Naxi script diary entry

The only known Naxi pictographic script diary entry, the diary of Dongba priest He Huating 和华亭, is recorded in an unpublished manuscript by Yang Zhonghong 杨仲鸿, subsequently collected by Naxi scholar Guo Dalie 郭大烈. The diary was written in the third person, sometime between 1932 and 1936. I was given a photocopy of the text at the Naxi Dongba Culture Research Institute, and have typed it up in the Naxi script IME – what follows is an extract of the first entry, with line-by-line translations.

diary extract

Line 1

diary1Naxi: ho21 / hua21 / thi21*/ ɕi33 / y21**/ lu33 / tshe21 / tʂhua55 / khv33 / thɯ21 / khv33

English word for word: rib / silver pheasant / woodworking plane* / person / sheep** / four / ten / six / harvest (loan character for khv55, ‘year’) / drink (loan character for thɯ33, ‘that’) / harvest, (loan character for khv55, ‘year’)

* the three characters are used as a transliteration for the Chinese name He Huating 和华亭

** used together, ɕi33 y21 means ‘to be born’ in Naxi. The y21 is a loan character

Translation: In the 46th year of He Huating’s birth

Line 2

diary2Naxi: me33 / kuə55* / lo21 / po24 / sər33** / nɯ33 / ka33 / ʂu21 / tshɪ21

English word for word: female / scraper / black tiger / cymbal / wood / heart (auxiliary particle) / hire (Geba phonetic word) / axe (loan character for ʂu21, ‘look for’ / come

* both characters are loan characters for me33 kuə24, ‘America’, borrowing from Chinese pronunciation meiguo 美国

** three characters are used as a transliteration for lo21 po24 sər55, ‘Doctor Rock’ [Joseph Rock], borrowing the Chinese pronunciation Luo boshi 洛博士

Translation: The American Dr. Rock came looking to hire [him]

Line 3


Naxi: to33 / ba21* / the33 / ɣɰ33** / me33 / iə33 / o33***

English word for word: wooden plank / large neck* / flag / cow** / female (auxiliary particle) / tobacco / bone***

*both characters read together as loanwords for to33 ba21, ‘Dongba’

**both characters used together to mean the33 ɣɰ33, ‘book/scripture’

***both characters used together as loanwords to mean iə33 o55, ‘because’

Translation: because [he understands] Dongba scriptures

Line 4


Naxi: ŋi21 / kv33 / uə33* / gə21 / hər33 / la33 / lɰ21 / khɰ33** / ŋə21

English word for word: two / garlic / village* / high (used as the attributive particle, gə21) / wind / (Geba phonetic ‘la’) / cow flea / foot** / eye, loan word for ŋə21, ‘to want’

* three characters used together to represent the name of a village ŋi21 kv3333 – Chinese ni gu cun 尼古村

** four characters used together to mean a Dongba wind sacrifice ritual site

Translation: [He] wanted to go to the wind sacrifice site in Nigu village

Line 5


Naxi: ka55 / ʂu21 / tshɪ55 / iə21

English word for word: hire (Geba phonetic character) / axe (loan character for ʂu21, ‘look for’ / mountain goat, loanword for tshɪ21, ‘come’ / tobacco, (loanword for modal particle iə33)

Translation: [when he] came to hire him

Line 6


Naxi:55 / ua33 / tshe21 / tʂhua55 / ŋi33 / ŋv21 / lv33* / khɰ33 / pa33 / me33

English word for word: behind (Geba phonetic character) / five / ten / six / day / silver / stone pile* / foot (meaning extended to mean ‘below’ / frog, used as a loanword to mean pa33, ‘arrive’ / female (auxiliary particle)

* both words together used to mean ŋv21 lv33 ‘snow mountain’, in this case Jade Dragon snow mountain

Translation: 56 days later [I] arrived at the foot of the Jade Dragon mountain.

Complete translation:

In He Huating’s 46th year, the American Dr. Rock came to ask for his assistance, because he understands Dongba scriptures. He wanted to attend the wind sacrifice in Nigu village when Rock sought him out. He arrived at the foot of the Jade Dragon mountain 56 days later.


The diary entry contains 50 syllables, with 50 words. There are four geba characters and 46 pictographic Naxi Dongba characters. 13 of the pictographic Naxi characters are used for their original meaning, the remaining 33 (72%) are loan characters. Among the loan characters, 20 are of identical phonetic value and 13 have similar phonetic value.

As well as being an excellent example of practical usage of the script, this diary extract is interesting as a historical document in itself – we know that Joseph Rock (the Dr. Rock in the extract) researched the ethnic minorities and languages of the people of Northern Yunnan, as well as the area’s flora, on-and-off between 1922 and 1949, and that in Lijiang he was based in the village of Yuhu at the foot of the Jade Dragon mountain.

Yuhu village
Yuhu village

Rock’s research into the Dongba script was eventually compiled in his Nakhi-English encyclopedic dictionary, published after his death, the only Naxi dictionary that effectively links the script with the modern Naxi language and its Tibetan influences (it’s worth noting that the dictionaries written by FangGuoyu and Li Lincan treat the script as a relic used only in scriptures). He employed Dongba priests who lived in the region to help him translate and annotate scriptures and compile his dictionary, and from the extract we learn that this is what He Huating was asked to do (Rock sought him out “for reason of the scriptures”).

Rock's bedroom in Yuhu
Rock’s bedroom in Yuhu

Rock’s residence in Yuhu has been preserved as a very minor tourist attraction, and the ground floor of the house has a few displays of photographs and exhibits of everyday items that Rock once used, like his saddle and some guns. His (rather small) bed and a very rickety table have also been preserved on the first floor of the house (pictured above).

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