Wordtrade.com LogoWordtrade.com/
Asian History


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Divine Knowledge: Buddhist Mathematics According to Antoine Mostaert's Manual of Mongolian Astrology and Divination by Brian G. Baumann (Brill's Inner Asian Library: Brill Academic Publishers) In an original and compelling examination of traditional mathematics, this comprehensive study of the anonymous; Manual of Mongolian Astrology and Divination (published by A. Mostaert in 1969) takes on the fundamental problem of the post‑enlightenment categorization of knowledge, in particular the inherently problematic realms of religion and science, as well as their subsets, medicine, ritual, and magic. In the process of elucidating the rhetoric and logic shaping this manual the author reveals not only the intertwined intellectual history of Eurasia from Greece to China but also dismantles many of the discourses that have shaped its modern interpretations. More

The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle`of the Thirteenth Century 2 volume set, Revised Edition with Additions and Corrections by Igor De Rachewiltz (Brill's Inner Asian Library: Brill Academic) (Paperback) (Hardcover Individual Volume One, Volume Two) The 13th century Secret History of the Mongols, covering the great Èinggis Qan’s (1162-1227) ancestry and life, stands out as a literary monument of first magnitude. Written partly in prose and partly in epic poetry, it is the major native source on Èinggis Qan, also dealing with part of the reign of his son and successor Ögödei (1229-41). For decades students of "The Secret History of the Mongols" (the primary source on the life of Genghis Khan) have been using de Rachewiltz's indexed text and his tentative chapter-by-chapter translations. Now we have his 1500 page magnum opus. De Rachewiltz has mastered the secondary literature in all the relevant languages including Mongolian and even Hungarian, and this work is really the culmination of a century and a half of work by dozens of scholars. The Secret History of the Mongols was selected by Choice as Outstanding Academic Title for 2005.

This true handbook contains an historical introduction, a full translation of the chronicle in accessible English, plus an extensive commentary. Indispensable for the historian, the Sino-Mongolist, the Altaic philologist, and anyone interested in comparative literature and Central Asian folklore. 

Excerpt from Introduction: The 13th century work known as the Secret History of the Mongols is the earliest and most important literary monument of the Mongol-speaking people, challenged only by the later 17th century chronicle Erdeni-yin tobci, or Precious Summary, by the Ordos prince Sayang Secen (1604-?). There is no doubt, however, that notwithstanding the literary merits of the latter – and they are many – Sayang's masterpiece is by far outshone by the Secret History, witness the number of translations and versions of this work (over forty) against the mere eight of the Precious Summary.

The reason for the great success of the Secret History at home and abroad is, first of all, its subject matter, for the Secret History is the only genuine (not to be confused with reliable) native account of the life and deeds of Cinggis Qan – our Genghis Khan – one of the world's outstanding figures, whereas the Precious Summary is a general history of the Mongols, written under the influence of Tibetan culture and Lamaism. There is no Buddhist influence in the Secret History, its language has not been touched by the literary and historiographical conventions of Tibet, its poetry reflects the pure, unmitigated tradition of the nomadic tribes of Mongolia and of the Turkic- and Mongolian-speaking inhabitants of the vast steppelands of Inner Asia. To be sure, the Turkic element – cultural and linguistic – is present in the Secret History; how could it be otherwise, since Mongolia was the cradle, home and stamping ground of both those peoples, so that they shared from remote times a common way of life, the same spiritual, i.e. shamanistic, background (with related cults and customs), and exchanged words, terms and titles as the occasion arose.

Later, the settled and culturally more advanced Turks of Central Asia, the Uighurs in particular, acted as tutors and cultural intermediaries to the Mongols, their greatest gift to them being the attractive vertical Uighur script which the Mongols adopted about the turn of the 13th century and in which the Secret History was first written.' However, regardless of its Turkic component, the

Secret History is and remains a true and original Mongol product, unique of its kind, for no other nomadic or semi-nomadic people has ever created a literary masterpiece like it, in which epic poetry and narrative are so skilfully and indeed artistically blended with fictional and historical accounts. Linguistically too, the Secret History provides the finest and richest source of Preclassical Mongolian (in its reconstructed 'written' form) dating from the first half of the 13th century, and of Middle Mongolian, the language actually spoken in the second half of the 14th century –a language lacking any artificiality, simple and direct in style, far removed from the learned and often convoluted syntax of so-called Classical Mongolian.' In this respect, one can say with A. Waley that its 'story-tellers' tales ... are some of the most vivid primitive literature that exists anywhere in the world',' words echoed by F.W. Cleaves who called the Secret History 'one of the great literary monuments of the world."

The Secret History is a complex work; it presents at times great difficulties of interpretation. Because of the wealth of data that it provides on all aspects of life in 12th-13th century Mongolia, on important events and on a great number of individuals (some of whom played key historical roles), and on their clans and tribes, it is also a work that, to quote Waley again, `would be possible to furnish with endless annotation." Cleaves, for his part, went as far as observing that 'a definitive translation is out of the question until generations of scholarship have been consecrated to its study' – a sobering reminder to all those who take up this task.

In the following sections I shall survey some of the major issues concerning the Secret History, viz. its contents, date and place of composition, authorship and textual history (in relation also to the text of the Secret History preserved in the Altan tobci), as well as the transcriptions and translations made in modern times. I shall touch upon its value as a literary work and historical source, presenting different and often conflicting views on the subject. I shall conclude with some remarks on the present version. Several appendices provide additional information on the chronology of inggis Qan's campaigns in Mongolia, Siberia and Central Asia in 1204-1219, and some useful reference lists for the reader of the Secret History who wishes to pursue the study of this text more in depth.

The bibliography contains only titles cited in the present work; however, there are many references in the commentary to contributions of lesser importance, brief reviews and the like that are not included in the bibliography. The indices have been made as comprehensive as possible to facilitate the use of both the translation and the commentary.

This Introduction is meant to serve its literal purpose, viz. only to introduce the reader to the Secret History and its Problematik. It covers the main issues such as the place and date of composition, authorship and textual history without confusing the reader with too many technicalities. The value of the Secret History as a historical source and the literature on the subject are also ade­quately dealt with.

On the other hand, much more could be said about topics like the relationship between the Secret History, the Allan tobci and Raid al-Din's account on Cinggis Qan; on the ideology and political philosophy underlying the work; also about its value as a source on the social and economic history of the period; and, especially, concerning the special position it occupies in the historical and literary context of Central Asian epics. Indeed, any of these topics could easily be the subject of a book. I hope that eventually these important aspects of the work will be dealt with as they deserve, drawing on sources and information that were not available to scholars of earlier generations. References to these sources and to the contributions already made by modem and contemporary investigators are found in the Commentary. Regrettably, some publications from Russia, Mongolia and China could not be consulted, and a number of them have been cited second-hand.'

The Translation follows by and large the model of the first edition (Ra), seeking a compromise between faithfulness to the Mongolian original and readability. This is not easy to achieve because of the very different nature of Cinggis Qan's language and the Queen's English. Whereas F.W. Cleaves' translation is meant to be a literal as well as a literary rendering of the original (hence the King James Version's English), mine is primarily designed to provide the reader with an accurate but at the same time fairly fluent translation into modern English. While the criteria that have guided our respective versions are different, these are, nonetheless, complementary.'

I have continued to use the italic type for my own additions to avoid parentheses and square brackets; I have, however, kept them for less intrusive purposes (see the Conventional Signs). I believe that the translation must not only be readable but look readable as well and a great number of parentheses or brackets tend to deface a page. Since a few Mongol and foreign terms had to be retained in their original form (e.g. quda, gur qan), I had recourse for those to a different font (Monotype Corsiva: quda, gur qan) to avoid confusion.'" I have also employed a more scientific transcription of Mongolian and other Altaic languages, and have not hyphenated compound proper and geographical names as in the previous edition.'"

One of the most difficult aspects of the translation has been adherence to consistency in the use of italics particularly with regard to possessive pronouns (personal pronouns are not, as a rule, italicized), and in the translation itself when rendering the same Mongol word or expression into English in a different context. In deciding whether to italicize a pronoun or a word, I let myself be guided more by intuition and Sprachgefühl than by logic, thus inevitably opening myself up to criticism.' As for consistency in translation, given the fact that in Mongolian as in other languages many words can and do have a wide semantic range, while trying to be as consistent as possible I took into account both the context and English usage. There cannot be `perfect' consistency, as shown also by F.W. Cleaves' effort to produce a meticulously literal rendering of the Mongol text.' Likewise, I had to use different ways of translating the Mongolian verba dicendi to avoid awkward constructs in English.'

The Translation is accompanied by footnotes to assist in solving immediate problems of interpretation without constantly referring to the Commentary, and to advise the reader whenever checking the Commentary is indispensable for a full understanding of the passage. Hence also the numerous cross-references in the footnotes to other passages and to differently spelled proper and geographical names. Like most works of this kind, the same name can recur in slightly different forms. Thus the footnote serves as an instant aid to the intelligence of the text.

The Commentary has grown over the years and is now almost twice the size of that of the first edition – a fact which reflects the development of Mongol studies in the last two decades. Although meant to be both historical and philological, the Commentary does not deal with all the linguistic features of the Secret History, but only with those that are relevant to the understanding of the text and are still dubious and/or contentious; the same applies to historical problems. For a much fuller treatment of individual words and terms, as well as of grammatical and syntactic peculiarities, the reader is referred to Ozawa's monumental oeuvre. There is, unfortunately, no counterpart of Ozawa's work to solve the countless historical and geographical puzzles posed by the Secret History. Unsolved problems still remain, but it is my sincere hope that the Com­mentary has gone quite some way towards solving the major conundrums still besetting mongolists and non-mongolists alike.

In order to simplify the user's task, a number of appendices have been provided' together with three indices: the Commen­tary can thus serve not only to elucidate the text and the trans­lation, but also to refer the reader to a wide range of topics directly and indirectly related to the Secret History.

The Jewel Translucent Sutra: Altan Khan and the Mongols in the Sixteenth Century`by Johan Elverskog (Brill's Inner Asian Library, 8: Brill Academic) The first full-fledged critical edition and historical study of the Erdeni Tunumal Sudur, the Mongolian history of Altan Khan and his descendants, offering a full-range English-written historical and literary evaluation of this unique and fairly reliable, but long neglected discovery in Mongolian studies.

With transcription, word index and English translation, as well as extensive commentary on the historical events of Altan Khan’s reign, especially the 1550 attack on Beijing, the 1571 peace accord with the Ming, and the 1578 meeting with the Dalai Lama and the subsequent Buddhist conversion. In particular, the author shows how Altan Khan’s reformulation of the boundaries of Dayan Khan’s Mongol nation and state catalyzed the political fragmentation of the Mongols with dire consequences in relation to the rising Manchu state. Vital for a better understanding of Mongol history during the late Ming.

Excerpt: In 1963 the existence of a singular seventeenth century manuscript, the Jewel Translucent Sutra, became known through Natsagdorj's History of the Khalkhas.l One would have imagined that the revelation of such an early Mongolian historical work would have created an explosion of interest. This should especially have been true with a work that describes the pivotal figure of Altan Khan, who signed the 1571 peace accord with the Ming dynasty and, most importantly, "reconverted" the Mongols to Buddhism. However, unlike the Secret History which had achieved an iconic status of near biblical proportions and had been appropriated within the gamut of intellectual agendas (Marxist, nationalist, philological, linguistic, literary, etc.), the Jewel Translucent Sutra languished in an archive for another sixteen years. The exact reasons for this are unclear, although the impact of Cold War politics and the unfathomable dislocations ensuing from Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution cannot be underestimated. Yet now, a generation later and in a much different world, the text and its attendant scholarly investigation has returned.

On account of the ascendancy of literary-critical approaches to historical studies, how this work will now be read and interpreted, as opposed to when it first appeared nearly forty years ago, will undoubtedly have changed. And while such a process is seemingly inevitable, oddly enough it also seems appropriate in the case of this work. The reason is that this text meshes with the focus of most late twentieth century scholarship which questions dominant historical narratives, be it feminism, subaltern studies, post-colonialism, etc. All of these approaches entail lifting the blinders of ideological master narratives to reveal the past of those historiographically marginalized. This is not to suggest that Altan Khan has been ignored. Indeed, on account of the extraordinary 1571 Sino-Mongol detente, he has been the focus of extensive scholarship on Ming history and the politics that culminated in the peace process. Similarly, a discussion of Altan Khan's historic 1578 meeting with the Third Dalai Lama that presaged the conversion of the Mongols to Gelugpa Buddhism is a standard topic in all works touching on Tibetan or Mongolian Buddhist history. Yet, the Mongolian voice has been silent in all these works, since until now only Chinese and Tibetan sources have been available and utilized in reconstructing these events. The Jewel Translucent Sutra allows the heretofore marginalized natives to speak.
In order to enable access to this source for the widest possible audience with an interest in this particular chapter of the past; however, it is necessary to provide a translation, since knowing or learning Mongolian is not a universal trait. And although currently it is the intellectual and institutional vogue to denigrate such work, to my mind, this is an unfortunate turn in intellectual culture as a whole. It must be recognized that translation is essential, not only in and of itself, but also on account of the fact that any form of critical interpretation is flawed without a proper understanding of the textual sources. A most striking example of such a case has recently been revealed in Davidson's work on classical Greece, which notes that Foucault's misunderstanding of the Greek terms katapugon and kinaidos resulted in his well-known interpretation of a phallocentric culture, as well as the attendant penetration-power schema that shaped his work on ethical systems and power relations. Foucault's views, based on his faulty Greek, still play a powerful role in all the disciplines of the academy. Thus, clearly, the need for accurate readings and translations is of paramount importance. It is with this goal in mind, and as grist for the discourse mill, that the following translation has been prepared.

Folk Religions of Monoglia

The Religions of Mongolia by Walther Heissig, former head of the Department of Central Asiatic Studies at the University of Bonn, Germany, has written a thorough historical survey of the folk origins of the religions of Central Asia. He focuses on the existence in Mongolia of religious forms that have more ancient roots even than Buddhism. The forms of Northern Buddhism in Mongolia correspond in the main to those Tibetan forms from which they originated. Heissig is mainly concerned in the present book with those beliefs and concepts which belong to the non-Buddhist folk religion of the Mongols. Scholars have in recent years discovered original Mongol texts and documents unknown till now, and professor Heissig´s own researches in European libraries have revealed more than seventy-eight manuscripts, containing prayers and invocations from the folk religion, all of which provide essential material on the non-Buddhist religious conceptions of the Mongols. His philological work on these Mongol texts is the basis for this account of the ancient religious ideas of the Mongols. He begins by describing the shamanism of the Mongols, then gives an account of the spread of Lamaism and the subsequent Lamaist suppression of Shamanism. The main part of the book is devoted to a study of the Mongolian folk religion and its pantheon, which includes heavenly beings, the ancestor god, the deity of fire, and equestrian deities. This is an important study providing a glimpse of major religious ideas.

The Mongol Empire:
The Missing Link in Global Islam

THE MONGOL EMPIRE AND ITS LEGACY (Islamic History and Civilization. Studies and Texts) by Reuven Amitai-Preiss ($146.00, hardcover, Brill Academic Publishers; ISBN: 9004110488)

Now with the paperback edition this work will be especially useful as a textbook and for individual purchase.

The Mongol empire was founded early in the thirteenth century by Chinggis Khan and within the span of two generations embraced most of Asia, becoming the largest land based state in history. The united empire lasted only until around 1260 but the major successor states continued on in the Middle East, present day Russia, Central Asia and China for generations, leaving a lasting impact much of which was far from negative on these areas and their peoples. The papers in this volume present new perspectives on the establishment of the Mongol empire, Mongol rule in the eastern Islamic world, Central Asia and China, and the legacy of this rule. The various authors approach these subjects from the view of political, military, social, cultural and intellectual history.

Most of the essays offer original research and visit major controversies in Mongol studies. The book is a must-read for the specialist and worth a close look by generalists. Recommended.

Reuven Amitai-Preiss, Ph. D. in Middle Eastern History, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is senior lecturer in medieval Islamic history at the Hebrew University, and author of Mongols and Mamluks: The Mamluk Ilkhanid War (Cambridge, 1995).

David Orrin Morgan, Ph.D. (1977) in History at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, is Reader in the History of the Middle East at the University of London. He has written The Mongols (London, 1986) and Medieval Persia (London, 1988), and is editor of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society.


Headline 3

insert content here