I went to Wulajie again earlier this week. A fellow school headmaster had arranged a trip there for his school so the students could learn about Manchu culture and spend part of the afternoon drawing. His school is an art school, and he said he chose Wulajie partly because he was inspired by my interest in Manchu language and culture, and also that it makes sense for kids to know more about Manchu culture since this area (Northeast China) used to be their country.
He filled up two tour busses and hired two tour guides, one for each bus. The tour guides talked about the usual things — Manchu people don’t eat dog meat, their chimneys run under their beds to provide a heated surface to sleep on, they are great archers, etc. Not much linguistic stuff outside of the fact that there is only a handful of mother-tongue speakers left.
Our first stop was the same government outpost that I mentioned in an earlier post, where I saw a strange word in Manchu script on an outside wall. The word is strange because it spells “kisi”, which is not in any Manchu dictionary that’s available to me. So what is this word?
When I saw the word the first time, the caretaker (who doubles as an antiques seller), said he didn’t know what it said, and that it was there for a long time. This time (it’s amazing how people change their stories for no apparent reason) I guess the excitement of having two tour busses full of people come to see his lonely little place (and interupting his Mahjong game!) was overwhelming enough that it gave him one of those “oh, yeah, now that you mention it” moments, and he said that the mayor of the village wrote it there a few years ago; it says “fortune” (in Chinese: 福, fú). No way, I told him. I looked it up and it wasn’t in any dictionary I looked in. He said that was what the mayor said it meant.
Let’s refresh our memory a little. The word on the side of the building is this:
Which I mentioned looks pretty much like it reads “kisi”, which in Manchu script looks like:
One commenter said it might be a transcription of a Chinese word, like “qishi”, but the middle part is definitely “s”.
In Manchu, “s” looks like , and the “sh” sound would be . Sometimes in initial position, the stroke to the left is connected, making a letter that looks like the first one on the building, but that would put two consonant sounds in a row, and Manchu words never start with two consonants.
Looking up the word 福 in the Anaku Manchu-Chinese (and sometimes Japanese) dictionary, we do in fact find a similar word in the output: “kesi”, which is given as 福分 (fúfen), which means the same thing as 福.
So there you have it. He spelled it wrong.
For comparison, here is the right way to spell it (kesi), followed by the wrong way (kisi):
This is certainly one of the (if not the) largest pieces of Manchu script in existence. It’s only one word. Four letters. And he spelled it wrong.
Instead of going into a big tirade about how this isn’t the only language I’ve seen prominently spelled wrong in China, I’ll leave you with some disappointing pictures. The place is in terrible disrepair. I’ll have to mention one bright note though. I heard a rumor that the government is going to put some money into Wulajie and clean the historical places up for tourism. They should; it’s a 600 year old town and was an important Qing outpost. Click on the pictures for larger images.