June 14, 2004 Rare Pictographic Chinese Writings Available in Online Presentation

Ceremonial Manuscripts Written in Naxi, the World's Only Living Pictographic Language

Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217

"Selections from the Naxi Manuscript Collection," a presentation of unique items from the Library of Congress' Asian Division, is now available on the Global Gateway Web site at http://international.loc.gov/intldl/naxihtml/.

"Selections from the Naxi Manuscript Collection" features ceremonial writings of the Naxi people of China's Yunnan Province. The Library's Naxi collection is the largest outside of China and is considered one of the finest in the world. The Naxi use a unique pictographic writing system that is similar to the ancient Egyptian and Mayan writing systems. It is the only living pictographic language in the world today. This online presentation features 185 manuscripts, a 39½ -foot funerary scroll and an annotated catalog of the entire collection.

The Naxi are one of 56 ethnic national minorities in China. Located in the remote mountain valleys of the Yunnan province in southwest China near the Tibetan and Burmese borders, the Naxi Kingdom flourished from the eighth century until 1724, when it came under direct Chinese rule. Today the Naxi population is estimated at 295,000.

Naxi pictographs differ from Chinese characters - appearing more like Egyptian or Mayan hieroglyphs, with many recognizable figures of animals and objects. Practicing Naxi priests, called dongbas, use a simplified pictographic system to produce manuscripts, which are used for standard ceremonies such as funerals and blessings. The dongbas create the manuscripts on coarse, handmade paper (usually in the form of booklets) and use them as prompts for religious rituals and shamanistic ceremonies. During the ceremonies, the edges of the books are burned so that the smoke transmits the message of the book to the heavens. When the priests die, the sacred books are buried with them in mountain caves and sometimes burned in funeral pyres, which accounts for the rarity of the Library's Naxi collection.

The 185 manuscripts included in this online presentation are a small sample of the 3,342 total items housed in the Asian Division. This is the first time that a large collection of Naxi manuscripts has been cataloged, selectively digitized and published on the Web. The Web site also includes a special presentation of essays detailing the acquisition and development of this manuscript collection. "Selections from the Naxi Manuscript Collection" will help to increase the understanding of this unique piece of human heritage.

The Library of Congress Global Gateway Web site of international collections and links to international Web sites is available at http://international.loc.gov/. "Selections from the Naxi Manuscript Collection" is under the link "Individual Digital Collections," which includes links to presentations of other international materials.


PR 04-119
ISSN 0731-3527