Were “Ugly Slaves” in Medieval China Really Ugly?

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Sanping Chen

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Abstract




Extending the author’s previous studies of Chinese onomastics, this paper examines the true meaning of a large group of medieval Chinese personal names containing the character chou, “ugly.” Contrary to conventional interpretation, it is found, based on contemporary inscriptional data, that these names actually marked the birth-year of the name-bearers. Further, they represented a special case of theophoric names newly introduced from Iranian-speaking Central Asia, and reflected the deification and anthropomorphization of the twelve-animal cycle. The paper also provides a succinct description of the general genre of Chinese opprobrious names, which are found to be closely related to similar names in Central Asia. Both findings help illustrate pre-Islamic Iranian-Sogdian cultural influence in China.




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