I find it interesting that mirror, kə33, is written thus in the Naxi Dongba script: week19.

For a start, it looks like a guy trapped in the sun. But it actually represents the reflection seen in a circular copper mirror, and the lines along the circle depict the shining, reflective nature of the mirror’s surface.

In contrast, the oracle bone character for the Chinese jian 监, observe from above, depicts a person looking into a bowl of water, to see their own relfection: jianoracle ; water being the most primitive form of mirror.

According to the oracle bone researcher Dong Zuobin, there is a pictographic Ruoka (‘若喀’, a branch of the Naxi ethnicity) character for mirror that looks something like this: mirror2.  Again, this is a copper mirror, and Dong proposes that the markings along the edge indicate that it is of a Tang dynasty style, and thus comes to the conclusion that these copper mirrors only reached the mountainous Naxi areas of Northwestern Yunnan by the Tang dynasty.

I’ve seen a lot of copper mirrors in museums around China, and they have never seemed particularly reflective; but I suppose that’s just due to age and a thick layer of copper oxide. Genuine antique copper mirrors are, naturally, extremely valuable, so they’re definitely something to look out for in Lijiang’s many antique and bric-a-brac shops.

This week’s character – alpine meadow

Things have been busy over at Naxi script recently, but hopefully I’ll be able to add lots more juicy goodies in the near future.

This week’s character, ko21, week16 has the privilege of being featured in the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh. The Botanic Garden uses the character to depict high alpine plants (bottom of the photo), although it literally means ‘alpine meadow’.

EdinBot 013

As a side note, I know that ‘hieroglyphs’ can refer to pictographs in general so its use here shouldn’t rile me quite as much as it does, but something about it still smacks of antiquated bourgeois attitudes to logographic writing.

Anyway, the display is part of their Chinese Hillside 中国坡  area, but unfortunately the Naxi script for this reads ‘Han hillside’, hapabuha33 pa21 bu21, which it really isn’t – although you can see how they got there.

This week’s character – red (and some weather lore)

Simple one this week, the colour red: week13 hy21. This can also mean ‘red mouth’ because it is a combination of the characters for mouth and a fire. Fire by itself  - fire- pronounced mi33, can also be read hy21, a simpler way of writing ‘red’.

The character brings to mind a really neat piece of Naxi weather lore which I stumbled upon the other day and is shared by people the world over:


pronunciation: k’v55 tɕi33 hy21 so21 mɯ33 t’v33

English word for word: dusk / cloud / red / dawn / sky / clear

translation: Red sky at dusk, clear sky in the morning


pronunciation: sp21 tɕi33 hy21 k’v55 mɯ33 dza33

English word for word: dawn / cloud / red / dusk / sky / fearsome

translation: Red sky at dawn, bad weather in the evening

In the UK this sentiment is sometimes expressed more lyrically as ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight; red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning’.

This week’s character – bracelet/to have

This week’s character is a biggie. week12ʥy33 is a phonetic loan character for the verb ‘have’, but its original meaning is ʥy21, bracelet (as the character depicts). Obviously this character crops up all over the place in the scriptures and other texts, so it’s a good one to remember.

Sample sentence:


ɳə21 / the33 ɣɰ33 / dɰ21 / ndze33 / ʥy33

I / book / one / measure word for book, volume / have

Translation: I have a book

This week’s character – rice/meal

Just like in mandarin, one of the first things most people learn to say in Naxi is ‘eat a meal’, and again just like in mandarin, the ‘meal’ is represented by the word for rice, which in Naxi is week11ha33. The Dongba script here depicts a bowl of rice.

Unlike mandarin however, the verb in Naxi generally comes at the end, so ‘eat a meal’ is  ha33 dzɪ33 eat.

Ashes in the wind

In a quick homage to the eruption of Mount Eyjafjallajökull (ayvah lowgh-k), and the subsequent travel disruption which has forced me to remain in Lijiang for the time being, when I had originally planned an all-too-rare visist home, I present the new character for the week:

week7 ɣɰ55 bɣ33 hər33 nɰ33 k’æ55, ‘ashes in the wind’ or ‘swirling ash’, composed of the characters for ash (ɣɰ55), and for wind (hər33).