursuing translation history to translation theories. Hung (2006: 157) says, with reference to the historical study of translation in China, “to gain any real knowledge of the historical translation scenario, one would have to be educated in Chinese history”. Hung also stresses that “a sound contextual understanding of primary sources would have much to offer to Translation Studies” (ibid.: 158). In short, the principal methodology to study a country’s history of translation is to examine its histories and archival records. The merit of focusing on raw archival evidence in the historical study of translation is that claims made about ancient mediating activities would be based on substantial textual analyses, not imaginary or presumptuous opinions arising from the media, fictitious works, or plain wild guesses. This chapter is a modest attempt to contribute to the historical pursuit in Translation Studies. I do so by presenting first, the references to the subtle presence of language mediators in ancient China’s initiative to explore exotic places and document alien peoples. In this first section, I will also discuss the social identities of these ad hoc interpreters in China’s quest for foreign adventures. Secondly, I will discuss the cases of Ge Jiayun and Jia Dan respectively with the intention of showcasing how, in their compilation of accounts about foreign countries, the ad hoc interpreters made contribution in bridging gaps between languages and cultures.

Historical interpreting: Real or fictitious Developmentally, language begins orally in humans first before the written form is learned. That is to say, people started to speak before they learned to write. By extension, the oral feature of interpreting infers that its history necessarily dates back further in time than that of written translation. Precisely because an interpreting event is evanescent by nature, its occurrence in the remote past in histories has been usually assumed, rather than widely archived. Cronin (2006) writes extensively about the traits of interpreters and he comments on their roles and job nature in different virtual contexts, using sociological concepts, such as fidelity, power, and control. In Cronin’s discussion of interpreters’ identities, one of the major roles of interpreters is gathering intelligence. No doubt, it is an eye-catching angle in the analysis of interpreters and interpreting. However, if we have a fixation about the spying nature and abilities of interpreters, it is easy to lose sight of the more dominant and neutral function of interpreters in bridging knowledge,

Chapter 7.  Interpreters as consultants in historiography in eighth-century China 105

thoughts, and information across the borders of languages, states, and cultures. In theorizing interpreting, the common-place, and perhaps mechanical at times, language mediation duty per se should not be left out, or treated casually just because it is plain and ordinary. In fact, the majority of interpreting falls into this mundane category, which should not be discarded simply because it is not exciting. I am not inclined to make sweeping generalizations about interpreters because their perceived roles may vary depending on the ultimate goals of intelligence gathering. It had been a tradition in dynastic China, for example, as early as the third-century BC, that officials would either volunteer, or be instructed, to make exploratory trips to exotic places to learn about the world and peoples outside the China proper. How much of this curiosity about the ‘periphery’, in the forms of exploring the places and cultures beyond China, was overwhelmingly strategic and military by nature is impossible to pin down precisely. However, judging from the ethnographic publications produced in imperial China subsequent to these explorative expeditions across centuries, the straightforward thirst for knowledge about the world outside the Chinese realm should, simply perhaps, be treated as genuine anthropological attempts. As such, interpreters involved in these attempts to expand knowledge about the strange and the exotic might be better thought of as language and cultural mediators. However, most of the recent discussions about interpreters, real or fictitious, seem to have excessively dwelled on the dramatized facets of the language mediators (Cronin 2002; 2006). In this chapter, I focus instead on documenting the more innocent, if not representative, aspect of interpreters based on evidence culled from the Chinese archives.

Ancient China’s initiatives to explore exotic places During the interaction with foreign states, language mediators were crucial not just at the moment when interlingual exchanges were conducted, but in the subsequent process when these exchanges were to be archived as written records as well. Cronin (2006: 81) relates the relevance of interpreters to the documentation of histories and recognizes that interpreters are witnesses to the chroniclers simply because of their physical presence in the scene of, and exposure to, diplomatic discussions in which they mediated. In his chapter on ‘interpreters and identities’, Cronin (2006) focuses on presenting politicized interpreters who worked in a prejudiced manner with a hidden agenda. In examining the standard archive in Tang China regarding interlingual exchanges, however, I do not find the scandalous image of interpreters quite representative of the translation officials at the time. The more common scenario about interpreters as seen reflected in the description of these archival documents was in fact of quiet ­ language mediators

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doing their job in a matter-of-fact fashion as simple and pure facilitators of interlingual or intercultural events. As Torikai (2009: 1) puts it, “interpreters are facilitators; they exist, and yet they do not exist”. Interpreters are not supposed to be heard since their own voices are inaudible. Collection of information about alien places and peoples for Chinese rulers, primarily out of genuine anthropological curiosity of the unknown territories, dated back to pre-imperial times. Most typically, the Shanhaijing (A Classic of Mountains and Seas) is a compilation of geographical reports, tales, myths, fiction, rituals, medical knowledge, natural history, and ethnic peoples of the ancient world of China and its neighbors from the third century BC to the second century AD. It is quite possible that such a mythical inquisition, as exemplified in this classic about alien places and peoples in the pre-Qin (221–207 BC) period was, later on, taken seriously and put into practice in actual encounters with foreign countries and peoples. This inquisitive practice dated back, notably, to Former Han China when emperor Wu (r. 140–87 BC) dispatched Zhang Qian (張騫), a military officer, to explore the power dynamics of various Asian states to the west of China, in preparation for a potential joint military front against the Huns, in the Western Regions in 139 BC. Alongside gathering written accounts on countries which presented tributary gifts, early imperial China was also keen on retaining pictorial archives of visiting envoys, as discussed in previous chapters. Like preceding dynasties, the Sui emperors were also keen on receiving foreign envoys and retained similar documentation of foreign countries and peoples. In Tang times, the procedures of documentation about foreign countries were even stipulated and attached with greater importance. For instance, information files about certain exotic countries were systematically archived in both the history bureau and the departments concerned. These files were compiled largely, but not exclusively, through interviewing visiting envoys in the Court. Whatever the case, Tang China was active in deploying officials to gather ­intelligence from foreign territories. On the official level, in the reign of emperor Taizong, Chen Dade (陳大德), the director of the division of operation in the ministry of arms, ventured to Koguryŏ in 641 as an emissary in order to collect information. It was recorded that Chen Dade was able to find guides to show him around through the distribution of gifts. This explains how he managed to acquire strategic landscape information from there. These guides, being lured into ­assisting . Its exact authorship and the time when it was written are still unverifiable. However, the general consensus is that this book was not written at a single time by a single author, but rather by numerous people at different times from the period of the Warring States (475–221 BC) to the early Han dynasty.

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Chen Dade in his intelligence mission, were probably locals from Koguryŏ, since there were a good number of early Chinese emigrants in the Korean peninsula in early centuries in the first millennium. Therefore, Chen Dade would not have fallen short of Chinese-Korean translators to help him get around the country, in which Korean vernacular was spoken, not Chinese. Similarly, in 787, Tang military official Cui Huan (崔渙) gathered information from Tubo (or Tufan, present-day Tibet) by bribing the local servants on his mission (Jiutangshu 12: 356; 196b: 5251). Most notably, in 830, when Li Deyu was the military commissioner of Sichuan, he made special efforts through personal interviews and investigations to collect information about the southwestern frontier. Such information became a major source for the compilation of Accounts of Nanzhao (南詔) (present-day southern China and Southeast Asia) in the Tang archives, such as the Jiutangshu, the Xintangshu and the Zizitongjian. It must have been the locals or the indigenous people, with linguistic competence in both the Sichuan dialect and Chinese vernacular, in the region who assisted Li Deyu in his mission. It should be noted that interpreters or interpreting were never mentioned in these accounts of the deployment of guides, local servants, the indigenous civilians, or the reliance on foreign merchants in the foregoing attempts to acquire information about those exotic territories. Nevertheless, it would be a fair guess to say that these intermediaries must have had served as language mediators too for the Chinese adventurers. Why were terms, such as ‘interpreters’ or ‘translators’ not being used in the descriptions of these accounts? Were these labels only associated with formal exchanges and considered incongruent to the casual and ad hoc use of language mediators, who were more readily referred to in accordance to their social identities? Ge Jiayun Apart from these official and usual steps to gather strategic information about foreign states, there were numerous private initiatives as well. These initiatives to compile books that documented exotic places and foreign peoples came typically from senior officials who had frontier experiences. Ge Jiayun was the protector-general of Anxi (安西, literally, to pacify the west) (735–740), which was a military outpost put in place by Tang China in 640 to control the border regions of Tian Shan (literally, the Celestial Mountain) and Pamir Mountains in Central Asia. There he capitalized on his frontier experience as the head of this military and regional government in compiling the Xiyuji [西域記A Record of the Western Regions] during the reign of Xuanzong (玄宗) (r. 713–741). This publication, however, is not extant. Fortunately, part of it, like many long-lost publications, was cited in the standard histories of Tang as follows:

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玄宗開元中,安西都護蓋嘉運撰«西域記»,云堅昆國人皆赤髮綠睛,其 有黑睛者則李陵之後……蓋鐵勒之種,常以稱紇骨矣。其轉為黠戛斯 者,蓋夷音有緩急,即傳譯語不同。其或自稱黠黠斯者,語急而然耳。 訪於吏,譯云黠戛斯是黃頭赤面義,即似為回鶻所呼。今使者稱自有此 (Tanghuiyao 100: 1785) 名,未知熟是。  During the reign period of Kaiyuan of [emperor] Xuanzong, Ge jiayun, composed A Record of the Western Regions, in which he said “the people of the Jiankun state all have red hair and green eyes. The ones with dark eyes were descendants of [the Chinese general] Li Ling [who was captured by the ­Xiongnu]…of Tiele tribe and called themselves Hegu. The change to Xiajiasi is probably because barbarian sounds are sometimes quick and sometimes slow so that the transcriptions of the words are not the same. When it is sometimes pronounced Xiajiasi, it is just that the word is quick. When I enquired from the translation clerk, he said that Xiajia had the meaning of ‘yellow head and red face’ and that this was what the Uighürs called them. Now the envoys say that they themselves have this name. I don’t know which is right.”  (Pulleyblank’s translation, 1990: 104)

To historians of interpreting, this passage is particularly interesting. It is a vivid account of the way in which the writer of the Xiyuji, Ge Jiayun, understood the meaning and the transformation of different pronunciations or transcriptions of “the Kirghiz”, which seemed to have appeared in the Tang history of China variably at different times. In order to clarify the various terms relating to the Kirghiz, Ge Jiayun actually solicited help from a translation clerk in China. The translator here explained to him the literal meaning of “Kirghiz” as “yellow head and red face” and the various Chinese references to this tribe in histories. The Kirghiz tribe first came to pay tribute to emperor Taizong by the tribal name of Jiankun (堅昆). It rose as a phenomenal presence on the Mongolia steppes after crushing the Uighürs in 839, a late Tang rival and menace during the reign of emperor Wuzong (r. 841–846). Its contact with the Tang court preceding the military success was, for a lengthy period of time, interrupted and blocked because of the political turmoil in Central Asia. In this connection, Drompp summarizes the relevant Tang archives (Tanghuiyao 100: 1784–1785 and Xintangshu 217b: 6146–6147) and says Tang sources sometimes refer to the Kirghiz by the archaic name of Jian-kun, but more commonly refer to them by various names such as Jiegu (結骨), Hegu (紇骨), Hegusi (紇戛斯), or Juwu (居勿).  (Drompp 2005: 36)

During the Huichang reign period of emperor Wuzong, the Chinese transcription to “Kirghiz” was changed to Xiajiasi (黠戛斯) subsequent to several visits of Kirghiz envoys to the Tang court. This new form was sometimes mistakenly represented as “Jiajiasi”. Again in the words of Drompp,

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…after the Tang period, still other transcriptions to the name Kirghiz were employed in Chinese texts, adding to the general confusion surrounding this particular ethnonym. The name of the Kirghiz is attested in the major Old Turkic runiform inscriptions of the 8th century, where it is written qirqz.  (Drompp 2005: 36)

Ge Jiayun was one of the Tang officials with sufficient frontier experiences to have produced written accounts about alien regions in Central Asia, which in turn were compiled, in selected forms, into the standard histories. Although there is no evidence to suggest that Ge Jiayun’s written research on the Western Regions relied heavily on language mediators, this passage nevertheless does point out that the translation clerk had indeed advised him over his confusion about the various titles for and the meaning of the Kirghiz. The translation clerk certainly played a substantial role, albeit indirect and subtle, as the consultant in verifying foreign names for history compilation. It is coincidental that the name of the Kirghiz is discussed regarding Ge Jiayun’s reliance on the translator. Almost a century later when Li Deyu, now in the capacity of the chief minister, tried to sort out the origin of the same steppe people, he too had to consult the work of another ethnographer, Jia Dan, which will be discussed in the next section. Jia Dan Drawn also from the Tang archive, the account of Jia Dan reveals an even greater connection between interpreters whom he might have approached and his publications about foreign places. Jia Dan was once the Court’s chamberlain and later on a chief minister. He also made a contribution similar to that of Ge Jiayun in the writing of the Chinese historiography about foreign countries. Jia Dan was, however, far more prolific in his geographical works on areas outside China, maps and ethnographic materials included. Jia Dan’s headship in the Court must have had a direct bearing on his productive output about foreign places. With this direct access to the envoys, presumably, through the Court’s translation officials, Jia Dan was in the privileged position to tap information about foreign countries and peoples. As I examined Li Hu’s passage, in Chapter 6, on the ultimate archival function of information collection from places outside China, it seems that the ultimate motive for tapping information from the visiting envoys might have been more of an intellectual or referential nature, than out of a military or strategic consideration. Historian Liu Boqi remarks that the Xiyü Guozhi is mostly about the foreign peoples, their features, dress codes, and customs (Liu 1974: 272). If these are indeed the inherent features of this work, it would appear to be more like an ethnographic account, rather than a work of strategic importance to Tang China, contrary to what Pan has suggested (1997). Most importantly, ­interpreters or translators involved in the

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­ aking of this archive might have played a more genuine mediating role, than bem ing merely just espionage polyglots. Even so, the risks potential of translators divulging China’s intelligence to foreigners in inter-state dealings was a point of constant concern. Some Tang archival sources suggest that most of these Court interpreters were of Uighür origin or closely associated in some ways, if not affiliated, to the Uighür people in China. Not surprisingly, this liaison and connection between the non-Chinese translation officials (mostly of the Sogdian ethnicity) in the Tang court and the Uighürs did raise the suspicion of Tang China. In the end, where would the ultimate loyalty of these foreign translators lie? This was a real concern when they served in the Sino-Kirghiz interviews where at the time the Kirghiz was a known rival of the Uighürs over supremacy on the Mongolian steppes. In fact, in a memorial concerning translators (Quantangwen 705: 8009), Li Deyu expressed his skepticism over the integrity of the Sogdian translators being recruited by China, namely, Shi Foqing (石佛慶) and others. This issue about translator’s ethics and the patron’s concern will be further discussed in Chapters 9 and 10 to follow. Now, let us continue the discussion of the ethnographic pursuit of Jia Dan in which interpreters were approached. He was made the chief minister during 793–805 under the reign of emperor Dezong (r. 780–805) thanks to his spectacular military performance along the western frontier as the Court’s chamberlain. According to his biography, Jia Dan’s overwhelming interest in geography, in fact, facilitated his completion of several geographical works throughout his career. Besides, his official capacity ensured his direct access to first-hand information from both the foreign envoys and the returning Chinese envoys. His bio­ graphy documents that 耽好地理學,凡四夷之使及使四夷還者,必與之從容,訊其山川土地之 終始。是以九州之夷險,百蠻之土俗,區分指畫,備究源流。  (Jiutangshu 138: 3784) Jia Dan was interested in the study of geography. Whenever envoys came or Chinese envoys returned from foreign countries in the four directions, he would spend some time with them and inquire about the realm of their mountain and river landscapes. Thus, he had an erudite knowledge and a profound historical understanding of the flat and rough parts of China and the ethnographic customs of numerous minority tribes, obtained from a thorough examination of their distinctive features. . It may sound incongruent to the general work nature of the Court, but the position of chamberlain was usually filled by someone with distinguished military background on a doubling capacity. . Jiutangshu 138: 3782–3787.

Chapter 7.  Interpreters as consultants in historiography in eighth-century China

Apparently, in Jia Dan’s official capacity as the Court’s chief, he had made use of his contacts with and access to the visiting and returning envoys for information about foreign places and peoples. Although it is not specified in the above passage, Jia Dan’s inquiry of and discussion with the visiting envoys must have taken place through interpreters’ mediation. In this connection, the link between interpreters and Jia Dan’s geographical works, albeit subtle and indirect, is beyond doubt. That is to say, the geographical information Jia Dan collected was probably channeled through the interpreter who mediated his questions put to the visiting envoys. Likewise, the answers of the foreign envoys were in turn translated into Chinese for him in face-to-face exchanges. Jia Dan seemed also to have taken a personal interest in gathering geographic and ethnographic information from foreign and returning envoys. It is possible that he might have been present, more frequently than he was actually required to be in his official capacity, in some of the interviews that took place in the Court. This observation was first pointed out by Schafer, a renowned Sinologist, who believes that Jia Dan’s remarkable knowledge of world geography was derived “from personal interviews with the visiting envoys” (1963: 27). It was confirmed that at least some of these “personal interviews” Schafer referred to were conducted in the Court. It was recorded in the Tang archive that 宰相賈耽考方域道里之數最詳,從邊州入四夷,通譯於鴻臚者,莫不畢紀。  (Xintangshu 43: 1146, [monograph of geography]) Chief minister Jia Dan had the most elaborate record of routes and distances traveling to and from [China]; he recorded all possible information from foreign peoples from the four directions entering the [China] frontiers when they were greeted and introduced at [the Court of] Honglu.

I deduce that in Jia Dan’s interviews with the visiting envoys which took place in the Court, interpreters must have been present to mediate the exchanges. Considering that these exchanges naturally involved a great deal of geographical concepts and terminologies, it would be unthinkable that Jia Dan could have managed without the linguistic assistance of interpreters. It is exactly the presence of interpreters in such interviews that I hope to highlight in an attempt to establish links between the subtle input of these linguistic mediators and Jia Dan’s geographical research and publications. Notably, Jia Dan had already written the Huanghua Sida Ji 皇華四達記 [The Four Ways out from China] in which he described “the sea routes from Guangzhou to present-day Indo-China, Malaysian Peninsula, Sumatra, Srilanka, and the Gulf Bay” (He 2003: 26). Jia Dan had also coordinated the making of a map entitled the Hainei Huayi Tu 海內華夷圖 [The Map of Exotic States along the China Frontiers], and he might have obtained relevant geographical and geopolitical information from interviewing the in-coming envoys at the


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Court. Another anthropological account of Jia Dan’s is the Tufan Huanghe Lu 吐蕃黃河錄 [Register of Tibet and the Yellow River], in which he discussed the differences in customs between the Tibetan and the Chinese peoples. Besides tapping foreign information from the visiting envoys and returning envoys in the Court, Jia Dan had also made personal adventures to explore and document places and peoples of exotic territories. Further details about other measures through which Jia Dan collected information from alien places are also discussed in his biography. 闤闠之行賈,戎貊之遺老,莫不聽其言而掇其要;閭閻之瑣語,風謠之 (Jiutangshu 138: 3785) 小說,亦收其是而芟其偽。  [Information was collected] through listening to [the narratives of] shop owners or sellers in the market and the experienced elderly of northern and western minority ethnic origins whereby concise notes were made. As to the small talk, folk songs, and minor comments that reflected ethnic customs, only the verified information would be retained while the false was simply scrapped.

The above passage made brief, if not subtle, references to amateur language mediators, in their possible capacities as local guides, elderly or shop owners, who might have lent translation support, one way or another, to his ethnographic writings. In his personal trips to foreign places, he paid attention to small talk, folk songs, and comments relating to indigenous customs. It is possible that his access to such sophisticated and authentic information about local cultures might have been facilitated through the ad hoc interpreters he came across in these regions. Equally viable though, is that the folkloristic stories and information gathered from the foreign traders and elderly might have been made accessible through a locally hired interpreter or one whom Jia Dan brought with him from China. There is, however, no way of confirming precisely which interpretation is valid. Yet, given that Jia Dan did make extensive trips to various exotic territories outside China to compile his ethnographic works, the interpreter he brought along, if at all, might not have been able to handle all the language varieties or vernacular spoken in those alien places. In view of the current evidence, it seems that the most likely scenario is still that Jia Dan's linguistic and cultural mediation needs were met by local ad hoc bilinguals rather than other sources. His ethnographic account, the Gujin Junguo Xiandao Siyi Shu 古今郡國縣 道四夷述 [On the Foreign Peoples of the Four Directions from China: Past and Present] – which represents the fruit of his personal visits, research of and interviews with the remote peoples of non-Chinese ethnicities over thirty years – also provided detailed information, among others, about foreign peoples and states (Jiutangshu 138: 3785). Such information, generated from an ethnographic

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­ assion, turns out to have been of significant political bearing to the Tang dynasty p later on. Late Tang China was perplexed in 839 by the sudden visit of the Kirghiz, a steppe people claiming to maintain a vassal status with seventh-century China in the name of Jiankun. At the time, the name “Kirghiz” was not immediately recognizable as the same people as those of Jiankun subsequent to the use of different transcriptions in China’s earlier archives. Apparently, the confusion was only cleared after Li Deyu had closely consulted Jia Dan’s ethnographic account for verifying the Kirghiz’s origin and affiliation (Pulleyblank 1990: 103; Fu and Zhou 2000: 21). An examination of Li Deyu’s preface, as seen in the previous chapter, aptly bears witness to the actual references to Jia Dan’s work in late Tang’s recognition of the Kirghiz people. Li Deyu’s preface suggests that his predecessor, Jia Dan’s ethnographic work had in fact clarified the various historical references to the Kirghiz. Regarding the case studies of Ge Jiayun and Jia Dan, there was indeed a broader link between interpreters and historical publications about foreign places and peoples. We notice that Li Deyu’s preface only mentioned the contribution of Jia Dan in the recognition of the Kirghiz as the same people as Jiankun. However, the ethnographic publication of Ge Jiayun, as quoted in the beginning of this chapter, also contained elaborate information about the Kirghiz, compiled earlier than that of Jia Dan. It is possible that Li Deyu had also consulted the ethnographic account of Ge Jiayun as well. The point being made here is that the interpreters’ role is not only confined to the moment of interlingual exchanges. Their contribution as consultants in the writing of historical records, as in the case of Ge Jiayun and Jia Dan, comes to light better when the records of those exchanges were further examined. In this way, we would be able to better appreciate how interlingual and intercultural problems eased off by interpreters much earlier continues to enlighten the later generation in the historical documentation of foreign peoples and places.

Implications Through the examples of Ge Jiayun and Jia Dan, eighth-century Tang officials, this chapter has attempted to unravel the link, indirect and subtle as it has been, between interpreters and the Chinese historical records. In short, how did the written account of the interpreter-mediated interviews or exchanges contribute to the making of historical records about foreign peoples and places in Tang China? Ge Jiayun’s case is short but straightforward. He had approached a translation clerk for assistance in saving his confusion over the various transcriptions of “the

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Kirghiz” in his process of compiling the Xiyuji, a first-hand ethnographic record on the Western Regions. In contrast, Jia Dan’s case is more elaborate, since he had indeed produced more maps and accounts of exotic regions than Ge Jiayun did. However, unlike Ge Jiayun, Jia Dan never hinted in his writings that his ethnographic interviews with visiting envoys, foreign sellers, or the indigenous elderly – from whom he gathered and screened information on remote and strange regions both in and outside China – were ever mediated by interpreters. We can only conjecture that it must have been the case, since his geographical accounts indeed cover numerous countries in which, in all probability, different languages must have been spoken. It would be unthinkable to assume that Jia Dan was conversant in various languages involved in numerous encounters with foreign peoples. Besides, since Jia Dan was not known to be a multilingual in the Chinese archives, we can only assume that he might have been assisted by interpreters on most, if not all, interview occasions. The connection between interpreters and historical records, however, remains indirect whether the reference to interpreters in the interlingual encounters was made explicit or not. One may cast doubt on the evidence presented here as being circumstantial and presumptuous, but the invisibility of interpreters in archives about foreign encounters is reminiscent of a feature in historical translation references in ancient China where the role of translators was often marginalized or even preempted. Translators of interlingual events and translator’s presence in the exotic ventures were often placed in the faint background and were never in focus in the relevant records. Despite such a skewed description in these events, the subtle presence or the mandated participation of language mediators – in the capacities of guides, local servants, elderly locals, market sellers, or cross-border traders in the ethnographic accounts – did play a crucial part in China’s pursuit of information about the uncharted frontiers. The patrons of these interpreting services might have been political in their mindset in the pooling of information, depending on their ultimate agenda for compiling exotic archives. However, the locals and the natives acting as ad-hoc interpreters, whom the patrons approached, might have been largely innocent with no particular agenda when they explained, narrated, or marketed exotic items and foreign customs to the Chinese officials. Interpreting activities probably took place long before translation activities did, for the simple reason that written literacy came a lot later in the development of human civilization. Hence, when translation events are dated far enough back in history, the oral, the spoken, and the interpreting acts naturally overshadow, if not outdo, written translation in our archival search. It is important to put these raw and authentic interpreting events into perspective since they have so much

Chapter 7.  Interpreters as consultants in historiography in eighth-century China 115

to offer in our investigation of what translation really means. This also enables us to reconsider the scope of Translation Studies, and how far the existing translation theories can adequately encompass the documented intermediating activities across the literate and illiterate cultures in histories. In this chapter, both the direct and indirect language mediating accounts were presented. I observe that language mediators might have come from different walks of life, different professions, and different ethnicities. In some border regions, in particular, being bilingual could very well be the norm. That is to say, residents in those regions may commonly grow up as bilingual. The bilingual residents Jia Dan approached may never have been aware that they had acted as interpreters or that they were perceived to be great agents passively bridging cultures. After all, to these locals and natives, the mediation was simply part of an exchange which warranted perhaps a bit more reiteration and explanation, using two languages or language varieties here and there. It would not have been thought of as anything more than effortless favors done to strangers in their own territories. Some of these linguistic or cultural guides might have been paid or rewarded, but mostly not. What these participants of language mediation have in common, however, is that they functioned on relatively random linguistic expedience, just helping someone out to achieve a verbal understanding. They were approached to bridge cultural and linguistic gaps as ad hoc language mediators in border or foreign regions. They were approached not just because they were known to have displayed knowledge in foreign languages, but mostly because of their experience, exposure, and ranges of contact in exotic places. In fact, when they facilitated interlingual exchanges casually, no one around in the mediating events would consciously have passed judgment if these natives did (or did not do) well in terms of accuracy and equivalence, and so on. Such casual interpreting encounters were neither infrequent nor minor episodes in the remote history of translation across the world, and they need to be thoroughly considered in the formulation and critical examination of translation theories.

chapter 8

Interpreters and the making of the Kirghiz Memoir and Kirghiz accounts

This chapter is an attempt to go beyond the theoretical presumption of an interpreter’s link to historical archives about foreign places and peoples. It analyzes interpreters’ roles in the writing of history on foreign countries by examining, specifically, the processes through which the Kirghiz Memoir (Wanghuitu 王會圖, not extant) was compiled to celebrate the arrival of the Kirghiz envoys in 843 in Tang China and how the interpreter’s presence in the interview with the Kirghiz envoys, from which the memoir was made, can be textually traced in two Kirghiz accounts compiled subsequently: one in the Taiping Huanyuji (太平寰宇記) (A Northern Song Record of Geographical Encyclopedia) in 987 and another one in the Xintangshu in 1061. I attempt to draw the connection between the interpreter’s virtual notes or interview report and the making of the Kirghiz Memoir by documenting an interpreter-coordinated interview with the Kirghiz envoys in 843 and the probable submission of this interview account to the history bureau, which might have a direct impact on the composition of the subsequent Kirghiz accounts. It then proposes a link, broadly, between interpreters and the Chinese historiography about foreign countries and peoples based on textual evidence taken from the Kirghiz accounts in the Taiping Huanyuji and the Xintangshu which points to two important observations. First, there is a good possibility that, at least, a good part of the interview report prepared or the notes taken, probably, by the interpreter during the interview might have first been compiled as the Kirghiz Memoir in 843 and then subsequently been largely included as core contents in the two Kirghiz accounts. Second, there is a strong presence of reported-speech writing style,

. The Kirghiz Memoir, also known as the Wanghuitu in the Chinese sources, is used for easier reference for the English readers. . The Taiping Huanyuji, one of the earliest extant comprehensive gazetteers of the Chinese realm, was compiled by Yue Shi (樂史) (930–1007) in 987 in the Northern Song dynasty. It is an ethnographical and geographical account of exotic countries in the worldview of the 10th-century Chinese within the limited knowledge at the time. It was also meant to supplement the contents of similar works of the previous dynasty.

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and dialogic discourse style, apart from the transliterated reference to numerous exotic items in the two archived Kirghiz accounts. These stylistic features are indicative of marked references to the verbatim accounts of the Kirghiz envoys and suggestive of the subtle traces of the interpreter from the said interview in 843. These, taken together, indicate that the contents of the two Kirghiz accounts must have been partly collected from the Kirghiz Memoir, if not the interview records, and, quite likely, suggest the presence of the interpreter in the interview whose roles seemed to have been to actively ask questions and make written records of the exchanges, rather than simply acting passively as interlingual mediators.

Interpreters and historiography Now, I want to extend this link between interpreters and historiography about foreign peoples further to postulate that if similar practices were being adopted during the Kirghiz visit in 843 in the Tang times, then the interpreter might have played crucial parts directly in the construction of the Kirghiz Memoir and less directly in the making of two Kirghiz accounts having been compiled much later in the Song dynasty (960–1127) in the tenth and eleventh centuries respectively. However, the Kirghiz Memoir is not extant, and direct reference to the traces of the interpreter’s work in the construction of this memoir would be impossible. Fortunately, the two Kirghiz accounts are still available for textual examination for the line of inquiry about the interpreter’s roles in the making of these archival records of the Kirghiz. The Tang and Song historians’ references to pictorial archives about foreign peoples in their constructions of historical accounts on exotic countries in the Liangshu and the Xintangshu appear to be an inherited practice that falls into a parallel pattern. The most striking difference, however, is the archive of dozens of visiting envoys and the associated accounts in the Zhigongtu in the Liang dynasty in the sixth century as opposed to the focused archive of the Kirghiz in the Kirghiz Memoir in the Tang dynasty during the mid-ninth century. Unquestionable favoritism was shown to the Kirghiz obviously because of its strategic . Besides the Xintangshu and the Taiping Huanyuji, there are two other archives that contain passages on the Kirghiz, and they are the Tongdian (通典) (completed in 801, covered events up to 756) and the Tanghuiyao (completed in 961, coverage until 846). The Tongdian account is not included in our discussion for the obvious reason that it does not cover the Kirghiz interview in 843. The Tanghuiyao account is also excluded here since it largely incorporates factual information gathered from previous Kirghiz archives in the eighth century. Moreover, the typical intelligence from the Court’s interview about the country’s customs and landscapes in the Tanghuiyao is not as specific as those displayed in the two accounts I examined here.

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importance to Tang China’s campaign against the Uighürs at the time. As such, one can only imagine that everything associated with the making of the Kirghiz Memoir, for instance, the scale of the interview, together with the number of officials having been dispatched to attend and make records was probably more sophisticated than the regular interviews with other visiting envoys. The marked contrast in the scale of reception extended to the Kirghiz visit can be clearly seen reflected in the making of an independent memoir created to celebrate its close and time-honored relation with Tang China. China’s unmistaken favoritism for the Kirghiz was explicit, and it was apparently not an archival task which China would have bothered to undertake for each and every visiting embassy. At least, it had not been the case for the previous embassy visits from the Kirghiz in the preceding centuries. The observation that an interesting parallel existed between the Tang historians’ reference to the Zhigongtu in compiling the records of foreign peoples in the Liangshu and the Song historians’ plausible use of the Kirghiz Memoir in compiling the Kirghiz account in the Xintangshu is essential. Most notably, these pictorial archives were the product of interview events with the respective envoys which seemed to have generated direct exchanges with the Court’s interpreters. This is exactly how interpreters came to be a pivotal point of contact between the production of these interview accounts and their possible adoption in standard archives in imperial China. To set the stage for my argument regarding interpreters’ part in the writing of histories about foreign peoples, this chapter first presents, as a background, a succinct account of the making of archives about foreign countries in Tang China’s historiography tradition, followed by the presentation of circumstantial evidence pertinent to the visit of and the Court’s interview with the Kirghiz embassy in 843 that eventually led to the production of the Kirghiz Memoir. This evidence serves to verify the plausible scenario in which the interpreter’s subtle participation in the making of the memoir that might have been subsequently adapted to various extents, directly or indirectly, in the Kirghiz accounts in the Taiping Huanyuji in 987 and the Xintangshu in 1061, a standard archive about Tang China. Finally . I cannot confirm if the Kirghiz Memoir had in any way provided information for the Xintangshu’s Kirghiz account because it is not clear whether the memoir was still extant in 1061 at the time of the completion of the Xintangshu. As such, I did not draw any line to connect the Kirghiz Memoir with the Xintangshu in Diagram 1. It was a historiography tradition in imperial China to first adhere to the records in the history bureau of the previous dynasty when its history was being compiled by the succeeding dynasty. It would be safe to assume, therefore, that the source of information in the Xintangshu’s composition of the Kirghiz account might have come primarily from the interview report the Court submitted to the history bureau, which was a result of the interpreter’s mediation between the Chinese officials and the Kirghiz envoys.

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and most importantly, as a case study, this chapter proceeds to present, in five categories, specific textual traces from the two Kirghiz accounts and attempts to work backwards in a bid to unveil these accounts’ connection with the Kirghiz Memoir compiled in 843. Interview with Kirghiz envoys (843)

Court interpreter’s mediation and notes

Court’s report to history bureau (843)

Kirghiz account in the Xintangshu (1061)

Lü Shu’s Kirghiz Memoir (843)

Kirghiz account in the Taiping Huanyuji (987)

Diagram 1.  A flow chart presentation of the possible uses of the interview records in various subsequent archives about the Kirghiz

As indicated in Diagram 1, the flow of events started in 843 when the Kirghiz envoys visited Tang China and were, as a routine procedure, interviewed in the Court. The Court’s interpreter was instructed by the emperor to inquire about the culture and landscape of the Kirghiz. The envoys’ replies must have been recorded in writing by the interpreter, who then submitted the account to the history bureau for later archival purposes. Simultaneously, in preparation for the making of the Kirghiz Memoir, Lü Shu and Wei Zongqing were also instructed by the chief minister to collect information in this interview. In the sections to follow, I will focus on presenting textual evidence from the Kirghiz account in the Taiping Huanyuji to argue that its compiler, Yue Shi, might have referred to the memoir closely for his construction of this Kirghiz account. In addition, I will cite examples on textual features from the Kirghiz account in the Xintangshu to propose that its construction might have benefited from the interview records subsequently submitted to the history bureau.

Chapter 8.  Interpreters and the making of the Kirghiz Memoir and Kirghiz accounts 121

Historiography and the archives on foreign countries and peoples Information about foreign states was considered essential intelligence to imperial China’s national security. As such, China was meticulous about the collection of such intelligence from both outbound and visiting envoys. As stipulated in the Tang code of law discussed in Chapter 4, visiting envoys were to be interviewed by the Court regarding issues about their natural conditions and cultural features. The Court was then required to submit these interview reports to the history bureau within a month in preparation for future archival agenda. Considering that, presumably, the Court’s eventual reports to be submitted to the history bureau were collated based on notes taken during the interviews, these notes or reports would then have become primary sources of historiography about foreign countries at the time. It is legitimate, therefore, to assume that these reports composed with the active assistance of, if not by, interpreters, during and after the interviews, provided original sources for historical compilation of such a nature. And if that was indeed the case, the interweaving of interpreters’ roles – as the mediator of the interview with the foreign envoys, and later on, as an agent working in preparation for the submission of these interview reports – in the production of these books should not be flatly dismissed. Despite the theoretical existence of such a link, it is not uncommon that most historical records of interlingual encounters, in the East or the West, give the impression that the linguistic barrier was not an issue. This may indeed account for why interpreters were often made invisible in the relevant textual records. In the Chinese records of comparable situation, interpreters were likewise rarely documented, and we could at best postulate their plausible presence in interlingual exchanges. But in order to verify interpreters’ actual participation in these encounters, and more importantly, to document their traces of textual assistance in the compilation of archives on foreign peoples, we need to further examine the concrete circumstances under which the Court’s interpreters operated.

Interpreters and the making of the Kirghiz Memoir: Circumstantial evidence Illustrated writings commissioned to celebrate tributary events initiated by foreign countries date back to as early as the Zhou dynasty (1046–221 BC) in China. Writings of this nature were typically titled as the Wanghuitu or the Wanghuipian (王會篇) [Gatherings of Kings]. In Tang’s three-century rule over China, only two memoirs, to the best of my knowledge, were commissioned to honor ­tributary

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bearers. The first one was in 629 in the reign of Taizong when dozens of tributary envoys in exotic dress gathered in the Tang imperial court. The secretarial receptionist, Yan Shigu, proposed to commission a painting called the Wanghuipian to celebrate and document the occasion. However, of our concern here is the second one, which resulted in the completion of the Kirghiz Memoir in 843. What exactly did the Kirghiz do to have been endowed with such an honor? In fact, the Kirghiz, previously known as Jiankun in the Han dynasty, was first in communication with Tang China in 648 during the reign of Taizong. There were a total of seven embassy visits from the Kirghiz at irregular intervals thereafter until 758 when it was defeated by the Uighürs (Pulleyblank 1990). In 840, however, the Kirghiz emerged to report victory over the Uighür empire on the steppes, to China’s delightful surprise. A legend in the Xiyuji, compiled by Ge Jiayun, suggests that the dark-haired members among the Kirghiz people were said to be the descendants of Li Ling, a Han Chinese general who was captured by the Xiongnu (Huns) in the northwest region during the Han dynasty. Their possible lineage link and the historical diplomatic relation, however, were not the major reasons why a specific attempt to construct a Kirghiz memoir was undertaken in 843. At the time, the Kirghiz became China’s strategic partner in late Tang’s plan to expel the Uighürs from the northern steppes. The Uighür empire, established on the Orkhon valley of the Mongolian steppes in 744, had been a menacing state for a century. Ever since the Uighürs schematically assisted China in quelling the Aulushan rebellion (755–762), an internal chaos which marked the downhill path of Tang China’s national strength, imperial favor in the form of silver money, silk, and Chinese princesses were regularly ‘bestowed’ to the Uighür qaghans, to the extent of grievously draining Tang’s wealth. By 839, the Uighür empire, severely hampered by political factionalism and revolts initiated by restive subjects, was eventually crushed by the Kirghiz. Although the empire was undermined, some isolated Uighür generals and thousands of refugees were still lurking in the northern Chinese border. The Kirghiz military’s assistance in clearing the remaining Uighürs there around 843–845,

. The Tanghuiyao’s description of the Kirghiz people, typically, is “of large stature, fair complexioned, with red hair and green eyes” (Pulleyblank’s translation, 1990: 104). . Anlushan, a Chinese general in Tang China of mixed Sogdian and Turkic birth, was appointed regional commander on the northeastern frontier. In 755 he led 200,000 troops in revolt against the government. Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712–756) fled the capital Chang’an for Sichuan, and on the way he was coerced by discontented soldiers to execute his concubine Yang Guifei, who was blamed for having showered favors on Anlushan. The rebellion ended with the Uighür’s assistance thus restoring the Tang empire to power.

Chapter 8.  Interpreters and the making of the Kirghiz Memoir and Kirghiz accounts 123

and the overturning of the Uighür’s steppe supremacy, came as welcome developments for China. With the Kirghiz, a long-time ally that dated back to two centuries ago, having been so proactive in eradicating the lurking Uighürs, China was freed from their endless extortion and frequent intimidation. As such, the Kirghiz were taken very seriously by Tang China despite the apparent discrepancies in nation size and influence. The seven Kirghiz envoys came to China in 843 to discuss exactly the strategy to adopt in a bid to remove, once and for all, the remaining Uighürs along China’s northern border. Since the Kirghiz was a strategic ally of Tang China, its embassy was received in grand scale. On hearing that a Kirghiz envoy was recently killed while chaperoning Chinese Princess Taihe, who was married to a Uighür qaqhan in 821, back to China, emperor Wuzong positioned the Kirghiz envoys above most other envoys in the imperial audience. He even commanded chief minister Li Deyu to interview them in person in the Court. Apparently, Li also capitalized on the escalating status of the Kirghiz in the Tang political taxonomy by initiating an idea of making a memoir to celebrate the Kirghiz visit, which easily won the emperor’s blessings. The making of the memoir was to celebrate the arrival of envoys in 843 from the Kirghiz, the Kirghiz being of crucial strategic value to late Tang politics. Apparently, Li Deyu did not interview the envoys, but he assigned Wei Zongqing and Lü Shu to attend the Court’s interview to collect necessary information for the making of the potential memoir. The illustrated memoir of 843 bears the specific Chinese title of Hegesi Chaogong Tuzhuan. It contains a preface written by Li Deyu, a sketch of the Kirghiz envoys with the fine details of their dress, and a written account of the various aspects of life and culture of the Kirghiz. Based on the evidence we have, it is likely that Lü Shu’s Kirghiz Memoir is in fact a product of the interview with the Kirghiz envoys in 843. The two observers surely benefit from the interpreter’s translation throughout the interview, since they were simply officials without apparent knowledge of the Türkic language. In all probability, the Kirghiz information, heard or written down, inevitably would have constituted the core contents of the memoir. As I suggest earlier, it seems that notes or reports generated from the Kirghiz interview might have been actively referred to in their process of compiling the Kirghiz Memoir. In this light,

. The Kirghiz was a rising power on the Mongolian steppes in the early ninth century and was a threat to the Uighür dominance in the region. Tang China relied heavily on the Kirghiz military assistance in crushing the Uighürs, who had frequently made aggressive material demands from China and organized several raids to rob and ambush Chinese households along the northern frontier of China. The Kirghiz therefore was much cherished by China as an ally to combat the Uighürs in late Tang era.

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interpreters’ notes or written records from the interview in imperial China were undeniably essential sources for the compilation of historical records concerning foreigners. Textual traces of the Kirghiz Memoir, fortunately, can be located in later accounts of the Kirghiz. These include the first Kirghiz account compiled in Yue Shi’s ethnographical publication called the Taiping Huanyuji in 987, and the second Kirghiz account compiled in the Xintangshu in 1061. As we shall see in the next section, textual clues in the first Kirghiz account, in fact, indicate that Yue Shi must have closely referred to Lü Shu’s Kirghiz Memoir in his composition of the Kirghiz account in 987. This suggests that the Kirghiz Memoir was indeed completed, and it was still being circulated in the late tenth century.

Interpreting traces in the archived Kirghiz accounts As noted in the Tanghuiyao, a group of seven Kirghiz officials was being interviewed by several Chinese officials, including at least an interpreter and a painter. The other Tang archive, the Xintangshu, reads 會昌中,阿熱以使者見殺,無以通于朝,復遣注吾合素上書言狀。注 吾,虜姓也;合,言猛;素者,左也,謂武猛善左射者。行三歲至京 師,武宗大悅,班渤海使者上,以其處窮遠,能脩職貢,命太僕卿趙蕃 持節臨慰其國,詔宰相即鴻臚寺見使者,使譯官考山川國風。宰相德裕 上言:「貞觀時,遠國皆來,中書侍郎顏師古請如周史臣集四夷朝事為王 會篇。今黠戛斯大通中國,宜為王會圖以示後世。」有詔以鴻臚所得繢 (Xintangshu 217: 6150) 著之。 Considering that a Kirghiz envoy was killed [on his way to paying tribute to China by a Uighür fugitive] during the Huichang reign period, and communication with the [Tang] court was interrupted, the Kirghiz ruler, Az, dispatched yet again [another envoy], Zhu-wu Alp Sol, to submit a letter [to the Tang emperor] to explain the mishap. Zhu-wu is a lu (foreign) surname. Alp means brave, and Sol is left. [Thus the name] denotes one who is martially brave and good at shooting from the left (Drompp’s translation of Zhu-wu Alp Sol, 2005: 131). It took [Zhu-wu Alp Sol] three years on the road before he arrived at the [Tang] capital. Emperor Wuzong was delighted that the Kirghiz envoys came a long way from their remote country to pay tribute to him and had [Zhu-wu Alp Sol] placed in front of the envoy from Parhae [in the imperial audience]. The emperor ordered Zhao Fan, vice-president of the tribunal of censors, as the envoy, to offer libations and gifts to the Kirghiz. [He then] asked the chief minister to meet the . Although this memoir is no longer extant, its title was documented in other books, suggesting that the memoir was indeed being circulated at the time.

Chapter 8.  Interpreters and the making of the Kirghiz Memoir and Kirghiz accounts 125

envoys in [the Court of] Honglu and instructed the interpreter to inquire about [their] geography and customs. The chief minister, Deyu, memorialized, “during the [reign] period of Zhenguan (627–649), remote countries came [to pay tribute to China]. Yan Shigu, the secretariat receptionist, proposed that the Wanghuipian [On Gatherings of Kings] be compiled to document the tributary events of barbarians from the four directions, following the example of what history officials of the Zhou dynasty did previously. Since now the Kirghiz came and made contact with China, it is fitting to compile the Wanghuitu [Kirghiz Memoir] to document the event for the future generations.” The emperor thus instructed that an illustrated publication should be produced based on the information collected by [the Court of] Honglu.

The foregoing passage from the Xintangshu contains implicit information pertinent to the history of interpreting in Tang China. Firstly, only Zhu-wu Alp Sol, apparently the chief envoy in this Kirghiz embassy, had his name documented in full in this archival account. The fact that his name, consisting of four syllables, was decoded in an attempt to capture its literal meaning in Chinese may suggest that the name decoding episode might have taken place at the Court’s interview. Such specific details would only be plausible with the meticulous mediation of the interpreter in the interview when questions about the meaning of his Türkic name were raised. Of course, not all China-bound envoys would excite the Tang imperial court to this extent. Zhu-wu Alp Sol from the Kirghiz, a state of unparalleled strategic importance to the Tang court at the time, however, received enviable attention and generated strategic interest in China. The scale of discretion with the Chinese translation of different segments of his syllabic name can be interpreted, possibly, as a product of an interpreter-mediated interview at the Court. This example of name translation may also present itself as evidence to suggest that, at least, part of the interview records, in which the interpreter was deemed indispensable, actually found its way, in the same or other form, in the standard archive compiled in 1061 – a lapse of more than two centuries after the interpreting event that took place in 843. Secondly, the solid link between the information collected via an interpretermediated, if not an interpreter-coordinated, interview with the Kirghiz envoys and the compilation of the Kirghiz Memoir cannot be more obvious if we focus on the end of the same passage. In response to Li Deyu’s proposal that the Kirghiz Memoir be compiled to glorify this tributary event initiated by the Kirghiz, the emperor instructed that an illustrated publication be compiled based on the collection of the Court. It is entirely legitimate, of course, to argue that there were different ways for the Court to collect information about the Kirghiz apart from the said interview, but we cannot rule out the good possibility that most, if not all, of the first-hand contents in the Kirghiz Memoir were probably gathered from this

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Sino-Kirghiz meeting in which the interpreter played a pivotal role. Further evidence will unveil the critical importance of this particular interview to the completion of the memoir, since Li Deyu had submitted several memorials within a short time-span to relate to this interview. In Chapter 6, I argue that the portrait of an envoy and its associated account completed, probably with the help of the interpreter in an interview setting, did provide the principal source materials for its own construction in the subsequent standard history. This being the case, we may deduce that the interpreter must have played a crucial part in the construction of the Kirghiz Memoir, which displays a plausible link between the virtual interview records (its existence can only be assumed but not verified, unfortunately) and the Kirghiz accounts in the Taiping Huanyuji and the Xintangshu. Notwithstanding the incomplete evidence found so far, we cannot entirely rule out the possibility that the interpreter’s notes, in the form of reports sent to the history bureau, theoretically provided essential source materials for the compilation of the memoir as well as the two Kirghiz accounts. Thirdly, the interpreter was, in practice, assigned to inquire about the landscapes and customs of the Kirghiz during the interview. The emperor was so specific in asking the interpreters to interview the Kirghiz envoys in relation to the above concerns that his instruction spoke of the critical importance of language and communication in the exchanges. His emphasis on the use of interpreters in the potential Kirghiz interview is suggestive of the crucial need of interpreters for the interview event.10 This passage also ascertains that the presence of the interpreter and his enquiry of foreign envoys in the Court’s interview seem to have been routine practice. I suspect that the interpreter might have been making written records while he questioned the envoys and mediated exchanges for the two language parties attending the interview. This aspect is impossible to ascertained, since it is equally viable that some other officials, especially those sent by the chief minister, attending the interview could be taking down notes as well to serve their own agenda. . If the subject of discussion in this diplomatic interview was entirely confined to foreign landscapes and customs, I do not think Tang China would be too concerned about the Sogdian translators, widely recruited by the Tang court, leaking or disclosing information to the Uighürs (Drompp 2005). It turned out that the more important issue in the Sino-Kirghiz interview was mostly about the tactics to be adopted to expel the remaining Uighürs in the Chinese border. 10. The non-Chinese interpreters affiliated to the Court, typically of Sogdian ethnicity, were mostly well-versed in the Türkic language, and they would certainly be indispensable in the exchange. As it turned out later on, the ethnicity of these Sogdian interpreters working for China became the source of suspicion of the imperial court (Drompp 2005), which, despite its importance in the history of interpreting in the first millennium, will not be discussed here, but will be addressed separately and fully in the next chapter.

Chapter 8.  Interpreters and the making of the Kirghiz Memoir and Kirghiz accounts 127

Fourthly, the textual structure of the Kirghiz account as compiled in the Xintangshu (217, 6146–6150) is consistent with the items about foreign countries of special interest to Tang China. In fact, visiting envoys were to be interrogated by the Court, according to the Tang code of law, as to their natural conditions, customs, dress, names of incumbent rulers, and on the distance and route by which they had traveled to China (Twitchett 1992). Incidentally, of relevance here is also the fact that, the Kirghiz account in the Xintangshu includes sequentially its geographical location, people’s physical features, customs, climate, agricultural products, current leader’s name, dress culture, governance structure, culture, and possible travel routes from the home country. Space does not allow a thorough discussion and analysis of the specific contents in this account here, but a brief profile of its topics indicates a close resemblance to most, if not all, of the items being specified in the Tang code. If we do agree that a high degree of similarity was noted between the specified areas of inquiry in the Court’s interview with the visiting envoys in general and the textual scheme of the Kirghiz account in the Tang standard archive, we can still infer that this account was likely, with reasonable certainty, adapted primarily from the interview record with the seven Kirghiz envoys collected at the Court. This tentative conjecture of mine also finds support in the recurrent use of reported-speech style in this account as illustrated in the four examples below: Example 1 其君曰「阿熱」,遂姓阿熱氏。

(Xintangshu 217: 6147)

Their leader[’s name] was called “Az”,11 so Az was adopted as the surname [for the ruling clique of the tribe]. Example 2 祠神惟主水草,祭無時,呼巫為「甘」。

(ibid.: 6148)

[They] worshipped the gods of water and grasses, [but] had no regular time for worshipping rituals. [They] referred shamans as “Came”. Example 3 其文字言語,與回鶻正同。


Their written and spoken languages were identical with those of the Uighürs.

11. Cen (2004a: 730) confirmed that the Chinese term “阿熱” corresponded to the Türkic reference of “Az”, which was itself a first name. This suggests that even the Kirghiz ruler had no surname. Drompp, however, is not convinced and maintains that the Türkic form of “阿熱” could not be established with current state of knowledge; only the Chinese transcribed form was retained in historical records (Drompp 2005: 36, footnote 84). See also Gao (1995: 2587) for the privileges of the ruling class of Az.

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Example 4 (ibid.)


It would take forty days to travel on camels from the residing camp of Az to one

of the military camps of the Uighürs. There were also examples of the Kirghiz musical instruments and the Kirghiz entertainments listed in this account. The high information density and frequency of topic shift in this account give a strong impression that the materials might have been gathered in a somewhat dialogic interaction style based on a pre-determined­ interview schedule. The direct quotation of the foreign pronunciations of “Az 阿熱” (the Kirghiz qaghan) and “Came 甘” (shamans), among others, on these five pages of archive might well suggest that the interpreter coordinating the interview did attend to retaining the alien sounds for culturespecific items being mentioned in the exchange, which did not necessarily have corresponding references in the Chinese lexicons or culture at the time. The other evidence of the overwhelming reported-speech style in the Xintangshu account of the Kirghiz, which mirrors a straightforward measure to immediately capture the speech content of the interviewees, was the high frequency of the use of yue (曰) (literally, ‘said’, ‘is called’ or ‘is known as’) in the text. The word yue occurs fourteen times in this short account, an extremely high ratio, and that can best be explained by the interviewer’s (interpreter’s) intuition, if not overt needs, to directly recap the replies of the envoys regarding the meanings and the names (through transliteration) of the Kirghiz cultural features and customs. For example, 1. 有水曰劍河。

(Xintangshu 217: 6148)

There is a river [in the Kirghiz nation] called River Kemchik. 2. 其酉長三人,曰訖悉輩, 曰居沙波輩, 曰阿米輩。

(ibid.: 6149)

There are three chieftains [in the Kirghiz nation], and they are called kolx bäg, (called) čapiš bäg, and (called) ami bäg [in which bäg denotes nobles].

The fifth point to note is the various textual clues in the two Kirghiz accounts that point to the interpreted interview setting in which interview notes about the Kirghiz were probably first produced. For example, the elaborate textual reference regarding the specific routes and distance the envoys had undertaken to have come to China is indicative of the way the interpreter tried to recap the envoys’ verbatim speech in the interview. The text reads,

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使者道出天德右二百里許, 抵西受降城。

(ibid.: 6148)

The envoys undertook approximately two hundred li [one Chinese li equals to 500 meters] of journey from the west of Tiande to have reached Xishou­ xiangcheng….’12

This specific reference to the route through which the envoys had traveled to China is not only consistent with the question schedule administered to foreign envoys in the Court’s interview, but also constitutes a piece of evidence in support of the probable presence of envoys when the interview record was first put down in writing. The active use of reported speech, again, points to the fact that indeed someone, probably the interpreter or possibly Lü Shu and Wei Zongqing, jotted down notes while the envoys answered the Court’s questions. Either way, the subtle connection between the interpreter-mediated (and possibly interpreterrecorded­) interview and the Kirghiz account in the Xintangshu would be difficult to deny. By extension, if we believe that the interview account that was initially used to compile the Kirghiz Memoir was also adopted as the primary version for the Kirghiz account in the Xintangshu, then the link of the interpreter’s contributions to the completion of the archive of the Kirghiz, either the Kirghiz Memoir or the Xintangshu’s Kirghiz account, would also be no less easy to refute.  Another textual clue related to or providing an indication of the interpreter’s input, albeit mistaken, is the various ranks of officials in the Kirghiz. In both accounts of the Kirghiz, the text reads, 其官宰相﹑都督﹑職使﹑長使﹑將軍﹑達幹六等。 


Its officials were divided into six ranks: chief minister [its Türkic form not located], tutuq, čigsi, čangsi, sängün, and tarqan).

Most of these official titles were directly adopted from those of Tang China with Türkic representations. For example, tutuq (literally, a regional chief) is a Türkic form of the Chinese official title, doudu (都督), and sängün (literally, a military general) a Türkic form of the Chinese official title, Jiangjun (將軍). The interpreter’s input is found in his markedly mistaken transliteration of one of these titles above. Čigsi is originally a Türkic transliteration of the Chinese title of cishi (刺史), the provincial chief or inspector. Without the understanding of “this loan Türkic word having been borrowed from the Chinese lexicon”, as pointed­

12. Tiande was situated in modern Bayan Nur of Inner Mongolia. Xishouxiangcheng is sometimes shortened as Xicheng. Its location is at present-day Mongolia, having functioned in Tang China as a military fortress.

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out by Cen (2004a: 725), the interpreter mediating in the interview with the envoys would have been totally unaware of the etymology of the Türkic referent­ of čigsi. That is why when the interpreter heard the envoy uttering čigsi in his tally of different official ranks in the Kirghiz hierarchy, he automatically, and therefore mistakenly, came up with yet another transliterated term, zhishi (職使), to correspond to this ‘alien’ form. The presence and the impact, albeit counter-productive at times, of the interpreter in the making of the Kirghiz accounts in the Taiping Huanyuji and the Xintangshu are made explicit when we examine these textual traces. A textual clue in the Kirghiz account collated in the Taiping Huanyuji, but not included in the Xintangshu, points to Yue Shi, the compiler, quoting directly from Lü Shu’s illustrated Kirghiz Memoir. Yue Shi’s Kirghiz account reads, 衣有錦罽雜色, 腰佩刀礪……如畫圖之狀。 

(Taiping Huanyuji 199: 3822)

[The envoys] wore silky clothes of mixed colors and carried each on their waist a small knife and a stone for sharpening their knives…as illustrated in the picture.

Although the connection between the interpreter mediating in the Kirghiz interview and this earlier Kirghiz account is indirect, we can imagine that Yue Shi must have referred closely to the illustrated Kirghiz Memoir. It is in this memoir, which still appears to be extant in 987, when Yue Shi completed his Kirghiz account, that the specific phrase, “如畫圖之狀” (literally translated, ‘as illustrated in the picture’) was used in his, if not Lü Shu’s, description of the envoys’ dress. Therefore the link, albeit indirect, between the interpreter, who actively contributed to the recording and mediation of the Kirghiz information in the interview, and history compilation regarding the Kirghiz was far from being pure invention. The last textual clue from Yue Shi’s Kirghiz account that captures the trace of the interpreter’s subtle input in the making of the Kirghiz Memoir was also noted from a direct quote from this memoir, which was not found in other Kirghiz accounts. It reads, 《王會圖》云﹕其國每有天雨鐵,收之以為刀劍,異於常鐵。曾問使 者,隱而不答,但云鐵甚堅利,工亦精巧。  (ibid.) The Kirghiz Memoir (Wanghuitu) reads, “it often rains [and drops] iron in their country, [their people] gather it, which is in fact different from ordinary iron, and use it to make knives and swords. [someone] did ask the envoys, [however, they] were being evasive. But [they] said the iron is very sharp and can be [turned into] sophisticated [weapons].”

Chapter 8.  Interpreters and the making of the Kirghiz Memoir and Kirghiz accounts 131

At some point during the interview, a topic about the Kirghiz use of, in hindsight, meteorite or meteoric iron for making sharp weapons must have arisen.13 It must have been initiated by Tang officials, possibly from the department of arms, who had studied the Tongdian’s Kirghiz information collected in previous interviews in the seventh or eighth centuries, and wanted to explore more about this intriguing natural phenomenon and their subsequent manufacturing of weapons from the fallen iron. A text that reads “曾問使者,隱而不答。 ” (literally, [someone] did ask the envoys, [however, they] were being evasive) is exclusively found in Yue Shi’s Kirghiz account. This text is particularly significant since it stands as an undisputable evidence to verify that Yue Shi had indeed referred to the Kirghiz Memoir in his making of the Kirghiz account in 987. It would be difficult to establish precisely if this query was raised in the 843 or earlier interviews with the Kirghiz. We simply cannot rule out the possibility that the compilers of the memoir might have referred to earlier archived Kirghiz passages in the preparation stage to have included the content about the “fallen iron”. Equally challenging is the task to pin down the direction and extent of adaptation from archived Kirghiz materials among the various Tang archival records having been compiled at various periods in early imperial China. But since this text is exclusively found in Yue Shi’s account of the Kirghiz, I believe that it is a text he quoted directly from the Kirghiz Memoir, and this text that delicately captures the non-verbal gesture of the envoys must have been recorded based on the on-site observation of Lü Shu and Wei Zongqing, if not the interpreter’s verbatim record of the envoys’ evasive response to this particular query. However, the sheer mentioning of “did ask the envoys”, whoever did the asking, would imply that it must have been through the interpreter that the question was put to the envoys in the said interview. Cen (2004a: 727) also claims that this quotation from the Kirghiz account in the Taiping Huanyuji might have been a direct adoption of the observation, in the form of writing, of Wei Zongqing and Lü Shu during the interview. If that is indeed the case, the connection between the interpreter of the Kirghiz interview and the compilers of the Kirghiz Memoir might have been verified further by this dramatic text poignantly suggesting not only the presence

13. This topic must have first come to the attention of the Tang officials in interviews with the earlier Kirghiz envoys before 758, since the Tongdian, a Chinese institutional history and an encyclopedic text presented to the throne in 801, that covers a panoply of topics from high antiquity to 756, records, “Whenever the sky rains iron, they gather it and use it. They call it jiasha (迦沙). They make knives and swords with it that are very sharp” (Pulleyblank’s translation, 1990: 105). Pulleyblank suggests the Türkic form of jiasha might be qaš, which means “precious stone”.

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of the compilers, but also the attention they had devoted to the verbal and nonverbal gestures of the interpreter and the envoys in the interview. It is possible that Wei Zongqing and Lü Shu might have obtained relevant interview notes from the interpreter if this text – eventually inserted in the Kirghiz Memoir and later on in Yue Shi’s Kirghiz account – was originally written down by the interpreter. Nevertheless, this alternate scenario should not undermine the probability that they too must have made written records themselves to have been capable of producing “曾問使者,隱而不答”, which was equally, if not more, likely to be materials collated based on their acute observation in the interview.

Implications Unlike the Zhigongtu of the Liang dynasty, the illustrated Kirghiz Memoir is no longer extant in any integral form. We can only visualize the picture of the Kirghiz envoys at the Court’s interview in which the envoys’ physical features and national dress were elaborately depicted in the portrait of the 843 memoir, the contents of which were then adapted in 987 in the first Kirghiz account, and much later in 1061, in the second Kirghiz account in the Xintangshu. Nor do we have any direct access to the actual written record in the Kirghiz Memoir about the Kirghiz and its people. Instead, we have the Kirghiz accounts, edited and collated independently with possible references to the Kirghiz Memoir in the Taiping Huanyuji and the Xintangshu, to retrospectively give us textual clues about the interview context and contents from which the Kirghiz Memoir was compiled. The absence of the Kirghiz Memoir in the existing archive about the Kirghiz, in fact, gives us conjectural space to reconnect its relation with the interpreter and his role in the interview in 843. The process whereby the interpreter’s notes and reports from diplomatic interviews as such might have constituted important references in compiling archives on China’s exchanges with foreign envoys was analyzed. I first put forth the theoretical possibility of such a link and specified the concrete historic circumstances under which the Kirghiz Memoir was produced from the Court’s interview with the Kirghiz envoys. With this contextual background of Tang China’s historiography practice, I came to propose this probable link between the interpreter and the eventual construction of the Kirghiz Memoir, which plausibly mirrored the two Kirghiz accounts we now hold. By suggesting the possible adoption of the interview accounts, independently constructed by the interpreter and the memoir’s compilers, in the Kirghiz Memoir, this chapter succeeded in unveiling the subtle links firstly, between the interpreter’s interview account having been submitted to the history bureau and

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the Kirghiz Memoir, and secondly, between the submitted interview account and the making of the Kirghiz accounts in the Taiping Huanyuji and the Xintangshu. While we have textual evidence to support the argument that the compiler of the Taiping Huanyuji probably had direct access to a copy of the Kirghiz Memoir in his making of the first Kirghiz account in 987, we cannot be certain if this was the case for the making of the second Kirghiz account in 1061 – more than a lapse of two centuries after the memoir’s completion. It is, of course, possible that the construction of the second Kirghiz account might have referred to the first Kirghiz account, apart from gaining plausible access to the archive of the history bureau for the interview record of 843 and other passages on the Kirghiz in other Tang archival records. But these remain technical issues of lesser importance, since our primary concern was with the interpreter’s roles in the making of the archives of the Kirghiz in this chapter. As a case study to verify the link between interpreters and the making of archives about foreign countries and peoples, this chapter identified five major textual traces, each substantiated with examples, of the interpreter and his subtle input in the two Kirghiz accounts. These textual traces are the frequent use of transliteration; documentary proof of the making of the memoir from information collected in the Court’s interview; the emperor’s instruction that the interpreter be entrusted to initiate the inquiry in this interview; the textual structure of the Kirghiz accounts characterized by the recurrent use of reported-speech features; and the textual clues of the mistranslation and descriptive input of the interpreter. The unique contribution of this study to the history of interpreting, therefore, is to take further the theoretical link between interpreters and the making of histories, as proposed by Bowen et al. (1995), to the extent of drawing a connection between interpreters and the making of historical records about foreign peoples through exploring the Tang Chinese archives with regard to the Kirghiz. Interpreters are not just in a position to impact on such historical records; their input often passively left on these records, having been identified through textual archival analyses, may also verify the subtle link between the interpreter and the writing of such histories in which interlingual exchanges mediated by interpreters constitutes an essential part.

chapter 9

Oral translators in outbound diplomatic correspondence

The historical study of interpreting is intricately connected to diplomacy and politics. It therefore makes frequent use of diplomatic archives, memoirs, and correspondence as its crucial data base (Bowen et al. 1995). These written records, regrettably, are few and far between in ancient European histories. However, this is certainly not the case for China. Thanks to its time-honored historiography tradition, ancient China is far more readily accessible. Still, as Tymoczko asserts (2006: 14), the mere incorporation of “additional non-western data pertaining to translation histories, episodes and artifacts” is not sufficient. In this chapter, apart from presenting archival evidence of diplomatic interpreting in ninth-century­ China, I will analyze issues and concerns of pertinence to Translation Studies being raised from this study. This chapter examines Tang China’s outbound diplomatic correspondence with regard to its importance and its implications for the history of interpreting. Here, I survey fifteen Chinese letters dispatched to the Uighür and Kirghiz states between 841 and 845 and find that thirteen consistently make references to a person at their conclusion. In these letters, the stated functions of such persons were to clarify China’s intent or explain China’s feelings. Since these duties are reminiscent of the tasks of an envoy and an oral translator in interlingual encounters, it is possible that the person being referred to in these letters might have been assigned the duty of an envoy, but was also implicitly entrusted to translate, or even explain, China’s letter orally to its foreign recipient. Notably, this measure was in place to ensure the accurate transfer of China’s message from written Chinese to the Türkic vernacular. Regarding this salient feature, two sample letters are closely examined. It is possible that they may imply the practice of oral translation during the presentation of these Chinese missives, and more broadly, the probable existence of an envoy-cum-interpreter tradition in early imperial China. Two letters considered exceptions to this pattern will also be discussed. Clearly, China was indeed well aware of potential comprehension problems for foreigners, although it seemed to be adamant in the use . An earlier version of this chapter is scheduled to appear in TTR 23(2).

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of high-brow classical Chinese in its missives to foreign states at the time. The identification of this translation tradition of imperial China is significant to the histories of translation, and ultimately, I hope that this study will serve to inform current theoretical discussions in Translation Studies.

Diplomatic interaction and interpreting Concerned with the spoken medium in East Asian diplomatic discourse, Ma ­Yihong (2005) examines first-millennium archival records and concludes that interpreting was required in interaction between non-Chinese states because Chinese was the lingua franca at the time. It may sound bizarre but this finding is actually consistent with a linguistic feature in first-millennium Asia whereby written Chinese was often used for diplomatic correspondence. The prestige of Chinese as the lingua franca was promoted by the active learning of and exposure to Chinese culture and institutions under the auspice of the Chinese cultural sphere (Gao 2003). But even in China, which placed a premium on historiography, ancient interpreting events were rarely documented in its records of foreign interactions. Similar neglect of interpreters in the western archive is also noted when Bowen et al. maintain that, the social status of interpreters may also account for their position in the annals of history: ethnic and cultural hybrids, often women, slaves or members of a ‘subcaste’. (1995: 245–6)

Inferior social status as such was not often associated with interpreters in ancient China, but they were frequently preempted all the same in standard archives as if they were obsolete in interlingual exchanges. Traces of interpreting, however, can be indirectly detected sometimes. For example, more subtle interpreting traces can be inferred from the regular use of Chinese in diplomatic correspondence in first-millennium Asia. In this connection, one may legitimately ask: was language mediation into and from Chinese quite common at this time? This is hard to verify because of the evanescent nature of interpreting and the paucity of archival evidence. This chapter addresses different questions: were the persons typically referred to in China’s outbound letters implicitly entrusted to translate, or even explain, these letters orally to their foreign recipients in the ninth century? Does this inherent pattern not constitute possible evidence to argue for the practice of an envoy-cum-interpreter tradition in early imperial China? By examining fifteen letters delivered from China to the Uighürs and the Kirghiz, I discuss the probable reference to oral translators bearing the title of envoy in these Chinese

Chapter 9.  Oral translators in outbound diplomatic correspondence 137

missives. I argue that these letters displayed a salient pattern in which an envoy was regularly named or implied. The stated functions of such envoys were to explain China’s intent and feelings to the foreign recipients. Relevant archives never specified the language the envoy used to communicate China’s intent, but undeniably these functions were predicated on bilingual competence and reminiscent of oral translators’ duties in interlingual encounters. Neither was there any explicit reference to translation, even though some form of language mediation would have been expected in these diplomatic encounters. I will first contextualize my study within the proposed envoy-cum-interpreter tradition in China. This will be followed by a discussion of my survey of the fifteen letters (see Appendix). Then I will examine two sample letters to illustrate the salient pattern in which the presence of oral translators was implied. Finally, two letters considered exceptions to this pattern are analyzed, followed by a discussion of a communication breakdown caused by the Kirghiz’s problems in understanding Chinese well. This case will reinforce my observation that the envoys presenting China’s letters probably acted also as oral translators with the intent to enhance mutual understanding.

An envoy-cum-interpreter tradition in imperial China The tradition of envoy-cum-interpreter in early imperial China refers to the probable use of interpreters under the title of envoys for diplomatic mediation outside China. The discussion of this tradition has an important bearing on Translation Studies because it touches on issues, such as patronage, (in)visibility, manipulation, and ethics, pertinent to the current theoretical debates in the discipline. Unlike modern times diplomacy where the roles of envoys and interpreters are clearly defined and typically assigned to individuals of distinct caliber, the duties of envoys and interpreters in early imperial China might have been blended together and collectively labeled as envoys. The title of interpreters was not nominally used, possibly because of its junior rank in imperial China’s official hierarchy. This stigmatized title would have been better concealed by the generic and yet honorable label of envoy or special envoy. In this sense, the roles and duties of interpreters within this tradition were both visible and invisible. On the one hand, interpreters were invisible since, given the constraint of this tradition, they carried the title of envoys, not interpreters. On the other hand, they were . Oral translator, not interpreter, is used here considering that, presumably, the Chinese envoy was required to translate the Chinese letter orally into Türkic for the foreign recipient. The mode of transfer was from a written text to an oral text.

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visible because they were placed in the limelight on the diplomatic stage. Having been entrusted to explain China’s intent to the Türkic-speaking recipients, the envoy-cum-interpreter­ was, in effect, given the mandate to represent the patron. However, this diplomatic interpreting tradition is missing in Alexieva’s typology of interpreter-mediated events (1997). In some cases archived in China, interpreters did not simply communicate messages for their patrons, but they were also responsible for speaking on behalf of their country, as we shall see in the upcoming discussions. In contrast with the typical kurogo metaphor used to refer to interpreters in Japan (Torikai 2009), the Chinese envoys-cum-interpreters were able to get their own voices heard and their own faces seen. A typical scenario within this tradition is that the envoy-cum-interpreter would be entrusted by the Chinese throne to present letters to the foreign counterparts and explain China’s intent in foreign countries. This intermediation style is unlike the regular liaison format in which the two “primary participants” are present, to be mediated by the interpreter(s), the “secondary participant”, to borrow the terms of Alexieva (1997: 222). Now, since the Chinese emperor, as the translation patron, asked the envoy-cum-interpreter to present his letter to a foreign state, the patron in theory would not have been able to scrutinize the interlingual exchanges. This scenario presents a real test for interpreters’ ethics and at the same time, constitutes an interpreter’s loophole in which he can potentially manipulate what information to translate and what to censor. After all, the envoy has exclusive access to the content of the letter at the time of mediation. The effectiveness of the translation, in practice, can only be remotely and yet passively monitored by the patron. The diplomatic task assigned to these envoys-cuminterpreters­ was considered successfully accomplished when no major quibble was triggered by the recipient countries. It seems apparent that no one else, apart from the translator himself, was sufficiently bilingual to be succinctly informed of the quality, or acutely aware of potential manipulation, of the oral translation. The political climates and dynamics among Tang China, the Uighürs, and the Kirghiz in the eighth and ninth centuries were explained in the last chapter. I would not repeat myself here. It is suffice to mention that although the Uighür empire was undermined, some isolated nobles and generals still lurked near the northern Chinese border. The Uighür presence disturbed the Chinese court, and diplomatic missives were thus frequently exchanged with the goal of trying to . In Japan, as Torikai remarks (2009: 1), “interpreters are usually depicted as kurogo (literally, black attire) in kabuki (traditional Japanese theatre)” whereby a person clothed in dark attire on stage, when the light is off, assisted the performers and the change of scenes. The kurogo, similar to the interpreter, is exactly a facilitator for the drama without himself being dramatically heard or seen.

Chapter 9.  Oral translators in outbound diplomatic correspondence 139

ease border tension and ward off the Uighürs. As it happens, the subversion of the steppes supremacy of the Uighürs by the Kirghiz was viewed positively by China. Hence, diplomatic letters were also sent back and forth between China and the Kirghiz at that time. How would these Chinese letters be received in the Uighürs and the Kirghiz? Were these Türkic-speaking steppes states fine in the comprehension of these missives written in classical Chinese? These might have been the questions the Tang court was asking itself as well. If this is indeed the mindset of the Tang court, it is possible that the envoy-cum-interpreter could be its contingency solution for potential communication breakdown. In fact, regarding written communication in the sixth century, for states with admirable proficiency in high-style Chinese, such as Paekche and Yamato, comprehension of such letters would have been less of an issue. A presumed competence in Chinese could not, however, be extended to all steppes states outside the Chinese cultural sphere.

The survey While examining the letters compiled in Li Deyu’s collective writings, I notice that thirteen letters bear names of, or references to, possible envoys engaged in delivering these letters. I suspect language mediation must have been part of these envoys’ duties based on textual hints in most of these letters. These include, but are not confined to, “we ask (envoy’s name) to inform you of our thoughts”, “we order (envoy’s name) to convey this edict, which we think should inform you fully”, or “on the day that this envoy arrives, you certainly will understand our heart” (Drompp 2005; see Appendix for the list of letters and corresponding references). These textual references, so emphatic with the mediatory function of the envoys, strongly suggest China’s reliance on these envoys to deliver and present its missives. The names mentioned were often military officials, but occasionally, the person being named could be simply a civilian, not even ethnic Chinese, who happened to have volunteered to be the go-between (discussed below). Apparently, these envoys, presumably equipped with some Türkic knowledge, were deployed to present the missives as a measure to ensure the accurate transfer of messages. One may legitimately argue that it is possible that the Chinese envoys, instead of being the linguistic go-between themselves, might have been assisted

. These letters were drafted by Li Deyu and they were still extant in his collective writings. How representative these letters were of Tang diplomatic missives, among all outbound letters, however cannot be ascertained.

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by interpreters. Yet, since I have not found evidence of the chaperone of interpreters in these missions to deliver letters to foreign countries in the Tang archives, I feel limited in putting forward such a conjecture. Therefore, I am more inclined to believe that in their process of delivering these letters, these envoys might have acted also as oral translators, interpreting (or sight translating) the Chinese letters into Türkic. This surmise may seem tempting but cannot be adequately substantiated yet. After all, neither the translating function of these envoys nor the practice of oral translation in these diplomatic encounters was made explicit in the missives.

Outbound correspondence One can only imagine that these Chinese letters – typically embedded with literary and archaic analogies – must have been strikingly exotic to foreign readers. Nevertheless, China was adamant regarding the use of Chinese in its diplomatic letters. Although China did not actively concern itself with the comprehension problem of the foreign recipients to the extent of refraining from using Chinese, it did take some subtle measures to ensure that communication would not be vastly compromised. In fact, Li Deyu’s letters to both the Uighür and Kirghiz states from 841 to 845 typically refer to a named, or an implied, envoy who was entrusted to clarify China’s intent. There is no information as to how the clarification was communicated to the foreigners. Besides, these letters never mentioned whether the envoy was indeed an interpreter, or whether his mission was really to interpret at all. Yet the constant reference to such an envoy does raise the possibility that, perhaps, he might have been required to orally translate the letter apart from his other duties. If this was the case, this inherent textual feature might have implied the practice of oral translation while delivering these letters to the foreign recipients. My choice of sample letters was governed by two considerations: first, to present letters representative of the Sino-Uighür political tension; second, to present letters with the name of a Chinese official inscribed in one letter and a non-Chinese civilian in another. The inclusion of a Türkic-speaking envoy serves to illustrate, together with other forthcoming evidence, the acute need for translators in these encounters. The sample letters and their English translations were shortened without compromising the essential contents. The first letter reiterates China’s generous material provisions to the diasporic Uighürs, before cuttingly criticizing the qaghan’s erratic movements. It ends by expressing hopes that the border tension can be resolved peacefully.

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Letter 1 賜回鶻可汗書 奉宣撰 ……初則念其饑歉,給其糇糧;旋則知其破傷,盡還馬價。……又聞所止 屢遷。……雖云隨逐水草,動皆逼近城柵。……所以中朝大臣等皆云,回 紇近塞,已是違盟……。石誡直久在京城,備知仁心憤惋,發於誠懇, 固請自行。嘉其深見事機,所以不能違阻。可汗審自詢問,速擇良圖。  14 August (lunar), 842 (Fu and Zhou 2000: 68–9) A letter granted to the Uighür qaghan …In the beginning, We thought of your hunger and shortages and granted you provisions. …At the time, We also heard that you frequently had shifted your dwelling place. …Although you say you follow water and grass, your movements all draw you near to our cities and palisades. …Thus the central court’s great officials and others all say that since the Uighürs have approached the border, they already have shown disregard for our alliance. … Shi Jiezhi (author’s emphasis) has long been at the capital. He fully knows that peoples’ hearts are angry and resentful. He has put forth a sincere supplication, strongly requesting to go himself [as an envoy to the qaghan]. We praise his insight on current exigencies, and cannot oppose [his wish]. The qaghan himself should judge [the current situation] by questioning [Shi Jiezhi] and quickly choose a good plan.  (Drompp’s translation 2005: 253)

Identity of Shi Jiezhi China adopted a soft approach in its successive attempts to talk the Uighürs into evacuating from the border. Its tone was largely persuasive, with only a faint hint of military threats. This letter concludes with a reference to a Shi Jiezhi, a Sogdian of Iranian descent, whose family was originally from Tashkent in Central Asia. He had been living in Chang’an among the Uighürs and had convinced the court that he would dutifully serve as an effective envoy to the Uighür Őgä qaghan. The letter indicates that the court relied on this Türkic-speaking Sogdian to discuss matters with the Uighür chief beyond what was written down. Their potential conversations, which might have taken place subsequently to Shi Jiezhi’s oral translation of the letter, were stated in the textual reference of “The qaghan himself should judge [the current situation] by questioning [Shi Jiezhi]” in the letter. Shi Jiezhi was a typical Sogdian multilingual who resided in Tang China; he spoke at least Sogdian, Türkic, and Chinese. The Sogdian language was the commercial lingua franca in Central Asia for the most part of the first millennium. The language talent of Sogdians therefore made them convenient mediators for international trades and interaction along the Silk Road (Cheng 1994a; 1994b).

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In fact, many Sogdian merchants acted also as translators, or even agents representing the interests of other nationals. Since the Uighürs enjoyed exceptional privileges in Tang China, many of these opportunistic Sogdians chose to work for them and acted as their commercial and political agents to negotiate with China. Shi Jiezhi was an example of such Sogdian agents-cum-translators to have volunteered to liaise between China and the Uighürs. Although the Tang court trusted Shi Jiezhi with the task, it soon started to question his integrity. In less than a week after Shi Jiezhi’s departure, Li Deyu submitted a memorial (Drompp 2005: 255–6), ironically expressing his concerns about Shi’s loyalty as a volunteer and good-will envoy. Apparently, Li Deyu had recently learned that Shi Jiezhi’s fear of possible detention in China, as someone who had been so closely connected to the Uighürs, had driven him to volunteer for the mission. The case of Shi Jiezhi as a marginalized figure in the Sino-Uighür crisis echoes Cronin’s observation of interpreters being disadvantaged by power hierarchies: The role of interpreters throughout history has been crucially determined by the prevailing hierarchical constitution of power and their position in it. In this respect, if you or your people are seriously disadvantaged by the hierarchy, the most ethical position can be to be utterly “unfaithful” in interpreting in the name of another fidelity, a fidelity of resistance. This is not a “problem”. It is a strategy for survival.  (Cronin 2002: 394)

However, Cronin’s generalization cannot quite capture the tricky situation in which Sogdian translators, as the third party, were deployed by Tang China to mediate with the Uighürs. In principle, the Sogdian translators should not have been “disadvantaged” since they are not ethnically affiliated to the Uighürs. Yet, suddenly, Shi Jiezhi’s allegiance was in question exactly because he, like many other Sogdian trading agents of the time, had been associated with the Uighürs. However, Shi Jiezhi was never found to have committed any treacherous deeds, according to China’s archives. On hearing that two of Shi Jiezhi’s accomplices had already left China, Li Deyu was indeed warned of the Sogdian’s ultimate agenda. He feared that Shi Jiezhi’s envoy mission would not only be futile, but would also defame China with tales of its ill treatment of the Uighürs and its favor toward Ormïzt, a defected Uighür noble. This is reminiscent of the concerns of interpreters’ integrity put forward by Bowen et al., such as loyalty and possible “breaches of etiquette or even ethics” (1995: 273). In contrast with the above letter in which the courage of Shi Jiezhi was inflated, he was now criticized as “only one insignificant leader” (Quantangwen 705: 8009; Drompp 2005: 256). The drastic change of feelings about this go-between, within a matter of days, was typical of China’s longstanding suspicion of Sogdian translation officials in late Tang. In fact, Li Deyu

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expressed his skepticism over the integrity of these translators in another memorial, to be discussed in greater details in the next chapter. The intention of this memorial was to solicit Türkic translators with no ethnic affinity to the Uighürs to interpret for the upcoming interview with the Kirghiz embassy. He, as the patron, suspected that Sogdian translators might censor information and divulge SinoKirghiz discussions ultimately of advantage to the Uighürs. These two potential deeds certainly fall into the first two of the three codes that Kronglov (2004, in Torikai 2009) believes diplomatic interpreters are required to observe, namely: impartiality, confidentiality, and invisibility. In this example, the patron’s concern and trust, in the words of Lefevere (1992: 2), are “invested in the producer of the translation, not necessarily in the product itself ”. Indeed, the Türkic proficiency of these translation officials, so pertinent to the interpreting quality, was hardly mentioned in the whole controversy of translators at all in Tang times. The second letter was written in late 842 and was the last known communication with the camp of Őgä qaghan. Typical of late Tang’s correspondence with the Uighür refugees, this letter spoke of the cordial relations of the two empires and the benefits thus accrued. It then castigated the Uighürs for having sabotaged those relations by looting the border towns. It also blamed the Uighürs for misdirecting their anger, stressing that the Kirghiz, not China, was their real enemy. In this letter, Li Deyu urged the Uighürs to behave with propriety by arranging for the return of Chinese Princess Taihe, who had been kept as a hostage in the Uighür camp. Letter 2 劉沔致書於九姓回鶻頡于相公閣下......皇帝自聞回鶻乖亂,繼以災 荒,為紇扢斯所攻,......太和公主是帝室愛女。可汗亦宜遂其情禮, 便遣入朝......而乃睥睨邊城,桀驁自若,......今又深入邊境,殘虐 生人......若外與中國結怨,內為紇扢斯所排,......以沔揣度,終難 取濟......今相公......倘自改悔,實未為晚。信之與否,幸垂見示。 不具,沔白。 (Fu and Zhou 2000: 138–9) A letter taken by Liu Mian to the Uighür minister Liu Mian conveys this letter to the Honourable Minister Il-Ő[gäsi] of the Uighürs of the Nine Clans… .The emperor has heard of the Uighürs’ [internal] disorder, which was followed by natural calamities and an attack by the Kirghiz. … The Taihe Princess is a beloved daughter of the imperial house. The qaghan should accord with the human feelings and propriety of [the current situation] and send her to the court….But [on the contrary] you have looked covetously upon our border cities, proud and tyrannical as before. … . Now you have deeply penetrated our border and been malicious and cruel to the people.

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…If you contract enmity with China externally and are expelled by the Kirghiz internally…in [Liu] Mian’s estimation, in the end it will be difficult [for us] to aid you….If you yourself… reform, it really will not be too late. Please indicate your feelings as to whether you lend credence to [what I have written] or not. Whatever is not written here, [Liu] Mian (author’s emphasis) will explain.  (Drompp’s translation 2005: 256–260)

This letter was a strategic dissemination of threats to coerce the Uighürs into suspending any aggressive moves against China’s border civilians. It should be noted that the title of this letter already indicated, that it was to be presented by Liu Mian, whose name was mentioned twice. The first reference was to China’s anticipation of a potential Kirghiz attack on the Uighürs, as in “in [Liu] Mian’s estimation, in the end it will be difficult [for us] to aid you”. The second reference was to introduce [Liu] Mian as someone to further explain China’s intent, probably in Türkic, as in “Whatever is not written here, [Liu] Mian will explain”.

Identity of Liu Mian Characterized as “brave and valiant, good at riding and shooting [the bow]” (Jiutangshu 161: 4233; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 44), Liu Mian had spent much of his life in the north as the area’s military official, and was by this time a seasoned general in his late fifties. His experience in commanding non-Chinese troops proved to be useful during the Uighür crisis. There is no information about his Türkic competence, but since he had extensive experience in governing the northern border and leading non-Chinese troops, he might have had some Türkic knowledge. The two missives discussed in the foregoing section register as typical examples of the thirteen letters in which a named envoy was not only entrusted to present a letter to the foreign state, but was also assigned possibly the duty of an oral translator to convey China’s intent.

The exceptions In my data, two letters, written in May and September of 842, do not have any anonymous envoys implied or named persons inscribed, but these exceptions can be explained and do not, in principle, run counter to the pattern. The first exception is a letter written in response to the Uighür qaghan’s requests for grain, domesticated animals, and the return of Ormïzt. Since the Uighür power was

Chapter 9.  Oral translators in outbound diplomatic correspondence 145

on the decline, these excessive demands were firmly rejected. Unlike the other missives in which China would present itself in a subtle, persuasive, and unimposing fashion, China indicated quite austerely that there would be no room for further discussions. It would not submit to the Uighürs’ material extortion anymore. Therefore, China’s tough and non-negotiating stance could possibly be the primary reason that explains why no mediating agent was considered necessary, although admittedly, the rejection letter might have been dangerous to deliver, let alone explain in this critical situation. The available evidence, however, does not explain how the Uighürs managed to understand China’s rejections. If there were still some Sogdian agents in the Uighür camp, they should nevertheless have been able to translate this letter to the qaghan. The second exception is a letter addressed to Princess Taihe, a Chinese bride to a Uighür qaghan. This letter expresses the emperor’s concern for her well-being and his disapproval of the Uighürs’ bad deeds. It also urges the princess to convince the qaghan to right his wrongs and show due respect to their earlier alliance. Since this letter was addressed to a Chinese princess who was literate in Chinese, no comprehension problem was anticipated. The provision of an oral translator to explain the letter would be totally superfluous, and, reasonably enough, no reference to an envoy is found. The absence of such a reference has huge implications for my conjecture. It may aptly suggest that the function of the envoys so often named, or implied, was indeed related to interlingual comprehension. Hence, this exception, in theory, is not an exception, but provides a sound support of my observation, in which the named person was probably entrusted to translate the Chinese letter orally into Türkic. If these two exceptions do not register as counter examples and if they in fact make the rule, it seems that there was indeed a salient pattern in these missives in which an envoy was entrusted to translate China’s letter orally to the foreign recipient. This pattern infers that it was China’s conscious decision to make reference to an envoy. This reference was not random, but more of a deliberate design to pursue China’s goal for better communication of its intent. After all, these Türkicspeaking states were never known to be active learners of Chinese and must have been somewhat limited in their Chinese literacy. It remains uncertain if China’s high-brow classical style, heavily garnished with literary and historical analogies, was ever well understood by either the Uighürs or the Kirghiz. Although no written archive can explicitly confirm the translation tasks of these envoys, it can be deduced that they must have conveyed China’s messages through translating its letters orally in the Türkic vernacular.

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Comprehension problems in reading Chinese letters China’s fear of potential miscomprehension and misunderstanding over letters sent to foreign states was more than imaginary. In 843 when the Kirghiz was actively assisting China to expel the advancing Uighürs on the border, it wrote to China expressing concern and disappointment over a general lack of understanding and communication between them although letters were exchanged. This Kirghiz letter is not extant but its excerpt was included in Li Deyu’s reply. It reads, 兩地遺書,彼此不會; 

(Fu and Zhou 2000: 89)

[Your letter said that] our two lands send letters [back and forth], but we do not [fully] understand one another.  (Drompp’s translation, 2005: 309)

After drafting his response to pacify the Kirghiz suspicion, Li Deyu reported to the emperor that he had taken some conscious steps to simplify his language to avoid further misunderstandings. Li claimed, 不爲文言,遣其易會; 

(Fu and Zhou 2000: 91)

I have not written in literary language, so that their delegates can understand it easily.  (Drompp’s translation, 2005: 308)

In Li’s reply, he acted as a spin doctor and explained the sources of misunderstandings. He wrote, 書不可以盡言,言不可以盡意,況蕃漢文字傳譯不同。  (Fu and Zhou 2000: 89) Writing cannot fully express one’s speech, and speech cannot fully express one’s thoughts. Furthermore, foreign and Chinese writing are transmitted and translated differently.  (Drompp’s translation 2005: 308)

There are at least two interpretations to Li Deyu’s reasoning. First, language in general is limited in expressing meanings; second, the inherent differences between the Türkic and Chinese languages make translation and mutual understanding difficult. If China, indeed, had concerns over the Kirghiz’s comprehension of written Chinese, it is understandable why deliberate efforts had been made to regularly designate a go-between to verbally express China’s intent. In fact, Li Deyu’s assertion that “foreign and Chinese writing are transmitted and translated ­differently” . This seems to be a paraphrase of a passage in the ‘Great Commentary’ (Da Zhuan) to The Book of Changes (Yi Jing). Willard Peterson’s translation (in Drompp 2005: 309) of the original text was “writing does not bring out exhaustively what is said, and what is said does not bring out exhaustively what is thought”.

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explicitly acknowledged, for the first and only time, that the Kirghiz did rely on translation to understand China’s letters. However, the archival records never pinned down precisely who, Chinese envoys or Kirghiz officials, actually provided the translation. Here, Li Deyu attributes the Kirghiz complaint to sheer linguistic or translation inadequacy. His reference to the potential translation problems of the Kirghiz seems to lend support to my conjecture that oral translation might have been conducted when these letters were presented. If this assumption is true, then the only plausible reason for the lack of Kirghiz comprehension would be ineffective translation, possibly rendered by Chinese envoys. This example of the communication breakdown with the Kirghiz put China’s uneasy mindset about language use in the spotlight. With the Kirghiz’s overt complaint about communication problems, China took steps to tone down its literary style in Kirghiz-bound letters for easier reading. Apart from this ad-hoc measure to enhance comprehension, it seems that Tang China must have regularly designated an envoy to express its thoughts, probably by translating its letter orally.

Implications Throughout history it has been possible for both translation and translators to be easily politicized in the realm of international diplomacy. In the fourth through the sixth centuries during the period of disunion in China, visiting embassies frequently solicited Sogdian or Tuyuhun translators in the Western Regions to facilitate their tributary or commercial missions. In Tang China, the Court had been much better organized, and translation officials were arranged to facilitate its diplomatic encounters. Many of these officials were, however, naturalized ethnic Sogdians, having settled in China for generations in Tang times. In theory, these Sogdian translation officials would have been useful in the mediation ­ between . The other way to interpret the Kirghiz complaint takes one beyond sheer linguistic comprehension. To put their interaction in context, two Kirghiz letters were presented to China before this Kirghiz complaint was noted. At the time, the Kirghiz eagerly waited for the bestowal of an imperial appointment from the Tang emperor, promised earlier as a reward for crushing the Uighürs. Yet, China procrastinated conferring the title on the Kirghiz qaghan by saying, not once but three times over two years, in letters (from 843–845, see letters 11–13 in the Appendix) that it would send more important envoys to conduct the ceremony. When an imperial title was conferred eventually, its wording was not in the Türkic style – the Uighür chief had been bestowed upon previously – the Kirghiz qaghan desired. The fact that the Kirghiz complained about the two countries not understanding each other fully, could possibly indicate that China did not act on its words, and when it did, it was not exactly what the Kirghiz wanted. The Kirghiz also suspected that China had lost political interest after the Uighürs were crushed.

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China and the Türkic-speaking steppes states. In practice, however, their multilingual and multicultural advantages were sometimes considered potential risks conducive to undermining China’s interests. As a saying from the Zuo Zhuan goes, “those who are not my kindred will surely have different hearts from ours” (feiwo zulei qixin biyi 非我族類‚其心必異). This skeptical mindset had later incited the government to look for Türkic-speaking talent from the Chinese frontier, without any ethnic affiliation with the Uighürs In this chapter, I discussed a salient pattern in Tang China’s outbound missives in which a named person was frequently being referred to in connection to his mandated task of explaining its intent to the foreign recipient. Textual hints in these letters indicate that the ultimate function of such envoys was to explain the letters or to raise important matters in person. Most notably, these essential missives were presented by Chinese envoys in person, not sent casually by messengers. If a face-to-face mediation was so consciously warranted in exchanges with the steppes states, in which the envoys might have translated China’s letter orally into the Türkic vernacular, then their duties were indeed comparable to those of oral translators. The subtle yet consistent references to such envoys therefore suggest the probable, or even regular, practice of not only oral translation in the presentation of these letters, but also an envoy-cum-interpreter tradition in the history of translation in Tang China.

. Li Dalong (1996) discusses the functions and duties of numerous kinds of envoys dispatched to the Türk in early Tang times, but none of the duties he mentions relate to language mediation

chapter 10

Sogdian interpreters in Tang China An issue of loyalty

The issue of translator’s ethics was mildly touched upon in the last chapter in connection to Tang China’s mistrust over its Sogdian translation officials. I would like to stretch this topic further by examining more archival information pertinent to this discussion. I decided to treat this issue separately as a chapter, because it does not really fit in well with the central theme of the envoy-cum-interpreter tradition raised in the previous chapter. The social function of language in multilingual and multicultural contexts is largely facilitated through translation. Translation bridges ideas expressed by people speaking different languages and it enhances social justice by securing people’s rights to be heard and informed. The constructive role of translation in promoting a level-playing field among people speaking different languages, however, is predicated on the assumption that translators are trustworthy. Yet translation can be manipulated to serve personal or ideological goals in such a way that justice can be compromised. In this chapter, I will discuss claims of biased translations by Sogdian translators in Tang China’s dealings with ­Türkicspeaking­ Uighürs, based on standard archival evidence in which translators’ integrity was questioned in inter-state politics. China’s growing suspicion of the integrity of Sogdian translators in the Tang court was fixated on their ethnic and business affiliation with the Uighürs; but was it justifiable, or were these non-Chinese translators wronged based on groundless accusations? In this final chapter, I will examine ‘justice’ from both sides: the translation patron and the translators in late Tang China politics. I will present a tricky historical scenario in ninth-century Tang China during which the interpreters’ ethnic or national affiliation, not their interpreting competence or performance, became the source of suspicion on the part of the translation patron. The irony here is: who was being wronged and who was being victimized in this context, the interpreters or the patron of the interpreting

. This paper was first presented in the 5th Annual International Conference on Justice without Borders: Multiculturalism and Global Justice, in March 2009 in Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan. It was published in Ritsumeikan Studies in Language and Culture, 22 (1): 95–105.

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s­ ervices? This case about interpreters’ professional integrity that took place more than a millennium ago in imperial China is certainly a critical challenge to translation historians. It presents a challenge in academic inquiry that hinged on interpreters’ loyalty. The difficulty lies in the fact that we only have access to the voice of the Tang imperial court from its standard archival record. As Lefevere points out, “the same basic process of rewriting is at work in translation, historiography, anthologization, criticism, and editing” (1992: 9). In our attempt to deal with translators’ ethics and loyalty as depicted in standard historical texts, there are two levels of “rewriting” to be studied and interpreted. We have no means of accessing the story either from the perspective of the Sogdian translators or the Uighürs. These two parties are in effect silent, if not deprived of a chance to speak up, in the “rewriting process” of the imperial Chinese archive. Unfortunately such information as we have is all that is left to us in the current investigation. Its limitation, as a primary archive pertinent to ancient interpreting activities, is that the record was politically embedded and embellished purely from the perspective of the Chinese ruling clique. As Hung cautions The Chinese languages boast substantial and continuous historical records covering over two millennia…This continuity and the substantial records they offer, however, do not necessarily make the task of the translation historian an easy one. Since the historical records which have come down to us were compiled or written according to the perceptions and priorities of the establishment, the mainstream, and special interest groups, activities considered unimportant by the authorities and these groups received little attention from historians and intellectuals.  (Hung 2005c: 71)

Following Hung’s observation, it seems that the defense statement of the Sogdian translators in our present inquiry must not have been sufficiently important to warrant due attention from the chroniclers when they compiled China’s dealing with the Uighürs and the Kirghiz via the mediation of these non-Chinese interpreters. In this connection, it is inevitable that imperial records regarding what the people surrounding these events said and did might very well have been blemished, distorted, or largely ignored one way or another in order to serve the interest of the ruling clique. Here, I will discuss Sogdian translators and examine two pieces of archival evidence which point to late Tang China’s paranoia over their integrity.

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Cosmopolitan mindsets of Tang China and the recruitment of Sogdian translators The prime time of the glorious Tang empire is best testified by emperor Taizong’s surge of personal prestige when he was honored by foreign rulers in Central Asia, East Asia, and countries along the China frontier as the ‘Heavenly Qaghan’. His military and governing achievements emerged as the shining model for the fellow country leaders in Asia at large. The scale of respect emperor Taizong commanded at the time is unprecedented. As a benevolent ruler of Tang China at its peak of national glory, the emperor commanded his government to protect and acculturate these tributary or satellite states in a Confucian spirit. This embracing and yet fundamentally hierarchical mentality of Tang China encouraged international integration and exchanges that took place on a scale unrivaled by any imperial periods in China’s history. In response to this liberal approach of Tang China to foreign peoples, a large number of foreigners, such as the Türks, Uighürs, Kirghiz, Khitans, Tibetans, Tocharians, and Sogdians, moved to settle in China. The Sogdian language, of ancient Iranian origin, was widely recognized as the commercial lingua franca on the Silk Road, from Central Asia to Chang’an of imperial China in the first millennium. This language, belonging to the IndoEuropean­ language family, was spoken by different Sogdian communities scattered around Bactria, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Tashkent. Some of its alphabets were even borrowed in the creation of the Türkic language in the eighth century. As a result of the Sogdians’ ethnographic histories of living with and exposure to different peoples in Central Asia and their political histories of having been ruled by various empires – such as the Hephthalites in the fifth century, the Türks in the sixth century, and the Arabs from the seventh century onwards – Sogdians typically grew up speaking at least the Sogdian, Türkic, and Chinese languages. Their multilingual business skills were the edge by which these Sogdians survived and thrived along the Silk Road. In fact, many Sogdian merchants actively played the roles of business agent and translators in the commercial activities in Turkistan, the intersection between Central Asia and western China. In Tang China, these Sogdians were often not simply commercial translators, but also involved as agents to promote the interests of other nationals in the negotiation of trading and political rights. For instance, after the Anlushan Rebellion in 755, the Uighürs were favored and won a great deal of privileges from the Tang court. At this time, many of these Sogdian translators acted as agents for these Uighürs to negotiate with the Tang court. Some Sogdians were also known to have disguised themselves as ethnic Uighürs in a bid to obtain privileged treatments given exclusively to the Uighürs in Tang times (Cheng 1994a).

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A good majority of the Sogdian people having been exposed to the Chinese culture had even acquired Chinese names. One of the typical Chinese family names for Sogdians originated from Tashkent was Shi (石), taking on the sound segment of ‘sh’ from the place of origin. The other for Sogdians from Samarkand was Kang (康), taking on the sound segment of ‘kand’. Many of them thrived as language mediators for traveling envoys and traders. A small number of them, having settled in China for generations, were even recruited by the Chinese imperial court as translation officials to resolve communication problems with foreign envoys. The Tang Chinese observed the sharpness and alacrity of Sogdian merchants, which are also considered attributes of translators. A cultural custom about this merchant race was documented as follows, 生兒以石蜜啖之,置膠於掌,欲長而甘言,持珤若黏云。習旁行書。善 商賈,好利,丈夫年二十,去傍國,利所在無不至。  (Xintangshu 221: 6243–6244) Mothers give their infants sugar to eat and put paste on the palms of their hands in the hope that when they are grown, they will talk sweetly and that precious objects will stick [to their hands]. These people are skillful merchants; when a boy reaches the age of five he is put to studying books; when he begins to understand them, he is sent to study commerce. They excel at commerce and love profits; from the time a man is twenty, he goes to neighboring kingdoms; wherever one can make money, they have gone.  (Lerner’s translation 2001: 222–3)

However, the Sogdians’ linguistic talent can be a double-edged sword to Tang China. While the imperial court noticed that the multilingual Sogdians could serve to facilitate communication between China and other countries, the Sogdians’ exclusive access to secret intelligence during diplomatic negotiation would also bother China as potential source of trouble. The linguistic advantage of the Sogdians was most typically demonstrated in Tang China when they were commonly recruited as translation officials and played pivotal roles in late Tang’s dealings with both the Uighürs and the Kirghiz around the mid-ninth century. In the Tang practice, officials from other departments would be dispatched to these diplomatic interviews to collect first-hand information relevant to their specific operations. The opportunity to interview envoys from foreign countries enabled the Chinese government to gather the much-coveted geographical and strategic information which it desperately valued. However, since the Chinese at this time were not usually keen on learning foreign languages, China relied heavily on the use of Sogdian translators in its court to fulfill this diplomatic mediating function so frequently called for in Tang times. In fact, the sizeable presence of foreigners in Tang times, many of them already settled for generations and probably Sinicized to various extents, no doubt

Chapter 10.  Sogdian interpreters in Tang China 153

provided a stable pool of translators for the government (in an official capacity), if not for the visiting envoys (free-lance, on need-basis).

Evidence 1: Deploying a Chinese envoy of Sogdian ethnicity By 840, the Kirghiz had defeated the Uighür empire. What to take care next, for both the Kirghiz and Tang China, was to eradicate the isolated groups of Uighür nobles and generals creating troubles to residents near the northern Chinese border, still struggling to restore the Uighür supremacy. In an attempt to liaise with these diasporic camps of Uighürs, Chinese officials would usually be dispatched to communicate China’s intent, either in writing or speech. It was never clear why Shi Jiezhi, a Sogdian resident in the capital, volunteered to be the go-between to carry the letter that condemned the Uighür qaghan’s reckless move of encroaching the frontier, as quoted in “letter 1” in the previous chapter, for China to the Uighür camp. The fact that the Tang court was initially fine with this contingency measure to have a Sogdian, not a Chinese official, from nowhere, to shoulder such an important envoy mission is even more perplexing. One probable explanation is that Tang China was short of Türkic-speaking translators who would be available to take up this daring task. Whatever the truth is, the inclusion of Shi Jiezhi as an intermediary between China and the Uighürs reflected China’s acute need for Türkic translators in these encounters. Since China’s national strength was in decline, it was not too eager to trigger wars. Its asking the Uighürs to stay away from the Chinese border, in fact, appeared to have been rather mild. Shi Jiezhi who had been living in Chang’an among the Uighür population, might have developed close ties with the Uighürs. It was he who approached and convinced the Tang court that he would be prepared to volunteer as an envoy to the Uighür chief. This Uighür-bound letter suggests that the court relied on this Türkic-speaking Sogdian to discuss matters further with the Uighür chief.

China’s dilemma in the deployment of a Sogdian envoy It did not take long for Tang China to feel uncomfortable about the contingency appointment of Shi Jiezhi as an envoy to present the letter to the Uighür chief. Soon after Shi Jiezhi’s departure, chief minister Li Deyu submitted a memorial to alert the throne of his concerns about Shi Jiezhi’s loyalty as a China envoy, considering Shi’s ethnicity and personal ties with the Uighürs (Quantangwen 705: 8009). Li Deyu had only recently been informed that Shi Jiezhi’s initiation

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as the envoy was, in fact, part of his scheme to flee China, since he used to represent the Uighür interest as an agent. It seems reasonable to suggest that the Sogdians, having been associated with the Uighürs commercially and politically, had good reasons to feel motivated to leave China, based on their sensitive identity in the mid-ninth century. Li Deyu’s memorial was indeed representative of the Tang court’s general concern about the destructive consequences of trusting Shi Jiezhi at all with the task. Specifically, the court started to lose faith in anything good coming out of his envoy mission and questioned whether this Sogdian envoy would possibly defame China. According to Li Deyu’s memorial, the Tang court had come to the realization that deploying Shi Jiezhi had perhaps been a mistaken move. This is a typical concern regarding the trustworthiness of any interpreter one hires, especially for mediating exchanges in situations of conflict. After all, interpreters are viewed as those individuals sitting on both sides of the fence given their bilingual and bicultural competence. It is therefore legitimate for the interpreting patron to cast doubt on the interpreter’s integrity, primarily because of the nature of the interpreting task, and not, automatically, on interpreters’ personal ethics. In a passage quoted in the previous chapter, Shi Jiezhi was praised for his political insight, courage, and bravery. However, the Tang court’s rhetoric about this forthcoming envoy in Li Deyu’s memorial switches adversely when Shi ­Jiezhi’s agenda is placed under scrutiny. This abrupt change of feeling about this go-between reflects late Tang’s paranoia over Sogdian translators in the Court who were somewhat professionally affiliated with the Uighürs. The Sogdian envoy’s allegiance was suddenly being held in doubt precisely because he, like most of his fellow nationals, had previously worked for the Uighürs in China. To be fair however, this special envoy was never proven to have betrayed China. In theory, the accusation made against this envoy remains unsubstantiated, since no evidence was ever put forth to back the claim. As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, the voice of the ruling clique was heard, yet the defense of the accused is muted. We are presented merely with one side of the story about the interpreter’s disloyalty. When the Kirghiz envoys arrived at the Tang court in 843, emperor Wuzong asked the translator affiliated to the Court to interview them about their geography and customs. If it were the case that the subject of discussion in these diplomatic interviews had been entirely confined to foreign landscapes and customs, China would not have been so concerned about the Sogdian translators divulging information to the Uighürs. However, the more critical issue in the Sino-Kirghiz interview was mostly focused on the military strategy to be deployed to get rid of the remaining Uighürs lurking in the northern border.

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Evidence 2: Soliciting Türkic-speaking translators not affiliated to the Uighürs China’s growing suspicion of the integrity of the Sogdian translators was all the more obvious in the following year. In fact, in a memorial concerning translators, Li Deyu expressed his skepticism over the integrity of the Sogdian translators recruited by China, namely, Shi Foqing and others. 論譯語人狀 右,緣石佛慶等皆是回紇種類,必與本國有情, 紇戛斯專使到京後,恐語有不 便於回紇者,不為翻譯,兼潛將言語輒報在京回紇。望賜劉沔﹑忠順詔,各擇 解蕃語人不是與回紇親族者,令乘遞赴京,冀得互相參驗,免有欺蔽。未審。  (Feb, 843; Quantangwen 705: 8009) A memorial concerning translators Shi Foqing and the others are all of the Uighür race, so they must have some feeling for their native land. After the Kirghiz special envoy arrives at the capital, I fear that they will not translate [for us] whatever he has to say that is not advantageous to the Uighürs, but will secretly report what has been said immediately to the [other] Uighürs in the capital. I hope that Liu Mian and [Li] Zhongshun can be instructed to select men who can understand and translate foreign languages, and who are not of the same tribe as the Uighürs, and to send them to the capital with the [next available] courier. I hope that they will be able to consult together and verify [everything] so that we may avoid falsification and concealment. I do not know if this is permissible or not.  (Suprunenko’ translation; in Drompp 2005: 292)

The intention of this memorial was to solicit Türkic translators with no ethnic affinity to the Uighürs to interpret for the upcoming interviews with the Kirghiz envoys. Li Deyu indicated to the emperor that he suspected that the Sogdian translators might censor information that was harmful to the Uighürs and divulge military intelligence to the Uighürs. This passage is extremely informative regarding China’s critical need for Türkic-speaking translators. Strictly speaking, the Sogdian translators working for China were not ethnic Uighürs; they were of ancient Iranian ethnicity, not born or raised on the Mongolian steppes. However, given the history of these translators having been hired to represent the Uighürs’ interests, some of them might have been naturalized Uighürs. And there is, in fact, evidence suggesting that some Sogdian people in China actually claimed to be Uighürs just to take advantage of the privileges bestowed on the Uighürs at the time. That may be why Li Deyu, like many others in the imperial court, would have had the mistaken impression that these Sogdian translators were of the same race as that of the Uighürs.

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China’s confusion over their ethnic differences was also the source of its suspicion. Would these Sogdian translators translate in favor of the Uighürs and disclose sensitive information to the Uighürs because of their presumed ethnic or professional bonding? There was, of course, no way of verifying if these Sogdian translators had indeed betrayed China’s interest, but the existence of this possibility was unnerving to late Tang China considering its diminishing national strength. Therefore, in order to protect its interests, the Chinese court decided to approach frontier military commanders for Türkic-speaking talent who were not ethnically affiliated to the Uighürs. The Chinese court appeared to be quite desperate; it had to rely on the judgment of its military officials to identify bilingual experts and to have them dispatched to the capital immediately. In addition, the court was specific about asking for two men from the frontier who could understand and translate Türkic. This plan was meant to enable the two translators to verify each other’s rendition at the time of interviews with the Kirghiz. It was hoped that no falsification or information censorship would take place at the expense of China’s interest. This suggests how insecure China was during the late Tang era, which was such a stark contrast to the liberal and embracing mindset of early Tang with regard to the overwhelming presence of foreign residents in China.

Implications The two pieces of evidence dealt with here reflect Tang China’s suspicion of the professional integrity of translators in diplomatic interpreting. Li Deyu’s memorial, in particular, made an assertion about the probable bias of the Sogdian translators in favor of the Uighürs. However, these were at best groundless accusations since no archival evidence to date points to any unethical or disloyal act in their interpreting during the Kirghiz interviews. It is true that Shi Jiezhi was nowhere to be found after being dispatched with a letter to the Uighür chief. It was certainly a mission unaccomplished but we cannot be sure whether he volunteered to be China’s envoy merely as an excuse to leave China or not. We do not know what actually happened to him either. Did he reach the Uighür camp and deliver the letter for China or did he simply disappear as a fugitive? In all fairness, no available evidence, in fact, suggests that Shi Jiezhi betrayed China or substantially compromised China’s interest. After his disappearance, other translation officials, such as Shi Foqing, were extremely unfortunate to have been openly scandalized, in Li Deyu’s memorial, of potentially withholding and divulging information for the benefit of

Chapter 10.  Sogdian interpreters in Tang China 157

the Uighürs. For Tang China – when the tension with the Uighürs was mounting – the fear was due to the dread of being misled or betrayed by the Sogdian translators who might choose to change sides and be sympathetic to the Uighürs instead. The Sogdian translators serving China who had had direct verbal contact with China’s enemy had now become the enemy, simply because of their potential duplicity and linguistic fraternity with the Uighürs (Cronin 2002). But again, no archival evidence has pointed to any violation of interpreters’ ethics. Is it possible that these bicultural and bilingual Sogdian mediators might have been framed and taken as scapegoats in inter-state politics simply because of the duplicitous nature of their work? Is it fair for translators to be victimized or apportioned blame just because they are culturally and linguistically privileged to be informed about two sides of a national conflict? In short, they were suspected primarily because they had the capacity and knowledge to betray China by distorting or censoring information. Whether Tang China liked it or not, it seemed that the deployment of these non-Chinese translators was the only solution to bridging communication with the Türkic-speaking Uighürs and Kirghiz at the time. Unlike the Chinese in Tang times, the Sogdians were raised as multilinguals, being all too ready to work with and for peoples from different language cultures on the Silk Road to make a living at the time. Yet, to the Sogdian translators working for the Chinese court, the mission was fraught with danger, since they might so easily be the target of attack if anything went wrong. In the words of Cronin (2006), it is the interventionist nature of interpreters that exposes them to the allegation of interpreter bias or manipulative interpreter, especially for interpreting in situations of conflict.


Over the past several years of working on various projects pertinent to the historical study of interpreting, I came to an understanding. That is, if I were to produce any meaningful research findings in face of voluminous standard Chinese archives, I would need to get focused. The chapters presented here represent the results of highly focused examination and analyses of archival materials that document interpreting or interpreters directly or indirectly. For some archived passages, my interpretation kept evolving over two, and sometimes three years, even long after the relevant articles were published. Some earlier interpretation needed to be modified to accommodate new evidence unfolding in my research. This kind of rectification was possible and necessary because, throughout the research process, I had not set out any hypotheses or presumptions, and nor was I consciously allowing specific theories to guide me. Starting from scratch, I rather let myself be guided by the archival evidence. In this way, I hoped to create the conditions out of which a direct relationship with the raw data would generate its own operating strategy. In other words, I opted for a structural approach whereby the evidence itself told the stories of the interpreters in ancient China. Furthermost from my intention, was to get stuck using modern paradigms of Translation Studies only for them to be imposed on the investigation and associated analyses of the archived data. Yet, from time to time, whenever I submit such articles to journals for publication consideration, I was constantly asked by referees to do exactly that: to draw the relevance of my article to current theoretical development of Translation Studies. I have not been very good at drawing such a link. Candidly speaking, my intention of investigating the history of interpreting in imperial China has actually been to let the evidence unfold itself, rather than imposing the existing received framework onto the interpretation of the historical data.

From the archived to the non-archived Interestingly enough, although my evidence is entirely drawn from the standard archival records of China, what I presented is not entirely interpreting events commissioned by the imperial court. One of the cases in point is the enterprising ­Tuyuhun

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interpreters from the modern-time Qinghai region in the fifth through seventh centuries. These interpreters were important free-lance guides for distant travelers in those days, linguistically and geographically poised to be the go-betweens­ of East and West in Asia. These multilingual Tuyuhun guides were proficient not just in Chinese, or the Qiang dialect, but for some Tuyuhun people, also in the Sogdian and Hephthalite languages as well. They survived right on the north-western edge of a divided China, and their landmark achievements as the historical interpreters in those days are yet to be discovered and investigated further. The other case in point is Jia Dan’s approaching civilians, during his private ethnographic trips in exotic territories or neighboring borders where alien traders or the elderly, being bi-dialectal or bilingual, would serve as language mediators for people speaking strange tongues. Jia Dan’s biography collated in the standard archive thus offers us a glimpse of the impression of amateur interpreters outside China in the eighth century. Thanks also to China’s elaborate and sophisticated historiography tradition, information about the Sogdians is retained to an extent unrivaled by other national archives in Central Asia. Sogdians, as the trading and linguistic go-betweens on the Silk Road in most part of the first millennium, have not yet succeeded in capturing the due attention of interpreting scholars in Asia. Yet, from the studies presented in this book, I put forward evidence in support of the prominence and magnitude of the multilingual Sogdians, who acted not just as translation officials in Tang China, but were also actively involved in professionally liaising between Chinese and Turkic-speaking peoples on a free-lance basis. These Central Asian interpreters were rather ‘international’ at the time and their deployment as China’s translation officials might have been the norm in Tang times, but it was certainly grossly unconventional in the context of its imperial histories. They traveled to and worked in alien countries, for and with different peoples across centuries. They also capitalized on their cross-cultural and cross-linguistic skills in order to survive the best way possible in the first millennium. Important as they were in those days on the Silk Road, relevant research about their imprint on the mediation history in China is still very much underrepresented, except from the Chinese sources. From the Chinese standard archive, we also find representation of interpreting events beyond the official Chinese realm. The examples of Paekche helping Silla to communicate with Liang China – and for that matter, the Hephthalites seeking linguistic assistance from their neighbor state for a similar agenda – also suggest a pattern, if you like, regarding the means by which the less literate states would resolve their communication and translation problems. Such cordial gestures to help each other out in language and translation on a national level were

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hardly ever documented or discussed in the literature. It is crucial, however, that such records were retained when, at the time, not many written languages were developed to keep track of Asian histories. It is fortunate therefore that these records were preserved, by way of the Chinese archival inventory.

On interpreters Even though the studies presented here were not consciously guided by the theoretical frameworks of Translation Studies, two critical issues I came cross in the analyses of interpreting events and interpreters in historical China did, however, resonate with the current discussions in the discipline. The first issue is interpreters’ identities and loyalty. It seems that one of the regular themes in the study of interpreters, from historical to modern times, concerns, out of necessity, the question of work ethics and loyalty. It is relatively unlikely that the question of the employment of foreign interpreters naturally raises the issue of loyalty. The use of foreign interpreters seemed to have been the norm in the first millennium. If indeed the use of foreign interpreters was ubiquitous at the time, the source of suspicion should not have originated from interpreters’ ethnicity itself. Rather, judging from late Tang China’s concern that strategic information in diplomatic interviews might be divulged, distorted or concealed by its Sogdian interpreters, the key to China’s paranoia lay in the country’s mindset which also happened to coincide with its diminishing national strength. The Sogdian mediating agents must have also sensed the danger of being framed or disadvantaged as scapegoats against the heightening tension between China and the Uighürs in the mid-ninth century. The sophisticated scheme, if at all, of Shi Jiezhi, a forthcoming Sogdian interpreter-cum-envoy, and his associates to flee China therefore came, unsurprisingly, in response to China’s suspicion of foreign interpreters’ integrity and professional ethics. The second issue is interpreters’ invisibility, and that can be understood on two levels. The dialogue discourse feature found in a good part of Chinese documentation concerning foreign encounters sometimes gives the impression that interlingual exchanges could be conducted without the interpreters around. These dialogues were presented in a transparent manner, projecting the impression that the conversation between the Chinese and the foreigners was smooth and free from any tempo delay. This textual style per se is, of course, rather ironic, because the words of the foreigners were probably explicated by interpreters before they could be put down as part of the archive.

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On another level though, the interpreter’s invisibility is reflected in the absence of any animated reference, apart from the textual hint, if at all, of yiyue (譯曰, literally, “the interpreter said”). It is my claim that interpreters are made invisible all the same, despite the hint of the trace of interpreter in this verbal reference in the archive. By all definitions, the trace of yi (譯 interpreter) seems to unnecessarily heavily be stressing the act of interpreting but not the agent of interpreting. To put it simply, the focus is on the action, not on the actor. From the standpoint of historical archives, the interpreters’ identities understandably are not important. In a sense, the reference to yi (interpreter) in these archives is technically a description of the ‘same’ person – a person of no historical significance and an individual who evidently did not change across time in his or her role as the linguistic go-between. In this regard, the identity of interpreters is certainly one of anonymity. In fact, throughout the whole monograph, there are only two references to the personal names of the interpreters. The first one is in the opening chapter when Tian Gong, himself a senior clerk serving the provincial inspector Zhu Fu, was being referred to in his patron’s memorial to the emperor. The second is found in the last chapter when Li Deyu introduced Shi Jiezhi, a Tashkent Sogdian, as the envoy to carry China’s missive to the Uighürs. In the modern archives of interpreters, more information about the interpreter would be given, although his or her name is usually not documented. One exception to this though might be an extended BBC radio interview, in July 2010, with a French interpreter, Amanda Galsworthy, who served three presidents in her career. In April 2010, I recall seeing a news video right after the Qinghai earthquake in China. The news crew found a Tibetan boy called Tsering Tendru, (ten years old), who volunteered as an interpreter for the medical personnel in the rescue mission, since the majority of the Qinghai residents in that region, the Yushu county, speak the Tibetan language and could barely converse in Putonghua. This little Tibetan interpreter, however, could speak Tibetan and Putonghua sufficiently well to be able to communicate for both the injured Tibetan residents and the doctors there. Having lost his home in the earthquake, this resilient young survivor was nonetheless energetically running around all the medical tents to offer linguistic assistance to mediate the critical doctor-patient exchanges. When the reporter interviewed him about his admirable deeds, he was only glad that his language ability could contribute to the rescue efforts.

. . [in English]; watch?v=UDo2ycXpGFk [in Putonghua].

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Not long thereafter, he suddenly started to sing a Tibetan song and burst into tears, probably reminded of the pain of the loss of his hometown and he himself now destitute. One cannot fail to be impressed by this brave child interpreter initiating the act of liaising in such a catastrophic setting. To be able to switch with such ease and competence between Tibetan and Putonghua interchangeably seemed, from the onlookers’ perspective, to occur effortlessly. I would say that this is an unusual example of an interpreter being archived as a person with joy and tears, independent of his interpreting task. To me, this is precisely the kind of history that has been lacking in the literature of Interpreting Studies. In this monograph, ten empirical studies on the history of interpreting in early imperial China have been documented. I do not include my first published article on this subject, due to my ambitious intention, back in 2005, to give an overarching summary of the history of interpreting of China over two millennia. Admittedly, in hindsight, it may very well have been unrealistic and somewhat premature to attempt to generalize the history of interpreting of China over such a vast time scale. Apparently, without a good understanding of documented interpreting events archived in each of the numerous dynasties in China, any generalization of such a nature could be seen as futile and as having little significance at all. That being said, I nevertheless believe that this book project takes us one step closer to the goal of an enhanced understanding of interpreting across dynasties in early imperial China.


The thirteen letters and the two exceptions

The titles of the thirteen letters with explicit or implicit references to envoys are listed below. The exact textual cues in each of these letters that denote the communicative and mediatory functions of the envoys are quoted accordingly. The titles of the two letters considered “exceptions” are placed at the end. 1. A letter of imperial decree granted to the rebellious Uighürs [dated 27 March 841] (Fu and Zhou 2000: 72; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 212–3).

“We have sent as an envoy Our retainer Wei Mo to inform you of Our thoughts.” (Drompp 2005: 213)

2. A letter of imperial edict granted to the Uighürs Ormïzt Tigin and others [dated Aug/Sep 841] (Fu and Zhou 2000: 73–4; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 213–7).

“We have sent Chief Minister of the Court for Diplomatic Relations Zhang Jia to gallop forth [with a charge] to pacify you.” (Drompp 2005: 216)

3. An imperial edict granted to the Uighürs Ormïzt and others [dated Nov/Dec 841] (Fu and Zhou 2000: 75–6; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 221–3).

“We think that you will comprehend and be understanding of Our concerns. Herewith We order the high-ranking official Wei Jingxiu to convey this edict, which We think should inform you fully.” (Drompp 2005: 223)

4. A letter granted to the Uighür qaghan [dated 29 January 842] (Fu and Zhou 2000: 26–7; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 227–9).

“Thus We are sending Grand General of the Right Imperial Insignia Guard and President of the Censorate Wang Hui and his assisting officer, Vice-President of the Censorate Li Shiyan, to gallop forth and explain our feelings to you.” (Drompp 2005: 229)

5. A draft of a letter granted to the Uighürs [dated Mar/Apr 842] (Fu and Zhou 2000: 64–5; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 230–1).

“As for everything else, We have ordered Yang Guan to go specially to explain Our feelings.” (ibid.: 231)

6. A draft of a letter taken by [Li] Zhongshun in reponse to the Uighür minister [dated Aug/ Sep 842] (Fu and Zhou 2000: 141–2; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 245–7).

“The border general [Li] Zhongshun is coarse; his nature is blunt and direct. Take this as a sincere warning, and favor me by thinking this over [carefully].” (ibid.: 247)

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7. A letter granted to the Uighür qaghan and the minister of the Nine Clans [dated Sep 842] (Fu and Zhou 2000: 68–9; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 251–3).

“Shi Jiezhi has long been at the capital…he has put forth a sincere supplication, strongly requesting to go himself [as an envoy to the qaghan]. We praise his insight on current exigencies, and cannot oppose [his wish]. The qaghan himself should judge [the current situation] by questioning [Shi Jiezhi] and quickly choose a good plan.” (ibid.: 253)

8. A letter taken by Liu Mian to the Uighür minister Il-Őgäsi [dated 27 Sep 842] (Fu and Zhou 2000: 138–9; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 256–260).

“Please indicated your feelings as to whether you lend credence to [what I have written] or not. Whatever is not written here, [Liu] Mian will explain.” (ibid.: 260)

9. A draft of a letter taken to the Uighür minister by Liu Mian [dated Nov/Dec 842] (Fu and Zhou 2000: 143–4; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 276–278). (The envoy, Liu Mian, was only stated in the title, not the content, of the missive.) 10. A letter to the Kirghiz qaghan [dated Apr 843] (Fu and Zhou 2000: 79–81; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 288–292).

“We have ordered President of the Court of the Imperial Stud and Vice-President of the Tribunal of Censors Zhao Fan to serve as the envoy carrying the emblems of imperial insignia, as a response of deep sincerity.” (ibid.: 291–2)

11. A letter to the Kirghiz king [dated Apr 843] (Quantangwen 700: 9103–4; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 293–5). [the presence of this envoy implied]

“As for other ceremonies and orders, We will send other envoys specially to proclaim them and comfort you. We thought that you should know everything.” (ibid.: 295)

12. A letter to the Kirghiz qaghan [dated Jul/Aug 843] (Fu and Zhou 2000: 83–5; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 300–4). [the presence of this (less important) envoy implied]

“On the day that this envoy arrives, you certainly will understand Our heart. Then you should immediately send a reply to Us. When this is done, We will send an important official with the [imperial] appointment.” (ibid.: 304)

13. A letter to the Kirghiz [dated Spring 845] [qaghan] (Fu and Zhou 2000: 88–90; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 308–311). [the presence of this (less important) envoy implied]

“We subsequently will send an important official as plenipotentiary to confer imperial appointment] on the qaghan]. Therefore, We are sending ahead this imperial decree in order that your nation will be fully apprised concerning the ceremony of imperial appointment….” (ibid.: 311)

Two exceptions: 1. A draft of a letter granted to the Uighür qaghan [dated May 842] (Fu and Zhou 2000: 66–7; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 237–9). 2. A letter of imperial degree granted to Princess Taihe [dated Sep 842] (Fu and Zhou 2000: 68–9; Drompp’s translation, 2005: 253–5).


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A ad hoc interpreters  103–104, 112 affiliations of interpreters  88 Afghanistan  26, 28–29, 53, 99 ancient Iranian  26, 32, 44, 151, 155 annotations  10, 16, 171 Az  68, 124, 127–128 B Bactria  25, 151 Bactrian script  26, 38 Bactrian-speaking  26, 29 Bailang sung poems  20 barbarians  3–4, 6, 9, 11–12, 20, 61, 79, 125, 171 barbarian pronunciation  10, 16 barbarian sounds  108 wretched barbarians  3–4, 79 border civilians  144 border traders  114 borrowing  2, 44 Buddhist sutras  19, 35, 37–38 See translation of Buddhist sutras  Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrits 62 Buddhist pilgrim  xi, 25 Buddhist rhetorical style  40 C Cefuyuangui  44, 65, 74, 170 Central Asia  xi, 25–26, 32–34, 37, 49, 53–54, 56, 59, 61–62, 64, 107–109, 141, 151, 160, 168–171 Central Asian interpreters 160 central Eurasia  26, 167 Central Plain  4–6, 12 Chen Dade  106–107

China-bound embassy  24 China-bound envoys  92, 125 Chinese envoys  92, 110, 138–139, 147–148 Chinese historiography  10, 78, 80, 109, 117, 167 Chinese chronicles  21, 24 Chinese learning sphere  22, 37–39 Chinese cultural sphere  37, 40, 136, 139, 172 East Asian cultural sphere  47 eminence of written Chinese 47 prestige of written Chinese 22, 40 sixth-century classical Chinese  51 Chinese princesses  49, 122 Princess Anyi  50 Princess Ningguo  82–83 Princess Taihe  123, 143, 145, 166 Chinese world-view  91 commercial lingua franca  32, 141, 151 Court of diplomatic receptions 23, 40, 63–64, 66, 81, 92, 98, 172 See also Honglu; honglusi  the Court  23–24, 28, 38, 40, 59–60, 63–75, 81, 92–99, 102, 106, 109–112, 118–121, 123, 125–127, 129, 132–133, 147, 154, 165–166 Court guest house  64–65 Court translators  59–60, 64–75 Court’s chamberlain  28, 63–64, 67, 92, 98, 109–110 Court’s interpreters  97, 119, 121 writing task of the Court  74

D Dangchang  31, 99–101 Dengzhi  31, 98–101 Dharmasthiti  29 diplomatic etiquette  28, 73, 83 etiquette  6, 28, 39, 44, 65, 69–70, 73, 80, 83, 142 etiquette official  70 imperial Chinese etiquette 69 diplomatic interviews  132, 152, 154, 161 diplomatic translators  36 diplomatic interpreters  143 diplomatic interpreting  xiii, 135, 138, 156 E East Asia  34, 37, 44, 46, 49, 61, 151, 171–173 envoys  xiii, 21–22, 24, 28, 40, 60, 62–71, 73, 75, 77, 80–82, 84, 87–88, 92, 94–95, 97–99, 102, 106, 110–111, 121, 126, 129, 132, 152 accounts of foreign states  65, 94 drawings of foreign peoples 67 envoy portraits  30 illustrated publications  92 portrait of the envoys  95 ethnicity  5, 7, 21, 32, 62–63, 74, 110, 126, 153, 155, 161 ethnographic histories  151 ethnographic intelligence  103 ethnographic method  19 ethnographic publications 105 geographical research and publications  111 ethnographic trips  160

178 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

F foreign merchants  107 foreign sellers  103, 114 foreigners in China  61, 63, 97 See pictorial archives  frontier tribes  8, 13

Honglu  23, 67–68, 94, 98, 111, 125 honglusi  23, 172 hostage princes  47, 57 Hu  5, 23–24, 37, 40, 52–53, 55, 63–64, 71, 74–75, 92, 109, 171–172

G Ge Jiayun  103–104, 107–109, 113–114, 122 guides  32–33, 41, 103, 106–107, 112, 114–115, 160 linguistic and transport guides  33 local guides  103, 112

I imperial audience  18, 23, 38–39, 68–70, 72, 74, 87, 94, 123–124 indigenous  8–9, 12, 15–19, 38, 103, 107, 112, 114 indigenous customs  18, 112 indigenous dance  16 indigenous elderly  103, 114 indigenous people  8, 12, 107 indigenous poems  12, 19 indigenous pronunciation  17 Inner Asia  29, 61, 169 intermediary  3, 38–39, 42, 49, 153 See language mediation; language mediators  Book of Rites  3, 78, 172 China’s translation officials 40, 160 Chinese interpreters  17, 34, 126, 150 definitions of translation  xiv, 2 designations  1–4 Di  3, 6, 23, 32, 168 Didi  3–4 entrusted transmitter  16 etymological definitions  2 interpres  3 ji  3–4, 52, 111, 170–171, 173–174 meanings of yi  5 xiang  3–4, 171 yi  1–6, 8–10, 13–16, 19–20, 24, 28, 33, 85, 98, 100, 146, 162, 171 interpreter bias  157 biased translations  149 espionage polyglots  110 ethics  110, 137–138, 142, 149–150, 154, 157, 161 interpreter’s disloyalty  154 interpreters’ integrity  142, 161

H Han  xvii, 4–16, 19–20, 23–24, 40, 46, 64–65, 79, 86, 106, 122, 167, 169–172, 174 Han Chinese  5, 7–8, 12–13, 19, 79, 122 Han dynasty  xvii, 5, 9, 11, 20, 23, 106, 122, 171 Hegesi Chaogong Tuzhuan  123 Henan people  27 Hephthalite  21, 25–32, 34–36, 40–41, 160 Ephthal  25, 32 Hua  25, 50 Huns  25–26, 32, 106, 122 White Huns  25 Yada  25 Hephthalite envoys  29–30 Hephthalite letter  29–31 Hephthalite vernacular  32, 41 Hephthalites  21–22, 25–29, 31–32, 34–39, 41, 49, 59, 72, 99, 101, 151, 160, 174 Hephthalites’ puppet state  29 historiography  ix, xii–xiii, 3, 9–10, 25–26, 78, 80, 98, 103, 109, 117–119, 121, 132, 135–136, 150, 160, 167, 169, 171, 173 historiography tradition  xiii, 80, 119, 135, 160 history bureau  65–66, 81, 92, 94, 97, 99, 102, 106, 117, 119–121, 126, 132–133 history officer  10, 12–13, 16–17, 19

interpreting patron  154 interpreting quality  143 interventionist nature of interpreters  157 scandalous image of interpreters  105 interpreter’s translation  20, 123 interpreter’s rendition  85 interpreter’s input  129 interpreter’s verbatim record 131 interpreters’ identities  xii, 104, 161–162 See diplomatic translators; ad hoc interpreters; affiliations of interpreters amateur interpreters  160 attributes of translators  152 child interpreter  163 foreign interpreters  21–22, 34, 37, 103, 161 government translators  62, 75 interpreting in situations of conflict  157 nature of interpreting  81–82, 136, 154 non-Chinese translation officials  110 non-Chinese translators  149, 157 non-verbal gestures of the interpreter  132 social status of interpreters 136 use of foreign interpreters 22, 161 relay interpreters  82 relay translation  11, 21–22, 24–25, 41 interpreter’s role  85, 93, 167 diplomatic roles of interpreters  79 dual-role interpreter  17 interpreters’ notes  78, 81, 84, 87–88, 91–92, 97, 102, 124 interpreter’s virtual notes  117 interpreters’ reports of interviews  100 interpreters’ words  77, 81, 88, 91

interpreters’ written accounts 102 interpreters’ invisibility  161 traces of interpreters  xii, 77, 79, 118, 162 records of interpreters  3, 81 interview accounts  91, 119, 132 interview records  118, 120, 125–126 interview reports  66, 97, 121 interviews in the Court  23, 65, 98, 118-120, 123, 125–127, 129, 132–133 See also interview accounts  checklist of questions  94 interpreter-coordinated interview  117 interpreter-mediated interviews  113 interview with the Kirghiz envoys  67, 97, 117, 123, 125, 132 interviews with foreign envoys  65, 67–68, 75, 81, 97–99, 102 Kirghiz interview  97, 118, 123, 126, 130–131, 154 Shanhaijing  106 See diplomatic interviews J Japan  28, 31, 46, 62, 138, 149 See also Yamato  Japanese envoys  65 Jia Dan  67, 92, 96, 103–104, 109–115, 160 Jiankun  96, 108, 113, 122 K Kabadiyan  29–31, 99, 101 Karghalik  29–31, 99, 101 Khotan  32, 86–87 Khotan translator  87 Khotanese  62 Kirghiz  48, 67–68, 94–97, 108– 110, 113–114, 117–133, 135–140, 143–147, 150–157, 166, 169 See also Jiankun  Xiajiasi  108 Hegu  108 See Hegesi Chaogong Tuzhuan

Index 179

Kirghiz envoys  67–68, 95–97, 108, 117–120, 123–127, 131–132, 154–155 See Zhu-wu Alp Sol  Sino-Kirghiz interview  126, 154 Kirghiz officials  96, 124, 147 Kirghiz people  68, 96, 113, 122 Kirghiz customs  95 Kirghiz qaghan  128, 147, 166 See Az Koguryŏ  106–107 Koguryŏ Buddhist monks  46 Koguryŏ vernacular  32 Korean vernacular  107 Kumedhan  29–31, 34, 40–41, 99, 101 Kumedhan scribe  31, 40–41 L languages  2–3, 6–7, 14, 21, 26, 41, 44, 48, 53, 56–57, 59, 62, 64, 68, 70–74, 79–82, 86, 104–105, 114–115, 127, 146, 149–152, 155, 160–161, 169 Altaic language  48, 56 Altaic-Mongolian speaking 33 Chinese vernacular  25, 107 Chinese written heritage  47 classical Chinese  1–2, 4, 37–38, 46, 51, 136, 139 foreign script  41 Indo-European language 151 Indo-European script  31 spoken Chinese  62, 71–72 spoken communication  34, 38, 42 spoken language  27, 32, 35–36, 40–41 written Chinese  17, 22, 31, 37, 40, 47, 55, 72–74, 135–136, 146 written language of Silla  43 Xianbei language  32 ancient Iranian  26, 32, 44, 151, 155 Indo-European language  151 Indo-European script  31 foreign script  41 Altaic language  48, 56

Altaic-Mongolian speaking 33 classical Chinese  1–2, 4, 37–38, 46, 51, 136, 139 written Chinese  17, 22, 31, 37, 40, 47, 55, 72–74, 135–136, 146 language mediation  ix, 1, 4, 15, 20–22, 31, 34, 36, 105, 115, 136–137, 139, 148 language mediators  1, 103–105, 107, 109, 112, 114–115, 152, 160 Langyaxiu  31, 98–101 Latter Han  6–10, 13–14, 20, 24, 40, 169–172, 174 Li Deyu  46, 95–97, 107, 109–110, 113, 123, 125–126, 139–140, 142–143, 146–147, 153–156, 162, 171 Liu Mian  143–144, 155, 166 Liu Shiqing  56–57 loan words  56–57 loan Türkic word  129 Lü Shu  95–97, 120, 123–124, 129–132 M medium of diplomatic missives 37 memorial concerning translators 110, 155 See Shi Foqing; Shi Jiezhi P Paekche  31, 34–39, 42–44, 46, 99, 101, 139, 160 Paekche embassy  36 Paekche translators  36, 38 Parhae  68, 124 patronage  137 patrons  xii, 114, 138 Pei Ju  94 Persia  26–27, 31, 35, 49, 55, 99, 101 pictorial archives  106, 118–119 polyglot community  62 predicate  52 predicate-final syntax  52 protocol  28, 38, 69

180 Interpreters in Early Imperial China

Q Qiang  6–7, 9, 17, 32, 160 Qiang dialect  17, 160 Qinghai  32–33, 87, 160, 162 See Tuyuhun quotidian exchanges  68 R Roman ambassador  55 Roman embassy  24 Roman-bound Türkish envoys  55 Roman emperor  55, 57 emperor Justin  55 emperor Tibérius  55 Roman merchants  24 Runic alphabet  48 Runic script  48, 54, 57 S Samarkand  151–152, 169 Sassanid Persia  26–27 Afghanistan  26, 28–29, 53, 99 scribes  xii, 39, 41, 47, 52–53, 57, 69 scripting assistance  22, 27–28, 34 See state letters  communication breakdown 137, 139, 147 ghostwrite  28 scripting mechanism  40, 74 scripting services  28 Shi Foqing  110, 155–156 Shi Jiezhi  141–142, 153–154, 156, 161–162, 166 Silk Road  31–33, 39, 41, 62, 141, 151, 157, 160, 167–168, 172–173 Silla  21–22, 34–39, 41, 43–44, 72, 160 Sinicized  62, 152 Sino-centric  4–5, 61 Sino-Tibetan speaking  32 social function of language  149 Sogdian  xiii, 32, 44, 54–57, 62, 110, 122, 126, 141–143, 145, 147, 149–157, 160–162 See Tashkent Sogdian ethnicity  110, 126, 153 Sogdian interpreters  126, 149, 161 Sogdian translation officials 142, 147, 149

Sogdian language  32, 54, 56, 141, 151 See ancient Iranian; commercial lingua franca  Sogdian script  54 Sogdian words  56–57 Sogdian merchants  142, 151–152 Song Yun  25–26 state letters  28, 34, 38–39, 44–45, 51, 54, 57–58, 60, 64, 69–70, 72–75 quasi state letter  29, 72 Subject-Object-Verb principle 48 T Taiping Huanyuji  117–120, 124, 126, 130–133, 173 Tang interpreters  94 See Shi Foqing  Secretariat’s translators  59–60, 69–75 Tashkent  141, 151–152, 162 Tibet  32, 62, 84–86, 107, 112 Tibetan envoy  85 Tibetan interpreter  162 Tubo  84, 107 Tufan  107, 112 Tokharian  25–26, 28–29 translating letters  40, 69, 72 translation clerk  108–109, 113 Chinese scribes  xii, 47, 52, 57, 69 Chinese translation  xi, xiii, 11, 15, 19–20, 34, 37, 40–41, 43, 45, 51, 55, 57–59, 70, 73, 80, 87, 110, 125, 171 Chinese translator  30 Chinese transliterations  62 Chinese-Korean translators 107 commercial translators  151 translation of Buddhist sutras  80, 19, 38 translation patron  138, 149 translator’s ethics  110, 149 translators divulging information  154 translation tradition  59, 136 Asian translation traditions 2, 168

Chinese translation traditions 59 envoy-cum-interpreter tradition  135–137, 148–149 officials cum interpreters  16 oral translation  1, 4, 21–22, 29, 31, 36, 40–41, 59, 73, 135, 138, 140–141, 147–148 Western translation tradition 59 transliteration  17, 86, 128–129, 130, 133 tribal vernacular  8, 15, 18 tributary events  20, 23, 121, 125 tribute-paying  6, 13, 64, 94, 97–99 Türk  43–44, 46, 48–49, 51–58, 148, 170, 172 Türkic language  44–45, 48, 51–52, 54–58, 123, 126, 151 Türkic script  48, 51 Türkic speech  53 Türkic texts  54 Türkic translation of the Buddhist sūtra  56 Türkic translators  143, 153, 155 Türkic vernacular  135, 145, 148 Türkic-Chinese translation 43 Türkic-Runic script  48 Türkic-speaking  138–141, 145, 148–149, 153, 155–157 Türkish scribe  52 Türkish state letters  44, 57 Türkish  43–45, 48–53, 55–57, 81, 169–170, 173 written Türkic language  44, 54–58 Türkish qaqhans  44–45 Ašina clan  48 Ašina Tümen  54 Їšhbara  49, 51, 54–56 Qimin qaqhan  49 Tuyuhun  22, 24, 27–28, 31–34, 36, 39–42, 147, 159–160 See also Henan people  Tuyuhun interpreters  22, 32–34, 159 See also Tuyuhun mediators 39

Index 181

Tuyuhun translators  40–41, 147 enterprising translators  39

U Uighür  2, 62, 68, 110, 122–124, 135, 138, 140–145, 147, 153–156, 165–166, 168 Uighür lexicon  2 Uighür qaghan  141, 144–145, 153, 165–166 Bilgä qaghan  82 Bilgä Qaqhan Monument  54 Bilgä’s interpreter  83 V vassal  23, 34–35, 43–44, 49–50, 113 vassal states  23, 34, 44

verbatim accounts  118 verbatim speech  128 verbatim transcriptions  17 verbatim written record  20

W Wanghuipian  121–122, 125 Wei Zongqing  96–97, 120, 123, 129, 131–132 Western Regions  33, 92, 94, 106–109, 114, 147, 170–171, 173–174 X Xiao Yi  98, 100 Xiyü Guozhi  92, 109 Xiyu Tuji  94 Xiyuji  107–108, 114, 122

Xuanzang  xi, 29, 52–53 Y Yamato  28, 31, 34, 37–39, 43–46, 91, 93, 99, 101, 139 Yue Shi  117, 120, 124, 130–132, 173 Yuechang envoy  82 Z Zhigongtu  29–31, 35, 41, 97–101, 118–119, 132, 170, 174 See Xiao Yi  Zhu-wu Alp Sol  68, 95–96, 124–125 Zuo Zhuan  78, 148, 173, 175