CHINESE-IRANIAN RELATIONS x. China in Medieval Persian Literature

In medieval writings Čīn may mean either China proper or eastern Turkestan; when it refers to the latter China proper is sometimes called Māčīn (contraction of Skt. Mahāčīna “great China”).

 

CHINESE-IRANIAN RELATIONS

x. China in Medieval Persian Literature

In medieval writings Čīn may mean either China proper or eastern Turkestan (Ebn al-Balḵī, p. 94; Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh, p. 26; Ebn Qotayba, p. 667; Masʿūdī, Morūj, ed. Pellat, I, pp. 154-73); when it refers to the latter China proper is sometimes called Māčīn (contraction of Skt. Mahāčīna “great China”; see Jovaynī, ed. Qazvīnī, I, p. 186 n. 3; cf. Banākatī, pp. 322, 340 = Mahājīn; Yāqūt, Boldān IV, p. 407 = Māh Jīn). Nevertheless, two passages in Tārīḵ-e Sīstān (p. 207) and Jovaynī (ed. Qazvīnī, I, pp. 6-7) suggest that the terms were sometimes confused. Less frequently Čīnestān was used instead of Čīn (e.g., Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, tr. Minorsky, pp. 51, 56, 61, 79; Šāh-nāma, Moscow, V, p. 32 v. 415). In Persian literature the rulers of Čīn sometimes bear the title faḡfūr, originally from Sogd. βaγpūr (< OIr. *baga-puθra, lit. “son of god”; Gauthiot, p. 53; Pelliot, II, pp. 652-61). More often, however, they are called ḵāqān and their queens ḵātūn, both Turkish titles (see Doerfer, III, pp. 132-37, 141) widely used in Iranian languages (cf. Sogd. xātūn, Khotanese hattuna; Doerfer, III, p. 137). In the epic accounts of wars between Iranians and Turanians, or Turks, rulers of Čīn generally figure among the allies of the latter (e.g., Šāh-nāma, Moscow, IV, pp. 162-63). According to Ebn Ḵaldūn (p. 16) and the author of Ḥodūd al-ʿālam (tr. Minorsky, p. 84, cf p. 227), however, the fāgfūr of Čīn was a son of Ferēdūn. In a story recounted by Jalāl-al-Dīn Rūmī (bk. I, p. 179 vv. 3541ff.) the Chinese are represented as the epitome of worldly attachment, but in a maṯnawī by Fattāḥī Nīšābūrī (p. 43) China is depicted as the embodiment of eastern mysticism.

In medieval literature Čīn was particularly renowned for certain goods that it exported, above all silk and silk textiles like brocade (e.g., dībā-ye Čīn; Šāh-nāma [Mos­cow, I, p. 170 v. 531]), cinnamon (dāṛčīn), musk, and porcelain, particularly painted and overglazed wares in designs called faḡfūrī (imperial) or (gol-)morḡī (bird-[and-flower]; see ceramics xiii, xiv; cf. xi, below). Chinese art was also highly esteemed, judging from the many references in Persian poetry to Chinese painters, sculptors, pictures, images, and carvings (see Dehḵodā, s.v. Čīn).

In Persian poetry “Chinese” beauty, especially as ascribed to the citizens of Ṭarāz (Talas) and Čegel in eastern Turkestan, vied with “Greek” (rūmī) beauty as the ideal. Chinese princesses thus appear among the charac­ters in Persian romances, for example, the mistress of the sandalwood dome in Neẓāmī’s Haft peykar (p. 222 vv. 8-9). The poets generally used such conventional phrases as bot (idol; See also buddhism ii), negār (picture), loʿbat (doll), and delbar (sweetheart) from Čīn (e.g., Gorgānī, pp. 107 vv. 140-41, 473 v. 26). Similarly, the phrases bot-ḵāna-ye Farḵār-e Čīn (idol temple at Farḵār in China; Farḵār < Sogdian βṛγʾr, an adaptation of Bud­dhist Skt. vihāra “monastery,” which it also renders in translations of Buddhist texts; Gauthiot, pp. 52-59; cf. Gershevitch, p. 54 par. 362), negār-ḵāna/negārestān-e Čīn (picture gallery of China), bot-ḵāna-ye Čīn (idol temple of China), and ārāyeš-e Čīn (ornament of China) were metaphors for any place or town with good-looking inhabitants.

In medieval Persian sources Mani, the founder of Manicheism, was said to have become famous in China for his painting (Šāh-nāma VI, p. 167 v. 11; Gorgānī, p. 48 v. 42). This tradition was no doubt connected with the popularity of his Ardahang, in which he had illustrated his teachings. In Persian literature this book, called Aržang or Artang-e Čīn, served as a metaphor for any beau­tiful illustration or picture (e.g., Gorgānī, pp. 48 v. 42, 396 v. 31). Finally, according to a line added to the Šāh-nāma at a later date (I, p. 38 v. 44), Chinese handwriting was one of thirty scripts that Ahrīman taught to Tahmūraṯ.

 

Bibliography:

Faḵr-al-Dīn Abū Solaymān Banākatī, Rawżat ūli’l-albāb fī maʿrefat al-tawārīḵ wa’l-ansāb (Tārīḵ-e Banākatī), ed. J. Šeʿār, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969.

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Abu’l-Majd Majdūd b. Sanāʾī Ḡaznavī, Dīvān, ed. M.-T. Modarres Rażawī, Tehran, 1320 Š./1941, p. 185 v. 3.

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Jalāl-al-Dīn Moḥammad Balḵī Rūmī, Maṯnawī, Tehran, 1314 Š./1935.

(Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh)

Originally Published: December 15, 1991

Last Updated: October 17, 2011

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Vol. V, Fasc. 5, pp. 454-455