Why No China?

Yesterday I wrote to Alexander Anichkin, who comments as Sashura, as follows:

As I was lying in bed unable to sleep last night, it occurred to me to wonder why China plays so insignificant a part in Russian literature. The only work I can think of that focuses on it is Tretyakov’s 1926 play «Рычи, Китай!» [Roar, China!], which I presume hasn’t been much read in the last few decades. Contrast with Japan, which while hardly central has been featured by authors from Goncharov to Pilnyak and Akunin — and yet it’s a tiny country farther away, while China is huge and right next door (and was a close Soviet ally for a decade)! Russian readers have been made familiar with towns as minor as Como and Baden over the years, but not a world city like Peking/Beijing. Any thoughts?

He said “It is curious, isn’t it?” adding “part of the explanation is the historical mix of fear and loathing, going back centuries and very strong in my generation, we grew up with a constant expectation of a big war with China, which nearly happened during the Damansky Island incident in 1969, […] the language barrier and the fact that China remained a closed country for a long period.” He turned up a master’s thesis at Petersburg University by Ван Ци (Wang Qi), Образ Китая в русской литературе первой половины ХIХ века [‘The Image of China in Russian Literature of the First Half of the XIX Century’], which is very useful in this context, discussing stories by Vladimir Odoyevsky and Osip Senkovsky (Sękowski) as well as Rafail Zotov’s 1840 novel Цын-Киу-Тонг, или Три добрые дела духа тьмы [Tsyn-Kiu-Tong, or Three good deeds of the spirit of darkness] (which Zotov presented as a translation of a Chinese novel), but that’s slim pickings, especially since Russia’s founding Sinologist Father Iakinf (Nikita Bichurin, 1777–1853), had spent many years in China, learned the language fluently, and done his best to spread awareness of the country — he was a friend of Pushkin, Odoevsky, and Krylov, among others, so it’s not as though he was an isolated figure, but his efforts had little effect on literature. Sashura mentioned Mikhail Shishkin’s 2010 novel Письмовник [The letter-writing manual, translated as The Light and the Dark], which has China during the Boxer Rebellion as part of its subject matter, and I am aware of Master Chen (Dmitry Kosyrev), who sometimes sets his fiction in China, but still… slim pickings. Thoughts?


  1. There’s a poem “Letters of the time of Ming Dynasty” (“Письма династии Минь”) by Brodsky, but that one is reduced to looking for small and surreal pieces like that just shows the paucity of examples.

    Yes, definitely strange. Especially in the light of the richness of cultural parallisms that are all the more rewarding given the spectacular difference and the lack of mutual influence between the cultures. Just imagine the fun one would have comparing the Russian intelligencia with the Chinese literati class – the self-conciousness, the sense of mission… One is tempted to think that the state of “foreign” and “mysterious” is hard to shed – once recognized as such, a culture is never looked at as a source of inspiration.

  2. Well, Western culture had the same “foreign” and “mysterious” baggage, but China was certainly not ignored — to take a couple of obvious examples, The Good Earth was a best-seller, won the Pulitzer Prize, and “was influential in Buck’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938,” and Malraux’s La condition humaine won the Prix Goncourt and has been a steady best-seller in translation (Man’s Fate). Not to mention the many movies set in China over the decades (mostly starring white actors in the early days, of course). As I said to Sashura, Americans were obsessed with China going back to the late 19th century because of missionary activity.

  3. One of my fav childhood stories was Obruchev’s “Золотоискатели в пустыне” (Gold diggers in the desert) which is rich on historic and ethnographic details of China’s Western frontier. But perhaps Russian readers’ conscience has been too preoccupied with Mongolia and Tibet and the legacy of the Belovodye myth, and that’s why China proper, or Muslim Central Asia for that matter, didn’t have as much space left?

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    An incidental point, but I would not have guessed right off that “Iakinf” was a Slavified version of “Hyacinth,” although once it’s pointed out it’s obvious, at least assuming some correspondence whereby the “rough breathing” in the Greek has gone missing during the transition. (I know Russian itself lacks an /h/ but sometimes they swap in some other initial consonant like a /g/ in loanwords, innit?)

  5. J.W. Brewer, I was going to point out the same thing. Russian has the doublet Гиацинт (the flower and mythological figure) / Иакинф (the Christian name).

  6. PlasticPaddy says

    Vozvrashenije by Natalia iosifovna Il’ina?

  7. European/British contact with China was at first through the Silk Route, Spice Islands; and then C19th conquests/trading posts; and the mania for Chinoiserie; the exotic Orient. (The language barrier didn’t seem to get in the way too bad.)

    Peter the Great was mad keen on anything French; you’d think that would include Chinoiserie. Fabergé used Chinese decorative techniques.

    Didn’t a branch of the Silk Route run through Central Asia/Caucuses under Russian influence if not actual territory?

    How did the Chinoiserie transition for U.S. contacts, which I think were more by going West(?)

    “China being a closed country” — does that mean during the C16th/18th, or after the Communist takeover? Either way, it doesn’t seem to have removed China from European consciousness. And you’d think the Communist allies would have cultural exchanges.

    So yes, explanation needed.

  8. David Marjanović says

    The rough breathing has been silent for a long time, since Late Antiquity or so.

  9. SFReader says

    Instead of Silk Route, 18-19th century Russia had great tea caravan route which started at the Great Chinese Wall and run through Mongolia, Siberia and European Russia.

    Very quickly, in a few generations really, the Chinese managed to get Russians addicted to their favorite drug – tea – which became Russian national drink and brought China enormous profits.

    Try to imagine Russia without tea and samovar.

    That’s the greatest impact of China on Russian culture.

  10. “Slavicized version of hyacinth”:
    It’s hijacint in Croatian

  11. Maybe it’s the influence of just having spent months reading Abulafia’s oceans book –


    – but could it be that the Russians didn’t ever seriously consider crossing the various overland “Great Walls” of geographic inconvenience and were instead obsessed primarily with getting to the Pacific by sail or rail and then trading with the East from there? (One of Abulafia’s overarching points is that overland trade routes played far less of a role in reality than they do in our imaginations). The amount of stuff you could pack into a ship once you got it to Canton or wherever must have made caravans etc. seem too small to even bother with.

    p.s. I can’t recommend the Abulafia book highly enough. The way he connects the dots between, for example, the Portuguese first contact with Canary Islanders and coastal Africa and the whole insane and tragic orgy of colonialism that quickly followed, is really impressive.

  12. PlasticPaddy says

    Re hyacinth the Romance reflex of the personal name would seem to be Jacinto/Jacinta. How did j arise? Is this from a spelling (h)Yacinto/a or was the name normalised by comparison with Jacob, John, etc.?

  13. David Marjanović says

    “Slavicized version of hyacinth”:

    Oh yeah, that’s not what it is. It’s specifically a borrowing by Orthodox Slavs straight from spoken Byzantine Greek. The Catholic world got Greek words only in Classical Latin transcriptions passed down from Classical times.

  14. Thanks, Steve!
    It’s about comparative cultural interinfluence but Hat’s question is narrower, about literature.
    the question is two-pronged: first, the presence of a body of exported, translated work of one literature in the literature of another, and second, the traceable influence of that other literature in the literature of another, importing, borrowing literature as subject matter, characters, styles and ideas. Here, I think, Hat is right, China is strikingly underrepresented, especially compared to Japan.
    As we see, apart from Iakinf, who was really an ethnographer, ‘China’ was taken as a set of images or disguised ‘Chinese’ characters who served as vehicles to express authors’ own ideas, that had little to do with China proper.
    The wider cultural influence is a connected, but different question. Tea, silk, gunpowder, china porcelain, Confucius and Sun Tzu, kungfu and maoism even, yes, it’s all there, but where is literature?
    Another thought, what may have been a serious factor was that Chinese in Russia were purged towards the end of 1930s as members of a ‘nationality foreign to the Soviet Union’ (лицa иностранных для СССР национальностей) and all but disappeared, while as in America, it seems, the Chinese carried on more or less unrepressed. And later on, of course, the great communist schism between Russia and China under Mao did it again.

  15. in America, it seems, the Chinese carried on more or less unrepressed.

    No,. the Chinese were very much repressed; they were brought here in the 19th century as cheap labor to build the railroads, then kicked out in 1882, and very few were allowed in for over 80 years (until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which inadvertently admitted a whole bunch of nonwhite people). We admired them as long as they stayed in China, but didn’t want them over here.

  16. cor! I didn’t know!
    A propos this, I looked up ‘yellow peril’, and – guess what? It was a Russian, Jacques Novikow who invented the term in 1897

  17. I had no idea!

  18. SFReader says

    From the Altai to Malaysian shores
    The leaders of Eastern isles
    Have gathered a host of regiments
    By China’s defeated walls.

    Countless as locusts
    And as ravenous,
    Shielded by an unearthly power
    The tribes move north.

    O Rus’! Forget your former glory:
    The two-headed eagle is ravaged,
    And your tattered banners passed
    Like toys among yellow children.

    ‘Pan Mongolism’, by Vladimir Soloviev (1894)

  19. Rodger C says

    The J in “Jacinto” was originally [ʒ]. I hope that helps.

  20. J.W. Brewer says

    Here’s some political rhetoric from a bygone era, viz. the “immigration policy” section of the 1876 Democratic platform on which the almost-successful Tilden/Hendricks ticket ran:

    “Reform is necessary to correct the omissions of a Republican Congress and the errors of our treaties and our diplomacy, which has stripped our fellow-citizens of foreign birth and kindred race, re-erasing [re-crossing] the Atlantic from the shield of American citizenship, and has exposed our brethren of the Pacific coast to the incursions of a race not sprung from the same great parent stock, and in fact now by law denied citizenship through naturalization as being unaccustomed to the traditions of a progressive civilization, one exercised in liberty under equal laws; and we denounce the policy which thus discards the liberty-loving German and tolerates the revival of the coolie-trade in Mongolian women for immoral purposes, and Mongolian men held to perform servile labor contracts, and demand such modification of the treaty with the Chinese Empire, or such legislation within constitutional limitations, as shall prevent further importation or immigration of the Mongolian race.”

    The GOP platform the same year tried to dodge the issue by saying only “It is the immediate duty of congress fully to investigate the effects of the immigration and importation of Mongolians on the moral and material interests of the country.”

  21. “Didn’t a branch of the Silk Route run through Central Asia/Caucuses under Russian influence if not actual territory?”

    I don’t think so – the Silk Road definitely ran through areas that ended up part of the Russian/Soviet empire – Khokand, Alma-Ata, Merv, Astrakhan. But they weren’t part of the empire at the time – the Russians didn’t conquer them until the 18th and 19th centuries, and by that time the Silk Road didn’t really exist any more. Silk was moving by long-haul ocean freight, because it was and is far easier and cheaper. The Silk Road doesn’t really outlast the Mongol Empire for very long, and of course Russian imperial expansion only happens once the Mongols have gone.

  22. @J.W. Brewer:

    in fact now by law denied citizenship through naturalization as being unaccustomed to the traditions of a progressive civilization, one exercised in liberty under equal laws;

    Talk about being immune to irony.

  23. David Eddyshaw says

    In Elizabeth Bear’s excellent parallel-19th-century steampunk novel Karen Memory, the splendid eponymous heroine disdains the Democratic Party precisely for its racism.

  24. J.W. Brewer says

    That novel must be set in a parallel 19th century where “Karen” was already extant as a female given name in America, rather than existing solely (in AmEng) as the name of an ethnic group in far-off Burmah that some daring missionaries were trying to evangelize. Or is the heroine an unassimilated Scandinavian immigrant with a not-very-Scandinavian-sounding surname?

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    Her family is supposed to be of Irish origin, IIRC. Well, it is parallel.

    Ah: looked it up. In her own words: “It’s Danish. From my mom. It means ‘pure’.”
    (Elizabeth Bear is quite careful about these things.)

  26. Trond Engen says

    It would seem more natural to explain it as “a Danish form of Catherine. From my mom.”

    I was going to say that Katharina does mean “pure” in the original Greek, but apparently not. The name wasn’t associated with katharos “purity” — and got its theta — before that concept came info vogue with christianity.

  27. David Marjanović says

    Two mysteries solved: how, other than American orthographic creativity, Karen happened, given the German form Karin /ˈkaːrɪn/; and why the modern Greek form is Katerina.

  28. David Eddyshaw says

    The ‘pure’ bit is somewhat pointed: she’s a prostitute. (Also sarky.) And it comes up in a context where people (one of whom is a Comanche) are specifically discussing the meanings of names.

  29. Interesting to hear that Karen is a Danish name too, I associate it mostly with Germany. In Sweden it’s not so common, only around 1,000 women are named Karen. In Denmark it’s more than 20,000, if my googling is correct.

  30. Bathrobe says

    Australian federation (1901), which brought the six colonies together (but eventually left out New Zealand), was partly motivated by fear of Chinese immigration. Anti-Chinese sentiment dates back at least to the gold rush, when Chinese competed with whites on the goldfields. Each colony undertook measures to restrict Chinese immigration, but a nationwide White Australia policy was one of the first policies of the new nation and only fully abandoned in 1973 — not too long after the passage of the US Immigration and Nationality Act.

  31. David Marjanović says

    Interesting to hear that Karen is a Danish name too, I associate it mostly with Germany.

    Karin, yes. Karen, not a single one that I’ve noticed. Same for Austria.

  32. Trond Engen says

    If Karen is Danish, then Karin is Swedish. The Norwegian form is Kari, which illustrates the Norwegian loss of final n also found in pronouns and definite articles.

    Kari is the protypical Norwegian female name. Ola og Kari Nordmann are the eponymous man and woman in the street.

  33. While Chinese immigration was repressed in the US until 1943 (but effectively until 1965), “Chinatowns“ continued to exist in major American cities for that whole period, partially functioning as tourist traps where one could visit staged opium dens and see other orientalizing nonsense, and provided pulp novelists with plenty of grist when they needed an exotic “dangerous” locale. (And let us not forget Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan). Up until the late 1930s Americans saw China as a lucrative market, both for commerce and Christianity, so there was a very high awareness of China in elite WASP circles. My Alma Mater founded the Yale Foreign Missionary Society in 1901 and Princeton and Harvard had similar endeavors. While actual Chinese were repressed in the USA, the presence of China in American popular culture during that period dwarfed the awareness of China in the USSR.

  34. Exactly.

  35. The Norwegian form is Kari, …

    I have a Norwegian cousin, definitely spelled Karin. (She’s always pronounced the n in my hearing — or is that a concession to being in an English-speaking environment?)

    It might be significant her mother is British, her father, though, is from Stavanger area.

  36. Trond Engen says

    No, sorry. Both Karin and Karen are common in Norway, but (glossing over some regional variation that I have never really looked into) Kari is the native form and protypically rural. You’ll find the Danish Karen in the genealogical records of a clerical or otherwise bourgouis family. Karin came with Swedish popular culture.

  37. Trond Engen says

    (glossing over some regional variation that I have never really looked into)

    Specifically, I’m not sure about the inherited Western form. I don’t think the name was very common historically in the western country.

  38. AJP Crown says

    I have a Norwegian cousin, definitely spelled Karin.

    Don’t worry, Ant. Karin is a perfectly normal Norwegian name. Half the county’s called Karin. The mother of Jens (former PM, head of NATO, famous in Norway) Stoltenberg was a Karin. And there’s the Norwegian ‘queen of crime’, the writer Karin Fossum. There’s no such thing as Norwegian names, any more than there are American names, except as a joke or in the sense of their derivation (as Trond means). The most common 2019 girl’s name in Norway, according to the link above, is Emma.

  39. John Cowan says

    So perhaps in some parallel world people speak of the Kari-dialect, the Karen-dialect, and the Karin-dialect of Modern Scandinavian? (Cf. Shtokavian, Chakavian, Kaikavian.)

  40. Kate Bunting says

    I know of two British-born Karens with Norwegian mothers; perhaps chosen because it’s an identifiably Scandinavian name, but not ‘foreign-sounding’ to English speakers.

  41. /the presence of China in American popular culture during that period dwarfed the awareness of China in the USSR./
    and it came back to the Soviet Union, partly, via American movies on videos and some such

  42. J.W. Brewer says

    Fortunately by my own childhood (and Vanya’s as well if he is reasonably close to my own age), the old-timey Orientalization has ended and the CBS Saturday morning cartoon lineup for fall 1972 featured animated Chinese-American kids being fully integrated into the mainstream of American Saturday-morning-cartoon life by getting both to solve mysteries a la the Scooby Doo gang *and* have their own vaguely-rock-oriented band a la Josie and the Pussycats. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amazing_Chan_and_the_Chan_Clan This was only two years after the death of the last member of my extended family who had served as a do-gooder Protestant missionary in China. (Great-great-aunt Regina, 1894-1970.)

  43. Trond Engen says

    I’ve used Egkavian and Jagkavian for the dialects defined by the ek/jak isogloss. Also Kakavian, Håkavian and Vakavian for the hv- isogloss. Nynorsk is Ekavian and Kakavian, the three other Standard languages are Jakavian and Vakavian, None is Håkavian, though there are a few Håkavian elements in Standard Swedish (notably hur “how”). But it would be informative with a set of terms based on the treatment of feminine definite articles: Enkavian (Karen), Ankavian (Karin) and Akavian (Kari). All classifications are incomplete, though, leaving out a number of minor kavians along the edges.

  44. John Cowan says

    I just finished Karen Memory; I like Huck Finn stories, even if her vocabulary is bigger (for very understandable reasons) than Huck’s. I look forward to re-reading it and to the sequel, Stone Mad, a title that I am predisposed to look on favorably thanks to Eamonn Kelly (who performed the one-man play I saw first) and Sean Murphy (who wrote the book I read second).

    I don’t know what’s with the Memory/Memery thing: both titles use the first and both texts the second. The first book is dedicated to Karen Memery Bruce, though.

  45. Elizabeth Bear is such fun, and enjoys language so much! and the Karen Memery books are delightfully pointed in their skewering of both general u.s. myths about the 19thC and the specific imperial/white nationalist nostalgias baked into a lot of steampunk fiction. Nisi Shawl’s Everfair is also lovely in similar ways (if much less of a Girls Own romp) – though i’m surprising myself by realizing that i don’t remember anything i thought about language while reading it (i musta thought something; it’s set in Leopold’s Congo colony, after all).

  46. Which kavian has jär for här? as in:

    Among the literary prizes awarded to him was the Finlandia Prize for Fiction for the poetry collection Jär (‘Here’) in 1989.

    Gösta Ågren

  47. It’s just occurred to me that I know a male Karen. I and some hundreds of million of other people. I am talking about Karen Shahnazarov. Apparently, Karen is a reasonably common Armenian name. And of course, Wikipedia has it all.

  48. Trond Engen says

    Jär for här would be a minor kavian of its own. I believe it’s fully contained within Ja(g)kavian, but crosses the border of Hå- and Vakavian.

    It’s specifically Northern Swedish, I think. Ostrobothnian Finland Swedish belong to Northern Swedish.

  49. “Ostrobothnian” is one of the best words ever.

  50. Ostrobothnia

    Pohjanmaa “bottomland’ in Finnish.

  51. David Eddyshaw says

    “Ostrobothniac” would be even better.

  52. SFReader says

    Pohjanmaa “bottomland’ in Finnish.

    Come on, everyone who’s read Kalevala knows that “Pohja” means north.

  53. Trond Engen says


    It’s of course awesome because it’s been latinized into the realm of Medieval Fantasy. The Swedish name Österbotten is simple and straightforward, and the English counterpart would be the equally unremarkable Easterbottom.

    Botten “bottom” is an old name for the Gulf of Bothnia. The same element botn is used in Norwegian for the inner end of a fjord (fjordbotn) or the upper end of a valley (dal(s)botn). Since there are uncountable valleys and fjords, there are also uncountable toponyms ending in -botn.

    In the ballads Trollebotn is a world far north where trolls live and heroes go to rescue princesses and/or be tricked into marrying ogres. The northern end of the Gulf of Bothnia is called Gandvik “Witchcraft Bay” in the sagas, so the later Trollebotn was quite likely identified with or even based on the gulf of Bothnia.

  54. Indeed, Easterbottom sounds so unremarkable (if pleasing) that I’m rather surprised that Google Books tells me:

    Your search – “Easterbottom” – did not match any book results.

  55. Trond Engen says

    Yes, I almost wrote “positively hobbitesque” but regrettably withdrew to “equally unremarkable”.

    SFR: Come on, everyone who’s read Kalevala knows that “Pohja” means north

    Finnish pohja “North” is etymologically “bottom”. If I remember correctly, “bottomwards” for “northwards” was originally a dialect usage from central Finland, possibly used by travelling traders making annual journeys to Pohjanmaa. But as we’ve seen, the idea of a “bottom” in the far north was common also among the Scandinavian neighbours.

  56. John Cowan says

    Such a book would probably be the subject of fundie book-burnings in the U.S.

  57. David Eddyshaw says

    You could claim it was translated from Kusaal: gbin, “buttock, bottom, foot (of tree, hill, etc); meaning.”

    “The Bottom of Easter.”

    I can see it now. A stirring story of intrepid missionary folk in West Africa. It’ll sell millions in the US. There’ll be crocodiles. The American Christian reading public can’t get enough of crocodiles.

  58. David Eddyshaw says

    In any case, it is surely illogical for a Fundamentalist to object to Bottoms.

  59. David Marjanović says

    There’ll be crocodiles. The American Christian reading public can’t get enough of crocodiles.

    Oh, that explains the crocoduck…

  60. John Cowan says

    Yes, it’s the association of Easter with bottom that will produce objections. Fundamentalists are crypto-Arians at heart.

  61. David Eddyshaw says

    I think you must mean crypto-Monophysites. Arians believe in the two Nates.

  62. John Cowan says

    I think you must mean crypto-Monophysites.

    You’re right, of course; I was thinking of the one who told me that Jesus could not have had nocturnal emissions because they are inherently sinful, which seemed to me like denying his humanity.]

    Arians believe in the two Nates.

    Nathan Detroit and Nathan Brazil, I suppose. It reminds me of the Jews who converted to Christianity to avoid persecution, until it was discovered that the Trinity they were praying to was God, Shabbetai Tzvi, and Jacob Frank. Frankism, which was frank Gnosticism by that time, lasted into the 19C if not longer.

    (Nathan Brazil is not God, no matter what he says. In fact, most of the time you can’t believe anything he says. He does have demiurgic powers. though only rarely.)

  63. David Marjanović says

    because they are inherently sinful

    So, the dreamless ones caused by lying in an uncomfortable position are due to original sin?

  64. January First-of-May says

    Not really about China as such, and not exactly the most famous Russian literature, but the Russian speakers (…well, readers) in the LH audience would probably enjoy Anna Korostelyova’s Цветы корицы, аромат сливы (Flowers of Cinnamon, Smell of Plum, aka Guihua meixiang, aka 桂花梅香 – a supposed Chinese idiom that might or might not have actually been invented by Anna herself).

  65. Shabbetai Tzvi was a piece of garbage. He took the coward’s way out and converted to Islam when the Sublime Porte had him pulled in as a threat. Hugely popular up to that point, his earnest followers dissipated almost immediately. Although he still tried to maintain that he was the messiah, and maintained ties to the Jewish community, after his apostasy he was rightly reviled as faker and conman by the overwhelming majority of Jews.

  66. David Marjanović says

    The choice was between conversion to Islam or being impaled.

    I’ve always been proud to be a confessing coward.

  67. I would convert rather than be executed too, but I’m not claiming to be God’s anointed one.

  68. SFReader says

    13 (14). And when they meet those who believe, they say: “We believe!” And when they stay with their shaitans, they say:” We are with you, we are only mocking.”

    14 (15). Allah shall mock them and strengthen their delusion in which they roam blindly!

    15 (16). These are the ones who bought error in exchange for the right path. Their trade was not profitable, and they were not on the right track!

  69. Looking at the 20th century, consider the output of Russian émigré writers based in Harbin and Shanghai. Although not very well known in Russia, it is a considerable body of work. For example, German Kochurov punished Ли Чжоу, a “novel from Chinese life,” in 1939, and another one, The Last Chinese [Woman] (Последняя китаянка), in 1941 in Shanghai.

    Also, don’t forget Vassily Alexeyev’s translations from Pu Songling. There is nothing like them in Russian lit. It’s also worth mentioning Viktor Pelevin’s СССР Тайшоу Чжуань as well as some of his other fiction populated by foxes and werewolves, drawing on Pu’s magical worlds in Alexeyev’s translation.

  70. Although not very well known in Russia

    Or anywhere else — thanks for that, I knew nothing about them!

  71. My private teacher of English in mid-80s in Ufa was Mikhail Lorens, who had spent his childhood in China in 1930-40s, his parents being part of Russian community in China – you know the history of the Trans-Manchurian Railway. His family was repatriated in the USSR in 1945 and settled in Ufa. He wrote a dozen of short stories inspired by his childhood in China (in English) for English teaching purpose. I find them very charming. He was bilingual as he had studied in an American catholic school. Your post made me realize that in his stories the Chinese were almost absent.

  72. Very interesting!

  73. SFReader says

    I wondered what kind of Russian surname was Lorens and in the genealogical index of Russians in China (1926-46) discovered someone called William Georgievich Lorens.

    Perhaps Mikhail Lorens was actually Michael Lawrence and that’s why he was fluent in English.

  74. I’m afraid this pop song and video full of stereotypes may well be the most popular Russian literary engagement with China (plus Indochina?). I remember it being played on the radio in the 90s.

  75. Bathrobe says

    When I was first studying Japanese in 1972, I had an old teacher called Mr Telesnitsky. He had a strong Russian accent and taught us kanji. Apparently he was a refugee from the White Russian community in China. (By White Russian, I assume he came from that line of people who didn’t follow the Bolsheviks.) But I never did know much about his background and I guess I’ll never find out now.

    He did leave behind a book, ‘Kanji no seisei to bunseki = Analysis of Chinese-Japanese characters / compiled by N. Telesnitsky’, which can be found listed here: https://trove.nla.gov.au/people/634296?c=people

  76. PlasticPaddy says
  77. Apparently also spelled Telesznica; odd that none of the Wikipedia articles I’ve looked at explains the name.

  78. Twenty years ago I was introduced to a rather old lady who had grown up in Harbin and graduated from a Russian gymnasium there in the 1920s (if I’m not mistaken). Her gymnasium upbringing gave her a perfect posture – her way of sitting straight and proper, even in her nineties, was inimitable. Her father was an engineer with the Chinese Eastern Railroad. At some point during the 1930s, she decided to return to the USSR – the only one from her family (her sisters moved out to the West). Luckily, she was not imprisoned or exiled and lived to see the end of Communist rule. She died in Israel at the age of 100.

  79. Man, there are so many amazing stories out there…

  80. amazing story! Can we have more details?

  81. @Sashura: There’s not much I can add at this point (except note she quit smoking at 80) – the lady was a friend of my wife’s grandmother and her sisters, all of whom have passed away.

  82. PlasticPaddy says

    @hat 10 July
    cielę = “calf” is used in Polish place names. There is even a Cieleśnica. The East Slavic reflex is with initial t. So I would go for an East Slavic (Rusyn or Russian) origin for the name Telesnica.

  83. One less thing to worry about — thanks!

  84. @Bathrobe (By White Russian, I assume he came from that line of people who didn’t follow the Bolsheviks.)

    I think more likely he (or his family) came from Byelorus — i.e. White Russia squashed between Russian Russia and Poland — which would explain his Polishesque moniker. Was it a Russian accent he had, or a White-Russian?

    (I remember when scanning the ‘A’ Level exam schedule, and having just covered WWI and the October Revolution/early 1920’s in History, seeing ‘White Russian orals’ as an exam, and wondering why the counter-revolutionaries had a special language. Oh, the uselessness of the exam syllabus!)

  85. SFReader says

    Googling Telesnitsky, discovered this fascinating character straight from O’Brian novels.

    Stepan Mikhailovich Telesnitsky (before 1770 – after 1821) – captain of the 1st rank, Order of St.George; state councilor and freemason.

    In 1773 he entered the Naval Cadet Corps. He was promoted to midshipman on January 1, 1782. In 1782-1784 on the ship “David Solunsky” he sailed from Kronstadt to Livorno and back as part of a squadron under the command of Vice-Admiral V. Ya. Chichagov; On May 1, 1784 he was promoted to warrant officer. Until 1788 he served in the Baltic Sea; On January 1, 1787 he was promoted to lieutenant.

    During the Russian-Turkish war in 1788, Telesnitsky, under the guise of a merchant, was sent to Italy for reconnaissance and secret mapping of Messina, Syracuse and other cities. After that, he was sent to the island of Malta. Here he recruited a team of 165 people into the Russian service, armed privateer frigate “Labondanz”, sailed to the Syracuse, and from there to the Ionian Islands, where he began to attack Turkish ships. In May 1789, near the island of Sifanto (Sifnos) “Labondanz” was discovered by a squadron of 14 (according to other sources – 16) Turkish ships. An unequal battle lasted for more than three hours, and after the threat to blow up the ship, Telesnitsky managed to escape from the enemy. Was awarded the Order of St. George, 4th class. In 1790, Telesnitsky repeatedly carried out secret orders from the command, which consisted in the delivery, disembarkation and return of scouts, topographic surveys, depth measurements in areas convenient for landing troops, drawing up plans for fortifications, etc. For this purpose, he bypassed the island of Corfu and the coastline of Morea , shuttled between Livorno and the Levant. In 1791-1792, he commanded another ship of the same kind, a 40-gun frigate “Lafam”. In 1793 he “returned by land from Livorono to St. Petersburg”.

    On February 2, 1794, he was promoted to lieutenant commander and transferred to Kherson.

    In 1798-1800 he served as a historiographer of the fleet in the Mediterranean campaign of Vice-Admiral Ushakov.

    In 1801, Telesnitsky was appointed captain of the Odessa port. It was at this time that the Harbor Development Commission in Odessa, under the leadership of military engineer E. Kh. Foerster, was expanding the port. He was a member of the Odessa Construction Committee. Telesnitsky’s activity was marked by the conferment of the rank of captain of the 2nd rank on January 15, 1803, and on November 26, 1804, he received the Order of St. George of the 4th class, officially “for 18 naval campaigns”.

    In 1807 he took part in the 2nd Archipelago Expedition and on May 28, 1808 he was promoted to captain of the 1st rank.

    Telesnitsky was dismissed from military service on March 1, 1810 and was renamed the rank of state councilor.

    In the house of S.M. Telesnitsky on Catherine Square, the first meetings of the Odessa Masonic Lodge “Pont Evksinsky”, formed at the end of November 1817, were held.

  86. Fascinating, thanks for digging that up! And of course we all remember Anna Pavlovna’s outrage in the opening scene of War and Peace: “Англия с своим коммерческим духом не поймет и не может понять всю высоту души императора Александра. Она отказалась очистить Мальту.” [England with its commercial spirit does not understand, and cannot understand, the full loftiness of Emperor Alexander’s soul. It has refused to vacate Malta.]

  87. Hey SFReader,

    If you see this, could you send me an email at Nate.tellis@gmail.com?

    I think it is possible that this Telesnitsky is one of my ancestors (the Telesnitsky family, St Petersburg. They were civil servants with a military history) but I could not track down the source you found that article in.



  88. It’s translation of this Russian Wiki article (lists sources below)

  89. Andrej Bjelaković says


    That quote reminded me of a line from a 1849 Serbian newspaper:

    Англиїя у цѣлой овой европской драми игра ролу само єдногъ доброгъ трговца и шпекуланта.


  90. Tsar Ivan the Terrible to Queen Elizabeth I, letter dated October 24, 1570:

    And wee had thought that you had been ruler over your lande and had sought honor to your self and profitt to your countrie, and therefore wee did pretend those weightie affaires betweene you and vs; But now wee perceive that there be other men that doe rule, and not men but bowers and merchaunts the which seeke not the wealth and honour of our maiesties, but they seeke there own profit of marchauntdize: and you flowe in your maydenlie estate like a maide.

  91. and you flowe in your maydenlie estate like a maide.

    What a great line!

  92. PlasticPaddy says

    She declined his marriage proposal. Hell hath no fury like a megalomaniac scorned????

  93. The history of the world could have been very different with an Anglo-Russian Condominium…

  94. Here’s a recent article about this mooted 1560s-1570s marriage proposal (also a proposal to Elizabeth’s relative Lady Mary Hastings in the 1580s). It seems more like they were offering one another refuge, should one of them be exiled. What I can’t understand – it’s not discussed anywhere – is where the two monarchs might live as a married couple; surely for either of them ruling from a great distance across fairly hostile territory would have been a stumbling block. I can’t imagine Elizabeth ever saw enough advantages to think seriously about marrying him.

  95. I think the Netherlands would have been a nice convenient location. They could have invaded it together and set up housekeeping.

  96. Marriage to Lady Mary Hastings would have made Ivan the Terrible potential Yorkist claimant.

    This alternate theory of succession relies on illegitimacy of Edward IV. So when his father, Richard of York was killed in battle in 1460, his claim to English throne was transferred to his third son George, duke of Clarence (first son Edward IV – illegitimate, second son earl Edmund executed after battle) and his descendants.

    1. George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence
    2. Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury
    3. Henry Pole, 1st Baron Montagu
    4. Catherine Hastings
    5. Mary, Tsarina of Russia

  97. @AJP Crown: Elizabeth’s sister Mary was married to Philip II of Spain, and they lived together in England for about a year. However, this was before Charles V’s abdications, and during the later period of their marriage, when Phillip was King of Spain, Lord of the Netherlands, etc., he only dropped in to visit his wife occasionally, crossing the channel from the Low Countries when his campaigns against France were in abeyance. Mary showed no interest is leaving her realm to be with her husband; they were not romantically attached, and her main goal with the marriage was to ensure a Catholic heir to her throne.

  98. Brett, I know all that and I decided it’s why Language suggested annexing the Netherlands as a newly weds’ staging post. I suppose it preempts the Thirty Years’ War or at least the most Western part of it fifty years later. I wonder if John Cowan’s alternative history group has thrashed this out (I don’t know how it works). I’m thinking it’s a hell of a lot easier to get to England or Spain by sea from the Netherlands than to Moscow overland or via the Baltic, though a war in the 1570s might have for example ruined the Hanseatic League as a trading group nearly a century earlier than it did. It would be fun to put all these events or variables in a computer program and see what happens… I guess that’s what Peter Turchin is supposedly doing to some extent with cliodynamics. I only know it from the Guardian; I have no idea how credible it is.

  99. Ivan the Terrible potential Yorkist claimant
    Did anyone care about that by the late 16C? I thought Henry 8 ironed out all that Wars of the Roses crap, him and Shakespeare, and moved on to a couple of centuries of RCs v. Prods, but I admit I’m no expert.

  100. David Eddyshaw says

    Ivan Of York Gained Battles In Vain.

  101. For obvious reasons, Elizabethan succession was not assured, that’s why Shakespeare was so interested in the War of the Roses.

    Anybody with half a claim had a chance.

    It came very close to the War of English Succession after her death.

    In this reality, it would be fought between Scotland and Russia. 😉

  102. John of York, surely.

    No 30YW in Ill Bethisad > no Scanian Wars > Eastern Denmark (Skaane, Halland, Bleking) and Eastern Norway (Jemtland, Herjådalen) do not become Swedish > no absolute monarchy > the Second Union of Kalmar under the House of Oldenborg > Napoleon[*] dies at home in 1821 > no Bernadotte monarchy > Det Skandinaviske Riksfællegsskap, a federal union including states from Nýja Ísland in the middle of the New World (Manitoba) to Tsingdav at the eastern edge of the Old, plus southward to Gadangmeland (Akkra and hinterland) and Gebaland in West Africa. The SR sits out the First Great War and most of the Second until Oldenborg-qua-SR-member is forced to declare war on Oldenburg-qua-HRE-member, leading to the rapid defeat of the HRE and its re-federalization.

    The Hansa still exists, though split into a western part (Hamburg, Bremen, and Dutch cities down to Amsterdam, perhaps further) which retains the ancient name and is still a league of cities, and the eastern part, the Baltic League, which is now a regional organization of countries: the Republic of the Two Crowns (Veneda-Lithuania-Galicia), the Free City of Danzig, the Principality of Skuodia (a thin layer of Slavs between Latvia and Lithuania), the Kingdom of Latvia, the Kingdom of Estonia, Nassland (populated by partly Finnicized Slavs), Finland, Sweden, Slesvig-Holsteen, the City of Lybæk, the State of Mecklenburg, the Principality of Rygen, and the Duchy of Preymeren. In addition, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Republic of Petrograd and Novgorod (a member of the Russian Federation) are associated members and candidates for full membership. Low German continues to be the official language used on the business of both leagues.

    [*] Emperor of the French, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain and the Italies, elective King of the Republic of the Two Crowns, Co-Prince of Andorra, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, the Tallest Short Man in European History. His lineal descendant retains only his Andorran title.

  103. Thanks, John. It took me quite a long time to work my way through that.

    I thought Henry 8 ironed out all that Wars of the Roses crap
    I meant Henry 7.

    Elizabethan succession was not assured, that’s why Shakespeare was so interested in the War of the Roses.
    It didn’t have much to do with the Wars of the Roses.

    Anybody with half a claim had a chance
    Of having their head chopped off.

    the Tallest Short Man in European History
    The shortest tall men may be Hitler, Churchill, Lenin & Stalin who weren’t much taller than Nap. (all five six-ish). General De Gaulle, on the other hand: tallest tall man? Six five (195 cm). Nearly all US presidents have been tallish. George Washington was six two. Perhaps it’s why his parents named him after a bridge.

  104. The Phantom Tollbooth features the tallest dwarf, the shortest giant, the fattest thin man, and the thinnest fat man. Which one you meet depends on which side of his house you go to.

  105. David Marjanović says

    195 cm

    Français, Françai !!! zeuh.
    Vous êtes dans la mère !!! deux.
    Jus- – -qu’au – bout !!!
    Mais comme je suis plus haut !!! que vous ;
    je suis dedans
    jusqu’aux genoux !!!

    – Widespread joke (Paris, 1950s) about what a de Gaulle speech is like.

  106. One of the exhibits at Blenheim Palace is a pinkish-purplish jumpsuit in some kind of velour fabric that Churchill liked to wear when lounging around. It’s on a stand so you can see he was a short little fellow. I remember thinking that Churchill must have had quite the powerful character to get away with wearing such a thing when his ministers came a-calling.

  107. Lars Mathiesen says

    I thought corduroy as a fashion statement was dead, but last week I saw a young woman in pinkish-purplish corduroy coveralls. (The colour was quite striking but I noticed the fabric because it had been up here). She wasn’t particularly tall, but Churchill probably needed a larger waist measurement.

  108. David Marjanović says

    Emperor of the French, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain and the Italies

    At this point, having reassembled the Western Roman Empire and then some (except for Britain), and being descended more from Roman citizens than from invading barbarians, he could cut the accumulated crud of 1350 years and just call himself empereur tout court.

    Pun not intended, believe me or don’t.

    The only question is whether he’d accept the theory of the Third Rome or recognize the Keysar-i Rum as the Eastern Roman Emperor. I think he’d go with the latter, except for that adventure in Egypt…

  109. Lars Mathiesen says

    not intended — but a good one.

    Is that descent suppositional? There can’t be many verified bloodlines between the fall of Rome and the first patents of nobility.

  110. Churchill must have had quite the powerful character to get away with wearing such a thing

    There’s a story (being Churchill probably apocryphal) that when Eisenhower was first ushered into the presence, Winston was just coming out of his bath, clad only in a towel, which of course snagged on the furniture and came undone.

    ‘You see, General, we keep nothing from our Allies.’

  111. Do I correctly remember an American TV film of some years ago, at a moment when we were even more than usually annoyed with France, in which de Gaulle is played by an actor conspicuously shorter than Tom Selleck (?) as Eisenhower?

  112. Ike: Countdown to D-Day. I don’t know how tall George Shevtsov is.

  113. Churchill is an amateur compared to

    In his personal appearance he was so theatrical that one could only compare him with Nero. A lady who had tea with his second wife reported that he appeared at this tea in a sort of Roman toga and sandals studded with jewels, his fingers bedecked with innumerable jewelled rings and generally covered with ornaments, his face painted and his lips rouged.

    Defendant Hjalmar Schacht describing Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg trial, Friday, 3 May 1946.

  114. De Gaulle’s uncle Charles De Gaulle was a Celtic poet.

  115. “He is also known as Charlez Vro-C’hall” — then that’s how I shall think of him.

  116. I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce Vro-C’hall. It looks more like ‘Churchill’ than ‘de Gaulle’.

  117. PlasticPaddy says

    Bro = country (genitive or lenited to Vro)
    C’hall = Gaul or France
    So De Gaulle = Vro C’hall
    This is a typical example of a language enthusiast mutilating his “foreign” name. Probably some Bretons were given arbitrary surnames by French or church authorities. There therefore might not be any real “native” equivalent.

  118. I learned that De Gaulle surname is of Dutch origin. It’s actually https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Van_de_Walle

    So, Dutch surname got Frenchified and then Bretonized.

  119. David Marjanović says

    Is that descent suppositional? There can’t be many verified bloodlines between the fall of Rome and the first patents of nobility.

    I’m making it up on the basis that Corsica wasn’t overrun by a lot of Vandals. But I just learned that 1) in the direct male line at least, the family didn’t live in Corsica before Francesco “Moro” Bonaparte at the end of the 15th century; 2) their Y haplogroup is E and must come from the Middle East (explaining “Moro”…?) or the Caucasus.

    I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce Vro-C’hall.

    c’h is like Scottish or German ch. Simply spelling it ch isn’t an option because that means the same as in French.

    I recommend the whole article on him, BTW; he was born in the northern tip of France, right next to West Flanders, so “van der Walle” checks out.

  120. I propose spelling it Wrochał.

  121. David Marjanović says


  122. I thought you all would like the only nonmilitary de Gaulle! Illness provided him with the excuse, if such it was. Thanks, Paddy & David on the pronunciation.

  123. “van der Walle” checks out
    There used to be a racing-car company Vanwall, started by Mr Vandervell son of CA Vandervell who made diesel fuel injectors. Wiki says the Vanwall name is a combo, he also owned Thin-Wall bearings, but I’ve always wondered. (Filed under: Things No One Else is Wondering About.)

  124. And then there’s Johannes Diderik van der Waals, he of the molecular forces.

  125. @Rodger C: Van der Waals proposed the existence of (attractive at long distances) intermolecular forces as the basis for one of the terms in his equation of state. However, the specific form, with the force F ~ 1/r⁷ came later and was discovered by Fritz London.

  126. just call himself empereur tout court

    Awesome indeed!

    The only question is whether he’d accept the theory of the Third Rome or recognize the Keysar-i-Rum as the Eastern Roman Emperor.

    Possibly, but if so, only in his own head: I think he was more interested in being Charlemagne’s heir than Constantine XI Palaiologos’s. Russia’s history basically doesn’t diverge much before 1914, except that the minorities are better developed economically (and, as it turns out later, politically). The big point of divergence is that the White generals win the Civil War and remain in power, first de facto in the name of the underage czar Alexei, later as the White Council of the Союз Народного Обновления Россий, the SNOR. (Later on, NoMoreEagleZ, who got their name from the anti-Snorist movement, had a big hit with “Back in the S.N.O.R”.)

    The Council was ardently Russian nationalist, but by no means fascist. Unfortunately, when Iosif Vissarionov replaced Admiral Kolchak in the White Council (1937-58), things got paranoid, and after him, corrupt. Eventually both economic and ideological collapse caught up, and the SNOR was overthrown and banned, leading to free elections in 1991 and the formation of a genuine, if not especially stable, federation (eight of the members are mostly Russian): weak center, very diverse membership. Map.

  127. David Marjanović says

    I mean he could be the successor of Julius Nepos.

  128. January First-of-May says

    I mean he could be the successor of Julius Nepos.

    As far as I understand, Julius Nepos didn’t rule over much more than what ultimately became the Papal States. Not a very good target of succession.
    (What happened to Papal States over there, anyway? I don’t recall offhand.)

    In any case, the Western and Eastern claims would surely have reunified when Byzantium recaptured Rome and Ravenna in the Gothic War.

    (As far as genealogical claims are concerned, the transition between 4th/5th and 6th/7th century European genealogies is notoriously murky – to the extent that, as far as I’m aware, not even a single line of generally accepted descent through that transition is known to exist.)


    …I wonder what happened to the Yeniseians. I think most of their territory would end up in the United States of Siberia, where they (if somehow still extant by that point) would have been marginalized by the Russians in Novosibirsk?

  129. (What happened to Papal States over there, anyway? I don’t recall offhand.)

    Italy declared war on Pope in September 1870 and Italian army invaded Papal states.

    Pope didn’t have many divisions and after token resistance Pope’s army retreated to Rome.

    Rome was stormed on September 20, 1870 as Italian artillery breached Aurelian Walls, 19 Papal Zouaves were killed in action.

    Italian conquerors organized a “bayonet” plebiscite in which population of the occupied state predictably voted to join Italy.

    EU sanctions weren’t invented yet, so that ended the question.

    And that’s how Rome became the capital of Italy.

  130. January First-of-May says

    I already knew (to a good approximation, though admittedly not in that much detail) what happened to the Papal States in this timeline. There’s a reason my question had “over there” in it.

  131. Most of the Papal States had been conquered during the 1859–1860 Italian Wars of Unification, but the French, who backed Piedmont against the Italians, insisted that Rome itself be left untouched. So, when the united Kingdom of Italy was declared in 1861, Rome was officially made the capital, even though it was not under Piedmontese control. The rump of the Papal states also included a fair chunk of Latium west and northwest of the city. Napoleon III maintained a French garrison in the city, to maintain French influence over the papacy, and the Piedmontese—who were naturally unwilling to fight their closest ally for the city—signed agreement with the French emperor that ensured the independence of the Papal States as an imperial protectorate.

    Over the next ten years, as the unified Italian state demonstrated its institutional effectiveness and that it was not a transitory phenomenon, there was increasing sentiment in Rome in favor of integration into the Kingdom of Italy. There were sporadic public demonstrations against the French army occupation, but the situation remained fairly stable until the French troops were withdrawn during the Franco-Prussian War. With the disappearance of the French garrison, there was a huge upswing in demonstrations in favor of unification. However, the Italian government did not act immediately. Only after the French disaster at the Battle of Sedan, which led to Napoleon III being deposed, did Italian troops into the city, arguing that their agreement with the emperor had been vacated.

    While the Italians offered the pope a facing-saving gesture, suggesting that Italian troops could enter the city to take over the French garrison’s protective role, Pius IX (who only the year before had had the First Vatican Council declare his infallibility) arrogantly refused and ordered a pointless armed resistance. The invading Italian troops allowed him to withdraw into the Vatican basilica (which Pius preferred to the older and more prestigious Lateran), where he declared himself a prisoner and called upon the people of Rome to defy the occupation. When no uprising on his behalf occurred, he prorogued the First Vatican Council (which had been on a summer recess when the Italian troops entered the city).

    Pius never accepted the legitimacy of Italian rule over Rome, but after his death in 1878, his successor Leo XIII tacitly accepted the boundaries on papal secular authority where they had been set by the Italian parliament. However, it was not until 1929, under Mussolini, that the formal Lateran Treaty between Italy and Vatican City (the successor state of the Papal States; the “Vatican City” name was actually established by the Lateran Treaty itself) ended the legal controversy over control of Rome.

    EDIT: That’s all in this world, of course.

  132. Over there, the Kingdom of Italy (25 provinces), the Patrimony of St. Peter (basically Lazio), and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (four regions: Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, and Tunisia) divide the peninsula. All three are constitutional monarchies (the Pope delegates his theoretically-absolute authority to the Roman Senate), and the last is in personal union with the Crown of Aragon along with Riu d’Archent in the southeasternmost part of America.

  133. David Marjanović says

    Two Sicilies and Two Sardinias?

  134. January First-of-May says

    I’ve seen a few alt-hist scenarios with a Kingdom of Three Sicilies, and IIRC even one of Four Sicilies.

    Historically – as I found out from LH, incidentally – the name derives from a split of the original (medieval) Kingdom of Sicily, whereas both halves considered themselves the true successor, and consequently both called themselves Sicily. When they finally reunified again, centuries later, the resulting union quite logically became the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (or, as the Russians call it, the Kingdom of Both Sicilies).

  135. King Juan Carlos of Spain used the dynastic surname “de Borbón y Borbón,” as he was descended from both the main Spanish Bourbon line and the cadet branch that ruled the Two Sicilies. His son, the current king appears to have dropped his affectation, however.

    The Two Sicilies were first granted as a an appendage to Charles III, a younger son of Philip V of Spain (the grandson of Louis XIV who received Spain but lost the Spanish Netherlands after the War of the Spanish Succession). However, Charles ended up eventually succeeding to the Spanish throne, so he granted Two Sicilies to his own younger son, Ferdinand. At this time, the two Sicilian crowns were still only in personal union. (The original unified Norman Kingdom of Sicily had only lasted ca. 1130–1302, but the two states had been in and out of personal union from the Aragonese conquest of Naples in 1442.) Only in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars were the territories formally united under a single crown, which lasted until Garibaldi’s conquest of southern Italy in 1860.

    I gave more of the history here.

  136. Lars Mathiesen says

    King: Sir Knight, for your service to the Crown I shall grant you a further appendage!
    Knight: Sire, could I conceivably have a tail this time? These three left arms are becoming a problem. *knocks over an heirloom*

  137. @Lars Mathiesen: I’m not sure whether that was autocorrect, of just my fingers defaulting to the more common word (although probably the latter, based on what I know of my typing).

    Interestingly, the OED definition of apanage limits it to grants to the younger children of potentates:

    The provision made for the maintenance of the younger children of kings, princes, etc.; it was originally a province, jurisdiction, or lucrative office, but the grant has also been made in money. in apanage: in possession as an apanage.

    I would have thought it could also be applied to (typically hereditary) grants to important retainers (such as your Sir Knight), but there are no obvious examples of that among the OED’s citations.

  138. Lars Mathiesen says

    To be honest I assumed that appendage was actually an existing term for some obscure technicality of feudal land ownership — appending a fief to another one, that is, not to a person. But that’s no reason to abstain from a pun.

    Her Royal Majesty the Queen of Denmark receives an apanage from the State, as do several of her relatives (and until earlier this year, an estranged daughter in law).

  139. To be honest I assumed that appendage was actually an existing term for some obscure technicality of feudal land ownership

    So did I!

  140. Assuming that I simply mistyped, the fact that appendage sounds like something that could make sense in that context probably contributed to me making that particular mistake. This would make the error something across between a Fay-Cutler malapropism and a subconscious eggcorn.

  141. Well, returning to the title of the post – have a look at this more recent example of Russia’s literary or even broader civilizational interest to China:


  142. Sounds interesting!

  143. January First-of-May says

    Sounds interesting!

    I agree! I’m not normally a fan of detective stories, but these sound like they might be worth it just for the humor.

  144. John Cowan says

    If the King was agreeable, doubtless Sir Knight held his new appendage in fee tail.

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