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Chinese Language and Script
The Jurchen Script


The Jurchen script (in Chinese called Nüzhen wenzi 女真文字) was a script used to write the language used by the Jurchens, founders of the Jin empire 金 (1115-1234). It was modeled on the base of the Chinese and the Khitan scripts yet because of grammatical reasons also includes a lot of phonetic elements. There were two scripts, the larger Jurchen script and the smaller Jurchen script. The appearance of the script is very similar to Chinese, with quadratic characters and brush strokes identical to those in Chinese.
The script was created by Yan Xiyin 顏希尹 on command of emperor Jin Taizu 金太祖 (r. 1115-1122) and was promulgated as the official script in 1119. The smaller script was promulgated by Emperor Xizong 金熙宗 (r. 1135-1148) in 1138 and started being used from 1145. The official history of the Jin empire, the Jinshi 金史, does not explain the differences between the larger and the smaller script, and the difference also becomes not clear from the surviving fragments. Examples of the Jurchen script can be found in stone tablet inscriptions, manuscripts and also in some copies of the the huayi yiyu dictionaries 華夷譯語 from the Ming period 明 (1368-1644). The surviving documents are consisting of single unit characters, but there are also examples of words composed of two characters, like the inscription Yinjianming 銀簡銘 recorded in the Japanese book Azuma kagami 吾妻鏡, or a silver tally unearthed in 1977 in 濱海地區賽金古城, Russia, quotations in the Ming period calligraphy book Fangshi mopu 方氏墨譜 and the Yanzhou shanren sibu gao 弇州山人四部稿. The Jurchen words quoted in these books and objects are generally believed to be examples written in the Kitan smaller script or the Jurchen smaller script. In 1979 a Jurchen inscription was discovered on the inner part of a stone tablet inscribed with a Confucian text, the so-called Xiaojing 孝經 of Shitai 石臺. The larger script might have been more logographic, while the smaller script more phonetic.
The Jurchen script was mainly used for bureaucratic purposes. It is therefore mainly preserved on official stelae, tallies, seals and other objects. Original documents written in the Jurchen script are unfortunately lost. Some words are preserved in the Jurchen dictionary Nüzhen yiyu 女真譯語 of the Ming period from 1407, with examples written in Jurchen script and Chinese transliteration. This dictionary was important because the Jurchens presented regular tributes to the Ming court. The northeastern area was, furthermore, an important military border region to be defended by many Chinese garrisons. The commanders had probably to understand the language of the tribes living beyond the borderline. The Jurchen script was already unknown to the Jurchen tribes in 1445, so that later dictionaries, like the Nüzhen yiyu of the huitongguan 會同館 only contain Jurchen words transcribed by Chinese characters, and not any more a written form in Jurchen script.
The largest Jurchen inscription has been found on a stone tablet commemorating a victory (the Da-Jin desheng tuo song bei 大金得勝陀頌碑) detected in Fuyu 扶余, Jilin. This tablet is all the more important as it is a bilingue, inscribed in Jurchen and in Chinese, so that it is possible to directly compare the texts in two languages. Another important inscription is the Yantai Nüzhen jinshi timing bei 宴臺女真進士題名碑 which bears a very beautifully written inscription listing the names of candidates passing a Jurchen state examination. The surviving inscriptions show that there were many errors in the Jurchen-Chinese huayi yiyu dictionaries.
The most important surviving Jurchen inscriptions are:
  • The inscription commemorating the victory of Ningjiang 寧江州 from Fuyu 扶余, Jilin, the longest inscription, bilingual Chinese-Jurchen (大金得勝陀頌)
  • The inscription commemorating a Jurchen state examination from 1224, originally standing outside of Kaifeng, bilingual, now stored in the Kaifeng Museum 開封市博物館, Henan (女真進士題名碑)
  • The private tomb inscription of Aotun Liangbi from 1206 and 1210, bilingual, stored in the Museum of Chinese History 中國歷史博物館 (奧屯良弼餞飲碑, also called 泰和題名殘石)
  • The inscribed poems by Aotun Liangbi from Penglai 蓬萊, Shandong (奧屯良弼詩碑, also called 山東蓬莱刻石)
  • The rock inscriptions in several places in Hailong 海龍, Jilin (海龍摩崖石刻, old names 楊樹林山摩崖 and 半截山摩崖), bilingual, commemorating victories
  • The tomb stone of Wanyan Xiyin 完顔希尹 found in Shulan 舒蘭, Jilin (昭勇大將軍同知雄州節度使墓碑)
  • The Nurgan stelae of the Yongning Monastery stored in Vladivostok, Russia (奴爾干都司永寧寺碑)
  • A stelae found in in Kyongwon 慶源郡, today Saebyol, Hamgyŏng-pukto 咸鏡北道, North Korea 慶源郡女真國書碑
  • A stelae found in Pukch'ŏng 北青, Hamgyŏng-namdo 咸鏡南道, North Korea (北青女真國書摩崖)
Handwritten inscriptions in Jurchen have been detected on wall paintings and in book s on calligraphy.
Only from the late 12th century on the Jurchens started translating Chinese texts into their own language. After the conquest of the Jurchen empire by the Mongols in 1234 the script continued to be used and was only given up in the mid-15th century.
The Manchus saw themselves as descendants of the Jurchens. The study of the Jurchen language is therefore quite easy because it is linguistically very near to Manchu. In 1635 the study of the Jurchen inscriptions was prohibited by the Manchu emperor because of secrecy. Only in the 19th century Chinese and Manchu scholars started investigating Jurchen inscriptions, like Liu Shilu 劉師陸 and Linqing 麟慶. The Jurchen examination inscription was discovered and discribed by the two scholars in 1829 (Nüzhenzi bei kao, xukao 女真字碑考續考 and Yantai fang bei 宴臺訪碑), the victory stelae was first described by Cao Yingjie 曹廷杰 in 1885 (Desheng tuo bei shuo 得勝陀碑說 and Telin bei shuo 特林碑說). Yang Tongui 楊同桂 discovered the rock inscriptions of Hailong (Nüzhen xiaozi bei 女真小字碑). 20th century scholars continued this work, like Qian Taosun 錢稻孫, Mao Wen 毛汶, Luo Fucheng 羅福成, Wang Jingru 王静如 and Luo Fuyi 羅福頤, and wrote scholrly essays like Nüzhen yiyu zhengxubian 女真譯語正續編 or Manzhou jinshi zhi 滿洲金石志. The first Chinese book on the Jurchen language and script was published in 1964 by Jin Guangping and 金光平 Jin Qicong 金啟孮 (Nüzhen yuyan wenzi yanjiu 女真语言文字研究), the first Jurchen dictionary is Jin Qicong's 金啟孮 Nüzhenwen cidian 女真文辭典》. The most important foreign researches on the Jurchen script are the German Wilhelm Grube, the Japanese Watanabe Kuntarō 渡邊薰太郎, Yasuma Yaichirō 安馬弥一郎, Yamaji Hiroaki 山路広明, the Hungarian L. Ligeti, the Korean Li Ki Mun 李基文, the Australian Daniel Kane and the American Japanese Kiyose Gisaburō 清濑義三郎.


Sources: Jin Qicong 金启孮 (1986), "Nüzhenwen 女真文", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Minzu 民族 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), p. 358. ● Jin Qicong 金启孮 (1986), "Nüzhenwen shike 女真文石刻", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Kaoguxue 考古學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), p. 354. ● Jin Qicong 金啟孮 (1988), "Nüzhenwen 女真文", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Yuyan wenzi 語言文字 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), p. 304. ● Jin Qicong 金啟孮 (1992), "Nüzhen wenzi 女真文字", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, p. 744.

April 20, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail