CHINAKNOWLEDGE - a universal guide for China studies | HOME | About
Encoding: Unicode (UTF-8) [Location: HOME > Literature > Historiographical category > Miscellaneous histories > Menggu mishi/Yuanchao mishi]

Chinese Literature
Menggu mishi 蒙古秘史 "The Secret History of the Mongols"


The Yuanchao mishi 元朝秘史 "Secret history of the Yuan dynasty 元 (1206/79-1368)", in the West better known under the name of Menggu mishi 蒙古秘史 (also read Menggu bishi 蒙古祕史) "Secret history of the Mongols" is a history of the origin and the foundation of the Mongol empire. It begins with the ancestors of Čingghis Qan (r. 1206-1227), describes his life and ascension to power, the spread of the empire and the subsequent struggle for succession and continuance of the imperial expansion under Öködei Qan (r. 1229-1241). The book has not been compiled in one phase but consists of at least two parts. The date of completion is given as the "year of the rat", which can be, according to different scholarship, 1228, 1240. 1252, or 1264. The book was originally written in Mongolian language and in the Uighur-Mongolian script and bore the title of Moŋğolun Niuča Tobčaan. The text is long since lost but is in part preserved in quotations in Lobsangdanĵin's book Altan tobči (Huangjinshi 黃金史) "The Golden History". The version that has survived is that of the Translators Institute (siyiguan 四夷館) of the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644) which is written in Mongolian language and in Chinese characters, which serve to express the sound of Mongolian. The officials in this state agency added an interlineary text in Chinese rendering the meaning of the Mongolian words (the so-called pangzhu 傍注 "sideline comment" or pangyi 旁譯 "sideline translation"). Each paragraph is then translated into Chinese (zongyi 總譯). The Yuanchao mishi is therefore a bilingual history. It was printed at the beginning of the Ming period the book was printed and included 10 juan "scrolls" of a main collection (zhengji 正集) and 2 juan of a supplementary collection (xuji 續集). The encyclopedia Yongle dadian 永樂大典 on its side divided the book into 15 juan. Therefore two different versions of the Yuanchao mishi are available which are, nevertheless, the same in content. The best traditional copy is that in the third series of the collectaneum Sibu congkan 四部叢刊 in which 41 pages of fragments are added.
The Menggu mishi is a very important source for the study of the history of the early decades of the Mongolian empire. It is a source to be used together with the Chinese book Shengwu qinzheng lu 聖武親征錄 and the Persian book Ǧāmiʔ ut-tawārīḫ by Rašīd ad-Dīn. Inspite of its high value the reader has to be aware that it is a book written in favour of Čingghis Qan and the heritage line of Tölüi (r. 1228) and can therefore not in all cases taken at face value. The literary language of the Menggu mishi is different from Chinese and typical for the narrative stories of the steppe peoples. It can therefore be called the first literary work of the steppe.
From the viewpoint of linguistics the Menggu mishi is a valuable source for the study of old Mongolian, from both the grammatical and the phonetic viewpoint. The members of the translation group in the Hanlin Academy 翰林院 used very interesting methods to decipher the Mongolian text and to use Chinese characters to reflect Mongolian sounds. Guttural sounds marked by a small character 中 are fricative sounds: 忽 [hu], but 忽 [qu]; dental sounds marked by a small character 舌 are pronounced fricative: 列 [lə], but 列 [rə]; and other small characters indicate a consonant final of a syllable: 阿 [at], 答 [dal].
From the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) on many Chinese scholars displayed great intererest into the Menggu mishi and compiled many commentaries to events and geograph. From the 19th century on the Secret History became known in the West and in Japan where many translations have been produced, like Kahn, Paul (1984). The Secret History of the Mongols: the Origin of Čingghis Qan (r. 1206-1227), an Adaptation of the Yüan ch’ao pi shih, Based Primarily on the English Translation by Francis Woodman Cleaves. San Francisco: North Point Press. [Boston: Cheng & Tsui Co., 1998 (expanded edition).], or Igor de Rachewiltz (2004). The Secret History of the Mongols: a Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century. Leiden; Boston: Brill.


Source: Yi Linzhen 亦鄰真 (1992). "Yuanchao mishi 元朝秘史", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史, vol. 3, pp. 1451. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.

Exemplarious translation:
The text below shall give an example of the appearance of a page of the Secret History. The bold characters are the Mongol main text in Chinese characters, the upper case small characters is the word-by-word translation into Chinese; the lower case small characters are pronunciation signs, namely 中 "middle" for a guttural [q] (written "kh") instead of [h] or [x]; and 舌 "(tip of the) tongue" for the rolling [r] instead of [l].

Compound text of the Secret History:
1. 成吉思(名)-合〈中〉(皇帝)-訥(的) 忽札兀兒(根源)
迭額列〈舌〉(上) 騰格理〈舌〉(天)額扯(處) 札牙阿禿(命有的) 脫列〈舌〉克先(生了的) 勃兒帖(蒼色)-赤那(狼) 阿主兀(有). 格兒該(妻) 亦訥(他的) 〈中〉(慘白色)馬闌〈舌〉(鹿) 阿只埃(有來). 騰汲思(水名) 客禿勒周(渡著) 亦列〈舌〉(來了). 斡難(河名) 沐漣〈舌〉-訥(河的) 帖里〈舌〉兀捏(源行) 不峏罕〈中〉〈中〉勒敦(山名)-納(行) 嫩禿(營盤) 黑剌周(做著) 脫列〈舌〉克先(生了的) 巴塔赤-罕〈中〉(人名) 阿主兀(有來)


Main text (only Mongolian, in Chinese script):
成吉思-合〈中〉罕-訥 忽札兀兒:
迭額列〈舌〉 騰格理〈舌〉-額扯 札牙阿禿 脫列〈舌〉克先 勃兒帖-赤那 阿主兀. 格兒該 亦訥 豁〈中〉埃-馬闌〈舌〉勒 阿只埃. 騰汲思 客禿勒周 亦列〈舌〉罷. 斡難 沐漣〈舌〉-訥 帖里〈舌〉兀捏 不峏罕〈中〉-合〈中〉勒敦-納 嫩禿 黑剌周 脫列〈舌〉克先 巴塔赤-罕〈中〉 阿主兀.


Transcription in modern pinyin (how a modern Chinese would read the text):
Chéngjísī-Khéhăn-nè hūzháwūér:
Diéériè ténggérĭ-échĕ zháyáātū tuōrièkèxiān Bóértiē-Chìnà āzhŭwū. Géérgaī yìnè Khuōaī-Măránlè āzhĭaī. Téngjīsī kètūlèzhoū yìrièbà. Wònán-mùrián-nè tiērĭwūniē Bùĕrkhăn khélèdūn-nà nèntū heīlàzhoū tuōrièkèxiān Bātáchì-Khăn āzhŭwū.

Transcription in old Mongolian pronunciation:
Čiŋķis-Qağan-no huĵaur:
Deere Teŋķeri-eče ĵayaatu toreksen Borte-Čino aĵuu. ķerķai ino Qoai-Maral aĵiai. Teŋķis ķetulĵu ireba. Onan-muren-no teriune Burqan-qaldun-na nuntuqlaĵu, toreksen Bata-Čiqan aĵuu.

Side text, word-by word translation of the main text into Chinese:
成吉思皇帝的根源:
上天處命有的生了的蒼色狼有.妻他的慘白色鹿有來.騰汲思水渡著來了.斡難河的源行,不峏罕合勒敦山行,營盤做著生了的巴塔赤罕有來.

Translation:
The Heritage and Youth of Čingghis Qan
There came into the wold a blue-green wolf whose destiny was Heaven's will. His wife was a fallow deer. They travelled together across the inland sea (the commentary says, "tengjis" is the name of a river) and when they were camped near the source of the Onan River in sight of Mount Burkhan Khaldun their first son was born, named Batachikhan.

Translated by Paul Kahn (1984). The Secret History of the Mongols: The Origins of Chingis Khan. Boston: Cheng and Tsui. [Adaption of Francis Woodman Cleaves (1982).]
Chinese literature according to the four-category system

September 14, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail