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The Verb in Tangut



* Paper presented at the 9-th seminar of the International association for Tibetan studies,
Leiden, 2000.


It is quite understandable that today those who work with the Tangut material, as a rule were trained as sinologists, since the bulk of sources on the Tanguts, which is readily available, represents Chinese-language material (in the first place Chinese dynastic histories). However, today it has become clear, that Tangut material in many cases has to be considered in the context of Tibet.

The Tangut state (982—1227) widely known by its Chinese name — Xi Xia — had its own, indigenous name for the state — The Great State of White and Lofty, which means The Great State of the Union of the Female and Male Principles ( = The Great State of Yab-Yum). Founded by people of mixed Tibetan and Turkic origin it was situated on the territory of present-day Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and parts of Gansu, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia (China). A Buddhist kingdom with the Tantric tradition being the most popular among ist population, it was an outstanding phenomenon in the history of Central Asia. Significantly, in 1038 the first Tangut emperor Yuan-hao (1032—1048) claimed to be the equal of the Chinese emperor. It was during his reign that an indigenous ideogrammatic script had been worked out. This script was estimated by its first explorers in the 20th century as the most complicated system of writing ever invented by a human mind (B. Laufer). It was the only state in the 11th century that undertook such a grandiose enterprise as translation and publication of the whole Buddhist Canon in its own script, and it was made in a record short time of fifty three years (cf. in China this process took a millennium).

The existence of such a state on Chinese borders was a ground-shaking event, since it manifestly violated the Far Eastern traditional notion according to which China was the center of civilization, whereas all other peoples were perceived as barbarians. And seemingly in this context the most irritating was the definition the Tanguts applied to their state — the State of the Center (cf. Zhongguo for China). This clearly shows that the Tanguts possessed their own world-view obviously different from the Chinese.

It goes without saying (mind their origin) that the Tanguts had a lot in common with the Tibetans. Obviously they have been following in the Tibetans’ steps while choosing the Tantric form of Buddhism and the process of translation of Buddhist texts was modeled after the Tibetans. It is interesting to note that they even had a female great teacher Meritorious Woman (second half of the 12th century), cf. the Tibetan great teacher Ma-gcig bslab-kyi s Gron-ma (1055—1149).

Regrettably, specialists in Tibet are not much interested in Tangut studies. May be they are hindered by the fact that Tangut language having a very complicated script is so far poorly studied. I hope that my paper devoted to the most important part of speech — the verb — will contribute to arising interest in Tangut studies...


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The Verb in Tangut

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