The History of the Sino-Mongolian Inscription of 1348
Inscriptions have played an important part in the study of history – not only do they give us dates of important historical events, but they can also tell us more about the events themselves, how these events were meant to be seen and what they were, in fact, hiding.
The Sino-Mongolian inscription is “approximately 26 inches wide from incised margin to incised margin and 35 inches long from the upper incised margin to the bottom of the two lowest visible characters (min) in line 8 and (jan) in line 13. Since not more than two characters are missing in the rest of lines 8 and 13 respectively and since each character is approximately 1/2 inches in height with a space of approximately /2 inch between each character, we may add 4 inches to the 35 inches for a total of 39 inches. As the top of the first character of each line, not elevated honorifically, is approximately 32 inches from the upper incised margin, if we assume that the lower incised margin was approximately the same distance from the bottom of the last character of each full line, we may add 3/2 inches to the total of 39 inches for a grand total of approximately 42/2 inches as the distance from the upper incised margin of the stone to the lower incised margin”.
The stele is an important way of understanding the political and social factors in its erection and meaning. The Mongolian language is mostly intact, which helps as the reminder of the Chinese text which does not appear.
There are some discrepancies in the text which makes them of great interest. For example, the Mongolian text is dated 12 August 1348 but the Chinese version gives the date 6 July 1348, 37 days earlier than the Mongolian. A reason for this is that two lines of incomplete Mongolian were added later as an afterthought.
The Chinese text celebrates the restoration of the public office-building and utensils at Ying-li-chou. This is of great importance in our understanding of public offices as well as the region, as this area was a relatively obscure locality of the Yuan empire. “Its allusion to certain provincial, ceremonial practices on the occasions of the Imperial Birthday and the New Year contributes to our knowledge of festivals in Yuan times. Its exposition of the abuse inflicted upon the people by the imposition of levies to defray the cost of these practices and the measures taken to correct the abuse is not without interest for the study of the social history of the period”.
In addition to this, the date in Mongolian makes it of great importance for understanding the language itself. For example, the geographical name Iryai and the personal name Iamju are both linguistic and historical importance.
Inscriptions are long thought to record the events of historical importance – wars, victories, temple foundations etc – but inscriptions are much more than that. They trace the changes and evolution of names, places, dates and events.
Cleaves, Francis Woodman (1967) The Sino-Mongolian Inscription of 1348, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Harvard-Yenching Institute.