French-Language Liánhuánhuà

Beautiful boxed set of French-language Xī Yóu Jì

For some reason, Chinese comics have become quite popular in France. There is one publishing house, whose products I really enjoy, that has specialised in Chinese comics or in China-themed French comics. They're called Les Éditions Fei, and I have already mentioned them in an older blog entry.

Les Éditions Fei have been publishing Chinese-inspired but European-like comics for quite some time now, but now they are bringing a real novelty to the French comics market by collecting and translating liánhuánhuà (連環畫).

Liánhuánhuà are small, oblong comic books printed on cheap paper. The drawings are not hidden by speech bubbles because all the text is collected below the drawing, similarly to what happens in Dutch comics. I believe the heyday of liánhuánhuà was in the 70s and 80s.

The first liánhuánhuà translated and adapted by Les Éditions Fei was Au Bord de l'Eau (the Water Margin), which is not a surprise, as the picaresque adventures of the Mount Liáng outlaws are quite universal and don't need any particular exposition to Chinese culture to be enjoyed. At the time, I remember how impressed I had been by the choice of a prestigious edition. Each booklet (30 of them) had been printed on sturdy paper, and the booklets collected in a very tough cloth box with a magnetic fastener. The boxed set cost something like €80.

The second liánhuánhuà that has been brought to the French public was Les Trois Royaumes (Romance of the Three Kingdoms). Again 30 booklets within a cloth box. I didn't purchase this one , so I cannot comment further.

The third boxed set has just been released and, wow!, is it gorgeous. This time we have been granted access to le Voyage vers l'Ouest (the Journey to the West) in French. It's again 30 booklets within a cloth box; the boxed set also contains a booklet with the major gods and characters of the novel, and an absolutely fantastic full-colour map of all the (mostly imaginary) countries and locations that the monk Xuánzàng and his fellow travellers have to go through to reach India and retrieve the Buddhist Scripture. I suspect this boxed set will probably be the most successful one, owing to the popularity of Sūn Wùkōng aka the Monkey King. The boxed set is almost €90 but I just couldn't resist — just look at the picture above.

Look at the map!

Yesterday, by the most incredible chance, I serendipitously met the two translators of these liánhuánhuà in a Paris bookshop where they were presenting their latest opus. We spent like 30 minutes chatting and exchanging ideas and impressions about Chinese classical literature. They told me there were other liánhuánhuà in the pipe... The next one to be published is certainly going to be the Dream of the Red Chamber, maybe followed by the Plum in the Golden Vase (which should appeal to the Gallic appetite for risqué literature).

Wind On The Steppes Available For Pre-Order!

Wind on the Steppes, Alephtar Games' latest supplement is available for pre-order. Here's the publisher's blurb:

Be they Huns led by Attila, Turks, Kipchaks or the most feared of all – Genghis Khan’s Mongols, the nomads are surging from the depths of Central Asia! And they have just one goal in mind: raiding and pillaging everything in your campaign. So have your player characters get ready to face the fight of their life, for there is no escape route… unless they belong themselves to the horde.

Wind on the Steppes is a supplement for Basic Roleplaying describing the features common to all nomad tribes and the peculiarities of each nomad ethnicity or empire. Within it you will find inspiration for fleshing out powerful enemies for your fantasy or historical campaigns based on other Alephtar Games supplements. But its use is not limited to providing you with more detailed “bad guys”: Nomads can be fascinating player characters, too. The harsh life of the steppe and the unique flavour of their shamanistic approach to the supernatural world will give you plenty of great roleplaying opportunities.

This book requires the Basic Roleplaying core ruleset, available from Chaosium Inc.

Book + PDF bundle to be ordered at $29.90 from this page.


Jindai Moji (神代文字)

God Age Script
Literacy was brought to Japan in the form of the Chinese writing system from Three Kingdoms Korea between the 3rd and the 5th centuries, mostly through two channels:
1- Court scribes 'imported' from Baekje and Silla
2- Buddhism and its many sūtra commentaries

In the Kamakura (1185–1333) and Edo (1603-1868) periods, some Japanese scholars associated with the movement that wanted to separate Shintō from Buddhism, and chagrined at the idea of Japan owing its writing system to China and Korea, claimed that the Japanese already had a uniquely Japanese writing system before the introduction of the Chinese system. This putative writing system wasn't even human in origin, but had been gifted to the Japanese by no less than the Japanese gods!

These scholars claimed that the jindai moji had been created by the god Izanagi with his demiurgic naginata called the Amenonuhoko (天沼矛 "heavenly jewelled spear"), and that the divine script fell into disuse after Prince Shōtoku (聖徳太子, 572-622) replaced it with Chinese characters. However, the Yoshida (吉田) family was supposed to have secretly kept the knowledge from then on. This is why the existence of jindai moji came to be prominently accepted amongst Yoshida Shintō believers. (Yoshida Shintō was a brand of Neo-Confucian Shintō that arose during the late Muromachi period.)

The 'divine' writing system was variedly named as kamiyo no moji (script of the age of the gods), jindai moji (god age script), hifumi (after its first three syllables), etc. Several tablets, bamboo slips and secret scrolls were unearthed or produced as 'proof' of the existence of the script, but all were later analysed by professional linguists and revealed as forgeries.

Amongst the various legends and rumours associated with the ninja, one was that they used jindai moji as a secret script to carry undecipherable messages.

In your campaign game, you may obviously decide that the jindai moji is genuine and indeed of divine origin, and use it as a magical script for arcane and/or occult purposes.


Setting Your Game In The Ryūkyū Kingdom

The Ryūkyū Islands, which are today part of Japan, were a wealthy trading kingdom (the Ryūkyū Kingdom 琉球國) in the 16th century. The kingdom was nominally a tributary state of Míng Dynasty; however, following the Míng policy of ending sea voyages gradually put in place during the 15th century, and also due to the increased threat on maritime travel posed by the Wōkòu (倭寇), the Kingdom was de facto independent.

The archipelago has been united in the first half of the 15th century by Shàng Bāzhì (尚巴志), who is also the founder of the ruling Shàng Dynasty. The capital city is at Shuri (首里) on the largest island: Okinawa (沖縄).

The reign of Shàng Zhēn (尚眞, 1477–1526) is widely regarded as the golden age of the island kingdom.

Despite the presence of a ruling aristocratic class, the Ryūkyū Islands have an egalitarian society. In particular, no native Ryukyuan may ever be bound into slavery — all slaves on the islands have been bought from foreign traders, and are usually Chinese or Korean victims of coastal raids by the Wōkòu.

The upper nobility (who are the descendants of Chinese gentry families from Fújiàn who arrived in the 14th century) have Chinese-style names and are bilingual, Chinese and Ryukyuan; the rest of the population have local names and are monolingual. Ryukyuan is a language related to (but different from) Japanese.

The Ryukyuan religion is a mix of ancestor worship, nature worship (the Moon and the Sun), and shamanism. Due to Chinese and Japanese influence, Buddhism is making inroads; there are Japanese Buddhist missionaries from Kyōto on Okinawa, and they have built four temples.
Irrespective of the particular strand of religion, all celebrants are female; some of them are “druid”-like, some others more like Inner Asian shamans.
Spirits and magical creatures such as yāoguài (妖怪, see p112 of The Celestial Empire), dragons, guardian lions, and ghosts, are very present and of paramount importance in the local folklore.
There is also a big emphasis placed on the fabrication and the use of amulets, talismans, etc. Lóngmài (ley lines, see p85 of TCE) strongly influence Ryukyuan magical and religious practices.

The islands are covered with all manner of moist forest and other tropical and subtropical flora. There aren't any large predators; the only danger when travelling overland are venomous snakes.

Map of Okinawa