ḴEṬĀY-NĀMA “Book on China,” written by Seyyed ʿAlī Akbar Ḵeṭāʾī in Istanbul. According to the colophon, the book was finished on the last day or in the last days of Rabīʿ I 922/3 May 1516 (Ḵeṭāʾī, 1993, p. 174), but in the preface a panegyric on Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-66) can be found (ibid., p. 27). However, this may be a later addition in the different manuscripts, which do not comprise an autograph (Kahle, 1933, p. 94). The work and the author’s name are also read with an “a” (Ḵaṭāy-nāma and Ḵaṭāʾī), but as the name for (North) China is usually pronounced Ḵeṭāy in Persian (Paul Pelliot, Notes on Marco Polo, Paris, 1959, I, p. 220), the book which is written in this language is here transliterated with an “e.”

Apart from the information given in his work, nothing is known of the author, and the book itself does not contain any biographical details about him. He calls himself several times qalandar (dervish), but this might be more to stress his humbleness than to show an affiliation to any dervish order. Though the name ʿAlī Akbar may indicate a Shiʿite affiliation, he praises all four caliphs in his preface (Ḵeṭāʾī, 1993, p. 26), which, however, may also indicate the renouncement of his former faith in a time shortly after the battle of Cālderān against the Shiʿite Safavids. Furthermore, he possibly tries to reinforce his position in the Ottoman capital by referring to ʿAlī Qūšjī, the famous astronomer, who, as ʿAlī Akbar maintains, was ordered by Oloḡ Beg to go to China and write down a travelogue (Ḵeṭāʾī, 1993, p. 28). ʿAlī Akbar’s familiarity with Transoxanian conditions may also be a clue to his origin, perhaps Bukhara (Mazahéri, p. 85). The Chinese scholar Lin Yih-Min, who translated the Ḵeṭāy-nāma into modern Turkish and annotated it, insists that his author never saw China (Lin, 1967, pp. 1-22; idem, 1983, p. 59), whereas Paul Kahle, another scholar familiar with the subject, affirms that ʿAlī Akbar did visit the major places which he describes, as he mentions himself in several places in his book (Kahle, 1933, pp. 96-97).

The Ḵeṭāy-nāma has twenty or twenty-one chapters according to the counting of the different manuscripts. Their titles are (Ḵeṭāʾī, 1993, pp. 33-38, abbreviated here or slightly changed): roads to China, different religions, cities and castles, armies, magazines, the imperial throne, the imperial jail, celebrations, entertainments, brothels and prostitutes, wonderful arts and strange cures, legislation, schools, persons from the west, Qalmāqs, agriculture, personal observations, gold, silver, and money, obedience to the law, and, finally, Chinese temples. However, the content of each chapter does not always correspond with its title. For example, not much is written on the Qalmāqs in chapter 16 with that title (ibid., pp. 147-49), but in chapter 4 on the armies, there is a lengthy and fairly exact description of the war between the Ming dynasty and the Oirats (Qalmāqs), the capture of the emperor, and the ensuing enthronement of the new emperor (ibid., pp. 67-72). To give some more examples of the content: ʿAlī Akbar outlines imperial worship, the postal system and domestic communications, the imperial palace and the related administration, imprisonment and prisons, foreign envoys and merchants, social customs and culture, and also introduces porcelain, produced in Jiangxi 江西 province (ibid., pp. 43-7, 53-59, 77-110, 143-44, 160-63; Kahle, 1933, pp. 102-7). Many poems of different authors are disseminated in the text.

Five Persian manuscripts are extant, three of which are found in the Süleymaniye Library in Istanbul: (1) Reisülküttap 609 (Aşir Ef. 249, 127 fol.), (2) Reisülküttap 609 m. (Aşir Ef. 609 m., 110 fol.), (3) Reisülküttap 610 (Aşir Ef. 610, 129 fol.). The first of these manuscripts was printed as a facsimile in 1994 (ʿAlī Akbar Ḵeṭāʾī, The Book on China). (4) Leiden University Library (Or. 854, 94 fol., from the Legatum Warnerianum). (5) Cairo, Dār al-kotob 17 (Ṭalʿat Persia collections). The original Persian text was translated into Ottoman Turkish during the reign of Murād III (1574-95), probably in 1582 (title: Qānūn-nāma-ye Čīn va Ḵaṭāy; for a facsimile see Ḵeṭāʾī, 1993, pp. 195-266).

Charles Schefer started a translation into French, but published only three chapters. Paul Kahle and Muhammad Hamidullah produced a draft translation into English which was never published. Kahle tried to persuade the Chinese scholar Zhang Xinglang 張星烺 to collaborate on a joint annotated edition of the book, and both exchanged many cordial letters from 1934 onwards, but the endeavor never came to fruition because of the Japanese invasion of China and World War II. However, the son of Zhang Xinglang, Zhang Zhishan 張至善, started a search for the draft translation in 1982, found it, and translated it into Chinese with the help of Chinese Iranists, and the book was published in 1988. Lin Yih-min had already published his annotated translation into modern Turkish in 1967, and Aly Mazahéri translated the Ḵeṭāy-nāma into French (1983). The authoritative critical edition, based on the Cairene manuscript (collated with mss. 2 and 3) was produced by Irāj Afšār (1978, 2nd ed. 1993).

The basis of the first researches on the Ḵeṭāy-nāma was not the Persian, but the Ottoman Turkish, version, which was also included in some Ottoman geographies and became the basis of Ottoman knowledge on China (Hagen, 2003, pp. 95-97).  Matthaeus Norberg was the first who made use of the Ottoman Turkish version in his work De regno Chataja in 1818; H. L. Fleischer and J. Zenker continued these first appraisals with more thorough researches in 1851 and 1861. Schefer was the first who studied the Persian original.

The immediate impact of the Ḵeṭāy-nāma is difficult to estimate, but astonishingly the Ottoman empire, transcribed as Lumi 魯迷 (Rūm), figured rather prominently in Chinese sources after a first embassy arrived in Beijing in 1524; others followed until 1618 (Kauz, pp. 264, 266-67). The year 1524, only a few years after the work was finished, could indicate a direct influence on Ottoman diplomacy and commerce toward Central Asia and China by ʿAlī Akbar and his book.


ʿAlī Akbar Ḵeṭāʾī, Ḵeṭāy-nāma: šarḥ-e moštahadāt-e Seyyed ʿAlī Akbar Ḵeṭāʾī moʿāṣer-e Šāh Esmāʿīl Ṣafavī dar sar zamīn-e Čin, ed. Iraj Afšār, 1st ed., Tehran, 1978; 2nd ed., 1993.

Idem (Ali Akeba'er 阿里 阿克巴爾), Zhongguo jixing 中國紀行 (Chinese travelogue), ed. Zhang Zhishan, Beijing, 1988.

Idem, The Book on China: Khiṭāynāma, ed. Fuat Sezgin and Eckhard Neubauer, Publications of the Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science, Series C, vol. 56, Frankfurt am Main, 1994.

H. L. Fleischer, “Über das türkische Chatâï-nâme,” in Kleinere Schriften III, Leipzig, 1888; repr., Osnabrück, 1968, pp. 214-25; from Berichte über die Verhandlungen der königlichen Sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, Philol.-histor. Cl., 1851, pp. 317-27.

Gottfried Hagen, Ein osmanischer Geograph bei der Arbeit: Entstehung und Gedankenwelt von Kātib Čelebis Ğihānnümā, Berlin, 2003.

Khiṭāynāme des ʿAlī Ekber,” Acta Orientalia 12, 1933, pp. 91-110.

Idem, “China as Described by Turkish Geographers from Iranian Sources,” in Opera Minora: Festgabe zum 21. Januar 1956, Leiden, 1956, pp. 312-24 (from Proceedings of the Iran Society  2, London, 1940).

Ralph Kauz, Politik und Handel zwischen Ming und Timuriden: China, Iran und Zentralasien im Spätmittelalter, Iran–Turan 7, Wiesbaden, 2005.

Lin, Yih-Min. “Ali Ekber’in Hitayname: adlı eserinin çin kaynakları ile mukayese ve tenkidi,” Ph.D. diss., Ankara University, Taipei, 1967.

Idem, “A Comparative and Critical Study of Ali Akbar’s Khitāy-nāma with Reference to Chinese Sources (English summary),” Central Asiatic Journal 27, 1983, pp. 58-78.

Aly Mazahéri, La Route de la soie, Paris, 1983.

Matthaeus Norberg, Selecta opuscula academica, ed. Johannes Norrmann, Londini Gothorum, 1817-1819, pp. 71-144.

Charles Schefer, “Trois chapitres du Khitay Namèh: texte Persane et traduction Française,” in E. Leroux, ed., Mélanges Orientaux, Paris, 1883, pp. 31-84.

Z. V. Togan, “Ali Ekber'in,” in İA I, 1962, pp. 318-19.

J. Zenker, “Das chinesische Reich nach dem türkischen Khatainame,” ZDMG 15, 1861, pp. 785-805.


Originally Published: January 1, 2000

Last Updated: September 6, 2011