Fake Gelao manuscript

« previous post | next post »

A Chinese book purportedly publishing a Gelao 仡佬 manuscript fell into my hands a few weeks ago (I think that it may have been sent to me by a friend in Hong Kong).  I took one look at the manuscript and felt that it was phony.  Not wanting to deal with it, and yet not wanting to throw it away, since it was a specimen of something, I promptly put the book in the mailbox of my colleague, Adam D. Smith, who is a specialist on writing systems in China.

Before telling what Adam did with the book, I should explain who the Gelao people are.  In brief, they are Tai-Kadai speakers in southern China and northern Vietnam.  Their autonym is Kláo, which the Chinese transcribe as Gēlǎo 仡佬; in Vietnamese they are called Cờ Lao. They speak a cluster of dialects in the Kra language group of the Tai–Kadai language family that are customarily called Gelao.

Adam comments:

The book is entertaining in that the manuscript is certainly fake, in the sense that it is made to deceive, though why is hard to tell (some kind of joke?). It seems to have fooled the Guangming Daily (unless they are in on the prank too). Do they do April Fool in China? The book was published in April 2013….

Adam swiftly and succinctly demonstrated that the manuscript is fraudulent.  To see how he did it, read the post entitled "Fake Gelao 仡佬 writing system and manuscript" on Adam's blog called LingQiBaSui 零七八碎, which identifies the book, names the story recorded in it, and provides a link to an English translation, together with testimonials from those who were hoodwinked by the falsifiers.

[The text] …is “translated” into Chinese in such a way that each “Gelao” graph corresponds to exactly one Chinese character, the same Chinese character each time (except for a few slips – see below). Word order is preserved. The end result makes sense in Chinese. This alone tells us that this is not a translation. It is also puzzling to find not a single mention of an actual Gelao word in the entire publication.

The post ends:  "Fake, fake, fake, fake" — something that we in Chinese Studies are all too familiar with — and closes with a memorable clip from Seinfeld.


  1. Victor Mair said,

    November 30, 2013 @ 8:25 am

    From Mark Bender:

    These products are quite interesting in their own right — and in one light can be considered "tradition-oriented" creations. More interesting than the texts themselves is the impetus for going to all the trouble to produce them.

  2. Ray Dillinger said,

    November 30, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

    My mind turns over things like the Voynich manuscript (now mostly believed to be a hoax, but if so an astonishingly thorough job of it).

    There's a long history behind fake books. But if it's completely easy to point out the fakery, they're a bit less compelling.

  3. Anne Henochowicz said,

    December 2, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

    Do the Gelao even have a script?

  4. Victor Mair said,

    December 2, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

    @Anne Henochowicz

    Not that I know of.

    I will have the Wikipedia editors fix the 2nd ¶ of this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gelao_language

  5. Victor Mair said,

    December 3, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

    From Adam D. Smith:

    The hit rate did a little bump on the 12th when I posted the article and a bigger one when you posted the link. Stats below. By the way, the man responsible for promoting the Gelao ms. is also responsible (or claims to be) for this extraordanary building: http://gz.people.com.cn/n/2013/0301/c344113-18235197.html
    "The biggest building in the shape of a teapot in the world."

    More related photos of Gelao mansucripts can be found here: http://www.tongren.gov.cn/html/2011/1019/pnews930.html
    Click the image to advance through. img 5/12 reads: 九天大濮史錄 / 和合 (sound familiar?) / 民囯?年?? (just a substitution cipher for Chinese, like the ms. in the book).

    [VHM: proof of the elaborate lengths to which steps were taken to perpetrate this hoax]

    01 Nov 2013 139
    02 Nov 2013 116
    03 Nov 2013 116
    04 Nov 2013 113
    05 Nov 2013 120
    06 Nov 2013 119
    07 Nov 2013 125
    08 Nov 2013 108
    09 Nov 2013 92
    10 Nov 2013 82
    11 Nov 2013 93
    12 Nov 2013 164
    13 Nov 2013 227
    14 Nov 2013 165
    15 Nov 2013 132
    16 Nov 2013 101
    17 Nov 2013 105
    18 Nov 2013 111
    19 Nov 2013 90
    20 Nov 2013 86
    21 Nov 2013 79
    22 Nov 2013 110
    23 Nov 2013 96
    24 Nov 2013 80
    25 Nov 2013 88
    26 Nov 2013 84
    27 Nov 2013 78
    28 Nov 2013 100
    29 Nov 2013 256
    30 Nov 2013 467
    01 Dec 2013 181
    02 Dec 2013 155
    03 Dec 2013 71

RSS feed for comments on this post