Two Encounters on the Riverbank

Two Encounters on the Riverbank

By Eric Schluessel

Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard University

Consider the Ili River. Along its southern banks, in what is now Cabcal Sibe Autonomous County in Xinjiang, the Sibe were resettled as garrison soldiers in 1764. One of the first things the settlers did was to tame the Ili River: they built a dam to control and harness its waters. The river was a critical resource for a the displaced peoples of the Ili Valley – not only Sibe, but also Taranchi Turks, Chahar Mongols, and exiled Chinese, among others.


Apart from its hydrological and geographical significance, a river is a point of transition. It is both a crossing and a highway, a barrier that provides the means of its own transgression. It seems only fitting that significant moments in encounter between Sibe and others in their valley played out on the banks of rivers. I present here two such moments: the first is “real,” a murder case recorded in the technical language of a palace memorial.  (I am aware of course that such a memorial presents adjudicated truth through narrative.) The second is “fiction,” a love story told in lyric verse. (Yet I wonder what kinds of emotional and social truths it speaks to.)


The memorial is found in Gongzhong dang: Guangxu chao zouzhe, vol. 5, pp. 274-275, dated Guangxu 16.4.26 (13 June 1890).  The poem is found in Giovanni Stary, Epengesänge der Sibe-Mandschuren (Asiatische Forschungen, Band 106), (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1988), pp. 149-153.


Encounter One: 4 September 1886

Ka-la-xi喀拉西, a soldier in the fourth company of the Sibe camp in Ili, set out in the early morning for the nearby city of Suiding. Like many bannermen in Ili, he was underemployed and often unpaid, and so he intended to find some temporary work as a manual laborer. When Ka-la-xi had walked about twenty li, he spied a Chinese trader driving an oxcart full of threshed wheat. The trader was a man named Zhang Guomei張幗美, born in Tianjin. (This detail suggests that he was a member of one of the Tianjin trading houses whose members established themselves in Xinjiang in the late Qing – Tianjin tea traders, for example, had a monopoly in the Ili-Tarbaghatai Circuit.)


Ka-la-xi kept his distance from Zhang and his cart, but followed them to the Ili River, where Zhang apparently intended to cross. There was no one around to see. When Zhang dismounted, Ka-la-xi struck, beating him about the head until he fell over dead. Ka-la-xi searched the body and found five silver taels’ worth of foreign money stuffed into the pockets. The bannerman tossed the merchant’s body into the Ili River, where it floated eastward, down the hills.


He turned the cart around, and then drove it to the house of another bannerman, Da-lian-ba-tu達連巴圖. Ka-la-xi told Da-lian-ba-tu that he was running behind schedule – could he do him a favor and go sell the grain on his behalf? Da-lian-ba-tu agreed. They unloaded the grain, and Ka-la-xi set off for Ningyuan. There, he sold the empty cart to a Turki woman named ʿĀdilah for fifteen taels.


Zhang’s relatives, however, lived in Ningyuan, and they recognized the cart. They quickly realized what had happened to Guomei, and so they reported the crime. Normally, a murder case involving a civilian (Zhang) and a soldier (Ka-la-xi) was to be investigated jointly by civil and military officials. Zhang’s relatives made their report to a special military official with a civilian function, Plenipotentiary Sub-Prefect 理事同知 Lian-en 連恩. When Ka-la-xi fled, Lian-en directed his capture.


Ka-la-xi’s deposition was taken by Sub-Prefect for Pacifying the People撫民同知Luo-en駱恩. Eventually, he confessed, but Lian-en was ordered to wait until the prefectures-and-counties system familiar from China proper was in place. Xinjiang was still in its transition to provincehood, and the soldiers of the Ili general posed special problems for civilian justice, which the first post-reconquest governors gradually imposed on the military population. For this and, doubtless, other reasons that remain obscure, the investigation did not even conclude until June 1890. Governor Liu memorialized the Court to approve a sentence of tattooing, followed by beheading.



Encounter Two: Lasihiyantu-i gucu “Song of Lasihiyantu”

Lasihiyantu morin-be dabkiyame jihe,

Kuli-i hanci ome morinci ebuhe;

Morin-be kangtaršabume hūwaitafi,

Ini beye hailani dalbade ergeme tehe.

[kuli < Eastern Turki (ET) köl]


Gūidarkū emu hūise sarganjui jihe,

Kuli-i baru gardame bihe,

Meiherengge menggun-i giyamnaha hunio,

Murušeme juwan ninggun se seme tulbihe.


Sarganjui banjihangge aimaka fusuri ilha,

Foyoro guilehe-i yasa irgašaha,

Lasihiyantu gaihari tere-i gebkeljerebe tuwafi,

Aifini beye senggeljeme angga gahūšaha.


Lasihiyantu elheken-i hanci latume genehe,

Angga neifi tere-i baru henduhe:

“Sini fiyoose-be emu mudan juwen gaifi,

Muke majige omiki sehe.”


Sarganjui emu fiyoose muke-be gaiha,

Tukiyeme Lasihiyantu-de alibuha;

Lasihiyantu muke-be omime wajifi,

Fiyoose-be bure erinde tede fonjiha:



“Nun sini gebube ai sembi?”

“Arke, mini gebube fonjifi ainambi?”

Sarganjui bederefi fonjire jakade,

Lasihiyantu heni majige cikiršeme manggašaha.

[nun < non; cikiršembi < cikiršambi]


Sarganjui gisurere siden emdubei niorume tuwambi,

Boboršome buyenin gūnin banjinaha;

Lasihiyantu-i weihuken haihūngga-be sabufi,

Aifini majige yerteme taran waliyabuha.


Lasihiyantu tere-i bedereme yabure-be nekulehe,

Fusu fasa sarganjui baru gisurehe:

“Bi oci goro baci jihengge ofi,

Takara niyalma akū umesi ališambihe.”


“Ishunde takara ba emken baiki sembi,

Sirame geneme jiderede ildungga ombi.”

Tere sarganjui emu mudan hirame tuwafi,

Cira-be dalifi hūlhame injembi.


Tere sarganjui hanci latunjifi fonjimbi,

“Sini gebube ai seme hūlambi?”

Lasihiyantu kafur seme jabuha:

“Mini gebube Lasihiyantu sembi.”


Lasihiyantu injeme fonjimbi,

“Nun, sini gemube ai sembi?”

Sarganjui nemeyen ijishūn-i jabuha:

“Mini gebube Gulimaha sembi.”

[Gulimaha < Gülbahār?]



Lasihiyantu siran dahūni fonjime henduhe:

“Sini boode ama eme gebu bio?” sehe,

Sarganjui anan hetun-i alame buhede,

Uttu oci “bi emu mudan takame gaici ombihe.”


Sarganjui emu mudan injefi yabuha,

Yabure siden dahūn dahūn-i tuwaha;

Ede Lasihiyantu gūnin gasihiyalabufi,

Ebuhū sabuhū morin-be kutulefi amala dahacaha.


Eici tese-i duka-be yaksihabi,

Lasihiyantu latume genefi duka-be toksimbi;

Sarganjui feksime jifi duka-be neihe,

Lasihiyantu-be sabufi fumur seme injembi.

[Stary has fumur < fumerembi “to mix up”. Possibly < 父母? Or onomatopoeia for laughter?]


Ekšeme Lasihiyantu-be okdome dosimbuha,

Gulimaha morin-be turade hūwaitaha;

Lasihiyantu boode dosifi salam seme,

Sakda ama eme-de elhebe fonjiha.


Hūise ama eme henduhe:

“Membe Nazir bure urse hūlame jihe,

Bala, si emu falan gisureme teki,

Tere bade generkū oci ojorkū,” sehe.

[nazir < ET nāzir “oversight; overseer,” or possibly naźir “dedication (to God)”; bala < ET bala “child”]


Lasihiyantu ciyandaze-be neihe,

Doro-i jaka-be meimeni alibume buhe;

Sakda ama eme umesi urgunjehe,

Gala-be sarifi nomon hūlame du wa buhe.

[ciyandaze < ET čändaza “money purse” < Ch. 錢袋子; du wa < Arabic duʿā “prayers”]



Gulimaha juru ungga-mbe fudefi duka-be yaksika,

Bedereme jifi cai feifume gajiha;

Guwecihe-i yali-be solome [< šolome] juwe niyalma jembi,

Sarganjui-i unenggi gūnin-i kundulerebe saha.


Yali jetere siden Lasihiyantu hirame tuwambi,

Ede sarganjui inu beliyendeme injembi;

Juwe niyalma hungkereme leolecerede,

Gūnin niyaman gisun-be ishunde hafumbuhabi.

Lasihiyantu came, his horse a-spurring,

Dismounting his horse by the lake;

Tying his horse and binding its reins,

He rested himself by an elm tree.


Not long after, a Muslim girl came,

Rushing down to the lake.

On her shoulder was a carved silver water bucket –

More or less sixteen sui, he reckoned.


The girl had grown up more or less like the cotton rose,

Her plum and apricot eyes gave him a wink.

Lasihiyantu suddenly seeing her glistening [as with dew]

Just stood there, cockscomb-straight, mouth agape.


Lasihiyantu gently inched his way nearer,

Opening his mouth, to her he said:

“May I borrow your ladle a moment,

So I might drink a little water?”


The girl got a ladle of water,

Raising it to give to Lasihiyantu;

When Lasihiyantu was done drinking,

Giving back the ladle, he asked:


“Little sister, what do they call you?”

“Oh! what are you doing asking my name?”

Asking him this, she pulled away,

So Lasihiyantu backed off, demurred.


The girl was moved profoundly at his words, watching him.

Desires and thoughts began to grow.

She saw that Lasihiyantu was easy and gentle,

And already, a little embarrassed, she perspired profusely.


Lasihiyantu jumped at her retreat

And, flustered, said to the girl:

“I am one come from a far-off place;

With no one who knows me, I was very sad.”


“I want to get to know someone,

Continually going and coming, well-acquainted.”

That girl looked askance at him a moment,

Concealed her face, and slyly laughed.


That girl drew near to him, asking,

“What’s your name?”

Lasihiyantu answered forthrightly,

“My name is Lasihiyantu.”


Lasihiyantu asked her, smiling,

“Little sister, what’s your name?”

The girl tenderly, submissively answered,

“My name is Gulimaha.”


Lasihiyantu then asked again, saying:

“What are the names of your father and mother?”

When the girl was done answering that,

Then [he said], “I’d like to get to know you better.”


The girl laughed for a moment,

And while she did, she kept looking at something;

Then Lasihiyantu remembered,

And in a rush he got his horse and led it following behind.


Now their gate was locked,

And Lasihiyantu, having come courting, knocked on the gate;

A girl came running and opened the gate,

Saw Lasihiyantu, and laughed, “Mom! Dad!”


Hastily, she greeted him and led him in.

Gulimaha tied the horse to a pole.

Lasihiyantu entered the house and said, “Salām!”

And inquired after the health of old mom and dad.


The Muslim mother and father said:

“People have come to call us ‘the ones who give oversight.’

Kid, stay a spell and chat.

You won’t have come here in vain.”


Lasihiyantu opened up his money purse,

And he presented each of them with a gift.

The old mom and dad rejoiced very much,

Raised their hands, recited the scripture, and gave prayers.


Gulimaha accompanied her elders and locked the door,

Returned, boiled tea, and brought it;

Roasting the pale meat, the two ate it,

And he learned to respect the girl’s honest intentions.


While eating the meat, Lasihiyantu espied,

That the girl laughed foolishly;

As the two of them poured and talked,

Mind and heart translated the words between them.

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