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Da-Tang xiyu ji 大唐西域記

Jul 17, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Da-Tang xiyu ji 大唐西域記 "Records from the Regions West of the Great Tang" is a report of the countries west of China, on the way to India, compiled during the Tang period 唐 (618-907) by the Buddhist monks Xuanzang 玄奘 (c. 600-664) and Bianji 辯機.

Xuanzang left Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi), the capital of the Tang empire, in 627, traveled along the caravan routes through central Asia and passed the Hindukush mountains to go on to India, where he stayed for more than ten years. He was back nineteen years later and started, on imperial command, compiling a geographical description of all the countries he had crossed. Xuanzang actually did not write the book but orally narrated what he had seen, while his disciple Bianji wrote down the text. Bianji also took part in the translation of the many Buddhist writings Xuanzang had brought with him from India.

The 12-juan long book describes 138 different city states and countries in Central and Southern Asia. The descriptions are arranged according to the travel routes Xuanzong chose to go, the greatest part of the book covers places in India, the first and last juan the travel to India and back, respectively. Xuanzang describes the geographical conditions of the places he passed through, the waterways, climate, local products, customs and habits of the inhabitants, the language, calendar, political aspects, and of course, also the Buddhist monasteries in these places and many stories about the monk communities living there.

The book is of great value for the study not only of the geographical and political conditions of Inner and Southern Asia at tht time, but it also provides valuable information about the situation of Buddhism in its home country India. Xuanzang also informs his readers about some aspects of Indian history.

A large amount of studies has been made on the Da-Tang xiyu ji, especially concerning place names and history of Buddhism, but also in the field of ethnography and linguistics. There are a lot of editions of this book. The oldest extant, fragmentary version has been found as a manuscript in Dunhuang 敦煌, Gansu. There is a fragment from Fuzhou 福州, Fujian, from the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126), and one fragment from Zhaocheng 趙城, a city in the territory of the Jin empire 金 (1115-1234). These fragements were published in 1981 by the Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局 with the title Da-Tang xiyu ji guben sanzhong 大唐西域記古本三種.

The oldest fully surviving version dates from the Ming period 明 (1368-1644). There are several modern editions, like the edition of the Shanghai Renmin Press from 1977, with a commentary by Zhang Xun 章巽, or the commentary by Ji Xianlin 季羡林 from 1985. There is also a Japanese version from 1911.

The Da-Tang xiyu ji was translated into many foreign languages.

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