The Ancient Nakhi Kingdom of Southwest China. Joseph F. Rock


This book is a comprehensive report of the geography and history, usually closely linked, of the Naxi people and other populations of Northwest Yunnan; in it Joseph Rock make a summary of the highlights of his personal expeditions and his translations of Chinese classical texts related to the Naxi and neighboring peoples. In an style that, far for searching any literary brilliance, is focused in provide accurate information about peoples and lands seldom heard about out of their isolated lands, Rock can be considered a pioneer of the researches on the Naxi.

The first part is the introduction to this work, with two chapters; the first describes the territories between Kunming and Lijiang. It is an overview of the road that links these two cities and the places situated between them, with a short introduction to their geography and history according to Chinese annals, the time we fell under Chinese imperial control and the main historical records regarding to them. The second chapter is about the geography of Lijiang district.

The second part is the history of Lijiang district, a great part of it is a translation and explanation of the Mu family chronicles. What transcends in these chronicles is the war-like character of these kings, whose major contribution to the Chinese empire is the constant extension of their west frontier. Wars, attacks, murder of enemies, are the main facts to be remarked in each of the reigning kings. All this show that before the administrative changes introduced in 1723 (a de facto conquer of the Naxi Kingdom),  “although in the Yuan and Ming dynasties states and magistracies have been established and civil officials sent to rule the territory; the real power remained in the hands of the native chiefs; the imperial rule was nominal only” (p. 63).

Following the pattern established in this chapter, with the description of the history, settlements, religion and folkways of the Naxi people, and, when need, of their neighboring populations, is written the rest of the book. The first volume is closed with the third part, the Geography of Lijiang.

In the Second Volume there are three more parts, dealing with the area west and northwest of Lijiang, the Yongning Territory and Yanyuan district.
As one of the first systematic researchers on the region populated by the Naxi people, this account is full of information about places and peoples scarcely known to the western world before him. As if reading a new Book of Marvels, we know in every chapter of new ethnic groups, new landscapes, new localities and new folk ways of the peoples described.

The quality of the first-hand information Joseph Rock provides, has made this book the starting point of many new researches, even half a century after the publication of the book. The changes introduced in all this area after the 1949 revolution would make impossible to research on some other matters dealt in the book, leaving the scarce information provided by Rock as a mute witness of a knowledge lost forever.

“Another sect called Ha-pa, which dates back to Padmasambhava, also practices its witchcraft in Yung-ning. The Ha-pa priests have their own literature in manuscript form several centuries old. They make blood sacrifices, mainly offering sheep at their ceremonies, and, similarly to the Dto-mba of the Na-khi, erect peculiar tower-like structures, some of which are called Nya-ta, to avoid evil. These priests whom the Yung-ning people call Ha-pa are the genuine sorcerers of the Hsi-fan or Boa of Muli who call them Ts’a-mba” (p. 389).

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