A Chinese Gazetteer of Foreign Lands
January 25, 2021 1:39 PM   Subscribe

This country is filled with light and is where the sun goes down. In the evening, when the sun enters the city, it makes a rumbling sound louder than thunder. So they always station a thousand men at the city gates to blow trumpets and beat gongs and drums to drown out the noise of the sun. If not, then pregnant women and small children would die of fright upon hearing the sun.
—From the Zhufan Zhi, a geography of Asia, the east and north coasts of Africa, and bits of Europe, written in 1225 CE by Zhao Rukuo. Part one has been translated by Prof. Shao-yun Yang of Denison University.
posted by Kattullus (15 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh, cool, I was not expecting a story map. In retrospect, I don't see why I wasn't.
posted by mollweide at 2:06 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]


Nice...and thanks I just weeded through my file cabinet and realized my copy of 'The Customs of Cambodia' is lost. Written by Zhou Daguan

I absolutely dug into the emissary reports of that era concerning Cambodia, nice to have others in a sweet platform. Mouhots Diary from the 19th. Century is an interesting work concerning Cambodia.
posted by clavdivs at 2:45 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]


When first I read some of the entries, I thought it was a travelogue of sorts, of a Chinese person visiting these ports through the course of his maritime work. But, the author, Zhao Rukuo, never traveled anywhere; he just wrote down what his colleagues and other merchants told him, what he observed from the business end of the trade, and (mostly) what he read in other books.

I've never seen story maps before - it must take forever to make them, but I suppose such is research. Yang also has this other story map on the Tang and Song empires that's really cool in terms of connecting the geography to the history.
posted by bluefly at 4:35 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]


The king, his ministers, and the common people all worship Heaven, as well as a Buddha called Maxiawu (Cantonese dialect pronunciation: Mahamat). Every seven days, they cut their hair and fingernails. They fast and recite scriptures for a month at the beginning of the year, and worship Heaven five times a day.
I wonder if the original author was conflating Judaism and Islam. Maxiawu seems a better representation of Moshe ("Moses") than Mohammed.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:47 PM on January 25


I do think it's harder to argue that Judaism managed to entrench itself into being the state religion in this part of the world, considering the evidence is available and stronger that the South Asian trade route brought in Islam, just like it brought in Hinduism and Buddhism (same thing as well for mainland China, via the Silk Road), and the historical evidence that Southeast Asian kingdoms found economic incentive to both exert independence from the Hindu kingdoms and claim affinity with Arabia via trading for the economic benefits. And how about the other practices as provided in the account? As well as Muslim Chinese surname of Ma still survives to this day.
posted by cendawanita at 8:01 PM on January 25 [2 favorites]


anyway, what i wanted to comment is, thanks for this resource! I've been nursing a bee in my bonnet over why my side of the world doesn't seem to have any indigenous yarn spinning culture (while having an extensive weaving one), and I had some idea it's due to the economic opportunity cost considering the other resources we have to trade, so it's nice to see historical testimony on that end.
posted by cendawanita at 8:05 PM on January 25 [2 favorites]


ok last one: "Heading east by land from this country, one gets to a sea where the water surface gradually inclines downward. The Country of Women is there." This is in the Shepo (Java) section. If this is the mythical land that was in Journey to the West, I am cracking up that contrary to many popular adaptations of this episode (the most recent on is Monkey King 3 from about 2 years ago), they should have had Tripitaka and gang meet up with women who wear sarungs with lethal hairpins rather than women in pseudo-Han wear and some 'ethnic' hairstyles.
posted by cendawanita at 8:24 PM on January 25 [3 favorites]


Cendawanita, the description reminds me of my own experience trying to explain the difference between Jews and Muslims when I was in some Asian countries. It's pretty clearly second- or third-hand information that has been recorded by someone who hasn't heard of Judaism or Islam.

Beside the possible transliteration of "Moshe", the "fast and recite scriptures for a month at the beginning of the year" points to a description of Jews as much or more than Muslims: Jews don't fast for a month, but then Muslins don't have a lunisolar calendar, so Ramadan is always moving. The description might equally be a misdescription of Passover, which is always near the Chinese New Year, or of Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur/Sukkot. The seven-day haircuts could point to either group, of course. Praying five times a day does point specifically to Muslims, but that's why I think it's a conflation.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:03 PM on January 25


The Cham people is a good starting point concerning the passage you stated. As to Judaic influence, I'd start with Cochin.
posted by clavdivs at 10:09 PM on January 25


i actually just got to that section, and other than crying with laughter at every description of Mohammed*, isn't it the section where it's now the MENA region, and likely Egypt? I can't think of another region that's also heavily documented in the West, so surely the annotations would indicate a substantial Jewish ruling state to correct the original text?

*lmao when he met Aslan, basically.
posted by cendawanita at 10:10 PM on January 25


There actually was a Jewish kingdom in Ethiopia around the right time, but the author doesn't even really distinguish Islam and Christianity. As the translator says, "Song ethnographers habitually interpreted all foreign religions as some kind of Buddhism." And fair enough: from that physical and cultural distance the difference between the three major monotheistic religions would have looked more like a political squabble than anything else.

The characters of which the translator says "Cantonese dialect pronunciation: Mahamat" are 麻霞勿.

I can't even read Chinese characters, but Google Translate indicates that the pronunciation is something like Ma Sia Wu. Obviously this signifies Mohammed when the author is talking about Islam, but that can't be the case when he's talking about Christianity. It seems plausible to me that this wasn't solely due to a lack of knowledge, but because Jews explaining their religion would refer to "Moshe, our teacher" and Christians would have talked about "Jesus, the Messiah", and the similarity in sound led to confusion.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:45 AM on January 26


> I wonder if the original author was conflating Judaism and Islam. Maxiawu seems a better representation of Moshe ("Moses") than Mohammed.
In the Late Middle Chinese of the author, the syllables represented by the characters 麻霞勿 would have sounded really really closer to Mahamut than to Moshe or variants. The -t ending in 勿 is unmistakable. The whole world would have been pronounced a bit like /*ma.ha.m(i)ut/, with some sort of / possibly relics from medials between each initial consonant and the vowel that follows immediately, or altered articulation the initial consonants.
posted by runcifex at 12:51 AM on January 26 [9 favorites]


This entire thread, and linked information, is exactly what brought me to MetaFilter
posted by elkevelvet at 7:30 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


the description reminds me of my own experience trying to explain the difference between Jews and Muslims when I was in some Asian countries. It's pretty clearly second- or third-hand information that has been recorded by someone who hasn't heard of Judaism or Islam.

In fairness, such ignorance runs both ways. How familiar are Westerners, even now, with the wide variety of East Asian worldviews which aren't Buddhism? They've probably heard of Shinto and Taoism, and have some vague connection in mind between Confucius and ancestor reverence, but few have a good sense which aspects of East Asian cultures are associated with which philosophies.
posted by jackbishop at 10:33 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I'll drop this here: Voices of the Past.

A YouTube channel that digs up ancient documents and reads them to you. Daily life of a worker building pyramids. First Japanese to visit America. Oldest Chinese account of the peoples of Japan. It's pretty fascinating.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:48 PM on January 26 [7 favorites]


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