Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Update on the Turfan Card

Thierry Depaulis responded to my post on the Turfan Card with an article he wrote in 2004 for the bulletin L'As de Trèfle (n° 18, juil.-août 2004, pp. 4-6): La carte de Tourfan: la plus ancienne carte à jouer du monde?.

In addition to information on the professional relationships between Albert von Le Coq and Stewart Culin, and Le Coq and Thomas F. Carter (author of The Invention of Printing in China and its Spread Westward (New York, 1925 (2nd ed. 1955), which contains a discussion of the card with Carter's unexplained dating "about 1400" in chapter XIX), Depaulis' article provides further details on the fate of the card and another that was apparently found with it, as well as good reasons for not dating it earlier than 1500.

First, the card is lost.

Depaulis notes that the Polish Turkologue Edward Tryjarski tried to find the card in the early 1970s, and in a 1976 article says that he was informed by the Museum für Indische Kunst that it seemed to have been lost at the fall of Berlin in 1945.

Second, Le Coq found two cards.

Tryjarski noted that it was in New Delhi, and that Dr. Emel Esin (then teaching at Istanbul; Esin collaborated with Michael Dummett on the Mamluk cards) had promised to publish it. This has never appeared, and the card has not yet been published.

However, John Gosling informed Depaulis that Andrew Lo had described the card in his article "The Game of Leaves: An Inquiry into the Origin of Chinese Playing Cards" ( Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol. 63, Pt. 3, 2000, pp. 389-406). According to Lo's description the card shows a man holding a baby in his arms, which would make him a representation of the hero Zhu Tong in The Water Margin. He is found on the 8 of Tens of Myriads suit.

Finally, there is no reason to believe that the Turfan Card(s) were made before 1500.

Depaulis cites the article "The Late Ming Game of Ma Diao" by Andrew Low (same as Andrew Lo?) in The Playing Card, vol. XXIX, n° 3, Nov.-Dec. 2000, pp. 115-136. Low notes that the "Red Flower" card, known as "Zero (of) Sapeque" (Sapeque/Sapek being a cheap denomination of coin), was not yet present in the game of 38 cards described by the author Lu Rong (14365-1494) in his Shuyuan zaji. However, it is present in the description of the same game in 1600, by Pan Zhiheng in Yezipu (Manual of Playing Cards), but is now described with 40 cards. The two supplemental cards were Wang Ying (Zero Sapeque) and a Half Sapeque.

Low is clear that this Ming game described by Pan Zhiheng is the same as that described over a century earlier by Lu Rong, but with two supplemental cards.

Therefore the evidence suggests that this card dates at the earliest to sometime in the 16th century.

(with thanks to Thierry for his article and comments)

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