Persian peaches of immortality

When I visited Samarkand about 35-40 years ago (before digital days), I ate some of these luscious, mythic peaches:

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Spinach: the Persian vegetable

The other day, when we were discussing where Napa cabbage came from, Diana Shuheng Zhang mentioned to me that the Chinese word for "spinach", bōcài 菠菜, indicates that it came from Persia.  She's usually right about such things, and she was in this case too:

From earlier 波斯菜 (bōsīcài), from 波斯 (Bōsī, “Persia”) + (cài, “greens, vegetable”).

where bōsī 波斯 is obviously a transcription of "Persia":

Borrowed from Old Persian (Pārsa).

Middle Sinitic: /puɑ  siᴇ/

(source)

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Shanghainese posters

From Diana Shuheng Zhang:

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Google Translate Sabotage, part 2

This is all over the Chinese internet:


(source)

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Kanji-esque alphabet writing on a sake label

From Frank Clements:


(source)

Can you read it?

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Napa cabbage

It's one of my favorite vegetables.  Delicious prepared in so many different ways (in soups, stir fried, I even use it for salads).  And it almost never goes bad — I can keep it in my frig for a month or more.  Plus, it looks nice — aesthetically pleasing, with its exquisite shades of light green blending into white and crêpe-like crisp and crimped, delicate texture of the upper portions of the soft, frilly leaves next to glistening, gleaming, smoothly rounded surfaces of the basal rosette.

Quick question:  what's the first thing you think of when you hear the name "Napa cabbage"?  Write it down now before clicking to the second page of this post.

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Zoroastrianism and Mazdaism: Evidence from Sogdian and Pahlavi

Since we've been having, and will continue to have, a series of posts on Zoroastrianism and related topics, this is a good opportunity to review a recent, substantial publication related to this subject:

Barakatullo Ashurov, "Religions and Religious Space in Sogdian Culture: A View from Archaeological and Written Sources", Sino-Platonic Papers, 306 (December, 2020), 1-41. (free pdf)

[The following is a guest post by Richard Foltz in reaction to the above paper.]

I cannot understand why scholars (and others) insist upon talking about Sogdian "Zoroastrianism", even while presenting evidence that usually suggests it was something else. Ashurov goes so far as to call it the "national religion" of the Sogdians, despite noting that they had no supreme deity such as Ahura Mazda. The term "mazdayasnish zarathushtrish", used as the self-identification in the Pahlavi texts, means literally "[we who] sacrifice to Mazda [in the manner prescribed by] Zarathushtra". So if a religion doesn't demonstrably consist of performing sacrifices to Mazda by following the liturgical prescriptions of Zarathushtra, then what is the basis for calling that religion Zoroastrianism? The Sogdian Ashem Vohu prayer discussed at length by Ashurov could indeed seem to provide evidence of the presence of a Zoroastrian rite among the Sogdians, but this isolated example can hardly justify calling Zoroastrianism the Sogdians' "national religion". We don't know the context for this prayer, whether it was part of a full Sogdian liturgy (which we do not possess), or represents an attempt by Sasanian missionaries to impose their form of religion on Sogdiana, or (as Gershevitch suggested) was part of a Manichaean text. Meanwhile the bulk of textual, iconographic and architectural relics from Sogdiana show devotional practices which were either their own particular expressions of pan-Iranian religiosity (Siyavash, Nana/Anahita) or — the cult of Vakhsh, for example — entirely local in nature.

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The (alleged) untranslatability of Chinese poetry, part 2

[This is a guest post by Leanne Ogasawara]

After reviewing David Hinton’s latest book, China Root, for the Asian Review of Books, a friend pointed me to this discussion at LL. I was so happy to see old friends (Hi Bathrobe!) and wanted to leave a comment. Sadly, because I was so late in the game, I was unable to do so. But then, our wonderful host invited me to leave my comment as a guest post—thank you VM!!

I am a Japanese translator and an old friend of LL. For twenty years now I have been working on one particular modern Japanese poet, Takamura Kotaro. I started my translations of his Chieko Poems in Grad school and have been steadily working on them ever since, publishing a few here and there over the years. I would never have continued this if I thought Japanese poetry is untranslatable. And indeed like so like many people here, the article on the NYRBs drove me up the wall. Part of the problem is that it leads to discussions like we saw on the blog on September 26—discussions which inevitably started revolving around a bit of a straw man, since no one reasonable has ever said that Chinese poetry is “untranslatable." What people say is that something will be lost. And how much? This is the “traitor” in translation. And it is a valid thing to ask in English translations in a language like Japanese or Chinese. In this case, the writers mentioned in the article— Eliot Weinberger, Lucas Klein, Burton Watson, Stephen Owen, and David Hinton, among others— are concerned with the Chinese characters. And in Japanese this is further complicated by the choices authors make in using kanji as opposed to hiragana and katakana—how to ever convey that in English?

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So spoke Zoroaster: camels and ancient Sinitic reconstructions

How did he speak?  What did he speak?  When did he speak?

There seems to be a lot of dissension, even among Iranists, concerning the basic facts of his life and times.  For the founder of a major religion, little hard evidence is available concerning the man and his message.  Of course, basic biographical data for the life of Jesus Christ are also scarce, including whether or not he was born on December 25, 0, and whether he died on Good Friday or on Holy Saturday before arising from the dead on Easter Sunday in AD 30 or 36?

From the time I first encountered Friedrich Nietzsche's book (1883-1885) in high school, I was puzzled by the archaic style of the title, Thus Spake Zarathustra, and the twin names of the founder of Zorastrianism, who was the namesake of the hero of the novel. 

Zoroaster (/ˈzɒræstər/, UK also /ˌzɒrˈæstər/; Greek: Ζωροάστρης, Zōroastrēs), also known as Zarathustra (/ˌzærəˈθstrə/, UK also /ˌzɑːrə-/; Avestan: ‎, Zaraθuštra), Zarathushtra Spitama or Ashu Zarathushtra (Modern Persian: زرتشت‎, Zartosht)

(source)

The full title of the novel in its original German is Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen (Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None).  It wasn't long before my etymological obsession led me to the explanation of the prophet's name as having something to do with camels (which would make sense for someone who hailed from the homeland of the Bactrian species).

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BLM in Chinese

The whole world knows about BLM (Black Lives Matter). Native speakers of English (at least American English — I can't vouch for other varieties) instinctively know what the innately idiomatic intransitive verb "matter" means in this construction. But, even for native speakers, it's not easy to define in one word. I suppose, in the expression "Black Lives Matter" it means something like "are of consequence / importance". Yet, if we reworded the slogan as "Black Lives Are of Consequence / Importance" or "Black Lives Are Important / Consequential", it would lose its impact, its zing.

Pondering all of these aspects of the movement's name, I often wondered how "matter" could be felicitously rendered in Chinese. To tell the truth, though, I didn't spend much time on trying to come up with a good translation, because nothing readily came to mind — until this morning when Diana Shuheng Zhang told me she was dissatisfied with the translation that she was most familiar with and appalled by its underlying racism: "Hēi mìng guì 黑命贵" ("Black Lives Are Expensive / Costly" — that's a raw, crude, literal translation of the last word, which can also be interpreted to mean "Important / Valuable"). Diana said that it sounds too crass and materialistic, and I would have to agree with her. She further says that this is blatant Chinese racism, reflecting perhaps not Chinese xenophobia but more of the Chinese willingness / initiative to be merged with supremacists — be they white (who have already “attained” supremacy in many repects), or Chinese themselves (who are yet “striving” for supremacy, at least ideologically!).

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Of precious swords and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 7

[This is a guest post by Chau Wu, with additions at the bottom by VHM and others]

On the akinakes* (Scythian dagger / short sword) and Xiongnu (Hunnish) horse sacrifice

Chinese historical records suggest that the akinakes, transliterated from Greek ἀκῑνάκης, may be endowed with spiritual significance in the eyes of ancient Chinese and Northern Barbarians, for it was used in solemn ceremonies.  Let me cite two recorded ceremonies and a special occasion where an akinakes is used to “finesse” an emperor.

In the Book of Han (漢書), Chapter 94 B, Records of Xiongnu (匈奴傳下), we see an akinakes is used in a ceremony sealing a treaty of friendship between the Han and Xiongnu.  The Han emissaries, the Chief Commandant of charioteers and cavalry [車騎都尉] Han Chang (韓昌) and an Imperial Court Grandee [光祿大夫] Zhang Meng (張猛) visited the Xiongnu chanyu** (單于) [VHM:  chief of the Xiongnu / Huns] in 43 BC.  Han and Zhang, together with the chanyu and high officials, climbed the eastern hill by the river Nuo (諾水)***, killed a white horse, and the chanyu using a jinglu knife (徑路刀) and a golden liuli**** (金留犁, said to be a spoon for rice) mixed the horse blood with wine.  Then they drank the blood-oath together from the skull of the King of Yuezhi, who had been defeated by the ancestor of the chanyu and whose skull had been made into a goblet.  Essentially, this jinglu knife was a holy mixer.

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Morphological classiness

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The Passivator reborn

I've been resisting topics like "words for coup" and "the meaning of insurrection" — we'll see how long that resolve lasts — but this morning's distraction is the rebirth of something I wrote about many years ago, namely an online service for identifying instances of passive-voice verbs.

In my review of 'The Passivator" (4/6/2004), I noted that "though The Passivator is billed as a 'passive verb and adverb flagger', it just flags certain strings of characters — final "-ly" for alleged adverbs, forms of 'to be' for alleged passives". Never mind that to be is used for lots of other things, and there are plenty of adverbs that don't end in -ly, and not everything that ends in -ly is an adverb.

The "Passive Voice Detector" at datalyze.com uses a slightly less silly version of the same dumb algorithm — it flags forms of to be immediately followed by words ending in -ed. This leads to absurd false positives, e.g. when a form of to be is followed by a noun ending in -ed:

…and predictable false negatives, e.g. when an adverb intervenes between the auxiliary and the participle:

Update — other false negatives includes contracted forms of to be (e.g. "They're defeated") and irregular participles (e.g. "They were overcome.").

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