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Selections from the Naxi Manuscript Collection: Annotated Catalog of Naxi Pictographic Manuscripts

The Library’s collection of 3,342 Naxi manuscripts is the largest collection outside of China and is unrivaled in quality, quantity, and variety among Naxi collections in Europe, the People’s Republic of China, and Taiwan. The Library’s collection contains many unique examples of the only living pictographic language in the world today. Naxi pictographs differ from Chinese characters in that they appear more like Egyptian or Mayan hieroglyphs, with many recognizable figures of animals and objects. Because of the uniqueness of the language, studying the manuscripts can be quite difficult for scholars.

Dr. Mi Chu Wiens, area specialist, Asian Division, was instrumental in seeing the collection through from start to finish. Professor Zhu Baotian, a noted Chinese anthropologist from the Yunnan Provincial Museum in China, was invited to work on a Naxi guide. Zhu had learned the language from the Naxi dongba, or priests, when he lived among the Naxi in the late 1950s, as well as at the Central Institute for Nationalities in Beijing.

Professor Zhu’s charge was to decipher, classify, analyze, and prepare an annotated catalog of the Library’s Naxi pictographic manuscripts. Between November 1998 and November 2001, his work was supported by a generous grant from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange. He said: "The manuscripts are a living fossil for the study of ancient culture."

Zhu divided the manuscripts into fifteen categories:

  1. NZA Sacrifices to Heaven
  2. NZB Sacrifices to the Highest Deity
  3. NZC Sacrifices to the Serpent King
  4. NZD Romance and Love-related Ceremonies
  5. NZE Sacrifices to the Deceased
  6. NZF Blocking Malicious Ghosts
  7. NZG Prayers for Longevity
  8. NZH Aspirations for Wisdom
  9. NZI Sacrifices to the God of Bravery and Victory
  10. NZJ Ancestral Worship
  11. NZK Casting out Evil Spirits
  12. NZL For a Better Reincarnation
  13. NZM Divination
  14. NZN Ghosts and Spirits
  15. NZO Naxi Pictographic Art

There are also 537 photostat images of manuscripts from the Virginia J. Harrison Collection in the NZP designation, which is also subdivided according to the abovementioned fifteen categories. The photostat edition of the Harrison Collection was acquired by the Library in 1935. Although the NZP section of the Annotated Catalog is included in this collection, no NZP manuscripts were digitized.

In his catalog, Professor Zhu includes a description of each manuscript, a transcription of the pictograph, the Naxi phonetic transcription and a Chinese translation, and, if available, the name of the dongba author and the date of the manuscript. The catalog, completed in November 2001, also provides details such as the size of the manuscript, the number of pages, and other physical features.

Caption Below

Professor Zhu Baotian

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