Mongolia, the Tangut country, and the solitudes of northern Tibet/Volume 2/The Tangutans

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P. 109.

Tangut was a kingdom well known by that name in the Middle Ages, and nearly corresponded to modern Kansuh in a general way. Indeed Kansuh was, under the Mongol Emperors (1260-1368) the official Chinese name of the region known to the Mongols and Western Asiatics as Tangut. It was, however, in the Middle Ages also called Ho-si, 'Country west of the (Yellow) River;' and in a Perso-Chinese Dictionary, made about A.D. 1400, Tangut is explained by Ho-si. The bulk of the inhabitants were of Tibetan blood, and the capital was at Ning-hia, on the Yellow River. The country was several times overrun by Chinghiz-Khan, and on the last occasion (1227) he died in this country. The name is still, we see, in use among the Mongols, but it seems often to be applied to the whole of Tibet. There is something requiring further elucidation about this double application of the name. The Tangutans of Prejevalsky are those Eastern Tibetans who are called by the Chinese Si-fan, or 'Western Barbarians.' They inhabit the district of Koko-nor, and extend also along the western borders of Szechwan.[1]

The Sifan are divided in the Chinese accounts of the frontier states into Black Sifan (probably the Kara-Tangut of Prejevalsky) and Yellow Sifan; the former being derived from their custom of using tents made of black yak-hair cloth. The Yellow are stated always to have a prince at their head who becomes a cleric and wears the yellow robe. Sifan seems, undoubtedly, often to be employed in Chinese for people of the Tibetan race generally; and I suspect these Yellow Sifan are simply the Tibetans of Tibet, under the Grand Lama, whilst the Black Sifan are the nomadic people of Tangut.

The language of the vocabulary given by Prejevalsky at pp. 136-138 is evidently Tibetan. And this agrees with what is said in the Chinese papers translated by Grosier: 'The language of Tibet is almost the same as that of the people called Sifan, and differs only in the meaning attached to certain words, and in some peculiarities of pronunciation.'[2]

The difficulties of Tibetan spelling, and other uncertainties of transcription by ear, render it hard for anyone but an expert to make a thorough comparison. But the following examples will show that the language is Tibetan:—

English. Prejevalsky's
Vocabulary of
Mountain Ri
Lake Tsō Thso
Water Chsiu Ch'hu
Grass Rtsa Tsa
Fire Me
Rain Tsiar Char-bba
Lightning Тоk ——
Thunder —— Tog
Heat Tsa-tchigeh Cha
Wind Lung gnLung
Road Lam Lam
Butter Marr Mar
Meat Shā Isha
Sheep Liuk Lug
Fox Kwa
Camel Namung rHa-mong
Tobacco Do-wa ——
Smoke —— Du-wa
Ears Rna rNa-wa
etc. etc.
Prejevalsky's Tangutan. Jaeschke's Tibetan.
1 Khtsik chig
2 Ni nyi (s)
3 Sum sum
4 Bjeh zhi
5 Rna nga
6 Chok dhug
7 Diun dun
8 Dziat gyad
9 Rgiu gu, rgu[4]
10 Tsiu-tamba chu, or chu-tham-pa

It may be noted that both Black and Yellow Sifan appear to have been visited by Friar Odoric as early as 1326 or thereabouts. He says, in quitting Kansan, i.e. Kenjan-fu or Shensi: 'I came to a great kingdom called Tibet, which is on the confines of India Proper, and is subject to the Great Khan. They have in it great plenty of bread and wine as anywhere in the world. The folk of that country dwell in tents made of black felt. But the chief and royal city is all built with walls of black and white, and all its streets are very well paved. In this city no one shall dare to shed the blood of any, whether man or beast, for the reverence they bear to a certain idol which is there worshipped. In that city dwelleth the Abassi, i.e. in their tongue, the Pope, who is head of all the idolaters, and who has the disposal of all their benefices, such as they are, after their manner.' This is very curious, as showing that there was a Grand Lama (at Lhassa?) recognised as Pope of Lamaism many years before the period assigned to the establishment of the spiritual dynasty of the Dalai Lama as now existing.—[Y].

  1. Kovalefsky gives ′Tanghout; Ch. Sifan . . . . pays situé au nord et à l'occident de Chen-si province chinoise;′ but also ′Tanghouttchi, connaisseur de la langue Tangoutaine (tibétaine).′ Della Penna speaks of Tibet as being called 'Kingdom of Tangut.'
  2. Desc. Gén. de la Chine; 1785. 410. pp. 150-152.
  3. Partly from Jaeschke's Romanised Tibetan and English Dict., Kyelang in Lahoul, 1866; partly from Klaproth's Asia Polyglotta.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Asia Polyglotta.