The Analects in Naxi

I recently picked up a neat little book called 常用东巴文字名言俗语欣赏, essentially a collection of “well-known sayings” in the Dongba script, which is interesting in that it includes quite a few famous Chinese phrases translated into Naxi. Usually, books like this just collect Naxi aphorisms, but at least this little book goes to show that you can translate just about anything into Naxi, with the slight problem that only a handful of people are ever going to be able to read it.
The book includes this gem from the Analects of Confucius:“君子成人之美,不乘人之恶” Which is, according to Simon Leys’ translation,“A gentleman brings out the good that is in people, he does not bring out the bad .”

In Naxi:



zo2121 ɕi33 ka33 tʂər55 sər33

ɕi33 tɕ’i33 dzo2133 be33

English word-for-word:

man / courageous / people / good / do / like

people / sell* / instance / not / do

*’selling somebody’ is a phrase in Naxi used to indicate generally treating someone badly

The Naxi, when translated, gives us:

“The courageous man takes pleasure in helping others; and refrains from doing them disfavour.”


The phrase is interesting in that here the Chinese ‘gentleman’, 君子,  is translated as zo dae zo21 dæ21, ‘courageous man’, with dae21 originally meaning general. Here the zo zo21 is a phonetic loan character used to mean ‘man’, with the original meaning of ‘jar’ or ‘pot’. While the ‘courageous man’ obviously originally means courageous (in battle) here it is used to mean noble of character.

Also note how the Naxi ka n ka33, ‘good’, borrows its form and pronunciation from the first letter of the Tibetan alphabet, ka ka.

Obviously some of the subtleties of the original meaning have been lost (i.e. bringing out someone’s innate virtues and moral qualities as opposed to treating others well), but I think the Naxi translation is serviceable enough, if not quite as poetic as the original. Note that of the 11 Naxi characters only 4 are phonetic loan characters, and indeed there are no ‘dropped’ or missing characters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>